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Energy Initiative Begins Students Give Input

By Angeline Wang
STAFF REPORTER

As part of the information-gathering phase of the MIT Energy Initiative, a campus-wide survey conducted by the Energy Club found that students believe global climate change and resource depletion are the most important global energy issues.

The Energy Club submitted findings of its survey along with a report to the Energy Research Council, which is also reviewing white papers from professors and gathering industry input to develop an outline for an Institute-wide response to the global energy crisis.

During her inaugural address last spring, President Susan Hockfield announced energy research as a top MIT priority, and the ERC, consisting of 16 faculty members from all five MIT schools, was established a month later.

“The council is using the information and comments collected as an important part of the deliberations and discussions that should lead to a report made to President Hockfield in Spring 2006,” said Professor Steven B. Leeb ’87, a member of the ERC.

The survey results showed that graduate and undergraduate student respondents felt differently about important energy-related issues.

“One trend we saw was that undergraduates seemed more worried about resource depletion, while graduate students were more concerned with climate change,” said David T. Danielson G, Energy Club president. “I think this is an interesting division.”

Danielson also observed that in the comments section, many students said they did not know much about energy and would like to know more. But the survey also revealed that a strong majority of students have not tried to take courses in energy or to pursue internships or jobs in the energy field.

“There were an overwhelming number of people who made individual comments,” said Libby N. Wayman G, Energy Club committee chair. “Those comments showed that a lot of people were already thinking about energy topics and were pretty fired up already. A lot of people think this is a really important issue.”

The survey was launched, with the help of the Office of the Provost, during the third week of the term and was open for a week and a half, Wayman said. A total of 1,743, mostly students, responded; about 64 percent were graduate students.

The Energy Club’s white paper submitted to the ERC, besides providing recommendations for research and academics, also advocated the “organization of the energy research that MIT is already doing and an energy center that facilitates and coordinates these activities,” Danielson said.

“We also plan to help implement as many of our recommendations as we can,” he said, “including pulling together the MIT energy community, holding large social events focused on fact-based energy education, create relationships with industry and MIT alumni, and developing internships for interested students.”

The Energy Club, consists of approximately 150 MIT students, alumni, and faculty members, he said. Most of the club members are graduate students.

ERC seeks input

The ERC is also examining suggestions from faculty about directions for energy-related research.

“We have had approximately 100 faculty involved in short white papers that recommend to the Council specific multi-disciplinary multi-investigator research thrusts,” said ERC co-chair Ernest J. Moniz, physics professor and co-director of the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment.

For more undergraduate student input, Leeb held three forums in September to solicit ideas and suggestions; approximately 280 students in total attended the events.

The ERC is also looking outside to the energy industry for input; an on-campus workshop has been scheduled for December 6 and 7 involving industry leaders including Shell, Ford, and EDF Energy.Also at the workshop, four breakout sessions focused on transportation, electricity, efficiency, and fuel have been planned, and MIT faculty will present a series of research overviews, including photovoltaics, energy conversion and storage, and miniaturized energy systems.

The new energy initiative was first announced by MIT President Susan Hockfield in her inaugural address in May.

“Over the last 30 years, the words ‘sustainable energy’ have gotten a little tired, not from overuse but from lack of progress,” Hockfield said in her address. “I believe that the country and the world may not be ready to focus on these matters, and it is MIT’s responsibility to lead the way.”

Complete Energy Club survey results, along with the Energy Club white paper, can be found at their Web site, http://web.mit.edu/mit_energy/.