Christine Stuart photo

As part of a $4 million public-private partnership, officials from the University of Connecticut announced Tuesday that it added six of the nation’s top alternative energy researchers to its faculty.

University of Connecticut President Michael Hogan praised lawmakers for having the vision to make something like this happen, while Mun Choi, Dean of the UConn Engineering School, introduced the new faculty to lawmakers.

The six new faculty members were hired as part of the “Eminent Faculty” program, which was created by the 21st Century Jobs bill passed by the General Assembly in 2006. The legislation is intended to promote economic development and help grow the state’s alternative energy workforce.

Following an international search, Dr. Prabhakar Singh, one of the six new faculty members, was hired to head the university’s Global Fuel Cell Center. Dr. Singh is currently with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory where he oversees and directs advanced solid oxide fuel cell development.

Dr. Singh will be joined by Dr. Hanchen Huang, Dr. George Rossetti Jr., Dr. Brian Willis, Dr. William Mustain, and Dr. Tianfeng Lu. Each of the professors has their own expertise and will be working on their own projects.

Sen. Gary LeBeau, D-East Hartford, who helped author the 21st Century Jobs bill, said the idea was “to bring in some of the brightest stars in the galaxy.” He said these six experts will help the university and the state access federal dollars and grants.

LeBeau pointed out that Connecticut is in direct competition with other states that are also racing to develop highly-skilled jobs and a highly-skilled workforce. “We have to be looking toward the future,” he said.

Sen. Joan Hartley, D-Waterbury, said last time there was an economic downturn, the state lost more than 100,000 jobs and it was slow to recover some of those job losses. She said she hopes this program will change some of those dynamics.

“The Eminent Faculty program is planting the seeds of innovation that can help us achieve energy independence,” Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said. “Not only that, it will help Connecticut find its niche in the ‘green economy’, enabling us to grow jobs and create wealth.”

In addition to job creation, the initiative is expected to help Connecticut meet the state’s goal of reducing fossil fuel consumption by 20 percent and replacing it with clean or renewable energy sources by 2020.