NATICK, Mass. (Aug. 9, 2018) -- The U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, or USARIEM, is once again sponsoring the Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science, better known as the GEMS program, an extracurricular summer science education program that enables middle-school-aged students to experience science in a laboratory setting.

GEMS has a multidisciplinary educational agenda, and students participate in grade-appropriate activities related to science, engineering, mathematics, computational sciences, computational biology, biomedical sciences, chemistry and biology.

There are also a few new faces this year. Capt. Thomas Cotrone, a neurophysiologist from USARIEM's Military Nutrition Division, has taken over as the new GEMS program director for USARIEM. Cotrone said his goal in this year's GEMS program is to encourage budding scientists to learn and explore by doing hands-on science activities that can be applicable to real-life science.

"What we are really trying to shoot for is getting the kids to appreciate science, technology, engineering and math, better known as STEM," Cotrone said. "Beyond that, we hope that we can spark kids' interest in science and build a foundation where they can pursue a future scientific career."

On its eighth year, the USARIEM GEMS program has three programs, GEMS I, II and III, with 190 children in attendance. Each GEMS session allows students to return the following summer, slowly building on the lessons learned the summer before and encouraging the growth of future scientific leaders.

Advanced high school- and college-aged students called "near-peer mentors" lead the GEMS programs and serve as role models for the students. Prior to their arrival, near-peer mentors completed extensive training at a science boot camp, in which they learned how to conduct and teach GEMS experiments.

"The near-peer mentors are actually the ones who are with the kids on a daily basis," Cotrone said. "They are the ones who are actually running the laboratories, teaching the kids and interacting with them one-on-one."

Cotrone mentioned that younger high school students who graduated from the GEMS program can also serve as assistant mentors.

Every day in the lab offers new and exciting activities for the GEMS kids, such as extracting DNA from strawberries and spinach, learning about blood types in the crime scene investigation class, programming robots to navigate through obstacle courses and taking field trips to the Combat Feeding Directorate in Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, or NSRDEC, to learn how scientists create tube food for Soldiers.

Cotrone said that USARIEM continues to sponsor the GEMS program, which is part of the U.S. Army Educational Outreach Program, or USAEOP. The USAEOP has a long history of recognizing that having scientifically and technologically literate citizens is the country's best hope for a secure, rewarding and successful future.

GEMS began in 2005 as a single program at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The GEMS program has grown to 12 sites in eight states across major U.S. Army research installations, including USARIEM. The USARIEM GEMS program runs annually from July to August.

"The GEMS program is part of USARIEM's effort to educate the next generation, so they can positively contribute to our nation," Cotrone said. "By instilling an enhancement in general scientific literacy in our population, particularly the future workforce, we are going to ensure the nation's hospitals, industries, universities and military have the best scientific, medical, engineering and technological advancements."