Research in Propellants
Johns Hopkins chemist Andrej Grubisic has won the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics' Martin Summerfield Graduate Student Award for Research in Combustion and Propellants for his fundamental work on aluminum hydride-based high energy density materials that could potentially serve as rocket fuel.
Named for an American scientist who co-founded Aerojet and invented regenerative cooling for liquid rocket engines, the $5,000 award is funded through individual memorial gifts and the AIAA Foundation.
"The award came as a great surprise. We knew we were onto something potentially very important for propulsion technology, but since its application is possibly as much as 10 or 20 years down the road, I kept my hopes down when waiting for the announcement," said Grubisic, who will use the funds to upgrade one of his laboratory's instruments. "Being recognized by the institute is not only a wonderful tribute to our work and the great promise it holds, but also to AIAA for its foresight and willingness to embrace scientific frontiers."
Grubisic worked on a research team (led by scientists at both Johns Hopkins and Virginia Commonwealth University) that discovered a new class of aluminum-hydrogen compounds with a unique chemistry. These compounds may one day have applications as high energy density materials in solid fuel rockets and as materials for storing hydrogen. An article about this research was published in the Jan. 19 issue of the journal Science.
The compounds' relative stability may hold the key to their future uses, including in the development of rocket fuel with more thrust, said Kit Bowen, the E. Emmet Reid Professor in the departments of Chemistry and Materials Science at Johns Hopkins.
"It's tough to predict how things will play out in the future, but our research finding is interesting enough for me to be willing to say that this synthesis may have the potential for some possibly very useful future applications," Bowen said. "Before we reach that point, however, there are many bridges to cross." Scientists at the University of Konstanz and the University of Karlsruhe, both in Germany, also collaborated on the research. The work was supported by the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the U.S. Department of Energy and Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft.
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