ONR-Funded Young Investigators Featured in Popular Science Magazine’s ‘Brilliant 10’ List

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For Immediate Release: Sept.  29, 2011

By Dave Nystrom, Office of Naval Research

ARLINGTON, Va.-- Popular Science magazine has selected two Office of Naval Research (ONR)-funded scientists to its annual “Brilliant 10” listing in a print edition available Sept. 29.

The coveted list, which is marking its 10th anniversary, highlights the nation’s top researchers and their pursuit of scientific breakthroughs.

The magazine’s editors selected Dr. Chad Jenkins of Brown University for his pioneering work in human-robotic interaction and robot learning, and Dr. Hatice Altug of Boston University for her innovative research using metal and light to detect viruses. 

“Dr. Jenkins’ research is truly leading-edge,” said Dr. Tom McKenna, manager of ONR’s programs for human robot interaction. “We’re working to make human-robot interface more natural, so that autonomous systems enable Sailors and Marines to interact with and use robots as partners. His work will help us accomplish that.”

Aside from being recognized for their intelligence and ingenuity in the magazine’s October issue, the two scientists are past recipients of ONR’s distinguished Young Investigator Program (YIP) award. The program invests in academic scientists and engineers who show exceptional promise for creative study and have earned a doctorate or equivalent degree within five years of submitting a proposal.

“I got my first YIP grant from ONR in 2007, for which I am very grateful,” said Jenkins. “Since then, my research on robotic learning from human demonstrations is helping the Navy and others to use autonomous systems as effective collaborators in real-world tasks.”

One day, Jenkins hopes to teach robots new skills in the same manner that a child learns-- through imitating and repeating. In addition, he envisions making robots publicly accessible through the web in experiments with online crowd-sourcing, which would enable large groups of researchers to remotely operate and train robots.

In 2009, ONR became interested in Altug’s work after receiving her YIP proposal to use nano-plasmonic sensors for the detection of biological agents, including those potentially used in bio-warfare. Rapid detection and surveillance of infectious agents remain a challenge.

Altug said she wishes that her research in virus diagnostics will lead to the development of a portable bio-sensor that will rapidly, simultaneously and precisely detect dozens of agents. Ultimately, her research has the potential to help prevent disease outbreaks or even detect the release of a biological agent in populated areas, both of which can save lives.

Her measurement techniques can also be applied to the detection of low concentrations of proteins. The approach to discovering levels so small would be similar to finding a specific grain of sand on the U.S. East Coast.

“The ability to detect low concentrations of biological agents is useful in many ways,” said Dr. Tim Bentley, who is the ONR program officer funding Altug’s research. Proteins can be used as bio-markers to detect disease or injuries. Dr. Altug’s approach allows new methods to guide therapies and measure health using non-invasive techniques.

Last year, ONR selected 17 YIP winners from an applicant pool of 211. Each received a three-year research grant of up to $510,000. 

ONR is currently accepting proposals for the fiscal year 2012 YIP awards. The deadline is Dec. 22. For more information, go here

Popular Science magazine is a leading source of science and technology news.

About the Office of Naval Research

The Department of the Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR) provides the science and technology necessary to maintain the Navy and Marine Corps’ technological advantage. Through its affiliates, ONR is a leader in science and technology with engagement in 50 states, 70 countries, 1,035 institutions of higher learning and 914 industry partners. ONR employs approximately 1,400 people, comprising uniformed, civilian and contract personnel, with additional employees at the Naval Research Lab in Washington, D.C.

Image - Popular Science's
Office of Naval Research
Corporate Strategic Communications
875 N. Randolph St., #1224
Arlington, Va. 22203-1771
Office: (703) 696-5031
Fax: (703) 696-5940
Email: onrcsc@onr.navy.mil
Web: www.onr.navy.mil
Facebook: www.facebook.com/officeofnavalresearch

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