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Launch Time

In six years, Lee Riedinger launched two PhD programs in the increasingly important areas of energy and data science.

October 02, 2017 | Updated: December 09, 2019

Riedinger, former director of the Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education, began the Energy Science and Engineering (ESE) program in 2010.

The program maximizes UT’s partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the US Department of Energy’s largest science and energy laboratory.

The interdisciplinary slate of ESE courses allows students to study a combination of energy production, distribution, consumption, policy, entrepreneurship, and economics.

“These are tools the students will need as leaders in their fields,” Riedinger says.

“I tell them the real world is interdisciplinary,” he explains. “Our program has energy studies as its core but also includes students and faculty in everything from materials science to climate studies. It’s that wide-ranging nature that makes the program as strong as it is.”

Deeksha Rastogi discusses her research at ORNL on the impacts of climate change on weather extremes and human settlements.
At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Deeksha Rastogi presents her research about the impacts of climate change on weather extremes and human settlements.

The ESE program boasts more than 120 students, drawn from Ivy League schools, public research universities, and international institutes.

Riedinger hooded nine PhD graduates from the ESE program in December 2016. Add to that 13 previous graduates, and the total has already hit 22.

In 2017, the Bredesen Center launched another interdisciplinary PhD program—this one in the rapidly advancing field of data science and engineering, or “big data.”

Students in the Data Science and Engineering (DSE) program tackle unique data-source challenges in science, engineering, and health care using some of the world’s most powerful computing and data science platforms.

It is the only program in the United States to pair a university and national laboratory and one of just three such big data doctoral programs in the nation.

Associate Professor Russell Zaretzki, of the Haslam College of Business, heads the DSE program.

After 47 years as a member of UT’s physics faculty, Riedinger retired as director emeritus of the Bredesen Center in 2019 and went on to receive a Muddy Boot Award from the East Tennessee Economic Council in recognition of his long-term contributions to the region.

Although Riedinger taught one more semester of an introductory energy science and technology course, he says with a smile that it will be up to the next director of the Bredesen Center, Governor’s Chair for Advanced Manufacturing Suresh Babu, to determine if there’s a need for a third interdisciplinary PhD program between UT and ORNL.

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