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African American Inventors at NASA

Joycelyn Harrison (Joycelyn Simpson)


Joycelyn Harrison reads to seven children in the stegasaurus room.

Joycelyn Harrison reads "Saturday Night at the Dinosaur Stomp" to seven children in the stegasaurus room.

Sean Smith/NASA
Joycelyn Harrison is a NASA engineer at the Langley Research Center researching piezoelectric polymer film and developing customized variations of piezoelectric materials (EAP). Materials that will link electric voltage to motion, according to NASA, "If you contort a piezoelectric material a voltage is generated. Conversely, if you apply a voltage, the material will contort." Materials that will usher in a future of machines with morthing parts, remote self-repairing abilities, and synthetic muscles in robotics.

Concerning her research Joycelyn Harrison has stated, "We're working on shaping reflectors, solar sails and satellites. Sometimes you need to be able to change a satellite's position or get a wrinkle off of its surface to produce a better image."

Joycelyn Harrison was born in 1964, and has bachelor's, master's and Ph.D. degrees in Chemistry from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Joycelyn Harrison has received the:

  • Technology All-Star Award from the National Women of Color Technology Awards
  • NASA's Exceptional Achievement Medal (2000}
  • NASA'a Outstanding Leadership Medal {2006} for outstanding contributions and leadership skills demonstrated while leading the Advanced Materials and Processing Branch
Joycelyn Harrison has been granted a long list of patents for her inventing and received the 1996 R&D 100 Award presented by R&D magazine for her role in developing THUNDER technology along with fellow Langley researchers, Richard Hellbaum, Robert Bryant, Robert Fox, Antony Jalink, and Wayne Rohrbach.


THUNDER, stands for for Thin-Layer Composite-Unimorph Piezoelectric Driver and Sensor, THUNDER's applications include electronics, optics, jitter (irregular motion) suppression, noise cancellation, pumps, valves and a variety of other fields. Its low-voltage characteristic allow it to be used for the first time in internal biomedical applications like heart pumps.

The Langley researchers, a multi-disciplinary materials integration team, succeeded in developing and demonstrating a piezoelectric material that was superior to previous commercially available piezoelectric materials in several significant ways: being tougher, more durable, allows lower voltage operation, has greater mechanical load capacity, can be easily produced at a relatively low cost and lends itself well to mass production.

The first THUNDER devices were fabricated in the lab by building up layers of commercially available ceramic wafers. The layers were bonded using a Langley-developed polymer adhesive. Piezoelectric ceramic materials can be ground to a powder, processed and blended with an adhesive before being pressed, molded or extruded into wafer form, and can be used for a variety of applications.

Continue > Joycelyn Harrison List of Issued Patents

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