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Norwegian Crown Prince Haakon

Norway's Crown Prince Haakon, second from left, chats with College of Biological Sciences dean Robert Elde, left, on campus Wednesday, October 19.

New chair will bridge fields of renewable energy and microbial genomics

New chair will bridge fields of renewable energy and microbial genomics

By Deane Morrison

Published on October 20, 2005

When Norway's Crown Prince Haakon came to town Wednesday, he brought the University a gift even though he was the one celebrating a birthday. Not his own; the prince chose the centennial year of Norwegian independence and his family's ascension to the throne to announce his government's gift to the University of $750,000 for an endowed faculty position in the fields of renewable energy and microbial genomics, called the Norwegian Centennial Interdisciplinary Chair. The gift stems from several years of collaborative research between the University of Minnesota and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (located in As, about 40 miles south of Oslo) in the fields of bioenergy, biobased products, and genomics. Renewable energy and microbial genomics are two engines powering the University's drive to transform itself into one of the world's top three public research universities. And because, as Humphrey Institute professor Kenneth Keller told a gathering of nanotechnologists earlier this month, "most creativity lies at the boundaries of disciplines rather than within," the chair's emphasis on both fields portends some pretty hot running for those engines. "Breakthroughs in science come about most often when teams of scientists and graduate students work collaboratively on related projects over time," says Robert Elde, dean of the College of Biological Sciences. "I call these 'dream teams' because, when you have the right set of people involved, you can make astounding progress toward finding solutions to some of the hardest scientific problems. We already have a great working relationship with the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. This new chair will provide the catalyst that could lead to advances in using biofuels, developing biobased products, and applying functional genomics. Work in these areas can have a huge impact on our environment, the cost of energy, and even the safety of our food." The chairholder will boost work the University has already begun through the Presidential Initiative on the Environment and Renewable Energy (PIERE). That work includes research and education in ecosystem sciences, renewable energy, and using microbes to manufacture drugs and other products more cheaply and efficiently. Lists of projects are available at the Web site of the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE), a component of PIERE. "Renewable energy is a field where we have research strengths across the University," says President Robert Bruininks. "We have the potential to be a world leader on environmental and renewable energy issues." The University will also work with the Norwegian-American community to raise gifts for an endowed Norwegian Centennial Graduate Fellowship to support the exchange of graduate students from the University and cooperating universities in Norway. The earnings from this fund will be matched by the University of Minnesota's 21st Century Graduate Fellowship Program.

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