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The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s new science and energy center has received program approval and named its first set of faculty members. The process for selecting its inaugural class of graduate students is now underway.

Called the UTK/ORNL Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education (CIRE), the new venture will train scientists to take on the world’s most challenging energy problems by working with teams of researchers to make scientific breakthroughs that could become thriving business enterprises. When it officially opens in August, it will offer one of the country’s first interdisciplinary doctoral degrees in energy science and engineering which will educate students in energy-related fields that are increasingly important to the state, country and world, said CIRE Director Lee Riedinger, also a

Last month, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission approved the academic program and energy science degree.

UT Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek said that CIRE will play a key role in transforming the energy industry in our country and the world, as well as the state and local economies.

“Our state, nation and world are at the precipice of an energy crisis, and our university should be a leader in supplying students who can help solve this crisis. By combining the educational resources of our comprehensive research university and the research capabilities of the major national laboratory, we are aligning these talented, young scientists with the necessary tools to provide cutting-edge research to solve this energy dilemma,” Cheek said.

CIRE leaders are now beginning interviews to select graduate students for the program, after months of recruiting at some of the most prestigious universities in the nation, yielding candidates from the University of Virginia, the University of Michigan, Northwestern University, the California Institute of Technology, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, The Ohio State University and Purdue University, among others. The curriculum was developed with input from leaders of energy-related industries such as Chevron, DuPont, Siemens and Exxon Mobil.

Co-located at UT Knoxville and ORNL, the center focuses on six areas of research that address 10 of the grand challenges the country faces in the energy arena: nuclear energy, bioenergy and biofuels, renewable energy, energy conversion and storage, distributed energy and grid management, and environmental and climate sciences related to energy.

For instance, energy science and engineering graduates will be a source of talent in Tennessee in the continuing development of Nissan’s all-electric Leaf, the new Volunteer State Solar Initiative, as well as attracting pre-eminent new energy industries to the state. The regional and national scene is similarly in need of solutions to extreme energy-related problems which bring with them opportunities for economic development in the form of new businesses, new jobs and new careers.

“The program will prepare students to meet the needs of energy-related industries in the country and in the state,” said Riedinger. “There is overlap in CIRE’s coursework and the emphases of these expanding industries in Tennessee, so we will be producing Ph.D.s to work in research and development and in management in these industries.”

The CIRE program also will translate intellectual capital into financial capital by partnering with UT Knoxville’s College of Business Administration in developing and implementing business plans for students who want to take their ideas to market by partnering them with scientists with entrepreneurial experience.

CIRE is part of the Tennessee lawmakers’ landmark Complete College Tennessee Act passed a year ago to reform state higher education. CIRE’s role in reform is to enhance research for state economic development. Each graduate student brings with him or her research dollars and potential job opportunities aiding the local and state economies. The center will also be instrumental in helping UT Knoxville in its mission to become a Top 25 public research institution by increasing its number of doctoral students.

To read more detail about the program areas of focus and the center’s faculty, click here.