Posted: May 16, 2016 9:06 AM
Naval STEM Expo Encourages Students to ‘Exchange, Discover, Explore and Learn’
By PETER ATKINSON, Seapower Deputy Editor
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The Navy League’s 2016 Sea-Air-Space Exposition kicked off with the second Naval STEM Exposition highlighting science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines and innovations from more than 30 companies, sea service representatives and education organizations at the Gaylord Convention Center.
About 1,000 students from area schools and U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps units attended the event to get a first-hand look at — and, in many cases, try out – technologies ranging from robotics and unmanned systems to virtual reality and flight simulation, and hear about the importance of STEM education from those who have put it into practice. The Naval STEM Expo is co-sponsored by the Navy League STEM Institute and the Office of Naval Research (ONR).
Navy League National President Skip Witunski welcomed attendees and introduced Rear Adm. Mathias W. Winter, the chief of naval research and director, Innovation Technology Requirements, and Test & Evaluation (N84) — aka “the chief mad scientist of the Navy” — who took on the role of STEM cheerleader at the event.
“Are you all ready to have some fun?” Winter asked the crowd.
“Yes, sir!” was response.
“If this isn’t exciting, I don’t know what is,” Winter said, pointing to the many exhibits, the advances they represented and the scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians who helped create them — and who were eager to help attendees “exchange, discover, explore and learn.”
“They want to exchange information, they want to show you what they do,” he said. “You have a responsibility to ask the question, ‘what do you do?’ And I’d ask you to also ask, ‘why did you become a scientist? Why did you become an engineer?’
“I’m looking at the next generation of scientists and technicians,” he said. “We’re here to inspire you and get you engaged in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”
Winter concluded his remarks by assigning attendees some “homework,” noting there were three things he wanted them to accomplish during the afternoon.
“I want you to learn something new,” he said. “Two, meet somebody new … because you’re all here because you have a common interest, the common interest of STEM, a common interest of being inquisitive. Curiosity. Wonderment. And then I want you to have fun. … It’s going to be a great day.”
Windy conditions and rough water on the Potomac River forced the postponement of an outdoor exhibit of Northrop Grumman’s RV Sperry Star III platform for research and development, product testing and operation training, and demonstrations of the robotic lifesaving tool EMILY (Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard).
But attendees had plenty to busy themselves with at the indoor exhibits, including trying out simulated shipboard training at the APL Maritime Ltd. display, watching robots hurl balls through goals at the Kilroy Robotics display, operate SeaPerch unmanned underwater vehicles, see unmanned aerial vehicles in action from the Naval Research Laboratory or just play in the dirt of the “augmented sandbox” from the Appomattox Regional Governor’s School for the Arts and Technology.
According to students who were overseeing the display, the sandbox is designed to teach geographic, geologic and hydrologic concepts by allowing users to create topographic models by shaping sand augmented by an elevation color map with topographic contour lines that changes as the landscape does. The map and contour lines in this case were projected by an Xbox video game console.
Other displays featured similarly playful methods to demonstrate STEM concepts, such as the Lego robot junkyard or the “drum machine” made of fruit on display at the Robotics for Youth exhibit. The fruit — apples and lemons here — connected by alligator clips to sensors and then run through speakers produce a variety of percussive sounds when tapped by a finger or pencil “drum stick.” The fruit drum machine is designed to demonstrate captive touch sensing technology.
And though Mother Nature would not allow it to be demonstrated at the National Harbor pier, to ensure the safety of the attendees, EMILY was on display at the exhibit by Hydronalix LLC, whose founder and chief executive officer Anthony C. Mulligan was the STEM Expo’s featured guest speaker. The EMILY system itself has been tested and used in 30- to 40-foot waves in places like the Oregon coast, Mulligan said in an interview after his remarks.
An ONR-supported technology, EMILY is a remote-controlled motorized buoy that can be operated autonomously or via a tether to cruise through rip-currents or swift water at speeds up to 22 mph to reach distressed swimmers faster than human lifeguards. It is being used by the Los Angeles fire department, coast guards and maritime safety organizations Japan, Hong Kong, Australia and France, and 100 systems are in use in Indonesia for tsunami response, Mulligan said. Four of the systems also have been used in the Aegean Sea to save the lives of about 1,000 refugees fleeing to Europe.
During his remarks, Mulligan spoke of how his love of model plane- and boat-making as a child conflicted with his interest in math and science, “because I didn’t think it would let me play.”
After having gone on to pioneer work in 3-D printing and unmanned aerial and surface vehicles, Mulligan said he has come to realize he has been doing “exactly the sort of thing I thought about doing as a little kid. My fascination with models as a kid turned into a successful STEM career.”
Mulligan urged the attendees to get past whatever preconceptions of STEM learning they might have and noted that the hard work they invest in their education now can pay off later, as it did for him, when they see their creations or technologies put to use.
“We need you guys,” he said.
James A. Drake, who recently retired as the general manager of the Curtiss Wright Electro-Mechanical Division (EMD), was presented with the Albert A. Michelson Award at the STEM Expo by Witunski, Winter and David Todd, Navy League vice president for Strategic Planning and STEM. The Michelson award honors a civilian scientist, technical innovator or technical organization for scientific or technical achievement that results in a significant improvement in the strength of U.S. maritime forces or to the enhancement of our industrial technology base.
During a 44-year career with the company, Drake dedicated his professional life to serving the U.S. Navy and its Naval Nuclear Program, according to the award citation, and worked on every product designed and manufactured at the EMD facility located in Cheswick, Pa.