DVIDS – News – NAVSEA Naval Engineering Education Consortium Brings Brothers with the ‘Best Minds’ and Shared Aspirations to NSWC Dahlgren Division

Cristopher Centers

DAHLGREN, Va. – “Sailors depend upon you to give them a ship with a technological edge. NEEC (Naval Engineering Education Consortium) will provide the best minds and training to give the Sailors the technological edge they rely on.” Ten years later, the words of former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin […]


DAHLGREN, Va. – “Sailors depend upon you to give them a ship with a technological edge. NEEC (Naval Engineering Education Consortium) will provide the best minds and training to give the Sailors the technological edge they rely on.”

Ten years later, the words of former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin – keynote speaker at the NEEC kick-off in 2010 – are ringing true at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) and being manifested at the University of Texas at Arlington through two brothers.

Alex Johnston, PhD student, and Cameron Johnston, sophomore, are among the ‘best minds’ in the NEEC, a Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) program that cultivates a world-class naval engineering workforce through student participation in project-based research conducted at colleges and universities.

Directed by NAVSEA Warfare Center headquarters and implemented at 10 Divisions across the country, NEEC projects target the Navy’s most relevant technology needs.

“The NEEC program is important for the hiring, development, maintenance and sustainment of the technical knowledge base that is crucial to the execution of our undersea and surface warfare missions, which are critical to the Navy and the nation,” Naval Surface & Undersea Warfare Centers Executive Director Dr. Brett Seidle states in the third annual NEEC “Proceedings,” which highlights ongoing and future naval research projects for the Navy. “With over 50 grants awarded to U.S. universities, the NEEC program continues to seek and hire talented students in critical and specialized fields, which are particularly important in this world of rapidly changing technology.”

The Johnstons are among that talent.

In July, they worked side-by-side on the first full assembly of the testbed of a 5 MJ pulsed power supply they designed to study the surface flashover potential of high voltage insulators. Demonstrating passion and commitment to the project, they configured the power supplies for charging, worked on the control system, installed safety hardware on the power supplies and designed the test fixture for insulator testing. While some of the test fixture has been sent out for fabrication, much of it is being fabricated and assembled by the Johnstons.

Currently, they are in the process of setting up for commission experiments with a goal of starting the first round in early September.

However, none of this would be possible without Dr. David Alan Wetz.

Harnessing the ‘best minds’

Leading the NEEC program at NSWCDD, Wetz brings a professional expertise with an impressive background. During his graduate studies, he researched energy sponsored by the Department of Defense, nuclear effects research sponsored by the Department of Energy, and the dielectric strength of water for use in high voltage switches sponsored by Sandia National Labs. After graduation, he joined the research staff at the Institute for Advanced Technology at the University of Texas, a University Affiliated Research Center for the United States Army. In 2010, Wetz left to join the electrical engineering faculty at the University of Texas in Arlington. Upon joining, he founded his Pulsed Power and Energy Laboratory.

Since then, Wetz has focused on studying energy storage, power systems, electromagnetic launchers, and dielectric Research Labs (Kirtland Division), which have all sponsored a majority of his work.

The focus of his work with the NEEC program has been research for the dielectric surface flashover properties of electrical insulators used in high voltage pulsed power systems. The study includes research of the conditions that can alter the voltage in which the insulators are operational. It is vital to understand how the voltage changes with different pollution types and degrees of pollution. For instance, insulators used in sea environments can develop pollution on the surface due to an ever-changing environment. Examples of this pollution include corrosion, dust, mildew, and erosion.

Using NSWCDD-provided high voltage pulsed power supplies, Wetz and his students study the voltage in which the various insulators are still functional under different environmental and polluted conditions.

As part of the NEEC program, students participate in a hands-on approach. Currently, Cameron Johnston is setting up the pulsed power supplies, designing a test fixture to run the tests, and testing the insulators and processing the data.

“The ability to work on real hardware and on real experiments has really helped him to understand what he is learning in his classes and he is doing really well. I have graduate students working with him and they are, of course, learning in the process as well,” said Wetz.

It takes teamwork.

“Together, we are all working on it and I think it is definitely strengthening his future,” said Wetz. “I think that’s the real intent of the program, and it is working.”

For Cameron Johnston, the project has instilled an increased focus on academics, as it has allowed him to link what he is learning to reality.

He’s not the only one focused.

Alex Johnston has aspirations to join the NSWCDD workforce after graduation – a prospect that blossomed after he joined Wetz for a visit to the command – leaving him excited about the work taking place.

Wetz is proud of the brothers and to be a part of the program that bears the ‘best minds.’

By supporting students like Cameron Johnston through their undergraduate careers, and possibly graduate careers, the line of work performed at NSWCDD is instilled in their teaching. The ultimate goal of the program is for students to work for either a DoD lab or DoD contractor.

Working under a contract that began nine months ago, and despite the interruption due to the COVID 19 pandemic, Wetz and his team have made significant progress working with NSWCDD and its engineers to successfully the goals of the NEEC program.

“The ability to get funding from the lab to work with the lab is incredibly unique and the focus on students opens up options not usually afforded to us,” said Wetz. “The focus really is on student learning and not so much 100% on the hard core results. It gives a little bit of flexibility to let a student like this work on the project rather than someone who already knows what he/she wants to do and this is just an effort they are working on.”

Wetz welcomes this approach.

“Knowing that the focus is on students, it allows me to let this type of student work on it and to grow with it as opposed to feeling pressure to put an experienced student on it simply to produce a result,” said Wetz.

Wetz’ graduate work mainly centralized on studying electromagnetic launchers, pulsed power, and hypervelocity launch for all DoD services. During his role with the institute, Wetz also became involved with the Office of Naval Research Electromagnetic Launch program.

“The NEEC program is unique in that we are working with engineers from NSWCDD rather than just sponsors from Office of Naval Research Science and Technology,” said Wetz. “The interaction and excitement of working with NSWCDD has really gotten the students excited.”

Building a generation of the ‘best minds’

The NAVSEA NEEC program aligns with both the goals and the vision of the NAVSEA Warfare Centers Strategic Plan, “Accelerate Maritime Superiority – Today, Tomorrow and the Navy After Next.”

After 10 years of professors and students conducting funded hands-on research on naval-relevant topics at their campus laboratories, NEEC has gained the reputation for recruiting the brightest young minds for the Navy’s future workforce.

Starting with a request for collegiate proposals in the fall, NEEC offers grants to the top candidates to sponsor their experimental projects. Mentors at the warfare centers work with students and their professors to engage in their tasking during the academic year, then one or two students from each university come to the warfare center each summer to put their project to the test.

The three primary objectives of NEEC are to:

-Acquire academic research results and products to resolve Naval technology challenges

-Hire college graduates with Naval engineering research and development experience into the NAVSEA workforce (primarily bachelor’s and master’s degrees).

-Develop/continue exceptional working relationships with Naval engineering colleges, universities, professors and academics.

Motivated by these objectives, two brothers have proven the endless possibilities afforded by one program designed ‘to give the Sailors the technological edge they rely on.’

However, they are just one example.

“We have a variety of NEEC success stories across all the warfare centers,” said NEEC Director Sally Sutherland-Pietrzak.

Each success story brings honor and pride to the NAVSEA family.

“We feel like we’re making a contribution to the fleet, bringing in talented people. We want them to succeed and do well.”





Date Taken: 09.30.2020
Date Posted: 10.01.2020 15:09
Story ID: 380013
Location: DAHLGREN, VA, US 




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