The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is investing in the exploration of solutions to problems that have not yet reared their ugly heads. On its way to discovering countermeasures for the threats it foresees, the department also is using what it has learned to avert incidents that could have had much more disastrous results and cost U.S. workers hundreds of millions of dollars. And, on its way to creating future technologies to protect the homeland, the department is empowering the next generation of scientists to reach willingly for creative responses to the question “What if…?”
Mathematical research conducted by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology could lead to the development of military radios capable of hopping frequencies up to 1,000 times faster than conventional systems. The research also could result in more energy-efficient, interference-resistant cellular telephones than are available today, as well as improvements in many other modern communications devices.
When scientists at the U.S. Army Research Office set out in 2003 to build a light-controlling synthetic material, they had no idea what the result would be—but they knew it would be big. A few years later, the research led them to ask if an invisibility cloak would be possible, and with each passing year, they get a little closer to making that science fiction fantasy a reality.
The decades-long dream of harnessing the sun’s power in orbit as a source of clean, renewable energy on Earth may lie just over the horizon. Yet, unlike traditional space efforts, this concept may come to fruition as a result of commercial—not government—commitment.