West Point Cadets Participate in Cutting Edge Research with ECBC Scientists

CCDC Chemical Biological Center Public Affairs | August 16th, 2017


For more than 25 years, cadets from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point have been coming to the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC) in the summer for two- to three-week rotations to work on chemical and biological defense projects with the Army's leading experts in chemical and biological defense technology.

They do this through the Academy’s Advanced Individual Academic Development Program. Under the program, students forfeit their vacation to receive additional laboratory academic credits towards their education. In addition to the extra credits, they get the opportunity to be exposed to the latest technologies and equipment, and be personally mentored by ECBC scientists.

This year, four cadets came to ECBC. Two of them worked on projects that employ Raman spectroscopy. Cadets Robert Danford, a rising junior, and Julia Coon, a rising freshman, worked with Ashish Tripathi, Ph.D., on how best to employ ECBC’s prototype Chemical Fingerprint Image Scanner to identify both fingerprints and any tiny particles of suspect substances – such as narcotics or explosives – found between the fingerprint grooves.

Cadet Emily Traynor, also a rising junior, worked with Rabih Jabbour, Ph.D., on using mass spectrometry applications to detect and identify pathogens in food samples. Traynor also got introduced to hand held genomic sequencing technology known as MinION, to perform bacterial sequencing. She learned how to use the palm-sized instrument to accurately characterize viral and bacterial species from food samples, receiving results within six hours.

Not every experiment has to succeed in order for a cadet intern to have a rewarding experience. Cadet Grant Hall spent two weeks trying to make a Rhodamine dye, used to identify the presence of nerve agents, following a published method. The synthesis failed to yield the identified product, leading Hall to conclude that there was likely a step or procedure missing from the published protocol.

Reflecting on his time at ECBC, Danford said, “I’m going to go back to West Point with a lot more laboratory experience and with a newfound interest in chemical imaging microscopy. I was really drawn to it, it’s really interesting.” As a result of his research work at ECBC, he will also return to West Point knowing how to write programs in MATLAB, an advanced software package for the sciences, giving him a leg up in whatever he chooses to pursue in the sciences.

Traynor appreciated the opportunity to see the practical applications of the theories she has studied in the classroom. “Being here, I amazed at how much ECBC does for Soldiers in the field, and being in the lab, learning from the scientists, helped me understand the theory I learned in my classes,” she said. “This experience goes way beyond memorization because I can see the theories in action.”

Grant’s mentor, Alan Samuels, Ph.D., recalled his enthusiasm, “Each time I saw him, he was discussing the alternative steps he had been taking to make the compound. Grant had a great experience and gained an appreciation for the subtleties of synthetic chemistry.”

Started in the 1980s, the Advanced Individual Academic Development Program in conjunction with West Point is ECBC’s oldest continuing internship. Over that time, scores of West Point cadets have been able to enrich their understanding of the science they learn in the classroom and gain confidence in the laboratory.

The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Chemical Biological Center (CCDC Chemical Biological Center) is the Army’s principal research and development center for chemical and biological defense technology, engineering and field operations. The Center has achieved major technological advances for the warfighter and for our national defense, with a long and distinguished history of providing the armed forces with quality systems and outstanding customer service. The CCDC Chemical Biological Center is located at the Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.