Alan Sherrington grew up on the north bank of the Columbia River in Vancouver, Washington, just outside of Portland, Oregon. He was raised in a forest products family but didn't necessarily see himself in the industry when he left the Pacific Northwest to attend Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama.
"My dad has worked in the forest products industry for the last 30 years, many of which have been at Weyerhaeuser, so I grew up familiar with the industry. When it was time for college though, I didn't really think about it as a potential career choice," Sherrington said.
That changed the summer after his freshman year at Spring Hill, when he took a summer internship with Weyerhaeuser in Longview, Washington.
"While looking for a summer job, I was lucky enough to get an internship working as a craftsman and machine operator. After that first summer, I found that I loved the manufacturing side and knew this was an industry that I could enjoy," he said.
During the next two summers, he worked as an intern at the Weyerhaeuser mill in Bruce, Mississippi and while he was considering grad school and thought about getting an MBA, an MSU alumnus at the mill recommended that Sherrington check out the sustainable bioproducts master's degree offered in the College of Forest Resources. Sherrington met with the team and decided it was a fit. He graduated from Spring Hill with a bachelor's degree in sociology in May 2020 and immediately moved into his master's program in the Department of Sustainable Bioproducts at Mississippi State.
During the summer of 2020, he shadowed researchers in the department to better understand the ins and outs of the testing equipment and processes, assisting doctoral student Marly Carmona Uzcategul evaluating number two grade southern yellow pine structural lumber.
Now, Sherrington is delving into his own research, focused on hardwood composites for military use in a project co-funded by the U.S.D.A. Forest Service and the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities. He's investigating the strength and durability of American hardwoods and composites to improve truck and trailer decking for the U.S. military.
"Trailer and truck decking get a lot of wear and tear," Sherrington said. "I will be evaluating the strength and stiffness of different species of hardwoods and composites to see the weight these composites can withstand and their overall strength and durability," Sherrington explained. "We want to find an American hardwood or hardwood composite that withstands the weathering, weight, and friction that comes with moving heavy loads."
Thus far, he has completed static bending test on 200 composites, 200 white oak 2x4s, and 200 red oak 2x4s to determine stress and strain limits. He has also tested 200 specimens for abrasion wear to determine the abrasive resistance of the wood. He is now conducting hardness testing on 200 speciments to measure the resistance of wood to penetration.
"Our overall goal is to help enhance the shipping process in and out of military bases through the improvement of truck and trailer decking," he said.
Sherrington says thus far he's enjoyed the work and recommends others explore a future in the sustainable bioproducts industry.
"You can't go ten feet without being around something you study; trees are everywhere. I think it's cool that we are able study them and use them in applications that improve our society in a sustainable way," he said.