Dr. Guenthner’s Research Yields First Advances in Decades re: Lightweight Heat Resistant Materials for Missiles, Rockets
Dr. Andrew Guenthner, Principal Chemical Engineer and Applied Materials Group Lead in the Propellants Branch at the Air Force Research Laboratory, Aerospace Systems Directorate at Edwards Air Force Base, California, was recently named the Department of Defense's Laboratory Scientist of the Quarter Award for Q2 2016.
The Honorable Frank Kendall, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics honored Dr. Guenthner with the award at a Pentagon Ceremony.
Guenthner was recognized for his distinguished accomplishments in finding ways for lightweight rocket and missile structures to withstand higher temperatures than they do now. Allowing these materials to withstand higher temperatures enables more of the space and weight in a rocket or missile to be devoted to generating thrust. This translates into longer operating ranges, faster speeds, greater maneuverability, and more capable payloads for rockets and missiles.
“Dr. Guenthner is a recognized world expert in the area of cyanate ester composite resins, his distinguished accomplishments with the Solid Rocket Motor Insulated Case and Bio-based Cyanate Ester Composite Resin projects are worthy of this honor because of the unique and important contributions to missions of both the Service and the Department of Defense,” said Maj. Gen. Robert McMurry, commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory. “The DoD selection panel was impressed by Dr. Guenthner's significant contributions across fundamental to advanced research, his impact on a core DOD issue, and his additional efforts related to technology transfer,” he said.
“Many of the factors that limit the useful temperature range of lightweight structures are mundane things like how the materials are altered by being wet for a long time,” Guenthner said. “Despite their importance, those topics don’t generate a lot of excitement in the academic community, and they’re often too far removed from day-to-day production issues to receive sustained, long-term, basic science investments from industry. One of our group’s roles is to fill in those gaps so that the combined efforts of academic, government, and industry scientists and engineers results in new and useful capabilities for the United States Air Force.”
This is an area of technology that in some respects has been “stuck” at the same level for many decades, Guenthner said.
“The Air Force Research Laboratory has given us a rare opportunity to focus on making advances at the basic science level that will help to move past the sticking points and make a difference for the warfighter.” The technology has many potential military uses according to Guenthner.
“A really interesting application area is structures for spacecraft that study the sun. Spacecraft that orbit close to the sun or are exposed to concentrated sunlight can experience high temperatures, and the materials we are developing can be used to help keep the instruments on board those spacecraft operating properly at high temperatures. Studies of the sun are critical to understanding “space weather” that can disrupt military communications as well as command and control,” he said.
Guenthner said he believes wider use of this technology will benefit the military and civilian world in many ways.
“Used in commercial aircraft and automobiles, the technology will reduce fuel consumption, saving energy and cutting down on pollution. The technology can also help with fire resistance, improving the chances that people can survive catastrophic events such as airplane crashes and explosions.”
Guenthner said he became interested in this field of study because he’s always enjoyed imagining what the world would look like at different times, places, and length scales, including all the way down at the “atomic scale.”
“For the work that we do in materials science and the polymer networks in particular that we study, understanding very complicated atomic structures is vital for success. So, one of the most challenging aspects of the work that we do is something that I have always been excited about.”
Guenthner said, “Science is a method for discovering how the world really works. Good and productive science requires unending curiosity, unrelenting effort to disprove everything we think we know, undivided attention to observation, and only observation, for making decisions, and unbounded adaptability to accept and build upon ever-changing results.”
AFRL’s Aerospace Systems Directorate leads, discovers, develops, and delivers science and technology for air vehicles and their propulsion systems to the United States Air Force.
Article excerpted from Air Force Research Laboratory Press Release: AFRL’s Dr. Andrew Guenthner recognized as DoD Scientist of the Quarter for the second quarter of 2016, June 23, 2016.
Learn about past awardees or nominate a scientist from your DOD lab for the next Scientist of the Quarter:
Instructions, Selection Criteria and Process for the Laboratory Scientist of the Quarter Award