Air Force partnerships further STEM efforts across the country

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – Academic institutions across the country are getting a boost from educational partnership agreements with the Air Force.

An educational partnership agreement, also known as an EPA, is one type of technology transfer agreement between a Department of Defense laboratory and an educational institution for the purpose of encouraging and enhancing study in scientific disciplines at all levels of education.

“EPAs benefit both the Air Force and its partners,” said Keith Quinn, the program manager of the Air Force Technology Transfer program. “They provide valuable learning experiences for students of all ages and help the Air Force further Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics outreach efforts and connect with the next generation of scientists and engineers.”

Between fiscal years 2014 to 2017, the Air Force signed 318 new EPAs. Currently there are 415 active Air Force EPAs across the country.

The objectives of the agreements vary and most of the time there are no financial requirements when entering into an EPA with the Air Force. The most common objectives include the Air Force loaning equipment to the school for students and faculty to use; providing hands-on Air Force laboratory work experience for college students; and the placement of an Air Force scientist or engineer at a college or university for research and mentoring purposes.

A current agreement between the Air Force Research Laboratory Munitions Directorate and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign provided an opportunity for Air Force research chemist Dr. Stephanie Johnson to work at the university. Johnson is studying the early-time post-detonation chemical cascade, an area of study where more information is needed.

“This research is being conducted in an academic setting and can leverage several (university) labs and researchers not previously available,” said Johnson. “There is a synergy within an academic research group that provides a free-flow approach to problem solving and experiment design.”

 

Students from the Department of Mechanical Engineering Science and Engineering are permitted to observe the experiments and review the results of the data analysis. Johnson also serves as a mentor to the students and academic program.

 

“The students from this university are among the best and brightest in the world and bring cutting edge research, ideas and innovation to their future employers,” said Johnson. “Having access to these types of students is vital for Air Force technology and engineering development.”

 

Another agreement is allowing engineering students from the University of Cincinnati to gain research experience at the AFRL’s Materials and Manufacturing Directorate. The students will be performing materials research in areas of interest to the Air Force. The effort is being led by Dr. Benji Maruyama, a senior materials research engineer from the directorate, and Dr. Vesselin Shanov, a professor of chemical and materials engineering at the University of Cincinnati.

 

Mark Haase, a Ph.D. student from UC, worked with Dr. Maruyama under the agreement. Haase was researching the structure and spin-ability of carbon nanotube forests using transmission electron microscopy.

 

“I wouldn't be able to do the work I'm doing without this partnership,” said Haase. “Beyond that, I've enjoyed my experience working with the Air Force. It's given me the chance to learn from some brilliant people.”

 

In addition to providing research experience to Air Force scientists and college students, the agreements deliver unique learning experiences for K-12 students.

 

Recently, using an EPA, the 30th Space Wing and the Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum in California was used to facilitate an Air Force donation and modification of a subscale Discovery Space Shuttle to the museum. The modified shuttle was added to the museum’s existing Mission to Mars climbing wall exhibit. Students and visitors are able to climb onboard the shuttle and imagine what it’s like to be a pilot.

 

“Partnering with the museum is an excellent way to show the 31,000 students that visit the museum each year what a career with the Air Force at Vandenberg has to offer,” said Thomas Stevens, Technical Director of the 30th Launch Group and Base STEM coordinator.

 

In addition to the shuttle, the 30th Space Wing collaborated with the museum on a new simulated space launch exhibit called the Vandenberg Launch Experience. The exhibit will allow the students to act as a launch operator and will include a set of consoles with a large screen video display to simulate a launch into space.

 

“From our country’s youngest minds to our most advanced students, EPAs are a wonderful tool for delivering engaging learning experiences and developing our next generation of scientists,” said Quinn.

 

For more information of educational partnership agreements, please contact the Air Force Technology Transfer Program office at (937) 904-9830 or af.techtransfer@us.af.mil.