President Leath visits Huntsville industry, NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center; discusses additive manufacturing efforts

Published: January 11, 2018

By: Morgan S. Martin

Auburn University President Steven Leath visited Huntsville on Tuesday to speak to its engineering community and see first-hand Auburn's extensive involvement at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.

Kicking off his visit to the Rocket City, Leath spoke to a large group of business and professional leaders at Huntsville's Rotary Club about his priority to increase and strengthen Auburn's research and creative scholarship. He specifically referred to Auburn's efforts in additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing, and strategic partnerships established in this field between the university and Huntsville industry and government agencies.

"The rapidly expanding field of advanced manufacturing requires new skill sets, or in other words, a new workforce of highly trained specialists," said Leath. "Auburn is educating and training a growing number of engineers to meet that need—working hand-in-hand with our industry and government partners to ensure they have what they need to bring these technologies out of the lab and into the workforce."

Leath then traveled to Redstone Arsenal, the home of NASA Marshall, to meet with Todd May, center director and graduate of Auburn's materials engineering program. May, who previously served as NASA's manager of the Space Launch System Program, led a tour 221 feet above ground to the top of the test stand that will push the limits of the fuel tanks for the powerful SLS rocket being built to travel to the moon, Mars and beyond. Auburn engineers working in NASA's additive manufacturing center also showed Leath where they are constructing the SLS's flight hardware using innovative 3-D printing technologies.

"Auburn has a long history of partnership with NASA Marshall," said May. "Auburn University alumni have played major and historic roles in NASA missions since the center was established at Redstone Arsenal, and countless research, design and test engineers work for NASA and the aerospace industry in Huntsville."

Collaborations will continue between Auburn and NASA Marshall on additive manufacturing. Leath stated that several new industry partnerships are on the horizon, and the university will continue to expand its research partnership and sphere of engagement with business and industry both in Alabama and across the country.


Ogles honored by peers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center

Published: 09/12/2017

By: Morgan S. Martin

Mike Ogles, director of NASA programs in Auburn University’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, has been recognized with the Most Valuable Player Award by his peers in the Space Launch System (SLS) Project Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Awards are presented annually to each element of the SLS project. 

Based in Huntsville, Ogles serves as Auburn’s liaison to NASA and helps expand the presence of Auburn University and the College of Engineering in Huntsville. He also works closely with Auburn University’s Huntsville Research Center.

Ogles supports the Spacecraft/Payload Integration and Evolution Element of NASA’s SLS, which is an advanced launch vehicle for deep space exploration. His responsibilities include developing generic integration processes and serving as payload integration manager for SLS payloads.


Tennessee Valley Corridor footprint expanding to include Auburn University, City of Auburn

Published: 08/17/2017

By: Morgan S. Martin

The Tennessee Valley Corridor, a regional economic development organization spanning 10 congressional districts in five states, has expanded its footprint to incorporate Alabama’s 3rd Congressional District represented by Congressman Mike Rogers, which includes Auburn University and the City of Auburn.

The TVC focuses on supporting federal science and technology missions in the Tennessee Valley, competing for new missions and leveraging these assets for private sector job development. The organization promotes congressional districts in Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia and North Carolina as premier science and technology regions in the nation.

"Having Alabama's 3rd Congressional District included in the Tennessee Valley Corridor will be of great benefit to Auburn University and to economic development efforts in the state," said John Mason, Auburn's vice president for research and economic development. "As a participant in the TVC Leadership Council, Auburn will continue connecting our research expertise with federal needs and the private sector.”

Rodney Robertson, executive director of the Auburn University Huntsville Research Center, will serve as Rogers’ representative on the TVC board of directors.

“Dr. Robertson and other members of the Auburn community have long participated in the work of the TVC and we’re pleased that Congressman Rogers’ district is now represented,” said Mason.

Since 1995 when it was first formed, the TVC has built a strong alliance of community, business, education and government leaders through a series of regional technology summits in partnership with the corridor’s congressional delegation.

“Including East Alabama in the corridor community enables our region to be part of an alliance focused on providing a superior quality of life,” said Rogers. “Creating partnerships among federal institutions, world-class research institutions and corporate leaders in science and technology allows the TVC to contribute the resources needed for high-tech research, development, business and investment.”

More information about the Tennessee Valley Corridor is available at


Auburn University's Warrior Research Center collaborating with U.S. Army Game Studio to develop aviation-training technology for FAA

Published: 06/06/2017

By: Morgan S. Martin

Auburn University is collaborating with the U.S. Army and the Federal Aviation Administration to develop innovative aviation learning and training modules using virtual, interactive and multimedia technology. The partnership seeks to develop gaming modules that can be implemented into the FAA's current curriculum for air traffic controllers.

A cooperative research and development agreement signed on Tuesday, June 6, enables Auburn's Warrior Research Center to join forces with the U.S. Army Game Studio, which is part of the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center, or AMRDEC, at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville. The project is through the FAA's Air Transportation Center of Excellence for Technical Training and Human Performance, of which Auburn serves as a core team member.

The team will develop air traffic controller training technology using research and science-based knowledge on training adult learners and the use of gaming to improve learning and retention. The modules will demonstrate team capabilities to provide realistic, engaging and effective training.

AMRDEC's Army Game Studio has established unmatched capabilities in the development of virtual, interactive and multimedia technology used for outreach, recruiting, education and training. The studio brings together artists, soldiers and gaming experts to create virtual environments for soldiers to train in without putting them at risk in combat. Rapid prototyping of gaming technology tools ensures that the computer-generated training environments are user-friendly and customizable to the soldiers. The studio is best known for developing the free online U.S. Army video game, "America's Army."

"The Army Game Studio is my go-to place for any training, animation, augmented learning or virtual environment that I need," said JoEllen Sefton, director of the Warrior Research Center and associate professor in Auburn's School of Kinesiology. "I know that the talented team there can take anything we develop, or anything I can imagine, and make it real."

A cross-disciplinary effort, the Warrior Research Center is led by Auburn's School of Kinesiology in the College of Education and includes research from engineering, industrial design, psychology, business, veterinary medicine and human sciences. Collaborators also include Auburn's ROTC program, MRI Research Center, Center for Disability Research and Policy Studies and the Gastrointestinal Research Center, as well as the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine on Auburn's campus.

Warrior Research Center investigations include the effects of military vehicles on a body's skeletal system, blood flow and muscles; consequences from prolonged helicopter sitting; evaluation of neck injuries from prolonged wear of helmets; reducing injury and improving warfighter performance. Studies also explore the design of a universal cockpit, controllers and pilot seats to improve mission efficacy and decrease pilot fatigue and injury.


NIST director Willie May to speak in Huntsville

Published: 12/02/2016

By: Morgan S. Martin

Dr. Willie E. May, director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, will speak at the University of Alabama-Huntsville graduation ceremony on Dec. 11. May will then give a talk that is open to the community on Dec. 12 at 10 a.m. in UAH’s Charger Union Theatre. The talk is titled “NIST: Who We Are, What We Do, and Why You Should Care.”

Founded in 1901, NIST is a non-regulatory federal agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce. The organization’s mission is to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve the quality of life.

Serving as NIST director, May provides high-level oversight and direction for the agency. He previously led NIST’s research and measurement service programs in chemistry-related areas for more than 20 years.

As Huntsville is a hub for engineering and technology, its businesses and agencies, particularly in the area of cyber, have long been involved with NIST and impacted by its policies and standards. Likewise, NIST has shown support for work being done in Huntsville. The National Cyber Summit in Huntsville is supported by the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education, a program of NIST.


Auburn University and NASA sign second Space Act Agreement, focus on wireless sensing

Published: 10/25/2016

By: Morgan S. Martin

A Space Act Agreement was signed between Auburn University and NASA on Friday, Oct. 21, to collaborate on the development of wireless sensor and communication technologies. It is the second Space Act Agreement between the two organizations in the last 15 months.

John Mason, Auburn's vice president for research and economic development, signed the agreement with Todd May, director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville and a 1990 graduate of Auburn's Samuel Ginn College of Engineering.

Auburn and NASA will leverage each other's resources to further advance the understanding of wireless technology that can ultimately be used in space and avionics applications, such as the testing of NASA's new Space Launch System rocket, or the SLS.

Wireless communication networks have the ability to reduce payload size and weight due to no wiring and smaller power systems on board an aircraft.

"Small, light, energy efficient wireless technologies hold tremendous potential for spacecraft, in everything from the robotic explorers of distant planets to the powerful Space Launch System rocket that will launch human explorers to deep space and on to Mars," said May.

Rather than running miles of wires during the SLS testing phase, the sensors developed could allow NASA to remotely monitor the rocket's main fuel tank.

"Similar to Auburn's partnership with NASA last year to provide additive manufacturing expertise, this new agreement for wireless engineering capabilities will further leverage Auburn research to enhance current systems in space exploration," said Mason. "As the only university in the U.S. offering a degree program in wireless engineering, Auburn continues to be a leader in this field, and this connection with NASA reflects that."

Saturday's halftime show at the Auburn game against Arkansas honored May while celebrating the university's longtime history with NASA, which includes six astronaut alumni.

"We're excited by this opportunity to continue building our research partnerships with Auburn," said May.


Auburn University Huntsville Research Center brings university and industry partners together

Published: 09/13/2016

By: Morgan S. Martin

In 2010, the Auburn University Huntsville Research Center was established in Huntsville’s Cummings Research Park to give north Alabama business, industry and government agencies easier access to Auburn’s research capabilities.

Headed by Rodney Robertson, former director of the technical center of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, the Huntsville Research Center connects Auburn’s extensive research capacities with the needs of Huntsville’s agencies and industries. Focus areas include projects in defense, aerospace, advanced manufacturing, life sciences, biotechnology, information technology and other federal and state government priorities.

By facilitating collaborations between Auburn University researchers and Huntsville industry leaders on a number of federal contracts, the Huntsville Research Center aims to increase research funding to both Auburn University and the state of Alabama.

“Our goal is to bring capability together,” Robertson said. “We work closely with the area’s industry and federal agencies to bring opportunities to Auburn. Faculty members have the chance to collaborate with high-tech industries, while students have new doors opened for co-op jobs and full-time positions.”

The Huntsville Research Center also facilitates Auburn’s relationship with Alabama A&M University and the University of Alabama – Huntsville. It works to leverage the outstanding resources of these institutions to promote Alabama’s economic development, thereby bringing new ideas and new products to government, industry and consumers.

“Having a center in Huntsville brings Auburn’s research to a new level,” said John Mason, Auburn’s vice president for research and economic development. “Creating partnerships with the Huntsville community allows Auburn to be a key player in expanding the region’s role in the national research agenda.”

The Huntsville Research Center has linked Huntsville-based industry to several of Auburn’s colleges and programs, and has successfully created partnerships with the U.S. Army; NASA; Missile and Space Intelligence Center; Missile Defense Agency; and HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, among many others.

“Collaboration is necessary when addressing today’s complex research challenges,” Robertson said. “Bringing the best minds and ideas together will help deliver the best results to our state and nation.”

Remembering Auburn alumnus and missile defense pioneer Julian Davidson

Published: 06/23/2016

By: Morgan S. Martin

In celebration of the 20-year anniversary of Davidson Technologies Inc., the Auburn University Huntsville Research Center honors and remembers the company’s founder, Auburn alumnus and missile defense pioneer Dr. Julian Davidson.

Davidson began the Huntsville-based company in 1996 to provide aerospace and missile defense technology to government and industry customers. His extensive experience in government and industry helped mold Davidson Technologies Inc. into the premier private company that it is today.

A native of Oakman, Alabama, Davidson earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Auburn University in 1950, followed by a doctorate from the Southeastern Institute of Technology. He began a distinguished 60-year career with the Army’s Ballistic Missile Defense System, or BMD, shaping the nation’s ballistic missile network of today. He is credited for pioneering the use of system engineering for BMD, as well as developing the instrumentation for the Jupiter C rocket that launched America’s first satellite, Explorer, into space.

Davidson became the first director of the Advanced Ballistic Missile Defense Agency, responsible for all U.S. BMD advanced technology development. His career with the government culminated with his position as deputy program manager of BMD, where his responsibilities included testifying before Congress on all matters related to U.S. BMD programs and policy, managing thousands of personnel and controlling programs with funding levels in the billions.

After retiring from the government in 1976, Davidson held management positions at Systems Development Corp., SAIC and Booz Allen Hamilton before establishing Davidson Technologies Inc. with just two employees. Today, the company has grown to more than 230 employees.  

In addition to being recognized for his notable contributions to both Army and contractor careers, Davidson and his wife Dorothy have been longtime philanthropists in the Huntsville community and at Auburn University. Their support has led to creation of the Davidson Center for Space Exploration, which houses one of three original Saturn V rockets remaining in the world. Their financial contributions also built the Davidson Center for the Arts at the Huntsville Museum of Art and supported organizations such as the Huntsville Symphony and Veterans Memorial Foundation. At Auburn University, their support has funded scholarships and programs in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, as well as support for acquisitions in the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art.

Following Davidson’s passing in January 2013, Dorothy Davidson stepped in as new chairman and CEO of Davidson Technologies Inc. In 2015, she made a $5 million gift to Auburn University’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering to renovate portions of Broun Hall, the home of electrical engineering, in honor of her late husband.

Today, Davidson Technologies Inc. is a woman-owned small business providing technical services to the U.S. Department of Defense, NASA and other prime contractors, and has additional offices in Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida and Washington, D.C.


LAUNCH awards help Auburn faculty move research into the marketplace

Published: 06/21/2016

By: Leslie Parsons

Experts at Auburn University are working together to transform their best ideas into products and services that impact the economy of the state and region. Auburn's Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development recently recognized three faculty members' efforts by awarding them funding from LAUNCH: The Fund for Research and Innovation at Auburn University.

The recipients are Mark Liles, associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, David Worley, professor emeritus from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Robert Dean, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Each will receive a cash stipend toward the commercialization of his research.

LAUNCH is an endowed fund and associated programming conceived by the Auburn University Research Advisory Board as a mechanism to bridge the gap between innovative research and the marketplace.  With the support of Vice President for Research and Economic Development John Mason, the fund was created in spring 2015. The goal is to establish an endowment of $10 million that will generate approximately $400,000 annually for research project grants. Until the endowment is fully funded, the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development will provide the resources necessary to make the awards.

"We believe that LAUNCH is absolutely crucial for moving research into the marketplace and for developing our regional economy to its full potential," Mason said. "That's why we're supporting LAUNCH grants through our office until the endowment is fully funded."

The awards process began in the spring when faculty interested in commercializing university research submitted proposals to a LAUNCH evaluation panel, which narrowed the submissions down to five. Those finalists made presentations to the panel at The Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center on April 22 as part of Auburn's Entrepreneurship Summit.

"Auburn researchers like these have both the will and the talent to provide real solutions for the challenges in today's market," Mason said. "Activities like LAUNCH, which fosters these experts, reflect Auburn's land-grant tradition and the university's commitment to fuel economic growth with science-based innovation."

Liles has developed new, improved probiotic strains that can inhibit the growth of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, which can cause potentially deadly infections in humans and is also a problem in livestock. Together with Peter Panizzi, assistant professor in Auburn's Harrison School of Pharmacy, he will be evaluating efficacy of these probiotics in a mouse model of disease. The future applications of this technology are in preventing and treating bovine mastitis, which is a significant problem for the U.S. dairy industry, and in preventing skin infections in humans.

"The research funded by LAUNCH has already resulted in the identification of probiotic variants that produce more of the antibiotic that kills MRSA," Liles said. "Later in this project, we will identify the mode of action for this antibiotic that will facilitate FDA regulatory approval. Together with corporate partners, our plan is to conduct the safety and efficacy studies that will be needed for this approval and for commercial development."

Worley's project involves the production of antimicrobial wound dressings with the hope of reducing the occurrence of dangerous infections and enhancing wound healing. "The LAUNCH funds will be used to demonstrate the capabilities of the new antimicrobial wound dressings so as to enhance opportunities of licensing the technology to companies producing wound dressings," Worley said. "The new wound dressings will be less expensive and more effective than those currently being marketed."

Dean, working with colleagues in the College of Agriculture, has developed a moisture sensor for large hay bales with an eye toward preventing the combustion that happens when material at the center of the bales begins to break down and simultaneously heat up.

As LAUNCH award recipients, these researchers will now have the opportunity to meet with experts in entrepreneurship from Auburn's Raymond J. Harbert College of Business and with the members of the Innovation Advancement and Commercialization Office to develop the plans and assemble the resources necessary to translate scientific achievement into commercial success. Teams of MBA students will be assigned to the projects to carry out market research, providing opportunities for real-world learning experience.

Researchers may also be partnered with Auburn alumni and friends with extensive experience in industries related to the projects.


Auburn University part of team conducting research using International Space Station data

Published: 03/11/2016

By: Logan Moore

Auburn University is teaming up with the University of Alabama in Huntsville and Alabama A&M University in the newly formed Alabama Remote Sensing Consortium working with Teledyne Brown Engineering, which is providing state universities with imaging data of the earth's surface from NASA's International Space Station.

Auburn researchers will use the data to potentially impact research in precision agriculture, forestry, biodiversity, emergency management, geo-intelligence, weather modeling and other areas.

Teledyne Brown, based in Huntsville, works with NASA's International Space Station National Lab Office to advance technology development, research and the utilization of the International Space Station for commercial purposes.

The consortium will allow Teledyne Brown to gain the research expertise from the state of Alabama's research and educational institutions, while the universities will have access to almost 500,000 square kilometers of free research-grade hyperspectral data.

Hyperspectral imaging divides the spectrum of visible light into many more bands than seen by the human eye, which sees mostly red, green and blue. Certain objects have unique spectral signatures, or "fingerprints," which provide a wealth of information about the object being imaged. For example, a spectral signature for oil helps geologists find new oil fields, or a certain disease condition in a pine tree forest may become visible in a hyperspectral image.

Data will come from the DLR Earth Sensing Imaging Spectrometer hyperspectral imager that is scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station in 2017. Teledyne Brown built the Multi-User System for Earth Sensing, or MUSES, platform on which the data from the hyperspectral imager will be acquired.

The data is also expected to further research in urbanization effects and archaeology; help scientists monitor oil spills, water pollution and algae blooms; and provide fine detail in disaster recovery operations.

"Unique partnerships between industry and higher education in the state, such as ARSC, enable our researchers to be at the cutting edge of science applications for society," said Rodney Robertson, executive director of Auburn University's Huntsville Research Center.

Auburn University faculty participating in the consortium include Mike Fogle and J-M Wersinger, Physics; Luke Marzen, Geosciences; Wei-Shinn Jeff Ku, Computer Science and Software Engineering; Brenda Ortiz and Thorsten Knappenberger, Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences; and Mike Ogles, Auburn University Huntsville Research Center.

"Researchers or principal investigators from the universities will apply to the consortium to get the data from Teledyne Brown," said ARSC director Robert Griffin. "They can get access to this free data that they can then leverage to write proposals."


Auburn University collaborating with IBM on cybersecurity research

Published: 11/16/2015

By: Charles Martin

Auburn University and IBM have announced a collaboration on cybersecurity research using IBM's POWER8 platforms, which will result in enhanced undergraduate and graduate programs, curriculums, research and outreach.

"It's really fantastic to grow our relationship with IBM through this cyber-focused engagement," said Christopher B. Roberts, dean of the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, where the Auburn Cyber Research Center is housed. "Allowing our students to have access to the POWER8 platform and interact with IBM researchers will further enable them to advance the technologies of tomorrow's world."

The POWER8 processor features a new approach to computing that uses a Coherent Accelerator Processor Interface, or CAPI. This creates high degrees of system flexibilities that allow enhanced cybersecurity studies through cognitive computing and deep analytics via highly customizable parallel processing engines.

"IBM's POWER8 optimizations toward analytics and big data, and our deep collaboration with IBM, will escalate Auburn's cyber research initiatives," said Anthony Skjellum, professor of computer science and software engineering and Auburn's lead cyber scientist. "Many students will take advantage of the POWER8 systems and become familiar with its advanced processor and accelerator capabilities not currently available on standard servers."

The partnership is the latest in a series of cybersecurity research activities between Auburn and IBM, including proof of technology projects in which Auburn used the capabilities of the POWER8 architecture as well as IBM's expertise in cybersecurity software and solutions.

"Due to the growing complexities of cybersecurity, the POWER8 platform will allow Auburn researchers to experiment and develop unique system optimized solutions to solve grand challenges in security," said Ravi Arimilli, an IBM Fellow.

Retired Lt. Gen. Ronald L. Burgess, Auburn's senior counsel for national security programs, cyber programs and military affairs, said, "Any effort to explore cyber comprehensively has to include a positive relationship with leading companies in systems and security, so the relationship with IBM will help Auburn advance strategically.

"The Auburn Cyber Research Center and Auburn Cyber Initiative are joint efforts to advance cyber, critical infrastructure protection, security and forensics across the Auburn campus. There are a significant number of students involved in cyber R&D, and classes offered in the Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering are educating the next generation of cyber workforce for the state, region and nation."


Chemical engineering and computer science fuse to advance the future of smart plants

Published: 10/07/2015

By: Morgan S. Martin

In a cross-disciplinary collaboration merging chemical engineering with computer science, Auburn University professors have partnered to explore cyber manufacturing and big data analytics to advance the future of smart plants.

Jin Wang, Walt and Virginia Woltosz associate professor of chemical engineering, and Anthony Skjellum, director of Auburn University’s Cyber Research Center and the COLSA professor of cybersecurity and information assurance, will be building an innovative testbed of chemical reactors, as well as Internet of Things sensors to monitor and examine big data analytics and create improved control of complex systems in the next generation of smart plants.

The duo is developing a process data analytics framework to provide smart diagnostics and prognostics for cyber manufacturing, as well as an IoT-enabled manufacturing technology testbed to understand the properties, capacities and performances of IoT devices better. Information obtained from the study of IoT sensors will allow researchers to identify opportunities and challenges of future IoT-enabled cyber manufacturing.

The project can have a significant impact on future smart plants by detecting and correcting possible faults and failures earlier and reducing plant downtimes by upwards of 50 percent in five years and 90 percent in 10 years. In addition, Wang and Skjellum foresee that this research will increase plant efficiency and cost savings.