Preserving and expanding the technological superiority of the U.S. military requires sustaining a pipeline of talented scientists, engineers and mathematicians who pursue high-risk, high-payoff fundamental research in disciplines that address critical Department of Defense (DoD) and national security needs. DARPA’s Young Faculty Award (YFA) program supports that goal by helping promising tenure-track faculty members better understand the federal research and development process generally and Department of Defense (DoD) and national security research needs in particular.
“Not only does the YFA program give participants the opportunity to engage with DoD and DARPA, but DARPA also gets the opportunity to interact with the next generation of academia and see what these innovators are doing at the cutting edge of technology,” said Bill Chappell, acting office director for DARPA’s Microsystems Technology Office.
In addition to funding, mentoring from DARPA program managers and networking opportunities, the program provides opportunities for recipients to go on military site visits. A small group of YFA scholars recently took such a trip to the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division (NSWC Crane) and the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center (MUTC) in Indiana. The YFA scholars took advantage of the opportunity to engage with military organizations that directly support technology transition and nontraditional training missions.
As visitors to NSWC Crane, in Crane, Indiana, the YFA recipients gained a more thorough understanding of the technology support and transition assistance provided to Sailors, ranging from quality control in small arms and night vision equipment to larger system upgrades in radar and platform sensors. The group toured several of the directorates at NSWC Crane, including the Special Missions Center, the Electronic Warfare Center and the Strategic Missions Center, where they engaged with technical experts to understand the rigorous level of oversight and lifecycle maintenance that goes into high-tech systems upon which U.S. warfighters rely.
By interacting with NSWC Crane personnel, YFA members gained insights into how technology is applied to address issues identified by warfighters in the field.
“The close interaction with the dedicated and professional military personnel has allowed us to identify new potential collaboration opportunities,” says 2012 YFA recipient Dario Pompili of Rutgers University.
The visit to MUTC near Butlerville, Indiana, gave the awardees a chance to see some of the urban training simulation capabilities in action. Overseen by the Indiana National Guard, MUTC provides a realistic training environment that mimics conditions that warfighters might encounter during ground operations. Scenarios include shanty towns and disaster areas, religious and educational districts, a flooded city, a collapsed parking garage, as well as residential neighborhoods that are representative of cities around the world. Trap doors lead to underground caves and tunnels.
MUTC is currently used as a training center for tactical teams from government and military entities facing deployments to potentially dangerous locations. These organizations include the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, special operations forces and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“Muscatatuck is an amazing site for experimental robotics work—I can’t wait to bring my research there,” said Edwin Olson, a 2013 awardee from the University of Michigan. Olson intends to return to the facility in August 2014 for testing and evaluation of autonomous systems he is developing through his DARPA award.
The YFA recipients who visited NSWC Crane and MUTC and the title of their ongoing, DARPA-sponsored research are:
Lists of YFA recipients are available on the DARPA website. Tenure-track faculty interested in applying are encouraged to frequent www.fbo.gov and www.grants.gov and follow DARPA on Twitter at www.twitter.com/darpa.
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