Women Scientists and Engineers at Edgewood Chemical Biological Center Continue to Take Lead Roles in Advancing the Warfighter
At the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC), the Army’s premier research laboratory for chemical and biological defense based at Aberdeen Proving Ground, women have long held influential leadership roles in the research and development of technology that protects the warfighter and the nation. During the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Center, and of the installation once known as Edgewood Arsenal, ECBC is spotlighting three women of influence whose contributions are shaping the future of warfighter technology. Each represents one of the primary functions of the Center: engineering, research and training.
Kerrin Dame, Supervisory Physical Scientist, Engineering
Kerrin Dame serves as the supervisory physical scientist in ECBC’s Engineering Directorate. Dame began her career as a biologist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and has worked at Aberdeen Proving Ground as a physical scientist for 25 years, first with the Army Environmental Center and now with ECBC, where she transitioned following a base realignment a decade ago.
Dame oversees 15 scientists and engineers on two teams: the Detection Engineering Branch and the Decontamination Engineering Branch. Their focus is the sustainment of chemical detection and decontamination equipment that has been fielded to soldiers. Their duties include assessment of equipment for operational effectiveness, responding to inquiries from the field on how to operate it and deploying to train soldiers.
“My team goes anywhere there’s a warfighter to support,” Dame says.
Two of Dame’s team members recently deployed to South Korea to provide warfighter training on the DR SKO Program (Dismounted Reconnaissance Sets, Kits and Outfits), a large suite of equipment for chemical and biological detection. Four Army-certified trainers serve on her team and are often deployed to train soldiers on chemical detection, decontamination and protection equipment. The DR SKO Program is just one of many projects on her plate, but the collaborative efforts of her employees get the job done.
“It has been a lot of fun and hard work for us” Dame says.
Dame says she has been very fortunate to find mentors throughout her career. “I had some really good male and female teachers and professors who encouraged women in the sciences,” she explains. “The ratio of males to females in the sciences and engineering fields is sometimes unbalanced, with a mostly male workforce, but I’ve always had a mentor or supervisor on the job who encouraged me to excel.”
Now, as a leader, Dame tries to do the same for her employees. “My mentors nurtured me and that is how I treat my team,” she confides. “It’s important for me to be a good mentor and to try to make a difference in my employees’ careers.”
Mary Wade, Ph.D., Detection Spectrometry Branch Chief, Research and Technology Biologist Mary Wade, Ph.D., graduated from the University of Mississippi with a bachelor’s degree in biology and completed her Ph.D. in microbiology at Mississippi State University.
While conducting research into antibiotic resistance in tuberculosis as part of her post-doctoral work at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Wade caught the attention of a contracting firm looking to place a researcher at ECBC’s Biosafety Level 3 laboratory, the kind of lab she was working in at Hopkins.
After a three-year stint as a contractor, she was hired on at the Center a decade ago as a principal investigator. In that capacity, she was tasked with detection of biological agents and toxins, as well as the development of possible antibodies to those pathogens. “At some point,” Wade says, “I had mentors that saw my potential as a manager, and when a position opened I followed their advice and applied.”
Now a supervisor overseeing work in the Detection Spectrometry Branch within the Center’s Physical Sciences Division, Wade oversees 14 researchers, primarily chemists, but also one microbiologist and one bioinformaticist.
The Detection Spectrometry Branch performs chemical and biological detection using a variety of spectrometry equipment to detect and identify toxins, bacteria and chemical agents by studying either the mass of compounds or movement of ions in different substances. Different compounds have different masses and ions can move faster or slower. Researchers can determine what the agent is based on the mass or the movement.
One of the projects Wade’s team has been working on since 2013 is the Joint Chemical Agent Detector, or JCAD. More than 50,000 of these devices are in use across the Army today. Wade’s team is currently performing testing with a commercial manufacturer to help modify JCAD to detect explosives.
Much of the research conducted by Wade and her team requires handling some of the world’s most dangerous chemicals. Safety is paramount in this type of work, and looking out for one another is critical to making sure that everyone goes home to their families every evening.
“My team works as a family,” Wade says. “We rely upon each other for safety because of the dangerous compounds we work with. Each person has to be responsible.”
As a supervisor, Wade is interested in increasing the ranks of women in engineering and physical sciences. She makes every attempt to encourage the next generation of scientists to consider working for the Army, whether it’s speaking to college students at science and engineering events or mentoring summer interns.
“You hear people say we need more women in science but I think there are a lot of women in science,” Wade says. “That is especially true in the biological sciences. I think we’ve got to inspire women’s interest in engineering and chemistry, where women are still underrepresented.”
Carrie Poore, Ph.D., Advanced CBRNE Training Branch Chief, Research and Technology Biologist Carrie Poore, Ph.D., leads ECBC’s program for chemical and biological (CB) training to CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives) response agencies across the nation, including joint forces, civil support teams and first responders.
As Advanced CBRNE Training Branch Chief, Poore supervises 10 employees – chemists, biologists and former military with backgrounds in CBRNE. These trainers offer customized programs to prepare teams how to detect, sample and package potentially hazardous materials for further analysis in a laboratory environment. The training also includes developing understanding of how chemical and biological warfare agents work, and how they can be produced in a laboratory environment or clandestine setting. The training emphasizes safety by utilizing appropriate personal protective equipment during training as well as in operations. Poore’s team travels around the world providing this training.
Poore earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Delaware and a Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology from the University of Maryland, Baltimore. As she was completing her post-doctoral work in Baltimore, she attended a conference where she met an ECBC scientist who became impressed with her work.
“He told me, ‘When you’re done and looking for a job, call me,’” Poore says. She did just that and before long interviewed at his lab, and ultimately joined the Mobile Labs and Kits Team at ECBC. The Cecil County resident began working at ECBC in June 2004 as a contractor, transitioning to government service in 2007. She has led the training team for the past nine years.
As a youth, Poore wanted to be an astronaut, which led to a keen interest in science and math. “Science and math seemed to come more easily to me,” she says. “That’s where I tended to thrive. Numbers and me – we just click.”
Poore pursued her passion for the sciences, and it paid off. These days, she encourages young people in local schools to follow the path that has led her to success.
“‘Perfection is based on other people’s perceptions,’ I tell them. Don’t fit in a box. Make your own box!”
As a female supervisor in a predominantly male workforce, Poore applies the same open-minded philosophy to succeeding in that environment. “If you go into the job with passion, drive and positivity, you’ll get the job done,” she said. “If you are lucky enough to be surrounded by people with the same passion and drive, the impact you can make is tremendous.” I95