President Barack Obama has added two academic researchers to his new science team at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
Obama yesterday announced his intention to nominate chemical engineer Franklin "Lynn" Orr, a professor and administrator at Stanford University in California, to fill the newly created position of undersecretary for science and energy. The same announcement tapped physicist Marc Kastner of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge to lead DOE’s Office of Science, which manages a $4.6 billion research portfolio. Last week, the White House picked physicist Ellen Williams, chief scientist at energy giant BP and a former longtime professor at the University of Maryland (UMD), College Park, to run DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).
If approved by the U.S. Senate, the trio will round out Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz’s leadership team for DOE’s civilian research programs, which include 10 national laboratories run by the Office of Science.
Orr would be the first person to occupy the new undersecretary’s slot, which Moniz created after a number of groups recommended revamping DOE’s management structure. In addition to science, it oversees fossil, nuclear, and renewable energy research programs and electrical grid and technology transfer issues.
Orr, 66, has taught at Stanford since 1985, starting in the Department of Petroleum Engineering, and has directed its Precourt Institute for Energy since 2009, according to a statement posted on the university’s website. He also served as dean of the School of Earth Sciences at Stanford from 1994 to 2002 and as the founding director of the Global Climate and Energy Project at Stanford from 2002 to 2008.
"DOE is a critically important sponsor of energy research for the nation, and I look forward to the opportunity to help strengthen that effort,” Orr said in the statement. “I am very grateful to my many Stanford student and faculty energy colleagues for all they have taught me about the importance of the energy challenge and the opportunities we have to change our energy systems in a very positive way." He said he will retire from Stanford if confirmed by the Senate.
Kastner, 67, has served on the MIT faculty since 1973 and as its dean of the School of Science since 2007. “Obama made an inspired choice,” MIT President L. Rafael Reif said in a statement posted on the university’s website. He is “ideally suited to manage DOE’s basic science portfolio and its network of national labs.”
Last week, colleagues applauded the choice of Williams to head ARPA-E, the government’s lead agency for transforming edgy ideas into breakthrough energy technologies. She taught at UMD College Park from 1991 through 2009 before joining BP. “She is analytically one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met, and knows technology inside and out,” says particle physicist Drew Baden, chair of UMD’s physics department.
Williams has the management experience to help ARPA-E get the most out of its $230 million portfolio of high-risk but potentially high-reward commercialization projects, he adds. “She’s the one if you want ARPA-E to make an impact, and not just chip around the edges.”
If confirmed, Williams would become ARPA-E’s second director, succeeding Arunava Majumdar, who left the post last June after serving as ARPA-E’s inaugural director for 2.5 years. Kastner would succeed Patricia Dehmer, who has been acting director of the Office of Science since the departure this past April of William Brinkman.