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Dishwasher returns to hotel as NASA Glenn researcher getting prestigious science award (photos)

December 8, 2017 GMT

Dishwasher returns to hotel as NASA Glenn researcher getting prestigious science award (photos)

BROOK PARK, Ohio—Fifteen years ago, Othmane Benafan left Morocco and started washing dishes at a Disney World hotel for 14 hours per shift.

Last month, he returned to the hotel with a few colleagues from NASA Glenn Research Center in Brook Park to pick up leading scientific awards.

“I went full circle,” Othmane Benafan says about returning to the Swan Hotel. “I met a dozen people I used to work with. We shared some moments and laughed a little. A couple people said, ‘I knew you’d make it.’”

Glenn won two R&D 100 Awards, given by R&D (Research and Development) Magazine for top work in all kinds of sciences by all kind of researchers, including public, private and academic ones. Over the years, Glenn has won 123 of these honors.

Benafan shared his award with colleagues Ronald D. Noebe of Medina and Timothy J. Halsmer of North Olmsted, the latter working at Glenn for Jacobs Technology. The trio is developing alloys to manipulate rudders, winglets and other parts of aircrafts and spaceships.

Another R&D award went to Glenn’s Chun-Hua “Kathy” Chuang for Resin Transfer Molding 370. She created a method to make resin without the usual process of adding solvents, then extracting them. The resin can be used in polymer composites for heat shields in space that stay firm up to 370 degrees Celsius.

According to NASA Glenn, her method might prove useful for bushings, ball bearings, gears, ducts, tubes and other parts for the oil, electrical and automotive industries.

Benafan emigrated in 2002 from Tangiers with his big brother, Hicham. They both worked 14-hour shifts at the Disney World Swan Resort before night classes at the University of Central Florida. The younger brother started out washing dishes, then became a runner and finally a runners’ supervisor. After two years, he left the hotel and began apprenticing as an electrician.

In 2011, while finishing his doctoral degree at Central Florida, he joined Glenn as a co-op. The next year, he became a civil servant and a materials science engineer there.

Benafan’s team is developing a new kind of shape memory alloy — a substance that fluctuates between different states of matter at a wide range of temperatures while remaining solid. This group of alloys arose in the 1950s and has been used mostly in medical devices, such as stents, implants, eyeglasses and catheters.

Glenn is developing an alloy of nickel, titanium and hafnium to manipulate flaps, winglets, rudders and other parts in air and space. Benafan hopes for many earthbound uses, too. He says the alloy can be inserted in firm rocks such as granite and sandstone and heated to split them open without the usual explosives or hydraulics. That could make mining, rescue work, archaeology and other activities safer and more precise. He says the alloy could also be cooled to bind cracks.

Benafan, 34, lives in Middleburg Heights with his wife and two children. His brother has done well, too. Hicham’s an electrical engineer and a contractor for the U.S. Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.