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Around the Pier: Scripps-USMC Collaboration Yields Award

What began as an offhand request over a send-off lunch between a deploying Camp Pendleton Marine and friends at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego transformed into an award-winning project that has vastly expanded the military’s “environmental intelligence” capabilities in Iraq and Afghanistan battle zones.

The National Defense Industrial Association awarded Marine Corps Chief Warrant Officer Thomas Muschamp the A. Bryan Lasswell Award, for his role in developing a portable battlefield weather station known as the Expeditionary Meteorology System, or XMET. Muschamp said, though, that the award is secondary to the benefit it has provided replacing guesswork with knowledge and with improving the safety of troops in the field.  He also credited the patriotism and ingenuity of Scripps oceanographer Eric Terrill and his staff for delivering a product that exceeded expectations less than six months after Muschamp first wished aloud for it during a lunch meeting.

“They’re doing the right thing with science and technology to help the warfighter,” said Muschamp.

The award is a new chapter in the ongoing relationship Scripps has had with branches of the military since the 1930s. The dialogue that led to XMET began during talks to improve amphibious training exercises at Camp Pendleton through use and integration of a Scripps coastal observation network Terrill manages, but Scripps has also aided a range of military applications ranging from detection of enemy submarines to beach assaults during World War II.

“The cooperation between Scripps Institution for Oceanography and the U.S. Marine Corps is exemplified by the development of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Meteorology System, XMET,” said Major General Anthony Jackson, commanding general, Marine Corps Installations West .  “When Marine Chief Warrant Officer 3 Thomas Muschamp stated a requirement, Scripps oceanographer Eric Terrill and his staff took up the challenge and delivered a useable product in six months. Cooperation between the American scientific and academic communities, Scripps and UCSD being superb examples, makes for a winning combination that goes beyond military applications.”

The tripod-mounted XMET unit met a need to make battlefield aviation at Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) safer, especially in drought-stricken regions of Iraq and Afghanistan prone to dust storms. Requiring no tools, the rapidly deployable XMET can be set up by two Marines in as little as two minutes. The system can self-orient and includes an optical sensor to assess visibility, a rain gauge, wind and temperature sensors and runs continuously on a solar power-fed battery. It feeds hourly data on weather conditions via Iridium satellite communication to mission planners that use it to greenlight or scuttle combat, humanitarian, or medevac operations. Before such detailed information could only come from observers on the ground.

“Scripps is geographically positioned in a hub of USMC and Navy activities to uniquely connect emerging science and technology with fleet applications” said Terrill, director of the Coastal Observing R&D Center at Scripps.  “In defense-related basic scientific research, you are often working on problems whose applications may be 20 years away.  We were fortunate to have things come together to be able to make a real contribution to our services in a much shorter timeframe.”

The timing of the system’s development was fortuitous as it coincided with the placement of caps on the number of troops deployed in Afghanistan set by the Pentagon. Troop reduction at forward operating bases brings a trickle-down cost-savings by reducing the logistics costs of food, water, and supplies.

“Everywhere there’s one of these,” said Muschamp, pointing to an XMET unit during a recent visit to Scripps, “that saves two Marines from deploying to an outlying FOB for each system fielded.”

Terrill credited the Office of Naval Research for supporting the rapid development of XMET, which leveraged an existing ocean weather buoy development effort he had underway.   The Navy division funds several research projects led by Terrill as well as by other Scripps researchers, and the partnership allowed his group to be nimble in their support of the Marines.  Since 2009, the Marines in Afghanistan have deployed 12 systems throughout the Helmand River Valley.  The systems continue to operate at  forward operating bases  and the accumulated data, available to all branches of the military, is analyzed and used for detailed weather forecasts in combat regions.   An excess of 23 years of operational hours now exists on the network and will provide an unprecedented data set to research fine-scale weather patterns in Afghanistan, said Terrill.

Terrill added that no unattended weather-sensing tool had existed in the Marine Corps arsenal, though networked sensors like XMET are becoming common components of science-based earth observational systems. The process that took XMET from the drawing board to the battlefield and its resulting success has effected a new awareness of how unattended environmental sensors and other technologies from the science world could support U.S. expeditionary military campaigns, he said.

“There are a lot of unsung heroes at Scripps who have a role on the field of battle whether they know it or not,” said Muschamp.

The NDIA said the award is given “to San Diego based active duty or civil service person who excelled through technology innovation or in-service engineering in supporting the Navy or Coast Guard Fleet, or Fleet Marine Forces.” It is named for Marine Corps Major A. Bryan Lasswell,  a cryptologist stationed at Pearl Harbor who in 1942 deciphered Japanese Navy radio traffic, helping the American victory at Midway Island.

 — Robert Monroe

Photo of the Week: Sampling Sabancaya

Members of the Trail by Fire team hike along the slope of the active Peruvian volcano Sabancaya earlier this month to take sulfur dioxide samples. Led by Yves Moussallam, a research fellow at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California San Diego, the team is visiting 15 active volcanoes in Peru and Chile to better understand how volatile gases in the atmosphere and hydrosphere are recycled through Earth’s crust and mantle at subduction zones.

Their latest blog entry about the expedition describes how they got up at 1 a.m. in order to drive to a trailhead in order to make the six-hour trek to the crater rim.

Full information about the expedition is at trailbyfire.org. Follow their progress on Facebook.

SALA, LINSEY

Degrees

  • M.S., San Diego State University
  • B.S., Illinois State University

Website

SQUIBB, MELINDA

Video: CalWater AR Research

A Venture Gained

And the winner is . . .

A challenge that provides seed support for “the next big thing” is looming large at UC San Diego. 

Networking opportunities, bringing together scientists and engineers with entrepreneurs and personalized mentoring by experienced businesspersons, is at the heart of the TriNet Challenge, a novel collaboration in its third year among UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Rady School of Management, and the von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center at the Jacobs School of Engineering.

The goal of the Triton Innovation Network (TriNet) Challenge is to promote innovation and commercialization within UC San Diego and to provide entrepreneurially minded scientists and engineers with the opportunity to develop and advance their creative technology's commercialization plan while providing an avenue for potential funding.

“The spirit of collaboration within this campus is vital to the core of UC San Diego’s mission,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “This joint venture among three of our prominent schools highlights the creative entrepreneurial drive that comes from our dedicated students and researchers seeking to make the world a better place through innovation and talent.”

The TriNet Challenge is sponsored by the Scripps Foundation for Science and the Environment, founded in 2008 by Bill Scripps, longtime advisor and supporter of UC San Diego and Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

“I love the great ideas coming out of this campus,” said Scripps at the event.  “The brilliant ideas are just overwhelming and the intellect of these kids is remarkable. I love to see it on display.” 

At stake was $11,000 in prize money.

The third year of competition to get emerging ideas into practical application kicked off at the Rady School’s Wells Fargo Hall on April 2 with opportunities for early career and established scientists to mix it up with local business leaders. Competitors pitched their ideas to a panel of judges made up of San Diego high-profile entrepreneurs and investors.  

An initial field of 27 entries was whittled down through an early phase of judging to a competitive field of nine finalists: four in the category of Technology Venture and five in Social Entrepreneurship.

The competition rolled into a night of lively professional pitching of new ideas ranging from novel paper recycling systems to regenerative wound healing technology. Also presented were innovative nanotechnology systems and citizen science efforts to document king tides (the highest tides of the year) and recreational fishing. Education innovations to inspire the next generation of scientists through interactive science video games and novel algae art curricula topped off the evening competition.

Technology Venture finalists were:

• GrollTex - Aliaksandr Zaretski
• MANTA - Dariusz Stramski
• Illuminera - Alex Abdel Alim
• SymbioO2  - Anil Sadarangani

The Technology Venture prize of $6,000, awarded by the judging panel, went to SymbiO2’s Anil Sadarangani, an MBA student at the Rady School of Management, for a new approach to the development of photosynthetic scaffold technology to aid in the wound healing process. His team was rewarded for their safe, easy, cost-effective, and environmentally sound design for novel micro algae-based wound care.   

Second place of $3,000 was awarded to Illuminera for a novel paper recycling technology that allows the reuse of existing paper.

Scripps Professor Dariusz Stramski was awarded third place of $1,500 for MANTA, an innovative technology for accurate counting and sizing of nanoparticles, with important applications in ecology, environmental health and safety, human health, and various industrial sectors in which nanoparticles are used.  

“The use of nanoparticles, tiny particles that are smaller than one micrometer, is widespread and growing rapidly,” said Stramski. “However, the presently available techniques for characterizing nanoparticle sizes and concentrations suffer from artifacts, are inaccurate, and tedious. Our team developed a new instrument called MANTA that enables rapid, automated, and accurate measurements of nanoparticles, which remove artifacts of other techniques.”

The innovative technology of MANTA is the result of dedicated teamwork between Stramski, Monette Karr, Rick Reynolds, and Jan Tatarkiewicz, who are all members of Stramski's Ocean Optics Research Lab at Scripps.

“MANTA was developed under the National Science Foundation’s Major Research Instrumentation program with substantial financial support from Scripps Institution of Oceanography,” acknowledged Stramski.

He added, “The TriNet Challenge event provided a unique opportunity to interact with business advisors from UC San Diego’s von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center and students from UCSD Rady School of Management and learn about the ways to transition knowledge and information about innovative technology from the academic to the business-oriented environment.”

The finalists in the Social Entrepreneurship category were all from UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, a world leader in innovation in oceans, earth, and atmospheric sciences. 

• Catch Reporter - Brice Semmens
• King Tides - Dana Kochnower 
• Get in the Game - Debi Kilb
• Algae Press - Dominique Barnes
• Below the Surface - James Leichter 

The Social Entrepreneurship prize, selected by audience vote for presentation and concept, was awarded to Debi Kilb, project scientist in the Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at Scripps Oceanography. Her award-winning presentation “Get in the Game” stressed video games as an effective and attractive learning tool for science education.

“Kids would rather play video games than just about anything else,” said Kilb.” So our team focused our educational outreach efforts to engage students in science using video games.” 

Originally developed to appeal to 8-12-year-old students, the concept will now expand teaching through video games to college-age learners in new and innovative ways. Uses will include classroom learning, homework, and in field guides.  

Kilb acknowledged the TriNet Challenge as an example of the positive results from dedicated teamwork.  Her collaborators, Scripps programmers nower and Alan Yang, were instrumental in the development of the winning concepts.

“Scripps Oceanography provides an open culture to be innovative and creative and to explore the world of learning without barriers,” Kilb added. “This event allowed me not only to connect with people and organizations that I otherwise would never cross paths with, but also gave me the opportunity to join a team of inventive partners and pursue new education endeavor without boundaries.”

“The work at Scripps Institution of Oceanography is cutting-edge and just keeps getting better,” added sponsor Bill Scripps.  “And I’m proud to be involved.”

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-- Cindy Clark

BJORK, JOHN

Decadal changes in the world's coastal latitudinal temperature gradients

FERREIRA LEAO, TIAGO

Improved bias correction techniques for hydrological simulations of climate change