President Barack Obama commended MIT for its “extraordinary energy research” and urged America to take leadership in cleaner technologies in a speech today at Kresge Auditorium.
“This is the nation that has led the world for two centuries in the pursuit of discovery. This is the nation that will lead the clean energy economy of tomorrow,” Obama said to a crowd of about 750, including over 200 students and faculty.
Obama singled out innovation as the solution to America’s challenges. He talked of a “peaceful competition” with other countries to develop alternative sources of energy.
“The nation that wins this competition will be the nation that leads the global economy. I am convinced of that. And I want America to be that nation,” he said.
He pointed out that the Recovery Act, or stimulus bill, is already leading the U.S. in the direction of green jobs and research. The act provides the “largest single boost in scientific research in history,” he said.
The law also sets aside $80 billion dollars for creating jobs in alternative energy and energy efficiency. For Americans this investment acts “not just help to end this recession, but to lay a new foundation for lasting prosperity,” he said.
Obama also advocated for the Senate climate change bill, which would cap greenhouse gas emissions and “transform our energy system into one that’s far more efficient, far cleaner.”
Obama Visits Bldg. 13
Before the speech, President Susan J. Hockfield and MIT Energy Initiative director Ernest J. Moniz led Obama on a tour of several laboratories focusing on clean energy and technology.
Obama saw presentations on high-powered, virus-assembled batteries from Professors Angela M. Belcher and Paula T. Hammond ’84; quantum dot LED lights from Professor Vladmir Bulovic; offshore wind turbines from Professor Alexander H. Slocum ’82; and solar cell concentrators from Professor Marc A. Baldo.
“He’s just a warm, friendly human being.” Slocum said. “I’ve met plenty of plastic politicians. Obama is just real.”
Crowds gather, Obama cracks jokes
Obama arrived at Kresge shortly after 12:30 p.m. Cecilia R. Louis ’10, a member of the Chorallaries, sang the national anthem. Both Hockfield and Moniz gave brief opening comments. Moniz praised Obama’s “commitment to integrating sound science and critical analysis.”
Obama began his speech with a light jab at his alma mater. “It’s always been a dream of mine to visit the most prestigious school in Cambridge, Massachusetts,” he said to laughter and cheers. After a pause, he added “hold on a second — certainly the most prestigious school in this part of Cambridge, Massachusetts.”
Most students did not get tickets, but many still gathered near Kresge to try and catch a glimpse of the President. A few people also showed up to protest, drawing attention to human rights violations, the Afghanistan war, healthcare reform, and abortion. When Obama’s motorcade came down Memorial Drive around 12:30 p.m., there were screams and pointing as the crowd ran down Mass. Ave. to see the procession.
Later, in Kresge, Obama would return the enthusiastic greeting.
“You just get excited being here and seeing these extraordinary young people and the extraordinary leadership of Professor Hockfield because it taps into something essential about America — it’s the legacy of daring men and women who put their talents and their efforts into the pursuit of discovery.”
Obama spoke for about 20 minutes, then came down from the podium to shake hands with MIT faculty and students. He left promptly after 1 p.m. to attend a $500-a-head fundraiser for Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.
U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Patrick were both in attendance.
John A. Hawkinson and Jessica J. Pourian contributed reporting.