SIAM Executive Director Jim Crowley and SIAM News Editor-in-Chief Hans Kaper recently chatted with Chuck Matson, Chief Scientist at the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. They discussed the AFOSR’s mission, research funding priorities, and programs and projects that may be of interest to SIAM members and the mathematical science community.
How would you define the purpose of the AFOSR?
The AFOSR’s mission is to discover, shape, and champion basic research that has the potential to produce revolutionary new capabilities for the Air Force. As part of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), its research portfolio covers the entire spectrum of the (typically hard) science and engineering (S&E) of relevance to the Air Force. The AFOSR controls the entire Air Force basic research budget.
What is the structure of AFOSR, and which programs come to mind when you think of SIAM?
AFOSR has 35 investment portfolios that cover a wide range of science and engineering fields. Many of these portfolios invest in mathematical methods. Of these, Electromagnetics, Computational Mathematics, Dynamics and Control, and Complex Networks may be most relevant to SIAM. We fund applied mathematics both as an independent discipline and in the context of application areas.
How does the AFOSR decide what research to fund?
AFOSR program officers are granted a significant amount of autonomy to pick the best research to fund. While each grant proposal is sent out to be reviewed by external reviewers, ultimately each individual program officer makes the final decision. Program officers hold program reviews and invite AFRL and the academic community to participate, in addition to grantees. We seek to connect disparate communities who are interested in a common technology.
How can the individual scientist connect with AFOSR?
First and foremost, the scientist interested in connecting with AFOSR should go to the AFOSR external website, which contains information on how to interact with AFOSR and the areas that we are interested in investing in. More specifically, the AFOSR Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) available on grants.gov, also available on the above link, gives interested scientists all the information they need on AFOSR interests and how to submit a grant proposal.
We encourage scientists and engineers to contact the AFOSR program officers if they have ideas that fit within the scope of the AFOSR mission. For example, the academic community might have ideas about emerging technologies that have great potential, or of fundamental research results that could be relevant to the Air Force mission. In fact, it is beneficial to contact a program manager ahead of time rather than submit a proposal “cold.”
What is AFOSR’s international reach?
AFOSR is committed to international S&T engagement, seeking to learn about and invest in the best science around the world. We have offices in Tokyo, London, and Santiago so that we can promote awareness, engagement, and relationships with the international S&T community. Our international offices also issue grants, but only to S&Es at international universities. Our domestic office in Arlington, Virginia, can also issue grants to international universities. AFOSR is also forging partnerships with the NSF to reach out internationally.
Does research sponsored by AFOSR need to produce a product for the Air Force?
No. AFOSR seeks to invest in research that advances the state of the art in areas that have the potential for revolutionary breakthroughs for the Air Force. Sometimes this approach produces results that are directly applicable to the Air Force, like improved space surveillance technologies for real-world missions. The key requirement for AFOSR-funded research is that, if successful, the research has the potential to lead to revolutionary capabilities for the Air Force. We try to understand from our leaders what capabilities will be needed 20-30 years down the road, and seek research that will aid that. Our primary desired outcome for research results is to transition the knowledge to the rest of the AFRL for use, if appropriate, in their applied research programs.
How important are publications?
Very important. We expect good quality and quantity of publications in the open peer-reviewed literature resulting from our funding, and we request that our support be acknowledged in the publications.
What are some ways to seeks internships or jobs at Air Force Research Laboratory?
There are a variety of ways people can get into AFRL. There is a summer faculty research program, where faculty members work at a lab for eight weeks. They can bring a student with them. There is also a postdoc program, and there are ways to intern via summer research programs run by each lab. Details are available on the website.
SIAM organizes many conferences in the course of the year on a variety of topics in applied mathematics and computational science. Would you encourage AFOSR program officers to actively participate in these conferences?
We encourage our program officers to attend as many conferences as make sense for their portfolio development, subject to the constraints of budgets and government conference policies. I recommend that SIAM members contact AFOSR program officers directly if they know of a conference that they think the program officer would benefit from attending, and even invite them to give presentations.
Do you have any suggestions on how SIAM can improve communications between the AFOSR and SIAM members?
If SIAM members already have connections with one or more AFOSR program officers, I encourage them to work with them directly. I also encourage SIAM members to log onto the AFOSR website and look at portfolios to determine areas where SIAM interests overlap with AFOSR interests, and either contact the program officer directly, or sign up to attend one of their program reviews. Mathematics is foundationally important for much of what we do. I seek to evangelize that. SIAM members have some great ideas that might be relevant to portfolios at AFOSR.