NSF-funded research continues to support national security

Countering violent extremism
Many dismiss extremists as psychopaths. But, based on interviews with extremists in war zones, University of Michigan anthropologist Scott Atranand psychologist Jeremy Ginges from The New School in New York City have found the truth is more complicated. With NSF support, Atran and Ginges conducted studies across six continents, observing, interviewing and studying people in war zones, as well as peaceful neighborhoods, to learn what drives a person to violent extremism. The work led to findings that could help with the development of strategies to disrupt recruitment. The Department of Defense and other agencies are now using this research to better counter violent extremism.

Fundamental physics for better GPS
Whether it is mapping to a rendezvous point, keeping a fighter jet on course or developing missiles with precision accuracy, GPS is an essential tool for today’s military that relies on fundamental physics. Einstein’s theories of relativity provide the relativistic corrections that ensure the kind of accuracy the military has come to rely on in its GPS devices. Without those corrections, GPS localization would accumulate errors at a rate of 10 kilometers a day. NSF-funded theoretical and experimental physics research helped provide the foundation for those more accurate systems. The agency continues its support today, funding work to enhance GPS accuracy through means such as improved atomic clocks.

Improving prosthetics with brain-computer interface
If you can think it, you can do it — at least, that could be the adage for Jose Contreras-Vidal, a professor formerly with the University of Maryland, College Park and currently with the University of Houston. He and his team have created a non-invasive, sensor-lined cap that forms a brain-computer interface that could one day control computers, robotic prosthetic limbs, motorized wheelchairs and even digital avatars. This advance could significantly improve how vets adapt to prosthetics of the future.

Minimizing blood loss in battle wounds
Treating traumatic wounds on the battlefield poses incredible challenges. Controlling bleeding is one of the first priorities, but when medics are dealing with torso injuries, they cannot use traditional compression methods. To address this life-threatening problem, small business Remedium Technologies is using NSF funding to develop a product called Hemogrip, a biopolymer foam in a handheld, lightweight canister. The sprayable foam would expand in a wound, adhering to tissue and sealing it, thereby minimizing blood loss and saving soldiers’ lives.

Software helps military veterans with PTSD, depression, and other issues
As much as 77 percent of returning military personnel don’t get the treatment they need due to a lack of adequate available resources, combined with a fear of stigmatization inherent in seeking face-to-face treatment. With support from NSF, former Navy pilot Rich Gengler, former Army Sgt. Justin Savage and the team at Prevail Health Solutions have built and tested an online screening and counseling program called VetsPrevail. Optimized through careful research, the program helps service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan make a more successful transition back to civilian life.

Detecting explosives using a tip from nature
With funding from NSF, Tak-Sing Wong and his team of Penn State University researchers have developed a versatile technique to detect very small numbers of molecules from chemicals and biological species in gaseous, liquid or solid samples. Their sensor platform combines laser-based Raman spectroscopy — a technique used for identifying substances by finding their molecular “fingerprints” — with a slippery surface based on that of the carnivorous Asian pitcher plant. The slick surface allows users to concentrate samples, making the target molecules easier to find. This technology opens the door to improved detection of environmental contaminants, biological agents and chemical explosives, offering many potential applications in national security.

Predicting conflict
What if we could more accurately predict where conflict will arise next? What if we could tease apart the variables most likely to lead to war? A team of researchers, including political scientists Skyler Cranmer of Ohio State University, Bruce Desmarais of the University of Massachusetts Amherst and statistician Shankar Bhamidi of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, developed a new method of modeling international conflict. The researchers say their technique can predict where conflicts will occur five and even 10 years into the future — better than any existing model.