On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded $20 million to the new Oak Ridge Institute at the University of Tennessee to expand the university’s partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, allowing this important institution to train the next generation of American scientists and engineers.
I joined U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, Governor Bill Lee, UT President Randy Boyd, UT Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman, Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thomas Zacharia, U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn and U.S. Representatives Chuck Fleischman and Tim Burchett on a video conference to discuss this announcement.
The Oak Ridge Institute at the University of Tennessee is the culmination of about 40 years of efforts – by many university presidents and faculty, many governors and many citizens – to merge the strengths between UT Knoxville and ORNL.
One of the joys of my public life has been to see and encourage the partnership between the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory from the vantage point of governor, president of the University of Tennessee, and now chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, which sends about $4 billion in federal money to Oak Ridge annually. As chairman of that Subcommittee, I included $20 million in last year’s spending bill to promote workforce development and prepare the next generation of American scientists and engineers.
Most observers believe that a great portion of our wealth in the United States since World War II comes from government-sponsored research, and sometimes we take for granted that America has only five percent of the world’s population, but has 20 percent of the world’s money. That’s partly because we have a steady stream of highly talented scientists and engineers who work on new problems and solve them. And that’s exactly what this institute will contribute – hundreds of American scientists and engineers who can solve problems and create jobs.
The Oak Ridge Institute will be a pipeline for a new supply of American-trained scientists and engineers, which our country sorely needs in this competitive world. It will also combine the resources and experience of the nation’s largest science and energy laboratory with a major research university.
Already, the UT-Oak Ridge partnership has 250 joint faculty, five joint institutes, and 250 PhD students in jointly administered energy and data programs.
With such a strong foundation and such strong current leadership, I am betting that during the next 80 years, the Oak Ridge Corridor brand and the Oak Ridge Institute will be recognized as one of the most important science and engineering alliances in the world.