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Flytzani−Stephanopoulos named first Haber professor of sustainable energy

Published: Thursday, February 25, 2010

Updated: Thursday, February 25, 2010 13:02


Tien Tien / Tufts Daily

Professor Maria Flytzani-Stephanopolous was named to the first Haber energy sustainability professorship.

Professor of Chemical Engineering Maria Flytzani−Stephanopoulos was named to the first Robert and Marcy Haber Endowed Professorship in Energy Sustainability in the School of Engineering (SOE) for her pioneering research contributions in clean energy production.

Dean of the SOE Linda Abriola said that Flytzani−Stephanopoulos' selection was a clear choice.

"[We wanted someone] who was doing cutting edge research in the field of alternative energy production, and it was no question that we had one outstanding faculty member working in that area," she said.

Abriola cited Flytzani−Stephanopoulos' numerous awards for her research, including a fellowship at both the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

Flytzani−Stephanopoulos currently serves as the director of Tufts' Nano Catalysis and Energy Laboratory and is co−teaching a course entitled Clean Energy Technologies and Policy Issues at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

Her work aims to discover more cost−efficient ways of producing clean energy through catalysis.

"[The] goal of the research is to design catalysts/agents that speed up reactions — to produce hydrogen, the ‘future fuel' more efficiently," Flytzani−Stephanopoulos said. "We want to design with less and achieve more."

She is also trying to create cleaner biofuels through a process that uses biomass fermentation and catalysis to produce liquefied petroleum gas.

If successful, Flytzani−Stephanopoulos feels the process will have a huge impact in improving energy sustainability and energy security.

"It will be an easier way to produce biofuels and would reduce our necessity to import oil," she said.

Robert Haber (E '79, GE '80), a member of the Board of Overseers at the SOE, and his wife Marcy established the Haber professorship to which Flytzani−Stephanopoulos has been named.

Robert Haber sought to create an opportunity that would promote interest and research in the field of sustainable energy, a cause he has cared deeply about since his firsthand experience with the international oil crisis at Exxon Mobil Corporation in the late 1970s.

He believes that the crisis was caused by a supply constraint and thus easily resolved, whereas tackling today's demand−driven crisis, fueled by a growth in oil purchases, will require a different approach. This belief motivated his creation of the professorship.

"Research will create a resolution for today's problems," Haber told the Daily. "If we can create more positions such as these, the odds go up that we will make important discoveries."

Flytzani−Stephanopoulos explained that having an endowed professorship focusing on sustainability was critical for the university, which boasts a long history of commitment to clean energy.

"A chair in energy sustainability is an important attraction point for Tufts, as well as a testament to the school's commitment to the environment," she said.

Flytzani−Stephanopoulos brought up the fact that Tufts was a lead signatory of the 1990 Talloires Declaration: University Presidents for a Sustainable Future, which was an official statement of university administrators' commitment to environmental sustainability.

"This chair will complement that commitment," she said.

Abriola acknowledged the Habers' generosity and said that this endowed professorship would go a long way toward enabling the engineering school to attract and retain quality faculty.

Flytzani−Stephanopoulos highlighted the opportunities that the endowed professorship would provide to students, especially the chance to conduct research abroad, attend conferences, present their work and become more visible as a community that promotes sustainable energy.

Such research opportunities, she said, allow "students to become real believers and take the energy crisis into their own hands, building on previous work little by little. It's an evolution."

Stephanopoulos' passion for energy sustainability stems from both a personal and scientific interest in the issue. "Unless you have a good motivating force, you can't produce good research," she said.

Her hope is that her research with new catalysts for energy and fuels will achieve a "breakthrough and create sound building−blocks for the global building of sustainable and clean energy."

Haber noted that the United States, despite importing approximately $500 billion worth of oil yearly, does not have a comprehensive energy policy. "The country needs to come off of our addiction to oil," he said.

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