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Conversations in the Disciplines event looks at smart energy
April 7, 2014Tweet
Smart energy was the focus of the recent SUNY Conversations in the Disciplines (CID) conference held at Binghamton University’s Innovative Technologies Complex (ITC) March 31 and April 1. This CID was no different, but was unique in one way – it was the first conference to use COE Building facilities.
The “Research and Scholarly Developments Toward an Energy-Smart New York” conference kicked off with a keynote address by James Gallagher, executive director of the New York State Smart Grid Consortium, in Symposia Hall of the Center of Excellence Building (COE). Gallagher spoke about where smart energy is today.
CID conferences are designed to bring SUNY faculty and visiting scholars from non-SUNY institutions together to examine new trends, address changes and challenges, review promising research findings and become acquainted with professional developments in their fields and on other campuses.
“The purpose of CID conferences is to bring together SUNY faculty from different campuses and get them to interact, explore possible collaborations and develop research,” Vice President for Research Bahgat Sammakia told attendees. “Leaders in their respective fields and many from our campuses will speak and we hope some seeds are planted during sessions and at networking opportunities that will rise into research projects.”
Binghamton is growing its research and infrastructure significantly, Sammakia said. “By 2017, we will have grown by 2,000 students and 150 net faculty, about half of that in STEM-related areas,” he said. “We will see unprecedented growth of another 3,000 students and 190 faculty by 2020, almost doubling our faculty over a five-year period and students by 5,000 in that time – and most in our graduate student population.”
On the physical side, Sammakia noted that the COE is the third building at the ITC. A fourth is in design and will house chemistry and physics, making the ITC a $300 million complex including construction and research equipment.
Sammakia said that SUNY is completely committed to growing research related to smart energy, as evidenced by the SUNY 4E Network of Excellence supporting research across SUNY programs related to energy and the environment, with associated economic considerations and educational programming.
In that same vein, Binghamton has established five Transdisciplinary Areas of Excellence, with one focused on smart energy and chaired by Professor of Chemistry Wayne Jones.
Jones then gave what he termed a 30,000-foot level look at smart energy, asking: “What is the role for smart energy, what can it do for us and what can we do about smart energy in higher education?”
With energy consumption continuing to rise at a rapid rate, Jones defined smart energy as an integrated approach that includes industry to generate and distribute power that must be paid for. However, “It’s a two-way communication, a system that is not one-way,” he said. “We want to look at a grid that is responsive to demand and generation sources, to be smart in terms of recognizing opportunities for efficiency when they present themselves.”
Smart energy is a career opportunity. “My hypothesis is that there are a lot of jobs out there related to energy and our number one goal is to generate more jobs to get grants to work on things, and that energy really is an opportunity for higher education along six different tracks,” Jones said.
1. A need for new paradigms and approaches
2. The development of technology and our technology transfer role.
3. Workforce development
4. Economic development
5. Creating an educated citizenry and policy makers.
6. To lead by example
There are practical things universities can do to make an impact in these six areas, Jones said. Interdisciplinary efforts are key. “It is true that some of the best research comes from staying in your discipline and doing deep dives and that can really have an impact,” he said. “But the communication between disciplines ends up being core. The challenge is how can we have that disciplinary depth and communicate with each other to have an impact?”
Building on Sammakia’s earlier comments, the SUNY Networks of Excellence are one way that faculty can come together to solve problems, Jones said. “So are our TAE discussions. All of our TAEs have aspects of research going on right now and when we put the call out we had four times more faculty say they were interested than we knew existed – and I bet Binghamton is not unique in that.”
Binghamton continues to improve interdisciplinary efforts.
“The challenge in transdisciplinary research is to educate students in areas that are not their majors,” said Kanad Ghose, professor and chair of Binghamton’s Department of Computer Science. Binghamton has developed modules that allow students to learn independently and test online to determine what they’ve learned. “They can see how to design an operating system to conserve energy and things like that,” he said.
C. Roger Westgate, director of the Center for Autonomous Solar Power at Binghamton, mentioned two programs, one a successful NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program that recruits students from other universities and from underrepresented groups.
“Students are engaged because they are interested in the program, and the NSF wants to encourage them to continue,” he said. “The second is a scholars’ course in the technology impact of solar energy covering all aspects of energy. These students likewise are continuing their interest and approached about internships and research opportunities here and elsewhere. There is a lot of undergraduate student interest in both research and renewable energy and we’re looking for more ways to support their interest.”
Finally, Jones spoke about transitioning undergraduate students to the graduate level. “Our 4-1 and 3-2 programs help in that transition. The master’s is really the new bachelor’s degree and the bulk of the jobs we’re seeing are actually master’s or bachelor’s level.”
After a day of breakout sessions on topics concentrating on energy storage, generation and efficiency, attendees heard from Rathindra DasGupta, program director with the National Science Foundation, who shared a number of success stories resulting from NSF program grants.
“The NSF funds not only basic research,” he said, “but also a lot of high-risk projects that can sometimes lead to unexpected results.
“The NSF is not solely responsible for these successes, but here are some of them,” he said.
• The ubiquitous bar code – in the 1970s research led to improvements in the accuracy of scanners, originated at NSF
• DNA evidence – analysis is key to our legal system and can be traced back to NSF
• Affordable, effective medicines – anti-malaria drug made from synthetic chemicals
• The origins of laser cataract surgery.
• Improvements to Doppler tornado warning systems.
DasGupta also spoke about Engineering Research Centers, which unleash the entrepreneurial potential of undergraduate students across the U.S. “to create bold innovators with the knowledge, skills and attitudes to contribute to a prosperous economy.”
Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers – including Binghamton’s Center for Energy-Smart Electronic Systems (ES2) – provide access to technology and research projects, leveraging funding and providing access to a talent pool.
The final program DasGupta spoke about is a new one, Innovation Corps (I-Corps), and NSF-wide, public-private partnership to increase the economic impact of NSF-funded research through commercialization by access to resources to help determine the readiness of and transition path for commercialization.