DARPA Forward conference kicks off at WSU Pullman

DARPA Director Stefanie Tompkins on stage at DARPA Forward conference.
Stefanie Tompkins, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, addresses the crowd at WSU Pullman during the opening of the DARPA Forward conference Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022.

Researchers, government officials, and industry leaders assembled Tuesday for the start of the DARPA Forward Conference at WSU Pullman.

DARPA Forward represents the national security-focused research organization’s efforts to make face-to-face connections with tomorrow’s innovators, DARPA’s Director Stefanie Tompkins told audiences in her opening remarks.

“Our business model is new people, new ideas, and big risks,” Tompkins said, speaking on-stage within the Compton Union Building to an audience of hundreds assembled in-person and watching remotely.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency dates back more than six decades, formed in response to Soviet Union’s launch of the Sputnik satellite. Rather than face a future of being surprised by the technical advances of peers and rivals, federal officials committed to creating DARPA and making its own technological surprises in the realm of national security and beyond, Tompkins said.

DARPA looks for researchers at universities and within industry who have the potential to disrupt existing paradigms across fields like information technology or material sciences and offers to provide resources to make it happen. The search for new program managers is a large part of why the organization is hosting the conference at WSU and five other research universities through the end of the year, Tompkins said. DARPA is also tapping into the regional research ecosystems enriched by industry and small businesses by conducting in-person conferences.

The variety of DARPA and Department of Defense-funded research at WSU — ranging from the musculature of rodents to ballistic-resilient materials — was highlighted by WSU Pullman Chancellor, Provost and Executive Vice President Elizabeth Chilton in her opening remarks.

“With around $350 million in research and development expenditures annually, Washington State University has very high research activity, and represents the full range of disciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary scholarship,” Chilton said. “We take seriously our land grant mission to apply our scholarship and teaching to benefit the state, the nation, and society writ large, and we are proud of the innovation represented by our research and extension centers. In this vein, WSU also has a long tradition of research supporting national security, and we’re honored DARPA selected our campus to host this important gathering of top research scientists. “

WSU Vice President for Research Chris Keane noted that among those in attendance in-person and remotely represented more than 100 public and private institutions. DARPA Forward represents a significant opportunity for WSU researchers as well as those who contribute to the region’s innovations and breakthroughs, Keane said.

In her remarks, Tompkins noted that WSU researchers would share the stage with DARPA representatives and discuss their work. On Wednesday, Hans Van Dongen, director of WSU Spokane’s Sleep and Performance Research Center will present on resiliency to performance deficits driven by sleep losses from 9:45–10:30 a.m.

In the afternoon, Mani Venkatasubramanian, the Boeing Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering, will present on sustainable, secure and resilient power grids. They will be proceeded by Wednesday’s keynote address by Adam Smith, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Announcements regarding DARPA’s upcoming initiatives that are particularly relevant to small business will also be discussed toward the end of Wednesday’s events.

More information on the DARPA Forward Conference is available on the organization’s website.

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