Tom Bailey’s (’71) career as a professional mechanical engineer didn’t end when he retired in 2013 from Weatherford International, a Houston-based oilfield service company.
But it did change directions. In Houston, Bailey was director of a large engineering department. Today, he is a senior mechanical engineer in ACU’s NEXT Lab, working with faculty and mentoring students.
Bailey previously worked in geothermal design, and it is that experience that is especially relevant to his work at ACU. During his 45-plus years as a licensed engineer, he developed numerous products that supported new technologies such as horizontal drilling, underbalanced drilling, managed pressure drilling and geothermal development. He was awarded more than 70 patents and served on industry committees that wrote standards for operations and equipment.
“I have knowledge of how to build equipment that will withstand high temperatures,” he said, a skill that fits perfectly with Next Lab’s objectives.
NEXT is an acronym for Nuclear Energy eXperimental Testing Laboratory, a research program at ACU that is experimenting with using molten salts, rather than water, as a coolant for nuclear reactors. Inside the lab, students and faculty conduct experiments that could someday lead to global solutions to the world’s need for energy that is less expensive, water that is pure and abundant, and medical isotopes used to diagnose and treat cancer.
Bailey’s connection to the NEXT Lab, headed by Dr. Rusty Towell (’90), grew from meeting someone at his church who was serving on the lab’s advisory board. Bailey was asked to serve on the board, too, and his current position evolved from that.
Bailey joined the NEXT Lab team in May 2019. The lab always has several sub-projects going in addition to its experimenting with molten salts. Bailey leads two of those sub-projects, where he supervises the work of a specific team of students.
“So far, it’s been very good,” he said, “and I’ve very much enjoyed it.”
Bailey has been impressed with the lab, its staff, and the students who someday will be physicists and engineers. Bailey knows they will be well prepared for the next step, whether going directly into the industry or enrolling in graduate school.
That aspect of being at ACU isn’t surprising to Bailey. He attended the university for one year before enrolling at the University of Houston in order to get an engineering degree, something ACU only added in recent years. A Louisiana native, Bailey grew up in Texas and graduated high school at Spring Branch Memorial. He earned an engineering degree from the University of Houston in 1972.
“I went to work immediately,” he said.
Bailey’s year at ACU isn’t his only connection with the university. He and his wife, Leatha, a retired church pre-school director, are the parents of one son and two daughters. All three attended ACU, and two are graduates. One of the daughters, Lettie Morrow (’08), lives in Abilene with her husband, Kile, and their son, Luke, 8. That grandson drew the Baileys to Abilene, and they are glad they made the decision.
Bailey has settled in at the NEXT Lab and is pleased to have the opportunity to help guide the next generation of physicists and engineers, especially ones that are doing such valuable research as undergraduates.
“I’m glad to be a part of it,” Bailey said. “I believe we’re going to be successful.”