Scientist beams over call out for warfare tech

February 12, 2018

By Joyce Martin, ARL Public Affairs

Story Highlights

  • Dr. Bruce J. West, a senior scientist in mathematics and an ARL Fellow at the Army Research Office in Research Triangle Park North Carolina, was one of seven employees across the Department of the Army who received the nation's highest civilian career leadership award, the Distinguished Presidential Rank Award, on Dec. 7, 2017. The award is bestowed upon only one percent of the career Senior Executive Service or senior careerists.

ADELPHI, Md. (Feb. 12, 2018) -- In a sea of dark suits that crowded into an elegant room at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C., sat one little girl in anticipation of her grandfather walking across the stage. Alexandra West, 12, jumped up with an air of confidence, calling out "that's my granddad," as the audience roared with applause. A person leaned from an adjoining table to ask about her grandfather, Dr. Bruce J. West of the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, or ARL, who was standing to receive his award.

West, a senior scientist in mathematics and researcher at the Army Research Office of ARL in Research Triangle Park North Carolina, was one of seven employees across the Department of the Army who received the nation's highest civilian career leadership award, the Distinguished Presidential Rank Award, on Dec. 7, 2017.

The award, bestowed on only one percent of the career Senior Executive Service or ST careerists, acknowledges those who have revolutionized their fields and created new ones according to the Senior Executive Association President Bill Valdez.

"These recipients have proven themselves to be exemplars of public service excellence and have demonstrated a consistent and lasting dedication to the service and leadership ideals of the Federal government's career civil service," Valdez said.

West earned his recognition because he solves problems for the Department of Defense laboratory that are related to network-centric military warfare, an application area that his research helped to define.

He did not start out that way. After West graduated from the University of Rochester with a doctorate in nuclear physics, he went to work for a small private research firm started by academics. He was the first full time employee and for the next decade collaborated with senior university faculty who were National Academy of Science members.

West's first experience with the military was writing a research proposal to work with the Defense Advanced Research Program Agency, or DARPA. His company won the proposal and West worked with DARPA for a few years.

It was not until after a ten-year stint as a University of North Texas physics professor and department chair, West made a permanent commitment to public service and joined ARO as a senior scientist. "I think it was one of the smartest moves I've made," he said.

On a good day at ARO, he mused, he has an epiphany about research he may have initiated as many as 20 years prior, and the day unfolds with West exploring whether the former work could be of value to unsolved Army problems today, and how he might engage Army Scientists and Engineers to apply that research to solve those problems.

"The vision of the lone scientist working in isolation, thinking deep thoughts is, for the most part, a myth," he said. "Scientific progress in a research lab stems from a network of defense partners who are problem solvers working together."

West gives tremendous credit to colleagues at ARL, as well as to university professors and post-doctoral students from educational institutions. The Army wants modernization that enables these lab scientists to expedite the transition of cutting-edge technology into the hands of warfighters.

"As the Army modernization take shape, collaboration will be crucial to sophisticated Soldier technology", said David Skatrud, Deputy Director of Basic Science at ARL and the Director of ARO. "Bruce has been a leading initiator of the applications of new mathematics required to model, understand, engineer and optimize the ubiquitous complex systems required to ensure U.S Soldiers have a decisive edge in future conflicts."

"Bruce is a prolific scientist whose work was cited more than the published work of 99.98 percent of all scientists in the world during he was nominated for the award," Skatrud said.

As an Army researcher, he utilized fractional calculus principles to offer a mathematical basis for theories that were not fathomable when the Newtonian laws of Physics were devised hundreds of years ago; and he has worked extensively with colleagues within and external to ARL to transition the research and impact the Chief of Staff of the Army's modernization priorities, Skatrud said.

West has shown an interest in complex problems throughout his career.

"In the 21st Century, we are not looking at problems with the simplicity of the moon orbiting the earth," West said," but those that require the most sophisticated mathematics, as well as the world's largest and fastest computer for their solution."

His body of work addresses information science, medicine and societal needs in more than 300 peer-reviewed articles and 18 books, one indicator of why West is often cited. The mathematical basis West offered for a new theory in medicine led to revolutionary methods for mechanical ventilation. When ventilated patients use a ventilator that has natural breathing variability, which relies on West's principles, they react with much better gas exchange and respiratory dynamics than those treated with traditional periodic variation. Natural breathing does not happen as smoothly as the synchronized tick of a clock. "War and peace and things in between require fractional flexibility," West said.

Applications of these insight are presently being pursued for everything from new training methods in the Army, to cyber technology for disrupting terrorist networks, to controlling turbulent vortex shedding from rotors to prevent helicopter stall.

West, a Judo Black Belt, said he learned through the martial arts about immobilizing an opponent with that opponent's strength, which seemingly, he has translated to scientific sparring, as he was honored with the Meritorious Senior Professional Presidential Rank Award in a similar ceremony just five years ago.

"I am part of an ongoing scientific dialogue that began over 300 years," West said, "and that brings me great satisfaction."

He wants to be remembered for simplifying the complex and contributing to the understanding of those who read his material.

"I felt proud representing the Army, and even more proud to know in 50 years, my granddaughter will have lived her life remembering her grandfather had been able to contribute to his country's and the world's body of scientific knowledge, even if only in a small way. If she occasionally brags about how he gained this level of recognition that would be nice too."

The U.S. Army Research Laboratory is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to ensure decisive overmatch for unified land operations to empower the Army, the joint warfighter and our nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.


Last Update / Reviewed: February 12, 2018