The Department of Defense (DOD) released July 7 the fiscal year (FY) 2021 Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship (VBFF) funding opportunity announcement (FOA). The VBFF program is intended to attract and engage the best and brightest in academia to conduct a range of basic, unclassified research in areas of interest to DOD. DOD also utilizes the VBFF program to foster long-term relationships with outstanding academic researchers and increase the number of technical experts working on defenserelated problems. 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 solicitation 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 & Engineering.
Proposals are invited in the following DOD basic research areas:
1. Applied Mathematics and Computational Science: DOD is specifically interested in areas including “optimization, uncertainty quantification, numerical analysis, applied analysis, stochastics and statistics, or other, that can enable revolutionary computational capabilities of various types, for the purpose of simulation and design of complex physical and engineered systems.”
2. Networks and Artificial Intelligence: DOD calls for new mathematical concepts “to model the extreme complexity of networks, their dynamics, optimization, resilience, and security, in a rapidly changing, stochastic and adversarial environment. This can involve a wide range of physical interactions, as well as information resource management, cybersecurity, and social and psychological interactions with human agents. Fundamental research in the mathematics of compressive sensing, encryption and authentication, distributed optimization, and game theory.”
3. Cognitive Neuroscience: DOD is interested in “forward-thinking theoretical, computational, and experimental basic research in neuroscience and cognitive science, to better understand the mechanisms of human perception, reasoning, and behavior.”
4. Fundamentals of Bioengineering: DOD is interested in multidisciplinary approaches to study and leverage biological processes that will transform multiple technologies of high importance, including “new sensing modalities and self-assembled sensory networks; structural biomaterials and electronics with designed functionalities; synthetic and controlled synthesis of complex living matter, e.g. artificial organs; maintenance or enhancement of warfighter resilience and performance in highly stressful situations; and many, new capabilities that are yet to be discovered.”
5. Quantum Information Science: DOD is interested in QIS to increase warfighter capabilities, including but not limited to “ensuring information security, enabling novel materials discovery and design, attaining precise navigation and positioning without GPS, greatly improved sensing (local and remote) and metrology, and accomplishing significant improvements in high resolution imaging.”
6. Electronics, Photonics and Quantum Materials: DOD is specifically interested in “unfettered, beyond-conventional approaches to the discovery and predictive design of materials (such as, but not limited to, semiconductors, electron conducting oxides, ultra-wide band gap materials, magnetic materials, dielectric materials, etc.) that exhibit previously unattainable or unknown functionalities.” DOD is particularly interested in materials that present extraordinary and novel electronic, photonic and quantum mechanical behavior.
7. Engineered Materials and Structures: DOD is focused on the “discovery of new materials that enable transformative functionalities and/or performance under extreme environmental or operational conditions.” DOD is particularly interested on “the ab-initio design of materials with tailored combinations of physical characteristics, such as thermal and transport properties, chemical reactivity, mechanical strength, optical or electromagnetic responses.”
8. Other fields of research with high potential: Applicants can 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 FOA mentions interest in “all issues regarding information, e.g. its availability, security, capacity and speed” as well as fluid dynamics and plasma dynamics.
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 leaders, visits to DOD labs, and invitations to technical workshops.
Eligible Institutions Only accredited U.S. institutions of higher education (universities) with doctoral degree- granting programs are eligible to apply. DoD institutions are not eligible to apply. Grants to a university may be terminated if the principal investigator (PI) severs connections with the university or is unable to continue active participation in the research. Grants to a university may also be terminated if the university severs connections with the PI.Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Institutions (MIs) are encouraged to submit proposals. However, no portion of this FOA will be set aside for HBCU and MI participation. Non-profit and for-profit organizations may collaborate on proposed research and may receive VBFF funds via sub-award or subcontract, but Universities must perform the majority of the proposed work and receive the majority of funds. Although collaborators are allowed, the VBFF is a single-investigator award and the proposal and management plan should reflect this intent. It is expected that the fraction of the budget paid to collaborators would amount to no more than 20% of the total requested funding over the entire 5 years space of the proposed research. There is no restriction on unpaid collaborators. While expenses related to equipment purchase or assembly are not given a fixed limit, excessively large budgets dedicated to that purpose will require exceptional justification, and may otherwise be viewed as detrimental to the purposes of the program, as described in Section II.A.Government agencies, DoD or other government laboratories and Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs), as well as foreign institutions may collaborate on proposed research but may not receive VBFF funds, directly or via sub-award.2. Eligible Individuals Faculty with tenure at the time of proposal submission, with a record of substantial scientific contributions and the skills, knowledge, and resources necessary to conduct the proposed research as the principal investigator (PI), are invited to submit an application. The PI must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. Applicants can have a dual-appointment with other domestic or foreign Universities, as well as non-eligible institutions such as a Government agency or laboratory or FFRDC. In such cases, the time dedicated to the effort by the PI, and the associated salary, must be fully accounted for by the employing and eligible University, and reflected in the submitted management and budget plans. Applicants will be required to guarantee their eligibility at the time of proposal submission.
White papers are due August 28, 2020 at 11:59 PM EDT. Full proposals will be by invitation only and are due January 15, 2021 at 11:59 PM EDT.
This FOA is for single investigator grant proposals for basic research. All awardees will receive a research grant and the title of VBFF Fellow. VBFF Fellows and their students are provided with opportunities that are designed to enhance their understanding of DoD’s critical research needs and interact with DoD senior Science and Technology (S&T) program leaders. Fellows and their students are expected to attend VBFF activities scheduled throughout the year. These activities may include an orientation meeting, site visits to DoD labs, technical workshops, and an annual meeting to report the progress of VBFF–sponsored research. VBFF Fellows may also be encouraged to serve as members of DoD advisory boards, panels, or groups. For a list of current and past VBFF or NSSEFF Fellows, refer to: https://basicresearch.defense.gov/Programs/Vannevar-Bush-Faculty-Fellowship/.
VBFF is oriented towards bold and ambitious “blue sky” research that may lead to extraordinary outcomes such as revolutionizing entire disciplines, creating entirely new fields, or disrupting accepted theories and perspectives.
The objectives of the program are to:
- Support unclassified basic scientific and engineering research that could be the foundation for future revolutionary new capabilities for DoD.
- Educate and train student and post-doctoral researchers for the defense workforce.
- Foster long-term relationships between university researchers and the DoD.
- Familiarize university researchers and their students with DoD’s current and projected future challenges.
- Increase the number of talented technical experts that DoD can call upon.