With President and Labs Director Tom Hunter’s retirement comes the end of a career that started with underground nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site and eventually saw a more diversified national security mission at Sandia that includes much more than nuclear weapons work.
Tom announced his retirement May 13 after five years of leading Sandia and welcomed his successor, Paul Hommert, who currently leads Sandia’s nuclear weapons program. Tom said he will step down July 9.
Paul Hommert was tapped as Labs director by the Sandia Corp. board of directors after an extensive succession planning process, said Sandia Corp. board of directors chair Marillyn Hewson in a memorandum announcing the transition.
“It has truly been a rewarding time for me and one that I think will be an era for our employees to be extremely proud of,” Tom said of his tenure.
Tom didn’t forget those he worked with along the way during the announcement.
“I’d like to thank all the employees for their proud contributions here at the laboratory,” he said. “If I look at the laboratory management team, none at any place are more capable, none are more committed, and, while we’ll continue to become a better and improved place, I’m intensely proud of what the employees at this laboratory have done. I anticipate those contributions will continue and get even better under Paul’s leadership.”
Tom said the biggest change during his 43-year career was the diversification of Sandia’s mission. The mission expanded from mainly nuclear weapons work to a diversity of missions focusing on developing technological solutions and systems for a broad range of national security challenges.
Paul said his greatest challenge as director would be “to bring stability in a long-term sense to this now very diversified institution. There are increasing demands on us that will be necessary to support the nuclear deterrent going forward, but again because of the diversity of our security partners, we have to bring a long-term focus and stability that constitutes a maturity of this now diversified laboratory.”
In her May 13 memo, Hewson said of Paul: “He has an exceptional record of leadership and achievement over a 34-year career, and is uniquely qualified to lead the Labs into the future.”
Hewson also thanked Tom for his service, noting that he “has led the Labs with distinction and with exceptional dedication to our nation and its security. His career has been marked by an overriding commitment to national service.”
Paul, who began working at Sandia in 1976, served as vice president of Sandia’s California site and led Sandia’s homeland security and defense strategic management unit. He has extensive nuclear weapons and national security experience, including homeland security and energy research.
Paul also led Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Applied Physics Division, known as “X” division, from 2003 to 2006. And, he worked for three years as director of research and applied science at the United Kingdom’s Atomic Weapons Establishment.
Paul said the nuclear weapons program remains at the core of Sandia’s mission to ensure the stockpile is safe, secure, and reliable and can fully support the nation’s deterrence policy.
“But Sandia has a significant additional role as a multimission national security laboratory to develop solutions for a wide range of national security challenges and we will also remain committed to those strategic customers,” he said.
Paul said the Labs will miss Tom’s leadership, depth of understanding, experience, and the overall excellence he brought to a wide range of national security issues.
“He has set a high bar when it comes to the things that make his legacy important to Sandia: our workforce, our values, good corporate citizenship, especially in our local communities, and our enduring strategic partnerships. I look forward to building on that legacy,” Paul said. “Tom, thanks for everything that you’ve done for the laboratory and national security.”
‘Broad experience and insight’
NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino called Paul an “excellent choice” to lead Sandia.
“He brings deep knowledge of the nuclear weapons program, as well as broad experience and insight on a range of national security issues,” he said.
D’Agostino also had good things to say about Sandia’s departing director. “As the director of one of the three crown jewels of the scientific infrastructure that supports our national security, Tom was a tremendous partner to me and a true servant of his country. While I will miss his counsel, Tom is leaving Sandia in good hands and well-positioned to build on its 60 years of service to our country,” D’Agostino said.
Tom began his career at Sandia in 1967 as a member of the technical staff working on advanced weapons systems concepts. As a young engineer right out of school, he became a member of the Labs’ Field Test group working at the Nevada Test Site and had to figure out how to recover samples from very close to the nuclear devices being tested.
Before becoming president and Labs director, Tom was in charge of nuclear weapons-related work that accounted for about 60 percent of the Labs’ budget as senior VP and head of the Nuclear Weapons Strategic Management Unit.
Tom served as VP at Sandia’s California site from 1995-1999. Earlier, he served as director of the Energy and Environment Program Center, director of Nuclear Waste Management and Transportation, manager of the Yucca Mountain Project, and leader of the R&D Program for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. He was responsible for developing advanced technology for underground nuclear weapons testing, reactor safety programs, and fusion engineering.
Tom said he has no particular plans for his future, but he wants to maintain close ties to the national security community and his colleagues at universities and laboratories.
Recalling his early days working on nuclear testing at Sandia for a 2004 Lab News article, Tom said: “It was a time at Sandia when you were limited only by your imagination. It was a time in which you were able to dream big and think of things thought to be impossible and how one might do them … .”
He certainly did them. -- Heather Clark
By Patti Koning
In the world of cellular biology, the fact that lipid membranes sometimes spontaneously bend is an accepted phenomenon, but no one has ever conclusively explained the mechanisms driving the curvature. In a research project that brings together synthetic chemistry, bioengineering, and advanced microscopy, Jeanne Stachowiak (8125), Carl Hayden (8353), and Darryl Sasaki (8621) think they may have come across a piece of the answer.
“We discovered that certain confining structures can amplify membrane bending by concentrating the steric interactions between bound proteins,” explains Jeanne. “We took a step back and looked at longer length scales, rather than thinking about a single protein interacting with a single lipid. What we found indicates that when proteins crowd into a small area of the membrane they may be able to cause it to bend.”
Their work was published in a paper, “Steric confinement of proteins on lipid membranes can drive curvature and tubulation,” that appeared in the April 27 issue of the prestigious journal PNAS, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
This insight provides a new way to think about the membrane bending that occurs during basic cellular functions such as endocytosis, the process in which cells absorb external molecules by engulfing them in the cell membrane. Understanding such processes could someday enable programmable biological materials that could be used in far-ranging applications like drug delivery or nanomedicine.
Like so many scientific discoveries, Jeanne, Carl, and Darryl’s breakthrough came when they were looking for something else. Darryl has been working on lipids with a tunable affinity for proteins for 15 years, since his days as a postdoc at Caltech. He and Carl have collaborated on several projects studying ways to bind proteins to a molecular surface, including a Laboratory Directed Research and Development project called “Biomolecular Transport and Separation in Nanotubular Networks.”
Jeanne returned to Sandia in August 2008 after finishing her PhD at the University of California, Berkeley, in Dan Fletcher’s lab, where her research focused on “giant,” that is, cell-sized, vesicles with a single lipid layer.
“Cell-sized vesicles are useful for imaging,” explains Jeanne. “For fun, Darryl wanted to study his protein-binding lipids in a cell-sized vesicle.”
When Darryl and Carl previously imaged those membranes on glass surfaces, the protein-rich domains that formed were stable micrometer-sized structures. Why they did not coalesce into larger structures was hypothesized to be due to interaction with the substrate. Sure enough, on a giant vesicle the protein-rich areas joined together to form one large domain.
“We wanted an image of protein localized to that domain. Surprisingly, when we added protein we saw these long tubes forming,” says Jeanne.
Initially the researchers thought they had stumbled on an interesting self-assembly concept. For further study, Jeanne went back to Fletcher’s lab at Berkeley to use the fast-imaging confocal microscope. By talking with postdocs in the lab, Jeanne realized that they could be looking at a previously undescribed mechanism.
“It was really one of those situations of getting the right group of people together. One of my colleagues at Berkeley who studies endocytosis gave me some papers to read and we suddenly realized that the mechanism we observed could be relevant to cellular processes,” she says. “To us it seemed like a materials phenomenon because we had engineered a synthetic interaction between the protein and the lipid. I wasn’t aware of the significance of membrane bending. It was exciting to learn that these confining structures exist in cells and, in the areas where they may be important, there is not a full explanation for the extreme membrane curvature.”
Jeanne, Darryl, and Carl presented their work at several conferences this spring and were pleased with the positive response. They were also pleased when they learned that Harvard professor George Whitesides, founder of 12 companies including Genzyme and one of the founders of the self-assembly field, served as the editor of their paper.
The work is funded in part by DOE’s Basic Energy Sciences Program in materials science and chemical sciences, which supports the development of biological concepts to create next-generation materials and new approaches to imaging molecular/nanoscale assemblies and fast chemical processes. Jeanne explains that the kind of dramatic reorganization they demonstrated in their paper could be useful as a basic concept for building soft programmable materials.
Now, the researchers are employing microfluidic methods to control the networks of tubules and vesicles that randomly form with the high-affinity protein sites. Such control would represent a significant step toward creating programmable biological materials that could be used in applications like picoliter-scale fluidic transport systems, drug delivery systems, and reconfigurable nanocomposite architectures for sensing, separations, catalysis, and optics. -- Patti Koning
Of the 10 New Mexico companies selected to provide an estimated $156 million in Sandia general construction, mechanical, and electrical work, eight of them are small businesses. The agreements can be extended for up to six years.
The companies will be prime contractors for the Labs, and will compete on individual construction projects as they occur, says Camille Gibson, manager of Infrastructure Operations Procurement Dept. 10243.
“Sandia has successfully used construction partnerships for several years. They provide an ongoing exchange of ideas that has been and will continue to be beneficial to both Sandia and our contractors,” Camille says.
“Having an established group of highly qualified prime contractors allows for competitive prices and a quick turnaround when individual construction projects arise. Construction partnerships also have improved Sandia's construction safety performance over the last decade.”
The prime contractors selected for general construction projects are B&D Industries Inc., Engineering Constructors Inc., Summit Construction Inc., and T.E.F. Construction Inc. The mechanical contractors are BRYCON Construction, Cross Connection Inc., and JB Henderson Construction. The electrical contractors are Del Rio Enterprises Inc., Enterprise Electrical Services Inc., and U S Electrical Corp. All the companies are based in Albuquerque, except BRYCON, which has headquarters in Rio Rancho.
Don Devoti, manager of Small Business Utilization Dept. 10222, says Sandia’s review team should be commended for setting aside 80 percent of the agreements for small businesses.
“Sandia is committed to discovering and using diverse, highly qualified, small business suppliers to assist the Labs in achieving our national security mission. These construction partnership agreements clearly demonstrate and reinforce our commitment to New Mexico’s small business community,” Don says.
Gilbert Aldaz, project manager for Sandia’s Ion Beam Laboratory, says he’s worked with four of the companies that were selected for the most recent agreements and is glad they’ll be working at the Labs.
“They have been excellent partners. It’s the way projects should be built,” Gilbert says. “When you have issues or you have problems, they’re the partners that you want with you.”
Gilbert says when he needs top-quality construction to get a project done under budget, Sandia’s partner companies “come up with the solutions to get problems resolved or determine the most cost-effective and safe method to perform the work.”
Don says Sandia did an “outstanding job” informing suppliers in the community about the construction partnership agreements. There were outreach efforts to announce the construction partnership agreements, including two town hall meetings in Albuquerque in 2008.
The companies were among 25 firms that submitted bids for the construction partnership agreements. More than 60 companies expressed interest in the agreements.
The bidders under went a competitive selection process that included meeting minimum mandatory requirements, providing information about their qualifications and technical skills, undergoing a review by a five-member technical and safety team at Sandia, and successfully completing multiple reviews by NNSA, says Christine Riddle, a contracting representative for Infrastructure Operations Procurement Dept. 10243.
The minimum requirements included being in business for at least three years, being licensed and bonded, and having a safety record that meets certain Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements, Christine says.
While the vast majority of construction at Sandia will be covered by these partnership agreements, there are opportunities for other companies to obtain work from Sandia, says Mateo Aragon, who is also a contracting representative for 10243.
These projects include maintenance, demolition, subcontracting with the prime contractors, and other work, Mateo says. Companies interested in working at Sandia can find out more at http://supplier.sandia.gov/opportunities/selection.aspx. -- Heather Clark