Steven E. Koonin is a University Professor at New York University, with appointments in the Stern School of Business, the Tandon School of Engineering, and the Department of Physics. He founded NYU’s Center for Urban Science and Progress, which focuses research and education on the acquisition, integration, and analysis of big data for big cities.
Dr. Koonin served as Undersecretary for Science in the US Department of Energy under President Obama from 2009 to 2011, where his portfolio included the climate research program and energy technology strategy. He was the lead author of the US Department of Energy’s Strategic Plan (2011) and the inaugural Department of Energy Quadrennial Technology Review (2011). Before joining the government, Dr. Koonin spent five years as Chief Scientist for BP, researching renewable energy options to move the company “beyond petroleum.”
For almost thirty years, Dr. Koonin was a professor of theoretical physics at Caltech. He also served for nine years as Caltech’s Vice President and Provost, facilitating the research of more than 300 scientists and engineers and catalyzing the development of the world’s largest optical telescope, as well as research initiatives in computational science, bioengineering, and the biological sciences.
In addition to the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Koonin’s memberships include the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and JASON, the group of scientists who solve technical problems for the US government; he served as JASON’s chair for six years. He chaired the National Academies’ Divisional Committee for Engineering and Physical Sciences from 2014 to 2019, and since 2014 has been a trustee of the Institute for Defense Analyses. He is currently an independent governor of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and has served in similar roles for the Los Alamos, Sandia, Brookhaven, and Argonne National Laboratories. He was a member of Governor Cuomo’s Blue Ribbon Commission to Reimagine New York in the post-COVID-19 era.
Dr. Koonin has a BS in Physics from Caltech and a PhD in Theoretical Physics from MIT. He is an award-winning classroom teacher and his public lectures are noted for their clarity in conveying complex subjects. He is the author of the classic 1985 textbook Computational Physics, which introduced methodology for building computer models of complex physical systems. He has published some 200 peer-reviewed papers in the fields of physics and astrophysics, scientific computation, energy technology and policy, and climate science, and has been the lead author on multiple book-length reports, including two National Academies studies. Through a series of articles and lectures that began in 2014, Dr. Koonin has advocated for a more accurate, complete, and transparent public representation of climate and energy matters. His book Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters was published on May 4.