By Alexandra Foran, NSRDEC Public AffairsAugust 2, 2012
NATICK, Mass. -- Visitors to the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center July 26 on its first "Science for the Soldier Day" included Northeastern University's Young Scholars students. This program is an annual guest at NSRDEC, and this year 28 students from the Greater Boston area toured some of the base's facilities and saw a variety of fundamental science and technologies on display.
Students had the opportunity to speak individually with people working in science and engineering fields including Combat Feeding, Biomechanics, and Nanofiber Materials.
"One major thing that is unique to this program is that we provide them with an assignment that is not available elsewhere," said Yair Mega, NU Ph.D. student and program adviser, "because the equipment and the kind of research going on in the labs and the university facility is not available in the high school environment. That's a huge advantage."
Students work on a small project for the entire six-week program. Each of these projects is part of larger NU graduate student projects that are sometimes connected to other universities and countries. Some of the testing done at NSRDEC, like using Atomic Force Microscopes or analyzing data on the computer, are comparable to tests that these high school students have had the opportunity to work on.
"We try to introduce them to several other disciplines," said Mega, "and help them make a more educated decision once they get to college. They get to go around and talk to engineers here and elsewhere. They get to see what a day in the life of an engineer is really like; they really get a grasp of what they are doing if they choose this career path."
For high school students in particular, being a part of a relevant lab study and having the opportunity to speak to professional scientists and engineers are incredibly rare. Some students voiced that they thought they would be interested in certain fields and found that they preferred another science instead, while others realized that they were interested in a field they had never even heard of before.
"This helps prepare us for college, kind of because this is a whole new experience and the independence in the lab is really great," said Alexandra Miller-Browne, a high school junior who worked in an environmental engineering lab that looked at extracting TCE contamination in water through a program called PROTECT (The Puerto Rico Testsite for Exploring Contamination Threats).
"I also learned about independence, setting your own goals and formulating your own ideas from working in the lab," said Jonathan You, a high school junior who worked in a biology lab that studied genes and how they developed and were utilized in sea algae worms.
After all, being a scientist or engineer involves more than just lab work and data collection. Scientists and engineers alike share their findings via speech and print, something the students witnessed when visiting the different NSRDEC displays. This was an experience they also personally participated in when each student presented at a conference at NU at the end of their program.
"I was really impressed with a lot of the students," said Katarina Lopez, research chemist. "Events like these are important for students interested in the sciences, because they can meet engineers and scientists, learn about the research projects they do, and get an idea of what working in the sciences is like."
Both NU Young Scholars and NSRDEC employees were able to learn a lot from each other by the end of the day.