Press Release

Johns Hopkins APL, University of Colorado Boulder Formalize National Security Research Partnership

The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, and the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) have signed a master research agreement that expands their existing partnership and opens new avenues for collaboration to address critical national security objectives and workforce needs.

The agreement allows APL, the nation’s largest university affiliated research center, to further draw on CU Boulder’s expertise in a variety of domains. Much of this new research will be based in CU Boulder’s Center for National Security Initiatives (NSI), which was launched in 2019 and currently directs work in hypersonics, radio frequency engineering, cybersecurity, space domain awareness and remote sensing.

Under the agreement, APL will be able to directly engage researchers at NSI and across CU Boulder.

“As a trusted advisor to the U.S. government, we want to make impactful contributions at the speed of relevance, and we often partner with other world leaders in specific technology areas to drive innovation,” said Kerri Phillips, chief scientist of APL’s Air and Missile Defense Sector (AMDS), which along with the Space Exploration Sector (SES) will lead APL’s role in the research partnership. “CU Boulder brings world-renowned expertise in hypersonics, gas and plasma dynamics, Earth and space science, and astrodynamics, to name a few. This collaboration will allow us to connect some of the research being performed and apply it to the critical missions APL is tackling.”

“This agreement raises our collaborative potential to the next level, and comes at a time where our contributions are more critical than ever to national security,” said Dave Van Wie, head of AMDS. “It’s a win not just for APL and CU Boulder but for the nation.”

Driving Innovation Through Collaboration

The partnership between APL and CU Boulder facilitates their joint ability to develop technologies that address critical national security needs, Phillips said.

“This agreement is much broader than one focus area,” she said. “It allows us to partner on various technologies and applications ranging from hypersonic vehicles and propulsion systems to space technologies, climate and environment, and autonomy.”

APL and CU Boulder are both members of the University Consortium for Applied Hypersonics, a collaborative network of universities working with government, industry, national laboratories, federally funded research centers and university affiliated research centers to deliver the innovation and expertise needed to advance hypersonic flight systems supporting national defense.

Previously, APL and CU Boulder partnered to track how damage evolves in a thermal protection system, like those used on hypersonic vehicles and spacecraft in extreme environments.

“APL hopes this new agreement will go deeper than the tasks on which we have worked so well together to date,” said Betsy Congdon, SES chief technologist. “We hope this grows into new avenues of research and exploration beyond anything that the individual organizations can do separately.”

“There’s a feeling in U.S. federal leadership that there’s a lot of capacity at universities that is not being applied today to national security challenges,” said Iain Boyd, director of NSI and the H.T. Sears Memorial Professor of aerospace engineering sciences at CU Boulder. “A partnership like this can really help to accelerate the development of national security capabilities.”

New Career Paths for the Next Generation

The research partnership will also focus on creating opportunities for CU Boulder students to develop career paths and sharpen the skills they will need to respond to current and future national security priorities.

By including students in national security research, NSI is addressing an increased demand nationwide for qualified and experienced defense professionals, Boyd said.

“As one of the places actively applying this research daily, APL is excited to engage with students in real-world applied engineering challenges to help grow the next generation of the aerospace workforce,” Congdon added.

“Having seen firsthand the incredible expertise at both APL and CU Boulder, I couldn’t be more excited about this expanded partnership,” said Bobby Braun, head of APL’s Space Exploration Sector. “Meeting the national security needs of tomorrow requires a diverse, technical workforce — and engaging students in real-world projects is the only way to ensure we meet the challenges facing our nation and the global community into the future.”