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With energy high on the Obama administration’s priority list, MIT’s influence in Washington may be growing stronger than ever. In March, President Susan Hockfield went to the White House to support Barack Obama’s ambitious plans for beefing up research and development related to science, technology, and energy. Then, in April, a group of government leaders came to MIT to push for a major new energy bill. And in May, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu spoke at the Institute, outlining the vital role of basic research in meeting energy needs and alleviating climate change.

At the White House, Hockfield joined President Obama in calling for a “truly historic” new level of federal funding for clean-energy research. Hockfield said that the president’s budget proposal, which calls for dedicating $150 billion over 10 years to a new fund for clean-energy R&D and technology, represents “the largest and most important investment in science and technology” by the U.S. government since the Apollo program in the 1960s.

A month later, MIT hosted a policy forum to discuss a new energy bill being debated in Congress. Hockfield introduced Representative Edward Markey (D-MA), who was joined by Carol Browner, Obama’s assistant for energy and climate change, and White House science advisor John Holdren ‘65, SM ‘66, who said that “the energy challenge we face is actually a more difficult one than putting a man on the moon was.”

“At MIT, we like hard problems,” Hockfield said. “We are ready and eager to help in the invention and implementation of solutions.” Given that the intertwined issues surrounding energy, climate change, security, and economic growth represent what is “perhaps the greatest challenge of this century,” Hockfield observed that MIT is an especially appropriate place to be launching such a discussion.

The proposed legislation would make big strides toward addressing these issues, said Markey, and would “create jobs by the millions, save money by the billions, and unleash energy investment by the trillions.”

When Chu spoke in May, he said that in such areas of research as developing better batteries and solar cells, “what we’re looking for is transformative technology.” If today’s scientists and engineers meet the technological challenges needed to forestall catastrophic climate change, he said, they could “win a Nobel prize, and save the world at the same time.”

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