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Now Available: Innovators Under 35 2013 See The 2013 List »

Stephanie Vierkotter, 33

Quantum Mechanics

Polymer composites are stronger, cheaper and lighter than metals. They could be used to make fuel-efficient, rust-resistant cars and airplanes and to retrofit aging bridges. Yet if they’re so good, why aren’t they used more widely? One reason: industry lacks inexpensive, nondestructive evaluation methods for testing the stresses and strains on these materials when they are in place.

Hoping to reduce the stress in this area is Stephanie Vierkötter.

Vierkötter aims to turn a sophisticated lab instrument for measuring something called nuclear quadrupole resonance (NQR) into a practical technology that can map the response of composites under varying loads. If she succeeds, the NQR-based gauge could help engineers monitor a composite to determine if it’s still safe.

Vierkötter is also developing an NQR-based system to detect TNT in plastic-cased landmines.By reading the explosive’s chemical signature, this system would work better than conventional metal detectors, which mistake nails and other metal objects for mines. One hallmark of an innovator is the ability to take an exotic lab technology, see how it could change the world, and bring it forth into the market. Vierkötter has that trait in abundance.


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