Dr. Anthony Thornton, PhD '92

Deputy VP for Technology & Programs, Sandia National Laboratories

 2015 AAE Distinguished Engineering Alum: "For decades of excellence in advancing critical technologies for national defense in vital leadership roles at both Sandia National Laboratories and Lockheed Martin Aeronautics"

As a youth, Anthony Thornton says he understood that fish "fly through water as birds swim through air." He was always good in math, but the science of flight captured his imagination when his dad, a career-enlisted Air Force man, took him to witness B-52 take-offs.

"I was fascinated that something that large could get off the ground without flapping its wings," he says. "I was determined to understand how that worked. During my engineering education, the most challenging subject matter for me was fluid dynamics. My passion for fluid dynamics led to an exciting career in the aerospace industry."

As an undergraduate studying aerospace engineering at the University of Colorado, he was recruited by Sandia National Laboratories into its "One-Year-on-Campus" master's degree program. After receiving his MS from Stanford University, Thornton returned to SNL and joined the U.S. Navy as a reservist in the mid-80s. He had visions of becoming an astronaut, which led him to Purdue.

"I knew that Purdue produced more astronauts than any other non-military institution," he says, "so I decided to pursue my PhD at Purdue. I believed the school’s pedigree would open doors for me." SNL supported him through his PhD, and he ultimately chose to return to Sandia given attractive career opportunities and challenging national security problems.

"Sandia supported my graduate degrees, and they’ve given me a great career," he says. "In addition, I got to work at the famed Skunk Works facility, a dream for any aerospace engineer." At SNL, Thornton currently oversees R&D for seven program areas that encompass cyber security to surveillance and reconnaissance, to advanced weapon systems in directed energy and hypersonic systems, to space-based remote sensing for nuclear weapons and treaty verification, and to science and technology programs engaged in basic fundamental research.

As the first African-American director in Sandia’s history, Anthony received the National 2001 Black Engineer of the Year Award in Professional Achievement.

Career Highlights

2010-present Deputy to Vice President for Technology & Programs, Defense Systems & Assessments Program Office, Sandia National Laboratories
2005–2010 Deputy Director, Validation and Qualification Sciences Group, Sandia National Laboratories
2003–2005 Deputy Director, Joint Strike Fighter New Initiatives Office, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company
2001–2003 Deputy Program Director, Korea T-50 Program, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company
2000–2001 Senior Manager of Strategy Deployment, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company
1997–2000 Senior R&D Engineer, Flight Sciences Division, Advanced Development Programs, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company
1994–1997 Director, Diversity Leadership and Education Outreach, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company
1992 PhD AAE, Purdue University
1980 MS AME, Stanford University
1978 BS AES, University of Colorado

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