Army scientist's pioneering research leads to Presidential Rank Award

By Jenna Brady, ARL Public AffairsJuly 17, 2018

Research Scientist Honored With Presidential Rank Award
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

ADELPHI, Md. -- A U.S. Army Research Laboratory senior research scientist was recently awarded the Distinguished Presidential Rank Award for his pioneering research that has provided new measures for the detection and assessment of injury, disease and other physiologic pathologies of significance to the Soldier.

Dr. Bruce J. West, ARL Fellow and senior research scientist for mathematical sciences, received the award at a ceremony held at the Pentagon June 25 hosted by Army Secretary Mark T. Esper, and was joined by his wife, sons, daughters-in-law and four grandchildren.

"The spectacle of the Pentagon, with its security and the history on every wall bracing the long meandering walk to the auditorium where the ceremony was conducted, was both overwhelming and heart-warming," West said. "The Army's sense of pageantry was in full flower; it was grand and I was proud to be a part of it, both as a spectator and an award recipient."

The Distinguished Presidential Rank Award is the highest award bestowed to the Career Senior Executive Service and Senior Professional and Scientific-Professional by the President of the United States.

Two categories of rank awards are available, Meritorious rank to leaders for sustained accomplishments, and Distinguished rank to leaders who achieve sustained extraordinary accomplishments, which only one percent of SES and senior professionals earn.

West's research focus has been on the development of the mathematical tools necessary to understand complex phenomena as they apply to network science.

His research has provided new measures including the assessment of the level of injury in head trauma, the detection of abnormalities in the cardiovascular network and in the motor control network for human locomotion, the detection of micro-seizures during sleep and quantitative indicators of a Soldier's general state of health.

"My research for the Army is open-ended in that I have been able to contribute to the understanding and development of revolutionary methods that have been applied to cardiopulmonary bypass pumps for severely injured patients and mechanical ventilation after surgery, as well as to the efficient information exchange across the global web of interacting complex social networks," West said. "Seeing how others, with the skills to transform into working applications the theoretical work to which I have contributed, has been truly inspirational."

West has had three distinct scientific careers.

First, in the private sector, his job as a research scientist was to take the under-developed, but often brilliant, ideas of the senior scientists and develop them into coherent proposals that could be funded by organizations such as the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy.

"I had to weave my own interests together with their research vision in such a way that I could pay my salary and still do research I considered interesting and important," West said. "After nearly two decades of increasing pressure to support an expanding research group, I decided it was time to go the academic route."

West was then hired as department chair and professor of physics at the University of North Texas.

"With this change, I no longer had the stress of writing multiple proposals, but one is not hired into the position of department chair unless there are administrative difficulties to be resolved," West said. "Between addressing these administrative and personal problems, I was still able to support graduate students in my academic research program and attract a number of world-class scientists into tenure and tenure-track faculty positions. After a decade of balancing teaching and research budgets, I concluded that the academic life did not suit me."

West then applied for and obtained the position of senior research scientist, an ST in mathematics at the Army Research Office.

"At its core, the job of an ST in mathematics is to look out over the research horizon and identify those areas on the frontier in mathematics that could be valuable in solving technical problems of importance to the United States in general and the Army in particular," West said.

West added that the success of an ST is partly the result of their own research, and that perhaps it is the influence that research has on the broader scientific community, through the leveraging of funds by others, that is the more important.

"It is often forgotten that scientific research is a social activity and therefore the opinion of one's peers, while it does not necessarily determine the direction of one's work, is gratifying when it is favorable," West said. "Thus, I view this award not just as an acknowledgement of my personal research, which is pleasant and greatly appreciated, but from a less personal perspective it is recognition of the importance of the direction that applied mathematics has taken in response to the Army's needs, being prompted, in part, through my books and journal publications."

For West, he has always been inspired by science, and has found there to be three sources of inspiration for him in particular.

"The first is the most laudatory and is the urge to do good for humanity, to leave a legacy of good works and to increase the totality of the understanding of the world to which we belong," West said. "The second is more pragmatic and is the exercise of a natural talent that enables one to formulate more clearly, see more deeply and synthesize more fully than most into how the world works. The third source of inspiration is actually quite venal and is the urge to prove wrong all those that tried to convince you that you could not make a contribution to science and should go into something less demanding."

Having produced numerous game-changing innovations throughout his career, West continues to play an essential role at ARL and for the Army and will do so to ensure the Army of the future is unmatched for years to come.

"The continuing impact I hope to have on ARL is that of a gadfly keeping the bureaucracy from becoming entangled in the snare of groupthink regarding the science that ought to be done at the lab," West said. "I will continue, through scientific leadership, to "nudge" the culture of the laboratory in the direction proposed by

Vannevar Bush in his classic report "Science The Endless Frontier," in which he articulated how to successfully satisfy the often conflicting demands for practical innovation and the interests of scientists in curiosity-driven enquiry."

For West, this is not restricted to activities at ARL, but must be front and center in the future Army if we are to continue to outpace other nations in scientific development.