Sandia LabNews

Tom Hunter brings decades of research, engineering, and leadership experience to Labs’ top position

Tom Hunter brings decades of research, engineering, and leadership experience to Labs’ top position

Tom Hunter, who joined Sandia in 1967 as a member of the technical staff working in advanced weapons systems concepts, has served in a number of leadership capacities closely related to the Labs’ core missions.

Before being named Sandia President and Laboratories Director on Monday (the appointment takes effect April 29), Tom served most recently as Senior VP and head of the Sandia Nuclear Weapons Strategic Management Unit. In that capacity, he has been responsible for nuclear weapons-related work accounting for some
60 percent of Sandia’s $2.2 billion annual budget.

Diverse responsibilities

As head of the NWSMU and VP of Division 9000, Tom’s responsibilities have included oversight of research programs in microelectronics, materials science, engineering science, computer science, and pulsed power; nuclear weapons engineering; information systems and technology; production and manufacturing; advanced computing, computational engineering science, environmental testing, corporate information systems, and systems integration.

From October 1995 to March 1999 he was VP at Sandia’s California site. His responsibilities there included managing programs in nuclear weapons R&D, nonproliferation, advanced manufacturing technology, information systems, environmental technology, and energy research. As site manager in California, Tom was responsible for community and government outreach. He also served as corporate leader of development for nonproliferation, arms control, and materials management programs.

In earlier positions, Tom was Director of the Energy and Environment Program Center, where he coordinated Sandia’s activities in energy development and environmental quality. He emphasized international energy and environment development and supporting information systems. He led Sandia and US DOE laboratory programs to establish cooperative R&D programs in the former Soviet Union to support nuclear nonproliferation.
Tom also served as 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, respectively. He was responsible for developing advanced technology for underground nuclear weapons testing, reactor safety programs, and fusion engineering.

A time to dream big

Four months ago in the Dec. 10, 2004, Lab News, Tom recalled his early days at Sandia. “It was a time . . . when you were only limited by your imagination. It was a time in which you were able to dream big and think of things that had thought to be impossible and how one might do them . . . .”

In that same story, Tom recalled how tackling the large, complex engineering challenges of the weapons program immersed him in the Sandia culture: “As a formative thing for a staff member, it allows you to face the depths of apparent failure and the heights of apparent success, all in a period of a matter of months. We taxed the entire laboratory, including the procurement organization — they had to do things in unprecedented timeframes. The experience, more than any other, probably formed my impression of what it means to work at Sandia.”

In a Lab News Q&A in October 2003, Tom talked about the things he finds most satisfying about his job: “The most rewarding part of the job is clearly teamwork that has an impact. The ability for the laboratory to team together, particularly across the Nuclear Weapons Leadership Council, to achieve a common goal with the other laboratories for example, is very rewarding. The other thing that’s rewarding is to be able to represent Sandia in numerous outside forums. Being engaged in the national debate, representing Sandia, is extremely rewarding because we have an excellent reputation and we’re viewed as people who deliver and who think deeply.”

New staff and powerful vision for MESA

“Another [satisfying aspect of the job] is the new staff. We’ve made a deliberate effort to bring new staff into the weapons program. We’ve seen significant new blood in the Laboratory and they bring ideas and energy that we really need.”

Under Tom’s stewardship as head of the NWSMU, Sandia’s largest construction project ever, MESA — the Microsystems and Engineering Sciences Applications complex — moved from vision to reality. During the MESA groundbreaking ceremony, Tom spoke about the MESA vision:

“The [MESA] vision was simple! It was based on three ideas:

  • “Imagine how engineering and the engineering of nuclear weapons could be revolutionized by creating the design environment of the future.
  • “Imagine how modeling and simulation through the truly remarkable power of supercomputers can enable that environment.
  • “Imagine how integrated microsystems can allow a whole new level of function and flexibility in the nation’s nuclear deterrent.

“Imagine then how revolutionary the best of these three ideas would be if brought together in one place. That is the vision of MESA. Today we celebrate that vision and dedicate this place and ourselves to making it real.”

Tom has been active in leadership roles outside the Labs, as well. He served as a panel member for the National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council, as well as the chair for the Board of Visitors for the Dean of the College of Engineering, University of California at Davis. He serves on the Engineering Advisory Board for the University of Florida, and is the author of numerous technical papers and presentations. He has served on various review groups with other DOE laboratories. Earlier, he was an adjunct professor at the University of New Mexico.

Tom earned a BS in mechanical engineering from the University of Florida, an MS in mechanical engineering from the University of New Mexico, and an MS and PhD in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin. Tom was recognized as a distinguished alumnus by the University of Florida and the University of Wisconsin.