Marquette engineer receives $1.5 million from U.S. Air Force to study how to prevent accidental detonations of explosives and propellants

November 2, 2018

Dr. John Borg will develop a surrogate substructure to test and reduce accidental detonations

MILWAUKEE — When hit by a blast or impact, explosives and propellants used in airbags, rockets, mining, munitions and other engineered systems can accidentally detonate.

The U.S. Air Force has turned to Dr. John Borg, professor and chair of mechanical engineering, to help reduce this likelihood. Borg has received a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research to study the design and safety of materials that may be susceptible to accidental detonation.

Using a surrogate system made of sugar and epoxy, Borg will imitate the substructure of energetic systems that could accidentally detonate.

"In the field, the current perspective is that energetic systems are composed of both hard and soft components, which creates a pinch that stresses the material," Borg said. "By mimicking these hard and soft materials with sugar and epoxy, we can then run a series of tests to see how the system responds to differing stress loads."

X-rays, light and electron microscopy will be used to image the sugar and epoxy substructure. Images will be imported as computer codes to simulate the dynamic response of the surrogate systems. The sugar and epoxy systems then will be subjected to shock and blast loads using Marquette's light gas gun, a specialized gun designed to generate high velocities.

Data collected from the light gas gun will be compared to the imaging simulations to characterize how energetic materials can be modified to reduce accidental detonations.

"We are excited for Dr. Borg and his latest shock physics research," said Dr. Kristina Ropella, Opus Dean of the Opus College of Engineering. "He continues to earn recognition as a leader in this field, and we are proud of the important work he is doing for our nation's Air Force."

As a vital component of the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research's mission is to discover, shape and champion basic science that impacts the future Air Force.

About Borg's Shock Physics LabThe Shock Physics Lab investigates how condensed matter responds under extreme conditions. To test reactions, researchers utilize a light gas gun with the capabilities to launch a two-inch diameter projectile down a 15-foot long barrel at speeds of nearly 1,200 meters per second, or Mach Three, and measure thermodynamic impact in a target tank via laser light. The lab is currently building a high-speed pyrometer to measure temperature.