Unabridged connections

Apr 6, 2007

The Chemical Agent Fate Research project conducted by Professor Homayun Navaz takes a deeper look at the interaction of combined chemical elements and how they are diffused into our environment.


This video clip shows an actual drop of the chemical Mustard, which is the primary ingredient in Mustard Gas used in previous wars, on sand. Navaz's team has related this experimental data taken at the Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center (ECBC), a U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering COMmand Laboratory (RDECOM) to the team's modeling effort. The data taken from ECBC comes to this project courtesy of Dr. Terrence G. D'Onofrio.

People like connections. When we read a novel, we look for narrative elements in the story that touch upon aspects of our lives, or experiences described by the main character that we can relate to in a direct way. During movies, most viewers feel a sense of empathy for the protagonist, especially if we can put ourselves in their shoes and connect with what they are going through in the drama. In many ways, our ability to form connections with events, books, movies and other things in life help us interpret our experiences and validate our existence.

But sometimes certain types of connections can cause some discomfort among people.

Kettering University's Dr. Homayun Navaz, a professor of Mechanical Engineering and principal investigator of the $2.9 million Chemical Agent Fate Research Program, is examining how connections of various chemical elements can potentially create an unsafe environmental condition when released into the environment either by accident or by design. His project, funded by a federal contracting corporation, uses computer mathematical models to predict the spread and persistence of a chemical in the air and ground after it is deposited, and determine how long a chemical compound remains active following release. The mathematical analyses involved in this project provide a simulation of situations with regard to chemical releases to assist officials in taking preventative actions.

After more than two years, the computer modeling project continues to yield important, well-researched results, according to Navaz. His team of post-docs, graduate and undergraduate students and faculty members have simulated several chemical absorption and release scenarios, and validated them against actual data provided by partner organizations.

The two computer models for this project-continuum and discrete-have proven to be robust and excellent prediction tools. In recent months, Navaz's team has begun examining how a chemical element in the vapor phase moves through porous sand or soil. Additionally, this project examines how a chemical compound may react with a surface in either liquid or vapor phases. This chemical connection-or what the team terms surface reaction-is important because chemicals could become either more toxic when combined with existing constituents of sand or oil, or "hide" by attaching themselves to the surface of a solid, thus remaining undetectable while awaiting for the right environmental conditions to come out.

Navaz said that the computer models will eventually provide more concrete results and information concerning the connections of chemical elements and their potential to become active based on environmental conditions. "The results of the computer model will be given to an artificial neural network (ANN) program based on artificial intelligence algorithms to extend the prediction capabilities for unforeseen scenarios or circumstances. One of the major challenges in this program is lack of information in the literature on the transport properties of discretely placed droplets of an evaporating liquid inside a porous substrate," he said.

The group remains hopeful that all of this could change in the next several months. They are working on solving these issues by conducting basic research to locate those methodologies that can lead to finding transport properties and explain the behavior of chemical droplets deposited on porous substrates, an aspect that is proving to be successful in measuring chemical reactivity. This allows the team to develop new methods to eventually address the chemical connection issue.

One of the breakthroughs during the course of this research has been solving the problem of "scaling controllable, inexpensive and safe" experimental results conducted in a wind tunnel or laboratory to actual outdoor conditions. This major step has considerably reduced the number of outdoor experiments (which are more difficult to conduct) required to obtain a sufficient set of data for validation and/or neural network trainings. "The computer models are very robust and have shown an excellent match with data from outdoor tests," Navaz said. "The fact that our computer model data matches with the outdoor data is stunning, especially since this has never happened before. We are also in the process of archiving these fundamental research results," he added.

And his colleagues at the federal contracting corporation supporting this project couldn't be happier thus far based on reactions to presentations by Navaz to the Chemical and Biological Defense Conference (November 2006) and the Chemical and Biological Information Systems Conference (January 2007). "The agencies associated with this work are encouraged," Navaz said, adding that the potential to save lives based on this research "is closer to reality."

The Chemical Fate Agent Research Project recently received additional funding in the amount of $300,000 from the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL). Navaz also said that they have teamed with another corporation on a request for proposal (RFP) in response to a Broad Agency Announcement (BBA) for an additional $550,000 in support of the ongoing research.

To learn more about this project, contact Dr. Homayun Navaz.

Written by Gary J. Erwin
(810) 762-9538
gerwin@kettering.edu

CHEMICAL FATE AGENT RESEARCH PROJECT TEAM MEMBERS
DR. ALI ZAND, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF CHEMISTRY
DR. YURI SIKORSKI, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF CHEMISTRY
DR. BOYAN MARKICEVIC, POST-DOCTORATE FELLOW
DR. HONGYANG LI, POST-DOCTORATE FELLOW
DR. DAVID BENSON, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF MECHANICAL ENGINEERING
DR. MATTHEW SANDERS, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF INDUSTRIAL AND MANUFACTURING ENGINEERING
EWEN CHAN, SENIOR COOPERATIVE EDUCATION STUDENT
ELIZABETH BOWDEN, JUNIOR COOPERATIVE EDUCATION STUDENT
MIKE MCELROY, GRADUATE STUDENT
CARLOS RICON, CHEMIST
AERON GRADY, SENIOR COOPERATIVE EDUCATION STUDENT
JENNIFER DO MEYERS, BIO-MECHANICAL COOPERATIVE EDUCATION STUDENT