Eric Jacques, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering, has been selected by the Office of Naval Research for its 2021 Young Investigator Program.

The Young Investigator Program is one of the most selective scientific research advancement programs in the country and is focused on funding early-career academic researchers whose scientific pursuits show outstanding promise for supporting the Department of Defense, while also supporting the researcher’s professional development.

Jacques’ research project focuses on understanding the interrelated chemical reactions and physical processes that govern aluminum metal combustion for energetic applications, including explosives, propellants, and pyrotechnics.

“Our understanding of detonation-based combustion of particle-gas mixtures is challenged because performing the necessary experiments at the appropriate time and length scales is difficult, even in well-equipped labs,” Jacques said. “This research project will develop new theories to describe the energy release rates of aluminum combustion occurring in turbulent detonation-driven flows.”

Jacques serves as the director of the Shock Tube Research Facility, a space equipped with a large-scale gas-detonation blast simulator, where he and his team study structural and non-structural components subject to extreme blast loads. It is used to evaluate the resilience of structural and non-structural building components subjected to extreme blast loads, including loadbearing elements, walls, windows, and exterior cladding. The shock tube shows how explosions, from such events as terrorist attacks or industrial accidents, can affect building infrastructure. It is the only facility of its kind in the United States at a university. 

Shock Tube Research Facility
At the Shock Tube Research Facility, Jacques and his team study structural and non-structural components subject to extreme blast loads. (Photo from February 2020)

Trained as a structural engineer, Jacques has been studying the science of blast and shock from the perspective of structural response and vulnerability since 2008. “Shifting my focus to understanding the fundamentals of detonation and combustion is the natural next step for my skills and interests,” Jacques said. “I’m fortunate to have many highly regarded scientists as mentors who have helped focus my thinking in this new area.”

Though the Young Investigator award, Jacques seeks to understand the rate-controlled processes governing the large-scale detonation and post-detonation combustion of fine aluminum particle-gas mixtures. This diverse set of chemical reactions and physical processes is difficult to experimentally measure and usually estimated based on small-scale tests, Jacques explained, which do not replicate the huge impact of the physics at larger scales. Tests like this have also not previously been performed with comprehensive and repeated combustion while using a diverse variety and combination of particle parameters and oxidizing conditions.

The shock tube research facility will uniquely allow Jacques to perform large-scale, detonation-based combustion of bulk particle-gas mixtures. The blast experiments will involve detonating aluminum particle dust clouds of varying mixture characteristics and studying the spatiotemporal evolution of pressure, temperature, species, and cell structure inside the shock tube using advanced diagnostics.

Jacques believes this research could potentially lead to new theories describing the processes that govern detonation-driven energy release rates of aluminum particle combustion, which can help provide the Department of Defense with measurements of large-scale detonation-based combustion of particle-gas mixtures. This can promote progress in controlling and designing advanced energetic materials.

“Not only am I honored to receive this research award, I’m also excited to have College of Engineering students participate in all aspects of the research process,” Jacques said. “Ultimately, the Navy and the broader energetics community will benefit from the opportunity to recruit Virginia Tech graduates with technical knowledge and training in the experimental and measurement aspects of energetics research.”

The office’s Young Investigators were chosen out of hundreds of applicants based on past performance, technical merit, potential for scientific breakthrough, and long-term university commitment. The awards aim to enhance early career development and increase opportunities for young investigators, like Jacques, to recognize the Navy and Marine Corps mission and related challenges in science and engineering.

Jacques joined Virginia Tech in 2017 following his positions as an assistant research officer for the National Research Council of Canada and a part-time professor at the University of Ottawa.

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