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 .

Bio-Inspired Flight — Who Is Air Force Basic Research

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

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

Communications and Sensing — Who is Air Force Basic Research

For decades, researchers have attempted to better understand how data travels and interacts with environments, and how communication sources can be enhanced for the benefit of the warfighter. Current Air Force basic research pushes the boundaries of quantum physics and plasma chemistry, supporting designs for innovations in communications technology.

In this video, see how AFOSR is leading the way in supporting designs for innovations in communications technology.


Making Marvelous Materials – Who is Air Force Basic Research Video

With the advent of the jet age in the 1940s and 50s the velocity of aircraft was fast approaching the speed of sound making it readily apparent that construction techniques for jet aircraft would require significant changes to meet new and unforeseen operational demands.

Since its founding in 1951 AFOSR has maintained an active research program in aircraft structures and materials. This program must constantly evolve addressing revolutionary advances in aerodynamics.

In this video, meet materials researchers AFOSR is funding to develop new nanomaterials that will have revolutionary impacts on the future Air Force.

How the Computer Mouse Came To Be

Imagine using a joystick or your knee to control the pointer on your computer screen? That could be the case if the basic research of Dr. Douglas Engelbart wasn’t funded.
In the early 1960s, AFOSR awarded a contract to Dr. Engelbart and the Stanford Research Institute for research on augmenting human intellect and the potential for computers to assist people in complex decision-making.

His 1962 report to AFOSR served as a roadmap for developing computer technologies–particularly in the area of human interfaces.

This was followed in 1964 with his design of the first computer mouse, a wooden casing with two metal wheels that provided a way to “point and click” on a display screen.
Engelbart and his team would go on to make significant contributions to what would become the graphic user interface, and were involved in the development of ARPANET, the precursor of the Internet.

With early funding for the inventor of the mouse and scores of computer related innovations, AFOSR played a role in sparking the computer revolution.

Did you know that Stanford Research Institute patented the mouse and licensed it to Apple for just $40,000?