New UT/ORNL Center: Taking on the World’s Energy Problems and Translating Intellectual Capital into Economic Investment

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KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), is launching an academic unit that seeks to transform the energy industry in our country and the world, as well as the state and local economies.

Called the UTK/ORNL Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education (CIRE), CIRE will train scientists to take on the world’s most challenging energy problems by working with teams of researchers making scientific breakthroughs that could become thriving business enterprises. Last month, CIRE had its unique doctoral degree in energy science and engineering approved by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, named its first set of faculty and began the process of naming its inaugural class.

When it officially opens in August, CIRE will offer one of the country’s first interdisciplinary doctoral degrees in energy science and engineering which will educate students in energy-related fields that are increasingly important to the state, country and world.

“Our state, nation and world are at the precipice of an energy crisis, and our university should be a leader in supplying students who can help solve this crisis. By combining the educational resources of our comprehensive research university and the research capabilities of the major national laboratory, we are aligning these talented, young scientists with the necessary tools to provide cutting-edge research to solve this energy dilemma,” said UT Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek.

UT and ORNL recruited for the inaugural class at some of the most prestigious universities in the nation, yielding candidates from the University of Virginia, the University of Michigan, Northwestern University, the California Institute of Technology, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, The Ohio State University and Purdue University, among others. The curriculum was developed with input from leaders of energy-related industries such as Chevron, DuPont, Siemens and Exxon Mobil.

The program will focus on six areas of research that address 10 of the grand challenges the country faces in the energy arena: nuclear energy, bioenergy and biofuels, renewable energy, energy conversion and storage, distributed energy and grid management, and environmental and climate sciences related to energy.

For instance, energy science and engineering graduates will be a source of talent in Tennessee in the continuing development of Nissan’s all-electric Leaf, the new Volunteer State Solar Initiative, as well as attracting pre-eminent new energy industries to the state. The regional and national scene is similarly in need of solutions to extreme energy-related problems which bring with them opportunities for economic development in the form of new businesses, new jobs and new careers.

“The program will prepare students to meet the needs of energy-related industries in the country and in the state,” said Lee Riedinger, CIRE director. “There is overlap in CIRE’s coursework and the emphases of these expanding industries in Tennessee, so we will be producing Ph.D.s to work in research and development and in management in these industries.”

The CIRE program also will translate intellectual capital into financial capital by with UT Knoxville’s College of Business Administration in developing and implementing business plans for students who want to take their ideas to market by partnering them with scientists with entrepreneurial experience.

CIRE is part of the Tennessee lawmakers’ landmark Complete College Tennessee Act passed a year ago to reform state higher education. CIRE’s role in reform is to enhance research for state economic development. Each graduate student brings with him or her research dollars and potential job opportunities aiding the local and state economies. The center will also be instrumental in helping UT Knoxville in its mission to become a Top 25 public research institution by increasing its number of doctoral students.

CIRE continues a longstanding partnership between UT Knoxville and ORNL. The two institutions have collaborated for more than 50 years and currently share more than 50 appointments, five institutes and successful Governor’s Chair and Distinguished Scientists programs. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Energy extended the $1.6 billion contract for UT and Battelle Memorial Institute to co-manage ORNL for another five years ensuring Tennessee will be well-positioned to continue to attract research investments and other economic benefits generated by ORNL.

The center is co-located at UT Knoxville and ORNL.

C O N T A C T :

Lee Riedinger, CIRE (865-719-4898, lrieding@utk.edu)

Whitney Holmes, UT Media Relations (865-974-5460, wholmes7@utk.edu)

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