Los Alamos National Laboratory sponsored Aggies Invent; a 48-hour intensive engineering design competition where teams competed for $10,000 in prizes.
Written by Lee Towns ’07
This past weekend, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) sponsored Aggies Invent at the Zachry Engineering Education Complex on the campus of Texas A&M University. Aggies Invent is a 48-hour intensive design experience offered by the Texas A&M University’s Meloy Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program.
Nearly 40 students were organized into teams and competed for $10,000 in scholarship winnings.
Six competition teams were given needs statements that described a national security issue that required them to produce a technically feasible and commercially viable prototype according to a set of design requirements. Statements included everything from solving design problems for an unexploded ordnance (UXO) location system to an unmanned ordinance disablement system.
On Sunday, teams presented their key solutions and prototype to a panel of judges partially made up of Los Alamos National Laboratory staff, including Evelyn Mullen. Mullen, a Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) Senior Director who is currently on-site at the National Laboratories Office as Special Advisor to the Texas A&M Vice Chancellor for Research, Nuclear Engineering Adjunct Professor, and member of the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Class of 1986.
“At Los Alamos, we take on the hardest national security challenges. We’re looking for students that show exceptional abilities to work as part of multi-disciplinary teams to convert ideas into actionable solutions to address real-world national security problems. This event is an opportunity to showcase exceptional Aggie talent.” Said Mullen.
Samika Gandhi, a Freshman at Texas A&M University, and competition participant whose team won third place and a $1,500 prize, commented that, “This is a chance for me to get some hands-on experience. It’s been a good preview to what I’ll be introduced to over the next four years.”
“The important things that I’ve learned from my Los Alamos mentors this weekend are about the realities involved in deploying unmanned vehicles. The methods are painfully slow. It’s important for students like me to understand those realities that our military face to help provide solutions and safer methods to help save lives.”
Instrumental in connecting Los Alamos National Laboratory to the Aggies Invent organizer was Dr. Timothy J. Ulrich II, Director of University Research and Relations. “We had a great time this weekend. The mentors expressed to me that they were highly impressed with the caliber and enthusiasm of students. They thoroughly enjoyed working with them all.” Said Ulrich.
Dr. Ulrich was present throughout the weekend-long competition and participated as a panel judge and said that “As a judge, it was exciting to see the end products, prototypes. I don’t recall having opportunities like this available to me when I was a student, and if they did exist, I’m not sure I would have had the courage to participate. My hat is off to both the Meloy Innovation Program for providing this opportunity and to all the participants for putting themselves out there.”
The weekend’s program director was Chris Finberg, Visiting Lecturer with the Meloy Program, and Innovation Director for PATHS-UP Engineering Research Center. “The amount of creativity and innovation that happens in just 48 hours is amazing. To watch students, form teams, understand the problem, develop viable and novel solutions, create a prototype, 90-second video, and a pitch presentation all in such a short amount of time is inspirational. The world needs innovators, and this event is one way to achieve that goal.”
Dr. Arnold Muyshondt, Assistant Vice Chancellor for the National Laboratories Office of the Texas A&M University System and 25-year veteran of Sandia National Laboratories was a competition judge this past weekend. He stated that, “This is a program that the National Labs Office is very supportive of and wants to see it grow. The program is a great opportunity for students to increase their knowledge about the national labs and hopefully develop an interested in a future career serving our nation.”
“These students are amazing. I am impressed by their capability to form teams and relationships quickly enough to beat the clock. 48 hours is a short amount of time to produce solutions to things like how to contain explosives within an unmanned vehicle across various terrain.” Said Dr. Muyshondt.
Aggies Invent is in its 10th year of existence; held each month during the academic year with sponsorship opportunities available.
In September, Sandia National Laboratories sponsored two competitions. One at Texas A&M University in College Station and the other at Prairie View A&M University.
Chrisma Jackson, Director of Cybersecurity and Mission Computing, and Chief Information Security Officer for Sandia National Laboratories, was on-site as a judge for both Sandia sponsored events.
When asked, “What do you feel is the long-term impact of this invent event and one’s like them?” Jackson replied, “To expose students to complex national security problems. The event helps to build excitement around solving national level engineering problems. We’re not just trying to cheapen a widget; we’re trying to solve critical issues impacting the nation.”
Ms. Jackson holds a Bachelor of Science and master’s in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M University, and an MS in Engineering Mechanics with a specialization in Explosive Theory from New Mexico Tech University.
The Texas A&M University System is one of the largest systems of higher education in the nation, with a budget of $7.2 billion. Through a statewide network of 11 universities, a comprehensive health science center, eight state agencies, and the RELLIS Campus, the Texas A&M System educates more than 152,000 students and makes more than 24 million additional educational contacts through service and outreach programs each year. System-wide, research and development expenditures exceed $1 billion and help drive the state’s economy.
The Texas A&M University System’s National Laboratories Office Supports the Department of Energy’s National Laboratories in execution of their missions as they relate to national security and service.