CU Boulder and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) have signed a Master Research Agreement (MRA), broadening a partnership between the two institutions and opening new collaboration pathways to address critical national security research and workforce needs.

Launched in 2019, the Center for National Security Initiatives (NSI) was established at CU Boulder to foster national security-related research and to broaden those capabilities in response to the needs of federal and industry partners. It currently houses researchers conducting national security-related work in hypersonics, RF engineering, cybersecurity,  space domain awareness and remote sensing. In addition, NSI supports the research of over 60 faculty members and their students.

“The basic goal of NSI is to increase campus engagement in the national security arena, in terms of research and workforce development,” said Iain Boyd, director of NSI and H.T. Sears Memorial Professor of Aerospace Engineering Sciences at CU Boulder. 

“The MRA is going to facilitate the building up of a relationship with APL, where they are funding some of the research here at CU and the longer-term goal is that we will partner with them on proposals for new research,” said Boyd. “There’s a feeling in U.S. federal leadership that there’s a lot of capacity at universities that is not being applied today to national security challenges. So a partnership like this can really help to accelerate the development of national security capabilities.”

APL, based in Laurel, Maryland, is a not-for-profit research division of Johns Hopkins University and the nation’s largest university-affiliated research center. The Laboratory solves complex research, engineering and analytical problems that present critical challenges to our nation. Their scientists, engineers and analysts serve as trusted advisors and technical experts to the government, ensuring the reliability of complex technologies that safeguard the nation’s security and advance the frontiers of space.

A deepening partnership driving innovation

With experts in aerospace and the physical sciences, CU Boulder is well-positioned to partner with APL, said Boyd. The MRA “puts in place a mechanism that makes it easy for APL to fund research at CU Boulder, not just NSI, but all across campus,” he said.

Kerri Phillips, chief scientist of APL’s Air & Missile Defense Sector, also recognized what strengths the university brings to the table. “As a trusted advisor to the U.S. government, we want to make impactful contributions at the speed of relevance. We often partner with other world leaders in specific technology areas to drive innovation,” she said. “CU Boulder brings world-renowned expertise in hypersonics, gas and plasma dynamics, earth and space science, and astrodynamics (to name a few), and this collaboration will allow us to connect some of the research being performed and apply it to the critical missions APL is tackling.” 

The partnership between APL and CU Boulder facilitates their joint ability to develop technologies that address national security in critical mission spaces. “This agreement is much broader than one focus area, and will allow us to partner on various technologies and applications ranging from hypersonic vehicles and propulsion systems to space technologies, climate and environment, and autonomy,” said Phillips.

Betsy Congdon, chief technologist of APL’s Space Exploration Sector agreed. “APL hopes this new agreement will go deeper than the tasks we have worked so well together [on] to date. We hope this grows into new avenues of research and exploration beyond anything that the individual organizations can do separately,” she said.

New career paths for the next generation

The enhanced partnership also focuses on opportunities for students to develop new career paths and sharpen the skills required to respond to current and future national security priorities. “This has a potential to bring a lot of new research opportunities for our faculty and our students, and for the university to have an enhanced impact on various aspects of national security,” said Boyd.

By including students in national security research, NSI is addressing an increased demand nationwide for qualified and experienced defense professionals, he said. “Everybody is thinking about opportunities to train more students in these state-of-the-art research topics, to give them opportunities to work in these areas.”

APL’s Congdon also sees the potential for student involvement in the enhanced partnership. “APL is excited to engage with students in real-world applied engineering challenges to help grow the next generation of the aerospace workforce,” she said.