NEWS | March 16, 2017

NRL Hosts Second Annual ‘Day at the Lab’ for Local Schools

By Daniel Parry

Scientists and research engineers at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), headquartered in the District of Columbia (DC), hosted five regional schools, March 2, in support of ‘National Week at the Labs,’ established in 2016 by the White House and the Office of the Secretary of Defense to inspire young people's interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

In response to national priorities placed on STEM education, NRL, through active partnerships with several area schools, participates in educational, internship, and outreach programs that benefit students and the surrounding community. NRL employee volunteers assist with and judge science fairs, give lectures, provide science demonstra¬tions, student tours, and serve as tutors, mentors, coaches, and as classroom resources for teachers.

“Department of Defense (DoD) and NRL STEM programs connect education in the classroom to the excitement, skills, and challenges that come with safeguarding our country,” said CAPT Mark Bruington, Commanding Officer, NRL. “STEM initiatives allow students the opportunity to engage in hands-on research, which they can apply to solve real world problems.”

Local students from Leckie Elementary School; Washington [Middle] School for Girls; Montgomery Blair High School; Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology; and Washington Math, Science, Technology Public Charter High School were welcomed to NRL to experience innovative research in the areas of integrated electronics and materials, intelligent autonomy, sensory and human/robot interaction systems, power and energy systems, and plasma physics to include research in laser fusion technologies.

“During the years since the Second World War, NRL has conducted basic and applied research pertaining to the Navy's environments of Earth, sky, sea, space, and cyberspace,” said Dr. Bruce Danly, Director of Research at NRL. “Today, NRL focuses its research efforts on the new strategic interests facing the Navy in the 21st century, working to give the Navy and DoD the special knowledge, capabilities, and flexibility to succeed in this dynamic environment.”

To experience how NRL scientists are working to meet future challenges, students were provided a walking tour of the laboratory’s unique Earth-like research environments at the Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research (LASR), which features a desert complete with rock formations, a fully grown tropical rain forest, a shallow water [littoral] environment for testing of underwater autonomous systems, and a prototyping high-bay where NRL researchers demonstrated research in unmanned aerial systems, cutting edge power and battery technology, and human/robot interaction systems.

The students also toured the satellite fabrication and test facilities of the Naval Center for Space Technology where NRL has designed, built, and tested more than 100 satellites over its long history. The tour showcased both its historical achievements in space as well as its newer facilities, notably the Space Robotics Lab, where students got an inside perspective of how researchers design and build satellites and test cutting edge satellite technology used for unmanned space systems. The tour concluded with demonstrations, poster sessions and interactive science and engineering discussions with NRL subject matter experts.

The goals of the NRL STEM outreach program include inspiring students to pursue STEM careers, sharing the Navy mission with the local community, and retaining the best and brightest local talent for our future workforce. NRL volunteers also promote K-12 community and educational outreach through a set of core STEM programs that include SeaPerch, FIRST Robotics, and MATHCOUNTS.

In addition to STEM and the federal Pathways Internships program, NRL participates in the Science and Engineering Apprenticeship Program (SEAP) for high school students, the Naval Research Enterprise Internship Program (NREIP) for college, and post-doctoral programs through the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) and National Research Council (NRC). Command volunteers, including military, federal civilian, and contractor employees, provide the staffing to support the various educational initiatives.