Reinforced Plastics talks to Mick Maher, program manager at DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. He gives us a glimpse of his future vision for composites technology, projects DARPA is currently funding, and how companies, universities and research institutions can get to work for DARPA.

DARPA (at certain periods of their history known as ‘ARPA’) is the agency of the United States Department of Defense charged with developing breakthrough technologies for national security. It was created in 1958 in response to the Russian launch of Sputnik. President Eisenhower wanted to make sure that the US would never be caught off guard technologically again. And so for over fifty years, DARPA's mission has been to look ahead and make groundbreaking pivotal investments in technology. The agency has had a crucial role in the development of technologies like robots, driverless cars and the internet.

DARPA (www.DARPA.mil) focuses on short-term (two to four year) projects run by small, purpose-built teams. Many of their technologies flow directly into military use. Others are released into the commercial world, resulting in their cost going down, so they can come back into defense purposes in a more cost-effective form.

The agency catalyzes research in a wide variety of technical areas, from biological to tactical technology. It is divided into different offices. The directors of every office determine what it is, which they would like to have realized from a technological standpoint. Program managers then set to work to get it done.

‘Program managers have a finite time and budget to make a project happen,’ says Mick Maher, a program manager in DARPA's Defense Sciences Office (DSO). ‘We fund people to conduct that research on our behalf.’

Maher came into the job with a lot of experience. He got his Bachelor of Science in chemistry from Loyola College in Maryland in 1983 and spent twenty years working in manufacturing for companies like Martin Marietta and DuPont, working his way up to management positions. After 9/11 he went to work for the Army Research Laboratory where he was Chief of the Composite and Hybrid Materials Branch and Materials Applications Branch. He has been working for DARPA since 2011.

This article appeared in the Sept/Oct issue of Reinforced Plastics.

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