Meet the Scientists: Dr. Jeff Long

Meet the Scientists is an Armed with Science segment highlighting the men and women working in the government realms of science, technology, research and development.  The greatest minds working on the greatest developments of our time.  If you have someone you’d like AWS to highlight for this segment, email Jessica L. Tozer at science@dma.mil.

(Courtesy photo of Dr. Jeff Long/Released)

(Courtesy photo of Dr. Jeff Long/Released)

WHO: Dr. Jeffrey Long. Originally from a small town called Wallburg, North Carolina. Music lover, energy efficiency enthusiast, and lifelong genius. PhD graduate from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

TITLE: Research scientist at the Naval Research Lab, specializing in electro-chemical materials. This spring, Dr. Long was the first recipient of the DoD Scientist of the Quarter award. He is also a past recipient of the Young Investigators Award (in 2004). He’s second in command in his group, which basically makes him the Will Riker of the electro-chemical materials department at NRL.

MISSION: He’s the principle investigator on multiple research projects. His goal is to gain a broader perspective on what the DoD needs in terms of science and research development. In his words, it’s a good place to be in his career right now.

What’s your role in the development of advanced nano-structured materials and what you are doing with it?

“Nano has been all in the news! Everyone is doing nano things now, but we have some very specific strategies for using nano-structure materials.”

“We do all of our own synthesis and fabrication and we work with chemical compositions ranging from carbons and polymers, and inorganic things like transition metal oxides. Our materials are all designed to have very high surface areas, that’s so that we can amplify some of the interesting chemical and electrochemical reactions that will ultimately help the applications we’re targeting. Aside from just having high surface area we also recognize the need to have void space. We need pores within these materials to let things like ions and molecules come in and out of that structure and reach those active surfaces. We spend a lot of time making well plumbed structures for our applications and often times we find that we need to combine multiple types of material together to get a specified function or number of functions.”

Can you give me an example of that process?

“We’ve done a lot of work synthesizing porous carbon foam-like structures, so those are able to act as good electron conductors.  Carbon is a good conductor of electrons, but then we’re able to coat those surfaces with other materials. Again at the nano-scale, things like metal oxides and polymers aren’t themselves good electron conductors. They can give us other functions, like charging a battery for example, or catalyzing a reaction in a fuel cell. There’s a lot to sort of putting those together in an intelligent way, and then there’s a lot to characterizing these materials because they are sort of messy, ultimately. We find ourselves having to use a lot of different characterization methods to really understand how they work.”

What do you hope these materials ultimately will achieve?

“A colleague came up with a great motto here when I started working here, and that is ‘no power equals no mission’. All military missions definitely rely on some type of power sources, or usually multiple types of power sources. Things like engines, nuclear reactors, and in our case thinking about batteries and capacitors, and so those missions are really critically dependent on the performance of those. We’re always wanting better and better power sources. Our power sources development doesn’t typically keep up with the technology that needs to be powered, so there’s a lot of catching up to do in that sense.”

“We have broader goals in terms of redesigning the materials that go into power sources to make them last longer, deliver more power, and make them more rechargeable.”

How does this help the military or aid with military missions?

“Our goal is to use material science and electric chemistry to really bring new capabilities into particularly electric chemical power sources that are very relevant for DoD missions, and in some cases may be holding us back. The materials that we make could be directly swapped into an existing battery or capacitor or structure to get great improvements in the performance in the very near-term.”

(Photo schematic released by Dr. Jeff Long/Released)

(Photo schematic released by Dr. Jeff Long/Released)

“One very good example of that is some recent work we’ve been doing on rethinking the zinc electrode structure for zinc batteries, which have certainly been around for a long time, but have been limited in terms of performance. So we’re working on methods to rethink the structure of that battery, to make it much more rechargeable, and to enable much greater power. In the short term, we can think about taking our zinc anodes and swapping them directly into the zinc battery structures, to get a boost, not only in energy density for longer life, but also to get better power capabilities and ultimately extensively rechargeable zinc battery.”

What do you think is the most impressive or beneficial thing about your work and why?

“To me the most exciting aspect of our work is we’re really pushing to link what we’re doing at the fundamental laboratory scale to both near-term and farther out opportunities to really field technologies that would include our materials. On our own, in a group, we’re able to take materials from the basic design, up through simple prototype development testing, for example, making a battery or capacitor at a small scale, and doing the necessary testing of that. From there we’ve been able to cultivate multiple relationships with private sector partners to help us advance that prototype design, and even begin to think about some near-term commercialization efforts.”

“If our research is going to be of ultimate value to the DoD we need to figure out how to bring it out of the laboratory, work with that commercial sector partner to bring it to market, and if there’s a commercial market for that same or related technology that’s all the better.”

What got you interested in that field of study?

“This question got me thinking about it, and it takes me back to High School. We had one of those magazine drives, and I think I ended up picking Popular Science and Popular Mechanics. So I had those subscriptions through my formative teenage years, and getting those monthly updates on the cool new technologies, whatever was cool in the mid-1980s I guess. That really started to spur my interest in science, and at that time there was some discussion in new battery and fuel cell technology, or what was new then. So I’m doing what I was, in a sense, thinking about back in high school. That’s unusual I think.”

Are you working on any other projects right now?

“I have sort of a side interest, and a little bit of work ongoing in using actually some of the same materials that we do for the electric chemistry, for filtration of volatile toxins from the air. Chemical warfare agents and other toxic agents. It turns out that some of the same materials that we’re making for the electrical chemical purposes for these batteries and capacitors can actually be fine-tuned to act as really great filters. I’m looking forward on being able to expand on that research.”

Dr. Jeff Long's alter ego.  (Courtesy photo from Dr. Long/Released)

Dr. Jeff Long’s alter ego. (Courtesy photo from Dr. Long/Released)

If you could go anywhere in time and space, where would you go and why?

“I’m a music buff, and particularly interested in Americana music. So I was thinking about the 1950s Memphis and Nashville where country and rock and folk were sort of coming together in their nascent time. So I’d like to be able to see and maybe play with folks like Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and those guys. That would be really, really, really cool.”

Do you have anything else you’d like to add?

“I’d just like more people to know more about what the DoD does in terms of science and technology. We’re out there working hard and sometimes not seen for good reason. It would be great if there were more awareness of what we do and ow we can impact DoD and the nation.”

Thanks to Dr. Jeff Long for contributing to this article, and for his contributions to the science and technological communities.

Publications:

Opportunities for Electrochemical Capacitors as Energy-Storage Solutions in Present and Future Navy and Marine Corps Missions
Current Status and Future Research Opportunities for Electrochemical Capacitors: Relevance for Naval and Civilian Applications

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Jessica L. Tozer
 is the editor and blogger for Armed with Science.  She is an Army veteran and an avid science fiction fan, both of which contribute to her enthusiasm for science and technology in the military.

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