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New initiative aims to unite energy efforts

Duke is launching a new Energy Initiative to bring students, faculty and alumni together to investigate the current world energy system and to develop alternative solutions to world energy problems.

The Duke University Energy Initiative will increase University course offerings that focus on energy, hire more faculty members with a specialty in energy and promote innovative technology through additional research projects. The initiative also aims to invite more speakers to contribute to new energy-related seminars in order to engage students in interactions with policymakers on energy issues.

Using energy as a focal point, the project, which the University announced Nov. 16, aims to solve critical political and social problems in three different areas—the economy, environment and security challenges.

“[We have to understand] how we are going to meet the energy demand in production and usage of energy and as a strategic commodity, how energy influences international and domestic relationships,” said Richard Newell, director of the Energy Initiative and Gendell associate professor of energy and environmental economics at the Nicholas School of the Environment.

The University-wide effort spans six schools—Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Fuqua School of Business, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke School of Law, Sanford School of Public Policy and the Nicholas School. The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the Duke Global Health Institute are also involved.

George Truskey, chair of the biomedical engineering department and senior associate dean for research as well as the R. Eugene and Susie E. Goodson professor of biomedical engineering, said the Energy Initiative will create an ever-expanding cycle for energy research development at Duke.

“Our hope is to increase Duke’s visibility so that it will recruit more students interested in research and to gain national recognition for the research we are working on,” Truskey said.

The Energy Initiative grew out of students’ growing interest in the last five years regarding energy issues and demand to learn more about energy-related topics, Newell noted.

In 2010, this demand culminated in administrators’ decision to prioritize energy as a key element of the University’s strategic vision, Newell said. The Energy Hub opened Fall 2010 in Gross Chemistry Building as a central space for energy activity. This space will now serve as a base for meetings, seminars and programming for the Energy Initiative.

The Energy Hub provides a physical home for the Initiative, but Newell said he envisions further interactions occurring virtually.

“The Initiative website is a living organism—faculty members can find other faculty members to work with [and] students can find course offerings and events [focused on energy],” Newell said. “It will improve and maintain connections between students and alumni who are dedicated to energy issues.”

Provost Peter Lange noted that the results of the Initiative remain to be seen but said that the initial hiring of faculty looks promising.

The Energy Initiative currently has an executive advisory committee and a faculty advisory committee to help coordinate and implement the program’s efforts.

“The initial priority is to help develop the curriculum,” Newell said. “The Initiative also helps coordinate different projects and leverage the limited resources we have.”

Newell also noted that Duke’s interdisciplinary strength, practical orientation and strong alumni dedication to energy put it ahead of other schools with similar programs.

“Whenever people think of energy, we want them to think of Duke,” he said.


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