Profile: Out of Sight

At the Pentagon's mad-science wing, Stefanie Tompkins is figuring out how to see without looking

3 min read

When Stefanie Tompkins was a NASA-funded geologist at Science Applications International Corp. trying to analyze the mineral composition of moon rocks, she would have killed for a pair of glasses that let you "see" heat and ultraviolet light. Now one of her projects is a lens that allows you to do just that. In fact, most of her work can be roughly pigeonholed as an attempt to give soldiers a sixth sense.

Tompkins is a program manager at the Strategic Technology Office of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. DARPA is the mad-science wing of the Defense Department, which cemented its reputation for creating technology "so crazy it just might work" by inventing the stealth fighter and the Internet. Tompkins fits right in. She’s working on ways to augment GPS, another DARPA-conceived innovation.

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Top Tech 2022: A Special Report

Preview two dozen exciting technical developments that are in the pipeline for the coming year

1 min read
Photo of the lower part of a rocket in an engineering bay.

NASA’s Space Launch System will carry Orion to the moon.

Frank Michaux/NASA

At the start of each year, IEEE Spectrum attempts to predict the future. It can be tricky, but we do our best, filling the January issue with a couple of dozen reports, short and long, about developments the editors expect to make news in the coming year.

This isn’t hard to do when the project has been in the works for a long time and is progressing on schedule—the coming first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System, for example. For other stories, we must go farther out on a limb. A case in point: the description of a hardware wallet for Bitcoin that the company formerly known as Square (which recently changed its name to Block) is developing but won’t officially comment on. One thing we can predict with confidence, though, is that Spectrum readers, familiar with the vicissitudes of technical development work, will understand if some of these projects don’t, in fact, pan out. That’s still okay.

Engineering, like life, is as much about the journey as the destination.

See all stories from our Top Tech 2022 Special Report

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