Winter 2005

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(Fall 2005)

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Young Hallmark Scholar Engineers Military Sensor

For soldiers in the field, detecting explosive devices or traces of chemical gas clouds can be a cumbersome, dangerous task.

A soldier on a reconnaissance mission must carry a microchemical lab unit along with a standard-size laptop computer and a separate power source, all plugged together. Combined with an already heavy array of standard gear and weapons, it can hamper mobility in potentially lethal situations.

Working on his co-op at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, mechanical engineering junior Patrick Fletcher is helping develop ways to make sensors smaller and more accurate to help America's fighting men and women.

Engineering junior and U of L Hallmark Scholar Patrick Fletcher solders circuits for a military sensor device he's developing in co-op research at Sandia National Labs.

"We've developed sensors that are used by troops in Iraq and will be used by airport security," he says. Fletcher works for the micro-analytical systems department, where he designs, builds and tests new sensors.

"I'm involved in all the processes of development," he says. "I get to use my creativity in designing components of the sensors and also get to see if these components will be feasible to produce."

In one project, Fletcher is working on a personal detection device that would be the size of a hand-held computer game. "It's like a Palm Pilot and it has its own power source," Fletcher says. "Ground troops could carry it, and the person doing recon could determine if a gas cloud or anything that looked like one was actually dangerous and then alert the troops to put on their masks."

In an earlier co-op project, Fletcher worked to miniaturize pumps that pull air samples into a small chemical sensor where microchips analyze the input. "Right now the mini-pump is about 3 inches long, but we wanted to get it down to an inch, and I am fabricating some of those pumps now," he says.

Fletcher also has worked with colleagues including Speed alumnus and Sandia engineer Doug Adkins '79S, '80G, to develop the tiny Snifferstar sensor that can detect chemicals while mounted in the wing of a drone aircraft.

Fletcher, who comes from Goshen, Ky., just east of Louisville, is one of 350 U of L students recruited under the Hallmark Scholars Program. The scholarship is given to Kentucky's most talented high school seniors, and provides support for tuition and fees, housing, board, books and other items for four years at U of L.

"So many of my friends have academic scholarships, and I think it's wonderful how dedicated U of L is to provide scholarships to top-ranking students," Fletcher says.

Because it costs more than $1 million each year to sustain 350 Hallmark Scholars at U of L, the university is seeking continued support from alumni and friends.

"Having scholarships at U of L has allowed me to focus on school work and maintaining good grades. You know that as long as you stay in school, nothing will get in your way," Fletcher says. Once he receives his engineering degree, the ambitious Fletcher plans to enter business school in 2007 as part of the joint master's degree program between Speed and the College of Business and Public Administration.

"I'm already taking some business classes," he says. "I plan to get my master's in mechanical, then a master's in business. Hopefully it will help me move up the chain a little quicker when I start my career."

Before that, Fletcher plans to start his third co-op at Sandia next summer. "What I'm doing is very hands on," he says. "What I create and design on the computer, I build and test and revise. I got to use my creativity but also get to see if these are feasible to produce.

"Classes at U of L have been a great preparation for Sandia. I'm very satisfied with my education so far."

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