Forty years as an AFOSR PI: Rod Bartlett’s Personal History

Written By Rod Bartlett

When most read a popular account of scientific progress, the focus is on the ‘big name’ projects that one knows from the press: solar energy storage, hydrogen fuel, reduction of greenhouse gases, cures for cancer, etc. And the ‘experimental’ tools used to address these issues that measure the success or failure of some hypothesis. That, after all, is the scientific method. But as observations are made, science is trying to construct an underlying, organizing ‘theory’ that explains the experiment and will explain untold other future observations. An example is the difference between Newton showing that a prism splits light into many different colors—an experiment—and deriving the equations from his very general laws that explain the observed optics of the prism. The latter enable ‘predicting’ untold other optical phenomena in the absence of experiment.

Therefore, in this case Sherlock’s admonition that it is ‘dangerous to theorize without the facts’ needs some modification for ‘predictive’ theory. When the equations are correct and can be solved, the results have to be true. Today, that kind of predictive theory is what has been developed by quantum mechanics that in Dirac’s phrase underlies ‘all of chemistry.’ Except in his opinion, ‘the equations are too difficult to be soluble.’ The latter is no longer true. All those highly visible ‘big name’ projects depend upon chemistry, and chemistry deals with in Mulliken’s phrase, ‘what the electrons are really doing in molecules.’ With this knowledge, the energies of reactions, the activation barriers that control what reactions occur, and the spectroscopic fingerprints that identify the molecules become known.

The description of electrons requires the solution to the familiar, quantized equations of quantum mechanics for the electronic ‘wavefunctions’ and their energies, HΨk=EkΨk. But the H in these equations describe the Coulombic interactions among a molecule’s ‘many-electrons’. That means the water molecule’s 10 electrons produce a ‘10 body’ problem (45 electron-electron interactions), or for benzene, a’46 body one’ (1081 interactions), or for a piece of DNA, many more. Yet, we can only solve the Schrodinger equation of QM exactly for 1 electron, the hydrogen atom. So, we are faced with having to develop mathematical and computational tools that allow sufficiently accurate solutions of such many-electron problems to obtain the secrets of the molecules in question. When we are able to do that, we have a direct route to facts that are not typically amenable to experimental observation, like for molecules under extreme conditions as in explosions, or in interstellar space, or the detection and identification of rocket plumes, or the design of new concepts for fuels, among many other applications. Providing these solutions is the science of quantum chemistry.

But one major problem remained in its application. The problem of ‘electron correlation’. Electrons are charged particles meaning they interact instantaneously through Coulomb forces that cause their motions to be ‘correlated’, and these interactions are missing from an average (‘mean-field’ approximation) like the well-known Hartree-Fock theory. The latter approximates Ψ0 by Φ0, the familiar molecular orbital approximation that provides the conceptual interpretation of much of chemistry. Quantum chemical solutions to define Φ0 have been practical for many applications since the sixties, but the relatively small ‘correlation’ contribution that distinguishes the correct solution is critical to a ‘predictive’ theory for bond energies, activation barriers, spectra, and structure, indeed chemistry. As such, it has been the dominant unsolved problem in quantum chemistry for about 50 years.

In our forty years of AFOSR support, a number of notable advances have been made in the solution of the correlation problem. As a young scientist at Battelle in Columbus, Ohio, I approached Ralph Kelley, an AFOSR program manager in physics about support. I told him about using many-body perturbation theory (MBPT) and its diagrammatic framework borrowed from quantum field theory and Feynman diagrams to treat ‘electron correlation.’ He and AFOSR enabled me to start as an AFOSR PI in 1978.

As a postdoc at John Hopkins with Robert Parr, I had been given the freedom to pursue the many-body theory I had begun as an NSF postdoc at Aarhus, University in Denmark, in 1973. I and my collaborator, David Silver from the Hopkins Applied Physics Lab had written the first papers in chemistry in 1974-76 showing the potential power of MBPT. Prior work was due to Hugh Kelly in physics, who applied MBPT to atoms, but molecules require a very different treatment, so these were the first such applications. The reason it is called many-body perturbation theory (MBPT) is that the theory is based on the linked-diagram theorem of Brueckner and Goldstone that guarantees correct scaling with the number of electrons. Linked diagrams describe the electron-electron interactions in its most compact way. The energy of one of these quantum states has to be ‘extensive’ , so it should grow correctly with the number of electrons, a feature we later termed, ‘size-extensivity’ as the rationale for all many-body treatments. Although it should be obvious that when all the units (or atoms) in a molecule are too far apart to interact, the correct energy should be the sum of the energies of the units; but this condition is not met by the variational, configuration interaction approximations that were in dominate use during those 50 years. The many manifestations of size-extensivity were not to be fully realized until the turn of the century. Today, it is deemed a fundamental property that all worthy electronic structure approximations should satisfy.

Two years after our initial MBPT papers, John Pople decided to apply this method, but chose to call it Moeller-Plesset perturbation theory (MPPT) as he tried to avoid the less familiar diagrammatic tools we used. But his terminology hides the fundamental rationale for these many-body methods, in that the identification of ‘linked diagrams’ guarantees size-extensivity, and this feature is not apparent in ordinary perturbation theory. Today, the MBPT=MPPT methods for solving the Schrödinger equation are in virtually all quantum chemical programs. A search of the Web of Science shows that though there were only a hand-full of citations in the 70’s, and a couple of hundred until ~1989, there are now more than 295,700 citations to the method and 8105 papers written about it.

But perturbation methods are limited to some order and since the correlation correction is not small (in extreme forms it accounts for phase transitions in solids and super-conductivity), a far more powerful many-body approach is to sum many such linked diagram terms that describe correlation to infinite order. This is the idea of coupled-cluster theory that shows that the correct, infinite-order MBPT wavefunction for any system, Ψ0 = exp(T)|Φ0>. The exponential form guarantees size-extensivity. The cluster separation of, T=T1 +T2 +T3 +…where the subscripts indicate one-electron, two-electrons, three-electron,… provides a framework for a wealth of approximations determined by the number of clusters retained, like CCSD for single and double ones. The size-extensive property is at work at any truncation of T, providing superior solutions to any that had been previously obtained for the same computational effort. This is because the CC wavefunction even limited to T2, the double excitation cluster operator, automatically has all products like ⅟2T22 which are ‘quadruple’ excitations, and ⅟6 T23, ‘hextuple,’ etc., in its wavefunction. As T1, and T3 are added, one rapidly exhausts the effects of electron correlation converging to the exact solution.

The first report of general applications of CC theory, i.e. CCD for just T2 were reported in 1978 by us and Pople in back-to-back papers. Then George Purvis and I first reported CCSD (CC for single and double excitations) in 1982. Our CC papers were supported by AFOSR.

Because of the products included in exp(T2), unlike CI, most ‘quadruple’ effects are already included in CCSD, so the next most important term in due to T3. In our next AFOSR work (1984) we reported the first general inclusion of triple excitations (CCSDT-1), followed by the first non-iterative approximation CCSD[T], in 1985. A better non-iterative approximation, CCSD(T), that added one small term to [T] was introduced by the Pople group (1989) without a rigorous derivation. We presented that in 1993. The latter is now called the ‘gold standard’ in quantum chemical calculations. In 1987 we reported the full CCSDT method for the first time, sometimes called the ‘platinum standard’, followed later by full quadruples, CCSDTQ, and pentuples, CSDTQP! In this way we were able to show the rapid convergence of CC theory to the exact result, documenting its predictive character. Another citation check shows that from virtually no mention in the seventies, to less than a hundred citations in the eighties, CC theory has now spawned 28,780 papers and over 700,000 citations.

Another advantage that calculations have over experiment is the flexibility of application. In a second project with AFOSR, the physics program manager with responsibility for non-linear optics (NLO), Col. Gordon Wepfer, showed me experimental results for electric-field induced second and third harmonic generation experiments in the gas phase, compared to the theory of the time. The theory was hopeless! NLO effects are critical to all kinds of problems from protecting pilots’ eyes from lasers to doing selective surface chemistry. They are in principle, amendable to quantum chemistry, as they depend upon the higher terms in the expansion of a molecule’s energy in the presence of (frequency dependent) electric fields. These quantities are called hyperpolarizabilities, as they are higher-order generalizations of the well-known dipole polarizability for a molecule. I could not promise that we could resolve the discrepancy between theory and experiment, but with our new CC/MBPT methods I could promise to do calculations for such quantities with the best correlated quantum chemistry that existed. It took a few years and required some new theory for the treatment of the frequency dependent effects, but, indeed, we were able to explain the observed experimental values for the first time.

Another illustration of the flexibility of application occurred when Capt. Pat Saatzer of the Rocket Lab asked us at Battelle to provide a theory complement to two experimental efforts, one directed by John Fenn, later to be a Nobel Laureate, to determine the cross sections for vibrational excitations when components of combusted fuel collide with O atoms in the upper atmosphere. The idea is that depending upon the products in the fuel, a knowledge of these signatures allows one to identify whose missile it is. This kind of problem requires the combined efforts of molecular dynamics and quantum chemistry, the latter to provide the potential energy surface of interactions between the molecules and O atoms, and the dynamics, done by Mike Redmon, to add the time-dependent aspects. Both experiments failed, leaving only the theory to provide the cross sections required in the deployment of detectors.

A third illustration deals with NMR spectra. NMR has two components, a vector term that gives the chemical shift and a scalar term that provides the J-J spin-coupling constants for molecules. As the latter connects any two atoms in a molecule through its electronic density, the analogy with a chemical bond has inspired a lot of discussion. Once again, inspired by the lack of agreement between theory and experiment as pointed out in some review articles, Ajith Perera and I decided to apply our new CC/MBPT tools to resolving this issue. Once again these methods were remarkably successful, providing the first ‘predictive’ theory of J-J coupling constants. We went on to use them to further resolve the long-term argument between Georg Olah and H. C. Brown about the existence of non-classical C bonding, and with Janet Del Bene, to study the ‘two-bond’ coupling across an H-bond in nucleic acid bases. By measuring the latter, one can infer the location of the H- bond that cannot be seen in X-ray analysis. We also offered a J-J signature for the meaning of a strong, weak, or normal H-bond.

The next major theory effort for AFOSR was our further development of CC/MBPT but now focused on excited states. In the Schrodinger equation above, the ‘k’ indicates one of the many quantized solutions to the problem. The others are important to electronic spectroscopy and photochemistry among many other needs. In its original formulation, CC/MBPT provided very accurate results for one state, but we changed that by introducing what we call the equation-of-motion (EOM) CC starting in 1984-1992. This enables one to add a spectrum of excited states on top of a CC solution for the ground state. EOM also permits ‘excited’ states that differ from the ground state in the number of electrons, as in ionizations in photoelectron spectroscopy (IP-EOM-CC), or by adding an electron (EA-EOM-CC), or kicking out two electrons, DIP-EOM-CC or adding two, DEA-EOM-CC. Hence, one now has a wide array of ways to describe ‘what the electrons are doing in molecules’ for a wealth of different situations. Subjecting EOM-CC (sometimes called CC linear response) to the same measure of use as the other two developments shows over 23,500 citations and 690 papers using these methods today.

Armed with all these tools, a fascinating problem arose in the new, high-energy density material (HEDM) program geared toward new ideas for ‘revolutionary’ improvements in rocket fuels. I submitted a proposal entitled “An Investigation of Metastability in Molecules” to Drs. Larry Curtiss and Larry Burggraf in AFOSR chemistry, that asked the question how much energy could be stored in a molecule with a sufficient barrier to decomposition to keep it around long enough to be useful. Later Dr. Mike Berman became the program manager, and remains my program manager today. My proposal planned to use our predictive set of quantum chemical tools to address this question. Unlike synthesis, which is difficult, expensive, and dangerous, quantum chemical applications can explore prospects that exhibit different principles to see if any might be worthy of further study.

One strategy for storing energy into molecules would be to force some atoms to bind in unfamiliar ways, a concept we termed ‘geometric metastability.’ A case in point is the tetrahedral form of N4. As the normal form of P4 is a tetrahedron, and N and P are isovalent such a molecule makes sense. But while P2 is not very stable compared to P4, the N2 triple bond is one of the strongest bonds known, and four N atoms energetically prefer two N2 molecules to four single bonded N atoms in a tetrahedron. That, of course, is exactly what one would like, since if the four N atoms could be put into a tetrahedron, and if there is a barrier to decomposition that would keep it around; then under stimulus all the energy in N4 could be released to N2 molecules. Our calculations show that N2 would release 190 kcal/mol and would be held together by a barrier of 40 kcal/mol, once the four atoms could be put into the tetrahedron. That, of course, is the difficulty. Although there have been some potential experimental observations, perhaps the best one is from mass spec, where its isoelectronic analogue, N3O+ has been seen.

Another of our predictions was the existence of the N5 pentazole anion. Again, this makes perfect sense in terms of its bonding, even achieving extra stability via its pi electron aromaticity like in benzene. In this case we predict a barrier to decomposition of 27 kcal/mol. It has now been observed in negative ion mass spec as a byproduct of a known pentazole containing molecule. The targets for the HEDM project originated with theory that spun-off further work by DARPA and NASA, with the former pursuing serious synthetic efforts. Recently, another of our predictions, N8, seems to have been seen experimentally. Some have also been seen in high pressure experiments

Everyone in the computational field would love to be able to make accurate calculations by using an effective one-particle theory, so that all the complicated two-particle terms that must be described in CC theory could be avoided. This is the impetus for the development of Kohn-Sham density functional theory (KS-DFT). But unlike CC, there is no way to converge to the right answer, since the correct density functional is not known in any useful way. Instead, thousands of density based approximations to the KS-DFT theory are made and used to get answers quickly, without any guarantee of veracity.

In our current work for AFOSR we have tried to improve upon such an approach by insisting upon a rigorous foundation. That foundation starts by our formulation of a ‘correlated orbital theory’ (COT). It was derived from manipulating the IP/EA-EOM-CC equations that are formally exact into an effective one- particle form, whose eigenvalues have to correspond to the energy required to remove any electron from the molecule (IP) or to add an electron to the molecule (EA). This approach augments the mean-field Hartree-Fock approximation with a correlation orbital potential (COP)!

Since KS-DFT is a special case of COT, using this rigorous theory as a model, one can assess the accuracy of various DFT approximations. Finding that none satisfy our conditions, we took some well-known forms and, by virtue of the 2-4 parameters in them, fit them to satisfy our eigenvalue property initially only for water’s five Ip’s. In this way we introduced QTP(00). Two new minimally parameterized approximations, QTP(01), and QTP(02) followed. All provide accurate one-particle spectra to some threshold from the eigenvalue attached to each MO, proven by testing them against 401 experimental values from 63 molecules. QTP(01) gets all valence IP’s accurate to ~10%. An important application is core ionization and excitation, where QTP(00) is without peer. It accurately describes the core spectra of all the amino acids. Unlike any other DFT approximation, QTP(02) correctly describes the EA, both bound and unbound. The QTP family also gives excellent activation barriers, excited state excitation energies, and the molecular densities, themselves. As the avowed goal of DFT is to provide accurate densities, the QTP functionals do that better than most.

This QTP family defines what we call ‘consistent’ KS-DFT approximations, since one cannot get the IP-eigenvalues right without a good KS potential. Also, the connection between the orbital eigenvalues and Ip’s requires that the excitations given by adiabatic time-dependent DFT (TDDFT), be correct for excitation into the continuum, i.e. ionization. Further, an accurate potential mitigates the debilitating self-interaction error of KS-DFT, where electrons incorrectly interact with themselves. When we insist upon ‘consistency,’ we are a step closer to our goal of mimicking the predictive results of CC theory in a highly efficient one-particle theory. This is another testament to the CC revolution that began and was nurtured by AFOSR!

Besides the AFOSR work mentioned here, it is important to recognize that other aspects of our formative many-body developments benefitted from exceptional support from ONR (Bobby Junker) and ARO (Mikal Ciftan), and their successors. But it is true that ALL these accomplishments are uniquely a research product of the DoD agencies who had the foresight to back them in their infancy. I am extremely appreciative of the confidence shown in our effort over these 40 years.

Risk and reward: How AFOSR supported a young scientist at the University of Naples and impacted years of science, technology and diplomacy

4/25/2018 – ARLINGTON, Va. – The Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), a directorate of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), is responsible for the basic research investment for the Air Force. It is an endeavor laden with risk and reward; challenge and discovery; ideas and innovation, all in support of the warfighter. One approach AFOSR takes in shaping the future of the Air Force and pushing innovative technologies forward is to strategically invest in diverse areas of research that can lead to new spheres of science. Equally important to supporting advances in basic science, but often underappreciated, is the chrysalis of the strong relationships forged over decades of cooperation in pursuit of discovery.

Early Support for Professor Luigi Nicolais

“The project supported by AFOSR in 1977 has a remarkable meaning: a seed for science and knowledge generation in the field of Materials Science and Engineering on composite materials.”

-Prof. Luigi Nicolais

One such relationship began with an investment in 1977 by AFOSR Program Officer, Dr. John Halpin, who funded a young Italian materials scientist in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Naples. Professor Luigi Nicolais submitted a proposal that was accepted by AFOSR entitled, “Effect of Applied Stress, Thermal Environmental and Water in Epoxy Resins.” Nicolais was interested in composite materials and his team conducted a series of absorption experiments that included the study of the physicochemical behaviors of epoxy resins containing absorbed water. The results of Nicolais’s research were published in a paper entitled, “Environmental Aging of Epoxy Resins: Synergistic Effect of Sorbed Moisture, Temperature, and Applied Stress.”

AFOSR’s early support was significant to Nicolais’s research and led to extensive collaboration between the University of Naples and the U.S. Air Force (USAF) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Furthermore, these efforts substantially contributed to more intensive collaboration with Boeing, where Nicolais developed rheological and thermo-kinetic models from the cure of epoxy based composite laminates by using the heat transfer and heat generating characteristics of polymerizable systems. The results of this research were published in a paper entitled, “Dielectric characterization of water sorption in epoxy resin matrices.”

Now considered one of the early pioneers of research in composite polymer materials, Nicolais made breakthrough contributions to greater understanding of the properties, interfaces, design and technology of advanced structures, with a concentration in aeronautic applications. As he reflects on his career, Nicolais acknowledges, “The project supported by AFOSR in 1977 has a remarkable meaning: a seed for science and knowledge generation in the field of Materials Science and Engineering on composite materials.” For example, in 1989, Nicolais and his team developed a model for predicting chemorheological behavior of thermoset composites that eventually led to the development of an intelligent autoclave, also supported jointly by Boeing and Alenia. His scientific contributions have also benefited society as a whole, leading to improvements in the reduction of fuel consumption, recycling, and biodegradation.

The pioneering research activities performed by Nicolais, and his team, with the support of AFOSR allowed for the establishment of a Materials Science and Engineering school on composite materials, that provides specific competences in the aeronautic sector. These competences have set a series of activities that have led to develop a successful integrated system for aerospace R&D in Campania Region with proficient Universities and Public Research Centers. Moreover, this know-how has contributed to the realization of different technological solutions for Boeing 787 design process and optimal material identification for specific applications in the airframe.

Over the course of the next thirty years Nicolais not only became one of the leading world-renowned experts in his field, he was also elected as President of Sciences & Technologies for University of Naples and founded the School of Materials Engineering. His many achievements included seminal contributions to materials science and Nicolais was recognized with the Award of Order of Merit by the President of the Republic of Italy. Later, Nicolais was appointed as the Minister of Public Innovation and eventually was selected to serve as the President of the National Research Council of Italy (CNR), the nation’s largest public research organization, from February 2012 to February 2016. As the President of CNR, Nicolais strengthened Italy’s national and international science and technology cooperation strategy.

International meeting and site visit at the CNR-Bologna Research Area led by Dr. Roberto Zamboni (President of the CNR-Bologna Research Area and Director of the Institute of Organic Synthesis and Photoreactivity). Representation included Dr. Valeria Bandini (Department Manager of the Emilia-Romagna Region Innovation and Technology Transfer Agency), Dr. Morena Diazzi (General Manager of the Emilia-Romagna Region), Dr. Silvano Bertini (Head of the Economic Development Policies Unit of the Emilia-Romagna Region) and Prof. Beatrice Fraboni (Rector's Delegate for International Relations at the University of Bologna).

International meeting and site visit at the CNR-Bologna Research Area led by Dr. Roberto Zamboni (President of the CNR-Bologna Research Area and Director of the Institute of Organic Synthesis and Photoreactivity). Representation included Dr. Valeria Bandini (Department Manager of the Emilia-Romagna Region Innovation and Technology Transfer Agency), Dr. Morena Diazzi (General Manager of the Emilia-Romagna Region), Dr. Silvano Bertini (Head of the Economic Development Policies Unit of the Emilia-Romagna Region) and Prof. Beatrice Fraboni (Rector’s Delegate for International Relations at the University of Bologna).

The work of Nicolais and Professor Luigi Ambrosio

Throughout his successful career, Nicolais continued to teach at the University of Naples and maintained many important academic relationships, including one with former graduate student, Prof. Luigi Ambrosio. As Nicolais’s student in the 1970’s, Ambrosio had a keen interest in how composite materials could be used for artificial tendons and ligaments. Under Nicolais’s mentorship, Ambrosio researched concepts that combined knowledge of composite materials with human body applications and this biomimetic approach helped advance the use of biomaterials for health applications. After his graduate studies, and in collaboration with Nicolais, Ambrosio designed the first composite hip joint prostheses, implemented 3D printing for customized musco-skeletal tissue substrates, and developed novel biomaterials that enabled less invasive surgical techniques for improved hospital care. Over time, Ambrosio coordinated several major European Commission projects and was recognized by the Commission’s leadership as Member of the High Level Group on Key Enabling Technologies that included the Vice-President of the Commission. His service was highlighted through nominations to prestigious scientific societies such as European Society for Biomaterials, the International Union of Societies for Biomaterials Science and Engineering; and others. Ambrosio also served as the Director of CNR’s Department of Chemical and Materials S&T from 2011 to early 2017.

In 2013, the prominent careers of Nicolais and Ambrosio mutually intersected with AFOSR through an ambitious effort led by the Embassy of Italy in Washington, DC, that aimed to bridge Italian researchers with the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DOD) basic research enterprise. The activity was led by the Embassy’s Scientific Attaché, Mr. Giulio Busulini, and the Assistant Defense Attaché, Colonel (Carabinieri) Giuseppe Battaglia. With the support of Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAECI) and Ministry of Defence (MOD), Busulini and Battaglia launched a cooperation roadmap that coincided with the AFOSR North American International Office (ION) strategy to build international basic science opportunities through U.S. interagency partnerships. The interagency initiative was led by AFOSR Program Officer, Dr. Sofi Bin-Salamon. Beginning with the 2013 AFOSR/Italy Technical Exchange Meeting spearheaded by AFOSR and the Embassy; Nicolais and Ambrosio engaged AFOSR to significantly impact the basic research relationship between the United States and Italy. With Nicolais’s support as the President of CNR, Ambrosio and Busulini would help build the foundation of an Italian national effort to open new collaborative avenues with AFOSR and its partners.

“It was an honor working with Dr. Sofi Bin-Salamon and AFOSR in such a challenging discovery and visionary mission.”

Mr. Giulio Busulini


Opening remarks to the 2013 AFOSR/Italy Technical Exchange Meeting

Opening remarks to the 2013 AFOSR/Italy Technical Exchange Meeting. The delegation from Italy was led by Maj. General (AF) Enzo Vecciarelli (Director, MOD Armaments Program Department) and delegation members included Maj. General (AF) Giovanni Fantuzzi (Defense and Defense Cooperation Attaché, Italian Embassy), Captain (N) Leonardo Bianchi (Deputy Director, MOD Armaments Program Department), Captain (N) Francesco Scialla (Head of the Research Office, MOD Armament Programs Department), Colonel (AF) Luca de Martinis (Head of the Air Program Department, MOD Armaments Program Department), Prof. Luigi Ambrosio (Director of the Department of Chemical and Materials Technology, Italian National Research Council), Ing. Giovanni Bertolone (Chairman, Italian Aerospace Technological Cluster), and Ing. Remo Pertica (Chairman, Italian Industries Federation for Aerospace, Defense and Security).

Bourgeoning science diplomacy

“A raindrop can ripple to affect great things. The associations we nurture often flow to unforeseen and surprising consequences. By building the relationships, the rest follows.”

Dr. Sofi Bin-Salamon

Over time, Nicolais, Ambrosio and Busulini worked with Bin-Salamon to achieve multiple significant activities that included technical meetings, site visits, and other collaborative efforts. A major accomplishment was the planning of an international researcher exchange effort in 2015 coordinated by ION in partnership with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Australian Academy of Science, Australian National Fabrication Facility and the respective governments of Australia and Italy. The exchange of Australian and Italian researchers to laboratories in the United States was successfully executed in 2015 under the auspices of the respective U.S.-Australia and U.S.-Italy Joint Commission Meetings on S&T (JCM).

The National Research Council of Italy participated in the exchanges with a young researcher from the laboratory of Dr. Diletta Sciti at CNR’s Institute of S&T for Ceramics (ISTEC). Sciti was previously supported by AFOSR Program Officer, Dr. Ali Sayir. The basic science project directed by Sciti focused on studying the fracture toughness of ultra-high temperature ceramic materials for aerospace applications and involved the collaboration of the Italian Aerospace Research Centre (CIRA). As part of the JCM activities under the bilateral U.S.-Italy Science & Technology Agreement signed biennially between the U.S. Department of State and Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; MAECI funded a multi-year collaboration between Sciti’s group and the University of Colorado at Boulder. In addition, AFOSR’s support of Sciti’s scientific investigations and researcher exchange with the U.S. provided the necessary fundamental science groundwork for Sciti to successfully compete for a prestigious European Union (EU) consortium award titled, “Next Generation Ceramic Composite for Combustion Harsh Environments and Space” (C3HARME). The substantial multi-year consortium led by Sciti transitions the basic science supported by AFOSR to applied research with significant EU investment comprised of prominent research institutions and industrial partners in Italy, United Kingdom, Portugal, Ireland, Germany, and Spain for the design, manufacture, test and validation of a new class of out-performing ultra-high temperature ceramics toward use in severe aerospace environments.

U.S. Delegation Visit to the CNR Institute of Science and Technology for Ceramics in 2016

International meeting at the CNR Institute of Science and Technology for Ceramics (ISTEC) led by Dr. Anna Tampieri (Director of ISTEC). Dr. Diletta Sciti showcased the success of the C3HARME consortium funded by the European Research Commission.

Due to the collaboration between AFOSR, CNR and MAECI; the ISTEC-led European consortium has strong partnership to the U.S. S&T enterprise and provides a critical research infrastructure that U.S. principal investigators can leverage in pursuit of ground-breaking research. “Working with AFOSR Program Managers has been a great opportunity for the Italian researchers to open productive Science collaboration, but also a chance to build a fruitful programmatic government-to-government dialogue among Italy and the U.S.” says Busulini

Members of the Italian delegation and AFOSR (from left to right): Mr. Giuio Busulini, Dr. Vincenzo Guarino, Dr. Anna Tampieri, Dr. Annalisa Convertino, Dr. Valentina Benfenati, Dr. Sofi Bin-Salamon, Prof. Luigi Ambrosio, Prof. Francesco Zerbetto, and Dr. Felice Simeone.

Members of the Italian delegation and AFOSR (from left to right): Mr. Giulio Busulini, Dr. Vincenzo Guarino, Dr. Anna Tampieri, Dr. Annalisa Convertino, Dr. Valentina Benfenati, Dr. Sofi Bin-Salamon, Prof. Luigi Ambrosio, Prof. Francesco Zerbetto, and Dr. Felice Simeone.

Italy’s Ministry of Defence crucially helped secure the accomplishments that bolstered the Italian initiative to engage AFOSR and its interagency partners. The Embassy of Italy’s Defence Attaché staff enabled the necessary landscape that favored success beginning with the 2013 U.S.-Italy Defense S&T Dialogue and the AFOSR-Italy Technical Exchange. Furthermore, the MOD supported the continued basic science exchanges between AFOSR, CNR and MAECI that yielded the 2016 International Basic Research Infrastructure Meeting co-organized by AFOSR, Busulini and Assistant Defence Attaché, Lt. Colonel (AF) Alessio Grasso. Under the auspices of the U.S.-Italy, U.S.-Australia, and U.S.-Republic of South Africa (RSA) working groups of their respective JCMs on S&T, the infrastructure meeting brought together representatives from the participating countries to explore the possibilities of leveraging their respective research infrastructure investments to encourage cutting-edge basic science discoveries beneficial to the participating members. The meeting was attended and closed by Maj. General (AF) Luca Goretti (Defense Attaché, Embassy of Italy). Texas A & M University and Virginia Polytechnic and State University proactively initiated and effectively led technical meetings that included the robust participation of CNR, MAECI, CIRA, the Australian National Fabrication Facility, the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation; the MINTEK National Science Council of South Africa, as well as U.S. universities. The National Research Council of Italy, in collaboration with AFOSR, followed the technical exchanges with an interagency discussion in Italy that achieved a consensus Smart Sensing and Structures platform. With a common platform in hand, AFOSR with its domestic and international partners achieved significant milestones.

Following the success of the AFOSR-led international researcher exchange between the U.S., Australia and Italy, the AFOSR North American International Office under the leadership of Dr. Mark Maurice initiated the creation of the USAF international student research exchange program. Maurice’s effort directly resulted in the launch of the DOD’s sole basic science international student research exchange program in 2016 that supports AFOSR principal investigators by promoting international collaborations enabling vital scientific advances for the USAF. Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and National Research Council endorsed the formation of a Smart Sensing and Structures dialogue under the U.S. and Italy JCM. This exchange of ideas helped achieve a multilateral synergy on quantum sensing that directly benefits AFOSR. “The Platform on Smart Sensing and Structures enable not only bilateral engagement but it works to leverage a common research portfolio and funding scheme to better perform and accelerate the result and the multidisciplinary impact of the desirable outcome. This initiative has also been considered as a best practice in the European framework of bilateral S&T cooperation in the transatlantic 2017 review,” says Busulini.

2016 U.S. Interagency Meeting at the National Research Council of Italy

2016 International meeting at the National Research Council of Italy. The discussion was led by Prof. Luigi Ambrosio (Director, CNR Department of Chemical Sciences and Materials Technology) and included Dr. Corrado Spinella (Director, CNR Department of Physical Sciences and Technologies of Matter), Dr. Marco Conti (Director, CNR Department of Engineering, ICT, Energy and Transportation), Prof. Tullio Pozzan (Director, CNR Department of Biomedical Sciences), Dr. Mario Cosmo (General Director, Italian Aerospace Research Center), Prof. Teodoro Valente (Deputy Rector for Research, Innovation and Technology Transfer at the University of Rome -Sapienza), Dr. Stefania Cantoni (Space Division Deputy Manager, Italian Aerospace Research Centre), Dr. John Sankovic (Chief Technologist, NASA Glenn Research Center), Dr. Larry Nagahara (Associate Dean for Research, Johns Hopkins University), Dr. Ozden Ochoa (Tees Research Professor, Texas A&M University), Dr. Shashank Priya (Robert E. Hord Professor and Turner Fellow, Virginia Tech University), Ms. Rosie Hicks (Chief Executive Officer, Australian National Fabrication Facility), and Dr. Makhapa Makhafola (General Manager for R&D, Mintek National Science Council of South Africa).

Included in these efforts are the research investigations in Italy led by Dr. Valentina Benfenati at the CNR Institute of Organic Synthesis and Photoreactivity to shed light in brain microdomains. The basic science thrust is co-supported by the AFOSR Biophysics program and the National Research Council of Italy and includes the CNR Institute of Polymers, Composites and Biomaterials and the CNR Institute of Microelectronics and Microsystems. Among the collaborative partners in the U.S. and Australia are the University of Vanderbilt, the University of Adelaide, the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale Biophotonics, and the Australian National Fabrication Facility.

The partnership grows

“The collaboration with AFOSR led to a unique interdisciplinary, inter-sectoral and international research platform spanning from advanced materials to biophysics including infrastructure sharing among the United States, Italy, South Africa and Australia.”

Prof. Luigi Ambrosio

2018 Johns Hopkins University and National Research Council of Italy Meeting led by Dr. Larry Nagahara (Associate Dean of Research, Johns Hopkins University). The discussion included Prof. Sung Hoon Kang (Johns Hopkins University), Dr. Anna Tampieri (National Research Council of Italy), Prof. Luigi Ambrosio (National Research Council of Italy), Dr. Annalisa Convertino (National Research Council of Italy), Dr. Vincenzo Guarino (National Research Council of Italy), Dr. Roberto Zamboni (National Research Council of Italy), Prof. Maria Procopio (Johns Hopkins University), and others.

2018 Johns Hopkins University and National Research Council of Italy Meeting led by Dr. Larry Nagahara (Associate Dean of Research, Johns Hopkins University). The discussion included Prof. Sung Hoon Kang (Johns Hopkins University), Dr. Anna Tampieri (National Research Council of Italy), Prof. Luigi Ambrosio (National Research Council of Italy), Dr. Annalisa Convertino (National Research Council of Italy), Dr. Vincenzo Guarino (National Research Council of Italy), Dr. Roberto Zamboni (National Research Council of Italy), Prof. Maria Procopio (Johns Hopkins University), and others.

These synergistic efforts later led to even more U.S.-Italy science and technology collaborations with AFOSR. Ambrosio continued the relationship with AFOSR by serving as the co-chair of the Working Group on Advanced Materials with Bin-Salamon under the U.S.-Italy JCM on S&T. This served as a springboard under the U.S.-Italy Science and Technology Agreement where U.S. and international organizations directly benefited. Among the many activities, the NASA Glenn Research Center (NASA GRC) created a robust collaboration with the Italian Aerospace Research Centre that leverage CIRA’s and GRC’s respective wind tunnels for aircraft icing research. The Australian National Fabrication Facility supported the researcher exchange between the National Research Council of Italy Institute of Nanostructured Materials and the University of Wollongong. Texas A & M University forged a strong collaboration with the MINTEK National Science Council of South Africa on high-temperature materials where South African National Science Council co-supported a research exchange with Texas A & M University. Virginia Polytechnic and State University leverages South African research infrastructure through a joint venture with the RSA National Science Council by using rare earth materials for wind turbine development.

Prof. Luigi Ambrosio (National Research Council of Italy), Dr. Sofi Bin-Salamon (AFOSR), Dr. Katya Delak (National Institute of Standards and Technology), Prof. Luigi Nicolais (Italian Ministry of Research), Dr. Sonia Ortega (National Science Foundation).

Prof. Luigi Ambrosio (National Research Council of Italy), Dr. Sofi Bin-Salamon (AFOSR), Dr. Katya Delak (National Institute of Standards and Technology), Prof. Luigi Nicolais (President, National Research Council of Italy), Dr. Sonia Ortega (National Science Foundation).

Nicolais is currently serving as Chief Scientific Advisor of Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research and is glad to see Ambrosio continuing the relationship with AFOSR. Through the decades of the relationship between AFOSR and the science and technology community of Italy, the importance of continuing to build these relationships has remained a priority. Building upon one another’s capabilities and finding ways to create shared competencies has led to several joint projects and co-funding opportunities with AFOSR and Italy; primarily in support of sensing and life sciences. Through collaboration with the Embassy of Italy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Research Council of Italy, and the Italian Ministry of Defence; AFOSR and its partners effectively leverage Italy’s world-class researchers, the research investments of CNR’s €1 billion enterprise, and the €80 billion European Commission Horizon 2020 Program. Scientific opportunities for U.S. organizations range from applied mathematics, materials science, and physics; and includes research institutions at the CNR, universities, public-private partnerships, and government agencies. The AFOSR Biophysics program greatly benefits from the exceptional access to European research infrastructure provided by Italy for top researchers in academia and the Air Force Research Laboratory to discover leading-edge biophysical advances for human performance.

Nicolais never forgot and has appreciated that AFOSR took a chance on him over 30 years ago. He stressed the importance of AFOSR taking that calculated risk years ago to advance science and the mission, “The basic research is the prerequisite of any applied research. If a researcher is not aware of the most advanced knowledge in the field it is difficult that he can provide a breakthrough contribution to new technologies. Also often basic research can lead to advancement of knowledge in the field.”

It is clear that Halpin made a wise investment in Nicolais back in 1977, but more importantly, AFOSR has continued to develop and maintain solid relationships along the way that feed collaborative efforts in support of basic research for the Air Force and our nation.

2018 AFOSR Biophysics Program Review that included the delegations from Italy, Australia and South Africa

2018 AFOSR Biophysics Program Review that included the delegations from Italy, Australia and South Africa

ABOUT AFOSR: The Air Force Office of Scientific Research, located in Arlington, Virginia, continues to expand the horizon of scientific knowledge through its leadership and management of the Air Force’s basic research program. As a vital component of the Air Force Research Laboratory, AFOSR’s mission is to discover, shape and champion basic science that profoundly impacts the future Air Force. Through its international enterprise AFOSR supports the Air Force science and technology community by identifying global technological capabilities and accomplishments that can be applied to Air Force needs.

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Week in Review: 12/17/17 – 12/23/17


Nature’s Smallest Rainbows, Produced by Peacock Spiders, May Inspire New Optical Technologies
One species of peacock spider – the rainbow peacock spider (Maratus robinsoni) – is particularly impressive, because it showcases an intense rainbow iridescent signal in males’ courtship displays to females. This is the first known instance in nature of males using an entire rainbow of colors to entice females to mate. But how do males make their rainbows? A new study published in Nature Communications looked to answer that question.


Nanotubes go with the flow to penetrate brain tissue
Rice University researchers have invented a device that uses fast-moving fluids to insert flexible, conductive carbon nanotube fibers into the brain, where they can help record the actions of neurons. The Rice team’s microfluidics-based technique promises to improve therapies that rely on electrodes to sense neuronal signals and trigger actions in patients with epilepsy and other conditions.

Week in Review: 12/10/17 – 12/16/17


Electricity, eel-style: Soft power cells could run tomorrow’s implantables

Inspired by the electric eel, a flexible, transparent electrical device could lead to body-friendly power sources for implanted health monitors and medication dispensers, augmented-reality contact lenses and countless other applications.


Researchers Develop Test That Can Diagnose Two Cancer Types

A blood test using infrared spectroscopy can be used to diagnose two types of cancer, lymphoma and melanoma, according to a study led by Georgia State University.

Week in Review: 12/3/17 – 12/9/17


Group maps atomic shifts in charge-ordered manganite

Using a manganite crystal, a group led by Lena Kourkoutis, assistant professor of applied and engineering physics, has described a new approach to characterizing and understanding exotic charge-ordered phases in which electrons are ordered into periodic patterns. These phases are marked by ever-so-slight displacements (shifts) in the arrangement of a material’s atomic lattice and directly determine the properties of a material.


Seeing Through Walls of Unknown Materials

Researchers at Duke Engineering have developed a new way to see through walls using microwaves— without needing to know what the wall is made out of beforehand. According to the researchers, the new approach could lead to applications in security and devices to help locate conduits, pipes and wires.


Replicating peregrine attack strategies could help down rogue drones

Researchers at Oxford University have discovered that peregrine falcons steer their attacks using the same control strategies as guided missiles.


Professor Kentaro Hara receives grant from Air Force

Kentaro Hara, assistant aerospace engineering professor, recently received the 2018 Young Investigator Research Program Award from the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research, which entails a $450,000 grant over the next three years.