June 6, 2023
Staff Accomplishment

Attarian Leads National Panel at GEOINT Conference

Sharing his passion for maps, math, and machine learning

Photo of four people on a stage at GEOINT.

Adam Attarian led a panel at the GEOINT conference.

(Photo courtesy of Adam Attarian | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

Last year, Adam Attarian attended the largest conference in the United States dedicated to geospatial intelligence (GEOINT). He quickly knew there was a topic missing.

He submitted a proposal, and the conference organizers agreed with him.

“It’s important to increase awareness of what the national labs can do and have done for the United States,” said Attarian, senior data scientist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). “We are one of the biggest assets in the country, and it’s a conversation that will benefit the scientific and national security communities.”

Due to Attarian’s diligence, a new panel session, titled National Labs and the GEOINT Mission, was included to the GEOINT 2023 Symposium, held May 21 – 24, 2023. To round out the panel, Attarian was joined by Amy Rose, senior scientist in human dynamics with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Prabal Nandy, chief engineer with Sandia National Laboratories.

“We talked about international engagements, how the labs help the environment, the intractable problems in national security that the labs have helped solve, and how we attract and retain talent,” said Attarian.

Why Is GEOINT Important?

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency describes GEOINT as “the exploitation and analysis of imagery and geospatial information to describe, assess, and visually depict physical features and geographically referenced activities on the Earth.”

To Attarian, GEOINT is finding small objects in big pictures. It means shortening the time between an event happening and being able to do something about it. The events Attarian is referencing are catastrophic ones, like earthquakes, tsunamis, and fires. GEOINT provides “a constant perspective to monitor and react to the world around us,” he said.

Today, GEOINT capabilities are crucial to national security activities ranging from evaluating political crises, to protecting military forces, to humanitarian relief missions.

Becoming a GEOINT Expert

Attarian’s love of the outdoors and photography complemented his affinity to math and maps. He still remembers how awestruck he was to see the pictures of Earth, taken during the Apollo 8 Mission. The combination of these passions led him to geospatial analysis.

At PNNL, his research areas also encompass artificial intelligence (AI), computer vision, intelligence analysis, and mathematical modeling.

“It’s rewarding to see a real impact in the world from our work in this space,” said Attarian. “There is so much data out there. It takes deep learning, machine learning, and advanced math to dig into the large volume of data available.”

Yet, he realizes the potential dangers.

“We’ve enabled so much success and have paved the way for new technologies and capabilities for our nation in GEOINT and beyond,” he said. “As AI becomes more ubiquitous in tools that the government uses and impacts critical workflows, AI assurance and security become more and more necessary. Understanding how and why the AI tools work the way they do and understanding when they don’t are more important than ever. PNNL is leading in this area of AI.”

Published: June 6, 2023