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NSWC Crane displays nanotechnology invention at Military Invention Day, engages students in STEM

By NSWC Crane Corporate Communications | May 21, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division (NSWC Crane) personnel participated in the third annual Military Invention Day, presented by the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation and the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) at the National Museum of American History on May 18.

Thousands visited 33 displays from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Lincoln Lab alongside the museum’s collections to provide historical context. Technologies such as GPS systems, rear-facing vehicle cameras with sensors, the internet, and duct tape while commonly used today, were first invented for military purposes. Visitors will be up close to the latest technologies the United States military is developing, which may one day be used in everyday life.

Dr. Alison Smith, Chief Engineer of Materials Analysis for Microelectronic Component Technologies at NSWC Crane, attended Military Invention Day 2019 to discuss her invention with visitors. This invention is a nanotechnology method that prevents counterfeit microelectronics through observing unique light patterns or a nanofingerprint.

“When you shine white light on certain nanomaterials, they scatter colored light very intensely,” says Dr. Smith. “The nanofingerprint creates a unique pattern of various colored light, and that pattern is used as a unique marker. These light patterns can be imaged with a simple microscope or even a smartphone; there is no need to use complex tools like electron microscopy. Each light pattern is unique just like a fingerprint, and the technology can easily be incorporated in the manufacturing process and read throughout the supply chain.”

Dr. Smith elaborated on the broad applications of this nanotechnology detection method.

“Our military systems depend on high reliability components,” says Dr. Smith. “In addition to the defense applications, this invention has the potential to impact the fight against counterfeit pharmaceuticals and counterfeit food and beverages. Counterfeit products in these areas pose a risk to human health and the trade of counterfeit goods is the second largest source of income for organized crime, second only to illicit drug use.”

In addition to highlighting the latest technology, Military Invention Day 2019 provides students the opportunity to interact with innovators and hands-on STEM activities. Tina Closser, the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Coordinator for NSWC Crane, created an activity for K-12 students to understand Dr. Smith’s nanotechnology.

“We created this experiment so that students can see, touch, and understand the concepts behind Dr. Smith’s nano-scale technology,” says Closser. “CDs emit a rainbow color when light is shined on them. Our experiment allows students to make their own snowflake to place over the CD. When they shine a light on the CD then, it creates a unique pattern.”

Dr. Smith says this event is a way to increase student interest in STEM.

“I’m a former high school teacher, but I’ve been involved in outreach most of my life,” says Dr. Smith. “I’m now working in STEM professionally, and breaking the stereotypes about who can or cannot be a scientist or engineer is very important to me. We are everyday people; you don’t have to be a ‘genius’ to enter the field and have an impact.”

Closser says Military Invention Day is an opportunity to showcase the impact of defense technology.

“Military inventions protect the warfighter and our country, but people don’t always consider how this technology helps people outside the military in their everyday lives,” says Closser. “We’re showing students at a young age the diverse career opportunities at NSWC Crane and across the DoD. With a lot of this technology created, it’s about bringing people home safe and protecting people, and making lives better.”

Military Invention Day is a free event and provides a unique opportunity to see first-hand the crucial role of invention for the United States, explore technology transfer and entrepreneurship for military technology, and interact with scientist, engineers, and inventors from diverse backgrounds.

NSWC Crane is a naval laboratory and a field activity of Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) with mission areas in Expeditionary Warfare, Strategic Missions and Electronic Warfare. The warfare center is responsible for multi-domain, multi- spectral, full life cycle support of technologies and systems enhancing capability to today's Warfighter.