Washington and Lee University 2014 graduate Jordan Kearns of Nicholasville, Ky., has received a Fulbright research grant to Estonia. His project is "Improving Oil Shale Technology to Provide Energy Security to Estonia and the United States."
"My project is to work in a research lab devoted to the study of a fringe energy resource used in Estonia, oil shale. It is entirely different from the shale oil most of us in the United States are familiar with," Kearns said. "Outside of the lab, I will be researching the wider implications of the use of oil shale in terms of energy security for the country.
"My hope is to better understand this culture while working to advance the technology that will preserve this country's pristine environment and help to keep the nation secure.
"The path to America's next energy boom is through Estonia which has paved the path for other countries possessing oil shale reserves. The United States, the country with the densest and most expansive reserves of oil shale, is in an exceptional position to learn from and to follow the Estonian example."
Kearns will conduct his research with Dr. Tõnu Pihu, the lead research scientist for the oil shale laboratory of Tallinn University of Technology (TUT), and Estonian graduate students. His research there will focus on combustion of oil shale for electricity generation, specifically the combustion of oil shale in mixtures with other fuels and in oxygen-enriched environments to reduce the output of harmful byproducts and improve the efficiency in which organic matter is converted into electricity.
Kearns added that as well as his lab work and classes in thermodynamics, "I will examine the current political climate surrounding the use of oil shale in Estonia. Through independent research and interviews with experts and laypeople, I plan to examine how oil shale is affected by European Union regulation, what people in Estonia think about oil shale and how future technological advances could affect energy security in the region."
"Jordan's Fulbright research brings together his sincere interests in energy engineering, public policy and the Russian language," said Joel Kuehner, associate professor of physics and engineering. "While many who are interested in energy security are looking into the distant future to truly renewable resources, Jordan has identified a crucial need to bridge the gap between traditional and renewable resources. He will be immersed in the world's leading research group investigating clean oil shale technology and in an area of the world where energy security has recently become the focus of front page news.
"I have worked with few students with such clear promise who hold such clarity for their life's work. Though Jordan always thinks I am joking, I believe we have a future Secretary of Energy in our midst. His combination of vision and pragmatism will have a notable impact on energy policy in the future, and his work in Estonia is the first step along that path."
Kearns is a graduate of West Jessamine High School in Nicholasville. At W&L, he was the valedictorian of his graduating class, a Johnson Scholar, head resident advisor of upper division students, editor of the Washington and Lee Political Review, an honor advocate and was awarded the John Warner Public Service Award, James D. Davidson Memorial Fund Scholarship and James McDowell Scholarship.
Kearns belonged to Phi Beta Kappa, the Outing Club, Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, Generals' Christian Fellowship and acted in Russian language plays. He was a campaign volunteer for Sen. Richard Lugar's primary campaign, on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the office of Sen. Rand Paul during the Spring Term and summer of 2012.
After completing his Fulbright, Kearns will pursue his graduate studies at MIT.
"It seems altogether fitting that Jordan Kearns has topped off his remarkably successful four year career at W&L by winning a Fulbright research grant to Estonia," said Professor Bill Connelly, John K. Boardman Professor of Politics. "As a double major in politics and engineering, Jordan neatly combined his two interests into a stellar academic career and now he has a chance to continue combining his interests in engineering and politics in Estonia. Jordan has a very bright future. Perhaps, if we are fortunate enough, Jordan will combine those interests again someday by running for public office."