Focus on the Future

Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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: 9/7/14 – 9/13/14

Sept. 11, 2014

Morphing wing
Michigan Aerospace engineers are using new materials and techniques to allow airplane wings to flex and move more like bird wings. Instead of traditional flaps, they are designing wings that can morph based on an electrical inputs. These morphing wings are still in the developing stages but may open the doors to lighter weight aircraft that are more agile than traditional airplanes. http://www.engin.umich.edu/college/about/news/stories/2014/september/morphing-wing

Stanford engineers help describe key mechanism in energy and information storage
By observing how hydrogen is absorbed into individual palladium nanocubes, Stanford materials scientists have detailed a key step in storing energy and information in nanomaterials. The work could inform research that leads to longer-lasting batteries or higher-capacity memory devices. http://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/september/battery-palladium-dionne-091114.html

Physicists find a new way to push electrons around
When moving through a conductive material in an electric field, electrons tend to follow the path of least resistance — which runs in the direction of that field. But now physicists at MIT and the University of Manchester have found an unexpectedly different behavior under very specialized conditions — one that might lead to new types of transistors and electronic circuits that could prove highly energy-efficient. http://newsoffice.mit.edu/2014/moving-electrons-on-graphene-0911

Researchers awarded for paper on low-cost algorithms for data storage systems  Research team that included Viveck Cadambe, assistant professor of electrical engineering, received a best paper award at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) International Symposium on Network Computing and Applications held Aug. 21-23 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. http://news.psu.edu/story/325874/2014/09/11/academics/researchers-awarded-paper-low-cost-algorithms-data-storage-systems

Sept. 9, 2014

Air Force Research Laboratory Partners With Doolittle Institute
The Air Force Research Laboratory at Eglin Air Force Base and the Doolittle Institute held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday to officially establish their partnership. The institute’s innovative research environment is focused on finding solutions to tough science and technology challenges in the community.
http://wuwf.org/post/air-force-research-laboratory-partners-doolittle-institute

A Week in Review: 8/31/14 – 9/6/14

Sept. 5, 2014

Scientists urge government to fund basic research
Research into fundamental processes in nature needed to open new possibilities for true innovation
http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/scientists-urge-government-to-fund-basic-research-1.2756038

Sept. 2, 2014

Synthetic Diesel
The Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Advanced Power Technology Office (APTO) is assuring fuel supply and reducing waste by developing a mobile alternative energy system that creates liquid diesel fuel from synthetic gas (syngas) that can be used at forward operating bases.
http://science.dodlive.mil/2014/09/02/synthetic-diesel/

A Week in Review: 8/24/14 – 8/30/14

August 26, 2014

Caverlee presented with Google Faculty Research Award
Dr. James Caverlee, associate professor of computer science and engineering at Texas A&M University, was chosen by the Google Faculty Research Awards Program as a recipient of financial support for his proposal in the social media category, “Modeling and Inferring Local Expertise.” This research is a collaborative effort with professor Daniel Z. Sui, chair of the geography department at The Ohio State University. http://engineering.tamu.edu/news/2014/08/26/caverlee-presented-with-google-faculty-research-award

Aug. 25, 2014

Physics research removes outcome unpredictability of ultracold atomic reactions Findings from a physics study by a Kansas State University researcher are helping scientists accurately predict the once unpredictable. Yujun Wang, research associate with the James R. Macdonald Laboratory at Kansas State University, and Paul Julienne at the University of Maryland, looked at theoretically predicting and understanding chemical reactions that involve three atoms at ultracold temperatures. Their findings help explain the likely outcome of a chemical reaction and shed new light on mysterious quantum states. http://esciencenews.com/articles/2014/08/25/physics.research.removes.outcome.unpredictability.ultracold.atomic.reactions

A Week in Review: 8/17/14 – 8/23/14

Aug. 21, 2014

JILA team finds first direct evidence of ‘spin symmetry’ in atoms
JILA physicists led by theorist Ana Maria Rey and experimentalist Jun Ye have observed the first direct evidence of symmetry in the magnetic properties—or nuclear “spins”—of atoms. The advance could spin off practical benefits such as the ability to simulate and better understand exotic materials exhibiting phenomena such as superconductivity (electrical flow without resistance) and colossal magneto-resistance (drastic change in electrical flow in the presence of a magnetic field). http://www.colorado.edu/news/releases/2014/08/21/jila-team-finds-first-direct-evidence-%E2%80%98spin-symmetry%E2%80%99-atoms

Aug. 18, 2014

Bacterial nanowires not what scientists thought they were
For the past 10 years, scientists have been fascinated by a type of “electric bacteria” that shoots out long tendrils like electric wires, using them to power themselves and transfer electricity to a variety of solid surfaces. A team led by scientists at USC has now turned the study of these bacterial nanowires on its head, discovering that the key features in question are not pili, as previously believed, but rather extensions of the bacteria’s outer membrane equipped with proteins that transfer electrons called “cytochromes.”
https://news.usc.edu/67254/bacterial-nanowires-not-what-scientists-thought-they-were/

A Week in Review: 8/10/14 – 8/16/14

Aug. 12, 2014

Electrical engineering’s Giebink receives Air Force Young Investigator Award Giebink’s proposal, titled “Complex index and nonlinearity modulation in organic photonic composites,” aims to develop a new class of optical materials made from small molecules and polymers that control the flow of light in photonic integrated circuits to enable unidirectional properties and efficient frequency conversion. http://news.psu.edu/story/322647/2014/08/12/academics/electrical-engineerings-giebink-receives-air-force-young

Aug. 13, 2014

New material could enhance fast and accurate DNA sequencing
Now, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have found that nanopores in the material molybdenum disulfide (MoS2) could sequence DNA more accurately, quickly and inexpensively than anything yet available. http://news.illinois.edu/news/14/0813nanopores_NarayanaAluru.html