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MIT center to tackle energy crisis

MIT President Susan Hockfield has announced the establishment of the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), in line with the recommendations of an Institute-wide group of faculty convened in June 2005 to help MIT understand how best to tackle the world's energy crisis.

Hockfield thanked the members of the Energy Research Council (ERC) for articulating recommendations that will allow MIT, with its unique talents and capabilities, to address what she called "one of the most urgent challenges of our time."

According to Hockfield, in a Sept. 20 letter to the MIT community, MITEI will address "the science, technology, policy, and systems design required to meet the global energy challenge." As a "virtual center," it will progressively build focused research programs, coordinated educational offerings and the necessary campus infrastructure, leading over several years to the establishment of a new interdepartmental laboratory or center that will involve researchers from all five schools.

Hockfield noted that the breakthrough contributions of MIT faculty and students to energy issues will have even greater impact as parts of a coherent answer to the world's energy problems. "When MIT focuses on large issues of great public importance, we are able to get things done," she said.

Commenting that "vision and direction will be critical to the success of this effort," Hockfield announced that MITEI will be led by Ernest J. Moniz, the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics and Engineering Systems and co-director of the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment, and Robert C. Armstrong, the Chevron Professor and head of the Department of Chemical Engineering.

Moniz and Armstrong, who served as co-chairs of the ERC, will be director and associate director, respectively, of MITEI. They will coordinate existing energy activities across the Institute and guide the development of relationships with other institutions, industry and government agencies, Hockfield said.

"Organizationally, the scope and reach across the Institute of the new center envisaged by the ERC are unprecedented, so careful planning and coordination are required at many levels of the MIT administration," according to Vice President for Research and Associate Provost Claude R. Canizares, to whom MITEI will report.

Moniz and Armstrong will play key roles in developing both the agenda and the resources needed to build a major center on campus, said Canizares.

An Energy Council made up of faculty from all five schools will help implement the research and educational goals outlined in the ERC report. Hockfield said its membership would be announced later this semester.

Additionally, two new task forces will focus on education and campus operations. The Energy Education Task Force will work closely with the dean for undergraduate education and academic department chairs to coordinate cross-listed educational offerings, recommend new subjects and begin designing possible core subjects from the undergraduate core to graduate level.

The MIT Energy Management Task Force will provide a venue to connect the research and educational activities of faculty, students and staff to MIT's own physical plant. An External Advisory Committee of industry, academia and government leaders will provide guidance, advice and direction to the leadership of MITEI and to the vice president for research, Hockfield wrote. The heads of both task forces will serve on the Energy Council.

The ERC released its report ( in May 2006. The report, which culminated almost a year of effort by 16 faculty members from all five MIT schools, called for an energy-focused laboratory or center with its own research space to be established within five years, and an independent steering organization to carry out MIT's new energy initiatives.

In developing its recommendations, the ERC solicited input from faculty members, students and staff, as well as from alumni and key industry leaders. An Industrial Liaison Program Industry Energy Workshop in December 2005 provided information on how MIT can best work with industry on energy-related topics.

"The need for new global supplies of affordable, sustainable energy is perhaps the single greatest challenge of the 21st century," the report stated. "Increasing tension between supply and demand is exacerbated by rapidly escalating energy use in developing countries, security issues facing current energy systems and global climate change. These converging factors create an unprecedented scenario requiring a multifaceted approach to increasingly urgent energy issues."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 20, 2006 (download PDF).

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