Lockheed Martin, Advanced Technology Center
Palo Alto, CA, USA
Field: Materials Science
An interest in geology and geophysics led Dr. Stuart McHugh to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Geophysics, which he earned in 1971 through the University of Nevada, Reno. He subsequently earned a second Bachelor of Science, in Geological Engineering (1972), a Master of Science in Geophysics (1974), a Master of Science in Science Materials (1976), and finally a Ph.D. through Stanford University (1977). With an extensive educational background and nearly four decades of experience, Dr. McHugh currently serves as a materials engineer for Department A044S of the Advanced Technology Center for Lockheed Martin.
Having garnered expertise in materials science, solid state physics, research and hardware design examination, Dr. McHugh is well-equipped to conduct stress and fracture analyses of aerospace structures and materials, and perform computational analyses, items with which he is tasked as a materials engineer. Additionally, he has published more than 100 scientific papers, including “Dislocation Modeling of Creep-Related Tilt Changes,” which was featured in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, and “Thermomechanical Characterization of a Membrane Deformable Mirror,” included in Applied Optics, a journal produced by The Optical Society.
Dr. McHugh is affiliated with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Geophysical Union. He is also a senior member of The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. In 2012, he received a special recognition award from the Advanced Technology Center of Lockheed Martin for his participation with the ATC Graphene Molecular Filtration Team.
When he is not working, Dr. McHugh enjoys scuba diving, traveling, and studying languages and linguistics. He is also an avid reader of Science Magazine, Fortune, and Bloomberg Businessweek.
Conversation with Stuart McHugh, Ph.D.
Worldwide Publishing: On what topics do you consider yourself to be an expert?
Stuart McHugh: Thermal and mechanical analysis and material behavior.
What characteristics help to separate you from your competitors?
I am thorough and I try to understand the background and context of potential applications. By knowing the context, it has helped me to make better choices about how to conduct research or tailor things for specific applications.
What motivates you?
Very simply, it’s curiosity. How does the universe work, why does it work the way it does, and what is it that we don’t understand that we should understand?
What lessons have you learned as a professional in your field?
Curiosity pays — there is a niche in our society and culture for that. Fortunately, I get paid to do the things that I really love.
What short-term and long-term career goals are you currently pursuing?
The industry is in a bit of a slump for a whole variety of reasons, including unresolved budget issues, so my short-term goal is to stay employed and continue to provide added value to the company I work for. Since I am being paid to do things that I enjoy, my long-term goal is to try to figure out what the company wants and needs before it’s even aware of it, provide research, and help with specific applications. I want to help the company in areas where it may not have thought it needed help.
I used to do a lot of outreach work with The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and I worked with my old high school in San Francisco in order to get students excited about careers in science.
What is the most difficult obstacle or challenge you have faced in pursuit of your goals?
I’ve been with the same company for more than 30 years and I was here when they were laying off 2,000 people a year for 10 years. We shrank by about 80 percent and that was due to government cutbacks. I tell kids today that you are never really guaranteed a job. Companies have to pay their bills just like anybody else. The best thing to do is get as wide, broad and deep of an education as you can.
There are a lot of issues related to problem-solving. Sometimes I am given a problem and I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what the problem is. However, sometimes you are stuck with limited information and you do what you can with it. Engineering and scientific challenges can be ongoing and you have to deal with complex systems.
What advice can you offer fellow members or others aspiring to work in your industry?
You can do an incredibly good job, and yet for reasons totally unrelated to that, you could still lose your job. You are responsible for your own destiny, and get the education that you can and network with anyone that you can.
What is the most significant issue facing your profession today?
The politics and budget issues in Washington, since most of the aeronautic industry works on government issues — there are various headache issues related to budget issues. We are developing complex systems in a constrained financial system.
There is a lot of new technology on the horizon that can change the way the game is played. We are getting a better understanding of robotics systems, complex material systems and how they interact with their environment. We want things to be more energy efficient and consume less power, which means they should be smaller, etc.
Have you contributed to any publications or to research in your field?
I worked for the U.S. Geological Survey in the 1970s. A lot of my writings I have done for the industry are not accessible due to the nature of the government regulations.
Did you ever consider pursuing a different career path or another profession?
I actually started in a different profession. My educational background is predominately earth science. My first several jobs were for mining companies, an oil company, and then the U.S. Geological Survey in earthquake prediction. It was only several years into my career when I switched to aerospace. Fortunately, much of my background and expertise in earth sciences could be adapted to aerospace.
What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of your profession?
Being able to explore where my curiosity leads.
Who have been your mentors or people who have greatly influenced you?
Of course I would start with my parents. Both parents worked hard and valued education. Numerous teachers were influential and inspirational in high school, college and graduate school. And a curator, Tom, at a local museum introduced me to mineralogy, which showed me that chemistry, a subject I enjoyed, could be used in geology, which set my initial direction in earth science. Tom was very influential when I was in high school considering my future career. In my career, numerous colleagues have influenced me and helped me.
What changes have you observed in your industry/field since you started?
In my particular niche, probably the major change has been tying research to specific lines of business, and emphasizing applied over basic research.
How do you see these changes affecting the future of your industry?
Companies don’t support as much research in-house as they used to, so more of it comes from academia and start-up companies.
What is your favorite or least favorite work-related task to do and why?
Unproductive meetings are my least favorite. Documenting and presenting successful results are my most favorite tasks.
What are some questions that an individual interested in your services can ask to ensure a more productive relationship?
What resources, and hardware or software, are needed? How long will the tasks take?