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U.S. Energy Challenge Needs Both Science and Nation to Respond

boston college green energy expert on obama's upcoming energy speech

Chestnut Hill, Mass. (Oct. 22, 2009) –  America's appetite for energy and fuel require a bold new approach to "green power" and Boston College physicist Rev. Cyril Opeil, SJ, expects to hear President Obama issue a national call to action when he speaks on the topic Friday at MIT.

"I think the President and his Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, are calling on us all to not only make sacrifices, but to think in new ways," said Opeil, who plans to attend the president’s speech with Boston College Professor of Physics Zhifeng Ren. "If we turn the energy and talent of the scientific community toward solving this problem, we can do incredible things."

Opeil, an assistant professor of physics, and Ren, one of the nation’s leading nanotechnology researchers, partner with MIT colleagues and Oak Ridge National Laboratory on a project to develop solid-state materials that transfer solar heat to electricity. Ren and Opeil received $2.1 million in "green energy" funding from the U.S. Department of Energy last spring as part of the project.

"We have a present and future problem of energy and we need to generate energy at a much higher rate," Opeil said. "All these little pieces of the energy puzzle – solar, wind, thermoelectric, geothermal – are all part of the solution. The solution of the 19th and 20th centuries was petroleum. The solution for the 21st century must be different."

Ren and Opeil work with MIT researchers at the Solid-State Solar-Thermal Energy Conversion Center – known as S3TEC – one of 46 new Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) established by the US Department of Energy to accelerate the scientific breakthroughs needed to build a new 21st-century energy economy. 

Opeil said a shift from petroleum-based energy solutions holds environmental benefits and could build geo-political stability in an era when competition for increasingly scarce resources intensifies.

"I feel so fortunate to be a part of this work with Professor Ren, who is one of the leaders in his field," said Opeil. "As a physicist, as a Jesuit and as an American, I’m proud to be a part of this so I can contribute to this great work the president has so boldly engaged."

To view the president’s speech, which takes place at Noon in MIT’s Kresge Auditorium, please see the website

For more information, contact Ed Hayward of the Boston College Office of News & Public Affairs at 617-552-4826, or by email at