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Wittich Symposium to showcase research

Published: Monday, October 3, 2011

Updated: Monday, October 3, 2011 05:10

The Wittich Energy Sustainability Research Symposium will tomorrow showcase new findings in sustainable energy. The event, hosted by the School of Engineering, presents research that is supported by the Peter and Denise Wittich Family Fund for Alternative Energy Research. 

Peter Wittich (E '83), who started the fund with his wife, Denise, will introduce a series of short lectures about Tufts faculty and student research facilitated by the family's donations.

The event is the second of its kind, the first of which occurred in April 2009. The two symposiums correspond with two waves of funding, each of about $150,000, according to Associate Dean of Research at the School of Engineering Eric Miller.

"The idea here was to support really seedling efforts of the faculty," Miller said.

Miller, along with several other administrators, has been responsible for organizing the conference since this past spring. Senior Director of Development at the School of Engineering Cynthia LuBien also helped plan an agenda. According to LuBien, the event will include lecture-style presentations by professors funded through the Wittich Family Fund and a poster session where other Tufts researchers, including those working on sustainability issues more generally, will present additional findings. 

"[We wanted] to allow the Tufts community and our supporter Peter Wittich to see in-person the results of the work that was sponsored in alternative energy," LuBien said.

Wittich worked as an oil trader after graduating from Tufts and now runs his own asphalt marketing company. His business experience is at the root of his interest in solutions to the United States' dependence on foreign oil, according to School of Engineering Dean Linda Abriola.

"He knows that petroleum products are not … the fuel of the future," Abriola said.  "So he has been interested in stimulating research into alternative energy."

The main goal of the symposium, Abriola said, is to highlight the impact that the donations of the Wittich family will have on the future of sustainable energy. 

It's just an example of how an alumnus can make a difference," Abriola said, "in terms of giving back to the university and also helping to develop new knowledge and support students."

According to Abriola, funding was also extended to the school's course offerings. "They … contributed money for us to develop a course in wind energy, which is being taught in mechanical engineering this fall," Abriola said. "[Wittich is] interested in getting students involved."

Although Tufts professors will give the majority of the presentations, students will also participate, Abriola added.

"This is going to have more student involvement than the past," she said.

For example, the Tufts Hybrid Racing team will be showing designs for their racecar, according to junior Chris Jackson, the project leader for the team. 

Jackson said that the Wittich family has provided funds for the team in the past.

"We'll definitely be looking to reconnect with them … We'd like to show him what the team's doing now," he said.

Tufts Hybrid Racing was invited to help highlight the contributions of students to Tufts' goals of increasing sustainability, Miller said.

"They're very active in this area and they're certainly one of the more high profile student groups in the School of Engineering doing work in sustainable energy and in energy related research," he said.

Miller added that the event would provide opportunities for students to learn about and become involved in the field of sustainable energy.

LuBien is expecting around 50 attendees, but said that the event was open to the entire Tufts community.  She also said that although the research being presented is only in its primary stages, the potential for future development makes it compelling.

"We're really excited and grateful to the Wittich family for helping to catalyze work in this area and look forward to seeing the ideas that come out of the laboratory … actually be put in application to solve real problems," she said.

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