Oklahoma State University-Tulsa graduate students Aaron Laney and Ian Juby are on a journey that years ago both could only dream about.
The two students were hired recently by NASA as composite pressure vessel experts – starting their work at Johnson Space Center in Houston months before graduation in May.
“I never really thought I could get a position at NASA. It was just a dream,” said Laney, who will graduate this spring with a master’s degree in materials science and engineering. “It only happened because of my study and research at OSU-Tulsa.”
In particular, Laney will work to ensure that all of NASA’s incoming composite pressure vessels conform to safety and quality standards. Juby, who also will graduate in May, was hired for a similar position.
“Honestly, I never in a million years thought NASA would consider me as a candidate,” Juby said. “When I tell people I never worked for the government before, they are blown away because it rarely happens that a person is hired to work for NASA without going the traditional route such as internships and co-ops. I am truly honored to be here and truly honored that the faculty at OSU continued to push me to achieve greatness.”
Composite pressure vessels are tanks built to withstand high pressure and can be used in products from paintball guns to rockets that fly to the International Space Station. Researchers work to improve the strength or flexibility of the vessels by combining materials with different physical or chemical properties to create new composites.
“The area of composite pressure vessels is a specialized discipline and few universities I am aware of offer education and training in the field,” Laney said.
Before he was hired, Juby said NASA advertised his position twice and more than 700 people applied for the job each time. But apparently, none of those applicants fit NASA’s requirements.
“Composite pressure vessels is a very niche market,” he said. “There are very few of us with this expertise. I thought there were more of us with this specialization but that is not the case, either nationally and internationally.”
Through a distinct combination of hands-on experience, state-of-the-art research facilities, faculty connections and industry ties, OSU-Tulsa prepares its materials science and engineering graduate students for high-level careers at employers such as NASA.
“Our MSE program is designed to provide an understanding of how research moves from an idea in the laboratory to commercialization,” said Raman P. Singh, Ph.D., associate dean of the College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology at OSU-Tulsa and head of the School of Materials Science and Engineering. “By working with local industry to create products that are needed in the marketplace, our graduates have a breadth of knowledge and experience that is in high demand by employers.”
Both Laney and Juby started their education at Tulsa Community College and chose OSU for both their undergraduate and graduate degrees. OSU-Tulsa enabled both young men to work full-time and stay in Tulsa.
“OSU-Tulsa prepares students for jobs that are in demand and many companies locally and nationwide are interested in our graduates,” OSU-Tulsa President Howard Barnett said. “OSU-Tulsa’s mission is to give place-bound students like Aaron and Ian the opportunity to reach their fullest potential. By providing a world-class education with flexible hours and agreements with two-year colleges that make it easy to transfer here, OSU-Tulsa helps students excel in education and their careers.”
While graduate students, Laney and Juby assisted a startup company, Infinite Composites Technologies, with research and development of an infinite composite pressure vessel, or iCPV™, a liner-less composite natural gas fuel tank.
As the home of the OSU School of Materials Science and Engineering, the Helmerich Research Center has a facility use agreement with the company, one of many industry connections that Ranji Vaidyanathan, Ph.D., Varnadow professor of materials science and engineering, brings to the MSE program.
“Dr. Vaidyanathan gave me a job as an undergraduate at the Helmerich Research Center and it had to do with composite pressure vessels,” Laney said. “I stuck with composite pressure vessels through graduate school. That became my thing.”
Juby said Vaidyanathan was also instrumental in introducing him to the field of composite pressure vessels, particularly since he has industry contacts and real-world experience.
“Like Dr. Vaidyanathan, a lot of professors at OSU-Tulsa have experience outside of academia,” Juby said. “Those professors are able to bring that experience into their teaching. They really engage students and provide more depth of knowledge in a personal way.”
The research Laney and Juby worked on was funded by sources including the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST), which has awarded several faculty substantial grants needed to carry out research projects. Vaidyanathan has been awarded about $800,000 in grants since 2013 for composite pressure vessel research and development at OSU-Tulsa.
Laney also said faculty collaboration was invaluable to his education and research. The ability to discuss ideas and concepts with faculty in other specialties and use different equipment in their laboratories helped to hone and improve his research.
“I don’t think you get that kind of interdisciplinary collaboration at other places,” Laney said. “After getting out in the workforce, I realized that the OSU program is above par. It is a truly great place and I owe OSU-Tulsa so much for providing a quality education.”