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NEXT Lab brings Pfeifer home to join ACU’s pioneering research program


Dr. Dylan Pfeifer
Dr. Dylan Pfeifer is a research engineer for ACU's NEXT Lab.

When Dr. Dylan Pfeifer joined ACU’s NEXT Lab as a research engineer in August 2018, it was much more than just a homecoming for the Abilene native. NEXT presented Pfeifer with unique opportunities to use his skills and contribute to both ACU and important scientific research.

“ACU has always been a family place for me, but what has become different in the past few years is the growth of the engineering program,” Pfeifer said. “A lot of eyes have turned to ACU because this is a new, ground-breaking initiative. As a career engineer, that is exciting for me, because engineering is a great profession and a great profession for Christians.”

Pfeifer is a full-time staff member at NEXT Lab, which is an acronym for Nuclear Energy eXperimental Testing Laboratory, a pioneering research program at ACU that is identifying ways to use molten salts, rather than water, as a coolant for nuclear reactors. Working in partnership with other universities and government agencies, NEXT Lab has lofty goals, including developing cheaper energy, cleaner water and medical isotopes for fighting cancer.

Students and faculty from several ACU departments, including engineering and physics, participate in NEXT research along with Pfeifer and the rest of the lab staff.

“This is one of the most important projects we can be working on,” Pfeifer said. “This technology is something that deserves effort 24 hours a day.”

While Pfeifer earned his college degrees elsewhere, he comes from a family who has deep roots at ACU. His great-grandmother, Grace White, was the first in the family to attend ACU, nearly a century ago. Pfeifer’s late grandparents, Drs. Rex (’43) and Chris Kyker (’46), both taught for many years at ACU and were active in the Abilene community. His mom and dad, Walt Pfeifer (’70) and the late Dr. Jerilyn (Kyker ’70) Pfeifer, both graduated from ACU. His mother served on the education faculty at ACU and later became the first female principal at Abilene’s Cooper High School.

Coming from such an accomplished family, Pfeifer said he gained an appreciation for learning early in life. He said his family followed a philosophy that they should each do their best to use the gifts and opportunities God gives them.
Pfeifer finds great satisfaction in his role as an engineer, he said.

“Engineering is exciting,” Pfeifer said. “It’s a thrilling kind of occupation. You get to design things and you get to learn about them. You get to work with matter and with things the Lord created.”

Dr. Rusty Towell (’90), director of the NEXT Lab, said ACU presented Pfeifer with a “vision and opportunity that he found compelling and exciting.”

Towell said Pfeifer was being wooed by other employers, some with greater name recognition, but he chose ACU and the NEXT Lab instead.

“I’m thrilled and excited to have him on the team,” Towell said. “He brings lots of talents and skills we need.”

Pfeifer said he is optimistic about the future plans for NEXT Lab and his role at ACU. He hopes to play a role in increasing the research profile for ACU and its engineering program.

Prior to joining the NEXT Lab staff, Pfeifer served as a software engineer for Power Standards Lab and as a design engineer at Intel. He earned both his master’s and Ph.D. degrees in electrical and computer engineering in from the University of Texas at Austin.

Outside of work, Pfeifer’s interests range from ice hockey and sailing to playing the saxophone. His interest in music goes way back. In fact, he earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Yale University before moving into engineering. He still plays in concerts when time permits.

“Everybody in Austin plays a musical instrument,” Pfeifer said with a smile.

Learn more about ACU’s NEXT Lab at

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