NSF awards Rensselaer first-of-its-kind grant for fuel cell research education

06/21/05

$4.8 million investment to prepare the next generation of fuel cell researchers

TROY, N.Y. -- Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, as part of its continued expansion of energy research, today announced a $4.8 million novel interdisciplinary program to train doctoral students in fuel cell science and engineering. The program is supported by a $3.2 million, first-of-its-kind fuel cell research education grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) combined with a $1.6 million investment by Rensselaer.

"Innovation is key to meeting our global energy needs, but it will require a science and engineering workforce prepared to focus on this urgent challenge. With fuel cells as a key component of a global energy strategy, this designation by the National Science Foundation positions Rensselaer to be a leader in developing the fuel cell technology innovators of the future," said Rensselaer Provost G.P. "Bud" Peterson. "Rensselaer's program combines academics, research, and entrepreneurship in an effort to accelerate the process of moving ideas from discovery to the marketplace."

The program integrates a range of disciplines within and among engineering, science, and management, involving faculty and facilities from six Rensselaer academic departments and six Rensselaer research or student centers. Beginning in the fall 2005 semester and over the course of five years, 28 doctoral students will have the opportunity to study fuel cell science and engineering focused on manufacturing, materials development, and modeling for design, manufacturing, and operation.

The funding will support full tuition and provide an annual $30,000 stipend for each student's two-year research fellowship. NSF's funding was awarded through their Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) Program.

"The fuel cell program at Rensselaer will allow doctoral students to develop specific expertise in a particular field, along with the breadth of knowledge in multiple fields to contribute effectively to interdisciplinary projects, and the entrepreneurial skills to develop products and companies," said Michael Jensen, professor of mechanical, aerospace, and nuclear engineering at Rensselaer, who is principal investigator and project director of the program. "Upon completion of the program, we expect our students to create and guide interdisciplinary research and development projects and recognize opportunities for commercialization of that research."

The co-principal investigators of the program are: Brian Benicewicz, professor of chemistry and chemical biology and director of Rensselaer's Center for Polymer Synthesis; Michael Ensley, associate professor of management at the Lally School of Management and Technology; Raymond Puffer, co-director of Rensselaer's Flexible Manufacturing Center; and Daniel Walczyk, associate professor of mechanical, aerospace, and nuclear engineering.

Several additional Rensselaer faculty are involved in the program. Participating academic departments/units are: Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering; Chemical and Biological Engineering; Decision Sciences and Engineering Systems; Materials Science and Engineering; Chemistry and Chemical Biology; and the Lally School of Management and Technology.

Participating research centers at Rensselaer are: Center for Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Research; Center for Future Energy Systems; Center for Polymer Synthesis; Flexible Manufacturing Center; Severino Center for Technological Entrepreneurship; and Archer Center for Student Leadership.

The Rensselaer faculty team also will collaborate with faculty from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez and an external advisory board of fuel cell industry leaders and university and government agency representatives.

"As the global demand for energy increases, it is crucial that we develop alternative and renewable energy sources," said Omkaram "Om" Nalamasu, vice president for research at Rensselaer. "Rensselaer's combination of research, education, and entrepreneurship provides novel opportunities to move new energy technologies from the lab to the market."

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