Out-Innovating Our Adversaries

Since the inception of the digital age, the United States has been the unchallenged global leader in computing technology, but with little public attention, our advantage has been eclipsed. We are now engulfed in a computing technology race that is as portentous as any military conflict we have ever faced before.

TOP500, the organization that monitors and ranks the world’s supercomputers, reported last summer that China has developed two different computer systems that are now the two fastest on the planet. Just 15 years ago, China had none of the top 500 supercomputers in the world, but today, it has more than any other nation, including the United States. China’s new Sunway TaihuLight achieves speeds that are five times faster than the fastest supercomputer in the United States — and it achieves those speeds with Chinese-made chips.

Supercomputers are used to simulate and study everything from the paths of hurricanes to the genetic origins of man and are critical to future advances in healthcare, the development alternative energy resources and national security. While China’s latest advance does not yet fundamentally change the balance of power, the impacts are clearly visible on the horizon and should be a wake-up call to policymakers.

It is no longer science fiction to imagine an adversary’s use of the first, large-scale practical quantum computer to decrypt previously unbreakable encryption keys that would blind us to enemy military movements while our own would be entirely visible to the enemy. While such a practical quantum computer does not exist today, China is investing billions in their development.

The race is on.

We can no longer rely on decades of military superiority or the so-called technology “offsets” like nuclear weapons, and stealth technology and global positioning satellites. While we may hold a technological lead, it is tenuous: the other runners are advancing on us, clearly visible in our peripheral vision.

The challenge before us is clear. If we are to stay ahead of the ever-growing wave of global technological innovation, we must out-invent, out-discover and out-innovate our adversaries — and we must do so on a constant, daily basis.

There is no third offset. There is only a continuous offset, the keys to which are speed and effectiveness in translating basic research, discoveries and technological advances into affordable operational products and systems that move quickly into actual, practical use.  Our singular mission can be described in three words: rapid, affordable innovation.

To accomplish this mission, we have launched the Institute for Global Security and Defense Innovation (i-GSDI), where our researchers from across campus will converge all of the relevant academic disciplines, including the social and behavioral sciences, to ensure the university’s focus and commitment to national security and defense innovation. With the launch of i-GSDI, Purdue will be a leading innovator for the nation’s defense and security community. The Institute will provide integrated, world-class scientific, engineering, policy, economic and social science problem solving capabilities and solutions.

The Institute was launched in conjunction of the Global Security and Defense Symposium on Dec 1, 2016, where speakers highlighted the critical role of research universities in global security. Throughout the course of seven keynotes and four panels, the notion of convergent thinking across technology, policy, the social sciences took center stage as a necessary approach to a world of increasing, and increasingly complex, challenges.

The Institute is already assembling faculty and student experts and thought leaders for workshops and integration strategy sessions in key areas of autonomy and hypersonic flight technology, with others to follow shortly after.

This convergence is not confined to campus. On the contrary, and by necessity, i-GSDI is also leading strategic partnerships with critical organizations, including the Naval Surface Warfare Center-Crane Division, Sandia National Laboratories, the Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC), and the Air Force Life Cycle management Center. Each of these partners has recognized that Purdue brings critical, complimentary expertise that both broaden and deepen their respective missions.

Longstanding partnership areas with NSWC Crane, such as trusted microelectronics and power/energy storage, are growing at the same time as new areas like model-based systems engineering (MBSE) analytics and hypersonics are emerging, altogether making the relationship truly strategic for both sides.

Similarly, i-GSDI is developing a deep understanding of the needs of the AF Global Strike Command in areas central to our nation’s nuclear deterrent, such as Nuclear Command, Control and Communications. In support of this mission, the Institute is leading a new relationship with Louisiana Tech University, a key local supporter of AF Global Strike, in order that the two universities can maximize impact on the Command’s mission needs.

Purdue is proud to be one of five universities in the Sandia Academic Alliance Program. The i-GSDI has taken the lead in identifying and connecting critical research needs with combinations of Sandia staff and Purdue faculty. These efforts have already produced numerous research efforts and products, and again are drawn much more clarity to the Purdue ecosystem on the critical technologies needed for a “continuous offset”, including advanced energetic materials, hypersonic systems and novel propulsion concepts, next-generation computing and cyber security, to name a few.

The opportunity for Purdue to contribute to our nation’s security and well-being continues to grow. Faculty teams are converging and responding to grand-challenge-scale proposal solicitations from DOD, DHS, the National Nuclear Security Administration, and others in areas such as homeland security, employing Internet of Things technologies on the battlefield, energetic materials, etc. With sustained support from the government, the private sector and venture capital, universities like Purdue that embrace this commitment to developing innovative, convergent technologies will help ensure our continued lead in defense technology — and the security of our nation.

Our Big Idea

It started with a brainstorming session. We wanted to find new ways to impact some of the most wicked global challenges society faces today, and change the world for the better in the process. We understood the power of convergence, and believed that an approach that coupled research in traditionally siloed STEM disciplines with novel digital technologies and data-based approaches, could provide new insights to confront and tackle many of these grand challenges, particularly when augmented by research and insights from the social sciences and the humanities.

In an effort to capitalize on this idea, and catalyze the type of transdiciplinary research that would bring truly wholistic approaches to solving wicked social problems, we launched a new program: The Discovery Park Big Idea Challenge. Our goal was to harness the strengths of Purdue University, and to provide resources to transdiscipliary teams of Purdue faculty and students pursuing new, bold and innovative ideas with the potential for transformative impact on society.

We issued the call for proposals in October of 2016, and the response from across the university was nothing short of phenomenal. Discovery Park received 46 proposals from more than 230 faculty, representing all 10 colleges and 45 departments. Of those 46 proposals, 16 were selected to advance to a final round. Those teams presented the value proposition of their Big Idea to a panel of judges, which included senior Purdue faculty and other external leaders from industry and academia.

While we were very fortunate to receive many outstanding proposals and compelling presentations, at the end of the deliberation, the frontrunners emerged. The seven winning teams will position Discovery Park, and by extension Purdue, as a leader in generating new solutions to global grand challenges in the areas of sustainability, health and security.

 

Photo of Catherine HillRevolutionizing Control of Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases
PI: Catherine Hill, professor of entomology and vector biology, Department of Entomology

Overview: New and reemerging mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika, malaria and dengue are on the rise as a result of unprecedented human population growth, habitat destruction and climate change. Scientists are seeking to develop a robust arsenal of weapons to combat these diseases. Hill’s team aims to meet this challenge by developing new control technologies based on non-toxic and non-lethal pesticides that suppress pathogen transmission by mosquitoes. Ultimately, they intend to create and commercialize compounds that disrupt disease transmission from mosquito to human without killing the insect and while preserving biodiversity.

 

Photo of Leigh RaymondAffordable Net Zero Housing and Transportation Solutions
PI: Leigh Raymond, professor of political science and director of the Center for the Environment in Discovery Park

Overview: Current housing and transportation options create environmental and social challenges and, in particular, impose high costs on low-income families. Drawing on expertise from multiple departments and colleges, Raymond and his team aim to transform the affordable housing sector so that onsite renewable energy and smart home and transportation technologies are the rule rather than the exception.

 

Phot of Dave EbertHarnessing Technology and Information Fusion to Enable Resilient and Sustainable Food-Water Balance under Evolving Environmental Conditions
PI: David S. Ebert, the Silicon Valley Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and director of VACCINE (Visual Analytics for Command, Control and Interoperability Environments)

Overview: By the year 2030, food production must be increased by 70 percent in order to feed a larger world population. Today, almost 80 percent of the world’s fresh water withdrawals from rivers, lakes and aquifers go to agriculture. Ebert and his collaborators will develop a human-computer collaborative decision-making system for sustainable agriculture that takes into account the complex relationships between real-world data, the socio-political environment and on-the-ground practices. The system will provide planners and policy- and decision-makers with more accurate information than previously possible, helping growers to optimize crop yields and minimize use of water and other resources.

 

Phot of Tom HertelManaging the Global Commons: Sustainable Agriculture and Use of World’s Land and Water Resources
PI: Thomas Hertel, Distinguished Professor of Agricultural Economics

Overview: The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) are focused on ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. Meeting that goal will require reconciling future demands for food, energy, clean water, biodiversity, climate change mitigation and poverty reduction. Examining the possibility of win-win outcomes, Hertel and his team will establish an applied research consortium to analyze scenarios and explore policy alternatives that promote responsible public and private investment; sustainable management of critical, shared natural resources; and collective action toward meeting the UN’s SDG.

 

Photo of Yongchen Photonics Science and Technologies for Security and Healthcare Applications
PI: Yong P. Chen, professor of physics and astronomy and of electrical and computer engineering and director of the Purdue Quantum Center

Overview: Approximately 50 million people in the U.S. alone become ill because of contamination by foodborne pathogens and other agents every year. Conventional and standard bacterial detection methods may take up to several hours or even a few days to yield an answer, and are inadequate to solve this problem. Building upon Purdue’s expertise in photonic science and engineering, and collaborations between multiple disciplines and stakeholders, Chen and his team intend to develop photonics-based food pathogen sensors that bridge the gap between university-scale research and real-world deployment, offering enhanced performance at lower cost.

 

Photo fo Nate HartmanRealizing Next-Generation Smart Manufacturing
PI: Nathan Hartman, the Dauch Family Endowed Professor and Associate Head, Department of Computer Graphics Technology, and director of Purdue’s Product Lifecycle Management Center of Excellence

Overview: The digital revolution ― driven by the rapid emergence of new technologies such as 3D printing, the Internet of Things (IOT), autonomous systems, robotics and others ― is changing the way humans live, work and play. In particular, it is transforming manufacturing, which is experiencing a fourth industrial revolution. Exploring approaches to digitalization throughout manufacturing, Hartman’s team will engage with stakeholders, create roadmaps and develop a cohesive, multidisciplinary approach to next-generation manufacturing aimed at creating a new competitive edge for U.S. manufacturers, and at training the next generation of talent that will carry this revolution forward.

 

Photo of Dongyan XuTowards Cyber-Physical Vetting of Critical Infrastructures
PI: Dongyan Xu, professor of computer science and interim director of the Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security (CERIAS)

Overview: Critical cyber-enabled infrastructures, such as those in civil, energy, manufacturing and defense domains, are increasingly the target of cyber or physical attacks that pose significant threats to organizational and national security. However, no strong defenses currently exist that span both the cyber and physical domains. Xu and his team aim to develop an integrated framework for vetting a cyber-physical infrastructure system from both the cyber and the physical perspectives simultaneously. The outcome is expected to provide a new set of models, methods and tools for defending a wide range of cyber-physical infrastructures such as dams, nuclear facilities, IOT systems and others.

 

These winning teams will receive funding for up to two years, based on the scope, milestones and budget laid out in the proposals submitted. While this funding alone will not be sufficient to truly tackle and solve a challenge of the magnitude and scope presented by these teams, it will help nurture ideas and create opportunities for new and significant external funding—both public and private– that will position these teams and the university as leaders in their areas of endeavor. The teams will chart new pathways to discoveries, innovations and social and policy solutions, while training the next generation of future leaders and interdisciplinary talent.

Because we received a number of exemplary proposals, we also plan to work with the teams that did not obtain funding in this first round to help them identify other partner organizations and mechanisms for achieving their research goals.

We are thrilled to be able to work with these teams, and invite you to follow this blog for updates to their progress and for more information about the transformative work happening at Purdue University and Discovery Park.

A word from the Chief Scientist

We are in the early dawn of a fourth industrial revolution. To explore the societal implications, and the opportunities that this revolution opens for Purdue, I want to start by borrowing the words of Cathy Engelbert, CEO of Deloitte LLP, who recently wrote:

 “The first three [industrial revolutions] unlocked the power of steam, electricity, and information technology, and in the process reshaped the way we live and work. Now we see the convergence of the physical, the digital, and the biological— a fusion revolution—and the implications will be no less sweeping.”

Engelbert suggests that as analytics, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, blockchain, robotics, quantum computing, and 3D printing all rapidly advance, nearly every facet of the human experience will be dramatically altered.

In fact, I would go even further, and argue that the convergence of these and other technologies will impact not only where we live and how we move, but how we protect the environment, how we prevent and cure disease, how we feed the world, how we educate future generations, and how we work.

Convergence is already affecting critical fields such as the health sciences. In a recent report authored by three MIT leaders titled, Convergence: The Future of Health, the authors argue that, “convergence is already showing dramatic progress toward more powerful imaging technologies; nanotechnology for diagnostics and drug delivery; ‘silencing’ cancer genes; re-growing injured body parts, and unraveling the complexity of diseases.” They also caution that despite tremendous progress, “delivering on the full promise of Convergence is hindered by federal research funding practices that often reflect a classical, disciplinary-based structure. This structure harkens back to a time when life science, physical sciences, and engineering were viewed as separate activities…”

However, that threat to progress resides not only with Federal funding agencies locked into models rooted in the past, it also lies within universities vested in the same classical, discipline-based, siloed academic models that have changed little over time. As traditional models of education and research get disrupted, embracing the concepts and power of convergence will be key to making universities truly relevant to society in the future.

At Purdue we are very fortunate. We already have a number of interdisciplinary undergraduate and graduate programs. In addition, President Martin Jischke’s vision that created Discovery Park about 15 years ago, provides us with a foundation to lead from the front in the fusion revolution.  At Discovery Park–the place where disciplines converge to solve global challenges–we are focused on a series of initiatives that aim to position Purdue as a global leader in the development of the scientific basis, the engineering and technology solutions, the understanding of the social and policy dynamics, and the future talent that will make this fusion revolution a benefit to all of humanity.

In this blog, I will provide you with a glimpse into the various initiatives that faculty across campus are catalyzing here at Discovery Park to realize this vision of convergence. Our strategic themes capitalize on the core competencies of Purdue in the STEM disciplines, in nanotechnology and advanced instrumentation, big data, entrepreneurship, the social sciences, and understanding complex systems.

By 2050, the global population is expected to reach 9.6 billion. Global megatrends indicate that our planet will need to produce 70% more food by 2030, serve a  40-60% increased demand for energy resources by 2050, and have the infrastructure, technological and dynamic policy solutions to house, protect, and sustain our planet and its people.  Within that framework, Discovery Park seeks to advance research across, and at the intersection of, three main thematic areas:

  • Global Health
    • From innovative new treatment methods to game-changing healthcare delivery systems, Purdue scientists and researchers at Discovery Park are advancing efforts aimed at improving the health of people across the globe.
  • Global Sustainability
    • A global population explosion and the subsequent need for more food, the rise of the middle class and the growth of urban areas – these are global challenges shaping our future and guiding the research in Discovery Park.
  • Global Security
    • Convergence of knowledge is a central tenet of Purdue’s impact on the nation’s defense and security community. Our goal is to provide integrated, world-class scientific, engineering, policy, economic and social science problem-solving capabilities and solutions.

I look forward to sharing our initiatives and the impact that our teams are having in these areas. I invite all of our readers to follow this blog for updates and for information on how you can take part and engage in the exciting things happening at Discovery Park.

Tomás Díaz de la Rubia
Chief Scientist and Executive Director
Discovery Park