Monday, December 9, 2013

Military/Civilian Collaboration at Forefront of Summer Internship

West Point Cadet Shadows CBARR Chemical Engineer on FDHS Project

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – When Sean Crain, a Cadet from the United States Military Academy at West Point, began his summer internship at ECBC, he had no idea he would be on the cutting edge of elimination technology for weapons of mass destruction.

“It’s pretty impressive to neutralize a really dangerous chemical and get it to a point where it is not harmful. It’s also a neat capability to be able to deploy the technology,” said Crain, who spent several weeks at ECBC assisting CBARR develop the Field Deployable Hydrolysis System (FDHS).

Crain had a unique opportunity to assist on the project. He was one of 10 cadets selected to receive training at ECBC, giving up their summer vacation to received additional laboratory academic credit toward their education. Working alongside chemical and biological experts at the Center as part of the Academy’s Advanced Individual Academic Development (AIAD) program, the cadets were integrated into various ECBC teams, observed scientific processes and implemented concepts from their course work throughout the program. For Crain, he was immersed in the fast track acquisition of the FDHS, whose design-to-fabrication process has since been applauded by government partners and generated the interest of numerous stakeholders.

Crain had been assigned to shadow CBARR Chemical Engineer Adam Baker, who said the cadet’s most direct impact had been conducting calculations regarding the effluent of the system after the water has been evaporated from it. Dealing with mass and material balances in and out of a system is exactly where Crain had left off his learning at West Point prior to his summer internship. He was now putting it into practice.

“For some of our acidic effluent, that involves first neutralizing with sodium hydroxide, which leaves a salt and water byproduct. Sean’s been doing some calculations that determine how much sodium hydroxide you need to neutralize the hydrogen fluoride or hydrogen chloride. After evaporating the water, you can then determine the volume of the remaining salts,” Baker explained.

“You start with a huge amount of effluent, oftentimes thousands of liquid gallons, and once you evaporate the water, you’re left with a relatively small amount of solid remainder. So Sean’s been working on calculating what those amounts would be.”

Baker said Crain’s chemical engineering background has been just as helpful as his military experience, knowing that the FDHS was designed with the Warfighter in mind. Given the circumstance, the technology could transition from civilian-operated to soldier-operated. Because the system is transportable, it is self-sufficient with power generators and a mobile laboratory that needs only consumable materials such as water, reagents and fuel to operate. It can be set up within 10 days of arriving at an onsite location and is equipped with redundant critical systems that ensure maximum system availability. Should the FDHS be deployed, it is possible that CBARR personnel would serve as subject matter experts supporting an onsite crew of 15 trained personnel, who would be needed each shift to operate the system 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“It’s neat to get a fresh set of eyes from someone in the military with a chemical engineering background. Being able to introduce him to the project and see what his thoughts were was a huge help, especially knowing that this system, in the long view, is expected to at first be soldier-assisted and eventually soldier-operated,” Baker said.

According to Crain, this civilian-military interaction is critical when earning higher leadership roles and moving up within a command. He got to witness the dynamic first-hand during his time at ECBC, something he does not often have the chance to do as a junior officer.

“For example, with the FDHS demonstrations, there were a lot of colonels and commanders of the chemical school in attendance. They interact a lot with the chemistry labs, and it’s very important because while the civilian side is designing it, the military side will eventually be the ones operating it. That’s why it’s important to understand that this system is capable of being run by both civilians and the military,” Crain said.

As for his biggest takeaway? “I think I’ll definitely be able to bring back the first-hand knowledge of the new technologies in the Army and how chemical engineering is truly operable to what we need. I’m also going to bring back the relationships and understanding the collaboration between Army personnel and civilians,” he said.

Crain is expected to graduate West Point in two years as a 2nd Lieutenant Officer. In five years he hopes to be serving in the Chemical Corps.

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