Institutes of Energy and the Environment: sowing the seeds of interdisciplinary scholarship and leadership in energy and the environment.
- Jenni Evans, Ph.D., former IEE Acting Director

Tom Richard, Ph.D.

IEE Director's Message

Fall 2015
Tom Richard


Welcome to the Institutes of Energy and the Environment (IEE). For those who are new to our institutes (yes, plural – more on that later), we are one of a half-dozen university-wide interdisciplinary institutes that collectively cover almost every major research domain. These institutes have helped make Penn State a national leader in interdisciplinary research, and we are proud of that legacy and the responsibility it represents.

In 2014 IEE developed a strategic plan for the next five years, with tremendous support and insight from the IEE community. Last year Professor Jenni Evans began the implementation of that plan, serving as Acting Director while I was on sabbatical. Jenni and the IEE staff did an exceptional job in my absence, and this year we will continue that process… of strategic investments, support for interdisciplinary teams, and the pursuit of excellence in energy and environmental research.

The unifying theme of our strategic plan is Knowledge Systems: Data – Knowledge – Impact. How do we transform the power of science, new sensing technologies, and big data into new ways of understanding – and improving – our society and this planet that is our home? This year our seed grant program will applicants to provide a rationale for their proposals within a Knowledge Systems framework, reinforcing the need to go beyond a grant or journal publication to having real impact in the world. We will also encourage the development of community datasets, which can be a powerful force multiplier in our increasingly digital world; we are fortunate at Penn State to have several great teams working on building datasets, including the Penn State Data Commons, the Center for Environmental Informatics and Hydroterre, all partially supported by IEE. And as one important aspect of turning Knowledge into Impact, we will continue to provide opportunities to improve science communication skills, with several events planned for October, including a lecture from Naomi Oreskes on October 26 (mark your calendars now!).

Back to those institutes, plural! In the past IEE’s “institutes” have included five institutes housed within and operated by colleges: the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences’ Energy Institute (directed by Chunshan Song) and Earth and Environmental Systems Institute (EESI, directed by Sue Brantley), the College of Engineering’s Engineering Energy and Environmental Institutes (E3I, directed by Bruce Logan), the College of Agricultural Sciences’ Environment and Natural Resources Institute (ENRI, directed by Jim Shortle) and the College of Liberal Arts’ Rock Ethics Institute (directed by Nancy Tuana). Last year we inaugurated a new model of hosting multi-college institutes, first with the Ecology Institute (jointly sponsored by the Huck Institutes of Life Sciences, and directed by Matthew Thomas). This fall we are very pleased to welcome the Institute for Natural Gas Research (INGaR, directed by Monty Alger) under the IEE umbrella. And we are currently in the midst of an international search for the founding director of a new university-wide Water Institute. Like IEE, these new institutes are intentionally lean – sharing staff working together to efficiently gather and distribute resources out to you: the faculty, students and staff that make the research happen.

To better serve these institutes and IEE’s research community, IEE staff have been streamlining operations and targeting new tasks that build toward our common strategic goals. This redesigned website is a big step in that direction, and you can expect many more exciting developments in the coming year. As always, let us know what you need and how we can help, so that together we can continue to advance Penn State’s exceptional programs in energy and environmental research.


Tom Richard's signature

Tom Richard
Director, Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment