Iowa: The Navy’s Secret Weapon

June 21, 2019

by Margot Dick

As a landlocked state in the middle of the United States, Iowa is not the first place most people think of for ship hydraulics research; but for Isaac Di Napoli, who was born in Venezuela and raised in Texas, it turned out to be the perfect place to pursue his dream.

Isaac stands in front of the Iowa River

Isaac Di Napoli is excited continue working with ship hydraulics when he begins work with the Department of Defense

After finishing his undergraduate degree at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Di Napoli and his new wife moved across the country to the University of Iowa, where he is working on a PhD in mechanical engineering.

“They have really great research here – amazing facilities that are really not common,” he says. “I’d never seen a tow-tank before I came here. I’d never seen a wave basin before I came here.”

With Iowa’s state-of-the-art tow-tank and wave basin, Di Napoli has access to some of the best technology in the field of naval ship hydrodynamics. Between his work at the university and his drive for discovery and inventions, he was an excellent choice for the Science Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) scholarship offered annually by the United States Department of Defense (DOD). Winners receive both a full scholarship to finish school and a full time job with the DOD once they complete school.

After graduation, Di Napoli will head to Bethesda, Md., where the Naval Surface Warfare Center at Carderock is based. Research at Carderock — the top facility of its type in the country — and Di Napoli’s research at the University of Iowa share a similar focus. He works with Assistant Professor Casey Harwood on shape sensors for hydro-elastic lifting surfaces, research that delves into the physics of objects in water.

“This understanding can then be applied to building more efficient ships, structural health monitoring of hydro-elastic structures, and perhaps even the development of some energy harvesting solutions,” he says.

Di Napoli has always been interested in learning more, wherever he is. He wants to one day know that regular people are interacting with something he designed. He hopes his discoveries and inventions can inspire other people to create something new.

Di Napoli also likes to keep up-to-date on current events through non-fiction literature, though he does also pick up a novel every once in a while.