athenaTHINK – A Partnership With SPAWAR SSC PAC

By: Dr. Benjamin Migliori


In just a week, San Diego will be the home to the first ever athenaTHINK: A design thinking workshop in partnership with SPAWAR SSC PAC’s Grassroots S&T.

Last year, we hosted warfighters from the USS Benfold at SSC PAC to foster better innovation, more inspired projects, and a better interface between Sailors and Scientists.  Next week, we’ll be doing that again.  Our purpose is to give warfighters and technologists a chance to work together in a Design Thinking framework, and to open up the possibility of meaningful collaboration.

We’ll be giving Sailors an opportunity to see some of the bleeding edge work that we do here at SSCPAC, and giving the scientists a chance to hear real concerns from actual warfighters, rather than simply reading about them in briefs and training manuals.  We’ll be introducing the ideas of Design Thinking for military applications, and showing that the civilian entrepreneurs don’t get to have all the fun.  We’ll be competing for a best project award – which could turn into much more and be the seed for a new initiative.

Further, many of these ideas could be prime candidates to pitch at a Waterfront Athena event! And, with the next event coming to us in late February, this workshop is a great opportunity to hammer through some big ideas.

Why should we do this? Why does this matter?

Vannevar Bush, Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development during World War II, seemed to think that neither technologists nor warfighters possessed the complete understanding necessary for effective R&D.

“…no scientist could hope to grasp fully the military phases of the problem.  This can be attained only as a result of a life spent in close association with the sea, with naval tradition, and with the responsibility of command.  Yet it is equally true that no naval officer can be expected to grasp fully the implications and trends of modern science and its applications.  This requires, equally forcefully, a lifetime spent in science, and in the personal utilization of the scientific method.”

If his premise is true, and we tend to think it has some merit, then one effective way to work around our weaknesses is to work together. Dr. James Colvard wrote about how the genesis of the Navy Labs was this idea of scientists working alongside warfighters.

“With the Manhattan Project as a model, which had General Groves in charge but working in a complementary relationship with Dr. Oppenheimer, they saw the need for a technical institution that would bring together both naval officers and scientists. Such an institution would combine, in a daily working relationship, the knowledge of the weapons needs of the Navy and the potential of science and technology to meet those needs.”

These aren’t simply words – last year’s learn warfighter needs workshop provided the spark that resulted in new avenues of research, and influenced our new virtual reality lab here at SSC PAC.  We’ll show you the pitch that led to that facility, let you see the results of the work, and then provide the creative space for you to put forth your own game-changing ideas.


The team of Sailors and Scientists at last year’s Learn Warfighter Needs Workshop at SPAWAR SSC PAC.

By collaborating with The Athena Project,  we combine our collective technical expertise and our understanding of the Navy. Let’s work together to generate ideas that take advantage of our unique interactions.  We’ll provide the framework and the space – all you have to do is bring an open mind and an eye for strengthening the Navy.

So, if you’ve got an itch to make the Navy even better while strengthening the bond between Sailors and Scientists, sign up for the full-day Design Thinking workshop on January 28th here!

See you there!

Ben Migliori is a Ph.D. in Physics/Biophysics who used to shoot lasers at leeches (for science!) at the University of California, San Diego.  He is now a Navy researcher at SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific, where he studies data science, biologically-inspired systems, and the interface between technology and the warfighter. His goal is to use adjacent innovation to enable the Navy with game-changing technologies based on solutions found in nature.

Connect with The Athena Project on Facebook: or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy. Interested in starting a movement of your own? Message us, or e-mail!

The Power Of The Wheelbook: Three Easy Ways To Get Innovative

By LT Dave Nobles


2015 has all the makings of a great year. Granted, we’re only six days into it, but with so many emerging technologies, social movements and a new Star Wars movie coming, it’s hard to not get excited for the future.

As with any January since the inception of the internet, the trend in the blogosphere is to generate a post of a list of things that we want to or should or shouldn’t do in the New Year, for a fresh start. Well, in an effort to avoid that cliché, we’ll keep it simple.

This year, we’re resolving to write stuff down.

It’s a pledge that sounds easy, elementary and even pedestrian, but so often we just don’t do it.

As we’re surrounded by technology, it’s easy to open up a program like Evernote to organize our thoughts or bark some ideas into an application like Dragon Dictation. While these tools are amazing, it’s not the same as writing.

I’m talking about pen and paper, not typing into a laptop or tapping virtual keyboards on a phone or a tablet. Back in September, The Huffington Post posted an article on a study by Indiana University that pointed out the significant benefits to putting the ink to the page, including limiting distractions, slowing your brain down and sparking creativity.

As far as the innovation process goes, writing stuff down can act as a relief valve for brainstorming pressure. Often, in leading up to an Athena Project Event, I’ll ask Sailors if they have any ideas that they want to present and the response that I usually get is “I can’t think of anything.”

I’d say that is unequivocally false. In fact, most of us think of ideas multiple times a day – ways to make things better, ideas to launch a new business, projects to build in your garage – the trouble is that we don’t write the ideas down when we have them and we tend to forget. #JustHumanBeingThings.

The physical act of writing that idea down will slow down your thought process in such a way that will allow you to not only take the idea a step further in the evaluation process for feasibility, but it’ll also help to commit that idea to memory. The simple act of scribbling your idea down will keep it at the forefront of your mind so that the next time you’re asked “What’s your big idea?” you can proudly say “Laser Cats” (or whatever your awesome ideas is – probably not having anything to do with felines or lasers mounted to them).

So, here are a three ways to get writing, if you too choose to resolve to write stuff down as we have:

1. Try Journaling. Most times, when we think of journaling, we picture our little sister’s diary, covered by flowers and glitter in a pink bedroom. Now hear this: Journaling is NOT juvenile. By carving out some time each day to recap the events of the day, you may uncover an important thought that you had or discover a creative solution to a problem that you faced. Then, you could take the idea for a test drive and take note of how it went. In a way, it’s like prototyping!

Moleskines are awesome, but journals and bug books come in all shapes and sizes.

Moleskines are awesome, but journals and bug books come in all shapes and sizes.

2. Keep a Bug Book. On your next trip to Barnes & Noble (or by asking your Supply team nicely) acquire a small wheelbook that you can keep in your pocket. Then, as you bebop through your day and you see something that doesn’t work right, write it down! Who knows – you may even come up with the solution right then and there. Or, if not, you could break out your bug book when you want to dream up an idea to pitch. Flip the book open and Viola! – There’s a whole list of problems that need fixing! The bug list concept is not new. IDEO’s Tom Kelley talks about it in his book, The Art of Innovation. A running list of things that bug you in a small wheelbook is a source of ideas when you’re looking for a project to tackle. As Kelley says, “Instead of just complaining to yourself, ask yourself, ‘How might I improve this situation?’”

3. Rope Off Some Time To Free Write. Take about 15 to 30 minutes out of your day, unplug, and just write some words on a page. You could scribble about an architectural style you admire, what you’d say to a world leader if you met her, or dream up the story for your next science fiction novel (plotlines including but not limited to Laser Cats). The important thing is to just write. Whether you fancy yourself a creative writer or not, the act of writing will get your brain firing in different ways that may unlock the latent creativity you need to solve that problem, develop that innovative concept or view that challenge in a different way. A quick Google search of “writing prompts” yields a flurry of different sites, subreddits and .pdf files that can get you started!

There are loads of other ways that you can kickstart your writing. We hope that you’ll join us in unlocking the power of the wheelbook and finding new ways to get innovative in 2015.

With Waterfront Athena Seven and athenaTHINK right around the corner (news to follow), there will most certainly be a stage to present those new ideas!

Connect with The Athena Project on Facebook: or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy. Interested in starting a movement of your own? Message us, or e-mail!