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BC Graduate in Line for US Energy Secretary Post

03/14/13
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Ernest J. Moniz, Class of 1966.

By Ed Hayward | Chronicle Staff

Published: Mar. 13, 2013

News of President Barack Obama’s nomination of 1966 Boston College graduate Ernest J. Moniz as US Energy Secretary has elicited approval from BC Physics faculty members past and present.

“We are delighted that Dr. Moniz has been nominated by President Obama,” said Evelyn J. and Robert A. Ferris Professor and Physics Department Chairman Michael Naughton. “In these critical times for US and world energy policies, there is no one more qualified for the job.”

Moniz, who earned his bachelor’s degree in physics, is currently the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics and Engineering Systems at MIT, as well as the director of the MIT Energy Initiative and the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment.

No stranger to Washington, Moniz served as undersecretary of energy from 1997 to 2001, overseeing all of the Department of Energy’s science and energy programs and the national laboratory system. From 1995 to 1997, he served as the associate director for science in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Retired Professor of Physics Joe Chen, meanwhile, recalls a younger Moniz as a diligent and helpful undergraduate, talented enough to earn recognition as a Scholar of the College.

In a recent email, Chen said that Moniz stood out among a group of excellent students who came to BC to study physics in the 1960s. “He thrived in our challenging research environment without all the ancillary supports. His honors thesis was a beautiful piece of work during which he had to learn group theory all on his own.”

Moniz’s special qualities extended beyond the classroom, according to Chen, whether excelling on the tennis court or pitching in to help relocate lab equipment from Devlin Hall to temporary quarters in McElroy.

“During the renovation of Devlin Hall, he helped us move and reassemble all the heavy research equipment to a spare room in McElroy – next to the loading dock and all the trash cans.”

He praised Moniz’s broad range of accomplishments during his career in science and public policy. “Ernie has moved on with significant contributions both to science and the overall welfare of this country,” Chen said.

In a 2009 interview, Moniz fondly recalled his time as a student at BC. He stressed the importance of undergraduate research opportunities and called Alumni Stadium his favorite campus location.

Addressing his “secrets to success,” Moniz cited “hard work, core values, and high standards – all without compromise.”

In 1999, the Alumni Association honored Moniz with its Award of Excellence for his achievements in science.

Moniz currently serves on the President’s Council of Advisors for Science and Technology and on the Department of Defense Threat Reduction Advisory Committee. He recently served on the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future.

Moniz’s principal research contributions have been in theoretical nuclear physics and in energy technology and policy studies. He has been on the MIT faculty since 1973.

If he wins confirmation, Moniz would lead the largest US funder of research in the physical sciences. The DOE, which had a budget of more than $29 billion in fiscal year 2012, runs 17 national laboratories and many other research facilities, and has more than 16,000 federal employees and 90,000 contract employees at the national laboratories and other facilities.