STEM Professional of the week

Samuel D. Herrera      
Air Force Research Laboratory

Samuel grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was one of two children, raised by parents who labored long hours to provide opportunities for their children to complete their college education.

Samuel attended college at the University of New Mexico earning a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering. While in college, he was offered the opportunity to acquire first hand experience working for the United Stated Air Force as part of the Air Force Weapons Laboratory, now the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). It was during this time that he was awarded a full-time training opportunity that led to the attainment of a Master of Science degree in Chemical Engineering. Samuel took this initial college opportunity and turned it into an incredible 30- year career with the U.S. Air Force.

Characterized by his colleagues as an astounding individual with unparallel laboratory expertise, Samuel has built a long career with the AFRL leading to his current position as the Section Chief for Advanced Projects in the Laser Systems Division. As the team lead for the Advanced Programs Section, in AFRL’s Laser Effects Research Branch, his work has influenced our nation’s strategy in Space Situational Awareness, and the development of directed energy weapon platforms. Often sought out as a subject matter expert in the area of laser optics damage, Samuel is responsible for overseeing the modernization and development of eight world-class laboratories for high-energy laser effects research.

His research is critical to the understanding of the multi-physics phenomena of laser-material interaction leading to precise quantification of damage levels for current laser threats and hardened designs of U.S. space assets. He has assembled state-of-the art diagnostics tools, advanced laser systems, clean rooms, and optical devices into a well-organized, optimally performing suite of laboratories.

Currently, he leads a team of 20 engineers and scientists conducting cutting-edge continuous wave and pulsed laser systems, which have exposed vulnerabilities and hidden susceptibilities in laser weapons technology. These discoveries have led to the development of precise laser weapon lethality and the ability to simulate effects via computer modeling, which in turn validate what, was observed experimentally.

Such efforts have been nationally accepted through the broader defense community including the Space and Missile Defense Command, National Air and Space Intelligence Center, and the Air Force Space Command. Samuel’s significant scientific contributions to both the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Department of Defense have resulted in increased security for the Nation.

He is joyfully married to Tracy, his wife of 26 years, and they are raising two teenage sons. Samuel was honored by Great Minds in STEM with a Luminary Award during the 2012 HENAAC Conference.

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