The big move: Lab's leadership goes out in style
HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. - Dr. Steven Mittleman (right), deputy chief of the Electromagnetics Technology Division and 25-year veteran of the Sensors Directorate packs up equipment with Maj. Todd Beard June 7. The Air Force Research Laboratory will conduct an inactivation ceremony marking the end of operations of AFRL at Hanscom June 15. Research in the areas of electromagnetics and space physics has been conducted at Hanscom since 1945. (U.S. Air Force photo by Linda LaBonte Britt)
Posted 6/9/2011 Updated 6/9/2011
by Warren Russo
Global Command and Control System-Air Force acquisition manager
6/9/2011 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- Undaunted by the complex prospect of moving an entire scientific laboratory halfway across the country and setting it up again, Air Force Research Laboratory's unsinkable leadership remains buoyant beyond belief.
"Not only do we have to put all this equipment back together, but we'll have to recalibrate it all as well," said Dr. Steven Mittleman, deputy chief of the Electromagnetics Technology Division and a 25-year veteran of the Sensors Directorate. "There are also the usual problems with plumbing, electricity and ventilation, so we always anticipate minor glitches along the way."
Although past the usual retirement age, Dr. Mittleman has agreed to spend an additional year with the lab at its new location at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, as part of the transition team.
"These are very complex things to move and set up," said William Moore, the division's chief. "It's always easier to pack than it is to unpack."
Mr. Moore, who was brought on board at Hanscom less than a year ago for the specific purpose of affecting the move from Bedford, Mass., to Dayton, Ohio, has been with AFRL for 31 years. An important part of that process has been the recruiting of new scientists to carry on the Hanscom mission at its new location. In combination with Technical Adviser Michael Alexander, a 25-year man, they have been extraordinarily successful, despite the intricacies of the government hiring procedures.
"This isn't like industry, where you can interview someone on Monday and send him a job offer on Tuesday," said Dr. Mittleman. "We have many more hoops to jump through because this is the government, and it can take about two years to several months to bring someone on board. Fortunately, we have great relationships with universities all over the country, which gives us a great pool of talent from which to draw our new scientists.
"In scientific research, diversity is a very good thing," he said, "and we have one of the most academically diverse work forces in the research field today."
AFRL casts a wide net in recruiting scientific talent, he added, and the latest crop of Ph.D.s come from universities all over the country, including Duke, Clemson, Texas, MIT and Harvard.
The new team
The AFRL transition team knew as long as two years ago that many of the existing staff would not want to relocate to Dayton, so they have spent that time recruiting a young, new a crop of scientists who are typically more willing to relocate. These new scientists were brought in early to bond with the organization and be mentored by the senior staff members who are retiring or not moving to Dayton, thus preserving the corporate knowledge and direction.
"Basic and early applied research is what we do, and we stay in the early stages, with most of the work done right here in house, not contracted out," Dr. Mittleman said. "We don't hire contractors to do entire projects for us. We hire them to add to the in-house team effort."
Dr. Mittleman and other senior researchers also serve as adjunct professors for many of the newer staff members who are working on their master's theses and doctoral dissertations, and 80 percent of the staff is composed of Ph.D.s or those on their way to earning the degree. Of AFRL's 72 technical positions at Dayton, 50 will be filled by staff members moving from Hanscom, due largely to the active recruiting effort of the last two years.
"It takes time to build relationships with the universities," said Dr. Mittleman, "and we regret losing the opportunities represented by being so close to UMass-Lowell, MIT and Northeastern University. Managing thesis programs with these institutions gives us access not only to the students, but to their thesis advisors, as well."
Secret of success
Since Hanscom's Sensors Division deals in basic research, its discoveries are shared with the world rather than kept secret.
"By sharing information," said Dr. Mittleman, "we feed off each other's ideas."
Some of the lab's greatest recent accomplishments were achieved through this process, including:
- Metamaterials, for antenna applications and for cloaking aircraft to make them invisible to radar
- Superconductivity at higher temperatures through the use of new materials
- Geodesic Dome Phased Array Antenna Radar, with no moving parts and greater efficiency than dish antennas
- Dynamic Logic, which models the human brain and applies it to sensor data development, in partnership with Harvard researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital
- Micro UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) so small they can gather intelligence by literally being a fly on the wall.
"We're like the seed corn," said Dr. Mittleman, performing research for U.S. Air Force applications. "Since we're motivated not by a profit margin, but by the needs of the Air Force, it's important to maintain the seed corn of research, because that - like our children - represents the future.
AFRL inactivation ceremony June 15
The Air Force Research Laboratory will conduct an inactivation ceremony marking the end of operations of AFRL at Hanscom June 15. Research in the areas of electromagnetics and space physics has been conducted at Hanscom since 1945. Friends and alumni are encouraged to attend. For more information, contact 2nd Lt. Tim Allen at 781-377-3828 or by email at email@example.com.