NATICK, Mass. (April 29, 2013) -- Children ages 9-18 participated in the 16th annual Bring Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day at the Natick Soldier Systems Center on April 19.

The 117 girls and boys witnessed firsthand what their parents and other scientists and engineers do when they come to work at the "Natick Labs," the name by which the base is known in the area.

Col. Kevin Hillman, the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center military deputy, wearing a white lab coat, welcomed the students gathered in Hunter Auditorium at the start of the day. He asked questions, shared advice, and completed a few parody experiments. The audience filled with laughter as Hillman taught the children how to correctly use a "military pointer" -- a meter stick -- to point during a presentation and later hustled around a lab table set up with a mock experiment he had to perform by carefully following directions.

"Now kids, remember, safety never takes a day off," said Hillman as he mixed different fluids into beakers. "You MUST wear your safety glasses when you're doing an experiment!"

After learning about some of the safety basics in the lab, groups split up to head to different areas on base. They toured lab facilities including the Doriot Climatic Chambers, Biomechanics Lab, and Thermal Imaging Lab. They learned about combat rations such as the Meal, Ready to Eat, specialized military uniform fabrics, and smart phone application software, among other technologies designed specifically for Soldiers. They also got to eat lunch with their parents before continuing their tours and demonstrations later in the afternoon.

"This day opens up a whole new world to these kids, like just seeing the work environment here," said Laura Kelly, a visual information specialist whose third-grade daughter visited the base. "The kids are seeing the science and how it will ultimately affect the Soldier someday … Hopefully, they'll be inspired and want to go into that type of career."

There were 19 different demonstrations plus an animal show put on by Animal Adventures. One of the demos was the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, lab, where students experienced science firsthand as they learned about atomic force microscopy, or AFM.

Researchers have used AFM to study anthrax spores, parasites, and even mouse hairs. In the lab the children performed an experiment in which they had to figure out the topography of a substance without being able to see it, similar to what an AFM does by zeroing in on nanoparticles invisible to the naked eye.

"I also brought my oldest daughter here for at least ten years for this special day," said Kelly, "and now she's a biology major in college; she was always a great student, but I think seeing this research might have triggered something in her, and scientific research is something she wants to do."

The event was presented by the NSSC's Women in Science and Engineering, or WISE, organization.

"The goal of the WISE program is to foster children's interest in math and science," said Ariana Costa, co-chair of this WISE event. "Letting our employees showcase their technologies and skills gives these children the opportunity to see the positive impact that science and math have on the daily lives of our war fighters."

Dr. Jack Obusek, director of NSRDEC, concluded the children's time at Natick by reminding them what the base's mission is all about.

"We are so glad to have you here today to come in, see a little about what your moms and dads or your friends and relatives do here," said Obusek, who then asked, "And who do they work here for? Why are we doing what we do?"

To which several children exclaimed, "To help the Soldiers!"

"I understand some of you got to meet some Soldiers today," said Obusek. "It's important that you understand the job that we do here for Soldiers to protect and sustain when they go out and do the important tough jobs to protect our country."

Children were ultimately tasked with a very important mission by Obusek.

"I want you, when you go home today, if your mom or dad works here, I want you to go home and for me give them a big, big, big hug," said Obusek, "and tell them thanks from Jack Obusek for what they do every day for Soldiers here."