U.S. agency leader to deliver Hall Engineering Lecture: Catalyzing energy breakthroughs for a secure American future

Arun Majumdar, director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E), knows the United States faces challenges to its technological lead and to energy security.  “In many cases our nation is lagging behind and needs to change course with fierce urgency,” says Majumdar, who will deliver the John R. and Donna S. Hall Engineering Lecture at the Vanderbilt University School of Engineering Nov. 9.

ARPA-E is a government agency created in 2007 and funded in 2009 to promote and fund research and development of advanced energy technologies. It is modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which was created in response to the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite put into Earth’s orbit. The urgency for a DARPA grew from concerns that the U.S. had lost its technological lead.

Arun Majumdar
Arun Majumdar

“America now faces three Sputnik-like challenges: energy security, U.S. technological lead, and greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. ARPA-E’s goal is to help catalyze this change by attracting the best minds to focus on the major technical challenges in this field and by stimulating technical and the entrepreneurial community to innovate on energy technologies,” says Majumder.

His lecture – ARPA-E: Catalyzing Energy Breakthroughs for a Secure American Future – will be held at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 9, in the Jacobs Believed in Me Auditorium in Featheringill Hall. A reception will follow in Adams Atrium.

“While ARPA-E is adopting many of the best practices from DARPA, there are key differences between the defense and energy sectors of our economy, which must be recognized in ARPA-E’s design,” he says. Majumdar will provide some thoughts about how the agency is “putting its DNA together,” and discuss its outlook for the future.

Majumdar became the first director of the ARPA-E, the country’s only agency devoted to transformational energy research and development, in October 2009. Prior to joining ARPA-E, he was the Associate Laboratory Director for Energy and Environment at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and engineering at the University of California, Berkeley.

Majumdar was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2005. He has served on the advisory committee of the National Science Foundation’s engineering directorate, was a member of the advisory council to the materials sciences and engineering division of the Department of Energy’s Basic Energy Sciences, and was an adviser on nanotechnology to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

To mark its 125th anniversary, the School of Engineering’s annual distinguished lecture — The John R. and Donna S. Hall Engineering Lecture — has become a special series bringing four notable engineering leaders to campus, one each in October, November, January and March.  Rebecca Bergman from Medtronic, Inc. will deliver a lecture in January, and Norman Fortenberry, executive director of the American Society for Engineering Education, with deliver the March lecture.