MIT Lincoln Laboratory Beaver Works Center builds collaboration

Visitors to the newly renovated space at 300 Technology Square in Cambridge, Mass., recognize immediately that this place is designed for innovative work. The high-efficiency lighting; juxtaposition of warm natural wood with stark industrial yellow, black, and silver colors; and the exposed utility conduits all signal that this workspace, the MIT Lincoln Laboratory Beaver Works Center, is modern, industrial, cutting-edge; the open concept announces, "This is where colleagues collaborate."

Beaver Works Center open spaceThe MIT Lincoln Laboratory Beaver Works Center's innovative design for multi-space usage invites creativity and collaboration. To see more of the Center, take the PowerPoint slideshow tour.

The Beaver Works Center, a joint venture between Lincoln Laboratory and the MIT School of Engineering, is envisioned as an incubator for research and innovation. The center is intended to facilitate project-based learning, a hallmark of an MIT education, and to leverage the expertise and enthusiasm of MIT faculty, students, and researchers, and Lincoln Laboratory staff to broaden research and educational partnerships. By encouraging collaborative projects, Beaver Works strengthens the potential of both institutions to make an impact on pressing global problems.

Beaver Works supports student involvement in a broad range of research and educational pursuits, including two-semester, course-based capstone projects; joint and individual research initiatives; and Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program internships. As its name suggests, the center is a workspace where students can apply their technical skills and industrious habits, in imitation of the beaver, nature's engineer and MIT’s mascot.

"We expect many great innovations from Beaver Works, but the truly exciting part is the opportunity to shape the next generation of engineers and leaders in a way that will stay with them forever—they are the future," says Robert Shin, head of the Laboratory's Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) and Tactical Systems Division, who has been a primary influence on the development of Beaver Works and has recently been named Director of the Center.

Students take advantage of Beaver Works CenterThe Beaver Works Center is rapidly becoming the "go to" place for students engaged in research and cooperative projects. 

On 12 November 2013, MIT President L. Rafael Reif, Lincoln Laboratory Director Eric D. Evans, and MIT School of Engineering Dean Ian A. Waitz cut the ribbon to officially open the Beaver Works Center. This ceremony, followed by an open house, drew about 350 members of the MIT community. Welcoming guests to the event, Director Evans predicted, "I don’t think that we have completely defined all that can happen here and the possible benefits—but in true MIT fashion, I think we're going to see some remarkable results that many others will want to follow." MIT faculty and students, and Lincoln Laboratory employees explored the 5000-square-foot facility equipped for classroom instruction, cooperative activities such as brainstorming, and prototype fabrication. Students, faculty, and Lincoln Laboratory mentors who have been engaged in research partnerships prior to the establishment of the dedicated facility were on hand to showcase their projects.

Scope of Capstone Projects
The Beaver Works vision has been evolving over the past four years. One of the first capstone projects engaged 40 students from the MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (MIT Aero/Astro) to develop a small unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to support airborne measurements of ground-based radar antenna patterns. Throughout the fall 2009 and spring 2010 semesters, with instruction from Professors John Hansman, Mark Drela, David Miller, and Emilio Frazzoli, and direction from Kevin Cohen and Marc Viera at Lincoln Laboratory, students designed, built, and flew two UAVs that met or exceeded all requirements. In lieu of a final examination, a team of students briefed a summary of their work at the 2010 Air Vehicle Survivability Workshop and received very favorable feedback from government, military, and industry attendees. After successfully completing multiple missions, one of the two UAVs was recently retired and can be seen hanging in the main lobby at Lincoln Laboratory.

Subsequently, a growing team at Lincoln Laboratory—including Sam Stambler, Ryan Eubank, Scott VanBroekhoven, Michael Stern, James Dunn, Joel Walker, Andrew Kopeikin, Eli Cohen, Pamela Evans, Bryce Remesch, Kenneth Chadwick, Caroline Lamb, and Robert Galejs—has provided direction for capstone projects on developing air-launched micro-UAVS for atmospheric monitoring (fall 2010–spring 2011), high-altitude surveillance vehicles (spring 2012), and flexible architectures for scalable UAVs (fall 2012–spring 2013). Currently, the Lincoln Laboratory team is collaborating with Professors Drela and Sertac Karaman on a course to design UAVs to support humanitarian assistance and disaster-relief efforts.

Aero-Astro students and their unmanned air vehicleUnmanned aerial vehicles have been the focus of a number of capstone projects for students in the MIT Aero/Astro Department.  

Other joint projects span technologies reaching from undersea to outer space. Nicholas Pulsone of the Advanced Sensor Techniques Group has coordinated initiatives in autonomous undersea vehicle systems with Prof. Doug Hart of MIT's Mechanical Engineering Department. William Blackwell, assistant leader of the Sensor Technology and System Applications Group, brought a microsatellite design idea to Professors Kerri Cahoy and David Miller also of MIT Aero/Astro, who then supervised a class project that resulted in the Micro-sized Microwave Atmospheric Satellite, a system that will provide observations of the dynamics of severe storms. Collaborations with Professors Jesse Kroll and Colette Heald of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering have led to the "Smart Campus" capstone project aimed at designing a sensor network to monitor the health of MIT's environment and infrastructure. In the fall 2013 semester, students working on the Smart Campus network were mentored by Lincoln Laboratory technical staff members Jesse Linnell and Loren Wood; for spring 2014, Wood, Danelle Shah, Kenneth Mawhinney, Theodore Tsiligkaridis, and Jen King Jao are serving as mentors for the project.

Michael Vai of the Cyber Systems and Technology Group and Jeremy Kepner of the Computing and Analytics Group provided critical guidance in the development of the "cyber café" area, designed to address an emerging focus on cyber and computing collaboration activities. Timothy Leek of the Cyber System Assessments Group and Michael Zhivich of the Cyber Systems and Technology Group collaborated with faculty from MIT, Northeastern University, and Wellesley College to organize the 2013 Cyber Capture the Flag challenge, in which small teams of college students competed to defend their own cyber services and attack those of others. Robert Cunningham and Kevin Bauer, also from the Cyber Systems and Technology Group, and Chiamaka Agbasi-Porter from the Laboratory's Communications and Community Outreach Office, have helped organize and mentor teams of high-school students for the national CyberPatriot cyber defense competition and are leveraging the new Beaver Works Center as a home base for this year's Lincoln Laboratory teams of cyber defenders. 

Facility Design—A Team Effort
While Elizabeth Whittaker and her team at Merge Architects, a Boston-based architectural firm, gave Beaver Works its unique, innovative look and feel, the renovation of the facility received significant input from across Lincoln Laboratory. Robert Morrison of the Capital Projects Office, Derek Jones of the Security Services Department, and John Bilodeau from the ISR and Tactical Systems Division made important contributions to planning the design and managerial logistics for the center. Laboratory technical staff involved in the UAV capstone projects were instrumental in conceptualizing a space specially outfitted for UAV prototype development.

MIT campus involvement in Beaver Works was also crucial to the realization of the facility. The campus commitment to the Beaver Works Center was exemplified by comments made in the opening ceremony by Ian Waitz, Dean of the School of Engineering: "We wanted to establish more meaningful connections between the exciting work that was happening at Lincoln Lab and on the MIT campus. Beaver Works is a place where people from these two parts of our institution can deeply engage in exciting educational and research collaborations." Ronald Hasseltine, Assistant Provost for Research Administration, was also a key supporter throughout the project. Tanya Abikoff and Eileen Ng-Ghavidel of the MIT School of Engineering and Nicole Bernabei from the Department of Facilities made significant contributions to the physical aspects of the facility.

Future Outlook
With potential research collaborations in areas as diverse as energy systems, autonomy and robotics, cyber security, transportation, biotechnology, and supercomputing, every technical group at the Laboratory may benefit from the Beaver Works partnership. This January, the Center hosted multiple MIT Independent Activity Period (IAP) courses, including a range of "build a radar" courses and activities in open-source microfluidics for synthetic biology, hands-on computational imaging and spectroscopy, and hands-on holography. Future initiatives could expand into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) outreach programs for local schoolchildren.

President Reif expressed confidence in the future of Beaver Works: "Innovation is very important to us at MIT, and Beaver Works feeds right into that. We are looking forward to working with Lincoln Laboratory and to learning from each other so we can accelerate what we do here in Cambridge."

Posted April 2014

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