Defense Advanced Research Projects AgencyTagged Content List

Fundamental Physical Science

Pushing the boundaries of knowledge of the physical sciences

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A unique class of engineered light-manipulating materials, known as metamaterials or structured materials, makes use of patterns of strongly interacting wavelength or sub-wavelength-sized elements. Because of these intricate internal and surface structures, new properties have emerged, some exhibiting behavior that has resulted in rewriting long-understood “laws” for how light and other electromagnetic (EM) waves interact with materials. These materials have been opening up new options for controlling EM waves in many technological arenas, among them imaging, thermal control, and frequency conversion. Specific applications include night-vision, heat reflection and management in aircraft engines, and temperature regulation of electronics on satellites in the hot-and-cold extremes of space.
Whether it is excited electrons emitting photons in a lightbulb or the vibrational frequency of atoms in an atomic clock, quantum phenomena are simultaneously fundamental aspects of nature and the basis of current state-of-the-art and future technologies. This is particularly the case as sensor and device performance continue to improve and approach their fundamental limits. It is not lost on DARPA that controlling quantum phenomena is an increasingly important challenge in the realm of national defense.
Chemical innovation plays a key role in developing cutting-edge technologies for the military. Research chemists design and synthesize new molecules that could enable a slew of next-generation military products, such as novel propellants for spacecraft engines; new pharmaceuticals and medicines for troops in the field; lighter and longer-lasting batteries and fuel cells; advanced adhesives, coatings and paints; and less expensive explosives that are safer to handle. The problem, however, is that existing molecule design and production methods rely primarily on experts’ intuition in a laborious, trial-and-error research process.
Models for providing hourly terrestrial weather forecasts anywhere in the world have become increasingly precise—our smartphones buzz or chirp with local alerts of approaching thunderstorms, heavy snow, flash floods, and big events like tornados and hurricanes. The military relies on accurate weather forecasts for planning complex operations in the air, on ground, and at sea.
The efficient discovery and production of new molecules is essential for a range of military capabilities—from developing safe chemical warfare agent simulants and medicines to counter emerging threats, to coatings, dyes, and specialty fuels for advanced performance. Current approaches to develop molecules for specific applications, however, are intuition-driven, mired in slow iterative design and test cycles, and ultimately limited by the specific molecular expertise of the chemist who has to test each candidate molecule by hand.