On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded a $20 million federal grant to the new Oak Ridge Institute (ORI) at UT. The ORI is a transformational opportunity for the State of Tennessee. It answers the national call to increase America’s production of scientists and engineers in key areas such as Quantum Sciences and Artificial Intelligence to further national economic and security interests. The Institute is the first of its kind and provides a platform for a major expansion of research and doctoral-level degree production that will benefit the region, state and nation. The ORNL-UT proposal is expected to serve as a national model for increasing the production of America’s desperately needed scientists and doctoral-level workforce.
At full capacity, the ORI will be comprised of 60 new world-class faculty researchers matched by 60 new Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists and 500 graduate students. This will deliver an additional $150 million per year in research and economic development.
“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.
The University had requested an $80 million state investment over a ten-year period, which would have leveraged federal research funds at an estimated rate of 7-to-1. In the state’s initial budget, the state provided a one-time foundational investment of $10 million, which was ultimately deleted from the budget, following the economic uncertainties due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
During Wednesday’s announcement of the award, Governor Bill Lee voiced his support for ORI, saying, “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.”