AFRL researcher honored with Presidential Early Career Award

  • Published
  • By Marisa Alia-Novobilski
  • Air Force Research Laboratory

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- An innovative materials research engineer in the Metals Branch, Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, Air Force Research Laboratory, was named a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) by President Barack Obama, January 9.

Dr. Adam L. Pilchak is one of only 102 scientists in 2017 to receive this honor, the highest bestowed by the U.S. Government to science and engineering professionals who are in the beginning stages of their research careers.

“I was in disbelief when I read the email. There were a whole range of emotions – elation, shock, and excitement-- mixed with sleep deprivation,” said Pilchak, a native of White Lake, Michigan, who just welcomed a new child only two days before the announcement. “It’s a great honor to be recognized at this level, but I owe some of the credit to the strong team of researchers and technicians working with me and incredible support from my chain of command.”

Pilchak, who earned his doctoral degree in Materials Science and Engineering from The Ohio State University in 2009, began working at AFRL as a contractor immediately following his graduation. He became a government civilian in 2011 and quickly established himself as a metals expert. He became the research lead for the Metallic Materials and Processes team in the Metals Branch in 2014.

“Adam immediately brought a fresh outlook on metallic materials to the team,” said Dr. Daniel Evans, Branch Chief in the directorate’s Metals Branch. “His technical interests and expertise extend beyond that of a conventional materials scientist. This is reflected in the complexity of the research programs he’s worked to develop and now leads.”

Pilchak’s research takes a novel approach to processing-microstructure-property relationships in metallic materials, focusing on a holistic approach to manage titanium alloy components that integrates modeling, cost-effective materials characterization methods and cutting edge computer software. Specifically, his work focuses on understanding micro-textured regions in titanium, or the arrangement of the microscopic grains that make up metals, and how they affect the behavior of a material when it becomes part of a system, such as a turbine engine.

By understanding the behavior of the materials that make up an engine component, engineers can create more efficient designs, leading to a longer flight life and less risk of failure.

“Adam’s contribution towards solving issues surrounding titanium—a critical aerospace material—has been extraordinary. He applies science from various disciplines, including thermo-mechanical processing, non-destructive evaluation and mechanical testing, and then works to unite the global community towards collectively solving longstanding materials problems,” said Evans.

Among Pilchak’s accomplishments, what stands out is the direct impact his work has helping to ensure the safety of the Air Force fleet of today and that of the future. Besides serving as subject matter experts in the field, his team conceives, develops and transitions new metallic materials and processes required to improve aerospace component production, performance and durability. This helps to enrich the Air Force’s understanding of how components should be maintained and flown, with the safety of the warfighter as the priority.

For example, Pilchak’s support analyzing the failure of an engine part in December 2013 helped determine the root cause of an incident. His inputs guided critical decisions surrounding the safe management of the rest of the fleet and an engine component redesign by the engineering technologists. Ultimately, the redesign can prevent future catastrophic engine failures that could cause the loss of an aircraft or, worse, a pilot’s life.

“My success here is a direct result of my studies,” Pilchak said. “I completed my PhD and five subsequent years of research in an area that proved to be critical for understanding the root cause of a real-world failure event. This immediate impact highlights the need to continue basic research in metallic materials.”

Though he’s only in the beginning stages of his research career, Pilchak has established himself extensively in the global literature on metallic materials, publishing far and wide in a number of high-regarded, peer-reviewed scientific journals. His publications include two Air Force technical reports, more than 50 journal articles and two dozen conference proceedings and papers highlighting his research in the field. Pilchak has also presented or co-authored more than one hundred presentations at conferences and symposia in the course of his short career.

“His publication record and the sheer number of publications that received awards from the technical community is noteworthy,” said Evans.

Pilchak is also an active member of a number of international professional organizations focused on the state-of-the-art in titanium and metals research, including the prominent Titanium Committee for The Minerals, Metals and Materials Society. He was the youngest member of the organizing committee for the 13th World Conference on Titanium in 2015, leading the technical paper review process, helping to shape the direction and impact of titanium research for the future.

“Adam’s a leader, a mentor and dedicated to understanding the state-of-the art. His work represents the best of what should be done in a government lab,” said Evans.

Pilchak will receive his award from the President at an official White House Ceremony later this year.