Dahlgren research extends beyond Navy
The Dahlgren Navy base has long been recognized as a premier venue for military research and development.
But the impact of that work, by people such as Chris Hodge, a chemist with the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division, reaches far beyond the Navy.
Hodge and scores of his colleagues over the years have collectively received more than 200 patents for their work—patents that have potential applications in commerce and industry. And 50 to 75 more are in the pipeline.
Last month, for example, four NSWCDD employees and a civilian university professor were honored for their work on HiPer–D, a high-performance computing project that was granted patents. The technology was never fielded at the King George County base, though it lives on in the private sector through patents licensed to Kismet Mgmt. LLC.
The Navy received $500,000 in licensing fees, while the inventors will get, collectively, $130,400. NSWCDD is the largest tenant command of the Naval Support Facility Dahlgren.
Hodge, 41, who lives in King George, has been working in chemical, biological and radiological decontamination since he began working at the base in 2002. He now heads up the group that works to protect sailors and ships from contamination in an attack.
“We do everything from basic, applied research to understanding fundamental chemistry of chemical agents, and understanding exterior structures of [anthrax] spores. And ways we can more easily decontaminate or neutralize those in the field.”
MILITARY, CIVILIAN USE
Decontaminating or neutralizing chemical, biological and radioactive materials on ships is important to the Navy in an age when each can be used as a weapon.
The same technology would be useful for civilian police, firefighters and medical workers in the aftermath of an attack.
Work on the decontaminants began at Dahlgren in 1999.
Initially, “They were looking at soaps and evaluating what would be effective for dissolving chemical agents and to add to that, neutralizing those chemicals,” Hodge said. The researchers found that the soaps were also effective in removing radioactive contamination and killing bacteria.
“I came in as the program was just getting off the ground,” Hodge said. Over the next couple of years, he experimented with new mixtures, catalysts and oxidants in the lab.
“I just managed, time after time to find just the right mixture, and time after time, the wrong mixture,” he laughed. “What we wound up with, by about 2005, is what you’ll see in the [three] patents that we were able to secure.”
The group would work to a point, then apply for a patent.
“Then we’d continue to improve the formulation to add new issues and threats” to be addressed, Hodge said. For example, they would develop a mixture that would be effective in a temperature range from minus 20 degrees to 160 degrees.
The work on the program, now known as Dahlgren Decon, is ongoing.
The group developed a prototype that proved effective in the laboratory; some items were sent to war zones on an interim basis, to counter certain threats.
Next, the program looked to evaluate a group of technologies to address the decontamination process used on ships. Decontaminants developed at Dahlgren were reviewed by a panel of experts three years ago and were selected as a centerpiece in a review of about 100 available technologies, Hodge said.
“It’s relatively easy to use, works fast and mixes easily,” he said. It’s made from solid concentrate that is safe to store and handle, environmentally friendly and easily reconstituted with water in the field—important considerations on a ship where storage space is limited.
The formula dissolves and neutralizes chemical and biological agents.
Hodge’s group also developed portable air-filtration systems that have applications for use in sites such as hospitals and mobile command centers during disasters.
“We developed a system that was very effective,” Hodge said.
Dahlgren engineers helped with the design, construction and testing of filtration systems on two New York City fireboats. The city was looking for added protection for first responders in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Hodge says the patented technology has multiple benefits.
“The command here does a great job of encouraging, and it’s seen here as a prestigious thing to do. When you get a patent, there’s an opportunity for that to be licensed and for it to be shared not only with industry, but back into the government inventory.”
He notes that those patents ensure the Navy is not paying multiple times to develop certain technologies.
Dahlgren’s invention expertise runs from the relatively low-tech—such as an adaptable remote-control driving system—to quantum optics, the study of individual protons, elementary particles of light, said John Joyce, a spokesman for NSWCDD.
Many of the division’s patents spring from Navy gun-related technologies, while other groundbreaking work is related to its materials group work with nanotubes—tiny carbon cylinders—and thin films, along with sensors, Joyce said.
Alan Evans, a retired NSWCDD electrical engineer, was among those whose patented work led to the development of the Global Positioning System. Evans was recently named a 2013 Fellow by the Institute of Navigation.
Capt. Michael Smith, NSWCDD’s commander, said, “There’s a rigorous process to make decisions on what to pursue patents on, and we do it to protect the intellectual property of the Navy.”
Last May, the center held an awards ceremony for all patent holders’ and inventors’ work from 2011.
“That’s the first time we’ve done that,” Smith said. It will probably become an annual event, he says, because it shows the technical expertise on base and helps attract top talent.
“Some of the things we develop have commercial applicability,” he said, while at the same time, more commercial technology—computer software and hardware, for example—is being integrated into Navy weapons systems.
He added, “Applications for war fighting will be unique for the military, but will be able to be integrated into commercial products I see that continuing into the future.”
Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431
Prior to coming to Dahlgren, Chris Hodge worked for four years as a chemist with Milliken and Co. Originally from Bolivar, Tenn., he received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Tennessee Technological University in 1995 and a master’s degree in bio-organic chemistry from the University of South Carolina in 1999.
He lives in King George with his wife, Lee Heather, and four children.
A patent is a property right granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It allows an inventor to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale or selling or importing the invention in the U.S. for a limited time, in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when a patent is granted.
A process, machine, article of manufacture, composition of matter or improvement of any of the above can be patented. Ornamental design of an article of manufacture and asexually reproduced plant varieties can be patented, as well.
The Naval Support Facility Dahlgren employs more than 7,600 workers. That includes 4,729 federal civilian employees and another 381 military personnel stationed at the base along the Potomac River in King George County. Another 2,500 defense contractor employees also work on the installation.
Last year, the base pumped an estimated $1.1 billion into the economy through payroll and defense contracts.
The combined payroll during the last fiscal year for federal civilian workers and military employees alone was more than $511 million. Another $594 million in defense contracts went to companies in Virginia’s Planning District 16, which includes Fredericksburg and the counties of Stafford, Spotsylvania, King George and Caroline.
Naval Support Facility Dahlgren now has eight tenant commands. Those include: the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (the largest); the Navy Air and Missile Defense Command; Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense Field Activity; Center for Surface Combat Systems; Aegis Training and Readiness Center; Joint Warfare Analysis Center; Air Force 20th Space Control Squadron, Detachment 1; and the Air Force 614th Air and Space Operations Center, Detachment 1.
—Naval Support Activity South Potomac