Robert C. Armstrong named director of MIT Energy Initiative

Outgoing director Ernest Moniz confirmed U.S. Secretary of Energy.

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Victoria Ekstrom, MIT Energy Initiative

Robert C. Armstrong. Photo: Justin Knight

MIT announced today that Robert C. Armstrong will be the new director of the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), as outgoing director Ernest Moniz leaves the Institute to head the U.S. Department of Energy. Moniz was confirmed Secretary of Energy today by the U.S. Senate.

Armstrong has served as the deputy director of MITEI since its founding six years ago. He was co-chair (with Moniz) of the Energy Research Council that laid the groundwork for MITEI and set its guiding principles. Armstrong has since played a leading role in the Initiative’s development, alongside Moniz. He is the Chevron Professor of Chemical Engineering, and has been a member of the MIT faculty since 1973. Armstrong was head of the Department of Chemical Engineering from 1996 to 2007.

“Professor Armstrong has been a guiding force in the development and success of the MIT Energy Initiative,” MIT President L. Rafael Reif said. “He helped shape its transformation from a promising idea into a pioneering source of energy research, policy analysis and education.”

Reif continued, “Under Professor Armstrong’s leadership, MITEI will continue its bold interdisciplinary approach to developing global energy solutions, and it will remain a vital force in MIT’s innovation ecosystem. Given Professor Armstrong’s superb technical grounding and his strong relationships with research partners in industry, government and philanthropy, we look forward to this new era at MITEI with the greatest confidence and optimism."

Maria Zuber, MIT’s vice president for research, said, “Professor Armstrong’s broad and deep knowledge of energy, combined with his strong commitment to energy research and education, make him the ideal choice to take the reins at MITEI. I’m looking forward to continuing to work closely with him to further strengthen and spread energy research across the Institute.”

In 2008, Armstrong was elected to the National Academy of Engineering for conducting outstanding research on non-Newtonian fluid mechanics, co-authoring landmark textbooks, and providing leadership in chemical engineering education. Armstrong has received the Warren K. Lewis Award and Professional Progress Award, both from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, for his outstanding and continuing contributions to chemical engineering education and the rheology and fluid mechanics of complex fluids. He also received the 2006 Bingham Medal from the Society of Rheology, which is devoted to the study of the science of deformation and flow of matter.

Armstrong played a vital role in shaping the design of MITEI to focus on linking science, innovation and policy to help transform global energy systems. During his service as deputy director, the Initiative has supported almost 800 research projects at the Institute and continues to engage a quarter of the MIT faculty in its projects and programs.

Armstrong maintains strong relationships with MITEI’s coalition of industry, foundation, government and private partners. More than two-thirds of the projects supported through this coalition have been in no- or low-carbon research, including renewable energy, energy efficiency, carbon management, and enabling tools such as biotechnology, nanotechnology and advanced modeling. The largest single area of funded research is in solar energy, with more than 100 research projects in this area alone.

Projects supported through MITEI have fostered the development of such innovative technologies as low-cost solar cells that can be printed directly onto paper or other flexible, inexpensive materials; utility-scale liquid batteries that could enable grid integration of intermittent energy sources; transparent solar cells that could be built into display screens or windows; and bioengineered batteries.

Armstrong has also been heavily involved in MITEI’s seed fund program. More than 100 MITEI seed fund projects have served to attract many MIT faculty to energy-related research and to launch new research directions. Several MITEI-supported projects have led to the formation of startup companies, reflecting the Institute’s longstanding focus on commercializing technology solutions.

In addition, Armstrong has been influential in stressing a major focus on education at MITEI. The Initiative has awarded 252 graduate fellowships in energy and 104 undergraduate research opportunities. Under the guidance of Armstrong and Moniz, the Initiative established an energy minor in 2009. It is already one of the Institute’s most popular minors. This experiment in interdisciplinary undergraduate education represents the first official academic program that brings together all five schools across MIT.