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State-funded research network creates enriching collaborations in Ohio

OFRNís network of universities, researchers and businesses are creating jobs and meeting the needs of the Federal U.S. laboratories like NASA

OFRNís network of universities, researchers and businesses are creating jobs and meeting the needs of the Federal U.S. laboratories like NASA

OFRNís network of universities, researchers and businesses are creating jobs and meeting the needs of the Federal U.S. laboratories like NASA

A state-funded initiative has created a robust collaboration among Ohio's research   universities, high-tech industries and key federal laboratories.
 
Established in July 2015 by the Ohio Federal Military Jobs Commission (OFMJC), the Ohio Federal Research Network (OFRN) has so far awarded $15.6 million across 18 projects in the areas of aerospace, manufacturing, materials, communications, data analytics and energy storage. Six Centers of Excellence (COE), currently organized and located at universities throughout Ohio, are using this funding to win new economy-boosting endeavors. 

The six COEs are: Communications, Cyber, Positioning, Navigation & Timing (C2PNT); Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (C4ISR); Human Performance and Health Sciences (HPHS); Materials and Advanced Manufacturing (M&M); Energy Storage and Integration (PRESIDES); and Propulsion and Power (OCPP).  

OFRN investments are driven by the needs of national labs – the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), the Naval Medical Research Unit, the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) in Dayton, and NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.
 
Meeting NASA and Department of Defense priorities can be a driver for Ohio's economy by enhancing innovative collaborations between colleges and state-based small- to medium-sized companies, say those orchestrating the effort.
OFRN co-director Dennis Andersh 
"We want to get universities connected to centers while training schools to be competitive in the space," says OFRN co-director Dennis Andersh. "We're talking needs-based research that meets the mission performance requirements of federal agencies."
 
Harnessing such pioneering research can potentially bring the Buckeye State 2,500 new jobs and $350 million in private sector investment. Andersh and fellow network co-director Martin Kress says they are pleased with early returns – bringing together 11 universities and 58 companies, including 28 small businesses, that OFRN considers the lifeblood of Ohio's future tech-based economy.
 
OFRN granted awards to the University of Dayton Research Institute, Case Western Reserve University, The Ohio State University, Wright State University and Ohio University in the respective spaces of materials and manufacturing, energy storage, power and propulsion, human performance and health science, unmanned aerial vehicles and big data, and communications, navigation, and timing research.
 
As an example of the way the OFRN process works, the University of Dayton Research Institute, received $2 million to kick-start projects in a materials and manufacturing COE. Through the initiative, the school partnered with the University of Akron, University of Toledo and Case Western Reserve to develop new technologies in flexible electronics, magnetic materials for power generation and high-temperature shape-memory materials; areas identified by the U.S. Air Force and NASA as critical technologies for future aerospace application.
 
Over the course of the three projects, the project teams will work with additional Ohio colleges and industry partners to facilitate commercialization of defense and aerospace innovations. University graduate students will be hired to fulfill the venture's research goals, an undertaking officials say will provide both academic and technical workforce experience.
OFRN co-director Martin Kress 
Kress, a research business developer with Ohio State's humanitarian engineering center and executive director of the Global Water Institute, says OFRN is also training school officials to write competitive proposals in a crowded grant-giving arena. Interfacing with federal agencies via properly composed grants and white papers may help projects avoid the "valley of death" – a term in the research world referring to ideas that wither away and die.
 
"We're asking what do these agencies need and how do we address those needs through the capabilities of multiple schools," Kress says. "We're creating a mindset for providing technical solutions to problems. People are starting to understand who has assets and cutting-edge researchers, and are able to expand their network of relationships." 
 
In the network's year-plus of operation, involved entities have competitively won $30 million from over $193 million in possible federal grants.
 
Building a strong foundation
 
The seed for OFRN was planted in November 2014 when the Ohio Federal Military Jobs Commission tasked Ohio State and Wright State to frame a research initiative addressing mission requirements for the Air Force and NASA.
 
Funding to support OFRN's establishment passed the Ohio budget signed by Gov. John Kasich in 2015. In all, $25 million over two years was awarded for this collaborative initiative. $20 million awarded to the Wright State Applied Research Corporation, an affiliate of the Wright State University to lead the overall OFRN initiative. $5 million was awarded to The Ohio State University.
 
The joint effort between WSU and OSU serves to support the research and commercialization efforts of the across the state through the centers of excellence.  Included in the OFRN funding are dollars for commercialization services being provided by Lorain County Community College and Cleveland State University. A "challenge problem" will also be funded to integrate several centers on new projects in concert with key federal agencies.


 
State funding for the OFRN establishes the network's organizational model and funds projects at the various COEs. The centers are modeled after the Alliance for Human Effectiveness and Advancement, or AHEAD, a state-funded coalition of governments, academics and industries focused on human performance and health sciences.
 
Collaboration was an important facet behind the network's origins and will continue to be moving forward, its leaders say. Officials envision tapping into statewide federal installations that provide a collective payroll of $5 billion and support 66,403 federal jobs, according to a 2015 OFMJC report.
 
Creating employment in technical disciplines means continuing to leverage the strength of Ohio’s world-class public and private research universities, growing tech industries and valuable federal labs, says Kress.
 
"Looking at these different sub-systems, when you bring them together you get a system solution," Kress explains. "In the world of system solutions you need to think and act differently, and train people to do these projects."  



Upcoming OFRN event
 
On Wednesday, Feb. 8, OFRN will host a free industry mixer featuring two of the COEs – Energy Storage and Integration and Human Performance and Health Sciences – at the Ohio Aerospace Institute.
 
An overview of the OFRN will be given and Rick Arnold, director of Aeromedical Research of the Naval Medical Research Unit – Dayton (NAMRU-D) will be the keynote speaker. AFRL and NASA representatives will also be present. There will be a panel discussion with lab and industry representatives as well as technical exhibits of all projects. Lunch and post-event appetizers will be served.
 
The mixer runs from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., with the main event beginning at 2:30 p.m. Click here to register.

This series of stories about the Ohio Federal Research Network explores how the organization aligns Ohio’s colleges and universities with the needs of federal agencies to increase research funding, industry collaboration, and technology commercialization for job growth and economic development.

Read more articles by Douglas J. Guth.

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to Fresh Water, his work has been published by Midwest Energy News, Kaleidoscope Magazine and Think, the alumni publication of Case Western Reserve University. A die-hard Cleveland sports fan, he also writes for the cynically named (yet humorously written) blog Cleveland Sports Torture.   
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