NATCK, Mass. – Jo Ann Ratto has mentored and inspired students throughout her career at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, or DEVCOM, Soldier Center. She currently serves as the deputy director of Harnessing Emerging Research Opportunities to Empower Soldiers, or HEROES. The HEROES initiative fosters collaboration between the DEVCOM Soldier Center and the University of Massachusetts Lowell, or UML.
“Currently, I am mentoring many students, the majority from the Plastics Engineering department at UML,” said Ratto. “I want to showcase a few who are progressing towards their goals. First, Peter Perez, who finished his Master of Science in Plastics Engineering this summer and just completed his first author peer-reviewed journal publication based on the recently concluded HEROES project, ‘Thermomechanical behavior of photovoltaic backsheets.’”
Ratto met Perez at the DEVCOM Soldier Center more than four years ago when he had a summer Immersive Scholar appointment working on several projects for food packaging and 3D printing of food.
“He intrigued me with his energy, hard questions, and curiosity, so I asked if he would work with me at DEVCOM Soldier Center during the school year on some research projects,” said Ratto. “He has now gone on to get his first job in industry at Teknor Apex working on elastomers, a completely new area for him, but his education and foundation have given him courage to take this new position during COVID, meet his team remotely, and make a difference in the company.”
Ratto is also mentoring Varun Venoor, a graduate student who is working on another HEROES project, “New thermoplastic materials using microcrystalline cellulose.”
“I have been working with him from the onset of the project, and this summer he was awarded the Tripathy Memorial Endowed Summer Graduate Fellowship and received a $7,500 scholarship to put toward his novel research proposal for modeling the effect of moisture in amorphous polyamide,” said Ratto. “I reviewed his proposal and connected him with a scientist at Bruker to perform solid state nuclear magnetic resonance studies of some ballistic materials observing water-polymer interactions.”
Another graduate student, Sevil Kaynar Turkoglu, is working with Ratto on the HEROES project “Superhydrophillic surfaces for anti-fogging.”
“Sevil recently attended the remote XIV International Conference on Polymer Materials Science and Engineering that was planned from Rome, Italy,” said Ratto. “She was so elated to let the HEROES research team know that she won the ‘Best Presentation Award’ at the conference!”
Ratto is serving on the thesis committee for Yujie Wang, who is nearing completion of her doctoral thesis at UML. Before the pandemic, Wang used the Doriot Climatic Chambers, located at the Natick Soldier Systems Center, to test protective coatings.
“Yujie is in the homestretch of her doctoral thesis at University of Massachusetts Lowell,” said Ratto. “She is writing up two publications at the same time, while also completing laboratory experiments during COVID. She is the lead on our new collaboration with the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, CRREL. CRREL is performing ice testing on down selected coatings that will help focus applications for the HEROES project ‘Icephobic Coatings for Warfighter Protection.’"
Ratto is also mentoring two undergraduate students who share her passion for pollution prevention and sustainable packaging.
“One student, Nicholas Farfaras, is working on biodegradable mulch film, and another, Kerry Candlen, is working on high-barrier multilayer packaging films,” said Ratto. “They are both extremely hard workers. They each were recently awarded $1,500 scholarships from the Institute of Packaging Professionals –
New England Chapter for their dedication and interest in packaging. These students have thrived through the last several months with all their accomplishments despite the challenging times, and I surely love seeing them shine and seeing them at our MS Teams meetings.”
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) outreach is an important part of the mission of DEVCOM Soldier Center and the Army at large. The mentoring of students by Army scientists and engineers benefits the students and their communities. It also increases young people's awareness of potential Army job opportunities and helps provide the Army with potential new talent, helping to fuel innovative ideas that benefit the nation's warfighters and the nation as a whole.
Ratto believes the mentoring experience benefits mentors as well as students.
“Mentoring students and junior engineers at DEVCOM Soldier Center during my career has always been truly rewarding and enjoyable for me,” said Ratto. “Observing their knowledge, expertise, work ethic, and their growth has given me an immense amount of satisfaction. Mentoring brings out my true self and allows me to enthusiastically help others achieve their goals. I am also able to grow and learn from them.”
The DEVCOM Soldier Center is committed to discovering, developing, and advancing science and technology solutions that ensure America’s warfighters are optimized, protected, and lethal. DEVCOM Soldier Center supports all of the Army's Modernization efforts, with the Soldier Lethality and Synthetic Training Environment Cross Functional Teams being the DEVCOM Soldier Center’s chief areas of focus. The center’s science and engineering expertise are combined with collaborations with industry, DOD, and academia to advance Soldier and squad performance. The center supports the Army as it transforms from being adaptive to driving innovation to support a Multi-Domain Operations Capable Force of 2028 and a MDO Ready Force of 2035. DEVCOM Soldier Center is constantly working to strengthen Soldiers’ performance to increase readiness and support for warfighters who are organized, trained, and equipped for prompt and sustainable ground combat.
DEVCOM Soldier Center is part of DEVCOM. Through collaboration across the command's core technical competencies, DEVCOM leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more lethal to win our nation's wars and come home safely. DEVCOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command.