2009 Distinguished achievement award: James Peerenboom

// Engineering Physics

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James P. Peerenboom
Director, Infrastructure Assurance Center
Associate Director, Decision and Information Sciences Division
Argonne National Laboratory
BSNE ’73, MSNE ’74
Argonne, Illinois

“The work we do should be useful, usable and used,” says James P. Peerenboom. It’s a comment he once heard from his thesis advisor at UW-Madison, and he and his colleagues at Argonne National Laboratory in Argonne, Illinois, continue to follow the advice.

Peerenboom’s work as director of the infrastructure assurance center and associate director of the decision and information sciences division certainly fulfills those threeu’s, and he views his work in homeland security as closely tied to his interests in energy systems and engineering. “Energy is the lifeblood of the nation, and natural events or terrorism-related events can dramatically affect energy and other critical infrastructure, as well as the environment in which they are located,” he says. “I use analysis techniques and modeling and simulation tools to improve understanding and inform decisions about infrastructure protection and resilience.”

The Appleton, Wisconsin, native always knew he was interested in engineering, and Peerenboom says it was a natural decision to attend UW-Madison, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering in 1973. He says his UW-Madison education was particularly valuable because of the interdisciplinary opportunities in the College of Engineering. He was able to explore his interest in energy systems from a variety of perspectives, earning a master’s degree in nuclear engineering in 1974.

After graduating, Peerenboom moved to Tennessee to work as a research associate at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where he investigated nuclear fuel-related topics. He returned to UW-Madison to obtain his PhD from the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies in 1981. His research again had an interdisciplinary flavor, incorporating engineering and systems analysis into energy and environmental contexts.

He then joined Argonne National Laboratory, where he uses his systems analysis, decision and risk analysis, and advanced modeling and simulation expertise to tackle complex national problems. For the past 15 years, Peerenboom has focused on critical infrastructure protection and homeland security issues. He has supported development of infrastructure assurance roadmaps and conducted vulnerability assessments for a variety of federal departments, including the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security, Energy and Defense. He is the author of more than 80 technical publications and is a technical reviewer and advisor for multiple journals and organizations.

In keeping with his environmental interests, Peerenboom is an active outdoorsman when away from work. Along with his wife, Taffy (Jane), and daughters, Katherine and Laura, both of whom are UW-Madison graduates, Peerenboom is a frequent hiker and biker. He also enjoys woodworking.