‘A Hidden Gem’, NMSU’s Physical Science Lab Celebrates Diamond Jubilee

By Mike Cook

This year is the Diamond Jubilee of the Laboratory of Physical Sciences (PSL) at New Mexico State University, or 75e anniversary, a major milestone for what NMSU Chief of Staff Leslie Cervantes calls one of southern New Mexico’s “hidden gems”.

“A lot of people don’t know what PSL is or what we do,” said Marcella Shelby, Ph.D., head of strategic initiatives at PSL.

PSL was created in 1946 to support US military telemetry and missile systems, said director Eric L. Sanchez. Now, 75 years later, PSL works with the United States Department of Defense, NASA, Federal Aviation Administration, Los Alamos National Laboratory and many others on a wide range of programs and projects across the countries and around the world. About 40% of the work PSL does is classified, Sanchez said.

Housed in Clinton P. Anderson Hall, 1050 Stewart St., PSL covers 7 acres on NMSU’s Las Cruces campus.

Sanchez, a retired U.S. Army Brigadier General and former White Sands Missile Range commander, is a 1987 Distinguished Military Graduate of the NMSU with a degree in education. He became director of PSL in June 2020 after 32 years of active military service, including deployments to the Middle East and the Republic of Korea, the NMSU said.

Today, PSL’s “domain expertise” continues to include work on telemetry and missile systems, as well as electronic warfare, countermeasures to detect, avoid or distract weapon systems. or an enemy’s tactics, unmanned aerial systems, science balloons (including a program to help bring broadband to the Navajo Nation) and custom flight gear.

PSL is also an asset for business and economic development, Sanchez said, and provides educational and work opportunities for students.

Like many organizations, PSL has been slowed down by the pandemic, Sanchez said. But in mid-July, the installation “was in line with what we were doing before Covid,” he said.

“Over the past 10 years, PSL has contracted and spent on research averaging $ 37 million per year,” Shelby said.

There are plans for major growth for PSL over the next five years, including doubling the size of its program, Sanchez said. This will mean substantial investments in information technology and infrastructure, he said, and an intensification of PSL’s involvement as a regional leader in economic development and its support for student learning and education. preparation for the workforce.

PLS launched the Classified Ready Employee Workforce (CREW) program in 2020 to nurture the next generation of national security workforce, Sanchez said. The two-year co-op program helps students learn about national security and gain permission to access classified systems, making them “very, very marketable” to potential employers, he said. .

CREW students have often been hired prior to graduation by companies like General Dynamics and Northrup Grumman and “are now leaders in the field,” said Shelby, who earned a doctorate in economic development from NMSU in 2015. After graduation, she worked for the New Mexico Economic Development Loan Fund and then moved to California. Shelby returned to NMSU to work for PSL in August 2020.

CREW has gained national attention from executives at Spaceport America, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and others, Sanchez and Shelby said.

“It has to be a national program,” Sanchez said.

PSL currently has around 150 employees, including engineers, scientists and support staff, and that number is expected to increase to 200 by the end of 2022, Shelby said. The lab employs an average of 25 students and 10 co-op students each semester.

“Since 1946, nearly 20,000 students have passed through our doors as student and co-op employees,” Shelby said.

PSL has an “enthusiastic and dedicated workforce,” said Sanchez. “Everyone gives 100% every day. “

As PSL gets additional grants and contracts, there are “a lot of ideas and a lot of opportunities for innovation,” Shelby said.

“For NMSU to be successful, PSL must be successful,” Sanchez said.

“PSL has such a rich history of working on issues of national importance,” said NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu. “When I was a student in the 1970s, PSL was a vibrant place that did a great job, especially with satellite tracking around the world. At the time, they had hundreds of co-op students, including several of my friends. PSL is a great asset to the country, to our state and to the NMSU. “

Clinton P. Anderson Hall

The building that houses PSL was built in 1965 and consecrated that on October 23 of the same year, the 70e birthday of U.S. Senator Clinton Presba Anderson, DN.M.

Anderson (1895-1975) was a United States Senator from 1949 to 1973 and was a member of the United States House of Representatives from New Mexico, was United States Secretary of Agriculture during the Truman administration (1945-48) and was the ninth treasurer of the state of New Mexico. (1933-34).

More than 800 people attended the dedication, which included a birthday cake for Anderson. Baked by the NMSU Food Service Bakery, it was the largest cake ever baked in the state, including over 100 pounds of frosting, according to NMSU records. Anderson was chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences, 1963-73, and was a strong supporter of the United States space program.

Visit psl.nmsu.edu.

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