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Wagner receives 2023 SAE Medal of Honor


SAE International has awarded Oak Ridge National Laboratory Buildings and Transportation Science Division Director Robert Wagner with the SAE Medal of Honor for his dedication and support of the organization’s mission of advancing mobility solutions.

Wagner was presented with the award at a ceremony in Detroit. This is the most prestigious award that the automotive engineering society annually bestows upon one of its more than 128,000 members for individual achievement.

Wagner has been a champion of SAE since the late 1990s and has founded, organized or chaired more than 20 SAE International symposiums, panels and conferences. In 2011, during a time of significant and rapid breakthroughs in engine technologies, he co-founded the High Efficiency Internal Combustion Engine Symposium and helped develop it into a premier global transportation event. Building on that success, in 2016 he co-founded a symposium that focused on range extenders and brought together leaders from the U.S. government and across the profession to share insights into the challenges and opportunities of integrating high-efficiency engines into electrified drivetrains. This was one of the first SAE events focused on electric vehicles and hybridization, helping the organization remain at the forefront of new technology innovations on the global stage.

More recently, as transportation research focus has shifted to net-zero-carbon fuels, Wagner recognized the need to create an opportunity for a diverse group of global stakeholders to have a neutral forum setting in which to convene and exchange ideas. This led to a series of symposiums dedicated to net-zero initiatives and the interface with engines and fuel.

Wagner has focused on passing down the legacy of planning and organizing to other researchers, inspiring and mentoring a new generation of engineers to understand the importance that symposiums can have on securing SAE International’s reputation as a world authority on automotive engineering.

“I am pleased to see that SAE has recognized Robert for his contributions to advancing transportation research, both nationally and internationally,” said Xin Sun, associate laboratory directory for ORNL’s Energy Science and Technology Directorate. “His leadership at ORNL has been instrumental to maintaining the laboratory’s reputation as a leader in transportation and mobility research and development.”

At ORNL, Wagner has led transportation research and initiatives for more than 20 years and is well regarded as a scientific leader, strategic planner, mentor and collaborator, working with the Department of Energy, other national laboratories, academia and industry partners. Within this role, he stewards two DOE user facilities — the National Transportation Research Center and the Building Technologies Research and Integration Center. He originally came to ORNL as an undergraduate student in 1992 and then joined ORNL as a postdoctoral research fellow in 1999, advancing to a distinguished research staff role followed by leadership roles in which he directed a diverse portfolio of transportation research. For 10 years, Wagner served as DOE’s laboratory relationship manager for advanced combustion, emissions and fuels and was a founding member of the DOE initiative on the Co-Optimization of Fuels and Engines.

He is an SAE Fellow, two-time winner of the SAE International Forest R. McFarland Award, and a recipient of the SAE International Leadership Citation. In 2019, Wagner was named in the Inaugural SAE Top Contributor Class based on his volunteer and engagement contributions. He has co-authored 40 SAE publications, presented 14 invited talks at SAE International events and served on multiple committees and the editorial board of the SAE International Journal of Engines. Wagner is also a Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and has won numerous awards from other organizations for research, leadership and service.

A native of Missouri and first-generation college graduate, he earned his doctoral degree in mechanical engineering from the Missouri University of Science & Technology, where he delivered the commencement address to Ph.D. graduates in December 2022.

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. The Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit