The Current: Sea Power
NSF EPSCoR is one of Rhode Island's most prominent scientific collaboration and education organizations, but it's not the only one. Rhode Island also hosts DEPSCoR, the Defense Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research.
DEPSCoR supports projects for all branches of the U.S. Department of Defense - the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines – and has been connecting the state's higher education institutions, private-sector businesses, and military facilities since 2006, according to John Riendeau, chair of the DEPSCoR review committee and defense industry manager for the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation. Other members of the committee include two local university-based researchers and two private-sector executives.
Just as with NSF EPSCoR, DEPSCoR works to stimulate scientific collaboration and channel funding to research projects with military applications.
The project has already helped two professors at Brown University win a grant: one to improve the sensing abilities of night-vision goggles for the Army, the other dealing with resource use and scheduling for the Navy.
Though projects funded through DEPSCoR are initially intended for military use, the breakthroughs also likely have civilian commercial uses, Riendeau says.
"There's been a lot of incredible technology that's been developed courtesy of the Defense Department," he adds.
Underwater communication systems, for example, may seem limited to military applications involving submarines, but Riendeau says that advances in this area can improve commercial systems, too, noting researchers' need for quality underwater communications to control and receive data from remotely operated vehicles.
Developing projects and products with uses in multiple sectors is central to RI DEPSCoR's mission of cross-sector collaboration, Riendeau says.
One such effort is the Center of Excellence in Undersea Technology, a joint project of URI's Graduate School of Oceanography and the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC). The COEUT aims to bridge the divide between military and commercial applications of research breakthroughs.
"If you really want to bring the best and brightest, you really need to … coordinate with academia, the private sector, and other agencies around the same table to discuss the issues. It's amazing what happens when you do that," Riendeau says.
"The strategy is clearly there that we want to be the place," he says, "to position Rhode Island as the center for undersea research and development."
That won't be easy. Other states with large coastlines and coastal economies, such as California and Texas, are also angling for the position.
With the infrastructure already in place, and the potential for more DEPSCoR work in the future, Riendeau is positive about Rhode Island's chances of establishing a leadership position.
"We have to keep delivery on the value of the research to the benefactors, such as the NUWC and other institutions," he says. "That's critical. Success breeds success. Once that success is known, people will come to you."
And with Rhode Island's existing strengths in marine fields, and new ones coming thanks to the efforts of NSF EPSCoR and DEPSCOR, people and industry should be coming to the Ocean State for years to come.