Southern Research hosted a special event to mark the 25th anniversary of the opening of its Oxmoor campus, where the organization’s staff have tackled complex technical challenges in support of the space program, critical defense systems, and important energy issues.
The event took place Oct. 25 at the facility at 757 Tom Martin Drive off Lakeshore Parkway in Birmingham.
“The opening of the Oxmoor campus represented a milestone for Southern Research because the facility has provided our team with a unique expansion space to help advance important programs in aerospace and defense,” said Art Tipton, Ph.D., the organization’s president and CEO. “And with expansion, it has been a great center for our growing energy and environment focus.”
“The work conducted by Southern Research at the Oxmoor campus has always focused on making discoveries that propel science and technical knowledge forward,” he added. “That mission is going to continue well into the future.”
Largely designed by Southern Research engineers, the Oxmoor facility was set up for flexible lab space to meet the changing demands of the staff’s work. Its labs are packed with one-of-a-kind instruments and devices invented by Southern Research engineers for tasks such as testing materials in extreme environments like those encountered by spacecraft.
In 2016, the organization’s Energy & Environment division moved to the Oxmoor campus, where it is conducting research on solar panels and next-generation energy storage systems, and operating a new economic development-focused initiative called The Prosperity Fund.
Southern Research officially opened the Oxmoor facility on Oct. 9, 1992, after a dedication ceremony attended by Gov. Guy Hunt and community leaders. “It is most gratifying to see first-hand evidence of Alabama’s growing prominence in high-technology research and development,” Hunt said in his speech.
Visitors entering the main lab on a tour that day saw a giant replica of the Space Shuttle, reflecting Southern Research’s deep involvement in the NASA program.
With activities centered at the Oxmoor facility, Southern Research remains one of the few organizations in the world where the thermal and mechanical properties of materials are routinely studied at temperatures reaching into thousands of degrees.
“One thing that makes this facility unique is that we have been able to assemble under one roof some of the world’s top experts in advanced materials under extreme environments,” said Michael D. Johns, vice president of the Engineering division.
“The facility is full of one-of-a-kind extreme environment test facilities that simulate everything from cryogenic exposure of space telescopes to the extreme heat of earth atmospheric reentry.”
In addition to the Space Shuttle, Southern Research engineers have made significant contributions to the development of spacecraft technology for NASA programs such as the James Webb Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory, Johns said.
Other important work at the Oxmoor center has focused on the development of flight systems capable of traveling more than six times the speed of sound, and the creation of an airborne high-altitude video system capable of recording high-definition images at great distances.
The system, called AIRS/DyNAMITE, was deployed on a NASA-sponsored mission to capture unprecedented images of the Sun and Mercury during this year’s total solar eclipse.
Johns said Southern Research engineers will participate in many critical programs in the future. These include developing technologies related to NASA’s planned missions to Mars and next-generation space telescopes. They’ll also be focusing on cyber security, additive manufacturing, and the modernization of the nation’s aging missile fleets, he added.
Meanwhile, the Energy & Environment (E&E) division is expanding its footprint at the Oxmoor campus by moving into a 28,000-square-foot expansion of the site commissioned in 2012, according to Bill Grieco, Ph.D., the division’s vice president.
The Southeast Solar Research Center, located at the Oxmoor site, permits E&E researchers to assess the reliability and cost performance of solar panels under field and lab conditions. Southern Research’s key partners in the project are Southern Company, the Department of Energy, and the Electric Power Research Institute.
E&E also recently launched the Energy Storage Research Center to focus on the integration and testing of advanced energy storage technologies, which promise to bring major changes to industries ranging from automotive to electric utilities.
The Prosperity Fund, whose goals are to foster job creation and spur entrepreneurial activity in four central Alabama counties, is a new initiative for Southern Research’s E&E team. The work will set the stage for future job creation and business consulting opportunities with an initial focus on communities impacted by the loss of coal jobs, Grieco