Illinois' researchers shaping multiple MURI projects


Rick Kubetz, Engineering Communications Office

The U.S. Department of Defense recently announced its initial selection of 21 advanced science and engineering research projects for its FY16 DoD Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI). Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are included as principal investigators (PIs) or co-PIs in one third of the projects proposed by the nation’s top research institutions.

ECE professor J. Gary Eden will lead a MURI project team working to improve the internal cooling of lasers to increase beam quality.
ECE professor J. Gary Eden will lead a MURI project team working to improve the internal cooling of lasers to increase beam quality.
“I think this speaks not only to the interdisciplinary and inter-institutional nature of these important projects, but it also shows the level of respect earned by Illinois faculty for continual, groundbreaking research,” explained Andreas Cangellaris, dean of the College of Engineering at Illinois. “The wide range of MURI projects also reflects the considerable breadth of research taking place on our campus—materials, energy, physics, biological, and cyber-defense.”

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.

“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.”

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.

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are involved in seven of the selected projects to date (one as PI; six as sub awardees):

  • Internal Cooling of Fiber and Disk Lasers by Radiation Balancing and other Optical or Phonon Processes
    Principle Investigator: J. Gary Eden, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    University Sub Awards: Clemson University; Stanford University; University of Michigan
  •  Engineering the Translation Apparatus for Synthesis of Electronically Active Sequence-defined Polymers
    Principle Investigator: Michael Jewett, Northwestern University
    University Sub Awards: Charles Schroeder, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; University of Texas at Austin; Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Multi-modal Energy Flow at Atomically Engineering Interfaces
    Principle Investigator: Jon-Paul Maria, North Carolina University
    University Sub Awards: Dana DDlott, Department of Chemistry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; University of Virginia; University of Southern California
  • ADAPT: An Analytical Framework for Actionable Defense Against Advanced Persistent Threats
    Principle Investigator: Radha Poovendran, University of Washington
    University Sub Awards: Tamer Başar, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Georgia Institute of Technology; University of California, Berkeley; University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Ultrahigh Thermal Conductivity Materials
    Principle Investigator: Li Shi, University of Texas at Austin
    University Sub Awards: David Cahill, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Boston College; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California, Los Angeles; University of Houston
  • Molecular Mechanisms and Pathways for Gas Transport Across Biological Membranes and Implications for Physiology and Performance
    Principle Investigator: Walter Boron, Case Western Reserve University
    University Sub Awards: Emad Tajkhorshid, School of Molecular and Cellular Biology & Beckman Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; University of Southern California
  • Multi-physics Control of Spray Formation and Dispersion
    Principle Investigator: Olivier Desjardins, Cornell University
    University Sub Awards: Daniel Bodony, Department of Aerospace Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; University of Washington; University of Florida; Iowa State University

J. Gary Eden, the Gilmore Family Endowed Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Illinois, will serve as principal investigator for a multi-year laser project funded through the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. Eden is director of the Laboratory for Optical Physics and Engineering, which is devoted to the study and applications of the interaction of visible and ultraviolet radiation with matter. The laboratory has discovered more than a dozen lasers or amplifiers in the ultraviolet, visible, and near-infrared, including the first ultraviolet and violet fiber lasers, atomic lasers pumped by the photoexcitation of atomic collision pairs, and the Cd– and Zn-halide diatomic systems.

His group’s MURI project, “Internal Cooling of Fiber and Disk Lasers by Radiation Balancing and Other Phonon Processes,” is a collaboration with researchers from Clemson University, Stanford University, and the University of Michigan.

“No barrier to scaling the power of high power lasers beyond the 1 kilowatt-level is more daunting than that of heat removal, regardless of whether the gain medium is a solid, liquid, or gas,” Eden explained. “The foremost of these issues is beam quality which often deteriorates quickly, particularly if the thermal conductivity of the gain medium is poor. For this reason, beam quality has proven to be the most challenging metric in major DOD laser development programs.”

A multidisciplinary team of internationally-recognized leaders in the fields of fiber lasers, laser cooling, rare earth-doped optical materials, and fiber fabrication has been assembled to advance the research in this critical area. In its proposal, the research team noted that, “…radiation balancing has proven to be a viable means for reducing the thermal load in specific laser materials. However, this and other approaches to reducing the temperature of a gain medium in a spatially-uniform manner are only in their infancy, and the potential for employing radiation-balancing and other techniques in previously unexplored material/resonator combinations is enormous. Several recent developments make this an opportune time to pursue a new capability for cooling laser gain media, and a multi-pronged approach is described here to realizing rates of cooling of fiber and disc laser media that are well beyond those achieved previously.”

According to its press release, the DoD will issue 23 awards totaling $162 million over the next five years to academic institutions to perform multidisciplinary basic research.

“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.”

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.