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Army Research Lab to be hub of regional partnership

A new collaboration between the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) and four research and academic institutions in Aberdeen will ultimately benefit the local community by bringing technology to the region and encouraging research in the science, technology, engineering and math fields, according to the partnership’s key players.

The five-year alliance will be formally announced Friday afternoon at the University Center facilities in Aberdeen, where representatives from the five partnering organizations — the ARL, the University Center, the Northeastern Maryland-University Research Park, the Northeastern Technology Council and the Susquehanna Workforce Network — will sign the agreement.

A year in the making, the partnership will use the ARL’s Open Campus model to increase access between government research laboratories and academic institutions. The participating groups’ leaders expect this interdisciplinary arrangement to help solve complex national defense problems.

The Open Campus setup involves more than just purely educational outreach, said Thomas Russell, director of the ARL. It also aims to build up technical skills and bring new approaches to problem-solving.

“What you’re really trying to do is create an ecosystem between industry, academia and government laboratories,” Russell said. “Probably the way to be the most innovative today is to bring diverse groups of people together to look and solve common problems because we all come with different ideas, we all come with different approaches to solving a problem.”

Russell added that one of the ARL’s goals in the partnership is to create a pipeline of people interested in Army problems in the area, one of a number of locally focused outcomes for the collaboration.

Although the collaboration has a military focus, the benefits will extend to the surrounding community as well, said Danny DeMarinis, the president of the Northeastern Maryland-University Research Park, a group that works in support of national defense and security

“The research ends up in products that support the military, [and] by making this area a center of STEM, science and tech, and bringing an increase in technology firm assets, we’ll make this a world-class technology region,” DeMarinis said. “Researchers and educators working together in the common laboratory is a very effective way of advancing technology.”

High-tech firms are a major economic driver, DeMarinis added, so transforming the area into a “technology hub” will in turn improve its economic prospects.

“We hope to make this area a magnet for professionals that want to have careers in STEM,” he said.

“I think it’s a really exciting opportunity for each of us as partners but also for the community at large. I think it will bring greater resources to our region,” said Nancy Spence, executive director of the University Center.

In allowing the individual institutions to work together and share information, the collaboration can prove that in research, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, Spence added.

“You’ve got a lot of different organizations in this region that support Aberdeen, that support economic development of this region, and what I hope to have happen is that we all work together toward a common goal,” she said.

The partnership’s first big event is a two-day open house scheduled for early November. DeMarinis described the event as an exhibition and conference to display technology opportunities, and he said he hopes the showcase will help recruit interested technology firms and others to get involved with the collaboration.