Georgia Tech EVPR Chaouki Abdallah Named President of Lebanese American University

Headshot of Chaouki Abdallah wearing a navy suit jacket and gold-patterned tie with a white a shirt. Chaouki is smiling.

Chaouki Abdallah, Georgia Tech's executive vice president for Research (EVPR), has been named the new president of the Lebanese American University in Beirut.  

Abdallah, MSECE 1982, Ph.D. ECE 1988, has served as EVPR since 2018; in this role, he led extraordinary growth in Georgia Tech's research enterprise. Through the work of the Georgia Tech Research Institute, 10 interdisciplinary research institutes (IRIs), and a broad portfolio of faculty research, Georgia Tech now stands at No. 17 in the nation in research expenditures — and No. 1 among institutions without a medical school.  

Additionally, Abdallah has also overseen Tech's economic development activities through the Enterprise Innovation Institute and such groundbreaking entrepreneurship programs as CREATE-X, VentureLab, and the Advanced Technology Development Center. 

Under Abdallah's strategic, thoughtful leadership, Georgia Tech strengthened its research partnerships with historically Black colleges and universities, launched the New York Climate Exchange with a focus on accelerating climate change solutions, established an AI Hub to boost research and commercialization in artificial intelligence, advanced biomedical research (including three research awards from ARPA-H), and elevated the Institute's annual impact on Georgia's economy to a record $4.5 billion.  

Prior to Georgia Tech, Abdallah served as the 22nd president of the University of New Mexico (UNM), where he also had been provost, executive vice president of academic affairs, and chair of the electrical and computer engineering department. At UNM, he oversaw long-range academic planning, student success initiatives, and improvements in retention and graduation rates. 

A national search will be conducted for Abdallah's replacement. In the coming weeks, President Ángel Cabrera will name an interim EVPR. 

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College of Engineering Recognizes 8 Faculty with 2024 Excellence Awards

Photo of Dan Molzahn

Dan Molzahn, assistant professor in the school of electrical and computer engineering and SEI initiative lead for the Energy Club received the outstanding teacher award from the College of Engineering (COE) as a part of its third annual Faculty awards. COE honored eight faculty members for their excellence in research, service, teaching, inventorship, and commercialization.

In addition to his research on energy systems, Molzahn has a goal of educating the next generation of electric power engineers. For instance, he leads a 30-student Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) team that develops video game simulations of power grids operating during extreme events. A first iteration of the game currently is installed at the Georgia Tech Dataseum in the Price Gilbert Library and plans are underway to incorporate a version into next year’s Seth Bonder high school summer camps.

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Martha Grover Named Thomas A. Fanning Chair in Equity Centered Engineering

Photo of Martha Grover

School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (ChBE) faculty member Martha Grover has been named the College’s Thomas A. Fanning Chair in Equity Centered Engineering. Grover was selected for her efforts to educate engineers who approach their work with an intent to close societal gaps of wealth, power, and privilege by ensuring equitable access to opportunity.

The endowed position was established via the Southern Company Foundation by Southern Company, which has been regularly recognized for its efforts to promote an organizational culture that ensures representation of all groups. Fanning recently retired as chairman, president, and CEO.

Grover is a systems engineer whose work addresses the complexity of molecular organization and how it can solve complicated grand challenges. For instance, she has worked with the Department of Energy for 10 years to create processes for separation and immobilization of millions of gallons of liquid nuclear waste at the Hanford Site in Washington and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. She’s developed real-time process monitoring of nuclear waste slurries to increase throughput and enhance safety.

Grover’s research also focuses on the origins of life and understanding the essential role of diversity and cooperation. Her other work includes modeling and engineering the self-assembly of atoms and small molecules to create larger scale structures and complex functionality.

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Jason Maderer (

College of Engineering, Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech Police Department Energizes Patrol Fleet With Electric SUVs

GT Police Fleet - Electric Patrol Car

Georgia Tech Polics Department's Ford Mustang Mach-E vehicle

The Georgia Tech Police Department (GTPD) is electrifying its patrol division with three all-electric Ford Mustang Mach-E GT SUVs, leading the national eco-shift among law enforcement.  

The e-SUVs join an already-growing electric fleet, with the department currently using various electric alternatives.  

“Having electric cars join our force is great. We already have other alternatives we utilize as vehicles to include electric golf carts, trikes, and electric bikes,” said GTPD Lt. Jessica Howard, adding that this development is one that further aligns with the Institute’s vision of sustainability.

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Angela Barajas Prendiville
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From Roots to Resilience: Investigating the Vital Role of Microbes in Coastal Plant Health

Four people walking across a salt marsh

Georgia Tech researchers surveying field sites in the salt marshes of Sapelo Island, Georgia.

Georgia’s saltwater marshes — living where the land meets the ocean — stretch along the state’s entire 100-mile coastline. These rich ecosystems are largely dominated by just one plant: grass.

Known as cordgrass, the plant is an ecosystem engineer, providing habitats for wildlife, naturally cleaning water as it moves from inland to the sea, and holding the shoreline together so it doesn’t collapse. Cordgrass even protects human communities from tidal surges.

Understanding how these plants stay healthy is of crucial ecological importance. For example, one known plant stressor prevalent in marsh soils is the dissolved sulfur compound, sulfide, which is produced and consumed by bacteria. But while the Georgia coastline boasts a rich tradition of ecological research, understanding the nuanced ways bacteria interact with plants in these ecosystems has been elusive. Thanks to recent advances in genomic technology, Georgia Tech biologists have begun to reveal never-before-seen ecological processes.

The team’s work was published in Nature Communications

Joel Kostka, the Tom and Marie Patton Distinguished Professor and associate chair for Research in the School of Biological Sciences, and Jose Luis Rolando, a postdoctoral fellow, set out to investigate the relationship between the cordgrass Spartina alterniflora and the microbial communities that inhabit their roots, identifying the bacteria and their roles.

“Just like humans have gut microbes that keep us healthy, plants depend on microbes in their tissues for health, immunity, metabolism, and nutrient uptake,” Kostka said. “While we’ve known about the reactions that drive nutrient and carbon cycling in the marsh for a long time, there’s not as much data on the role of microbes in ecosystem functioning.”

Out in the Marsh

A major way that plants get their nutrients is through nitrogen fixation, a process in which bacteria convert nitrogen into a form that plants can use. In marshes, this role has mostly been attributed to heterotrophs, or bacteria that grow and get their energy from organic carbon. Bacteria that consume the plant toxin sulfide are chemoautotrophs, using energy from sulfide oxidation to fuel the uptake of carbon dioxide to make their own organic carbon for growth.

“Through previous work, we knew that Spartina alterniflora has sulfur bacteria in its roots and that there are two types: sulfur-oxidizing bacteria, which use sulfide as an energy source, and sulfate reducers, which respire sulfate and produce sulfide, a known toxin for plants,” Rolando said. “We wanted to know more about the role these different sulfur bacteria play in the nitrogen cycle.”

Kostka and Rolando headed to Sapelo Island, Georgia, where they have regularly conducted fieldwork in the salt marshes. Wading into the marsh, shovels and buckets in hand, the researchers and their students collected cordgrass along with the muddy sediment samples that cling to their roots. Back at the field lab, the team gathered around a basin filled with creek water and carefully washed the grass, gently separating the plant roots.

Next, they used a special technique involving heavier versions of chemical elements that occur in nature as tracers to track the microbial processes. They also analyzed the DNA and RNA of the microbes living in different compartments of the plants.

Using a sequencing technology known as shotgun metagenomics, they were able to retrieve the DNA from the whole microbial community and reconstruct genomes from newly discovered organisms. Similarly, untargeted RNA sequencing of the microbial community allowed them to assess which microbial species and specific functions were active in close association with plant roots.

Using this combination of techniques, they found that chemoautotrophic sulfur-oxidizing bacteria were also involved in nitrogen fixation. Not only did these bacteria help plants by detoxifying the root zone, but they also played a crucial role in providing nitrogen to the plants. This dual role of the bacteria in sulfur cycling and nitrogen fixation highlights their importance in coastal ecosystems and their contribution to plant health and growth.

"Plants growing in areas with high levels of sulfide accumulation tend to be smaller and less healthy," said Rolando. "However, we found that the microbial communities within Spartina roots help to detoxify the sulfide, enhancing plant health and resilience."

Local to Global Significance

Cordgrasses aren’t just the main player in Georgia marshes; they also dominate marsh landscapes across the entire Southeast, including the Carolinas and the Gulf Coast. Moreover, the researchers found that the same bacteria are associated with cordgrass, mangrove, and seagrass roots in coastal ecosystems across the planet.

"Much of the shoreline in tropical and temperate climates is covered by coastal wetlands,” Rolando said. “These areas likely harbor similar microbial symbioses, which means that these interactions impact ecosystem functioning on a global scale."  

Looking ahead, the researchers plan to further explore the details of how marsh plants and microbes exchange nitrogen and carbon, using state-of-the-art microscopy techniques coupled with ultra-high-resolution mass spectrometry to confirm their findings at the single-cell level.

"Science follows technology, and we were excited to use the latest genomic methods to see which types of bacteria were there and active,” Kostka said. “There's still much to learn about the intricate relationships between plants and microbes in coastal ecosystems, and we are beginning to uncover the extent of the microbial complexity that keeps marshes healthy.”


Citation: Rolando, J.L., Kolton, M., Song, T. et al. Sulfur oxidation and reduction are coupled to nitrogen fixation in the roots of the salt marsh foundation plant Spartina alternifloraNat Commun 15, 3607 (2024).


Funding: This work was supported in part by an institutional grant (NA18OAR4170084) to the Georgia Sea Grant College Program from the National Sea Grant Office, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US Department of Commerce, and by a grant from the National Science Foundation (DEB 1754756).

A man in a blue shirt holds a shovel in a salt marsh.

Joel Kostka, the Tom and Marie Patton Distinguished Professor and associate chair for Research in the School of Biological Sciences.

Two people sitting on a ground with a cooler and scientific equipment (including sample vials) between them.

Georgia Tech postdoctoral fellow Jose Rolando (right) and graduate student Gabrielle Krueger prepare samples for chemical analysis in the field at Sapelo Island, Georgia.

Several people stand around a large basin washing grass.

Researchers washing cordgrass roots for microbial analysis.

A person does scientific sampling in the midst of a marsh.

Georgia Tech graduate student Tianze Song collects porewater samples for chemical analysis in the marsh on Sapelo Island, Georgia.

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Catherine Barzler, Senior Research Writer/Editor

From Brewery to Biofilter: Making Yeast-Based Water Purification Possible

Patricia Stathatou and Christos Athanasiou at Georgia Tech

When looking for an environmentally friendly and cost-effective way to clean up contaminated water and soil, Georgia Tech researchers Patricia Stathatou and Christos Athanasiou turned to yeast. A cheap byproduct from fermentation processes — e.g., something your local brewery discards in mass quantities after making a batch of beer — yeast is widely known as an effective biosorbent. Biosorption is a mass transfer process by which an ion or molecule binds to inactive biological materials through physicochemical interactions.

When they initially studied this process, Stathatou and Athanasiou found that yeast can effectively and rapidly remove trace lead — at challenging initial concentrations below one part per million — from drinking water. Conventional water treatment methods either fail to eliminate lead at these low levels or result in high financial and environmental costs to do so. In a paper published today in RSC Sustainability, the researchers show how this process can be scaled.

“If you put yeast directly into water to clean it, you will need an additional treatment step to remove the yeast from the water afterward,” said Stathatou, a research scientist at the Renewable Bioproducts Institute and an incoming assistant professor at the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. “To implement this process at scale without requiring additional separation steps, the yeast cells need a housing.”

“Additionally, because yeast is abundant— in some cases, brewers even pay companies to haul it away as a waste byproduct — this process gives the yeast a second life,” said Athanasiou, an assistant professor in the Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering. “It’s a plentiful low, or even negative, value resource, making this purification process inexpensive and scalable.”

To develop a housing for the yeast, Stathatou and Athanasiou partnered with MIT chemical engineers Devashish Gokhale and Patrick S. Doyle. Gokhale and Stathatou are the lead authors of this new study that demonstrates the yeast water purification process’s scalability.

“We decided to make these hollow capsules— analogous to a multivitamin pill — but instead of filling them up with vitamins, we fill them up with yeast cells,” Gokhale said. “These capsules are porous, so the water can go into the capsules and the yeast are able to bind all of that lead, but the yeast themselves can’t escape into the water.”

The yeast-laden capsules are sufficiently large, about half a millimeter in diameter, for easy separation from water by gravity. This means they can be used to make packed-bed bioreactors or biofilters, with contaminated water flowing through these hydrogel-encased yeast cells and coming out clean.

Stathatou and Athanasiou envision using these hydrogel yeast capsules in small biofilters consumers can put on their kitchen faucets, or biofilters large enough to fit municipal or industrial wastewater treatment systems. But to enable such scalability, the yeast-laden capsules’ ability to withstand the force generated by water flowing inside such systems needed to be studied as well.

To determine this, Athanasiou tested the capsules’ mechanical robustness, which is how strong and sturdy they are in the presence of waterflow forces. He found they can withstand forces like those generated by water running from a faucet, or even flows like those in water treatment plants that serve a few hundred homes. “In previous attempts to scale up biosorption with similar approaches, lack of mechanical robustness has been a common cause of failure,” Athanasiou said. “We wanted to make sure our work addressed this issue from the very beginning to ensure scalability.”

“After assessing the mechanical robustness of the yeast-laden capsules, we made a prototype biofilter using a 10-ml syringe,” Stathatou explained. “The initial lead concentration of water entering the biofilter was 100 parts per billion; we demonstrated that the biofilter could treat the contaminated water, meeting EPA drinking water guidelines, while operating continuously for 12 days.”

The researchers hope to identify ways to isolate and collect specific contaminants left behind in the filtering yeast, so those too can be used for other purposes.

“Apart from lead, which is widely used in systems for energy generation and storage, this process could be used to remove and recover other metals and rare earth elements as well,” Athanasiou said. “This process could even be useful in space mining or other space applications.”

They also would like to find a way to keep reusing the yeast. “But even if we can’t reuse yeast indefinitely, it is biodegradable,” Stathatou noted. “It doesn’t need to be put into an industrial composter or sent to a landfill. It can be left on the ground, and the yeast will naturally decompose over time, contributing to nutrient cycling.”

This circular approach aims to reduce waste and environmental impact, while also creating economic opportunities in local communities. Despite numerous lead contamination incidents across the U.S., the team’s successful biosorption method notably could benefit low-income areas historically burdened by pollution and limited access to clean water, offering a cost-effective remediation solution. “We think there’s an interesting environmental justice aspect to this, especially when you start with something as low-cost and sustainable as yeast, which is essentially available anywhere,” Gokhale says.

Moving forward, Stathatou and Athanasiou are exploring other uses for their hydrogel-yeast purification method. The researchers are optimistic that, with modifications, this process can be used to remove additional inorganic and organic contaminants of emerging concern, such as PFAS — or “forever” chemicals — from the water or the ground.

Citation: Devashish Gokhale, Patritsia M. Stathatou, Christos E. Athanasiou, and Patrick S. Doyle, “Yeast-laden Hydrogel Capsules for Scalable Trace Lead Removal from Water,” RSC Sustainability


Funding: Patricia Stathatou was supported by funding from the Renewable Bioproducts Institute at Georgia Tech. Devashish Gokhale was supported by the Rasikbhai L. Meswani Fellowship for Water Solutions and the MIT Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab (J-WAFS).


Image of a kitchen faucet with a small filter that contains yeast-laden hydrogels. The filter is on the end of the faucet and there is water flowing through it into the sink.
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Shelley Wunder-Smith

Turning Up the Heat: Georgia Tech Economist Finds Price Has Little Impact on Consumers’ Thermostat Choices

Image of US Dollar on Home Heating instrument depicting home heating costs

In a study by a Georgia Tech economist that could help inform future energy policy, half the participants cranked their thermostats despite knowing exactly how much each extra degree would cost them.

Prices are typically the first tool used to get people to save energy, noted Dylan Brewer, assistant professor in the Georgia Tech School of Economics. As climate change affects communities and utilities transition to sustainable sources, it’s increasingly critical for regulators and utilities to understand exactly how price affects consumers’ energy use.

“There's kind of a puzzle that exists in the literature on energy consumption,” Brewer said. When it comes to most commodities, price drives demand, but “if the price of electricity changes, most people are not very responsive.” He wanted to test the popular theory that inelastic demand is the result of consumers not knowing the exact price of turning up the thermostat.

In his 2023 study in the journal Energy Policy, Brewer surveyed a sample of Americans after a winter of real-time heating decisions. They were presented with different cost scenarios and asked about their “bliss point” — the temperature at which they’d keep their houses if money were no object.

As a Ph.D. student at Michigan State University, Brewer was struck by how many landlords offered “free heat” during East Lansing’s frigid winters.

He saw that when “people are not on the hook for a decision, they're often wasteful. But if they're paying for their environmental costs, they're going to conserve.” He focused on this phenomenon in his dissertation and has since launched other projects on the economics of thermostat settings. “It’s my niche,” he said.

In the study, participants knew exactly how much an extra degree of heat would cost them. Yet even at the highest price level ($8 per 5 degrees Fahrenheit), half of them exhibited zero response to price, Brewer reported. On average, doubling heating costs led respondents to say they would lower less than 1 degree Fahrenheit.

Brewer found that participants with incomes below $50,000 and those living in urban areas were more responsive to price changes, while older participants had less elastic demand.

It turns out, Brewer noted, “People simply do not like to be cold.”

The results are just as relevant for warm-weather states. In Georgia in 2022, 42% of the state's electricity was used for air conditioning and nearly three in five households with electric heating, according to the U.S. Energy Information Association.

Based on study results, Brewer noted that utilities confronted with extreme weather or a supply-side disruption might encourage customers to shift electricity usage to off-peak hours rather than assume they’ll be affected by an increase in rates. “If you have an energy emergency and need to curb energy consumption, this is telling you that prices are not going to do it,” he said.

“This is a daily choice that we make,” Brewer said. “Given that we spend a huge fraction of our time in climate-controlled buildings, these types of heating and cooling issues have pretty large implications.”

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Priya Devarajan | SEI Communications Program Manager


Written by: Deborah Halber

To Save Energy, Users Let Smart Thermostats Take the Lead

Smart thermostat at home Illustration

Illustration of a smart thermostat within the image of a house

People using energy-efficient smart thermostats are willing to sacrifice comfort and control to save relatively small amounts of energy that could add up if enough people sign on, a Georgia Tech economist reported in a recent study.

With federal and state energy policies targeting aggressive decarbonization in the next 15 years, smart technologies have the potential to help achieve these goals at a reasonable cost, said Casey J. Wichman, associate professor in the Georgia Institute of Technology School of Economics.

In a forthcoming issue of American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, Wichman and colleagues report that automation within smart thermostats can lead to potentially large reductions in household electricity use and costs.

Utilities look to time-of-use (TOU) pricing — where prices are higher during peak demand and lower during lags in demand — to save consumers money and relieve pressure on the grid.

“From an economics perspective, there's this idea that if you set the price right, everything will work out,” Wichman said. “But if consumers don't actually respond to those prices, that limits the effectiveness of the solution.”

For the study, more than 2,100 Toronto-area residents using Ecobee smart thermostats agreed to share their usage data during the 2019 rollout of a suite of new thermostat features that included an automated component.

Participants opted to allow the thermostats to precool or preheat their homes at times of the day when electricity was less expensive, choosing on a sliding scale how aggressive they wanted the algorithm to be. Degree changes within the homes varied from around 1 to 5 degrees, saving participants up to 30 Canadian cents per day in the summer.

“I have always liked applying economic concepts to simple decisions we make in our daily lives,” Wichman said. “This allows me to answer new questions about how decisions matter for the environment, and how policies or technologies can be designed to generate social change. In this project, we’re leveraging new data sources to try to capture the unaccounted-for costs of those policies.”

Studies on energy savings, he said, often miss the in-home comfort cost. These results showed that people seemed willing to trade relatively small monetary savings for a small increase in discomfort, although discomfort was most pronounced for residents who typically spend more time at home. For the most part, people were willing to sacrifice control over their heating and cooling decisions to an algorithm.

This finding surprised Wichman. “We thought we would see more people turn off the feature,” he said. That didn't happen.

As time-varying electricity pricing rolls out across North America, utilities could provide incentives for customers to opt into energy-saving settings programmed into internet-connected home appliances, like water heaters, pool pumps, and electric vehicles.

The researchers’ results suggest that such programs could be designed in a way that customers will accept. This gives Wichman a sense of optimism for the future.

“What is interesting here is that technology can complement economic incentives,” he said. “You can have technology correct for humans’ inability to remember to set their heating and cooling schedule in a way that's consistent with social goals.”

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Priya Devarajan | SEI Communications Program Manager


Written by: Deborah Halber

Beyond the Haze: An Economist’s Insight Into Air Pollution

Photo of Dylan Brewer, Assistant Professor in the School of Economics, Georgia Tech

Dylan Brewer, Assistant Professor in the School of Economics, Georgia Tech

Are you under the impression that air pollution is a dichotomous problem where the air is either polluted or it’s not? What else is there to know about air pollution? The surprising answer to this question lies not with a lab scientist but with an economist.

Assistant Professor Dylan Brewer of the School of Economics studies the health impacts of air pollution and the statistical methods useful for teasing apart factors that can confound those answers, all from the lens of an economist. It turns out that viewing the problem of air pollution through an economic framework and applying statistical methods commonly used in the field of economics can shed light on the multiple factors that influence the health impact of exposure to air pollution on different populations.

Recently, Brewer was the featured guest on the podcast The Health Deli, where the hosts were surprised to find an economist making waves at this critical research intersection. Brewer explains why viewing this problem from the perspective of an economist is so valuable and discusses some of his research team’s surprising findings.

The podcast, hosted by three pharmacists, approaches health news from a scientific bent, which turned out to be a great fit for an economist who studies air pollution. You can listen to the podcast episode, “Is It Safe To Breathe Air? How Is This a Real Question?’ on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, as well as other major podcast providers.

Spotify Link

Written by: Sharon Murphy, Research Associate, SEI


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Priya Devarajan, SEI Communications Program Manager

EPICenter Hosts Lightning Talks for Research and Ideas Exchange

Audience at the EPICenter Lightning Talks held on April 12th at the Georgia Tech Library

Audience at the EPICenter Lightning Talks (Round 2) held at the Georgia Tech Library

On April 12, the Energy, Policy, and Innovation Center (EPICenter) hosted its second round of the “Friday Lightning Talk Series” at the Scholars Event Network space in the Price Gilbert Library.

Eight multidisciplinary participants from Georgia Tech, including postdoctoral students, graduate students, research faculty, and research associates from public policy, economics, electrical and computer engineering, industrial and systems engineering, and EPICenter, presented an overview of an energy-related research project during the session.

Laura Taylor, chair of the School of Economics and interim director of EPICenter, introduced the organization’s new faculty affiliate program through which affiliates, their students, and postdocs present and share research ideas and receive feedback from the audience.

Topics covered during the session included understanding the social costs of natural gas deregulation, managing EV charging during emergencies, exploring whether daylight saving time saves energy, the green energy workforce, the effects of community solar on household energy use, the Atlanta Energyshed project, clean hydrogen production in Georgia, and household responses to grid emergencies.

The interactive session was well attended with over 25 attendees asking thought-provoking questions and providing suggestions on future areas to explore.

The first round was held on March 1 and was such a success that this second round had a full slate of presenters and a full house of audience members. The agendas for both lightning round talks are available below, along with links to presentation slides.

A unit of the Strategic Energy Institute of Georgia Tech, EPICenter’s mission is to conduct rigorous research and deliver high-impact insights that address the energy needs of the southeastern U.S., while keeping a national and global perspective. EPICenter calls upon broad, multidisciplinary expertise to engage the public and create solutions for critical emerging issues as our nation’s energy transformation unfolds.

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Priya Devarajan || SEI Communications Program Manager