The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Erin Baker part of team organizing NSF Supported National Energy Workshop

Erin Baker

Erin Baker

Erin Baker – a professor in the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department, the associate dean for the College of Engineering, the director of the UMass Wind Energy Fellows, and the faculty director of the Energy Transition Initiative – is one of five researchers from UMass Amherst who, as a team, have been selected to receive a one-year, $100,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) “10 Big Ideas for Future NSF Investments” program. The team’s NSF project is to conduct a series of national workshops which can identify research challenges associated with transitioning to an equitable and sustainable energy system. Read UMass News Office release: Campus Group Wins NSF Support for National Energy Workshops.

As Baker says about her part in the national workshops, “I am looking forward to working with people from across the country to help to set the national agenda on research at the intersection of energy and equity. In particular, since my research is placed very near this intersection with work related to decision making and to energy technologies, I hope to play a role helping to bring the diverse researchers together.”
The UMass project to conduct national energy workshops was one of 33 ideas selected for funding by the NSF for timeliness, ambition, potential scientific and societal impacts, and potential for interagency, international, and public-private partnerships.

According to the NSF proposal submitted by the five researchers, “A transition toward a less carbon-intensive energy system is underway globally. The challenge is to envision how the energy system might evolve in a way that is consistent with resources and needs.”

The researchers explain that understanding possible futures for the energy system requires synthesis across diverse disciplines throughout a complex, global, socio-technical system with diverse stakeholders, including individuals and communities, businesses, non-profits, and governmental organizations.
According to the five-person team, “This workshop series brings together stakeholders, scholars from disciplines that include natural scientists and engineers with expertise in energy technology, and researchers in the social sciences and humanities. Together, they can systematically integrate science, technology, and human and social dimensions.”

The team concludes that “The goal of the workshops is the identification of a research agenda at the intersection of the technological and social dimensions of future energy systems.”

The grant is the second this year from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to researchers at UMass for a similar purpose, says project leader and chemistry professor Dhandapani “DV” Venkataraman. That purpose is evidence of a growing worldwide interest in developing sustainable energy systems that consider and even prioritize the resources and needs of all communities.

“A transition toward a less carbon-intensive energy system is underway globally,” Venkataraman points out. “The challenge is to envision how the energy system might evolve in a way that is consistent with resources and needs.”

According to the UMass News Office, participants in the program will come from diverse backgrounds in energy engineering, science, technology, social science, and the humanities, and they will participate in two face-to-face workshops and several virtual meetings over the year. A major goal for the series is to highlight a wide range of voices not always heard in STEM research.

The NSF granting program awarded 21 research and four conference projects, totaling over $6 million, to scientists, engineers, and educators from 27 institutions across the country in interdisciplinary teams. The agency received 800 proposals. (October 2020)