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UT-ORNL partnerships benefit students

Bredesen Center Director Lee Riedinger talking to students in 2014. Image credit: Jason Richards, ORNL

75 years of science and technology

When ORNL climate researcher Melissa Allen was a graduate student at the University of Tennessee in 2011, her advisor, Joshua Fu, told her about the Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education, a new partnership between the university and ORNL offering a unique way to earn a Ph.D.

The Bredesen Center offers a wide range of opportunity in fields such as additive manufacturing, renewable energy, transportation and nuclear energy. The new Data Science and Engineering track includes advanced data sciences, advanced manufacturing, health and biological sciences, urban systems and national security.

Allen's interest in climate science was a natural fit, given ORNL's prowess in high-performance computing and climate modeling and simulation.

"I knew what I wanted to do, and I was able to develop my own Ph.D. curriculum as long as I met program requirements,” she said. “I had interacted with ORNL scientists already and knew their capabilities, so that was a real advantage."

The Bredesen Center's range of disciplines is as broad as the those of the university and national lab. The center has produced 57 doctorates from about 200 students, including 131 current doctoral students. The center offers those students a highly technical Ph.D. that leverages the lab and its resources, said Bredesen Center Director Lee Riedinger.

“What makes these degrees really unique is each graduate student has to spend time in entrepreneurship or policy,” he said. “We’ve already seen

a half dozen companies started up through the center. We’re attracting a special breed of graduate student.”

Allen, of the inaugural Bredesen Center class, is an example.

"The links between UT and ORNL and the resulting resources and capabilities are a real selling point," she said.