By Ashley O'Connor
For The Diamondback

When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I into space in 1957, it caught the United States by surprise.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency was created to ensure the United States was never caught off-guard by a technological advance again, said Stefanie Tompkins, the director of the Defense Sciences Office at the agency.

"One way we've learned to stop the surprises is to create the surprises," Tompkins said to more than 100 University of Maryland students and professors during a lecture Monday at the engineering college.

Tompkins discussed the various projects the agency is working on during the lecture. She said the agency's mission is to "create early demonstrations that convince the world that something is possible."

The agency is currently working on a 3D design for controlled thermal expansion, which would be used in thermal sensors on military planes.

These new sensors cut down 100 pounds of weight, increase the plane's sensor range by 90 miles and allow the planes to fly for three-and-a-half more hours.

"These kinds of things absolutely matter," Tompkins said.

The agency is also making strides with prosthetics.

In recent years, it has enabled humans with paralysis to control robotic limbs with their minds. Now, the agency is expanding its research into restoring sensations in those prosthetics, meaning a soldier who lost feeling in his arm could regain it through a robotic prosthetic.

"In this modern era we should be able to give our soldiers more than a stick with a hook," Tompkins said.

In the future, she said, the agency plans to explore if people with these prosthetics could feel infrared or feel beyond human capacity.

"It's just amazing, controlling the machine with your brain," said Shengyou Huang, a civil engineering visiting scholar.

The agency is also looking into memory restoration, Tompkins said.

"The things they are going to be able to do in the medical field are absolutely astonishing," said junior computer science major Bracha Tova.

In addition to medical advances, Tompkins said the agency is working on a way to make code less vulnerable to hacking.

"You start to think about a world of possibility that might never have seemed possible," she said.