Air Force Research Laboratory Internship Provides Experience Using Novel Instrumentation

Materials science and engineering Ph.D. student Katie Detwiler is a 2019 recipient of the prestigious SMART Scholarship, a Department of Defense initiative to develop and retain talented and innovative scientists, engineers and researchers. Detwiler is researching oxidation behavior of ceramic-matrix composites for use in high-temperature jet engine applications. Before coming to UVA Engineering, Detwiler focused primarily on the mechanical properties of ceramic-matrix composites. She previously studied the effects of residual stresses on mechanical properties in the composites for her master’s thesis, which she completed as a Pathways Intern at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. Working with her UVA Engineering academic advisor, materials science and engineering professor Beth Opila, an expert in oxidation behavior of ceramic-matrix composites, broadened Detwiler’s knowledge as well as her research. Her Ph.D. research addresses the combined mechanical and oxidative effects that a ceramic-matrix composite will see in service.

As a SMART Scholar, Detwiler interned this summer at the Air Force Research Laboratory, and will continue in that role for the remainder of her studies. Interning there enables her to collaborate and learn from mechanical and oxidation experts alike. She also gets experience using novel instrumentation, including a miniature in-situ tensile stage combined with light microscopy to evaluate micro-crack initiation and evolution during loading. Experiments conducted with this equipment inform Detwiler’s macro-scale mechanical tests moving forward.

With degree in hand, Detwiler will join the laboratory as a civilian employee. Wright-Patterson holds a special place in her life because her grandfather worked there for close to 50 years. “I interned at the lab before, and this is what led me into materials science and engineering,” Detwiler said. “I’m excited to support the Air Force’s mission to protect our country. It’s a great motivator to see real-life applications of my research.”