Equipping the army of the future

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On January 7, 2003

UMR researchers will be instrumental in helping the Army develop new tools for future warfare, including sensors for detecting biological and chemical agents, thanks to a $2.15 million grant to help fund a new research effort at the University of Missouri Technology Park at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

The grant from the Army will allow UMR researchers to work alongside Army chemical specialists to develop an array of advanced technology for the battlefield. The program will include development of:

  • Customized obscurants, developed from "nanoscale" (sub-molecular) particles that would conceal U.S. military from enemy eyes.
  • Advanced chemical and electronic sensors to sniff out biological and chemical agents.
  • Robotic systems to deploy the high-tech obscurants and sensors, keeping soldiers out of harm’s way.
  • Robotic systems to neutralize chemical agents in dangerous areas.

UMR scientists and engineers will work with officials from the Army’s Chemical School at Fort Leonard Wood, about 30 miles southwest of Rolla, and with officials at the Army’s Soldier Biological and Chemical Command (SBCCOM) at Edgewood Arsenal, Md. Much of the UMR research will be conducted at the University of Missouri Technology Park at Fort Leonard Wood.

"This new, collaborative research project greatly enhances an already strong partnership between the Army and UMR," says UMR Chancellor Gary Thomas. "In addition, we’re hopeful that this project will expand the opportunities for the University of Missouri Technology Park, and will ultimately lead to new economic development activities for the state, while benefiting our national security interests."

Thomas also thanked U.S. Sen. Kit Bond for helping to secure the funds for the project. "Senator Bond was instrumental in securing this grant for UMR. We’re very thankful for his leadership in these critical areas of national security," says Thomas.

"UMR’s excellent work will help the U.S. Army survive and win on the battlefields of the 21st century," says Bond. "This is a great partnership between our soldiers and UMR scientists that I hope will continue to grow in coming years."

UMR’s Center for Environmental Science and Technology (CEST) will lead the research effort. In recent years, engineers and scientists at the center have developed a soy-based obscurant that is less harmful to the environment than the Army’s traditional petroleum-based "fog oil." The soy-based fog oil can be used by the military in training exercises without adverse effects on the environment, says Dr. Virgil Flanigan, director of CEST.

UMR researchers also have developed prototype sensors for detecting chemical and biological agents. One of the sensing devices uses chemical sensors and a thermoelectric cooler to determine whether chemical agents have been released in an area. Using chemical sensors, the device draws up air, freezes it in a thermoelectric cooler, and then reheats and vaporizes it for a reading. The entire process, including the reading, is designed to occur in less than a second. The final product will be compact — about the size of a soda can — and could be used by soldiers in the field.

Working with scientists in UMR’s Graduate Center for Materials Research, the CEST researchers are developing an array of obscurants consisting of "nanoscale" materials — each one only a few atoms in size — to block out infrared and other sensors. These obscurants would conceal military movements on the battlefield.

"We have the ability to take nanosized particles and turn them into smokes that have a very narrow wavelength to see through," says Dr. Wayne Huebner, vice provost for research at UMR. "We can customize these obscurants so that only our troops would have the technology to see through them."

The research effort will involve scientists and engineers from UMR’s chemistry, mechanical and aerospace engineering, electrical and computer engineering, and computer science departments.

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On January 7, 2003. Posted in Research