RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. -- The U.S. Army demonstrated the science and engineering behind Meals Ready-to-Eat, also known as MREs, for 150 underrepresented minorities, girls and low-income middle and high school students across North Carolina.

The event was, a partnership between the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command's Army Research Lab and Soldiers Center, is part of the Research Triangle Park STEM-in-the-Park Organization's Science Festival, called RTP SciFest.

Student attendees quickly swarmed the Army booth where they learned about the caloric dense, shelf-stable meals that keep the nation's warfighters sustained during periods of high-energy exertion, when more traditional cooking options are not available.

The Army's booth maintained a steady flow of energetic, engaging and inquisitive student visitors throughout the event.

"I really enjoyed being there and seeing the excitement and feeling the energy with all of the students and demonstrators, especially the ARO table with the MRE demonstrations," said Rich Freed, associate director for business and research administration, Army Research Office.

Demonstrators Priscilla (P.J.) Bitopoulos and Patricia (Patty) Cariveau, both from the Combat Feeding Directorate of CCDC Soldier Center, explained how meals have evolved over the past few decades, and how chefs in their test kitchen are constantly working to make the meals highly nutritional appetizing, palatable and shelf-stable. The meals must meet the Army Surgeon General's approved nutritional requirements for military rations. The students said they were pleased to learn that meal testing does not end in the test kitchen, but is field tested by warfighters and must receive acceptable ratings before it is approved for inclusion in one of the 24 menu items.

During the event, Bitopoulos and Cariveau discussed the research, science and engineering involved in every aspect of the MRE contents and container including the design of the flameless ration heater and packaging the meals to ensure that they are highly portable and ergonomically designed to fit into cargo pockets of military uniforms. They also described how the triple layering of pouches maintain freshness for at least three years.

Many of the students expressed surprise that a full meal that includes an entrée (beef goulash, spaghetti, chicken, pizza, etc. and some vegetarian options), side dish (rice, potatoes, etc.), dessert (lemon pound cake, cookies, etc.), snacks (M&Ms, Skittles, Tootsie Rolls, etc.), beverages (cappuccino, tea, coffee, etc.), accessories (spoon, matches, creamer, sugar, hot sauces, toilet paper, etc.) and a flameless heater is able to fit into such a small pouch.

"This has been a fantastic event," Cariveau said. "The students were engaging and enthusiastic. We appreciate the opportunity to introduce students to STEM career fields."

Finally, after confirmation of food allergies with students and their adult chaperones, the moment of truth came when they were permitted to sample some of the items to include beef goulash and lemon poppy seed pound cake. The critiques were overwhelmingly positive with some students even requesting second helpings.

At the end, Bitopoulos and Cariveau quizzed the students about what they learned and awarded those who were correctly answered questions with prizes of reusable water bottles and a MRE pound cake.

While groups of students rotated to various booths, other groups met with CCDC ARL scientists who introduced them to civilian DOD STEM careers during speed mentoring sessions. The students learned about the many academic and vocational paths available in STEM.

"Serving as a speed mentor was a unique opportunity to learn about the wide range of interests of the students, which included veterinary medicine, law, and chemistry," said Dr. Julia Barzyk program manager, Earth Materials and Processes at Army Research Office. "It was a privilege to spend time sharing a little about my career and learning about their dreams for the future."

The mission of STEM-in-the-Park is to open the world of STEM to North Carolina students and educators through hands on mentoring and engagement opportunities at half-day immersion field trips where STEM organizations in and around North Carolina's Triangle region assemble to engage visiting students in real-world STEM experiences.

"Army participation in the RTP SciFest was an investment in underrepresented youth," said Michael Caccuitto, division chief for technology integration and outreach at Army Research Office. "It is always exciting to play a part in inspiring a new generation of students to pursue STEM careers and ensure the successful development of future technologies relevant to the Army."

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CCDC Army Research Laboratory (ARL) is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command. As the Army's corporate research laboratory, ARL discovers, innovates and transitions science and technology to ensure dominant strategic land power. Through collaboration across the command's core technical competencies, CCDC leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more effective to win our Nation's wars and come home safely. CCDC is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command.