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UMass Lowell Researchers Showcase Innovations to Improve Soldier Protection

Qu Liu, a UMass Lowell doctoral student in computer science, overlooks research to develop new technology for drones Photo by Evelyn Dow
Qu Liu, a UMass Lowell doctoral student in computer science from Lowell, is contributing to research to develop new technology for drones to assist with navigation in environments where GPS services are not available. The innovation was just one of the projects on display during HEROES Day at UMass Lowell on Nov. 12, 2021. The HEROES initiative brings together scientists from the university, the U.S. Army DEVCOM Soldier Center in Natick and private industry to support soldier success in the field.

Lowell Sun
By Kaitlin Mulkerin

LOWELL — From new materials for transparent body armor to a sensor on drones for use as a way finder underground, UMass Lowell researchers showcased their innovations created to improve soldier protection and effectiveness in the field.

Held Friday, the day after Veterans Day, the “HEROES Day” event spotlighted UMass Lowell’s HEROES (Harnessing Emerging Research Opportunities to Empower Soldiers) Initiative, a partnership between the university and the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM Soldier Center) in Natick.

“I’m humbled and honored every day to work at a university that embraces a relationship with the military, with the Department of Defense and with our veterans,” Chancellor Jacquie Moloney said.

HEROES began in 2013, uniting UMass Lowell faculty members and students in the sciences, engineering, health and other disciplines with U.S. Army scientists and engineers. The project’s goals include developing lighter, stronger and more protective outerwear and equipment, portable energy sources and sensors to determine the quality of water and food.

“It’s incredible to be back here at UMass Lowell to see the HEROES program in action … because, it’s the day after Veterans Day and the focus of this program is protecting our war fighters, men and women in uniform, and there’s no better reflection of that commitment than what the university has done,” U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan said. “It’s a pleasure to support that program in Congress because it works and I think it’s a model for so many across the country.”

Trahan said HEROES is a model program talked about in Washington all the time.

“Leadership is about making people thrive in your presence but having that last in your absence,” Trahan said. “(Moloney) and the Soldiers Center Director Doug Tamilio and CTO Mike Codega, you all have created a partnership that relies not only on shared research capabilities, but for the university to meet the needs of our men and women in uniform, our most treasured asset.”

She acknowledged Julie Chen, vice chancellor for research and economic development, for her leadership and previous work trailblazing Army-funded research. She also recognized HEROES co-directors, UMass Lowell Plastics Engineering Professor Ramaswamy Nagarajan and DEVCOM Research Chemical Engineer Christopher Drew, a UMass Lowell graduate.

While the university has tried partnering with other schools, it hasn’t happened — yet.

“Many universities have trouble collaborating across disciplines. What I love about HEROES is it exemplifies the kind of community that we have at this university,” Moloney said.

When she has asked faculty why they chose UMass Lowell, they say it’s because they have the opportunity to work in an environment where there’s interdisciplinary collaboration. It’s not only encouraged, it’s facilitated and funded, she said.

“We believe at UMass Lowell that is how you get to the real solutions,” Moloney said.

“Problems these days, they’re hard problems you can’t (fix) from one discipline — you need to bring all the lenses together, all the different aspects together to solve these hard problems,” Chen said.

It’s unique for students to see what they’re learning in the classroom translate to helping people and problem solving, Chen said.

With nearly $30 million of funding in the past five years, the program is lucky to have co-directors from Lowell and Natick, Trahan said.

“It is incredible to see that research (will) not only help our department of defense and the U.S. Army but also other uses. The dual uses and commercial uses for this is really exciting. We just passed the infrastructure bill last week where we’re investing in making sure we have safe drinking water,” Trahan said. “I just saw technology that is basically, in real time, giving us the safety readout of drinking water. Now that is so useful for our men and women in combat when they’re stationed abroad. It’s really important here as we encounter increased natural disasters and PFAS in the area.”

Going back seven years ago, a program that collaborated this way was unheard of, she said.