NATICK, Mass. (Oct. 21, 2013) -- Not many college students have such an opportunity, but a few from the University of Massachusetts Lowell worked in labs this summer that strive to save warfighters' lives.

Ten students from the UMass Lowell Co-op Scholars Program worked during the summer with the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, known as NSRDEC, as part of the Harnessing Emerging Research Opportunities to Empower Soldiers, or HEROES, program. HEROES is a joint research and development initiative that allows both parties to work together to improve Soldier protection.

For a number of the students, this was the first time they had worked in a lab outside of an academic setting. This real-world experience provided an opportunity to further develop a variety of skills relevant to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM, fields.

"The HEROES program is important because it provides us with talented and eager students who can make a huge difference for the S&T (science and technology) community here at NSRDEC," said Ben Williams, NSRDEC mechanical engineer, who mentored a UMass Lowell student.

Students completed an assortment of tasks based in their discipline while working with NSRDEC. They were also involved in presentation workshops at UMass Lowell as part of the co-op program, and all of the students also had an opportunity to showcase their work through professional presentations to NSRDEC and UMass Lowell personnel.

During Kristina Michta's co-op with NSRDEC mentors Diane Steeves and Jason Soares, she was taught simple chemistry techniques, polymer processing, and thermal and spectroscopy techniques for characterizing synthesized materials. Michta was then able to characterize the optical and mechanical properties of bicomponent polymeric fibers using laboratory equipment.

"It was great having mentors to show me the ropes of how to design and carry out my own experiments, how to troubleshoot, and how to put together poster presentations and talks about my work," said Michta, a UMass Lowell sophomore chemistry major. "It was also helpful to know that when I was working more independently, I could always come to my mentors with a question, should I need the help."

Michta said that exploring different fields of chemistry this summer will help her choose what area of chemistry to focus on in the future.

"The students who I met (working with NSRDEC) were extremely excited about this opportunity," said Adrianna Morris, assistant to the vice provost for research, and the program director, Campus Research Co-ops at UMass Lowell. "Some of them lived close to Natick and knew about the base -- in a sense it was a dream come true for them. There was one student, in particular, Sabrina Riley, who was incredibly excited."

Riley, a Natick native, learned a number of techniques, including modifying fabrics and obtaining scanning electron microscopy images, from mentor Dr. Shaun Filocamo, NSRDEC research chemist.

"(The UMass Lowell students) so valued the experience because they could see the relevance of what they were doing and how they contributed to their project, turning into something that was going to help," said Morris.

Cody Langlois and Oliver Farren had their co-op with Quoc Truong, NSRDEC physical scientist. They each set up a Design of Experiment, identified several different formulations for advanced materials, conducted research, and presented their findings to their mentor on a weekly basis.

"It was good to know more about the lab environment, which was great especially because my classes are starting to be more lab oriented," said Farren, a sophomore plastics engineering student. "I learned a lot about omniphobic coatings and techniques and Quoc really cared about how much I was learning."

This summer was the first time UMass Lowell students participated in co-ops through the HEROES program, but certainly not the last.

"We are already queued up for next summer," said Lynne Samuelson, NSRDEC senior scientific adviser and HEROES co-director. "We hope that we'll have even more students for next summer. We also hope that a lot of these students will continue on with the research they are doing. Hopefully, we'll have some future [Department of Defense] scientists."

Students working on co-ops with NSRDEC learned what it was like to be part of a team, while also retaining independence as they created and conducted their own work. Thanks to the support of UMass Lowell and NSRDEC, students worked this summer in environments that allowed them to succeed and be an integral part of HEROES, a program that supports Soldier heroes.


NSRDEC 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.