Purdue News

March 2006

A monthly letter from President Martin C. Jischke

Dear Purdue Partners,

During the last week of March, I traveled to our nation's capital to participate in meetings of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. The membership of PCAST includes a broad variety of representatives from business, industry, higher education, the media and public interest groups. The council's job is to study the challenges our nation faces in the fields of science and technology and to make policy recommendations to President Bush.

Much of the discussion at the March meeting focused on energy-related issues, and as a member of PCAST's subcommittee on energy, I took a special interest in the topic. During his 2006 State of the Union Address, President Bush stated dramatically that "America is addicted to oil" and proposed that it is time for the nation to develop new energy sources and improve existing alternatives to oil.

Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, writing recently in Business Week, supported the president's argument and pointed out that the United States, with 5 percent of the Earth's population, uses 25 percent of all the oil produced. He also noted that most of the world's oil is in nations that either are hostile to America or are potentially unstable.

When we consider the degree to which our nation's economy, our people's way of life and our national security depend on oil and petroleum products, it is frighteningly easy to imagine a crisis if the flow of these products were disrupted.

It is not realistic to expect other forms of energy to completely replace the fossil fuels that power industry, transportation and nearly all our public utilities. The dependency is too great, and the infrastructure too vast. However, there are alternative sources with proven technologies and the potential to play greatly increased roles.

Purdue University and the state of Indiana are very well-positioned to play important roles in developing and improving technologies that can reduce oil dependency. The Energy Center in Purdue's Discovery Park is working to improve our ability to use a broad spectrum of energy sources, including clean coal, solar power, nuclear, wind, hydrogen and fuels derived from biological sources, such as corn and soybeans.

Purdue researchers are working on ways to increase the production of ethanol from corn, soybeans and other products. These efforts not only have the potential to increase yields and improve the quality of ethanol, but they also are important to Indiana's economy. In finding ways to convert corn, soybeans and other renewable commodities into fuel, we are expanding markets for Indiana's agricultural industry.

Other Purdue researchers are working on clean-coal technologies. The Coal Transformation Laboratory is being established in the Energy Center and will focus on technology for converting coal into combustible gases and liquids that can be burned cleanly to meet the expanding demands for electric power, heating and transportation. As one of the nation's leading producers of coal, Indiana will benefit economically from these research efforts.

While petroleum will continue to be the primary energy source for the foreseeable future, America and the rest of the world have recognized the need to explore other ways to fuel our economy and support our way of life. This is happening in business, government and in universities. As we work on incremental alternatives to oil, we should keep in mind that it was less than 150 years ago that Edwin Drake drilled the first oil well. No one could have foreseen the revolutionary consequences of that event. Changes of equal magnitude are possible in our future, and they will only happen by pursuing new knowledge through research.

• • •

On March 23, Purdue hosted a summit on pandemic flu planning conducted on the West Lafayette campus at Gov. Mitch Daniels' request. More than 500 people attended the summit, and many others participated through video and online access.

Purdue is taking the prospect of a pandemic flu outbreak very seriously. A universitywide committee has been studying this issue and developing contingency plans since November 2005.

Purdue is a highly complex organization that provides a broad array of services to thousands of people. Among the questions the university must answer are how it will feed its students if no mass gatherings are allowed, how we would manage a potential quarantine and whether it would be necessary to suspend academic operations in the event of a widespread outbreak. These are frightening possibilities, but we can't afford to ignore them. Purdue is committed to being as prepared as it is possible to be if an influenza outbreak occurs.


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