David Whelihan

Portrait of David Whelihan
One of the great things about the Laboratory is that you can really move around and evolve as you see fit.

What does your job entail?

I do research and development on undersea systems, but my job really seems to extend to anything that touches the ocean — which is my favorite place to be. I work on building and programming undersea autonomous vehicles (robots), building acoustic communication systems, and supporting the scientific community by building and deploying sensor nodes in the Arctic. To do this, I have gotten to go to some pretty amazing places like Hawaii, Alaska, and the Arctic Ocean as well as the Bahamas where I spent two days living on a Virginia Class Fast Attack Submarine.

What project have you enjoyed working on the most?

That is a super tough question. I have worked in three divisions and have really enjoyed my time in each. I would say my favorite projects are those where I get to build something new, or help other people build cool things. One of the great things about my current group is that I also get to go to amazing places to deploy them!

Have you participated in any STEM outreach activities?

I did a Science on Saturday session on undersea robotics last year. I also helped out with the Beaver Works Summer Institute in 2021, the first year I was in this group. For that I built a small, low-cost autonomous underwater vehicle that I can bring to places along with a small pool. This year I served as a technical mentor for the Boston-area U.S. Naval Sea Cadet SeaPerch team, helping them to build small remotely operated vehicles that compete to run an underwater obstacle course.

Why did you decide to volunteer?

I really like working with kids. I think you gain a lot of perspective when you have to pull yourself out of your everyday context and have to explain things in simple, relatable ways. Jargon is a no-no, and so to explain things, you have to decompose ideas down to their elements. I think you really have to know your stuff to do that well. It is a great challenge.

Do you have any advice for someone seeking to work in your field?

I started out as a chip designer, then moved to cybersecurity, then undersea systems. The fact that I was able to do that is amazing. Understanding this field has not been easy, and I think after almost three years in it, I am only now starting to know what I don’t know — which is a lot. So my advice is to be patient with yourself, and take as many opportunities to learn as you can.