Certain explosive devices can cut through the armor used by the U.S. military, leaving soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan vulnerable to attacks.
Jeff Helstad, an engineering student, has a vested interest in finding alternative materials that could prevent Explosively Formed Projectiles, or EFPs in military speak, from penetrating armor. After graduation, Helstad will head to Iraq or Afghanistan as part of the National Guard.
"This is a serious problem for the soldiers," says Helstad, a Flower Mound senior in materials science and engineering. "If we can find ways to develop better materials, we can make the military safer."
Helstad hopes to dedicate his engineering career to developing these alternative materials. He recently won a prestigious scholarship from the U.S. Department of Defense that will pay for his studies and provide a job at the Air Force Research Laboratory after graduation. In his case, the job will likely wait until he fulfills his military duties.
The Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation scholarship comes with a $25,000 stipend per year for two years. The scholarship is provided by the Naval Postgraduate School and the American Society for Engineering Education.
Helstad will spend his senior year working with UNT's Institute for Science and Engineering Simulation (ISES), which works with the U.S. Air Force to extend the life of its aging aircraft fleet and to develop better materials for the next generation of aircraft.
After his military service, Helstad will begin work at the Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, where he will conduct research developing and characterizing ceramic-metal composites with applications in aeronautics. His work will tie in directly to ISES.
"This is an amazing opportunity," he says. "I can't say enough good things about the materials science department at UNT. The faculty and research opportunities have been outstanding."
Helstad says he joined the National Guard a couple years ago when he grew tired of hearing that not enough people were enlisting. He figured if a husband, father of four and full-time college student could find time to help fight for his country, maybe others would follow his lead.
Thomas Scharf, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering and Helstad's adviser on ISES, says Helstad's experiences will provide him with a unique viewpoint. Not all engineers have the ability to benefit so directly from the materials they create.
"He'll experience firsthand the materials issues the U.S. military deals with," Scharf says. "He is very dedicated to solving some of the current problems and helping the soldiers do their jobs."
Srinivasan Srivilliputher, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering and one of Helstad's mentors, says the materials research at UNT at the Air Force Research Laboratory would benefit immensely from Helstad's background in the military.
Sarah Bahari with UNT News Service can be reached at Sarah.firstname.lastname@example.org.