NATICK, Mass. -- It is well known that Soldier lethality, performance, and protection are part of the fabric of a successful Army. It also turns out that fabrics and other materials themselves play a key role in Soldier success.

The RDECOM Soldier Center recently hosted a Multifunctional Materials Workshop to bring together leading experts from the Army and academia. The event was organized by the Multi-Functional Materials project team. Team members include Dr. Shaun Filocamo, a supervisory physical scientist, Dr. Chris Doona, a senior research chemist, Dr. June Lum, a research chemist, and Dr. Chris Drew, a research chemist. Dr. Charlene Mello, the RDECOM Soldier Center's chief scientist, supported the team's objectives and provided useful contacts in the field.

"The Multifunctional Materials Workshop convened academics, DoD researchers, and the Natick Soldier Systems Center workforce to discuss emerging technologies, share ideas, discuss the latest breakthroughs, and encourage communication and collaborations, to lead to new paradigms and result in continued battlefield success for the Soldier in future operating environments," said Filocamo.

"As the access to technology, population growth, and globalization continues to increase the potential sources of future conflict, the future battlefield will become more complex," said Doona. "Soldiers will need to be more maneuverable, have better situational awareness in difficult environments, and be harder to detect than ever before. Developing capabilities to meet these needs will require new paradigms in Soldier equipment and materiel, to include combining multiple functionalities into a single construct -- for example fiber, fabric, ensemble, while decreasing bulk and weight."

Multifunctional materials contribute to Soldier lethality, protection, and performance optimization. The Army and its academic partners are working to advance fabrics, fabric coatings, and other materials to improve or create myriad of new capabilities, ranging from ultra-strong composite materials for ballistic protection, chemical-biological protection, physiological sensors, communication devices and other electronics -- to name just a few capabilities.

Multifunctional material technologies also assist with signature management, thermal management, and friend or foe identification.

The workshop featured presentations from esteemed scientists from the RDECOM Soldier Center as well as internationally renowned experts from academia.

In addition to keynote lectures, the workshop also provided the opportunity for networking, in-depth panel discussions, poster presentations, and spontaneous sessions with experts actively investigating novel warfighter technologies.

"Multifunctional materials are an emerging trend in materials research that have the potential to touch many of the technical areas NSRDEC (RDECOM Soldier Center) cares about," said Drew. "This workshop gives outside researchers a chance to see Army priorities and gives Army researchers a chance to hear and question the latest work from leading academic researchers."

"Investment into R&D for protective solutions focused on warfighters are constantly needed, a forum such as the Multifunctional Materials Workshop provides a common place for academics and DoD researchers to discuss emerging ideas, share breakthroughs, and encourages communication for potential collaborations," said Lum. "We focused on new technologies that may be used for fibers and textile solutions, but other ideas or applications can germinate from some of these seed ideas."

"The Multifunctional Materials workshop was a timely and important scientific exchange between leading academic researchers in the field and the research and development community within NSRDEC," said Dr. Ramanathan Nagarajan, senior research scientist Soldier Nanomaterials. "The workshop revealed numerous ways by which exceptionally different static and dynamic material properties can be realized, not necessarily by the discovery of new materials, but by the intentional design and redesign of materials, influenced by what we observe in natural and biological systems, taking advantage of new nano and micro structures, surface topologies, computational predictions and novel material processing approaches.

"The academic presentations specifically suggested pathways for pursuing significant lightening of the Soldier load, the ability to sense, respond and adapt to multiple threats, novel wearable communication and computing systems, energy harvesting and storage, Soldier hydration and signature management. These are all areas where we are seeking to demonstrate qualitative new developments that can be transitioned rapidly to the field."

Attendees from academia emphasized the importance of coming together to share ideas.

"The workshop offered a great set of speakers that encompassed high-profile researchers," said Professor Markus Buehler, McAfee Professor of Engineering and department head of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "It was a wonderful opportunity for me to connect with colleagues and brainstorm new research ideas, and get inspired. Most importantly, this workshop allowed us to understand better what the needs of the Army are, and how we as academics can contribute to and support these activities. Speaking with researchers from the Army offers us critical insights into real-world challenges and needs, and enables networking with researchers and staff. The capabilities of my lab and those at the DoD are complementary and I am very excited about the potential of new collaborations, and what we can explore together. Workshops like this one are a unique venue to deepen such ties. It was very well organized and executed."

"The workshop brought together an excellent group of researchers focused on developing novel materials with intrinsic functional properties, such as dynamic camouflage, that can meet the needs of future Soldiers," said Associate Professor Greg Whiting of the University of Colorado. "I learned a lot during the meeting and expect that it will lead to new and productive collaborations between university and defense researchers in this exciting area."

The workshop proved to be both timely and relevant.

"This timely academic exchange coincides with the standing up of the Army Futures Command and NSRDEC becoming part of it," said Nagarajan. "I would like to see that increased Army investments in multifunctional materials are made to support rapid knowledge transfer and technology development activities in collaboration with the academic researchers of the high caliber who participated at this workshop."

"It is always valuable to bring different researchers together," said Drew. "This type of workshop can give everyone an updated glimpse at the state-of-the-art and the state-of-the-possible, which are always in flux."

"The Multifunctional Materials Workshop is a positive outcome of a year-long effort to seek and establish connections with experts in academia, industry and across the spectrum of DoD labs to analyze the state of relevant, multifunctional technologies, and guide the NSRDEC investment strategy for the next 10 to 15 years in this area critical to the Soldier's success in the future battlefield," said Filocamo.

Attendees from academia: Prof. Joanna Aizenberg, Harvard; Dr. Alexander Stolyarov, Massachusetts Institute of Technology-LL AFFOA; Dr. Lauren Cantley, Massachusetts Institute of Technology-LL AFFOA; Dr. Bavand Keshavarz, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Prof. Alon Gorodetsky, University of California.-Irvine; Chengyi Xu, UCal.-Irvine; Melvin Escobar Colorado University of California-Irvine; Prof. Gregory Whiting, UColorado-Boulder; Prof. Markus Buehler, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Gang Seob Jung, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Prof. Tak Sing Wong, Pennsylvania State University; Dr. Martin Kaltenbrunner, Johannes Kepler University (Linz, Austria); Prof. Trisha Andrew University of Massachusetts-Amherst; David Bilger University of Massachusetts-Amherst; Wesley Viola, University of Massachusetts-Amherst; Prof. Nick Kotov, University of Michigan; Dr. Zhiyong Xia, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics; Prof. Luyi Sun, University of Connecticut; Prof. Dov Kruger, Stevens Institute of Technology; Moshe Kruger, Stevens Institute of Technology; Ramdas Ram-Mohan, Worcester Polytechnic Institute; Associate Professor Nima Rahbar, Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Attendees from the Department of the Army: Dr. Muge Fermen-Coker, Army Research Library; Dr. Jeffrey Gair, Army Research Laboratory; Dr. Wendy Mills, Army Research Office; Dr. Dawanne Poree, Army Research Office.

Attendees from the RDECOM Soldier Center: Jeff Dunn IP TAM, Kristine Isherwood, Dr. Walter Zukas, Nicole Hoffman, Dr. Charlene Mello, Dr. Ravi Mosurkal, Dr. Ramanathan Nagarajan, Tom Tiano, Mike McPartlin, Dr. Timothy Lawton, Dr. Joshua Uzarski, Dr. Michael Wiederoder, Dr. Nando Bruno, Nicole Farhadi, Betty Ann Welsh, Dr. Chris Doona, Dr. June Lum, Dr. Chris Drew, Dr. Shaun Filocamo, John Song, Carole Winterhalter, and Doug Chesnulovich.

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The Soldier Center 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.