Arthur M. Bueche Award

2007 Arthur M. Bueche Award Recipient Remarks

The 2007 Arthur M. Bueche Award was presented to Dr. Jordan Baruch, President, Jordan Baruch Associates "for the promotion of the innovation and management of science and technology nationally and internationally, thereby enhancing the economy of the U.S. and developing nations." These remarks were delivered on Sunday, September 30, 2007 an the Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Engineering.

First, let me thank the National Academy of Engineering for bestowing on me the prestigious Bueche Award. The citation recognizes the importance of innovation in addressing societal problems, and, to a lesser extent, my role in some of those innovations. Being involved in many innovative efforts has been an exciting ride for me on an often bumpy road.

Two very different groups deserve my deepest gratitude for making that ride possible. The first is my wonderful family, who are here with me: my wife, Rhoda; and my three children, Bobi, Marjory, and Larry, who, with the help of their wonderful spouses, have produced nine grandchildren, some of whom are also here. All of them and many good friends, collectively and individually, held my world together during many physical absences, when I had to travel, and many mental absences, when I withdrew from them to search for solutions to problems. Their wit and familiarity eased me down from the highs that often followed success. Their unconditional love pulled me back from the brink of despair when something I tried failed. Indeed, Rhoda eventually convinced me that my frequent failures, far from meaning I was a failure, were a natural consequence of the difficult challenges I chose to tackle. To this group, my family, I owe my very survival.

The second group includes a lifelong series of mentors, colleagues, and friends who have been instrumental in shaping the multidisciplinary course I have pursued.

  • Sam Brownstein, a teacher at James Madison High School in Brooklyn, introduced me to hands-on biology and encouraged me to build my own kymograph like one I had seen, my first instrument.
  • Jack Sharefkin at Brooklyn College got me committed to organic chemistry.
  • An unsung hero cancelled the chemistry option of the Army Specialized Training Program and offered us a choice between joining the paratroops and studying electrical engineering.
  • Bill Timbie at MIT made me glad I’d chosen electrical engineering.
  • Leo Beranek took over when I returned from the Army to MIT. As my undergraduate professor, he got me committed to acoustics and persuaded me to pursue an interdepartmental doctorate. He has been my partner at BBN and my guardian angel for more than 40 years.
  • Jack Mazur at NIH cleared the way for years of innovation in medical instrumentation and informatics.
  • Literally scores of others also shaped my path. I only wish I had time to pay them the homage they deserve.

So, I have been very lucky. As my father always said, “Given the choice between smart and lucky, take lucky.

So much for the past. Now, what’s next? Let me share with you my concern about a major worldwide problem and my belief that it presents us with an unprecedented opportunity. Right now, today, our planet faces a crisis of both capability and will. The inhabitants of Earth must begin, now, to manage the trajectory of energy development and energy use into the distant future.

Three drivers and associated world decisions will shape that trajectory:

  1. If the population grows, as I predict, to 11 billion by 2107, a century from now, it will take 28.6 terawatts (TW) of power to hold the per-capita demand for energy steady.
  2. If no carbon-capture and sequestration program is developed and adopted, we will need an additional 16 TW of power.
  3. In the distant future, we will need a total of 78 TW of power for a steady-state population of 11 billion to have the same amount of per-capita energy people in developed nations enjoy today.

These conditions will present us with enormous quantitative challenges. It will be up to engineering leaders to develop the capability to meet those challenges and to economists, business leaders, politicians, bankers, and many others in the innovative community to provide the will to use that capability wisely. If we meet those challenges wisely we will have a future of plenty—provided we do not exceed the accepted threshold of 560 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere. If we exceed that threshold, there will be widespread misery in the world.

So much for the problem. Here’s my vision of a possible trajectory.

  • The leaders of developed nations, the World Bank, the United Nations, and others will work together to accelerate the number of thermal nuclear plants to be built and brought on line around the world in the next 50 years, No other source of energy can readily meet our projected targets.
  • The engineering community, with the necessary funding and encouragement, will develop fast neutron reactors (i.e., nuclear batteries) in sizes from 25 MW to 500MW, totaling 29 TWy by 2107 and continuing at that rate into the far future. I predict these nuclear batteries will:
    • operate for at least 25 years on a single charge
    • be fueled by reprocessed waste and tailings
    • recover 48 times as much energy from each ton of ore as thermal nuclear reactors
    • be returned to the factory and replaced as needed for repair or recharging
    • have a sufficient negative coefficient of reactivity to make on-site control unnecessary, except at start-up and shutdown
    • be sealed and remotely monitored for problems that require outside service or attempts to break into them
  • Finally, the combined engineering and innovative communities, with whatever outside support they need, will create a new industry to produce, market, distribute, and maintain nuclear batteries worldwide.

At that point, we can imagine a single nuclear battery as small as 50MWe that can supply 25MW of electrical power to homes, schools, and clinics in dozens of isolated communities and 80 million gallons a day of freshly purified or desalinated water for domestic and agricultural use.

Who will be the leaders who make it all happen, and what will it cost? I hope you and those you can influence will bring it about. As for the cost, well, I really don’t know how much it will cost to create such a world of plenty, global equity, and peace. But I’m betting it will cost far less than not doing it.

Good luck and thank you again.