Picatinny Arsenal — Investing in the Future Scientists and Engineers of America

Picatinny Arsenal is a military research and manufacturing facility located in Morris County, New Jersey (about 35 miles west of NYC). Founded in 1880, Picatinny started out primarily manufacturing gunpowder for the military. As time has passed, Picatinny’s scientific and manufacturing programs have evolved to match the breakneck pace of emerging technology.

Today Picatinny is known as The Joint Center of Excellence for Armaments and Munitions, and provides products and services for all branches of the U.S. military.  In the effort to adequately protect and prepare the American soldier, Picatinny’s specializes in “the research, development, acquisition and lifecycle management of advanced conventional weapon systems and advanced ammunition.” Picatinny’s portfolio includes: IED defeat technologies; small, medium and large caliber conventional ammunition; precision-guided munitions; mortars; dire control systems; small-arms weapon systems; howitzers; gunner protection armor; warheads; fuzes; and insensitive munitions.

Recently, scientists and engineers at Picatinny have been working with additive manufacturing techniques, 3D printing technology, and nanotechnology. Conductive inks can be used to create conductors, semiconductors, or resistors. One application of Picatinny’s cutting-edge research is a process allowing engineers to print sensors directly onto weapons or articles clothing!

Despite all this exciting activity, Picatinny is also investing in another future-oriented resource, one more powerful than all the weapons in the world — young people; the future scientists, engineers, and problem solvers destined to move America forward. Supporting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education is arguably the biggest hope that the United States has to stay competitive as a scientific, technological superpower in the 21st century.

Picatinny is committed to improving STEM awareness, and has several programs of school outreach to educate young people about the amazing opportunities provided by a STEM education. The fundamentals of Picatinny’s STEM outreach programs include: recognizing the school as a customer; motivating students towards STEM careers from Pre-K through High School graduation; speaking to students in the digital language of their generation; assisting teachers in the communications transition to digital technologies; recognizing the importance of teachers as an educational resource; mentoring teachers and students about the opportunities available through a STEM career; and encouraging creativity in the classroom.

Picatinny offers free educational outreach assistance and has developed specialized activities created with its own resources and through partnerships with other organizations. These programs include: the Picatinny STEM Academy Summer Enrichment Program; Accelerated Parent Communications (social media presence); Creative All Terrain Transport System; Introduce a Girl To Engineering Open House; STEM Starters (Family Science Activities); the Student Created STEM Video Competition; and a 3D Printing Initiative (a partnership with the Josh & Judy Weston Foundation and MakerBot).

The Harlem Times recently interviewed Col (Ret) Edward E. Peterson, STEM Program Manager at Picattiny. Peterson graduated from Rutgers with a B.A. in science teaching, a R.O.T.C. commission as a 2nd Lieutenant, and a pilot’s license earned in the on-campus flight training program.  Continuing his studies at Rutgers he received a M.S. in Geology and a M.Ed. in Educational Administration and Supervision.  His military education included the Field Artillery Officer Basic Course (Honor Graduate), the Field Artillery Officer Advanced Course, and Command and General Staff School (Commandant’s List).

Here are some highlights from the interview:

HT: Why is Picatinny involved in STEM outreach?

Peterson: “About 8 to 10 years ago the United States Department of Defense became painfully aware that we were in a bind in terms of our future workforce, and that is in the area of research and development that goes on in government labs like Picatinny across the country.”

“Picatinny has great potential in terms of STEM education and reaching out to students…We are a human capital, a goldmine of mentors, experts, and people that are on the cutting edge of technology.”

“People would often say to me,‘You’re from the Department of Defense. Why would you care what goes on in my eighth grade classroom?’ And we would say that’s because we’re worried about our future workforce and having enough qualified people with enough understanding of technology that they can meet our needs. So we decided to get involved in educational outreach.”

HT: Is Picatinny Arsenal future-oriented?

Peterson: “We are very much future oriented. Our work here requires us to be looking at not just what’s important today, but the future technology, what’s going to be important in the future, what will we need to know 5, 10, 15 years down the road in order to maintain our level as the most technologically superior nation in the world, and continue our work her in the arsenal providing services to soldiers, their families, and the general public as well.”

“As a result of looking towards the future, our program evolves constantly….we are constantly looking at what’s new and what should the students be learning in school…I visit a lot of schools, we do a lot of curriculum work, we advise districts in many ways. If I’m visiting your school today and you say ‘I’m the science teacher’…if you’re not teaching robotics and nanotechnology you might as well call yourself a history teacher.”

HT: Describe part of the problem in getting young people to engage with STEM.

Peterson: “What we have found in our survey of the students is that close to 90% of all the students that we ask the questions to, 90% have no idea what is an engineer is or what an engineer does….So then it becomes fairly logical. How can we expect the student to opt for engineering as a career, if he or she has no knowledge of what someone in that career field does?”

HT: Do critics ever raise an issue with teaching young people about weapons technology?

Peterson: “We do so much more than weapons here. We have students that come in for field trips. How I explain our operations to the students…our main field is armaments. Think of it this way — if it explodes, if it shoots, or it protects you from something that does, chances are it was made at least in part at this facility for the military. So it’s really more about protecting our service people, bringing them back alive to their families after they do their tour of duty….Everything here is really geared towards protecting them and helping them survive what is obviously going to be a very difficult and very dangerous line of work.”