There are many scientists and engineers at Kennedy Space Center (KSC), but only about 40 are also designated as NASA inventors. Among that already elite group, only four have been inducted into the NASA Inventors Hall of Fame—an exclusive list that now includes Martha K. Williams ’03 Ph.D. and her 20 NASA-issued patents and more than 43 published patents or patent applications.
And Florida Tech calls her one of its own.
A Cayman Islands-born, U.S.-educated chemist who entered college at age 16 (and graduated three years later), Williams arrived at NASA in 1989. She left 29 years later as the lead polymer scientist at KSC and with a bushel of honors and awards, capped by her 2021 induction into the NASA Inventors Hall of Fame.
About a decade into her outstanding career, Williams won the highly competitive, agencywide NASA Hugh L. Dryden Memorial Fellowship of the National Space Club to cover the cost of earning her doctorate. Williams enrolled at Florida Tech and drew Gordon Nelson, then dean of the College of Science, as her advisor. A fellow polymer chemist who, like Williams, was not afraid to embrace the creative potential of his chosen field, Nelson was an ideal fit for her mindset and approach.
“Not everyone who seeks a Ph.D. is an inventor as I was, but Dr. Nelson thinks like that,” Williams says. “It’s good when you have someone who gets who you are.”
Williams’ work at KSC, both pre- and post-Ph.D., was as impactful as it was varied.
Her multiple interdisciplinary research activities included hydrogen sensing technologies, which received an R&D 100 Top Technology award in 2014, a NASA Commercial Invention of the Year award in 2016 and an Excellence in Technology Transfer award in 2017. Williams also led research efforts on low temperature aerogel composites and switchable, adaptive thermal materials for structures, and cryogenic storage and transfer.
“I did innovative stuff before Florida Tech—I had published papers, won the Silver Snoopy already [for outstanding achievements related to human flight safety or mission success], but what the Ph.D. and related research allowed me was an avenue, a springboard to really showcase the skill set that is who I am,” Williams says.
Williams continues her innovative work as a senior technical advisor at GenH2, a hydrogen infrastructure solutions company headquartered in Titusville.