Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

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Los Alamos scientists teach at West Point

Retiring Colonel Edward Naessens nurtured the relationship between the two institutions.
March 1, 2019
Colonel Naessens

Colonel Naessens studied physics at West Point and graduated in 1981. He then attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he earned a master’s in physics and a doctorate in nuclear engineering and science. Here, Colonel Naessens gives Lab Director Charlie McMillian a physics lesson at West Point in April 2015.

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“Colonel Naessens sets the standard for the modern thinking soldier.”- Leo Bitteker

In November 2012, U.S. Army Colonel Edward Naessens sent a letter to then-Laboratory Director Charlie McMillan. “The United States Military Academy at West Point requests that the Los Alamos National Laboratory detail a technically qualified staff member to teach in the Department of Physics and Nuclear Engineering (PaNE),” Naessens wrote. “The position would require teaching approximately half-time, with the remainder of the time spent in scholarship, supervision of cadet and faculty research projects, faculty development, and participation in cadet development activities.”

Naessens, the PaNE department head, was hoping to strengthen the relationship between the Army and Los Alamos, which began more than 75 years ago during the Manhattan Project, which was directed by Army Lieutenant General Leslie Groves.

“Colonel Naessens sets the standard for the modern thinking soldier,” says physicist Leo Bitteker, the first Los Alamos scientist to teach at West Point. Although the Army does not currently have a direct role in the nuclear triad, Army officers serve in key decision-making bodies that relate to nuclear weapons; Naessens had the foresight to realize the importance of building connections between the cadets—aka future officers—and scientists.

Since Bitteker, Laboratory employees Chad Olinger and Shirish Chitanvis have also taught at West Point. And although the tradition will continue, future appointments will never be quite the same. In May, Naessens will retire after 28 years of teaching at West Point.

“Colonel Naessens clearly loved his job as leader of the PaNE Department where he directed the effort to use physics education to build the character of the next generation of officers,” Bitteker remembers. “His passion for PaNE was surpassed only by his passion for soldiering, and we are a safer nation because of his drive and leadership.”