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U.S. Navy seeks UC’s expertise for tech jobs

The University of Cincinnati certificate program will prepare students for naval careers

U.S. Navy recruiting videos highlight the adrenaline-soaked operations of fighter squads, aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines.

But behind the afterburners and surveillance drones, aerospace engineers develop the computational science that makes everything work. The Navy awarded a three-year grant to the University of Cincinnati to prepare students for these high-tech careers.

The Navy’s $734,000 grant will help UC establish a minor certificate program in its College of Engineering and Applied Science.

“This proposal was for naval STEM careers,” said Prashant Khare, the principal investigator of the grant and an assistant professor of aerospace engineering at UC.

The project demonstrates UC's commitment to research as outlined in its strategic direction called Next Lives Here.

“We want to find out what technical skills are lacking with new recruits or even existing employees in the Navy. We want to know how we can contribute to providing the Navy well-trained graduates so they can run with these new skills and serve the nation.”

UC professor Prashant Khare gestures to his computer screens in his office.

UC engineering professor Prashant Khare received a U.S. Navy grant to prepare students for high-tech naval careers. Photo/Ravenna Rutledge/UC Creative Services

Because of a rapidly changing technological environment, where everything is centered around computations, it is imperative that UC students entering the workforce acquire technical skills for these emerging fields, Khare said. 

Khare and his co-principal investigator, UC assistant professor Rajnikant Sharma, are partnering with Old Dominion University professor Krishnanand Kaipa in Virginia to offer a certificate program in computational sciences that will encompass fields such as autonomous vehicles, fluid dynamics and robotics coupled with machine learning.

Prashant Khare poses outside the Engineering Research Center.

UC assistant professor Prashant Khare. Photo/Ravenna Rutledge/UC Creative Services

Khare’s research revolves around high-fidelity computations. He studies fluid dynamics and combustion, including ways of improving fuel efficiency and stability in propulsion engines.

“I work with a lot of colleagues in the U.S. Army, the Navy and the Air Force,” Khare said. “Everyone tells me the same thing. They’re having the same issues with hiring.”

UC’s Department of Aerospace Engineering already has a drone lab, the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Master Lab. But Khare said they will be adding something new under the Navy program: unmanned underwater vehicles or submarines.

“We are going to build them here in this program,” Khare said. 

An osprey takes flight off the deck of a ship.

A U.S. Navy osprey takes off from the flight deck of the USS Wasp with the help of Boatswain's Mate 3rd Class Kelsey Turner. Photo/Jeremy Starr/U.S. Navy

The Navy certificate program could open new co-op or internship opportunities for students, Khare said. UC pioneered co-op in 1906 and today boasts one of the most effective programs in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report. UC students earned $66 million in co-op positions last year.

“The ultimate goal of our program is to develop fully trained and functional graduates who will have acquired the needed skill sets to pursue STEM careers in the Navy,” Khare’s grant proposal said.

Meanwhile, Khare is working with the UC Office of Research to develop a new Advanced Research Computing lab to serve students and researchers across UC’s 14 colleges. The facility just opened and has already received an overwhelming response from students and researchers alike, Khare said. 

“Within the next few years, we will have computing horsepower needed for most UC projects,” Khare said. “We will be big enough that 98 percent of users can do their work here.”

The remaining 2% will continue to reach out to what’s known as “leadership class” supercomputer centers to conduct their numerical experiments, Khare said.

Video link:

UC assistant professor Prashant Khare studies fluid dynamics, among other topics. Here he demonstrates how a droplet of water breaks up in a jet of air. Credit: Khare Research Group

Why would the Navy turn to a landlocked university in Ohio?

“It doesn’t matter where the school is,” said Michael Simpson, director of Education and Workforce/Naval STEM in the Office of Naval Research.

“Institutions like UC can say, ‘We know the Office of Naval STEM can use people with these skills. We have the education capacity to produce those people in this time frame.’ My office makes the connection.”

UC’s College of Engineering and Applied Science is already playing a research role in many Navy projects. This includes professor Ephraim Gutmark’s research to make jet engines quieter and professor Jay Lee’s cutting-edge work in predicting when machines will require maintenance.

“Jet engines themselves might be fairly old technology, but we’re trying to find ways to make them quieter. That takes new technology we haven’t thought of before,” the Navy’s Simpson said. “And we have applications of intelligence and machine learning to predict how an old diesel engine will fail and what we can do about it.”

A pilot goes up against an artificial intelligence in an Air Force simulator.

UC's College of Engineering and Applied Science has a longstanding relationship with the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Here a pilot flying in a simulator goes up against an artificial intelligence designed by UC researchers. Photo/Lisa Ventre/UC Creative Services

Simpson said the Navy is also interested in new applications for carbon nanotubes. UC professors Vesselin Shanov and Mark Schulz have been applying carbon nanotubes to fabrics that double as batteries, so that the clothing could charge portable electronics, for example. This could cut down the weight soldiers have to carry into the field.

The Office of Naval Research works with academic institutions around the country to steer innovation, Simpson said.

“We can’t rely on serendipitous discovery. It’s too inefficient. It has to be disciplined,” Simpson said. 

There is no such thing as a low-tech job in the Navy.

Michael Simpson, Office of Naval Research

The Navy serves multiple roles, including that of global first responder during crises such as natural or man-made disasters, he said.

“That’s a big role of the Navy — to get there quickly, perform the mission and save lives,” Simpson said. “And there’s a lot of research behind all of that. My program is focused on getting people who can come up with solutions to these problems.”

By working with UC, the Navy will be ready to meet future technological challenges, he said.

“There is no such thing as a low-tech job in the Navy,” Simpson said.

UC’s Khare said the new certificate program will focus on aerial and underwater vehicles, robotics and fluid dynamics.

“The mantra with any kind of vehicle is ‘faster, farther, safer, lower cost.’ It doesn’t matter if it’s an airplane, a sub or a car,” he said. “We can give students the basics and let them apply what they learn to these problems.”

The partnership could lead to more opportunities for UC students and researchers, he said.

“Once we start connecting the Navy with our students, who are superbright, they’ll realize UC is a goldmine and will want to continue working with us,” he said. “The next three years are crucial. If we can exceed their expectations, I’m sure we’ll be doing a lot of work with them.”

Featured image at top: F/A-18E Super Hornets from the Strike Fighter Squadron 136 Knighthawks fly in formation over California. Photo/Shannon Renfroe/U.S. Navy

Prashant Khare talks in his office.

UC engineering professor Prashant Khare opened a new Advanced Computing Research lab to serve students and researchers. Photo/Ravenna Rutledge/UC Creative Services

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