Southern Research Institute

A Leader in Scientific Discovery and Technology Development

Inducted in 2005

When Alabama’s early industrial and academic leaders first proposed the idea of a not-for-profit contract research organization, they believed it could help promote the state’s natural resources while presenting exceptional opportunities for scientists and engineers to remain in the state. Almost 64 years later, Southern Research Institute has far surpassed many of those early expectations. Since its conceptualization in 1941, and its operational beginnings in 1945 helping the state transition in a post-World War II economy, Southern Research Institute, based in Birmingham, has often played a pivotal role in some of the world’s most fascinating engineering accomplishments.

One of its early accomplishments was in providing critical information leading to the selection of heat-shield materials used in the Apollo space mission. Working with NASA, engineers were able to use the extreme temperature testing facility at Southern Research—the leading facility of its kind—to submit materials for heat testing up to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Extreme temperatures testing and analysis has become one of the Institute’s hallmark competencies, and is still used to test materials in support of the NASA space shuttle solid rocket boosters and heat shield programs, and many other manned and unmanned space vehicle platforms.

Institute engineers developed the radiometer, used with a telescope to make temperature measurements of the moon’s surface and to select landing sites for manned missions. Southern Research also used graphite-sensing elements to build several calorimeters to measure heating rates on various portions of the Saturn booster exit.

More recently, a Southern Research engineer was asked to serve on the committee investigating the Columbia shuttle disaster, and the engineering team continues to work closely with NASA as it prepares for a return to space.

These days, engineers are developing innovations in gimbal- and stabilized-platform systems development and manufacturing for such applications as high-definition image analysis and tracking for space vehicles. Teams are developing and manufacturing innovative cutting-edge tracker designs for the U.S. manned space flight program. Southern Research also performs advanced high-temperature materials research on the next generation of reusable space launch vehicle platforms.

The environment and energy department of Southern Research’s engineering division has provided environmental research and services to government, industry, and private institutions around the world. A primary focus of the department has been in developing better ways to reduce air pollution and solid waste emissions from energy and other sources. This work, much of it groundbreaking in nature, has led to the discovery of new emission species, the development of new test methods and instruments, the improvement of process and emission control technologies, the development of new emission control technologies, and other important contributions to the field of environmental science.

The automotive industry has moved south, and Southern Research continues its mission to help local industry by developing comprehensive automotive engineering capabilities. With decades of expertise in aerospace engineering, Southern Research engineers now serve as a local go-to resource for the growing automotive manufacturing industry in Alabama and the Southeastern United States.

Southern Research engineers are proud to conduct research that embodies the original mission set by its early founders, and to expand that mission to conduct research that helps to resolve global issues of safety, security, and a cleaner environment as well.

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