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News | March 28, 2022

SMART Scholar and SEED Grant Recipient Works to Develop Micro Laser-Triggering in Spark Gap Switches

Moving directed energy systems from the lab to the hands of the warfighter is no easy task. Projects require years of basic research, followed by research and development efforts, and finally testing and evaluation. Electrical Engineer and SMART SEED Grant recipient, Jon Cameron Pouncey, Ph.D., from the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren Division, is undertaking a three-year effort to develop new micro laser-triggering in spark gap switches for pulsed power systems. His efforts aim to increase the efficiency and reliability of the switches for the Department of Defense’s (DoD) directed energy modernization area.

Pulsed power systems are essential to provide power conditioners, or the device which delivers the proper voltage, in most directed energy weapons systems. Current technology uses spark gap or gas switches, but they suffer from reliability and triggering issues. While laser triggering has also been used to improve triggering performance in large fixed-site pulsed power systems, it has not been successfully used in directed energy applications. Current performance and reliability issues create limitations for the development of directed energy systems.

Jon envisions his research being incorporated into joint DoD efforts such as the High-Power Joint Electromagnetic Non-Kinetic Strike (HIJENKS) and the Pre-Emplaced Vehicle Stopper (PEVS) programs. HIJENKS is a joint Navy and Air Force research program which will demonstrate the next generation of high-power microwave payload. The PEVS program is developing a non-lethal electromagnetic vehicle stopping system to protect DoD facilities. In both projects, laser triggering may enhance device reliability.

Merging his desire to create new technologies and enthusiasm for pulsed power technology, Jon’s current research expands on his doctoral dissertation of micro-laser trigger switches. Jon and his advisor had trouble receiving funding for his dissertation research until Jon was selected for the SMART Scholarship-for-Service Program. Jon says, “Because of the SMART scholarship, my advisor did not have to support me financially, so I was free to conduct this research while still advancing toward my degree.” When SMART announced their SEED Grant funding opportunity in 2020, Jon applied knowing it merged his passion for creating new technologies and micro-lasers, while developing a necessary technology for a DoD modernization area.

The SMART Scholar SEED Grant Program is sponsored by the SMART Program Office and the Laboratories and Personnel Office under the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. SEED Grant recipients receive research grants up to $100 thousand per year for up to a maximum of three years to help support promising SMART scholars establish a foundational research or engineering effort in their area of expertise as they transition from the pursuit of their Ph.D. to a DoD professional. To foster relationships between SEED Grant recipients and established members of the DoD technical workforce, mentors of SEED Grant recipients are eligible for an additional $25 thousand per year to support close engagement and collaboration with their SEED Grant mentee.