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Professor Westmoreland to Lead Polymer-Pyrolysis Research in Prestigious Department of Defense MURI Award

Dr. Phil Westmoreland

Professor Phil Westmoreland and his colleagues have been awarded $7.5 million from the Department of Defense (DoD) as part of the 2023 Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) awards program.

Prof. Westmoreland and team members from Georgia Tech, Iowa State, Penn State, Stanford, and University of California Riverside will be led by Principal Investigator Greg Young of Virginia Tech. This five-year award is sponsored by the Office of Naval Research and Air Force Office of Scientific Research and will fund the team’s research on “Fundamental Processes in Solid‐Fuel Combustion: Combustion of Solid Fuels in High Enthalpy Flow.”  

Prof. Westmoreland will lead the NC State/Stanford/UC Riverside subteam studying fundamentals of polymer pyrolysis. When heated, the surface of thermoplastic polymers melts and pyrolyzes (decomposes). Flammable gasses form, bubble out through the molten layer, and burn in the flowing air outside it, feeding back heat that sustains the pyrolysis. 

Westmoreland’s team will make measurements and predictions of the chemical and physical steps using cutting-edge experimental and theoretical methods like integrated Flash Pyrolysis/GCxGC-ToFMS, Computational Quantum Chemistry, Reactive Molecular Dynamics, and reactive Computational Fluid Dynamics. The resulting fundamental understanding and methods can be applied to polymer recycling, material processing, fire safety, flammability, and solid propellants.

Founded in 1985, the DoD’s MURI program supports teams of investigators from multiple universities in their pursuit of multi-disciplinary research that can facilitate the growth of new, cutting-edge technologies to address issues in areas of critical importance. The collaborative research “serves to stimulate innovations, accelerate research progress and expedite transition of results into naval applications.” 

The MURI program is highly competitive, with only a small fraction of proposals receiving funding each year, and it has a strong track record of supporting research that has led to breakthroughs in fields ranging from materials science to information technology. The 2023 MURI specified 23 diverse topic areas of interest, received 259 pre-proposals, and winnowed full proposals down to 31 winning teams. 

“The MURI program has a long-standing history of funding research teams with creative and diverse solutions to complex problems,” said Ms. Heidi Shyu, Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. “Not only does the program enable scientific breakthroughs with direct relevance for DoD applications, it also has been used to create and sustain new fields of inquiry. It is a program with a powerful legacy of scientific impact and remains a cornerstone of DoD’s basic research portfolio.”

Congratulations to Prof. Westmoreland and his team for this achievement!