Northrop Grumman Partners with Duke University and University of Washington

Earlier in September, Northrop Grumman, Duke University, and University of Washington announced that they will be partnering to develop metamaterial-based antennas specifically for use with military aircraft platforms.

The project that Northrop, Duke, and UW are pursuing sounds like it should be a rather simple task, but it’s not. According to David Smith, the James B. Duke Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Duke,

“Optimizing a metamaterial antenna’s shape for both aerodynamics and electromagnetic performance simultaneously is a challenging task”.

But, it seems that Smith is rather optimistic that Northrop’s expertise and capabilities as a global aerospace and defense technology manufacturer, will guide them to success in producing “ aerodynamic metamaterial antennas with extraordinary mission flexibility”.

Metamaterials are artificial materials that manipulate waves like light and sound through properties of their structure rather than their chemistry. However, most of them are composed of a grid of repeating cells, each of which can be individually turned to steer electromagnetic waves. So far, computational devices have been built to design metamaterials for reconfigurable antennas that can focus in any direction without moving. These antennas have been flat because, unfortunately, introducing curves and angles can wreak havoc on the computations that allow the antennas to dynamically refocus. But, military aircraft require the antennas to be more aerodynamic, hence the need for curves.

The collaboration comes as a result of a new initiative from the US Department of Defense (DOD) called the Defense Enterprise Science Initiative (DESI). Their goal is to accelerate the impact of basic research on defense capabilities by backing five university-industry teams as they pursue independent projects. The DOD lists the other four university-industry teams include a Boeing-Arizona State University-Syracuse University team for power beaming; a Stanford University-Skydio team for highly-maneuverable autonomous UAVS; a Northwestern University-TERA-print LLC team for soft active composites with intrinsic sensing, actuation, and control; and a Stanford University- University of California, Merced-Visor Corporation team on alternate topics encouraged.


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