Science and Technology News

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Event inspires AFRL workforce, future scientists and engineers

by Derek Hardin
Air Force Research Laboratory


1/27/2016 - DAYTON, Ohio -- "No matter what you do, the Air Force is counting on you to make a difference. You are all Department of Defense research scientists -- you're comic book characters ... you make the stuff that supports heroes."

These words from Air Force Research Laboratory materials engineer Dr. Jeff Calcaterra, were one of many inspirational messages shared with attendees during the inaugural AFRL Inspire event, held Oct. 28, 2015, at the Dayton Art Institute in Dayton, Ohio.

AFRL Inspire is a series of talks which seeks to energize and motivate the current and next generation of Air Force scientists and engineers. Inspired by the popular TED Talks series, AFRL Inspire consists of presentations by AFRL researchers who have made important discoveries, solved complex technical challenges, developed new Air Force capabilities, and directly impacted the safety and mission success of the warfighter.

Calcaterra's talk, "Good Engineers Save Lives," described AFRL's role in aircraft mishap investigations and emphasized that everyone at AFRL plays an important role in the Air Force mission.

The other AFRL presenters and talks included:

· Dr. Nandini Iyer, AFRL Research Audiologist - "The Party Must Go On," a discussion of how computers are learning to differentiate and isolate sounds in a crowd in an effort to assist the warfighter, similar to how people can distinguish individual voices at a cocktail party.

· Dr. Moriba Jah, AFRL Aerospace Engineer - "Space Junk: The Unknown Orbital Iceberg," an examination of the dire need to monitor and catalogue thousands of space debris orbiting Earth in an effort to keep communication and other vital satellites safe.

· "Rufus," Air Force Fighter Pilot and Test Pilot - "Better Than Lucky," a discussion of how AFRL's Automatic Collision Avoidance Technology is helping to save the lives of pilots, like himself.

· Dr. Robert Fugate, retired AFRL Research Physicist - "Fire in the Sky," a presentation of the 20-year evolution of Laser-guided Adaptive Optics, a revolutionary technology which allows scientists to view the universe with unparalleled clarity.

Noted futurist and author of novels on 21st century warfare, Dr. Pete Singer, was the event's guest speaker. His talk, "From Fiction to Reality - Lessons to be Learned from Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War," based around his novel of the same name, presented an exploration of what war could be like in the future.

The AFRL Inspire event series is the brainchild of Dr. Dan Berrigan, AFRL Materials Research Engineer, and Kerianne Gross, AFRL Aerospace Engineer. The duo had teamed up at a development workshop to discover new and creative ways to promote an environment of autonomy, mastery, and purpose among the AFRL workforce. They were drawn to the storytelling framework of the TED Talks series because their modern structure is a well-received method of training, and it would allow AFRL scientists and engineers to share the stories behind their amazing work.

"We then presented our idea to Dr. Morley Stone, AFRL's chief technology officer," said Gross.  "He agreed emphatically and said, 'Go do it!'"

In the months that followed, Berrigan and Gross -- along with the AFRL Inspire Committee, numerous multimedia contributors, and event planners -- worked diligently to create an event that would possess a look and feel like no other AFRL event before it.

"The Inspire team went above and beyond, creating a uniquely modern and engaging event," Stone said. "The high quality and inspiring talks from our presenters really demonstrated the amazing people and work that goes on at AFRL, from the lab's beginnings to the present day. It has been an honor to be a part of this event."

Gross described AFRL Inspire as a uniquely modern opportunity for AFRL scientists and engineers to highlight their research and share the stories behind it.

"It's a chance as an organization to communicate our work in a new way, to inspire future scientists and engineers, to attract top talent to the lab, and to tell the folks outside the fence what exactly it is that we are doing in those beige and grey square buildings," Gross said.

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