Former Dean Murray Returns to SEAS After Energy Department Post

Cherry Murray
Dr. Cherry A. Murray, the Benjamin Peirce Professor of Technology and Public Policy sits at her desk.
After about a year in Washington directing the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, former Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Cherry A. Murray returned to Cambridge this month to resume teaching.

In Washington, Murray oversaw more than $5 billion in federal research funding and spearheaded the rewriting of the scientific integrity policy for the Department of Energy. This term, Murray is teaching Engineering Sciences 26 "Humanities and Its Challenges," which explores “engineering design to solve humanity’s major challenges,” like climate change and overpopulation.

Murray served as the school’s dean from July 1, 2009 to Dec. 31, 2014, when she stepping down to teach. In August 2015, she was nominated by then-President Obama to the directorship position. The United States Senate confirmed her for the post in December of the same year.

In Washington, Murray’s Office of Science—the largest supporter of basic physical science research in the country—oversaw 10 Energy Department national laboratories and provided funding to thousands of researcher.

Murray also led a group within the Department of Energy that worked to rewrite its scientific integrity policy, which was released in the last few weeks of Ernest J. Moniz’s term as Energy Secretary. Murray she said the policy has been well-received, though she said she did not initially expect to work on it..

After President Trump’s election, some scientists and researchers have raised concerns about scientific research funding. Under the Trump administration and the potential leadership of Secretary of Energy nominee Rick Perry, Murray said she expects a decrease in support for applied energy.

“I will say that the Office of Science is the largest funder of physical science research in the country, and it usually has bipartisan support. There is considerable bipartisan support for science,” she said. “What may change under the new administration is support for applied energy. They may have a challenge.”

Murray said she anticipates the confirmation process for her former position will be lengthy. MIT professor Marc A. Kastner was nominated as Director of the Office of Science before Murray, but he never earned Senate approval or received a confirmation vote. Murray’s four month wait was quick by comparison.

Even in the absence of both an Energy Secretary and an Office of Science director, Murray said the office will continue to operate as it normally would.

“The Department of Energy has 22 presidential nominees [who] come in at the very top of each office,” she said. “There are career federal employees who are running the offices, so the department runs whether they have those [nominees] or not,” she said.

Though Murray said she looks forward to teaching again, she said she is readjusting to an academic's lifestyle.

“When I first left the Department of Energy, and I showed up in my house in Cambridge, I felt this incredible withdrawal from the federal government where things happen every day,” Murray said. “And I’m getting over that feeling of withdrawal.”

—Staff writer Julia E. DeBenedictis can be reached at julia.debenedictis@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @julia_debene.

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