USAMMDA STEM Series: "M" is for Math
This article completes our four-part series on STEM-related occupations within the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity, a subordinate command of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, Fort Detrick, Maryland.
Many of those involved with Army Medicine quickly recognize the acronym "STEM," which is used to convey collectively the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. For the team of the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity, Fort Detrick, Maryland, these STEM areas provide the foundation for developing and delivering quality medical capabilities to protect, treat and sustain the health of Service Members worldwide.
In this concluding article in our four-part series highlighting the STEM-related work of USAMMDA, we will now consider the fourth component, Math, and how arithmetic, finance and proper budgeting remain critical to the successful completion of the command's mission.
When many people think of math, the equation "2+2=4" may be the first thing that pops into their minds. To most, the study of arithmetic means solving problems with concrete numeric solutions. This may be true in most cases, but for the team at USAMMDA, a strong knowledge of mathematics can prove to be a critical factor in saving lives on the battlefield.
Precise measurements that involve math calculations are often a primary focus of the team at USAMMDA's Medical Prototype Development Laboratory, which was highlighted in the preceding STEM article on engineering. In an earlier interview, MPDL chief Mark Brown emphasized that their work often involves cutting, shaping and slicing various material into sections within a 0.003-inch tolerance, which is equal to the thickness of a strand of human hair. Brown stressed the importance of mathematically precise measurements in the products they create, as even a microscopic deviation could render an item useless.
"In the MPDL, we use mathematics to design, model and fabricate field medical equipment," said Brown. "Math aids in understanding and predicting mechanical behaviors/relationships of individual components and/or the system as a whole."
Brown explained that, when it comes to creating life-saving products and devices, a solid understanding of mathematics is necessary for enhanced critical-thinking and problem-solving skills; this, in turn, provides the essential basis for engineering concepts in the design of these critical items.
Fundamentally, said Brown, geometry and trigonometry are used extensively in the design and fabrication of the components' fit, form and function.
"One example is in the programming of computer numerical control, or CNC, machine tools," he explained. "Datum points are often needed, and the engineering technician utilizes trigonometry's Pythagorean Theorem to precisely define these points.
"Another example of how math is used in the design process is by calculating forces," he continued. "The stress/strain relationship of loads applied to a structural member is predictable, and consequently of great importance in sizing components and selecting materials based on their properties."
Brown stresses that, without a doubt, the study of mathematics as a core competency can help anyone in methodically working through problems in various fields of study, both in and outside of engineering. He cited various types of careers such as chemistry, statistics, computer science and biology, as well as all engineering disciplines and math fields.
While team members such as Brown and his colleagues work to design and create the products that help to save lives on and off the battlefield, a select group of USAMMDA personnel are tasked daily with managing the finances that help to fund these critical projects.
From a financial budgeting perspective, a strong grasp of mathematics remains vital to USAMMDA's daily operation. While the Department of Defense allocates funding to the organization on an annual basis, it is imperative that USAMMDA's finance personnel accurately calculate the budget to utilize these funds appropriately each year.
Kelly Murdock, financial management support for USAMMDA's Neurotrauma and Psychological Health Project Management Office, stresses the importance of mathematics in her daily tasks, which includes management of the NPH PMO's funding strategy.
"In a military world, financial analysis focuses on the application of mathematics, including differentiation, logarithmic functions and compounding," she explained. "Basically, financial analysts use simple algebra and arithmetic to solve day-to-day operations at work. In our role, we must understand what types of products are needed, and at what price, or what products could be developed with a certain amount of money. Analysts gather statistical data and examine prices against similar efforts to come up with an estimated cost — which is critical in the defense acquisition arena."
Murdock said that applying mathematics and financial analysis throughout the defense acquisition lifecycle results in best practices for ensuring and providing proof of cost efficiency, while acquiring a product that better sustains our Warfighters. In fact, principles of math are used in all four phases of the defense acquisition policy of Planning, Programming, Budgeting and Execution, or PPBE.
"Although the Planning phase is equally important in the spectrum," said Murdock, "the latter three phases are where the financial analyst spends an extensive amount of time applying mathematical scenarios to ensure relevance, which, in turn, allows for the appropriate research, development and acquisition of medical programs that can be justified by USAMMDA within the U.S. Army, Department of Defense and Congress.
"Defense acquisition is a complex process, and as professionals in this field, we must stay current in an ever-evolving economy of advancing technologies," she continued. "The various disciplines of mathematics are extremely important to the work we do at USAMMDA every day. From budgeting, to estimating and forecasting, to calculating the best possible prices for the products requested by our Warfighters, having a strong foundation in math principles actually helps us to support and sustain these men and women who are sacrificing so much for their country."
By utilizing math skills for finance, accounting and economics from a funding perspective, and for designing, creating and producing the medical products and devices necessary to help our military forces remain ready and resilient at all times, the men and women of the USAMMDA team are bolstering the strength of our nation — which may ease the minds of many citizens.
Without question, the principles of science, technology, engineering and math certainly play a large part in the success seen by the organization regarding its work in the advanced development of critical medical products for our military, and civilian, populations. As evidenced by its many significant accomplishments, USAMMDA continues to serve as the premier developer of world-class military medical capabilities, helping to save the lives of Service Members, and civilians, each and every day.