The 2,463rd Meeting of the Society

September 23, 2022 at 8:00 PM

Powell Auditorium at the Cosmos Club

The Endless Frontier

The DOD Basic Research Initiatives

Bindu Nair

Director of Basic Research
US Department of Defense

About the Lecture

The modern American scientific enterprise was born out of the post-WWII system of federally funded research, first described by Vannevar Bush in his seminal report “Science, the Endless Frontier.” Absent a dedicated funding agency, the Office of Naval Research became a major funder of academic scientific research, supporting the growth of the modern university research system. Since then, the Department of Defense has maintained its place as the second largest federal funder of academic research and development.

While the National Science Foundation and other federal research agencies formed after WWII developed a peer-review funding model, the DoD has always functioned through a selection process moderated by program managers who are experts in their fields, and select funding targets to support the DoD’s research. This model results in decision making by individuals with both insights into DoD needs and a vision for the scientific community, leading to high-risk, high-reward investments in researchers who go on to define their fields. DoD has found that this approach engenders new avenues of inquiry, sustains existing ones, and informs the future scientific priorities of the US government in its entirety.

Even as the US was creating a new domestic scientific enterprise, the growth of American research helped found an open global scientific commons that persists to this day. Due to this ongoing international scientific collaboration and discourse, in part funded by the DoD, the US has been the global standard bearer in science and technology for the better part of the century. As other countries’ scientific enterprises become more competitive, both in terms of research outcomes and competition for scientific talent, however, the US is at risk of no longer being able to promote American scientific norms and values in the global commons.

This lecture will discuss DoD’s approaches to basic research funding, historically and at present. It will also discuss how DoD research funding programs inspire and support US global leadership in science and technology.

About the Speaker

Bindu R. Nair is the Director of Basic Research within the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). She is responsible for oversight and coordination of the Department’s $2.5 billion annual investment in basic science. This investment supports high risk and high pay-off basic research projects in many fields spanning the physical sciences, life sciences, environmental sciences, applied mathematics, to name a few, that probe the limits of today’s technologies and aim to discover new phenomena and develop the know‐how that may ultimately lead to future technologies.

Bindu previously served in a number of roles at DoD, including Acting Director and Deputy Director in the Human Performance, Training and Biosystems Directorate within the Office of the Secretary of Defense. In this role, she was involved in overseeing a broad range of DoD’s science and technology programs. Her specific areas of responsibilities in the office were in environmental technologies, bio-assist technologies (exoskeletons and prosthetics), human machine teaming, and social behavioral modeling in the information environment.

Before her assignment to OSD, Bindu worked for the Department of the Army with oversight responsibilities over the science and technology program in power and energy. She also worked in the DoD laboratory system at Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center as well as in private industry.

Bindu’s research expertise is in the field of Material Science and Engineering including nanomaterials, polymers, and organic electronic materials, and she has taught graduate level courses in Polymer Synthesis. Her publications are primarily in the membrane and materials development fields and she holds patents on fuel cell technologies.

Bindu earned a BSc at the University of Florida and a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering at MIT.