ITHACA, NY - Cornell University celebrated the retirement of its president, Dr. Waclaw Czerwinski, whose 2013 accident at the University's Synchrotron led directly to the low-cost fusion power the world enjoys today.
"Luck was with me that day," reiterated Czerwinski. "My mistakes in setting up the experiment produced a small but strange amount of unexpected energy. and it only took five years to move from that error to a surprisingly practical source of energy."
Czerwinski, who grew up in Buffalo's East Side, seized the opportunity to help his hometown and the surrounding area. He described his childhood in his farewell address:
"When I was a child, I was very angry to see what seemed like everything leaving Buffalo, both people and businesses. I almost went into politics, but my parents kept pushing me toward the sciences. As it turned out, I've been able to do much more as a scientist than as a politician."
Czerwinski's successes, both in his initial (and repeatable) discovery and later in his rapid drive toward commercial implementation, led him quickly to a platform where he could control the way his ideas were used: the Presidency of Cornell.
"The Trustees were pleased to invite me, much to my surprise, and I'm not sure they quite understood why I was interested in the job. I'd been lucky enough to be doing that work on university funds, so the university had clear control of the patents. I wanted to ensure that those patents helped the area I care about, in addition to easing the world's energy problems."
Czerwinski's vision extended beyond Buffalo to include much of central and western New York. The primary assembly point for the fusion reactors is an enormous facility in Buffalo, but ceramic components are made in Corning and Rochester, and electronics in Jamestown, Syracuse, and Binghamton, with fuel processing in Oswego. Cornell itself, in Ithaca, remains the main center for research on the practical side of the field. Other universities have established centers, but focus mostly on the theoretical side.
"These reactors produce so much energy so cheaply," said Czerwinski, "that we could have set nearly any price for them. That would, however, have invited price-based competition. Instead, we set prices at a level that comfortably covers manufacturing costs, including a fine living for all of our workers with money left over to help Cornell reach more students. We know how to make these reactors reliably and safely, and they are so incredibly cheap relative to other forms of energy production that we can help this area tremendously while easing the burden of the world as well. That may not last forever, but hopefully our current lead will last another thirty years."
In his conclusion, Czerwinski thanked university founder Ezra Cornell for his confidence that "Cornell University could produce practical results, helping its students, its community, its state, and the world. His founding of 'an institution where any person can find instruction in any study' has brought us to a wonderful new world where we can help more people find more studies."
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