Open-door policy

By February 22, 2018July 31st, 2018Army ALT Magazine, Science and Technology
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ARL implements a new business model to pursue collaboration with academia and industry in a 21st century research culture.

by Ms. Wendy Leonard

The U.S. Army of 2040 and beyond will operate in rapidly changing domains with unparalleled complexity. Army leadership has long recognized the need to invest in science and technology (S&T) to empower the discovery and innovation needed to maintain technological overmatch and win future battles in an increasingly complex environment. In response, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) has implemented a new business model, Open Campus, to pursue leading-edge basic and applied research in a truly collaborative fashion by enabling the continuous flow of people and ideas among government, academia and the private sector. This model creates a 21st-century research culture that could serve as a model to transform the entire U.S. defense laboratory enterprise into an agile, efficient and effective laboratory system capable of nimbly transitioning to address the complex problems of the future.


ARL’s Open Campus was launched in 2014 with the goal of bringing together government laboratories, academic institutions and the private sector to form a global collaborative network to address tough Army challenges. Open Campus lays the foundation for a global S&T ecosystem enabling long-term national security. Its model is based on three tenets:

  • Modern government workforce and management.
  • Shared facilities among government, academia and the private sector.
  • A collaborative culture that fosters an entrepreneurial and innovative environment.

To create the Open Campus ecosystem, ARL implemented policy and business practice changes to enhance the professional and technical development of its workforce, develop critical research facilities, and create interactions and engagements with public and private-sector entities with common technical interests. These changes require strategic investment in and leveraging of human capital, facilities and technical infrastructure across government, industry and academia, while increasing public involvement and understanding of defense science, technology and exploration.

Since 2014, ARL has developed a diversified, national hub-and-spoke infrastructure to more effectively partner across the national and international S&T ecosystem, tapping into technology centers across the country to gain access to regional talent that previously was underrepresented in Army labs and centers. ARL now has open campuses co-located with its laboratories in Adelphi and Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), Maryland. Adding to the collaborative strength from the long-standing co-location with the University of Central Florida, ARL has established hubs in California (ARL West), Texas (ARL South) and Illinois (ARL Central), and is in the process of opening a hub in Massachusetts (ARL Northeast). ARL has also expanded internationally, with an Army Research Office presence in Tokyo, London and Sao Paulo.

The Open Campus initiative is also using enhanced use lease authority, a tool for using underused government property, to offer opportunities for public-private partnerships with a vision toward building research park environments on U.S. Army installations where ARL resides. ARL will anchor the Army Innovation Hub at APG, which serves as the epicenter for foundational research, engineering, test and evaluation, acquisition and sustainment in command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; chemical and biological defense; human performance; maneuver; materials; and protection sciences.

These environments will enable a broader range of collaboration, development of co-located academic consortia to provide graduate education opportunities to ARL staff and residents of the local community, and strengthening of the international S&T network.


Research partners prepare an autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle for flight during demonstrations at the capstone event for the Micro Autonomous Systems and Technology (MAST) program at APG in August 2017. ARL staff is encouraged to serve as researchers, professors or technologists at companies conducting joint research in ARL laboratories and the laboratories of their ecosystem partners. (U.S. Army photo by Jhi Scott, ARL)


ARL is working hard to create the policy framework necessary to support these new avenues of global collaboration to quicken the pace of future discovery and innovation. The primary mechanisms used to establish Open Campus collaborative partnerships are cooperative research and development agreements (CRADAs) and educational partnership agreements (EPAs).

CRADAs, governed by 10 U.S. Code §3710a and used in Army research for more than 25 years, remain critical to the success of Open Campus. CRADAs are formal agreements between one or more federal laboratories and one or more nonfederal parties (e.g., small business, industry or academic institutions) under which the government and the nonfederal party jointly provide personnel, facilities, equipment or other resources to conduct specific research or development efforts that are consistent with the mission of the laboratory. The CRADA defines intellectual property protection for all parties and is appropriate when ideas, staff, materials and equipment are to be shared over a period of time for the purpose of collaboration or if an invention may result. Joint work statements, developed by the collaborating principal investigators, outline each collaborator’s contributions and the research to be performed.

CRADA use has expanded dramatically with academic, corporate and small business institutions, and has been useful to protect the intellectual property of all partners while streamlining collaboration. ARL has 126 CRADA collaborators (56 from academia and 70 from industry or small business) and is currently in negotiations with an additional 106 potential collaborators.

Eight international CRADAs have also been established, and an additional five are in negotiation. Examples include multiple ARL collaborations in areas from bioscience to additive manufacturing, under an agreement with the University of Texas; new and expanded long-term relationships with historically black colleges and universities and minority institutions and their research staffs; 3D Systems, a company that has a reputation as an international leader in three-dimensional manufacturing; a NATO-aligned joint project with ARL and Bulgarian and Ukrainian institutes on the theoretical foundations of real-time analysis of cyber intrusion events; and a collaboration with General Motors Co. on the spray and combustion behavior of a novel, variable-area, high-pressure diesel injector at real engine conditions. Since establishing Open Campus, ARL has realized an average annual growth rate of 40 percent in the volume of CRADA actions, and ARL’s S&T funding has been matched by $51 million in-kind for projects that address Army-specific problems. (See Figure 1, Page 198.)

EPAs are established between ARL and academic institutions to encourage and enhance joint education and research opportunities with academia in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines relevant to ARL S&T programs. Under EPAs, visiting students and professors, including those with international citizenship, can access ARL’s research facilities and collaborate with experts in their fields of interest.

Benefits to educational institutions include access to ARL’s specialized research facilities, receipt of ARL’s excess laboratory equipment, research experiences on Army projects, and the opportunity to enhance students’ interest in STEM disciplines through collaboration and internships. EPAs also provide a mechanism for ARL researchers to serve as adjunct faculty, collaborating with educational institutions and helping to develop and implement cooperative education programs for undergraduate and graduate education.


Dr. Giuseppe Loianno, a research scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, readies a self-navigating drone for a demonstration at ARL’s Aberdeen facilities in August 2017. The demonstration was part of the MAST program, which gave participants from industry and academia the chance to work with ARL to explore technologies that would enable autonomous micro-robots to work together. (U.S. Army photo by Jhi Scott, ARL)



As another means to advance collaborative fundamental research, ARL has initiated 14 research centers in strategic, enduring S&T areas of critical importance to the Army, including additive manufacturing, artificial intelligence and atmospheric sciences. The centers are being established across the country as a consortium of Open Campus partner organizations leveraging expertise, facilities and capabilities on an international scale to address challenging research problems. For example, the ARL Center for Research in Extreme Batteries, established with the University of Maryland and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, focuses on the fundamental science for batteries with extreme properties, operating in extreme environments for defense, space and biomedical applications. At a recent meeting, more than 100 additional participants expressed interest in joining this center.


Through the Open Campus framework, ARL scientists and engineers work side by side with visiting scientists in ARL’s facilities and as visiting researchers at collaborators’ institutions. ARL is committed to a goal of having 10 to 15 percent of its approximately 1,300 Army civilian research staff on rotational assignments outside of the laboratory at partner locations, with at least that number of collaborators actively participating at ARL locations.

More than 700 participants established collaborative partnerships in ARL laboratories through the third quarter of FY17. These include 80 international collaborators from 22 countries, including China, India, Germany and Iran. Layered security mechanisms, commercial network access and the development and implementation of new security policies and procedures shield sensitive programs and enable U.S. and international partners to pursue fundamental research collaborations on-site with ARL scientists and engineers. In addition to collaborative engagement in existing ARL facilities, future phases of ARL’s Open Campus will include opportunities for partners to establish new on-site facilities on our campuses.

Currently, ARL seeks to attract academic, government, small business and industry partners for collaborative engagement. More information on ARL’s strategic research interests and collaborative research opportunities can be found at

In addition, ARL staff are encouraged to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities in high-risk, high-payoff areas of potential strategic value to the Army through implementation of innovative workplace policies. ARL established the Entrepreneurial Separation Program as a means to assist ARL researchers in establishing collaborative partnerships. If a current ARL civilian employee decides to pursue an entrepreneurial opportunity, the employee resigns from federal service but is eligible for “priority consideration” for up to five years from the date of separation for positions that are similar to the one they vacated. Since 2015, eight employees have separated from ARL to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities in areas such as cybersecurity, solid-state batteries, natural language processing, high-performance computing and manufacturing technologies.

ARL researchers are encouraged to serve as visiting researchers, professors of practice at universities or as technologists at cutting-edge companies conducting joint research in ARL laboratories and the laboratories of their ecosystem partners. Open Campus relationships forged with academic partners expand opportunities for both faculty and ARL researchers, providing insight into the complex boundary conditions of defense-relevant problems. These partnerships can contribute to each academic institution’s curriculum and breadth and provide unique insights into challenging defense problems that would be difficult to obtain otherwise. Collaborations between ARL and academia help shape the future national security workforce, provide exciting employment pathways for highly trained graduates of STEM academic programs, and help academic institutions build programs and attract new faculty by offering established links to the Army and DOD S&T network.

ARL and industry and small business staff exchanges with leading technology companies also help shape technology maturation timelines for transfer to the industrial marketplace and provide ARL and partner researchers with a view of the state of the art in many critical fields, and generate insight into emerging government and industry practices regarding technology development. These exchanges will encourage and provide incubation opportunities, empowering and leveraging the novel approaches of these entrepreneurs through access to infrastructure and through unique engagement and partnership opportunities between scientists and engineers.


ARL researcher Dr. Steven D. Keller, foreground, works with Dr. Do-Hoon Kwon, associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, in Kwon’s lab. Keller, part of the Antennas and RF Technology Integration Branch within ARL’s Sensors and Electron Devices Directorate, recently completed a three-year detail at UMass Amherst on antenna research and fabrication that included the co-mentoring of doctoral students. Such relationships are encouraged by ARL and facilitated by the Open Campus framework. (Photo courtesy of University of Massachusetts Amherst)


The Open Campus business model fosters the generation of joint intellectual property, incubation of spinoff companies for the pursuit of S&T innovations, and maturation and rapid transition of intellectual property and technologies to the industrial marketplace. A critical element of ARL’s Open Campus strategy is technology transfer.

In FY17, the ARL Technology Outreach Portal was launched. It includes easily accessible information about almost 400 patents, a unique view of the facilities and equipment at ARL locations and e-learning modules for both ARL researchers and stakeholders external to ARL. A dramatic increase in newly signed patent license agreements realized since the start of Open Campus is projected to continue. These new mechanisms include licenses with academic, industry and small business partners, both domestic and international, in military as well as commercial applications.

For example, ARL’s fundamental research in lithium-ion battery interfaces led to a 5-volt cathode with 30 percent increased energy that is safer and more stable than existing commercial solutions. A patent is pending, and the Canadian firm Hydro-Quebec has licensed the technology and is providing a 50 percent cost-share to further develop it. Another example is Per Vivo Labs Inc., which is licensing rate-activated tethers that incorporate new stretchable materials into resistance bands and other physical therapy aids. (See “Per Vivo Warms to Tech Transfer,” Page 183.)


To help promote the commercialization of ARL intellectual property, ARL has developed partnership intermediary agreements (PIAs) with several partners. PIAs increase the likelihood of success in conducting cooperative or joint activities with STEM-oriented nonprofits, small businesses, educational agencies and colleges and universities, with partners serving as a liaison with outside, nonfederal entities.

In one such arrangement, the Energetics Technology Center (ETC) established incubator capabilities near ARL facilities in Adelphi, and recently conducted several lunch-and-learn and tech talks and two lean startup sessions. Sessions focused on ARL patents and were designed to help promote the commercialization of ARL intellectual property by providing a place for ARL researchers to collaborate with entrepreneurs and businesses interested in licensing ARL’s patents. Three small business startups occupy space at the 7,000-square-foot incubator in Adelphi. ARL also established a PIA for using a small business technology incubator near its campus on APG.


The concept for the Army Innovation Hub is to accelerate Army innovation by using collaborative partnerships of government, industry and academia within a global network based at APG. (Image courtesy of ARL)


ARL’s Open Campus is creating collaborative possibilities to generate a more adaptive, efficient and effective defense research environment that is responsive to future national security challenges. ARL continues to pursue academic, government, small business and industry partners for collaborative engagement.

The formal and informal interactions among scientists, engineers and business and technology specialists with multiple technical disciplines and globally diverse perspectives will lead to new fundamental knowledge, enhance the frequency of scientific and engineering breakthroughs and innovation, effectively transition technologies into engineered systems, and help guide strategic science, technology and acquisition policy.

For more information, contact the author at

WENDY LEONARD is the program manager of the Open Campus initiative. She holds a B.S. in physics with a minor in math from Loyola University in Maryland.

This article is published in the January – March 2018 issue of Army AL&T magazine.

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