International contest features NRC commissioner at Environmental Design Colloquium

WERC: A Consortium for Environmental Education and Technology Development, administered through the New Mexico State University College of Engineering, will host the 16th Annual Environmental Design Contest (EDC) April 2-6 at the university.

Commissioner Peter B. Lyons of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will be the featured speaker at the EDC Colloquium on April 5.

Peter Lyons (submitted photo)

NRC Commissioner Peter Lyons will be the featured speaker at an April 5 colloquium as part of the annual Environmental Design Contest at NMSU.

The Environmental Design Contest is the only contest in the world that provides a competitive challenge and means of interaction for university and high school students and practicing professionals involved in environmentally based fields.

The U.S. Department of Energy established WERC as a part of the College of Engineering at NMSU in 1990 with major support from U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M. The WERC group has accomplished significant milestones in research, education and outreach.

“This contest and the whole concept of WERC reflect the need to find new, affordable ways of addressing the management of nuclear, hazardous and solid waste,” Domenici said. “When WERC was created, I couldn’t have predicted nearly 2,000 former WERC students would now have completed their degrees with more than 12,000 professionals having gone through WERC training programs.”

The colloquium will begin at 12:15 p.m. April 5 in the Corbett Center Ballroom at NMSU. The public is invited. Lyons will discuss the impact of the nuclear industry on the future.

Lyons was sworn in as a commissioner of the NRC on Jan. 25. He previously worked as a science adviser to Domenici and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and from 1997 to 2002 focused on military and civilian uses of nuclear technologies, national science policy and nuclear nonproliferation. From 1969 to 1996, he served at Los Alamos National Laboratory as director for industrial partnerships, deputy associate director for energy and environment, and deputy associate director-defense research and applications.

Lyons, who received his doctorate in nuclear astrophysics from the California Institute of Technology, holds three patents related to fiber optics and plasma diagnostics. He served as chair of the NATO Nuclear Effects Task Group for five years.

“The future is what the design contest is all about,” said Abbas Ghassemi, WERC executive director. “As we grow into our 16th year, the design teams continue to evolve and develop critical applications and solutions to some of our nation’s most pressing environmental challenges and public health issues.”

Dean of Engineering Steven P. Castillo said “it is essential to our national security that we inspire the next generation of engineers to come forth. The Environmental Design Contest features some of our best and brightest young minds. The NMSU College of Engineering has made preparation of world-class engineers a priority and the Environmental Design Contest reinforces this goal.”

Two NMSU teams and one from the University of New Mexico will be competing this year. Design teams, typically consisting of six to 10 student members, have spent months developing their engineering solutions, and will be competing for more than $65,000 in prize and travel money, and worldwide recognition from public and private entities. Teams from Hungary, Canada, Mexico and the United States will compete in the university portion of the contest. High school teams will participate in a concurrent competition.

Almost 50 judges, renowned environmental and engineering authorities from industry, government, and academia, will judge 42 teams on written papers, oral presentations, working bench-scale models and poster presentations. The teams will be challenged with tasks such as arsenic treatment for water in rural, isolated communities, which is a problem particularly important to New Mexico; low-energy-use desalination system development; and food facility decontamination, among others. A complete list of tasks is on WERC’s Web site at

EDC week includes Bench-Scale Demonstrations on Tuesday and an Engineering and Technology Career Expo on Wednesday and Thursday. The first Collegiate Entrepreneur’s Business Plan Competition is a new feature of the design contest.

The WERC consortium consists of NMSU (administrative location), the University of New Mexico, New Mexico Tech, Dine College and Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories. For more information call WERC at (505) 646-2038.

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