This year's commencement speaker, Pulitzer Prize-winning energy expert Daniel Yergin, came to campus a day early to get better acquainted with Caltech's faculty and students, and in particular to learn more about Caltech's energy initiatives.
Yergin spent the morning touring JPL. "I was especially excited to see the Curiosity Rover," says Yergin. "Also, it was remarkable to actually be in the space flight operations center, having seen it in the news so often before."
In the afternoon at Caltech, Yergin specifically asked to spend most of his time meeting with people to learn more about their work. "Caltech is such a preeminent institution," says Yergin, "and I thought that coming for commencement provided a wonderful opportunity to get a sense of the culture here. Caltech has such a large impact for such a small place, and I wanted to experience more of it."
Of course, high on Yergin's agenda was the opportunity to meet with those engaged in research on sustainable energy. A mid-afternoon meeting at the Resnick Sustainability Institute yielded a lively exchange between Yergin, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows about the future of energy research and the geopolitics of energy policy. Asked what he had learned from writing The Prize and The Quest, his two bestselling volumes on the history of oil, gas, and energy policy, Yergin replied that the main takeaway was that throughout the history of the industry, "everybody will feel they know where everything related to energy is going to go, and then in four or five years, something comes along to completely change it."
Stressing the increasingly important role of innovation in energy technology and geopolitics, especially as global markets continue to grow, Yergin says, "The challenge is that energy is a long-range investment and a long-range research project. It's very hard to say what is actually going to make a difference, but the cumulative impact of what you and people like you are doing is absolutely necessary. It's these kind of centers that will map the future of energy policy. The innovation is not going to come from big companies; it's going to come from universities and research institutes. So keep doing what you're doing."