Innovation at APL is woven into everything we do and has been at the heart of the Laboratory’s mission since our founding. To ensure that the Lab continues to be a world-class center for research breakthroughs, we have created wide-ranging innovation programs and initiatives to encourage and fund our staff members in their exploration of ideas, inspirations, and drive to discover.
The Independent Research and Development (IRAD) program is a robust technical research and development effort that aims to strengthen APL’s technical competencies and position us to address strategic priorities. IRADs allow funding for APL staff members to pursue ideas that are not currently funded by sponsors but address domains or areas of interest to the Laboratory and the nation. Managed by APL’s mission areas, IRADs are an important part of APL’s core work and are undertaken in one of four categories: basic research, applied research, development, or systems or other concept formulation studies. An IRAD project must have as its objective the use of science and technology to solve a problem or develop a concept. Many IRAD projects have matured into sponsored work that has had real impact on our nation.
In 2015, the Lab launched a major initiative to increase internal investments in high-risk, transformational ideas and technologies: Project Catalyst. This initiative allows staff members to compete for significant funding, sometimes over a period of years, to advance ideas that could impact the future work of the Laboratory. This funding is in addition to the substantial IRAD funding that mission areas across the Lab offer to worthwhile ideas and investigations. Since the launch of this initiative, staff have been awarded over 300 grants ranging from $10K to $500K.
APL is committed to our staff’s ability to engage and collaborate with the broader science and technology ecosystem, both domestically and globally. In fact, collaboration and outreach are a key part of our overall strategy at the Lab, allowing us to maintain awareness of emerging technologies and stay on the cutting edge of competency areas for our sponsors. Janney Grants provide funding to help APL staff members to uncover emerging science results and technologies from a wide range of national and international commercial, public, and nonprofit—including academic—communities. These grants offer competitive award opportunities to support thought leadership activities such as authoring publications and attending or hosting conferences.
BLAST is focused on targeting early-career staff members, encouraging collaboration, and harnessing APL’s culture of innovation to address tough challenges relevant to the Lab and our sponsors. BLAST uses a hands-on, team-based approach to tackle challenging technical problems. Small, diverse teams are formed before the challenge announcement. Teams then spend the summer developing a demo-ready prototype solution that is presented and judged by a panel of internal and external experts and stakeholders.
Central Spark is a 24/7 innovation space, giving staff the freedom to pursue direct, indirect, and personal endeavors with minimal rules, promoting creativity and experimentation. The brand-new Central Spark facility provides 9,000 square feet of collaboration space, with over 3,000 staff visits per week. Central Spark combines the capabilities of virtual, augmented, and extended reality development, electronic circuitry capabilities, rapid physical fabrication, and human-centered design, and also offers gathering space for breaks and conversation.