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Ohio State hosts defense research conference to find future big ideas

President Kristina M. Johnson speaking on stage
President Kristina M. Johnson speaks at DARPA Forward conference at Ohio Union

Artificial intelligence, robotics and biomedical advances will help propel breakthrough research in the field of national security that was discussed last week at a conference hosted by The Ohio State University.

DARPA Forward featured two days of presentations and panels by leading researchers, innovators and defense leaders at the Ohio Union this week. Ohio State hosted one of six regional events being held at universities nationwide to connect Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) leaders with new communities of talent.

“I think this is truly remarkable what DARPA has done over the years. We’re excited to learn about the new frontiers being explored by the DARPA ecosystem,” said Ohio State President Kristina M. Johnson. “At the same time, we’re excited to learn from our own researchers and those from the universities and other affiliations who are here and are pushing boundaries of work. ... Ohio State is focused on taking a bold and non-incremental approach to some of the world’s most pressing problems.”

Johnson helped open the second day of the conference and pointed out that her research into optical interconnections received DARPA funding. She said the President’s Research Excellence program she established follows a model similar to DARPA’s: providing support for novel, high-risk and high-reward research, as well as funding large cross-disciplinary teams addressing large, complex societal challenges.

The 60-year-old agency oversees about 250 research and development programs to develop transformative technology related to national security. DARPA’s $4.12 billion budget supports research at companies, universities, the Department of Defense and other labs, and the organization has launched innovations that include stealth technology, voice recognition programs and GPS devices.

Professor Waleed Khalil presenting at DARPA Forward event
Professor Waleed Khalili presenting at DARPA Forward

Waleed Khalil, professor of electrical and computer engineering and affiliated faculty at the ElectroScience Laboratory, presented at the event. Khalil discussed the cutting edge of microelectronics and the importance of analog hardware security in the face of exponentially growing cyber threats. Khalil’s research focuses on digital intensive radio frequency and mm-wave circuits and systems, high performance clocking circuits, GHz A/D and D/A circuits. Khalil has worked on projects funded by DARPA in the past, and is working on hardware-enabled cybersecurity through innovation and development of new AMS domain security to address a major gap that exists in security’s digital research focus.

The DARPA Forward conferences offer an opportunity to expand the agency’s reach, support regional and national innovation ecosystems, and boost high-risk, high-reward research.

“The collaborations and partnerships that can be formed at a conference of this caliber are central to the university’s mission as a hub of research and innovation,” said Grace Wang, executive vice president of research, innovation and knowledge. “Our faculty continue to build momentum in discoveries, convergent research and technological breakthroughs that address critical societal and national security challenges.”

One of those researchers is Xiaoguang (William) Wang, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering in the College of Engineering. Wang is part of the DARPA Risers program, which focuses on up-and-coming researchers whose work is related to national security and demonstrates the potential to lead to technological breakthroughs.

Under the Risers program, individuals in the early stages of their research careers are recognized for their notable work and present their ideas directly to DARPA.

“I feel honored,” William Wang said. “As a junior faculty member, being selected as a DARPA Riser provides me an opportunity to directly interact with DARPA. My research, to some extent, aligns with some mission of DARPA.”

Wang presented research on the design of nanomaterials for absorption and conversion of radiant energy at a DARPA Risers program. He said it is valuable for the university to host the DARPA Forward conference because of the networking opportunities it offers.

“As a new faculty member, the most valuable thing for me is the suggestions that I received from direct communication with DARPA program managers,” he said. “It provided me guidance on how to move forward with approaching DARPA about proposal applications.”

Article by Ohio State News, October 11, 2022

Category: Faculty