UMass Amherst Alumnus and High-Tech Executive John Finn to Give Tang Lecture on Oct. 21

AMHERST, Mass. - Alumnus, former NASA scientist and high-technology executive John Finn will deliver the 11th annual Tang Lecture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on Thursday, Oct. 21 at 4 p.m. in 1009 Campus Center. The event is free and open to the public and is followed by a reception at 5 p.m. The lecture series brings leaders of engineering-based companies to campus each year to meet with students and faculty and present a major talk.

Finn earned his doctorate in chemical engineering at UMass Amherst in 1990 and is the co-founder and vice-president for technology infrastructure at Bloom Energy of Sunnyvale, Calif. His talk is titled "Energy Startup to Energy Industry."

Bloom Energy, founded in 2001, has developed unique on-site power generation systems that use an innovative fuel cell technology with roots in NASA’s Mars program. Derived from a common sand-like powder, and leveraging breakthroughs in materials science, the technology is able to produce clean, reliable, affordable power practically anywhere from a wide range of renewable or traditional fuels. The company’s Energy Servers are among the most efficient energy generators on the planet, providing for significantly reduced electricity costs and dramatically lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Finn was hired by NASA right after graduate school to develop air revitalization technologies for long-duration human space missions. At the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., he started a lab that delivered numerous innovations for human spaceflight and Mars exploration. This work led to Finn’s leadership position on a team that developed an electrochemical device which would use electricity from solar panels to produce rocket fuel and breathable oxygen from the atmosphere of Mars or other planets. "It was a realization of the ‘living off the land’ approach to planetary exploration," Finn says.

Finn’s core team from NASA founded Ion America in 2001 to commercialize related technology for producing electricity. It was the first "clean tech" company funded by the Kleiner Perkins venture capital firm, which was an early investor in companies such as Netscape, Google, Amazon and Genentech. The company later changed its name to Bloom Energy, and today it deploys its extremely efficient energy generators to some of the most recognizable companies in the U.S., including Walmart, Coca-Cola and Federal Express.

He says he continues to play a founder’s role in Bloom Energy’s operations with particular responsibility for testing and infrastructure for the stacks and the systems. Finn was raised in northern Iowa, attended Iowa State University and earned his bachelors degree in chemical engineering in 1986. He lives in Mountain View with his wife and four daughters.

The Shirley and Ting-wei Tang Endowment Lecture Series brings leaders of engineering-based companies to campus each year. Shirley Tang is a retired academic advisor for the United Asia Learning Resource Center. Emeritus Professor Ting-wei Tang recently completed a remarkable and distinguished career of 38 years at UMass Amherst. An internationally recognized expert in numerical modeling of semiconductor devices, Tang was elected as an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Fellow in 1999. He received the 2009 Distinguished Faculty Award from the UMass Amherst Alumni Association.