U.S. Air Force International Research Office embraces innovation ecosystem at elite UK university

The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Air Force Office of Scientific Research became the newest tenants June 19 at the Translation and Innovation Hub, or I-HUB, at Imperial College’s expansive White City Campus – a move expected to enhance partnerships with academics, industry, non-traditional innovators and the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence.

“It’s all about relationships and tapping in and leveraging international talent,” explained Col. D. Brent Morris, AFOSR International Office director. “Co-locating with Imperial College is a wonderful opportunity to strengthen the relationships formed through our existing grants and is a direct realization of the 2030 strategy call to build bridges and foster innovation on critical research topics.”

A call to action in the 2030 United States Air Force Science and Technology Strategy inspired the selection of this new location. The strategy document highlights the urgent need to enact more agile collaboration approaches with both traditional and nontraditional innovators, and the AFOSR International I-HUB allows the organization to do just that. It enables immediate stronger ties with researchers at Imperial College and provides opportunities for scientific breakthroughs with rapid return on investment. As a flexible workspace, it also opens doors for AFRL researchers at more than 3,000 collaboration spaces worldwide.

The AFOSR International I-HUB will be operated by the European Office of Aerospace Research and Development, a detachment of AFRL and the international arm of AFOSR. EOARD’s mission, along with the rest of the AFOSR International Science Division, is to provide the Department of the Air Force awareness of, engagement in, and relationships with overseas basic researchers. The I-HUB affiliation and co-location with Imperial College will make it prime for embedding AFRL scientists and engineers working on shared research interests as well as hosting workshops, conferences and meetings with new partners.

EOARD has also positioned the I-HUB space to provide the same benefits to its tri-service partners – the international offices of the Office of Naval Research Global and the Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command – making it a key Department of Defense resource for international science collaboration.

The journey to I-HUB was a long and unprecedented one. Since World War II, the Air Force, Army and Navy had occupied space at another downtown London location. The space was incredibly affordable, but came at a high operating cost for AFRL/AFOSR. The lease was nearing its end and the owners wished to repurpose the prime real estate. As an accommodation for ending the lease early, they offered to find comparable space.

Following a year of negotiations and a series of agreements among the owners, the U.K. Ministry of Defence and the Air Force Civil Engineering Center, all the signatures were in place to allow EOARD, ONRG and CCDC to move into the Imperial College I-HUB for the next nine years at no operating cost to AFRL/AFOSR.

While the current climate and travel restrictions have put a damper on an official opening of the AFOSR International I-HUB, AFRL leadership continues to develop plans to embed two employees from the Information Directorate at the new facility as early as this fall.

“These employees will serve as researchers and liaisons to the various universities and institutions across the U.K. to leverage global research partnerships and rapid innovation opportunities,” said Lt. Col. Logan Mailloux, AFOSR’s chief of staff and one of EOARD’s eight international program officers. “For example, the U.K. is investing heavily in secure hardware design, artificial intelligence and quantum sciences; all of which are of tremendous interest to us.”

As an added benefit to the location, the new space is operated by the International Workplace Group, a company that specializes in managing flexible workspaces. By joining their network, AFRL gains access to 3,300 working locations worldwide.

Access to these locations will allow the entire AFRL enterprise – especially international program officers from Europe, Asia, Australia and South America performing their mission as scientific ambassadors – to forge strong S&T bonds with the most creative and talented researchers from around the world in spaces designed specifically for collaboration and innovation.

Morris expects to host a virtual ribbon cutting for the AFOSR International I-HUB once lockdown restrictions have been eased.

The Air Force Research Laboratory's Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFRL/AFOSR), on June 19, became the newest tenants at the Translation and Innovation Hub (I-HUB) at Imperial College's expansive White City Campus in London - a move expected to enhance partnerships with academics, industry, non-traditional innovators, and the UK Ministry of Defence. (Photo courtesy of Stewart Oak/Imperial College of London)

The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Air Force Office of Scientific Research, on June 19, became the newest tenants at the Translation and Innovation Hub at Imperial College’s expansive White City Campus in London – a move expected to enhance partnerships with academics, industry, nontraditional innovators and the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence. (Photo courtesy of Stewart Oak/Imperial College of London)

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