Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN) Q & A


Q1. What is nanotechnology?

A1. Nano refers to the length scales involved, the nanometer or 10-9 meters length scale, where systems consist of only a few hundred or so atoms. Nanotechnology is a fundamentally new and different way of thinking about the creation of devices and systems. It is really a building of functionality from the most fundamental level of matter upward to the macroscopic system. More specifically, nanotechnology is the creation and utilization of materials, devices, and systems through the control of matter on the nanometer-length scale - the ability to engineer matter at the level of atoms, molecules, and supramolecular structures - and the generation of larger structures with fundamentally new molecular organizations exhibiting novel physical, chemical, and biological properties and phenomena.

Q2. Why establish the ISN now?

A2. The ability to manipulate, characterize and control matter in the nanometer scale has only become possible in the last decade. The paradigm of using these capabilities to design fundamentally different types of systems had been slowly spreading, in no small part due to long-term DoD basic research support, until it reached "critical mass" in the last year or two. Now there is a large enough research community, with enough expertise in nanotechnology, to pull together an undertaking of this magnitude.

Q3. What is the purpose of the ISN?

A3. The ISN's role is one of basic and applied research. The primary goal is to create an expansive array of innovations in nanoscience and nanotechnology in a variety of survivability-related areas that will be harvested by the industrial partners for future Army application. The research will integrate a wide range of functions, including multithreat protection against ballistics, sensory attack, chemical and biological agents; climate control (cooling, heating, and insulating), possible chameleon-like garments; biomedical monitoring; and load management. The objective is to enable a revolutionary advance in soldier survivability through the development of novel materials for integration into the future warrior systems.

As such, it does more directly to expand fascinating opportunities for scientists, engineers, computer technicians, university professionals and other commercial industry fields more so than for direct recruiting opportunities into the Army. Long term, the new institute is another example of good news for citizens considering joining the Army for its technological opportunities and training. The Army is already one of the world's largest sources of advanced technical training in the world. Skills learned in the Army prove invaluable in civilian society. The new technologies developed at this institute will not only improve training, but also our information-based civilian society.

Q4. How much does this cost?

A4. The basic research investment is planned to be slightly less than $10M per year. There is an applied research component that is intended to pursue promising technologies that may come from the basic research. This component is anticipated to be nearly $4M per year, but will depend on many other factors.

Q5. How did you choose this University?

A5. Unlike previous UARC awards, this center was selected after a rigorous open competition process. From the Broad Agency Announcement, proposals were received and evaluated by a team of Army experts for such factors as technical merit and management structure. From this group, several sites were visited for a further evaluation. Although a number of very strong proposals were submitted, the evaluators unanimously agreed that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology presented the strongest overall technical program and made the most compelling case for the Army's long-term commitment to nanotechnology research.

Q6. What other Universities competed?

A6. Due to regulations, this information cannot be released at this time. This information will be available after a contract has been signed.

Q7. What are the projects the ISN will pursue?

A7. The basic research is focused along six main thrust areas entitled: Energy Absorbing Materials; Mechanically Active Materials, Devices & Exoskeletons; Signature and Detection Management; Biomaterials and Nanodevices for Soldier Medical Technology; Processing and Characterization of Nanomaterials; and Modelling. A seventh area focuses on overall systems integration issues and actively looks for transitioning opportunities and commercial applications of the developed technologies.

Q8. How will nanoscience improve the lives, efficiencies and prowess of soldiers?

A8. The focus of the ISN is soldier survivability. The intent is to improve the ability of the soldier to perform their mission in the battlespace where somebody is actively trying to locate and kill them. The first of the research areas, listed above, looks at both ballistic and directed energy protection of the soldier. Mechanically Active Materials simultaneously looks at mechanical actuators for armour or exoskeletal support (either for load carrying systems or wound compresses and splints), and pressure/motion sensors to monitor the soldier. Signature and Detection Management looks at active camouflage and sensor systems to detect enemy rangefinding or target designation probes. The Soldier Medical Technology thrust focuses attention of soldier triage and automatic "first aid" for a wounded or disabled soldier. The final two areas are crosscutting areas intended to provide enabling technologies for the other thrust areas.

Q9. Will the ISN be permanent?

A9. As a UARC, the ISN is intended to be a long term relationship between MIT and the Army. The initial contract is for 5 years, but it expected that follow-on contracts will be awarded to MIT for the ISN as long as the Army considers the ISN the mission is relevant and the research is technically successful.

Q10. Who will be able to utilize the technology gains of ISN?

A10. The results from basic research at the ISN will be published in the open literature for use by all. Everyone will benefit from the ISN research programme. In particular, though, there will be a group of industrial partners with the ISN that will be in a position to pursue the ISN research results as they are developed. These partners will be collaborating with the ISN and will be in a special position to capitalize on the research results. The list of industrial partners is not closed. On the contrary, it is intended that any company that is interested in collaboration with the ISN be allowed to join as an industrial partner to take advantage of the ISN research.

Q11. Will this new institute only do research for the Army and will the Army control who works at the institute?

A11. MIT will administer this effort and the Army will guide the activity. The MIT professional with overall supervisory responsibility is Dr. Thomas Magnanti, the MIT's Dean of Engineering. Prof. Edwin Thomas, of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, will be the Director of the new institute. Dr. William Peters will be the Executive Director. The Army expects, under the terms of the contract that is currently under negotiation, to direct activity through an Executive Board and an Executive Agent. These entities will establish overall objectives for the institute and provide broad supervisory and policy guidelines. Under this oversight, MIT will appoint a Technical Advisory Board to assess and evaluate the individual research projects.

Q12. Will any of the research at the institute be classified?

A12. No. None of the basic research at the Institute will be classified.

Q13. Who will own any patents for the new technologies that may come out of the project?

A13. As with all work done at the university, intellectual property rights vest with the university. The university has a policy of sharing proceeds from any patents or inventions with the inventors.

Q14. What motivates the University's involvement?

A14. MIT will have an opportunity to develop an exciting family of technologies in a new field. This is a very interdisciplinary enterprise. Talented engineers, creative entertainment talent and communications experts will produce something completely new. The end result of their collaboration can stimulate all of their disciplines.

Q15. Will this new institute bring new jobs to this area?

A15. The ISN will result in a small number of jobs for researchers and support staff, maybe 10 positions. But we hope the technologies developed by the ISN and the Army will eventually create thousands of jobs in the high tech areas in and around Boston.

Q16. Will private corporations participate in this project? Will they contribute research money, and if so, what's in it for them?

A16. Private companies and other government agencies certainly will be able to participate. One of the goals for the ISN will be to get greater involvement from such organizations. Since a main goal of the ISN in innovation, the new problems and ideas that are brought in by these organizations are expected to greatly increase the ability of the ISN to fulfill its core Army mission.

Q17. What are some of the possible uses of nano science in the military and civilian industry?

A17. From the results of current DoD sponsored nanoscience research a number of potential applications have been developed. One is a semi-permeable membrane with molecular scale pores that open to allow passage of water but remain closed to other molecules. This would have application to water filtration and purification systems or for chemical/biological protective clothing. Molecular scale rotors on a 3d grid array so that they can pivot and block off high intensity laser light - a molecular scale Venetian blind - to protect soldier eyes from laser blinding or to act as high-speed switches in opto-electronic circuits. Nanoparticles of gold in solution, linked together by strands of DNA that are specifically encoded to respond to the DNA of biological agents, that produce dramatic optical colour changes to allow reliable field detection of biological warfare agents at very low sample sizes, or rapid, reliable screening for such diseases as flu, strep etc. Nanoporous antenna ground planes that reflect all electromagnetic energy with very low absorption, to increase the net transmission power of cell-phones and small radios. Nanoporous electrodes for batteries to increase power density and efficiency - this list grows longer every day.

Q18. What is your response to critics who say universities are being turned into think tanks for the military?

A18. As a vast training bed that captures lessons learned exceptionally well, runs whole bases dedicated to educating men and women and produces soldiers who are inspired by our nation's values and ideals, there is much that the military can share and shares in common with our nation's universities. It is in everyone's best interest that the military and academic institutions collaborate. It is also in everyone's best interest that ideas from academia, the entertainment industry and the military be improved through the rigors of scientific research.

Q19. When, specifically, did discussions begin between the university and the Army and with whom were those discussions held?

A19. Since the entire process was conducted as a competition, there were few direct communications between the Army and MIT. The initial concept of applying nanotechnology to soldier systems was explored in a workshop "Nanoscience for the Soldier" held at Research Triangle Park, NC on February 8-9, 2001. The first definite communication with MIT was at an open informational meeting held in Research Triangle Park, NC on August 20, 2001. This meeting was open to all interested parties to discuss the pending solicitation for the ISN. After this, there were no direct contacts with MIT until the proposal was received and evaluated.

Q20. Would a graduate student from the People's Republic of China be able to work in the Institute?

A20. Work at University Affiliated Research Centers involves unclassified projects. Beyond that normal procedure and precaution, the Army and the University will work closely together on a case by case basis to address sensitivities that might involve any particular projects.


Topics: Nanoscience and nanotechnology, Security studies and military

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