July 27, 2011

Advanced Energy Institute will enhance research

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale is home to a plethora of energy-related programs that train tomorrow's engineers, scientists and explorers to find newer, cleaner and more efficient ways to provide the power that runs our society.

A new initiative recently created on campus now aims to pull those disparate programs together in an effort to strengthen all of them for both researchers and students.

The SIUC Advanced Energy Institute will increase grant funding for energy and environmental research, said John Mead, director of the Coal Extraction and Utilization Research Center at the University. The new group also will increase communication among the various energy programs, enhance instruction for students and increase efficiency.

Energy is and will be a defining issue for humanity in the future, Mead said.

“Across the campus, we have so many programs that involve energy,” Mead said. “This new institute will help us bring all of that together for the benefit of our students, faculty and the University.”

SIUC boasts energy-related programs throughout the colleges of Engineering, Science, and Agricultural Sciences, to name a few. Several campus research centers -- The Materials Technology Center, Center for Ecology, and Mead’s coal research center, among others -- also are home to many energy-related research projects. In 2009, the University also added a professional science master’s degree program in advanced energy and fuels management, which trains graduate students with backgrounds in science, technology, agriculture and engineering to apply their theoretical training to real-world management issues. Students also participate in a host of clubs and activities centered on energy issues.

John A. Koropchak, vice chancellor for research and dean of the Graduate School, said creating the institute made sense given that energy and environmental studies are focused areas of research on campus. Such efforts have spun off into the private sector, as well, with the creation of companies such as MEGI, ENKI Technologies and Thermaquatica, he said.

“This is an area of historic strength on campus, and ofmajor national and world-wide importance.And we are increasingly seeing the results of our research developinto new businesses,” Koropchak said. “SIUC has many strengths in the area of energy and the environment across various research centers and programs. The Advanced Energy Institute is a mechanism to bring the folks from all of those areas together to discuss ideas for collaboration and advancement of the energy agenda in ways that benefit our students, the University and society as a whole.”

The Advanced Energy Institute, which falls under Koropchak’s bailiwick, is made up of a consortium of existing campus research centers and instructional programs. The leaders of those programs form a steering committee along with advisory members who assist with networking, advocacy and review.

The organization is analyzing the University’s strengths and energy-related activities and members plan to organize a series of public events, workshops and seminars on the subject beginning this fall semester, Mead said. It will advise faculty researchers on obtaining external research funding, serve as a resource for the campus community, public and agencies involved in energy issues, and develop collaborative efforts with other universities and research institutions.

The Advanced Energy Institute also will select projects for seed grant money when available, participate in hiring of energy faculty and be involved with on-campus energy research and instructional program development.

As times in higher education are lean across the state and nation, the institute will not receive dedicated funding. Staff members of participating programs, along with support from Koropchak’s office for specific projects, will provide support.

Paraphrasing Nobel laureate Richard Smalley, Koropchak said finding ways to provide abundant, environmentally friendly energy in sufficient quantities could solve most of the world’s major problems. SIUC will help lead the way with its many programs and its new Advanced Energy Institute to bring it all together.

“As state and federal governments are increasingly supporting energy research and development, thisis also an area of tremendous opportunity for the campusto attract new resources that will help us to address these needs,” he said.