Penn alum receives Navy 'Scientist of the Year' award


Mel Butler's research to reduce noise in Navy ships and submarines




One Penn graduate has recently made a lot of noise in his field by figuring out how to make things quieter.

Mel Butler, a mechanical engineer at the Ship Systems Engineering Station of the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, took a new approach to fluid silencing, using computer models to help find ways to reduce the noise emitted by inline devices in the fluid systems on Navy ships and submarines.

In general, SSES works to provide electrical and mechanical support to Navy ships, which Daniel Evans, head of the Machinery Technology Research and Development Branch at SSES, described as “anything that basically isn’t a weapon or a radar on a ship.”

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Butler’s work won him the Naval Sea Systems Command 2013 Chief Engineer Scientist of the Year award on Dec. 5. Butler had worked on the project for the past four years, so he was honored to see his work singled out for such a prestigious award, he said. According to Evans, Butler is the only one from the Carderock division to win this award.

Evans nominated Butler for the award in July for his “cutting edge” work that will allow engineers to test new designs using computer models and simulations instead of building full-scale systems for experimentation.

Some of Butler’s computer models can run in a couple of hours, whereas making adjustments in lab experiments could take as much as a week. “You’re saving yourself a large amount of time and money by doing the bulk of the work on a computer,” Butler said.

Debra Kinney, the program manager for Butler’s specific area of work, said that his work has great potential to change the way research is conducted. “I could see in the future years less experimentation and more reliance on the modeling,” she said.

Kinney said that Butler is a hard worker who has “a good blend of skills both experimentally and analytically.” Evans praised Butler as being conscientious in his work and “dedicated to controlling costs and getting the job done.”

Butler has been working for SSES for the past six years, and for five years before that he worked outside of Washington, D.C. He met his wife and ended up in Philadelphia working for SSES, which he described as a “natural fit” transitioning from his work on the dynamic stability of ship hull structures to the acoustic engineering he does now.

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Butler’s interest in ships began at a young age, growing up on the water in Tocomoke City, near Ocean City, Md. His interests in math and science led him to Virginia Tech for his bachelor’s degree in engineering science and mechanics, and he received his master’s degree in mechanical engineering and applied mechanics from Penn in 2011.

Even years later, Butler’s Penn education is fresh in his mind, as he still remembers his favorite class — a course on aerodynamics taught by Bruce Kothmann, currently a senior lecturer in the MEAM department.

Butler expects to formally receive his award sometime this spring.

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