Mayo tech lab has long connection to military

November 11, 2018


While medicine is the focus of most of Mayo Clinic’s military work, a laboratory in northwest Rochester brings in millions to work on circuitry, satellites and computers for the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and related organizations.

The Special Purpose Processor Development Group is located at 4001 41st St. NW in the Mayo Support Center. It was founded in 1971 by Barry K. Gilbert, Ph.D., who remains the director of SPPDG.

Gilbert has published hundreds of technical papers and has twice received the Director’s Award for Sustained Excellence by a Contractor from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Due to confidentially agreements with the Defense Department, Mayo Clinic officials say they cannot allow media tours of the SPPDG or interviews with Gilbert.

Postings for engineering jobs at SPPDG include the requirement, “Must possess or be able to obtain U.S. government security clearance at or above the ‘secret’ level.”

The lab was originally founded to research new technologies to improve CT scans. Current materials describe its primary mission as “development of advanced technology for high clock rate digital signal processors and wide bandwidth, high center frequency analog systems.”

Gilbert’s lab has worked on a variety of advanced projects, according to federal documents and Mayo Clinic’s online descriptions. They include these:

• In 1992, it worked with NASA and DARPA to create “a complex network of fiber-optic landlines, video recording systems, satellite terminals, and specially developed data translators linking Mayo sites with other locations in the continental United States on an on-demand basis.”

• In May 2005, a $5 million federal contract was awarded to Mayo Clinic and SPPDG to work with the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center and DARPA on projects including missile circuit development and radiation hardness, meaning reliable operation of electronics in an environment with radiation.

• It developed GPS-based moving map displays for medical evacuation helicopters.

• The SPPDG team created the world’s smallest Global Positioning System receiver, which was then incorporated into the U.S. military “Downed Pilot’s Radio.”

• It designed methods to use a novel supercomputer for real-time protection of Mayo Clinic’s intranet.

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