Research Topics

Below is a list of research topics supported by the AFRL. Use the filters and keyword search below to find research topics of interest. You can apply for up to 3 topics on your application.




Scholars are encouraged to contact any mentors whose projects they find of interest. To contact the mentor, use the link included at the conclusion of each project description.

Advanced Web Based Tool for Visualizing Navigation Data
Mentor: Jimmy E Touma, Munitions
Location: Eglin
Academic Level: Masters, Ph.D.

The Integrated Sensing and Processing branch at the Munitions Directorate is seeking an undergraduate level candidate to design and develop an interactive visualization tool for flight data. The tool should be platform independent, run in a browser, and make use of the latest web technologies. The candidate will implement the tool so that it can be used on previously collected data and on real-time scenarios. The candidate should have a strong programming background in JavaScript and web technologies. A working knowledge of D3.js, Cesium, interactive map technologies, and publisher/subscriber model is desired. Portability to mobile devices is an option if time allows.


Aero-optics research
Mentor: Christopher Charles Wilcox, Directed Energy
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: Masters, Ph.D.

The propagation of laser beams through turbulent flows has been an important topic with applications ranging from missile defense to target designation and tracking. The turbulent air disturbances are severe enough to severely distort the light, preventing it from properly focusing. The study of these interactions has been described as "aero-optics". The opportunities for the aero-optic research at AFRL include experimental studies of turbulence such as turbulent boundary layers and shear layers as well as the development of appropriate diagnostic instrumentation, and water-table visualization. Computational (CFD) opportunities also exists to design aero-optic experiments and to develop accurate aero-optic CFD solutions.


Aero-optics research
Mentor: Matthew A Cooper, Directed Energy
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: Upper-level Undergraduate

The propagation of laser beams through turbulent flows has been an important topic with applications ranging from missile defense to target designation and tracking. The turbulent air disturbances are severe enough to severely distort the light, preventing it from properly focusing. The study of these interactions has been described as "aero-optics". The opportunities for the aero-optic research at AFRL include experimental studies of turbulence such as turbulent boundary layers and shear layers as well as the development of appropriate diagnostic instrumentation, and water-table visualization. Computational (CFD) opportunities also exists to design aero-optic experiments and to develop accurate aero-optic CFD solutions. This project may be modified to the background and interest of the student.


AFRL STEM Media Initiative
Mentor: Joanne Louise Perkins, Directed Energy
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: Lower-level Undergraduate, Upper-level Undergraduate

AFRL-NM is looking to better understand how to present and communicate STEM initiatives and learning to the local community. Of particular interest is how to link STEM concepts and STEM careers to experiences for which the community is familiar. This project, which emphasizes the “Technology” component of STEM, involves experimentation with multiple media formats, social media platforms, and other cutting-edge technologies to research and develop new techniques for presenting STEM material to a wide variety of audiences. Both, digital and live formats will be explored. Media technology and/or education students would be ideal for this project as such students will have the needed balance of technological, communication, and teaching skills.


App Research and Development for Outreach and Tech Transfer
Mentor: Derek Thomas Doyle, Space Vehicles
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: Lower-level Undergraduate

Interns will develop applications for AFRL Outreach and Tech Transfer needs. R&D will be conducted to determine project demands, platform requirements, and current presentation formats.


Architecture Analytics in the SPACER Lab
Mentor: Jesse Keith Mee, Space Vehicles
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: Upper-level Undergraduate

AFRL/RVS has established a dedicated architecture analytics testbed under the Space Performance Analytics and Computing Environment Research (SPACER) project. The objective of this project is to provide AFRL with an organic, in-house, capability to assess processing options for next generation mission applications. This addresses the increasing challenge of mapping mission requirements to hardware and software implementations for space computing applications. This topic specifically seeks optimization and evaluation of mission application codes on state of the art, Rad-hard, Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGA). The selected scholar will be given mission application source code and tasked with synthesizing the code for use on multiple FPGA resources. This will allow for detailed analysis of the application’s performance on different hardware architecture alternatives, providing critical insight into the computational requirements for next generation mission applications. This effort will provide a valuable capability to the Air Force, guiding future science and technology investments decisions


Classification of Electronics Failure Under Shock Loading
Mentor: Jacob Dodson, Munitions
Location: Eglin
Academic Level: Lower-level Undergraduate, Upper-level Undergraduate

During an impact, there are many variables about the acceleration profile that affect the survivability of an electronic device, such as peak acceleration, impact duration, and net change in velocity. While there is some learned intuition as to whether a component will fail under a given test, there is little statistical support in these predictions.

During this internship, the student will subject a set of representative circuit boards to a series of impacts of varying profiles (e.g. peak accelerations and durations). The boards will consist of representative components found in standard fuze systems. Survival or failure of different components on each board will be noted after each impact. This information along with measurements of the deceleration profile will be analyzed. Statistical methods (such as regression analysis and ANOVA) and machine learning algorithms (such as k-nearest neighbor, support vector machines, decision trees, or neural networks) will be used to correlate impact properties to the likelihood of component failure and to predict component failure based on given impact profile. This analysis would give us insight into what factors are important in electronics failure under shock.


Cold Atom Experimental Control and Data Acquisition
Mentor: Spencer E Olson, Space Vehicles
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: Masters, Ph.D.

Our laboratory is developing inertial navigation sensors and clocks using cold-atom technology. The relevant experiments and prototypes for cold-atom sensors typically require specialized timing-control hardware, software, and computer integration. We are developing means to utilize micro-controllers, low-power computers, field-programmable gate arrays (FPGA), and open-source software for data acquisition and experimental control. The assigned project will depend on the student's interest and experience, but could include micro-controller programming, FPGA programming, low-power computer-experiment integration, and/or development and testing of new cold-atom control routines/hardware for use in future or current experiments.


Cold Atom Experimental Control and Data Acquisition
Mentor: Spencer E Olson, Space Vehicles
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: Lower-level Undergraduate, Upper-level Undergraduate

Our laboratory is developing inertial navigation sensors and clocks using cold-atom technology. The relevant experiments and prototypes for cold-atom sensors typically require specialized timing-control hardware, software, and computer integration. We are developing means to utilize micro-controllers, low-power computers, field-programmable gate arrays (FPGA), and open-source software for data acquisition and experimental control. The assigned project will depend on the student's interest and experience, but could include micro-controller programming, FPGA programming, low-power computer-experiment integration, and/or development and testing of new cold-atom control routines/hardware for use in future or current experiments.


Cold Atom Sources
Mentor: Matthew Squires, Space Vehicles
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: Lower-level Undergraduate, Upper-level Undergraduate

Cold atoms are used to make precision measurements of rotation, acceleration, time (think atomic clocks), etc.  Atoms are typically cooled using laser cooling techniques to temperatures less than 100 micro Kelvin to reduce thermal noise and increase measurement time.  We are investigating new cold atoms sources that either reduce the size, weight, and power (SWAP) requirements of laser cooled sources or that can cool atoms without lasers.  Reducing SWAP is an important considering for making compact devices that can be transitioned from the laboratory into real world applications.  Cooling atoms without laser opens the possibility of using atoms that currently cannot be cooled but have properties that are of scientific and/or technical interest.   The assigned project will depend on the student’s interest and experience.


Cold Atom Sources
Mentor: Matthew Squires, Space Vehicles
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: High School

Cold atoms are used to make precision measurements of rotation, acceleration, time (think atomic clocks), etc.  Atoms are typically cooled using laser cooling techniques to temperatures less than 100 micro Kelvin to reduce thermal noise and increase measurement time.  We are investigating new cold atoms sources that either reduce the size, weight, and power (SWAP) requirements of laser cooled sources or that can cool atoms without lasers.  Reducing SWAP is an important considering for making compact devices that can be transitioned from the laboratory into real world applications.  Cooling atoms without laser opens the possibility of using atoms that currently cannot be cooled but have properties that are of scientific and/or technical interest.   The assigned project will depend on the student’s interest and experience.


Cubesat: Concept Through Launch
Mentor: Oscar Martinez, Space Vehicles
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: High School

Interns will explore the development of a cubesat. This project will include the design of an xU cubesat based on an identifed scientific mission, related sensor measurements, and overall system requirements (power, comm, etc...). Following cubesat build and launch, data will be acquired and analyzed to complete scientific mission requirements.


Development of Microsecond Health Monitoring Technology
Mentor: Jacob Dodson, Munitions
Location: Eglin
Academic Level: Upper-level Undergraduate

This program will conduct experiments and complimentary modeling with the goal of identifying operational damage mechanisms in structures that are subject to high strain rate loading conditions.

Microsecond damage detection methods may include active excitation (electromechanical impedance), passive model-based updating, or active cyber-physical model-experiment interactions.


Electromagnetic Disruption of Electronic Systems
Mentor: Daniel Stephen Guillette, Directed Energy
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: Masters, Ph.D.

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is interested in furthering its understanding of how electromagnetic radiation disrupts the operation of electronic devices and their underlying subsystems. The purpose of this research topic is to explore and determine the response of microcontrollers to intentional electromagnetic interference (IEMI). Microcontrollers are used in the this topic because they are miniature computers containing onboard memory, processing modules, and I/O capabilities which makes them an ideal halfway point for larger more complex electronics systems and individual integrated circuits. The overarching goal of this topic is to implement its collective results into a mathematical model which can predict a microcontroller’s response when subjected to incident high power electromagnetic pulses. The selected Directed Energy Scholar will design, perform, and document hands-on experiments in which they expose a microcontroller to IEMI so as to determine the working test criteria for when safe operation, software compromised operation, and physical damage are encountered. Scholars will also have the opportunity to use advanced computer aided circuit modeling toolkits and design their own printed circuit boards as needed.


Gigawatt-class High Power Microwave Source Modeling
Mentor: Jason Hammond, Directed Energy
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: Masters, Ph.D.

We will assemble a team of DE Scholars and AFRL scientists to model/simulate cutting edge gigawatt-class high power microwave (HPM) source technologies. We will utilize the DoD's massively parallel supercomputing capabilities to perform high fidelity simulations using the AFRL's Improved Concurrent Electromagnetic Particle-in-Cell Code (ICEPIC). We will be virtually prototyping and improving the world's most advanced HPM sources, leveraging the latest published results to produce virtual prototypes that represent the best of the world's HPM sources. Team members will work closely with each other and their mentors to learn the basic and advanced features of ICEPIC to create and run successful HPM models in a high performance computing environment.


Gigawatt-class High Power Microwave Source Modeling
Mentor: Jason Hammond, Directed Energy
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: Upper-level Undergraduate

We will assemble a team of DE Scholars and AFRL scientists to model/simulate cutting edge gigawatt-class high power microwave (HPM) source technologies. We will utilize the DoD's massively parallel supercomputing capabilities to perform high fidelity simulations using the AFRL's Improved Concurrent Electromagnetic Particle-in-Cell Code (ICEPIC). We will be virtually prototyping and improving the world's most advanced HPM sources, leveraging the latest published results to produce virtual prototypes that represent the best of the world's HPM sources. Team members will work closely with each other and their mentors to learn the basic and advanced features of ICEPIC to create and run successful HPM models in a high performance computing environment.


High-Power Optical Hollow-Core Fiber R&D
Mentor: Matthew A Cooper, Directed Energy
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: Masters, Ph.D.

The Directed Energy Directorate is investigating the uses for a Hollow-Core Fiber (HCF) as both a laser source and as a delivery fiber. A delivery fiber is a coupling device which couples the laser output of a laser source to another location in an application platform where the needed energy is critical such as a laser beam director. Delivery fibers have been studied for low-power communications and sensing applications but not for high-energy situations. This project entails the experimental characterization of a HCF for use as a delivery fiber of a multi-kilowatt laser. The student will help design, conduct, and analyze the characterization experiment. Time permitting, the student will also model the results, and use those models to investigate potential new HCF designs for improved optical handling characteristics. This project may be modified to the background and interest of the student.


High-Power Optical Hollow-Core Fiber R&D
Mentor: Matthew A Cooper, Directed Energy
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: Masters, Ph.D.

The Directed Energy Directorate is investigating the uses for a Hollow-Core Fiber (HCF) as both a laser source and as a delivery fiber. A delivery fiber is a coupling device which couples the laser output of a laser source to another location in an application platform where the needed energy is critical such as a laser beam director. Delivery fibers have been studied for low-power communications and sensing applications but not for high-energy situations. This project entails the experimental characterization of a HCF for use as a delivery fiber of a multi-kilowatt laser. The student will help design, conduct, and analyze the characterization experiment. Time permitting, the student will also model the results, and use those models to investigate potential new HCF designs for improved optical handling characteristics. This project may be modified to the background and interest of the student.


High-Power Optical Hollow-Core Fiber R&D
Mentor: Matthew A Cooper, Directed Energy
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: Upper-level Undergraduate

The Directed Energy Directorate is investigating the uses for a Hollow-Core Fiber (HCF) as both a laser source and as a delivery fiber. A delivery fiber is a coupling device which couples the laser output of a laser source to another location in an application platform where the needed energy is critical such as a laser beam director. The opportunities for research studies including modeling and experimental evaluation in both gas-filled fiber lasers, high-power delivery fibers. The student will help design, conduct, and analyze the given model/experiment. Time permitting, the student will also investigate potential new HCF designs for improved optical handling characteristics. This project may be modified to the background and interest of the student.


HPM Parameter Sensitivity Analysis
Mentor: Ashar Ali, Directed Energy
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: Masters, Ph.D.

We will use the AFRL's Improved Concurrent Electromagnetic Particle-in-Cell (ICEPIC) code along with the Sandia National Lab's Design Analysis Kit for Optimization and Terascale Applications (DAKOTA), to study the sensitivity of high powered microwave devices to various design parameters. ICEPIC will be used for rapid modeling and protyping of the microwave devices whereas DAKOTA will guide the design in ICEPIC and perform the sensitivity analysis. The two softwares coupled together will use the DoD's massively parallel supercomputing resources to perform these intense calculations. It is hoped that we will gain some insight as to which paramters are important in HPM design and which ones can be safely ignored for a given type of device with specified constraints.


Imaging and tracking simulation
Mentor: Noah Richard Van Zandt, Directed Energy
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: Lower-level Undergraduate, Upper-level Undergraduate

Optical tracking systems, such as those used by the military, attempt to track moving/maneuvering targets, or sometimes regions or features on such targets. A number of degradations hamper such efforts, including camera noise, sun glints, weather, atmospheric turbulence, optical speckle, and a number of emerging factors which require more research. The software package known as PITBUL allows one to model the performance of a tracking system against various targets under various conditions. PITBUL is a physics-based simulation package written in Matlab using object oriented programing (OOP). It requires frequent physics additions, feature additions, testing, and bug fixes. The scholar will spend roughly two thirds of the summer assisting in those efforts. The exact tasks will depend upon both current priorities and scholar interests. A portion of the tasks may involve physics/feature additions necessary to support AFRL laser weapon research programs. During the last third of the summer, the scholar will run the software to conduct tracking research in support of one such program. The scope and depth of the research will be adjusted to match the scholar’s background and interests.


Impact of Layered or Structured Turbulence on Imaging and Beam Propagation
Mentor: Noah Richard Van Zandt, Directed Energy
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: Lower-level Undergraduate, Upper-level Undergraduate

Turbulence in the air degrades our ability to image clearly over long distances. It also prevents us from tightly focusing laser energy. Adaptive optics systems can correct for turbulence, but their performance is highly dependent upon the turbulence strength. This research will use computer simulation to investigate the impact of layered and/or structured turbulence on imaging and laser beams. It will benefit applications such as target tracking, remote sensing, laser weapons, and laser communications. Although we have a good understanding of the strength of turbulence both near the surface and at high altitudes, recent measurements for intermediate altitudes (100 m to 5,000 m) have shown some unexpected patterns. The strength of the turbulence can change very quickly with altitude. It can also change rapidly over small changes in horizontal position. This research will simulate a beam propagating through such turbulence. It will use data from experimental measurements and computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulations to define the turbulence strength versus both altitude and position. It will compare the beams after propagation through realistic turbulence to those after propagation through standard turbulence models. The results will determine whether or not layered and/or structured turbulence is a significant factor which requires further research. The scope and depth of the research will be tailored to fit the scholar’s background and could be directed towards optics, engineering, computer programming, or mathematics.


Modeling and simulation long duration photometry
Mentor: Shadi Naderi, Directed Energy
Location: AMOS
Academic Level: Masters

The Air Force Maui Optical & Supercomputing (AMOS) site has access to several ground-based optical telescopes with a wide range of utilities. The student will use the data collected with these telescopes and analyze long-duration photometry (and/or polarimetry and/or velocimetry) collected on both astronomical and man-made space objects by modeling and simulation. The goal is to develop models to analyze the short- and long-duration seismic activities.


On-Orbit Computing for Spacecraft
Mentor: Tyler M. Lovelly, Space Vehicles
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: Masters, Ph.D.

Due to harsh and inaccessible operating environments, embedded systems for spacecraft are subject to many unique challenges and constraints that limit on-orbit computing performance. However, the increasing need for real-time sensor and autonomous processing, coupled with limited communication bandwidth with ground stations, is increasing on-orbit computing demands for next-generation space missions. To address these challenges, AFRL’s Space Electronics Technology program has established a dedicated architecture analytics project called the Spacecraft Performance Analytics and Computing Environment Research (SPACER) laboratory to provide the DoD with the capability to assess on-orbit computing solutions for spacecraft. This topic provides students with the opportunity to analyze a variety of the latest commercial-grade and space-grade processors including multi/many-core CPUs, DSPs, GPUs, FPGAs, SoCs, and neuromorphic architectures using a combination of metrics, benchmarks, simulations, and emulations. These architectures will be analyzed in terms of their performance, power efficiency, memory usage, reliability, programmability, or other factors using several compute-intensive space applications. Results will help determine how to best optimize architectures for various applications and which architectures are best suited for which missions, and can be used to guide future DoD investment decisions. Summer projects will be tailored to the interests and expertise of the students to provide a meaningful experience.


On-Orbit Computing for Spacecraft
Mentor: Tyler M. Lovelly, Space Vehicles
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: Lower-level Undergraduate, Upper-level Undergraduate

Due to harsh and inaccessible operating environments, embedded systems for spacecraft are subject to many unique challenges and constraints that limit on-orbit computing performance. However, the increasing need for real-time sensor and autonomous processing, coupled with limited communication bandwidth with ground stations, is increasing on-orbit computing demands for next-generation space missions. To address these challenges, AFRL’s Space Electronics Technology program has established a dedicated architecture analytics project called the Spacecraft Performance Analytics and Computing Environment Research (SPACER) laboratory to provide the DoD with the capability to assess on-orbit computing solutions for spacecraft. This topic provides students with the opportunity to analyze a variety of the latest commercial-grade and space-grade processors including multi/many-core CPUs, DSPs, GPUs, FPGAs, SoCs, and neuromorphic architectures using a combination of metrics, benchmarks, simulations, and emulations. These architectures will be analyzed in terms of their performance, power efficiency, memory usage, reliability, programmability, or other factors using several compute-intensive space applications. Results will help determine how to best optimize architectures for various applications and which architectures are best suited for which missions, and can be used to guide future DoD investment decisions. Summer projects will be tailored to the interests and expertise of the students to provide a meaningful experience.


Spacecraft Charging Instrumentation, Measurement and Simulation
Mentor: Dale Curtis Ferguson, Space Vehicles
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: Masters, Ph.D.

At AFRL Kirtland, there are vacuum-plasma chambers to test for surface charging of components and materials, radiation chambers to test for deep-dielectric charging, and spacecraft surface charging simulation software. We desire applicants who wish to work on instrumentation and measurements with the chambers and/or simulation of surface charging with the Nascap-2K software. Theory and experiment are both essential to studies of spacecraft charging.


Statistical Control Theory Research for Laser Weapon Systems
Mentor: Matthew A Cooper, Directed Energy
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: Masters, Ph.D.

A critical area of research within laser systems is in disturbance rejection techniques for precise control of optical beam steering for LWS applications. This may include target acquisition, fine control of target tracking, and pose estimation. The concept of disturbance rejection for this application involves the ability to take a known disturbance such as aircraft vibration, optical, and/or mechanical distortion of a known statistical nature, and then to design a control system such that the statistical disturbance is taken into account. This effectively makes the disturbance “invisible” to the user. The student will investigate statistical approaches to better compensate for jitter in these control systems. This project may be modified to the background and interest of the student.


Volumetric wave-front sensing for deep turbulence phase compensation
Mentor: Mark F. Spencer, Directed Energy
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: Masters, Ph.D.

Current wave-front sensing solutions are inadequate when in the presence of distributed-volume atmospheric aberrations and extended non-cooperative objects (aka the "deep-turbulence problem"). This shortcoming requires that we innovate towards a new solution. In leveraging a recent journal-article publication [JOSA A 34(9), 1659-1669 (2017)], this internship will develop aspects of a volumetric solution -- a wave-front sensing approach that senses and corrects for disturbances found all along the laser-propagation path (e.g., the atmospheric aberrations in addition to the aero-optic aberrations but separate from the speckle aberrations). Overall, this volumetric solution will enable us to achieve good compensation when in the presence of distributed-volume atmospheric aberrations and extended non-cooperative objects.


Volumetric wave-front sensing for deep turbulence phase compensation
Mentor: Mark F. Spencer, Directed Energy
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: Upper-level Undergraduate

Current wave-front sensing solutions are inadequate when in the presence of distributed-volume atmospheric aberrations and extended non-cooperative objects (aka the "deep-turbulence problem"). This shortcoming requires that we innovate towards a new solution. In leveraging a recent journal-article publication [JOSA A 34(9), 1659-1669 (2017)], this internship will develop aspects of a volumetric solution -- a wave-front sensing approach that senses and corrects for disturbances found all along the laser-propagation path (e.g., the atmospheric aberrations in addition to the aero-optic aberrations but separate from the speckle aberrations). Overall, this volumetric solution will enable us to achieve good compensation when in the presence of distributed-volume atmospheric aberrations and extended non-cooperative objects.


Wave Structures in the Bottomside Ionosphere
Mentor: Kenneth S Obenberger, Space Vehicles
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: Ph.D.

Traveling ionospheric disturbances (TIDs) are pervasive in the Bottomside ionosphere. These are typically understood as gravity waves and have a number of sources such as topology, neutral winds, the terminator, convective uplift, and explosions. They can be the limiting factor on understanding the propagation characteristics of RF electromagnetic radiation across the ionosphere or within the earth-ionosphere waveguide. We will simulate such structures based on experimental data and attempt to model their effects on HF systems.