Research Topics

Below is a list of research topics supported by the AFRL. Use the filters and keyword search below to find research topics of interest. You can apply for up to 3 topics on your application.




Scholars are encouraged to contact any mentors whose projects they find of interest. To contact the mentor, use the link included at the conclusion of each project description.

Additive manufacturing of refractory coatings for use in extreme environments
Mentor: Zlatomir Apostolov, Materials and Manufacturing
Location: Wright-Patterson
Academic Level: Masters, Ph.D.

Development of oxidation resistant coatings such as ultra-high temperature ceramics (UHTCs) for composites is a requirement for use in extreme environments that will experience high heat fluxes in an oxidizing atmosphere. Conventional coatings can be deposited on the surface of the substrate using deposition processes such as powder slurries, chemical vapor deposition, and plasma spray, but CTE mismatches between the coating and substrate can cause poor adhesion of the coating and potential catastrophic failure of the system. To overcome this, reaction methods to chemically bond the coating to the substrate have been developed, but these can require long processing times and produce inconsistent coating thicknesses. Additive Manufacturing (AM) has the potential to both melt, react, and form the coating in a single step eliminating the need for long processing times and offering the ability to improve adhesion and control microstructural features. Collaborations have been formed with Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab and Tel Aviv University to capitalize on the AM of refractory materials expertise at these institutions. The team has previously utilized an AM machine at Universal Technologies Corporation to print a single composition of UHTC coating on a tungsten substrate; showing for the first time the possibility of forming a dense adhesive coating from a melt reaction of UHTC powders. Currently, the team is working to develop chemistries and powder blends to print dense adherent coatings on Cf/C composites for the first time. Work to be performed under this effort includes (1) determine new UHTC compositions to capitalize on unique microstructures and phases formed during printing; (2) develop improved printing processes; (3) test coated samples in the laboratory using evaluation tools such as laser and oxyacetylene torch heating; and (4) characterize pre and post tested samples.


Advanced Diagnostics and Enhancement of Combustion in High-Speed Flows
Mentor: Stephen Hammack, Aerospace Systems
Location: Wright-Patterson
Academic Level: Masters, Ph.D.

Currently an inadequate science basis limits the development of the scramjet engine. This will continue to be a limiting factor as engineers try to design complex flowpaths such as turbine based combine cycle engines. The need for better understanding of fundamental problems-such as fuel injection and mixing and flame holding and propagation-therefore shapes this thesis research program. The masters or PhD student will utilize the Aerospace Systems Directorate's (AFRL/RQ) wind-tunnel and diagnostic assets (described below) to study these critical phenomena. Topics could include the following:
a. Study of fundamental aspects of fuel injection.
b. Study of fundamentals of ignition and flameholding in a supersonic flow.
c. Study of kHz-rate imaging diagnostics to support studies of ignition and flame propagation in highspeed flows.
Facilities at WPAFB include a variety of wind-tunnels (including direct-connect scramjet tunnels) and a variety of optical and laser components (including Q-switched Nd:YAG lasers, dye lasers, spectrometers, and specialized digital cameras). Optical measurement techniques such as PLIF, Raman and Rayleigh scattering, and PIV are routinely performed.


Computational Electromagnetics
Mentor: John D'Angelo, Sensors
Location: Wright-Patterson
Academic Level: Ph.D.

Utilization of Numerical Methods, Computer Programming, and Electromagnetics for the design and analysis of antenna systems. Numerical Methods will include techniques such as: finite elements, boundary elements, linear algebra, harmonic expansions, and fourier transforms. Computer Programming will include: C++, Python, collaborative and continuous integration methods (e.g. CMAKE, GIT), and shared- and distributed-memory parallel programming. Electromagnetics includes the solution of Maxwell's Equations for propagating fields in the frequency domain by both differential and integral equation methods.


Design and synthesis of chiral sensors, monomers and polymers based on helically chiral architectures
Mentor: Davide L Simone, Materials and Manufacturing
Location: Wright-Patterson
Academic Level: Masters, Ph.D., Lower-level Undergraduate, Upper-level Undergraduate

Helically chiral molecules have been shown to be effective enantio-selective catalysts, exhibit extremely large circular dichroism, and have nano-spring like architectures that have assumed mechanical force absorbing abilities. The goal of this topic is to synthesize helical monomers that impart high temperature performance to thermoplastic and thermosetting resins and to define and implement a synthetic strategy for creating high aspect ratio helical aromatic fibrils.


Designing and Synthesizing Chiral Monomers for in-situ sensing of Aerospace Composites
Mentor: Vikas Varshney, Materials and Manufacturing
Location: Wright-Patterson
Academic Level: Masters, Ph.D.

his project deals with synthesis of specific class of chiral molecules known as "Helicenes". These molecules are spring-like ortho-fuzed benzene rings and show several novel optical characteristics (absorption in visible range of electromagnetic spectrum, extremely large circular dichroisms, etc.). The selected candidate with work with fellow AFRL researchers towards synthesizing certain class of these helicene derivatives which have potential for being used as in-situ sensors to monitor composites' performance as well as act as monomeric seeds for high-temperature performance polymers that are relevant to Air Force.


High-performance aluminum alloys with thermal stability and corrosion resistance
Mentor: Matthew Edward Krug, Materials and Manufacturing
Location: Wright-Patterson
Academic Level: Masters, Ph.D.

Current conventionally-processed aluminum alloys are highly-optimized for specific applications requiring a fine balance of mechanical performance and environmental resistance. Significant and simultaneous gains in multiple dimensions of performance may require unconventional processing and fabrication technologies such as cold spray, additive manufacturing, or powder metallurgy.

In this project we seek to advance basic research and development in strengthening-phase stability, solidification and processing science, and corrosion resistance of novel aluminum alloys. Ideally, advanced alloy and processing technologies would combine these benefits for maximum application flexibility. As a first example of the performance areas of interest: significant enhancement of the thermal stability of aluminum alloys with high specific strength and/or stiffness could result in fuel economy improvements by displacing higher-density alloys currently in use for engine components operating at moderate temperatures. As a second example: aluminum alloys with exceptional corrosion resistance, or corrosion-resistant aluminum-based coatings showing compatibility with common aerospace aluminum alloys could be applied to reduce the substantial sustainment burden incurred due to aqueous corrosion. As a final example: aluminum alloys that are amenable to powder-bed additive manufacturing processes, and which also possessing high strength, high thermal stability, or corrosion resistance are of interest.


Mid- and Long-Wavelength Infrared Detectors
Mentor: Gamini Ariyawansa, Sensors
Location: Wright-Patterson
Academic Level: Ph.D.

Our research interests include development of Infrared (IR) Materials, Detectors, and Focal Plane Arrays (FPAs) utilizing group III‐V materials, mainly Sb-based type II strained layer superlattices (SLSs), and novel detector architectures such as unipolar barrier detectors. Through design, material growth, and device fabrication, we are developing FPAs to cover either the mid wave infrared (MWIR) spectral band or the long wave infrared (LWIR) spectral band for passive imaging. Although there has been significant progress recently on the development of SLS technology, the performance has lagged behind that of the state-of-the-art HgCdTe counterpart. Novel SLS designs, innovative device concepts, and device fabrication processes are explored in order to achieve high performance and high temperature operation. Another area of interest includes low cost high operating temperature IR detectors developed using amorphous/polycrystalline materials such as PbS and PbSe. These detectors are monolithically fabricated on Si read-out integrated circuit (ROIC) chips in wafer scale, a process amenable to commercial‐scale FPA manufacturing.


Modeling Microstructure and Texture Evolution during Heat Treatment of Titanium Alloys
Mentor: Adam Lawrence Pilchak, Materials and Manufacturing
Location: Wright-Patterson
Academic Level: Masters, Ph.D.

The formation of abnormally large grains occurs sporadically during heat treatment of titanium alloys. In prior work, the Metallic Materials & Processes Team at AFRL's Materials and Manufacturing Directorate identified the fundamental mechanisms controlling this behavior. It is due to the formation of a specific texture component during thermomechanical processing and the evolution of this texture during heat treatment. The scope of this project is to perform computational modeling of these processes using "SPPARKS" a kinetic Monte Carlo grain growth simulator developed by Sandia National Laboratories. The visiting scholar will integrate new physics into the code that captures changes in phase volume fraction during heat treatment and the evolution of grain and phase boundaries as a function of local crystallography. Once implemented, the visiting scholar will perform parametric studies guided by experimental observations. The project is anticipated to culminate in a peer-reviewed journal article and at least one conference presentation.


Processing science of 3D printing for polymer matrix composites
Mentor: Hilmar Koerner, Materials and Manufacturing
Location: Wright-Patterson
Academic Level: Masters

Current manufacturing processes of polymer matrix composites are time intensive and require special tools. The research centers on polymer thermosets and the understanding of processing conditions that enable robust, advanced part manufacturing processes, such as 3D Printing or resin transfer molding. Specifically, the goal is to develop and confirm advanced capabilities for relating the fundamental principles that govern processes to the evolution of micro/nanostructure, cure chemistry, filler alignment, and their effects on resulting mechanical performance. This includes probing the polymer/filler interaction using advanced characterization methods and the study of in operando structure and morphology evolution. Techniques include X-ray/Neutron scattering (including Synchrotron radiation experiments), electron microscopy, atomic force microscopy, and rheology.


Tough, Near-Net Shaped Ultra-high Temperature Ceramic Composites (UHTC CMCs) via Additive Manufacturing
Mentor: Lisa M Rueschhoff, Materials and Manufacturing
Location: Wright-Patterson
Academic Level: Masters, Ph.D., Upper-level Undergraduate

Robust high-temperature materials are critically needed for the extreme environments encountered in many Air Force system, but current ultra-high temperature ceramics (UHTCs) are limited by low fracture strength and toughness. The use of an aligned reinforcing phase within a UHTC matrix can enhance both strength and damage tolerance while the use of additive manufacturing (AM) will help overcome the challenges in manufacturing complex-shaped UHTCs components. The AM technique of direct ink writing (DIW) is used to extrude a ceramic slurry from a nozzle to build up complex structures followed by densification via pressureless sintering.

In this work, we will producing ceramic slurries for the AM process, exploring reinforcement orientation and layups, and measuring the mechanical response (strength, toughness and damage tolerance) in UHTC composites. Quantification of fiber alignment will be achieved using microscopy of sintered cross sections, as well as non-destructive x-ray CT.


Ultra High Temperature Ceramics for Monolithic, Composite and Hybrid Structures
Mentor: Lawrence Matson, Materials and Manufacturing
Location: Wright-Patterson
Academic Level: Masters, Ph.D., Upper-level Undergraduate

The current state-of-the-art fiber reinforced composites such as C-Cf, Cf-SiC and SiCf-SiC have faced limited performance when operating at ultra high temperatures in an air environment due to their rapid oxidation followed by vaporization of the oxide glass phases. This results in high erosion rates and rapid loss of strength and toughness. AFRL/RXCCM is currently developing non-eroding ultra high temperature ceramic (UHTC) alloys based on the carbide and nitride phases of Hafnium. These alloys tend to form stable crystalline oxide phases that could be used up to or near their oxides melting point (up to 2500-2700°C).

This project entails the fabrication of ceramic alloyed powders, the consolidation of those powders into bulk materials and the testing these materials for their thermal physical-mechanical and environmental properties. It will also investigated compositing as well as bonding to C-Cf and SiCf-SiC composites to form hybrid structures.