President’s Pages in Princeton Alumni Weekly
The Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment
March 4, 2009
Of the many challenges we face today, none has a greater bearing on the future of our planet than the nexus between energy and the environment; between our dependence on nonrenewable fossil fuels and anthropogenic climate change. Even if the United States and other nations were endowed with a limitless supply of oil, the greenhouse gases that it generates would, in time, spell disaster for many ecosystems and jeopardize the livelihood of millions. To break this cycle, we must couple aggressive conservation with a search for sustainable alternatives to the forms of energy on which we now rely — alternatives that will both safeguard our environment and power our economy.
Thanks to the exceptional generosity of Gerhard R. Andlinger of the Class of 1952 — and his determination to build “a better world for our children and grandchildren” — Princeton is in an excellent position to embrace this monumental challenge and advance the global quest for scientific, technological, and public policy solutions to the problems that confront us. With Gerry’s landmark gift, Princeton will receive $100 million to establish a center in his name that will build on Princeton’s already impressive strengths in the fields of energy and the environment. Planning for this center is now well underway, including a search for its first director and the recently announced selection of Tod Williams [’65 *67] Billie Tsien Architects as the firm that will design its new state-of-the-art research facility.
Established within the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Andlinger Center will form the hub of a new “energy and environment neighborhood” between — and connected to — the Engineering Quadrangle, Bowen Hall, and 86 Olden Street. Among its research mandates will be developing new alternative energy sources, improving the efficiency of the devices that consume and generate energy today, and inventing carbon capture and storage techniques that will enhance our ability to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere. The center will tap the talents of a wide array of faculty and students, including those in Civil and Environmental Engineering, who are world-renowned for their work on the ecohydrology of both water-limited ecosystems and wetlands and for the development of new environmental sensor networks. An important aim will be to bring together the finest minds in energy and environmental science with those who work on new materials — to develop novel devices such as flexible solar panels that will more effectively harness the sun’s energy or heat-resistant coatings that will enable conventional power plants to burn fuel more efficiently. In the process, we hope to strengthen the ties between fundamental science and the application of this knowledge through engineering, creating synergies that will accelerate the rate at which laboratory-based discoveries are translated into marketable technologies. And, of course, faculty in the Program in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy in the Woodrow Wilson School will be critical participants in the Andlinger Center, as technology must be developed in conjunction with what will work in the real world of public affairs.
The centerpiece of our initiative will be a 110,000 square-foot research facility equipped with specialized laboratories and state-of-the-art instrumentation. Much of this building will consist of shared spaces, allowing faculty and students from a variety of academic units to engage in everything from imaging to nano-fabrication. Indeed, the entire building will be an experiment of sorts in energy and environmental practices, thanks to a built-in capacity for self-monitoring of energy use and environmental impact. In keeping with our goal of turning scientific breakthroughs into viable technologies, space will be created for large-scale prototyping, and industry will be a welcome partner in these efforts.
To encourage the pursuit of the most innovative ideas, the Andlinger Center will oversee an “innovation fund” that will foster the kind of novel research that the federal government is often hesitant to sponsor. We also plan to create new faculty positions and graduate student fellowships; bring scientists, engineers, and policymakers from the public and private sectors to campus; and organize conferences, lectures, and other educational events — all with the help of Gerry and many other generous donors in the Aspire campaign. Although the Andlinger Center is still in its formative stages, and though the current economic climate may oblige us to move forward in some areas more slowly than we would like, there is every reason to believe that the center will leave a lasting mark on the world’s energy and environment as we redefine our relationship with both.