CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Dozens of talented college students are working on the Army's toughest scientific challenges, and the Army Materiel Command's senior noncommissioned officer shared his expertise as he reviewed their research.

Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Mellinger visited the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and U.S. Military Academy Feb. 3 and 4 for the eighth annual Soldier Design Competition. SDC is a competition at the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies at MIT that brings together the schools' young scientists.

During his interim review of their research, Mellinger listened to 12 student presentations on Army challenges, including how to airdrop water, how to create custom orthotics for boots and how to harvest energy from a flapping tent.

"First thing that stood out for me is the incredible brain trust here," Mellinger said after listening to the MIT presentations. "They're very inquisitive, intelligent students who are taking on very real challenges for Soldiers."

An MIT student introduced an arm flag, which is already on Soldiers' uniforms, designed to harvest solar power to operate small systems.

Mellinger said he could see the possibilities in the design and added his combat perspective to the project.

"When you do something like that, you have to assume it's not going to be sunny for a week," he said to the student.

He also cautioned, "If you haven't PFC tested it ...," referring to ensuring it is durable enough to handle the intense battering a private first class would put it through during combat.

However, he said he liked the fact the student used something that a Soldier already wears and the fact that it could lighten the battery load.

"Power and energy are a huge challenge for us," he said. "If you could get rid of four batteries to just one pound, that would be great."

Adding complementary equipment to a uniform is also extremely important, he added.

"We need to quit being additive (to uniforms)," Mellinger said. "Every time you add something, pretty soon they can't function. It's too much. A car has a GPS, an AM/FM radio and a CD player all in one dashboard."

Students will make adjustments to their projects before the contest winners are announced in April. This is his third time he has been involved in the competition, and he will help judge the final results.

"What you will see at the competition (will be) different," Mellinger said. "They come and solve a problem we haven't even seen here today."