Baltimore's youth explore Army science, technology at half-day event

March 01, 2017

By T'Jae Ellis, ARL Public Affairs

ABERDEEN PROVIDING GROUND, Md (March 1, 2017) -- Technology caught his attention as a young child so it's no wonder that Boubacar Sall's trip to the Army Research Laboratory today kept him intrigued.

Sall, 14, joined 38 other students, mostly 8th graders, from Baltimore'sThomas Johnson Elementary-Middle School at ARL's STEM Outreach Center on Aberdeen Proving Ground as part of ongoing efforts throughout the Department of Defense to broaden STEM recruitment to children from underrepresented and underserved communities.

This event is part of ARL's Education and Outreach Office's portfolio of efforts designed to reach diverse student populations. ARL piloted the Physics and Chemistry Explorations in STEM, or PACES, program in 2015 in collaboration with the Harford County Public Schools, exposing more than 600 eighth grade students from five area middle schools – some underserved – to STEM. In 2016, PACES was expanded to encompass all 3,000 Harford County public school eighth-grade students. ARL STEM also works with neighboring Cecil County Title 1 elementary schools, said Catherine Hall, who leads ARL's K-12 STEM Outreach program from APG. She said students from underserved communities also participate annually in a summer event sponsored by ARL for Harford County Boys and Girls Clubs.

Sall's school sits in Federal Hill, which is just to the south of the city's central business district, and welcomes students from "the lower socioeconomic classes to the upper socioeconomic classes," said Bryan M. Thomas, one of the three teachers who chaperoned youth here.

"Everyone, from the faculty and staff to our student body, comes in and achieves. Our students have adopted that culture of achievement set by the staff and faculty. They understand it's a safe facility and that they can focus on their learning opposed to anything else going on in their lives," he said. Thomas said high-achieving students, like Sall, make up the majority of the school's population.

"This program here will show our students things I can't show them directly, or in a more advanced manner as through a career perspective," said Thomas, who spent the first part of his career studying neurological disorders and mouse models of autism as Morgan State University before pursuing additional research projects at the University of Arizona and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. He said once research funding dried up, he became a police officer but got injured on the job and decided to return to science as a teacher in Baltimore thanks to a program that also covered tuition for his double major graduate degree in molecular biology and secondary science education from Johns Hopkins University.

"At ARL, they get to see what it looks like outside of the classroom with a more worldly outlook to develop things for the Army that we weren't aware of," said Thomas.

Students were able to test-drive iRobot's Packbot using a hand-held controller much like any component popular with a home gaming console. Packbot is designed for warfighters and first responders to carry out dangerous missions in high-threat battlefield scenarios. More than 2,000 510 PackBot robots are deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and over 5,000 PackBots have been delivered to military and civil defense forces across the world.

They witnessed ARL's advancements in robotics gait development and transition as a robot pounced around a classroom-turned-showroom floor demonstrating how it could, ideally, someday increase warfighter capabilities in battle, particularly urban environments and complex terrains. These were just highlights of ARL's robotics displays.

In an adjacent room, students joined researchers in a discussion on global uses for additive manufacturing technology, created and manipulated Computer Aided Design (CAD) models (3-D models), and walked through the stages of setting and printing 3-D models. They also saw demonstrations of 3-D printed products made from metals, ceramics, polymers and electronics. Across the parking lot, students entered the chemistry trailer, where the Edgewood Chemical Biological Command STEM Coordinator Nicole McKew showed them the "White Powder Scare," an ECBC developed method for testing mail for the presence of chemical, biologic, radiological, nuclear and explosive materials after the anthrax letters were mailed to our government leaders following the 9/11 attacks. McKew said students tested mail samples for the presence of a biological simulant using colorimetric science. This is a technique used in the field by soldiers and first responders as a screening technique when an incident occurs.

"Today was actually pretty exciting, especially learning how we are using 3-D technology in every day usage. We learned that it's been around since the 1800s; it just seems like a field of unlimited possibilities!" said Sall, who hopes to study engineering at MIT in about a decade.

ARL's vision for K-12 is to engage students in focused, innovative STEM activities that inspire their pursuit of STEM based higher education and careers.

"We try and expose K-12 students to a variety of STEM disciplines. The main thing is that the kids have fun and can get excited about doing STEM. We try and use these hands-on experiences to excite students and open their eyes to the opportunities that they might not be aware of," said Hall.

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: March 1, 2017