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AFRL intern, son of installation commander, files for laser weapon bay door patent

Scientist and student stand in research laboratory

Mentor Dr. Chung-Jen Tam (front) explains the various miniaturized missile components to his intern, Matthew Miller, in the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Aero-Effects Lab. (AFRL courtesy photo)

Scientist and student sit in office.

Matthew Miller (right) explains his invention, a weapon door, while seated with his mentor, Dr. Chung-Jen Tam, in front of the 3-d printer he used to create the model. (AFRL courtesy photo)

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- When his high school dropped the in-person requirement for a senior project due to COVID-19, Matthew Miller, the son of the Kirtland Air Force Base installation commander, (Col. David Miller) chose to move forward anyway—and the experience has changed his perceptions of scientists, and resulted in a potential patent for the 18-year old student.

“This actually worked out best for me though, as I have been able to work on things that I would not have been able to, as part of a senior project,” said Miller, a senior at Albuquerque Academy.

Pursuing a career as an Air Force fighter pilot, a stint in the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Aero-Effects Lab, was a natural fit—he just didn’t know it yet.

“I decided it would be good to pursue an internship at AFRL, which I knew very little about,” said Miller, a senior at Albuquerque Academy. “I knew that the military had scientists that worked on things like lasers, but I had no idea the number of them, and that it was going on here in New Mexico.”

For the last several months, Miller, who spends three mornings every week at the laboratory, said that an area of AFRL research that surprised him was laser technology.

“When I thought of laser technology before this, I thought of something that was a futuristic thing—maybe something that we are experimenting with, but definitely not something we have right now,” Miller said. “Laser research has been going on for 50- years, and right here, with a laser mounted to the nose of a 747, in the 2000’s.”

Miller plans to attend Florida State University on an ROTC scholarship, where he will study international relations, and hopes to be selected for the Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training upon graduation.

“At pilot training, they teach you everything you need to know to fly a plane, but not necessarily all of the science behind flight,” said Miller. “My mentor, Dr. Chung Jen Tam, has gone above and beyond, what I thought I would learn. He has taught me so much about aerospace, and helped me in so many ways, including helping me research colleges and even writing a letter of recommendation for my application to Florida State.”

Miller’s mentor, has been recognized as AFRL’s annual “Outstanding Mentor” several times, and says he’s always had a passion for teaching.

“I wanted to be a university professor,” said Dr. Tam, a senior aerospace engineer. “When I started my AFRL career, it was at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and for 13 years I taught part-time at nearby Wright State University.”

Although he passes on his knowledge to students, Tam sees it as a two-way street.

“I can learn so much from them regarding different approaches, or ways of solving problems,” Tam said.

Dr. Tam said he’s been impressed by the creative ideas of his mentee, and made sure that his time in the lab was meaningful, by involving Miller in important discussions, and introducing him to colleagues.

“After visiting our labs and discussing laser technologies, Matt had a novel idea for a way to design a “weapons bay door” for laser turret applications,” said Tam. “His idea would improve the line of sight of the laser beam, and maintain the stealth capability of the aircraft, so we filed for a patent!”

Miller took full advantage of having an aerospace engineer for a mentor.

“I’ve been taking physics in school, and if I have a question about centrifugal acceleration, or something I don’t understand, I can come in here and ask him” said Miller. “It’s way below his pay-grade, but he’ll take the time to explain it to me, a high school student.”

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