The Maxnet Promise
When an opportunity to change the world comes around, it’s a good idea to take advantage of it. Last year, Germany’s Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science, one of the world’s most productive and innovative research organizations, invited UVA to join. Although Max Planck researchers collaborate with thousands of colleagues worldwide, few universities are asked to participate.
It was a mark of distinction when labs from the School of Engineering and Applied Science and College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences were asked to join MAXNET Energy, a consortium of eight Max Planck Institutes dedicated to clean energy research. UVA is the only U.S. member.
Last spring, President Teresa A. Sullivan signed a memorandum of understanding with the society, formalizing the relationship. The two institutions believe so strongly in this partnership’s potential that they’ve put money on the line, investing $2 million each during the partnership’s first five years. Initial funding from UVA came from the President’s Fund for Excellence, the Engineering School, and the College.
The resulting collaboration is focused on developing processes for clean and efficient energy production. These involve new methods for using solar energy to produce fuels and new catalyst technologies for the clean conversion of natural gas to liquid fuels for the transportation sector.
“There is no single technological factor that influences societies more than energy.”
“There is no single technological factor that influences societies more than energy. Access to affordable clean energy from renewable resources is among the world’s most pressing challenges,” said chemistry professor T. Brent Gunnoe, who co-directs UVA’s side of the partnership with Robert Davis, the Earnest Jackson Oglesby Professor of Engineering and Applied Science.
The partnership involves both researchers and students. Faculty now have an extensive network of collaborators and world-class researchers. Postdoctoral fellows, graduate students and, eventually, undergraduates will come face to face with some of the world’s leading scientists. Students will join an international team that meets regularly, both online and in person. “Our mission is both discovery and education, so our students are going to get the best of both worlds,” said Davis.
Aly Verlander, a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry, agreed that the partnership offers her an unparalleled learning experience. “I wouldn’t have the opportunity anywhere else to work with so many scientists, all of whom are interested in what I’m interested in,” she said.
Gunnoe and Davis believe that MAXNET has the potential to provide benefits for UVA far into the future. “This collaboration could be the first step in a major transformation for the University,” Gunnoe said.