Majumdar discusses mentorship and more at Soo Lecture
His lecture was titled “Mechanical Science and Engineering at the Extremes: Role of Mentors in Shaping Ideas and Careers.”
Majumdar shared his thoughts about this unique presentation:
“I feel honored to give the 2019 Soo Distinguished lecture, especially since I am an academic grandson of Professor Shao Lee Soo, who was the advisor of Professor Chang-Lin Tien, my PhD advisor.
“My acceptance of this invitation sparked a question in my mind: How do mentors shape our research and career, and what have I learnt from my experiences? Many individuals deeply influence our ideas and career, most importantly our students and post-doctoral fellows, as well as our family. However, mentors hold a very special place because they inject their academic DNA in us, such that we often inadvertently find ourselves approaching challenges and opportunities in research and, more broadly, life, like our mentors.
“In my career, I have been blessed by many mentors, but two of them stand out because of how I closely and long I worked with them, and how I have come to observe and learn from them. The first is, of course, Professor Chang-Lin Tien, and the second, much later in life, is Professor Steven Chu. They have several common characteristics – an incredible openness and ability to quickly absorb knowledge of a wide spectrum of fields, beyond their disciplinary silos; fearlessness in moving into new and different fields and connecting the dots between them to create something new; tough-mindedness, hard work and determination to dig deep into a research topic based on internal convictions, regardless of whether the topic is fashionable or not; maintaining a high bar for excellence and perfection in whatever they do; handling students, post-docs and collaborators with the utmost respect, transparency and with their best interest in mind; and an undaunting passion to serve the people for a meaningful cause. In addition to these traits, they have both underscored research opportunities by pushing the extremes – length, time, energy, mass - which has become an underlying theme of my research.
“In this talk, I will discuss our work to explore of extremes of nanometer-scale thermal, electronic, optical and fluidic phenomena, which were catalyzed during my graduate days with Professor Chang-Lin Tien and continue even now. Professor Steven Chu introduced me to the field of climate change and a sustainable energy future, arguably the defining challenge of the 21st century, and one which is at the global scale involving gigatonnes of CO2. I will discuss some of our thinking and work in this realm as well.”
About Arun Majumdar
Dr. Arun Majumdar is a faculty member of the Departments of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering (by courtesy) and co-director of the Precourt Institute for Energy, which integrates and coordinates research and education activities across all seven Schools and the Hoover Institution at Stanford.
Dr. Majumdar's research in the past has involved the science and engineering of nanoscale materials and devices, especially in the areas of energy conversion, transport and storage as well as biomolecular analysis. His current research focuses on using electrochemical reactions for thermal energy conversion, thermochemical water splitting reactions to produce carbon-free hydrogen, understanding the limits of heat transport in nanostructured materials and a new effort to re-engineer the electricity grid.
In October 2009, Dr. Majumdar was nominated by President Obama and confirmed by the Senate to become the Founding Director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E), where he served till June 2012 and helped ARPA-E become a model of excellence for the government with bipartisan support from Congress and other stakeholders. Between March 2011 and June 2012, he also served as the Acting Under Secretary of Energy, enabling the portfolio that reported to him: Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Office of Electricity Delivery and Reliability, Office of Nuclear Energy and the Office of Fossil Energy, as well as multiple cross-cutting efforts such as Sunshot, Grid Tech Team and others that he had initiated. Furthermore, he was a Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, on a variety of matters related to management, personnel, budget, and policy. In 2010, he was of Secretary Chu’s team that helped stopped the leak in the Deep Water Horizon (BP) oil spill.
After leaving Washington, DC and before joining Stanford, Dr. Majumdar was the Vice President for Energy at Google, where he created several energy technology initiatives, especially at the intersection of data, computing and electricity grid, and advised the company on its broader energy strategy.
Prior to joining the Department of Energy, Dr. Majumdar was the Almy & Agnes Maynard Chair Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science & Engineering at University of California–Berkeley and the Associate Laboratory Director for energy and environment at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Dr. Majumdar is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He served as the Vice Chairman of the Advisory Board to US Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, and was also a Science Envoy for the US Department of State with focus on energy and technology innovation in the Baltics and Poland. He served as a member of the Council of the National Academy of Engineering, and is currently on the Science Advisory Board of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and on the Boards of Directors of the non-profits, Electric Power Research Institute and Cyclotron Road. He is a member of the International Advisory Panel for Energy of the Singapore Ministry of Trade and Industry and sits on the Advisory Board of Envision Energy, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the New Energy Group at Royal Dutch Shell and First Light Fusion.
Dr. Majumdar received his bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay in 1985 and his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley in 1989.