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Updated: White House announces Energy Department nominees

President Barack Obama today nominated Franklin “Lynn” Orr, a chemical engineer at Stanford University in California, as under secretary for science at the Department of Energy. Orr’s nomination was accompanied by that of Marc Kastner, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, to head the department’s office of science.

Orr joined the Stanford’s Department of Petroleum Engineering in 1985 and rose to become dean of the School of Earth Sciences in 1994. He led the university’s Global Climate and Energy Project before assuming his current post, in 2009, as director of the Precourt Institute for Energy.

Orr has proven his ability to integrate basic and applied research while focusing on big-picture energy questions, says James Sweeney, a colleague at Stanford who directs the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center, which is part of the institute headed by Orr. Sweeney says those skills will come in particularly useful now that Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz has given the under secretary for science oversight over both science and energy research. Orr is also co-teaching a freshman-level course on energy with Sweeney and another colleague, and Sweeney says Orr’s skills as a communicator will prove equally useful in Washington.

“Besides being a researcher and a manager, he is also an educator,” Sweeney says. “He’s got a little of everything.”

Orr’s appointment comes nearly two years after the departure of Steven Koonin, who went on to head New York University’s Center for Urban Science and Progress.

At the Energy Department’s office of science, Kastner would replace William Brinkman, who stepped down in April. Kastner joined MIT’s Department of Physics in 1973 and headed the department from 1998 to 2007. He has served as the dean of MIT’s School of Science since 2007 and remains active in semiconductor research.

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