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Optoelectronics & Communications

Rob Williams: Hands-on research helps grow future technology leaders

With a variety of innovative collaborations, the Air Force Research Lab organizes real-world approaches to technology challenges.
22 October 2012, SPIE Newsroom. DOI: 10.1117/2.3201210.04

Rob Williams is research director of Discovery Lab, a partnership of the Wright Brothers Institute and the Air Force Research Lab. He is also program manager of Summer-at-the-Edge (SATE) and Year-at-the-Edge (YATE) Student Intern Programs at WBI's Tec^Edge Innovation and Collaboration Center. The project brings together multidisciplinary, joint teams for a period of a few weeks to one or more years, allowing for intense collaboration on a specific challenge or opportunity.

Teams include government, university, small-business, and industry researchers. Discovery Lab is the home of the Summer-at-the-Edge (SATE) and Year-at-the-Edge (YATE) Student Intern Programs that bring high school to PhD students together with research sponsors from across the nation. The aim is to mentor student teams and tackle real-world research projects of importance to the Air Force and the nation.

The technologies addressed by the SATE and YATE programs include nanotechnology, biology and healthcare, cybersecurity, virtual reality, additive manufacturing, and many others. Discovery Lab's latest effort is the establishment of a 16-campus Virtual (Reality) Discovery Center which will be the foundation for a 1,000-student outreach focused on creating a tech/leadership-development pipeline from high school to college through virtual academies and on-site research internships. The Virtual Discovery Center has recently extended outreach to middle school with much success.