Lessons from ARPA-E

Ellen D. Williams
Distinguished University Professor
University of Maryland

"Lessons from ARPA-E"

Abstract: Demonstrating the relevance of scientific research is a Scylla and Charybdis problem.  One can end up on the rocks by failing to communicate the context of social impacts, or in the whirlpool by appearing to take on problems better left to the private sector.   Navigating the passage is facilitated by a clear definition of mission and goals, of the opportunities for impact, and of the metrics of success.  Lessons from ARPA-E demonstrate how the ARPA and DARPA models build on the infrastructure of basic R&D, and can provide excellent examples of follow on to application development from fundamental discoveries.  

Biography: Ellen Williams is a Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland.  Prior to returning to the University in January of 2017, she was the Director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency, ARPA-E, in the Department of Energy.  The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) advances high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that are too early for private-sector investment.

Prior to Senate confirmation for her role in ARPA-E, Dr. Williams had been the Chief Scientist at BP (2010-2014), and a Distinguished University Professor in the Institute of Physical Science and Technology and the Department of Physics at the University of Maryland.  At Maryland she founded and led the University’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Center from 1996 through 2009.  

Dr. Williams has a distinguished history of professional service, including chairing the development of the NAS report on Technical Issues for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and extensive work in providing technical advice to the U.S. government, primarily through the Departments of Energy and Defence.  She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a foreign member of the Royal Society (London), a fellow of the American Physical Society, American Vacuum Society and American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has been recognized by awards from the American Physical Society and the Materials Research Society.