For now, development of an Applied Research Institute in southwest central Indiana is in its early stages, as military, academic and industry partners lay the groundwork for the collaborative facility funded by a $16.2 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.
Once it is up and running, however, the institute’s ambitions are not to be just another run-of-the-mill research center – nor does it plan to merely replicate the success of other collaborative research efforts in cities such as Dayton, Ohio; Huntsville, Ala.; Knoxville, Tenn.; or Raleigh, N.C.
“We want to take it to the next level. We’ll hear about the ARI model being adopted in other states,” ARI project adviser Ian Steff told attendees of NSWC Crane’s 2016 Innovation Crossover conference Thursday. “We have to make sure this is a nationally recognized institute, drawing not just from Indiana efforts, but attracting national and global players.”
Steff, who also serves as the state of Indiana’s chief innovation officer and senior adviser for nanotechnology and advanced manufacturing, was one of two keynote speakers featured during the conference’s second day at the Bloomington/Monroe County Convention Center. At least 230 people attended the conference’s opening day, with about 300 people signing up for the event.
The other was Walter Jones, executive director of the Office of Naval Research. Both gave general overviews of their respective organizations and how each stands poised to work with academic partners such as Indiana University, as well as industrial partners such as Eli Lilly & Co., Rolls-Royce Corp., Cook Group Inc., and General Electric Aviation among others.
As the science and technology provider for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, the Office of Naval Research – a parent organization of NSWC Crane – collaborates with more than 1,000 partners and employs more than 4,000 people at 23 locations and five field offices, including one in Chicago, Jones said. With an annual budget of about $3 billion, the office’s mission pivots on three key words – discover, develop and deliver.
“We discover new knowledge by funding basic research, we develop those ideas and put them into systems that may one day find their way into the Navy and we deliver those products with the ultimate goal of providing a technological advantage for the Navy and the Marine Corps,” Jones said.
To achieve those ends, ONR works to balance a “portfolio” of near-term, mid-term and long-term investments in potential defense systems, Jones said.
About half of those projects are basic discovery and innovation, with timelines of 5 to 20 years or more for potential entry into service. The next largest block, about 30 percent of ONR projects, are “technology pull” items, which typically require 2-4 years of development.
“Those are projects where the customer asks: ‘Can you do this for me,’” Jones said.
The third largest block – about 12 percent of ONR’s portfolio – is known as “technology push” projects, which take about 4 to 8 years before possible deployment.
“These involve a fair amount of risk – items such as rail guns or lasers that are high risk, but high payoff if they work,” Jones said. “These tend to be high-dollar items. This involves a lot of what DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) does, but we have a lot less money.”
The smallest block, about 8 percent of projects, are “quick reaction” items that typically take 1-2 years to implement. Jones described such projects as “items where forces out in the field see gaps that we can quickly solve.”
High-priority technologies for the Navy and Marines include directed-energy weapons such as lasers and rail guns; cybersecurity and cyberwarfare; electromagnetic warfare; unmanned aerial, undersea and surface systems; and synthetic biology – a relatively new regime that includes environmental surveillance, warfighter enhancement and microbial electronics.
“Synthetic biology is really in its infancy – a lot of areas where we’re just beginning to scratch the surface,” Jones said.
University scientists who are interested in collaborative projects with the military can take part in a number of programs offered through ONR or the National Science Foundation, Jones said. They include:
- Basic research programs executed by ONR officers;
- Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP): Funds used for acquiring major equipment to aid current research to develop new capabilities to support Department of Defense research;
- Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI): Teams of researchers who investigate high-priority topics that involve more than one technical discipline;
- Young Investigator Program (YIP): Identify and support academic scientists and engineers who occupy tenure-track positions;
- Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE): Honors and supports extraordinary achievements of young professionals at the outset of their independent research careers in science and technology.
Having served on faculties at the University of Florida, University of Tennessee and Clemson University, Jones said he has an appreciation of “sticking points” that can emerge between government and academia, yet feels confident that the Applied Research Institute can realize success.
“With academics, of course, the emphasis is publishing papers. But that’s not what our customers are interested in,” Jones said. “Each side is going to have to bend a bit. But you have great facilities, bright young people … a lot of basic elements already are in place. There will be fits and starts. But you will get there.”
Steff, whose office oversees a $1 billion statewide innovation and entrepreneurship initiative announced by former governor and current vice presidential candidate Mike Pence earlier this year, said the Applied Research Institute will look to take advantage of “emerging synergies” between NSWC Crane and university-based research in four key areas:
- Multispectral sensor data
- High-density energy storage
- Advanced materials science
- Microelectronics technology and security
“These areas have picked up momentum quickly and there has been so much convergence in research already that the lines are becoming non-distinct. Yet nobody has a monopoly in any of these areas,” Steff said.
“What we will do is use existing infrastructure at Crane, at WestGate@Crane Technology Park, at Indiana University and Purdue University and tap into these resources through ARI. We have done a survey of the existing infrastructure at Crane, IU and Purdue and we will be able to make use of it on day one of ARI’s operation.”
So far as its academic partners are concerned, the Applied Research Institute already shows signs of becoming a transformative force, according to a panel of representatives from Indiana University, Purdue University and the University of Southern Indiana.
Unlike cultures seen in many other states, Indiana seems to lack many barriers that often prevent such collaboration between institutions of higher learning, said Linda Bennett, president of the University of Southern Indiana.
“There are not many states where you would three institutions such as ours, sitting up here on the same stage, eagerly looking forward to working together,” Bennett said.
Brad Wheeler, chief information officer and vice president of information technology for Indiana University, echoed such sentiments.
“Collaboration seems a little difficult sometimes. Sometimes people think there’s some big chasm to cross or some big plan that needs to be implemented. But Indiana University doesn’t feel this way at all,” Wheeler said. “The best hope for our state’s bright and enterprising students is to have homegrown opportunities with homegrown industries. That’s a promise that ARI provides and I think all of us realize that.”
Along with its economic prospects, the Applied Research Institute could also — over time — serve as an example for how future collaborations are achieved, said Dan Hasler, president and CEO of the Purdue Research Foundation.
“If you look at places like Palo Alto, Calif., or Massachusetts that are considered entrepreneurial centers, their collaborators seem to constantly collide with one another, almost as soon as they walk out the front door,” Hasler said. “Here in Indiana, our doors are not nearly as close together. While we lack that sort of proximity, efforts like ARI can serve as a place that brings our doors closer together.”