The Department of Defense awarded a $9 million grant to the Virginia Commonwealth University College of Engineering for research and development of electro-optics, infrared, radio frequency and edge security technologies. These areas are pivotal in managing the electromagnetic spectrum and ensuring network security.
Electrical and computer engineering professors Nibir K. Dhar, Ph.D.; Erdem Topsakal, Ph.D.; and Ümit Özgür, Ph.D., head The Convergence Lab Initiative which will bring together scientists, engineers and technicians with electro-optics, infrared, radio frequency and edge security specializations to solve pressing defense challenges for the United States.
“At VCU, our passion for discovery and willingness to take on what is difficult allows us to advance the work that matters most and position ourselves as a national leader in innovation, creativity and scholarship,” said P. Srirama Rao, Ph.D., vice president for research and innovation. “By implementing DOD’s modernization priorities, the Convergence Lab Initiative at the VCU College of Engineering will address national defense security and global competition by developing new insights, products, novel capabilities and critical workforce development. Overall, VCU researchers will apply an interdisciplinary approach and a culture of collaboration across five convergence science pillars to advance U.S. defense research, innovation and education.”
“The future of engineering is interdisciplinary,” Topsakal said. “Innovative research breakthroughs are the direct result of experts from many fields collaborating to solve the complex challenges we face today. The result will be improved national security and new technology that also has a place in the commercial sector.”
Funding will support education and specialized training with the goal of preparing the next generation of researchers and leaders in these critical technology areas. The VCU College of Engineering’s expertise with public-private partnerships will help bridge the gap between academia and industry to promote knowledge exchange between universities and CLI partner companies. Beyond defense, CLI’s commercial benefits include advances in health care, transportation and smart city technologies.
“We must teach students how to break down silos between industries to facilitate work across subject areas,” Dhar said. “As educators, we must encourage students to approach problems more broadly.”
The CLI’s research scope includes:
- Semiconductor device modeling and quantum simulation, for advancing quantum simulation platforms and exploring the potential of infrared imaging as a catalyst for new discoveries.
- Materials and device development with a focus on pioneering advancements in electro-optics, infrared and radio frequency technologies.
- Artificial intelligence and emerging sciences exploring areas such as quantum, neuromorphic, novel devices and data-to-decision approaches that support researchers working on breakthrough experiments.
- Integrated sensors and edge technologies applied to sensor architecture; data fusion; command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I); and cybersecurity, all critical for shaping the landscape of security and data management.
- Advancements in microelectronics to propel progress in electronics, computing and microsystems, with the promise of increased efficiency and miniaturization.
- Future generation wireless technology (Future-G) to develop secure, efficient and pervasive Future-G communication networks and protocols.
“Shaping the future of electro-optics, infrared, radio frequency and edge security technologies will put the United States at the forefront of cutting-edge research,” Özgür said. “The research has the potential to revolutionize defense capabilities, enhance national security and drive innovation in commercial applications.”
The CLI’s focus on interdisciplinary innovation follows a novel approach. Funding from the DOD will be spread across several years with a focus on gathering experts from different engineering and technology specialties, connecting them with each other and with students, who will be trained in this new collaborative environment. The result is a pipeline for innovative discovery and an increase in the supply of technology workers to the defense and commercial technology industries.
“We are transforming engineering at VCU in collaboration with industry and government partners to better address the needs of society as well as those of the technical and scientific communities,” said Azim Eskandarian, D.Sc., dean of the VCU College of Engineering. “This will be achieved by focusing on transdisciplinary research within our defined areas of excellence and competencies that transcend traditional departments. The new CLI is a great example of such efforts. It is an exceptional platform for VCU to demonstrate innovation in defense-relevant technologies. CLI will also prepare our students for the future scientific and engineering workforce, enabling them to participate in and help advance the DoD’s science and technology efforts.”