Experts from across AFRL collaborate in first Discover conference
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFRL) – The Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, held its first Discover conference Oct. 24-25, 2023, at the Wright State University Nutter Center in Fairborn, Ohio. The conference provided opportunities for scientists and engineers across the AFRL enterprise to share their technical research, engage in Q&A sessions with other subject matter experts and network for future science and technology projects.
“The importance of this event is really obvious to me,” said Brig. Gen. Scott Cain, AFRL commander, during his opening remarks. “People are talking, people are meeting each other, people are networking, and that’s what this is about: networking collaboration.”
Following an open call for papers, over 160 attendees attended presentations from nearly 80 presenters on subjects ranging from AI applications and machine learning, edge computing, technology and operations in extreme environments and challenges of operating in space.
While this year’s Discover conference, intended to be an annual event, was the first of its kind, it evolved from AFRL’s Geek Fest, which was held virtually in recent years due to the coronavirus pandemic. Discover seeks to expand on what Geek Fest began and allow for in-person collaboration and more time for subject matter experts from across geographically separated AFRL directorates to share and receive feedback on their research projects.
“Discover follows the mold of Geek Fest with a few changes, with the goal of serving the function of a true scientific conference for AFRL by AFRL,” said Dr. Michael Eismann, chief scientist of the Sensors Directorate, who opened the conference. “We’re all humans, we benefit from human networking and that was really the point of this, I think. It’s the most important part of AFRL Discover.”
Cain named in-person collaboration and exchange of expertise as themes of the Discover conference, who also emphasized the importance of letting the purpose of research inspire and inform scientific work.
“That’s the importance of having a noble purpose no matter where you work, whether you’re in government, whether you’re in industry, academia, that really just provides you the drive and the impetus to go to work every day, to follow through, to stick with something,” said Cain. “To collaborate as a bunch of individuals, we really are unified in a special way by a noble purpose, which is our national security.”
Cain also highlighted how Discover would further his intent to “Drive the Fight” using the leverage that the AFRL workforce provides through the cooperation between the lab’s numerous subject matter experts. That would unite the workforce and better help to provide the science and technology to win with a high-end technological military, Cain said.
“Our workforce is who lays the foundation for that that drive,” Cain said. “That initial impetus to the capability of development pipelines. That workforce really is what propels our nation’s advantage.”
Dr. Timothy Bunning, AFRL’s chief technology officer, also emphasized the importance of AFRL subject matter experts collaborating with one another. During his closing conference address, he noted how AFRL members often cooperate with other experts in their fields from outside organizations but do so much less frequently with other AFRL scientists. These circumstances led to the formation of Geek Fest, which eventually evolved into Discover.
“The role of the lab is to grow what I would call thought leaders,” said Bunning. “I look at the younger folks. You are the future thought leaders within your community, coming together, leveraging each other, building off each other to grow.”
AFRL Fellow Dr. Tamara Chelette delivered Discover’s keynote address, sharing her experience working across many AFRL directorates and other DOD organizations. She recounted her career path from secretly reading a book on cybernetics found in her father’s home office as a child to her current work at the Sensors Directorate, emphasizing the importance of networking, collaborating and communicating so that one can be understood by science and technology professionals in other fields.
“I’ve had a tremendous number of opportunities and exposures and things that I never imagined I would even be able to do,” said Chelette. “I often say this is not your father’s AFRL, especially with the creation of the S&T 2030 policy and the implementation of that. We’ve seen a lot of change in how we transition and subsequently support and fund research.”
Chelette also provided some career advice for young scientists and engineers, particularly other women, on how best to succeed in today’s science and technology environment.
“Three words, I would say, sums up career advice: provoke. Persist. Prevail,” said Chelette. “If you stick on that path, you’re going to get stuff done.”
The Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 12,500 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit www.afresearchlab.com.