KIP Student Feature – Nathan Clark

Nathan Clark (ENG’25) spent the summer working at Noblis and fulfilling social justice work through engineering. Noblis is an “independent, nonprofit organization with a proud tradition of serving federal clients objectively and with the highest caliber of scientific and technical excellence” with a mission to produce “work [that] makes an impact on the civil, defense, homeland security and intelligence & law enforcement missions that ensure our nation’s vitality and security.”

Q&A with Nathan Clark

Could you give us a brief description of the organization you are interning with and what your primary responsibilities are during this internship?

At Noblis, I worked in the Autonomy Lab furthering and implementing our Orchestrated Autonomy concept for autonomous self-organization and interoperability with one another and humans. Basically, the question is how do we extend autonomous machines which are safer and more efficient to civil spaces where autonomous agents such as self-driving cars must be able to navigate in a way that allows for device interoperability to avoid centralizing power into the hands of a single company and is safely interoperable with humans to ensure these technological advancements serve the ultimate goal of enriching future people’s lives.

I mostly worked on two projects, our adaptive communications NSR (Noblis Sponsored Research) and our outdoor sampling rover NSR. The first entailed developing systems to maintain orchestrated autonomy during communications degradation, as real-life applications do not guarantee perfect communications, and accurately simulating communications degradation to ensure autonomous systems are resilient. The outdoor sampling rover NSR involves several rovers working together to map, localize, categorize, and interact with objects, including taking samples of dirt and bringing it back to a DNA sequencing gantry for analysis. This served as both a proof-of-concept for autonomous systems working together and resulted in novel advancements in automating procedures in Noblis’s bio lab.

Ultimately, the day-to-day of my contribution was chiefly software development and machine learning research to improve the computer vision capabilities of our rovers, but I also got to design and build some of the components on the sampling rover, put together a presentation of my work for an internal demo, chaired Noblis’s Intern Employee Resource Group, and am currently finishing up part of our end-of-year demo for the Outdoor Sampling Rover NSR.

How did you find out about this internship, and could you tell us more about the application process?

I saw the project on a job posting and thought both the organizational structure and objective of the project were both really neat. Noblis’s nonprofit status frees it from the profit motive, allowing us to focus on advancing research for societal good; and the way we approach advancing autonomous systems has great societal implications.

Putting your resume for a location/general work area is easy, and if you’re a good match for a project with an opening, the interview process from there should be easy. Noblis is looking to significantly expand its NSR program so it’s a great time to apply! I especially recommend reading up on some of the NSRs ( to find an area of research you’re interested in, with most of our work fitting into cybersecurity, environmental resilience, autonomous systems, bio research, and simulations/modeling.

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me (!

How did your internship fulfill the goals of social justice?

Noblis’s research in decentralized systems of trust between autonomous vehicles, and the ability to independently provide the best solution for society as a nonprofit organization, puts our research poised to best contribute to a more just society. It should be foundational that every person has a right to feel safe in their communities, and not be threatened by unsafe machines controlled by the capricious whims of a person without the technological tools to safely get to their destination. Furthermore, the ubiquity of traffic stops leads to significant burdens on those in lower socioeconomic conditions, and has strongly inequitable effects across various minority groups, acting as regressive taxes that blur the line between policing for societal good and policing for ticket revenue. Neither situation should exist to begin with, and I believe my work at Noblis will contribute to a more just society by reducing the impacts in either respect, but more crucially in preserving a decentralized system in an automated world that does not threaten the societal foundations necessary to achieving social justice.

Has the work you have done this summer changed how you think about social justice?

I believe in social justice through institutional reform, and prudent technological advancements can be a powerful tool to achieve this. My experience this summer changed my view on two parts of this. First, the magnitude of work it takes to create these advancements is significant and always more than you expect. Just as it is important to challenge our institutions to do the best they can for us, and recognize how far we have yet to come, it is important to respect the vast amount of work it took in both technological and societal ingenuity to begin to achieve any manner of social and economic justice. Second, it is equally or more important to ensure your innovations are explainable, scalable, and applicable to the core societal issue in order to have any societal impact to begin with as compared to the quality of the innovation itself.

How has the Kilachand coursework helped prepare you for the work you are doing during your internship?

On that note, my Kilachand classes helped in developing my soft skills to best articulate and justify my ideas and give all of my hard technical work a better chance of seeing real-world application. If you believe in your idea’s ability to make the world a better place, it’s not just the technical capacity you need to bring it to fruition, but the ability to explain and understand its implications.


Learn more about the Kilachand Internship Program here.