•Most Promising Engineer Advanced Degree – Master’s•

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Humberto Santacruz

Arming, Fuzing, and Firing (AF&F) Lead

W76-1 Program

Sandia National Laboratories

Education: M.S. and B.S., electrical engineering, University of Texas at El Paso.


At only 31 years of age, Humberto Santacruz holds one of the most significant positions in the Weapon Systems Engineering Center at Sandia National Laboratories. As the lead engineer for arming, fuzing, and firing (AF&F) the W76-1 nuclear warhead, a coveted role typically reserved for much more senior staff, he is responsible for a critical piece for one of the pillars of the national defense of the United States.


The W76-1 is specially designed for submarine-based ballistic missiles, and the AF&F is the electro-mechanical brain that controls the operation and safety of the warhead.  It is a crucial responsibility, and Mr. Santacruz has travelled a long road to be entrusted with it.


Born in El Paso, Texas, he spent his early years across the Mexican border in Ciudad Juarez, where his father, an electrical engineer for Telemex, instilled a sense of intense scientific curiosity in his three sons. After his family emigrated to the U.S. for the superior educational opportunities it offered, Mr. Santacruz overcame the initial linguistic barriers, excelling through the universal language of math. 


By the time he graduated from high school, he was in the top 1% of his class with over 45 college credits already earned from the AP courses that he took and easily earning him a presidential scholarship to the University of Texas, El Paso. At UTEP, he was a regular on the Dean’s List and garnered numerous honors, including a Texas Instruments Foundation Endowed Scholarship and the UTEP Electrical Engineer Top Senior Project award.  He was also named a NACME scholar, a Golden Key member, and a UTEP Merit Scholar.


Mr. Santacruz joined the Sandia National Laboratories right after earning his M.S. at UTEP.  Soon, he found himself immersed in the Weapons Intern Program, a rigorous one-year introduction to the U.S. nuclear weapons program that helped him realize what an important role he was going to be playing in maintaining America’s nuclear deterrence capabilities. Assigned to a team tasked with updating and refurbishing an aging nuclear weapons stockpile, He quickly rose to a position leading the development and testing of the electronic components for the W76 refurbishments. He plays a major role in the “surveillance” program in which random sample systems and components are pulled from the stockpile for testing to ensure the weapons are reliable, safe, and ready to use if the need ever arises.


Despite his critical position, Mr. Santacruz has never forgotten to contribute to the community that he is helping to defend, acting as an influential and important role model for the Hispanic community. He has mentored high school students in calculus and other subjects, spoken at career day events to encourage kids to become scientists and engineers, and mentored students to help them with educational and personal challenges. In his church, he’s been a choir director and has taught in the youth ministry program. His positivity, innovative ideas, and outstanding work ethic are something that young people see and want to emulate, while his role in our nation’s defense is keeping them and the rest of the country safe from harm.

-By Vinnie Longobardo