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News | Jan. 23, 2023

DTRA and Penn State IIRM-URA to host Sea Air and Land Challenge in spring 2023

By DTRA Public Affairs Defense Threat Reduction Agency

Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) will kick off its annual Sea Air and Land (SeAL) challenge in early spring 2023. This event challenges middle and high school-aged student team’s science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills to design, build and compete devices capable of navigating various environments. The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) sponsors this event and lends subject matter expertise to ensure the event provides enough realism to replicate national security interests such as potential threats confronted by the U.S. Joint Forces and First Responders when executing counter weapons of mass destruction (CWMD) efforts.

“Engaging students from a diverse background and at an early age is critical to growing our STEM workforce and establishing a robust student pipeline into national security-related careers,” said Prof. Douglas E. Wolfe of Penn State. “More than 327 students from 9 different states participated in last year’s event, and we expect a significant increase in enrollment for this year’s SeAL Challenge.  This level of participation makes this program extremely impactful on guiding students towards higher education in STEM related fields.”

The SeAL Challenge is held during spring semester with teams of 3-10 students that have 12-16 weeks to design and build a robotic system of their choice. Teams can design and build a submersible drone to navigate the underwater challenge, an airborne drone to fly the air challenge, or a land drone to traverse the land challenge. Toward the end of semester, when the design-build phase in complete, the teams come together on Challenge Day to compete in their respective areas. The event will culminate in a final competition to determine the best-build device based in the predetermined sea, air and land environments.

“DTRA is excited to support programs such as the SeAL challenge with Penn State University as they will undoubtedly pay dividends in the future through those who choose to join our workforce,” affirmed U.S. Air Force Capt. Rafael Mata, Program Manager for DTRA’s Basic Research efforts. “By stressing the importance of STEM early in the next generation student body’s academic careers, we can raise awareness of the ways DoD applies these disciplines to protect the nation and its allies against chemical, biological radiological and nuclear (CBRN) threats.

In collaboration with various DoD agencies and academic partners, Penn State spearheads the SeAL Challenge under the Interaction of Ionizing Radiation with Matter University Research Alliance (IIRM-URA) Broad Agency Announcement award.  The IIRM-URA is a DTRA-funded collaboration that focuses on research concerning radiation interacting with materials for detection and electronics; devices and integration and nuclear survival, response, modeling, and simulation.

“This program serves as a first introduction to STEM for some students and can act as a springboard to their potential careers.  The SeAL Challenge provides an opportunity for students to engage with active duty and civilian personnel who specialize in CBRN technologies, on potential career choices in the Department of Defense (DoD),” added Dr. Wolfe.

For more information regarding the SeAL Challenge, go to Penn State’s website at

Follow DTRA social media channels for up-to-date information on upcoming STEM events.    #SeALChallenge


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