Seven Decades of Energy and Sustainability Educational and Research Activities at Illinois Tech Lead to the Formation of WISER

Illinois Institute of Technology's foray into the energy arena can be traced to the 1940s, when Illinois Tech first developed a formal affiliation with the Institute of Gas Technology (IGT), establishing the gas engineering graduate program and launching energy-related research between the two entities.

This arrangement continued until 1985, when IGT phased out its gas engineering program and, at the same time, the Gas Research Institute, under the direction of Henry Linden, provided funding to Illinois Tech's Department of Chemical Engineering to attract new faculty to energy related areas. Hamid Arastoopour was the faculty member hired by Illinois Tech to establish the Energy Technology education and research program. As part of this program, a specialization (minor) in energy technology at the undergraduate level and an energy research program focus were launched.

An industrial membership program also was established to attract funding to support student scholarships at the undergraduate and Ph.D. levels. In addition, funds were raised to establish the Max McGraw Endowed Professorship in Energy and Power Engineering and Management, occupied by Dr. Linden.

During the 1990s, the scope of the Energy Technology Program was broadened and renamed the Energy, Environment and Economics (E3) program. During this time, educational specializations in E3 at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, and a Master of Environmental Management degree (a collaborative program between Illinois Tech's Stuart School of Business and the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering) were launched.

In addition, funds were raised for an endowed chair professorship—namely, the Linden Chair, occupied by Dr. Arastoopour.

Several clusters of excellence in research—including the Energy + Power Center, the Electric Power and Power Electronics Center, the Center for Electrochemical Science and Engineering, and the environmental engineering research focus—were also established.

In response to urgent national need, in 2004 Illinois Tech took a leadership role in establishing the Energy and Sustainability Institute (ESI), building on the university’s reputation at that time for more than six decades as a leader in energy research and education. ESI activities were significantly expanded beyond engineering and science to include strong participation with Illinois Tech's College of Architecture and Stuart School of Business as well as involvement by faculty from law, design and psychology.

In 2007, Illinois Tech benefactor and trustee Ralph Wanger provided funding to further enhance the scope of energy and sustainability research activities at Illinois Tech, formerly under the auspices of ESI, under the renamed Wanger Institute for Sustainable Energy Research (WISER). This funding provides needed infrastructure support as well as seed research grants for faculty and initial graduate scholarships to attract the brightest and most creative Ph.D. students to WISER—formally established in the 2008/2009 academic year.

This funding has also allowed Illinois Tech to assume a leadership position as our nation faces significant future challenges to the security of our energy and water supplies and the sustainability of our natural resources. WISER is positioned to make key contributions to the advancement of national and global energy and sustainability education, research, development, and economic and policy issues.