Building our energy and environmental future
“If you’re going to build a center for energy and the environment, then the architecture should be about nature and the landscape.” That was the core idea that architects Tod Williams A.B. ’65, MFA ’67 and Billie Tsien presented as they started work on the spectacular building that is now home to the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment.
I say “spectacular” not in the sense of a dazzling edifice; I use that word because of how superbly the building manifests that original vision and how strongly it supports the ambitious and urgent mission of the Andlinger Center. That mission is to develop solutions that provide the world with the energy systems it needs while protecting this planet and preserving its resources for future generations.
As with the architecture, we are taking an integrative approach. We recognize the enormous and wonderful complexity of both nature and humanity. That complexity demands solutions that draw together expertise from multiple disciplines, institutions, industries, governments and nations. We must develop not only technical solutions but also policy, behavioral and economic solutions – all within an environmental context that continuously questions how our solutions stack up against the realities of nature. We work closely with the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, the School of Architecture and other colleagues across the University.
In the five years since I became founding director of the center, we have been pursuing this broad agenda along several fronts. First we have been recruiting faculty members in key areas of research that hold promise across a range of timeframes, from the near to long term. So far we have brought to Princeton six faculty members with expertise spanning solar cells, biofuels, energy storage, sustainable building materials, energy-efficient architecture and nuclear fusion. I have been enormously gratified and excited to see their individual initiatives and spontaneous collaborations. At the same time we are awarding funding to these and other faculty members through a competitive grant process that encourages bold ideas and collaborations that would be difficult to fund through conventional government grants.
To build a dynamic dialogue across departments we run a seminar series that brings in guest speakers from around the world.
And extending that dialogue beyond academia, we have created a corporate affiliates program called the Princeton E-ffiliates Partnership, which allows companies to harness Princeton expertise while providing a practical, market-based perspective on emerging technologies.
Together these activities create a vibrant environment for learning, which is critical as we prepare the next generation of leaders who will continue to find creative solutions and make wise decisions related to energy and the environment. Our educational efforts include two new undergraduate certificate programs, one a rigorous technical introduction to energy systems and the other a broad examination of energy technologies aimed at engaging students from the social sciences and humanities. We also offer research internships and fellowships for our students.
Extending our educational outreach beyond the University, we have developed a series of publications called Energy Technology Distillates, which analyze emerging areas of technology and distill them to their essential concepts. These publications – aimed at policymakers in both the public and private sector as well as educators and the general public – serve as a framework for non-experts to quickly familiarize themselves with key ideas and make their own judgments.
Our wonderful new building accelerates all these efforts. Its spaces range from the super high-tech (labs with ultralow dust and vibration for atomic-level fabrication and analysis of materials) to collaborative spaces and gardens. The architects ensured that even labs rooted deep in bedrock have ample natural light owing from above and open to garden courtyards. Science and engineering offer us many exciting possibilities to provide sustainable energy and to preserve the environment, but through our engagement with policy and the broader University we seek never to lose sight of the human and natural contexts that drive our pursuit.
Emily Carter is the Gerhard R. Andlinger Professor in Energy and the Environment and professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and applied and computational mathematics. She is the founding director of the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment as well as the associate director of the Program in Technology and Society.