Navy Commander Discusses STEM Aspects of Nuclear Subs with BHS Physics Students
U.S. Navy Commander Greg Storer, a Branford High School (BHS) alumnus, surfaced at BHS on Feb. 5 to speak with a highly engaged group of physics students about the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) aspects of nuclear submarines. This spring, Storer will take command of the USS Springfield, a Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered fast attack submarine with a crew of 130.
Storer qualified that his talk was not a recruiting pitch for the Navy, but it was a talk on “...the awesome applications of STEM in a pretty unique environment. I am one of the few people in the world who gets to command a nuclear-powered submarine.”
To date, Storer has logged 300,000 nautical miles while submerged in four of the five world oceans (Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Artic). Pointing out the Southern Ocean was designated as the world’s fifth ocean in 2021; Storer said that, up until that point, he could say he’d traveled in all the world’s oceans.
Based on the earth’s circumference of approximately 25,000 miles, “...I’ve been effectively around the earth 12 times, almost all of them submerged under the surface of the ocean,” said Storer.
Storer said BHS science/AP physics teacher Helen Elperina (now retired), together with recently retired BHS AP History teacher/BHS Model Congress founder Jim Petela, and BHS Social Studies teacher/BHS Model Congress advisor (and U.S. Army Reserve Sergeant) Dave Gruendel, helped inspire his interests in science, a sense of duty and country, and U.S. government. Storer is a BHS Class of 2002 alumnus.
“I derived a lot of my inspiration on what I wanted to do from my mentors through life, and a lot of those mentors came from here,” Storer told the students.
Elperina connected Storer with BHS Science teacher/department liaison Tommy Chen for the Feb. 5 talk, said Chen.
“I think it’s important for the students to see that the stuff that they’re learning in the classroom isn’t just in the classroom. It actually has some uses,” said Chen.
The BHS science lecture hall was buzzing with questions from students as Storer used his slide presentation, as well as the room’s world map, and its periodic table of elements, to illustrate how STEM-based applications fuel and support nuclear-powered submarines, capabilities, and crews.
The craft is fueled by an on-board nuclear power plant which gives the submarine an “unlimited” range, Storer explained.
“I have to hit the gas station every 30 years or so,” said Storer. “Otherwise, I have an unlimited amount of power for electricity and propulsion to drive me around the world.”
Storer touched on Archimedes’ principal when describing the massive submarine’s buoyancy/hydrodynamics (displacement). He discussed the scientific processes involved in desalinating seawater including separating bonded ions by passing it through an electric current; and reverse osmosis involving pumping saltwater at high pressure through a permeable membrane to separate salts from the water. Storer also discussed the science of sound involved in the sub’s active and passive SONAR. Regarding the science and engineering involved in the nuclear reactor powering the sub, Storer took the talk to the point of fission; when a neutron crashes into a larger atom, forcing a split into two smaller atoms and releasing energy as heat. The heat creates high-pressured steam feeding propulsion turbines that power to the propeller.
He also answered questions about the food on board (best in the Navy, according to Storer); and how he went from BHS to becoming a nuclear submarine commander.
After graduating from BHS, Storer attended the U.S. Naval Academy. He earned a BS in Control Systems Engineering, which he described as “...the meshing of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer science, computer engineering - all that stuff kind of comes together in control systems.” Storer went on to Naval Postgraduate School where he earned his MBA in Finance and Financial Management Services.
He entered the Navy’s U.S. Submarine force as nuclear submarine officer and served on board four different submarines. Storer served as Navigator and Operations Officer on the USS Hartford, and as Executive Officer on the USS Ohio. Additionally, due to his interest in government, Storer has served as a U.S. Navy Congressional Appropriations Liaison.
Storer’s BHS visit was coordinated with assistance from BHS Career Pathways Coordinator Tina Valaouras. BHS Principal Lee Panagoulias Jr. said Storer’s visit represents an impressive segment of BHS alumni willing to share their professional experience to benefit students.
“Greg's visit to BHS is a great example of the work we are doing to build our alumni network,” said Panagoulias. “Capitalizing on the experiences and perspectives of BHS alumni can be an amazing resource for our students as they make informed decisions when choosing high school courses and exploring potential College and Careers Pathways."
Storer said he hoped his talk helped to inspire the physics students about the countless types of STEM careers, opportunities, and avenues the world has to offer them.
“I was here 22 years ago, in your same seats,” said Storer. “You can do amazing things. Cool jobs are out there.”