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Materials scientist Bindu Nair helms US Defense Department’s $2.2 billion basic research portfolio

Written by William G. Schulz

Materials researchers might be happy to learn that one of their own, Bindu Nair, is at the helm of the US Department of Defense’s Basic Research Office. She is responsible for a $2.2-billion research portfolio that funds scientific work and fosters collaborations aimed at fundamental understanding in any of the sciences that can aid DoD’s mission and national defense strategies.  

Each funding announcement is written with DoD’s interests in mind, Nair says, though a specific military application is not a necessary condition.

“We are looking for inspired research,” Nair says, but, “we do not issue ‘problem statements’” for issues they would like researchers to tackle and solve. “We want to figure out how to help [researchers] create fantastic new science,” she says.

To foster relationships and build awareness of BRO funding opportunities, Nair says, staff members conduct site visits and meetings with university faculty and administrators as well as scientific societies, and they attend workshops and conferences. But a university official or principal investigator can also approach DoD to initiate possible collaboration.

Awareness of funding cycles is critical in approaching DoD to talk about possible funding, Nair says, because program officers can speak more freely to PIs before calls for proposals are listed at, where all DoD funding opportunities are posted. She also recommends that interested PIs contact the federal demonstration Partnership ( or the Council on Government Relations (

Nair, who holds a PhD degree in materials science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has worked in such areas as fuel cell membranes, chemical/biological sensors, and wearable power, took the reins this year as an interim director of BRO with a professional background that spans academic research, government contracting, and research administration, starting at the Department of Army’s Office of Scientific Research.

At BRO, Nair says, “My job is going out and hearing who is doing the research we are most interested in—what’s not to love?”

Bindu Nair will speak in the session on Research Funding Opportunities at the 2018 MRS Spring Meeting & Exhibit on Monday evening.


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