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Saturday, December 20, 2014

UNM seeking possible partnership for Sandia Lab management

news@dailylobo.com

As the semester draws to a close, UNM continues to search for the perfect company to partner with in its bid to manage Sandia National Laboratories.

UNM President Robert Frank said the University is negotiating with companies that are interested in bidding alongside UNM for management of the labs after current manager Lockheed Martin’s contract expires this fall. But he said no formal agreements are being finalized between UNM and interested companies yet.

“All we know right now is there’s a bunch of companies saying, ‘We might be a bidder,’” Frank said. “We’ve talked with some of the companies that are might-be bidders, but we don’t even know if they would be bidders. It’s nothing formal. It’s sort of like a dating game in a way.”

Frank said the bidding will officially start after the Department of Energy (DOE) releases a request for proposal. Companies will then be allowed to respond to the proposal, and the DOE will select the winning bid.

Frank said the DOE is still working on a draft request for proposal at the moment. He said he does not know when the final request for proposal will be released.

But Frank said UNM is already trying to collaborate with Lockheed Martin, which is thinking of renewing its bid. He said the University is also talking with other engineering companies, such as Northrop Grumman.

Frank said the University of Texas at Austin is the current university partner of Sandia. He said he wants to localize the academic partnership with the scientific facility.

“I don’t think we’re reinventing the wheel here,” he said. “All we ask are a higher level of organization and tighter relationships than we’ve had in the past. We want to up the ante and we want to be kicking out those Longhorns out of here and saying it should be the Lobos.”

Frank said if UNM succeeds in partnering up with a company for management of Sandia, it will help enhance the quality of educational programs at the University.

“Because they’re very important to New Mexico and to our economy, it’s a great opportunity for the University to create alliances to benefit our educational mission,” he said.

Joseph Cecchi, former dean of the School of Engineering appointed by UNM to lead negotiations with the companies, said the partnership will improve UNM’s academic status because prestigious universities often partner up with companies for management of national laboratories.

“We’ve just been engaging with organizations that have come to us and have talked to us,” Cecchi said. “The Department of Energy has 16 labs overall. Most of them have universities as partners in the management. It’s a common way for labs to operate.”

Cecchi said UNM has been working with Sandia regarding scientific projects for years now. He said renewing that partnership with Sandia would also be beneficial for the laboratories because of UNM’s investment in technology fields such as nanotechnology and photonics.

“We bring a good perspective for research collaborations,” he said. “Sandia has a good deal of activity and research in science and technology, and over the years, we’ve programmed to align with them. We have a lot of technologies that are important for Sandia.”

Cecchi said the partnership would help students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields to get a job after college. He said the University could also help commercialize scientific breakthroughs in Sandia using UNM’s nonprofit science and technology corporation called STC.UNM.

But he said the partnership will not benefit only STEM students.

“While much of the involvement will be in students in engineering and sciences, students in the business school could get involved,” he said. “Sandia is also interested in various aspects of public policy.”

Cecchi said he does not expect the University to pull more money out of its budget to pay for the partnership.

“I don’t envision that this would be a tax on UNM resources,” he said. “It would, in most cases, bring more resources in to support these activities.”

Frank said he is optimistic about any expanded future partnership with Sandia, and that he expects it to be beneficial for the University community.

“There’s a lot of good that would come out of this relationship,” he said.