Colloquium explored HEROES partnering for collaborative innovation

March 25, 2014

By Joyce Brayboy, ARL Public Affairs

The U.S. Army Research Laboratory's workforce is challenged to forecast science and technology as the pace of technological change advances beyond the current Defense Laboratory Enterprise.

Innovators are looking toward current models of success between academia and defense researchers as the ARL Open Campus Concept develops to adapt and respond to the demands of 21st century national security.

Dr. Julie Chen, vice provost for research and professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, spoke at a colloquium to share her collaboration experience March 12 at the Adelphi Laboratory Center about the early successes and lessons learned from the HEROEs – or Harnessing Emerging Research Opportunities to Empower Soldiers – partnership between the university and the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC).

"As a university, we should be taking advantage of this research in our own backyard," Chen said. "It's a new way to think about collaboration."

Natick had been in the local community since 1954, with about 2400 employees between Natick Soldier Systems Center and NSRDEC, and an economic impact of $400 million and a 78-acre installation, Chen and other founding co-directors garnered support for the partnership.

"Although collaborations between UMass Lowell and Natick dated back 20 years, the scope was always narrow," Chen said. The vision they had was a new joint center to catalyze new research and innovations that could empower Soldiers.

"We brought together some of the best minds from both organizations to brainstorm solutions to challenges that our men and women in uniform face," said Marty Meehan, chancellor at UMass Lowell in the HEROES Inauguration video.

"The center's first year was not without its share of obstacles," Chen said after the video. She also shared a few of the main factors that lead to a successful first year, reached Feb. 7, 2014.

"As ARL moves toward the Open Campus Concept it was helpful for the workforce to see how HEROES began. Chen mentioned some of the same factors ARL Director Dr. Thomas Russell mentioned in his recent 'State of the Laboratory Address' about shared facilities that would enable greater sharing of specialized facilities and creating research synergy with academic partners," said Thomas Moyer, ARL's public affairs officer.

"The HEROES goals that are helpful for the workforce to consider included catalyzing new research and technological innovation; connecting Army researchers to a broad range of technical expertise; exposing students to Army challenges and opportunities for co-op and future positions; and sharing unique experimental and modeling capabilities," Moyer said.

"The informal collaborations between researchers were as key as the formal ones," Chen reminded the audience. "You need that home base to get informal things started, then it grows from there."

"UMass Lowell and Natick have the advantage of being less than an hour apart. The proximity helped things to get going faster. The past shared successes between the partners also played a role," Chen said.

"HEROES has demonstrated a sampling of projects with very broad and diverse applications such as combat feeding; lightweight power and energy; and flame protection during the first year," said Dr. Lynne Samuelson, chief scientist at Natick Soldier RDEC, in a clip Chen presented.

"With support from the top, the other barriers, like how to address the logistics of third-party equipment in the HEROES space, were easier to tackle," Chen said.

"You have to have a leadership champion on either side of the partnership because the collaboration relies heavily on bringing the right people together," Chen said.

Chen points to the outcomes — UMass Lowell's top incoming freshmen received stipends for research with faculty and NSRDEC scientists over the year through the Students in Action program. HEROES also had its first thesis defense toward the goal of developing students with real world military research experience.

"The collaboration between UMass and Army has also garnered interested from other UMass locations and from industry during the first year," Chen said.

"The program is helping to drive the Massachusetts innovation economy," she said.

For more information about ARL's Open Campus Concept visit


Last Update / Reviewed: March 25, 2014