US Secretary of Energy Moniz to Receive Honorary Degree

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Focuses on clean energy, nuclear issues

By Joel Brown, BU Today

Ernest Moniz
Ernest Moniz. Photo courtesy of the Department of Energy

Engineering a clean-energy future is very much on Ernest J. Moniz’s mind these days, as the world tries to turn the Paris Agreement on climate into action to reduce global warming.

As US Secretary of Energy, Moniz directs the Department of Energy in supporting President Barack Obama’s goals of growing the economy, enhancing security, and protecting the environment. He also played a principal role in negotiating technical details of the United States’ nuclear agreement with Iran, a major focus of his tenure—as he explained on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

Moniz will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws at the University’s 143rd Commencement on Sunday, May 15, at Nickerson Field, and he will also speak at the College of Engineering Undergraduate Convocation on Saturday morning.

“Ernest Moniz is an engineer with a primary role in helping to formulate policies for the whole country on energy and the future of energy needs for the economy, while balancing the impact of energy use on the environment,” says Kenneth Lutchen, ENG dean. “It’s prestigious to have someone of that stature speak to a senior class that’s about to go out into the real world, a class whose theme has been Creating the Societal Engineer.”

“Our class has internalized the concept that their engineering foundation is a platform—whether they stay engineers or not—to have an impact on our society and improve or sustain our quality of life,” Lutchen says. “Ernie Moniz’s record represents someone who’s been involved pushing the agenda about energy and its impact on our lives. That’s a hot societal challenge, obviously, and engineers are going to play a major role in meeting that challenge.”

“#DidYouKnow we’ve slashed our #CO2 emissions @Energy?” Moniz tweeted last week from @ErnestMoniz, touting his department’s clean-power efforts. “Goal was 28% by 2020. We’re already [down] more than 34%.”

“It’s important to recognize that the deal reached in Paris is a beginning, not an end,” Moniz wrote in a Boston Globe op-ed on Earth Day. “The road from Paris requires that we now focus on advancing the clean-energy solutions needed to make the agreement work, and ramp up ambitions over time.”

In his Globe op-ed, Moniz noted several efforts to promote clean-energy innovation, including his department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E), which pushes the technology frontier and helps to bring new technologies to market. Since the program was founded in 2009, almost 200 projects have been completed, well over a billion dollars of private sector funding has followed, and 36 new companies have formed.

“On Earth Day, we are reminded that innovation has driven American productivity gains and remains essential for sustainable economic growth,” he wrote. “The Paris Agreement will surely accelerate clean energy deployment globally. Now is the time to double down on our clean energy innovation investments—and to assure that all parts of our country are fully engaged.”

From 1995 to 2001, Moniz served under President Bill Clinton, first as associate director for science in the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Executive Office of the President and, later, as under secretary of the Department of Energy. In the latter role, he oversaw science and energy programs, led a comprehensive review of our nuclear weapons stockpile stewardship, and served as a special negotiator for the disposition of Russian nuclear materials.

The grandson of immigrants from the Azores, Dr. Moniz was born in Fall River, Mass. He attended Boston College, where he earned a BS summa cum laude in physics in 1966. In 1971 he received a PhD in theoretical physics from Stanford University.

In 1973, Moniz began his academic career at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics and Engineering Systems, prior to his appointment as energy secretary in 2013.

Learn more about Commencement here.

A version of this story originally appeared on BU Today