U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense tours Illinois research facilities


Kim Gudeman, Coordinated Science Lab

Last weekend, the University of Illinois welcomed a noteworthy alum - U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work – back to campus for a tour of several state-of-the-art research facilities. Work was visiting as an official representative of the Department of Defense (DoD), for which he has served as Deputy Secretary since 2014 when appointed by the Obama administration.

Work observed Illinois robotics research in progress at the Intelligent Robotics Lab in the Coordinated Science Lab, and visited the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology to learn about research advances in materials. 

Researchers from Naira Hovakimyan’s research group demoed miniature UAV flight inside the lab’s indoor VICON environment. Hovakimyan’s group explores the challenges of operating drones in close proximity to people. Potential applications include elderly care, package delivery, emergency response, and many others. Hovakimyan, the W. Grafton and Lillian B. Wilkins Professor of Mechanical Science and Engineering, also discussed her L1 adaptive controller, which was tested on Learjet and F16 at Edwards Air Force Base over the last two years.

Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Seth Hutchinson and postdoctoral researcher Alireza Ramezani showcased their research on robotic bats, which mimic the key flight mechanisms of biological bats. The lightweight bats are able to change their articulated structure in mid-air without losing an effective and smooth aerodynamic surface. In addition, they are more energy efficient and can maneuver in tight spaces where humans can’t go.

Accompanied by Jeffrey Moore, interim director of the Beckman Institute and the Murchison-Mallory Professor of Chemistry at Illinois, Work toured the Autonomous Materials Systems (AMS) lab. In the lab, researchers from chemistry, aerospace engineering, and materials science and engineering create synthetic materials that can react to their environment, recover from damage, and even self-destruct once their usefulness has come to an end. The research is funded by a wide range of sources, including DARPA, Air Force, and other DoD research offices. Work observed demos on metastable packaging for transient electronic devices and novel energy storage materials including lithium batteries with fire-retardant capabilities, mechanically-activated chemistry, and discussed the latest advances on self-healing polymers and their potential uses.

“The AMS group has appreciated the strong support of the DoD throughout the years and have made major research strides because of it,” Moore said.

Work graduated from Illinois in 1974 with a bachelor’s degree in biology from the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. He also earned a Master of Science in Systems Management from the University of Southern California; a Master of Science in Space System Operations from the Naval Postgraduate School; and a Master in International Public Policy from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

Work is a distinguished graduate of the Naval Reserve Officers Training Course at the University of Illinois, and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps in August 1974. During his 27- year military career, he held a wide range of command, leadership, and management positions. He commanded an artillery battery and a battalion, and was the base commander at Camp Fuji, Japan. His last assignment was as Military Assistant and Senior Aide to the Honorable Richard Danzig, 7lst secretary of the Navy.

His military and civilian awards include the Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, and the Navy Distinguished Civilian Service Award.