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  • Speed School of Engineering


Three Conn Center theme leaders have been named as Endowed Chairs: Dr. Thad Druffel, PE, Theme Leader in Solar Manufacturing R&D, and Dr. Jagannadh Satyavolu, Theme Leader in Biomass & Biofuels, are each distinguished as Endowed Chair in Renewable Energy Research, and Dr. Joshua Spurgeon, Theme Leader for Solar Fuels, is distinguished as the e-On Endowed Chair in Sustainability.

Bucks for Brains

In 1997, the Kentucky legislature gave its approval to an ambitious initiative aimed at overhauling the state’s higher education system.

One pivotal aspect of this reform was the establishment of the Research Challenge Trust Fund, a calculated investment in university research with the objectives of creating employment opportunities, fostering fresh economic activity, and opening new horizons for the residents of Kentucky.

Popularly known as “Bucks for Brains,” this program leverages state funds to match private donations, effectively doubling the impact of private investments that support research endeavors in strategically defined fields, thus sowing the seeds for a brighter future.

Bucks for Brains plays a vital role in attracting and retaining world-renowned researchers and scholars to Kentucky, many of whom are also esteemed educators. The exceptional caliber of their work enhances the academic reputation of the Commonwealth on both national and international levels.

The University of Louisville benefits significantly from the Research Challenge Trust Fund’s support, enabling it to bring the foremost scholars and scientists from around the globe to Kentucky.

Engineering Endowed Chairs and Professors

The presence of endowed faculty members at Speed School plays a crucial role in advancing our pursuit of continuous excellence in the realms of teaching, research, and patient care. Endowed positions serve as a testament to the impactful collaboration between faculty members and philanthropists, as they work together to identify areas of exploration and transform them into reality. This partnership not only fuels the spirit of discovery but also reinforces our commitment to academic advancement and the betterment of patient well-being.

Endowed Chair in Renewable Energy Research

Dr. Thad Druffel is Theme Leader for Solar Manufacturing Research and Development at the Conn Center. He has been with the Conn Center since 2010. His current research involves re-purposing former newspaper and other printing facilities like Kodak, Fuji and Polaroid to convert them to producing renewable energy products thereby making energy more accessible to people.

Through Druffel’s work, he has mentored post-doctoral, graduate, undergraduate and high school researchers, and his research has resulted in publications, patent applications, presentations, collaborations, spinout companies and funding.

Endowed Chair in Renewable Energy Research

Dr. Jagannadh Satyavolu is Theme Leader, Biomass and Biofuels for the Conn Center. He brings decades of experience from both academia and industry, and has been with the Conn Center since 2011. The professor’s research has led to more than 15 U.S. and international patents for concept to commercialization projects. Two of his current projects span the spectrum of chemical engineering, from working on the creation of a new low-calorie sugar, to the production of a bio-based coal substitute made from wood.

e-On Endowed Chair in Sustainability

Dr. Joshua Spurgeon, Theme Leader for Solar Fuels at the Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research in the J.B. Speed School of Engineering, has been funded by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program for research and education over the next 5 years. The CAREER Award is one of NSF’s most prestigious honors. Spurgeon is especially distinguished as a non-faculty recipient, one of the few ever awarded.

Spurgeon’s research at Conn Center is on the production of hydrogen fuel from water with solar energy. By shining sunlight onto a photocatalyst in water, the hydrogen-oxygen bond can be broken to store the solar energy on-demand as hydrogen, which is an energy-dense product. This fuel is especially useful in transportation and utilities and has no greenhouse gas emissions.


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