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Joycelyn Harrison

Inventor and chemical engineer, Joycelyn Harrison was born on January 22, 1964. She received her B.S. in chemistry from Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia in 1987. She then went on later that year to earn her B.S. in chemical engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology. Harrison remained at Georgia Tech as a graduate student and completed her M.S. in chemical engineering in 1989 and her Ph.D. in 1993. She completed her dissertation on the “Structure-Dielectric Property Relationships in An Epoxy System: A Free Volume Analysis.”

After graduate school Harrison went on to work at the Advanced Materials and Processing Branch (AMPB) of NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia in 1994 as a research engineer under the tutelage of Terry L. St. Clair. While at Langley, Harrison conducted much of her research in the field of piezoelectric materials, a class of polymers capable of producing mechanical motion when introduced to an electric current and conversely capable of generating an electric charge when subjected to stress. Her research culminated with her participation on the Thin-Layer Composite-Unimorph Piezoelectric Driver and Sensor (“THUNDER”) project with several colleagues, including senior engineer Robert Bryant. The THUNDER team innovated new piezoelectric polymers that improved upon the existing commercial varieties by providing better durability, energy efficiency, and production costs. In 1999, Harrison became chief of AMPB, which required her to supervise more than 40 research scientists conducting research on polymer composites and ceramics synthesis. NASA recognized Harrison’s contributions to the AMPB branch by awarding her the Exceptional Achievement Medal in 2000 and the Outstanding Leadership Medal in 2006.

Harrison’s personal achievements include a number of patents for piezoelectric substrates that she invented between 1999 and 2008, which have applications both within the aerospace industry for the repair of satellites and the commercial sector for improvements in devices, such as robots, heart pumps and audio speakers. In 2009, Harrison became the manager of the Low Density Materials program at the Air Force Office of Scientific Research in Arlington, Virginia, which seeks to attain reductions in weight of aerospace systems while simultaneously improving overall efficiency.

Harrison resides in Arlington, Virginia.

Harrison was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on July 14, 2012.

Accession Number

A2012.173

Sex

Female

Archival Photo 1
Interview Date

7/14/2012

Last Name

Harrison

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Occupation
Organizations
Schools

NASA LANGLEY RESEARCH CENTER National Research Council Post-Doctoral Associate

Georgia Institute of Technology

Spelman College

Search Occupation Category
Archival Photo 2
First Name

Joycelyn

Birth City, State, Country

Chattanooga

HM ID

HAR36

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Tennessee

Favorite Vacation Destination

Kiawah island, South Carolina

Favorite Quote

All That Glitters Is Not Gold.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Interview Description
Birth Date

1/22/1964

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Lobster, Seafood

Short Description

Chemical engineer Joycelyn Harrison (1964 - ) was research engineer and chief of the Advanced Materials and Processing Branch of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Langley Research Center. She was also the director of the low density materials program at the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

Employment

United States Air Force Oiffice of Scientific Research (AFOSR)

National Science Foundation (NSF)

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Langley Research Center

Thomas Nelson Community College

Favorite Color

Purple

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Joycelyn Harrison's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Joycelyn Harrison lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Joycelyn Harrison describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about her mother's growing up

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Joycelyn Harrison describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about her father's growing up

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about how her parents met

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Joycelyn Harrison describes her parents' personalities and who she takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about her growing up

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about her siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Joycelyn Harrison describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Joycelyn Harrison describes her childhood home

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Joycelyn Harrison describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about her experience being bullied

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about her love for learning

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about her childhood friend

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about documentaries

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about her elementary school teacher, Ms. Grisham

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about her junior high school experience

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about her interest in books

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about the A.M.E. Church

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about The Civil Rights Movement and NASA

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about her childhood education

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about her high school teachers

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about her decision to pursue chemical engineering

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about her experience at Spelman College

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about her extracurricular activities

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about her mentors in chemistry

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about her experience at the Georgia Institute of Technology

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Joycelyn Harrison compares her experiences at Spelman College with that of Georgia Institute of Technology

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Joycelyn Harrison describes the difference between a chemist and a chemical engineer

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about her decision to become a chemical engineer

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about her decision to attend graduate school (part 1)

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about her decision to attend graduate school (part 2)

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Joycelyn Harrison describes her dissertation on high performance composite materials

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about piezoelectric materials

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about her research advisor and mentor, Dr. Terry St. Clair

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about her work at NASA's Langley Research Center

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about receiving the R&D 100 Award

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about NASA's program, THUNDER

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about her professional activities and awards

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about her social skills

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about the challenges of being a manager

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about receiving the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about her patents

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about her resignation from NASA

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about her career at the Air Force Office of Scientific Research

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about her work with MUIRI

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about her career

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Joycelyn Harrison reflects on her career

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about balancing family with her career

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about her husband and children

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Joycelyn Harrison shares her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Joycelyn Harrison reflects on her life choices

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Joycelyn Harrison reflects on her legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Joycelyn Harrison talks about how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Joycelyn Harrison describes her photos

DASession

1$1

DATape

5$6

DAStory

2$1

DATitle
Joycelyn Harrison talks about NASA's program, THUNDER
Joycelyn Harrison talks about her career at the Air Force Office of Scientific Research
Transcript
So what were the applications that, well, what was it used for?$$Oh, you can use those for a variety of, you know, well, we call 'em actuators. So actuators get used in a lot of type--a lot of devices to translate a load, you know, in instrumentation, for instance. Like all of these, you know, a lot of transducers are used in like medical equipment, to work all the mechanisms, in vehicles and systems like your, the pistons and things of that nature. I think that's one of the applications that Caterpillar was interested in. You know, it can drive things. In addition, if you put a voltage on it, as I said before, I mean if you put a load on it, it gives you a voltage. So you can use it as a sensor. Say you have something that you wanna know how much weight was put on something. This is a very elementary example. But if you wanna know how much weight was impacted on something, if you have this piezoelectric, and you roll a load across it or force, it gives you an electrical signal. And that signal is proportional to the weight that was on it. So you can use it also as a sensor. So that's what we call a sensor and actuator. And NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration], one of the things that they would be interested in that response would be like remember Columbia, and when it failed, some of the tiles, the shuttle tiles had been damaged because they had been impacted by ice. And that damaged tiles. And then when it, when the vehicle reentered, it couldn't handle the loads because it damaged the heat shield. If we had something like these sensors in there, you would know how much impact was exerted on that heat shield or of those tiles, you know, you could measure that amount of force and know that, okay, this thing has sustained a significant amount of damage because it got hit by, with this, at this force. So those types of sensor applications would be useful to NASA. Now, this particular one was never used in that way, but I'm giving a hypothetical example of the kinds of things you can use these materials for, lots of robotic-type devices, articulating arms in Space. One of the projects I worked on, they wanted actuators for something that sounds pretty trivial, but it was a big problem. It was, they wanna to send these rovers, like a little robotic instrument, basically, it's an instrument on wheels. And they wanted to send it to an asteroid. And, but one of the problems is the asteroids and the moon and a lot of surfaces in Space are very dusty. And so the lens on the robot was continually getting dirtied up or clouded up with the dust and stuff from the surface of the asteroid. And so they needed like a low-power, lightweight windshield wiper. And so they looked at these materials to serve as windshield wipers because, you know, anything you put in space, there's a big cost for putting it up there. So you'll always have a weight penalty. You want things to be lightweight. You want things to be low power. And in this case, these kinds of actuators were pretty low power, and they were plastic. They were really lightweight. You could make 'em really tiny, but they could keep that surface clean so you could get really expensive experiments, experimental data because now the optics were clear enough to see what was going on, on the surface. So those kinds of things are very useful for, you know, a myriad of applications that NASA was interested in, and in the commercial market as well.$$Okay, so this is an award-winning, so this is a--is this the biggest thing you worked on, you think, in the THUNDER [Thin Layer Composite Unimorph Piezoelectric Driver and Sensor] project?$$Probably--it was big, but probably not the biggest. I think the most rewarding thing I've worked on was related to the area that we broadly call nano technology now. And that was, nano technology is, is basically, seeing at the nano scale. Nano is really, really small. It's like, you can see a single atom. So you think of, you know, all matter is made of atoms and molecules and things. You can actually get down to the atomic scale and, and resolve and begin to move molecules. And I work, I started, the capability or this whole area of nano technology was birthed about twenty years ago. And so I was, you know, a scientist in the lab, doing research at that time, which is a great time to, in science, to be in that position. And so I've done research in working with what we call carbon nano tubes, and you mentioned earlier, grapheme, things of that nature, that are nano scale element. And we look at how you can now combine, if you can start moving one atom at a time, how you can move atoms to design materials that are, you know, you have a lot more control over what you can make. You're not just in the lab mixing molecules. You're now moving atoms at a time and developing new compositions of matter and structures and to engineer in the properties that you wanna see or you need in a given material. And so this whole era of nano technology, I think has been, you know, it's, it's been a hay day in the scientific and engineering community. We've done a lot in the past twenty years in this. So I think that's the most exciting work I've done.$Okay, 2009, this is the Air Force Office of Scientific Research in Arlington. That's, so, well, tell how you--$$Yeah, so, yeah, I, I was hired by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research in Arlington, Virginia right after, well, before I left NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration] I was offered a job there. And at AFOSR [Air Force Office of Scientific Research] which is what we call it, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, I, I'm a program manager. I run the low density materials program. And what we do at AFOSR is fund fundamental research. We fund discovery in all areas of relevance to the Air Force. And so that is, you know, aerospace systems, cyber systems, you know, computer systems as well. And so I, I work in the aerospace chemical and material sciences directorate and interface with scientist and professors all around the country that do things that will add to our discovery and understanding of the fundamentals of lightweight materials, low-density materials. So, and the way I do that is by, I attend a lot of conferences. I interface with a lot of professors and try to understand what their latest and greatest emerging research is, understand that, and understand how that can impact the technologies of the Air Force.$$Okay, what are low-density materials, just for the listeners?$$So when you think of low density, you think of, you know, density is mass over volume. So you think of low mass, lightweight materials. So, you know, any time you have a system that rises above the ground, okay, and whether that's an aircraft or helicopter, a spacecraft, anything that has to be launched into space like satellite systems, you want them to be as lightweight as possible because there's a penalty, the weight penalty when you have to carry them over distances, particularly, lifting them into space or into the atmosphere. And so my job is, you know, look at how can we decrease the mass, lightweight, in many of the structures and the systems that the Air Force works with. And what is the science that can enable continued radical, you know, what we call transformational improvements in that area.$$Okay, now, in 2010, you were working with the department, as a Department of Defense liaison for the National Academy Study on Structural Light Weighting.$$Um-hum.$$Okay, now, this is a part of the job at the Air Force?$$This is part of my job, yeah, exactly. So what the National Academies does is, they're kind of like the unbiased arm of the government that launches studies to, you know, in a variety of science and engineering areas that kind of do fact checking, and, you know, can address where we are as a country, as a nation and how we compete, compete or stand up against other countries in certain areas or what needs to be done in certain areas. And so this is a study that was launched by the Department of the Defense or commissioned through the Department of Defense to the National Academies to look at light-weighting of military vehicles, military systems. And so it included naval vessels, air, aircraft and spacecraft and also Army systems, tanks and things of that nature. And so my job, through part of the Reliance twenty-one which is an interagency DOD [Department of Defense], tri-service board, was to work with that committee. I helped to nominate the members of the committee and work with them to, as they studied. It's, the members of the committee were all from academia and industry. They're non-governmental, but I was the government liaison to assist them as needed in trying to understand military systems. And they did the study on how light-weighting can impact that, and what needs to be done in the future in that area.