ART ROSENFELD: Brilliance & BENEVOLENCE

January 27, 2017

I met Art as a wide-eyed student in "Physics of Efficient Energy Use" class in 1982.  He was immediately disarming, engaging, and inspiring.  I soon went to work with him and was forever folded into the LBNL community.  Later I assumed his post as leader of the Center for Building Science at LBNL when he went to work in Washington under the first Clinton administration.  He was a friend and my most valued colleague.  He manifested rare mix of brilliance and benevolence. We lost him today.

Art was a mentor in the true sense of the word.  Few people value and take the time and effort to serve in that role any more.  His door was always open to eager students.  He really took up-and-coming energy scientists under his wing.  We would often work on projects until one in the morning, shoulder to shoulder at his big desk.  He reveled in opening doors for others.

He modeled many essential things for his protoges, most notably the notion of grasping and running with your ideas even to the degree of creating entirely new fields of study. Much like Cousteau, Goodall, and Sagan, a hallmark of Rosenfeld’s work and impact was his ability to translate specialized and sometimes arcane science into a compelling call to action that the public, industry, and policymakers can grasp. More to the point, Art was among the early vanguard of pure scientists who helped dispel the taboo on linking science to public policy.  He worked tirelessly to defend federal budgets for efficiency research during times of adversity. His passion for the cause and palpable sense of urgency about energy and environmental issues inspired me and a whole a generation (or is it two?) of practitioners. 

Art always brought the technical discussion back to why it matters and who should do what about it.  He respected power but wasn’t a shrinking violet when it came to engagement, whether it be with a highly-placed politician or the CEO of a large company. He was gentle, yet unflappable.

He was a master at dispelling myths and misinformation.  Chief among these was that energy (rather than wise use of energy) was what truly powered economic growth.  Thus, each dollar spent on more energy efficient light bulbs provided more benefit at a lower cost than a dollar spent on new power plants.  He set a great example of those of us under his tutelage.

Art had an uncanny ability to look at a cloud of numbers and find meaning, and visualize it in a technically correct but also compelling way. His intellectual breadth was unparalleled, spanning physics, materials, modeling, and economics. As a mentor he emphasized the equal importance of being numerate and literate, and, above all else, cross-disciplinary. He was a non-pompous communicator and would not tolerate indulgent, long-winded prose.  He stripped away jargon and did not shy away from making definitive statements. Taking a queue from his own mentor Enrico Fermi, he emphasized the use of analogies to help policymakers and the general public grasp the scale or relevance of things that could easily otherwise cause anyone to glaze over.  He was a master of this and I find myself routinely doing that today.

He was the antithesis of the stereotypical territorial academic. He routinely went out of his way to be inclusive and weave the next generation into his vast professional networks, literally taking cards of his Rolodex and copying them for people. And he would readily share credit and authorship with young scientists who helped him. 

We worked on scores of projects together.  Some of the most impactful involved calculating and making the case for how much energy efficiency was saving economy-wide.  Among other things, this fed into congressional testimony that helped show the high ROI for taxpayers on energy efficiency R&D. Back in 1996 we collaborated on the then un-named field of "non-energy benefits", which has since blossomed into a large area of study. My own branch was to look at how the world's largest industry -- insurance -- can benefit from improved energy efficiency and reduced greenhouse-gas emissions.

Art had a special place in his mind and heart for issues facing those at the bottom of the economic pyramid.  When I opened up the area of providing solar-LED lighting for the 1.2 billion people on earth without electricity, Art immediately jumped in and helped provide ideas and secure funding.

~ Evan Mills