• Dr. O’Neill Wins Rice University Alumni Award

    Kris Osborn

    Dr. Malcolm Ross O’Neill, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology (ASAALT) and Army Acquisition Executive (AAE), received a Distinguished Alumni Award from Rice University in Houston, TX, May 14 for his outstanding professional accomplishments since receiving his Ph.D. 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 ’60s after serving in Vietnam, went on to a distinguished and accomplished career in the U.S. military and industry, culminating in his appointment in 2010 as the ASAALT and AAE.

    Dr. Malcolm Ross O’Neill accepts the Distinguished Alumni Award from Karen Hess Rogers, President, Association of Rice Alumni, and F. Barry Dunning, Sam and Helen Worden Professor of Physics and Chair, Physics and Astronomy Department. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow, Rice University Assistant Photographer.)

    Rice University honored O’Neill for his outstanding record of accomplishment in service to the U.S. military. The 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.”

    A Distinguished Career

    Before being nominated by President Obama to be the ASAALT, O’Neill served in a number of high-ranking positions to include a term as Vice President and Chief Technical Officer at Lockheed Martin Corp.; Director of DOD’s 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 Program Manager of the Army’s Multiple Launch Rocket System.

    During his time at Rice, 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.

    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. My professors treated me with respect and dignity. They treated me like they cared what I thought.

    “It opened up all kinds of doors in the Army, because the Army does not normally have a lot of Ph.D.s 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 dissertation topic in physics, 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. 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.

    “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,” O’Neill 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.”


    • KRIS OSBORN is a Highly Qualified Expert for the ASAALT Office of Strategic Communications. He holds a B.A. in English and political science from Kenyon College and an M.A. in comparative literature from Columbia University.

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