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|Good Energy - Route to alternative energy technologies
By Amanda Jaffe-Katz
An innovative interdisciplinary course, “Clean Energy: Technology under Policy and Economic Constraints,” was first offered at Technion by Lady Davis Visiting Professor to the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, Prof. Isa Bar-On. Her students explored alternative energy options encompassing such topics as Energy from Waste, Solar Power, and Wind Energy, as well as the electric car grid venture, Better Place, spearheaded by Technion alumnus Shai
“It has been a very positive experience with the students,” Bar-On reports toward the end of her one-year sabbatical in July 2008. “Clearly, having more PhD students raises the level of the course.” There are 19 graduate students participating in the discussion group who major in different disciplines including Environmental Science, Materials Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering.
Bar-On’s teaching strategy requires her students to do “real work,” that includes responding to readings by posting paragraphs on Moodle (Technion’s main online teaching application) and final presentations. Most of this communication is conducted in English‚ “a very nice effort by the students,” Bar-On comments. “The students’ goal is to get a draft paper ready for publication, and then I award them a grade of 100,” she summarizes.
Her aim is to emphasize how the technology works within the complex system of society. With regard to the Better Place initiative, Bar-On says, “We’re not looking at the psychological concerns associated with marketing, but rather at environmental and lifecycle issues. My question is: who picks up the tab for this high-level activity?”
Born and raised in post-WWII Germany, Bar-On arrived alone in Israel after high school. She completed degrees at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s School for Applied Science, whose objective, she says, was to turn scientists not into engineers but technologists. During her postdoctoral studies, Bar-On was offered a faculty position at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts - one of the first technological universities in the USA, founded in 1865. She has been there ever since and currently serves as director of its Alternative Fuel Economics Laboratory.
“Sustainable energy is definitely an ‘interest thing’ for me,” Bar-On says. “I started working on it before the hubbub - when oil was still around $50/barrel. I wanted to address a system-level issue and learned the methodology at MIT, where I was funded to study solid-oxide fuel cells. Then, through serendipity, my research interests expanded.”
“When I looked to teach my first Clean Energy course, I had to think about what this concept really means,” Bar-On recalls. “I enlisted eight faculty from chemical engineering, civil engineering, and technology policy who co-taught the course with me.”
Bar-On hopes that her students here will become more appreciative of the broader issues beyond the technical and technology challenges - an added bonus for the focused Technion student.
Bar-On wanted to return to Israel after working for 25 years in the U.S. on cutting-edge materials engineering problems and was excited to accept the sabbatical position at Technion. In addition to teaching this novel course, she is implementing a mechanical testing program and co-advising a master’s student with Prof. Daniel Rittel. “That’s my day job!” she laughs.