Montana State University

MSU physicists awarded $1 million for defense research

April 10, 2008 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service

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BOZEMAN -- Three Montana State University physicists who do basic research relating to the military have been awarded $1 million from the U.S. Department of Defense.

Alan Craig, Yves Idzerda and Randy Reibel will use the money for separate projects that deal with surveillance, computer memory and hostile missiles, said Keith Cooksey, director of the Defense Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research in Montana. Their projects together will involve 13 undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers at MSU; four companies and seven federal laboratories. The grants require matching funds from non-federal sources.

"The grant allows me to keep my students working on exciting grants," Idzerda commented.

Reibel said, "It means the world. It's important seed money that takes Spectrum Lab into new directions and is in line with Spectrum Lab's new focus on advanced laser development."

Craig said, "This DEPSCoR award supports our efforts to explore, using laser optics, the tiniest structures fabricated by man -- only a few hundred atoms in aggregate. The anticipated applications will combine infinitesimal size, extraordinarily fast interaction, and miniscule power to future computing devices."

With his grant, Craig said he would use nanoparticles to develop a new type of data memory. Idzerda said he will focus on two areas: developing multi-functional materials and increasing the speed of computers and communication systems. Reibel will continue developing high-power laser technologies to disable or destroy the silicon sensors used by hostile missiles.

Montana was one of six states to receive the maximum number of DEPSCoR grants this year, Cooksey said. Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Hampshire and Oklahoma also received three each. Twenty-four institutions in 18 states received money.

Idzerda credited Montana's success to interesting projects, capable researchers and Cooksey's experience. Cooksey has headed Montana's DEPSCoR program for 15 years. During that time, he took a leave of absence to work two years as the Navy's liaison scientist for Europe and the Middle East. His office was located in the same building as Navy, Army and Air Force personnel, giving him insights into their thinking.

"That experience always pays off," Idzerda said.

Cooksey said the fact that Montana's recipients all came from MSU's physics department indicates that their research is highly relevant to the Department of Defense. It also reflects a national trend toward awarding DEPSCoR grants to researchers in physics or physics-related departments, like engineering, he said.

Montana's DEPSCoR program operates under the Vice President for Research, Creativity and Technology Transfer at MSU, but it works with faculty from the entire state university system, Cooksey added. The committee that decides which proposals to advance represents every research institution in Montana.

Montana has always done better than most states when it comes to receiving DEPSCoR grants, but for the last round, it emphasized student training and the degree to which potential researchers interacted with the Department of Defense, Cooksey said. The committee that approved Montana's proposals favored projects that would help other Montana researchers become more competitive.

DEPSCoR is designed to expand research opportunities in 23 states that traditionally receive the least amount of federal funding per capita for university research. Without it, Craig said Montana researchers would have to compete head-to-head with scientists at the best schools in the richest states. Montana researchers are as good as any, he said, but schools in wealthy states may have been able to build their infrastructure for 30 to 40 years.

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or evelynb@montana.edu