NAVAIR SBIR Advice: Part 2 of 3

Be Brief

[Part 2 of my three-part interview with Dr. Daniel Harris of the Navy Air Warfare Center in China Lake.]

The title says it all, folks: Be brief! A clear and concise proposal will stand out from those that press against the length limit. Dan says he receives as many as thirty-five proposals for each SBIR topic; furthermore, he frequently has two or three topics in a solicitation round! Even after weeding out proposals that are obviously unresponsive, that’s a huge pile of proposals to review.

Dan’s advice is, “Say what is most important to know, and don’t go beyond that.”


See me at SPIE Optics + Photonics 2011!

This coming Sunday I will be teaching a grant-writing seminar entitled “45 Minutes to Impact: an intensive seminar on crafting compelling research proposals” at the 2011 SPIE Optics + Photonics conference in San Diego. It’s part of the free Professional Skills Workshop. For more information, click here.

I will be at the conference all week.

Hope to see you there.


Cool Tech: 2011 NASA Innovative Advance Concepts Fellowships Announced!

Back in May I wrote about the rebirth of the NASA Innovative Advance Concepts (NIAC) program. Today NASA held a press conference to announce the winners. NASA announced all sorts of cool stuff including fantastic science-fiction projects like:

  • deflecting space debris using pressure waves in the atmosphere
  • fabricating spacecraft using 3D printers
  • using metallic hydrogen as a propellent

Now, all of those things are reason enough to celebrate NASA’s re-entry into “innovative advance concepts” research, but what’s got me really excited is that my client Grover Swartzlander is on the list! Back in January Dr. Swartzlander earned a lot of well-deserved attention from the scientific community when he published the discovery of “optical lift” a new method for manipulating objects using light. Optical lift has the potential to revolutionize  micro- and nano-manipulation of objects in much the same way that the discovery of optical tweezers did forty years ago. On a larger scale, though, Dr. Swartzlander posited that the same principles might apply to steering and stabilizing enormous structures, such as solar sails. NASA agreed that the concept has the potential to solve a number of technical challenges faced by solar sails and granted him a Phase I NIAC fellowship. I need to let the dust settle, but you can expect a full “Cool Tech” article on this soon!



NAVAIR SBIR Advice: Part 1 of 3

Three GUARANTEED Ways to Fail at Department of Defense SBIRs

The Department of Defense has just released the third and final round of small-business research contract topics for 2011. I will be studying them for interesting research opportunities (and maybe some weird ones), but in the meantime, here is the first installment of my long-promised “Ask the TPOC” series.

On May 23, I interviewed Dr. Daniel Harris, a scientist at the Navy Air Warfare Center (NAVAIR) at China Lake. Dr. Harris authors and reviews dozens of Navy SBIR topics every year. Because our conversation covered too much for one article, I intend to use it as the basis for a few short pieces. To kick things off, I present three guaranteed ways to kill a proposal. Any one of these will cause your proposal to be rejected by a technical reviewer.

Continue reading


Cool Tech: Surface-Plasmon Color Holograms

A month or so ago Lisa Grossman’s article “Plasmons Create Beautiful Holograms” at Wired caught my attention. The article highlights the work of a team of researchers in Japan who have developed a new way to illuminate color holograms (M. Ozaki, et al, Science 332, 218–220). The line in the article that grabbed me was:

“In a conventional hologram, if you change the angle, the color changes,” said optical physicist Satoshi Kawata of Osaka University in Japan. “Our hologram shows natural color at any angle you observe.”

Color reproduction is one of the key reasons why holography has not taken off commercially, and the above blurb makes it sound as if this new type of hologram solves that issue. After studying the original paper, though, my conclusion is that the importance (and veracity) of the angular insensitivity was overstated. In this blog post I will describe how holograms work, how the plasmon hologram does not really solve the angle problem, and why the research is cool anyway. But first a true story about why color reproduction is so important in holograms.

Continue reading


“Weird Tales” Reproductions (featuring H.P. Lovecraft!)

OK, this is totally off topic, but it’s been a long week, my projects are done, and it’s gorgeous outside. (Plus there is also the thrill of scooping Dr. Skyskull on something related to weird fiction.)

The folks at the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, which sells all sorts of clever Lovecraft novelty items (my favorite being the “Innsmouth High School Swim Team” t-shirt), have outdone themselves with their latest release: complete reproductions of the vintage Weird Tales magazines in which Lovecraft first published his genre-altering short stories. In their own words:

These replicas feature everything from the saucy cover art to the great vintage ads. In addition to the Lovecraft stories, these replicas feature a wealth of stories by other writers from the Golden Age of the pulp magazines. The original magazines were lovingly scanned and carefully reproduced for your enjoyment. We love these replicas and think you will too!

At $35–$50 each, they’re not cheap, but these gems are waaaaay less expensive than one of the rare originals. (Plus I can’t be the only person puzzling over what is so scary about a “ghost table” and why that would get front-cover billing over the mythologically revered “Call of Cthulhu”, which appeared in the same issue!)



Too Many Tabs

Part 1: In Which I Explain My Tardiness and Then Deliver a Teaser

For the past week or so I have been working on a series of SBIR articles based on an interview that I did with my former project manager at Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR). The articles took longer to write than I expected, and now they need to be cleared by the Navy Public Affairs Office. (Check back here in the next week or so to get the inside scoop.)Now that those articles are out of the way, let me clear a few things that I have cluttered my browser tabs for a few weeks… Continue reading


NASA Spinoff Technology: More Than Meets the Eye

I’m kind of late on the uptake on this one, but this past spring NASA put together a competition to encourage 3rd through 8th graders to study how space-science research affects their daily lives.  For the competition kids studied examples from NASA’s Spinoff program (see the grown-up version here—great stuff for people interested in tech transfer, especially the annual report) and then made short videos explaining how a NASA-developed technology has found wider use. Continue reading


Government Inaction in Action

So, I’m trying to get an EIN (the business equivalent of a Social Security Number). Ostensibly you type your information into an online form on the IRS page, opt to have the letter delivered electronically, and a few minutes later you are registered.

Except that the process crashes to a halt with a “technical difficulty” whenever I hit [Submit], and it’s been consistently crashing the past two weeks that I’ve been trying… more or less daily… to file the damn paperwork. My increasingly snarky messages to the IRS help desk finally merited the following terse response: Continue reading


Weird Science Facts on Twitter

A huge number of visitors to this site have found their way here because of my article on “Weird Science SBIRs.” I’ll try to keep an eye out for other weird-science funding opportunities, but for those who need an immediate (and daily!) “weird science” fix, you really can’t do better than my buddy Greg Gbur’s “Weird Science Facts.” He’s been Twittering one-a-day for over a year as “DrSkySkull” with the hashtag #weirdscifacts, and he archives them here on his fascinating science/politics/weirdness blog Skulls in the Stars.