AFRL’s Directed Energy Directorate receives two SMART SEED Grants for optics research

  • Published
  • By Franchesca Conner

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AFRL) – Two Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, scientists in the Directed Energy Directorate received research funding through the Department of Defense’s, or DOD, Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation, or SMART, Scholar SEED Grant. Dr. Joseph Cox is a 2023 recipient while Dr. Joel Solomon was awarded the grant last year. Both scientists will receive $300,000 over the course of three years in support of their research.

The SMART program awarded 11 SEED Grants this year, totaling 76 since the program began in 2021.

Cox explained that this grant enables doctoral students to transition and become productive members of the DOD research development community.

“Receiving this grant provides us with the resources to help develop technologies and shows we can successfully compete for research funding within the DOD community,” Cox said. “AFRL is known for conducting high quality research, as well as hiring for and fostering a high-quality research organization, confirmed by success in the SEED Grant.”

Cox’s research relates to optics, or more specifically, event-based sensors and artificial intelligence, which is used in combination with the sensors to successfully detect motion and moving targets in a highly efficient manner.

“With these technologies, we hope to improve directed energy applications, including target acquisition and battle damage assessment,” said Cox. “If the research is successful, we will be able to improve the direct energy kill chain in terms of speed and efficiency while bringing this technology to the forefront of defense systems. These types of investments within science and technology are needed to maintain technological superiority and win in future conflicts.”

Solomon’s research also relates to optics and the development of high-power lasers with increased eye safety for operators in the field. His research will help the warfighter safely conduct missions in the future.

“We’re trying to develop high-energy eye safe lasers that operate at wavelengths with high atmospheric transmission,” Solomon said. “This is important for several directed energy applications. If we can develop systems that operate at wavelengths where there is improved transmission, it reduces detrimental optical effects… and these wavelengths are ultimately much safer for the eye.”

Solomon recently wrapped up his first year of the three-year funded grant and has a plan for his research in the future.

“We’re trying to expand our current experimental capabilities by building up additional test stands, and we’d like to start investigating different wavelengths other than the one we’re currently at for more applications,” Solomon said.  

Solomon said this grant is not only important to him and his research, but also for AFRL and the DOD as a whole.

“It’s an amazing opportunity to lead a project immediately after graduation,” Solomon said. “The grant not only helped me conduct basic research but also strengthened my professional development. Connecting with other experts in the DOD and presenting my work at conferences helps me grow as a researcher.”

For more information about the DOD SMART Scholar SEED grant program, visit

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 12,500 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: