On June 25, the Department of Defense (DOD) released the fiscal year (FY) 2019 Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship (VBFF) solicitation. The VBFF program is intended to attract and engage the best and brightest in academia to conduct a range of basic research in areas of interest to DOD. DOD is particularly interested in ambitious “blue sky” research that will lead to revolutionary discoveries, new fields of research, or disruption of existing theories. The program was released by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and is overseen by the Basic Research Office within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (USD(R&E)).
Proposals are invited in the following DOD basic research areas:
1. Engineering Biology: DOD seeks revolutionary basic research for engineering biology addressing specialty materials and biological sensing to improve warfighter capabilities. The solicitation explicitly calls for “innovative and fundamental approaches to understanding biological process. Multidisciplinary as well as theoretical, physical, biophysical, biochemical, molecular, and synthetic biology approaches are likely necessary to overcome the technical hurdles that currently prevent biology from being a scalable top-down engineering discipline.”
2. Quantum Information Science (QIS): DOD requests research on quantum science to better understand quantum phenomena, which may potentially provide revolutionary capabilities for “information security, enabling novel materials design, attaining precise navigation and positioning even without GPS, improved sensing, and accomplishing significant improvements in high resolution imaging.”
3. Cognitive Neuroscience: DOD is interested in basic research studies that provide insights into the mechanisms of human cognitive skills. The studies can be “theoretical, computational, neuronal, and molecular basic neuroscience research to study the mechanisms of human cognitive skills. In addition, large scale models of cortical systems and neural-based cognitive architectures are sought.”
4. Novel Engineered Materials: DOD seeks research for the discovery of new materials that enable “transformative functionalities” as well as capabilities for controlling material behaviors under extreme environments. Material types include quantum materials, non-equilibrium materials, and materials that either repair themselves or self-assemble.
5. Manufacturing Science: DOD is interested in “increasing knowledge, understanding, and manipulative capability associated with materials and materials systems with a focus on the practical control of useful physical, chemical, or mechanical properties.” Proposed efforts can address materials synthesis, processing, or design of materials systems. DOD seeks enhanced
understanding and knowledge of fundamental processes for future material fabrication and manufacturing processes.
6. Applied Mathematics (Theory and Experiments) and Statistics: DOD seeks mathematical breakthroughs to provide the foundations to address future DOD challenges such as artificial intelligence, foundation of deep learning networks, analysis and exploitation of large data sets, quantifying risk in complex endeavors, behaviors in sociotechnical networks, cybersecurity, encryption and compressive sensing. In addition, DOD states the need for “fundamental mathematical advances that will increase the efficiency and efficacy of computational modeling of physical phenomena, both to understand those phenomena and, ultimately, to inform the engineering design process.”
7. Other Fields of Research with High Potential: Applicants may submit a research proposal that does not fit into one of the aforementioned categories; all proposals must support DOD research priorities and focus on basic, transformative science that provides new thinking about the phenomena being studied.
The objectives of the VBFF program are to:
• Support unclassified basic scientific research that could be the foundation for future revolutionary capabilities for DOD;
• Educate and train outstanding student and post-doctoral researchers for the defense and national security workforce;
• Foster long-term relationships between outstanding university researchers and DOD; and
• Familiarize select university researchers and their students with DOD’s current and future challenges.
All awardees will receive the title of VBFF fellow and will be introduced to DOD’s critical research needs through interactions with DOD science and technology (S&T) leaders, visits to DOD labs, and invitations to technical workshops.
Due Dates: White Papers are required and are due by August 17, 2018 at 11:59 PM EDT. Applicants must register on the AcquTrak portal (https://acqupass.noblis.org/ApplyVBFF) by August 15, 2018 at 11:59 PM EDT to submit a white paper. Applicants will submit full proposals by invitation only no later than January 18, 2019 at 11:59 PM EST.
Total Funding and Award Size: DOD anticipates awarding multiple awards, with an individual maximum award of $3 million over five years. The solicitation does not indicate how many awards DOD intends to make and notes that DOD may not necessarily allocate fellowships equally among the topics. In FY 2017, 13 awards were made while in FY 2018, 11 awards were made – four for materials, two for mathematics, two for quantum, one for manufacturing, one for biology, and one for cognitive neuroscience.
Eligibility and Limitations: The competition is open to accredited U.S. institutions of higher education (universities) with doctoral degree-granting programs. The program seeks outstanding faculty, who are either a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, with tenure and full-time research staff with the skill, knowledge, and resources necessary to conduct the proposed research as the principal investigator (PI).
PIs may submit only one application in response to this funding opportunity. There is no limit to the number of applications that an institution may submit.
Sources and Additional Background:
• The full solicitation can be found at www.grants.gov under solicitation number “N00014-18-S-F008.”
• The announcement of the FY 2018 winners can be found at https://www.defense.gov/News/News-Releases/News-Release-View/Article/148....
• DOD’s overview of the VBFF program can be found at https://basicresearch.defense.gov/Programs-Workshops/Vannevar-Bush-Facul....