Army acquisition chief honored by Rice University
May 20, 2011
By Kris Osborn
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 20, 2011) - Army acquisition executive Malcolm R. O'Neill received a distinguished alumni award from Rice University in Houston, Texas, May 14 for his outstanding professional accomplishments since receiving a doctorate in physics from the school in 1975.
"Rice is my favorite academic institution - they were very nice to me when I was a young Soldier and I had been asked to attend graduate school," O'Neill said upon learning of his award. "My professors treated me with respect and dignity. They treated me like they cared what I thought."
O'Neill - who attended Rice to do graduate work in physics for the first time in the late 60's after serving in Vietnam - went on to a distinguished and accomplished career in the military and industry to include his current position as assistant secretary of the Army - Acquisition, Logistics and Technology.
Rice University honored O'Neill for his outstanding record of accomplishment in service to the United States Military. Criteria for the Distinguished Alumni Award describe the honor as "reserved for those who have advanced the interests and standards of excellence of Rice University through distinctive professional or volunteer careers."
Prior to his nomination by President Barack Obama to his current assignment, O'Neill served in a number of high-ranking positions to include a term as vice president and chief technical officer at Lockheed Martin Corporation; director of the Department of Defense Ballistic Missile Defense Organization; and as the director of the Army Acquisition Corps.
O'Neill, a retired Army lieutenant general, also served as chairman of the board on Army science and technology for the National Academies, Commander, U.S. Army Laboratory Command, director of Kinetic Energy Weapons at the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization and as program manager of the Army's Multiple Launch Rocket System.
It was during his time at Rice that O'Neill decided to pursue a career in atomic physics, something he describes as "the interface between physics and chemistry."
O'Neill credits academic and Army mentors for much of his success and said his graduate work in physics at Rice greatly contributed to his numerous professional achievements.
"It opened up all kinds of doors in the Army because the Army does not normally have a lot of PhDs in physics," he said. "It's the scientific training that you get - asking the questions and probing for information, reading references and then being able to distill out of that what is applicable to the challenges that you have," O'Neill explained.
When asked about his physics dissertation, O'Neill seemed to recall the details as if it were yesterday, speaking enthusiastically about an experiment designed to determine the "spin" properties of electrons bounced off a crystal surface.
"They call it low energy electron diffraction - when the electrons come off they will have a preferential direction. An electron can have a spin where its magnetic moment is up or down depending upon which way it spins," he said.
"When you are doing scattering experiments in physics, you want to know everything you possibly can about the electrons....you want to know the velocity, the energy, etc... one of the things they thought they could not know was the 'spin," he added.
Knowing the "spin" properties of how electrons behave can help scientists more easily predict the outcome of an interaction between electrons and matter, O'Neill explained.