NSF Convergence Accelerator program team includes Penn State researchers

November 18, 2022

Editor’s note: A version of this article originally appeared on the National Science Foundation’s website. Tom La Porta, Evan Pugh University Professor, William E. Leonhard Endowed Chair and director of the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Ting He, associate professor of computer science and engineering, were featured.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The SMART-5G project, or Secure Multichannel Automated opeRations Through 5G Networks project, led by IBM with a team that includes three Penn State faculty members, was selected by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as one of 16 multidisciplinary teams for the Convergence Accelerator program 2022 cohort for the research topic Track G: Securely Operating Through 5G Infrastructure.   

Launched in 2019, the Convergence Accelerator — a Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships, or program — builds upon NSF's investment in basic research and discovery to accelerate solutions toward societal and economic impact through a partnership with the Department of Defense Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (DOD OUSD(R&E)) on an investment of $12 million. Convergence Accelerator multidisciplinary teams use convergence research fundamentals and innovation processes to stimulate innovative idea sharing and development of sustainable solutions. 

The overarching goals of the NSF Convergence Accelerator Track G: Securely Operating Through 5G Infrastructure research topic include seeking enhancement to end devices and augmentations to 5G infrastructure and providing capabilities to military, government and critical infrastructure operators to operate through public 5G networks while meeting security and resilience requirements.

As announced by the NSF on September 7, the IBM led SMART-5G: Secure Multichannel Automated opeRations Through 5G Networks project received $750,000 “to develop a suite of technologies, tools and operational principles which will allow for the secure operation of military communications on civilian 5G infrastructure.”

Tom La Porta, Evan Pugh University Professor, William E. Leonhard Endowed Chair and director of the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) at Penn State, is a co-principal investigator on the project. Ting He, associate professor of computer science and engineering in the Penn State School of EECS, and Aiping Xiong, assistant professor in the Penn State College of Information Sciences and Technology, are also team members. Track G builds upon DOD's 5G Initiative — Operate Through — to assess and mitigate 5G vulnerabilities, inform 5G standards and policies through rigorous research and promote technology development to advance 5G communications for the U.S. military and federal government. 

“5G wireless networks are crucial components of the modern communication system and a key aspect of how we operate,” said Amanda Toman, acting principal director for 5G at DOD OUSD(R&E). “We must have viable solutions to support the military and federal government’s missions. The department is excited to partner with NSF and its Convergence Accelerator to accelerate the development of 5G technologies for our systems and those of our allies and partners.”  

Over the next nine months, each team will work to develop their initial idea into a proof of concept, identify new team members and partners and participate in the unique Convergence Accelerator innovation curriculum. The innovation curriculum includes fundamentals in human-centered design; team science; use-inspired research; early-stage prototyping; and communications, storytelling and pitching. At the end of Phase 1, the teams will participate in a formal Phase 2 proposal and pitch. The oral pitch and formal proposal will be used in selecting teams for Phase 2 — a 24-month solution and sustainability development phase.  

"This is the NSF Convergence Accelerator's fourth cohort, and we are pleased to be partnering with DOD on this important topic," said Douglas Maughan, head of the NSF Convergence Accelerator. "The NSF Convergence Accelerator is focused on solving some of the hardest national and societal challenges — designed to provide a positive societal and economic impact — and while this is our program's focus, we are thrilled to expand the program's model and fundamentals to address this national security challenge and to support the DOD’s 5G mission." 


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