Sandia Labs News Releases

Hopes high for revitalized agreement between UNM and Sandia Labs

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A memorandum of understanding (MOU) of unusual depth and content was signed Sept. 23 by Sandia National Laboratories and executives from the University of New Mexico at the jointly occupied Advanced Material Laboratory on University Boulevard.

The growing closeness of two major Albuquerque institutions — often not recognized due to the security wall around Sandia — was symbolized by the seating of the four signees. The two presidents occupied the center of the signing table, as is customary, but Julia Fulghum, UNM Vice-President for Research and Economic Development, sat next to Sandia President and Labs Director Paul Hommert, while Sandia Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Steve Rottler flanked UNM President David Schmidly.

Schmidly said, “How many universities have a national lab in their backyards? It’s up to us to bring the two missions together.”

“Relations between institutions are very important but they depend upon relations between people,” said Hommert to the 50-plus attendees. “Sandia is mission-driven, and UNM is committed to higher education, but beyond that, there are many intersections we can build upon.”

The intersections are quite real. Eighteen hundred UNM alumni work at Sandia, said Rottler, and roughly 20 Sandians teach at UNM in some capacity. Forty Sandians work at the AML, along with some 30 UNM faculty and students. The building itself was the result of the original MOU between UNM and Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories in 1982. In the last ten years, research at the AML has produced 10 R&D 100 awards — “a significant record of achievement,” said Rottler.

Fulghum said she expected “at least one new shared research area developed every three years,” despite the challenge of shrinking federal funding.

The MOU’s depth was provided in at least two unusual clauses.

The first was that the collaboration intends “joint recruitment and hiring of nationally prominent faculty.”

Joint appointments have been limited to date. Only two Sandia researchers currently hold tenure-track faculty positions at UNM, because Sandia and UNM management use joint appointments as a tool to attract and retain scientists and engineers of extremely high international reputation. Rottler and Fulghum want to create a small number of additional joint appointments in the next several years, while maintaining those same high standards.

The MOU also codifies the joint intent to “deliver at least one major success story per year of manifestly strong benefits to the community, state and nation, which would probably not have occurred absent this MOU.”

The initial focus will be on “quantum information, nano-particles in humans, and energy.”

The institutions already have a leg up on these objectives. Collaboration between Sandia and UNM has put inorganic nanospheres in the service of biology as a carrier for cancer-killing chemicals; the story was the cover of a recent edition of Nature Materials and has attracted the interest of venture capitalists on both coasts.

Joint work on quantum computing has been featured in several journals.

Any Sandia researchers who did not recognize their communal status with UNM must have felt the ice melting in their hearts when Schmidly deadpanned at the end of the ceremony, “Will signing this MOU help us win football games? If it does, I’ll sign another next week… and the week after that….”

No Albuquerque resident could help but feel his pain.

Sandia National Laboratories is a multiprogram laboratory operated and managed by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corporation, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.

Sandia news media contact: Neal Singer, (505) 845-7078