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research and development

Johns Hopkins Laboratory Awarded Research and Development Contract

February 19, 2013
George I. Seffers

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL), Laurel, Md., is being awarded a five-year, sole source, cost-plus-fixed-fee, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity, task order contract for research, development, engineering, and test and evaluation for programs throughout the Defense Department. The maximum ceiling amount is $2,296,583,964 for up to 11,964,743 staff hours of research and development in the core competency areas approved for JHU/APL by the department, which include: strategic systems test and evaluation; submarine security and survivability; space science and engineering; combat systems and guided missiles; theater air defense and power projection; and information technology; simulation, modeling, and operations analysis. This contract includes an option for an additional five years, which requires separate review and approval by assistant secretary of the Navy (research development and acquisition) and assistant secretary of defense (research and evaluation), which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative maximum ceiling value of the contract to $4,904,853,263 for up to 23,929,486 staff hours. Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity on behalf of the Defense Department.

Liquid Metal Research Makes Wires That Stretch and Self-Repair

February 4, 2013
by Max Cacas

Imagine a wire that can stretch eight to 10 times its original length and still send crystal clear audio from your music player to your earphones, or imagine accidentally cutting a cable to a tactical radio and repairing the cut just by physically putting the wires back together.

Those are just two of the many possible products that could result from materials science research now underway at North Carolina State University under the direction of Dr. Michael Dickey, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the university.

Both scientific developments are the result of separate but related avenues of scientific research into advanced materials, explains Dickey, who says much of the work has been conducted by graduate and undergraduate students. “They’re related in the sense that we’ve used some common materials, but they are two different projects,” he says.

“Both ideas are almost embarassingly simple,” Dickey goes on to relate. “What we’ve done is taken the architecture of a conventional wire, which is a metal core surrounded by a plastic casing, and we’ve done two things. We’ve replaced the plastic casing with an elastomeric polymer that’s more like a rubber band, so it's stretchable, and then for the core of the wire, we use a special liquid metal alloy.”

That alloy, made up of gallium and indium, is a liquid at room temperature but has a unique characteristic. “We can shape it because there’s an oxide ‘skin’ that forms on the metal. The best analogy I can use is a waterbed, which, in the absence of a plastic casing, would be a big puddle.”

NASA Leverages 
Video Game
 Technology for Robots and Rovers

February 11, 2013
By Max Cacas

Earthbound technologies and computer programming that make most popular video games possible are driving development of the remote-controlled robots now in use by NASA in the unmanned exploration of Mars and the solar system. Those improvements in both hardware and software also spur innovation in the next generation of robots envisioned for use by government and industry. That is important because NASA recently has proposed a new, multiyear program of sending robot explorers to Mars, culminating in the launch of another large scientific rover in the year 2020.

“The technologies and the software that the video game industry has developed for rendering data, scenes, terrain—many of the same visualization techniques and technologies are infiltrating into the kinds of software that we use for controlling spacecraft,” according to Jeff Norris, manager of the Planning and Execution Systems Section with NASA’S Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. In a similar way, joysticks and gaming consoles such as the Microsoft XBox Kinect are examples of gaming technology hardware that have functional analogues in the systems used to control robotic spacecraft.

Researchers Organize to 
Share Data, Speed Innovation

February 1, 2013
By Max Cacas

To meet the challenge of implementing big data, a new international scientific organization is forming to facilitate the sharing of research data and speed the pace of innovation. The group, called the Research Data Alliance, will comprise some of the top computer experts from around the world, representing all scientific disciplines.

Managing the staggering and constantly growing amount of information that composes big data is essential to the future of innovation. The U.S. delegation to the alliance’s first plenary session, being held next month in Switzerland, is led by Francine Berman, a noted U.S. computer scientist, with backing from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Meeting the challenges of how to harness big data is what makes organizing and starting the Research Data Alliance (RDA) so exciting, Berman says. “It has a very specific niche that is very complementary to a wide variety of activities. In the Research Data Alliance, what we’re aiming to do is create really tangible outcomes that drive data sharing, open access, research data sharing and exchange,” all of which, she adds, are vital to data-driven innovation in the academic, public and private sectors. The goal of the RDA is to build what she calls “coordinated pieces of infrastructure” that make it easier and more reasonable for people to share, exchange and discover data.

“It’s really hard to imagine forward innovation without getting a handle around the data issues,” emphasizes Berman, the U.S. leader of the RDA Council, who, along with colleagues from Australia and the European Union, is working to organize the alliance. Ross Wilkinson, executive director of the Australian National Data Service, and John Wood, secretary-general of the Association of Commonwealth Universities in London, are the other members of the council.

A New Twist to Light Wave Communications

January 19, 2013
By Robert K. Ackerman

Twisted beams of light may illuminate a straight path to more secure and higher capacity communications. A new type of photodetector developed at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) allows systems to judge these beams by their spin rate. It will allow the encoding of an infinite amount of numbers in those data streams, which offers the potential for dramatically larger data rates as well as better encryption.

Energy Boost for Materials Development

January 15, 2013
By Maryann Lawlor

Critical Materials Institute to bring together researchers from academia, the private sector and four DOE national laboratories to find solutions that can be applied to a material’s life cycle and increase U.S. global competitiveness in the materials marketplace.

Micrometer Materials Form 3-D Military Tools

January 9, 2013
By Rita Boland

Researchers at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and Johns Hopkins University have discovered methods to control folding pathways and enable sequential folding on a millimeter scale using a low-intensity laser beam. Lasers at a low intensity worked as a trigger for tagging applications. Developers are fabricating sheets of millimeter-size structures that serve as battery-free wireless actuators that fold when exposed to a laser operating at eye-safe infrared wavelengths. The metallic structures may respond even to high-powered LED lighting. At the millimeter scale, the structures could attach, jump, apply friction and perform as mechanical switches serving a number of defense functions such as the remote initiation of energetic materials, micro thrusters for robotics and the attachment of transponder tags to fabric surfaces. They also could possibly integrate with logic/memory circuits, sensors, transponder tags and optical modules such as light emitting diodes.


U.S. Government Bets Big on Data

January 1, 2013
By George I. Seffers

A multi-agency big data initiative offers an array of national advantages.

U.S. government agencies will award a flurry of contracts in the coming months under the Big Data Research and Development Initiative, a massive undertaking involving multiple agencies and $200 million in commitments. The initiative is designed to unleash the power of the extensive amounts of data generated on a daily basis. The ultimate benefit, experts say, could transform scientific research, lead to the development of new commercial technologies, boost the economy and improve education, all of which makes the United States more competitive with other nations and enhances national security.

Big data is defined as datasets too large for typical database software tools to capture, store, manage and analyze. Experts estimate that in 2013, 3.6 zettabytes of data will be created, and the amount doubles every two years. A zettabyte is equal to 1 billion terabytes, and a terabyte is equal to 1 trillion bytes.

When the initiative was announced March 29, 2012, John Holdren, assistant to the president and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, compared it to government investments in information technology that led to advances in supercomputing and the creation of the Internet. The initiative promises to transform the ability to use big data for scientific discovery, environmental and biomedical research, education and national security, Holdren says.

Currently, much of generated data is available only to a select few. “Data are sitting out there in labs—in tens of thousands of labs across the country, and only the person who developed the database in that lab can actually access the data,” says Suzanne Iacono, deputy assistant director for the National Science Foundation (NSF) Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering.

Laboratory Research
 Twists Antenna Technology

December 1, 2012
By Robert K. Ackerman

Scientists bend, not break, the laws of physics.

Faced with limitations imposed by physics, laboratory researchers are generating antenna innovations by tweaking constructs to change the rules of the antenna game. Their efforts do not seek to violate long-held mathematical theorems or laws of physics. Instead, they are working to find lawful ways of working around limitations that long have inhibited the development of antennas that would suit user needs with fewer tradeoffs.

Currently, many types of antennas can be made small enough to fit in a tight area. Yet, they suffer performance drawbacks or are extremely limited in their application. Conversely, the type of antenna suitable for high-bandwidth links may prove detrimental to a use that requires low observability.

Laboratories in industry and academia are pursuing different approaches for future antenna technology breakthroughs. These efforts involve materials, architectures and network topologies. If successful, this research could lead to unobtrusive panels that replace large antennas as well as new capabilities for antenna-bearing platforms.

Howard Stuart, technical staff member at LGS Innovations, explains that the art of building smaller antennas comes up against the laws of physics. The issue is not one of miniaturization but of signal performance when antennas are built below a certain size.

“You can’t keep making antennas smaller and smaller,” Stuart points out. “There are fundamental physical limitations, and beyond that, [the antenna] is just not going to work anymore. Or, you’re going to have to give up something, such as gain.”

Technologies
 Advance the Art of Antenna Science

December 1, 2012
By George I. Seffers

U.S. Air Force researchers use 3-D printers and
 other cutting-edge concepts 
to create
 the next 
innovations.

There is no Moore’s Law for antennas because size reduction and performance improvement will always be subject to the limitations imposed by electromagnetic physics and material properties. But steady advances in computer technologies, such as electromagnetic modeling and simulation and 3-D printing, enable antenna technology researchers to push the limits of possibility on behalf of the warfighters.

Scientists and engineers at the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Antenna Technology Branch, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, are taking advantage of these technological advances to develop next-generation antennas. Experts say metamaterials show great promise for military antennas, but the technology is not yet at a point where it is being manufactured widely. To help overcome that challenge, Air Force researchers use a 3-D printer to prototype antenna metamaterials that potentially could advance technology beyond the more conventional microstrip antenna. Small, lightweight, low-cost microstrip antennas, which were invented about four decades ago, are used in military aircraft, missiles, rockets and satellite communications as well as in the commercial sector.

“It allows us a capability in rapid prototyping that we didn’t have before,” says David Curtis, the AFRL’s Antenna Technology Branch chief. “It’s yielding some interesting things. It’s creating new ground planes for antenna elements.”

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