BUFFALO, N.Y. -- University at Buffalo researchers Jason Corso
and Natalia Litchinitser have been awarded funding from the U.S.
Department of Defense (DoD) to conduct research into technologies
that could help save the lives of American soldiers.
Corso, assistant professor of computer science and engineering,
and Litchinitser, associate professor of electrical engineering,
each received Defense University Research Instrumentation Program
(DURIP) awards for their research. The two awards total
Corso leads a multi-disciplinary team of researchers from the UB
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences whose joint research
focuses on using swarms of robots to accomplish challenging
operations, such as surveillance, search-and-destroy,
search-and-rescue, soldier-aid, communication chaining and terrain
Corso's DURIP award will fund the purchase of a fleet of mobile
robots -- classified as unmanned ground vehicles in military
language -- with varying capabilities to support this research. The
equipment will enrich the research environment and will be used in
student courses as well.
The 2001 Congressional Defense Authorization Act stated that
one-third of ground combat vehicles should be unmanned by 2015. So
while the DoD already uses unmanned ground vehicles in
battlegrounds such as Afghanistan, Corso's robots will take
advantage of more intuitive radio controls and more acute visual
"Unmanned and autonomous vehicles clearly have a strong
potential to empower the Army to better achieve its mission into
the future," says Corso.
And Corso is engineering multiple types of robots designed to
complement each other's strengths.
"There is no general purpose soldier in an elite fighting
squad," says Corso. "Rather, each must specialize in one area so
the whole is greater than the sum of the parts."
These unmanned ground vehicles – or robots – would
provide their human radio-operator with sensory feedback from
either line-of-sight visual observation or remote sensory input,
such as video cameras. The robot's ability to detect objects of
interest and potential threats, such as people or vehicles, will
help keep American soldiers a safe distance from potentially
Litchinitser's work involves fundamental and applied research in
light interaction with a novel class of optical media
–metamaterials – an artificial material designed to
have properties and functionalities not normally found in nature.
Meta is Greek for beyond. Impressive phenomena to be enabled by
these materials are negative index of refraction and cloaking
device -- a device that makes objects invisible -- a long-awaited
realization of the science fiction idea described in H. G. Wells'
"Invisible Man" or J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter stories.
Metamaterial technology offers unique opportunities for
engineering previously inaccessible values of refractive indices
and achieving unprecedented control over light propagation.
Negative or near-zero index of refraction, subwavelength imaging,
and cloaking are just a few of the peculiar phenomena and
functionalities enabled by these unique structures.
Litchinitser's research focuses on the design and realization of
nonlinear ultra-compact metamaterial devices, including
electro-optically and nonlinear-optically tunable components for
photonic integrated circuits, nonlinear visible-IR frequency and
image converters, optical limiting and pulse-shaping devices for
infrared countermeasures and sensing, and light concentrators for
highly efficient photovoltaic devices.
She hopes to demonstrate an ultra-compact photonic microchip
enabled by metamaterials, which would be capable of much faster
signal processing speeds than a traditional electronic microchip of
the same size.
"With electronics you can do very small devices, but as a
technology it's reaching its maximum speed," says Litchinitser.
"Electronics can only be so fast."
Optical characterization is a crucial part of fundamental
studies of metamaterials properties and of the design of novel
devices. Litchinitser's award will pay for a purchase of the
state-of-the-art optical characterization tool, a variable angle
spectroscopic ellipsometer (VASE) system.
She will use this system to retrieve the key electromagnetic
parameters of optical metamaterials essential for the realization
of functionalities at visible and near-infrared wavelengths.
Another direction of her metamaterial research is in the
emerging area of transformation optics. Litchinitser, together with
UB doctoral student Apra Pandey, is investigating nonlinear optical
devices that enable reconfigurable optical structures that can be
switched from being a light concentrator to a directional emitter
to a reflector or provide scattering functionality.
Finally, they design metamaterial structures to manipulate spin
and orbital momentum of the light beam. These very fundamental
studies are likely to enable such important DoD applications as
large depth of focus imaging systems and enhanced secure free-space
The DoD has dedicated $37.8 million to 83 academic institutions,
divided into 165 DURIP awards. The awards are expected to range
from $50,000 to $990,000 and average approximately $230,000.
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public
university, a flagship institution in the State University of New
York system that is its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's
more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through
more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree
programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of
the Association of American Universities.