Please tell us about yourself
A casual conversation with University of Central Florida assistant professor Subith Vasu about his research could make the uninformed pause for a moment.
Dr Subith Vasu, combustion and fuel researcher at the University of Central Florida(UCF), USA, investigates what happens to toxic chemicals during explosions.
Many such deadly substances may be already in the wrong hands, and detonating them may be an efficient way to eliminate them. The results of Dr Vasu’s experiments may help ascertain what kind of explosives will be effective in destroying those dangerous weapons in the safest possible way.
Science has brought chemical weapons into existence. Dr Vasu’s work is a reminder that many researchers aspire to use science to benefit humanity and counter the menace of chemical weapons.
Vasu’s mission is to learn more about chemical weapons, and he does that work on the University of Central Florida campus.
But don’t worry, he assures. It’s not as dangerous as it sounds.
“That’s where I need to explain,” Vasu said in his office at the school, where he has worked for the past four years. “I do it in a very controlled manner.”
What do you do?
From his lab, the assistant engineering professor mimics chemical weapons such as a deadly nerve gas by looking at compounds that aren’t toxic, but share similar structures.
Vasu received a $330,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to examine the science behind chemical weapons and mimic explosions on a much smaller scale.
Using a stainless steel tube that is 50 feet long and 6 inches wide, he looks at how the compounds react to temperatures that can reach up to 7,500 degrees Fahrenheit to replicate what it’s like in an explosion.
Some of the compounds Vasu researches are similar to the nerve gas sarin, which was developed by the Germans in the 1930s and is considered to be a weapon of mass destruction.
“You need to understand once the explosion goes off, what actually is going on inside of the explosion,” Vasu said.
How does this work help the community?
Better understanding of high temperatures is part of a new emphasis of research for the Department of Defense, said Allen Dalton, a physical scientist who is a program manager at the agency’s defense threat reduction agency.
Vasu is one of six grant recipients doing similar work and getting funded about $900,000 a year, Dalton said. Their research could help the military destroy chemical weapons hidden in bunkers and minimize collateral damage, Dalton said.
Vasu and his team of four UCF graduate students study how the components break apart and how long it takes. What is left over in the tube?
For Vasu, his work is deeper than just looking at chemical weapons.
What did you study? Tell us how did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
Initially, he started out studying rocket combustion.
“That’s every kid’s fascination, right?” said Vasu, 34, who received his bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in his native county of India. He did his B.Tech, M.Tech from Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT, Madras) in Aerospace Engineering, Acoustics and Vibrations
He later received his Ph.D in mechanical engineering at Stanford University in 2010, before coming to UCF and receiving the three-year federal grant that can be extended for an additional two years.
But his research on high temperatures can have other applications as well, from how to make cars burn fuel more efficiently to better understanding how a space ship returns to Earth.
“You have this kind of knowledge, you can apply it to different fields,” Vasu said.