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International university presidents declare energy research crucial

May 7, 2007 - By Christopher Leonard - The Associated Press

St. Louis Thirteen university presidents from around the world declared Monday that studying energy and the environment are the most important fields for researchers.

The group urged government agencies and corporations to pour more resources into finding new sources of energy that don't harm the environment, calling it the most pressing problem facing the world today.

"Our students are very excited by this area" of research, said Washington University Chancellor Mark Wrighton. "In fact, some of them are pushing ahead in some cases faster than we can respond."

The declaration came after a three-day conference at Washington University in St. Louis, hosted by the McDonnell International Scholars Academy. The university presidents made various commitments to support the research, from hiring new faculty to hosting symposiums on the subject.

Shenghong Wang, president of Fudan University in Shanghai, said he plans to expand the university's environment and energy department into a school of its own.

"This is a concern that is urgent indeed," Wang said. The new school will study alternative energy sources like hydrogen fuel cells, while finding ways the campus itself can cut back on energy use, he said.

Wrighton said Washington University plans to add a faculty position to coordinate environmental and energy research. The school also announced Monday it will give a $500,000 grant to fund another symposium on the subject.

Wrighton said it will be critical to discover new energy sources because world energy demand is expected to double by the year 2050. He said corporations have a major stake in the research because it will yield profitable new technology.

"If you could come up with even a small fraction of renewable energy resources, that already is a huge business opportunity," he said.


On the Net: McDonnell International Scholars Academy: http://mcdonnell.wustl.edu/