West Point cadet spends summer with Army researchers

August 22, 2017

By Jenna Brady, ARL Public Affairs

Story Highlights

  • A West Point cadet recently spent part of his summer with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory's Biotechnology Branch working on some of the latest research being conducted in support of the future Soldier.
  • The U.S. Military Academy and ARL collaborate each summer to support the USMA Academic Individual Advanced Development program.

ADELPHI, Md. (August 22, 2017) -- A West Point cadet recently spent part of his summer with U.S. Army Research Laboratory scientists to gain hands-on experience in the latest research being conducted in support of the future Soldier.

Cadet Jesse Palmer, Class of 2019, is majoring in chemical engineering with a minor in Eurasian studies.

Palmer collaborated with ARL's Biotechnology Branch and was mentored by Dr. Jessica Terrell, research scientist on the Biomaterials Team in ARL's Sensors and Electron Devices Directorate.

"This past month, I collaborated with the Biotechnology Branch to functionalize bacterial cellulose for a variety of useful applications," Palmer said.

According to Palmer, the potential applications include durable materials for use with coded messages, night vision technology and friendly identifiers such as infrared tabs.

"My mentor, Dr. Jessica Terrell, has been an extraordinary influence in facilitating ideas about my own research aims and expanding my technical skill set in a biological setting," Palmer said.

According to Terrell, for any student, hands-on lab experience is great because not only is there the chance to apply concepts learned in the classroom, but you gain an appreciation for the evolving nature of science and engineering, since each is fed by a continuous research cycle of asking questions and gaining new knowledge through experimentation.

"West Point cadets in particular bring valuable skill sets from their combined academic and military-based curriculum," Terrell said. "I think they have a unique opportunity to recognize that many of these skills are highly transferrable to promote successful lab work. Examples include active participation, decision-making, critical thinking, problem-solving, adaptability and communication."

Terrell said for Palmer, it was immediately clear that he excelled at all of these skill sets, which led to an accelerated ability to take a project in several promising directions within a short period of time.

"For this reason, my experience working with Cadet Palmer was just outstanding," Terrell said. "He arrived with a great attitude and an eagerness to get involved and learn from our biotechnology research field. He took initiative in the work and offered a lot of valuable input, which really reflected his focused attention toward our project. Moreover, his insights gave me exposure to his own field and allowed us to generate some exciting interdisciplinary research ideas. This level of commitment is very motivating for me as a mentor as well."

If there is one thing Terrell would emphasize about her experience as a mentor it is that these interactions are mutually beneficial.

"We hope to convey the underlying research processes that are ultimately geared toward advancements in Army-relevant technology," Terrell said. "On the other hand, the West Point cadets possess important perspectives that stem from their training, experience and own military networks. This can foster an enlightening exchange both ways and yield direct feedback about what is most important for the Soldier. I hope every cadet realizes the profound impact he or she can have throughout the internship and beyond, perhaps even in the prospect of leading Army research as a career option down the road."

The U.S. Military Academy and ARL collaborate each summer to support the USMA Academic Individual Advanced Development program.

"About the time of the establishment of ARL in 1992, it was recognized to be important that the Army's primary academic institution have a strong link with the Army's primary research laboratory," said Joe Gamson, ARL Fellowship Program coordinator. "Both sides wanted to get USMA faculty and cadets involved in research, create opportunities for junior ARL researchers to conduct research with USMA faculty and have ARL scientists become visiting professors at West Point, creating links between our institutions and improving the education of our future Army leaders."

According to Gamson, the AIAD Summer Cadet Program is important to ARL because it exposes and sensitizes future Army leaders to the problems and issues the laboratory's researchers are working diligently to solve.

Palmer became aware of the opportunities with ARL through the research group he is a part of at West Point, the Multi-Functional Materials Lab, which has a collaboration with ARL.

Though recently learning about ARL and the work the lab conducts in support of the Soldier, Palmer's interest in science started at an early age.

"When I was in elementary school, my dad had a subscription to Popular Science magazine, and this is about all I'd read on long car trips," Palmer said. "Since then, I have wanted to be a part of new and upcoming discoveries."

Palmer said he sees laboratory work as a way to apply and expand upon the knowledge learned in the classroom and jumped at the opportunity when he heard ARL had a great set of mentors willing to facilitate cadet involvement.

"Due to the research and innovation of scientists and engineers 25 years ago, modern American Soldiers are more prepared to face the trials of an uncertain and ever dangerous combat environment," Palmer said. "I believe getting hands-on experience in the research setting is one of the only ways to contribute to the success of future Soldiers another 25 years from now."

Palmer mentioned that he would like to take the techniques and ideas that he has learned at ARL and apply them to his own research at West Point, and, if possible, would like to start a small collaboration with those who guided him this summer.

As for what the future holds for Palmer after graduation in 2019, he hopes to attend graduate school, potentially in the bio technology or engineering field, before returning back to a lab setting in about 10 to 15 years for more hands-on research.

And one never knows, he could very well end up back at ARL, getting a chance to further research with a staff that he said is truly unlike any other.

"The staff members at ARL are focus-driven individuals who compose highly skilled groups," Palmer said. "In regard to their work in helping future Soldiers, I would trust few others to get the job done."

The U.S. Army Research Laboratory, currently celebrating 25 years of excellence in Army science and technology, is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities that provide decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the joint warfighter and the nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.


Last Update / Reviewed: August 22, 2017