Cohon to direct Scott Institute

George Lederman Mar 3, 2014

Jared L. Cohon, who stepped down as the university’s eighth president this summer, has now accepted a new position as director of the Wilton E. Scott Institute for Energy Innovation at Carnegie Mellon.

“He did great things for the university [as president],” said Rohan Saigal, a junior electrical and computer engineering major. “I have no doubt that as the new director of the Scott Institute, he will make us proud.”
For a president emeritus who has received international recognition as both a scholar and a leader, staying at the university was far from certain.

Often, businesses or governmental organization lure past presidents to posts outside of academia.

For instance, the University’s seventh president, Robert Mehrabian, left the university to run Teledyne Technologies, Inc., and the former president of Georgia Institute of Technology, G. Wayne Clough, became the secretary of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.

Many students and faculty view Cohon’s decision to lead the Scott Institute as a testament to his belief in the University and the importance of energy innovation research.

“This is a big deal,” said Constantine Samaras, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering. “Having a former university president leading our energy initiative demonstrates just how serious Carnegie Mellon is about this issue.”

Cohon sees energy challenges as one of the most serious obstacles facing society. “In the future, we will have to depend less on fossil fuels — but the transition will be long and difficult,” said Cohon in an interview. “I believe that Carnegie Mellon’s strengths, particularly in the technology policy interface, will help address these challenges.”

Energy has become such an important issue that universities across the United States are investing in it.

Stanford University began the Global Climate and Energy Project in 2002, which has funded $176 million of research. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology launched the Energy Initiative in 2006, which attracted $340 million dollars in its first five years.

When asked if Carnegie Mellon could lead in energy research given the level of financial support at peer institutions, Samaras said, “Carnegie Mellon is already a leader in analyzing the systems-level technical, economic and policy challenges surrounding energy. The Scott Institute will bring together expertise from across the university to catalyze new opportunities.”

Western Pennsylvania has a long history of energy innovation. The coke ovens around Pittsburgh were the first in America to adopt the beehive style, a technology which powered the steel boom in the 19th century. Pittsburgh’s Westinghouse Electric Corporation built the first commercial nuclear reactor in 1937 and recently, Pittsburgh has been the center of the gas boom from the Marcellus Shale Formation.

Not surprisingly, between the University of Pittsburgh, the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, and Carnegie Mellon, there has been significant energy research in the Pittsburgh area. Carnegie Mellon has a history of bringing together interdisciplinary teams to solve energy problems. Perhaps the best example is Aquion Energy, a startup company that sprung from Carnegie Mellon.

Aquion Energy is commercializing an Aqueous Hybrid Ion Battery developed by Jay Whitacre, a professor with joint appointments in engineering and public policy and materials science and engineering. These low cost, high capacity batteries might store energy cheaply enough to make unreliable renewable energy sources, like wind or solar power, more cost effective.

The Scott Institute, which will ultimately be housed in the new Scott Hall, is set to encourage more interdisciplinary projects like Aquion, and will attract new funding sources to help realize these projects. “The institute’s objective,” said M. Morgan Granger, the current director of the Scott Institute, and Lord Professor and head of engineering and public policy, “is to raise Carnegie Mellon’s already great level of activity in energy-related research and education to an even higher level.”

Since its inception in September 2012, the Institute has raised more than $50 million for energy research. Cohon has a significant background in energy resource. He has written extensively on energy policy and has a track record of raising money for energy related research.

Under Cohon’s leadership, Carnegie Mellon received a significant gift from Lowell and Jan Steinbrenner for the Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Research, as well as gifts from Sherman and Joyce Bowie Scott and the Richard King Mellon Foundation for the Scott Institute.