Bio-Inspired Flight — Who Is Air Force Basic Research

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Technological advances are constantly increasing human potential for developing very small things. For the US Air Force this means revolutionary designs in future air vehicles providing war fighters with tools that enhance situational awareness and the capacity to engage rapidly, precisely and with minimal collateral damage. When it comes to improving flight mechanics in these vehicles what better place to look for inspiration than bats, birds or bugs? These natural flyers have been perfecting their flight techniques for millions of years.

In this video, meet the researchers AFOSR is funding to develop designs for flight vehicles that will have revolutionary impacts on the future Air Force.

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

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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

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We had a chance to sit down with Dr. Luginsland recently to learn about his program and the cool physics research he’s funding. As the manager for the Plasma & Electro- Energetic Physics Program, he oversees a diverse portfolio of AFOSR funded programs and finds the best of the best to fund.

Dr. John Luginsland, AFOSR Program Manager for Plasma & Electro Energetic Physics Position: AFOSR Program Manager
Program: Plasma & Electro-Energetic Physics
Years with AFOSR:  2 years, 7 Months
Society Memberships: The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) – Nuclear and Plasma Science Society, American Physical Society  (APS) – Division of Plasma Physics, Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics
Favorite Websites: Slashdot, MITs Technology Review, APS – Physics 
Presentations: Video of Dr. Luginsland’s Spring Review presentation.

What brought you to AFOSR?
I’ve been with AFOSR since December of 2009 but I like to say, “I’ve always worked for AFOSR.” Because actually my graduate work at the University of Michigan was funded by AFOSR. Then AFOSR funded my post doc through the National Research Council (NRC) post doc program at the Air Force Research Laboratory based at Kirtland Air Force Base. After that, I transitioned to a staff member of the Directed Energy Directorate of AFRL and worked in a lab that received basic research funding for a number of years from AFOSR. Later I went to industry for a number of years and in 2009 when my predecessor at AFOSR retired, the AFOSR Director at that time, Dr. Brendan Godfrey suggested I apply for the job and here I am.

How do you think AFOSR is different from other basic research organizations?
What I really like about AFOSR is that there’s actually a real tension between two missions. First and foremost, we’re a basic science organization so we find the best science we can and fund it. At the same time, we’re a mission research organization because we work for the Air Force so we have to simultaneously look for the very best science we can fund and also answer the mail, if you will, for the Air Force in terms of technology that will help the Air Force going forward. And I think that actually having to answer both of those questions simultaneously gives a degree of focus that the other funding agencies don’t have.

You’re the Plasma and Electro-Energetic Program Manager. What is plasma?
Plasma is the fourth state of matter: if you heat a solid you get a liquid, if you heat a liquid you get a gas, if you heat a gas you get plasma. Actually plasma is the most ubiquitous state of matter in the entire universe – 99% of the universe is in the plasma state, just not the part we live in here on earth.

How does electro-energetics fit in?
It takes energy to get into the plasma state, so often times we do that with electrical energy to go from the solid, to the liquid, to the gas, to the plasma.

My program is fundamentally looking at how do we make plasmas, how do we make them in energy efficient ways and then once you got something in the plasma state what can you uniquely do in that state that you can’t do in other areas.

Could you give us examples of how your program is benefiting the Air Force?
One major area that we fund is called directed energy technology. Plasma will let you access or make electromagnetic waves. So one big thing that we do is plasma physics that leads to radar sources and other sources of coherent radiation. Really high-powered electromagnetic sources actually create a plasma and then draws energy out of that plasma to make electromagnetic waves for radar – picking up airplanes, for doing electronic warfare, doing high-powered, long-range communications. All of that is based to some degree on plasma physics.

The other big exciting thing that we’re working on right now is trying to find good ways to decontaminate water. So as it turns out Fairfax County [VA] has two facilities that produce ozone and they do it through a chemical means. They do this at a city-block-sized facility and it actually is what purifies the water that we drink in Fairfax County. What we’re trying to do is actually shrink that block-sized facility into something that’s basically truck-sized and we’re using a plasma to do that. And this plasma, which is energetic in a way that chemicals aren’t, lets you make ozone much more efficiently and thereby use that ozone to clean up water and things like that. So you can imagine this is portable and could go into a forward operating base scenario, whereas the block-sized monstrosity can’t.

What direction do you see your program going in in the future?
The really exciting area that I think is starting to happen is that we’re starting to look at very small plasmas and what happens then is we start adding not just classical physics that we’re used to in the plasma physics community but start really pulling in quantum mechanics. That changes the physics associated with the plasmas and actually makes them quite a bit easier to make. So it takes less energy to make but we’re still getting all the benefits of plasma but it’s not requiring a block-sized thing to do it. We’re starting to do it in very small packages.

What is your process and timeline for choosing proposals?
So I always think it’s good for people to email me and have a quick email discussion sort of at the beginning of the calendar year after they look at the Broad Agency Announcement for details about what we’re looking to fund.

I look to get white papers in the late spring early summer say the May/June time period. You can submit them online.

White papers should be three to five pages long. I’d like there to be at least an estimate of the level of effort but for the most part what I’m looking for is what the unique science is you’re trying to do. What’s unique? What are you bringing to the portfolio that hasn’t been there before?

And then after that, I typically try and give feedback within a month.

I like to receive full proposals in the late summer – August/September – to try to get them in before the fiscal year rolls over in October.

I make funding decisions very early in the fiscal year – October/November.

Have a question for Dr. Luginsland? Please leave it in the comments below.

Nanotechnology: Moving Beyond Small Thinking

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The recently published National Geographic special issue titled “100 Scientific Discoveries That Changed the World,” leads off with a research program that began in 1997 when we funded a Northwestern University researcher by the name of Chad Mirkin. AFOSR took a chance on a process called Dip-Pen Nanolithography (DPN), and what Dr. Mirkin himself noted, was “a far out idea and a paradigm shift in scanning probe microscopy,” but indeed, proved to be an idea that changed the world.

Highlighted in the Journal of Science, January 1999, DPN is a technology that builds nanoscale structures and patterns by drawing molecules directly onto a substrate. This process was achieved by employing an Atomic Force Microscope (AFM), the tip of which has the innate capability to precisely place items and draw lines at the nanoscale level. The AFM was basically an extremely small paint brush. Mirkin’s fundamental contribution was recognizing that it could be used to print structures on a surface through materials, rather than through an energy delivery process–the latter being the approach taken by all previous researchers.

DPN has led to the development of powerful new nanofabrication tools, ways of miniaturizing gene chips and pharmaceutical screening devices, methods for making and repairing photomasks used in the microelectronics industry, and high-throughput methods for discovering structures important in biology, medicine, and catalysis. Since 1997 Dr. Mirkin has authored over 480 manuscripts, holds over 440 patents and applications, and is the founder of four companies, which specialize in commercializing nanotechnology applications.

Professor Chad Mirkin recently spoke at two AFOSR events on the following topics A Chemist’s Approach to Nanofabrication: Towards a “Desktop Fab” and Nanotechnology: Moving Beyond Small Thinking.

A Chemist’s Approach to Nanofabrication: Towards a “Desktop Fab”

Nanotechnology: Moving Beyond Small Thinking

#BasicResearch Chatter – Doing Business with our International Offices

Welcome back to another edition of our monthly #BasicResearch Chatter! This month we’re discussing our AFRL/AFOSR international offices and “How to do Business” with them.

Col. D. Brent Morris, Director of AFRL/AFOSR’s International Office (AFOSR/IO) and Commander of the European Office of Aerospace Research and Development (EOARD) joined us during our live Twitter chat and provided us with some excellent insight into the mission of our international offices and what they’ve helped accomplish.

Our international POs are scientific ambassadors forging strong science and technology bonds with the most creative and talented researchers around the world to work collaboratively in areas of interest to the Air Force and Space Force.

AFRL/AFOSR International Division has a global presence with locations in London, Santiago, Tokyo, and additional offices slated to open soon in Australia and Brazil.

By collaborating on basic research efforts around the world, we have the right networks, people, knowledge in place for rapid response grants when needed — like now during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Did you know that the AFRL International Division provides the U.S. Air Force awareness of, engagement in, and relationships with overseas basic researchers?

AFOSR has supported 82 Nobel Laureates since 1951, including John B. Goodenough’s 2019 shared Nobel award in chemistry for the lithium-ion battery. EOARD invested in his seminal work from 1978-1981 at the University of Oxford on new materials for electrochemical cells.

The AFOSR mission is to discover, shape, and champion basic science that profoundly impacts the future of the Air Force and Space Force. Read the IO Annual Report to see how our international sphere of influence supports the mission.

Apply for a AFSOR Basic Research via Broad Agency Announcements and watch “How Do I Submit a Proposal” help video.

The Asian Office of Aerospace Research and Development (AOARD) funding support tools include research grants, conference support, and Window-On-Science Travel Support.

AFOSR IO (AOARD, EOARD, and SOARD) seeks to build mutually beneficial relationships between scientists overseas and scientists in the United States to accelerate science and technology achievement.

One example is the collaboration between AFOSR/AOARD and ONR Global partners in a successful workshop at this year’s Ubiquitous Robotics virtual conference, UR2020 — “Future Trust in Robotics, Autonomous Systems, and Artificial Intelligence.” The workshop was organized by Dr. Daniel M. Lofaro, US Naval Research Laboratory, Dr. Ben Knott, ONR Global, Dr. Laura Steckmen, AFRL/AFOSR PO: Trust and Influence, and Dr. Jermont Chen, Asian Office of Aerospace Research and Development (AFOSR/AOARD). Between invited talks, sessions were held on how to collaborate with AFOSR, ONR Global, and AOARD. For more information about the schedule and live stream [click here].

We’ve covered a lot of information during this time around, but we’d love to hear your questions or comments. We’ll go first — What was something you wanted to learn from this chat that we didn’t cover?

Thank you for joining us and we hope that we made doing business with us a little more transparent. Join us for our next AFOSR IO #BasicResearch Chatter event on Tuesday, July 28, 2020.

#BasicResearch Chatter – Meet our new PO’s – Round 2

Two weeks ago during our first ever #BasicResearch Chatter hour, we introduced you to some of the program officers who joined AFOSR this year!

Let’s do a quick recap first, #BasicResearch Chatter is an opportunity for us to host chats about basic research, grants, and doing business with AFOSR during a live Twitter event. These are held once a month, usually on the last Tuesday of the month.

Our chat this month introduced a slew of new PO’s, so many in fact, that we’ve created a mini-series so that you’re not inundated with all of their names and faces. We’re going to complete the list of PO’s that we introduced in our live Twitter feed.

We’re thrilled to welcome AFOSR Program Officers (POs) Dr. Warren Adams who manages our Optimization and Discrete Mathematics program, and Dr. Jiwei Lu who manages our Condensed Matter Physics program .

We’re thrilled to welcome AFOSR PO Dr. Todd Rushing from our Asian Office of Aerospace Research and Development (AOARD) who manages our Materials Science and Chemistry program. We asked Dr. Rushing what his goals for the portfolio are and he responded with, “right now it is a mix of computational studies and new spectroscopic techniques across a variety of materials. I would like to balance this by adding some projects that aim for new materials discovery.”

He continued with, ” I’m looking forward to interacting with potential PI’s.  Please send a short paragraph explaining your proposed research.  If the topic is a good fit the portfolio, I’ll ask for a white paper to evaluate. I welcome emails at todd.rushing@us.af.mil

Below are some resources when looking for funding opportunities:

For more information on AFOSR active research areas of interest visit our general Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) FA9550-19-S-0003— on Grants.gov at https://www.grants.gov/web/grants/view-opportunity.html?oppId=314753.

Here’s a video on how to submit a proposal on Grants.gov —

AFOSR experts foster and fund research within AFRL, universities, and industry laboratories to ensure the transition of research results to support Air Force needs. We solicit proposals through various BAAs as well as various other programs.
AFOSR Funding Opportunities

Where do I find current AFOSR opportunities and the closing dates for applications? Search Grants.gov: type AFOSR into the keyword field or using CFDA numbers 12.800, 12.630, and 12.910 or click the following link — AFOSR Grants on Grants.gov.


#BasicResearch Chatter – Meet our new PO’s – Round 1

Last week during our first ever #BasicResearch Chatter hour, we introduced you to some of the program officers who joined AFOSR this year!

Let’s start at the beginning though, #BasicResearch Chatter is an opportunity for us to host chats about basic research, grants, and doing business with AFOSR during a live Twitter event. These are held once a month, usually on the last Tuesday of the month.

Our chat this month introduced a slew of new PO’s, so many in fact, that we’re going to create a mini-series so that you’re not inundated with all of their names and faces. We’re going to begin at the start of our live Twitter feed and move down the list.

We’re thrilled to welcome AFOSR Program Officers (POs) Dr. Ming-Jen Pan who manages our Aerospace Composite Materials program, and Dr. Laura Steckman who manages our Trust and Influence program.

We’re also pleased to have Dr. Hal Greenwald who manages our Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience program. We asked Dr. Greenwald why he was attracted to AFOSR and he responded with, “being a program officer seemed like a fun job that would allow me to influence the direction of research in my field, and I was particularly excited about the unusual opportunity to build new a #BasicResearch funding program from scratch.”

“My portfolio’s goal is to fund #BasicResearch that advances our understanding of the brain in support of the U.S. Air Force and the Dept. of Defense missions. Including research on the neural mechanisms of perception, cognition, behavior and at the intersection of neuroscience and artificial intelligence.”

He continued with, ” the best way to initiate a conversation with me is to send an email describing your research. It can be just a few paragraphs outlining your idea or a 3-5 page white paper discussing your hypothesis-driven basic research question(s), approach, anticipated benefits to the Air Force and DoD, and approximate anticipated cost.”

Moving right along, we’re happy to welcome AFOSR PO Dr. Michael Yakes who manages our Remote Sensing program! When asked why he was attracted to AFOSR, Dr. Yakes responded, “with a background as a lab scientist, I appreciate how POs connect scientists to the needs of the larger research enterprise. AFOSR has a well-earned reputation as a place where groundbreaking research is undertaken and transitioned to the Air Force — I wanted to be a part of it!”

When asked about his goals for the portfolio, he commented, “this portfolio has a long history of innovative science. I’m looking to continue it by funding inventive projects which greatly improve the performance of existing sensor technologies or provide entirely new methods of gathering information.”

“I’m looking forward to interacting with potential PI’s. Please send a short paragraph explaining your proposed research. If the topic is a good fit to the portfolio, I’ll ask for a white paper to evaluate. Program email: remote.sensing@us.af.mil

We look forward to working with all of our new POs in the future and in our next blog post we’ll highlight the remaining three POs we’re welcoming to AFOSR.

A Visiting Scientist Program Project ignites a new wave of In-house and University Collaboration

ARLINGTON – Last year, Dr. Steven Fairchild of AFRL/RXAP spent 4 months embedded at the “Pulsed Power, Beams and Microwave Laboratory,” University of New Mexico (UNM), hosted by plasma physicists Professors Edl Schamiloglu and Salvador Portillo.  The Lab, with its strong research ties to our own AFRL, was the perfect place for this Visiting Scientist program (VSP) research project, “Novel Micro & Nano-structured Materials for Mitigating Multipactor and Vacuum Breakdown in High Power Microwave (HPM) Devices.” 

Liner Transformer Driver in the Pulsed Power Test Lab at UNM

Dr. Fairchild’s in-house work has developed novel new carbon nanotube (CNT) bulk fiber cathodes for field emission, field emission for plasma generation, and the plasma for HPM applications.

 The VSP allowed access to HPM experts and advanced diagnostic capabilities not available at AFRL/RX.  For example, the high voltage, pulsed-power test beds at UNM which simulate actual HPM operational conditions.

 The appeal of this project is its broader bonds to others on HPM development within AFRL.  It’s a culmination.  First, Dr. Fairchild’s work on advanced materials for HPM is now part of the core mission requirements at AFRL/RX.  Second, materials for high stress in more compact weapon systems are of high interest at AFRL/RW to meet stringent munitions requirements.  These field-emission cathodes are meant for compact HPM sources in stand-off, nonkinetic weapons.  Next, AFOSR has made considerable investments in the development of advanced materials for improved cathodes and anodes.  An EOARD grant on CNTs directly shaped design work at RX leading to this VSP. 

Field emission cathode fabricated from CNT fiber using 3D knitting machine at the Functional Fabric Center, Drexel University, mounted into a cathode holder developed for testing at the Pulsed Power Lab at UNM.


Recent other recent grants from AFOSR science portfolios in Plasma and Electro-Energetic Physics and Electromagnetics affected the work directly, as well.  One grant with Prof. Matteo Pasquali at Rice University spun-off the company DexMat Inc., which now commercially produces the very CNT fibers now sourced in this VSP through collaboration with the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. 

An AFOSR MURI award, Multipactor and Breakdown Susceptibility and Mitigation in Space-based RF Systems, aligns with HPM work at AFRL/RX, and simultaneously to in-house efforts at AFRL/RD and AFRL/RV. 

Since its founding, the UNM Lab’s rich history is rooted in AFRL.  At present, it is a key participant in the AFOSR Center of Excellence on the “Science of Electronics in Extreme Environments.”  It is a participant too on a new NRL STTR on high-efficiency HPM sources with links to AFOSR, to which Dr. Fairchild’s effort fits.  In fact, last year’s testing under VSP of the improved CNT-fiber based cathode materials for next-generation HPM weapons systems is expected to continue at UNM in an FY20 VSP, pending resumption of TDY travel. 

Next stage testing will determine suitability of the new cathodes for insertion into the HPM source under development in the STTR.  The status of where the cathodes stand till testing resumes under the FY20 VSP:  These are now prepared as a full fabric surface for compact, large area arrays!

For more information on this VSP project – either its FY19 conclusions or its FY20 pending continuation – please contact stephen.fairchild@us.af.mil; for information on VSP, joanne.maurice@us.af.mil .

HOW TO SUCCEED AT VIRTUAL MEETINGS – 10 TIPS AND TRICKS

We met with virtual meeting expert, Matthew Bigman, lead analyst at VT-ARC, to share his tips and answer our questions on how to host and participate in successful virtual events or meetings.

Matthew Bigman has been with VT-ARC BRICC for five years – two of which working remotely from Alaska – as a lead research analyst, facilitating and running meetings and research projects. Without further ado, here are his tips and tricks for making working from home, well, work.

What kinds of things do you need to do to prep for a successful virtual meeting (testing equipment, etc.)?

If you’re participating in a virtual meeting, and haven’t tested the software/hardware before, join at least 15 minutes early to familiarize yourself wit the programs you will be using. Have everything you’ll need within arms reach before the meeting starts.

Etiquette for Virtual Meetings

What kinds of tools do you recommend for conducting a successful virtual meeting? (Note: this can be anything from having a good headset to software tools and a good support team)

As a good rule of thumb – have a good headset/webcam, a piece of software that lets you see and talk with participants and a program that lets you screen share important documents like PowerPoints and notepads.

Can you provide some tips on virtual meeting etiquette?

  • Keep your mic muted unless talking or intending to talk.
  • Recognize that the meetings are going to be different than you are used to and be open to new ideas.
  • Roll with distractions (to a degree), as in this home-work environment there are variables outside of individual’s controls (irritable children, fighter jets for team members who work on bases).
  • Pad your estimates for how long elements of a meeting may take in the virtual environment. When asking questions, take on sip of water to fill dead space and give people time to reply.
  • Try to break up the flow of your meeting every 15 minutes to maintain engagement.
  • Don’t eat on camera, even for what would normally be a lunch meeting.

What are some good practices for keeping people engaged during a meeting?

As noted earlier, a good rule of thumb is to change up the interactivity level or do some kind of activity like asking for a chat response, every 15 minutes, to maintain engagement. Ask individuals to keep their webcams on so you visual cues regarding energy and engagement levels. Use the tools in your chosen software, using digital whiteboards or breakout rooms, to also increase interactivity. And don’t be afraid to take breaks to give people a chance to collect their thoughts and reengage.


“Recognize that meetings are going to be different than you are used to and be open to new ideas”


What are your thoughts on virtual ice breakers?

Ice breakers have a poor reputation, but I believe in a virtual environment they are more important. Well-designed opening exercises provide a chance for participants to familiarize themselves with virtual tools, check to make sure their technologies are working, and provide interactive breaks and engagement. This can be as simple as introducing yourself in the chat or changing name tags to reflect goals for the meeting.

How many people does it take to run a large virtual meeting and can you give advice about logistics, e.g. do you have a person dedicated to facilitating, another to answer questions on chat, etc.?

At least two for large, interactive, virtual meetings, maybe three if you need a dedicated rapporteur. Typically, you want a lead facilitator running the meeting, keeping the agenda, and maintaining the agenda. The other facilitator will work to monitor the chat, moderate, and provide live high-level notes and recaps of major outputs and discussion points being generated or discussed. The rapporteur, if used, focuses on more detailed and precise notes.

How do you manage requests for information that come up during the meeting? Do you send people to a central portal or library?

Ideally, any documents for the meeting should have been linked or sent out ahead of the meeting. Otherwise, using a central database like a SharePoint or APAN site is the best way to share documents. The chat is a great place to place links, and documents, depending on your program. But much like your print out slides ahead of time, you likely want to share them too.

Virtual Meeting Engagement Tips

Do you record your virtual meetings?

That’s going to partially depend on the policies of your organization, but typically no. Some meetings, ones that are more presentations than interactive meetings, may be easily presented as a recording for those who missed the first meeting. But with a highly interactive event, with multiple breakouts, presenting organized notes would likely be easier. Finally, for events, like an unconference, which is a mix of the two, you may only want to record the key speakers.

What is the maximum time you would suggest a virtual meetings should last and how do you manage break times?

At the heart of the question, the answer is none per se. Any event, even an all-day conference, can be simulated in a virtual environment so long as you maintain a level of engagement and change up your interactions. Much like an in-person conference, you want to keep the audience engaged. It is a lot easier to sneak out of a virtual meeting if you’re unengaged though, so you have to work harder. As a rule, if you can change up the flow and interactivity level of your meeting every 15 to 20 minutes, you can maintain engagement and eyes on your meeting over the course of an entire day, with breaks of course.

Can you suggest some resources?

Official federal guidance – https://telework.gov/
Official state guidance – https://www.vita.virginia.gov/resources/telework-resources/