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05/08/2009 - Kavli Prize Laureate to Co-Lead Energy Frontier Research Center at Columbia University

(Originally published by Columbia University)

May 8, 2009

Columbia University will become home to one of 46 new Energy Frontier Research Centers announced this week by the White House in conjunction with a speech by President Barack Obama to the National Academy of Sciences. The new centers, which will pursue advanced scientific research on energy, are being established by the U.S. Department of Energy at universities, national laboratories, nonprofit organizations and private firms across the nation.

The Columbia-led center—one of 16 to be funded by President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—will focus on the scientific and engineering basics necessary to achieve cost-effective and efficient solar cell systems. Up to $16 million in federal funding is planned. New York Governor David A. Paterson has promised to match a significant portion of the funds. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) will contribute $250,000, and the New York State Foundation for Science, Technology and Innovation (NYSTAR) has offered access to the supercomputers at the Brookhaven National Laboratory and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

“As global energy demand grows over this century, there is an urgent need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and imported oil and curtail greenhouse gas emissions,” said Steven Chu, U.S. secretary of energy. “Meeting this challenge will require significant scientific advances. These centers will mobilize the enormous talents and skills of our nation’s scientific workforce in pursuit of the breakthroughs that are essential to make alternative and renewable energy truly viable as large-scale replacements for fossil fuels.”

A solar cellA close-up of a solar cell. The Columbia-led center—one of 16 to be funded by President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—will focus on the scientific and engineering basics necessary to achieve cost-effective and efficient solar cell systems. (Source: Columbia University)

Columbia’s interdisciplinary team will be led by Louis Brus, the Samuel Latham Mitchell Professor of Chemistry, professor of chemical engineering and recent winner of the Kavli Prize, and Tony Heinz, the David M. Rickey Professor of Optical Communications in the faculty of engineering and applied science, and professor of physics. James Yardley, senior research scientist in the department of electrical engineering, will serve as managing director.

The centers chosen for funding provide employment for postdoctoral associates, graduate students, undergraduates, and technical staff, in keeping with the Recovery Act’s objective to preserve and create jobs and promote economic recovery. They were selected from a pool of some 260 applications received in response to a solicitation issued by the Department of Energy in 2008.

“This Department of Energy award will enable Columbia to build on our understanding of nano-particles to examine new ways to extract solar energy more efficiently,” said David Hirsh, Columbia’s executive vice president for research. “This is not only a powerful statement about the university’s longstanding scientific and technological expertise in climate change, adaptation and sustainable energy, but an investment in the state’s leadership in this vital area of our nation’s economic and environmental future.  We are grateful to Governor Paterson, to NYSERDA and to NYSTAR for their support of scientists and engineers in their quest to develop more efficient energy.”

The Columbia research team, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Minnesota, the University of Arkansas and Purdue University, expects to accelerate the capture and use of solar energy. This program will operate in concert with Columbia’s earth and environmental engineering department and its Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy.

Columbia has long been a leader of pioneering research on the environment, energy and climate change. Across its campuses, a diverse range of schools, centers and institutes are working to advance the world’s understanding of and solutions for complex environmental issues, from developing technologies that capture atmospheric carbon to devising adaptation policies locally and globally. At its home in New York City, Columbia has made important steps to reducing its own greenhouse emissions by 30 percent in the next 10 years as part of Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC initiative to create a sustainable future for New York City.

Original press release

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