By Jenna Brady, U.S. Army Research LaboratoryMay 7, 2013
Kesshi Jordan, a former student intern of Dr. William Nothwang and Dr. Alma Wickenden of the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL), under the Science Outreach for Army Research program, recently accepted the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) Fellowship. Jordan qualified for both the NDSEG and the National Science Foundation graduate research fellowships.
The NDSEG Fellowship is a highly competitive, portable fellowship that is awarded to U.S. citizens and nationals who intend to pursue a doctoral degree in one of fifteen supported disciplines.
Jordan was hired by ARL just out of her freshman year at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she studied bioengineering.
In 2009, the Experimental Concepts Team of ARL's (SOAR) program was founded, bringing together a collaborative, multi-disciplinary team of student interns and visiting scientists working with ARL scientists and engineers to pursue innovative scientific discovery to inspire revolutionary technologies for current and future Army applications.
The SOAR program's design allows students working in collaborative groups to experience the full range of research, and the students selected for this program have come from diverse academic and cultural backgrounds, with a common zeal for working in an unstructured research environment.
They are presented a research problem and asked to survey the relevant literature in the area, write and defend a research proposal, and execute an experimental research plan to solve the challenge.
Their research results are then written up and published as an ARL technical report.
Graduates from the SOAR program have gone on to pursue graduate research in a number of top research institutions throughout the country, including Caltech, University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan, and the University of California, Berkeley.
When she joined the program as a rising college sophomore, Jordan took a strong leadership role in helping to establish the program structure and define the first year's research topic of ultra-low power communications concepts for mm- to cm-scale robotics.
"I had the pleasure of mentoring Kesshi in the SOAR program from 2009 through 2011," said Wickenden. "Kesshi's research in the SOAR program provided cornerstone data for the development of several new research efforts within ARL strategic research programs in autonomous mm-scale robotic platforms and translational neuroscience."
Jordan researched biological communications mechanisms as part of a joint project with other SOAR interns and produced a comprehensive ARL Technical Report entitled, "A Review of Biological Communication Mechanisms Applicable to Small Autonomous Systems."
She also independently researched and designed an experiment investigating a 4-channel polarized light communications concept based upon the mantis shrimp, independently authoring a second research proposal on this topic.
During the summer of 2010, Jordan extended her investigation of bio-inspired technology to the study of oscillating haltere structures used by flies for flight stabilization, where she and a fellow intern investigated the relationship between haltere geometry, tip velocity, and deformation response to an applied normal force.
She and her SOAR team designed the experiment to controllably oscillate theromplastic halteres of varying geometries, and subjected them to a localized laminar airstream to produce an impulse force normal to the plane of motion.
The experimentally collected data was used to identify the parameter space to further optimize haltere design for ARL's mm-scale piezoelectric flapping wing research program.
This laboratory experience provided Jordan with a perspective on the complex physical nature of engineering problems that informed her subsequent coursework and enabled her to broaden her perspective beyond the ideal cases presented in the classroom.
In 2011, Jordan worked with another intern and ARL signal processing and translational neuroscience specialists to investigate the design of filters to enable real-time, frequency-specific analysis of electroencephalography (EEG) data.
The research goal was to overcome the low signal-to-noise ratio of EEG data and inconsistencies in data due to inter- and intra-personal variation, enabling the practical study of soldier cognitive function in a realistic environment.
Jordan, with her SOAR team, also simulated the design and testing of filtering methods including simple and multistage band-pass filters using Fourier, Hilbert and Wavelet transforms.
Continued research during the summer of 2012, in collaboration with Nothwang and several members of the Translational Neuroscience Branch within ARL's Human Research and Engineering Directorate, resulted in an ARL Technical Report titled "Fusing Multiple Sensor Modalities for Complex Physiological State Monitoring."
Jordan, working with two students, several post-doctoral fellows and a number of research scientists, was presented with the challenge of developing a multi-sensory approach to estimating fatigue states in humans.
She and the other two students chose to develop three independent predictive methods, EEG, eye-tracking, and driving behavior.
They then designed a framework for integrating the probabilistic predictions from each of the three methods into a global prediction with better predictive capabilities than any of the three individual modes.
Jordan took on the challenge of developing the methods for tracking eye movements and correlating them to fatigue state.
Specifically, she developed two detection algorithms, one that tracked and measured the size of the pupil and developed correlations to fatigue state based upon a literature survey, and the second measured the average percept closure of the eyelid over a period of time and developed correlations to fatigue state.
Human subject research is challenging, and through the obstacles and setbacks faced during this research, Jordan took initiative and turned those obstacles into opportunities to improve the research, which exemplifies her outstanding potential.
"Kesshi is easily one of the very best students that I have worked with," said Nothwang. "She is technically brilliant, compassionate, driven to develop novel technology that will make a positive impact on the world around her, and at the same time she exudes a contagious excitement. Kesshi is a fantastic team player that makes her easy to work with."
According to Wickenden, ARL is committed to building a diverse workforce, including geographical and institutional diversity, and Jordan is an excellent example of the type of researcher that the organization hopes to attract.
"Kesshi displays a mature, confident personality and a diplomatic demeanor, enabling her to work very successfully both independently and as a member of a research team," said Wickenden.
"I have observed her keen excitement for learning, and distinctive comprehension of how to effectively apply her knowledge to truly challenging scientific and engineering problems.
Kesshi has demonstrated an ability to accept mentor guidance on the research and independently carry it to higher levels, and is also very comfortable in a leadership role," added Wickenden.
Additionally, Jordan has an essential and uncommon global perspective to which she applies her academic and technical interests.
She has been an active participant in Engineers Without Borders, and was instrumental in raising the awareness of this organization at ARL by sharing her own experience with ARL researchers, and actively coordinating the University of Maryland chapter president and academic mentor to present an ARL Colloquium to the entire ARL workforce.
"Looking back on my experience in the SOAR program, I was granted a truly exceptional opportunity that very few undergraduates have," said Jordan.
"The SOAR program is a type of incubator that prepares you to function effectively in a research environment. When I sit down to write a proposal or design an experiment, I hear Dr. Wickenden in my head asking "who is going to read this and how is it going to help them?" added Jordan.
Jordan attributes much of who she is as a researcher to having had such incredible role models and mentorship every day at ARL as she developed skills such as scientific writing, experimental design, team building and data analysis.
"The SOAR program helped me gain the confidence to take initiative in a research environment," said Jordan.
Jordan is currently pursuing a doctorate degree in a University of California, San Francisco/University of California, Berkeley joint program in bioengineering with a focus in neuroscience.