By Kwiyun Yoon
Gerard Sean McGrady is the first full professor brought into Binghamton University under its Smart Energy Initiative, one of the five transdisciplinary areas of excellence.
“I was attracted by Binghamton University’s genuine commitment and enthusiasm to this initiative,” said McGrady, a new professor in Harpur College’s Chemistry Department.
After 10 years of researching and teaching at the University of Oxford and King’s College-London, McGrady served for 12 years as a senior professor at the University of New Brunswick. But his passion for innovation and research led him to Binghamton University.
“Research is exciting,” he said. “It is always nice to be the first person in the world to see something or discover something new.”
As part of the Smart Energy Initiative, McGrady focuses on effective management of energy resources. He specializes in techniques that store and transport energy. He said the current process of consuming energy has caused problems.
“With fossil fuel usage, there is a price to pay: Carbon-dioxide emissions affect global warming,” McGrady said.
He suggests hydrogen as an alternative energy source because it burns clean. However, he said producing hydrogen and using hydrogen are two different issues.
“Nowadays, hydrogen is mostly produced from petroleum — fossil fuels,” McGrady said. “They strip hydrogen out of fossil fuels, but the byproduct of the procedure is carbon dioxide. So it is only matter of having carbon dioxide earlier in the process.”
McGrady said the ultimate clean, renewable, ecofriendly process is the production of hydrogen from sunlight. He said the process is simpler than people might think.
First, electricity is produced using solar panels and passed through a cup of water. The water separates into hydrogen and oxygen, which is chemical energy that can be easily stored. When hydrogen and oxygen combine again, electricity is restored.
“Ultimately, in time, our future generations will get energy that way,” McGrady said with enthusiasm. “They will look back at us thinking how premature and clumsy our society was in terms of energy production.”
McGrady said that with hydrogen technology, communities can be independent from the established grids and operate solely using local resources such as wind, sunlight, water and heat derived from the Earth. It will be particularly useful for developing countries that do not have established grids or geographically secluded regions. McGrady believes it can change the social dynamic, because people won’t have to go to big cities to access resources anymore. People anywhere can have a higher standard of living in terms of energy consumption.
Although, McGrady enjoys contributing to the advance of energy technology, he said being in the classroom is rewarding too.
“I enjoy interacting with smart and young people who are interested in different fields,” he said.
McGrady said Harpur College students are exposed to an interdisciplinary environment where they observe many different things that allow them to be more aware of the outside world.
In his class, Techniques for Studying Solar, McGrady accepts students from different majors.
“Students are all capable but they all come from different academic areas,” McGrady said. “Some better understand chemistry, others physics — engineering students know electric engineering better.”
McGrady pairs students with projects that utilize their different areas of expertise. He said chemistry interplays with other central sciences such as physics and mathematics, and is a collective experience that covers the spectrum of science and technology.
McGrady said he is looking forward to contributing to the success of Harpur College and Binghamton University as he becomes part of the community.
“I want to be recognized as having been a good teacher and mentor, as well as one in the group of people who led key changes that made this world a better place,” he said.
Last Updated: 3/1/17