In 2016, more than 200 student researchers and interns were involved with projects and activities at the University of Delaware Center for Composite Materials (UD-CCM), where Director John Gillespie Jr. has helped establish a top facility and open-lab philosophy.
About 120 projects are ongoing to advance the use of lightweight but strong composites for aerospace, automotive, military, medical and consumer goods applications. Students, faculty, research professionals, postdoctoral fellows and visiting scholars collaborate along with government and industry sponsors.
The center's most recent newsletter highlights the effort to take spacesuits to the next level. NASA is trying to prove the viability of the Z-2 suit for use on the harsh planet of Mars. The center helped design and fabricate composite components of a working prototype for ILC Dover, a NASA contractor. The work was done at the center's Applied & Technology Transfer Lab, which is an off-site facility that conforms to industry protocol.
The prototype has a hard upper torso and composite briefs to withstand impact from micrometeorites that hurl through the thin atmosphere of the Red Planet and become a ballistic hazard. That's just one of other environmental concerns NASA has as aerospace companies like SpaceX and Boeing compete to build the rocket that will carry the first person to step foot on Mars, possibly as soon as the 2030s.
Gillespie, a member of the Society of Plastics Engineers since 1990, became director of the composite center in 1996 as well as a university-industry consortium that had three members. The consortium now has 60 members participating in the center's research and development program, including Arkema, Boeing, Dixie Chemical, Dow, Owens Corning, Sabic, Samsung, Spirit AeroSystems Inc. and Toray.
The center is on the radar of many companies. In November, engineers visited from SpaceX, the Hawthorne, Calif-based company founded in 2002 by Elon Musk to advance space technology with the goal of colonizing other planets. The SpaceX team offered advice about improving manufacturing methodologies at the center and collected resumes from students.
Gillespie has advised more than 100 students pursuing master's and doctoral degrees and many have gone on to successful careers in academia, government and industry. Last year he received the Wayne W. Stinchcomb Memorial Lecture and Award from ASTM International's committee on composite materials, in part for mentoring students through "career engagement in the academic world."