The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) Electronics Science and Technology Division (ESTD) actively performs research and development in a variety of materials science, physics, and engineering fields pursuing technological advances crucial to the Department of Defense’s (DoD) future high-performance electronic systems.
Research topics span all aspects of electronics, such as advanced fabrication methods for radio frequency (RF) devices, growth and characterization of exotic electronic materials, quantum information science, neuromorphic computing, power devices and solar cells, nanofabrication, and solid state and vacuum electronic RF sources.
“NRL’s ESTD aims to harness 3D printing for electromagnetics, such as antennas, metamaterials, and millimeter-wave with RF amplifiers operating in very high frequency bands, such as 5G and beyond,” said Alan Cook, Ph.D., Head of Vacuum Electronics and Material Section. “With precision build capabilities of these machines ranging in resolution from small fractions of a millimeter down to the 100-nanometer scale, NRL’s ESTD aims to foster DoD and Department of Navy concepts.”
Several types of wireless devices make use of radio frequency fields like cordless and cell phones, radio and television broadcast stations, satellite communication systems, Bluetooth module and Wi-Fi, and two-way radios all work in the RF spectrum.
The ESTD significant achievements in past decades have grown into the current cutting-edge research that are areas of leadership for NRL.
“After pioneering Gallium Nitride (GaN) as a material for high-power RF devices and helping develop it into the industry-standard high-performance replacement for silicon electronics in many systems, ESTD is developing other wideband gap semiconductors to usher in the next generation of electronic devices for DoD systems,” Cook said. “ESTD research on quantum materials provided the foundation for the newly-minted Navy Quantum Information Research Center all housed at NRL’s facilities.”
Within its branches, ESTD carries out research to demonstrate new basic scientific phenomena and electronic component prototypes, to enable new capabilities for future Navy electronic systems.
Additive Manufacturing (AM), which includes 3D printing, is a method for building a 3D object bit-by-bit by depositing small pieces or layers of material using computer control. “AM is an area of Navy interest, spans a wide range of different technologies and materials, and has become important in nearly every sector of engineering,” Cook said.
Specific advantages of AM include manufacturing flexibility, the ability to combine many parts into one, and rapid production of parts in the field. Recent investment in new AM capabilities brings a variety of general-use 3D printer machines to NRL used for research by multiple divisions. Within the lab, ESTD often collaborates with other divisions and the Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research (LASR) to develop new programs and research opportunities based on these capabilities.
“In terms of future production, ESTD is interested in using AM to advance Navy RF systems and other areas of electronics, and has unique 3D printing capabilities acquired specifically for NRL research programs,” Cook said.
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