By Rick Sobey
LOWELL -- A parched soldier on the battlefield finally gets his hands on some water.
But the fighter is not 100 percent sure if the water is safe to drink.
Thanks to a portable electronic tongue, he's able to quickly discover the dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals in the water.
At UMass Lowell's HEROES Center on Wednesday, graduate student Connor Sullivan showed off this water contaminant technology -- an electronic tongue that provides rapid, cost-effective and on-site testing of food and water.
The civil engineering student tested a water sample as U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan looked on. The water sample had high arsenic levels, according to the state-of-the-art testing technology.
"It's great to see all this so close to home, all this innovation," said Trahan, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
She was taking a tour of the university's HEROES Center in Olney Hall, learning more about how UMass Lowell and its partners are better protecting U.S. soldiers in combat.
HEROES -- an acronym for "Harnessing Emerging Research Opportunities to Empower Soldiers" -- is a joint program with U.S. Army Natick. The program brings together higher education and industry to support small businesses in developing applications that impact the protection, performance, agility and sustainability of soldiers.
Some of the technology demonstrations on Wednesday included the: electronic tongue for water/food contaminants; lightweight materials to protect soldiers from blasts and ballistics; flame retardant materials; airdrop and parachute research; and more.
The collaborative program results in students solving real-world problems, stressed UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacquie Moloney.
"We are here to help these soldiers," added Plastics Engineering Professor Ramaswamy Nagarajan, co-director of the HEROES Center.
Representatives from Natick -- the Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center -- said this partnership is critical to address current soldier challenges, as well as future threats.
"What they do here has great applications for our soldiers," said Natick Director Doug Tamilio, pointing to the helmet and parachute technology as examples.
Some UMass Lowell students go on to work for Natick, he added, another benefit of the relationship.
Moloney highlighted the research momentum at the university, advocating for continued funding of the programs. The chancellor said Trahan is the perfect representative to fight for them.
"She is so passionate and loves this community," Moloney said of the congresswoman.
Trahan promised she will continue to be an active partner, pushing for funding for these innovative programs that are critical for the economy and national defense, she said.
"This is very helpful to me," Trahan said of Wednesday's tour. "This will help me become a better member of HASC (House Armed Services Committee). I take that role very seriously."