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New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology – Socorro, New Mexico

New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology – Socorro, New Mexico

“Where can I go to blow stuff up?”

OK, that’s not actually a question most counselors hear, but the truth is that the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology is exactly where people go when they want to blow stuff up. Mythbusters goes to New Mexico Tech; Warner Brothers does research for the Roadrunner cartoons at New Mexico Tech. Oh, and Homeland Security has an … “unusual” … relationship with New Mexico Tech.

Established as the New Mexico School of Mines in the nineteenth century, New Mexico Tech has evolved into one of the premiere small technological universities in the world, especially interesting in its pursuit of certain fields outside the parameters of most tech school curricula. One commonly heard joke about Tech is that it is a research center that just happens to have a university, and that’s not far from the truth.

The basic facts about the place are these: New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology is a very small university, enrolling about thirteen hundred students on a campus of about four hundred acres in Socorro, New Mexico, although Tech also OWNS another town that it uses as a research facility. Socorro is a small town – population is about nine thousand – located seventy-five miles south of Albuquerque at an elevation of more than four thousand feet. The town is on the Rio Grande and at the foot of the Magdalena Mountains. Outdoor recreation is nearby in the Cibola National Forest, the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge and the Sevilleta Wildlife Refuge. The two most notable advantages of life in Socorro are that the sun shines three hundred days a year (!) and the town is the site of a well-documented UFO sighting.

It’s the incredible activity on campus, however that sets New Mexico Tech apart from any other college in the world. A quick glance at the course catalog indicates that degrees are offered in Math, the Sciences, Chemical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Communication, Computer Science, Earth Science, Electrical Engineering, Environmental Engineering, Management, Materials Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Mineral Engineering, and Petroleum Engineering.

A far more reflective indicator of Tech’s ambition, however, is the range of its research centers.

The sexiest by far is the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center (EMRTC). Energetic materials, by the way, is a scientific way of describing things that blow up, hence the assertion that if you want to see materials get energetic, you might want to visit Socorro. On the other hand, if you intend to operate a glass window showroom, you might want to move as far away from Socorro as possible. The early morning explosions apparently help Socorrans start the day. The seriousness of the work done at New Mexico Tech is made clear, however, by such experiments as recreating the car bomb left in Times Square and evaluating its impact and determining ways of avoiding or mitigating the blast.

Equally compelling and maybe just a bit more odd is the counter-terrorism and first responder research site at Playas, New Mexico. Playas was an actual town at one point with a real population doing real work at the copper smelting facility. When the smelter closed, residents were evicted, the bowling alley closed, the bar shut down. The State of New Mexico and New Mexico Tech approached the Bureau of Homeland Security and established this training and research site. Because the town is an actual real town, it offers a real life simulation as Homeland Security works with Tech to operate in times of crisis. Oh, and the guys get energetic with materials out here as well.

The Magdalena Ridge Observatory is primarily sponsored by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and is operated in conjunction with the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University. Magdalena Ridge is near the summit of South Baldy Mountain at an altitude of about sixteen hundred feet. By the end of two thousand and thirteen, the observatory should be fully functional; the plan is to install a ten-element optical interferometer and a single-mirror 2.4-meter fast-tracking optical telescope.

Perhaps the stars are too far away to catch your attention. How about the Earth’s interior? The IRIS (Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology) Consortium has a lot to do with earthquakes and subsurface activity, but it also keeps track of violations of Test Ban Treaties. Central to that work is the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) Program for Array Seismic Studies of the Continental Lithosphere (PASSCAL) Instrument Center and EarthScope USArray Array Operations Facility which, as you might have guessed, is housed at New Mexico Tech.

Want to have your head in the clouds? The Langmuir Laboratory for Atmospheric Research is adjacent to the Magdalena Ridge Observatory. Apparently the site is particularly well located in that it is at some elevation and exactly where the greatest concentration of storms occurs.

The Petroleum Research and Recovery Center allows students to do extensive research in groundbreaking methods of gas and petroleum extraction. It goes without saying that this center is almost fully underwritten by state and federal agencies, and it probably needs saying that the work done is in the areas of Petrophysics and Surface Chemistry, Gas Flooding Processes and Flow Heterogeneities, Reservoir Sweep Improvement, Reservoir Evaluation/Advanced Computational Technologies, and Carbon Sequestration and Membrane Technology.

Finally, Tech operates the Institute for Complex Additive Systems Analysis (ICASA) in order to study large-scale infrastructure systems. In case that sound academic and fuzzy-wuzzy, the CIA finds the center absolutely essential in the training of analysts, scientists and engineers in the evaluating of critical information.


All of this takes place on a campus with a distinctly Southwestern feel. The newest buildings, like the Student Center, are impressively modern; the library and dormitories certainly attractive enough, but functional. Tech operates two all-male dorms, two all-female dorms, and two co-ed dorms. In addition, apartments are available to upper class students, and a good number live in what tech calls the Living/Learning Communities. Examples of the communities include one dedicated to sustainability, and one is all about computer science, one called “Spaceship Earth” is about the biosphere assessing.

Despite the obvious rigor of the program at New Mexico Tech, students do have the occasional odd moment for recreation, and the array of student organizations will also speak to the character of the exceptional students who find their way to Socorro. There is Student Government, newspaper, yearbook, and a radio station, as might be expected, but also a belly dancing club, a caving club, a ballroom dancing club, the Adventurer’s Guild (a gaming club), and a billiards club. The Society for Creative Anachronism has a chapter (College of St. Golias), and sports are represented with a great deal of cycling, running, rugby, soccer, skiing and snow boarding.

Not for everyone, New Mexico Tech is a state university with a TOTAL cost of seventeen thousand dollars for in-state students and twenty-seven thousand dollars for out-of-state students. That includes tuition, room, board, and fees for the year.

In recent years, the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology has received approximately 612 applications and has accepted approximately 430 in order to enroll 322. The rate of acceptance in the past few admissions seasons has ranged from 62% to 70%.

Enrolled students are 63% white non-Hispanic, 32% female, and 68% male.  Approximately 79% of enrolled students are from New Mexico.


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