High school teacher becomes Army researcher

September 26, 2014

By Joyce M. Conant, ARL Public Affairs

Story Highlights

  • Army researchers come from a wide variety of backgrounds
  • As a human factors specialist for CBRNE programs, Elizabeth Caplinger's degree in chemistry made her a good fit for ARL
  • The goal of the Army's human system integration is to ensure the needs of the Warfighter are met in every aspect of the acquisition system

Army researchers come from a wide variety of backgrounds. That is the case with Elizabeth Caplinger, a chemist and human factors specialist, who has been with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory's Human Research and Engineering Directorate in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, for about six years.

Caplinger started her career as a high school teacher. She was certified in chemistry, but since she taught in small schools, she said she was the 'science department' and taught all science classes. After seven years of teaching, she went to work at the Chemical Defense Training Facility at Fort Leonard Wood as an air monitoring technician and then as the quality control auditor for the site. After five years at the CDTF, Caplinger began working for ARL.

As a human factors specialist for CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives) programs, Caplinger's degree in chemistry made her a good fit for ARL.

"My education and experience at the CDTF are invaluable to understanding the equipment and procedures used in the CBRNE world," said Caplinger. "ARL provided the human factors training that I needed and my job is to ensure the Warfighter is considered in every aspect of a CBRNE acquisition program – from training to actually using the equipment in an operationally relevant environment."

Within in ARL, Caplinger is one of two human factors practitioners who specialize in CBRNE programs that help aid the Warfighter.

"Lamar Garrett, who is at the Edgewood Field Element, and I have worked together on the same programs – one for the testing community and the other for the program manager – and we have worked together to educate program managers about the quality work ARL can do for them," said Caplinger. "Lamar has years of experience as a chemical NCO [non commissioned officer] and I have a scientific background that mesh together very well – we are often sounding boards for each other and we're able to collaborate and support each other to the benefit of the Warfighter."

Caplinger said her goal is to minimize the Warfighter's physical workload using the experiences she has acquired.

"I have worked a series of advanced technology demonstrations. In each one, I've used the Sensewear armbands to measure the energy expenditure of the demo participants. I want the physical workload of the Warfighter to be a consideration for choosing a piece of equipment. I feel a larger monetary cost can be justified if the Warfighter's workload is decreased," said Caplinger.

Caplinger said she has attended numerous test events and observed the Warfighters using the equipment so she can make design and training recommendations to make their mission simpler to accomplish.

"I always interview the test participants and tailor my findings to their concerns," said Caplinger. "I've received the best ideas from Warfighters."

Caplinger is passionate about what she does.

"I like tests, events, demos, anything where I can interact with Warfighters and see them using the equipment," said Caplinger. "I like being out of my cubicle and in the field! My number one concern is the Warfighter. The goal of the Army's human system integration is to ensure the needs of the Warfighter are met in every aspect of the acquisition system. We look to make the training better, the equipment easier to use, and the mental and physical workload smaller and that every step is as safe as possible."

Outside of work, Caplinger said she's a fitness junkie and optimistic about life.

"I'm a former runner whose been sidelined by a bad knee, but I continue to do Crossfit," said Caplinger. "For a small town girl, I've lived an interesting professional life. It's all based on a good education and the willingness to try something new. Life will take you to some great places if you let it – something good happens every day; you just have to see it."


Last Update / Reviewed: September 26, 2014