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Natick Labs, UMass Lowell Announce HEROES Research Partnership

Joint research between Natick Labs and UMass Lowell will develop better protective military clothing and gear.

The following is a press release from Natick Labs and UMass Lowell:

LOWELL, Mass. – Better performing parachutes. Flame-retardant camouflage wear. Easier ways to feed troops on the move. UMass Lowell and the U.S. Army announced today they are joining forces to work on these projects and more to enhance military members’ safety.

Named HEROES – Harnessing Emerging Research Opportunities to Empower Soldiers – the new initiative teams scientists from the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, known locally as Natick Labs, with UMass Lowell faculty and student researchers. The project’s goals include developing lighter, stronger and more protective outerwear and equipment and portable energy sources and food for troops.

The partnership was announced today at an event at UMass Lowell with speakers including U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray, UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan, Natick Soldier Systems Center Director Jack Obusek, UMass President Robert Caret and 1st Sgt. Brian Gemmill, a Natick Labs employee and a veteran of service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The collaboration will include advancing the design of personal protective equipment such as the body armor for women developed by Natick Labs and the Army’s Program Executive Office-Solider that was named one of Time magazine’s 25 best inventions of 2012. The leader in promoting troops’ safety, Natick Labs includes design, synthesis, engineering and testing laboratories and nanofabrication facilities. UMass Lowell faculty and student researchers in fields including plastics engineering, mechanical engineering, physics and chemistry will provide their expertise to the HEROES collaboration.

“HEROES will bring the vast expertise and resources of the U.S. Army and UMass Lowell to bear on life-or-death issues faced by our military personnel every day around the world. Through this joint mission, our top-notch researchers will help keep our armed forces safe, mobile and comfortable as they fulfill their missions. The initiative will also allow our students to apply what they are learning at UMass Lowell to real-world situations of great importance,” Meehan said.

“HEROES will result in the development of new technologies and new thinking about ways to provide cutting-edge capabilities to our soldiers. The collaboration is a testament to the great value the Army places on our being located in Massachusetts and takes our partnership with UMass Lowell to a new level. As a former soldier and father of a solder, I am grateful to be able to tap into the ideas of the best and brightest the Commonwealth has to offer and turn those ideas into reality for soldiers,” Obusek said.

For years, Massachusetts has been investing in and marshaling some of the best technological minds and resources in the world, leveraging the highly skilled workforce, military tradition and world-renowned companies and educational institutions that are unique to this region, said Tsongas.

“Bringing together the pioneering defense innovations from Natick Soldier Systems Center with the cutting-edge research and development capabilities at UMass Lowell will help ensure America’s servicemen and women have equipment that is not only strong and safe but maximizes their efficiency and mobility in the field,” Tsongas said. “HEROES is another example of Massachusetts’ rise as one of the nation’s premier technology innovation centers and will help us take the next step in developing the next generation of solider resources, such as lightweight and gender-specific body armor, an issue for which I have strongly advocated.”

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The research by the partnership will take place both at UMass Lowell and at Natick Labs. HEROES’ campus work space includes laboratories, offices, conference rooms and a “think tank” area outfitted with a continuous whiteboard on which researchers will brainstorm new ideas. The initiative will also benefit from UMass Lowell’s new, $80 million Mark and Elisia Saab Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center.

Leading the initiative are Natick Labs Chief Scientist Lynne Samuelson ’90, who earned her Ph.D. at UMass Lowell and is an adjunct faculty member; Julie Chen, UMass Lowell’s vice provost for research; and Plastics Engineering Prof. Ramaswamy Nagarajan. Through HEROES, the partners will work together to secure research funding.

“HEROES is a unique and powerful opportunity to find creative and effective solutions to improve the safety, agility and sustainability of our soldiers. I am extremely grateful to UMass Lowell for the commitment it has made in providing our Natick Labs scientists and engineers a home from which they can now collaborate on site with UMass Lowell faculty and students. I am thrilled to be able to help lead this exciting initiative and look forward to seeing what new soldier innovations HEROES can help us develop,” Samuelson said.

“By bringing UMass Lowell and Natick Labs scientists and engineers together on a daily basis, we envision great creativity coupled with research grounded in real problems faced by real people. The research and development that will happen in these labs will result in benefits not just to our troops in the field but also to the companies in the region, as they commercialize the resulting new products,” Chen said.

HEROES is the first project launched under a system-wide master agreement between the University of Massachusetts and Natick Labs designed to speed the formation of research and development initiatives at all five UMass campuses.

“The initiative is another example of UMass working hard to be an efficient, effective steward of resources and partnering with key institutions in the Commonwealth to develop our research enterprise and support the innovation economy,” Caret said.  

HEROES also bolsters the work of the Commonwealth’s Military Asset and Security Strategy Task Force and the Defense Technology Initiative. The task force works to expand jobs and improve the resources, facilities and missions of the state’s military installations. Meehan serves as chairman of the regional advisory board of the DTI, which was established by the Massachusetts High Technology Council.

“The Massachusetts Military Asset and Security Task Force continues to engage with our government, public and private partners to support the state’s military installations,” said Murray, the task force’s chairman. “HEROES is a great example of this partnership and efforts to advance innovation and research that will further protect our servicemen and women and also promote critical assets and missions here in Massachusetts.”

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