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NASA looks to universities for 'transformative' innovationsNASA looks to universities for 'transformative' innovations

$50 million up for grabs$50 million up for grabs

NASA has tapped five universities for millions of dollars in potential research awards for what it calls “transformative system-level aviation innovations” that could change the future of aviation. The institutions selected for a share of the $50 million prize may spend as long as five years exploring novel ideas to improve aviation.

NASA Aeronautics'€ University Leadership Initiative could change the look and feel of future aviation. Photo illustration courtesy of NASA.

NASA Aeronautics’ University Leadership Initiative “could include revolutionary technologies, operational concepts, design tools, models, or other advancements we can’t even begin to characterize today,” said Doug Rohn, director of NASA’s Transformative Aeronautics Concepts Program.

“Imagine an aircraft structure that can change its shape in flight to reduce the sonic boom noise” produced by supersonic airplanes, the space agency wrote in a press release announcing the initiative.

NASA didn’t specify any topics or avenues of research, leaving the door open for unlimited brainstorming, which it said differentiates the University Leadership Initiative from other NASA research awards.

“Instead, universities were asked to come up on their own with the most compelling investigations, so long as that technical challenge addressed one of the agency’s main aviation research goals,” the news release said.

One stipulation, however, was that institutions think outside of the box to develop “diverse, multi-disciplinary teams,” including teams of researchers from academia and industry alike, keeping in mind “those who may not have an aviation background” but could add substantive technology expertise.

The agency directed those participating in the aviation research awards to “reach out broadly to universities that serve underrepresented student populations” to bring a variety of perspectives to the table.

Teams from Arizona State University, Ohio State University, the University of South Carolina, the University of Tennessee, and Texas A&M were selected for the potential awards.

Jaiwon Shin, NASA’s associate administrator for aeronautics, said the innovation awards further enhanced the agency’s strong relationship with its university partners. He added that he expected the awards would “spur the nation’s leading universities to take a larger leadership role in advancing the revolutionary ideas needed to transform aviation.”

David Tulis

David Tulis

Associate Editor Web/ePilot
AOPA Associate Editor Web/ePilot David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a seaplane-rated private pilot who enjoys vintage aircraft, aerobatic flying, and photography.
Topics: Technology, Aviation Education Programs

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