ARL's neuroscience program successful example of Open Campus concept

August 01, 2014

By Joyce M. Conant, ARL Public Affairs

Story Highlights

  • ARL recently initiated an Open Campus pilot program
  • HRED's Translational Neuroscience group has been embracing some of the core tenets of collaboration found in Open Campus over the past several years
  • Formal and informal interactions among scientists lead to knowledge-building and research breakthroughs

The U.S. Army Research Laboratory recently initiated an Open Campus pilot program at its Adelphi, Md., campus to foster better collaboration across industry, academia, and government. ARL's Open Campus program plans to lead to the continuous flow of people and ideas to ensure transformative scientific discovery, innovation, and transition that are critical to national security.

One example of an ARL research team that over the past several years has been embracing some of the core tenets of collaboration found in Open Campus is the Human Research and Engineering Directorate's Translational Neuroscience group. Through their partnerships with collaborative technology alliances, or CTAs, and university-affiliated research centers, or UARCs, ARL researchers, industry, and academia are working together inside ARL labs to develop greater outcomes in the area of neuroscience.

Dr. Kaleb McDowell, who leads ARL's translational neuroscience branch, said that meaningful collaborations with the CTAs and UARCs are enhancing their ability to fundamentally advance the science while supporting ARL's broader mission in translating basic neuroscience from the bench to the battlefield.

"We have found these partnerships to be very beneficial to our research," said McDowell. "For example, we have academic and industry researchers who split time working side by side with our researchers as well as regularly work at research laboratories around the world. We have observed that these researchers who split their time between laboratories can change the communications between ARL and other laboratory groups."

McDowell continued: "Critically, we observed that these changes are not typically limited to the single project that the researcher is working on, but extend across projects and has ramifications from enhanced shared understanding of complex laboratory-level research goals to enabling more collaborations across different researchers within the laboratory groups. ... This is more than just working together at the lab—it extends our collaborations in a fundamental way."

McDowell spoke of a CTA postdoctoral Fellow, Vernon Lawhern, who was with the University of Texas at San Antonio. Lawhern started working with ARL researchers in May 2011 and three years later was hired as a fulltime ARL employee.

"Vernon was very quiet when he first came to work at the lab. I believe that if he was only here once and a while and working back at the university he would have only worked on that one particular project, but by being here at the lab, and being a part of the everyday 'water cooler' conversations, Vernon was able to understand and become involved in several other ongoing projects," said McDowell. "Importantly, not only did he share his own ideas on these projects, but his in-depth understanding of the efforts at both UTSA and ARL enabled him to make important research connections with his advisor's, Dr. Robbins, research, as well as that of another professor, Dr. Huang; both of whom are substantially more integrated with ARL than they were before Vernon arrived."

Lawhern agrees that collocation was extremely beneficial.

"I think working side by side with academic, industry, and ARL scientists enables all parties to have more regular conversations about research projects and allows for frequent exchange of ideas as well as concerns, some of which are difficult to articulate without frequent dialogue," said Lawhern. "The daily interactions I've had with several scientists from both the CTA and ARL have personally helped me understand difficult concepts from several viewpoints (academia, industry, and government) that I couldn't have gotten easily by other means."

McDowell said that these types of partnerships are critical for attaining complex goals that require bridging scientific disciplines and sectors of the workforce. People come in with different perspectives, assumptions and even definitions for the same words. It often takes substantial face-to-face time to reach a common understanding that is the foundation for successful science and engineering.

For these reasons, McDowell said ARL's translational neuroscience group has been pursuing these types of partnerships when working across ARL directorates, government research laboratories, academia, and industry.

McDowell also said he believes the ARL perspective is extending out to their partners.

"For example, our CTA has a requirement for four researchers to be on-site at ARL; however, four years into the collaboration the CTA is not only meeting that requirement, but has also placed an additional seven researchers at ARL that are not required to be here," said McDowell.

ARL Public Affairs Officer Tom Moyer said these are the types of partnerships that will create a more efficient and effective defense laboratory that can be adaptive and responsive to the challenges of the 21st century's national security.

"Formal and informal interactions among scientists lead to knowledge-building and research breakthroughs as seen by the examples of the translational neuroscience group," said Moyer. "By bringing together academia, industry, and government, the Army can enhance its performance through on-site research and development collaboration."


Last Update / Reviewed: August 1, 2014