WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio - Researchers at the Air Force Research Laboratory are using biotechnology solutions to address Air Force problems. Synthetic biology is being explored as a way to make novel chemical and materials, insect-inspired solutions are creating new ways to engineer remote navigation systems and other biotechnology solutions have the potential to improve the health and performance of Airmen in all mission areas.
Biotech Days, a two-day event held in February, brought together more than 100 members of the biotechnology community to share the direction of the AFRL biotech portfolio with a larger audience while encouraging technical exchanges and exploration across functional boundaries to foster collaborations that might lead to better technical solutions for the Air Force.
“Researchers at AFRL have made significant contributions in their respective areas of biotech, yet few have opportunities to engage with scientists in other technical directorates,” said Dr. Claretta Sullivan, Materials and Manufacturing Directorate scientist, program manager and event co-organizer. “Since we know that unexpected and sometimes transformational solutions result from unlikely collaborations, we wanted to create a space for those interactions to occur. Judging from the feedback and interest in making this an annual event, I think we did exactly that.”
Biotechnology is a broad term that refers to the use of livings systems or mimicking biological processes to make useful materials, chemical, biosensors, and presents opportunities for defense innovation in a number of domains, including specialty materials manufacturing, novel sensors, warfighter performance optimization and security.
The National Defense Strategy highlights the role of rapid advancements in biotechnologies in national security and recognized it as one of the “big technology bets.” In 2018, the Biotech Community of Practice was established to provide an enterprise-level perspective of AFRL’s biotech portfolio, coordinate and leverage resources and shape the technical direction of efforts.
Led by Dr. Rajesh Naik, Chief Scientist of the 711th Human Performance Wing, the Biotech COP advisory panel is made up of leaders from AFRL Technical Directorates and the National Air and Space Intelligence Center. The COP acts as a forum for the larger biotech community to interact.
Biotech Days participants represented civilians, military and contractors primarily from the organizations associated with the COP. However, invited guests included university collaborators, leaders from the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Air Force Warfighter Integration Capability, the Naval Research Laboratory and the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (Soldier Center and Chemical Biological Center).
Guests provided important perspectives about biotechnology in the broader Department of Defense community during panel discussions. Podium talks covered the spectrum of biotechnology efforts across AFRL. A poster and demonstration session gave participants the opportunity to learn directly from experts regarding research projects and technology transitions.
One of the topics included was Confined Space Monitoring. Confined space maintenance for inspections and repair is a potentially hazardous activity that requires specific procedures to ensure the health and safety of maintainers. Operations are labor-intensive requiring a minimum of two personnel to accomplish. With the new Confined Space Monitoring System project, wearable monitoring technology offers the opportunity to provide equivalent or improved safety and performance with significant reductions in required manpower.
Measuring Bioeffects from Exposure to Directed Energy was also briefed. This is focused on understanding the effects and mechanisms by which electromagnetic fields interact with biological systems to positively or negatively affect their normal behavior. The group is evaluating the thermal and field-driven effects from the energy emanated in the radiofrequency range.
This meeting displays a model of how other portfolios might build a local community and foster interactions across boundaries.
“Bringing the AFRL biotech community together provides us with an incredible opportunity to function as one AFRL aligned collectively to Air Force priorities and to deliver game-changing capabilities using biotechnology,” said Naik. “I am excited about the future for biotech in AFRL and we have an energized and innovative workforce that is poised to deliver those game changing solutions for Air Force needs.”
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is the primary scientific research and development center for the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development, and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space, and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 11,000 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit www.afresearch.com.