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Eric Dulmes

Student’s explosive analysis could lead to safer skies

Eric Dulmes, Aircraft Explosions, U.S. Department Homeland Security, Transportation Security Laboratory

Hope College student Eric Dulmes measures the impulse of test aircraft explosions using a high-speed video as part of his internship with U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Laboratory.

Hope College undergraduate Eric Dulmes—who is majoring in mechanical engineering—recently participated in an internship at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Transportation Security Laboratory (TSL) under Chih-Tsai Chen, Ph.D., in the Explosives Effects Laboratory.

At TSL, his research team focused on the characterization of explosives and blast effects that will support aircraft vulnerability testing and assessment. The tests Dulmes was involved with not only examine the strength of explosives at specific sizes and distances but also help predict the severity of damage that could potentially be caused to an airplane.

Specifically, Dulmes’ research centered on measuring the impulse of an explosion and utilizing computer modeling tools to study blast loading and effects relevant to commercial aircraft.

Traditionally, impulse has been measured using a pressure sensor, but this often fails in close-range explosions, said Dulmes. The method used by Dulmes and his team uses a high-speed video camera that measures the velocity of a steel plug accelerated by a test explosion.

It’s important to understand how explosives work so that airplanes are not only safer, but also so that security screening methods can be less invasive for travelers.

“Knowing the limits [of an explosive] helps with the screening process,” said Dulmes. When engineers at TSL are able to determine the smallest size of explosive that can cause damage to an aircraft, they are able to tailor the airport screening process to the limits of the aircraft, allowing for better screening process without compromising passenger safety.

Dulmes most enjoyed performing actual tests at the U.S. Army’s Aberdeen Test Center in Aberdeen Proving Ground. There, Dulmes’ team would set up the high-speed video cameras and triggering systems. An explosives handler would then detonate the explosive while the team stayed in a safe building. After the explosion, Dulmes was part of the team that analyzed the data gained from the experiments.

“These projects required a lot of work, but being able to set up and perform the test that I helped design was rewarding,” said Dulmes, who plans to continue his work with DHS after graduation.

“This internship was very beneficial for me,” Dulmes said. “It gave me a familiarity with a research setting outside of my school’s program, but it also helped shape my goals for what I am looking for in a career.”

Prior to his TSL internship, Dulmes spent two summers working with Hope College professor and advisor Roger Veldman, Ph.D., to develop computer models that could predict damage to an aircraft panel due to an explosion. At the time, he did not know how closely that experience would relate to his forthcoming TSL internship.

“I feel that my work here at TSL is a very natural progression of what I became familiar with under Dr. Veldman,” he said. “My experience with the field gave me a jump start when I got here. I was already familiar with the symbols, acronyms and formulas.”

Dulmes was selected for this research experience as part of his DHS Scholarship Award. The DHS Scholarship Program, funded by the DHS Science and Technology Directorate, is designed to support students interested in contributing to homeland security-related science, technology, engineering and mathematics research and innovation in support of the DHS mission and ensuring the next generation of scientists and engineers dedicated to improving homeland security. The DHS Scholarship Program is administered for DHS by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education.