Academy awards ceremony recognizes research excellence

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A cadet whose summer school project made Wal-Mart distribution centers more efficient won the top cadet award at the 2012 Academy Research Awards Feb. 3.

Cadet 1st Class Colby Chaput was the overall winner of the Thomas D. Moore Award for Outstanding Cadet Summer Research, and one of several cadet, graduate and faculty members winning awards at this year's research awards ceremony.

"It is my honor to recognize the significant research achievements of our world-class faculty and cadets," said Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Mike Gould. "Research at the Academy plays a fundamental role in our learning-focused education and developing future officers of character. Through the discovery process, cadets learn to analyze ill-defined problems, develop critical thinking and 'think outside the box' to answer research questions.

"Cadets are mentored by faculty, who are on the leading edge in their respective fields and able to promote active hands-on learning experiences. In this research process, we are able to contribute in significant ways to real world issues of the Air Force, Department of Defense and nation as a whole."

The ceremony's keynote speaker was Maj. Gen. William McCasland, a 1979 Academy graduate who is now commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory. AFRL is one of Academy research's biggest research partners, garnering both quality research with low overhead, all the while building the next generation of Air Force scientists and engineers.

"Quite simply, it's our lifeblood," McCasland said. "It's in our DNA, and it's handed to us straight from Hap Arnold, whose portrait along with Dr. Theodore Von Karman are the only two in my conference room, with General Arnold's timeless guidance: 'The first essential of airpower is preeminence in research.'"

Top among the cadet contributions was Chaput, one of approximately 200 cadets who spent part of last summer on individual research projects with military or corporate partners, as part of the Cadet Summer Research Program.

Through a cooperative research and development agreement, or CRADA, between the Academy and Wal-Mart, Chaput analyzed and optimized the logistics system used by Wal-Mart.

"After her data analysis, she created a logistics simulation that is able to reconfigure the physical layout of a distribution center," McCasland said. "This simulation demonstrated new optimization efficiencies. As a result, Wal-Mart was able to decrease the man-hours required and increase their profit margins."

Chaput said she plans to continue her research. She is developing a display to be presented at the Colorado Springs Undergraduate Research Forum. Chaput was one of four cadets up for the overall award and won for the social sciences division.

In the basic sciences division, Cadet 1st Class Michael Wojdan won with a chemistry project growing breeds of algae to create biofuels.

"Wojdan's research in accelerating algae cultivation -- with implications for drastically reducing time and logistics footprint needed to harvest algae for biofuels -- advances the real potential for a renewable energy source," McCasland said.

One of the aircraft already testing biofuel blends is the A-10 Thunderbolt II, which was the subject of Cadet 1st Class Austin Buscher's research project and the winner for the engineering division.

Buscher is one of several cadets continuing this project in the Department of Aeronautics. He delivered on a key sustainment challenge by researching battle damage repair techniques used on the A-10 that were degrading its aerodynamics. His findings changed how repairs will be performed on the A-10.

"The fact that the original manufacturer of the A-10 has been liquidated makes his contribution even more valuable to the combat air forces and the Ogden Air Logistics Center," the AFRL commander said.

Cadet 1st Class Adam Evenson won in the awards' humanities division.

"The U.S. has a vital strategic interest in building partnerships among Latin and South American democracies, where scientific collaboration plays a valued role to our partners," McCasland said. "Another vital interest centered in the high latitudes of South America is the viewing access to space for situational awareness of maneuvers and events out of sight of the bulk of our northern hemisphere sensor coverage."

The Air Force invests around $100 million a year in 30 programs for space situational awareness, and AFRL operates and maintains nearly $600 million of facilities and capital equipment in support of the mission, he added.

Tying these two distinctly different threads together, Evenson worked in the international negotiations to craft, draft and finalize all the bilingual technical agreements between Chilean and Air Force Academy researchers for collaboration in space situational awareness research, adding Chilean facilities with the University of La Serena and the Mamalluca Observatory near the city of Vicuna, Chile, to the Falcon Telescope Network.

Another bit of space research was recognized, bringing the researcher, 2nd Lt. Michael Trubilla, out of pilot training to return to the Academy to accept his award.

As a cadet in the Class of 2011, Trubilla researched the development of a new radioisotope thermoelectric generator as a nuclear power system for satellites. His groundbreaking study has resulted in a design that is 10 times more efficient than the power systems being used today.

"Lieutenant Trubilla's research led to design concepts offering an order of magnitude performance improvement for nuclear thermal sources -- original, new and practical solutions for those thorny safety and security challenges that go with nuclear power launched on rockets -- directly contributing new possibilities for NASA deep space probes as well as an option we wish to hold for potential high-power military applications like space radar," McCasland said.

As a result of Trubilla's distinctive research, NASA agreed to fund $500,000 in equipment for the most effective and efficient development of a model.

Faculty contributions were also recognized, starting with the Frank J. Seiler Award for Research Excellence. This is given to the outstanding researchers in the basic sciences and engineering research. In the engineering division, the 2011 recipient is Maj. Steven Hart of the Astronautics Department.

Hart's leadership, guidance, and innovative designs have enabled the FalconSAT program to teach cadets to build, test, and operate satellites with real DOD missions.

"Speaking as a space guy steeped in our space business for my whole career, I'm here to tell you FalconSAT is a long ball hit that I'll boldly assert pays off to the Air Force space mission more than the Academy's airmanship programs do for flying ," McCasland said. "FalconSAT alumni are so far ahead of peers from any other university in readiness to lead in that mission area it's just not fair for the others."

The Frank J. Seiler Research Award in Basic Sciences went to Dr. Geoff McHarg, director of the Space Physics and Atmospheric Research Center in the Physics Department.

"McHarg has proven his ability to design significant experiments, analyze data, and publish results while supporting cadet research projects of interest to the DOD. His philosophy centers on cadet involvement and experiences, and he has mentored cadet research projects across five academic departments," the general said.

One of McHarg's cadets earned the highest-ever Air Force Academy ranking by the DOD Space Experiments Review Board for the FalconSAT-7 proposal. McHarg also led six cadets to collect and analyze data on ionospheric events using sensors flying on FalconSAT-5 and on the International Space Station. Additionally, McHarg leveraged partnerships with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the National Science Foundation, and NASA to garner over $1.9 million dollars of research funding for the Academy.

Finance was a focus for the Robert F. McDermott Award for Research Excellence in the Humanities for Social Sciences, which went to Dr. William Jennings, a professor of finance and investments in the Management Department.

"I'll also point out that Dr. Jennings, the finance expert, is also a social scientist, and his blending economic analysis with the social context of decision-making is a perspective we need in future Air Force officers who inherit a world in which capital moves at the speed of the internet," McCasland said.

Jennings focuses his research on the Air Force, and that research is fundamentally tied to his supporting work with multiple Air Force entities and charities, including the Air Force Aid Society, the Association of Graduates and the Falcon Foundation. He is a leading international researcher in applied portfolio management issues, and last year, he published five peer-reviewed journal articles.

Another research project slated for publication comes from the Institute for National Strategic Studies. The INSS Research award for 2011 was presented to the team of Dr. Jeffrey Larsen, Justin Anderson, Darci Bloyer, Thomas Devine, Rebecca Davis Gibbons, and Christina Vaughan for their study, "Qualitative Considerations of Nuclear Forces at Lower Numbers and Implications for Future Arms Control Negotiations."

Larsen received the award on behalf of the team, whose project addresses the challenge of reducing the quantity of U.S. nuclear weapons without reducing the arsenal's utility as a strategic deterrent. INSS is publishing the study as INSS Occasional Paper 68, to be released later this month.

The Institute for Information Technology Applications Research Award for Innovation in Cadet Scientific Research and Publication for 2011 went to Mathematics professor Dr. Michael Courtney, who devised Air Force-relevant research projects to engage cadets in high-quality research and writing.

Courtney's projects specifically targeted cadets with weak backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Using high-speed video capture technology, Courtney developed accessible projects in the fields of blast, ballistics and rocketry to spark interest and enthusiasm in STEM disciplines.

The projects allowed cadets to formulate hypotheses and develop research approaches while studying detonation velocity, rocket drag coefficients, and propeller motion analysis. These projects have already positively impacted cadet performance.