Bio-Inspired Flight — Who Is Air Force Basic Research


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


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.

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?

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


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.

Nanotechnology: Moving Beyond Small Thinking


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: 8/16/15 – 8/22/15

August 20, 2015

Air Force Gives $2 Million Grant to Develop Secure Cloud Computing Technology
The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory has awarded a new $2 million grant to the Assured Cloud Computing University Center of Excellence (ACC-UCoE) at the University of Illinois. The Center, which began in 2011 with $4 million from AFRL and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, focuses on advancing secure cloud computing science and technologies.

Laser-burned graphene gains metallic powers
Rice University chemists who developed a unique form of graphene have found a way to embed metallic nanoparticles that turn the material into a useful catalyst for fuel cells and other applications.  Laser-induced graphene, created by the Rice lab of chemist James Tour last year, is a flexible film with a surface of porous graphene made by exposing a common plastic known as polyimide to a commercial laser-scribing beam. The researchers have now found a way to enhance the product with reactive metals.

August 17, 2015

Challenge to classic theory of ‘organic’ solar cells could improve efficiency
New research findings contradict a fundamental assumption about the functioning of “organic” solar cells made of low-cost plastics, suggesting a new strategy for creating inexpensive solar technology. Commercialization of organic solar cells has been hindered by inefficiencies, but the findings point toward a potential path to create a new class of solar technology able to compete with standard silicon cells.

Week in Review: 8/9/15 – 8/15/15

August 11, 2015

Microresonators could bring optical sensors, communications
Researchers have solved a key obstacle in creating the underlying technology for miniature optical sensors to detect chemicals and biological compounds, high-precision spectroscopy, ultra-stable microwave sources, and optical communications systems that transmit greater volumes of information with better quality.,-communications.html

Week in Review: 8/2/15 – 8/8/15

August 6, 2015

Flexible dielectric polymer can stand the heat
Easily manufactured, low cost, lightweight, flexible dielectric polymers that can operate at high temperatures may be the solution to energy storage and power conversion in electric vehicles and other high temperature applications, according to a team of Penn State engineers.

August 4, 2015

World’s quietest gas lets physicists hear faint quantum effects
UC Berkeley physicists have cooled a gas to the quietest state ever achieved, hoping to detect faint quantum effects lost in the din of colder but noisier fluids.

Week in Review: 7/26/15 – 8/1/15

July 29, 2015

Sol-gel Capacitor Dielectric Offers Record-high Energy Storage
Using a hybrid silica sol-gel material and self-assembled monolayers of a common fatty acid, researchers have developed a new capacitor dielectric material that provides an electrical energy storage capacity rivaling certain batteries, with both a high energy density and high power density.

July 28, 2015

Boxfish shell inspires new materials for body armor and flexible electronics
he boxfish’s unique armor draws its strength from hexagon-shaped scales and the connections between them, engineers at the University of California, San Diego, have found.

July 27, 2015

Smart Hydrogel Coating Creates “Stick-slip” Control of Capillary Action
Coating the inside of glass microtubes with a polymer hydrogel material dramatically alters the way capillary forces draw water into the tiny structures, researchers have found. The discovery could provide a new way to control microfluidic systems, including popular lab-on-a-chip devices.

Week in Review: 7/19/15 – 7/25/15

July 23, 2015

Scientists Stretch Electrically Conducting Fibers to New Lengths
An international research team based at the University of Texas at Dallas has made electrically conducting fibers that can be reversibly stretched to over 14 times their initial length and whose electrical conductivity increases 200-fold when stretched.