AFOSR - Chemistry and Biological Sciences


The Chemistry and Biological Sciences Team is responsible for research activities in chemistry and biological sciences. A wide range of fundamental chemistry, biology, mechanics, and biophysics research is supported to provide the Air Force with novel options to increase performance and operational flexibility. Research carried out within this team will help usher in revolutionary new technologies that will fundamentally change the way future Air Force weapon systems are designed and implemented.

This research effort will endeavor to identify chemical and biological mechanisms, structures, and systems with the potential to inspire future technology in all Air Force systems. Understanding these mechanisms, structures and systems at a fundamental level will accelerate advances in energy technology, control of complex systems, sensors and sensory systems, and materials engineering.

The focus is on complex materials, microsystems and structures and well as systems of a biological natural by incorporating hierarchical design of mechanical and functional properties from the nanoscale through the mesoscale, ultimately leading to controlled well-understood chemistry/biochemistry, and material or structural behavior capable of dynamic functionality and/or performance characteristics to enhance mission versatility. In addition to research into underlying materials/biomaterials and fundamental physical/biophysical processes, this area considers how they might be integrated into new classes of devices and pursues a fundamental understanding of materials that are not amenable to conventional computational means.

Finally, the energy extraction and storage efforts addresses the characterization, synthesis, and utilization of fundamental energy sources, ranging from novel molecular configurations to photoelectric stimulated mitochondria and solid rocket motor propellants infused with performance improving nanoenergetic particles.

The Chemistry and Biological Sciences (AFOSR/RTB2) Program Officers and topics are:


Program Description: This program encompasses fundamental experimental and theoretical Biophysics research that is primarily focused on studies of bio-molecular and atomic imaging below the diffraction limit, bioelectricity, electromagnetic stimulation, and quantum biology. We are concerned then, with the study of physical biology with the aim of answering fundamental and basic physics questions through the application of the principles and methods of physical sciences to achieve novel and innovative solutions in biology and physics. The relatively recent emergence of biophysics as a scientific discipline may be attributed to the spectacular success of biophysical tools born out of physics that have allowed us to unravel the complex atomic/molecular structures found in DNA and RNA. More recently areas of interest in Biophysics include, but are not limited to bio-molecular imaging while preserving structure and functionality, optogenetics, electromagnetic bioeffects and quantum biology. These research areas are selected for their potential to support technological advances in application areas of interest to the United States Air Force including biologically inspired new innovative and novel materials, autonomy, human performance, Directed Energy, and enhanced computational development for future Air Force needs.

Basic Research Objectives: This is a multidiscipline collaborative basic research effort that meets scientifically meritorious rigor in the area of Biophysics. We seek to directly or indirectly support the efforts of the Air Force Research Laboratories ongoing in house research in Biophysics and Human Performance. We seek to explore new areas in applied mathematics, physics, optics and biology by working in the sub-areas of bio-molecular imaging, optogenetics, electromagnetic bioeffects, and quantum biology.

As examples, the new emerging technology area of optogenetics is beginning to enable precise excitation modulation of distinct atoms and molecules associated with living material to track activity of molecular processes; for controlling cellular signaling processes. Functional projections of intracellular signal pathways at the atomic/molecular level within mammalian cells, with high temporal accuracy and reversible neuromodulation are of fundamental interest in this portfolio. Electromagnetic bioeffects associated with Directed Energy Weapons remains at the forefront of Air Force science and technology interest associated with emerging new technologies, development, and deployment. The interest here is to understand fundamental atomic/molecular mechanisms associated with electromagnetic perturbation that occur below damage thresholds and may give insight into new novel means of human performance enhancement, biological control, and man machine interface. Recent work has found that rapid change in temperature from the IR laser stimulation reversibly alters the electrical capacitance of the plasma membranes of a cell and depolarization of the membrane can results in real measurable action potentials. This capacitance is established by the spatial distributions of ions near the plasma membrane surface and underlies the mechanism responsible for the voltage waves in the Soliton theory of action potentials.

Finally, this program coordinates multi-disciplinary experimental research with mathematical, neuromorphic, and computational modeling to develop the basic scientific foundation to understand and emulate sensory information systems in natural acoustic, visual, and sensorimotor systems.

You are highly encouraged to contact our Program Officer prior to developing a full proposal to briefly discuss the current state-of-the-art, how your research would advance it, and the approximate cost for a three (3) to five (5) year effort.


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Human Performance and Biosystems

Program Description: The U.S. Air Force is currently interested in improving human capabilities through the development of advanced human-machine interfaces and the establishment of direct methods used to augment human performance. The primary goal for this program is to gain a better understanding of the biophysical, biochemical, and physiological mechanisms responsible for the behavioral, genetic, cellular, tissue and systems changes resulting from various forms of perturbation. Additionally, a sensory systems focus has been added to this program and the emphasis is on developing the basic scientific foundation to understand and emulate sensory information systems. Emphasis is on (a) acoustic information analysis, especially in relation to human auditory perception, and (b) sensory and sensorimotor systems that enable 3D airborne navigation and control of natural flight, e.g., in insects or bats, especially in relation to capabilities of autonomous biological systems not yet emulated in engineered flight.

Basic Research Objectives: This program is interested in defining the mechanisms (biological, cognitive, genetic, neural, physiological, etc.) associated with enhancing human capabilities as well as understanding the associated biomarkers, bio-circuits, bioelectric and connection pathways involved with increasing performance capabilities especially as they relate to aircrew member performance. In addition, this program aims to explore natural and synthetic processes, mechanisms and/or pathways for understanding energy production in Biosystems. We are also interested in understanding the variables of fatigue and toxicology as they relate to performance decrement in the aviation environment i.e. exploring the bio-circuitry, biochemical and molecular pathways and processes that generate signals associated with fatigue or performance changes. We wish to define and understand the biomarkers and genetic changes associated with human performance after the administration of toxicological agents, specific interest in toxicology mechanisms that may or may not exhibit toxic effects at a minimal dose level and toxicological effects of flight line equipment. Proposals aimed at understanding synthetic biological processes as they relate to energy production in Biosystems will be accepted. We have a specific interest in understanding organelles, cells, tissues or systems perturbed with Acoustic, Photo, Electric or Magnetic energy.

For the sensory systems portion of the portfolio a goal is to pursue new capabilities in acoustic analysis, to enhance the intelligibility and usefulness of acoustic information. The primary approach is to discover, develop, and test principles derived from an advanced understanding of cortical and sub-cortical processes in the auditory brain. Included are efforts to model and control effects of noise interference and reverberation, understand the psychoacoustic basis of informational masking, develop new methods for automatic speech detection, classification, and identification, and enable efficient 3D spatial segregation of multiple overlapping acoustic sources. Signal analysis methods based upon purely statistical or other conventional “blind source” approaches are not as likely to receive support as approaches based upon auditory system concepts that emphasize higher-level neural processes not yet fully exploited in engineered algorithms for acoustic information processing. Applicants are encouraged to develop collaborative relationships with scientists in the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).

Another program goal is to deepen the scientific understanding of the sensory and sensorimotor processes that enable agile maneuvering and successful spatial navigation in natural flying organisms. Emphasis is on the discovery of fundamental mechanisms that could be emulated for the control of small, automated air vehicles, yet have no current analogue in engineered systems. Recent efforts have included investigations of information processing in wide field-of-view compound eye optics, receptor systems for linear and circular polarization sensing, and mathematical modeling of invertebrate sensorimotor control of path selection, obstacle avoidance and intercept/avoidance of moving targets. All of these areas link fundamental experimental science with neuromorphic or other mathematical implementations to generate and test hypotheses. Current efforts also include innovations in control science to explain and emulate complex behaviors, such as aerial foraging and swarm cohesion, as possible outcomes of simpler sensory-dominated behaviors with minimal cognitive support.

You are highly encouraged to contact our Program Officer prior to developing a full proposal to briefly discuss the current state-of-the-art, how your research would advance it, and the approximate cost for a three (3) to five (5) year effort.


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Mechanics of Multifunctional Materials and Microsystems

Program Description: The main goals of this program are (a) to promote the utilization of newly emerging materials, nano-devices and microsystems in multifunctional design of advanced structures for higher system efficiency, (b) to bridge the gap between the viewpoints from materials science on one side and structural engineering on the other in forming a scientific basis for the materials development and integration criteria, and thereby (c) to establish safer, more maneuverable aerospace vehicles and platforms with unprecedented performance characteristics.

Basic Research Objectives: Specifically, the program seeks to establish the fundamental understanding required to design and manufacture new aerospace materials, nano-devices and microsystems for multifunctional structures and to predict their performance and integrity based on mechanics principles. The multifuctionality implies coupling between structural performance and other as-needed functionalities (such as electrical, magnetic, optical, thermal, chemical, biological, and so forth) to deliver dramatic improvements in system-level efficiency. Structural performance includes the ability to carry the load, durability, reliability, survivability and maintainability in response to the changes in surrounding environments or operating conditions.

Among various visionary contexts for developing multifuctionality, the concepts of particular interest are: (a) “autonomic” structures which can sense, diagnose and respond for adjustment with minimum external intervention, (b) “adaptive” structures allowing reconfiguration or readjustment of functionality, shape and mechanical properties on demand, and (c) structural integration of power harvesting / storage / transmission capabilities for “self-sustaining” system. This program thus focuses on the development of new design criteria involving mechanics, physics, chemistry, biology, and information science to model and characterize the integration and performance of multifunctional materials and microsystems at multiple scales from atoms to continuum.

Projected U.S. Air Force applications require material systems and devices which often consist of dissimilar constituents with different functionalities. Interaction with Air Force Research Laboratory researchers is encouraged to maintain relevance and enhance technology transition.
You are highly encouraged to contact our Program Officer prior to developing a full proposal to briefly discuss the current state-of-the-art, how your research would advance it, and the approximate cost for a three (3) to five (5) year effort.


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Molecular Dynamics and Theoretical Chemistry

Molecular Dynamics

Program Description: This program seeks a molecular-level description of reaction mechanisms and energy transfer processes related to the efficient storage and utilization of energy. The program supports cutting-edge experimental and joint theory-experiment studies that address key, fundamental questions in these areas. There are four major focus areas in the program: Catalytic Reactivity and Mechanisms; Novel Energetic Material Concepts; Dynamics of Energy Transfer and Transport; and Chemistry in Extreme Environments.

Basic Research Objectives: The molecular dynamics program seeks to understand, predict, and control the reactivity and flow of energy in molecules in many areas of interest to the U.S. Air Force. Thus, the program encourages novel and fundamental studies aimed at developing basic understanding and predictive capabilities for chemical reactivity, bonding, and energy transfer processes. Some of the program’s current interests focus on molecular clusters and nanoscale systems in catalysis, and as building blocks for creating novel materials. Understanding the catalytic mechanisms needed to produce storable fuels from sustainable inputs and to improve propulsion processes are also topics of interest, as are novel properties and dynamics of ionic liquids. Work in this program addresses areas in which control of chemical reactivity and energy flow at a detailed molecular level is of importance. These areas include hyperthermal and ion-chemistry in the upper atmosphere and space environment, plasma-surface interactions, the identification of novel energetic materials for propulsion systems, and the discovery of new high-energy laser systems. The coupling of chemistry and fluid dynamics in high speed reactive flows, and in particular, dynamics at gas-surface interfaces, is also of interest. The program is also interested in utilizing plasmonics, and laser excitation to control reactivity.

Theoretical Chemistry

Program Description: The theoretical chemistry program supports research to develop new methods that can be utilized as predictive tools for designing new materials and improving processes important to the U.S. Air Force. These new methods can be applied to areas such as the structure and stability of molecular systems that can be used as advanced propellants; molecular reaction dynamics; and the structure and properties of nanostructures and interfaces. We seek new theoretical and computational tools to identify novel energetic molecules or catalysts for their formation, investigate the interactions that control or limit the stability of these systems, and help guide synthesis by identifying the most promising synthetic reaction pathways and predicting the effects of condensed media on synthesis.

Basic Research Objectives: The program seeks new methods in quantum chemistry to improve electronic structure calculations to efficiently treat increasing larger systems with chemical accuracy. These calculations will be used, for example, to guide the development of new catalysts and materials of interest. New approaches to treating solvation and condensed phase effects will also be considered. New methods are sought to model reactivity and energy transfer in molecular systems. Particular interests in reaction dynamics include developing methods to seamlessly link electronic structure calculations with reaction dynamics, understanding the mechanism of catalytic processes and proton-coupled electron transfer related to storage and utilization of energy, and using theory to describe and predict the details of ion-molecule reactions and electron-ion dissociative recombination processes relevant to ionospheric and space effects on U.S. Air Force systems. Interest in molecular clusters, nanostructures and materials includes work on catalysis and surface-enhanced processes mediated by plasmon resonances. This program also encourages the development of new methods to simulate and predict reaction dynamics that span multiple time and length scales.

You are highly encouraged to contact our Program Officer prior to developing a full proposal to briefly discuss the current state-of-the-art, how your research would advance it, and the approximate cost for a three (3) to five (5) year effort.


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Natural Materials, Systems, and Extremophiles

Program Description: The goals of this multidisciplinary program are to study, use, or alter how living systems accomplish their natural functions. This program is very biomaterials centric but doesn’t cover mimicking of biomaterials properties in non-bio materials.  It looks at existing biomaterials and synthetic biomaterials to understand how nature’s sensors are so exquisite and technologically superior to our current capabilities. For example nature has used evolution to build materials and sensors that outperform current sensors such as a spider’s haircells capable of detecting air flow at low levels even in a noisy background. Nature is very good at solving the problem of working in a noisy environment. The intent of this program is to study/understand the mechanism of existing natural sensory systems, to utilize existing biomaterials, or to add additional capabilities to current systems. The research will encompass four general areas: biomimetics, biomaterials (non-medical only), biointerfacial sciences, and extremophiles.

Basic Research Objectives: Biomimetics research attempts to study the mechanisms and design rules of novel systems that organisms use in their daily lives, and to learn engineering processes and mechanisms for understanding and control of those systems. The intent of this program is to study: natural chromophores and photoluminescent materials (found in microbial and protein-based systems), sensor denial systems, (active and passive camouflage, structural coloration), and protective systems developed in certain organisms to more fully address the predator-prey mechanisms.

The non-medical Biomaterials area is focused on understanding how organisms synthesize materials and their properties. The intent is to understand the properties and structural relationship within the biomaterial to enable synthetic methods to be developed or to modify existing biomaterials genetically. Additionally, we would like to understand how organisms disrupt or deny a material’s function or synthesis.

The Biointerfacial Sciences area is focused on the fundamental science at the biotic and abiotic interface of a biomaterial or organism with a non-natural material such as with proteins and metals (i.e. biotemplating). The nanotechnology and mesotechnology sub-efforts under this area are focused on surface structure and new architectures using nature’s idea of directed assembly at the nanoscale to mesoscale to create desired effects, such as quantum electronics or three dimensional power structures. The use of these structures is in the design of patterned and templated surfaces, new catalysts, and natural materials based-optics/electronics (biophotonics).

The Extremophiles area is focused on understanding the way nature protects biosystems from the extremes of environment such as radiation, heat, cold, acid, pressure, and vacuum. The program wants to understand the mechanism involved in these protective schemes and to try to transfer some of those properties to other biosystems that don’t have that protective scheme present.

You are highly encouraged to contact our Program Officer prior to developing a full proposal to briefly discuss the current state-of-the-art, how your research would advance it, and the approximate cost for a three (3) to five (5) year effort.


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Organic Materials Chemistry  

Program Description: The goal of this research area is to achieve unusual properties and behaviors from polymeric and organic materials and their inorganic hybrids through a better understanding of their chemistry, physics and processing conditions. This understanding will lead to development of advanced organic and polymeric materials for future U.S. Air Force applications. This program’s approach is to study the chemistry and physics of these materials through synthesis, processing control, characterization and establishment of the structure properties relationship of these materials. There are no restrictions on the types of properties to be investigated but heavy emphases will be placed on unusual, unconventional and novel properties. Research concepts that are novel, high risk with potential high payoff are encouraged. Both functional properties and properties pertinent to structural applications will be considered. Materials with these properties will provide capabilities for future Air Force systems to achieving global awareness, global mobility, and space operations.

Basic Research Objectives: Proposals with innovative material concepts that will extend our understanding of the structure-property relationship of these materials, discover previously unknown properties and/or achieve significant property improvement over current state-of-the-art materials are sought. Current interests include photonic polymers and liquid crystals, polymers with interesting electronic properties, and polymers with novel properties achieved through nanostructures. Applications of polymers in extreme environments, including space operation environments, are of interests. Material concepts for power management, power generation and storage applications are of interest. In the area of photonic polymers, research emphases are on materials whose refractive index can be actively controlled. These include, but are not limited to, third order nonlinear optical materials, electro-optic polymers, liquid crystals, photorefractive polymers and magneto-optical polymers. Examples of electronic properties of interest include conductivity, charge mobility, stretchable electronic materials, electro-pumped lasing and solar energy harvesting. Controlled growth and/or self-assembly of nanostructures into well-defined structures (e.g. carbon nanotubes with specific chirality) or hierarchical and complex structures are encouraged. Material concepts that will provide low thermal conductivity but high electrical conductivity (thermoelectric), or vice versa, (thermally conductive electrical insulator) are of interest. Nanotechnology approaches are encouraged to address all the above-mentioned issues. Approaches based on biological systems or other novel approaches to achieve material properties that are difficult to attain through conventional means are encouraged. Concepts of excited state engineering to control the flow of energy within a material or molecule are of interest. Concepts of single molecules that combined different moieties with various functionalities to perform complex functions, as in a rudimentary electronic or photonic circuit for novel applications, are welcome.

You are highly encouraged to contact our Program Officer or to submit a one-page pre-proposal prior to developing a full proposal. Your one-page description should include the objective and approach of the proposed effort, benchmark the targeted results with the current state-of-the-art, a brief rationale why the approach can achieve the target, and the approximate yearly cost for a three (3) to five (5) year effort.


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