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U.S. Department of Energy Awards $20 Million to New “Oak Ridge Institute at the University of Tennessee”

Senator Lamar Alexander expects institute “to be recognized as one of the most important science and engineering alliances in the world”  

U.S. SenateKnoxville, TN – The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded $20 million to the new Oak Ridge Institute at the University of Tennessee (UT) to expand the university’s partnership with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to train the next generation of American scientists and engineers.

“This $20 million federal grant is in support of an institute that is the culmination of 40 years of effort to merge the strengths of UT-Knoxville and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory,” U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said. 

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander
U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander

“The Oak Ridge Institute will be a pipeline for a new supply of American-trained scientists and engineers, which our country sorely needs in this competitive world. It will also combine the resources and experience of the nation’s largest science and energy laboratory and a major research university,” stated Senator Alexander.

Senator Alexander continued, “Already, the UT-Oak Ridge partnership has 250 joint faculty, five joint institutes, and 250 PhD students in jointly administered energy and data programs. With such a strong foundation and such strong current leadership, I am betting that during the next 80 years, the Oak Ridge Corridor brand and the Oak Ridge Institute will be recognized as one of the most important science and engineering alliances in the world.”

For the past six years, Senator Alexander has been chairman of the Senate’s Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee that provides funding for national laboratories. 

“We are thankful to the Department of Energy for its support of this program that will deliver a top-tier interdisciplinary workforce talent in emerging fields for industry, government and academia,” UT President Randy Boyd said. “This is the first step in establishing ORI as a force to change our state and nation.”

“This investment in growing our partnership with ORNL through the Oak Ridge Institute provides even greater opportunity for our researchers to create innovative solutions to pressing global issues, while we train the scientists of tomorrow,” UT Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman said. “The interdisciplinary nature of ORI gives us unparalleled advantages in attracting students and faculty, resulting in a talent pipeline that will benefit the State of Tennessee, our country, and the world.” 

“We truly are in an international competition for the jobs and industries of the future,” ORNL Director Thomas Zacharia said. “ORI will help to set us apart, building on our long-standing partnership with the University of Tennessee to develop leaders whose discoveries and innovations will strengthen U.S. economic and national security.”

“Building a pipeline of well-trained scientists and engineers to solve today’s problems and prepare for tomorrow’s challenges is imperative as we prepare our workforce for the 21st century,” Tennessee Governor Bill Lee said. “This partnership between two exemplary institutions will make Tennessee and our country proud. I’m grateful to Sen. Alexander, Secretary Brouillette, Director Zacharia, and UT President Boyd for their steadfast leadership and making The Oak Ridge Institute a reality.”

Senator Alexander, chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Development Subcommittee on Appropriations, included $20 million in the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2020, within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy for a competitively awarded funding opportunity to promote workforce development in emerging fields to prepare the next generation of American scientists and engineers.



The University of Tennessee, which is a land grant university with several existing joint graduate education programs with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), was selected today by the Department of Energy to receive this funding. During the five-year program, students will be recruited and enrolled in UT-Knoxville and ORNL’s joint graduate programs. 

U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, UT President Randy Boyd, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, UT Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman, ORNL Director Thomas Zacharia, Speaker Cameron Sexton, U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn, U.S. Representative Tim Burchett and U.S. Representative Chuck Fleischmann all participated in a video conference to discuss this announcement.


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