Defense After Next

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Defense After Next . . .

Iris Poliski, in R&D online (2001), writes that the Department of Defense, "has begun identifying materials that can contribute to national security, and has organized some high-powered assistance to help the search.

"The events surrounding the September 11, 2001 disaster provided a sense of urgency to work already underway: anticipating the kinds of materials research that will fulfill US defense needs for the 21st century. A project for this purpose has been organized by the US Dept. of Defense (DOD), working through the National Research Council. The Committee on Materials Research for Defense After Next was organized to oversee the project, and has produced an interim report defining areas to be examined. The committee, comprised of members primarily from industry and academia, began work a year ago and have identified five technical areas for consideration in anticipation of defense needs.

"These are (1) structural and multifunctional materials, (2) energy and power materials, (3) electronic and photonic materials, (4) functional organic and hybrid materials, and (5) bio-derived and bio-inspired materials. Five technical panels will each explore opportunities in a particular materials research area, and will relay information to the DOD.

"The task is far-reaching, given the nature of the information required. For instance, the group focusing on structural and multifunctional materials will cover mesoscopic and macroscopic materials. Categories include smart materials (those that contain sensors and simple logic circuits) and computationally driven materials development and modeling.

"There's a special interest in harder, stronger materials for defeating projectiles; high-temperature materials are required for propulsion systems and related technologies. The committee will be asked to consider ideas for improving reliability, dependability, and affordability of current materials and those emerging for deployment after 2020.

"Energy and power materials encompass improved high-dielectrics, ultra-light-weight power sources, individual protective materials, novel magnetic materials, and materials for energy harvesting.

"Electronics, optoelectronics and photonics, sensors, and microsystems are electronic and photonic subcategories to be considered, based on perceived needs for information gathering, processing, transmission, and information protection.

"The panel considering functional organic and organic/inorganic hybrid materials will look for research opportunities. The aim is to consider systems with a high probability for defense applications in a 20-year time frame.

"The interim report stresses that the common elements of materials advances sought by the DOD are low cost, easy processibility, low maintenance, light weight, and efficiency.

"Under bio-derived and bio-inspired materials, specific areas include structural materials, functional materials, and battlefield wound identification and countermeasures.

"The current report is, in fact, close to a mid-point in the exploration process. The technical panels met during the past year and have final meetings in January 2002. After a series of smaller committee meetings this winter and spring, the final report will be drafted in July 2002, and published in October 2002."

Materials Research Committee Chairpersons (2001)

  • Structural and Multifunctional Materials: Richard Tressler, professor and head of the Dept. of Materials Science and Engineering, Pennsylvania State University, State College.
  • Energy and Power Materials: John Gassner, chief technologist, Materials Technology Group and head of emerging technology, Foster-Miller Inc.
  • Electronic and Photonic Materials: Meyya Meyyappan, project manager, Integrated Product Team on Devices and Nanotechnology, NASA Ames Research Center.
  • Functional Organic and Hybrid Materials: Frank Karasz, director, Center for Advanced Structural and Electronic Polymers, University of Massachusetts.
  • Bio-Derived and Bio-Iinspired Materials: Michael Jaffe, chief scientist for applied programs and director of the Medical Device Concept laboratory, New Jersey Center of Biomaterials and Medical Devices, Rutgers University.

"'New materials and processing methods are crucial to the improved performance and reliability of advanced weapons,' said Harvey Schadler, now retired from General Electric's Corporate R&D Center, who chaired the NMAB Committee on Materials Research for Defense After Next, the group charged with conducting the study. 'Our goal is to get the full materials community to interact with the full defense community, in order to create better awareness of the link between advances inmaterials research and how they might impact the future of defense in the next 20 years,' he said. The DoD conducts studies regularly, but this one was unique in both its scope and its futuristic focus.'

"'Rather than focusing on very narrow areas of materials science, the idea was to get a group to take a broad look at what might be out there in materials science that could have a positive impact on defense,' said Steven Wax, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) liaison to the committee. 'Answering either question alone?' What's the future of materials science?' 'What's the future of defense?', is difficult. Addressing how the two merge is twice as hard. We didn't want them [the study members] to solve today's problems, we wanted them to look at solving tomorrow's problems with tomorrow's materials technologies. That's a much more daunting task. 'During the initial phase, the committeemet with technical representatives of the military services and DoD agencies, the directors of service laboratories, and managers of DoD agencies in order to understand DoD's vision of current and future weapons, systems, and logistics requirements. It also met with materials experts from industry, academia, and national laboratories to identify cutting-edge research that could pay off in the 20- to 30-year timeframe. The results were documented in an interim report released in January 2001." Materials Research Society, December 2002.


  • National Research Council (U.S.). Committee on Materials Research for Defense After Next, [Materials Research to Meet 21st Century Defense Needs / Committee on Materials Research for Defense After Next], National Materials Research Board, Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences, National Research Council of the National Academies, Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2003.

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