Summer Research Team Studies Explosives to Improve Public Safety

Dr. Sayavur Bakhtiyarov, Phillip Baldovi, & Caleb Jaquish
Sayavur Bakhtiyarov, Ph.D. (left), along with Philipp Baldovi (middle) and Caleb Jaquish (right), from New Mexico Tech’s Explosives Engineering program, studied the trajectory of fragments in explosions in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Summer Research Team (SRT) Program.

Authorities know the drill: evacuate individuals from the site of a suspicious package and bring in a squad to investigate the potential bomb.

They also know that safely deactivating or detonating an explosive device requires a great deal more than instinctual caution and courage. It also demands the collective expertise of scientists, technicians, engineers and mathematicians.

This past summer, a faculty-led team of students from the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (New Mexico Tech) joined a group of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) researchers dedicated to advancing the safety and security of the American public and industry by participating in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Summer Research Team (SRT) Program for Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). The program aims to increase and enhance the scientific leadership at Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) in research areas that support the mission and goals of DHS.

This program provides faculty and student research teams the opportunity to conduct research at the university-based DHS Centers of Excellence (DHS Centers). The SRT Program and DHS Centers are sponsored by the DHS Science and Technology Directorate Office of University Programs.

Sayavur Bakhtiyarov, Ph.D., a mechanical engineering professor in New Mexico Tech’s Explosives Engineering program, recruited Philipp Baldovi and Caleb Jaquish, both seniors in the program, to be a part of his team. At the Center of Excellence in Explosives in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Rhode Island, they investigated the trajectory of fragments in an explosion.

Explosive ballistic projectiles (EBPs), like fragments and missiles, are considered a second great hazard after the blast wave. It is important to know the realistic range and trajectory of life-threatening fragments. The research could save lives because it determines the distance people would need to be safely evacuated in the event of an explosive threat scenario. The research has other applications, such as crime scene reconstructions.

“This work will be beneficial to anyone interested in explosive safety and behavior,” added Jaquish. “The study considers important variables like mass and surface area that influence the path of explosive fragments and observes their effect on the behavior of the fragment trajectory.”

The team used the computer modeling software MATLAB® to estimate the velocity of arbitrarily shaped EBPs. They employed a technique called a “complex variable method” that allowed them to input EBPs with varying shapes, sizes and masses into MATLAB. They compared their simulations to those previously performed by other researchers and found that their predicted ranges and trajectories aligned closely with existing data.

The DHS SRT Program helped Baldovi and Jaquish develop personally and professionally by providing them a hands-on, real-world research experience in a collaborative atmosphere.

“The DHS Center of Excellence is a top-notch facility with great people. It was a very exciting and inspiring atmosphere in which to conduct research,” said Jaquish. “Each day was so refreshing and unique. Everyone really included us and made us feel welcome.”

 “My favorite part of the DHS SRT Program was being in such a unique environment where everyone has a shared interest of the overall topic of explosives and explosives engineering,” Baldovi said. “I would definitely recommend the program to others.”

Bakhtiyarov said the team, which was mentored by URI chemistry professors Jimmie Oxley, Ph.D., and James Smith, Ph.D., is in the process of submitting its research to several scientific journals.

“I would definitely recommend this opportunity to others,” said Bakhtiyarov, “STEM always has been a powerful engine of prosperity in both developed and developing countries, and I enjoy enhancing and stimulating students’ interest in STEM-related careers.”

The DHS SRT Program is funded by DHS and administered through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) through an interagency agreement between the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. ORISE is managed for DOE by ORAU.