AAMP-UP Students Showcase Projects at Energetic Materials Research Symposium

On July 28, 2022, the Advancing Army Modernization Priorities – Undergraduate Program (AAMP-UP) held its end-of-summer Energetic Materials Research Symposium, which included a poster show and presentations, at the Stables Event Center in Lafayette, IN.


AAMP-UP is a component of the Advancing Army Modernization Priorities – Energetic Materials (AAMP-EM) Cooperative Agreement between the Purdue Energetics Research Center (PERC) and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL). This agreement advances research, workforce development, manufacturing, safety and sustainability throughout the energetic materials enterprise. AAMP-UP, the portion of the agreement dedicated to workforce development, introduces students to energetic materials and the myriad of opportunities in defense research. May 2022 marked the beginning of program’s second year, with 40 students from eight schools across the country participating.

“The students are given the freedom to ‘come as they are’ to our program, regardless of their STEM major, institution of enrollment or class year,” said Gabriella Torres, AAMP-EM Education and Workforce Development Engineer. “Our projects are designed to provide each student with the chance to learn and grow without any limitations.”

At the beginning of the program, students are assigned to a project related to one of 18 AAMP-EM research tasks. Throughout the summer, they work side-by-side with faculty, staff and graduate student mentors on research questions that cover four areas of interest to the ARL: characterization, synthesis and behavior; machine learning and computer modeling; additive manufacturing; and fuels and propellant materials. Most students come into the program with little to no background knowledge in these areas and are challenged to develop skills quickly in a lab setting.

“I’ve thoroughly been impressed with their work,” said Tim Manship, Lead Research Engineer at Zucrow Labs and AAMP-UP staff mentor. “These students have been, in most cases, dropped into scenarios that they’ve never seen before. A lot of them have never seen energetics before, and we’ve asked them, in a short period of time, to execute some sort of research related to it. And all these students have really stepped up to the plate and produced really good work in a short amount of time.”

In addition to their daily research tasks, students participated in seminars and other professional development events, such as a visit to the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division. They also composed a literature review and a final presentation/report detailing the findings of their research. These activities enabled them to not only gain experience with hands-on research but also develop connections, explore career opportunities and hone their professional communication skills.

“It opened my eyes to how many different things there are to do with one major,” said Wilbert Mays, an AAMP-UP student from Oakwood University. “I’m a Biochemistry major, so you think that you can only do biochemistry research, but after touring the Crane research facility and all the different things, I see that I can do so much more than just being in a lab mixing chemicals. I can do propellants, I can take explosives apart. It just opens my eyes to the different things that I can do, and I didn’t know that was possible before.”

At the Symposium, students showcased their research contributions and what they learned with Purdue faculty, staff and graduate students, as well as government partners from ARL, Naval Surface Warfare Center – Crane Division and Crane Army Ammunition Activity. First, all guests were encouraged to peruse the poster session and ask students to elaborate on their research objectives and findings. Then, four students—Justin Kruse (Purdue), Holly O’Brien (University of Texas – Austin), Ubaidullah Hassan (The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art) and Sara Fox (Purdue)—gave presentations on their summer projects, which included topics such as combustion, propellants, energetic-binder systems and 3D printing.

“The quality and the innovativeness of the students’ work never ceases to impress me,” said Stephen Beaudoin, Professor of Chemical Engineering and Director of PERC. “Our students came up to speed extremely quickly and produced high quality results that, in most cases, will end up in published manuscripts, in dissertations or in internal reports that will help our Army partners with their ongoing research.”

“I think we have a bunch of bright, young students who are doing outstanding work,” said Joshua Sadler, Chief of the Energetic Synthesis and Formulation Branch at ARL. “I’m glad to see all the progress they’ve made and the things that they’ve learned doing these projects.”

The evening ended with an awards ceremony, where students received certificates for research excellence, leadership, ambassadorship, and best posters. Additionally, 14 graduate student and staff mentors were recognized for outstanding mentorship. The event therefore served as a celebration of the growth that took place across the 11-week program.

“My personal favorite part of the summer is comparing how far the students have come at the end of the program from the beginning; I love to watch them expand their minds, realize what they are passionate about, and knock down previous barriers to graduate school or working in the defense research space,” said Torres. “As a fellow engineer, the reward for me is seeing the connections they make and how their careers and futures are directly impacted by their time with AAMP-UP at Purdue University.”