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NEEC Graduates Provide NSWCPD with Experience and Expertise

By Keegan Rammel, NSWCPD Public Affairs | Oct. 8, 2020

Naval Surface Warfare Center, Philadelphia Division (NSWCPD) is leveraging the knowledge gained by two recent graduates of the Naval Engineering Education Consortium (NEEC) program to support an on-going project that will transition superconductor-based technology to the Fleet.

NEEC is a Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) Warfare Center-wide program that awards grants to universities to conduct cutting-edge research to address specific Navy technology needs while also providing students research experience under the mentorship of their professors and Warfare Center subject matter experts.

“NEEC is one of the only opportunities we have to provide students with hands-on experience with specific technologies we are involved with in Philadelphia,” said Dr. E. Michael Golda, NSWCPD’s Chief Technologist.

Rowan University has been in the NEEC program since 2016 conducting research to develop cryogenic insulation for superconducting cables to enhance future Navy shipboard power systems.

This research supports the NSWCPD High Temperature Superconducting (HTS) team and builds upon the upcoming first widespread deployment of superconducting technology within the Navy. The use of superconductors allows new capabilities, increases power efficiencies, and reduces the quantity and volume of large electrical cables. However, superconductors must be in a cryogenic (very low temperature) environment to operate efficiently. NSWCPD engineers usually only begin to develop their expertise after they are hired.

“With Rowan’s NEEC research project we have 15 students a year gain experience in cryogenic technology, which isn’t normally part of the engineering curriculum,” said Dr. Jacob Kephart, NSWCPD’s Energy Conversion R&D Branch Head. “NEEC is a really interesting program because it combines Navy need and academic rigor.”

Rowan conducts the NEEC research as a clinic project, the university’s capstone course for undergraduate engineering students. Graduate students manage and support the team of undergraduate students from Rowan’s Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, and Electrical and Computer Engineering Departments as they formulate, synthesize, test, and evaluate the performance of new nano-enhanced polymer insulating materials. To date, 39 students have been directly involved in the Rowan NEEC research effort.

After two years managing Rowan’s research team as a graduate student, mechanical engineer Harrison Hones joined NSWCPD in June and was able to immediately start supporting the HTS lab.

“I had no background in cryogenics or naval engineering, but NEEC gave me a pretty good idea of the type of work I would be doing in my career,” Hones said. “I was able hit the ground running as soon as I started. I learned a lot of background information that I now use every day; it was almost like an orientation.”

“I went from leading the project to being the new guy on the team, but my time in NEEC gave me organizational skills to get projects done,” Hones continued. “I met a lot of the HTS team during review meetings at Rowan to go over what we had done and what NSWCPD was looking for. It was incredibly helpful to talk to experts in the field on the project we were working on.”

One of the NSWCPD employees Hones worked with during those review meetings was Joe Nalbach, the first graduate student from Rowan’s NEEC project, who joined NSWCPD in 2018. Nalbach helped lay the foundation for the University’s research and gained an invaluable start on becoming a Navy subject matter expert during his time at Rowan.

“NEEC prepared me for my current career pretty directly. My last project before I left the grad program was to prep the lab to receive the cryocooler and I left before it was ever operational,” mechanical engineer Nalbach said. “When I started working in the Energy Conversion Research and Development branch it was like a loose pick-up from where I left off.”

The program introduced Nalbach to naval engineering and his passion for research.

“I had never done anything with cryo before NEEC; I didn’t even particularly like thermal engineering beforehand. It was something unique I got from the NEEC program and the Navy and now I utilize these topics every day in my career.” Nalbach said.

NSWCPD currently has NEEC grants with Rowan University, Drexel University, University of South Carolina, and Purdue University. These grants are engaging seven faculty and 19 students in research to advance Navy technology in electrical power systems, energy storage, machinery prognostics, and superconductivity. The Command has hired ten NEEC graduates, leveraging the variety of experiences the graduates bring with them.

“What is unique about the NEEC grant is that we are just as interested in the student engagement with the Warfare Centers as we are about the quality and results of the research,” Golda said. “When the HTS lab needed additional engineers with knowledge about superconductivity and cryogenics, Joe and Harrison were immediately able to apply what they learned through NEEC.”

NSWCPD employs approximately 2,700 civilian engineers, scientists, technicians, and support personnel. The NSWCPD team does the research and development, test and evaluation, acquisition support, and in-service and logistics engineering for the non-nuclear machinery, ship machinery systems, and related equipment and material for Navy surface ships and submarines. NSWCPD is also the lead organization providing cybersecurity for all ship systems.

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