Tellabs chief funds IIT environment project

February 14, 2005


Tellabs Chairman Michael Birck, 67, is a successful tech entrepreneur who cares about the environment. Today Birck's Naperville-based Tellabs Foundation announces a $200,000 grant to the Illinois Institute of Technology to launch the Sustainable Village project.

Sustainable Village is an innovative program to showcase and prototype methods to provide clean energy and water without desecrating the environment or robbing future generations.

The program includes creation of a demonstration "House of the Future," wind-powered turbine systems, a hydrogen fueling station and equipping IIT service vehicles to run on hydrogen fuel cells.

The program is a perfect fit for Birck and his foundation. Both focus on health care, education and the environment. Birck says Sustainable Village will educate future leaders on environmental issues, and provide prototype solutions. He believes a healthy environment will yield improved community health.

Farm boy makes good

Birck grew up on an Indiana farm. "I was exposed to nature first hand," says Birck, whose father was a mail carrier. "We had this small farm to tide us through the low-income times."

Birck recalls the clean air of his youth. He is not an environmental radical. He simply believes "protecting the environment is a very appropriate thing to do."

Sustainable Village is part of a broader effort at IIT to engage students and faculty in cross disciplinary work with real world impact. Last year, IIT launched the Energy and Sustainability Institute to focus on conservation in collaboration with government and the private sector. The effort builds on IIT's research into alternative energy sources that dates to the 1950s.

"One of the most challenging issues for the next 100 years is access to clean water and energy," says Said Al-Hallaj, associate professor of chemical and environmental engineering and the guide for the Sustainable Village.

Solutions require a mix of skills, says Al-Hallaj: "It's not simply a technical problem. It's also a social, economic and environmental problem. There are challenges for scientists, politicians and business leaders," Al-Hallaj adds. The group of 30 students and faculty building the Sustainable Village will include engineers, architects, computer scientists and environmentalists.

The Field's virtual valentines

Field Museum CIO Bill Barnett is beaming this Valentine's Day because of digital flowers.

Barnett is ecstatic about the 2.6 million specimens in the museum's botany collection, which dates back to the World's Columbian Exposition here in 1893. Barnett is fighting to preserve these flowers electron-ically, assuring scholars everywhere can view the Field's treasures.

So far he's got 700,000 specimens online at More good news for Barnett: he landed a $796,000 federal appropriation sponsored by Rep. Danny K. Davis (D) and Rep. Henry Hyde (R) to continue the digital cataloging.

Barnett is one of Chicago's scholarly CIOs. He's an archeology Ph.D. turned techie. "I specialized on the beginnings of agriculture in Europe," says Barnett, whose work guarantees future generations can view the Field's collections on-line.

Bits & Bytes

Popular Science magazine's March issue ranks Chicago No. 6 nationally among the top tech cities. Assistant Editor Rena Pacella said, "We were a little surprised, but pleasantly." It could be Chicago tech, like Chicago's economy, is diverse. We're leaders in nanotech, biotech, mobile wireless and software development. This balance might keep us under the radar. Pacella was tickled to hear Microsoft hires more software engineers from the University of Illinois than any other campus.

Baxter International CIO John Moon, president of the Society for Information Management, convenes the group Wednesday at Spiaggia. Ellen Kitzis, group vice president for Gartner Group speaks on "The New CIO Leader: Setting the Agenda and Delivering Results."

Kudos to former Chicago Software Association Executive Director Candy Renwall, who launched Technology Business Partners last week. ... The University of Chicago's Bob Rosenberg hosts his Tech Forum Friday at the Gleacher Center downtown. Spotlight is on the science and technology benefits to emerge if Illinois wins the $1 billion federally funded Rare Isotope Accelerator project. Robert Rosner, chief scientist, Argonne National Laboratory, kicks off the discussion.

Michael Krauss is a Chicago area tech writer and consultant.



 ©2005 Marion Consulting Partners