Stefanie Tompkins DARPA

Courtesy Colorado School of Mines Stefanie Tompkins

has been appointed director of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, the school announced Monday

The Biden administration is tapping an executive at the Colorado School of Mines to head the secretive agency that develops advanced technology for the military, the school said Monday.

Stefanie Tompkins, a former Army intelligence officer and vice president for research and technology transfer at Mines for the last three years, has been appointed director of the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.

Famous for supporting research that eventually led to creation of the internet, DARPA spends about $3.5 billion annually developing technology that resembles the creations of science fiction, from bioengineering to jetpacks.

Tompkins worked at DARPA for 11 years prior to her stint at Mines, most recently as acting deputy director. Before that, she led the agency's Defense Sciences Office, overseeing research in fields ranging from atomic physics, biochemistry and materials science.

Mines President Paul C. Johnson said in a statement that Tompkins is ideally suited to lead an agency that combines innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit.

"Dr. Tompkins is a hands-on, highly engaged and visionary leader who genuinely enjoys helping others advance their ideas and innovations. During her tenure, Mines has expanded the scope, scale and impact of its research, and built solid partnerships with industry, U.S. and international universities, and government agencies and labs," he said.

"These successes reflect Dr. Tompkins' extraordinary skills as an administrator, bridge builder and partner. Like my colleagues across campus, I am thrilled for Stefanie and DARPA, and am going to miss her."

America's next fighter ace could be a software engineer if a contest run by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency finds success. The Pentagon's mad scientists are looking for computer programs that "can perform simulated within-visual-range air combat maneuvering, colloquially known as a dogfight."

Defense One was first to report Tompkins was in line for the appointment, which doesn't require Senate confirmation.

Trained as a geologist, with an undergraduate degree from Princeton University and graduate degrees from Brown University, Tompkins spent 10 years in the private sector, including work as a scientist and manager at Science Applications International Corporation, where she conducted and managed research in planetary geology and imaging, Air Force Magazine reported.

"It will be difficult to leave Mines, but my time here has helped prepare me for a number of national challenges, such as critical mineral supply chains, about which I knew little when I first arrived," Tompkins said in a statement.

"I also have a much deeper understanding of academia’s role in the national security research ecosystem, and look forward to renewed engagement with the many universities working on DARPA programs.”

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