Dr. Daniel Whisler: The big impact of the Impact Group

In honor of the 25th anniversary of ThinkPad, we recently launched a digital magazine with stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Dr Daniel Whisler's story that you are about to read here is one of the 14 diverse and innovative stories that featured in the magazine.  

“For some reason, I’m just really good at breaking things,” said Dr. Daniel Whisler, as he loaded his specially-designed ballistic cannon in the laboratory at California State University, Long Beach. Goggles in place, the countdown begins and the fated materials fly, sometimes at speeds approaching 650 miles per hour (290 m/s), before smashing into a metallic bar.

Working in the university’s department of mechanical and aerospace engineering, the joyous act of destruction is all in a day’s work for The Impact Group — a collection of students and professors working to develop stronger materials, from shock-proof armor to consumer products.

In the Long Beach lab, the group tests the properties of materials by launching them from a 20-foot-long cannon they built last summer, known as a Hopkinson pressure bar. A series of ThinkPads connected to high-speed cameras capture every second of the action, then begin to collect valuable data. “We only get one shot to record, so we have to use machines that we trust,” said Whisler. His labs these days are pure Lenovo, having purchased two ThinkPads, six ThinkStations, and four ThinkCentres for his workspace.

Ever since buying his first ThinkPad, Whisler was converted. The engineer in him appreciated how easy it was to upgrade and customize, and the economic side of him appreciated the price. Working with cannons, Whisler can’t take any chances on machine malfunctions during his experiments — it’s why he only uses ThinkPad products.

On a basic level, Whisler and his team study the motion-induced pressure limits of materials found in everyday products. By testing the behavior of objects under impact, they provide essential data to experts in a variety of fields, from military defense to healthcare.

The school gives us other computers,
but I buy my own Lenovo products.
I can’t trust anything else to be 100% reliable.

“We know what happens to a dummy in a car crash,” said Whisler, “but we don’t know exactly how a person survives the injuries from that crash.” Creating a material that simulates skin tissue, the team can examine the real world consequences of car accidents on human anatomy. Or, in the world of sports, develop validated models that replicate baseball bats to reduce wrist injuries upon contact with the ball. “Anytime two forces come together at high speed, that’s what we’re interested in,” said Whisler. 

Beyond simple experiments, Whisler and his team are also testing the clash of less predictable forces, like an uprooted fence post during a tornado. With research results in-hand, he hopes to update building codes for residents living in areas prone to natural disasters — and ultimately eliminate the likelihood of a two-by-four flying through an unsuspecting house.

“At high speeds, it’s nice to know that everything is designed properly,” said Whisler. “It could be airbags, helmets, seat belts, bumpers, or bulletproof vests.” In the future, The Impact Group will continue to test new material systems, especially composites and other organic specimens for use in the military, construction, and safety sectors. Right now, they are designing a ballistic skeleton of human tissue to test armor that can absorb shockwaves. 

While the university has yet to receive the international recognition it deserves, Whisler is confident his team will be able to get there. He explained, “If my students can build a gas gun, Hopkinson bar, and essentially a research lab from scratch, there’s no doubt they can do the work that goes with it.” 

Flip this magazine to read all 14 inspiring stories or click here to download the PDF


Rahil Arora leads Lenovo’s Customer Stories Program.