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Monday, December 22, 2014

Scholars allowed access to labs

Streamlining researchers’ experiments may yield long-term benefits

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@ArdeeTheJourno

An agreement signed by UNM last week will reduce the red tape between the University and Sandia National Laboratories.

University and Sandia administrators on Friday signed the Inter-Institutional Visitor Agreement, which will allow UNM faculty members and certain graduate students to conduct experiments and research while on the national laboratory’s property.

“This is part of the larger effort to try to forge more collaboration between UNM and Sandia,” said Mike Dougher, UNM’s vice provost for research. “What this allows is that once you get that clearance, then our own faculty can actually get into Sandia, use their equipment side-by-side with Sandia technicians and researchers. We can get real collaboration rather than just this collaboration at a distance.”

Before the signing of the agreement, Sandia did not allow UNM faculty to use their equipment for research, Dougher said. Faculty members were required to pass research proposals to Sandia employees, who in turn would conduct the experiments in their facilities.

Dougher said the agreement now allows faculty members and advanced graduate students who work in UNM labs to access Sandia equipment as long as they receive minor clearance from some government agencies, such as the FBI.

Although most students would still not be allowed to conduct research in the facility, Dougher said the agreement will ultimately benefit UNM’s student body.

“It will allow our faculty to be engaged in research that they otherwise would not be able to engage in,” he said. “That’s good for science in general … All that information comes back into the classroom and is taught to undergraduates as well.”

Dougher said the agreement might not save the University money as much as it would save time and hassle for researchers. But he said that in the long run it could generate additional money for UNM.

“It’s just hard to do science from a distance,” he said. “It won’t save us money, but what it might do in the long run is that, as this science develops, it puts faculty in a position to write more grant proposals. It can bring more money into our research office.”

Julia Phillips, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Sandia National Laboratories, said the agreement will not require the facility to dispense more money. She said the agreement does not require the addition of equipment to the labs.

Phillips said the agreement should not only benefit UNM, but will also help ensure the quality of Sandia’s workforce.

“Our scientists love to get involved in forefront, path-breaking research, and this clearly fits in the category,” she said. “We will be working not only with the faculty, but also with students. They will have an opportunity to see our facilities. We hope that they get excited, so when they finish and ready for their next job, they will be good employment candidates.”

Sandia will continue to collaborate with UNM in the future to improve the quality of research in the University, Phillips said. She said the institutions have already talked about the possibility of increasing the number of joint hires, which are Sandia researchers who could also teach at UNM.

“I think it’s a template,” she said. “It’s the first one that we’ve executed, and I look forward to be able to execute a bunch more of them.”