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Nag Patibandla: Focusing on Energy Solutions

Nag Patibandla, director of Rensselaer’s Center for Future Energy Systems

Photo by Lonny Kalfus

Nag Patibandla knows what it’s like to live without electricity.

“There was electricity in the schools, but not at my grandparents’ house for a long time. So it was kind of tough growing up,” says Patibandla, who was raised by his grandparents in a small village in south central India. “I always thought everyone should have electricity, a thought that stayed in the back of my mind.”

It’s now 2006. As the newly appointed director of Rensselaer’s Center for Future Energy Systems, Patibandla is leading the university’s global commitment to discover and develop cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable alternative energy sources.

The center, established in June 2005 in partnership with Cornell University and Brookhaven National Laboratory, aims to meet the energy challenges of the 21st century by focusing on innovation in and commercialization of energy conservation and renewable systems. Initial emphases will be on fuel cells and the hydrogen economy, smart lighting, and emerging renewable energy systems, such as solar and wind. New York state has pledged to invest $10 million in the center with designation as a Center for Advanced Technology.

Patibandla brings an extensive background in energy policy, management, and research, having worked in a variety of positions at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), General Electric, and as a researcher at Rensselaer.

He began his career in the materials engineering field, earning his bachelor’s degree in metallurgical engineering at India’s National Institute of Technology, and his master’s and doctoral degrees in related materials and ceramic engineering fields at Rutgers University.

For his doctoral work, Patibandla studied the formation and development of protective coatings for applications and components subjected to high temperatures, from the blades in aircraft machines and power generator turbines, to improving the processes in making chemicals and plastics. He built on that research as a postdoctoral fellow at GE’s Research and Development Center in Schenectady, N.Y.

While a research engineer at Rensselaer in the early 1990s, Patibandla conducted research under a NYSERDA grant, which focused on reducing the amount of energy that goes into processing materials. Impressed with his work, the state agency hired him to head its new materials advancement program to oversee similar projects.

“I thought working for NYSERDA would be a good opportunity to use my background and to become involved in the energy field at the same time,” he says.

During his 12 years at NYSERDA, Patibandla managed multiple industry and research programs, from overseeing the development of new products and material processes to heading the state’s Distributed Generation Combined Heat and Power Program. In 2003, he was honored as a “CHP Champion” by the United States Combined Heat and Power Association.

Appointed as head of the Center for Future Energy Systems in March, Patibandla is enthused about his closer hands-on involvement in basic and applied research, particularly drawing on his years of materials science experience.

He already is working with DayStar Technologies in Malta, N.Y., to develop thinner and more efficient photovoltaic materials for solar panels. He also is working with IGC SuperPower in Schenectady, to improve the processing of new superconductor materials for wires and transformers so the electrical grid can handle new power systems.

“The overarching goal of the center is to transform scientific knowledge into economically competitive, pragmatic applications for the 21st century,” Patibandla says. “Promoting and implementing energy efficiency and renewable energy through education and training paves the most viable path to a more secure energy future for the state and the nation.”

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Milestones

James Nondorf * James Nondorf has been appointed vice president for enrollment.

An accomplished entrepreneur, educator, and college administrator, he will be responsible for undergraduate and graduate admissions and will oversee the office of financial aid. Nondorf most recently served as the director of student outreach and associate director of admissions at Yale University. Additionally, he has served as a fellow at Yale’s Berkeley College, and as president of the Cambridge Technology Group. Nondorf received his bachelor’s in economics from Yale University and a master’s in ethics from Valparaiso University.

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Antoinette Maniatty ’87 Antoinette Maniatty ’87, professor of mechanical, aerospace, and nuclear engineering, has been named a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). The highest elected grade of membership in ASME, fellowship is conferred upon a member with at least 10 years of active engineering practice and who has made significant contributions to the profession. Maniatty’s research is based in the broad field of computational solid mechanics. Maniatty received a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Rensselaer in 1987, an M.S. from the University of Minnesota, and an M.S. and Ph.D. from Cornell University, all in mechanical engineering. She joined the Rensselaer faculty in 1992.
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James Hendler, a renowned computer scientist and World Wide Web researcher, has been appointed senior constellation professor of Rensselaer’s Tetherless World Research Constellation. Hendler will focus the work of the new Tetherless World Constellation on increasing access to information at any time and place without the need for a “tether” to a specific computer or device. Researchers envision an increasingly Web-accessible world in which personal digital assistants (PDAs), cell phones, laptops, and other technologies converge to offer the user interactive information and communication. Widely recognized as one of the inventors of the “Semantic Web,” Hendler is currently director of the Joint Institute for Knowledge Discovery and co-director of the Maryland Information and Network Dynamics Laboratory at the University of Maryland. He will join Rensselaer Jan. 1, 2007.
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Robert Palazzo Robert Palazzo, director of the Center for Bio-technology and Interdisciplinary Studies and professor of biology, has been named acting provost. In this position Palazzo will play an instrumental role in working with the campus community to advance the Institute’s mission. Since joining the Rensselaer faculty in 2002 Palazzo has been integral in elevating the prestige of Rensselaer’s Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies and in recruiting world-class faculty to lead the research taking place in the center. Robert Linhardt, the Ann and John H. Broadbent Jr. ’59 Senior Constellation Professor in Biocatalysis and Metabolic Engineering, will assume Palazzo’s duties at the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies on an interim basis.
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Murat Arcak Murat Arcak, assistant professor of electrical, computer, and systems engineering, has received the 2006 Donald P. Eckman Award from the American Automatic Control Council. The award recognizes an outstanding young engineer in the field of automatic control. Arcak joined the Rensselaer faculty in 2001 after receiving his Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
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Donald Aulenbach, professor emeritus of environmental engineering, has been elected to the New York Water Environment Association (NYWEA) Hall of Fame, in recognition of his exemplary commitment to improving the quality of the waters of New York state and providing many years of leadership to NYWEA. Aulenbach taught environmental engineering at Rensselaer from 1960 to 1990, as well as at Lenox Institute of Water Technology in Massachusetts. He is a diplomate of the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and a life member of the Water Environment Federation, the American Water Works Association, and the American Chemical Society.
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Jonas Braasch, assistant professor of architectural acoustics, was awarded the Lothar Cremer Award during the annual German Acoustics Conference held in March. The award is the highest scientific honor given by the German Acoustical Society, and is designed to recognize young scientists who have demonstrated excellence in acoustics research.
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James Lu James Lu, research associate professor of physics, applied physics, and astronomy, served as the chair and organizer of the 3D Packaging Workshop at the International Microelectronics and Packaging Society (IMAPS) Conference and Exhibition on Device Packaging March 20-23 in Scottsdale, Ariz. He received a plaque from the general chair of the IMAPS International Conference and Exhibition on Device Packaging in recognition of his service to the society.
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Petros Drineas Petros Drineas, assistant professor of computer science, has been awarded a Faculty Early Career Development Award (CAREER) from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Drineas will use the projected five-year, $400,000 grant to investigate novel computational algorithms for analyzing complex datasets with applications in health and medicine, computer science, and social sciences. The CAREER Award is given to faculty members at the beginning of their careers and is one of NSF’s most competitive and prestigious awards.
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Michael Abbott ’60 Michael Abbott ’60, professor emeritus of chemical engineering, died on May 31. Abbott was an internationally recognized expert in chemical thermodynamics, and he was the co-author of four textbooks, including the best-selling chemical engineering text of all time, Introduction to Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics, currently in its seventh edition. An adviser, professor, and mentor, Abbott was widely regarded as one of the Institute’s pre-eminent teachers. Throughout his career, he received numerous awards and recognition, including the first Outstanding Teaching Award given by the Rensselaer Alumni Association. In May, the Isermann Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering launched the annual Michael M. Abbott Lecture Series in his honor. Abbott earned his bachelor’s degree and doctorate at Rensselaer, where he was a member of Phi Mu Delta and made lifelong friends.
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