Postdoc Spotlight: Dr. Frank Gardea

May 16, 2016

By David McNally, ARL Public Affairs

Story Highlights

  • "The opportunity to work around such groundbreaking research is a unique experience, even if I am not directly involved," Dr. Frank Gardea said. "In addition, I enjoy the research freedom I am given to explore new ideas."

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (April 27, 2016) -- For many recent graduates of doctoral programs, the next career step is to find a postdoctoral fellowship. Postdocs perform research "under the supervision and mentorship of a more senior researcher," according to the National Postdoctoral Association website.

For Texas native Dr. Frank Gardea, becoming a U.S. Army Research Laboratory postdoctoral fellow was the next step in his quest for an aerospace engineering career.

"I obtained a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering from Texas A&M University in 2008," Gardea said. "I really enjoyed the undergraduate research experience at Texas A&M, so I decided to continue my graduate work there."

Gardea earned a master of science in 2011 and a doctorate in 2015, both in aerospace engineering.

"I became interested in nanotechnology after a summer internship I had at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base," he said. "After that experience, I decided I wanted to continue doing experimental research as an undergraduate and then continue on to graduate school."

Gardea said his early research experience led him to his current position as a Vehicle Technology Directorate researcher at APG.

"One of the research topics I am involved in addresses how to suppress rotary-wing vibrations that could lead to instabilities," he said. "This research includes interfacial studies in polymer/nanoparticle composite materials with a focus on obtaining new insights into the origins of damping and using interfacial phenomena to enhance energy dissipation."

Army researchers are developing materials in which interfacial properties can be altered and tuned to meet specific missions and objectives.

"To engineer these unique materials, we are looking into merging nanotechnology with additive manufacturing," he said. "This will help us bridge the gap between design and realization of materials with tunable material properties."

Gardea is also involved in a revolutionary new approach to damage prediction involving damage precursors.

"This approach consists of detecting the progression of structural material property degradation and/or changes in morphology that can eventually evolve into damage," he said. "The service life prediction in structural components is critical to maintaining operation and reducing down-time of current advanced mechanical systems and so the goal is to provide a method that can provide awareness of the material state at an early stage. Specifically, my work involves studying material response down to the micro and nanoscale. Currently we are looking into identifying damage precursors in microfibers."

For students interested in pursuing a career in science and technology, Gardea has some advice.

"Get involved in the field or topic you are interested in before pursuing a career in that field," he said. "An important experience I had was when I attended a physics and engineering festival. There was very appealing booths and fun demonstrations meant to attract all of the high school students to STEM fields; however, there was one professor standing quietly behind a table, the only thing on the table was an opened textbook. He said to me, 'Everything looks fun and exciting but the reality is that you will spend most of your time studying and learning from a textbook before you even get a chance to get in a lab and perform any exciting experiments. However, once you become knowledgeable in your field, there are many opportunities for exciting work.' I saw many students switch majors or get discouraged in the early stages because they were expecting something different. So my advice would be to talk to people in the field, go to seminars, audit some classes in that field, ask how undergraduate/graduate life is like, volunteer in that field. Get informed. Explore. You will find out what you like and don't like and what field is right for you."

Gardea said working at the laboratory has been a learning experience.

"The opportunity to work around such groundbreaking research is a unique experience, even if I am not directly involved," he said. "In addition, I enjoy the research freedom I am given to explore new ideas."

Gardea said he enjoys traveling, watching baseball and boxing, playing music, and going to concerts.

His short-term goal is to gain as much knowledge and experience as possible, he said.

"My long-term career goal is to never stagnate or reach a plateau," Gardea said. "I want to continue exploring different research topics, extend my pursuit of knowledge, and continue enhancing my career. The fact that I can contribute, even if in a small way, to the advancement and progress of my country is what inspires me to come to work every day."

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 16, 2016