ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (August 13, 2013) -- As Cadet Edric Zahn enters his second year of college this fall, he's already leaps ahead of the estimated 37 percent of 2013 college graduates who failed to land an all-too-important college internship, which employers say puts students like Zahn on the top of future hiring lists.

Fortunately for Zahn--a life sciences major at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point--internships like this are a requirement for graduation, even though his post-baccalaureate employment is nearly guaranteed. He expects to be commissioned as an Army officer at graduation, but landing the internship, for him, is more than just planting seeds for employment.

"I think it's awesome for a student to come into these labs to be able to see hands-on what actual researchers do, and it helps a person become more interested if they want to pursue a career, or pursue a specific area of research, or in science in general. This is a way to build knowledge," said Zahn, a Seattle, Wash. native.

West Point's Advanced Individual Academic Development (AIAD) program provides cadets with an opportunity to observe and implement concepts from their education in chemistry, chemical engineering and life sciences over several weeks during a summer internship.

The AIAD program enables cadets to perform research with leaders in government and private sector laboratories, both stateside and abroad. These experiences broaden the cadets' perspectives and provide them with practical advanced education related to their field of study and the real-world application of science in the military.

Zahn spent a few weeks inside the U.S Army Research Laboratory's composites and hybrid materials branch at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., supporting ARL's efforts to develop a new type of fluorescent nanomaterial that is highly biocompatible and easy to manipulate towards different energy emissions and surface functionalities.

Dr. Mark Griep, a bio-nanomaterials engineer who advised Zahn and other summer hires from West Point, said, "These materials will play a key role in developing biocompatible, In Vivo nanosensing platforms, which will allow for continuous monitoring of soldiers' physiological state, early detection of illness or internal damage and early treatment, which could minimize soldier 'down-time' on the field and reduce field healthcare logistical needs."

ARL is currently transitioning materials and methods developed by the cadets to efforts studying mild traumatic brain injury.

Griep said the properties of these materials can only be engineered by controlling their structure down to the level of a single atom. The cadets were able to achieve this control, and grew size-controlled gold nanoclusters of precisely 25 and 13 atoms--giving red and green emission, respectively.

"The cadets played a key role in finding new methodologies to grow energy-tuned nanoclusters out of different metals, in addition to tailor their functional groups. Edric laid the foundation for synthesizing gold and silver nanoclusters; with the 25-atom gold nanoclusters in particular functionalized with different length amine and carboxyl functional groups," Griep said. "With these functional groups on the nanoclusters, they can then be easily attached to a multitude of molecules including DNA and receptor proteins or ligands to target any material of interest. His work provided the key foundational material to build Army-relevant technological applications."

The kind of real-world experience Zahn received is what 93 percent of employers want in future hires, according to an April 2013 survey released by the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Zahn was able to aquire skills such as the capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems--more than what is offered at an undergraduate major or school.

As it is, it is difficult for employers around the globe to find the right mix of hard and soft skills. According to findings from the McKinsey Center for Government's 2013 report, "Education to employment: Designing a system that works." Only 43 percent of the 2,832 employers McKinsey surveyed in nine countries from Europe, Asia, the Middle East and the Americas, said they could find enough skilled entry-level workers.

Since 2005, ARL has hired 35 undergraduate and graduate students pursuing degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics disciplines through the Department of Defense's (DoD) Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship for Service program. The program aims to increase the number of civilian scientists and engineers working at DoD laboratories.

Through its High School Apprenticeship program for juniors and seniors, ARL supported 28 students in 2012, and 24 in 2013. The laboratory supported 69 Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship program students in 2012, and 41 in 2013. Fourteen graduate mentors were supported by USAP in 2013 as well. These are commuter programs designed to provide a mechanism to expose new students to research opportunities in the sponsoring laboratory.

"These students are spending approximately 300 hours over the summer conducting research under the mentorship of ARL's Army Research Office-funded principle investigators at universities. This summer we added a small stipend component for Graduate Mentor Fellows, which are graduate students in the PI's lab who mentor high school or undergrad students," explained Ashley Wade, youth sciences program manager.

Fifty-eight undergraduate and graduate students currently have the option of working in research laboratories--including ARL--all year long, not just this summer, under the College Qualified Leaders (CQL) program, which is sponsored by the American Society for Engineering Education and the DoD. These internships typically last for six months or more. In 2011, 23 CQL were hired by ARL.

High school students are treated as research assistants under the Science and Engineering Apprenticeship Program (SEAP), which is funded by the Army Educational Outreach Program. First year participants are awarded an educational stipend of $2,000.

The students contribute to the research of the laboratory, while learning research techniques in the process. This "hands-on" experience gives students a broader view of their field of interest and shows them what kind of work to expect in their future careers. The students also attend demonstrations and go on field trips to learn more about the inner workings of an Army Research Laboratory. At the end of the summer, the students prepare final reports and present their research at a final seminar.

In 2011, ARL was ranked 13th in Popular Science Magazine's Top 25 "Coolest Labs in the Country." ARL's mentorship of high school and college students was noted for placing it--the only military lab featured--on the list.


ARL is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America's Soldiers.

RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army's premier provider of materiel readiness -- technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment -- to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military
operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.