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 .

The power of one small basic research investment


By Molly Lachance and Brianna Hodges, Air Force Office of Scientific Research

A small basic research investment by the Air Force Research Laboratory, in partnership with the National Science Foundation, has created a community of origami researchers who in six short years have transitioned to working on applied technologies for the Air Force.

The story begins in 2012 when AFRL’s Air Force Office of Scientific Research partnered with NSF to develop the Origami Design for Integration of Self-assembling Systems for Engineering Innovation program. Over the years, NSF and AFOSR have invested nearly $28M in this program with the goal of creating the mathematical and material foundation for self-folding origami systems and commercializing the concepts. The origami research community received a big boost when Congress decided to include a $5 million congressional interest item in the fiscal year 2017 budget and made plans for a $4.8 million CII in fiscal year 2018.

AFOSR issued the funding opportunity announcement for the first CII and a team from Georgia Institute of Technology and Florida International University won in open competition. Concurrently, AFRL began taking notice of origami basic research as a promising concept for transition to Air Force applications and provided an additional $20 million of funding to a number of small teams around the lab. AFOSR stayed in the mix by managing that investment and creating a venue for university and AFRL researchers to collaborate and share knowledge.

Now six years after its initial investment, AFRL researchers are developing origami antennas deployable in space. This type of technology requires a multidisciplinary approach, leveraging the knowledge of original and new university partners as well as the expertise of AFRL experts from the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, Aerospace Systems Directorate, Sensors Directorate, and Space Vehicles Directorate.

“We’re interested in really compelling scientific and engineering challenges that can lead to applications in the future,” said Ken Goretta, AFOSR program officer. “Compelling science and Air Force relevance drive us to invest, and origami antennas have that.”

This community met on September 13 for a workshop on origami antennas and electromagnetics and September 14 for a kick-off meeting for the new Center for Physically Reconfigurable and Deployable Multifunctional Antennas located at Florida International University.

The goal of the center, which celebrated its grand opening with a ribbon cutting September 15, is to develop innovative and advanced origami-based antenna technologies for next-generation Air Force and Department of Defense system.

“We want to use the center as an opportunity to create and train a diverse workforce with state of the art training and antenna programs for our nation and create a pipeline for very well trained engineers that they can go in work in the government” said Dr. Stavros Georgakopoulos, TAC Center Director and Inventor, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at FIU.

Georgakopoulos expresses he never imagined after being funded initially that his grant co-funded by AFOSR would be so transformative for his career. “The Air Force Research Lab have a very strong presence. We are going to collaborate and we are going to use some of their expertise and we are going to do more interdisciplinary type of work. So we are very excited.”

For more information about the history and intent of project as well as its significance to Air force and the Department of Defense, visit https://tac.fiu.edu/.

This story is an example of how AFRL creates asymmetric S&T advantage for the Air Force by making small strategic investments that create communities and conversations with far reaching scientific impact.


The Sky is The Limit for Agile Air Force Science Test and Evaluation


Dr. Brett Pokines, AFOSR Program Officer for the Test Science for Test and Evaluation (T&E) program, hosted a three-day conference at the Doolittle Institute in August, maximizing access for the Test and Evaluation Community at Eglin AFB in Western Florida.

Highlights from the meeting include:

  • Keynote speaker, Dr. Elisabetta Jerome, Technical Advisor for Armament and Weapon Test and Evaluation, shared the Air Force Test Center (AFTC) strategic vision and integral role basic science investments present in the needs, changes, and opportunities within the AFTC Enterprise. AFTC’s Span of Operations occupies 32 locations equipped with over 200 Ground Test Facilities. The Test Center includes 100 Aircraft featuring 21 different variants, 12 Unique Test Cells, and three major installations.
  • Lt Colonel Daniel Montes, Director of Curriculum at the USAF Test Pilot School (TPS), presented links between the TPS mission and fundamental T&E research. The USAF TPS is home to the Air Force’s top pilots, navigators and engineers in conducting flight tests and representative data to carry out test missions.
  • Lt Colonel Randy Gordon, Test and Evaluation Lead for AFWERX, highlighted the cultural changes taking place within the T&E community and encouraged review participants to push beyond traditional developmental thinking. AFWERX is driven by innovation to bring tomorrow’s tools to the warfighter today.
  • Mr. Keith Kirk, Experimentation Program Manager in the Air Force Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation Directorate, provided a compelling example in his talk, as Co-lead for Phase II of “The Light Attack Aircraft Experiment,” which evaluated the Light Attack Aircraft capabilities to inform an expeditious procurement process. The program was instrumental in demonstrating how T&E and acquisition teams are reimagining the concepts of bringing capabilities to the Air Force.

Opportunities to network, collaborate, and connect with stakeholders set the stage for groundbreaking work in the Science Test and Evaluation community in the countdown to 2030. The conference provided an engaging platform for the T&E community to align opportunity, capability, and innovation in support of the Air Force mission.

AFOSR, NIH and NASA collaborate on basic research with Australia

by Air Force Office of Scientific Research Staff Writers
Air Force Office of Scientific Research

10/21/2014 – ARLINGTON, Va. – In the continuing work to expand the horizon of scientific knowledge through international partnership and leadership, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Australian Department of Education, the Australian Academy of Science, and the Australian National Fabrication Facility have organized a researcher exchange effort to create new, as well as strengthen existing relationships between scientific communities in the United States and Australia. This activity is the result of AFOSR’s ongoing collaboration with U.S. interagency and Australian partners that includes participation in the Inaugural United States – Australia Joint Commission Meeting, and co-organization of the 2011 Australian National Fabrication Facility (ANFF)/AFOSR Meeting and the 2012 AFOSR/ANFF Program Review. According to Mr. Michael Schwager, Minister Counsellor (Education, Science and Technology) at the Australian Embassy in Washington, DC, “the most successful international collaborations form at the researcher-to-researcher level and are then spurred through mutual and strategic interest. These research exchanges are great examples of that and will enhance our strong science linkages and particularly longer-term research collaborations with AFOSR, NIH and NASA.”

Beginning in mid-2014 through 2015, Australian graduate students and post-doctoral researchers from the University of Melbourne, University of New South Wales, University of Queensland, University of South Australia, Australian National University, Griffith University, and Monash University will travel to U.S. laboratories to perform research in multiple technical areas up to several months. Hosting U.S. institutions are the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Oregon Health Science University, University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University, University of California – San Diego, University of California – Berkeley, and University of Puerto Rico. “This effort is a testament to the patience, perseverance and drive of everyone involved to build and nurture long-lasting relationships between the best and brightest within our communities,” said Dr. Sofi Bin-Salamon (AFOSR). He added that “our domestic and international partnerships are key to opening new vistas in scientific discovery.”

AFOSR continues to discover, shape, and champion basic science that profoundly impacts the future Air Force (USAF). Proactively engaging with the international community is critical to AFOSR’s mission.

Over the years, AFOSR has supported many international research efforts (primarily grants) performed at foreign universities and institutes. In addition to funding research projects, AFOSR builds relationships among foreign researchers, the Air Force Research Laboratory and U.S. scientists and engineers through a variety of programs. AFOSR annually supports hundreds of international activities including technical exchanges, visits of foreign researchers to present their research to USAF audiences, and AF scientists and engineers conducting research in foreign laboratories.