Joseph Paras is a materials engineer at the US Army Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center (ARDEC) located at Picatinny Arsenal, NJ. He is part of a team that is exploiting powder and nanotechnologies to develop materials that will ultimately provide enhanced capabilities to our warfighters.
Five years ago, I was just learning about nanotechnology while working as a laboratory assistant to the graduate students at Rutgers School of Engineering. At the time, we would make photovoltaics (solar cells) and memory storage devices using nanomaterials, such as carbon nanotubes and fullerenes. The results were never revolutionary – which is not what I had expected as a naïve student – and I constantly asked, “Is the future of science and engineering really in nano? How can this stuff be used effectively?” Five years later (now a slightly less naïve, young engineer), I found my answers working with ARDEC at Picatinny Arsenal.
I joined Picatinny early in 2008, working with the Particulate Materials and Nanotechnology Team. Within the first two months of working here, I learned five facts about nano that completely shattered my doubts about the technology:
1. ARDEC has the largest nanopowder production facility in the Department of Defense (DoD) – this pilot facility can synthesize a wide array of raw nanopowders for just about any application.
2. Some of the nanopowders produced at ARDEC are as small as 10nm – that’s a particle comprised of several hundred atoms!
3. Any metal on the nano scale will burn spontaneously when exposed to air (see video). This is extremely useful for items such as counter-measure flares or smoke grenades.
4. Some nanomaterials represent an environmentally benign option to current hazardous materials – in an age where we have to be conscious about sustaining and maintaining the environment, the olive-drab Army is getting greener.
5. ARDEC is a pioneer, making nanotechnology available nationwide – partnerships exist not only with our sister organizations but also with our sister services and even Fortune 500 companies!
Having the ability to synthesize and implement nanotechnologies into items that can potentially save a Soldier’s life has opened my eyes to the impact nanotechnology has and will continue to have for years to come. So is the future of science and engineering really in nano? Yes. Will it bring high performance AND cost effective solutions to our Soldiers? I don’t know, but that’s what I’m here to find out. Maybe I’ll have THAT answer in the next five years.