Iowa EPSCoR: Provost P. Barry Butler-the Perfect Balancing Act

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Web Note:  Following is a special feature published by Iowa EPSCoR on Barry Butler, professor of mechanical engineering, University of Iowa executive vice president and provost, and leader of the Iowa NSF EPSCoR wind energy platform.

 

It is clear from his curriculum vitae and his balancing act of provost and professor that Provost Patrick Barry Butler is not intimidated by a large workload or leadership responsibilities. Butler, the leader of the Iowa NSF EPSCoR wind energy platform, is also the Executive Vice President and Provost at the University of Iowa as of May 2011.

Provost Butler joined the University of Iowa in 1984 as an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, earning the title of associate professor in 1989, and full professorship in 1995. Only two years after receiving full professorship, Provost Butler found himself as an Associate Dean in the College of Engineering in 1997 and Interim Dean in 1999. By November 2000, Provost Butler was Dean of the College of Engineering, a position he held until his appointment into the Office of the Provost.

Provost and Platform Leader

The provost is a chief academic officer and second-in-command to the University President. The website for the Office of the Provost gives a job description of, “advancing the interests of undergraduate, graduate, and professional education on campus.” Provost Butler is like a clock master who makes sure all the pieces of the clock, the University of Iowa, are working well with each other and functionally optimally.

Performing as a Provost for the University of Iowa is stressful as is, but Provost Butler finds the time and passion to take a leadership role in Iowa NSF ESPCoR program as a platform leader. In this position, Provost Butler helps facilitate this growth in research capacity. “EPSCoR’s goal is to build research infrastructure in a ‘jurisdiction.’ In our case the ‘jurisdiction’ is the State of Iowa. We have chosen to focus our state-wide program around the theme of renewable energy,” explains Provost Butler. “This is an area that is important to the state, and one where we have great potential to build research strength through collaborative research programs across the state.”

A focus of the Iowa NSF EPSCoR program is to encourage collaboration with the three Iowa regent universities - University of Iowa, the University of Northern Iowa, Iowa State University - and other private and communities colleges across the State of Iowa. Provost Butler leads the wind energy platform which utilizes faculty members from all three of the regent universities. “Iowa is at the crossroads of some of the best wind energy potential and, of course, prime agricultural land for growing renewable feedstock,” said Butler. “In other words, Iowa has the potential to be a leader in renewable energy.”

Developing an Interest in Wind

Before Provost Butler taught as a professor in mechanical engineering he was simply Barry Butler, a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he studied aeronautical and astronautical engineering. The first words that comes to mind with “aeronautical and astronautical engineering” for most people are “NASA” and “rocket science,” but the applications of this unique degree apply to airplanes and other vehicles who are designed to swim in atmospheric ocean. Aeronautical and astronautical engineers think the sky as a sea of wind, not as an empty bunch of space, allowing Provost Butler a unique understanding of wind energy. Provost Butler graduated with his Bachelor of Science in 1979, earned a Master of Science in the same area in 1981, and graduated with his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering in 1984, all from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“I have always had an interest in all forms of energy,” said Butler. “About five years ago, I was asked to meet with representatives from a company by the name of Acciona from Spain. They were looking at locating a turbine manufacturing facility in the USA and wanted to be near a university. I prepared for the meeting by reading up on wind energy. I got very interested and decided to teach a course. From there, my interest has grown every year.”

Favorable Winds Ahead

The future of Iowa is strongly tied to renewable energy sources. Twenty percent of all of Iowa’s energy is created by wind energy. Although Texas creates the most energy of any state in terms of wind energy, Iowa has the highest percentage of their total energy coming from wind energy. “Iowa is a national leader in wind energy,” said Provost Butler. “Over the past five years we have been able to attract to Iowa a number of manufacturers of turbine components. This makes us a leader in both production of wind energy, and production of the turbines that produce the energy.”

Building the technology that will provide renewable energy for the future is only one checklist item Provost Butler hopes to achieve during his leadership as leader of the wind energy platform and Principal Investigator of the University of Iowa’s portion of the grant. “My role as Platform Leader is to manage four sub-areas, or planks, of wind energy. Each plank is run by a senior faculty member, and there are several junior faculty in each plank,” said Butler who explains that building research means developing a strong caliber of faculty as well as renewable energy resources. “The planks provide a focused area of research from which the junior faculty can launch and grow their activities in the area of wind energy. I also interact with community colleges and wind energy companies to grow our network of partnerships.”

From his clear dedication to education and administrative responsibilities to passion for wind energy research, it is clear that Provost Butler’s balancing act as provost and professor is key to both the University of Iowa and Iowa’s future as a leader in wind energy. It is hoped that the additional funding and support from the Iowa NSF EPSCoR program will be the icing on the cake that will bring sustainable technologies such as wind energy into the mainstream.