Former chancellor takes on new role as director of national security research at MU

R. Bowen Loftin has experience in the field, having worked with agencies like NASA and the military to develop effective ways to train and educate.

Drawing from his experience in the field of national security research, former Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin is now working to make connections between researchers and government funders as MU’s director of national security research development.

Loftin said his job entails finding sponsored research opportunities for MU faculty from the departments of Defense and Homeland Security and other intelligence agencies. He also meets with faculty to learn about their research capabilities and goals, brings contacts to speak with departments on campus and makes recommendations to the administration about how MU can receive more research funding.

Loftin first met with interim Chancellor Hank Foley in January to discuss his new role and began traveling for the position in March. It wasn’t until late June that Loftin’s job was officially defined on paper.

Originally, the Board of Curators asked Loftin to work on research facility development, but Foley later decided to focus Loftin’s role on national security research, Loftin said.

Some of the research projects Loftin is currently working with are being done for the National Geospatial Agency. Loftin said he is also working with research about the medical treatment of soldiers, mass data analysis, triage techniques involving augmented reality, nuclear energy and using virtual reality to help treat autism spectrum disorders.

Loftin is currently working mostly with faculty who have received funding from national security agencies in the past. He is starting with these projects because they already demonstrated established interest.

“Not everyone wants to do research in the national security area,” Loftin said. “It’s a sensitive area and many people don’t feel comfortable with that. My point is that the things I’m looking at are not weapons; they’re simply things used to educate and train.” Loftin is working to find and present opportunities he thinks faculty might be interested in.

“Faculty members are very independent, and the last thing I want to do is make them feel like they have to do something that they don’t want to do,” Loftin said. “But if this is something that they’re interested in as a possibility, I’m happy to try to go out and be a ‘bird dog,’ to try to find the right opportunities for them and point at it and say there it is and go after it.”

Loftin is also working to cultivate connections between different departments and researchers on campus.

Bimal Balakrishnan, an associate professor in architectural studies who is currently researching virtual reality, said that it can often be difficult to connect with others on campus.

“This is a huge campus; people don’t always know what the other person is doing,” Balakrishnan said.

Loftin first met with Balakrishnan a few months ago to discuss his research and goals.

Now, the virtual reality researchers from architectural studies are having preliminary discussions with the Thompson Center about exploring new possibilities within virtual reality to help children with autism, Balakrishnan said.

Before he started working as an administrator, Loftin served as an educator and researcher.

As a physics professor, he disliked the teaching system where there is one teacher and many students, Loftin said.

With this problem in mind, Loftin got involved with a technology called intelligent tutoring systems. He and his team developed the first ITS for physics, catching the attention of NASA and the military. In intelligent tutoring, a computer replicates an individual tutor or professor, diagnosing and prescribing solutions to the unique difficulties of each student.

“I went from my individual use of [intelligent tutoring systems] in physics to helping NASA develop these systems for the ground-based flight controllers as well as people who were flying missions,” Loftin said. “My last project for the military before I became an administrator was charting the future course of this research area. And that’s what the people in the Army research area have done; they’ve followed the prescription I gave them for how to develop this technology further, and it’s been quite successful.”

The controversy and turmoil of last year’s events led Loftin to reconnect with many of his old contacts.

“One of the things that really helped me get past the events of last November was the fact that over a thousand people reached out to me that I had known in my career... to wish me well,” Loftin said. “It proved to me that I still have these connections in this world of national security where I worked for so long.”

Loftin views his decision to pursue research development, as opposed to other roles that were considered for him earlier in the year, as positive. “It was a good choice,” Loftin said. “I really had fun going back to my roots, my research roots, and to have the chance to renew the relationships I had for so many years with good people.”

Edited by Claire Mitzel |

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