Sept. 15, 2015

By Mark Golden

Arun Majumdar, a professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford, will serve as co-director of the university's Precourt Institute for Energy.  He will serve with the current director, Sally M. Benson, professor of energy resources engineering.

"One of the goals when we started the Precourt Institute was to provide additional faculty positions for researchers of the highest caliber," said Stanford's President, John L. Hennessy. "We certainly accomplished that by recruiting Arun, so his willingness to take on this leadership role, as well as pursuing his own innovative research, is exciting."

Sally Benson and Arun Majumdar, co-directors of Stanford's Precourt Institute

Sally Benson and Arun Majumdar (Photo credit: Carolyn Raider/ Precourt Institute for Energy)

The Precourt Institute supports Stanford research and education intended to make the world's energy systems less vulnerable to environmental, economic and security threats, and more capable of delivering modern energy service to billions of people now living without it. The institute funds early stage research to explore potentially transformative energy technologies and policies, especially research involving faculty from different academic departments.

"Arun's experience is remarkably relevant to the mission of the Precourt Institute, because he has such a deep understanding of the building blocks of our energy future  – from the science and technology to the policy and economics. He is recognized internationally for his knowledge about these critical issues," said Ann Arvin, vice provost and dean of research, who announced Majumdar's appointment. "We're very fortunate to have Sally and Arun as leaders of this vital initiative at Stanford."

Majumdar, who is the first Jay Precourt Provostial Chair Professor, joined the Stanford faculty in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in 2014.  He is a leading scientist in the fields of nanostructured materials and thermoelectric devices to improve energy efficiency, especially for harnessing the vast amounts of heat otherwise wasted in the production of electricity. His current research focuses broadly on energy conversion and re-engineering the electricity grid.

In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed Majumdar as the first director of the U.S. Department of Energy's $400 million Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which finances energy technologies too early in development for private-sector investment. Before that, Majumdar was the associate laboratory director for the Energy Technologies Area at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a professor of mechanical engineering and of materials science at the University of California, Berkeley. Immediately before coming to Stanford, Majumdar spent two years at Google as the vice president for energy, where he created several energy technology initiatives, especially on the electricity grid, and advised the company on its broader energy strategy. 

"I cannot think of a better partner than Arun," said Benson, who will continue as director of the Global Climate & Energy Project, in addition to her other responsibilities. "His enthusiasm for and commitment to a more sustainable energy future will further strengthen the leadership of the Precourt Institute. We need to do so much, and Arun's knowledge and experience will be a great addition to the team."

Majumdar, whose new position begins Sept. 21, sees the world's energy and climate issues not just as challenges but also great economic and humanitarian opportunities.  

"The creativity, entrepreneurship and competitive spirit of over 200 Stanford faculty in energy research and their students – combined with our partnerships with the private sector and governments – will help us create the technologies and policies for a sustainable energy future," he said. "The Precourt Institute is and will continue to be a catalyst for that success, so I'm honored to take on this new role."

Majumdar earned his bachelor’s degree from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and both a master’s degree and PhD from UC Berkeley. Among other appointments, he serves on the U.S. Secretary of Energy’s advisory board and is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

Persis Drell, dean of Stanford’s School of Engineering, also welcomed Majumdar’s new appointment. “My sense of Stanford faculty, students and staff in engineering and in general is that they want to have a significant impact and make the world a better place,” said Drell, former director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. “That describes Arun perfectly.  His research will contribute to energy solutions and climate change solutions and in this leadership role he will enable others to improve the world, as well.”

In addition to funding research and faculty positions, the Precourt Institute supports educational programs, like Stanford’s weekly energy seminar, research internships for undergraduates and an annual conference for new graduate students interested in energy. The institute also fosters a campus-wide community focused on energy research, contributes to energy literacy among alumni and the general public, and raises the visibility of Stanford research for further development and deployment. The TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy, the Global Climate & Energy Project, the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center, the Stanford Environmental & Energy Policy Analysis Center, the Natural Gas Initiative and the industrial affiliate program Energy 3.0 are constituent programs.

This article was originally published in the Stanford Report.