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MIT tech leader tapped for new military R&D lab

The Defense Department has tapped a leader from MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory to anchor the Cambridge office of a new military R&D lab, part of a push by the Pentagon to more quickly harness innovations from the region’s tech sector.

Bernadette Johnson will serve as chief science officer of the Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental, known as DIUx, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said at an event in Cambridge Tuesday. Johnson, who has previously studied chemical and biological defense, most recently served as the Lincoln Lab’s chief technology officer.

Cambridge is the second location for the DIUx program, which opened a Silicon Valley office last year. Carter appointed new leadership for the DIUx initiative in May, an overhaul meant to build stronger connections with private-sector entrepreneurs and tech experts.


The lab awarded a new contract within a month of that leadership change, and DIUx expects to award more contracts in the weeks ahead, including projects that focus on network security and water-based drones, the Pentagon said.

On Tuesday, Carter acknowledged the region’s long history of military R&D, which includes the pivotal role researchers at the MIT Radiation Lab played in developing modern radar systems during World War II.

More recently, Boston-area companies have worked with the military to push the boundaries of robotics, such as two- and four-legged robots from Boston Dynamics that try to mimic human and animal gaits.

“This city is home to a tremendous legacy of service—one that will continue in a new way with DIUx,” Carter said. “It’s a testament to the fact that Boston has always been a place where great minds and great ideas come together to help advance the safety and security of our country.”

Carter also announced new members of the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Advisory Board, a group headed by Alphabet Inc. chairman Eric Schmidt. New advisors from the Boston area include Broad Institute president Eric Lander and Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein.


Curt Woodward can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @curtwoodward.