Wednesday, April 24, 2013

An Unlikely Encounter: CBARR’s Dennis Bolt spends time with former chemical armourer in the Australian Army

Dennis Bolt with Arthur Lewis at the Marrangaroo project site.

Dennis Bolt is a mechanical engineer for ECBC’s Chemical Biological Application and Risk Reduction (CBARR) Business Unit. Currently serving a one-year secondment to the Australian Department of Defence (ADoD), Bolt recently had the unique opportunity to visit a few former chemical warfare (CW) facilities while abroad. During his tours, he met Arthur Lewis—a former World War II veteran who had actually worked at a number of former defense sites Bolt visited, including Marrangaroo Depot and Glenbrook Depot and Tunnel.

At age 19, Lewis was a chemical armourer in the Australian Army and not only worked at numerous CW storage depots, but was involved in several CW agent trials. “He discussed the operations in great detail and enjoyed the opportunity to share his experience with others,” Bolt said of Lewis.

Drums of the chemical agent mustard line the right side of the entrance to the Glenbrook Tunnel in 1943. In November 2012, the ADoD invited Bolt to visit the site, along with the Marrangaroo Depot and the Kingwood/Orchard Hill Depot.

Bolt was accompanied by Gareth Johnson, from the United Kingdom Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), and Geoff Plunkett of the ADoD. Plunkett recently published a book independent of ADoD, titled “Chemical Warfare in Australia: 1914-1945,” which recounts Australia’s importation and storage of chemical weapons during that time period. Chemical warfare armourers like Lewis were responsible for handling the dangerous chemicals.

Bolt serves as CBARR’s primary program manager with the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) Precinct. The project involves a chemical warfare investigation and assessment of various buildings, laboratories and the surrounding environment at sites such as Maribyrnong, Columboola and most recently, John Brewer Reef.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Stephanie Cole: Interview with an ECBC Postdoctoral Associate

The R&T Connection is reprising its series highlighting the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center’s (ECBC) postdoctoral associates, and we begin with Stephanie Cole, Ph.D., an associate with the National Research Council’s (NRC) Research Associateship Program. Cole is currently working with a stem cell team under Harry Salem, Ph.D., Chief Scientist for Life Science, for which she has already received several accolades.

“Stephanie has been such a great addition to our team,” said Salem. “Working with the postdoctoral associates is as much a rewarding experience for me as I hope it is for them. Having someone like Stephanie on the team brings such energy and talent to the work we do.”

Cole joined this program after receiving her undergraduate degree from McDaniel College and her Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University. She recently sat down with us to tell us more about her experience as an NRC postdoctoral associate.

How did you get involved in the NRC’s Research Associateship Program?

When I was completing my Ph.D., I went to the NRC’s website and looked at all of the research opportunities they had listed. From those opportunities, I saw that ECBC has lots of interesting research and it seemed like a great place to work. I had an interview and had to complete a lengthy application which includes a ten-page research proposal. It’s an extensive process!

What drew you to ECBC?

I was interested in chem and bio, so the aspect of that here seemed like a really good fit. I was interested in studying chemical toxicology and this provided a unique opportunity to do that because there aren’t many labs that do that. Also, my husband and I live in Bel Air and our families are both nearby, so the local aspect was certainly appealing.

How long will this position last?

The NRC post docs are for a year, and are renewable up to three years. I’ve been here nine months so far, and I’d absolutely love the chance to be here for the full three years.

How did you know you wanted to be a scientist and go into this field?

Before my senior year in high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I knew it wasn’t science! But I ended up getting talked into taking an AP Biology course and I had the most amazing teacher. He made it so fun and I ended up doing pretty well, and it just got me hooked. In college, I just kept learning and taking more classes, and had a few summer internships where I got to do research. I realized I really enjoyed doing research and experiments – it felt like a puzzle that I could figure out. So, I decided to pursue that route. It was amazing—one teacher just made such a difference in my life.

Tell me more about what you do here at ECBC.

As part of Dr. Salem’s team, we’re all working together to develop the “human on a chip.” All of the post docs have been assigned different organs to study independently, with the goal of one day being able to connect them all together. I’ve been assigned the liver, so my focus is to create a model for liver metabolism and to study the effects of human metabolism on toxicity using subcultures. In layman’s terms, a lot of current toxicity studies use animal models, but animals metabolize compounds very differently than humans do. We’re working on developing models in vitro, or outside of the body, to test various chemicals. We take liver cells from human cadavers and culture them; they’re metabolically active and they’ve been shown to metabolize things the same way as they would in vivo, or inside of the body, so we can have effective experiments that will help us understand how humans metabolize toxins differently from animals.

What is the goal of this research?

We can look at therapeutics, or ways to treat certain reactions to compounds. But one of the big fields of study is looking at human estimates; based on animal studies we can actually use this type of research to estimate what the human response would be to those compounds. This is a nice system for conducting that type of research. Right now we’re just working on the concepts and trying to build up this area of study. There are a lot of different avenues we can take with this area of research.

What is a typical day like for you?

I spend about 40-50 percent of my time in the lab, planning out experiments. I have a lot of help from other scientists in the lab as well. The other portion of my time is mostly spent reading, writing, trying to think of new ideas for projects or different ways we can go with this project and writing research papers. The rest of my time is for more administrative things such as attending meetings.

What would you like to do after this?

I’d like to stay at ECBC if possible. I’d like to maybe be a PI in a government lab, and I’m really interested in continuing with Army and government research. This is a nice transition to learn the Army and the environment and then hopefully do that one day.

If you had to pick the most challenging part of your work, what would it be?

Honestly one of the most challenging things right now is the budgetary constraints and how that effects getting funding. As a new post doc, something I really want to get out of this is grant writing experience, but in the current climate it can be hard to seek more funding. The good thing, though, is that this is a field which will always be relevant, so I feel like there will be opportunities down the road for that experience.

What is the most exciting part of your work?

Being at the cutting edge of this technology; with the stem cells and the in vitro toxicity testing, it’s been really fun to be at the cutting edge of science. I really enjoy attending conferences and meeting others in this field, collaborators we could maybe partner with one day. And knowing our ideas are brand new is very fun and provides a lot of opportunities to write papers and continue to learn more.

What are some things you enjoy outside of work?

I really like running, that’s a big hobby of mine. I also like knitting and enjoy reading all kinds of different genres. Right now, I’m really into the Game of Thrones series which is great because now I can watch the series on HBO as well! 

What is one interesting fact about yourself that not many people here may know about you?

Hmm…good question. I’m not used to talking about myself so that’s a tough one! I really enjoy making bread, which takes a lot of patience and also kind of applies the same concepts of conducting science experiments. I do that on the weekends a lot—there’s nothing like homemade bread.

What advice would you give to a student today who is interested in being a scientist?

Talk to people; make those connections—the more people you know, the more you can find out about what you’re interested in. See if you can get internships, which provide such great experience, especially in labs. If you can get your foot in the door it can really be the best way to go, and it can also help you figure out if that is the kind of work you really want to pursue.

To learn more about the NRC’s Research Associateship Program, please visit

Mid-winter survey shows above average bald eagle population on APG

CBARR resident photographer Dave Kline snapped
photos of bald eagles on Jan. 29 near Building 3942.
Eagle Awareness Training in effect for employees working down range

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – Our national bird is making a comeback! Nearly six years since being removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species, the bald eagle is now flourishing across the nation—particularly at Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), Md. where 72,000 acres of land and water provide an ideal nesting ground for the birds.

According to the Garrison’s Department of Public Works – Environmental Division, 203 bald eagles were counted on post with an additional 25 birds counted along the Susquehanna River during the 2013 Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Survey, which was conducted on Jan. 6. The 228 total bird count is above average for the last six annual surveys. The population increase was not unexpected, the report stated, given the cold weather in the Northeast and mild weather in Maryland. The survey route included shoreline and tributaries of APG, as well as the shoreline of the Susquehanna River north to Peach Bottom power plant.

“As far as ECBC goes, Maxwell Point has several bald eagle nests,” said Matt Jones, environmental scientist for ECBC’s Environmental Quality Office. “The eagles, as you can tell by their population, have adapted and                  obviously thrived here, even through 10 years of war and a very busy workload. APG has done a good job of implementing policies to protect the eagles and ECBC has supported those policies.”

APG is home to the highest density of bald eagles in the northern Chesapeake Bay region and comprises 7 percent of Maryland’s breeding population. Though bald eagles are no longer endangered, they are still protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which prohibits the killing, wounding or trapping of eagles. Attempting to disturb the eagles is also prohibited. The Army, in cooperation with the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service’s Chesapeake Bay Field Office, developed a Bald Eagle Management Plan requiring mandatory workforce awareness training for any activities that can cause significant environment impacts, including testing and training operations that may interfere with the breeding, feeding or roosting of the birds.

CBARR resident photographer Leah Usmari snapped
photos of bald eagles on Jan. 29 near Building 3942.
According to Jones, the designated nesting season on APG is from Dec. 15 to June 15, and the 500-meter buffer zone around nests is fully enforced during this time. The mandatory Eagle Awareness Training must be completed on an annual basis for employees who work down range near the eagle nests, which typically have between one and three eggs in the nest by the end of March. Cameras monitor the nests to know when the last eaglets fledge the nest, usually in late May or early June, Jones said. Aerial surveys in helicopters are also conducted at least once a year. Employees are encouraged to adhere to the signage downrange and avoid outdoor work during the nesting season, however regular traffic on main roads through the buffer zones is accepted.

“They’re curious creatures,” said Jones, who also gives the training to visitors traveling down range and writes record of environmental considerations twice a year for M-Field activities. “Though the numbers have gone down considerably, it’s not uncommon for the eagles to fly into the power lines.”

 According to Jones, a heightened number of these incidents nearly 10 years ago resulted in protective actions by APG. Thousands of reflective flappers have been installed on electrical power lines and insulators now cover the conductors and transformers, which have significantly reduced the number of eagle mortalities on Post. In 2012, there was one mortality and two injuries that resulted in euthanasia for eagles on APG. But there was also a success story when an adult male eagle that had sustained electrocution burns from power lines at the  Aberdeen Test Center in Aberdeen, was released on Edgewood’s campus after being rehabilitated at the Tri-State Bird Rescue in Newark, Del.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Hands on Success: ADM’s Lisa Smagala’s Hands-On Approach to Life and Career Shaped Strong Work Ethic and Advanced Skills

Lisa Smagala used to be afraid of heights, until she took a hot air balloon ride to challenge her fear. Guns made her nervous, so she went to a shooting range to test a few out. When Smagala thought she was an awful distance runner, she signed up for her first half marathon.

“I just like throwing myself into things,” said Smagala. “The only way I fully understand something is to touch it and feel it, so figuring out how things work and facing a problem head on is how I always approach things.”

Smagala, currently the Systems Integration team leader within the Advanced Design and Manufacturing Division’s Technology and Systems Integration Branch, has used her no-fear personality and disciplined work ethic to advance her skills as a systems engineer, bring success to her team and add value to her many projects at the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center.

As a female team lead in a field historically driven by males, Smagala never lets being the “small girl in the room” deter her from immersing herself in a field that truly piqued her interest. “I really don’t mind getting dirty, or climbing around the vehicles turning wrenches,” Smagala said. “Although these days I don’t get to do it as much as I used to, that type of work is what really excites me. I’m a hands on learner.”

Smagala has been in the systems engineering line of work for more than 10 years, and spent her undergraduate years studying industrial engineering.

“A majority of my studies and the jobs that I’ve held were heavily male dominated,” Smagala said.

While she is used to the environment and feels comfortable in the atmosphere, she has encountered some difficult attitudes from time to time.

“Never at ECBC, but I have been in several situations where male customers would ask another male questions even though I’m the person in charge, or I may get treated differently. The best way I combat that is to just show them what I am made of,” Smagala said. “Work ethic, good results, drive and skill all speak on their own. While they may not ask me questions initially, it doesn’t take long for them to realize that I am capable.”

Although Smagala, is someone who has always pushed herself, hard work is a trait that comes naturally. A strong work ethic and building relationships are the traits that Smagala thinks are essential to any engineer’s career –male or female.

“You have to be committed to your job, be excited and want to see you programs succeed,” Smagala said. “I try to instill that value in our team to encourage members to work hard. Our Warfighters deserve a certain level of service, and we need to be able to deliver on that.”

Smagala’s first foray into engineering was not unlike her approach to conquering her fear of heights or challenging her ability to run long distances - she took a head-first and hands-on approach. At just 18 years old, Smagala worked a summer job at the General Motors (GM) factory assembly line near her Delaware home. In her time with GM, Smagala started as a summer intern and became a full time engineer by the time she graduated from the University of Delaware with a Bachelor’s Degree in Industrial Engineering.

“I stayed with GM for about seven years and really enjoyed my job. Unfortunately the plant began to show signs of closing down, so I couldn’t stay as long as I wanted,” Smagala said.

“It was because of the real exposure to the working world an manufacturing that I found the field exciting and fast paced.”

After GM, Smagala ventured into a completely different side of engineering and took on a job at WL Gore working with the company’s fabric division as a part of their testing lab/ manufacturing support. The difference between working on vehicles versus working with fabrics was immense to her.“While it very different to transition from cars to fabric, I got a whole new view of manufacturing through the work we did in the lab,” Smagala said. 

Although Smagala enhanced her skills in Research and Development, and learned a lot through the process, she wanted to manage more than just a piece of the puzzle, so she started to pursue different opportunities –especially when she met Kevin Wallace through a mutual friend. Wallace,

Smagala said, always talked about the exciting work he did at ECBC. It didn’t take Smagala too long to send Kevin her resume to see if ECBC could be a good fit for her.

“I gave Kevin my resume and about six to eight months later I got a call from the Advanced Design and Manufacturing Division inviting me in for an interview,” Smagala said. During her time with ECBC Smagala said she has truly pushed herself and really grown as an engineer.

High profile projects she worked on included the Buffalo vehicle, the Joint Explosive Ordinance Disposal Rapid Response Vehicle Surrogate (JERRV Surrogate) and the Husky Mounted Detection System Surrogate (HMDSS). In addition to her projects, Smagala earned a Master’s of Business Administration from Wilmington University, and a Master’s Degree in Systems Engineering from The Johns Hopkins University all within three years, while with ECBC.

“I just wanted to throw myself into it and complete all the programs. I felt very encouraged by my coworkers here who work so hard and are so passionate about what they do,” Smagala said. “I wanted to become more well-rounded and do as much as I could to fully understand and appreciate every opportunity.”

Smagala said her favorite project thus far with ECBC was the work with the JERRV Surrogate, a training vehicle for the Joint Improvised Explosives Defeat Organization. This was the first project that Smagala has had the opportunity to work with from cradle to grave. “I have been involved with JERRV from the start and I got to see it from the initial fielding, to sustainment, training and enhancements for a fleet of 80 vehicles, so I feel a personal tie with that one. We spent a lot of time with the Soldiers during training and practical exercises and really got an inside look into their needs.”

Traveling 90 minutes each way to get to ECBC every day, Smagala uses the little free time she has to stay active in volleyball, kickball, dodgeball leagues and participates in obstacle course races. While her schedule can be stressful and exhausting at times, it is all worth it.

While her head first approach gets exhausting, Smagala believes it is hard to get stressed when you’re having fun. “I get the opportunity to not only do something I love, but do it next to some of the most talented, intelligent people who are also enthusiastic about their jobs.”