Penn Arts and Sciences Becoming a POWERHOUSE in Confronting Climate Change

Saturday, December 31, 2016

By Elizabeth Pokempner


P. Roy, C’50, HON’99, and Diana Vagelos

Penn Arts and Sciences is making great strides in its commitment to addressing climate change. Thanks to the creation last spring of the Vagelos Institute for Energy Science and Technology, and the recruitment of a new director for the Institute, the School is bringing Penn one step closer to becoming a national center for energy research.

Penn Arts and Sciences’ strategic plan, Foundations and Frontiers, was created based on the School’s special strengths and the world’s major challenges. With an overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is causing climate change, the School’s focus on energy, sustainability, and the environment recognizes the urgency of finding sustainable approaches, with critical consequences for future generations.

The Vagelos Institute for Energy Science and Technology, made possible by a gift from P. Roy Vagelos, C’50, HON’99, and his wife, Diana, is designed to bring together world-class researchers to solve scientific and technological problems in the areas of alternative sources of energy and energy use and storage. As the first Vagelos Professor of Energy Research and director of the new institute, internationally renowned investigator Karen Goldberg will lead this effort.

“Climate change is probably the greatest threat to all people in the world, and it is caused in large part by burning fossil fuels,” said Roy Vagelos. “We must invent and develop alternative sources of fuels, new technology for energy storage, and more efficient means for transmission. It will take a lot of research to get this done, and we believe that Penn, with its great faculty and students and interdisciplinary approach, is the place for it to happen. Dr. Goldberg’s experience makes her the right person to direct this enterprise, and I look forward to seeing the Vagelos Institute develop under her leadership.”


Karen Goldberg, incoming Vagelos Professor of Energy Research

Goldberg received this year’s American Chemical Society Award in Organometallic Chemistry for her groundbreaking work. “Karen’s research has led to efficient, environmentally and economically beneficial methods for producing chemicals and fuels from a variety of sources,” said Gary Molander, Hirschmann-Makineni Professor of Chemistry and chair of the Department of Chemistry at Penn Arts and Sciences.

Goldberg comes to Penn from the University of Washington, where she was the Nicole A. Boand Endowed Professor of Chemistry. She also directs a National Science Foundation Phase II Center for Chemical Innovation, the Center for Enabling New Technologies through Catalysis (CENTC). This is a collaborative effort among 20 principal investigators and their students at 15 institutions across North America, with a total budget of more than $35 million over 10 years. CENTC also has an industrial affiliates program involving major chemical, petrochemical, and pharmaceutical companies.

“CENTC is an extraordinary success and has become a model for all other centers that have followed,” said Molander. “Karen’s achievements in this endeavor make her a singularly appropriate candidate for the director of the Vagelos Institute.”

“This is an incredible opportunity to collaborate with a great faculty to work on one of the most important problems facing our society,” said Goldberg. “We need chemists and chemical engineers working together, and at Penn that’s already happening. The new Pennovation Center will also help to enable vital interactions with industrial partners. I look forward to the Vagelos Institute being a great gathering place for people working together to find creative and viable solutions to this challenge.”

“Roy and Diana Vagelos have made energy and sustainability their mission as well as ours,” says Steven Fluharty, dean of Penn Arts and Sciences. “With their generosity, we are putting the pieces in place to make a tangible impact on this global challenge.”

The Vageloses’ philanthropic investment in the Vagelos Institute follows their 2015 gift to endow two professorships focused on energy research in Penn Arts and Sciences, and their 2012 creation of the Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research (VIPER), a joint undergraduate degree program of Penn Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Science. The Vageloses’ longtime support of Penn Arts and Sciences also includes gifts to establish many science-related programs, undergraduate scholarships, and endowed professorships.

Dr. Roy Vagelos, a chemistry major who graduated from Penn in 1950 before going on to receive a medical degree from Columbia University, is the retired chairman and chief executive officer of Merck and Co. and the chairman of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. He served as chair of the University’s Board of Trustees from 1995 to 1999, and he is a former member of Penn Arts and Sciences’ Board of Overseers and the former chair of the Committee for Undergraduate Financial Aid. As a member of the Board of Directors of The Nature Conservancy, he led the establishment of its NatureNet Science Fellowship program in partnership with leading global universities, including Penn. Diana Vagelos is a former overseer of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.