NATICK, Mass. (June 29, 2012) -- Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center conducted a typical overview and tour June 26, although its participants were far from ordinary. Thirteen students from the Research Science Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology assembled at NSRDEC to learn a little bit about what goes on there.
The students were tasked with an important mission: Ask a lot of questions.
The mix of high school juniors and seniors respectfully and attentively listened to each briefing. When each presenter finished speaking, hands shot into the sky without hesitation to pose insightful questions.
The students asked about testing procedures, different types of career paths needed in the military and more specific questions about topics covered including airdrop; meals, ready-to-eat; cognitive science; engineering and others.
John Gassner, director of Warfighter Science, Technology and Applied Research, gave the group the same advice he gave his own children when they pursued science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, degrees.
"Remember that being a scientist or engineer means you must know how to communicate your ideas," he said.
Gassner later discussed the amount of teamwork that occurs at NSRDEC, especially between departments utilizing different subjects.
"We work together to solve a problem especially when the two factors are highly linked (biomechanics and cognitive science, for example)," Gassner said. "We are always trying to improve the product that we have."
The briefings were broken up by different external media videos and a few exciting airdrop videos; then the students were led to NSRDEC's STEM, lab where they observed hands-on science at work and learned about some of the different STEM opportunities they could be involved in now or in the future. Students also toured the Fiber Test Facility, where they learned about different polymers, binding and twisting.
While in the STEM lab, students got a real feel for science as they collected electrospun nanofibers between their fingers and saw how the nanofibers were created using electric volts, polyethylene oxide polymer dissolved in water, and a small amount of propanol within a system.
Phillip Gibson, with the Molecular Sciences and Engineering Team, explained that the fibers are used for different applications including wound dressings, fiber sensors for food safety, protective clothing layers, and an assortment of other applications.
"Kids get to see, touch and hear about different types of research going on in labs around the country," said Gibson. "They visit researchers in their labs talking about and showing off their work, and see that these are normal people just having fun learning about new and interesting things. Kids will have a better idea of the day-to-day life of a scientist or engineer, and have a better picture of what a STEM career would be like."
The 13 students are part of a larger group from RSI, selected by the Center for Excellence in Education committee for their scholastic accomplishment, leadership skills, and scientific achievement. This year's group consists of 50 U.S. students and 31 international students participating in the six-week program at MIT, which involves on- and off-campus work, using scientific theory, researching individual projects, designing and creating a research plan, reading current field literature, and sharing oral and written reports of their research.
"We look at science and technology challenges at NSRDEC," explained Ed Crivello, executive assistant to the director, to the students.
These words fell upon the ears of the right crowd. It would not be surprising to see some of the students who visited become STEM problem-solvers of tomorrow.