AFRL, Purdue University kick off Regional Hub Network – Midwest partnership

  • Published
  • By Aleah M. Castrejon 
  • Air Force Research Laboratory Public Affairs

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, partnered with Purdue University to kick off the Regional Hub Network -Midwest opening ceremony April 21, 2023, at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.  

“We're opening a network in the Midwest, where everybody is going to come together — academia, industry and government — to work on projects in energetics, hypersonics and microelectronics to push the state-of-the-art and the S&T [science and technology] transformational technology to the warfighter," said Monica Poelking, deputy chief technology officer, AFRL. 

And while this event marked the kick-off, Poelking said the collaboration has been in the works for more than a year. 

The Purdue University President Mung Chiang expressed his enthusiasm and added that this is a critical time for the country to remain ahead of the rest of the world as it faces geopolitical challenges.  

“We salute AFRLs visionary leadership in creating a unique new model … with Purdue leading the Midwest and Cornell leading the Mid-Atlantic hubs,” Chiang added.  

Chiang pressed the importance of the networks, stating this collaboration goes beyond just one university, but rather it is for the entire region.  

“This is the epicenter of hypersonic and energetic research, development and testing,” Chiang added. “And it's because we have a network of outstanding universities participating. That's the power of the network. It is a region working with each other. Together, we can make our country safe, secure [and] stronger than ever before.” 

Echoing each speaker’s comments, Dr. Richard Vaia, chief scientist, Materials and Manufacturing Directorate at AFRL, thanked everyone for making the partnership come to fruition.  

“It has been really an effort with many people with many different perspectives over the last 18 months to get here,” Vaia added. “It's really about a new way of doing business.” 

Vaia said the future is about accelerating technology and creating an ecosystem that innovates and produces products, as well as attracting those who want to be part of the ecosystem.  

“And that is fundamentally what the Regional Hub Networks are about — the government working with the innovators, the ideators, the manufacturers, the integrators, that entire ecosystem, to bring it all together to make it attractive and continue to lead in technology innovation,” Vaia said.  

The newest projects were announced and underway. The team said these three are the first of many. They include: 

1. Passive control of hypersonic boundary layer turbulence via porous carbon-matrix ceramics. 

  • Collaborative team: Hysonic, AFRL, University of Dayton, University of Dayton Research Institute, Raytheon Technologies, Elevate Ventures 

2. Effect of thermal deformation on reattachment heating overshoot. 

  • Collaborative team: University of Notre Dame, The Ohio State University, AFRL 

3. Development of solid-fueled rotating detonation engines. 

  • Collaborative team: Purdue University, USSF, Spectral Energies, Adranos 

Jeff Rhoads, executive director, Purdue Institute for National Security, said he is proud of the first three projects. 

“The projects are a small part of what we're doing, and I think what you … will continue to see accelerated is a true lean in by folks in industry, large and small, venture, state and local governments across the region,” Rhoads said.  

While many agencies may try to replicate the partnerships, Rhoads said, he believes the Air Force is at the tip of the spear in advancements.   

“As we think about these core areas of energetics, hypersonics and microelectronics … we also have to do work and workforce development and develop the clear and clearable talent that can actually go and execute projects in this space,” Rhoads added. “I am very much looking forward to working with our academic partners.” 

Rhoads also said the team looks forward to seeing what can be done in formal technical positions.  

“So these projects represent a sweet spot of trying to move things out of laboratories — whether it's in the Air Force laboratories, whether it's an academic laboratories or industry laboratories — and getting them closer to the warfighter to execute and protect this nation,” Rhoads said. 

Each speaker expressed their enthusiasm for the grand opening, Dr. Karen Plaut, principal investigator, AFRL Regional Network Hub-Midwest, was no exception.  

“What [we’re] excited about is the partnership … and being able to bring people together around a common goal — a really important message of security for our country,” Plaut said. “It's critical for the future.” 

Plaut praised Rhoads for his idea in bringing AFRL and the university together to build a network to answer questions such as how to bring industry; how to bring in academia; and how to bring AFRL altogether for innovation, entrepreneurship and workforce development. 

“We really look forward to seeing the progress on these projects … and continuing to build from these three to many more successful projects in the future,” Plaut said. 


About AFRL 

The Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 11,500 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit