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Director of New Energy Institute Named at The University of Texas at Austin

Dr. Raymond Lee Orbach, the U.S. Department of Energy’s first undersecretary for science, has been appointed director of The University of Texas at Austin’s Energy Institute, a multi-disciplinary institute that combines the strengths of the university’s schools and colleges to advance solutions to today’s energy-related challenges.

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Dr. Raymond Lee Orbach, the U.S. Department of Energy’s first undersecretary for science, has been appointed director of The University of Texas at Austin’s Energy Institute, a multi-disciplinary institute that combines the strengths of the university’s schools and colleges to advance solutions to today’s energy-related challenges.

Raymond Lee Orbach

Dr. Raymond Lee Orbach

The Energy Institute is developing multi-disciplinary research programs and educational materials to overcome the scientific and technological barriers to a secure and sustainable energy future, while helping policy leaders make the informed decisions required to reach this goal.

Orbach, whose appointment begins Aug. 1, also will have joint appointments as a professor with tenure in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Cockrell School of Engineering; the Department of Physics, the College of Natural Sciences; and the Jackson School of Geosciences.

The Energy Institute will integrate the most advanced expertise from across the university’s schools and colleges, including the Cockrell School of Engineering, Jackson School of Geosciences, College of Natural Sciences, McCombs School of Business, School of Law, LBJ School of Public Affairs, School of Architecture and the College of Liberal Arts, as well as expertise from the private sector.

“I am delighted that Ray Orbach has agreed to serve as the director of our Energy Institute at The University of Texas at Austin,” said Steven Leslie, provost of the university. “He is a world leader of energy research and policy and he will be instrumental in organizing research efforts of our faculty in areas of critical importance to our state’s and nation’s energy needs.”

“It is with great enthusiasm that I look forward to becoming a part of The University of Texas at Austin,” said Orbach. “The superb quality of the faculty and students, its supportive relationship with the State of Texas, and its national and international renown make this an opportunity of enormous promise. I am delighted to be a part of the university’s faculty, and I look forward to working with the campus, the city of Austin, the Texas legislature and our nation’s leaders to solve the technical and policy issues facing our planet’s energy future.”

Orbach said he sees the Energy Institute as a unifying collaborator to help The University of Texas at Austin mobilize its faculty and academic resources, as well as talent from other universities in The University of Texas System, to make “transformational changes in energy production and usage” of fossil fuel, renewable and nuclear energy resources. He said these changes would address threats to the economic future of Texas, the nation and the world.

Orbach said the energy resource issues to be addressed initially would include:

  • Fossil fuel production and use operating in a carbon-constrained environment. The lack of economical technology, combined with an absence of a legal and policy framework, could put Texas’ energy resources at risk.
  • New concepts and technologies in wind and solar energy for the development of electrical energy storage for these resources.
  • Recycling spent fuel from carbon-free nuclear energy. The university has the opportunity to recreate a robust radio-chemistry program to extract the energy contained in spent fuel and to substantially reduce its toxicity and heat load for subsequent storage.

“These three areas combine to form the nexus of the future of energy production and use in the State of Texas requiring game-changing transformational research and development,” said Orbach. “With success in this endeavor, our state will enjoy an economy and quality of life in the future comparable to that which it has enjoyed in the past.”

Orbach was sworn in as the Department of Energy’s first undersecretary for science in June 2006. He was the chief scientist of the Department of Energy, and adviser to Secretary Samuel W. Bodman on science policy as well as all scientific aspects of the Department of Energy, including basic and applied research ranging from nuclear energy, to environmental cleanup of Cold War legacy sites, to defense programs. Orbach was responsible for planning, coordinating and overseeing the Energy Department’s research and development programs and its 17 national laboratories, as well as the department’s scientific and engineering education activities.

Orbach also was responsible for the department’s implementation of the president’s American Competitiveness Initiative, designed to help drive continued U.S. economic growth. He led the department’s efforts to transfer technologies from Department of Energy national laboratories and facilities to the global marketplace.

From the time of his Senate confirmation in 2002, Orbach also was the 14th director of the Office of Science at the Department of Energy. He managed an organization that was the third largest federal sponsor of basic research in the United States, the primary supporter of the physical sciences in the country and one of the premier science organizations in the world.

From 1982 to 1992, Orbach was the provost of the College of Letters and Science at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and from 1992 to 2002, he was chancellor of the University of California (UC), Riverside. Under his leadership, UC Riverside doubled in size, achieved national and international recognition in research and led the University of California in diversity and educational opportunity. In addition to his administrative duties at UC Riverside, Orbach sustained a research program, worked with postdoctoral, graduate and undergraduate students in his laboratory and taught the freshman physics course each year.

Orbach received his bachelor of science degree in physics from the California Institute of Technology in 1956. He received his Ph.D. degree in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1960 and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He began his academic career as a postdoctoral fellow at Oxford University in 1960 and became an assistant professor of applied physics at Harvard University in 1961. He joined the faculty of UCLA two years later as an associate professor and became a professor in 1966.

Orbach’s research in theoretical and experimental physics has resulted in the publication of more than 240 scientific articles. He has received numerous honors as a scholar, including two Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowships, a National Science Foundation Senior Postdoctoral Fellowship at Oxford University, a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship at Tel Aviv University, the Joliot Curie Professorship at the Ecole Superieure de Physique et Chimie Industrielle de la Ville de Paris, the Lorentz Professorship at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, the 1991-1992 Andrew Lawson Memorial Lecturer at University of California, Riverside, the 2004 Arnold O. Beckman Lecturer in Science and Innovation at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Outstanding Alumni Award from the California Institute of Technology in 2005.

Orbach is a fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has held numerous visiting professorships at universities around the world and is a member of 20 scientific, professional and civic boards.