U.S. Intelligence Makes Pitch To UCLA For More Research Partnerships

IARPA Director Dr. Jason Matheny talks with several UCLA faculty members before a breakfast roundtable. (photo by Jonathan Van Dyke)

The United States national intelligence community could be fertile ground for UCLA research, and in more ways than a typical outsider might think, said a federal director during his visit to campus on Thursday.

Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) Director Dr. Jason Matheny visited with more than 30 UCLA officials and faculty members who represent disciplines ranging from engineering, to medicine to nanosystems.

“UCLA has so much talent in so many disciplines,” Matheny said during an informal morning breakfast at the James West Alumni Center with faculty and graduate students. “The research interests of faculty and students here are highly relevant to much of the work that IARPA funds. One of my goals is to increase awareness at UCLA about IARPA’s research programs, which offer funding opportunities for faculty and students.”

To that end, Matheny emphasized that IARPA deals with a very broad reach of topics and disciplines.

“In the words of one of our staff members,” he added, “it ranges from A.I. to Zika.”

DSC_0110Specifically, IARPA has invested millions in research in biology, chemistry, physics, electrical engineering, sociology, psychology, anthropology, economics, political science and more.

“There is a research opportunity in pretty much every discipline. The goal of national intelligence is to make sense of the world, and that really does involve every discipline,” Matheny said.

DSC_0137IARPA was founded about a decade ago, and is probably best known for its funding of research in machine-learning, quantum computing, neuroscience, and human judgment. Its mission is to invest in high-risk/high-payoff research to provide the U.S. with an overwhelming intelligence advantage.

Despite being part of the intelligence community, Matheny noted that his organization is very open. Peer-reviewed results and data are published to the greatest possible extent, he said, and approximately 90 percent of what is funded is unclassified.

DSC_0179Recent work that can be traced back to IARPA includes a Microsoft partnership to create a smart mosquito trap for detecting Zika, automated speech transcription systems that work on rare languages, and diagnostics to detect an individual’s exposure to chemical weapons.

“It’s not just James Bond or Jason Bourne,” Matheny added. “It’s a lot more than that. The bulk of national security and national intelligence challenges we have are highly interdisciplinary. They involve public health and global development. They require an understanding of societies under stress, and what societies do when they respond to stress.”

DSC_0140IARPA is open to funding unique seedlings and studies — a major reason Matheny spoke with top officials and toured the School of Engineering, School of Medicine and California Nanosystems Institute.

“We depend on you all to come to us with proposals that we should have been smart enough to ask for,” he said. “There are so many areas of research that are unique to UCLA, so we hope there will be more opportunities to work with all of you.”


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