Argonne National Lab director to discuss energy and sustainability at next Discovery Lecture

March 17, 2015  

Peter Littlewood

Peter Littlewood 
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Argonne National Laboratory director Peter Littlewood will tackle the complex issue of energy and sustainability as part of Purdue's Discovery Lecture Series at 1:30 p.m. March 25 in the Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship, Room 121.

The free public lecture, offered in conjunction with the Purdue Energy Center in Discovery Park, will unpack the current energy crisis and explore alternatives through a physicist's perspective.

Littlewood, a veteran in sustainable energy affairs, also will explore questions surrounding the transition to more sustainable sources – for instance, is it possible to make the switch while supporting our ever-improving standard of living?

"During his impressive international career, Dr. Littlewood has focused on discovery science across a broad range of disciplines and on creating and understanding new materials and chemistries that address the grand challenges in energy and the environment," said Purdue Energy Center director Maureen McCann, a professor of biological sciences.

"In this Discovery Lecture at Purdue, Littlewood will stress the need for robust principles to guide the energy investigation, such as realizing as a scientist that economic, geographical and social forces set boundaries."

Some experts think coal and nuclear energy could be replaced within 20 years by advancing efforts and technology in solar and wind energy. Littlewood said the reality is much more complicated. With the state of current technologies, there needs to be a host of inventions to achieve grounds for optimism in the future.

"To the extent that technology rather than conservation can play a role, efficient and low-cost materials technologies for energy capture, storage, transmission and use will be key," he said. "Can we rely on iterative improvements in what we have now, or do we need breakthroughs? If we are to have such breakthroughs, what is possible within the constraints of fundamental physical laws?"

Since 2011 Littlewood has served as director of Argonne, one of the nation's largest science and engineering research centers. He also is a physics professor in the James Franck Institute at the University of Chicago, which has served as prime contractor for Argonne since the U.S. Department of Energy lab's founding in 1946.

Previously Littlewood spent 14 years at the University of Cambridge as head of Cavendish Laboratory and the Department of Physics. He also worked at Bell Laboratories, beginning in 1980 as a postdoctoral member of the technical staff and by 1992 as head of Theoretical Physics Research.

Pankaj Sharma, managing director of the Purdue Energy Center, said Littlewood also will meet with academic leaders, learn about Purdue's research in addressing sustainability challenges in climate, energy, environment, food and water, and tour a battery energy research lab. "We also will discuss ways that Purdue and Argonne can collaborate at the institutional level," Sharma said.

Littlewood, Argonne's 13th director, holds six patents, has published more than 200 articles in scientific journals and has given over 200 talks at international conferences, universities and laboratories. He holds a bachelor's degree in natural sciences and a Ph.D. in physics, both from the University of Cambridge.

Through a $1 million gift to Discovery Park from Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment, Purdue launched the Discovery Lecture Series in 2006 to bring prominent speakers to campus. The Purdue Energy Center focuses on growing the Purdue energy research and education enterprise. The center engages researchers and students in a community that delivers new discoveries and develops disruptive technologies with national and global impact. 

Writers: Paige Pope, 219-363-2599,

Phillip Fiorini, 765-496-3133,

Pankaj Sharma, 765-496-7452, 

Source: Maureen McCann, 765-494-1610, 

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