WPI, Army Researchers Highlight Soldier Science Projects

Filed in Uncategorized by on March 1, 2018

WPI, Army Researchers Highlight Soldier Science Projects

By Scott O’Connell Telegram & Gazette Staff
Posted Feb 27, 2018

WORCESTER – From exoskeletons to fuel cells, WPI researchers are working on projects that could make a big difference for U.S. soldiers in the field, university officials said.

On Monday, the school hosted a symposium on campus with the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development & Engineering Center with the aim of turning that idea into reality.

“Our capabilities may be overlapping with NSRDEC,” said WPI biomedical engineering professor Karen Troy, a point person for the university with the Army labs, who added that much of the research presented by students and faculty members at Monday’s event is also aimed at applications besides military use. “But we may not always know where that overlap is.”

Specifically, Ms. Troy as well as WPI and NSRDEC officials hoped the symposium – the first one the university and the NSRDEC held together – would foster new project collaborations. Already, partnerships between WPI and NSRDEC in recent years have yielded inventions that are used by Army soldiers, like an evaporative cooling vest and a portable kitchen.

In total, Monday’s symposium highlighted 71 other projects both WPI and NSRDEC researchers have been working on independently, encompassing areas of soldier science like nutrition and medicine, performance optimization, protection and survivability, and aerial delivery systems. About half of those projects belonged to WPI students and faculty members, many of whom have been working on their ideas for years, often without the direct aim of making them for a military application.

“Realistically, what we’re doing is trying to quantify and characterize a need, and address that need with the technology,” said Christopher Nycz, a PhD student at WPI whose work on a personalized hand exoskeleton was on display at the symposium. While the closest his project has gotten to military use so far is helping injured former soldiers in the Veterans Affairs system, he said, “We basically have the technology right now” to find uses for it on the battlefield as well.

Megan Mancuso, another PhD student at WPI, showed off research on the effects of solider activities on the tibia bone that is directly related to the real-world challenges encountered by troops in the field. Her work was the result of a summer internship she did with the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine.

While there has been plenty of research done on tibia fractures, she said, there isn’t much that has tried to analyze the external factors that contribute to that specific injury – “we’re trying to use new technology to fill that gap.”

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For some WPI student researchers, securing a partnership with the NSRDEC to continue their work would be a major win.

“First of all, it’s very prestigious,” said Lida Namin, who presented her research on fuel cells Monday. The Army labs, which employ several WPI graduates, also provide “a good environment,” she added, “both for research and individual growth.”

University and NSRDEC officials view their institutions’ continued alliance – they already signed a master research and development agreement two years ago – as a major benefit to the nation’s soldiers as well.

“Making our soldiers healthier, safer, and more effective is a great real-world challenge to take on together,” said WPI President Laurie Leshin. “To me, this is really critical. We all know the world is moving faster than ever, especially in the area of technology.”

The two institutions could work together even more closely in the near future, according to Ms. Troy, who said there are conversations about making WPI a collaborative space for the NSRDEC. Such an arrangement would allow the Army labs to work on multiple projects with the university, she said, as opposed to just doing individual “one-off” projects like the cooling vest.

In the meantime, she said, WPI and NSRDEC could at least find common ground in their respective work at Monday’s symposium.

“My goal is to help researchers at both institutions to make connections that might lead to further collaborative projects,” Ms. Troy said.

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