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DARPA Hosts 87 Fellows in Unprecedented Gathering: Event Generates Rich Discussions, Exercises and Presentations on DARPA Process for Problem-Solving

Pilot Experiment May Lead to Regular Sessions at Six-Month Intervals

WASHINGTON, DC--(Marketwired - January 23, 2014) - The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, (DARPA), considered to be the nation's official "innovation engine," recently hosted Hertz Fellows for a first-of-its-kind event near DARPA headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. During two full days, January 10-11, Fellows learned how the agency poses and solves problems. They engaged interactively with DARPA leaders, working on an opportunity and risk assessment, sharing projections of where their research might evolve for both positive and/or negative outcomes.

"This was an important, productive meeting on many levels," said Randy Garrett, PhD, program manager of the DARPA Information Innovation Office, (I2O). "In a single setting, we shared our approach and mission with the Fellows. They in turn brought value to us. Their energy and creativity is exactly what's needed to solve our biggest problems." The I2O was structural host for the event. Hertz Fellow Jennifer Roberts organized the event and its program.

Roberts had invited Garrett to last summer's 50th Anniversary Symposium. He asked Hertz Foundation president, Jay Davis how DARPA might gain closer access to the Hertz Fellow Community. The two agreed to pursue an event to bring Hertz Fellows together with DARPA. An open invitation was extended to Hertz Fellows from a broad spectrum of disciplines, including physics, bioscience, engineering, chemistry, computer science, neuroscience, mathematics and materials science.

Friday's program began with talks from DARPA program managers, as well as the Agency Director, Arati Prabhakar, PhD. Prabhakar spoke about how DARPA invests in world-class engineers and scientists to create new technologies and businesses. She and the other managers told how the Agency's scientific investigations span the gamut from laboratory efforts to the creation of full-scale technology demonstrations. Though finite in duration, projects create lasting, revolutionary change.

David Kilcullen, an Australian author working with DARPA, described the growing global problem written about in his book, "Out of the Mountains." Kilcullen shared the book's three-point thesis:

1) Population growth is littoral. Huge cities along continental coastlines are growing together across city boundaries and even across national boundaries.

2) Cities are surrounded by slums because they can't absorb people at the rate that they come in. They can't provide rule of law in the slums, so gangs provide security and revenge for victims as a form of justice. Cities are less and less able to control their own futures.

3) Though without clean water, good health care, sanitary services or reliable police, slum dwellers have connectivity with one another. They can be mobilized very quickly.

Fellows finished the first day with a DARPA exercise in groups of four to complete in rapid succession each part of a four-part cycle, pertaining to Kilcullen's book:

1) Individually in four minutes: What are the principal problems? As a group in eight minutes: Which problem is most important to tackle?

2) Individually in four minutes: What are the technical solutions that might be produced to tackle the selected problem? As a group in eight minutes: What is the most important technical solution?

3) Individually in four minutes: What is the technological breakthrough required for the technical solution? As a group in eight minutes: Which breakthrough is most worthy of pursuit?

4) Individually, in four minutes: What parallel sociological changes are needed to make the solution possible and what obstacles are in play? What good results or what bad results would come from this change? Whose domain would be upset by this solution?

Each group chose a separate solution that also came with economic incentives.

Saturday started with the same groups of four, moving later into clusters of eight. Each Fellow developed technologies from his or her own research to attack specific societal or security problems. Each Fellow explained what technology breakthroughs were needed, what could actually be built, as well as what good and bad outcome might occur. Each group selected two ideas and prepared briefings on these. At the end of the day, the groups briefed their ideas to senior DARPA managers and to the room for critique. On Monday, January 13th, an evaluation of the process and most noteworthy ideas were briefed to Director Prabhakar. To the surprise of some, the final portfolio was heavily weighted to health and the life sciences.

"We're delighted at how this event unfolded," said Davis. "Just as we have tried to build the Hertz Fellows into an internal community, we are now exposing them into the larger community, making that larger community part of what we do."

A future event may take place within the next six months, focusing on one topic such as, cyber terrorism; flow and control of aircraft structures in hypersonic flight; or the future of sonar. "We have an opportunity to call on the Hertz Fellows more narrowly, now that the mechanism is understood," said Garrett. "This mechanism also gives us exposure to men and women early in career who could solve DARPA problems, who might be beneficial to our recruiting cycles and who enrich the outcomes in our mission on behalf of the Department of Defense."

Celebrating more than half a century of the Hertz Fellowship, the Hertz Foundation has fostered the scientific and engineering strength of the nation by finding the best and brightest students from those disciplines. During the past decade of applications, there has been a major shift of the candidates towards those who apply physical and computational tools to the problems of biomedicine and health. Significantly, another shift of the Hertz Foundation has been to support Hertz Fellows to build the vibrant Hertz Fellows Community. All ages gather in annual workshops and retreats to inspire one another and collaborate across generations and disciplines for innovation that further augments their powerful contribution. Hertz Fellows pursue their own ideas with complete financial independence, under the guidance of some of the country's finest professors and mentors. Fellows are chosen for their intellect, their ingenuity and their potential to bring meaningful improvement to society. The highly competitive selection process includes a comprehensive written application, four references, and two rounds of technical interviews by recognized leaders in applied physical, biological and engineering sciences. We seek applicants with exceptional personal creativity and great promise for innovative research. Throughout five decades, their impact has fulfilled that promise. They are the leaders who produce advances in science, medicine, technology, business, academia and government.

Contact information
Janice Odell
[email protected]
925.353.2839

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