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NEWS | July 28, 2021

NRL Scientists, Researchers Win 2021 Dr. Delores Etter Award

By Paul Cage, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory Corporate Communications

A group of U.S. Naval Research Laboratory scientists recently won the Assistant Secretary of the Navy Research, Development and Acquisition (RD&A) Dr. Delores M. Etter Top Scientists and Engineers for the Year 2021 Award in individual and team categories.

Presented annually in June, this prestigious Navy award recognizes technical superiority, innovation, technical merit, operational impact and applicability to Assistant Secretary of the Navy RD&A priorities.

In the Individual Scientist category, research physicist Adam Black, Ph.D., solved a major technical challenge facing the atomic interferometry research community and performed experimental and theoretical development of a new architecture for practical, high-sensitivity quantum accelerometers and gyroscopes for inertial navigation. His accomplishments directly address Navy and NRL goals for alternatives to GPS for position, navigation, and timing that are required in the face of growing adversarial anti-access/area denial capabilities.

“While this is an individual award, it is not an individual accomplishment, and it takes an excellent team of scientists as well as a supportive organization to pull it off,” Black said. “We are finding ways to improve upon promising laboratory-based sensing technologies by inventing improved architectures to provide excellent inertial sensing performance on dynamic Navy platforms. While the research is still in a relatively early stage, we hope it will lead to a generation of game-changing quantum sensors for inertial navigation in GPS-denied environments.”

In the Emergent Scientist category, Materials Research Engineer Matthew Hardy, Ph.D., demonstrated a novel scandium aluminum nitride (ScAlN) based transistor technology capable of three times higher radio frequency output power density over the current state-of-the-art. Using molecular beam epitaxy, he produced the world’s highest crystalline-quality ScAlN thin films and is actively working to transition both transistor and filter technologies based on ScAlN to defense partners in order to realize benefits in reducing component size, weight, and power consumption.

“There are a lot of good people here at NRL and across the Navy doing really good work, so to be singled out is a huge honor that means a lot,” Hardy said. “This award is confirmation of both the quality of our work and its importance to the Navy. I think it also speaks to the support of the team I have around me and support from management that without them, I could not have made as much progress as I did without a lot of help both from others at NRL and our collaborators.”

In the Individual Engineer category, Mechanical Engineer Jesse Maxwell, Ph.D., invented key technologies that comprise the Surface Morphing and Adaptive Structures for Hypersonics technology portfolio leading to the development of the multi-physics HOTSHOT simulation code and the establishment of NRL’ s Hypersonic Aerodynamics and Propulsion Laboratory, featuring a variable-speed hypersonic wind tunnel. 

These inventions and this new low-cost test facility will accelerate the development of advanced technologies for hypersonic systems so they may be rapidly fielded and ensure capability overmatch in the new Great Power Competition.

“To me, it means that the Navy greatly appreciates the hard work and dedication our scientists and engineers contribute,” Maxwell said. “Awards aren’t necessary, but the recognition and formal display of appreciation can go a long way in fostering a positive work environment in the same way that an occasional “thank you” and “great work” comment from a coworker or supervisor is worth more than a few extra dollars in salary or overtime.”

In the group category, Optical Nanomaterials Section Developed non-infectious fluorescent nanoparticle probes designed to mimic the physiological interactions of the SARS-CoV-2 virus with receptor proteins on human cells. The probes are being transitioned for use in diagnostic tests to rapidly identify pre-symptomatic COVID-19 infection in point-of-care settings. This research will assist in rapid identification and treatment of infection to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Navy and Marine Corps warfighters.

Optical Nanomaterials Section team members are: Research Biophysicist Eunkeu Oh, Ph.D.; Research Chemist Mason Wolak, Ph.D., acting head, Optical Nanomaterials Section.

“I was lucky to have this great opportunity to contribute to society doing COVID-19 research during this painful pandemic,” Oh said. “I am especially grateful to be recognized since circumstances and limited resources dictated we needed very efficient communication a clear vision to share between members as well. This award recognizes the result with great honor, which makes me feel humble and encouraged as a scientist.”

Wolak said, their experiments across two agencies were well coordinated and results were clearly communicated so it was very easy to move the research forward at a brisk pace.

“It was simply a pleasure to work on this team,” Wolak said. “Eunkeu Oh consistently drove the research forward with new ideas on a daily basis, and we were fortunate to connect with an amazingly talented scientist, Dr. Kirill Gorshkov, at The National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences– who is a tireless worker and brings incredible knowledge and insight to the project. Overall it was one of the smoothest running projects I’ve ever been a part of, which is a true testament to the quality of the team.

The award – sponsored by the assistant secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition (ASN RD&A) – is named for the Honorable Delores M. Etter, who served as U.S. deputy undersecretary of Defense for Science and Technology from 1998 to 2001 and ASN RD&A from 2005 to 2007.

About the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory 

NRL is a scientific and engineering command dedicated to research that drives innovative advances for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps from the seafloor to space and in the information domain. NRL is located in Washington, D.C. with major field sites in Stennis Space Center, Mississippi; Key West, Florida; Monterey, California, and employs approximately 3,000 civilian scientists, engineers and support personnel.

For more information, contact NRL Corporate Communications at (202) 480-3746 or

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