Jeremy M. Gernand, PhD, CRE, CSP
Assistant Professor | Environmental Health and Safety Engineering
John and Willie Leone Family Department of Energy and Mineral Engineering
The Pennsylvania State University
121 Hosler Building | University Park, PA 16802 | jmgernand [at] psu [dot] edu | 814.865.5861
Following the completion of my service in the Peace Corps, I returned to the United States to begin my engineering career. After a job search, I accepted a position as a Safety and Reliability Engineer with Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) assigned to NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas.
At JSC I was assigned to conduct and oversee hazard and reliability analyses for a group of equipment known at the Crew Health Care System (CHeCS). CHeCS was made up of hardware developed for the International Space Station (ISS) including exercise equipment, medical equipment, and environmental monitors for air and water and radiation.
I learned how to conduct hazard analysis to identify safety issues and ensure that they were mitigated. I learned how to conduct reliability analyses including failure modes and effects analysis to investigate whether or not systems were designed for resilience. These activities combined with failure investigations consumed most of my 6 years there. I spent a lot of time working on the ISS treadmill (TVIS) [image below] and resistive exercise machine (ARED) [image above], and still like to check in occasionally to see whether they continue to operate as intended.
During my time with SAIC, I pursued my MS in Mechanical Engineering at Rice University
on a part time basis. At the completion of my BS in 1998, I had had no interest in
pursuing graduate school of any kind. I was ready to leave the university and experience
the real world. But, after seeing some of the work that the MS-
Looking for a risk-
I left Northrop Grumman in the summer of 2008 to take a position in Bangladesh with a Johns Hopkins University research program, where my wife was conducting research of her own. But, at the time, I was already considering my next career move that involved a return to academia.
During my 8 years as a safety and reliability engineer, I has been responsible for uncovering and understanding risks to the operation of engineered systems, but the tools at my disposal had largely been heuristic in nature based on the past experience of my profession and previous engineers at my organization. I wanted better tools, but they didn’t seem to exist. I wanted to be able to present as much data and modeling as my heat transfer and stress analysis colleagues, but the methods were just not in use at the places where I had worked (and I had worked in relatively high tech fields). Among some project managers, the critical need to mitigate risk sometimes took a backseat to other priorities until something bad happened. To continue to allow technology to make the world a better place, we need to improve that situation.
I was accepted to the PhD program in Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, and began my studies there in 2009. There, I was focused on one particular question: could we harness incomplete data on the potential future hazards of exposures to engineered nanoparticles to guide their development in a lower risk direction? We don’t want to find out many years from now that we have created the next asbestos. The answer to this question is still being pursued, but collectively we have made some progress.
From the design of new materials, chemicals, transportation systems, and other technologies, we will continue to face this question in the future. Our ability to continually make the world a safer place, we will have to be smarter about how we mitigate risks, even those with very low probabilities, in engineering design. In my current and future career I hope to develop these tools and practice their application and make that better world a reality.