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The Precourt Institute for Energy is part of the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability.

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Stanford launches new interdisciplinary postdoctoral program for energy research

The transition to low-carbon energy systems would solve about three-fourths of the climate change challenge. At the same time, the benefits of modern energy systems should be affordable, reliable, and available to all people.

To help develop the knowledge necessary for this global undertaking, several energy research programs at Stanford University have launched the Stanford Energy Postdoctoral Fellowship, which will create a community of 30 of the brightest minds in sustainable energy from around the world.

Yi Cui
Yi Cui is director of the Precourt Institute for Energy, which is leading the new Stanford postdoctoral program in energy. (Image credit: Feng Pan)

Recently graduated PhD students will search for solutions from across the energy spectrum, from science and engineering to policy and economics. Each fellow will be co-hosted by two faculty members, or one faculty member and a staff researcher at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. The co-hosts must be in different academic departments, so the requirement of interdisciplinary research and the breadth of the challenges being tackled should foster a holistic approach to sustainable energy’s challenges. Each year, the program will select up to 10 postdoctoral scholars for full financial support for three years.

“I know how beneficial a great postdoctoral program can be,” said Yi Cui, director of the Precourt Institute for Energy and of the new postdoctoral program. “I started my focus on energy research as a postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley thanks to the influence of Steve Chu, who was the director of Berkeley Lab and a Nobel physicist with an extraordinarily strong commitment to sustainable energy.”

The sponsoring organizations are Stanford’s Precourt Institute, TomKat Center for Sustainable EnergyBits & Watts Initiative, and StorageX Initiative. The Stanford Energy Postdoctoral Fellowship’s advisory board – the main responsibility of which will be to select the fellows – are faculty members in the departments of physics, energy science and engineering, economics, and chemistry, as well as at Stanford’s schools of medicine and law.

Chu, who joined the Stanford faculty in 1987 and returned after his time at Berkeley Lab and as U.S. Secretary of Energy, has agreed to chair the advisory board.

“This program will provide opportunities for researchers early in their careers to develop a more integrated view of the energy transition and sustainability, broaden their base of knowledge, and pursue new areas of expertise,” said Chu, professor of physics, and of molecular and cellular physiology at the Stanford School of Medicine.

Ideal setting

Stanford offers several advantages for a world-class postdoctoral program in energy. More than 200 faculty and over 100 research staff work on energy-related problems, along with more than 1,000 graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. Research initiatives, centers, and programs engage with external partners on decarbonizing the global economy. As an integral part of Silicon Valley, the university has long understood the strong relationship between basic science and applied research meant to benefit the world.

“The fellows will benefit from the remarkable ecosystem that Stanford has built to translate sustainable energy solutions for deployment in the world. There is tremendous support and excitement for turning research advances into products and asking how they can be scaled to achieve real impact,” said Matthew Kanan, a member of the fellowship’s advisory board, a professor of chemistry, and director of the TomKat Center.

“The new Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability – which all four sponsors of this fellowship will be part of when the school launches in September – will expand the opportunities for impact even more, especially with the school’s Sustainability Accelerator,” added Kanan.

Program at a glance

The program will select up to 10 fellows every year. Each fellow will be supported for up to three years with an $85,000 per year salary, up to $8,000 per year for research and conference expenses, as well as benefits, including health care coverage. Eligible candidates must have completed their PhD degree between Aug. 31, 2021, and Aug. 31, 2023. The deadline for application is Oct. 31, 2022. Final decisions will be made by Jan. 31, 2023, and the postdoctoral scholars will begin their research on campus between March 1 and beginning of fall term, 2023.

Stanford students interested in energy outside at summer conference
(Image credit: Courtesy Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education)

“This program is designed to build strong interaction among the fellows and within the Stanford and SLAC community, as well as engagement with the public and private sectors, as to provide new sustainable energy solutions,” said Inês Azevedo, co-director of the Bits & Watts Initiative and a member of the fellowship’s advisory board.

The other members of the advisory board are: Mark Duggan, director of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research and professor of economics; Deborah Sivas, director of Stanford Environmental Law Clinic and professor at Stanford Law School; and Franklin “Lynn” Orr, former U.S. Dept. of Energy under secretary for science and energy, former dean of the School of Earth Sciences, and professor emeritus of energy resources engineering.

Years from now, the leaders of the new program hope to see program alumni still engaged as part of the Stanford energy ecosystem.

“I hope that brilliant doctoral graduates interested in creating solutions that provide sustainable, affordable, equitable, and secure energy for all people will apply,” said Azevedo. “And I hope to soon see them flourishing and contributing to this vision as key members of the Stanford community.”

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