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I was reminded of a conversation I had with a professor while I was searching for a book on weapon physics and design for an unrelated application in designing an online RPG game.

It was during a grad interview at a top public university in the states when I mentioned that I became fascinated with laser sensing and radar technology due to the Israel-Palestinian conflict during 2013 when I saw how the Iron Dome technology was so effective at protecting the civilians from rockets fired across the gaza strip. I was expecting him to go deeper into the applications of his research focus in these areas but to my surprise he quickly switched the topic.

I had always interpreted this encounter as his lack of interest in discussing anything related to warfare and technological possibilities to that end and not his own personal politics (I would be extremely surprised if he had deep opinions on the conflict itself). For years I had taken the assumption that academics in general averts any discussion to military applications of their research and "things that can kill people". After all which department across North America would boast having research in machine vision for surveillance drones or deadly biological toxins?

But needless to say in the real world there are a lot of research into weapon, weapon making and theoretical weaponry as evident by the host of military weaponry technologies ranging from autonomous military robots, laser weapons, drones, algorithms for missile tracking that are coming out each year (sometimes on Youtube!). The Iron Dome technology didn't pop out of thin air. Someone smart had to design the system, someone rich had to fund such research.

I am curious as to the role that universities play in research into weapons and other military technology. I hope someone can provide me an answer to clear up the following questions:

  • Can we think of university and the military as two separate spheres or are they intricately meshed together? Through what means?

  • Are there any programs or departments in public or private universities in North America and elsewhere that place emphasis on research into military applications?

  • Are harmless research results and findings from universities later on weaponized at weapon research centers, military colleges, etc.? Or do weapons solely come out of weapon research facilities?

  • What is the general stance or attitude in academia with respect to research for military applications?

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    I think that this question is too broad for this site (even considering the formulated specific sub-questions). a relatively comprehensive answer to this question IMHO, probably, would be a candidate for a long paper or a book chapter, if not a whole book on the topic. – Aleksandr Blekh Jun 8 '15 at 8:29
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    I like the question. But, it is indeed too broad. Sorry about the close vote. – scaaahu Jun 8 '15 at 9:20
  • @AleksandrBlekh I think the sub-questions are difficult to answer, but not too broad. Especially #2 and #3 are quite specific. I agree that a full answer would be very long and detailed, but that shouldn't be a reason to close the question. For this site, a pointer to maybe existing previous studies could make a good answer. – silvado Jun 8 '15 at 11:00
  • BTW, we have related questions (or answers): academia.stackexchange.com/questions/4954/…, academia.stackexchange.com/questions/28462/… – silvado Jun 8 '15 at 11:09
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    This question is too broad, but I think its pieces should be answered. Can you please split each bullet point into its own question? People may be reluctant to answer some of them because these are very uncomfortable topics for academics, but they are also very important. – jakebeal Jun 8 '15 at 11:09