Mechanical Engineering

Creating value in an age of complexity and chaos

November 03, 2017

1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.

Porter Hall 100

Nathanael Miller
Aerospace Engineer in the Engineering Directorate
NASA Langley Research Center


For the first time in a long time it is acceptable to propose technology that produces more energy than they consumes. We are talking about how reconsideration of the proverbial continuous motion machine is underway, though not at NASA as far as we are aware. As the world at large is considering what appears absurd, the role of venture and basics research investments have changed.

What has not changed is the purpose of NASA, which is to support the Government as the provider for the common defense and promote the general welfare† of our nation. What has changed is the environment in which NASA must fulfill that purpose. To be clear, environmental factors are not restricted to technologies (AI, processing, connectivity, and materials), but also include new ways of doing business.

We are happy to say that our agency recognize these changes and is now actively engaged in the ever evolving process of adapting to that environment. The adaption includes looking to new technologies (Graphene, block chain, small satellites, machine learning, autonomous aircraft, etc.) to enhance capabilities, but also and new generation operating models. Some of these models, effective in the market today, resemble the perpetual motion machine and appear to generate more social energy than they consume and challenge conventional economic principles.

What we will show is how the small Lab77 team has taken a "learning by doing" approach to adapting our DNA at NASA Langley Research Center to this age of complexity and chaos. We will show how by use of the “Mission Natural Selection process” we have been able to re-engineer a social framework that addresses the fundamental needs of new research and development efforts. We will finish up with sharing how we have found success in using these "energy scavenging" organizational models; which are contemporary to the complexity age. We will show how we have adapted these innovations in operating and business models and found success in endeavors to bring about technical innovation. This success is framed in the context of a matrixed engineering organization that is focused on operating as industrial/information era research and development center.

†US Constitution Preamble


Nathanael Miller has worked as an Aerospace Engineer in the En-gineering Directorate at NASA Langley Research Center for the past 10 years. Over his time with NASA, he has designed and inte-grated test platforms for scientific instruments and technology development missions. With a background in mechatronics; Miller has developed ground-based robotic platforms, unmanned aerial vehicles, and suborbital space-systems, which have supported a range of applications including inflatable planetary entry systems, mars surface sensors, and aviation safety research.

Since 2012 Miller has worked to extended Langley Research Cen-ter’s capability to utilize small satellites, CubeSats, hosted-payloads, and other low-cost space-based platforms for science and research purposes. To this end, he currently leads Lab77, a Langley team that develops small satellite missions that apply new technologies to existing Agency needs; including atmospheric sci-ences, in-space assembly, aviation safety, advanced materials, and new remote sensing technologies.

In 2016, Nathanael joined the board of directors of the COFES Institute (Congress On the Future of Engineering Software). Since 2010 he has led the Maieutic Parataxis session at COFES, which brings a fresh look at new technologies to the influence the engineering tools industry. In 2015, Nathanael joined the advisory boards of the Graphene Stakeholder Association and Coventry Computer Inc, and began as a member of the AIAA Space Systems Technical Committee. He has also served as an advisory board member of the Frank Batten College of Engineering, Old Dominion University and as a mentor of a number of middle and high school Robotic Teams. Nathanael holds Bachelors of Science and Masters of Science degrees from Old Dominion University.

In the off hours he is an artist currently interested in exploring sculpture of glass and wire.

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