A physicist studying how to harness a new form of matter that could enable blisteringly fast microchips, protect imaging systems from laser attacks and power high-thrust engines in space.
A graduate student trying to recruit and train patients’ own immune cells to simultaneously diagnose, monitor and treat Alzheimer’s disease and other brain disorders.
A Ph.D. candidate fascinated by emerging nanotechnologies envisions computer systems a thousand times faster than any technology in use today.
These were the three early-career engineers and scientists whom DARPA today selected from a pool of more than 50 candidates to make presentations at tomorrow’s plenary session of Wait, What? A Future Technology Forum, being held in St. Louis through Friday.
The three presenters are:
The honors marked the culmination of a half-day DARPA Rising event organized by DARPA to connect with and celebrate especially promising early-career scientists and engineers. The three selectees were among 54 researchers from across the country that DARPA program managers have identified as DARPA Risers: up-and-coming standouts in their fields, capable of discovering and leveraging innovative opportunities for technological surprise—the heart of DARPA’s national security mission.
The Risers also experienced a surprise of their own when they were greeted by an unexpected guest: U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter—himself a physicist, who attended Wait, What?’s opening events and toured the DARPA Demo area, which featured dozens of interactive displays of DARPA technologies. The Secretary thanked the Risers for their commitment to innovation and discovery and encouraged them to apply their expertise in areas that could contribute to national security.
The three-day Wait, What? event—which began this afternoon and has drawn some 1,200 participants from around the world to the America’s Center Convention Complex—is an interactive forum focused on groundbreaking research and nascent technologies with the potential to change the world.
“DARPA organized Wait, What? to bring together forward-looking thinkers across a host of fields that are abundant with possibilities,” said DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar. “In particular, our DARPA Rising effort aimed to identify and inspire some of the nation’s emerging leaders in research and technology—so we at DARPA can learn from them, and to make them aware of opportunities to apply their expertise in the important domain of national security.”
DARPA Rising began today with each Riser describing his or her recent work to DARPA program managers. Six Risers were selected to present their work before the Agency’s entire technical team, including nearly 100 DARPA program managers, the directors and deputy directors of all six DARPA technical offices, and the Agency’s director and deputy director. Capping the morning’s event, Prabhakar and DARPA Deputy Director Steven Walker selected three of these six to share their research tomorrow in front of the entire Wait, What? audience.
“Every one of the Riser projects was riveting,” said Walker. “You can’t help but get excited about the future when you see work like this being done by graduate students, post-docs and others all across the country.”
The three selectees represent a diverse range of potentially groundbreaking research. For example, Battaler studies dense microplasmas, a recently discovered form of matter that can both absorb and emit incredibly intense light and heat. Future technologies leveraging these qualities could lead to breakthrough advances in manufacturing, communications, propulsion and other fields.
Lakshmanan’s research focuses on adapting immune cells to provide non-invasive diagnosis, continuous monitoring and real-time treatment of brain disorders. Genetic engineering would enable these new cellular agents to secrete growth factors and other disease-fighting substances exactly where needed, and enable medical practitioners to detect disease-related biomarkers via ultrasound.
Shulaker is exploring how carbon nanotubes could enable low-power microchips fast enough to provide the computational capacity to support ever-growing amounts of data and networked devices. He has demonstrated a new computer architecture enabling 3-D integration of memory, computation and sensors capable of capturing terabytes of information per second.
“Hearing today’s presentations by dozens of creative, enthusiastic scientists and engineers has been incredibly inspiring for all of us in DARPA,” said Bill Regli, deputy director of the Agency’s Defense Sciences Office, who coordinated DARPA Rising as a precursor event to the larger Wait, What? forum. “We all feel so energized by the work these individuals are doing and the discoveries that lie ahead.”
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