Focus on the Future

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History has demonstrated that basic science is often unpredictable. When managed successfully it produces groundbreaking and game changing technologies for the Department of Defense, the U.S. Air Force and society as a whole. The United States depends on science, technology and innovative engineering to protect the American people and advance our national interests.

In this video, we focus on AFOSR’s investment in the six basic research areas that have the potential to create foundations for new disruptive technologies and solve formerly unsolvable problems for the Department of Defense. These areas are organized and managed in five scientific directorates: Dynamical Systems and Control (RTA), Quantum & Non-Equilibrium Processes (RTB), Information, Decision, and Complex Networks (RTC), Complex materials and Devices (RTD), and Energy, Power, and Propulsion (RTE). The research activities managed within each directorate are summarized on our website.

Dr. Russell, the director of AFOSR, highlights AFOSR’s focus to identify cutting edge scientific principles that will lead to a future Air Force unlike the one we have today.

The focus of AFOSR is on research areas that offer significant and comprehensive benefits to our national warfighting and peacekeeping capabilities. The ground breaking work of our scientists and engineers will yield significant results well into the future!

What disruptive technology do you envision in the future?

An Interview with Dr. John Luginsland: The Plasma & Electro-Energetic Physics Program Manager

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We had a chance to sit down with Dr. Luginsland recently to learn about his program and the cool physics research he’s funding. As the manager for the Plasma & Electro- Energetic Physics Program, he oversees a diverse portfolio of AFOSR funded programs and finds the best of the best to fund.

Dr. John Luginsland, AFOSR Program Manager for Plasma & Electro Energetic Physics Position: AFOSR Program Manager
Program: Plasma & Electro-Energetic Physics
Years with AFOSR:  2 years, 7 Months
Society Memberships: The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) - Nuclear and Plasma Science Society, American Physical Society  (APS) – Division of Plasma Physics, Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics
Favorite Websites: Slashdot, MITs Technology Review, APS - Physics 
Presentations: Video of Dr. Luginsland’s Spring Review presentation.

What brought you to AFOSR?
I’ve been with AFOSR since December of 2009 but I like to say, “I’ve always worked for AFOSR.” Because actually my graduate work at the University of Michigan was funded by AFOSR. Then AFOSR funded my post doc through the National Research Council (NRC) post doc program at the Air Force Research Laboratory based at Kirtland Air Force Base. After that, I transitioned to a staff member of the Directed Energy Directorate of AFRL and worked in a lab that received basic research funding for a number of years from AFOSR. Later I went to industry for a number of years and in 2009 when my predecessor at AFOSR retired, the AFOSR Director at that time, Dr. Brendan Godfrey suggested I apply for the job and here I am.

How do you think AFOSR is different from other basic research organizations?
What I really like about AFOSR is that there’s actually a real tension between two missions. First and foremost, we’re a basic science organization so we find the best science we can and fund it. At the same time, we’re a mission research organization because we work for the Air Force so we have to simultaneously look for the very best science we can fund and also answer the mail, if you will, for the Air Force in terms of technology that will help the Air Force going forward. And I think that actually having to answer both of those questions simultaneously gives a degree of focus that the other funding agencies don’t have.

You’re the Plasma and Electro-Energetic Program Manager. What is plasma?
Plasma is the fourth state of matter: if you heat a solid you get a liquid, if you heat a liquid you get a gas, if you heat a gas you get plasma. Actually plasma is the most ubiquitous state of matter in the entire universe – 99% of the universe is in the plasma state, just not the part we live in here on earth.

How does electro-energetics fit in?
It takes energy to get into the plasma state, so often times we do that with electrical energy to go from the solid, to the liquid, to the gas, to the plasma.

My program is fundamentally looking at how do we make plasmas, how do we make them in energy efficient ways and then once you got something in the plasma state what can you uniquely do in that state that you can’t do in other areas.

Could you give us examples of how your program is benefiting the Air Force?
One major area that we fund is called directed energy technology. Plasma will let you access or make electromagnetic waves. So one big thing that we do is plasma physics that leads to radar sources and other sources of coherent radiation. Really high-powered electromagnetic sources actually create a plasma and then draws energy out of that plasma to make electromagnetic waves for radar – picking up airplanes, for doing electronic warfare, doing high-powered, long-range communications. All of that is based to some degree on plasma physics.

The other big exciting thing that we’re working on right now is trying to find good ways to decontaminate water. So as it turns out Fairfax County [VA] has two facilities that produce ozone and they do it through a chemical means. They do this at a city-block-sized facility and it actually is what purifies the water that we drink in Fairfax County. What we’re trying to do is actually shrink that block-sized facility into something that’s basically truck-sized and we’re using a plasma to do that. And this plasma, which is energetic in a way that chemicals aren’t, lets you make ozone much more efficiently and thereby use that ozone to clean up water and things like that. So you can imagine this is portable and could go into a forward operating base scenario, whereas the block-sized monstrosity can’t.

What direction do you see your program going in in the future?
The really exciting area that I think is starting to happen is that we’re starting to look at very small plasmas and what happens then is we start adding not just classical physics that we’re used to in the plasma physics community but start really pulling in quantum mechanics. That changes the physics associated with the plasmas and actually makes them quite a bit easier to make. So it takes less energy to make but we’re still getting all the benefits of plasma but it’s not requiring a block-sized thing to do it. We’re starting to do it in very small packages.

What is your process and timeline for choosing proposals?
So I always think it’s good for people to email me and have a quick email discussion sort of at the beginning of the calendar year after they look at the Broad Agency Announcement for details about what we’re looking to fund.

I look to get white papers in the late spring early summer say the May/June time period. You can submit them online.

White papers should be three to five pages long. I’d like there to be at least an estimate of the level of effort but for the most part what I’m looking for is what the unique science is you’re trying to do. What’s unique? What are you bringing to the portfolio that hasn’t been there before?

And then after that, I typically try and give feedback within a month.

I like to receive full proposals in the late summer – August/September – to try to get them in before the fiscal year rolls over in October.

I make funding decisions very early in the fiscal year – October/November.

Have a question for Dr. Luginsland? Please leave it in the comments below.

Bio-Inspired Flight — Who Is Air Force Basic Research

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Technological advances are constantly increasing human potential for developing very small things. For the US Air Force this means revolutionary designs in future air vehicles providing war fighters with tools that enhance situational awareness and the capacity to engage rapidly, precisely and with minimal collateral damage. When it comes to improving flight mechanics in these vehicles what better place to look for inspiration than bats, birds or bugs? These natural flyers have been perfecting their flight techniques for millions of years.

In this video, meet the researchers AFOSR is funding to develop designs for flight vehicles that will have revolutionary impacts on the future Air Force.

Basic Research at AFOSR: Ensuring Our National Security & Making Our Lives Easier

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By way of introduction, I am Dr. Tom Russell, the director of AFOSR.  We manage the basic research program for the United States Air Force.

What is Basic Research?
Basic research is the foundation of all scientific and engineering discovery and progress.  It is what leads to new inventions and concepts—many of which are revolutionary.  And the great thing about basic research is the mystery of it: while basic research investigators may start off trying to prove a particular theory, many times they end up going off in an entirely new direction, or their results are ultimately employed in a dramatically different way than they initially envisioned.  In my series of posts, I will discuss surprising examples of this process. But first I want to tell you why our office was established.

Where We Came From & Why Basic Research is Important
Dr. Vannevar Bush, the Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development during World War II, was the first to formally address the issue of post-war defense research. His July 1945 report, Science, the Endless Frontier, clearly made the case for a civilian-based, and civilian controlled, research program. The leadership of the soon to be independent United States Air Force was also committed to a civilian, or extramural program, but one under their control, and followed through by establishing its own research arm in February 1948. The U.S. Army and Navy established their research organizations as well.  The Air Force, recognizing the importance of basic research, established AFOSR in 1951, dedicated specifically to mining the basic research talent in U.S. universities and industry laboratories.  Overseas offices were subsequently established to identify promising foreign research accomplishments.

How Basic Research Impacts You
One of the primary investigators whom we fund recently characterized the long term successful results of what we do as “the stealth utility of innovation.”  An example to make the point: as a laser expert, he noted that it was military basic research that funded the invention of the laser, beginning in 1951.  And he pointed out, that if all the lasers in the world stop working, the world would come to a stop as well. Lasers are at the heart of our time keeping, our transportation network (the Global Positioning System), our energy system, and in entertainment, finances and electronics applications. This singular “stealth utility,” that regulates much of our state-of-the-art technology, is the result of defense-funded basic research and is taken for granted by everyone.  It exists because AFOSR and our sister service organizations made the research possible—not only for our mutual defense but a wide variety of beneficial applications for society in general.

In future posts we will discuss the reach and application of many of these “stealthy” discoveries that not only ensure our security, but work invisibly in the background of our society, making our lives a lot easier: from lasers to computers, from nanotechnology to aerospace, from bio-inspired devices to holographic displays, and what’s in store for the future as well.

What technology could you not live without?

Nanotechnology: Moving Beyond Small Thinking

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The recently published National Geographic special issue titled “100 Scientific Discoveries That Changed the World,” leads off with a research program that began in 1997 when we funded a Northwestern University researcher by the name of Chad Mirkin. AFOSR took a chance on a process called Dip-Pen Nanolithography (DPN), and what Dr. Mirkin himself noted, was “a far out idea and a paradigm shift in scanning probe microscopy,” but indeed, proved to be an idea that changed the world.

Highlighted in the Journal of Science, January 1999, DPN is a technology that builds nanoscale structures and patterns by drawing molecules directly onto a substrate. This process was achieved by employing an Atomic Force Microscope (AFM), the tip of which has the innate capability to precisely place items and draw lines at the nanoscale level. The AFM was basically an extremely small paint brush. Mirkin’s fundamental contribution was recognizing that it could be used to print structures on a surface through materials, rather than through an energy delivery process–the latter being the approach taken by all previous researchers.

DPN has led to the development of powerful new nanofabrication tools, ways of miniaturizing gene chips and pharmaceutical screening devices, methods for making and repairing photomasks used in the microelectronics industry, and high-throughput methods for discovering structures important in biology, medicine, and catalysis. Since 1997 Dr. Mirkin has authored over 480 manuscripts, holds over 440 patents and applications, and is the founder of four companies, which specialize in commercializing nanotechnology applications.

Professor Chad Mirkin recently spoke at two AFOSR events on the following topics A Chemist’s Approach to Nanofabrication: Towards a “Desktop Fab” and Nanotechnology: Moving Beyond Small Thinking.

A Chemist’s Approach to Nanofabrication: Towards a “Desktop Fab”

Nanotechnology: Moving Beyond Small Thinking

A Week in Review: 6/29/14 – 7/5/14

July 2, 2014

Researchers Invent ‘Meta Mirror’ to Help Advance Nonlinear Optical Systems

Researchers at the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin have created a new nonlinear metasurface, or meta mirror, that could one day enable the miniaturization of laser systems. The invention, called a “nonlinear mirror” by the researchers, could help advance nonlinear laser systems that are used for chemical sensing, explosives detection, biomedical research and potentially many other applications. The researchers’ study will be published in the July 3 issue of Nature. http://www.utexas.edu/news/2014/07/02/meta-mirror-engineering/

July 1, 2014

Air Force engineer developed unique method to track space debris

Richard Rast, a senior engineer at the Air Force Research Laboratory, created an innovative way to track this space debris to help reduce the risk of potential collisions—a system that could become a cost-effective supplement to the current processes used by the Air Force and NASA that rely on expensive telescopes, radar systems and considerable manpower for analysis. http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/federal_government/air-force-engineer-developed-unique-method-to-track-space-debris/2014/06/30/7e87d542-00a1-11e4-8fd0-3a663dfa68ac_story.html

June 30, 2014

A smashing new look at nanoribbons

Carbon nanotubes “unzipped” into graphene nanoribbons by a chemical process invented at Rice University are finding use in all kinds of projects, but Rice scientists have now found a chemical-free way to unzip them. The Rice lab of materials scientist Pulickel Ajayan discovered that nanotubes that hit a target end first turn into mostly ragged clumps of atoms. But nanotubes that happen to broadside the target unzip into handy ribbons that can be used in composite materials for strength and applications that take advantage of their desirable electrical properties. http://news.rice.edu/2014/06/30/a-smashing-new-look-at-nanoribbons/

A Week in Review: 6/22/14 – 6/28/14

June 27, 2014

Move over, silicon? New transistor material tested

For the ever-shrinking transistor, there may be a new game in town. Cornell researchers have demonstrated promising electronic performance from a semiconducting compound with properties that could prove a worthy companion to silicon.
http://news.cornell.edu/stories/2014/06/move-over-silicon-new-transistor-material-tested

June 24, 2014

Metal particles in solids aren’t as fixed as they seem, new memristor study shows

In work that unmasks some of the magic behind memristors and “resistive random access memory,” or RRAM—cutting-edge computer components that combine logic and memory functions—researchers have shown that the metal particles in memristors don’t stay put as previously thought.
http://ns.umich.edu/new/releases/22257-metal-particles-in-solids-aren-t-as-fixed-as-they-seem-new-memristor-study-shows

June 23, 2014

Brain Reaction: Is a Urine-Powered Fuel Cell Car in Your Future? http://www.mmi.org/brain-reaction-urine-powered-fuel-cell-car-future/

Two Engineering professors earn distinguished professor rank

Two professors from the University of New Mexico School of Engineering have been promoted to the title of distinguished professor.
http://www.soe.unm.edu/latest/jan-june14/two-engineering-professors-earn-distinguished-professor-rank.html

A Week in Review: 6/15/14 – 6/21/14

June 19, 2014

Cybersecurity center earns DHS, NSA designation
Kansas State University’s cybersecurity center is receiving national recognition for its dedication to cutting-edge research. The university’s Center for Information and Systems Assurance has been redesignated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance/Cyber Defense Research. The designation is from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency and is effective from 2014 to 2019.
http://www.k-state.edu/media/newsreleases/jun14/cybersecurity61914.html

June 17, 2014

Displaying content by popularity encourages ‘irrational herding,’ study finds
To explore user experience, a recent study determined what kind of content users prefer and then evaluated how position on a webpage affects collective judgments about content. Published in the peer-reviewed online journal PLOS ONE, study co-authors Kristina Lerman, a computer science professor at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and a project leader at USC Viterbi’s Information Sciences Institute, and Tad Hogg, a research fellow at the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing in Palo Alto, California, evaluated some popular peer recommendation strategies and their ability to identify interesting content.
http://news.usc.edu/64309/displaying-content-by-popularity-encourages-irrational-herding-social-media-study-says/

June 16, 2014

New Insight Into How Bats Conquer the Air
Now, in experiments at Brown University with Jamaican fruit bats, Jorn Cheney, a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology, and others, including Kenny Breuer and Sharon Swartz, have found signs that the muscles do indeed contract on the downstroke when bats are flying.
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/16/science/new-insight-into-how-bats-conquer-the-air.html?_r=2

A Week in Review 6/8/14 – 6/14/14

June 12, 2014

When good people do bad things
Being in a group makes some people lose touch with their personal moral beliefs, researchers find. The research was funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the Packard Foundation.
https://newsoffice.mit.edu/2014/when-good-people-do-bad-things-0612

June 11, 2014

Suffocating cells for science
In May 2009, El-Naggar made a discovery, from which all of the experiments in his lab have since sprung: A few years earlier, a pair of scientists discovered that microbes grow long, hairy filaments or fibers that are electrically conductive. El-Naggar had a hypothesis. These fibers, he suspected, serve as a conductive bridge between the cell and the rock that they’re breathing. In other words, the path the electrons take to move from the cell body to material outside the cell. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/suffocating-cells-science/

Nanotube forests drink water from arid air
New research by scientists at Rice University demonstrated that forests of carbon nanotubes can be made to harvest water molecules from arid desert air and store them for future use. The U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative supported the research.
http://news.rice.edu/2014/06/11/nanotube-forests-drink-water-from-arid-air/

Self-Folding Printable Lamp
MIT, Harvard, and the University of Pennsylvania have been working on a project, developing soft robots with flexible, printed circuits. Last year a robot called the Crawling Inchworm was created that could be printed out flat, then fold itself into shape and move around with the help of a motor and power supply.
http://makerflux.com/self-folding-printable-lamp/

June 9, 2014

Designing Ion ‘Highway Systems’ for Batteries
A McCormick team advanced the understanding of plastics for battery application
http://www.mccormick.northwestern.edu/news/articles/2014/06/designing-ion-highway-systems-for-batteries.html

June 8, 2014

Howard Schlossberg Retirement Symposium
Howard “Howie” R. Schlossberg, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research program officer for optical sciences, has made critical contributions to the field of optics and lasers throughout his eminent career. He has guided research in diverse areas, such as ultra-fast optoelectronic techniques, nonlinear optics, laser cooling, and medical laser treatments. Dr. Schlossberg is a Fellow of OSA, IEEE, and ASLMS.
http://www.cleoconference.org/home/program/special-symposia/howard-schlossberg-retirement-symposium/

A Week in Review: 6/1/14 – 6/7/14

June 5, 2014

LeBeau awarded YIP from The Air Force Office of Scientific Research
Dr. James LeBeau, assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at North Carolina State University, has received a US Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Program award. http://news.engr.ncsu.edu/2014/06/lebeau-awarded-yip-from-the-air-force-office-of-scientific-research/

June 4, 2014

Self-assembling nanomachines start to click
A nanocage builds itself from engineered components
http://hsnewsbeat.uw.edu/story/self-assembling-nanomachines-start-click

June 3, 2014

Controlling thermal conductivities can improve energy storage
For the first time, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have experimentally shown that the thermal conductivity of lithium cobalt oxide (LixCoO2), an important material for electrochemical energy storage, can be reversibly electrochemically modulated over a considerable range. http://engineering.illinois.edu/news/article/8224

Rice produces carbon-capture breakthrough
Rice University scientists have created an Earth-friendly way to separate carbon dioxide from natural gas at wellheads.
http://news.rice.edu/2014/06/03/rice-produces-carbon-capture-breakthrough/