Arati Prabhakar
Former Director, DARPA & NIST

Innovation takes many forms and all of them are important as the U.S. and other countries look for ways to avoid a catastrophe from climate change. Over the years, the federal government in Washington has been a big contributor to science and technology in energy, the environment and other fields. And that’s likely to continue. But given the immensity of climate change and other challenges, new options for enabling breakthrough technology are important, too.

In this edition of Columbia Energy Exchange, host Bill Loveless reaches out to someone with a lot of experience with science and engineering in government, the private sector and finance. Arati Prabhakar was the head of the Defense Research Projects Agency at the U.S. Department of Defense, better known as DARPA, during the Obama administration and director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology under President Bill Clinton.

Arati’s family emigrated to the U.S. from India when she was a young girl, and she went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Texas Tech before heading to the California Institute of Technology, where she received a master’s degree in electrical engineering and a Ph.D. in applied physics.

Between her stints in Washington at NIST and DARPA, she moved to Silicon Valley, where she was chief technology officer and senior vice president at Raychem Corp. and then vice president and president of Interval Research. Later, she was a partner with U.S. Venture Partners, an early-stage venture capital firm.

Now, she’s back in Silicon Valley as a founder and the CEO of Actuate, which bills itself as a new kind of nonprofit organization, formed to contribute a fresh approach to society’s critical challenges, like climate change. In short, Arati sees a bigger role for philanthropy to play in addressing climate change.

Bill spoke with Arati about this new approach and why she thinks it fills a gap in public support for science and technology. They also talked about her experience in Washington, which over the years saw the U.S. government try different ways of advancing promising but risky technologies in energy and other fields.