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In April 2020, scientists from the National Strategic Research Institute (NSRI) at University of Nebraska (NU) joined with active-duty, reserve and Air National Guard personnel to execute particle and airflow testing of six aircraft. The project aimed to eliminate the risk of COVID-19 spread to aircrew if infected personnel were brought on board.

“It usually takes months and months to plan an experiment like this. We executed it with two weeks’ notice,” said Dillon Cunningham, NSRI director of special projects. “It was definitely an extreme turnaround for everyone involved.”

The first set of airflow tests were conducted on the KC-135 Stratotanker, C-17 Globemaster III and C-130J Hercules aircraft, followed by tests on the KC-46 Pegasus, KC-10 Extender and C-5M Super Galaxy aircraft.

The scientists from multiple disciplines used a new method of dispersing aerosol DNA tag beads, a concept Dr. Joshua Santarpia, NSRI research director for CWMD programs, invented two years before.

After the beads were released, multiple tests were performed in the air and on the ground. The scientists taped off and numbered small areas of the aircraft’s floor to capture surface samples.

“Basically, we run multiple tasks on an airframe to understand if bead one, released at the rear of the aircraft, made it up to the front; or if bead two, released in the middle of the plane, made it up to the front of the aircraft,” Cunningham said. “We can look at their spread in real time to make sure they are representative of a particular size of interest relative to the spread of different potential infectious substances.”

There wasn’t a single person on the joint-operations, interdisciplinary team that week who didn’t play a critical role in the success of the mission.

Maj. Dave Sustello, U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Command Test and Evaluation Squadron operations officer, commended NSRI and all the entities that took part for contributing to protecting the health of the mobility force.

“This was world-class support,” Sustello said. “Anything and everything we’ve asked for they’ve been able to provide, and I’m seeing that Nebraska work ethic shine through.”

Excellence, responsiveness, teamwork — that is what NSRI is all about.

Biennial Report 2020

1 July 2018 - 30 June 2020

Ted Carter

“It has been an honor and a privilege for the University of Nebraska to consistently deliver innovative solutions to the Department of Defense since the inception of the National Strategic Research Institute in 2012. We have built tremendous relationships with a wide range of government sponsors and remain a committed partner across a broad scope of capabilities for national security. Our researchers and students have tremendous opportunities to support those who wear the cloth of our nation and bring forward insights to keep us looking to the possibilities of the future.”
Ted Carter
President
University of Nebraska

ADM RIchard

“As the sponsor of the NSRI, the United States Strategic Command and its 150,000 military and civilian force are proud of their accomplishments, and we look forward to what they will offer this command and the nation in the future. Deterrence is a multi-domain effort and the outstanding faculty, staff and students at the University of Nebraska are consistently providing the tools necessary to keep our nation and our allies safe.”
ADM. Charles Richard, Commander
U.S. Strategic Command
NSRI University Affiliated Research Center Sponsor

Read

In April 2020, scientists from the National Strategic Research Institute (NSRI) at University of Nebraska (NU) joined with active-duty, reserve and Air National Guard personnel to execute particle and airflow testing of six aircraft. The project aimed to eliminate the risk of COVID-19 spread to aircrew if infected personnel were brought on board.

“It usually takes months and months to plan an experiment like this. We executed it with two weeks’ notice,” said Dillon Cunningham, NSRI director of special projects. “It was definitely an extreme turnaround for everyone involved.”

The first set of airflow tests were conducted on the KC-135 Stratotanker, C-17 Globemaster III and C-130J Hercules aircraft, followed by tests on the KC-46 Pegasus, KC-10 Extender and C-5M Super Galaxy aircraft.

The scientists from multiple disciplines used a new method of dispersing aerosol DNA tag beads, a concept Dr. Joshua Santarpia, NSRI research director for CWMD programs, invented two years before.

After the beads were released, multiple tests were performed in the air and on the ground. The scientists taped off and numbered small areas of the aircraft’s floor to capture surface samples.

“Basically, we run multiple tasks on an airframe to understand if bead one, released at the rear of the aircraft, made it up to the front; or if bead two, released in the middle of the plane, made it up to the front of the aircraft,” Cunningham said. “We can look at their spread in real time to make sure they are representative of a particular size of interest relative to the spread of different potential infectious substances.”

There wasn’t a single person on the joint-operations, interdisciplinary team that week who didn’t play a critical role in the success of the mission.

Maj. Dave Sustello, U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Command Test and Evaluation Squadron operations officer, commended NSRI and all the entities that took part for contributing to protecting the health of the mobility force.

“This was world-class support,” Sustello said. “Anything and everything we’ve asked for they’ve been able to provide, and I’m seeing that Nebraska work ethic shine through.”

Excellence, responsiveness, teamwork — that is what NSRI is all about.

Message from the Executive Director

 
Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Robert Hinson, NSRI Founding Executive Director

Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Robert Hinson, NSRI Founding Executive Director

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I am 50 years into my career, a career spent directly serving our country in the U.S. Air Force and in support roles to the Department of Defense, and I honestly can say that 2020 is as significant as any year I have seen to date. I know I’m not alone in that assessment.

While I’m sure your mind immediately tracks to the concerns and challenges of COVID-19 — as it should until there is a vaccine to combat this deadly virus — I assure you that it only represents one of the evolving threats that our sponsors must be prepared for every day. The insights and research opportunities of the last two years covered by this report are just the tip of the iceberg in illustrating the critical work we have continued to perform.

Through the National Strategic Research Institute at the University of Nebraska, I have witnessed an unwavering sense of purpose, a resolute desire to perform to the highest potential and a keen intellect, sparked by urgency and broadened by action. I am proud to lead this eminent group of professionals who continually impress me with their dedication and ability to deliver solutions to difficult problems.

For NSRI, moving toward our mission most recently has meant pursuing focus and clarity, a task we embarked on in 2019 — a goal which the intensity of 2020 has confirmed. As U.S. Strategic Command’s University Affiliated Research Center (UARC), designated by the Department of Defense, we are charged with and fully committed to helping our sponsor fulfill their mission requirements.

This year the University of Nebraska was awarded its third USSTRATCOM IDIQ contract through NSRI, an award of $92 million to bring our institute’s total contract and grant awards to $298 million since 2012. This continued commitment by USSTRATCOM, as our UARC sponsor, demonstrates our ability to deliver at the highest levels. As we have refined our focus, we have not compromised what has made us great — the expertise more than 40 customers have relied upon across the DOD.

In 2020, our dangerous world presents many serious threats to our freedom and way of life. Those threats and the world itself have become much more complex, and all defense domains will continue to be challenged in the years ahead. Hand-in-hand with our sponsor and other defense partners, NSRI and the University of Nebraska remain poised to enable research and support deterrence of, preparedness for and response to national security threats across multiple domains.

Our institute combines a rapid-response ability and genuine teamwork with leading-edge chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive technical expertise — a combination that offers both practical tools to support the warfighter and thought leadership to assist those who make the highest level defense decisions for our nation. We have demonstrated this capacity, for example, through our timely response to U.S. Transportation Command in testing their capacity for transporting infected patients on six different airframe types in just six days in April 2020 as well as our contributions to extremely high-level nuclear policy engagements. And so much more as highlighted in this report.

Our success in these efforts has been entirely dependent on the grit, intellectual capacity and resourcefulness of our people. Since 1 July 2018, we have significantly expanded the bench of our leadership team with the addition of Dr. Neal Woollen, senior research strategy officer, Dr. Christopher Yeaw, research director of nuclear programs, Dr. Josh Santarpia, research director for CWMD programs, and Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Rick Evans, deputy executive director. In total, our leadership team now touts more than 275 years of direct DOD or DOD-support experience.

Looking forward, we will continue our investment in people. We recently launched an independent research and development initiative to catalyze continued innovation for the Department of Defense from the University of Nebraska. We also refined our student intern opportunities to ensure the highest-level experiences for the highest-caliber students. We continue to convene academic experts who are driven to provide USSTRATCOM with actionable insights across the 21st century deterrence landscape.

From deliverables to capabilities to talent, NSRI is built to last well beyond our decade mark of 2022. On the occasion of the release of this biennial report, we recommit ourselves to serving as an enduring resource for the Department of Defense, a conduit through which the University of Nebraska delivers support in the form of the finest national defense and deterrence minds and resources. Our aim as a trusted agent working alongside USSTRATCOM, and other DOD agency decision-makers is to support and protect the warfighters and first responders who protect us all.

It All Starts With The Threat

As the United States’ mindset around deterrence continues to evolve given the changing international landscape, the National Strategic Research Institute (NSRI) at the University of Nebraska (NU) has evolved as well, refining its focus while remaining broad in its scope.

Read

Long gone are the days of bi-polar Cold War competition that gave rise to predictable patterns of engagement and crisis. Rapidly receding also are the days in which the greatest threats to the United States came from radical non-state terrorist groups. The re-emergence of great-power multipolar competition, after a century of dormancy, confronts the United States with new complexities amidst the modern spectrum of conflict, from murky gray-zone opportunism to ultra-high-intensity warfare.

The domains of competition are multiplying, the speed of conflict is increasing exponentially, the extent of contested engagement is rapidly expanding and novel nuclear, chemical and biological threats are emerging worldwide. But bringing to bear all instruments of national power across multiple strategic fronts is a skill our country has mastered in the past.

This integration has been the foundation of NSRI operations since its inception in 2012. It’s imperative to understand that the threats of today are nothing like they’ve ever been before and nothing like what is to come. It is that honest and realistic viewpoint that has pushed the institute to be a convenor, a catalyst for the points of innovation that occur where disciplines, experts, ideas and people collide.

This integrated approach is also the foundation for the evolving mission of NSRI: tackling some of the toughest, highest-priority challenges facing our nation’s defense. NSRI works across the threat spectrum — chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive — to help ensure that these capabilities and threats are top of mind for leading researchers across the country.

As the only University Affiliated Research Center (UARC) sponsored by a combatant command, U.S. Strategic Command, NSRI at the University of Nebraska is well-positioned to understand the complex structures of the Department of Defense (DOD) and to connect and leverage these structures for effectiveness and efficiency.

This understanding of a broad picture of defense and deterrence is critical for the protection of the nation — and our allies — both today and in the future.

Understanding Our Purpose

It would be impossible to list all the ways NSRI addresses 21st century threats to our nation’s security. Here are examples that provide a glimpse into the world-class work being performed by the NSRI team with collaborators across the federal government and the University of Nebraska.

Discover Solutions To Known Unknowns

Threat

Grave challenges are being presented to U.S. national security by the rapid expansion, diversification and modernization of the nuclear forces of our great-power competitors.

Solution

NSRI is providing extremely time sensitive research on future arms control options, expanding and deepening the U.S. government’s access to technical, analytic and policy expertise for treaty architectures, core principles, national security implications, new technologies in support of treaty verification, and foreign nuclear threat and treaty compliance assessments. A leading NSRI researcher was a special advisor to the head of delegation at an international engagement on warheads and doctrine.

Learn More

Prepare for the Unthinkable

Threat

Too often, laboratory and other highly technical personnel do not receive the access to analytical exercises that decision and response groups do. As a result, these technical personnel often are unaware of the many highly qualified technical resources available nearby.

Solution

Analytical exercises allow participants to develop technical relationships among groups that have never explored opportunities to work together. In March 2020, the California WMD-Civil Support Team did not wait to be called upon to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Science Officer Cpt. Brian Quigley, who had participated in a 2018 NSRI exercise with local partners, called the Orange County Public Health Laboratory directly and offered to help. They were directed to a nearby county in great need. The NSRI team also immediately integrated several resources and offered to help the county perform diagnostic assays based on polymerase chain reaction.

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Support the Warfighter

Threat

Traumatic lung injury often leads to death, particularly on the battlefield, since the body relies on the lungs to provide oxygen.

Solutions

Researchers from the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC), the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL) and the University of Colorado–Boulder developed and validated a patented, life-saving solution using oxygenated microbubbles to bypass damaged lung tissue and release oxygen into the abdomen. Microbubbles technology can increase the survival rate of victims of mass casualty events, as well as injured, forward-deployed warfighters in low-resource environments.

Learn More

Empowering Our People

The ever-changing strategic defense environment demands ongoing parallel changes in expertise to meet dynamic research needs supporting defense leaders and warfighters. Within the last two years, NSRI has brought on leading talent to ensure accurate and efficient delivery to the Department of Defense.
Alicia Bevins

Alicia Bevins

Computer Science, Graduate Student

University of Nebraska–Lincoln

“Working on this team with computer science researchers and students showed me what was possible when you bring these disciplines together. This project is the reason why I’ve gone on to graduate school.”
Dustin White

Dustin White, Ph.D.

UNO Assistant Professor

NSRI Principal Investigator

“Teaming up with the team at USSTRATCOM was an amazing experience that helped me understand the constraints under which their work takes place, and the ways in which automation of some of those processes makes it possible to enable improved performance of a support for military units across the DOD.”
Jennifer Larsen, UNMC VC

Jennifer Larsen, M.D.

UNMC Vice Chancellor for Research

NSRI Board of Directors

“Our researchers develop novel, cutting-edge research and solutions critical to supporting those leading our national security. We recruit exceptional faculty and students and, as needed, expand our facilities. I am proud of what we deliver to our customers and remain committed to expanding NSRI’s portfolio and the resources needed to address its core mission.”
Ronnie Green, UNL Chancellor

Ronnie Green, Ph.D.

UNL Chancellor

“Nebraska’s tremendous research growth is expanding our capacity to deliver results for our partners across the Department of Defense. Our continued momentum and NSRI’s unique focus are critical to discovering solutions for the 21st-century challenges our military faces to keep this country safe.”

NSRI Leadership & Board of Directors

In total, NSRI's leadership team possesses more than 275 years of experience working in or supporting the work of the Department of Defense.

Meet Our Team

Students of NSRI

One of the most critical solutions is a knowledgeable, capable and committed workforce equipped to carry forward 21st-century national security missions. NSRI invests its time, talent and resources into developing students from the University of Nebraska and beyond to pursue defense-related careers.

NSRI Principal Investigators

Ken Bayles, Ph.D.; David Berkowitz, Ph.D.; John Swegle, Ph.D.; Michelle Black, Ph.D.; Paul Brantmier; Keely Buesing, M.D.; Wes Carter; Dillon Cunningham; Carrick Detweiler, Ph.D.; Aimee Ketner; Sean Kinahan; Emmanuel Kumfa; Sy-Hwang Liou, Ph.D.; John Lowe, Ph.D.; Rupal Mehta, Ph.D.; Thomas Mueller, Ph.D.; Jody Neathery-Castro, Ph.D.; Laura Nolan; Lana Obradovic, Ph.D.; Stephen Obaro, M.D., Ph.D.; David Roberts; Joshua Santarpia, Ph.D.; James Talmadge, Ph.D.; James Taylor, Ph.D.; Donal Umstadter, Ph.D.; Michael Wiley, Ph.D.; Christopher Yeaw, Ph.D.

University of Nebraska Leadership

Ted Carter, President, University of Nebraska

Susan Fritz, Ph.D., Provost, University of Nebraska

Jeff Gold, M.D., Chancellor, University of Nebraska Medical Center & University of Nebraska at Omaha

Ronnie Green, Ph.D., Chancellor, University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Doug Kristensen, JD, Chancellor, University of Nebraska at Kearney

Catalyst For Our Partners

The University of Nebraska (NU) continues to demonstrate its prowess in national security research and solutions. With NSRI as a DOD-designated University Affiliated Research Center (UARC), NU is a trusted-agent of the Department of Defense and a tremendous asset to the federal government.

Researchers, students, colleagues and sponsors who work with NSRI discover opportunities beyond their initial inclinations, and NRSI is proud to be a catalyst for leading national efforts coming out of the University of Nebraska.

In particular, in spring 2020 under the leadership of NSRI PI Gina Ligon, Ph.D., Jack and Stephanie Koraleski Professor of Collaboration Science and professor of management, the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) became the home of the National Counterterrorism Innovation, Technology and EducationCenter, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Center ofExcellence. The center is spearheading a consortium of academic, industry, government and laboratory partners throughout the country in support of DHS’ mission to keep the country safe.

“NSRI played a significant role in winning the largest federal grant in the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s history. The opportunities NSRI has provided NU faculty across all four campuses has allowed us to build our capabilities in ways that are unmatched for national security research at other institutions.” 
— Gina Ligon, Ph.D., Director, National Counterterrorism Innovation Technology and Education Center

Preparing for our Future

In some ways, national defense is an inexact science. We have no choice but to grapple with unpredictable shifting, changing circumstances of world conflict and aggression from year to year and from decade to decade.

However, science and diplomacy can be used to deftly mitigate the uncertainty and respond intelligently and confidently to threats that could tear apart our way of life. Throughout the past two years, NSRI and the University of Nebraska have continued fighting behind the scenes to support our brave leaders and warfighters on the front lines of conflict. In the pages of this report, you’ll read the highlights of our efforts — and we’ll help you peer into the potential of coming years. We invite you to join the fight in your own way: through supportive contributions, participation, collaboration, communication and legislation.

NSRI's Mission
Enable deterrence of, preparedness for and response to strategic national security threats across multiple domains through leading research and support.

Committed Mission

Contracting & Business Process

As a University Affiliated Research Center (UARC), NSRI accesses an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract vehicle through its sponsor U.S. Strategic Command. This shortens the timeline from identification of need to contract award and creates trusted, collaborative relationships. NSRI also accepts funding from direct contracting vehicles, other transaction agreements, cooperative agreements and grants.

Doing Business with NSRI

Meeting Our Customers

NSRI and the University of Nebraska continue to invest in opportunities to provide customers across the DOD and federal government with convenient access to leading facilities and subject matter experts. Within the last two years, NSRI has upgraded its headquarters in Omaha, Neb., to a secure facility, Scott Technology Center, adjacent to the University of Nebraska at Omaha and within a short distance to the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

NSRI also opened a field office in Melbourne, Fla. The 4,100-square-foot building, adjacent to Patrick Air Force Base and less than 25 minutes from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, is well-positioned geographically to host, execute and expand scientific and engineering projects efficiently for federal sponsors.

NSRI Facilities

Featured Facilities, Centers & Laboratories

Resources On-Tap To Power Defense Missions Facilities

Reflecting on Our Accomplishments

 

The National Strategic Research Institute (NSRI) at the University of Nebraska (NU) is one of an elite group of 14 university-associated research centers that provides critical defense solutions for the nation’s decision makers. As a University Affiliated Research Center (UARC), NSRI is engaged in a long-term, strategic partnership with its Department of Defense (DOD) sponsor, United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM).

NSRI, a 501(c)3 organization, accesses the intellectual capacity of leading NU researchers to support the country’s deterrence and defense objectives, providing mission-essential research and development capabilities for USSTRATCOM as well as other DOD components and federal agencies focused on national security.

“University Affiliated Research Centers (UARCs) are not-for-profit entities sponsored and primarily funded by the U.S. government to address technical needs that cannot be met as effectively by existing government or contractor resources. These organizations typically assist government agencies with scientific research and development, studies and analyses, and systems engineering and integration by bringing together the expertise of government, industry, and academia to solve complex technical problems in the public interest.”
— Department of Defense UARC Engagement Guide

 

 110

40+ 

 $162M

 350+

 Contract
Awards
 Customers
 Total Award Value 
for Research Contracts
Task Order Participants
from NU

 

34

44

10

Undergraduate Students
Involved in Projects

Graduate Students
Involved in Projects

Paid Graduate
Assistantships

Established in 2012

Headed for the Future Mission Milestones

Innovative Capabilities Across Multiple Domains

 

With the University of Nebraska, NSRI delivers technology, product and strategy development as well as training, exercises and subject matter expert advice to Department of Defense sponsors across the spectrum of national security threats and across multiple domains.

While the institute’s priorities shift based upon the needs of the Department of Defense, its focus within the core competencies defined by its designation as a University Affiliated Research Center endure. Institute and university leadership continually build upon the accomplishments of researchers and students to bring the foresight of its experts to bear on not only the current needs of those charged with protecting our country, but the needs of the future as well. The following pages drill down into the abilities and deliverables within the key focus areas of the institute over the last two-year period.

UARC Core Competencies

  • Active & Passive Defense Against Weapons of Mass Destruction
  • Nuclear Detection & Forensics
  • Consequence Management
  • Detection of Chemical & Biological Weapons
  • Mission-Related Research

Developing Our Future Workforce

One of the greatest threats to our country’s national security is the lack of workforce across the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math. As a University Affiliated Research Center, one of NSRI’s major responsibilities is to contribute to the development of our next generations of scientists and leaders. This is critical to staying ahead of evolving threats and international competition. NSRI takes action to empower and inspire postdoctoral scientists as well as graduate and undergraduate students.

Postdoctoral Scholars

NSRI postdoctoral scholars work directly with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s basic research and development program managers to support the countering weapons of mass destruction mission. At one of the top Department of Defense research institutions in the nation, these scholars have the opportunity to contribute in the areas of nuclear technologies, CWMD technologies, chemical-biological sciences and test science.

Within the roles they fill scholars learn first-hand from operators in the field about technological gaps. They work to translate complex national security needs into basic research and development requirements while also providing technical programmatic oversight and actualizing innovative ideas and solutions in the CWMD mission space.

Learn More


NSRI Postdoctoral Scholars During This Reporting Period:

  • Tariq Alam, Ph.D.
  • Damien Alexander, Ph.D.
  • Evan Eakins, Ph.D.
  • Ronald Gamble, Ph.D.
  • William Hoston, Ph.D.
  • Helen Jackson, Ph.D.
  • Marie Kirkegaard, Ph.D.
  • Samuel Rhodes, Ph.D.
  • Jeffrey Rolfes, Ph.D.
  • Fidel Ruz-Nuglo, Ph.D.
  • Richard Oates, Ph.D.
  • Adam Weltz, Ph.D.
  • Andrew Zeidal, Ph.D.

Students of NSRI

University of Nebraska students have the opportunity to expand their perspectives and shape their futures through NSRI internships, training and research. Funded through sponsor contracts or NSRI initiatives, students gain invaluable, paid real-world experience and often earn course credit for their work. In all instances, their contributions lead to valuable deliverables for DOD and federal agency customers and/or NSRI.

Learn More


Featured Students Throughout This Report

  • Alicia Bevins, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
  • Nathan Borcyk, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
  • Jasmine Cashin, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
  • Dylan Christiansen, University of Nebraska at Omaha
  • Dallas Drapal, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
  • Evie Ehrhorn, University of Nebraska at Omaha
  • Ashlee McGill, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
  • Matthew Newman, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
  • Walker Pendleton, University of Nebraska at Omaha
  • Grant Phillips, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
  • Tony Wilson, University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Work With NSRI

As USSTRATCOM’s University Affiliated Research Center (UARC), the National Strategic Research Institute at the University of Nebraska provides an invaluable understanding of strategic deterrence and CBRNE-related requirements gaps. Our Institute’s rapid-response capabilities can help meet your research and solutions needs. Connect with us to find out what we can accomplish together.

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