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NSWC Crane uses “microgrants” to strengthen collaborative research with academia

The Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division (NSWC Crane) received a record number of collaborative research proposals from academic institutions during the past fiscal year, and laboratory officials believe the recent use of microgrants to fund research and development (R&D) partnerships deserves some of the credit.

"We are shaping the research landscape by making use of microgrants and partnerships with academia," said Dr. Jonathan Dilger, the Director of Research at NSWC Crane.

Microgrants are a small amount of funds granted to an external partner for impact-oriented R&D consistent with NSWC Crane’s mission areas. Crane does this by providing funds externally for its research initiatives, capitalizing on academic innovators, and connecting them to other Department of Defense (DoD) science and technology (S&T) sponsors.

Crane’s use of microgrants over the past several years may be part of a noteworthy shift in how the organization is conducting research – which has contributed to creating more advanced solutions for the warfighter.

Dilger says that sending requests for proposals to academia was something Crane has done for a decade. This past fiscal year (FY2020), Crane received not only a record number of proposals from academic institutions, but also received proposals from diverse universities from different parts of the country.

“Last year, we had an overwhelming response that wasn’t just from regional institutions; there was a tremendous number submitted from across the US,” Dilger said. “Most are top-tier in their field.”

Dilger says that by capitalizing on the brainpower and unique experiences of the workforce’s expertise, research becomes additionally robust for the end user.

“We are getting more results that are exciting and scientifically interesting for our customers,” he said. “There’re also more opportunities for continuation of research down the road.”

According to the National Defense Strategy, cultivating workforce talent is a critical component to building a increased lethal force: “A modern, agile, information-advantaged Department requires a motivated, diverse, and highly skilled civilian workforce.” Workforce development includes partnerships with academia. It mentions, “the Department will also continue to explore streamlined, non-traditional pathways to bring critical skills into service, expanding access to outside expertise, and devising new public-private partnerships to work with small companies, start-ups, and universities.”

The National Defense Strategy also notes, “the security environment is also affected by rapid technological advancements and the changing character of war.” It lists “new technologies include advanced computing, ‘big data’ analytics, artificial intelligence, autonomy, robotics, directed energy, hypersonics, and biotechnology—the very technologies that ensure we will be able to fight and win the wars of the future.”

The four microgrant programs awarded for FY2020 covered several of these critical areas, including resilient quantum computing, machine learning and sensor fusion, modeling and simulation, and electromagnetic interface (EMI) protection.

“All of these research areas are niche areas specific to the expertise of Crane," Dilger said. "In fact, one of these microgrant awards provided early research results that contributed to a follow-on award from the Office of Naval Research Discovery & Invention Program. We were excited to see our seeded research extended directly by our partners at ONR.”

These partnerships over the years have connected Crane closely with academia and that stronger partnerships with academia create better solutions for the end-user, he said.

“When we engage with more partners, we are connected for future problem sets and research," Dilger said. "Ultimately, we are observing change in the culture at Crane that benefits our workforce, research, and partnerships creating better solutions for the warfighter.”

Read more: https://www.navsea.navy.mil/Media/News/SavedNewsModule/Article/2512092/n...

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