By David McNally, ARL Public AffairsOctober 13, 2017
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- In response to recent natural disasters, an Army researcher found a creative way to help out.
Dr. Latha Nataraj, an engineering materials researcher with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory's Vehicle Technology Directorate, is also an accomplished artist and musician. By donating her works of art and CDs of her music, she raised nearly $800 for hurricane relief efforts.
"I never expected anybody would pay for my music or art," Nataraj said. "I am a hobby artist and a hobby musician. When people started picking up my CDs and paintings with various levels of contribution to the hurricane relief fundraiser, I was very surprised, happy, and excited at the same time."
Originally from India, she has been a Pennsylvania resident for more than 26 years.
"I earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Bangalore University," Nataraj said. "I went to Villanova University for my master's in computer engineering."
Latha received a doctorate in electrical engineering from the University of Delaware in 2011.
"I have enjoyed singing in the Indian classical music style of Karnatak music since I was a young child," she said. "I am deeply passionate about singing. Any free time I have, I have always loved to paint and sing. Anytime I see anything beautiful, like a nice scenery, flowers, dancers, or sea shells, I want to capture that in a painting."
Nataraj said she loves painting because it's the most relaxing activity for her. Lately, she's been trying to bring her interest in the performing arts like music and dance into her paintings.
"I have made several paintings in that theme," she explained. "Musical instruments, musicians playing various instruments, dancers performing in different styles, like ballet, flamenco, and the Indian classical dance styles of Bharatha naatyam and Kathak."
Nataraj has also branched out into popular music and the semi-classical genre called Bhaavageethe, which is a Sanskrit derivative - bhaava means emotion, geethe is a song, she said.
"The poetry is set to music and the scale and tempo of the song is chosen to evoke the appropriate emotion and spirit of the poetry," she said. "I have grown to become greatly passionate about poetry and this genre of music."
Nataraj recently released two musical albums.
"The first is 'Manana,' meaning salutation, a collection of ancient Sanskrit poetry set to Indian classical music based melodies," she said. "The second is 'Mana Mohana' a collection of 22 bhaavageethes in the South Indian language, Kannada, which is my mother tongue, where music has been to poetry by the renowned Kannada poet, Dr. N.S. Lakshminarayana Bhatta.
Nataraj also conducted the musical composition for both albums and worked with a professional orchestra in India for the instrumental accompaniment.
"Manana is a solo album with my vocal rendition," she said. "I was joined by two other singers in the Mana Mohana album, one of whom is my daughter, Neha."
She said she never dreamed that her two of her favorite pastime activities would come to such good use.
"I have always been doing this just for my own enjoyment with great support from my family," she said. "Now, when I see how I could use these activities to make a positive impact on people in a tough situation, it is certainly very humbling and extremely motivating at the same time."
Nataraj said she wants everyone who is involved with fundraising activities to know that they can always feel free to reach out to her to work together in lending a helping hand to people in dire need.
"I understand this contribution is just a tiny drop in the bucket compared to the needs that arise from such enormous devastation," Nataraj said. I am now greatly motivated to let this humble beginning of service grow into more significant proportions."
In the meantime at the laboratory, Nataraj continues her work focused on early-stage damage detection in aerospace structures through the approach of nanomaterial-embedded self-sensing materials…quite possibly quietly humming a beautiful song as she works.
The U.S. Army Research Laboratory, currently celebrating 25 years of excellence in Army science and technology, is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities that provide decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the joint warfighter and the nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.