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Foundation gives CMU $30 million for energy institute

| Thursday, April 4, 2013, 10:27 a.m.

A $30 million grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation could help Carnegie Mellon University find the next Jay Whitacre.

An associate professor of materials science and engineering at the university, Whitacre developed a novel sodium-ion battery that can store power for later use in the electrical grid. The technology attracted the attention — and investment — of Microsoft's Bill Gates and others, and the Whitacre-founded Aquion Energy will open a manufacturing plant near Pittsburgh next year.

“We'd love to have a couple more Jay Whitacres. .... He helped design the batteries for the Mars rover,” said M. Granger Morgan, director of the Wilton E. Scott Institute for Energy Innovation, which began in September. Morgan is head of Carnegie Mellon's Department of Engineering and Public Policy.

Whitacre said the Mellon Foundation grant “is absolutely going to help move forward the Scott Institute,” which has an advantage over other facilities because various research components can have ready access to each other.

The university said Thursday the $30 million gift to expand its strategic initiative to address energy research, education and innovation is the largest private foundation grant in its history. The gift will allow the Scott Institute to build upon the energy-related work already done at the campus and “take it to the next level,” Morgan said.

Another gift from the foundation, a $7 million grant to Seton Hill University, will help build a Health Sciences Center on the school's main campus in Greensburg, officials said.

The project is part of the university's long-term expansion plan. The grant is the largest gift in the school's history, said Michele Ridge, chairwoman of the board of trustees.

“The foundation's gift helps the university ascend to a new era of excellence in the sciences,” Ridge said.

The three-story center will feature an all-glass cylindrical entrance and interior connections to Lynch Hall, the science building.

Carnegie Mellon's Scott Institute in February released its first round of seed grants to explore technology, policy issues on energy efficiency and new energy sources.

The Mellon Foundation gift will support energy research projects, faculty and student recruitment, and construction of the Sherman and Joyce Bowie Scott Hall, which will house the Scott Institute.

The gift follows the foundation's previous record-setting $25 million grant to CMU in 2007 to fund life sciences initiatives.

Staff writer Kari Andren contributed to this story. Craig Smith is a staff writer at Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or csmith@tribweb.com.

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