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01/29/92

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URI grants

STANFORD -- Three Stanford University multidisciplinary research on optical materials, tactile sensing and superconductivity - are among 58 projects nationwide selected on the basis of merit by the Department of Defense for multi-year grants under its University Research Initiative program.

The exact amount of each grant in the program is subject to negotiation but the average is expected to be $750,000 annually, and the highest, $2.4 million per year, according to a Defense Department announcement on Jan. 24.

The University Research Initiative program, which began in fiscal year 1991, awarded $230.7 million that year and is budgeted for $182.4 million this fiscal year. This year, 463 proposals were submitted by 102 institutions.

The Stanford projects that were successful in this year's competition are:

  • Nonlinear optical materials research, headed by Robert L. Byer, professor of applied physics and dean of research. The project involves researchers in the departments of electrical engineering, materials science, applied physics, aeronautics and astronautics, as well as the Solid State and Ginzton laboratories.

The group will explore how to convert laser-radiated light from one color to another. Applications include high-definition television display and better, more compact storage of information on optical materials.

"The grant will allow us to design new materials at the atomic level and reproduce them," Byer said.

  • Tactile sensing and information processing research for man and machine systems, headed by Mark Cutkosky, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and a researcher with the Center for Integrated Systems. Cutkosky and Gregory Kovacs, assistant professor of electrical engineering, will work with Harvard researchers and consult with Swedish physiologists on developing tactile sensing for both robots and human- controlled or tele-operated systems, such as the underseas mechanical arms that humans operate from a distant site.

"Today, the arms are primitive and heavy," Cutkosky said. "There are starting to be a few that can give the operator some feeling back of the forces the arm is subject to, but so far, there is nothing to give a sensation of whether the surface being touched is slippery or rough or smooth. It's like operating a pliers or tongs. One of our long-term goals is to develop both sensors and ways of relaying that information back to people."

  • Advanced memory concept research for superconducting electronics, and research into combining superconducting and semiconducting technology, headed by Malcolm Beasley, professor of applied physics. Beasley will work with James Plummer and Fabian Pease in electrical engineering, and Robert White in materials science.

The researchers hope to come up with a technology that allows computer memory to keep pace with the very fast logic that already exists in superconducting electronics, Beasley said. They also hope to combine lower-temperature superconducting and higher-temperature semiconducting devices into a low-temperature hybrid technology referred to as cryo-electronics, he said.

The researcher grants are especially good news, Byer said, because they come at a "bleak time when merit has been eroding as a criterion for federal research funding."

California has 40 percent of the nation's research scientists and engineers but just 10 percent of the population, Byer said. When federal agencies, such as the National Science Foundation, put caps on how much total research funding they can award to researchers in any one state, he said, they are backing away from the concept of merit.

"These awards, however, appear to be based on scientific merit, not politics," Byer said. Together, Stanford, California Institute of Technology and the University of California campuses were awarded 12 of the 58 University Research Initiative grants.

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