DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office (DSO) programs bridge the gap from fundamental science to applications by identifying and pursuing the most promising ideas within the science and engineering research communities and transforming these ideas into new DoD capabilities.


Physical Science

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DSO’s programs in the physical sciences focus on three areas: fundamental physics, novel physics-based devices and applications, and power. These focus areas provide a sound fundamental foundation by investigating concepts in their formative stages and steering their evolution to solve vital DoD problems.

Fundamental Physics

Objectives: DSO is examining fundamental physics with an eye toward new methods of addressing long-standing DoD issues. Examples include research into the nature of light-matter interactions, the peculiarities of quantum mechanics, and the fundamental makeup of matter. Historically, research in these areas has led to tremendous advances in technology—the development of the laser, atomic clocks, and spectroscopic techniques such as those used in molecular screening apparatus and magnetic resonance imaging. Current DSO efforts in this area include programs investigating the slowing of light pulses through their interaction with materials, the generation and measurement of single photons, techniques for coherent atom interferometry, and other studies of fundamental physics. Another program is investigating techniques for utilizing laser-matter interactions to produce high-quality particle beams and tunable, monochromatic x-rays. The Optical Lattice Emulator program seeks to develop a new approach to the design of important materials and to serve as an early platform for novel exotic states of matter. These fundamental studies develop the in-depth understanding that lays the foundation for an entirely new generation of DoD applications.

Novel Physics-based Devices and Applications

Objectives: This focus area includes devices and applications based on cutting-edge physical science research; these programs pull the science directly out of the laboratory while pushing it toward answering questions relevant to a specific application. In effect, the goal of these programs is to take an evolving understanding of physical processes and develop the techniques to harness and control them. An example of this concept is the Precision Inertial Navigation Systems program, which aims to construct a navigation system composed entirely of atom-interferometer-based sensors. The common thread among all the programs in this area is the strong link among scientific discovery, an evolving understanding of physical interactions, and an unyielding focus on a particular application.


Objectives: One of the most critical needs on the battlefield is to minimize the logistics burden of the Warfighter in the field. This focus area is aimed at developing novel power generation technologies that reduce the logistics burden. It includes new materials and concepts for increasing the availability of portable power to the Warfighter and efficiently extracting, converting, and utilizing power onboard military platforms.


DSO develops and leverages neurophysiological sensors, neuro-imaging, cognitive science and molecular biology to provide support, protection and tactical advantage to warfighters who perform under the most challenging operational conditions. DSO is discovering and applying advances in neuroscience to improve warfighters’ resilience to stress, increase the rate and quality of learning and training, defend against injury and enhance our warfighters’ ability to exert influence. DSO’s advances in neuroscience are leading to better sensors and novel neuro-morphic system architectures in the fields of computing, robotics and information integration, providing solutions to challenging issues. By harnessing the capabilities of neuroscience and fusing them with cutting edge electronics and the social sciences, DSO is bringing a new level of efficiency and situational awareness to provide warfighters with reliable information, training and tools to execute their missions.


The DSO Materials program seeks to advance material science on many technology fronts. Programs range from developing physics- and chemistry-based models that allow for the design of novel materials possessing radically improved or new properties, to innovative processing methods that dramatically reduce the cost of producing titanium metal and its alloys.DARPA’s involvement with material science began in the early 1960s with the genesis of the Interdisciplinary Research Laboratories, which transformed into the National Science Foundation Materials Research Laboratories. DSO continues to advance the frontiers of material science by concentrating efforts on emerging capabilities and maintaining the interdisciplinary theme that generates many of the breakthroughs in this field.

The DSO Materials program seeks to advance material science on many technology fronts. Programs range from developing physics- and chemistry-based models that allow for the design of novel materials possessing radically improved or new properties, to innovative processing methods that dramatically reduce the cost of producing titanium metal and its alloys. Mathematical and characterization tools are being generated to enable rapid design and development of new armor systems. Armor systems based on topological constructs are demonstrating an increase in performance not achievable with traditional approaches. Biologically inspired approaches to material synthesis and design are pervasive in many DSO initiatives. Future investments in the DSO Materials program will continue to explore the frontiers of material science, which include new science-based tools for the development of new materials, novel materials for energy and water harvesting, new mechanical designs that exploit or challenge new materials and material systems, and innovative electromagnetic materials that will revolutionize the field of electronics. This aggressive vision to pursue the development of radically new materials and material systems is producing the critical technologies that will allow for the next generation of high-performance military platforms.

Novel Materials and Material Processes

Objectives: This focus area includes new materials concepts for lowering the weight and increasing the performance of aircraft, ground vehicles, and spacecraft structures. Techniques are being established for assessing damage evolution and predicting future performance of the structural materials in Defense platforms and systems through physics-based models and advanced interrogation tools. New, low-cost processing and fabrication techniques are being developed to enable expanded use of new materials and structures in Defense applications. The design and development of electromagnetic materials and material systems that have unique intrinsic or extrinsic properties are being pursued. Mathematical tools are under development that will reduce the complexity and increase efficiency of ab initio methods and allow for the discovery of novel materials and structures as well as new synthesis routes.

Multifunctional Materials and Material Systems

Objectives: As military systems and missions become more complicated, the development of materials that are dynamic in both shape and activity is becoming critical. In addition, the combination of functions, such as power generation of blast resistance, with structural loadbearing, is expected to yield markedly enhanced capabilities across multiple military platforms. Current projects in this focus area include revolutionary new armor systems that exploit unique high-strength steel/polymer composite hybrid configurations for military vehicles; an extremely small (less than 7.5 centimeters), ultralightweight (less than 10 grams) air vehicle system with the potential to perform indoor and outdoor military missions; and barriers that can be rapidly emplaced and reversed to allow fluid U.S. force movement.

Biologically Inspired Materials

Objectives: DSO’s focus area in biologically inspired materials explores the emerging interfaces between biology and novel materials. Areas under development include systems that mimic the ability of plants to generate large strains while performing a robust structural function and circulatory systems to induce extreme changes in structural system properties.


DSO’s mathematics program applies and develops new and existing mathematical tools that impact a broad continuum of DoD mission areas. The program is rooted in the tenet that DoD needs are best addressed by creating integrated teams of mathematicians and subject matter experts to address problems. This approach enables the rapid exploitation of new mathematical techniques to create new technologies as well as the translation of technological needs into challenge problems for the mathematics community to drive new research. Today’s applied mathematics and computational research programs help achieve up-to-the-minute, cutting-edge superiority, while basic mathematical research programs secure the foundation for advanced science and technology programs in the future.

Applied and Computational Mathematics

Objectives: DSO’s programs in the mathematical sciences span key application areas across the entire DoD mission. Applications being addressed include signal and image processing, biology, materials, sensing, and design of complex systems.

Fundamental Mathematics

Objectives: DSO’s fundamental mathematics focus area includes the development of new theoretical mathematics with high potential for future applications. Current program themes include topological and geometric methods, extracting knowledge from data, and new approaches for conducting focused research to explore fundamental interconnections between key areas of mathematics where critical insights should lead to both new mathematics and innovative applications.


A clear and growing national security need is protecting our military forces from biological warfare attacks and naturally emerging infectious diseases. Since the mid 1990s, DSO has pioneered advances across the full spectrum of biowarfare defense needs, including the development of advanced diagnostics (such as those used routinely for postal screening), decontamination (such as chlorine dioxide), and medical therapies that are active against an entire spectrum of infectious agents.

DSO’s commitment to harnessing the biological sciences is evidenced by its growing portfolio of programs in human combat performance, tactical and restorative biomedical technologies, and biologically inspired platforms and systems. These focus areas emerged from an aggressive basic research program designed to understand fundamental processes in biology through promoting interactions among the most creative thinkers in biology with leaders in disparate fields such as physics, mathematics, and engineering.

Tactical Biomedical Technologies

Objectives: DSO is developing technologies that will radically transform battlefield medical care, including the development of mobile trauma stabilization capabilities through the integration of telerobotic and robotic medical systems, the discovery of new therapeutics for pain control and other battlefield indications, and novel techniques for the generation and storage of blood products.

Restorative Biomedical Technologies

Objectives: DSO has developed a suite of programs aimed at restoring full physical and cognitive function to injured warfighters, even after they have experienced significant traumatic injuries. Technologies are under investigation to fully restore complex tissues (muscle, nerves, skin, etc.) after traumatic injury and, most dramatically, to develop neural-controlled upper extremity prostheses that fully recapitulate the motor and sensory functions of a natural limb.

Maintaining Human Combat Performance

Objectives: DSO is developing technologies to allow our highly skilled and impeccably trained warfighters to maintain their peak physical and cognitive performance despite the harsh conditions of combat. Conditions that threaten peak performance include acute and chronic sleep deprivation, intake of inadequate quantity and quality of calories, heat and cold stress, muscle fatigue, and data overload.

Biologically Inspired Platforms and Systems

Objectives: Nature has evolved truly remarkable capabilities that, if properly understood, would create significant new defense capabilities. DSO’s efforts focus on understanding and emulating the unique locomotion and chemical, visual, and aural sensing capabilities of animals. Efforts include developing a highly efficient, human-powered swimming device that uses the same oscillating foil approach to swimming exhibited by many fish and aquatic birds, and understanding the precise transformations that occur throughout the visual pathways and elucidating the mechanisms for visual scene processing in the brain.





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