Real Brains
Mandy Wirt, 6th-grader and member of the eCYBERMISSION "Sandpipers" team, inspects a human brain as other students await their turn during an educational enrichment event at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. The students spent the day at the research institute before attending an awards banquet where the 2007-2008 eCYBERMISSION winners were announced.

SILVER SPRING, Md. (Army News Service, June 26, 2008) - Scientists and Soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research introduced 16 eCYBERMISSION national finalist teams to various aspects of Army medical research during an educational event Tuesday.

Established by the Army in 2002, eCYBERMISSION is a free, Web-based science, math and technology competition open to sixth- through ninth-grade students that affords them the opportunity to compete for regional and national awards while working to solve problems in their communities. Teams chose a mission from one of four categories: health and safety, arts and entertainment, sports and recreation or the environment, and leveraged technology to solve problems in their communities.

The teams, one per grade per region, were in the nation's capital for the eCYBERMISSION national judging event, where they presented their projects, Monday. The projects, until that point, were presented and judged online by civilian and Army volunteers known as virtual judges.

The students and their adult advisors began the day with an Army physical training session led by Soldiers stationed at the research institute. They participated in warm-ups, then rotated between seven different stations. Each training interval, which ranged from timed push-ups to vertical jumping, lasted two minutes.

"Two minutes is a lot longer than it seems when you are exercising the entire time," Ethan Epstein, a member of the sixth grade "Sandpipers" team from San Diego, Calif., said.

The groups then moved on to four different hands-on activities, each designed to show them how the Army uses some of the same scientific tools in research and development they used in their own eCYBERMISSION projects.

Dr. Michael Doyle, U.S. Army eCYBERMISSION program manager, said the time spent at WRAIR gave the students a glimpse at how continued interest in math and science could develop into a career.

"As we look at the global economy in the 21st century, we need a national workforce skilled in the use of science, math and technology," he said. By witnessing real life applications of those disciplines, and participating in experiments at the institute, the eCYBERMISSION finalists were able to see how what they learn now could be leveraged in the future.

The students participated in experiments and activities throughout the day. They conducted tests on electromagnetic currents and observed how temperature affected electrical conductivity in metals using dry ice and liquid nitrogen. They also studied electrical impulses observed in humans and saw how those impulses could be measured on a rudimentary lie detector.

"Sink or Swim" team member Addison Jaffe, a sixth-grader from Manahawkin, N.J., was a subject on the lie detector, and said it was interesting to see the results. "You could see the changes in heart rate and the amount of sweat in my skin right on the screen," she said.

The participants also viewed a glimpse into the science behind Life Support for Trauma and Transport. Peter Quinn, a senior engineer for military casualty research at the institute, talked about the high-tech gear the Army currently employs on the battlefield in support of Soldiers. Many of the students thought the equipment was to be used in the future, and didn't realize to what extent the Army is currently using technology.

"I didn't think they were using this kind of stuff yet," Brandon Liu, sixth-grader and "Sandpiper" team member said. "It's like what you see in the movies."

Quinn stressed the importance of science and told his young audience, "If you can think of something, you can probably do it."

Participants were also allowed to interact with the LSTAT and advanced patient simulation mannequin, guided by Spc. Joseph Andrist.

The teams learned how the Army is using knowledge gained from neuroscience research to improve treatment and prevention of brain traumas. Students donned protective gloves and with the help of college and high school interns, were allowed to handle and explore a real human brain.

"That was so cool," Mandy Wirt, another "Sandpiper" said. "How many kids my age have been able to see a human brain up close and ask questions about it'"

The finalists also learned how Army scientists isolate active plant substances and use the substances derived to develop treatments for diseases Soldiers encounter during military operations. College students assisted with experiments that focused on separating capsaicin, a substance the Army is currently studying for medicinal uses, from jalapeno peppers.

Many students commented on the diversity of scientific applications in real-world research.

"I've really learned a lot about how science is used to help people," Wirt said.

Through their own eCYBERMISSION projects, the teams learned how science could improve their communities. Their experiences at WRAIR reinforced those lessons on a global scale.

Page last updated Thu June 26th, 2008 at 16:33