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

Week in Review: 12/14/14 – 12/20/14

December 17, 2014

8 Scientists Who Are Changing The World
John Rogers, scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign:
Dissolvable electronic materials – that’s what this American engineer is trying to perfect, in a bid to create materials that could be integrated into biological organisms (i.e. humans) with minimal problems. The potential is huge – environmentally-friendly gadgets that protect the planet by degrading naturally and bio-medical instruments which can be used in advanced surgery or within human patients.
https://uk.news.yahoo.com/8-scientists-who-are-changing-the-world-073052289.html#VXglRQh

Week in Review: 12/7/14 – 12/13/14

December 11, 2014

Penn Research Outlines Basic Rules for Construction With a Type of Origami
A team of University of Pennsylvania researchers is turning kirigami, a related art form that allows the paper to be cut, into a technique that can be applied equally to structures on those vastly divergent length scales. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation through its ODISSEI program, the American Philosophical Society and the Simons Foundation.
http://www.upenn.edu/pennnews/news/penn-research-outlines-basic-rules-construction-type-origami

December 10, 2014

Defects are perfect in laser-induced graphene
Researchers at Rice University have created flexible, patterned sheets of multilayer graphene from a cheap polymer by burning it with a computer-controlled laser. The process works in air at room temperature and eliminates the need for hot furnaces and controlled environments, and it makes graphene that may be suitable for electronics or energy storage.
http://news.rice.edu/2014/12/10/defects-are-perfect-in-laser-induced-graphene/

December 9, 2014

Local Scrabble player places second in world
A competitive Scrabble player who works at the Rome Air Force Research Laboratory, Lipe last month achieved what he called an “amazing experience,” finishing second at the world Scrabble Champions Tournament in London.
http://romesentinel.com/county/local-scrabble-player-places-second-in-world/QBqnlh!8bJmTlrrvCgSyy7qVVVG3Q/

Contact lens merges plastics and active electronics via 3-D printing
As part of a project demonstrating new 3-D printing techniques, Princeton researchers have embedded tiny light-emitting diodes into a standard contact lens, allowing the device to project beams of colored light.
http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S41/81/41S44/index.xml

A Week in Review: 11/30/14-12/6/14

December 2, 2014

Alloying tougher tungsten
New tungsten alloys being developed in the Schuh Group at MIT could potentially replace depleted uranium in armor-piercing projectiles. Fourth-year materials science and engineering graduate student Zachary C. Cordero is working on low-toxicity, high-strength, high-density material for replacing depleted uranium in structural military applications. Depleted uranium poses a potential health hazard to soldiers and civilians. http://newsoffice.mit.edu/2014/alloying-tougher-tungsten-zack-cordero-1202

A Week in Review: 11/23/14-11/29/14

November 26, 2014

University of Minnesota engineers make sound loud enough to bend light on a computer chip
University of Minnesota engineering researchers have developed a chip on which both sound wave and light wave are generated and confined together so that the sound can very efficiently control the light. The novel device platform could improve wireless communications systems using optical fibers and ultimately be used for computation using quantum physics.
http://discover.umn.edu/news/science-technology/university-minnesota-engineers-make-sound-loud-enough-bend-light-computer

November 24, 2014

New device could make large biological circuits practical
A team of researchers at MIT has now come up with a way of greatly reducing that unpredictability, introducing a device that could ultimately allow such circuits to behave nearly as predictably as their electronic counterparts. The findings are published this week in the journal Nature Biotechnology, in a paper by associate professor of mechanical engineering Domitilla Del Vecchio and professor of biological engineering Ron Weiss.
http://newsoffice.mit.edu/2014/predictable-biological-circuits-1124

 

A Week in Review: 11/16/14 – 11/22/14

November 20, 2014

New semiconductor device could lead to better photodetectors
UCLA researchers have developed a perovskite photodetector that could reduce manufacturing costs and improve the quality of medical and commercial light sensors. http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/new-semiconductor-device-could-lead-to-better-photodectectors

November 18, 2014

Hu, Leite Named Outstanding Engineer and Scientist of the Year (VIDEO) University of Maryland assistant professors Liangbing Hu and Marina Leite were named Maryland Outstanding Young Engineer and Maryland Outstanding Young Scientist in the academic sector, respectively, by the Maryland Science Center. Both awards are sponsored by the Maryland Academy of Sciences. http://www.mse.umd.edu/news/news_story.php?id=8672

November 17, 2014

First Genetic-Based Tool to Detect Circulating Cancer Cells in Blood
Northwestern University scientists now have demonstrated a simple but powerful tool that can detect live cancer cells in the bloodstream, potentially long before the cells could settle somewhere in the body and form a dangerous tumor. http://www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2014/11/first-genetic-based-tool-to-detect-circulating-cancer-cells-in-blood.html

Researcher elected to Australian Academy of Science Council
A University of Queensland researcher’s respected career designing unmanned aerial vehicles based on biologically inspired systems has seen him elected onto the Australian Academy of Science Council. The Queensland Brain Institute’s Professor Mandyam Srinivasan is one of five new researchers elected to the council, which promotes scientific knowledge and advice. http://www.uq.edu.au/news/article/2014/11/researcher-elected-australian-academy-of-science-council

Graphene/nanotube hybrid benefits flexible solar cells
Rice University scientists have invented a novel cathode that may make cheap, flexible dye-sensitized solar cells practical.
http://news.rice.edu/2014/11/17/graphenenanotube-hybrid-benefits-flexible-solar-cells/

Fulbright award takes computer scientist to France
As one of this year’s Fulbright Scholars, ASU computer science professor Arunabha Sen will have an opportunity to work with some of Europe’s leading experts in his field to advance research on wireless sensor networks, robot networks and radio-frequency identification (RFID) devices.
https://asunews.asu.edu/20141113-arun-sen-fulbright-award