Scottish chemist dives into energetic materials research

May 24, 2016

By David McNally, ARL Public Affairs

Story Highlights

  • Meet Dr. Steven Hunter, 29, a Scottish chemist who works as a guest researcher at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (May 12, 2016) -- Working at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory presents unique challenges and rewards for one guest researcher.

Meet Dr. Steven Hunter, 29, a Scottish chemist who works with the Energetic Materials Science Branch at the ARL's Weapons and Materials Research Directorate.

ARL Fellow Dr. Betsy Rice met Hunter two years ago at a Gordon Energetic Materials Research Conference and inspired him to pursue his research with the laboratory.

"We have a cooperative agreement with University of Edinburgh, home of Steve's research group, to pursue collaborative research in energetic materials," Rice said. "Through Open Campus, ARL collaborates with national and international academia, industry, small business and other government partners in forward-reaching research in areas of strategic importance to the Army."

Hunter said he knew of Rice's work in density functional theory – which is a computational modelling method used in physics, chemistry and materials science to investigate structures in quantum mechanics.

"I was doing the same sort of thing," he said. "My Ph.D. was the study of the effects of high pressure on the structure and properties of energetic materials."

Hunter jumped at the chance to work in the United States with scientists working toward similar goals. He began his one-year with ARL in October 2015. "The main point of my year here is that I want to determine if shear affects the phase behavior of materials [or how different conditions influence how materials behave]," he said. "I feel like I'm making a lot of progress."

He studies FOX-7, an insensitive high explosive compound.

Hunter said he finds life in America interesting. During a Maryland snowfall this winter, he found his parking spot buried in snow and himself without a snow shovel. He decided on an innovative solution.

"I used a frying pan," he said. "That was an experience. My co-workers dubbed it the 'Scottish snow shovel!'"

Hunter also has several observations on life in America.

"The cars are massive," he said. "Most cars in Britain are smaller, the fuel prices are higher and the roads are smaller. Drive-through banks are awesome. I've never been to one, but to me that is for fast food. Some of the culture is weird, but obviously you would think some of our culture in Scotland is weird."

Hunter has been studying at the University of Edinburgh for more than a decade. He said he completed his undergraduate and doctoral degrees there, as well as a previous postdoctoral fellowship.

The cost of education in Scotland is very different than in America, he said.

"If you're Scottish and you go to a Scottish university, it's free," he said. "My degrees were free. Nobody in my family had ever been to university before. I was the first person in my family to go."

After his year with ARL, he said he hopes to leave academia behind and seek a job in industry.

"The opportunity here is great," he said. "I got to learn more things and make new contacts. There are resources here that I don't have access to in Britain."

The U.S. Army Research Laboratory is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to ensure decisive overmatch for unified land operations to empower the Army, the joint warfighter and our nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.


Last Update / Reviewed: May 24, 2016