The NSIN X-Force Fellowship program allows undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to work closely with Department of Defense leaders to solve real-world national security problems with technology.

The 10-week internship also provides the fellows with work experience and insight into government work. That experience led to DoD career opportunities for Colten Koogler (University of Cincinnati), Neel Jain (University of Louisville), and Spencer Stahl (The Ohio State University), three 2022 X-Force Fellows who now find themselves working full-time for the research labs where they completed their fellowships.

Spencer said working directly with defense leaders grew his overall perspective on the challenges government organizations face. “You really get to see first-hand what work gets done and if it is somewhere you want to be.”

Spencer Stahl

During his internship, Spencer worked with the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) in Patuxent River, Md., researching high-performance aircraft inlets, which are ducts that ensure smooth airflow into the engine despite turbulent conditions.

Inlet performance has a strong influence on engine net thrust. Spencer ran large data simulations to understand the aerodynamic challenges necessary for high-speed aircraft. The research carried into the work he was doing as part of his doctoral program and aided him in publishing a paper with the results at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics SciTech conference. He now is serving as a Postdoctoral fellow with the Air Force Research Lab where he continues his study of aerodynamics.

“There’s a great amount of continuity [between] the work I did with X-Force [and the work] that I am now doing with the Air Force,” he said.

Halfway across the nation, two more fellows had a journey similar to Spencer’s. During the X-Force Fellowship, Neel and Colten worked with Dr. Robert Cooper at Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Crane where they performed experiments with novel quantum materials. Their research examined the electrical characteristics and surface states of topological insulators and their ability to withstand radiation damage. The hope is that these materials could enable a number of Naval quantum computing projects.

Colten Koogler and Neel Jain

The research during the 10-week fellowship included radiation damage simulations on the quantum materials. Neel and Colten also worked with collaboration partners at Purdue University and Oak Ridge National Laboratory to characterize the novel materials using X-ray diffraction (XRD) and angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy (ARPES) measurements.

After the fellowship, Neel accepted a position in a different branch of NSWC Crane that is more engineering-focused. In this role, Neel is helping refresh the circuit boards that guide the Trident missile. His work includes market research, requirements gathering, testing equipment, and creating new software for the missile.

Colten now splits his time, continuing the quantum materials project with NSWC Crane. He and Dr. Cooper received Naval Innovative Science and Engineering (NISE) 219 funding to continue experimenting and exploring neutron interactions on novel quantum materials. That funding starts in October.

Colten is also involved with the survivability group supporting the Trident missile and electromagnetic pulse simulations.

“The big thing that intrigued me about X-Force was being able to see other kinds of research, in particular, what the government and Department of Defense are interested in,” Colten said. “The program tremendously helped me. I got to run experimentation and now in my first year of employment we’ve gotten funded research, which is rarely heard of.”

Neel agreed that X-Force was a pivotal force in his career. “The biggest thing for me was getting the exposure to Crane as a whole,” Neel said. “For me, it was great to get so much responsibility so soon.”

Learn more about X-Force.

About National Security Innovation Network

NSIN is a program office in the U.S. Department of Defense, nested within the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU). We are set up to collaborate with a wide variety of innovators to include universities, researchers, students, entrepreneurs and start-ups. We create opportunities for collaboration across communities and connect those that might not traditionally work in national security. Together, we help drive national security innovation and develop technologies that directly support the individuals responsible for protecting our country.

For more information or interview requests with Team NSIN, please contact us at