NextFlex Fellow named from AFRL

  • Published
  • By Donna Lindner
  • Air Force Research Laboratory
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – A prominent technical director from the Air Force Research Laboratory Materials and Manufacturing Directorate was one of six people selected to receive the NextFlex Fellow award.


Dr. Richard Vaia, technical director in the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate’s Functional Materials Division, received this noteworthy award at the recent annual FLEX conference in Monterey, California.


NextFlex is a consortium of companies, academic institutions, non-profits and state, local and federal governments with a shared goal of advancing the United States manufacturing of flexible hybrid electronics. It is one of 14 manufacturing innovation institutes in the Manufacturing USA network.


FHE manufacturing is the production of electronic and sensor packaging through new techniques in device handling and high precision printing on flexible, stretchable substrates. The array of products range from wearable devices to improved medical health monitoring technologies.


Honorees were chosen by NextFlex based on their work in advancing the use of FHE in manufacturing, research, government, education and military applications, as well as workforce development. The award is for those who consistently go above and beyond to advance the NextFlex mission.


“This year’s award recipients have proven exceptional advocates for the advancement of FHE in their fields,” said Dr. Malcolm Thompson, executive director for NextFlex. “Their leadership as well as their outstanding contributions to NextFlex demonstrate their commitment to innovations in the FHE industry.”


Vaia is no newcomer to winning awards. He was inducted as a fellow in five societies, including the American Physics Society, the American Chemistry Society, the Materials Research Society, the ACS Division of Polymeric Materials and Engineering and AFRL. He also received the Air Force Outstanding Scientist award as well as the Exemplary Civilian Service award.


“I am honored to have been chosen as a NextFlex Fellow,” said Vaia. “The nomination and award was a complete surprise to me.”


In his current capacity, Vaia is responsible for the development and strategic direction of the technical program related to functional materials and their use in Air Force systems. He advises on components of AFRL and the DoD in several areas, including: revolutionizing Air Force survivability, directed energy, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, integrated energy and human performance capabilities.


Dr. Benjamin Leever, Senior Materials Engineer in the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate and Government Chief Technology Officer of NextFlex nominated Vaia for the award.


“Rich was an early advocate for a manufacturing institute in FHE, and he played a critical role in shaping both the technical vision and governance of NextFlex,” said Leever. “Since NextFlex was founded, Rich has repeatedly provided both strategic and technical guidance that has influenced both the technical direction and business practices of the organization. He has also played a critical role in strengthening ties between NextFlex and AFRL as well as between NextFlex and similar consortia such as Nano-Bio Manufacturing Consortium and FlexTech.”


FHE will increase the variety and capability of sensors, providing crucial components to enable the Internet of Things. Bendable and stretchable electronics are finding their way into athletics, transportation, medical care, security, disaster relief and logistics. These technologies promise dual use applications in both the consumer economy and the development of military solutions for the warfighter.