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

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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?

Week in Review: 5/11/14 – 5/17/14

May 14, 2014

Poking cells, solving mysteries and other reasons scientists love basic research
Scientists and engineers frequently seek solutions to specific problems. But the goal — and challenge — of basic research is to tackle broad questions without an immediate application in mind. As part of our ongoing series on the subject, PBS NewsHour asked undergraduates, graduates and postdoctoral researchers why they do basic research.
http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/reasons-scientists-love-basic-research/

May 13, 2014

Virginia Tech to host debut 3-D printed ground and air vehicle competition finale May 15
Fourteen student teams from across Virginia Tech will compete May 15 in the finale of a debut competition designed to encourage the creation of remote-controlled 3-D printed air and ground vehicles.

The teams – from across the university, and including students from engineering, geosciences, public relations, physics, biology, and more – are competing in the Spring 2014 Additive Manufacturing Grand Challenge, in part sponsored by the U.S. Air Force. Up for grabs: $15,000 in cash prizes, including $3,000 for first prize in each category, and $250 for each team that creates a functional vehicle. Seven teams in each category – air and ground – will compete.

Leading the competition is Christopher Williams, head of Virginia Tech’s Design, Research, and Education for Additive Manufacturing Systems – or DREAMS, for short – Lab.
http://www.vtnews.vt.edu/articles/2014/05/051314-engineering-3dprintvehiclemcompetition.html

A Week in Review: 3/30/14 – 4/5/14

April 1, 2014

Enhanced Autopilot System Could Help Prevent Accidents Like 2009 Air France 447 Crash
Thirty lines of computer code might have saved Air France flight 447, and 228 passengers and crew aboard, from plunging into the Atlantic Ocean on June 1, 2009, according to new research by Carlos Varela, an associate professor of computer science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Varela and his research group have developed a computer system that detects and corrects faulty airspeed readings, such as those that contributed to the AF447 crash. Their approach to detecting errors could be applicable in many systems that rely on sensor readings.
http://news.rpi.edu/content/2014/04/01/enhanced-autopilot-system-could-help-prevent-accidents

April 3, 2014

AFOSR welcomes new director, Dr. L. Wayne Brasure
Dr. L. Wayne Brasure, a member of the Senior Executive Service, is Director, AFOSR: The Basic Research Directorate of the Air Force Research Laboratory, where he manages the entire basic research investment portfolio for the Air Force. Dr. Brasure leads a staff of 200 scientists, engineers and administrators in the U.S., and foreign technology offices in London, Tokyo and Santiago, Chile.
http://www.af.mil/AboutUs/Biographies/Display/tabid/225/Article/108591/dr-l-wayne-brasure.aspx

A Week in Review: 10/13/13 – 10/19/13

October 18, 2013

The Long Reach of Basic Research: The United States Air Force and the 2013 Nobel Physics Laureates
On 8 October it was announced that Francois Englert of Belgium and Peter Higgs of Great Britain won the 2013 Nobel Prize in physics for their theoretical discoveries on how subatomic particles acquire mass–and it was fifty years ago that the United States Air Force funded both of these eminent physicists in their search for what ultimately came to be called the Higgs Boson.
http://www.wpafb.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123367579

AFOSR Encourages International Basic Research Collaboration with Italy
Under the auspices of the US-Italy Joint Defense S&T Dialogue held in Washington, DC, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) and the Embassy of Italy jointly organized a technical exchange meeting in Arlington, VA, with the objective of exploring basic science collaborations between the US and Italy in the areas of Materials, Sensors and Applied Mathematics.
http://www.wpafb.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123367582

A Week in Review: 9/1/13 – 9/7/13

September 3, 2013

A Multiview of the Intelligence World
The Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) has been involved with various aspects of computer security ever since the idea of computer networking was being discussed. Recently, AFOSR funding was critical to the successful development of a groundbreaking effort, called Multiview, which is a component of the SecureView platform that allows an intelligence analyst the ability to access multiple intelligence agency network feeds on a single desktop while maintaining source integrity with the highest levels of isolation and security.
http://www.wpafb.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123361798

From Cancer Treatment to Ion Thruster: The Newest Little Idea for Nanosat Micro Rockets
Nanosatellites are smartphone-sized spacecraft that can perform simple, yet valuable, space missions. Dozens of these little vehicles are now tirelessly orbiting the earth performing valuable functions for NASA, the Department of Defense and even private companies.
http://www.mtu.edu/news/stories/2013/august/story95326.html