A native of Arlington Heights, Illinois, U.S. Army Research Laboratory–Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr. Andrew Gaynor remembers being interested in science and engineering from an early age.
"From a young age, I loved to build structures—I started with wood blocks, then upgraded to Legos and K'nex, often deviating from the instructions to 'engineer' whatever came to mind," Gaynor said.
Gaynor noted that throughout school he always enjoyed math and science and had an especially great experience in Advanced Placement physics during his senior year of high school.
"This was the first time science and math truly explained the phenomena of how and why structures worked," Gaynor said. "This experience led me to major in mechanical engineering at the University of Minnesota."
However, a year into his degree and with dreams of engineering the next Golden Gate Bridge or Sears Tower, Gaynor decided to change course to civil engineering.
Gaynor went on to receive his bachelor's degree in civil engineering from the University of Minnesota in 2010 and a master's degree and doctorate in civil engineering from Johns Hopkins University in 2013 and 2015 respectively.
Now, Gaynor works in ARL's Weapons and Materials Research Directorate's Materials Manufacturing Technology Branch, where he is involved in an applied-research program to develop topology-optimization algorithms for multifunctional–multimaterials components to be manufactured via additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing.
"This program specifically focuses on ARL's light-weighting initiative," Gaynor said. "In topology optimization, which generates very intricate and high-performance designs for additive manufacturing, the engineer defines function but allows the powerful algorithm to determine the form."
Gaynor said this systematic approach to design optimization is in direct contrast to traditional trial-and-error approaches.
Examples of light-weighting potential through topology optimization can be seen in the M1 Abrams battle tank and iRobot Packbot.
According to Gaynor, despite the availability of new lightweight materials, the weight of the Abrams continues to grow due to constantly increasing threat levels, with current tanks weighing in at around 68 tons and future tanks potentially approaching 80 tons.
"With added weight comes reduced maneuverability and effectiveness on the battlefield," Gaynor said. "However, redesign of critical, extremely heavy components through topology optimization will allow the tank to shed 10 tons or more while maintaining, or even improving, key performance metrics."
Gaynor added that ultimately there is extreme potential to lightweight Army platforms when approaching the problem from a design perspective as opposed to the traditional material-replacement approach.
The iRobot Packbot is used by infantry for tasks such as building clearance, explosive defusing and disposal, and air-quality inspection for chemical and radiological agents.
Soldiers are required to carry Packbots on their backs and air drop with them into enemy combatant regions, and are often required to pull critical components, such as batteries, off the Packbot in order to get below the allowable personal-payload limit.
"With topology optimization, the engineer will be able to completely redesign over-engineered Packbot components in order to drastically reduce the overall weight of the Packbot," Gaynor said. "This includes not only light-weighting of typical structural components, but innovative light-weighting through redesign for multifunctionality, creating first-of-their-kind components such as structural batteries and structural antennae."
Gaynor said this effort, and all efforts, comes down to the safety of Soldiers on the battlefield.
"Ultimately, the more weight we can pull off the Soldier in the battle arena, the more maneuverable he or she will be, creating a much safer scenario," Gaynor said. "Every pound reduction could be the difference between life and death."
In addition to his work with topology optimization, Gaynor is working with his mentor, Dr. Brandon McWilliams, to stand up ARL's metal-additive-manufacturing capabilities.
"This involves deploying a highly integrated approach coupling computational tools for design, process simulation, and microstructure prediction with actual manufacturing to cohesively drive toward high-quality parts," Gaynor said.
Gaynor said working at ARL not only drives him to become more successful in his career each day but gives him a bigger purpose of helping to protect those who fight for our continued safety and freedom.
"As an 'entry-level employee' I am constantly impressed how ARL encourages, even requires, me to identify and set future research directions," Gaynor said. "This gives me a great sense of ownership. It is especially gratifying to know I am helping develop technology that will positively impact the safety and effectiveness of the Soldier."
Gaynor noted that he is inspired by the lab's mission to develop next-generation technology to protect our warfighter, and while the fundamental science and engineering interest him greatly, it is the impact on national security and ultimately the Soldier that inspires him the most.
Short term, Gaynor is aiming to establish himself not only technically but also organizationally. He is seeking to establish a solid network within ARL so that for future projects, he may leverage key personnel to guarantee project success.
Long term, Gaynor is aiming to become an established researcher producing top-notch research that is recognized not only within the lab but nationally and internationally.
"In this, I hope to help further elevate the lab's prestige and long-term engineering impact," Gaynor said. "This will create the most innovative environment possible so that we may develop game-changing technology to help our next-generation warfighter."
If there is advice that Gaynor could offer younger generations who are interested in a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, it would be to follow their passions and take risks.
"Follow your passion and jump on opportunities," Gaynor said. "Going into undergrad I had no idea I would eventually be working in the world of 3D printing. However, the opportunity presented itself and I jumped on it—I couldn't be happier in how it turned out."
Gaynor added that students should also not be afraid to take a risk.
"For graduate school, I applied to Johns Hopkins almost on a whim, but ended up deciding to go there because of the unique and exciting experience it offered," Gaynor said. "Likewise, ARL is not typically the career path for someone with three degrees in civil engineering. However, in discussing the research opportunities and career potential during the interview process, I determined I'd be crazy not to go here!"
Outside the lab, Gaynor is an avid runner, having participated in a number of half-marathons and one marathon, which he hopes to run more of in the future. His next race is taking place this month at his duty station on Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, the Run to Honor 5-miler.
In addition, Gaynor enjoys primarily classical music and plays a number of instruments including the euphonium, classical guitar, trombone, electric guitar, bass guitar, cornet and the didgeridoo.