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University of Utah to help design more energy-efficient soldier

Published: Tuesday, May 8 2012 2:34 p.m. MDT

The typical infantry soldier might carry up to 80 pounds of gear, with 35 pounds of it being batteries to power all those systems. The University of Utah will lead a consortium to use computer simulations to help design materials for lighter-weight, energy-efficient devices and batteries.

Eric Betts, Deseret News

CAMP WILLIAMS — Master Sgt. Corey Bollinger, a joint terminal attack controller in the Army's 19th Special Forces Unit, uses an array of gear, radios, a GPS and a laser range finder to exchange vital information from the field.

But that's not all he has to haul around in battle.

"Everything you see here minus your actual weapon is going to take some form of battery, everything from your GPS to your flashlight to your radio system," Bollinger said.

That means the typical infantry soldier might carry up to 80 pounds of gear, with 35 pounds of it being batteries to power all those systems. The weight of the pack reduces the soldier’s mobility, which could mean the difference between life and death.

The University of Utah is participating in research to help lighten that load for soldiers who are relying more and more on electronic weaponry, detection devices, advanced communications systems and protection systems. With a $15 million grant from the Army Research Lab, the U. is leading a consortium of schools to help design new materials for lightweight, energy-efficient devices.

The U. will retain $4.2 million for research plus additional administrative costs. The remainder of the grant will to go to consortium members Boston University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Pennsylvania State University, Harvard University, Brown University, the University of California-Davis, and the Polytechnic University of Turin, Italy.

"The idea being that over a five- to 10-year period, we'll take research that will result in very tangible gains to the soldier like lighter batteries," Martin Berzins, professor of computing at the U.

"The easier the battery situation is, the easier it is on the guys on the ground," he said.

The research is groundbreaking, using computer simulations at the U.'s Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute.

"Virtual design of materials on computers is what we're doing," Berzins said.

It may be some time until the researchers with the consortium, known as Alliance for Computationally-guided Design of Energy Efficient Electronic Materials, know exactly what they've got. Their hope is that within a few years, they'll be able to come up with some solutions for some of these challenges for soldiers out in the field.

E-mail: jdaley@ksl.com

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