Voices from DARPA


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DARPA’s podcast series, "Voices from DARPA," offers a revealing and informative window on the minds of the Agency's program managers. In each episode, a program manager from one of DARPA’s six technical offices—Biological Technologies, Defense Sciences, Information Innovation, Microsystems Technology, Strategic Technology, and Tactical Technology—will discuss in informal and personal terms why they are at DARPA and what they are up to. The goal of "Voices from DARPA" is to share with listeners some of the institutional know-how, vision, process, and history that together make the “secret sauce” DARPA has been adding to the Nation’s innovation ecosystem for nearly 60 years. On another level, we at DARPA just wanted to share the pleasure we all have every day—in the elevator, in the halls, in our meeting rooms—as we learn from each other and swap ideas and strive to change what’s possible.

Episode Date
Episode 23: Joe Spectrum
<p> </p> <p class="MsoNormal">In this episode of our Voices from DARPA podcast, Joseph Evans, a program manager since 2015 in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Strategic Technology Office (STO), shares with listeners how his embrace of data, communications technologies, and the electromagnetic spectrum—the invisible place where radio, radar, and other radio frequency (RF) signals live and propagate—has led to the portfolio of programs that he now oversees. This portfolio includes a program that essentially renders visible the frenetic RF activity that is going on in the space we occupy. Another program features the challenge of converting radar systems into communications channels. In yet another, Joe is striving to find better ways of leveraging the ever-growing reservoir of commercial and open-source satellite imagery to improve warfighters’ abilities to detect, monitor, and track what is going on, that is, to improve situational awareness. Joe also flies planes, skippers boats, skies, runs, and sometimes straps on a guitar to send acoustic waves into the same space hosting all of those electromagnetic waves that he cares so much about. </p> <p> </p>
Oct 04, 2018
Episode 22: The Chemquistador
<p> </p> <p class="MsoNormal">In this episode of the Voices from DARPA podcast, Anne Fischer, a program manager since 2017 in the agency’s Defense Sciences Office (DSO), recounts how she has been applying a chemist’s mindset, which began taking hold in her as a child when her parents gave her a chemistry set, in her boundary-pushing portfolio of extreme-chemistry projects at DARPA. In one of them, she is overseeing research that could pump up the creativity and productivity of chemists by way of artificial intelligence that plans and optimizes molecule-making procedures and with automated equipment that synthesizes the actual molecules. In another of her projects, Fischer has her sights on molecule-based computing that could open the way to radically new and powerful ways to process information and store data. In yet another program, she is helping to develop one of the most unusual pickup trucks ever: it will have an engine that burns and destroys chemical warfare agents, producing power in the process. There’s plenty more to Fischer’s expansive molecular vision on the world and national defense. </p> <p> </p>
Aug 08, 2018
Episode 21: Mr. Thousand Satellites
<p> </p> <p class="MsoNormal">In this episode of the Voices from DARPA podcast, Paul “Rusty” Thomas, a program manager since 2017 in the Agency’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO), chronicles how his several-decade career within the commercial space industry has taught him a thing or two about designing, manufacturing, launching, and operating more than 130 civilian and government satellites. At DARPA, he is bringing that background to bear on one of the Agency’s more ambitious space-technology projects, Blackjack, which upon completion could encompass a mesh-like network of thousands of small and inexpensive satellites for delivering global, all-the-time sensing, communications, and other national-security services. With boots-on-the-ground experience in Afghanistan, a pilot’s license, and a personal altitude of 6’8”, Rusty projects a larger-than-life persona, illuminated by an infectious sense of mission to innovate the way toward future-generation space technology. </p> <p> </p>
Jun 18, 2018
Episode 20: The Genomineer
<p> </p> <p class="MsoNormal">In this episode of the Voices from DARPA podcast, Renee Wegrzyn, a program manager since 2016 in the Agency’s Biological Technologies Office (BTO), recounts the origins of her current interests in synthetic biology and genomics, both of them powerful frameworks for engineering biological systems for technological ends. Still wielding influence are her childhood days amidst Florida’s abundant wildlife, a science-hooked sister, and a high school field trip in which Renee encountered fossil mastodon teeth. Her subsequent experience in the biotechnology industry got her hooked on the versatile power of combining biology and engineering in ways that can produce new medical technologies, materials, and other products. Along the way, Wegrzyn recounts what for her was a “Sputnik moment” in biology, based on the emergence of the celebrity gene-editing toolset known for short as CRISPR, which has underwritten an immensely powerful genetic and genomic engineering framework. Under Renee’s DARPA programs, Living Foundries and Safe Genes, researchers are innovating new means of manipulating and leveraging biology’s ways of eliciting traits in organisms and of making molecules and materials while also developing means for keeping those same bioengineering capabilities in check to hedge against their misuse or unintended consequences. </p> <p> </p>
Apr 25, 2018
Episode 19: The AI Intermediary
<p> </p> <p class="MsoNormal">In this episode of the Voices from DARPA podcast, David Gunning chronicles his three tours of duty as a DARPA program manager (PM), including his latest tour with the Agency’s Information Innovation Office. Throughout his DARPA service, David has combined his training and interests in computer science and psychology in ways that have extended the boundaries of artificial intelligence (AI) technology, both for warfighters and for the general public. During his first tour as a PM in the 90’s, he managed a portfolio of AI projects including the Command Post of the Future (CPoF) program, which delivered technology that was later adopted by the US Army as its Command and Control system for use in Iraq and Afghanistan. During his previous tour, from 2003-2008, David managed the Personalized Assistant that Learns (PAL) program that later led to Siri, perhaps the most famous virtual personal assistant. Now, in his third tour, he is aiming for a new generation of artificial intelligences that earn the confidence of their human users by being able to explain the decisions and actions that emerge from their internal computation. David is delighted that as he works to expand the frontiers of AI, he also will have the privilege of participating in the emergence of a more familiar variety of intelligence in his first grandson, who lives nearby.</p> <p> </p>
Apr 09, 2018
Episode 18: The Disease Slayer
<p> </p> <p class="MsoNormal"></p> <p> </p> <p class="MsoNormal">In this episode of Voices from DARPA, COL Matthew Hepburn, a program manager since 2013 with the Agency’s Biological Technologies Office (BTO), explains how his urgent ambition to develop ways and means of disarming current and emerging infectious and pandemic diseases—think here of Ebola, influenza, and Chikungunya—has led to a portfolio of go-for-the-gold programs that ultimately could reduce human suffering by an immeasurable degree. A biomedical engineer, physician, and global disease fighter by training and experience, Matt has known since he was a child that taking care of people was going to be his mission and he says DARPA is a place where he might be able to carry out that childhood dream to an extreme that would not be possible elsewhere. </p> <p> </p>
Feb 20, 2018
Episode 17: Guardian of the Chips
<p class="MsoNormal">In this episode of Voices from DARPA, electrical engineer Kerry Bernstein, a program manager since 2012 with the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s Microsystems Technology Office (MTO), chronicles how his decades of experience in the trenches of the microelectronics manufacturing world drives what he does at DARPA. He is all about ensuring the reliability and integrity of the microelectronic chips the country needs and uses in just about every military and civilian setting you can think of. With electronics manufacturing distributed over so many countries and manufacturing facilities now, the threat of tampering, counterfeiting, and other nefarious actions has become more complex and in need of management than ever. For his part, Bernstein has been shepherding the development of some of the highest technology there is—in tiny glitter-sized packages, no less—to keep our electronics supply chain safe and sound. </p>
Feb 02, 2018
Episode 16: The Spinmaster
<p class="MsoNormal">In this episode of Voices from DARPA, physicist Rosa Alejandra “Ale” Lukaszew, a program manager who is just finishing her first year with the Agency’s Defense Sciences Office (DSO), recounts how her interest in quantum phenomena took root at the age of 10 when already she could write down the equations of uncertainty. Now, at DARPA, she is channeling what became a lifelong fascination with fundamental physics into opening new pathways toward understanding and harnessing electronic ensembles and the correlated ways these diminutive entities “spin” and otherwise behave in various material settings. In her role as a program manager, Ale would like to make it possible for the researchers working on her DARPA programs to forge next-generation paradigms in electronics for applications in memory, logic, energy conversion devices, and sensors. </p>
Jan 05, 2018
Episode 15: The DARPAnthropologist
<p class="MsoNormal">In this episode of Voices from DARPA, sociocultural anthropologist Adam Russell, a program manager with the Agency’s Defense Sciences Office (DSO), discusses his vision for a range of technologies that could help usher in a next-generation social science. At the crux of this future view are novel experimental designs, practices, and tools to tackle research challenges that traditionally have limited the value of social science for national security. Russell believes these advances may help yield scientific results that are far more reliable, validated, predictive, and otherwise valuable for making decisions and basing actions than has been the case to date. Among the emerging and morphing issues that affect national security, and for which Russell says new approaches in social sciences might help, is the way modern environments can impact social identities and the choices people and groups make based on those identities. Contributing to his own self identifications, and to his cognitive style as a scientist, are his experiences as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and a national-level rugby player.   </p>
Nov 27, 2017
Episode 14: The Mix-and-Matcher
<p class="MsoNormal">In this episode of Voices from DARPA, Jim Galambos, a program manager with the Agency’s Strategic Technology Office (STO), talks about the opportunities and challenges of rethinking military platforms like submarines and aircraft as systems of systems, much as a human body can be thought of as a system of circulatory, neurological, sensory, musculoskeletal, and other subsystems. The system-of-systems paradigm, Galambos says, is a pathway toward military assets that can be more versatile, agile, evolvable, tailorable, survivable, and otherwise capable than previous generations of platforms. He also discusses the value that informative failure can have for achieving ambitious successes.       </p>
Nov 08, 2017
Episode 13: The Squad Transformer
<p class="MsoNormal">In this episode of Voices from DARPA, Maj. Christopher Orlowski, a program manager with extensive military experience and now at the end of his tenure of the Agency’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO), draws a line from his research programs in mechanized and robotic undersuits, vehicles, and human-machine systems, which are driven by the goal of empowering warfighters on the ground in unprecedented ways, all of the way back to the G. I. Joe cartoons he watched as a kid. </p>
Oct 12, 2017
Episode 12:The Neobiologist
In this episode of Voices from DARPA, synthetic biologist and program manager Justin Gallivan of the Agency’s Biological Technologies Office (BTO) shares his vision of leveraging biology’s astonishing, evolution-honed abilities for making molecules and materials (think here of protein and wood) into powerful new technologies that fall into the emerging category of synthetic biology. Among the potential payoffs he discusses include pre-toughening warfighters’ guts for the microbial challenges they face in faraway missions and growing the structures of military installations from what could be thought of as seeds. Be warned: blue poop and interplanetary construction come up in this engaging discussion.
Aug 15, 2017
Episode 11: The Thin-Air Specialist
In this episode of Voices from DARPA, get inside the full-spectrum engineering head of Dr. Troy Olsson, a program manager since 2014 in the Agency’s Microsystems Technology Office (MTO). Listen in as Olsson describes progress toward vanishing materials that can keep sensitive electronic components out of adversaries’ hands; unmanned air vehicles that can deliver provisions and then just disappear; massive miniaturization of low-frequency antennas for underwater radio communication; and stand-alone sensors that require almost no power at all yet for years remain vigilant to sounds, radio signals, and other environmental signals of interest to warfighters. And then there’s those really far-out technologies that Olsson hopes to enjoy one day.
Jul 13, 2017
Episode 10: The Social Simulator
In this episode of Voices from DARPA, get to know Dr. Jonathan Pfautz, a program manager since 2015 in DARPA's Information Innovation Office (I2O), where he epitomizes the Agency’s deliberate blindness to traditional disciplinary boundaries. With a background in computer engineering and electrical engineering, as well as in the cognitive and behavioral sciences, Pfautz is seeking to develop new techniques for massive-scale simulations of social behavior, including information sharing, as it takes form and evolves within the context of today’s astoundingly powerful information technologies and online social networking infrastructures. Pfautz also is concerned about the evolution of human-machine etiquette. And listen in on how he and his wife are so profoundly devoted to the scientific enterprise that they named their daughters after two giants in the history of science.
Jun 21, 2017
Episode 9: The Datamancer
Mr. Wade Shen of the Agency’s Information Innovation Office has made it his mission to improve how human beings and their computers put their respective heads and cognitive frameworks together to yield deep insight into how the world works and how information affects the way people think and act. Listen in on how Shen is enacting that mission with the DARPA programs he oversees, among them the Data Driven Discovery of Models (D3M) program, the Quantitative Crisis Response (QCR) program, and the Memex program, which is devoted to advancing search capabilities far beyond the current state of the art. Shen also muses about what it would take to build a universal translator that would enable all 7.4 billion people on the planet to overcome language barriers and to talk with one another.
May 01, 2017
Episode 8: The Uncertainty Wrangler
In this episode of DARPA’s podcast series, Voices from DARPA, join program manager Fariba Fahroo of the Agency’s Defense Sciences Office as she discusses how important mathematics can be for, in her words, “keeping our models honest.” By characterizing the uncertainties inherent in the computer models and algorithms we develop to better understand complex phenomena, such as the flow of air over aircraft surfaces and through engines, as well as to design, engineer, and control today’s ever more complicated civilian and military systems, Fahroo tells us how she aims to cultivate modeling frameworks within which these systems can be built and deployed with unprecedented degrees of confidence and insight into their strengths and vulnerabilities.
Mar 14, 2017
Episode 7: The Geolocator
In this episode of DARPA’s podcast series, Voices from DARPA, join program manager Lin Haas of the Agency’s Strategic Technology Office as he shares his expansive view on the current and future roles of Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) technology, whose most famous incarnation is known as the Global Positioning System (GPS). Haas reveals ambitious PNT programs that include efforts to develop an undersea system that provides omnipresent positioning capabilities across ocean basins where GPS signals do not go and to exploit environmental signals, such as the electromagnetic features of lightning, for back-up geolocation service if GPS were to become unavailable. You will also learn how a guy ends up with the name Lin.
Feb 14, 2017
Episode 6: The Insectophile
<p> </p> <p style="margin: 0in 0in 8pt;">In this episode of DARPA’s podcast series, Voices from DARPA, join program manager Blake Bextine of the Agency’s Biological Technologies Office as he talks about his virus- and insect-mediated vision for protecting food crops from natural and human-wrought threats, including drought and biological warfare. With his Insect Allies program, Bextine aims to increase food security by recruiting insects to deliver viruses, which have been modified to bear protective genes, into plants where those virus-carried genes could save the plants from the threats they face. His approach offers a number of potential advantages over today's slash-and-burn method of managing diseased crops. Bextine also shares some tips on how to find and cook insects, especially when you're in the wilderness and your stomach is growling. </p> <p> </p>
Jan 12, 2017
Episode 5: The Mind Mixer
<p>In this episode of DARPA’s podcast series, Voices from DARPA, join program manager Paul Cohen of the Agency’s Information Innovation Office as he talks about his efforts to develop better and more seamless ways for human intelligence and machine intelligence to combine their respective strengths into a hybrid and collaborative intelligence that can do more than either of its components. </p>
Dec 19, 2016
Episode 4: The Terahertzian
<p> </p> <p style="margin: 0in 0in 0pt;">In this episode of DARPA’s podcast series, Voices from DARPA, join program manager Dev Palmer of the Agency’s Microsystems Technology Office as he talks about turning an early interest in the vacuum tubes of his guitar amplifiers into a career as an electrical engineer. His mission? To push electronic and electromagnetic technology along new frontiers that could lead to more capable radar, electronic warfare, and communications systems, and even to entirely new technologies. In his few years as a program manager, Palmer has scored a world record with the fastest linear amplifier ever made; opened the way to vastly increasing the power output of high-frequency circuits by developing next-generation, miniaturized vacuum electronic devices; and pioneered novel approaches to integrating minuscule magnetic components into the already super-dense microcircuitry on chips. One more thing: with the time he spends commuting, Palmer has given some thought to what it would take to usher teleportation from the science fiction side to the reality side. </p> <p> </p>
Dec 01, 2016
Episode 3: The Semiconductor Whisperer
<p class="MsoNormal">In this third episode of DARPA’s podcast series, Voices from DARPA, join program manager Dan Green, as he discusses the Agency’s innovation-catalyzing roles in the Age of Semiconductors. For Green, silicon, the celebrity high-tech material of our times, is only one species in what he views as a semiconductor zoo. For his part, Green, who works in the Agency’s Microsystems Technology Office, has been overseeing DARPA’s efforts to usher the compound semiconductor, gallium nitride (or GaN), beyond its already transformative role in the world of LED lighting into a range of electronic and radiofrequency applications important for national security contexts--among them electronic warfare, radar, and communications--and eventually into an empowering variety of applications in the civilian world.</p> <p class="MsoNormal"></p>
Oct 31, 2016
Episode 2: Space Sentinel
<p class="MsoNormal">In the latest installment of DARPA’s new podcast series, Voices from DARPA, join program manager Lindsay Millard as she discusses the Agency’s satellite-protecting Space Surveillance Telescope (SST) program. From its mountaintop perch in New Mexico, this revolutionary optical telescope is enabling much faster discovery and tracking of previously unseen or hard-to-find small objects in orbit that could potentially collide with satellites, in a vast volume of space Millard likens to “tens of thousands of oceans.” SST’s wide-open eye on the sky has also become the most prolific tool ever for observing near-Earth objects and asteroids that could potentially impact Earth. After four years of extensive testing and evaluation, DARPA is celebrating the upcoming transition of SST to the U.S. Air Force on Tuesday, October 18, 2016.</p>
Oct 12, 2016
Episode 1: Molecule Man
<p style="text-align: left;" class="MsoNormal">In this premiere episode of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's new podcast series, <i>Voices from DARPA</i>, program manager Tyler McQuade, who works in the Agency's Defense Sciences Office, reveals his vision of accelerating scientists' ability to discover and make a vast variety of new molecules for medical, military, and many other applications.</p>
Sep 23, 2016