$5 Million Grant Will Expand Mission of WSU’s Institute for Shock Physics

PULLMAN, Wash. — The Office of Naval Research has awarded a five-year, $5 million grant
to Washington State University’s Institute for Shock Physics and the Department of Physics to
establish a comprehensive, fundamental research program that will address the Navy’s long-term
research objectives regarding the performance and safety of explosives and propellants.
According to Yogendra Gupta, physics professor and institute director, the grant will permit
the institute, which in the past has focused more on physical aspects of shock wave dynamics,
to enhance its efforts on chemical reaction studies and to significantly expand the research team.
Shock wave research explores very rapid compression of materials, shock-induced chemical
changes, detonation science and the dynamic response of materials at large compressions and
“WSU is uniquely qualified to undertake this effort because of several important factors,”
said Gupta. “We have an internationally renowned shock wave program with a strong tradition
of scientific excellence in the physics department dating back to the late fifties. We have a
multi-disciplinary team of researchers whose work spans many related areas; and we have
state-of-the-art experimental capabilities, including many scientific innovations pioneered under
previous ONR grants. We also have the strong support of the university for shock wave
research activities.” Gupta has had ONR funding since 1978 to work on related problems.
“Institute researchers will try to understand molecular mechanisms that govern chemical
reactions in energetic materials subjected to shock waves,” he adds. “In our experiments we use
minute quantities of these materials and try to understand the processes operative on a millionth-
to a trillionth-of-a-second time scale. Explosives have been used for a very long time and
represent an area where the engineering is ahead of the science. This grant will establish a center
of research excellence at WSU that will contribute to the safe use of these high explosives by the
Navy and other agencies. Our research may also have application for developing powerful
rockets for launching space crafts.”
“The Institute is known for innovative work and this funding will enable us to undertake
even more difficult and challenging research,” said Gupta. “It will allow us to explore new
avenues and novel ideas that we couldn’t otherwise undertake.”
WSU’s Institute for Shock Physics was established within the College of Sciences in 1997
with a $10 million, five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (Defense Programs) and is
an extension of the previously existing Shock Dynamics Center. Under the DOE grant, the
Institute has developed strong research partnerships with scientists at DOE laboratories and is
conducting fundamental research related to the goals of the DOE’s weapons stockpile
stewardship program.
Gupta joined the physics department at WSU in 1981 and expanded the shock wave research
activities pioneered by George Duvall and others in the physics department in the 1960s. Besides
defense-related research, shock wave science has the potential to address several other technical
areas important to the Washington state region, such as aircraft safety questions concerning
explosions and impact, environmental issues related to soil remediation, and the synthesis and
development of novel materials.
Last week, the Institute hosted a site visit by an 11-member DOE review team that included
Dave Crandall, director for the Defense Program’s Office of Science, and senior representatives
from the Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos and Sandia national labs.