news | 25 August 2021

Niels Olson Named "Sailor of the Year 2021"

Header Image - Niels Olson Sailor of the Year 2021
Niels Olson Sailor of the Year 2021

The Defense Innovation Unit is proud to share that Chief Medical Officer, Niels Olson, has been named the Navy Times "Sailor of the Year 2021" due to his work on the Navy's response to last year's COVID-19 outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

About Niels

Niels Olson is a board-certified pathologist and the Chief Medical Officer at the Defense Innovation Unit in Mountain View, California. In this role, he oversees research programs in machine learning for a broad spectrum of anatomic pathology applications, augmented reality microscopy, artificial intelligence applications in radiology, and distributed sensors in austere environments.

Prior to joining DIU, Niels served as Laboratory Medical Director at Naval Hospital Guam, staff pathologist at Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton, and General Medical Officer for Surface Forces Pacific. He completed AP/CP residency at Naval Medical Center San Diego. Niels earned an undergraduate degree in physics and served seven years as a Surface Warfare Operator in the Navy before attending medical school.

Sailor of the Year

Watch the Navy Times video about Niels's work aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt and read more about his award in the accompanying article, "Sailor of the Year 2021 changed how the Navy dealt with COVID-19."

Niels's expertise has been essential to the facilitation of Predictive Health and Rapid Analysis of Threat Exposure (RATE) prototype projects at DIU:

Niels and ARM

Niels Olson tests a prototype augmented reality microscope.

Predictive Health

Standard diagnostic procedures require healthcare practitioners to manually review large volumes of data to provide quality patient care. DIU is facilitating a prototype project to develop and test solutions that combine clinical AI applications and augmented reality technology with current medical imagery platforms to assist practitioners in the diagnosis of abnormalities such as cancer. This type of solution has the potential to improve medical outcomes, reduce healthcare costs, and increase readiness. (Pictured: Niels Olson tests a prototype augmented reality microscope.) Read more about this project in DIU's 2020 Annual Report.


Non-battle related infectious diseases still account for the majority of illnesses encountered by warfighters in modern campaigns. Detecting potential illness before symptoms arise is critical to maintaining readiness in headquarters and operational environments. In April 2020, DIU leveraged its flexible Commercial Solutions Opening process to pivot ongoing development to include early warning of COVID-19 infection. Read more about this project in DIU's 2020 Annual Report.