Aiming to help the military better coordinate rescues of missing aid workers and other complex missions, researchers at the University of Central Florida's Institute for Simulation and Training will study how hastily assembled teams process information and solve problems.
Two other teams of UCF researchers will examine laser technologies as part of the Department of Defense's Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative, which is funding the three projects. The grants pay for research that supports science and engineering vital to national defense.
UCF and the California Institute of Technology led all universities in the nation with three awards each out of 30 that were announced last week. UCF optics researchers also will participate in two other projects led by Kent State and Clemson universities.
Most of the grants award $1 million each for three years with the possibility of additional funding for two more years.
"These latest Department of Defense grants are further evidence of how widely respected UCF's programs in optics and simulation are throughout the nation," said Vice President for Research M.J. Soileau. "Our scientists are honored and excited about the opportunity to work on technologies that will aid our soldiers in the field and that may even have applications for natural disasters. This is science that will make a difference in people's lives."
Institute for Simulation and Training researchers Eduardo Salas, Stephen Fiore, Florian Jentsch and Shawn Burke will study how teams process knowledge and work together to solve ill-defined and complex problems. Their goal is to help the military better train personnel to quickly assemble into teams and develop and share knowledge effectively and quickly.
Those skills would be especially helpful in scenarios where teams are hastily formed to rescue American aid workers who are lost or kidnapped in foreign countries. Such teams, which can involve personnel from several agencies, must assess problems and develop crisis plans quickly and then follow through to make sure the plans are executed properly.
The research, which will begin in May, could lead to improvements in how well teams of workers and volunteers who are quickly assembled during natural disasters collaborate and process information.
The Office of Naval Research provided the funding for that project, which also involves Randall Shumaker, director of the UCF Institute for Simulation and Training, and Valerie Sims, an associate professor of Psychology. The UCF team will work with researchers at Arizona State University, the University of Illinois and the University of Pittsburgh.
In addition to working at the Institute for Simulation and Training, Salas is a professor and Jentsch an associate professor in the Department of Psychology. Jentsch also is director of the UCF Team Performance Laboratory. Fiore is an assistant professor of Cognitive Sciences in the Department of Philosophy.
The Army Research Office funded both of the research projects led by researchers at UCF's College of Optics and Photonics and the Florida Photonics Center for Excellence. College Dean and center Director Eric Van Stryland will head a project involving nanophotonic materials and optical switching, which could have applications in developing higher-speed communications.
Van Stryland will work with Associate Dean David Hagan and Assistant Professor Pieter Kik, along with researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Purdue University and the University of Arizona.
Professor Martin Richardson will lead research about how ultra-short laser pulses interact with materials. That research could have applications in the detection of chemical and biological weapons and explosives.
Richardson, the Northrop Grumman Professor of X-ray Photonics at UCF, will work with Associate Professor Michael Sigman of the UCF Chemistry Department and researchers at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, the University of California at Berkeley, Johns Hopkins University and Florida A&M University.
Van Stryland also will participate in a separate research project led by Kent State University on negative index materials for lenses. Richardson and professors Michael Bass and Leon Glebov, all of the College of Optics and Photonics, are studying high-powered fiber lasers in a separate project with a Clemson University professor. That research effort includes experts in materials synthesis, optical fiber fabrication, laser physics and other fields.
Gov. Jeb Bush lauded the economic and science benefits of the Department of Defense grants.
"Advancing Florida's ability to sustain a strong science-based research and development community is paramount to diversifying Florida's economy," Bush said. "This is a tremendous honor for Florida's research community, and in particular, for the scientists and researchers at UCF. These projects will continue to build Florida's reputation as an 'Innovation Hub of the Americas.'"