Montclair State University Professor Receives Prestigious Presidential Award

Award is nation’s top honor for scientists and engineers in early stages of their research careers

Pankaj Lal, associate professor of Earth and Environmental Studies and associate director of the PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies at Montclair State University, is among 102 recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). The awards, announced by President Obama on January 9, are the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on federally funded science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their research careers.

“I congratulate these outstanding scientists and engineers on their impactful work,” Obama said in a statement announcing the awards. “These innovators are working to help keep the United States on the cutting edge, showing that federal investments in science lead to advancements that expand our knowledge of the world around us and contribute to our economy.”

“It is extremely gratifying to get presidential validation of the research I am undertaking and an absolute honor,” says Lal. “Personally, it gives me added confidence to continue on with my sustainable energy and resources research, which is one of the grand challenges facing modern society. I also share this award with the exceptional students in my research group. I’m proud that their work contributed towards my getting this award, and am thankful to my colleagues at Montclair State, who have been extremely supportive.”

Robert Prezant, dean of Montclair State’s College of Science and Mathematics says, “Dr. Lal and his federally funded work in environmental economics represents the best among emerging scientists and their disciplines. For Dr. Lal to receive the PECASE award is an obvious and natural fit. His work reflects the broad spectrum of critical and far-reaching research within our College that informs our students and simultaneously offers important, positive benefits to our global society.”

Supporting Energy Independence

Lal was nominated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has funded his collaborative, interdisciplinary research that contributes to the development of a sustainable bioeconomy as a fossil fuel alternative, by assessing the socioeconomic impacts of forest- and agriculture-based biofuel development in Southern rural communities.

As a researcher, Lal is committed to providing science-based knowledge and solutions to inform policy choices. Noting that a “one size fits all approach” is inadequate to address the challenges of sustainable bioenergy, he instead proposes strategies based on an integrated approach that emphasizes local context and suggests place-based interventions.

Lal’s PECASE award nomination by U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture stressed the contributions Lal is making to develop new biofuel pathways, saying that, “Besides fostering innovative developments in science and technology, Dr. Lal’s efforts and commitment enhance connections between fundamental research and the grand challenges facing the nation, and highlight the importance of interdisciplinary and systems-approached science, engineering, and technology for America’s future.”

This is not Lal’s first award for work on bioenergy sustainability. In 2016, he received a highly competitive five-year, $450,000 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation to support his research and education initiatives. His research portfolio includes nearly $ 7.5 million in grants and contracts for research as a Principal Investigator or Co-Principal Investigator not only from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but also from the U.S. Department of Energy, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

“I was thrilled to learn of the award,” Lal says. “It means a lot to me. Being awarded for what I enjoy doing is really awesome.”