Connecticut’s economic dependence on the defense industry is evident not only across the industry, but at the state’s flagship university.
In recent months, the University of Connecticut has been re-designated as a National Security Agency/Department of Homeland Security Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Research and landed a four-year, $5.4 million contract with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) to provide next generation manufacturing solutions for the aerospace sector, according to published reports.
The project will enable the U.S. Air Force to take advantage of new manufacturing technologies and maintain a position of strength in international defense. This is the first phase of a larger contract, which is expected to grow significantly in the next year, officials indicated.
“UConn is uniquely positioned to support major research and training initiatives for aerospace materials development, thanks to our world-class research capabilities and existing ties with major aerospace corporations,” said UConn President Susan Herbst. “On behalf of UConn, I am very excited that our institution is supporting our nation’s defense capabilities through this important collaboration.”
The Department of Homeland Security Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Research designation is through academic year 2024, and marks the third time UConn has received this designation since 2010. UConn is the only institution with this designation in the state of Connecticut.
The National Cyber Strategy, through which this re-designation is awarded, addresses the critical shortage of professionals with cybersecurity skills and highlights the importance of higher education in protecting America’s cyberspace. The US government has committed itself to investing in programs like UConn’s which held develop a domestic workforce pipeline to the growing cybersecurity industry.
The Connecticut Cybersecurity Center (C3) at UConn broadens the goals and impact of four existing centers: the center for Voting Technology Research (VoTeR), Center for Hardware and Embedded Systems Security and Trust (CHEST), Comcast Center of Excellence for Security Innovation (CSI), and Synchrony-funded Center of Excellence, all of which focus on specific problems within the realm of cybersecurity.
“All of these centers have a very narrow focus,” C3 co-director John Chandy says. “There are a lot of other issues related to cybersecurity. We wanted an umbrella organization that’s more than just a single-focus center.” C3, led by Chandy and co-director Laurent Michel, is designed to address a broad spectrum of cybersecurity issues utilizing the talent and specialties within each center it oversees.
The Air Force contract, announced by Connecticut’s members of Congress this spring, is titled “Simulation-Based Uncertainty Quantification of Manufacturing Technologies,” and will help the U.S. Air Force develop more efficient manufacturing processes, according to officials.
To manufacture the complicated parts used to build an aircraft, OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) start with relatively inexpensive raw materials. These then go through several steps to be shaped and formed into a very expensive component for use in the aerospace sector. At each step in the manufacturing process, there is the potential for uncertainties about the quality of the parts, which could lead to the part being scrapped, officials explained.
The UConn research team led by Drs. S. Pamir Alpay and Rainer Hebert. Dr. Alpay is the General Electric Professor in Advanced Manufacturing and executive director of the Innovation Partnership Building (IPB) at the UConn Tech Park. Dr. Hebert is the director of the Pratt & Whitney Additive Manufacturing Center and associate director of the Institute of Materials Science (IMS). Both are professors in the Materials Science and Engineering Department (MSE) and faculty members in IMS.
“The intellectual depth, capabilities, and capacity, combined with state-of-the-art research facilities at UConn, will provide the tools necessary so that our federal and industry partners can integrate them into U.S. defense strategies and strengthen the nation’s global dominance in materials development for the aerospace sector,” said Radenka Maric, UConn’s vice president for research.
The contract, and the designation, shine a positive light on UConn. By being a designated center of academic excellence in this field, UConn is seen as more attractive to talented students looking for a top-notch program. This designation also makes UConn eligible for special programs, grants and scholarships, officials indicated.
Late last year, MSC Software and the University of Connecticut’s School of Engineering announced a partnership that will provide MSC's complete software portfolio to the extended UConn community, to include Connecticut’s “Aero/Defense Supply Chain.” The partnership is intended to, support cutting-edge research activities and provide UConn industry partners with access to MSC's advanced engineering simulation resources.
In announcing the partnership, UConn said plans called for utilizing MSC Software through its Connecticut Manufacturing Simulation Center (CMSC), which is jointly funded by Connecticut Innovations, UConn, and the U.S. Economic Development Administration, and in its Additive Manufacturing Innovation Center (AMIC), which is strategically partnered with Pratt & Whitney.
These direct partnerships, it was said, would allow UConn to provide high-end simulation and modeling technology to Connecticut manufacturers, with the goal of promoting innovation, economic growth and next-generation workforce development.