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The University of Louisiana at Lafayette will offer a Ph.D. in earth and energy sciences starting next year.

The new interdisciplinary degree program will combine courses in chemistry, physics, environmental science and geology – four subject areas that are key to the environmentally safe extraction of energy resources.

The Louisiana Board of Regents approved the graduate degree during its March 21 meeting. The program is projected to begin in the Fall 2019 semester.

“This interdisciplinary program will provide hands-on training and critical thinking skills to the next generation of scientists who will confront the challenge of how to acquire sufficient energy to meet our growing needs while minimizing environmental impact,” said Dr. Azmy S. Ackleh, dean of the Ray P. Authement College of Sciences.

Students will take courses taught by faculty in the University’s physics and chemistry departments, and in the School of Geosciences, he added. Degree candidates also will write dissertations under faculty supervision that will be grounded in original research. 

“The most important scientific discoveries in modern times often have come from interdisciplinary efforts in which scientists who are experts in one field of study collaborate with scientists who are experts in another. The University has designed the earth and energy sciences training these students will receive as a truly interdisciplinary undertaking,” Ackleh said.

The 72-credit hour curriculum will enable students to examine traditional energy sources, such as fossil fuels, as well as burgeoning alternative sources, including biofuels, and geothermal, solar, wave and wind energies.

They’ll also explore the consequences energy acquisition can have on soil and water chemistry; ocean and land ecosystems; and climate change and pollution.

“Students will understand the issues central to meeting the energy and environmental challenges of today and the future. They will be prepared to make fundamental contributions to the areas of earth and energy research,” Ackleh said.

In its proposal to the Board of Regents, UL Lafayette cited Louisiana Workforce Commission data that projected the creation of 370 jobs annually through 2024 that will require the research and analytical skills the Ph.D. program in earth and energy sciences will sharpen.

That number does not include out-of-state employment opportunities.

There will be “a strong overall need for scientists in these physical science fields,” the proposal concluded. “There may be considerable growth in the energy sector outside of the oil and gas industry. Start-up companies will need scientists in these areas of biofuel technology and development as well as conventional energy companies that aim to expand their operations.”

Expected retirements in geosciences fields will increase the demand as well.

Students who complete the program and decide to pursue an academic career have a similarly good employment picture. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates about 2,000 positions in colleges and universities to open annually in earth and energy sciences and related fields through 2024.

“UL Lafayette’s new doctoral program is poised to meet these needs,” Ackleh said. 

“We expect graduates will assume leadership positions in industry, in government, and at colleges and universities. They will be in position to influence the future of energy acquisition.”

Students who hold bachelor’s or master’s degrees in geology, environmental science, physics or chemistry may apply. E-mail for more information.


Photo caption: Students enrolled in UL Lafayette’s earth and energy sciences doctoral program will consider the environmental impact of traditional extraction methods, such as offshore drilling, as well as alternative sources, such as wind and solar energies. (Photo credit: Doug Dugas / University of Louisiana at Lafayette)