Socolow Reflects on MAE Support
Remarks at the MAE celebration of my election
to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
May 27 2014
Thank you all for coming. MAE asked me for a list of people I wanted to celebrate with, and the list got very long. I justified my list by noting that, again and again, I have been an ambassador from MAE to other parts of the university. I am moved that so many of you not from MAE have come, and that so many of my MAE colleagues are here as well.
I also want to thank you, Pablo, for nominating me.
I have had few occasions to speak to my home department of 43 years, and I have received permission to do so today.
You have treated me well for 43 years. Let me count the ways. I will count to five.
First, by hiring me, back in 1971. This was the Department that had just landed on the moon and could do anything. Court Perkins (then chair), Seymour “Boggie” Bogdonoff, Irv Glassman, and Bob Jahn (incoming SEAS Dean) all wanted the faculty member who would develop a new free-standing environmental initiative to be appointed in MAE. So did physicists Murph Goldberger and George Reynolds, who led the charge for a new environmental initiative with them. President Goheen and Provost Bowen agreed. I was part of Bob Jahn’s campaign to reconnect the Engineering School with its host, a liberal arts university.
Second, by finding a way for non-traditional colleagues join me. I wish Irv were here. Irv, imitating MAE, persuaded the university to allow a research staff in the Center for Energy and Environmental Studies (CEES) that became the backbone of the unit. CEES research featured Frank von Hippel (later a professor in WWS), Bob Williams, Hal Feiveson, the late Meg Fels, Eric Larson, Joan Ogden, Tom Kreutz, Valerie Thomas, and many others. Another unconventional appointment brought the late Ted Taylor to MAE, where he collaborated closely with us.
Third, by encouraging my non-traditional teaching and research. I note the unalloyed support of every MAE chair, and in particular Garry Brown and Lex Smits, who supported me when waters were particularly rough. To be sure, I taught differential equations, thermodynamics, and mobile power plants. But you also allowed me to teach “nuclear science and nuclear issues” and “technology and policy for a greenhouse-constrained world.” To accommodate me and my students, Irv, Fred Bracco, Fred Dryer, Ed Law, and Yiguang Ju embedded their Combustion Group in a “Thermal Sciences Group,” in which my Ph.D. students (including Robert Sonderegger, Andy Persily, John DeCicco, Les Norford, and Stefano Consonni) and numerous MSE students thrived. At CEES, the MSE was not a consolation prize. Rather, it was the degree that many talented students were willing to write substantial theses to obtain, to prepare for unusual careers.
Fourth, in this new era, by providing me with wonderful MAE colleagues. Several of MAE’s relative newcomers share my determination to slow the arrival of the nasty features of climate change through technology, and to do so in a clearheaded way. I have worked this past year with Emily Carter, Howard Stone, Alex Glaser, Craig Arnold, and Dan Steingart. Thanks to Emily, I have found a wonderful outlet for my eclectic way of looking at problems, in the form of a new “distillates” project that Emily has invented. We will produce, over the next few years, a string of accessible analyses of low-carbon technologies, each examined from complementary perspectives. The first, on intermittent renewables and storage, has just been completed.
Fifth, and above all, by demonstrating the meaning of academic freedom. You have allowed me to pursue whatever I wanted to understand, never questioning my interests and priorities. Energy efficiency and indoor air quality in residential and commercial buildings; discipline-based analysis in the service of environmental decision-making (with reference to the decision to build a dam); thermal storage and “ice ponds”; industrial ecology, in its early years; proliferation resistance and nuclear power; the hydrogen economy; CO2 capture and storage from power plants and from the air. Notably, no one interfered when, roughly from 1985 to 1995, motivated by the desire to increase mutual understanding, I gave considerable time to developing a collaboration between U.S. and Soviet (and then Russian) scientists in technical aspects of energy efficiency.
Climate change. I conclude with a recommendation regarding MAE and climate change. I start with a story. Within a few weeks of my arrival in the fall of 1971, Court Perkins, the MAE chair, held a dinner at his home to welcome me, attended (I think) by the whole faculty. At the head table he sat me with Suki Manabe, the pioneer in climate modeling, then and still a researcher at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL). Suki was an associated faculty member in MAE at the time, and it was the department’s view that the university’s emerging environmental program would be fostered by close collaboration between GFDL and MAE. I wish we could point to more collaboration today than we now have. Ed Law has begun working with experts on droplet formation in clouds, and Howard Stone has begun working with experts in permafrost, and there are other examples, but I strongly recommend there be much more contact. The stakes are high, and here’s why.
Currently, a distressing number of senior faculty at Princeton are dismissing the global research enterprise in climate science, and their views are influential. I wish I could report that their views have been developed after serious engagement with that science. The science is accessible with considerable effort, but with less effort at Princeton than at any other American university because we have one of the world’s leading research units in climate science, GFDL, essentially next door. At GFDL, dozens of research leaders would take the time to educate us. If links between GFDL and MAE – as well as other links between GFDL and our science and engineering departments – could be strengthened, more faculty and students would appreciate the depth and professionalism of current climate science and, I bet, at least some of those who are currently dismissing climate science would recalibrate their views. Beyond that limited but important gain from deepening these connections, MAE faculty are capable of making decisive contributions to the climate science research frontier. I hope they will do so. There is no more important problem area for MAE talent.
I expect that the Carbon Mitigation Initiative that Steve Pacala and I co-direct will be renewed this year, and that I will be here on the research staff for quite a few more years. I distinguish institutional and intellectual entrepreneurship. Institutional entrepreneurship is about search committees, promotions, and allocating university resources. As an emeritus professor, this activity is out of bounds, and that makes sense. I am confident that MAE, which has had the wisdom to appoint Alex Glaser and Dan Steingart, will continue to appoint the next generation of academic leaders in energy and the environment. Intellectual entrepreneurship, on the other hand, as far as I can tell, is another matter entirely. I have encountered only an enthusiastic welcome as I do all I can to bring people from different disciplines together so as to deepen the current discourse on climate change and other aspects of humanity’s impact on the environment. I feel only encouragement as I work to invent and organize research projects and workshops and as I teach and advise students. Call on me. I’m here to help.