Seventy-five years after its inception, the San Antonio-based Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) continues to be a scientific force in the global research and development world.
During its 75th annual meeting Monday, the nonprofit institute announced that it raised nearly $798 million in 2022 — the highest amount ever in a single year. SwRI staff also highlighted several groundbreaking projects underway at the institute’s 1,500-acre campus on the city’s northwest side.
“We always are trying to develop new opportunities,” said SwRI President and CEO Adam Hamilton. He noted that the institute currently has 350 job openings — the most since Tom Slick Jr. founded SwRI in 1947. “Amazing things are happening here.”
That’s because SwRI continues to broaden its areas of research, Hamilton said, attributing the nonprofit’s record revenue to that approach as well. The institute is already ahead of its 2023 first-quarter projections, and even in the face of an economic downturn, Hamilton said the institute would be largely protected, because federal funding makes up 65% of its research budget.
During the annual meeting, Hamilton introduced 17 new advisory trustees, each of whom will serve three-year terms, and then did a little bragging: in 2022, SwRI received 31 U.S. patent awards, filed 46 patent applications and submitted 39 invention disclosures. The institute also exceeded $7 million in internal research spending last year and initiated 89 new projects.
It also added two new technical divisions, the Space Systems Division and the Solar System Science and Exploration Division, both under a newly formed Space Sector.
Presentations given by SwRI researchers Monday touched on space science and showcased some of the institute’s ongoing research into thermal energy storage, cybersecurity, microbiology and greenhouse gas reduction.
One highlighted project was the Mass Spectrometer for Planetary Exploration, or MASPEX, which will be one of nine instruments aboard NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft.
A spectrometer is a scientific instrument that measures a physical phenomenon. Designed and built by SwRI, MASPEX will analyze the gases near Jupiter’s Europa moon to understand the chemistry of its surface. Like a dog that sniffs for squirrels among trees, the MASPEX will see what specific elements would be needed for life in Europa’s atmosphere. The Europa Clipper is scheduled to launch in 2024 and arrive near Jupiter’s Europa moon in 2030.
Another SwRI project aims to create an internal combustion engine that runs on hydrogen, rather than gasoline, diesel or natural gas. SwRI researchers are working to overcome the challenges hydrogen faces as a fuel, such as its low ignition energy, (which means it catches fire with less energy and is more combustible) that have kept it from becoming more widely used.
SwRI scientists are also working to improve vehicle batteries so they can be used in major industrial vehicles like mining trucks, which can be up to 50 times larger than a typical sedan.
Hamilton repeated a phrase that SwRI appears to have trademarked: that its research spans from “Deep Sea to Deep Space” and everywhere in between.
“In our next 75 years, I think we’re going to be leading in lots of different areas because of the collaborations that we’ve built,” Hamilton said. “We’ll play a big part in advancing the technologies, science and engineering of the future.”