About Sandia Capabilities Programs Contacting Us News Center Search Home navigation panel
News Releases

back to News Releases Sandia National Laboratories

May 16, 2002

US, Mexico formalize agreement to nurture border-area development lab

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Sandia National Laboratories and The United States-Mexico Foundation for Science have formalized a framework for joint development of the Bi-National Sustainability Laboratory concept to address economic development in the U.S. border region and Mexico.

The framework is set forth in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed in Mexico City in January by Sandia Vice President and Principal Scientist Gerold Yonas and Foundation Executive Director Guillermo Fernandez. Felipe Rubio Castillo of Mexico’s National Council on Science and Technology (CONACyT) signed the MOU as a witness.

The MOU defines how the two parties will “pursue their common goals for increased science and technology cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico and (leverage) this cooperation to improve the quality of life in the border region.”

The Bi-National Sustainability Laboratory (BNSL) concept was conceived to tackle seemingly intractable problems of widespread poverty and lack of basic resources such as public health, adequate supplies of clean water, and technology-based economic growth.

Yonas posed the concept to members of the Advanced Concepts Group (ACG) he heads at Sandia, and a team — Maher Tadros, Gary Jones, Vipin Gupta, and Jessica Turnley — formed around the idea and began to put its pieces into place. Labs Director C. Paul Robinson talked about the BNSL publicly for the first time at his State of the Labs address to community leaders in February 2001.

The project has recently been moved into Sandia’s Energy and Critical Infrastructure Strategic Business Unit where Director Margie Tatro and others are transitioning it from idea to program. Under the leadership of Paul Klimas, staff members Gupta and Beth Richards are drafting the internal plan to make this idea a reality.

“There are several steps in this transition from concept to project,” said Tatro, “but three of the most important ones are educating Sandians in the E&CI SBU about the concept, identifying and validating the needs of the potential sponsors, and finding the right people in Mexico who have passion for the project and will champion it there.”

She says she sees the BNSL as one important element of improving national security for today through improved border security, and for the future by changing the dynamics that create conflict — and, thus, insecurity — between countries.

“Activities in the ACG are preliminary, conceptual, opening new doors,” Yonas explained. It’s not really an organization that can — or should — finalize projects.” And with the involvement of a new Sandia organization, he is looking at global application of the economic development concept.

“I’m focusing my attention on global border issues — moving toward applying ideas from the BNSL concept to the Middle East,” he said. “The Multi-National Innovation Hub concept is essentially the BNSL concept overlaid on the Middle East. The idea is to bring moderate governments in the region into the process, create sustainable economic development, and stimulate a return to more peaceful times.”

That notion was presented to the departments of State, Commerce, and Energy earlier this year, and it raised enough interest at Commerce to prompt an invitation to ACG and BNSL team member Tadros to explain it in greater detail in a Washington briefing.

Small meetings involving individual members of the BNSL team and counterparts in Mexico — as well as Department of Energy and other government officials — have been under way since the beginning of the project, and some of those meetings have involved larger, official delegations of one country or the other.

Gov. Ernesto Ruffo, Presidential Commissioner for Northern Border Affairs and a very close advisor to President Vicente Fox, led an 11-member delegation to one such meeting in Albuquerque last September. They were briefed on Sandia technology that might be instrumental in border-area economic development.

“Gov. Ruffo has great interest in the project,” Fernandez said, “and he could be of great help in realizing it.”

Lucinda Vargas, director of Plan Estrategico de Juarez, said that in Juarez, “There’s tremendous interest in seeing this initiative work. Leaders in Juarez — speaking mostly from a private-sector perspective — have been present for briefings on how the initiative is progressing and have shown a willingness, desire, and even eagerness to commit their efforts at making this work.”

The key value BNSL would bring to the El Paso-Juarez area, she said, is: “Solutions to the many problems that characterize border regions — that have to do precisely with lack of sustainability in the course of development which, in turn, has to do with an insufficient consolidation of the social, technological, and human-capital infrastructure the region needs to foster higher-quality growth.”

The BNSL would be an invaluable tool in making possible any number of projects in areas that foster sustainable development in the city of Juarez, which, Vargas said, is a key objective of her organization. They include health and environmental protection as well as technology-heavy initiatives to increase the value of the city’s already-existing manufacturing and industrial base.

“Because the MOU signing was an important step,” Fernandez said, “the executive committee of the Foundation — two from Mexico, two from the United States — were there for it. The Foundation is interested in the BNSL as a concrete way to strengthen economic and other ties on the border.”

The Foundation’s involvement also provides a meaningful link to high levels of the Mexican government because Foundation Chairman and Executive Director Pablo Rudomin also serves as science advisor to Fox.

“The BNSL provides a wonderful learning opportunity — one that could extend to other parts of Mexico and bring in people from the United States who might otherwise not become involved in such an international venture,” Fernandez said. “And its location on the border also might help to improve economic conditions in regions where opportunity is lacking — southwest Texas, southeast New Mexico, and Chihuahua.”

Sandia is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a Lockheed Martin Company, for the United States Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration under contract DE-AC04-94AL85000. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major research and development responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.

Sandia Media Relations contact: Howard Kercheval, hckerch@sandia.gov, (505) 844-7842

Sandia technical contact: Vipin Gupta,, vpgupta@sandia.gov , (915) 526-2753

Back to top of page || Questions and Comments || Acknowledgment and Disclaimer