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AEDC director speaks at Joint Program Review

ARLINGTON, Va. -- It would have been understandable for a speaker to appear rattled addressing hundreds of world-renowned scientists gathered in Atlanta recently for the Air Force Office of Scientific Research's Joint Program Review.

Dan Marren, director of the Arnold Engineering Development Center's White Oak, Md., facility, after all, had only 45 minutes to prepare a 30-minute speech shortly after he received word his boss could not make it. At the Joint Program Review, Mr. Marren expected to be in the audience. Instead, he spoke to scientists brought together by AFOSR program managers to review five major Air Force basic research portfolios.

Speaking to experts who spent the week discussing such topics as physical mathematics and plasma aerodynamics could affect anyone's composure - anyone except Mr. Marren. His presentation focused on three topics which, he said, are of critical importance to the scientific community - basic research, collaboration and relationships, and use of imagination to achieve great possibilities. The thread that weaves these concepts together is vision.

"At AEDC," Mr. Marren said, "we have 58 unique test cells to examine topics such as propulsion, aerodynamics and space." The problem, he said, is that "it can take nine to 15 years to conceptualize, build, develop, calibrate, and put in place a test facility capable of doing the sort of testing that is desired.

"With that in mind," Mr. Marren said, "it is critical we reach back to the basic research community with a number of goals. One goal is to look closely at the concepts you're working on, the physics you're trying to understand, and the types of developments and breakthroughs you're making. This work enables the systems of tomorrow. If we look at those systems, we can get a feel for what kinds of tests and evaluations we're going to have to do to make those systems a reality."

Collaboration and relationships are also important in technological advancement.

"At AEDC, we have about 2,500 employees - engineers, technicians and others. We also have some tremendous facilities designed to fully test systems before we use them in the field. Additionally, AEDC facilities exist outside of Tennessee. One was transferred from the Navy at White Oak, Md. There, we do hypervelocity testing at relevant scale. Another is one we now manage - the National Full-Scale Aerodynamics Complex located on NASA property in Moffet Field, Calif., where we test at much lower speeds. These are just two examples of how we are trying to think globally instead of only as a single service or agency.

"Additionally, General (David L.) Stringer (commander, AEDC, Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn.) has been tireless in traveling around the country and world to build relationships," Mr. Marren said. "He and I share a belief that in today's era, no one is going to do it alone.

"On a recent trip to D.C., for example, General Stringer had two purposes. One purpose was to support the signing of a memorandum of agreement with the secretary of the Air Force and the NASA administrator to fully cooperate in aeronautics - take advantage of each other's capabilities and really work together to reach common goals," he said. This is especially important, he explained, as budgets become tighter.

Imagination, said Mr. Marren, plays a key role in this equation. Research can stall or halt if researchers allow themselves to be limited by available resources.

"We should not say 'I'm doing my research this way because these are the tools I have to do it'. Rather, we should figure out what needs to be done and let that define what our capabilities are," he said. This sort of thinking can help everyone in two key areas - prioritization of resources and enabling scientists to think in terms of limitless boundaries, he said.