DOD awards $162 million in university research funding

The Defense Department will issue 23 awards totaling $162 million over the next five years to academic institutions to perform multidisciplinary basic research.

The Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative program, or MURI, supports research by teams of investigators that intersect more than one traditional science and engineering discipline in order to accelerate research progress, said Melissa L. Flagg, deputy assistant secretary of defense for research.

Most of the program’s efforts involve researchers from multiple academic institutions and academic departments. Based on the proposals selected in the fiscal year 2016 competition, 54 academic institutions are expected to participate in these 23 research efforts, Flagg said.
The highly competitive MURI program complements other DoD basic research efforts that support traditional, single-investigator university research grants by supporting multidisciplinary teams with larger and longer awards in carefully chosen research topics identified for their potential for significant and sustained progress.

Like single investigator awards, Flagg said, MURI awards provide strong support for the education and training of graduate students in new, cutting-edge research. In addition to university research, she added, DoD also supports basic research at its laboratories and in industry.

“Over the past 30 years, the DOD’s MURI program has resulted in significant capabilities for our military forces and opened up entirely new lines of research,” Flagg said. “Examples include advances in laser frequency combs that have become the gold standard in frequency control for precision in navigation and targeting; atomic and molecular self-assembly projects that have opened new possibilities for nano-manufacturing; and the field of spintronics, which emerged from a MURI award on magnetic materials and devices research.”

Recently, she said, the strategy to quickly leverage the basic research advances in MURI awards for new capabilities has focused on early engagement with industry through the Office of the Secretary of Defense MURI annual program reviews. This year, for the first time, a collaboration with the National Science Foundation’s NSF Innovation Corps program will provide entrepreneurial training for selected MURI team members, she added.

The Army Research Office, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the Office of Naval Research solicited proposals in 21 topics important to DOD and the military services and received a total of 270 white papers, which were followed by 88 proposals, Flagg said, noting that the awards were selected based on merit review by a panel of experts and are subject to successful negotiation between the institution and DOD. The awards are for a five-year period subject to availability of appropriations and satisfactory research progress.

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