INDIAN HEAD, Md. ─ Tristan Bundy, 9, warily eyed the hulking explosive ordnance disposal robot slowly lurching toward him. When the robot raised the metal arm it uses for grabbing improvised explosive devices, it was easily twice his height. Bundy had seen things like this before in video games, he said, and the outcome for the folks who had run-ins with them weren’t good.
But when he was told these robots developed by engineers at Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head EOD Technology Division were used to remotely detonate or recover IEDs, keeping our warfighters safe in the process, his hardened frown softened into a smile.
“Wow,” Bundy said. “That’s pretty cool.”
It would not be the last time those words were uttered in the command’s booth during the History, Industry, Technology and Science Expo, Saturday at St. Charles High School, in Waldorf. The annual event combines the Charles County Public School’s history and science fairs with various STEM demonstrations such as the SeaPerch underwater robotics competition and the RoboRaptors for Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Robotics Competition team. Both groups are supported by NSWC IHEODTD and the National Defense Education Program.
“We’ve judged the science fair for years and handed out naval science awards together with Charles County Public School. This is the first year we’ve had a booth like this one at the HITS Expo,” said Dr. Martin Chernoff, the command’s student engagement and outreach program manager and STEM coordinator. “I’d like the community to have a better understanding of who we are and the wonderful things we do here. It’s also a great opportunity to get children excited about STEM and how it’s used to solve real-world problems.”
The Naval Science Award Program is sponsored by the Office of Naval Research and the 2019 recipients were:
• Sabrina Rockemore, Theodore G. Davis Middle School, for project: Where is the Dirtiest Air?
• James Dixon, Benjamin Stoddert Middle School, for project: Full Court Energy
• Amara Gammon, North Point High School, for project: Relationship between Solution Viscosity and Absorbance Efficiency of Sodium Polyacrylate
• D'Mia Watson, North Point High School, for project: How Do Essential Oils Effect Stressed Out Students?
Students visiting the NSWC IHEODTD booth engaged with scientists and engineers, and learned about the critical technologies developed right in their own backyard by one of the county’s largest employers. One of the booth’s main attractions was the robotics demonstration given by EOD Department’s Robotics Branch Engineers Dr. Jessica Jones and David Rivera Marchand. Students watched as they operated the robots, explained how they are used in the field, and how STEM education is critical if they wish to join them in the robotics field.
Jones took the opportunity to create a mentoring relationship with a group of girls fascinated by her journey.
“Black women are underrepresented in STEM in general, so I gave them my contact information and told them to keep in touch,” Jones said. “That’s really necessary to build that bridge and tell them my story. When you see these girls who are interested in STEM, you make a big deal about it; that they belong. Ideally, you form a sort of mentoring relationship with them and make sure they stay on that path.”
Students also engaged command personnel in other competitions and demonstrations outside the NSWC IHEODTD booth. Systems Engineering Department’s Jon Kilikewich mentors budding engineers as the lead for the local SeaPerch competitions, while also donating his time with the RoboRaptors FIRST Robotics Competition Team.
“This is my third year coordinating the SeaPerch competition,” Kilikewich said. “It’s been run in conjunction with the HITS expo, which has increased its exposure in the community and encouraged several additional schools to join. I'm also a mentor for the RoboRaptors, so some of the students from that team came out to help with SeaPerch, in addition to demonstrating their own robot.”
SeaPerch challenges students to build, test and race a remotely operated submersible. They can use a standard design from a kit, or they are free to develop their own concept. Throughout the program, students are taught the engineering design process, testing their ideas, evaluating successes and failures, all the while documenting their progress.
According to Jones, attending the event and educating a whole new generation of scientists and engineers about the joys of STEM was a way to give back and help create a solid founding for the students.
“This is a great event to get them interested and form those critical relationships,” Jones said. “This is bigger than the command being here and talking about our technology. This is about the next steps we take to get them involved and keep them involved.”
NSWC IHEODTD – a field activity of the Naval Sea Systems Command and part of the Navy's Science and Engineering Establishment – is the leader in ordnance, energetics, and EOD solutions. The Division focuses on energetics research, development, testing, evaluation, in-service support, and disposal; and provides warfighters solutions to detect, locate, access, identify, render safe, recover, exploit, and dispose of explosive ordnance threats.