The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 62.0°F | Partly Cloudy

SDIO funds research

Third in a series on the Oct. 21 Strategic Defense Initiative forum.

The Strategic Defense Initiative Office (SDIO) provides funds for those who want to do research in computers, sensors, lasers, power, materials, directed energy propellants and space science, according to Dr. James Ionson, director of science and technology for the SDIO.

Shaoul Ezekiel '68, professor in the Departments of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Vera Kistiakowsky, professor of physics, and Scott Saleska '86 of MIT Student Pugwash served as panelists who each responded to Ionson's arguments. Kistiakowsky and Saleska countered that SDI research was a waste of technical resources.

Following an analysis of SDI capability itself ["Ionson counters SDI disputes," Nov. 1 The Tech], Ionson focused on the university program. "I cherish the heritage of the academic program," he said. He presented some of the research advances brought about by SDI, including a new lithium aluminum silicate glass as strong as steel and a new capacitor that can hold 250 kilojoules in a 250 lb. can.

"Ideas just came in," Ionson said, "very exciting ideas." But he denied that he was "trying to sell SDI through its spinoffs."

The types of research SDI is looking for in computers, Ionson said, are highly parallel architectures. The SDIO is also interested in fault tolerance. Instead of millions of lines of error free code, Ionson claimed that only fault-tolerant code was necessary.

Interest in optical computing utilizing photons instead of electrons exists because of its potential speed, he continued. SDI also wants revolutionary software development tools. Instead of attacking problems through innovation, these tools would decompose the problem into several simpler tasks.

SDI is also researching gamma ray sensors, and their integration into laser satellite networking.

In the area of power, Ionson said that SDI had interest in high-current and high-voltage switches, gas core nuclear reactors, batteries and other energy storage devices.

SDI's interest in materials lies in ceramic matrix composites, metal matrix composites for high durability mirrors, metastable materials such as diamonds and organic compounds that respond rapidly to electromagnetic radiation, he said.

Gamma ray lasers are of great interest in the area of directed energy propellants, Ionson said. And in the area of space science, SDI is investigating how systems interact with a vacuum enivoronment. Specifically, SDI wants to investigate how waves and energy propogate through disturbances, he explained.

The solicitation process for research funding is a two-step process, Ionson said.

The first step is a preproposal which is a 10-page concept paper. The second phase is a formal proposal. So far 3000 preproposals, or white papers, have been received for consideration. Only 10 percent of the preproposals can be accomodated.

Ionson emphasized "that work done on campus must remain unclassified. Work hard to work fast, not to cover up what you've already done."

Kistiakowsky, Saleska

express their views

Basic research should not be dependent upon Department of Defense (DOD) funding, according to Ionson. The DOD receives only 11 percent of federal basic research funding.

He added that only one percent of basic government research on campus will involve SDI-related projects. "Don't be concerned that the backbone of academia will crumble," Ionson said.

SDI's $14 million allocation to universities was "not from NSF [National Science Foundation], not from NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration], but from DOD."

He added that the research-displaced dollars that would have been spent on "bazookas and tanks." SDI research on campus "will be treated as fundamental research," he said.

SDI is a diversion from research, according to Kistiakowsky. She said that 72 cents of every federal research and development dollar goes to the military. While military R&D has increased by 12 percent, non-military R&D has declined by one percent.

Furthermore, military spinoffs do not truly address civilian needs, she explained. "You don't need to develop a five megawatt laser for brain surgery."

Kistiakowsky cited a New York Times article in which Ionson explained the thrust of mission_oriented research. The article stated that the basic researcher drives wherever he wants. A mission-oriented researcher, on the other hand, is told to go to Florida; how he gets there is his own business.

"We don't need to go to Florida in such a massive flow," said Kistiakowsky. "It's ironic we are trying to impose control of science like the Soviet Union."

Saleska spoke of the diversion of technical resources to the military. One-third of scientists and engineers are employed in the defense sector, he claimed, and 40 percent of the new R&D dollars in the country are for SDI. Saleska also cited a Pugwash survey stating that 60 percent of the undergraduates at MIT do not want to work for the military.

Technical resources could be better utilized by solving the problems of acid rain or alternate sources of energy for public use, he said. The government has neglected research on the development of the environment, alternate energy sources, mass transport and space exploration, he said.