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Interdisciplinary Research

Solar Energy Research Center Launched
Solar Energy Research Center Launched

Rensselaer formally launched the Baruch ’60 Center for Biochemical Solar Energy Research Oct. 31. Thomas Baruch ’60, a member of the Rensselaer Board of Trustees, has donated a gift to help to establish the new center devoted to bio-energy research.

Researchers will work to develop the next generation of solar technology by studying one of the most powerful energy converting machines in the world—plants. Researchers will use sophisticated new technologies and techniques to understand the energy converting power of plants to develop new technologies that mimic this extremely efficient natural system.

“We are grateful to have a partner in Tom Baruch who fully understands the vision of The Rensselaer Plan, and the pressing need to pursue visionary and innovative efforts to develop new approaches to energy security around the world,” said President Shirley Ann Jackson. “The center will expand the energy research network that Rensselaer is actively building across the Institute, and will offer researchers around the globe fundamental scientific research on the original solar panel—plants—as well as technological solutions to create the super-efficient man-made solar technologies of the future.”

“It is my hope that this center will expand on Rensselaer’s very strong foundation in energy research and establish Rensselaer and its faculty and students as leaders at the forefront of solar energy research,” Baruch says. “The research talent and infrastructure of Rensselaer create the perfect storm of ideas and innovations that I believe will result in the creation of solar technologies with greater efficiency of even the most sophisticated silicon solar panels available on the market today.”

The center will include faculty from a variety of disciplines and research backgrounds. In the initial stages, research will center on molecular chemistry and biochemistry to map out the step-by-step processes that nature’s perfect green machines go through to convert solar rays into life-sustaining energy.

K.V. Lakshmi, assistant professor of chemistry and chemical biology, will help lead the effort at the center to capture the extremely complex reactions of photosynthesis in action, which is a vital first step in the research process. One of the recipients of the first-ever Department of Energy funding for the investigation of biochemical solar power, Lakshmi is working with fellow researchers to understand how the inner workings of the plant protein complex transforms light into power through photosynthesis. Researchers will use this foundational knowledge to build synthetic replications of the natural systems to capture and move light energy.

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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter by the Office of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180-3590. Opinions expressed in these pages do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or the policies of the Institute. ©2008 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.