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NEWS | March 2, 2017

NRL Chemist and Interns Recognized for SERDP 2016 Project-of-the-Year-Award

By Gabrielle M. Gibert

Scientists from NRL contributed valuable information to a project led by a team of scientists from the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD), the results of which won the 2016 SERDP Project of the Year Award for Weapons Systems and Platforms on Dec. 6, 2016.

The goal of the project was to find an alternative for the phenols used to synthesize thermosetting resins. Toxicity issues and lack of cost efficiency make these petroleum-based phenols a potentially hazardous piece of source material. Thus said, the team explored the possibility of a replacement material based on biological feedstocks instead of the phenols previously used.

NRL’s Dr. Matthew Laskoski, a chemist in the Advanced Materials Section, built upon this SERDP-funded project to synthesize a processable phthalonitrile (PN) resin that utilizes renewable starting materials. The PN resin functions as a substitute for PMR-15, a high temperature resin that contains a carcinogen called methylene dianaline (MDA).

On the importance of this project, Laskoski says, “The development of a PN resin from a truly sustainable resource is unprecedented. PN resins/polymers exhibit a combination of properties unseen in any other known comparable material.”

Throughout the research, NRL has developed two patented PN resins using these renewable starting materials that produced polymers that compete with the PMR-15 resins, showing similar thermal stability, better mechanical properties, and superior processability.

NRL’s PN resins are a far less toxic alternative to PMR-15, yet equally effective as the renewable starting materials do not compromise the physical properties of the resulting polymer created.

Laskoski’s project included input from our own student interns, who worked diligently with him to develop and test the resins. The interns ranged from Pathways to SEAP students, the project providing necessary, in-lab experience.

“The NRL student internship programs are a vital resource to not only advance project goals but also as an invaluable learning experience for young students interested in scientific fields,” Laskoski remarks.

One of these student interns is Jadah Clarke, a Chemistry major at James Madison University. According to Clarke, her work on the resin project was her first foray into scientific research.

“Working on this project was the main reason that I [decided] to pursue a career in chemistry and research. Dr. Laskoski showed me the ropes and then allowed me to do most of the hands-on work while still serving as a guide and ensuring that I was getting things done safely and efficiently,” Clarke expresses.

Clarke was able to present her research on the project through the Science Engineering Apprenticeship Program (SEAP), as well as the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students, where her presentation won first place.

Clarke declares on her experience with Laskoski’s project, “The SERDP project gave me a multitude of skills that I still use today in research at school and at NRL. I am extremely thankful to have taken part, and I am very happy and excited that this project is being recognized by SERDP.”

Other collaborators on the project include Dr. Benjamin Harvey (SERDP Program PI, NAWCWD), Dr. Holly L. Ricks-Laskoski (Research Chemist, Licensing Associate), Dr. W. Judson Hervey (Research Biologist), Mehana N. Daftary (SEAP Student), Arianna Neal (Pathways student), and Arica Shepherd (Pathways student).

For more information on NAWCWD’s Project of the Year, please visit SERDP’s website here.

For information on Laskoski’s patent portfolio, please contact the Technology Transfer Office.

For information on NRL’s Student Programs, please visit NRL’s Student Page.

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