Alumnus helps develop oven housings for Mars sample analysis
Dave Long’s cheers were mixed with pride as the 2006 grad watched Curiosity land on Mars. On board the rover, as part of its sampling and analysis equipment, are the oven housings developed by Long’s team at Technology Assessment & Transfer Inc.
The Physics major is lead engineer for ceramic stereolithography or CSL in the Ceramic Microdevices Group at Annapolis-based TA&T, which NASA-Goddard Space Flight Center approached in 2008 with a design for Sample Analysis on Mars (SAM) oven housings after other companies said the design would not work.
Long’s group worked with NASA to make prototypes for testing at Goddard, and eventually to make the units for the actual flight to Mars.
“I work with a great team, and we had a lot of fun being a part of something that could change the way we view our universe,” said Long, who has been with the company since graduation. “To be honest, it was almost as cool that Jon Stewart made fun of the high tech ovens (‘why do they need pizza on Mars?’) on ‘The Daily Show’ a couple of days after the landing.”
The design, Long said, includes 52 closely-spaced holes in two rings around a chamber which allow heating elements to be woven through that heat the chamber up to 1,100 degrees Celsius (2,012 degrees Fahrenheit) in about 10 minutes. To make the prototypes and actual units, Long’s team used CSL, which makes it possible to build complex, monolithic structures that could not be produced by more standard methods, such as green machining or ceramic injection molding.
Long, whose dad is McDaniel Biology Professor Emeritus Bill Long, couldn’t be happier with his career choice.
“The opportunity to work on cutting-edge technology is tremendous, and the variety of work presents so many challenges,” said the former Green Terror soccer player. “My group has done research and development in all kinds of areas, from the SAM ovens for Curiosity to surgical instruments, satellite electronics cooling, aircraft turbine engines and hybrid electric vehicles.”
He credits his unconventional capstone project at McDaniel – and professors Jeff Marx, Apollo Mian and Bill Pagonis – with helping him land the job at TA&T. As a part of the interview process, Long presented his capstone and paper to senior engineers at the company.
“I'd say that the flexibility my professors and the college gave me to work on a ping-pong-ball cannon, which isn't really an orthodox capstone, ended up setting me apart from the standard type of work that the TA&T engineers would normally see presented.”
Learn more about the Physics Department at McDaniel College.
(Mars photo courtesy of NASA.)