UL Engineers Help Make the World a Safer Place

Here are five who are making a difference

Marianne Wait (@MarianneWait) Tech February 26, 2016

Engineers perform minor miracles every day (and sometimes, major miracles, like building the Hoover Dam or the Large Hadron Collider). As a kid I marveled at how, every time I managed to knock my clock radio off the dresser, my engineer father opened it up, did a few mysterious things with a tool or two and fixed it.

Engineers don't just figure out how to make things — they figure out how to make them, or make everyday life, safer. Whether it's by designing intelligent traffic lights or smart cities, by ensuring hoverboards don't catch fire or explode or by figuring out how to render modern houses more fireproof, engineers do their best to, well, engineer the risk out of life.

Here's a peek at a few of the engineers at UL and what they do.

1. Derek Gardner, UL’s engineering technician and ballistics expert

Derek Gardner from UL Derek Gardner from UL Photo: UL

Former Army Ranger Derek Gardner has a trained eye for spotting weak spots. Recently, while testing a one-ton nuclear power plant door to confirm it met UL’s standard, Gardner pinpointed a weak area in the door’s paneling and shot a hole right through it.

In the ballistics lab, Gardner uses a gun with an interchangeable barrel that allows him to shoot a range of calibers, from 22 to 50, representing everything from a small hand gun to military-grade artillery. Standing behind a bullet-resistant wall, he uses a laser to help guide his shots during testing.

Gardner places a piece of cardboard behind the test materials to replicate vital organs and tissues. If bullets pierce the cardboard, he knows people standing behind the wall, door or glass will not be safe — and because of this, the product will fail UL’s test and require re-engineering to improve its durability.

2. Judy Jeevarajan, director of electrochemical safety research

Judy Jeevarajan Judy Jeevarajan Photo: UL

Formerly a senior scientist at NASA, Jeevarajan, who leads UL’s battery safety research, gets all sparked up about battery safety. At UL she concentrates on the safety of aged high-energy lithium-ion batteries, as well as the safe transportation of lithium-based cells and batteries. In recent years, the battery industry has advanced from using lithium-ion cells in small portable electronic equipment to large energy and power systems used in space, automotive, aviation, residential and commercial utility applications. Jeevarajan's research helps make these systems safer.

3. Paul Bates, UL's lead AM development engineer

paul bates headshot 2 paul bates headshot 2 Photo: UL

3D printing — already being used to print body parts, casts for broken bones, commercial jet engine components, the world's smallest working drill and even food — is the wave of the future, but according to UL, most people looking to use 3D printers don't have the background needed to design, perform, and operate them safely. That's where Paul Bates, Mr. 3D Printing, comes in. He and his team are helping companies establish production processes and safety standards for the technology. Bates teaches engineers, designers and business professionals how to safely implement 3D printing into their manufacturing operation. His teachings range from the basics of this emerging manufacturing process to its use and safe operation in future 3D printing/additive manufacturing facilities.

4. Steve Kerber, director of UL’s Firefighter Safety Research Institute

Steve Kerber Steve Kerber Photo: UL

Kerber, who comes from a family of firefighters, leads a fire research team at UL and has a job some people might find enviable. “We light stuff on fire,” Kerber says. Using controlled burn experiments, Kerber and his team demonstrate the dynamics of how fires grow and spread, helping firefighters understand which tactics are most effective.

His team's research on modern fires reveals that open floor plans of buildings and the new materials in homes demand new firefighting techniques. For example, for generations, firefighters were taught to break the windows of a house that was burning, out of a belief was that open windows would let heat from the fire out of the building. Now, though, Kerber and other fire safety researchers know that breaking the windows of a modern home on fire generates more deadly thick smoke, as it adds more oxygen to the faster-burning fire. As a result, firefighters are now advised to put water on fires and cool down the fire before breaking windows.

Kerber and his team also recreate the real-life conditions of modern burn situations to help fire departments understand how to protect firefighters from threats including cardiovascular strain and chemical exposure.

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