Students develop scientific passions exploring cutting-edge activities

August 10, 2016

By Tracie R. Dean, ARL Public Affairs

Story Highlights

  • Throughout the course of the summer, hundreds of rising middle and high school students participated in the U.S. Army Research Laboratory's Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science program at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.
  • GEMS is a nationwide Army-sponsored hands-on research program designed to cultivate interests in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM. The program provides students with in-depth STEM enrichment experiences based on a multi-disciplinary educational curriculum working along with high school and college-aged mentors, more commonly known as near peer mentors, as well as top scientists and engineers.
  • As part of an ongoing collaborative effort to inspire students to explore STEM related activities and disciplines critical to our nation's future, engineers from the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense, the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory recently conducted a series of workshops challenging students to merge STEM concepts with technical skills.

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- Throughout the course of the summer, hundreds of rising middle and high school students participated in the U.S. Army Research Laboratory's Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science program at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

GEMS is a nationwide Army-sponsored hands-on research program designed to cultivate interests in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM. The program provides students with in-depth STEM enrichment experiences based on a multi-disciplinary educational curriculum working along with high school and college-aged mentors, more commonly known as near peer mentors, as well as top scientists and engineers.

The 2016 summer schedule offers three program levels: GEMS I for rising fifth through seventh grade students; GEMS II for rising seventh through 10th grade students and GEMS III for 10th through 12th grade students.

As part of an ongoing collaborative effort to inspire students to explore STEM related activities and disciplines critical to our nation's future, engineers from the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense, the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory recently conducted a series of workshops challenging students to merge STEM concepts with technical skills.

The curriculum developed for students participating in GEMS include coordinated classroom and laboratory sessions focused in STEM related activities. Students learn numerous math and science concepts; practice scientific methods, problem solving, speaking in a public forum; gain exposure to a laboratory setting; and interact with scientists, engineers, military and civilian technicians.

As a means of engagement, this year's GEMS program created eleven interactive labs focused on Human Factors and Ergonomics; Neuroscience and Neurotechnologies; Bone Conduction Technology; Computer Science; Indoor Water and Air Quality; Material Usage and Pollution Prevention; Power and Energy; Nutrients in Plants; Robotics; Building mBots; and an Anthropometry Human Figure Modeling Soldier Equipment Workshop.

Cheryl Burns, an engineer psychologist in ARL's Human Research and Engineering Directorate specializing in human systems integration and combat vehicles, co-led the Anthropometry Human Figure Modeling Soldier Equipment Workshop. Burns discussed the importance of exposing students to this type of science and technology for future career consideration.

"It is important to know the precise measurements of our Soldiers in order to assess where the boundary populations fall on the distribution curve," Burns said. "This data provides valuable information in properly designing materials, equipment and combat systems so that the wide range of Soldier sizes can operate and maintain Army equipment.

"It's great to expose these students to some areas that they may not associate immediately with science and engineering, hopefully sparking their interest to continue exploring these different areas of STEM. These students may someday be the scientists and engineers developing military systems for our Soldier of the future."

Dr. Deidre DeRoia, a wildlife biologist in the Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division, led the Nutrients in plants workshop designed to teach students how to analyze nutrients in soil. DeRoia presented applications to help students understand the importance of having the correct nutrient levels in the environment.

"The goal is for students to learn the idea of the scientific method involved with soil amendments and how to do it properly. These are simple tests that can be applied while gardening at home," said DeRoia.

The neuroscience and neurotechnologies workshops were among the favorites of the day. Here, students had the opportunity to put on Electroencephalography, or EEG, headsets and then monitor their own brain activity on computer screens. Students then used some of the activity to move virtual devices on a computer screen or use an avatar to control facial expressions mimicking the student's own expressions.

Dr. David Hairston, neuroscientist in HRED's Future Soldiers Technology Division, led the workshop designed to give students a feel for the near-term possibilities for neurotechnologies and how the process is conducted for recording and using brain activity.

Hairston discussed the two-fold takeaway he hopes the workshop will provide students.

"It is vital that they learn a bit about what kinds of things we do in neurotechnology and why we do it," Hairston said. "I also want them to have an appreciation for what the current reality is for using this type of technology. A lot of these things are right around the corner. In fact, the device we are using today is a consumer device that anyone can use."

Genesis Letski, a middle school student participating in the program, discussed how the workshop would be beneficial in her future career as a veterinarian.

"I've never heard of anything like neuroscience. I am thinking about working with animals as a Veterinarian in the future and this type of technology could help with seeing where animal's minds are at; whether they are calm or nervous during different situations," she said.

The ARL GEMS program run each year from June through August.

For more information on Army-sponsored student programs, visit the Army Education Outreach Program at www.usaeop.com.

 

Last Update / Reviewed: August 10, 2016