Jon Mark Beilue: Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station Partners with Pantex

Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station Partners with Pantex


Morgan Smith called the partnership “a match made in heaven” – at least nuclear engineering heaven.

“What we do at the Pantex Plant, we do better than anyone on the planet,” said Smith, President and CEO of Consolidated Nuclear Security (CNS), which manages and operates Pantex. “What Texas A&M does in education and research, they do better than anyone on the planet. This is a unique and important opportunity in a vital partnership.”

The Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) will partner with CNS to address critical needs of technical expertise and workforce development in the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile at the Pantex Plant, 15 miles northeast of Amarillo. The agreement was signed by Smith and Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp following a news conference Thursday at the newly opened John C. Drummond Center adjacent to Pantex.

“I can’t think of another piece of ground more important to the security of our country than this piece of ground at Pantex,” Sharp said. “Texas A&M will bring expertise in nuclear engineering and nuclear security to Pantex. It’s a great opportunity for us to partner with CNS to serve the Panhandle, West Texas, and most importantly, allows Texas A&M to serve the country and continue to make our nuclear security second to none.”

Partnership opportunities with TEES and CNS include designing sensors and instrumentation for blast measurements, studying the use of augmented and virtual reality training for plant operations, additive manufacturing certification, facility safety and security and first responder training.

Further programs could include certificate and continuing education in cybersecurity, nuclear safety, fire safety, and criticality engineering as well as data analytics.

“The significance is the partnership enables us to link our employees with a top educational institution on our site,” Smith said. “They don’t have to travel. They don’t have to spend extra time going somewhere. They can just come down the hallway and participate in the classwork at this location.

“That’s powerful from the standpoint of increasing the capability and competence of our people. It’s also powerful in attracting and retaining future employees to this site. Our goal is to have our people do the very complex and important work that enhances global security the best we can possibly do. This is a very unique opportunity with us and Texas A&M.”

Thursday’s partnership with CNS comes on the heels of a similar partnership with TEES and Triad National Security, which manages and operates the country’s top nuclear weapons laboratory – the Los Alamos National Laboratory – in New Mexico.

“Nuclear safety and security are paramount to our national defense, and the Texas A&M system recognizes our strengths and purposes align well with the mission and overall efforts at Pantex,” said Dr. M. Katherine Banks, Vice-Chancellor of Engineering and National Laboratories for the Texas A&M system, as well as engineering dean and TEES Agency Director.

“We are excited to establish research and development with Pantex and look forward to future collaboration as we work together with the National Nuclear Security Administration.”

West Texas A&M is one of the Texas A&M system schools located 35 miles from Pantex. While WTAMU will not directly participate in the partnership, Dr. Walter Wendler, University president, sees a benefit for WTAMU students and the region.

“This is going to add fire and energy to what we do at West Texas A&M,” Wendler said. “We have a pipeline program in engineering to Texas A&M where our engineering undergraduates can proceed down to A&M. Dr. Banks is very supportive of this program since we don’t have a doctorate program that WT has.

“It will be a tremendous benefit for the people of the Panhandle to retain good minds up here. I’m focused, and WT is focused on the region. The focus of CNS and the Texas A&M system is broader than ours. But it’s like connecting the dots. As we connect the dots, everyone benefits and profits.”

Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson, who was in attendance at the news conference, foresees the city as being an area that benefits. The number of jobs from TEES is unknown, but she believes high-level technical research can only enhance growth.

“It’s really important to have a vision about creating a culture of curiosity,” Nelson said. “There are statistics that show communities that have a higher proportion of researchers succeed economically more than communities that don’t have that research component.

“So there is a direct tie to having a research-based population that leads to curiosity and discovery and turns that into dollars and economic drivers. If researchers discover the new thing, and five businesses jump on it, now your city is the hot bed for the new thing. You see that with Silicon Valley and saw that in Detroit in the auto industry.

“How does this project affect the average Amarilloan? It begins to stoke that culture of curiosity. It’s a research project. We want to be known as a community that attracts, develops and keeps researchers.”

As much as 16,000 square feet of the Drummond Center will be occupied by TEES. But first things first. At the end of the news conference, Sharp pulled out a Texas A&M flag that will find a flagpole in front of the Drummond Center.

He jokingly told Mike Beck, Vice President of Mission Engineering at CNS and a Texas A&M graduate, that he would be head of quality control for the flag.

“We don’t want it flying upside down while the cameras are rolling,” Sharp said.





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