- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center Newsletter

Spotlight: Laura Diaz Anadon

Summer 2013

Laura Diaz Anadon is Associate Director of the Belfer Center’s Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program, Director of the Energy Technology Innovation Policy research group, and a member of the Belfer Center Board of Directors. In May, she was named Assistant Professor of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School.

While Laura Diaz Anadon was earning her doctorate in chemical engineering at Cambridge University in Britain, she was also diving across the floor. As a varsity volleyball player at Cambridge, “I was the fast one who could get across the court and get to the ball.”

That quick reaction time may help explain Diaz Anadon’s remarkable ability to adapt and grow as she pursued a career path unlike that of her high school classmates in Oviedo, in northern Spain—culminating in her appointment in May as Harvard Kennedy School assistant professor of public policy.

Most Spanish students go to the local university and live at home. Even though both of her parents are science professors at the University of Oviedo, Diaz Anadon made her way to a joint program offered by the University of Manchester in Britain and the University of Stuttgart in Germany.

That combined bachelor’s-master’s degree program in chemical engineering posed the added challenge of requiring Diaz Anadon to take her courses and exams in English and German. She flourished nonetheless, earning the departmental prize at Manchester as “Best Graduate of 2003” out of all departments.

She worked summers at DuPont and at Bayer Pharmaceuticals. As one of the few female chemical engineering graduates, Diaz Anadon was primed for a high-flying career in industry.

But a summer program in Tanzania, tracking bird biodiversity in rainforests broken down by tea plantations, helped trigger some new ideas. Diaz Anadon had always loved the outdoors, hiking with her parents and four younger brothers and sisters nearly every weekend in Spain, to the point that “I know the mountains in Asturias like the back of my hand.”

During her doctoral studies, she began to imagine ways she could put her chemical engineering training to use to reduce the impact of industrial development. “I wanted to make human and economic development more sustainable.”

Her Manchester adviser, Professor Colin Webb, told her that if she really wanted to effect change, she needed a Ph.D. So she applied to Cambridge, graduating in 2006, and plunged into theoretical as well as experimental work.

Her thesis: “Transient hydrodynamics and reaction in trickle-bed reactors using NMR and MRI.”

At Cambridge, through talks and conferences she participated in, she realized that the science and engineering developments she worked on depended on policies to enable them. She learned of Professor John Holdren’s work at Harvard; Holdren was then director of the Belfer Center’s Science, Technology, and Public Policy program; now he is President Obama’s science adviser.

Diaz Anadon earned a prestigious Spanish scholarship, in addition to a U.K. Fulbright scholarship, to come to the Kennedy School to in 2007. She earned her Master’s in Public Policy, and Holdren used a Doris Duke Foundation grant to hire her to run the Energy Research, Development, Demonstration, and Deployment Policy Project (ERD3 project for short).

Finally, Diaz Anadon was combining her extraordinary technical engineering skills with her larger goal of shaping national and global policies to enable clean-energy technologies to be developed and deployed. She played a main role in ETIP’s three-year-long ERD3 project into how and why governments and businesses embrace energy innovations and create innovative cultures. She then also took on the direction of the Energy Technology Innovation Project (ETIP) in 2010, a core effort in the Belfer Center to encourage research in innovation in more sustainable energy technologies.

While conducting her own in-depth research, Diaz Anadon also tried her hand at teaching at HKS in 2011–12. She found that she enjoyed it, and taught again this year.

At the same time, she works closely with about 10 research fellows working on energy, water, and other technology innovation policy issues. She has worked on projects with the World Bank and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, helping craft strategies to encourage clean production practices in developing countries and studying the role of intellectual property in the adoption of more sustainable technologies.

Working with Venkatesh Narayanamurti, who succeeded Holdren as director of the Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program, and Henry Lee, who directs the Environment and Natural Resources Program, Diaz Anadon has advised government officials in the United States, Mexico, China, and Europe on a pro-bono basis.

Amid all her career pressures, she gave birth to twins a year ago. She says she is lucky that the children are easy to manage. She lives in Cambridge and she and husband, Jeff Skopek, do not own a car, getting by with Zipcars so far. She plays classical guitar when she can. But she quotes her mentor Professor Colin Webb as warning her that the academic pressures will only grow more intense.

Webb has remained a close friend, and came to Oviedo for Diaz Anadon’s wedding to Jeff in 2007. Webb describes Diaz Anadon this way: “Laura is a tremendously positive person who takes an avid interest in everything and everyone around her. She genuinely wants the world to be a better place and will dedicate herself to making it so. She has a brilliant mind capable of assimilating the most complex of concepts yet is wonderfully modest and exceptionally pleasant.”

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Spotlight: Laura Diaz Anadon.” Belfer Center Newsletter (Summer 2013).