MIT News - graduate MIT News is dedicated to communicating to the media and the public the news and achievements of the students, faculty, staff and the greater MIT community. en Fri, 13 Dec 2019 00:00:00 -0500 Supporting students in Puerto Rico after a hurricane’s devastation Postdoc Héctor De Jesús-Cortés works to build up the STEM pipeline from his homeland to MIT and beyond. Fri, 13 Dec 2019 00:00:00 -0500 Fernanda Ferreira | School of Science <p>When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September 2017, Héctor De Jesús-Cortés was vacationing on the island with his wife, Edmarie Guzmán-Vélez. “Worst vacation ever, but it actually turned out to be the most important in my life,” says De Jesús-Cortés. In the days immediately after the hurricane, both focused on helping their families get their bearings; after that first week, however, they were itching to do more. That itch would take them to San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital, where they asked the then-secretary of education a simple question: “How can we help?”</p> <p>With De Jesús-Cortés’ PhD in neuroscience and Guzmán-Vélez’s PhD in clinical psychology, they soon became involved in an effort led by the Department of Education to help students and school staff, as well as the community at large, troubled by the hurricane. “Everyone was traumatized, so if you bring kids to teachers who are also traumatized, that’s a bad recipe,” explains De Jesús-Cortés.</p> <p>De Jesús-Cortés and Guzmán-Vélez connected with their friend Rosaura Orengo-Aguayo, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor at the Medical University of South Carolina who studies traumatic stress and Hispanic populations. Working together with the Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, they developed a program to address trauma in schools. The Esperanza, or “promise,” program is ongoing and has already trained hundreds of school staff members on how to manage trauma and anxiety, and to identify these manifestations in students. &nbsp;</p> <p>Back in Boston, De Jesús-Cortés has continued his efforts for Puerto Rico, raising funds for micro-entrepreneurs and teaching neuroscience in online classes for undergraduates on the island. Each effort is guided by that same simple question — How can we help? His latest effort along with Guzmán-Vélez is a precollege summer program at MIT that will give Puerto Rican students a taste for scientific research. &nbsp;</p> <p><strong>A sense of possibility</strong></p> <p>For De Jesús-Cortés, teaching is more than just a transfer of knowledge. “I see teaching as mentorship,” he says. “I want students to be exposed to opportunities, because growing up in Puerto Rico, I know how difficult it can be for some students to get those opportunities.”</p> <p>While De Jesús-Cortés was an undergraduate at the University of Puerto Rico, he participated in Minority Access for Research Careers (MARC), a National Institutes of Health-funded program that supports underrepresented minority undergraduates as they move toward careers in biomedical sciences. “We had workshops every month about applications; they would bring recruiters, and they would also pay for summer internships,” explains De Jesús-Cortés.</p> <p>MARC allowed De Jesús-Cortés to see a career in science as a possibility, and he envisions that the summer school, whose inaugural class will be in summer 2020, will do something similar. “The idea is to have kids first spend two weeks in Puerto Rico and expose them to research at the undergraduate level,” explains De Jesús-Cortés. The students will be at the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón in Puerto Rico; the university has partnered with De Jesús-Cortés on the project. “Then they travel to Boston and see what research is happening here.” The 15-20 students will spend two weeks in Massachusetts, living in the MIT dorms, visiting labs, and learning how to apply to colleges in the United States.</p> <p>The MARC program also gave De Jesús-Cortés a community. “To this day, I talk to my MARC fellows,” he says, and that’s something he hopes to replicate with the summer students. “Each student will have a mentor, and I want them to keep talking after the program,” De Jesús-Cortés says.</p> <p>The summer school will not just give students a taste of scientific research, it will also show that universities like MIT are within their reach. “I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, and my schools didn't have the best resources in STEM,” De Jesús-Cortés says. He hopes that, by seeing researchers in Greater Boston that have the same background, the summer students will see MIT and a career in science as a possibility. “Students need to be exposed to mentors and role models that prove that it can be done,” he says.</p> <p><strong>Fixing vision</strong></p> <p>De Jesús-Cortés works on the summer school, and his other efforts for Puerto Rico and the Latino community, in addition to his neuroscience research. As a postdoc in the lab of Mark Bear, the Picower Professor of Neuroscience, he’s trying to use electrophysiology to figure out when neurons in the brain need a little help to communicate.<br /> &nbsp;<br /> Neurons communicate with one another using both chemical and electrical activity. An action potential, which is electrical, travels down the arms of the neuron, but when it reaches the end of that arm, the synapse, the communication becomes chemical. The electrical signal stimulates the release of neurotransmitters, which reach across the gap between two neurons, stimulating the neighboring neuron to make its own action potential.<br /> Not every neuron is equally capable of producing action potentials. “In a neurodegenerative disorder, before the neuron dies, it’s sick,” says De Jesús-Cortés. “And if it’s sick, it’s not going to communicate electrically very well.” De Jesús-Cortés wants to use this diminished electrical activity as a biomarker for disorders in the brain. “If I can detect that diminished activity with an electrode, then I can intervene with a pharmacological agent that will prevent the death of neurons,” he explains.</p> <p>To test this, De Jesús-Cortés is focusing on amblyopia, a condition more commonly known as lazy eye. Lazy eye happens when the communication between the visual cortex — a region in the back of the brain where visual information is received and processed — and one of the eyes is impaired, resulting in blurred vision. Electrical activity in the visual cortex that corresponds to the lazy eye is also down, and De Jesús-Cortés can detect that decreased activity using electrodes. &nbsp;</p> <p>When amblyopia is caught early on, a combination of surgery and an eye patch can strengthen the once-lazy eye, getting rid of the blurriness. “But, if you catch that condition after 8 years old, the patching doesn’t work as well,” says De Jesús-Cortés. Another postdoc in the Bear Lab, Ming-fai Fong, figured out that tetrodotoxin, which is found in puffer fish, is able to reboot the lazy eye, bringing up electrical activity in the visual cortex and giving mice with amblyopia perfect vision mere hours after receiving a drop of the toxin.</p> <p>But we don’t actually know how tetrodotoxin is doing this on a molecular level. “Now, putting tetrodotoxin in humans will be a little bit difficult,” says De Jesús-Cortés. Add too much toxin and you could cause a number of new problems. He is investigating what exactly the toxin is doing to sick neurons. Using that information, he then wants to design alternative treatments that have the same or even better effect: “Find neurons that are quiet because they are sick, and reboot them with a pharmacological agent,” he says.</p> <p>In the future, De Jesús-Cortés wants to look beyond the visual cortex, at other regions of the brain and other conditions like Parkinson, Alzheimer’s, and autism, finding the hurting neurons and giving them a boost.<br /> In both his neuroscience research and his work for Puerto Rico, De Jesús-Cortés is passionate about finding ways to help. But he has also learned that for all these efforts to succeed, he needs to accept help as well. “When you are working on so many projects at the same time, you need a lot of different people that believe in your vision,” he says. “And if you’re helping them, you believe in their vision.” For De Jesús-Cortés, this reciprocity is one of the most important aspects of his work, and it’s a guiding principle in his research and life. “I believe in collaboration like nothing else."</p> At MIT, Héctor De Jesús-Cortés studies neuronal electrical activity underlying diseases such as amblyopia, or lazy eye.Photo: Steph StevensPicower Institute, Brain and cognitive sciences, School of Science, Diversity and inclusion, Research, Profile, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral, Natural disasters, Latin America, Education, teaching, academics PhD student Marc Aidinoff explores how technology impacts public policy Historian&#039;s research focuses on understanding how visions for social and economic policy are tied to changing ideas about technology. Mon, 18 Nov 2019 14:50:01 -0500 School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences <p>“Computers have encapsulated so many collective hopes and fears for the future,” says Marc Aidinoff, a PhD candidate in History/Anthropology/Science, Technology, and Society (HASTS), a doctoral program that draws on the expertise of three fields in MIT's School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS).</p> <p>“In the 1990s, you have Vice President Gore, President Clinton, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson saying that closing the digital divide was a fundamental civil rights issue of our times. What does it mean when civil rights become about access to computers and the internet? When lack of internet access is considered a form of poverty? These are really big questions and I haven’t been able to get them out of my system.”</p> <p><strong>How is social policy tied to ideas about technology?</strong></p> <p>Aidinoff has become dedicated to understanding how policymakers have thought about technology. It makes sense. After graduating from Harvard University, Aidinoff worked for Barack Obama's presidential campaign and subsequently joined the administration working as a policy advisor for three years — including a two-year stint as the assistant policy director for Vice President Joe Biden.</p> <p>“But these questions were getting under my skin,” Aidinoff explains. “I wanted to know how visions for social and economic policy were tied to changing ideas about technology. So I became a card-carrying historian who pokes around archives from Mississippi to D.C., trying to get answers.”</p> <p><strong>Restructuring the citizen’s relationship to the state</strong></p> <p>The story in Aidinoff’s dissertation project begins in 1984, with the breakup of the Bell System and the launch of the Macintosh computer. That was also the year the U.S. federal government began measuring citizens’ access to computers. The dissertation traces policies designed to democratize information and the implementation of massive systems built to digitize the U.S. government.</p> <p>“Networked computing,” Aidinoff argues, “has been part of a larger restructuring of the citizen’s relationship to the state in U.S. history. For example, when you see a welfare caseworker, and there is a computer on their desk — does it matter who wrote that software?”</p> <p>The Horowitz Foundation for Social Policy presented Aidinoff with its John Stanley Award for History and Ethics earlier this year to support his efforts and fund his research trips.</p> <p>Aidinoff’s research has sent him searching for some of the same types of information he reviewed and generated as a policy advisor. He lights up when talking about a visit to the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas, to examine a hodgepodge of materials from policy memos to computer manuals. These archives help him understand how information moved around the executive branch and how policymakers would have understood technological systems.</p> <p><strong>The archive you need</strong></p> <p>Reading through the documents he locates can be difficult, however; Aidinoff credits the HASTS program for sharpening his research skills so he can home in on what is essential.</p> <p>“The HASTS faculty are really good at teaching you how to be unsatisfied until you’ve figured out how to construct the archive that you think is right for the question you’re asking. For me, that has meant a lot of newspapers and computer manuals. There’s a real belief among historians of science and technology that you need to go out and construct the archive you need. Archives aren’t just things that are waiting for you to discover. You’re going to need to go out and be creative.”</p> <p>“HASTS pushed me harder than I expected. I knew MIT would be challenging, but my colleagues encouraged me to spend time in places where I was less comfortable, including rural Mississippi.”</p> <p><strong>The humanistic/technical synergy at MIT</strong></p> <p>In fact, Aidinoff spent a semester at the University of Mississippi and the most recent summers teaching college-bridge courses to high school students in the Mississippi Delta with the Freedom Summer Collegiate program — an organization that continues the work of the 1964 Freedom Summer.</p> <p>For Aidinoff, there is no question that SHASS is the best place to continue his studies. The combination of rich humanities research programs and surrounding science and technology expertise was exactly what he wanted.</p> <p>“You’ve got such amazing people, world-class historians and historians of science and technology. The people I get to work with in a small, loving, interdisciplinary department is pretty extraordinary. My friends are technical, and being technical is really valued. I hang out with computer scientists all the time, which is great. I couldn’t do what I do if I didn’t have people pushing back on me from a social science perspective and from a technical engineering perspective.”</p> <p>Aidinoff’s position with the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory’s Internet Policy Research Initiative has complemented the perspective of his home department in SHASS.</p> <p><strong>Knowledge is social</strong><br /> <br /> “A key lesson from the history of science and technology is that knowledge is social. Some knowledge comes from sitting and thinking, and that’s important. But over and over again we learn it’s sitting and thinking and then going and having lunch or a coffee with people in your discipline and across disciplines.</p> <p>“I don’t think I’ll ever again be in a community with this many historians of science per square mile. It’s just an incredibly exciting community. And it’s social. We think these questions really matter, so it’s worth looking up from the book, too, and having the discussion where you fight about them because these are real live questions with political consequences.”</p> <p><br /> <span style="font-size:12px;"><em>Story prepared by SHASS Communications<br /> Writer, photographer: Maria Iacobo </em></span></p> "What does it mean," Aidinoff asks "when civil rights become about access to computers and the internet? When lack of internet access is considered a form of poverty? These questions were getting under my skin," he says. "I wanted to know how social and economic policy were tied to changing ideas about technology."Photo: Maria IacoboSchool of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Students, Anthropology, History, History of science, Policy, Civil rights, Program in STS, Computer science and technology, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral What makes for better bureaucracy? Political science PhD candidates Guillermo Toral and Tugba Bozcaga find that government-appointed officials deliver the goods — given the right circumstances. Mon, 21 Oct 2019 12:40:01 -0400 Leda Zimmerman | MIT Political Science <div> <p>Civil servants and the political systems in which they are entrenched don't normally get much love. Charged with essential public service missions such as providing working infrastructure, effective schools, and vital health care, bureaucrats often earn low marks. But new research by <a href="">Guillermo Toral</a> and <a href="">Tugba Bozcaga</a>, political science doctoral candidates, may begin to change perceptions.</p> <p>"People might be surprised by the degree to which social proximity affects bureaucratic performance," says Bozcaga, whose studies revealed that a well-functioning bureaucracy can be a function of geography. "Bureaucrats with informal ties to each other deliver services more efficiently."</p> <p>Among Toral’s findings in a wide-ranging investigation into the connections between bureaucrats and politicians: "In certain contexts, the connections between bureaucrats and politicians can actually enhance bureaucratic effectiveness and accountability, hence improving public service delivery."</p> <p>Although both students are investigating the political dynamics of bureaucracies and how these dynamics affect the quality of services provided to the public, they approach their questions with singular methodologies, in distinctly different contexts.</p> <p><strong>Patronage and public service</strong></p> <p>Born in Spain, with an undergraduate degree from a public university in Madrid and a master's from Oxford University, Toral worked for the World Bank in its Latin America sector, helping to develop and evaluate education projects. "This experience exposed me to the workings of large, international organizations, and to how different governments deal with similar development challenges," he says.</p> <p>He was particularly taken with the different ways nations like Brazil and Chile educated their public school students. "I started to become interested in how the quality of education, and more broadly, public services, varied within each country," he says. “The quality of public services varies a lot even within the same city, and with it citizens’ opportunities and human development.”</p> <p>This variation in quality, Toral suggests, can be traced largely to the individuals who occupy these positions — the professionals such as teachers and doctors who deliver public services directly to citizens.</p> <p>For his doctoral thesis at MIT, Toral set out to study the connections between bureaucrats and politicians, and their impact on who enters the bureaucracy and how effective they are at delivering public services.</p> <p>"In many developing contexts, the ability to hire and fire public employees is a very valuable political resource, yet we still do not have a very fine-grained understanding of how politicians decide to allocate public jobs, and how political dynamics affect the quality of public service delivery,” he says.</p> <p>Toral, seeking to understand the political dynamics of public employment in Brazilian local governments, spent 18 months in the field between 2016 and 2019, traveling by car through six states to small and medium-sized municipalities, interviewing bureaucrats, politicians, and anti-corruption agents face to face. In one state alone he coordinated a team of 21 research assistants and surveyed 926 bureaucrats in 150 municipalities.</p> <p>"I wanted to hear from local actors about the challenges of their jobs and how and when politics made things harder, or easier," he says.</p> <p>Toral also gained access to detailed, confidential data from the federal government about the nation's bureaucrats: who was hired and fired for particular jobs, and how the electoral cycle affected these appointments.</p> <p>In addition, he took advantage of information on the internet about bureaucrats and their performance. Relying on these data and quasi-experimental methods, Toral developed measurements of how phenomena like political turnover or political connections affect the quality of schools and clinics.</p> <p>Toral's scrutiny of his data revealed, among other phenomena, that there are electoral cycles in the hiring and firing of bureaucrats. One of his findings showed that politicians inflate public employment ahead of elections and that — possibly as a result — the delivery of health care services declines in the months around the election.</p> <p>Toral's research ultimately "unpacks patronage," he says, by delineating five different rationales that drive politicians' use of public jobs, each with different impacts on service delivery. For instance, politicians sometimes use employment to mobilize voters to win elections, to reward supporters, or to stack the deck against opponents when voted out of office.</p> <p>But one rationale for political patronage enhanced bureaucratic performance. Toral found that in developing settings where politicians care about service provision, but lack money and other resources to motivate bureaucrats, political connections could "boost trust, coordination, monitoring, and accountability, all useful resources for service delivery."&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Social ties grease the wheels</strong></p> <p>Growing up in Turkey in a working-class family, Tugba Bozcaga was fortunate to study at the top schools in the nation, thanks to the centrally-administered national exams and free public education. She was keenly aware of economic inequities. "I thought a lot about creating more-equal institutions and access for people to public services," she says.</p> <p>Her college studies in economics, as well as a stint working for the Turkish state in capacity-building projects within local governments, deepened her interest in social and economic equity. "If people have good infrastructure in their neighborhoods, access to schools and health clinics, this means less inequality," she says.</p> <p>Bozcaga's doctoral research explores public service provision in Turkey, which has a highly centralized government with public service institutions structured to function the same way in the nation's many towns and villages. Yet government delivery of social services across the nation varies widely. Bozcaga set out to understand, she says, "why some places see lower government performance, leaving people in those places disadvantaged."&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Bozcaga fastened on the idea of bureaucratic ties as a potentially significant factor in such inequities. Based on her prior experience working with government groups, she knew that when bureaucrats could pick up the phone and call someone in their personal address book for help, it made a difference in getting a job done.</p> <p>"People with informal ties to each other, from daily life, have an advantage over those who have to write letters, or go through some other formal interaction," she notes. "If you run into each other at a coffee shop, you can make a fast inquiry about a problem, or request certain resources."</p> <p>Bozcaga hypothesized that tighter social ties between bureaucrats and government administrators might enhance the delivery of public services. To test this idea, she conducted interviews with more than 170 bureaucrats to learn about their social connections with each other, and how they did their jobs. She also produced exhaustive and novel data sets culled from the administrative websites of more than 35,000 Turkish villages, mobile phone records, and geospatial satellite information. In addition, she developed an original database identifying the religions and sects of each village.</p> <p>"Creating this dataset, which involved various processes from manual coding to web scraping, was my biggest research challenge," she notes.</p> <p>Her interrogation of these varied data sets yielded a set of provocative findings: In spite of Turkey's centralized bureaucracy, there was great variation in how village- and district-level bureaucrats provided public services. Social proximity, Bozcaga learned, plays a large role in determining good government performance. Specifically, when distances among bureaucrats make it easy for them to form networks, they can do their jobs better.</p> <p>"Bureaucrats are not robots, they are part of a local social context, and their relationships with each other affect how government provides services to citizens," she says.</p> <p>Bozcaga also discovered that ethnic and religious differences between different levels of the government hierarchy, which increased social distance and demonstrated social fragmentation, created a lack of coordination in service delivery. "This makes the situation of local minorities even worse, because street-level bureaucrats representing these communities are less likely to reach out to high-level bureaucrats, when in need," she says.</p> <p><strong>The upshot</strong></p> <p>While their research on the political dynamics of bureaucracies has focused on specific nations, both Bozcaga and Toral hope their findings have broader implications.</p> <p>"Even when elections don't help improve the lives of citizens, perhaps understanding local social contexts and their implications for bureaucratic behavior and state capacity can increase access to services and make a difference in social welfare," says Bozcaga.</p> <p>Toral hopes that policy debates for bureaucratic reform in Brazil and beyond will benefit from his findings about the different ways in which politicians use public employment. “The way bureaucracies are organized can have a large impact on public employees’ ability to deliver services, especially in challenging environments like the ones I study in Brazil.”</p> </div> Guillermo Toral (left) and Tugba BozcagaPolitical science, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, International development, Government, Research, Students, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral MADMEC teams address plastic waste problem with materials science Finalists presented an alternative to nondegradable plastics, and an additive to help plastics decompose. Thu, 17 Oct 2019 14:20:57 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>A team with a sustainable alternative to nondegradable plastic earned first place in this year’s MADMEC competition on Oct. 15.</p> <p>The ecoTrio team, made up of three MIT PhD students, took home the $10,000 grand prize in the annual materials science program for its biodgradable blends that imitate various plastics. The second-place prize was awarded to PETTIGREW, which integrated live bacteria into plastic production to improve plastic degradability. RadioStar, which created a low-cost sensor for farmers, came in third.</p> <p>“There seem to be natural themes from year to year,” Michael Tarkanian, a senior lecturer in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE) who runs MADMEC, told <em>MIT News</em>. “There were a bunch of plastic postconsumer recycling projects this year, two of which made it to the finals. I think plastics are getting a lot of press lately, with trash piles building up in the oceans and sea animals being injured. Maybe that influenced the students.”</p> <p>The oral and poster presentations were the culmination of team projects that began last spring and included a series of design challenges throughout the summer. Each team received guidance, access to equipment, and up to $1,000 in funding to build and test their prototypes.</p> <p>The teams were judged based on what they accomplished during their journey from idea to prototype. For ecoTrio, that meant creating a material that fit its cost, mechanical, and sustainability goals.</p> <p>“These ideas start from scratch, and the goal is to test their feasibility and develop hardware, so by the time the program is over, students know whether or not they will work,” Tarkanian said.</p> <p><strong>An alternative to nondegradable plastic</strong></p> <p>At the core of ecoTrio’s product are three materials, two of which the company considers proprietary. The first is a polymer that is easily biodegradable but difficult to process and too expensive to compete with plastics on its own. The second material is a biodegradable plastic polymer that’s cheap and makes the blend easier to process at scale using industrial equipment. The third component consists of fine-grained wood particles that the team uses to further lower the cost of the mix and tune the final product for different uses.</p> <p>“Our goal was to create an alternative plastic material that comes exclusively from renewable resources, has the same properties as existing plastics used today, and at the end of its life, biodegrades regardless of where it ends up,” ecoTrio team member Ty Christoff-Tempesta said.</p> <p>Members of the team, which also includes Margaret Lee and Sara Sheffels, say their blend has a similar cost and melting point as traditional plastics, while its strength and flexibility can be adjusted based on the percentage of added wood particles.</p> <p>To demonstrate the range of plastics their product could replace, the team showed off samples including a hard spoon as well as flexible, bag-like materials.</p> <p>“Today, we all recognize single-use plastics as an environmental crisis, but as consumers we come into contact with them all the time, whether it’s packaging for food, cosmetic products, or household products,” Christoff-Tempesta said. “The reason we see them all the time is because they’re so cheap and convenient.”</p> <p>During ecoTrio’s presentation, team members also noted that there is increasing pressure on companies from consumers and the government to use more sustainable packaging.</p> <p><strong>Other promising projects rewarded</strong></p> <p>The second-place team, PETTIGREW, took a different approach to the plastic waste problem. Various methods have been used to quicken the decomposition of plastics after they’re used and collected. Unfortunately, the vast majority of plastics aren’t collected for recycling at all.</p> <p>“Some of these plastics take 1,000 years to degrade on their own, which can have consequences including plastic island formation in the ocean,” said PETTIGREW team member Leonardo Zornberg, a PhD candidate.</p> <p>With these problems in mind, PETTIGREW decided to incorporate decomposition-causing bacteria into plastics as they’re being produced. When the bacteria they selected, <em>Bacillus subtilis</em>, is combined with a sugar filler, it can survive the high temperatures used to shape many plastics.</p> <p>The team also found the addition of the bacteria had only a minimal effect on the strength and flexibility of the plastics in some cases.</p> <p>Zornberg acknowledged the potential for pushback from people hesitant to use plastics with living bacteria inside of them, but he noted the bacterial strain his team selected is frequently used to make probiotics for humans, livestock, and agricultural supplements.</p> <p>Going forward, the team believes genetically engineering the bacteria could further enhance its degradation capabilities, and could even give it other abilities like self-cleaning and antimicrobial defenses.</p> <p>“One of the reasons we chose <em>Bacillus</em> is it’s a model organism,” Zornberg told <em>MIT News</em>. “It’s very well-understood how to genetically engineer and modify its strains, and it’s used in industrial-scale enzyme production, so both of these things suggest it would be suitable if we wanted to modify the bacteria for future applications.”</p> <p>RadioStar broke from this year’s plastic trend by creating a low-cost sensor for small-scale farmers. The sensor makes use of retroreflectors, which are cube-shaped structures that send directional light back toward its source efficiently from a variety of angles.</p> <p>The team’s product consists of small retroreflectors made of gels that can be dispersed across farmland. The biodegradable gels can be made to change colors and optical properties in response to different chemical stimuli. Those changes can then be observed using a directional light emitter and detector, which could be special flashlight held by a farmer or drones equipped with cameras.</p> <p>RadioStar’s prototype was made to change color in response to varying PH levels, but the team believes its sensors could be tuned to monitor a variety of soil conditions.</p> <p>“This is just a proof of concept for how this can be used to test PH, but we can extrapolate this to test a bunch of different parameters,” said RadioStar team member Sara Wilson, an undergraduate in DMSE. “For example, nitrogen, water content, and phosphorous are very important for different types of crop growth.”</p> <p><strong>Learning by doing</strong></p> <p>Overall, Tarkanian thinks this year’s program was a success not just because of the potential of the projects, but also because of the amount of learning-by-doing that led to the final presentations.</p> <p>“The high-level goals [of MADMEC] are to give students the chance to make something tangible and to take the classroom knowledge they’ve been acquiring and put it into practice,” Tarkanian said.</p> <p>Zornberg thinks the MADMEC program, which focuses on earlier-stage venture creation compared to other entrepreneurial programs on campus, helps materials science students think through the process of successful innovation.</p> <p>“Having the opportunity to explore prototyping separated from the business plan is really a good way to engage engineering students in thinking about product design,” Zornberg said.</p> <p>MADMEC is hosted by DMSE and sponsored by Saint Gobain and the Dow Chemical Company.&nbsp;</p> Members of the winning team, ecoTrio, from this year’s MADMEC competition. From left to right are Margaret Lee, Sara Sheffels, and Ty Christoff-Tempesta. Image: James HunterInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), DMSE, School of Engineering, Students, graduate, postdoctoral, Undergraduate, Contests and academic competitions, Sustainability, Recycling, Environment, Pollution, Agriculture “Biogenesis” podcast highlights MIT students behind cutting-edge biology research The MIT Department of Biology and Whitehead Institute are producing a podcast featuring young scientists and why they chose to study biology. Wed, 16 Oct 2019 12:30:01 -0400 Department of Biology | Whitehead Institute <p>The MIT Department of Biology and Whitehead Institute have launched “<a href="" target="_blank">BioGenesis</a>,” a new podcast highlighting affiliated graduate students and their stories about where they came from, and how their experiences have shaped their research.</p> <p>In each episode, co-hosts Raleigh McElvery, communications coordinator at the Department of Biology, and Conor Gearin, digital and social media specialist at Whitehead Institute, introduce a different student and — as the title of the podcast suggests — explore the guest’s origin story.</p> <p>This first season centers on the theme of surprises. The <a href="">inaugural episode</a> features Kwadwo Owusu-Boaitey, a soccer player-turned MD/PhD student studying tissue regeneration in planarians, a type of flatworm. Owusu-Boaitey was struggling to find an effective means to map the stem cells in these remarkable animals when he happened upon a new tool that would allow him to do just that, and probe how the flatworm can regrow its entire body.</p> <p>The <a href="">second episode</a> features Alicia Zamudio, who grew up in Mexico City, Mexico, intent on attending college in the United States and studying human behavior. Although she initially intended to pursue writing or psychology, one class persuaded her to consider molecular biology instead — with a focus on how cells control the expression of genes that dictate the identity of every cell in our bodies.</p> <p>The <a href="">third episode</a> features Summer Morrill, who was determined to use her background in biology to become a genetic counselor before arriving at MIT and becoming captivated by fundamental cellular biology. Now, she investigates cancer and other diseases from a molecular perspective, asking what happens when chromosomes mis-segregate and cells end up with an improper number of genes.</p> <p>BioGenesis is part of a larger effort to share the personal stories behind scientific discoveries, clarifying the experimental process and demonstrating the importance of fundamental biology research in the MIT community and beyond. From studying tissue regeneration in worms to probing the molecular basis for disease, fundamental research has ramifications far beyond the lab bench.</p> <p>“The enthusiasm for basic biology that these graduate students have, and their excitement for sharing their science with the world, really impressed us,” Gearin says.</p> <p>“Hearing them revisit the moments and people that initially inspired them to pursue research underscored the importance of good mentorship — and the many ways that fundamental biological discoveries can impact society,” McElvery adds.</p> <p>BioGenesis is available on <a href="" target="_blank">iTunes</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">SoundCloud</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">Spotify</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Google Play</a>, as well as the podcast pages for the <a href="" target="_blank">MIT Department of Biology</a> and <a href="" target="_blank">Whitehead Institute</a>.</p> The MIT Department of Biology and Whitehead Institute are collaborating to produce a podcast, BioGenesis, featuring graduate students and their origin stories.Photos: MIT Department of Biology and Whitehead InstituteWhitehead Institute, Biology, School of Science, Science communications, Students, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral Julian Picard: Chopping microwaves, sharpening instincts MIT graduate student slices microwave pulses to test advanced accelerators. Mon, 12 Aug 2019 12:50:01 -0400 Paul Rivenberg | Plasma Science and Fusion Center <p>“Looking through microscopes has never been my thing,” says Julian Picard.</p> <p>As a graduate student in the Department of Physics, Picard works with the invisible world of particles and electromagnetic waves every day, yet he is motivated by the goal of creating something very visible, “something you can hold in your hand.” His study of the microwaves that speed from the megawatt gyrotron at MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC) could lead the way to smaller and more powerful particle accelerators, the kind of finished product Picard finds rewarding.&nbsp;</p> <p>Picard became interested in plasma as an undergraduate at the University of Washington in Seattle. His student research at their Advanced Propulsion Laboratory and Space Plasma Simulation Laboratory prepared him for an internship, and later a research engineer position, at Eagle Harbor Technologies. Working there on plasma generation and pulsed power supplies, he admired the way the most experienced scientists seemed to solve problems “intuitively.”</p> <p>“That was inspiring to me,” he says. “One of the reasons I came back to grad school was to be steeped in something for a long time. After spending so long working hard on something, you start to develop a gut instinct.”</p> <p>Picard notes it was difficult to find a graduate program that would provide him with a deep physics background, along with the opportunity to apply his understanding to a practical plasma project.</p> <p>“That is what drives me,” Picard says, “I want to understand how something works well enough to apply it in a new way. To me, it feels vacuous to try to design something without understanding how it works. That’s why I wanted to find a program in physics: I wanted to continue developing my background in basic science, and then be able to apply it to a variety of things.”</p> <p>He discovered what he wanted at the PSFC in the Plasma Science and Technology Group, headed by Richard Temkin, who introduced him to the center’s megawatt gyrotron, the source of microwaves for a new project to test particle accelerator cavities.</p> <p>Particle accelerators, besides being essential tools for studying the universe, have practical applications including medical instrument sterilization, computer chip manufacture, material identification and radioisotope production for cancer treatment. While an accelerator typically runs at low frequency (1 gigahertz) with success, researchers have suspected that running it at higher frequencies would allow it to be made smaller and more efficient, improving the convenience and possibly reducing the expense.</p> <p>Although the PSFC megawatt gyrotron is capable of producing microwaves at the higher frequency of 110 GHz, the length of the pulse would melt any accelerator cavity it passed through. Researchers needed to find a way to shorten that pulse.</p> <p>In an <a href="" target="_blank">article</a> for <em>Applied Physics Letters,</em> Picard describes the experimental setup that allowed researchers to “chop” the pulse. The piece received the Outstanding Student Paper Award from the IEEE Nuclear and Plasma Sciences Society at the 2019 Pulsed Power and Plasma Science Conference in June.</p> <p>To shorten the pulse, PSFC researchers strategically arranged a wafer of silicon in the path of the microwaves. Typically, microwaves would pass straight through this. However, a laser directed onto the wafer creates a type of plasma inside the silicon that will reflect the microwaves for as long as the laser is on. Those reflected high-frequency microwaves can be directed into the accelerator, and the pulse chopped to a manageable length (10 nanoseconds) simply by turning off the laser.</p> <p>The laser-targeted wafer does not reflect all the microwaves; about 30 percent are absorbed by or pass through the silicon. Picard’s study showed, however, that as the gyrotron power increased toward a megawatt the wafer reflected more. Instead of reflecting 70 percent of the microwaves, it reflected closer to 80 or 85 percent.</p> <p>“This effect had never been seen before because nobody could test at the higher power levels,” says Picard. “Reflection becomes more efficient at higher powers compared to lower powers. That means there is more power available, so we can test more interesting accelerator structures.”</p> <p>The PSFC is working with a group from Stanford University that designs accelerator cavities, which can now be tested with the “Megawatt Microwave Pulse Chopper.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Picard is pleased with the experiment.</p> <p>“What I’ve really liked about this project is that, at the end of the day, we have a device that makes a short pulse,” he says. “That’s a deliverable. It’s satisfying and motivating.”</p> “One of the reasons I came back to grad school was to be steeped in something for a long time," says Julian Picard, who works in MIT's Plasma Science and Fusion Center. "After spending so long working hard on something, you start to develop a gut instinct.”Photo: Paul RivenbergPlasma Science and Fusion Center, Physics, School of Science, Plasma, Profile, Students, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral A vision of nuclear energy buoyed by molten salt NSE graduate student Kieran Dolan tackles a critical technical challenge to fluoride-salt-cooled high-temperature nuclear reactors. Wed, 24 Jul 2019 14:00:01 -0400 Leda Zimmerman | Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering <p>Years before he set foot on the MIT campus, Kieran P. Dolan participated in studies conducted at MIT's Nuclear Reactor Laboratory (NRL). As an undergraduate student majoring in nuclear engineering at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Dolan worked on components and sensors for MIT Reactor (MITR)-based experiments integral to designing fluoride-salt-cooled high-temperature nuclear reactors, known as FHRs.</p> <p>Today, as a second-year doctoral student in MIT's Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering, Dolan is a hands-on investigator at the NRL, deepening his research engagement with this type of next-generation reactor.</p> <p>"I've been interested in advanced reactors for a long time, so it's been really nice to stay with this project and learn from people working here on-site," says Dolan.&nbsp;</p> <p>This series of studies on FHRs is part of a multiyear collaboration among MIT, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and the University of California at Berkeley, funded by an Integrated Research Project (IRP) Grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The nuclear energy community sees great promise in the FHR concept because molten salt transfers heat very efficiently, enabling such advanced reactors to run at higher temperatures and with several unique safety features compared to the current fleet of water-cooled commercial reactors.<br /> &nbsp;<br /> "Molten salt reactors offer an approach to nuclear energy that is both economically viable and safe," says Dolan.</p> <p>For the purposes of the FHR project, the MITR reactor simulates the likely operating environment of a working advanced reactor, complete with high temperatures in the experimental capsules. The FHR concept Dolan has been testing envisions billiard-ball-sized composites of fuel particles suspended within a circulating flow of molten salt — a special blend of lithium fluoride and beryllium fluoride called flibe. This salt river constantly absorbs and distributes the heat produced by the fuel's fission reactions.&nbsp;<br /> &nbsp;<br /> But there is a formidable technical challenge to the salt coolants used in FHRs. "The salt reacts with the neutrons released during fission, and produces tritium," explains Dolan. "Tritium is one of hydrogen’s isotopes, which are notorious for permeating metal." Tritium is a potential hazard if it gets into water or air. "The worry is that tritium might escape as a gas through an FHR's heat exchanger or other metal components."</p> <p>There is a potential workaround to this problem: graphite, which can trap fission products and suck up tritium before it escapes the confines of a reactor. "While people have determined that graphite can absorb a significant quantity of hydrogen, no one knows with certainty where the tritium is going to end up in the reactor,” says Dolan. So, he is focusing his doctoral research on MITR experiments to determine how effectively graphite performs as a sponge for tritium — a critical element required to model tritium transport in the complete reactor system.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>"We want to predict where the tritium goes and find the best solution for containing it and extracting it safely, so we can achieve optimal performance in flibe-based reactors," he says.</p> <p>While it's early, Dolan has been analyzing the results of three MITR experiments subjecting various types of specialized graphite samples to neutron irradiation in the presence of molten salt. "Our measurements so far indicate a significant amount of tritium retention by graphite," he says. "We're in the right ballpark."</p> <p>Dolan never expected to be immersed in the electrochemistry of salts, but it quickly became central to his research portfolio. Enthused by math and physics during high school in Brookfield, Wisconsin, he swiftly oriented toward nuclear engineering in college. "I liked the idea of making useful devices, and I was especially interested in nuclear physics with practical applications, such as power plants and energy," he says.</p> <p>At UW Madison, he earned a spot in an engineering physics material research group engaged in the FHR project, and he assisted in purifying flibe coolants, designing and constructing probes for measuring salt's corrosive effect on reactor parts, and experimenting on the electrochemical properties of molten fluoride salts. Working with&nbsp;<a href="">Exelon Generation</a>&nbsp;as a reactor engineer after college convinced him he was more suited for research in next-generation projects than in the day-to-day maintenance and operation of a commercial nuclear plant.&nbsp;</p> <p>"I was interested in innovation and improving things," he says. "I liked being part of the FHR IRP, and while I didn't have a passion for electrochemistry, I knew it would be fun working on a solution that could advance a new type of reactor."</p> <p>Familiar with the goals of the FHR project, MIT facilities, and personnel, Dolan was able to jump rapidly into studies analyzing MITR's irradiated graphite samples. Under the supervision of&nbsp;<a href="">Lin-wen Hu</a>, his advisor and NRL research director, as well as MITR engineers&nbsp;<a href="">David Carpenter</a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="">Gordon Kohse</a>, Dolan came up to speed in reactor protocol. He's found on-site participation in experiments thrilling.</p> <p>"Standing at the top of the reactor as it starts and the salt heats up, anticipating when the tritium comes out, manipulating the system to look at different areas, and then watching the measurements come in — being involved with that is really interesting in a hands-on way," he says.&nbsp;</p> <p>For the immediate future, "the main focus is getting data," says Dolan. But eventually "the data will predict what happens to tritium in different conditions, which should be the main driving force determining what to do in actual commercial FHR reactor designs."</p> <p>For Dolan, contributing to this next phase of advanced reactor development would prove the ideal next step following his doctoral work. This past summer, Dolan interned at&nbsp;<a href="">Kairos Power</a>, a nuclear startup company formed by the UC Berkeley collaborators on two DOE-funded FHR IRPs. Kairos Power continues to develop FHR technology by leveraging major strategic investments that the DOE has made at universities and national laboratories, and has recently started collaborating with MIT.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>"I've built up a lot of experience in FHRs so far, and there's a lot of interest at MIT and beyond in reactors using molten salt concepts," he says. "I will be happy to apply what I've learned to help accelerate a new generation of safe and efficient reactors."</p> "I've been interested in advanced reactors for a long time, so it's been really nice to stay with this project and learn from people working here on site," says Kieran Dolan. Photo: Gretchen ErtlNuclear science and engineering, School of Engineering, Profile, Students, Nuclear power and reactors, Energy, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral, Nuclear Reactor Lab, Renewable energy New leadership for Bernard M. Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program Faculty and industry co-directors will focus on implementing new directions for program. Mon, 22 Jul 2019 12:20:02 -0400 School of Engineering <p>Olivier de Weck, professor of aeronautics and astronautics and of engineering systems at MIT, has been named the new faculty co-director of the Bernard M. Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program (GEL). He joins Reza Rahaman, who was appointed the Bernard M. Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program industry co-director and senior lecturer on July 1, 2018.</p> <p>“Professor de Weck has a longstanding commitment to engineering leadership, both as an educator and a researcher. I look forward to working with him and the GEL team as they continue to strengthen their outstanding undergraduate program and develop the new program for graduate students,” says Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of the MIT School of Engineering and the Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.</p> <p>A leader in systems engineering, de Weck researches how complex human-made systems such as aircraft, spacecraft, automobiles, and infrastructures are designed, manufactured, and operated. By investigating their lifecycle properties, de Weck and members of his research group have developed a range of novel techniques broadly adopted by industry to maximize the value of these systems over time.</p> <p>A fellow of the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE), de Weck was honored with their Outstanding Service Award in 2018 for his work as editor-in-chief of <em>Systems Engineering</em>. He is also an associate fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AAIA), where he previously served as associate editor for the&nbsp;<em>Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets</em>&nbsp;and chair of the AIAA Space Logistics Technical Committee. De Weck is a past recipient of the Capers and Marion McDonald Award for Excellence in Mentoring and Advising from the MIT School of Engineering, and the Teaching with Digital Technology Award from the MIT Office of Open Learning.</p> <p>A member of the MIT faculty since 2001, de Weck earned a BS in industrial engineering at ETH Zurich in 1993 and an MS and PhD in aerospace systems at MIT in 1999 and 2001. He previously served as associate head of the engineering systems division and as executive director of Production in the Innovation Economy (PIE) commission at MIT. He recently returned to campus after a two-year leave of absence at Airbus in Toulouse, France, where he served as senior vice president and was responsible for planning and roadmapping the group’s $1 billion research and technology portfolio.</p> <p>Since the launch of GEL in 2007, de Weck has taught 16.669/6.914 (Project Engineering) — a popular bootcamp-style class offered during independent activities period. Besides learning how to better plan and execute engineering projects, the class has helped cohorts of students create a sense of community and belonging.</p> <p>De Weck succeeds Joel Schindall, co-director for GEL since 2007 and the Bernard M. Gordon Professor of the Practice in electrical engineering and computer science. “Drawing on his many years of experience and success in industry, Joel has been an exceptional leader for the GEL program,” Chandrakasan says. “He has instilled the character and the skills that will enable our students to be both the thought leaders and the ‘do leaders’ of the future.”</p> <p>Reza Rahaman earned a BEng in chemical engineering at Imperial College London in 1984 and an MS in chemical engineering practice and PhD in chemical engineering at MIT in 1985 and 1989.</p> <p>Rahaman’s career in industry spanned nearly three decades across consumer packaged goods, pharmaceuticals, and agricultural chemicals. Before returning to MIT, he was the vice president of research, development, and innovation at the Clorox Company, where he guided new innovation strategies and coordinated technology roadmaps for 45 percent of the company’s portfolio. Rahaman also serves as vice chair of the board of directors for Out &amp; Equal Workplace Advocates, the largest nonprofit dedicated to LGBTQ workplace equality in the world.</p> <p>“Reza has deep expertise in leading large, highly matrixed organizations and spearheading complex technical projects to produce category-changing innovation,” says Chandrakasan. “His experience in industry, as well as his technical depth and inclusive leadership style, are a wonderful asset to our students. By imparting his knowledge, and guiding our students’ attitudes and thought processes, he is helping to create the next generation of exemplary leaders.”</p> Oliver de Weck (left) and Reza Rahaman are co-directors of the Bernard M. Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program.Images: Courtesy of de Weck; Lillie Paquette/MIT School of EngineeringSchool of Engineering, GEL Program, Leadership, Faculty, Industry, Administration, Classes and programs, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral, Staff, Aeronautical and astronautical engineering Solving equations to design safer ships David Larson, a doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering and an avid sailor, models ship-wave interactions to understand how ships behave in severe storms. Mon, 10 Jun 2019 10:10:01 -0400 Mary Beth O’Leary | Mechanical engineering <p>David Larson ’16, SM ’18 spends much of his time thinking about boats. He has been a competitive sailor since high school. In his free time, he designs and tinkers with boats and is a member of the MIT Nautical Association Executive Committee. As a PhD student in MIT’s Laboratory for Ship and Platform Flows, he works on modeling ship-wave interactions to understand how ships behave in severe storms.</p> <p>“I think I got into design and engineering through the sailing route,” says Larson. “I wanted to understand the physics of what was happening when I was out on the water.”</p> <p>It was sailing that first drew Larson, who grew up near the water in San Diego, California, to MIT. On a trip as a first-year in high school, he stayed at a hotel on Memorial Drive and watched sail boats dart along the Charles River. Four years later, he enrolled at MIT.</p> <p>Initially intent on studying physics, Larson quickly determined that he was most interested in mechanical engineering and ocean engineering classes. As a sophomore, he took class 2.016 (Hydrodynamics), taught by Paul Sclavounos, professor of mechanical engineering and naval architecture. The class would end up shaping the rest of his academic career.</p> <p>On the second day of teaching 2.016, Sclavounos told students about his experiences designing for the America’s Cup. Larson knew some of the sailors with whom Sclavounos had worked. The two struck up a conversation after class, marking the beginning of their collaboration.</p> <p>“Professor Sclavounos was the most influential in encouraging me to continue studying ocean engineering and naval architecture,” recalls Larson. Sclavounos recognized Larson’s talent and passion, often taking time after class to explain theories that Larson hadn’t yet learned.</p> <p>“He was by far the best student in the class and was eagerly sought after by other students to help them through the course,” adds Sclavounos. “It was immediately evident to me that he possessed an intelligence and maturity unusual for his age.”</p> <p>After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in 2016, Larson enrolled in MIT’s graduate program for mechanical engineering and ocean engineering. The summer between his undergraduate and graduate studies, he went back to his native California for an internship with Morrelli and Melvin Design and Engineering.</p> <p>As an intern, Larson got to apply the concepts he learned as an undergrad — like controls, geometry optimization, and fluid mechanics — to real-world ship design. “That experience gave me a lot of practical insight into what the actual ship design process entails,” says Larson.</p> <p>Back at MIT, Larson has spent his graduate studies working with Sclavounos on developing stochastic models for how ships interact with waves. While his work seems at times theoretical and abstract, it is grounded in a very practical problem: keeping ships safe in extreme weather.</p> <p>“What I’m doing is motivated by practical ship design and manufacturing,” explains Larson. “I’m working to create a framework that gets more accurate predictions for how ships behave in severe storms, and to get those predictions fast enough to use in iterative design.”</p> <p>Current models have come a long way in enhancing our ability to predict how waves move in the ocean. But many existing models that predict how ships move in waves, while extremely powerful, are constrained to one or two degrees of freedom, or often used over-simplified hull geometries. Larson hopes to take those models to the next level.</p> <p>“The key components of our method are that we can take any realistic ship geometry directly from a CAD program, put that geometry through our model that treats the full six degrees of freedom, and get predictions for how these ships will behave in waves,” explains Larson.</p> <p>Understanding how these ships behave in rough water could have immediate industrial applications. In addition to helping sailors find the safest route for their vessels, the predictions could be used to someday facilitate interactive ship design.</p> <p>“My long-term goal is to eventually create an interface that can be used by design and manufacturing engineers for iterative design and optimization of the next generation of ships,” says Larson.</p> <p>When Larson needs a break from mathematical equations and modeling, he uses CAD to design boats. “My research is quite mathematical, so designing boats is my outlet for reconnecting with the experimental and practical work I loved doing as an undergrad,” he adds.</p> <p>Whether it’s designing boats in his spare time, competitive sailing, umpiring collegiate races across New England, helping the MIT Sailing Pavilion design its next fleet of dinghies, or developing a model to predict how ships behave in choppy seas — Larson will continue to pursue the passion for sailing he developed in childhood.</p> David Larson (far right) skippered the MIT team during the 2013 New England Match Racing Championship.Photo: Rob MigliaccioMechanical engineering, Oceanography and ocean engineering, Design, Students, School of Engineering, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral, Student life Communities in the cloud PhD student Steven Gonzalez studies cloud computing with the eye of an anthropologist. Wed, 05 Jun 2019 13:45:01 -0400 School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences <p>The cloud’s very name reflects how many people think of this data storage system: intangible, distant, and disentangled from day-to-day life. But MIT PhD student Steven Gonzalez is reframing the image and narrative of an immaterial cloud. In his research, he’s showing that the cloud is neither distant nor ephemeral: It’s a massive system, ubiquitous in daily life, that contains huge amounts of energy, has the potential for environmental disaster, and is operated by an insular community of expert technicians.<br /> <br /> <strong>Who's tending the cloud?</strong><br /> <br /> “People so often rely on cloud services,” Gonzalez notes, “but they rarely think about where their data is stored and who is storing it, who is doing the job of maintaining servers that run 24/7/365, or the billons of gallons of water used daily to cool the servers, or the gigawatts of electricity that often come from carbon-based grids.”<br /> <br /> The first time Gonzalez walked into a server farm, he was enthralled and puzzled by this giant factory filled with roaring computers and by the handful of IT professionals keeping it all running. At the time, he was working with specialized sensors that measured air in critical spaces, including places like the server farm. But the surreal facility led him back to his undergraduate anthropological training: How do these server spaces work? How has the cloud shaped these small, professional communities?</p> <p>Gonzalez has been fascinated with visible, yet rarely recognized, communities since his first undergraduate ethnography on bus drivers in the small New Hampshire city of Keene. “In anthropology, everyone is a potential teacher,” he says, “Everyone you encounter in the field has something to teach you about the subject that you’re looking at, about themselves, about their world."<br /> <br /> <strong>Server farms are high-stakes environments</strong><br /> <br /> Listening — and a lot of patience — are skills with which Gonzalez cultivated the technical expertise to understand his subject matter. Cloud communities are built around, and depend upon, the technology they maintain, and that technology in turn shapes their behavior. So far, Gonzalez has completed his undergraduate and masters research and degrees, and is currently wrapping up PhD coursework en route to his dissertation. He’s visited server farms across North America and in Scandinavia, where farm operators are seeking to go carbon-free in order to cut the cloud’s carbon emissions, which comprise up to 3 percent of greenhouse gases, according to Greenpeace.<br /> <br /> The server-farm technicians function in an extremely high-stakes world: Not only is a massive amount of energy expended on the cloud, but even a few moments of downtime can be devastating. If the systems go down, companies can lose up to $50,000 per minute, depending on what sector (financial, retail, public sector, etc.) and which server racks are affected. “There’s a kind of existential dread that permeates a lot of what they say and what they do,” Gonzalez says. “It’s a very high-stress, unforgiving type of work environment.”<br /> <br /> <strong>New technology, o</strong><strong>ld gender inequity</strong><br /> <br /> In response to these fears, Gonzalez has noted some “macho” performances in language and behavior by cloud communities. The mostly male cloud workforce “tend to use very sexual language,” Gonzalez observes. For instance, when all the servers are functioning properly it’s “uptime”; “They’ll use sexualized language to refer to how ‘potent’ they are or how long they can maintain uptime.”<br /> <br /> The cloud communities aren’t exclusively male, but Gonzalez says visibility for women is a big issue. Women tend to be framed as collaborators, rather than executors. Tied up in this sexist behavior is the decades-old patriarchal stereotype that technology is a male domain in which machines are gendered in a way that makes them subordinate.<br /> <br /> Although anthropological research is the focus of his academic work, Gonzalez’s interests at MIT have been expansive. With the encouragement of his advisor, Professor Stefan Helmreich, he’s kept his lifelong interest in music and science fiction alive by singing in the MIT Jazz Choir and Concert Choir and taking coursework in science fiction writing. He also enjoyed exploring coursework in history, documentary making, and technology courses. Anthropology is the first among several passions he first discovered during explorations as an undergraduate at Keene State College.<br /> <br /> “For me, what makes anthropology so capacious is just the diversity of human experience and the beauty of that,” says Gonzalez. “The beauty of so many different possibilities, different configurations of being, that exist simultaneously.”<br /> <br /> <strong>The open doors of MIT</strong><br /> <br /> Gonzalez was born in Orlando, Florida, to Puerto Rican parents who made sure he always had a connection with the island, where he would spend summers with his grandmother. A first-generation college student, Gonzalez says it was never a given that he would even go to college, let alone earn a doctorate: “I never would have imagined that I would have ended up here. It’s a sad reality that, as a Latino person in this country, I was more likely to end up in prison than in a place like MIT. So I had — and I still do — immense respect and awe for the Institute. MIT has a mystique, and when I first arrived I had to deal with that mystique, getting over the sense that I don’t belong.”<br /> <br /> He had big expectations about entering a hugely competitive institution but was surprised to find that, in addition to its competitive edge, the Institute was incredibly supportive. “The thing that surprised me the most was how open everyone’s door was.”<br /> <br /> Gonzalez has&nbsp;become more and more deeply involved with the campus goings-on: he's now&nbsp;a Diversity Conduit for the Graduate Student Council Diversity and Inclusion Initiative and is also part of&nbsp;an MIT student initiative that is exploring Institute ties and possible investments in the prison-industrial complex.<br /> &nbsp;</p> <h5><em>Story prepared by MIT SHASS Communications<br /> Editorial and Design Director: Emily Hiestand<br /> Writer: Alison Lanier</em></h5> MIT grad student Steven Gonzalez is showing that the cloud is neither distant nor ephemeral: It’s a massive system, ubiquitous in daily life, that contains huge amounts of energy, has the potential for environmental disaster, and is operated by an insular community of expert technicians.Photo: Jon Sachs/MIT SHASS Communications School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Cloud computing, Diversity and inclusion, Energy, Ethics, Gender, Internet, Music, Technology, Women in STEM, Profile, Students, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral, HASTS Caught between criminals and cops Using virtual reality, doctoral candidate Andrew Miller gauges citizens&#039; faith in law enforcement in the face of gang violence. Mon, 13 May 2019 10:10:00 -0400 Leda Zimmerman | MIT Political Science <p>To a resume rich in policy and security studies, work experience, and publications, <a href="" target="_blank">Andrew Miller</a> may now add the unlikely skill of video production. While investigating the impact of gang violence on Lagos, Nigeria, the sixth-year political science doctoral candidate came up with an innovative research tool: immersive, virtual reality (VR) videos.</p> <p>"This was the first time VR was deployed in a large-scale field survey," says Miller, a PhD candidate in the MIT Department of Political Science. "Using VR video vignettes, we could immerse respondents in hypothetical scenarios, which helped elicit their real-world emotions when answering questions about these scenarios."</p> <p>Miller's foray into production evolved as part of his multi-year doctoral study into the ways criminal organizations wield influence in communities.</p> <p>"Deaths from criminal violence likely equal deaths from civil war, terrorism, and interstate war combined," he says, "and those responsible often operate with quasi-impunity." In the Americas, for instance, for every 100 murders, only about 25 people are convicted, Miller notes. "It's not just a problem for developing countries; even in some major American cities, people who commit murder are much more likely to get away with it than be arrested or convicted."</p> <p>Miller has a master's degree in foreign service and security from Georgetown University, and has held international development and security positions with Deloitte Consulting and the Council on Foreign Relations. After spending significant time on the ground in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Kosovo, he became keenly aware of "criminal organizations operating in many of these places under the surface," and of frequent collusion between criminal groups and governments.</p> <p>"You could have a government with all the resources, the trappings of legitimacy and legal frameworks, and still have small, illegal organizations that exercise a surprising degree of control in communities," he says.</p> <p>In the daily lives of citizens in so many of the places he visited, the most meaningful security issues involve "problems with underground economies, real or perceived corruption of the police, and threatened and actual violence by criminals trying to control these economies," Miller says.</p> <p>Concerned by this pervasive problem, which is only likely to grow in significance as urban areas expand in population, Miller set out to investigate the relationships between citizens and law enforcement. He decided to focus specifically on how and why people in communities afflicted by gang violence decide to cooperate with police. "If someone sees a shooting or hears about somebody involved in a shooting, what determines if that person shares information with the police?" Miller wondered.</p> <p><strong>Trust issues</strong></p> <p>Hoping to develop a broadly applicable theory, Miller chose two very different locales as research sites: Lagos, Nigeria, and Baltimore, Maryland. The former, home to more than 10 million people and the economic and cultural hub of West Africa, has pockets of the city beset with groups that extort shopkeepers, along the lines of Sicily's mafia. Baltimore is afflicted with gang violence around drug trafficking and one of the highest murder rates in the United States. What unites both cities, says Miller, is "a strained relationship between many residents and the police.”</p> <p>Miller began in Lagos, with its densely populated markets, to explore this distrust. His research had built-in constraints: He could not run real-world simulations of violent incidents to test witness responses.</p> <p>So Miller devised the notion of VR vignettes played on mobile phones to engage subjects and make it a more realistic experience for them. Hiring a Lagos production team and actors, he filmed a series of staged fights, with more than a dozen variations changing the circumstances of the fight or police response. Shown these different videos, 1,025 people completed surveys about their willingness to share information with the police.</p> <p>After 11 months in Nigeria, Miller has begun to glean insights from his fieldwork. Among them: The central constraint to reporting incidents to police is "a deep-seated perceived retaliation risk from gangs, which are regarded with both antipathy and fear," says Miller. (One possible remedy to this hurdle that he identified through his research: expanding access to anonymous police tip lines — not currently available in Lagos.)</p> <p>His survey data also revealed that even if citizens witness police using excessive force, violating the rights of suspects, they still believe sharing information is important.</p> <p>"It was surprising to me that, even in cases where police are widely perceived as corrupt, citizens hold an enduring faith in their ability to bring law and order, as long as it doesn't jeopardize personal safety," he says. "People show amazing resilience in the face of their problems."</p> <p><strong>Baltimore and beyond</strong></p> <p>Miller has now turned his focus to completing the Baltimore phase of research. He's donning his production hat once again — this time for video segments of local news stories designed for an online survey. Both the work in Lagos and Baltimore will feature in his thesis on cooperation between citizens and the police in communities with gangs.</p> <p>Although Miller has given himself little time off, he managed to slip away to northern Italy recently and was able to indulge in his favorite pastimes of travel and food.</p> <p>While he once pursued a future in development and humanitarian assistance, he has fully committed to a life in academia. "I really love digging into issues deeply, and I enjoy teaching, especially the undergraduates at MIT," he says. He also cites the fruitful support and friendships he found in the political science department "that proved instrumental at all stages of the research process, from developing ideas to writing up the results."</p> <p>A faculty position in a comparable environment that enables him to continue this work would be ideal, says Miller. "It's important that my work both contributes to academic theory and is relevant to people's lives," he says. "People in the communities where I have been working have emphasized to me that research like this needs to be done, so I hope it will be useful."</p> A survey team led by grad student Andrew Miller displays use of the virtual reality equipment, which helped elicit feedback on providing information about crimes in Lagos, Nigeria.Photo: Andrew MillerPolitical science, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Security studies and military, Police, Research, Students, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral, Profile, Augmented and virtual reality Top collegiate inventors awarded 2019 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize Students recognized for revolutionary solutions to women’s health, food waste, transportation, and mobility and communication for people with disabilities. Tue, 23 Apr 2019 12:30:01 -0400 Stephanie Martinovich | Lemelson-MIT Program <p>Following a nationwide search for the most inventive college students, the Lemelson-MIT Program today announced the winners of the 2019 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize. The prize recognizes young inventors who have dedicated themselves to solving global problems. This year’s inventions range from innovative, low-cost cancer screening tools to an affordable clean water system, which ensures homes and families have clean, safe water.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Lemelson-MIT Student Prize is supported by The Lemelson Foundation, and serves as a catalyst for young inventors in the fields of health care, transportation and mobility, food/water and agriculture, and consumer devices. The program awarded a total of $90,000 in prizes to three undergraduate teams and four individual graduate student inventors, selected from a large and highly competitive pool of applicants from across the United States. Students were selected based on a variety of factors including: the overall inventiveness of their work, the invention’s potential for commercialization or adoption, and youth mentorship experience.</p> <p>“We are inspired by the revolutionary work of this year’s winners. All of the inventions are designed with the intention of making the world a better place,” said&nbsp;Professor Michael J. Cima, faculty director of the Lemelson-MIT Program and associate dean of innovation within the MIT School of Engineering. “We are proud of how dedicated these young inventors are to combatting real-world problems.”</p> <p>“We congratulate this year’s winners for their outstanding work tackling significant challenges in order to improve lives both in the United States and around the world,” said Carol Dahl, executive director at The Lemelson Foundation. “This diverse group of students drives home the opportunity that exists to inspire young minds across the country to create the essential inventions of today and tomorrow.”</p> <p><strong>2019 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize Winners&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>The “Cure it!” Lemelson-MIT Student Prize rewards technology-based inventions that involve health care. The winners are:</p> <ul> <li><a href="" target="_blank">Mercy Asiedu of Duke University, $15,000 Graduate Winner
</a></li> </ul> <p class="rteindent1">The majority of cervical cancer-related deaths occur in low and middle-income countries due to the lack of affordable screening technology. Mercy invented the Callascope, a high quality, low-cost, speculum-free device for cervical cancer screening and prevention. The device can be easily inserted into the vagina, like a tampon, either by a physician or for self-imaging/screening. It is fitted with a consumer-grade light source and camera to take images of the cervix from inside the body. The Callascope provides a cost-effective option for cervical cancer screenings in low-resource settings with limited available technologies. It can be connected to a mobile phone, tablet, or computer, and is coupled with an algorithm that uses machine learning to classify cervix images as normal or pre-cancerous.</p> <ul> <li><a href="" target="_blank">Ithemba: Laura Hinson, Madeline Lee, Sophia Triantis, and Valerie Zawicki of Johns Hopkins University, $10,000 Undergraduate Team Winner</a></li> </ul> <p class="rteindent1">The Ithemba team created a reusable, affordable, and contamination-free core needle breast biopsy device that is designed to support earlier breast cancer detection in low-resource settings. The reusable devices currently available on the market are expensive and require a 24-hour cleaning process. Ithemba’s novel device is not only affordable, but can also be sterilized instantly with a bleach wipe. With Ithemba’s device, performing breast biopsies will be significantly less expensive for hospitals and physicians in low-resource settings, and much safer for their patients.</p> <p>The “Eat it!” Lemelson-MIT Student Prize rewards technology-based inventions that involve food/water and agriculture. The winners are:</p> <ul> <li><a href="" target="_blank">Julie Bliss Mullen of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, $15,000 Graduate Winner

</a></li> </ul> <p class="rteindent1">Mullen’s company, Aclarity LLC, offers a scalable electrochemical water purification technology marketed initially for residential use that uses low amounts of electricity to zap contaminants in water through advanced oxidation reactions. The technology disinfects pathogens, destroys organic contaminants, removes metals, and normalizes pH to produce truly clean and safe water. It reduces maintenance, uses low energy and purifies water faster and more efficiently than conventional treatment methods in the U.S. and globally.</p> <ul> <li><a href="" target="_blank">The BioEnergy Project: Enid Partika and William Tanaka of the University of California at San Diego, $10,000 Undergraduate Team Winner</a></li> </ul> <p class="rteindent1">The BioEnergy Project is a compact and scalable food-waste-to-food-and-fuel system that converts food waste from dining halls and restaurants into both nutrient-rich organic fertilizer that can be used to grow more food, as well as electricity that is generated from biogas. Right now, 40 percent of all food produced is wasted and dumped into landfills. When food decomposes in a landfill it generates methane, which is released into the atmosphere. Currently, food waste is responsible for 8 percent of the total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions globally. The BioEnergy Project’s invention is a cyclical system that can tackle the environmental and agricultural concerns of food insecurity, the need for renewable energy sources, and addresses climate change by capturing and utilizing a methane source that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere from landfills.</p> <p>The “Move it!” Lemelson-MIT Student Prize rewards technology-based inventions that involve transportation and mobility. The winners are:</p> <ul> <li><a href="" target="_blank">Federico Scurti of North Carolina State University, $15,000 Graduate Winner</a></li> </ul> <p class="rteindent1">Scurti developed an internal monitoring system for high-temperature superconductors (HTS), consisting of a sensing system to detect local, incipient failures in the HTS wire that generates the magnetic field needed to operate electric motors or magnetic levitation (MagLev) trains. The sensing system is based on optical fibers embedded into superconducting wires that are able to prevent failure of the superconductor. This invention allows for reliable operation of HTS systems, thereby bringing HTS materials and systems to fruition via applications such as electric motors for carbon-free ships and aircrafts, carbon-free, high-speed MagLev trains, and nuclear fusion reactors for power generation.</p> <ul> <li><a href="" target="_blank">Portal Entryways: Josh Horne and Morgen Glessing of Brigham Young University, $10,000 Undergraduate Team Winner</a></li> </ul> <p class="rteindent1">Portal Entryways is a wireless device that opens disabled-accessible doors when a user approaches with the Portal smartphone application. A small wireless receiver is installed on the door and the user’s Portal app uses proximity to tell the door when to open upon approach. In addition to benefitting people with mobility-related disabilities, the system also enables facilities managers to track door usage data in order to maintain accessibility.</p> <p>The “Use it!” Lemelson-MIT Student Prize rewards technology-based inventions that involve consumer devices. The winners are:</p> <ul> <li><a href="" target="_blank">Arnav Kapur of MIT, $15,000 Graduate Winner</a></li> </ul> <p class="rteindent1">The headset-like device, AlterEgo, is a sensory and auditory feedback system that uses neuromuscular signals from the brain’s speech system to extract speech. When we talk to ourselves internally, our brain transmits electrical signals to the vocal cords and internal muscles involved in speech production. With AlterEgo, an artificial intelligence agent is able to make sense of these signals and prepare a response. The user can hear the AI agent’s responses through vibrations in the skull and inner ear, thus making the process entirely internal. The AI agent can also send the information to a computer, to help an individual with a speech disability communicate in real-time.</p> <p>Students interested in applying for the 2020 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize can find more information <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>. The 2020 Student Prize application will open in May.</p> Left to Right: Laura Hinson, Madeline Lee, Valerie Zawicki, and Sophia Triantis of Johns Hopkins University are the $10,000 Lemelson-MIT “Cure it!” undergraduate team winner for their reusable, low-cost, contamination free breast biopsy device.Invention, Awards, honors and fellowships, Lemelson-MIT, Students, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral, Undergraduate, Media Lab, School of Architecture and Planning, School of Engineering Grad students win Urban Land Institute challenge Their winning 2019 Hines Student Competition entry readies an urban space for the future while preserving the past. Fri, 19 Apr 2019 12:30:00 -0400 School of Architecture and Planning <p>A redevelopment plan for a Cincinnati site presented by a team from MIT and Harvard University has won the 2019&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Urban Land Institute</a> (ULI) Hines Student Competition. The annual ideas competition invites graduate students to devise a comprehensive design and development scheme for a large-scale urban site.</p> <p>The 2019 competition tasked teams with creating designs, plans, and a development scenario for an actual site in Cincinnati. The site includes a central business district and the downtown riverfront bisected by a highway. Given this urban fabric, teams were challenged with integrating all of the spaces to create a vibrant, pedestrian-oriented, sustainable, mixed-use neighborhood.</p> <p>The winning MIT-Harvard proposal,&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">The CincyStitch</a>, reimagines the riverfront not as the physical edge of the city but as the organizing center of a better-connected region. The CincyStitch uses four narratives themes — culture and history, public realm, transportation, and new economies — to craft its vision for strategically expanding the site and creating connections despite physical and historical barriers. Within the proposal, these themes describe an urban space that can be future oriented while maintaining deep connections to its history.</p> <p>“We&nbsp;are very proud of the CincyStitch team,” says Hashim Sarkis, dean of the School&nbsp;of Architecture and Planning (SA+P). “The team is the embodiment of a defining characteristic of SA+P&nbsp;and MIT: the ability to&nbsp;gather talented individuals from diverse backgrounds to solve difficult problems.”</p> <p>Since 2003, the ULI Hines Student Competition has challenged students to collaborate across disciplines and imagine a better built environment. Groups of five students form teams to devise a development proposal for a real site in a North American city by providing designs, market-based financial data, and related narratives.</p> <p>Team proposals were required to illustrate innovative approaches to five general elements: planning context and analysis; a master land use plan; urban design; site-specific illustrations of new development; and development schedule and finances. This year’s competition involved 90 teams representing more than 40 universities in the United States and Canada. Four teams advanced to the final round of the competition that concluded on April 4.</p> <p>“The jury was impressed with all of the teams in terms of the completeness of their presentations, the creativity, and all of the thought that went into their proposals,” says ULI Hines Student Competition jury chairman Alex J. Rose.</p> <p>“The MIT-Harvard team stood out because it demonstrated the greatest cohesiveness by an interdisciplinary team to solve an urban challenge requiring multiple disciplines,” says Rose, senior vice president of Continental Development Corporation in El Segundo, California. “The team had a very clear strategy, an achievable plan, a clear and creative financial model, and a presentation that strongly supported and illustrated their plan.”</p> <p>The CincyStitch was led by city planning graduate student Joshua Brooks and included another team member from the Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP), Alan Sage. Other team members included&nbsp;Department of Architecture student&nbsp;Zhicheng Xu,&nbsp;MIT Sloan School of Management student&nbsp;Shiqi Peng,&nbsp;and Matthew Macchietto of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design (GSD).</p> <p>Eran Ben-Joseph, professor and department head of DUSP, and Dennis Pieprz, a faculty member at the GSD and principal at Sasaki, were the team’s academic advisors. &nbsp;</p> <p>“All of us, in our approach to urban design, planning, finance, architecture and landscape architecture, really think of cities as human habitat,” Brooks says. “City building is something we consider as a calling, not just a profession. As we embarked on this assignment, we wanted to take a position on what we think cities should be, and our proposal does that.”</p> CincyStitch team members (l-r) Matthew Macchietto of Harvard and Zhicheng Xu, Shiqi Peng, Alan Sage, and Joshua Brooks of MIT share a moment with Alex Rose, the Hines Student Competition jury chair and senior vice president of Continental Development Corporation, at the competition finals in Cincinnati, Ohio.Photo courtesy of the Urban Land InstituteSchool of Architecture and Planning, Urban studies and planning, Architecture, Awards, honors and fellowships, Business and management, Cities, Design, Economics, Collaboration, Contests and academic competitions, Students, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral MIT team places first in U.S. Air Force virtual reality competition Satellite operator&#039;s visualization tool could help prevent space collisions. Tue, 09 Apr 2019 09:50:00 -0400 Sarah Jensen | Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics <p>When the United States Air Force put out a call for submissions for its first-ever Visionary Q-Prize competition in October 2018, a six-person team of MIT students and alumni took up the challenge. Last month, they emerged as a first-place winner for their prototype of a virtual reality tool they called CoSMIC (Command, Sensing, and Mapping Information Center).</p> <p>The challenge was hosted by the Air Force Research Labs Space Vehicles Directorate and the Wright Brothers Institute to encourage nontraditional sources with innovative products and ideas to engage with military customers to develop solutions for safe and secure operations in space.</p> <p>CoSMIC, a virtual reality visualization tool for satellite operators, placed first in the Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality category. “More than 23,000 objects — from satellites to debris to spent rocket bodies — are in orbit and being tracked,” says&nbsp;Eric Hinterman, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and member of the winning team. “The challenge was to develop a user interface to help visualize these objects and predict if they’re going to collide, and what we can do to avoid that.”</p> <p>The goal of CoSMIC is to enable&nbsp;satellite operators to process more data than they could using a standard 2-D screen. The technology minimizes mental workload and allows operators to more easily perform maneuvers and focus their attention on user-selected objects.</p> <p>“Space is such a dynamic and complex environment that is becoming more and more congested and contested. We need to be able to display and interpret data faster and more accurately, so we can respond quickly and appropriately to any kind of threat, whether it’s adversarial, space debris, or satellites in close proximity,” says&nbsp;Gen. Jay Raymond, Air Force Space Command and Joint Forces Space Component commander. “The VQ-Prize challenge is a prime example of how we’re thinking and sourcing, outside the box, to get after rapid, agile onboarding of new technology that will make space operations safer for everyone.”</p> <p>Hinterman and his team built their prototype from commercially available components, including an HTC VIVE Pro headset and a hand-tracking sensor. “You put on the headset, and it immerses you in the world of the satellites,” he explained. “You’re looking at the Earth, and satellites surround it as tiny pinpricks of light. Their orbital data are accurate, and you can zoom in on any of them.” The hand-tracking sensor allows operators to see their hands and to grasp and move objects as they would in the real world.</p> <p>CoSMIC was developed in the studio of the VR/AR MIT, an organization for MIT students interested in virtual and augmented reality, of which two teammates are members. Hardware and other resources in the studio are available for student use, thanks to the generosity of corporate and individual donors who sponsor the student-run group.</p> <p>In mid-March, the team spent a week at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs showcasing the CoSMIC prototype. Satellite operators in Colorado Springs shared with them their challenges and their current procedures and tools. “Based on that, we’re able to tweak our prototype and build other interesting concepts,” says&nbsp;Anandapadmanaban. Likewise, the Air Force development team had a chance to examine CoSMIC and consider ways to integrate it with their existing tools.</p> <p>This month, the MIT team will attend Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, an annual conference of professionals from the space community ranging from the military to cyber security organizations to R&amp;D facilities.</p> <p>“We very intentionally sought out AR/VR enthusiasts and influencers at the outset of this challenge,” says&nbsp;Raymond. “And the solutions we received prove there’s a wealth of great ideas out there and that we need to continue to create avenues such as the VQ-Prize to connect innovative ideas to needs.”</p> <p>“It’s been a fun challenge,” says&nbsp;Hinterman. “I think CoSMIC will be very relevant in the next couple of decades as the number of satellites being launched into orbit increases dramatically.”</p> <p>The CoSMIC team includes MIT undergrads Eswar Anandapadmanaban, an electrical engineering and computer science&nbsp;major, and Alexander Laiman, a materials science major;&nbsp;grad student Eric Hinterman&nbsp;of aeronautics and astronautics;&nbsp;and alumni Barret Schlegelmilch SM ’18, MBA ’18, Steven Link SM ’18, MBA ’18,&nbsp;and Philip Ebben SM ’18, MBA ’18.</p> Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics graduate student Eric Hinterman (left) and Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science graduate student Eswar Anandapadmanaban are members of the MIT team that took first prize in the U.S. Air Force’s Visionary Q-Prize Competition.Photo: William Litant/AeroAstroSchool of Engineering, Aeronautical and astronautical engineering, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), Awards, honors and fellowships, Space debris, Augmented and virtual reality, Students, Undergraduate, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral Commerce and coercion When responding to disputes with foreign powers, China does not speak with one voice, political science doctoral candidate Kacie Miura finds. Fri, 29 Mar 2019 11:30:00 -0400 Leda Zimmerman | Department of Political Science <p>Growing up on the Big Island of Hawaii, Kacie Miura says she felt removed from issues roiling the mainland U.S. and the rest of the world. "We were insulated in our own bubble and I wasn't that interested in domestic or international politics," says the fifth-year doctoral candidate. But while serving a two-year Peace Corps mission in China, Miura's view of the world changed dramatically.</p> <p>In 2010, she was stationed in Chongqing, teaching English to rural teachers and to students of Yangtze Normal University, when tensions flared around the arrest by Japan of a Chinese fishing boat captain.</p> <p>"Major anti-Japanese protests erupted throughout China," she recalls. "It was the first time I was confronted with the history between these nations, and it made me quite interested in the role of nationalism in politics."</p> <p>Gripped by this drama, Miura decided to return to academics and study the role and impact of nationalist sentiment in Chinese foreign policy. Today, she is in the midst of writing a dissertation that offers fresh insights on the way economic factors and domestic politics, especially at the local government level, shape China's international relations.</p> <p>"Those who study China see nationalism as a sort of narrative that the state actively creates, helping to create legitimacy for the [Communist] party," says Miura. She set out to learn whether all Chinese politics followed the central government's nationalist narrative.</p> <p>In the past decade, several events involving foreign players have served to provoke an official reaction of nationalist outrage in China. For instance, in 2012, Japan procured islands in the East China Sea, a move that China strongly disputed. "There were massive protests throughout China, but not everywhere," she said. "Certain cities appeared surprisingly quiet, and one of them was Dalian — a place with a long history of Japanese investment, and home to many Japanese enterprises."</p> <p><strong>Reducing friction through trade</strong></p> <p>For her doctoral research, Miura decided to look closely at local responses to this incident, comparing Dalian with its provincial neighbor Shenyang, which shares geography, politics, and administration, but not the tight commercial connection to Japan. Might economic dependency in Dalian soften any local, antiforeign political protests, she wondered, and would Shenyang prove to be more overtly anti-Japanese, in line with the central government's stance?</p> <p>To answer these questions, Miura conducted interviews with former officials, local residents and scholars, and scraped data from newspapers in each city to gauge sentiment about Japan during the months-long dispute in 2012. The results reinforced her initial hunch — for the most part.</p> <p>"At Shenyang, leaders were permissive about anti-Japanese protests, including a huge one outside the Japanese consulate," says Miura. "Protest organizers, who claimed to have the support of the local government, were allegedly so eager for a successful event that they arranged transportation to bring in more people."</p> <p>In Dalian, leaders found understated ways of supporting Japan. "As a Japanese businessperson put it: They were extending fists above the table, but reaching out under the table to shake hands," she says.</p> <p>Miura is building an argument that China's central government is not a monolithic authority in determining political responses to international disputes. To bolster this case, she is also researching retaliation against South Korea in Chinese cities with different commercial ties to Seoul, after that nation installed an antiballistic missile defense system China found objectionable.</p> <p>She is also teasing out the role of the central government's anticorruption crusades on local politics, as well as whether growing unemployment and associated social unrest, viewed with great alarm by Beijing, might factor into local government compliance with the central government's xenophobic policies.</p> <p>While it's still early for any conclusions, Miura hopes her work will have implications for people eager to understand China's growing influence. "My research might encourage policymakers and businesses to seek allies at the local level, perhaps in cities that already have lots of American firms, where they can expect to be relatively protected even when political tensions are high."</p> <p><strong>Identity crisis</strong></p> <p>Miura confesses she is surprised to find herself in the midst of such research, or even pursuing a PhD. In college, she imagined she would remain in Hawaii and become a journalist. But with the 2008 recession, and newsrooms across the state downsizing, she thought her stint in the Peace Corps would buy her some time to figure out next steps.</p> <p>Her transformative experience in China wasn't just about living far away from home and learning another language. Miura is a fourth-generation Japanese-American, which complicated her interactions with Chinese hosts and students. "I had a full-blown identity crisis," she recalls. "People didn't see me as really American because I didn't have blonde hair and blue eyes." &nbsp;She says she "blended in," which meant "locals often chose not to acknowledge the Japanese side of me."</p> <p>This sharpened Miura's sensitivity to the rise of anti-Japanese anger, feeding her concern about nationalism. She pursued a master's degree at Yale in international relations, and interned at the International Crisis Group in Beijing, where she helped draft a report on regional responses to China's actions in the South China Sea. Through this work, she connected with Taylor Fravel, the Arthur and Ruth Sloan Professor of Political Science and an authority on China and international security. When she decided that her depth of interest required an advanced degree, MIT and work with Fravel seemed a natural fit.</p> <p>She is deeply committed to contributing as a scholar to US-China relations.</p> <p>"There is so little debate in policy circles, and I worry about the rhetoric — that people have concluded China is a threat," she says. "I would like to provide a voice of reason to persuade decision makers not to overreact to every single thing China does, and to realize that oftentimes what China does is in response to what we do."</p> The 9.18 Historical Museum in Shenyang memorializes the 1931 Mukden Incident, which precipitated events that led to the Japanese conquest of Manchuria.Photo: Kacie MiuraSchool of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Political science, Students, China, Asia, Policy, International relations, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral, Research Combining artificial intelligence with their passions Research projects show creative ways MIT students are connecting computing to other fields. Thu, 07 Mar 2019 17:30:01 -0500 Kim Martineau | MIT Quest for Intelligence <p>Computational thinking will be the mark of an MIT education when the MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing opens this fall, and&nbsp;glimpses of what's to&nbsp;come were on display during the final reception of a three-day celebration of the college Feb. 26-28.</p> <p>In a tent filled with electronic screens, students and postdocs took turns explaining how they had created&nbsp;something new by combining computing with&nbsp;topics they felt passionate about, including predicting panic selling on Wall Street,&nbsp;analyzing&nbsp;the filler ingredients in common drugs, and developing more energy-efficient software and hardware.&nbsp;The poster session featured undergraduates, graduate students, and postdocs from each of MIT’s five schools.&nbsp;Eight projects are highlighted here.</p> <p><strong>Low-cost screening tool for genetic mutations linked to autism</strong></p> <p>Autism is thought to have a strong genetic basis, but few of the genetic mutations responsible have been found. In collaboration with Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, MIT researchers are using AI to explore autism’s hidden origins.&nbsp;</p> <p>Working with his advisors,&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Bonnie Berger</a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="applewebdata://E3132863-39CE-49C2-88A7-FCF385FFA23C/po-ru%20loh">Po-Ru Loh</a>, professors of math and medicine at MIT and Harvard respectively, graduate student&nbsp;<a href="">Maxwell Sherman</a>&nbsp;has helped develop an algorithm to detect previously unidentified mutations in people with autism which cause some cells to carry too much or too little DNA.&nbsp;</p> <p>The team has found that up to 1 percent of people with autism carry the mutations, and that inexpensive consumer genetic tests can detect them with a mere saliva sample. Hundreds of U.S. children who carry the mutations and are at risk for autism could be identified this way each year, researchers say.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“Early detection of autism gives kids earlier access to supportive services,” says Sherman, “and that can have lasting benefits.”&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Can deep learning models be trusted?</strong></p> <p>As AI systems automate more tasks, the need to evaluate their decisions and alert the public to possible failures has taken on new urgency. In a project with the&nbsp;<a href="">MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab</a>, graduate student&nbsp;<a href="">Lily Weng</a>&nbsp;is helping to build an efficient, general framework for&nbsp;quantifying&nbsp;how easily deep neural networks can be&nbsp;tricked or misled into making mistakes.</p> <p>Working with a team led by&nbsp;<a href="">Pin-Yu Chen</a>, a researcher at IBM, and&nbsp;<a href="">Luca Daniel</a>, a professor in MIT’s&nbsp;<a href="">Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science</a>&nbsp;(EECS), Weng developed a method that reports how much each individual input can be altered before the neural network makes a mistake. The team is now expanding the framework to larger, and more general neural networks, and developing tools to quantify their level of vulnerability based on different ways of measuring input-alteration. The work has spawned a series of papers, summarized in a recent MIT-IBM <a href="" target="_blank">blog post</a>.</p> <p><strong>Mapping the spread of Ebola virus</strong></p> <p>By the time the Ebola virus spread from Guinea and Liberia to Sierra Leone in 2014, the government was prepared. It quickly closed its schools and shut its borders with the two countries. Still, relative to its population, Sierra Leone fared worse than its neighbors, with 14,000 suspected infections and 4,000&nbsp;<a href="">deaths</a>.</p> <p>Marie Charpignon, a graduate student in the MIT&nbsp;<a href="">Institute for Data, Systems, and Society</a> (IDSS), wanted to know why. Her search became a final project for&nbsp;<a href="">Network Science and Models</a>, a class taught by&nbsp;<a href="">Patrick Jaillet</a>, the Dugald C. Jackson Professor in EECS.&nbsp;</p> <p>In a network analysis of trade, migration, and World Health Organization data, Charpignon discovered that a severe shortage of medical resources seemed to explain why Ebola had caused relatively more devastation in Sierra Leone, despite the country’s precautions.</p> <p>“Sierra Leone had one doctor for every 30,000 residents, and the doctors were the first to be infected,” she says. “That further reduced the availability of medical help.”&nbsp;</p> <p>If Sierra Leone had not acted as decisively, she says, the outbreak could have been far worse. Her results suggest that epidemiology models should factor in where hospitals and medical staff are clustered to better predict how an epidemic will unfold.</p> <p><strong>An AI for sustainable, economical buildings</strong></p> <p>When labor is cheap, buildings are designed to use fewer materials, but as labor costs rise, design choices shift to inefficient but easily constructed buildings. That’s why much of the world today favors buildings made of standardized steel-reinforced concrete, says graduate student&nbsp;<a href="">Mohamed Ismail</a>.</p> <p>AI is now changing the design equation. In collaboration with TARA, a New Delhi-based nonprofit, Ismail and his advisor,&nbsp;<a href="">Caitlin Mueller</a>, an associate professor in the&nbsp;<a href="">Department of Architecture</a>&nbsp;and the&nbsp;<a href="">Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering</a>, are using computational tools to reduce the amount of reinforced concrete in India’s buildings.</p> <p>“We can, once again, make structural performance part of the architectural design process, and build exciting, elegant buildings that are also efficient and economical,” says Ismail.&nbsp;</p> <p>The work involves calculating how much load a building can bear as the shape of its design shifts. Ismael and Mueller developed an optimization algorithm to compute a shape that would maximize efficiency and provide a sculptural element. The hybrid nature of reinforced concrete, which is both liquid and solid, brittle and ductile, was one challenge they had to overcome. Making sure the models would translate on the ground, by staying in close contact with the client, was another.</p> <p>“If something didn’t work, I could remotely connect to my computer at MIT, adjust the code, and have a new design ready for TARA within an hour,” says Ismail.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Robots that understand language</strong></p> <p>The more that robots can engage with humans, the more useful they become. That means asking for feedback when they get confused and seamlessly absorbing new information as they interact with us and their environment. Ideally, this means moving to a world in which we talk to robots instead of programming them.&nbsp;</p> <p>In a project led by&nbsp;<a href="">Boris Katz</a>, a researcher at the&nbsp;<a href="">Computer&nbsp;Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab</a><a href="">oratory </a>and&nbsp;<a href="">Nicholas Roy</a>, a professor in MIT’s&nbsp;<a href="">Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics</a>, graduate student&nbsp;<a href="">Yen-Ling Kuo</a>&nbsp;has designed&nbsp;a set of experiments to understand how humans and robots can cooperate and what robots must learn to follow commands.</p> <p>In one video game experiment, volunteers are asked to drive a car full of bunnies through an obstacle course of walls and pits of flames. It sounds like “absurdist comedy,” Kuo admits, but the goal is straightforward: to understand how humans plot a course through hazardous conditions while interpreting the actions of others around them. Data from the experiments will be used to design algorithms that help robots to plan and explain&nbsp;their understanding of what others are doing.</p> <p><strong>A deep learning tool to unlock your inner artist&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>Creativity is thought to play an important role in healthy aging, with research showing that creative people are better at adapting to the challenges of old age. The trouble is, not everyone is in touch with their inner artist.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Maybe they were accountants, or worked in business and don’t see themselves as creative types,” says&nbsp;<a href="">Guillermo Bernal</a>, a graduate student at the&nbsp;<a href="">MIT Media Lab</a>. “I started to think, what if we could leverage deep learning models to help people explore their creative side?”</p> <p>With Media Lab professor&nbsp;<a href="">Pattie Maes</a>, Bernal developed&nbsp;<a href="">Paper Dreams</a>, an interactive storytelling tool that uses generative models to give the user a shot of inspiration. As a sketch unfolds, Paper Dreams imagines how the scene could develop further and suggests colors, textures, and new objects for the artist to add. A “serendipity dial” lets the artist decide how off-beat they want the suggestions to be.</p> <p>“Seeing the drawing and colors evolve in real-time as you manipulate them is a magical experience,” says Bernal, who is exploring ways to make the platform more accessible.</p> <p><strong>Preventing maternal deaths in Rwanda</strong></p> <p>The top cause of death for new mothers in Rwanda are infections following a caesarean section. To identify at-risk mothers sooner, researchers at MIT, Harvard Medical School, Brigham Women’s Hospital, and Partners in Health, Rwanda, are developing a computational tool to predict whether a mother’s post-surgical wound is likely to be infected.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Researchers gathered C-section wound photos from 527 women, using health workers who captured the pictures with their smartphones 10 to 12 days after surgery. Working with his advisor,&nbsp;<a href="">Richard Fletcher</a>, a researcher in MIT’s&nbsp;<a href="">D-Lab</a>, graduate student Subby Olubeko helped train a pair of models to pick out the wounds that developed into infections.&nbsp;&nbsp;When they tested the logistic regression model on the full dataset, it gave almost perfect predictions.&nbsp;</p> <p>The color of the wound’s drainage, and how bright the wound appears at its center, are two of the features the model picks up on, says Olubeko. The team plans to run a field experiment this spring to collect wound photos from a more diverse group of women and to shoot infrared images to see if they reveal additional information.</p> <p><strong>Do native ads shape our perception of the news?</strong></p> <p>The migration of news to the web has given advertisers the ability to place ever more personalized, engaging ads amid high-quality news stories. Often masquerading as legitimate news, so-called “native” ads, pushed by content recommendation networks, have brought badly needed revenue to the struggling U.S. news industry. But at what cost?</p> <p>“Native ads were supposed to help the news industry cope with the financial crisis, but what if they’re reinforcing the public’s mistrust of the media and driving readers away from quality news?” says graduate student&nbsp;<a href="">Manon Revel</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>Claims of fake news dominated the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, but politicized native ads were also common. Curious to measure their reach, Revel joined a project led by&nbsp;<a href="">Adam Berinsky</a>, a professor in MIT’s&nbsp;<a href="">Department of Political Science</a>,&nbsp;<a href="">Munther Dahleh</a>, a professor in EECS and director of IDSS,&nbsp;<a href="">Dean Eckles</a>, a professor at MIT’s&nbsp;<a href="">Sloan School of Management</a>, and&nbsp;<a href="">Ali Jadbabaie</a>, a CEE professor who is associate director of IDSS.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Analyzing a sample of native ads that popped up on readers’ screens before the election, they&nbsp;found that 25 percent could be considered highly political, and that 75 percent fit the description of clickbait. A similar trend emerged when they looked at coverage of the 2018 midterm elections. The team is now running experiments to see how exposure to native ads influences how readers rate the credibility of real news.&nbsp;</p> In a network analysis of data tied to Sierra Leone’s 2014 Ebola virus outbreak, PhD student Marie Charpignon discovered that poor health care access helped to explain why Sierra Leone fared worse than neighboring Guinea or Liberia relative to its population. Here, she explains her results during the Feb. 26-28 MIT Schwarzman College of Computing celebration.Image: Rose LincolnAlgorithms, Architecture, Artificial intelligence, School of Science, School of Engineering, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Sloan School of Management, School of Architecture and Planning, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), D-Lab, Technology and society, Machine learning, Software, IDSS, Students, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral, MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab, Media Lab, Special events and guest speakers Tapping the MIT talent pool for the future of fusion Excitement is rising in the push to get zero-carbon energy on the grid. Fri, 11 Jan 2019 10:00:01 -0500 Meg Murphy | School of Engineering <p>MIT graduate student Caroline Sorensen is using her talent for mechanical engineering to help advance a novel project within the domain of applied science: the commercialization of fusion energy.</p> <p>“There are a lot of cool things to be done from a technical perspective,” she says. “Plus this work holds the possibility of making a huge impact on the world. This is exactly the kind of project that I came to MIT hoping to find.”</p> <p>Many of the researchers at MIT's Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC) are plasma physicists and nuclear engineering researchers, she says, but not all. “There are a few of us from other areas who are jumping over here,” says Sorensen, who earned a master’s degree at MIT in a MechE lab but is based at the PSFC for doctorate work. “People are super excited about the future of fusion, and there is this vibe of positivity and hopefulness that what we’re doing is really going to make a difference.”</p> <p>Fusion technology has long held the promise of producing safe, abundant, carbon-free electricity but a pivotal challenge exists: Researchers must create and harness fusion reactions to produce net energy gain. In order to fast track an innovative solution, MIT announced plans last March to work with a new private company, Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS), to carry out rapid, staged research leading to a new generation of fusion experiments and power plants based on advances in high-temperature superconductors.</p> <p>The Italian energy company Eni, a founding member of the MIT Energy Initiative, invested $50 million in CFS, which is funding fusion research at MIT as part of a joint collaboration focused on rapidly commercializing fusion energy and establishing a new industry. Meanwhile Eni has also funded additional fusion research projects run out of PSFC’s newly created Laboratory for Innovation in Fusion Technologies (LIFT). This is where Sorensen and colleagues are helping to perfect the design and economics of compact fusion power plants.</p> <p>“There is the plasma physics and magnet technology side of things — but there are also engineering challenges where people like me can play an important role in making fusion plants significantly better in design. I see many exciting opportunities for collaboration,” she says.</p> <p><strong>Engineering challenges</strong></p> <p>Sorensen is studying a key element of the fusion pilot plant: the liquid immersion blanket, essentially a flowing pool of molten salt that completely surrounds the fusion energy core. The purpose of this blanket is threefold: to convert the kinetic energy of fusion neutrons to heat for eventual electricity production; to produce tritium — a main component of the fusion fuel; and to prevent the neutrons from reaching other parts of the machine and causing material damage.</p> <p>“I’m working on the blanket because for me that’s where the rubber meets the road,” says Sorensen. “We need to figure out this kind of technology in order to make fusion plants functional and economical.” Researchers must be able to predict how the molten salt in such an immersion blanket would move when subjected to high magnetic fields such as those found within a fusion plant, she says.</p> <p>The cutting-edge technology projects underway within LIFT are crucial, says Dennis Whyte, the director of PSFC and the Hitachi America Professor of Engineering at MIT. “We need to be working on a host of integrated technologies to actually make fusion economically viable. So that’s what we’re doing through LIFT. We are involving faculty from throughout Course 22 and from other departments within the School of Engineering and across the Institute.”</p> <p><strong>Time is of the essence</strong></p> <p>Whyte described a growing fusion ecosystem in which researchers across disciplines — mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, aero-astro — are working together to achieve a mutual goal of fusion energy in time to make a difference. “This is exactly the kind of innovative research and development that we should be doing,” he says.</p> <p>Advances in high-temperature superconducting magnets that can access higher fields and smaller machines have enabled rapid cycles of learning and development — an approach embodied in the SPARC concept, which was developed at the PSFC and forms the foundation of CFS’s aggressive effort to demonstrate energy-gain fusion by the mid-2020s and produce practical power plant designs by the early 2030s.</p> <p>Martin Greenwald, deputy director of the PSFC and a veteran fusion researcher, says that if fusion is going to have an impact on climate change, time is of the essence. “One of the big advantages of working on this project at MIT is that we have all this potential energy to tap into — if we can get people across the Institute excited about having something really worthwhile to work on.”</p> <p>In a series of lightning talks seven experts will discuss the current <a href="">“MIT Fusion Landscape”</a> on Jan. 22 between 1 pm and 3 pm at 50 Vassar Street (<a href="">MIT 34-101</a>). Topics will range from engineering and scientific underpinnings to finance, entrepreneurship and social impact. People are welcome to attend to learn about MIT’s smarter, sooner path to fusion energy.</p> MIT graduate student Caroline Sorensen earned a master’s degree at MIT in a MechE lab but is based at the Plasma Science and Fusion Center for doctorate work. “People are super excited about the future of fusion, and there is this vibe of positivity and hopefulness that what we’re doing is really going to make a difference," she says.Photo courtesy of Caroline SorensenSchool of Engineering, Mechanical engineering, Nuclear science and engineering, Plasma Science and Fusion Center, Physics, Fusion, Nuclear power and reactors, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral, Energy, Renewable energy Weather monitoring from the ground up ClimaCell uses wireless signals to track and forecast the weather in every 500-meter patch of the Earth’s surface. Fri, 14 Dec 2018 00:00:00 -0500 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>Many startups tailor their first product or service to a specific market segment in order to validate their ideas and get some early traction. Far fewer develop a solution to such a fundamental problem that they explore several markets simultaneously, but ClimaCell has done just that.</p> <p>The problem the company is tackling is weather modeling. Its solution uses the ubiquitous tools of the wireless world, such as the communication networks of cell phones and “internet of things” devices, to create “virtual sensors” capable of tracking and predicting weather in ways traditional sensors, such as satellites and radar, cannot.</p> <p>ClimaCell’s software, called HyperCast, works by tapping into communications network infrastructure. As devices wirelessly communicate, their signals are affected by precipitation. These effects are imperceptible when we send a text or stream a video, but ClimaCell uses sophisticated modeling algorithms to analyze the signal disruptions and classify the ground-level weather in that location.</p> <p>“We’re saying something that is on one hand really quite simple, but on the other we think is quite brilliant,” says ClimaCell chief strategy officer Rei Goffer MBA ’17, who co-founded the company in 2015 with Itai Zlotnik MBA ’17 and Shimon Elkabetz. “A lot of the things around us actually sense the weather, just not by design. They’re affected by the weather, and by looking at how they’re affected you can actually reverse engineer things and see through that.”</p> <p>The result is the most dense network of weather sensors in the world, capable of tracking the weather in every 500-meter space of the Earth’s surface. HyperCast can also generate forecasts that run on graphics processing units (GPUs) to incorporate the latest information and update every minute.</p> <p>Barely three years old, ClimaCell is being used by leaders in fields including energy, utilities, insurance, and financial services. Its customers include aviation companies such as JetBlue and Delta, on-demand transportation companies like Via, and companies involved in construction like NESCO and Autodesk. ClimaCell is also moving aggressively into the consumer space: The company just released a “skill” for Amazon’s Alexa, and a HyperCast consumer app is being released in 2019.</p> <p>Goffer admits the founders have been surprised by the company’s rapid rise, but he says they’ve known for a while now that they could create a powerful solution if they could just get access to the right data.</p> <p><strong>An idea worth pursuing</strong></p> <p>The founders grew up in Israel and served for several years in the Israeli military, which Goffer says exposed them to some of the latest weather monitoring technologies available. That experience got them thinking about how signals from wireless devices could be used to create a new system for weather modeling, but they knew they needed more skills to build and run such a high-tech company.</p> <p>Goffer began taking classes at MIT’s Sloan School of Management in 2014. Zlotnik joined him the following year. Elkabetz attended Harvard Business School. As they pursued their MBAs, the founders stayed up to date on the latest developments in weather monitoring — a task made easier by attending MIT.</p> <p>“The opportunity to interact with faculty members, not just at Sloan but also in our domain of atmospheric sciences, and to be as close as possible to the science and state-of-the-art research, was unique,” Goffer says. “And we’re still very engaged with MIT faculty and research coming out of MIT. This stuff is really cutting edge, and if you’re not [based at] an institution like MIT, your chances of being on top of it are very low. For us, as a young company, being at the cutting edge is really important, otherwise you won’t have an advantage.”</p> <p>The founders incorporated ClimaCell in 2015, but they continued taking classes and tinkering with their idea. In 2017, Goffer and Zlotnik began a fellowship with MIT’s Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship, which helped them get in front of potential partners and investors. Things have moved quickly since then.</p> <p>“Up until September of 2016, we were three people with a PowerPoint presentation,” Goffer says. “So that’s two years ago compared to today, where we’re 70 people with $68 million in funding. The journey since we got funded has been quite rapid, faster than we anticipated.”</p> <p>ClimaCell's relationship with MIT has helped it hire a strong team as it has scaled. The founders say Chief Scientist Daniel Rothenberg PhD '17 has made some particularly valuable innovations. ClimaCell has explored different applications for its technology with a distributed organizational structure that gives employees a lot of independence and authority to expand into different fields. The company also partners with large firms in various industries to quicken their progress in that market. For example, Ford and National Grid serve as strategic investors, helping ClimaCell navigate through the mobility and energy spaces, respectively.</p> <p>The founders hope success in places like the U.S. will help them make an impact in developing countries. Along with their forthcoming app, ClimaCell is developing a flood prediction solution to help vulnerable communities improve flood alerts.</p> <p>“There’s this huge market failure where the most weather-sensitive communities around the world actually get access to the poorest-quality weather data,” Goffer says. “People in developing countries have less physical protection and less financial protection like insurance, their economies are much more reliant on agriculture, and their agriculture is much more rain-fed than most places. Put all that together and you get this huge discrepancy between how sensitive these people are to the weather versus their weather data today.”</p> <p>As ClimaCell’s founders continue to chart their course of expansion, Goffer is convinced that by using wireless signals in this novel way, they’ve unlocked a sea of possibilities.</p> <p>“The biggest challenge for us is there’s just a huge amount of opportunities,” Goffer says. “Weather is a very horizontal problem. It affects every industry in every market of the world, every sized business, and even consumers. So for us, when you’re bringing something that’s so unique and disruptive to something so fundamental, the biggest question is where do we go next.”</p> ClimaCell’s weather modeling system updates itself every minute to incorporate the latest information into its predictions.Image courtesy of the researchersInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Alumni/ae, Startups, Earth and atmospheric sciences, EAPS, Weather, Sloan School of Management, Wireless, Agriculture, Development, Legatum Center, graduate, postdoctoral 3 Questions: Catherine Nikiel on tackling global climate change at the regional scale The civil and environmental engineering PhD student investigates the effects of climate change in the Midwest. Thu, 29 Nov 2018 13:20:00 -0500 Taylor De Leon | Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering <p><em>Global climate change is a serious concern for the future of our entire planet. However, the regional impacts of climate change are often overlooked. <a href="" target="_blank">Catherine Nikiel</a>, a PhD student in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is studying the impact of climate change on different aspects of the hydrological cycle as part of her research in the lab of Breene M. Kerr Professor Elfatih Eltahir.&nbsp;Nikiel studies the impact of land-use change on regional climate in the midwestern United States. In particular, Nikiel examines agricultural changes over the past century, contributing to climate change, such as the expansion of agriculture, increases in productivity, and the expansion of irrigation.&nbsp;</em></p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> What are the real-world implications of your research?</p> <p><strong>A: </strong>My PhD work focuses on what climate change will do to humid heat waves and droughts, looking specifically at the Great Plains and the Midwest region. It is important to understand what the impacts are going to be at smaller scales, because that is where the adaptation is going to take place.</p> <p>Understanding how climate change will affect various areas at a regional scale makes it easier to communicate what the effects are going to be for communities. These areas are going to experience more heat waves, the potential of drought is going to increase, and we have to ask what the lasting impact is going to be for a community or even a group of multiple states; or what that means for an economic sector.&nbsp;</p> <p>Droughts and heat waves are extremely damaging for crops; and the Midwest is the corn belt of the United States, which is important because a great deal&nbsp;of corn and soybean is exported both nationally and internationally. It is important to make climate change tangible, and link the potential damages to those impacts.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> What opportunities have you had to delve deeper into your research?</p> <p><strong>A: </strong>Since being at MIT, I have had the chance to explore ways that climate, water, and agriculture all come together in very specific ways. For example, this past spring, Professor Eltahir put together a workshop called “<a href="">The Future of the Nile Water</a>.” There’s conflict about the Nile River because it is the only water resource in a dry area, and it is shared between many different countries. There is a lot of interest in how factors such as water, population growth, climate change, and agricultural expansion will influence these countries.</p> <p>The workshop invited journalists, academics, and industry professionals from Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan to talk about the issues that could arise in the future, and some of the factors that are important to bring into the discussion now such as climate change, population growth, and agricultural productivity. The forum discussed these considerations and how to identify how they’re interconnected.&nbsp;</p> <p>The goal is to take climate change impacts and make them tangible for a specific issue and region. Prior to the forum, we were each assigned a topic and researched that area for six-weeks, familiarizing ourselves with the region, the history, and the science. The workshop lasted two days, and it was our chance to bring together the knowledge we had collected, and also learn from the attendees of the workshop who are from those regions; who are dealing with those issues, and are the ones who are really familiar with the situation. We learned that it is not just a resource issue —&nbsp;it is a social, political, and economical issue. The forum showed us the importance of having the voices that truly experience these issues first-hand present.&nbsp;</p> <p>I have also had the opportunity to work with climate models, which I have had never used prior to MIT. We hear about the impacts of what climate change is going to do, and it’s interesting to see what comes before the IPCC (Intergovernmental panel on climate change) reports, and understand how the models are made, and how to apply them appropriately.</p> <p><strong>Q:&nbsp;</strong>What’s the next step for you?</p> <p><strong>A: </strong>What I ultimately want to do, and what I studied as an undergraduate, is focusing on the impacts of hurricanes. Since moving to MIT, I have been interested in how communities can be more resilient towards natural disasters. Understanding how climate change is going to impact virtually every system is so important in helping communities build resilience. We can’t only plan for what is happening now, we need to plan for what might happen in the future. When planning for the future, it is crucial to consider how communities and climate might evolve.&nbsp;</p> <p>When I leave MIT, I want to continue to do something that helps cities, states and countries become more resilient. I am really interested in coastal communities, which I think stems from my initial interest in hurricanes. I spent a lot of time in Houston, a city that deals with water in all of its forms, and I have seen firsthand how natural disasters can affect a city. It is something that’s going to have to be dealt with, and something of interest to me.&nbsp;As a response to climate change, mitigation is important, but adaptation is even more important and not something that can be avoided. I see myself doing something more policy focused. I am unsure if that will be in the public sector or industry, I am not tied down to the exact sector, but whatever is going to be most impactful interests me the most.&nbsp;</p> Catherine Nikiel works in the Parsons Laboratory for Environmental Science and Engineering.Photo: Taylor De LeonSchool of Engineering, Civil and environmental engineering, Climate change, Global Warming, Research, 3 Questions, Students, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral, Agriculture, Food Rising Stars in EECS supports women in electrical engineering and computer science In a return to MIT, 2018 workshop drew 76 of the world’s top early-career women in electrical engineering and computer science to explore life in academia. Tue, 27 Nov 2018 14:00:01 -0500 Kathryn O’Neill | Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science <p>For women in engineering, getting ahead sometimes means trying to be “one of the guys.” That’s why Margarita Paz Castro says she enjoyed attending Rising Stars in EECS, a workshop held recently at MIT for women interested in academic careers in electrical engineering and computer science.</p> <p>“It’s very empowering being surrounded by women,” said Castro, who earned a master’s degree in Chile before moving to the University of Toronto to do PhD research on discrete optimization problems. “I like to see role models.”</p> <p>Designed to help graduate students and postdocs navigate the early stages of an academic career, the Rising Stars workshop provided participants with practical information and candid advice on seeking and interviewing for faculty jobs, networking, teaching, speaking, mentoring, funding research, setting up labs, getting tenure, and managing day-to-day life in academia.</p> <p>“This is an easy, compact way to get information you can’t get anywhere else. It’s been fabulous,” said Orianna DeMasi, a PhD candidate at the University of California at Berkeley, who is working on an application for machine learning for medicine. “I liked the transparency about the process and the idea that they want everyone to succeed.”</p> <p>Founded in 2012 by MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), the workshop has more than doubled in attendance over the years. The 76 women chosen to participate this year were selected from a pool of more than 240 applicants, represent 20 different research areas, and hail from 30 universities and organizations in the United States and several other countries.</p> <p>“You should be very proud. Be super-confident,” Stefanie Mueller, the X-Career Development Assistant Professor in EECS at MIT, said in her opening remarks. Mueller, one of the workshop’s four technical co-chairs, spoke on applying for jobs and moderated a panel on research.</p> <p>“Past Rising Stars have been very successful,” said Asu Ozdaglar, the School of Engineering Distinguished Professor of Engineering and EECS department head, who served as workshop chair. She noted that more than 30 percent of Rising Stars in EECS alumni hold faculty positions (including four at MIT), and another 20 percent work in industry; of the rest, the majority are still students or postdocs.</p> <p>Anantha P. Chandrakasan, the Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and dean of MIT’s School of Engineering, joined Mueller and Ozdaglar in welcoming attendees to the workshop. Chandrakasan, who founded Rising Stars when he served as head of EECS, noted that in recent years the workshop has been hosted by Stanford University, Carnegie Mellon University, and UC Berkeley. “We’re very excited that this has gone national,” he said.</p> <p>The Rising Stars concept has also begun expanding to other fields. At MIT, there are now similar programs in aeronautics and astronautics, biomedicine, chemical engineering, civil and environmental engineering, mechanical engineering, and nuclear science and engineering, Chandrakasan said.</p> <p>This year’s Rising Stars in EECS, held Oct. 28-30, began with a Sunday night dinner and reception, included &nbsp;two days of talks by more than 40 panelists and speakers, and featured a banquet at the MIT Museum. A workshop highlight was a poster session that gave attendees a chance to pitch their research to faculty.</p> <p>Niranjini Rajagopal, a PhD candidate at Carnegie Mellon, for example, presented her work on “A Sensor Fusion Approach to Indoor Localization.” She said it was a nice change to discuss her work with an audience of engineers outside her narrow specialty. “It’s also nice to see what everyone else is working on,” she said.</p> <p>In general, the workshop centered on topics that would have been equally relevant to male academics, such as “How to Apply for Faculty Jobs,” “Teaching,” and “Mentoring Students.” However, at several points the special challenges women face became apparent.</p> <p>One attendee told a story of facing pushback from a male student who persistently challenged her grasp of the material she was teaching. Another said she noticed a woman who was doing well in her class left when the only other woman enrolled dropped out.</p> <p>Anette “Peko” Hosoi, associate dean of engineering and the Neil and Jane Pappalardo Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, said she has faced similar situations. For instance, she once met with a male student who had not done well on an exam in her mechanics class. He admitted being embarrassed by his performance, saying: “I even looked at the person next to me and realized I got beat by a girl.”</p> <p>Ideas for addressing such challenges varied. Professor Randall Davis of EECS and the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL), who gave a talk on “How to Speak,” fielded the question about the male student who challenged his professor in class. Davis suggested firmly ending the discussion with a redirect to the day’s material. “People have said women get ignored. I think a little subtle pushback is warranted,” he said.</p> <p>“Being visible is really important,” said Hosoi, who gave a talk on teaching. “When Mary Boyce was head of mechanical engineering, she selected women to teach the intro mechanics class,” ensuring that men get used to women faculty early on.&nbsp;</p> <p>Being in the minority can have its perks, however. “Sometimes, as women, it’s an advantage that we’re rare in our departments,” said Jaime Teevan, chief scientist for Microsoft Experiences and Devices and affiliate professor at the University of Washington, who moderated the panel discussion on career trajectories. “At cocktail parties, people will remember your name because there are not many women there.”</p> <p>Speakers also noted that female faculty are often flooded with requests to serve on committees and as conference organizers, because they provide diversity. “I was asked to be on conference committees five to 10 times a year. Male colleagues were maybe on one,” said Virginia Vassilevska Williams, the Steven G. (1968) and Renee Finn Career Development Associate Professor in EECS and a Rising Stars technical co-chair. Williams moderated a panel on search committees and the “Toward Tenure” discussion.</p> <p>Choosing which commitments to prioritize comes with the job, faculty members said.</p> <p>“I think academic jobs are associated with learning to say ‘no’ a lot,” said Polina Golland, the Henry Ellis Warren (1894) Professor of EECS and a CSAIL principal investigator, who worked with Chandrakasan to launch the first Rising Stars workshop in 2012. She participated in a session titled “Words of Wisdom” with four other leading MIT professors of EECS, including Dina Katabi, Muriel Medard, Daniela Rus, and moderator Ronitt Rubinfeld. “I recently learned the phrase ‘I regretfully decline,’” Golland said wryly. “Feel free to use it.”</p> <p>The road to an academic career is not always direct, as attendees learned in the opening session on career trajectories. Ranjitha Kumar, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, launched a company before going into academia. Azita Emami worked at an IBM research lab before joining the Caltech, where she is now the Andrew and Peggy Cherng Professor of Electrical Engineering and Medical Engineering.</p> <p>Challenges to academic success — and happiness — include the “two-body problem” of landing a job as an academic with an academic spouse, as well as deciding when to have children and finding the right mentors, panelists and speakers said. The best way to navigate all these challenges is with a lot of support — from friends, family, colleagues, and advisors.</p> <p>“Your support system is very important,” said Rus, the Andrew (1956) and Erna Viterbi Professor of EECS and director of CSAIL at MIT. “If you have support, you can have it all.”</p> <p>Building that support network is what Rising Stars is all about, Ozdaglar said. She told the young women in the room: “Our hope is that this peer network that you create will support you throughout your careers.”</p> <p>In addition to Mueller and Williams, the event’s technical co-chairs included EECS Assistant Professor Farnaz Niroui and Associate Professor Vivienne Sze (both alumnae of earlier Rising Stars events). Niroui moderated the job-search panel, while Sze moderated the “Toward Tenure” discussion. Ozdaglar served as workshop chair, while Chandrakasan was the workshop advisor.</p> <p>Visit the <a href="">Rising Stars in EECS 2018</a> website for bios of all 76 participants, the schedule of speakers and panelists, and links to websites for earlier workshops.</p> The Rising Stars in EECS Class of 2018Photo: Justin KnightWorkshops, Special events and guest speakers, Diversity and inclusion, Women in STEM, Faculty, Students, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), School of Engineering, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral MADMEC finals spotlight promising materials science prototypes Prizes went to solutions for improving water filtration systems, metal fatigue resistance, and boron production. Thu, 11 Oct 2018 09:16:13 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>Technology that uses light to clean water filtration systems in real time won the 2018 MADMEC competition on Oct. 9.</p> <p>The team that developed the system, <a href="" target="_blank">Fiat Flux</a>, received the $10,000 grand prize after five student teams presented their final results from the five-month materials science competition. Each team, made up entirely of current MIT students, spent the summer participating in mini-contests and feasibility studies that encouraged hands-on experimentation.</p> <p>Fiat Flux, which was also an <a href="">MIT Clean Energy semifinalist</a> this year, uses light to trigger a chemical reaction that combats the accumulation of dirt and other foulants in membrane-based water filtration systems. The foulants can lead to degradation, increased energy expenditures, high operating pressures, and other inefficiencies that can cut such systems’ productivity by more than half.</p> <p>“We’ve done interviews with people in the field and they all tell us the same thing: These [filtration] membranes never operate at the rate they are supposed to,” said Fiat Flux Chief Technology Officer Alvin Tan, who is pursuing a PhD in materials science and engineering at MIT.</p> <p>With roughly a third of the world’s population currently living in water-stressed regions, the solution offers a potential path to improving access to clean water.</p> <p>The Gryffindor team took home the second-place prize of $6,000 after its three members, all of whom are materials science graduate students, developed an inexpensive system for efficiently applying graphene to the surface of metal substrates to improve fatigue resistance. Using a custom electro-thermo-mechanical measurement system, the team showed that a copper wire coated in graphene exhibited less damage when exposed to cyclic stresses over time, compared to bare copper wires.</p> <p>“This is a huge problem, both with respect to wasted energy and wasted money,” Gryffindor team member Skylar Deckoff-Jones said of fatigue in systems such as wires, infrastructure, and aerospace and consumer products. “It’s estimated that roughly 4 percent of the U.S. GDP is used annually just to replace old components that degrade over time because of fatigue failure.”</p> <p>Boston Boron Company was awarded third place for its novel design of a system that leverages a process called molten oxide electrolysis (MOE) to produce boron. When compared to traditional processes, the company’s prototype produced boron for less than one-tenth the cost at a similar purity.</p> <p>The other two teams that presented were Technologies for Integrated Photonic Sensors, or TIPS, which developed a solution that addresses problems related to using integrated photonic chips in sensors; and HydroHome, which identified a mechanism for sustaining deep sea microorganisms in a laboratory setting.</p> <p>The teams gave oral and poster presentations to judges and attendees as the last step of the competition. MADMEC is a competition for student teams to develop and build technologies that use materials science to address problems of sustainability. Teams are provided with lab space, up to $1,000 in funding, and expert guidance to work through a series of developmental milestones and develop a prototype.</p> <p>“The real goal here is for students to do some prototyping, get their hands dirty, literally and figuratively, and learn how to drive a project,” Michael Tarkanian, a senior lecturer in Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE) who runs MADMEC, said during opening remarks.</p> <p>MADMEC is hosted by DMSE and sponsored by Saint Gobain and the Dow Chemical Company. It is different from accelerators and startup competitions on campus in that it focuses on research and prototyping rather than developing business plans and starting a company. Tarkanian says that approach allows students to pursue ideas they may not think are immediately commercially viable.</p> <p>“[MADMEC’s] emphasis is on students getting experience with hands-on materials processing, and learning how to run their own research project,” Tarkanian explained.</p> <p>That said, since MADMEC’s founding in 2007, a number of participants have gone on to win larger competitions and start companies, including AquaFresco (the 2014 MADMEC winner), <a href="">Embr</a> (2013 winner) and Clear Motion (formerly <a href="">Levant Power</a>, third-place winner in 2007).</p> <p>The judges of this year’s competition were C. Cem Taşan, the Thomas B. King Career Development Professor of Metallurgy at MIT; Thomas Kalantar PhD ’90 of Dow Chemical; Nicholas Orf PhD ’09 of Saint Gobain; and Ockert Van Der Schijff of Exponent.</p> The Fiat Flux team earned the $10,000 first-place prize for its prototype of a self-cleaning water filtration system. Team members pose with Michael Tarkanian (right), a senior lecturer in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE) who runs MADMEC. Team members pictured are: (from left to right) Gabriel Loke, Alvin Tan and Zheng Jie Tan.Image: Tara Fadenrecht/MITInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, DMSE, School of Engineering, Students, graduate, postdoctoral, Undergraduate, Contests and academic competitions, Sustainability, Water Showcasing solutions for land, sea, space — and everywhere in between At the fifth annual Mechanical Engineering Research Exhibition, graduate students gain valuable practice presenting their innovative work. Fri, 05 Oct 2018 14:20:00 -0400 Mary Beth O'Leary | Department of Mechanical Engineering <p>Aaron Persad held&nbsp;up a clear cylinder with filled with water. The inconspicuous object had&nbsp;made a trip most people never will experience — orbiting&nbsp;the Earth aboard a space shuttle.</p> <p>“I’m trying to determine how liquids behave in space,” explained&nbsp;Persad, a postdoctoral fellow working with Rohit Karnik, an associate professor of mechanical engineering. By understanding how liquids move in zero gravity or a near-freefall environment, Persad hopes to make more compact rockets and safer syringes for administering medication to astronauts.</p> <p>Persad was one of the 44 participants in this year’s MIT Mechanical Engineering Research Exhibition (MERE), which was held on Sept. 28 in Walker Memorial. MERE is hosted by the Graduate Association of Mechanical Engineers (GAME)&nbsp;and MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. Graduate students, postdocs, and Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) students who have conducted research in mechanical engineering present their findings at MERE, using posters, live demos, videos, and interactive models.</p> <p>The event is modeled after a typical poster session which most of the students will encounter throughout their careers at various scientific and engineering conferences.</p> <p>“The idea with MERE is to empower graduate students and postdocs so they are more confident about their communication skills when it’s time for them to present their work at a conference or in front of potential industry partners,” explained&nbsp;Rashed Al-Rashed,&nbsp;a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering and one of the co-organizers of MERE.</p> <p>In addition to providing students and early career researchers with valuable practice presenting their work, the event gave the entire mechanical engineering community at MIT an opportunity to learn about research from a variety of disciplines.</p> <p>“MERE really demonstrates the breadth and diversity of the mechanical engineering research being conducted at MIT,” says Nick Fang, a professor of mechanical engineering and MERE’s faculty advisor. “It’s great at the beginning of the academic year to give these students and postdocs a chance to introduce themselves and share their passion for research to the community.”</p> <p>The projects presented at this year’s MERE touched upon a diverse array of subjects —&nbsp;from cooling the electronic chips in cell phones to developing ankle-foot prosthetics for rock climbing. Projects were also related to research in various environments. While Aaron Persad was conducting research with applications in space, others focused on research in land and sea environments.</p> <p>Kristen Railey, a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering, conducted research beneath the surface of the Charles River. She examined the acoustic features of unmanned underwater vehicles and how well she could detect and track them in a realistic environment. Meanwhile graduate student Carolyn Sheline presented a system model for low-cost, solar powered drip irrigation for use in farms located in Northern Africa and the Middle East.</p> <p>Much of the research presented deals with pressing topics that could have a major&nbsp;global impact.</p> <p>Graduate student Peter Godart, for example, hopes to help people after natural disasters by harnessing energy from debris. “I want to give people in the immediate aftermath of a hurricane the ability to provide clean water and electricity for themselves using locally sourced materials,” explains Godart. He plans on accomplishing this by making aluminum debris reactive with water using gallium and indium. The steam and hydrogen released from the reaction with water creates enough force to desalinate seawater and provide enough power to charge a phone.</p> <p>Judges consisting of Course 2 alumni, current mechanical engineering faculty members, and staff listened to all the presentations and voted on which presenters were the best in certain categories. Awards were given to the following presentations:</p> <ul> <li>Best Overall: Daniel Gonzalez for&nbsp;“Extra Robotic Legs for Augmenting Human Payload and Positioning Capabilities.”</li> <li>Best Understanding: Chu Ma for&nbsp;“Acoustic far-field subwavelength imaging.”</li> <li>Highest Impact: Mo Chen for “Room-Temperature Quantum Error Correction with Nitrogen-Vacancy Centers.”</li> <li>Most Excitement: Cameron McBride for&nbsp;“Characterizing Resource Demand and Sensitivity in Biological Synthetic Circuits.”</li> <li>Best UROP: Carson Tucker for&nbsp;“Energy Consumption in a Batch Reverse-Osmosis Prototype,”</li> </ul> <p>The runners-up included Tyler Hamer, Nicolas Selby, Aaron Persad, Kiarash Gordiz, Lup Wai Chew, Jerry Wang, Maytee Chanthrayukonthorn, Shuai Li, Shawn Zhang, and James Hermus. Honorable mention was given to Crystal Owens, Nina Petelina, Yoonho Kim, Thomas Toncagne-Dejean, Noam Buckman, Abhinav Gupta, Sara Nagelberg, Yi Xue, Caleb Amy, Peter Godart, and Dhanushkodi Miarappan.</p> <p>The full-day event concluded with a keynote address by Karl Iagnemma SM ’97, PhD ’01, co-founder of nuTonomy, a company devoted to developing software for driverless cars. Iagnemma recounted his story of starting as an MIT graduate student focused on robotics and not interested in cars at all, to leading a company that has now given passengers in Las Vegas nearly 10,000 rides in autonomous vehicles.&nbsp;Having worked in both academia and industry, Iagnemma also detailed some of the key differences between life in the lab and life at a start-up.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Developing planning and decision making technologies for autonomous vehicles is one of the great technical problems of this decade,” he said.</p> <p>Despite the technical challenge posed by the&nbsp;problem, the technology &nbsp;holds tremendous opportunity to have a large positive impact on society, Iagnemma added. He&nbsp;said his main motivation in developing autonomous vehicle technology has been reducing the cost of both money and lives due to vehicle accidents.&nbsp;</p> <p>“It’s often the case that hard problems are valuable problems,” he told&nbsp;the student audience. “I think that’s the case with driverless technology and I know that there are at least half a dozen other examples in this room today.”</p> Graduate student Daniel Gonzalez demonstrates his Extra Robotic Legs system at the Mechanical Engineering Research Exhibition (MERE). The system was designed to increase the effectiveness of hazardous material emergency response personnel who are encumbered by their personal protective equipment.School of Engineering, Mechanical engineering, Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), Research, Students, Special events and guest speakers, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral Inspired by nature, reaching across disciplines PhD student Zijay Tang is developing a living material that can sense and filter water contaminants. Mon, 17 Sep 2018 00:00:00 -0400 Fatima Husain | MIT News correspondent <p>Years ago, Tzu-Chieh “Zijay” Tang and his peers in his high school biology club would gather after school to go on a nature hike into the mountains of Taipei, Taiwan. Together, they’d trek eight or nine miles, often reaching the summit of choice past midnight. For Tang, that’s when the mountains truly became alive.</p> <p>“That’s the prime time for frogs, snakes, stag beetles, and other insects,” Tang says. “That’s when they’re most active.” A budding biologist, Tang collected specimens from his hikes and expeditions into local forests and was inspired by the diversity of the different fauna he saw in natural environments.</p> <p>As he delved deeper into nature, Tang developed an interest in molecular biology, and pursued life science research at Academia Sinica, the national academy of Taiwan. There, he gained a hands-on approach to performing research, and opted to continue his studies in life science during his undergraduate studies at National Taiwan University.</p> <p>Before arriving at MIT, Tang also studied design and architecture, and materials science, which ultimately stoked his passion for biology and the structures of living things. Now a fifth-year graduate student in the Department of Biological Engineering, Tang is working on engineering living materials that can sense aspects of their environment and relay what they’ve sensed back to researchers.</p> <p><strong>Life’s architectures</strong></p> <p>After graduating, Tang joined the Taiwanese air force and worked at Hualien Airport. The mandatory military service temporarily paused his science studies; afterward, he resumed his research at Academia Sinica. In the evenings, instead of venturing into the forests, Tang explored design and architecture as he finished his undergraduate studies.</p> <p>He soon learned of efforts to build sustainable cities in the United Arab Emirates, and moved to Masdar City, Abu Dhabi, to pursue a master’s in materials science and engineering at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (now Khalifa University of Science and Technology). In Masdar City, he focused on atomic force microscopy, a technique which helps researchers study the physics of objects’ surfaces. While his peers focused on pure materials like graphite, Tang drew from his background in biology and examined DNA molecules, dragonfly wings, shrimp shells, and fish scales (“I was curious about what they’d look like,” Tang says.)</p> <p>The fish scales helped Tang discover a new interest: biological engineering. After examining a Gulf parrotfish he found at a local market in Abu Dhabi, Tang and his colleagues decided to focus on the scales’ nanoscale water-repellent properties. The scales represented a “safe, energy-efficient” solution in biology that could potentially be applied to the problem of marine biofouling — when organisms such as barnacles and algae grow on pipes — in variable environmental conditions.</p> <p>“If you have a problem, and you look into the problem in nature and see how animals or plants deal with these kinds of problems and extract those design principles, you can try to replicate [them] using engineering approaches,” Tang says. He cites the work of Neri Oxman, associate professor of media arts and sciences at the MIT Media Lab and Tang’s co-advisor, as an example of nature-inspired materials research.</p> <p>Even after the project on the fish scales, Tang wasn’t quite ready to dive into the field of biological engineering. “This is a relatively new field. Sometimes there are too many options and a lot of possibilities, and you have to know more before you make decisions,” Tang says.</p> <p>Part of Tang’s research into the field brought him to the Materials Research Society fall meeting in Boston. There, he learned of the synthetic biology research led at MIT by Timothy Lu, associate professor of biological engineering and electrical engineering and computer science. Encouraged by the sense of community he found among synthetic biology researchers at MIT and in Lu’s lab, Tang applied to the biological engineering graduate program. In addition to studying biological engineering in Lu’s lab, Tang is also a part of the Mediated Matter group led by Oxman.</p> <p><strong>Inspired by kombucha </strong></p> <p>Tang studies biosensing applied to water testing, and is an Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab<strong> (</strong>J-WAFS) fellow in water solutions. The J-WAFS fellowship is currently funded by J-WAFS’ Research Affiliate Xylem, Inc. Biosensing, Tang says, provides an advantage over traditional water testing methods: It doesn’t require electricity. But currently, biosensing has a long way to go before it’s viable for widespread employment.</p> <p>While researchers have engineered microbes like <em>E. coli</em> to sense, record, and relay information from their environments, Tang focuses on “creating an environment where you can protect those microbes, and, at the same time, don’t let them escape into the environment.” For Tang, this involves encapsulating approximately 1 billion <em>E. coli</em> in a hydrogel material — inspired by the popping boba in bubble tea — specifically engineered to do just that.</p> <p>But wouldn’t it be efficient if the sensing bacteria could learn to support themselves, too? To study how microbes could produce self-supporting matrices, Tang looks to SCOBY, the floating biofilm added to teas to create the popular fermented tea drink kombucha. SCOBY stands for symbiotic community of bacteria and yeast, and contains a cellulose-rich architecture that could serve as a model for the creation of self-supporting matrices with sensing microbes.</p> <p>To study and engineer sensing SCOBYs, Tang collaborates with colleagues in the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London through the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives&nbsp;(MISTI). Through the collaboration, Tang hopes to create a living material inspired by kombucha that can not only sense contaminants in water, but also serve as a filter.</p> <p>Tang envisions the impacts of potential living-filters as far-reaching. “You can actually dry [the kombucha-inspired filter],” he says. “Even in remote areas, people can grow it themselves. You don’t have to do anything. Just put it in a fresh culture and it will grow.”</p> <p><strong>Supporting students</strong></p> <p>During his time at MIT, Tang has also served as a teaching assistant for 6.129/20.129 (Biological Circuit Engineering Lab), a synthetic biology lab course that teaches students the fundamentals of research techniques in synthetic biology.</p> <p>Compared to building traditional electrical circuits, “building biological systems is actually more complicated and time consuming,” Tang says. As a part of the course, students propose their own biological circuits, and build them using the techniques gained in the lab.</p> <p>“I really appreciate that [the department] has the vision to let the students do this,” Tang says, citing the intense time commitment of lab work as well as the rapidly developing nature of the field. “They really know how to be the pioneers.”</p> “If you have a problem, and you look into the problem in nature and see how animals or plants deal with these kinds of problems and extract those design principles, you can try to replicate [them] using engineering approaches,” saysZijay Tang, a PhD candidate in MIT’s Department of Biological Engineering.Images: Bryce VickmarkBacteria, Bioengineering and biotechnology, Biology, postdoctoral, graduate, Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab (J-WAFS), School of Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, Biological engineering, Media Lab, Research Laboratory of Electronics, J-WAFS Legatum Fellows build on 10-year legacy of impact New cohort of student entrepreneurs will advance a growing tradition of driving sustainable, scalable change in the developing world. Tue, 21 Aug 2018 00:00:00 -0400 Jim Cooney | Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship <p>At entrepreneurial cauldrons like MIT and other likeminded schools, the developing world is increasingly viewed as an enticing business opportunity, one where principled innovators can not only turn a profit but also solve daunting social challenges, create good jobs, and accelerate the local economy. This growing appetite for profit-paired-with-impact is reflected in the <a href="">rising level of support</a> top schools are giving to students who wish to explore, or outright pursue, frontier market opportunities.</p> <p>At the Institute, such students often find their academic home within a home&nbsp;at the <a href="">Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship</a>, which operates on the belief&nbsp;that&nbsp;entrepreneurs and their market-driven solutions are critical to advancing global prosperity. The Center is celebrating a decade of progress they’ve made in that regard — as captured in its&nbsp;recently released report, "<a href="">The Legatum Fellowship: 10 Years of Impact"</a> — while also welcoming their newest cohort of fellows.</p> <p>“Our 10-year Impact Report illustrates just how powerful a force for economic and social change entrepreneurs can be,” says&nbsp;Megan Mitchell, director of fellowship and student programs. “That said, what is most important to us is cultivating the next generation of change agents, and our new group of fellows shows enormous potential.”</p> <p>While the Legatum Center offers a range of programs for students, the fellowship is reserved for those most committed to building and scaling ventures in the developing world. Besides tuition, travel, and prototyping support, Legatum Fellows receive access to mentors and advisors, a targeted for-credit curriculum, and the peer support of an incubator-like community.</p> <p>Meghan McCormick, a recent MIT Sloan graduate, valued the community aspect of her Legatum Fellowship most of all.</p> <p>“I worked hand-in-hand with students from eight&nbsp;different MIT departments and five&nbsp;different continents,” McCormick says. “Each of them contributed something that is now a part of my venture’s DNA.”</p> <p>This year’s <a href="">cohort</a> of 24 Legatum Fellows was selected from over 80 applicants across all MIT schools. They are implementing ventures in four Latin American countries, six African countries, and five countries in South and Southeast Asia. Their industries include health care, education, professional services, real estate, IT-telecom, energy, legal services, and agriculture.</p> <p>Elisa Mansur, for instance, is building&nbsp;a&nbsp;network&nbsp;of&nbsp;home-based&nbsp;daycare&nbsp;centers to&nbsp;deliver&nbsp;early childhood&nbsp;education&nbsp;to&nbsp;low-income&nbsp;neighborhoods&nbsp;in&nbsp;Brazil.&nbsp;Christian Ulstrup’s&nbsp;venture&nbsp;seeks&nbsp;to&nbsp;reduce&nbsp;health care&nbsp;disparities&nbsp;in&nbsp;Cambodia by empowering&nbsp; endoscopists&nbsp;with&nbsp;real-time&nbsp;lesion&nbsp;detection&nbsp;tools. The new cohort also includes several students returning for their second year of the fellowship, such as Prosper Nyovanie, whose company makes solar power more accessible to low-income households in Zimbabwe, and Juliet Wanyiri, whose venture empowers local innovators through design workshops in Kenya.</p> <p>The new fellows will join a growing family of Legatum-bred entrepreneurs that stretches back more than a decade. To illustrate more broadly the benefit of supporting early-stage entrepreneurs within a robust ecosystem like MIT, the Legatum Center gathered as much information as possible on their alumni’s professional activity and analyzed it in their 10-year Impact Report.</p> <p>With support from the&nbsp;<a href="">Legatum Group</a>, the&nbsp;<a href="">Mastercard Foundation</a>, and HRH Princess Moudi Bint Khalid, the Legatum Center from 2007 to 2017 distributed over $7 million in funding to 213 Fellows. Since then alumni with active ventures in frontier markets have reportedly raised a total of $79 million in outside funding and created 14,700 jobs. They have also impacted 600,000 consumers, 300,000 farmers, 230,000 patients, and 37,000 fellow business owners.</p> <p>The report also features vignettes on some of the Center’s most impactful alumni. David Auerbach and Ani Vallabhaneni, for instance, are two cofounders of Sanergy, a company that’s making quality sanitation affordable in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya, by collecting and converting the waste into valuable products like fertilizer and insect-based animal feed. They employ 250 people directly at the company and work with over&nbsp;1,000 more as franchise toilet operators. Sanergy serves 60,000 customers per day and is growing by 80-100 toilets each month.</p> <p>Another alumna is Fernanda de Velasco, who, with her cofounders, established Mexico’s first equity-based crowdfunding site. Called Play Business, it has already helped fund over 100 startups, helped create over 1,500 new jobs, and is growing by 1,300 new users per month. Fernanda and her team also worked proactively with the Mexican federal government for two years to draft&nbsp;and pass&nbsp;the country’s first comprehensive fintech legislation.</p> <p>Aukrit Unahalekhaka cofounded Ricult, which empowers over 1,000 smallholder farmers in Thailand and Pakistan through a platform that bridges credit, information, and access gaps.&nbsp;Ricult is backed by the Gates Foundation and recently raised $1.85 million in seed funding.</p> <p>Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola, meanwhile, launched an innovative recycling business in Lagos, Nigeria, which employs over 100 people and has processed more than 3,000 tons of recycling that would otherwise sit in trash heaps. Bilikiss recently handed the reins of the venture over to her COO (who is also her brother) in order to accept a government appointment as&nbsp;general manager for the Parks and Gardens Agency for Lagos State, a role that allows her to continue in her lifelong mission to clean up Lagos by leading citywide initiatives and shaping policy.</p> <p>Mitchell says it’s “always a joy” to have star alumni come back for networking events or to present in class.</p> <p>“There’s so much the current fellows can learn from them,” she says,&nbsp;“but it’s also powerful for fellows just to look at these alumni and envision where they themselves could be in a few short years, already making an impact of their own.”</p> Prosper Nyovanie, a 2017-19 Legatum Fellow, trains local community members in Boshof, South Africa, to build a utility-scale photovoltaic power plant.Photo courtesy of Prosper NyovanieStudents, Legatum Center, MIT Sloan School of Management, Development, International development, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Global, Developing countries, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral" Environmental regulation in a polarized culture Doctoral student Parrish Bergquist investigates how politics affects environmental decision-making. Tue, 24 Jul 2018 00:00:00 -0400 Fatima Husain | MIT News correspondent <p>With an affinity for environmental issues and a knack for analysis, MIT doctoral student Parrish Bergquist aims to clarify the ways in which changing political landscapes influence environmental policy outcomes. &nbsp;</p> <p>Bergquist’s path to doctoral research in the departments of Political Science and Urban Studies and Planning began well before she joined MIT. After graduating from the University of Virginia with a degree in American studies and English, the Birmingham, Alabama, native volunteered for two years with the U.S. Peace Corps in Honduras to study international development and policy. There, she gained a firsthand perspective on the impacts of global climate change.</p> <p>“People in Honduras lived so much closer to environmental damage than we do in the U.S.,” Bergquist says. “Carbon emissions from developed countries were already starting to have an effect on [climate in that region]. ... It affects everybody.” During conversations with women and children, Bergquist learned that those who were tasked with fetching water had to walk even further with each trip to find clean water sources. &nbsp;</p> <p>“I was struck by the extent to which industrialization had caused problems that we in the United States have buffers against feeling every single day,” she says. Her experiences inspired her to pursue a career in environmental policy, which led her to earn a master’s degree in urban planning and environmental policy from the University of Michigan. “While I was there, I decided that research was what I was really excited about,” Bergquist says; her next move was to pursue a PhD. She hopes to “gain some traction on understanding the politics behind how environmental policy decisions are made.”</p> <p>Bergquist was attracted to MIT for her doctoral studies because the Department of Urban Studies and Planning integrated the study of environmental problems with urban studies, and because of the Institute’s strong political science department. “My degree is interdepartmental,” Bergquist says. “I knew when I came in that I wanted to study politics and decision making, so I knew I wanted a school that had strong political science and planning departments.”</p> <p>Challenging environments</p> <p>For her dissertation, Bergquist studies the implications of political polarization on environmental politics in the United States. To do this, she uses a mixed-methods approach to examine different federal- and state-level policies. &nbsp;</p> <p>“One paper looks at whether or not elected officials from the different parties influence the way that environmental agencies enforce federal environmental laws like the Clean Air Act," Bergquist says. She examines other laws as well, such as the Clean Water Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, through a similar lens. &nbsp;</p> <p>She also studies how environmental public opinions change on the state level over time, and whether they have an impact on actual policy decisions. To guide her research, Bergquist starts with a question: “Do legislators from different states vote in favor of environmental legislation based on what their constituents think?”</p> <p>Today’s increasing political polarization introduces not only a new challenge, but another set of questions for Bergquist's research. &nbsp;</p> <p>“Scholars have argued that economic factors are more important than political parties and ideology in terms of shaping what states are doing for the environment,” Bergquist says. “But increasingly, every issue is really polarized across the parties — so are there places that are not as polarized for the environment now, and if so, why?”</p> <p>Part of Bergquist’s research approach has been informed by courses she took early in her MIT career, including 17.150 (The American Political Economy in Comparative Perspective), taught by Kathleen Thelen, the Ford Professor of Political Science, and Devin Caughey, the Silverman Family Career Development Associate Professor of Political Science. &nbsp;</p> <p>“The readings we did were really great, and it was a chance to think through big ideas, like how politics is structured, how politics and the economy interact, and the way that political systems develop over time,” Bergquist says. “The course really shaped the way I think about my research.”</p> <p>Mentorship has also been crucial to Bergquist’s development as a scholar. “I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to take courses, teach, and collaborate with some fantastic faculty members,” she notes. Describing her work with Chris Warshaw, one of her advisors, she says: “Collaborating with Chris on a research project has been a ton of fun. Also working with him on revising, submitting, and responding to reviews on our paper has been incredibly instructive.” &nbsp;</p> <p>Lending support</p> <p>Bergquist also serves as a graduate resident tutor (GRT) at Simmons Hall, an undergraduate dorm at MIT. &nbsp;</p> <p>“When I started at MIT, I did not expect to be living in an undergraduate dorm again. But this will be my fifth year doing it,” she says with a laugh. “It's just a really awesome community, and it's been a great way for me to feel like so much more a part of the MIT community than I otherwise would have.”</p> <p>Through her GRT program, Bergquist plans frequent events for her undergraduate cohorts to foster community and lend support. “I do try to make sure that [undergraduates] feel like I'm approachable and that they could come to me if they have something going on that they need to talk about,” she says. &nbsp;</p> <p>“I just love everything about it. I love the job and getting to know the students,” Bergquist says. &nbsp;</p> <p>When she's not at her desk or in the dorm, Bergquist is usually exploring the environment in yet another way, by spending time outside, running, climbing, or biking. &nbsp;</p> <p>Educating others</p> <p>In the future, Bergquist hopes to continue her pursuit of academia by becoming a professor and continuing research. “I had always thought about teaching,” Bergquist says. “Part of the reason I majored in English was because I loved my English teacher in high school.” &nbsp;</p> <p>Bergquist says that her educational journey was strongly shaped by her teachers and professors, who eventually led her to political science and planning. “Discovering those disciplines was very important to my decision to pursue an academic career,” she explains. &nbsp;</p> <p>Through the course of her master’s degree program, her resolve to teach grew stronger: “I wanted to pursue my own creative and intellectual projects. You know who pursue their creative and intellectual projects and also teach? Professors!” &nbsp;</p> <p>Bergquist’s ultimate goal involves a combination of scholarship, teaching, relationship-building, and the outdoors. &nbsp;</p> <p>“I would love to get an academic job where I get to do impactful research with great colleagues and teach fantastic students,” she says. “But I recharge and refresh by spending time with people and staying active. My work is better and I’m happier when I have time to spend with the people that I care about and pursue the activities that I love to do. That’s the dream.”&nbsp;</p> Bergquist was attracted to MIT for her doctoral studies because it integrated the study of environmental problems with urban studies, but also placed a strong emphasis on political science.Image: Ian MacLellanSchool of Architecture and Planning, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Environment, graduate, postdoctoral, Humanities, Policy, Political science, Politics, Pollution, Profile, Research, Residential life, Social sciences, Students Discovering hidden stories in the Flint water crisis Graduate student Elena Sobrino looks beyond the headlines to study interactions between the city’s people and institutions. Sun, 24 Jun 2018 23:59:59 -0400 Fatima Husain | MIT News correspondent <p>As the story of lead contamination in the water of Flint, Michigan, was unfolding in the national news, Elena Sobrino was finishing up her undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan at Flint. Now, as a graduate student in MIT’s Program in History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society (HASTS), the Flint native studies “the questions the water crisis has raised about science, power, and where to go from here.”</p> <p>“It’s an ongoing water crisis. People are continuing to deal with not knowing if their water is safe or not,” Sobrino says.</p> <p>Her interest in the societal implications of science drew her to HASTS, despite a common misconception. “People usually think MIT is exclusively focused on STEM research. … I saw this program, HASTS, as a way to be in conversation with physical or biological scientists, as a social scientist myself.”</p> <p>In addition to bringing the perspective of a Flint resident to her research, Sobrino also draws on her experience as an aid worker. Before she began her studies at MIT, Sobrino volunteered for the American Red Cross in Flint, where she worked on diversity and outreach projects and trained other volunteers. There, she noticed the dramatic shift in the resources that became available when news of the crisis went national.</p> <p>&nbsp;“There was a public health emergency abruptly taking over everything we were doing. It was like an overnight change,” Sobrino recalls. “One day, the office is empty and quiet, and the next day [volunteers] are everywhere, not just from Michigan — they’re from all over the country.” &nbsp;</p> <p>Remembering and documenting notable moments like those plays into Sobrino’s current study of Flint, and she refers to them as “protofieldwork.” Now, Sobrino is preparing to embark on one year of continuous ethnographic study in Flint, supported in part by MIT's Environmental Solutions Initiative. She aims to capture the interactions between people and institutions, and the stories of people that have been lost in the national news cycle.</p> <p><strong>Compressed narratives </strong></p> <p>Though Sobrino now studies Flint as a graduate student, it wasn’t always an obvious choice.</p> <p>“Coming into school, it was hard for me to forget everything I’d seen and done in Flint,” Sobrino says. “So I just began to write about it.” She first wrote about the city in the context of social theory in class papers and projects, before deciding to focus on it for her research.</p> <p>Part of Sobrino’s work involves unpacking some of the terms used to describe places like Flint today: deindustrialized, postindustrial, abandoned, blighted. “These are layers of language that we use but don’t always examine,” Sobrino says. “The language we use matters. The structures we use to a tell a story about a place matter. People are always telling stories about the places they live in and the environments they live in.” &nbsp;</p> <p>To learn those stories, Sobrino performs ethnographic research — a type of anthropological research in which the researcher is embedded in the community and culture they aim to study. She uses questions to guide her research.</p> <p>“What do I need to pay attention to that’s maybe getting lost in some of the stories that have already been told?” Sobrino says.</p> <p>For fieldwork, Sobrino aims to go beyond the sit-down interview, to learn how the lives of residents and workers in Flint have changed as a result of the water crisis. There are no details too mundane, she says.</p> <p>“What do those tell us about the deeper history of Flint as a place? I think that’s why anthropology is good at telling a longer story, and it takes a longer time,” Sobrino says.</p> <p><strong>Innovative media </strong></p> <p>While most graduate research at MIT is documented in the form of journal articles or dissertations, Sobrino’s ethnographic work may take other, additional forms.</p> <p>“There are so many different histories that get lost because, inevitably, you have to tell a compressed story that depends on whatever kinds of genre or method you commit to,” she says.</p> <p>In an effort to capture those histories, Sobrino wants to incorporate a visual component into her work. “I have been very drawn to the idea of using film,” she says. “Film can be a very dynamic and valuable archive.”</p> <p>Sobrino draws some of her enthusiasm for film from 4.354/5 (Introduction to Video and Related Media), a class in the MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology, as well as 21A.550J/STS.064J (DV Lab: Documenting Science Through Video and New Media).</p> <p>“That was such an exciting experience for me — not only getting into the technical issues of editing or just the equipment itself and lighting, but we really explored the politics behind the medium of film as well,” Sobrino says. “That’s a really useful thing for me to think about because [political factors are] something you think about all the time as you’re trained to approach fieldwork, but [film involves] a whole different history: a history of not just research, but art.”</p> <p><strong>Stories around</strong></p> <p>When Sobrino isn’t focusing on capturing the stories of Flint, she’s spending time with peers or engaging in local activism. “Building relationships with people is actually something I’ve really learned to prioritize,” Sobrino says. “In a PhD program, where you divide your time between intensive coursework alongside your peers, and then in other stages spend time away from MIT and in the field, you often need to make a conscious effort to maintain friendships.”</p> <p>“I can’t imagine doing [the HASTS program] without this kind of network of friends or colleagues who come to support you in really personal ways, not just scholarly ways. They intermingle,” Sobrino says.</p> <p>Outside of MIT, Sobrino takes part in local water activism with the coalition #DeeperThanWater. The coalition works on water toxicity and contamination in Massachusetts-area prisons.</p> <p>“This has been incredibly enlightening for me because this is a whole different context from Flint, and yet some of the issues are extremely similar, like prolonged toxic exposure,” Sobrino says.</p> <p>Sobrino invited the coalition to give talks at Cross-STS, a working group within HASTS that consists of researchers from different backgrounds who focus on science, technology, and society.</p> <p>“I have learned a lot from just walking out the door and seeing the conversations that are happening all around the city,” Sobrino says, “And it’s a privilege to be part of some local community activism and environmental justice activism.”</p> <p>As Sobrino embarks on her fieldwork in Flint and prepares for all the uncertainties with it, she’s sure about one thing in particular.</p> <p>“MIT was just absolutely the ideal choice, even in ways I didn’t quite realize when I was applying,” Sobrino says. “I can learn to be an anthropologist, but I really want to think about science, technology, medicine, and their histories. But I don’t want to do that in a vacuum. I want to be really held accountable in a way for exploring the way knowledge gets created, organized, and shared.”</p> “People usually think MIT is exclusively focused on STEM research," says PhD student Elena Sobrino. "I saw this program, HASTS, as a way to be in conversation with physical or biological scientists, as a social scientist myself.”Photo: Bryce VickmarkAnthropology, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral, History, Humanities, Pollution, Water, Profile, Research, Social sciences, Students, Technology and society, Program in STS, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences Reliable energy for all Graduate student Prosper Nyovanie wants to power off-grid communities worldwide with scalable solar electric systems. Tue, 12 Jun 2018 00:00:00 -0400 Fatima Husain | MIT News correspondent <p>During high school, Prosper Nyovanie had to alter his daily and nightly schedules to accommodate the frequent power outages that swept cities across Zimbabwe.</p> <p>“[Power] would go almost every day — it was almost predictable,” Nyovanie recalls. “I’d come back from school at 5 p.m., have dinner, then just go to sleep because the electricity wouldn’t be there. And then I’d wake up at 2 a.m. and start studying … because by then you’d usually have electricity.”</p> <p>At the time, Nyovanie knew he wanted to study engineering, and upon coming to MIT as an undergraduate, he majored in mechanical engineering. He discovered a new area of interest, however, when he took 15.031J (Energy Decisions, Markets, and Policies), which introduced him to questions of how energy is produced, distributed, and consumed. He went on to minor in energy studies.</p> <p>Now as a graduate student and fellow in MIT’s Leaders for Global Operations (LGO) program, Nyovanie is on a mission to learn the management skills and engineering knowledge he needs to power off-grid communities around the world through his startup, <a href="">Voya Sol</a>. The company develops solar electric systems that can be scaled to users’ needs.</p> <p><strong>Determination and quick thinking </strong></p> <p>Nyovanie was originally drawn to MIT for its learning-by-doing engineering focus. “I thought engineering was a great way to take all these cool scientific discoveries and technologies and apply them to global problems,” he says. “One of the things that excited me a lot about MIT was the hands-on approach to solving problems. I was super excited about UROP [the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program]. That program made MIT stick out from all the other universities.”</p> <p>As a mechanical engineering major, Nyovanie took part in a UROP for 2.5 years in the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productivity with Professor Martin Culpepper. But his experience in 15.031J made him realize his interests were broader than just research, and included the intersection of technology and business.</p> <p>“One big thing that I liked about the class was that it introduced this other complexity that I hadn’t paid that much attention to before, because when you’re in the engineering side, you’re really focused on making technology, using science to come up with awesome inventions,” Nyovanie says. “But there are considerations that you need to think about when you’re implementing [such inventions]. You need to think about markets, how policies are structured.”</p> <p>The class inspired Nyovanie to become a fellow in the LGO program, where he will earn an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management and a master’s in mechanical engineering. He is also a fellow of the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship at MIT.</p> <p>When Nyovanie prepared for his fellowship interview while at home in Zimbabwe, he faced another electricity interruption: A transformer blew and would take time to repair, leaving him without power before his interview.</p> <p>“I had to act quickly,” Nyovanie says. “I went and bought a petrol generator just for the interview. … The generator provided power for my laptop and for the Wi-Fi.” He recalls being surrounded by multiple solar lanterns that provided enough light for the video interview.</p> <p>While Nyovanie’s determination in high school and quick thinking before graduate school enabled him to work around power supply issues, he realizes that luxury doesn’t extend to all those facing similar situations.</p> <p>“I had enough money to actually go buy a petrol generator. Some of these communities in off-grid areas don’t have the resources they need to be able to get power,” Nyovanie says.</p> <p><strong>Scaling perspectives</strong></p> <p>Before co-founding Voya Sol with Stanford University graduate student Caroline Jo, Nyovanie worked at SunEdison, a renewable energy company, for three years. During most of that time, Nyovanie worked as a process engineer and analyst through the Renewable Energy Leadership Development Rotational Program. As part of the program, Nyovanie rotated between different roles at the company around the world.</p> <p>During his last rotation, Nyovanie worked as a project engineer and oversaw the development of rural minigrids in Tanzania. “That’s where I got firsthand exposure to working with people who don’t have access to electricity and working to develop a solution for them,” Nyovanie says. When SunEdison went bankrupt, Nyovanie wanted to stay involved in developing electricity solutions for off-grid communities. So, he stayed in talks with rural electricity providers in Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Nigeria before eventually founding Voya Sol with Jo.</p> <p>Voya Sol develops scalable solar home systems which are different than existing solar home system technologies. “A lot of them are fixed,” Nyovanie says. “So if you buy one, and need an additional light, then you have to go buy another whole new system. … The scalable system would take away some of that risk and allow the customer to build their own system so that they buy a system that fits their budget.” By giving users the opportunity to scale up or scale down their wattage to meet their energy needs, Nyovanie hopes that the solar electric systems will help power off-grid communities across the world.</p> <p>Nyovanie and his co-founder are currently both full-time graduate students in dual degree programs. But to them, graduate school didn’t necessarily mean an interruption to their company’s operations; it meant new opportunities for learning, mentorship, and team building. Over this past spring break, Nyovanie and Jo traveled to Zimbabwe to perform prototype testing for their solar electric system, and they plan to conduct a second trip soon.</p> <p>“We’re looking into ways we can aggregate people’s energy demands,” Nyovanie says. “Interconnected systems can bring in additional savings for customers.” In the future, Nyovanie hopes to expand the distribution of scalable solar electric systems through Voya Sol to off-grid communities worldwide. Voya Sol’s ultimate vision is to enable off-grid communities to build their own electricity grids, by allowing individual customers to not only scale their own systems, but also interconnect their systems with their neighbors’. “In other words, Voya Sol’s goal is to enable a completely build-your-own, bottom-up electricity grid,” Nyovanie says.</p> <p><strong>Supportive communities</strong></p> <p>During his time as a graduate student at MIT, Nyovanie has found friendship and support among his fellow students.</p> <p>“The best thing about being at MIT is that people are working on all these cool, different things that they’re passionate about,” Nyovanie says. “I think there’s a lot of clarity that you can get just by going outside of your circle and talking to people.”</p> <p>Back home in Zimbabwe, Nyovanie’s family cheers him on.</p> <p>“Even though [my parents] never went to college, they were very supportive and encouraged me to push myself, to do better, and to do well in school, and to apply to the best programs that I could find,” Nyovanie says.</p> “The best thing about being at MIT is that people are working on all these cool, different things that they’re passionate about,” says graduate student Prosper Nyovanie. “I think there’s a lot of clarity that you can get just by going outside of your circle and talking to people.” Photo: Ian MacLellanMechanical engineering, School of Engineering, Sloan School of Management, Africa, Alternative energy, Business and management, Renewable energy, Developing countries, Energy, Global, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Leadership, Startups, Students, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral Jason Martins named 2018 Gates Cambridge Scholar MSCEP student will pursue an advanced degree in engineering at Cambridge University in the U.K. Tue, 29 May 2018 11:35:01 -0400 Melanie Miller Kaufman | Department of Chemical Engineering <p>Jason Martins, currently pursuing his master’s degree in chemical engineering practice (MSCEP), has been awarded this year’s competitive Gates Cambridge Scholarship.</p> <p>Martins will attend Cambridge University to earn a master's of philosophy in energy technologies. He plans to work on electrochemical energy storage technologies capable of meeting new demands with integrating renewables into the current energy generation mix. As a Gates Cambridge Scholar, he says he will seek to apply his research to creating a sustainable world for future generations.</p> <p>“Scuba diving through reefs affected by coral bleaching in Southeast Asia, I witnessed the downstream consequences of rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere,” says Martins. “In between my undergraduate studies in chemical engineering at the University of Toronto, my work experiences in the wastewater, metallurgical, and nuclear energy industries introduced me to problems dealing with the environmental effects of energy production and consumption.” A fourth-year undergraduate project with industry advisers from NASA also exposed him to the possibility of transforming carbon emissions from waste product to valuable resource.</p> <p>While at MIT, Martins became involved with the MIT Energy Club, and was the director of finance for the MIT Energy Conference, the largest student-run energy conference in the U.S. Attracting over 500 attendees each year, the conference facilitates discussion and exploration into enabling technologies for the future of clean energy, energy digitization, and existing energy infrastructure. “This opportunity to become involved in the broader MIT energy community has further solidified my passion for electrochemical energy storage,” explains Martins.</p> <p>This summer, as part of his MSCEP program, Martins will attend two industrial stations of the Department of Chemical Engineering’s Practice School, where students work in teams to help solve real-world problems around the world. For the month of June, Martins will be heading to work at Saint-Gobain’s research and development center in Northboro, Massachusetts. Later in the summer, he will be stationed at the MedImmune headquarters in Gaithersburg, Maryland.&nbsp;In the fall he will begin his master’s studies at Cambridge.</p> <p>“Being a part of Course 10’s MSCEP program allowed me to develop skills and ideas that I will carry with me through my future path in academia and industry,” he says. “I look forward to building upon these skills in Practice School and during my master’s thesis at Cambridge.”</p> <p>Established by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000, the Gates Cambridge Scholarship provides full funding for talented students from outside the United Kingdom to pursue postgraduate study in any subject at Cambridge University. Since the program’s inception in 2001, there have been 28 Gates Cambridge Scholars from MIT.</p> “[The] opportunity to become involved in the broader MIT energy community has further solidified my passion for electrochemical energy storage,” says Jason Martins, who will begin his studies at Cambridge University in the fall.Photo courtesy of the Department of Chemical Engineering. Awards, honors and fellowships, Students, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral, Energy, School of Engineering Eight from MIT receive 2018 Fulbright awards Graduating students and alumni will conduct research abroad in 2018-19 academic year. Fri, 18 May 2018 11:30:01 -0400 Julia Mongo | Office of Distinguished Fellowships <p>Eight MIT students and recent alumni have been named winners of Fulbright U.S. Student Program research awards. An additional student received an award but declined the grant to pursue other opportunities.</p> <p>Destinations for this year's Fulbright recipients include Germany, Switzerland, and other countries of the European Union; Chile; and Indonesia. Students' research interests range from astronomy, art criticism, architectural history, and biohacking to neuroscience, nuclear policy, and computer science.</p> <p>Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Fulbright aims to build lasting connections between the people of the United States and the people of other countries through international educational exchange. The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is administered at MIT through the Office of Distinguished Fellowships. The eight 2018 MIT Fulbright Students are:</p> <p><strong>Julia Cha</strong> will graduate this spring with a bachelor of science in brain and cognitive sciences and minors in biology and music. In Göttingen, Germany, Cha will conduct neuroscience research on epigenetic pathways that mediate the relationship between early depression and later dementia. A three-time recipient of the MIT Emerson Fellowship in classical piano, Cha has performed with the Boston Pops Orchestra and at Carnegie Hall. She anticipates continuing her love of music by playing with the Göttingen Chamber Music Society. After completing her Fulbright year, Cha will matriculate at Harvard Medical School with the goal of becoming an academic physician.</p> <p><strong>Caitlin Fischer</strong> is a senior majoring in physics with a minor in political science. Her research in the European Union will focus on international nuclear policy and the role played by the EU in facilitating nuclear negotiations. For her community engagement component of Fulbright, she will engage in outreach to inform the general public on issues of nuclear security and disarmament in an international context. At MIT, Fischer has served as president of the Society of Physics Students, a student member of the Committee on Undergraduate Programs, and general manager of the MIT community radio station WMBR 88.1FM.</p> <p><strong>Skanda Koppula '16</strong> is an MIT graduate student who will receive his master of engineering degree this spring. He graduated from MIT with a bachelor of science in electrical engineering and computer science in June 2016, has interned as a research scientist with Google and Yahoo, and is currently working with NVIDIA’s autonomous driving team. In Switzerland, Koppula will be researching with colleagues at ETH Zurich’s Department of Computer Science the design of a custom hardware processor for accelerating speech and language tasks. An avid motorsports engineer and co-founder of the new MIT/Delft Formula SAE driverless racecar team, Koppula hopes to participate with ETH Zurich’s racing team.</p> <p><strong>Mary Tsang</strong> <strong>MS '17</strong> graduated from MIT in 2017 with a master of science in media arts and sciences, and has traveled the world as a non-binary artist and biohacker focused on strengthening feminist-oriented civil society participation. In Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Tsang will collaborate with the Microbiology Department at Gadjah Mada University and local community partner Lifepatch for citizen initiatives in art, science, and technology. Tsang’s interdisciplinary biohacking project seeks to extend feminist perspectives of care to local bodies of water. They will be developing low-cost yeast biosensors and fungal remediation protocols to enable grassroots investigation of endocrine-disrupting compounds in nearby rivers.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Jessica Varner</strong> is a fourth-year doctoral student in the History, Theory and Criticism program within the MIT School of Architecture and Planning. As a Fulbright Student in Germany, her architectural history research in Karlsruhe and the Baden-Württemberg region will explore how chemically constituted building materials developed from the 1850s to 1920s. Through the Fulbright program, Varner will conduct research at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) Department of&nbsp;Architekturtheorie&nbsp;and at various academic and corporate archives, including those of the German chemical company BASF.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Emily Watlington</strong> will graduate in June with a master of science in architecture studies (SMArchS) from the History, Theory and Criticism program. Watlington is a recipient of the German-American Fulbright Commission’s Young Professional Journalists award. As an art critic, historian, and journalist in Berlin, she will research the institutions that have shaped contemporary German art criticism and write for German art publications. Watlington is also eager to attend lectures and exhibition openings in Berlin’s vibrant arts scene, and to host a lecture series for the general public on issues surrounding art criticism.</p> <p><strong>Luke Weisenbach</strong> is a senior majoring in physics who is headed to Germany to conduct astronomy research. At Heidelberg University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, he will work with Professor Joachim Wambsganss, who has collaborated closely with Weisenbach’s mentor at MIT, Professor Emeritus Paul Schechter. Weisenbach’s research will focus on the effects of gravitational microlensing, with the goal of learning more about how matter distributions within galaxies make quasars twinkle. He also looks forward to participating in Heidelberg’s astronomy public outreach programs. After completing his Fulbright, Weisenbach plans on pursuing a PhD in astronomy and continuing on to academia or research.</p> <p><strong>Andrew Xia '17</strong> earned a bachelor of science in electrical engineering and computer science and mathematics from MIT in June 2017, and will complete his master of engineering degree in computer science in December. Xia is a recipient of the Fulbright Chile Science Initiative award. In Santiago, he will apply his computer science skills to modeling and preventing fare evasion for the city’s public transportation bus system. Xia will work with faculty from the industrial engineering and mathematical engineering departments at the Universidad de Chile. He hopes to explore Chile’s natural surroundings by biking and hiking in the Andes and engaging in photojournalism.</p> The eight 2018 MIT Fulbright Students are: (top, l-r) Emily Watlington, Caitlin Fischer, Luke Weisenbach, Julia Cha; (bottom, l-r) Jessica Varner, Andrew Xia, Skanda Koppula, Mary Tsang.Photos courtesy of the students.Awards, honors and fellowships, Students, Undergraduate, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral, Global, Alumni/ae, Physics, Political science, Mathematics, Biology, Music and theater arts, Brain and cognitive sciences, Media Lab, School of Science, School of Engineering, School of Architecture and Planning, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, International initiatives, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), Program in HTC Networking to foster new ideas Research showcase from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering brings community together for a poster session and networking. Wed, 02 May 2018 09:45:00 -0400 Carolyn Schmitt | Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering <p>From transportation systems and sustainable infrastructure to climate variability and atmospheric pollution, there was no lack of diversity in the research showcased at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) Research Night, a fun and casual networking event for CEE community members on April 24.</p> <p>Although many students and researchers travel around the world to share their research findings at conferences and lecture series, the CEE Research Night was created as a forum for the community to learn about the wide range of research conducted in the department and areas for future developments.</p> <p>“It was great to see the whole community come together to learn from one another, as well as to support and encourage each other at the CEE Research Night,” says Markus Buehler, the McAfee Professor of Engineering and department head. “It is our hope that through community events like this one, our students, faculty, and researchers will establish relationships and connections with people who they might not see regularly, but who could greatly benefit from each other’s research interests or methods at the interfaces of disciplines.”</p> <p>Over 30 participants spoke about their work during an electronic poster session and networked with peers and faculty who came to hear about the research. Posters represented the wide range of research conducted across the department and the important problems CEE students are seeking to solve.</p> <p>Presenter&nbsp;Reetik Sahu&nbsp;is a graduate student in Professor Dennis McLaughlin’s research group. He presented a poster on “Managing the groundwater as a common pool dynamic competition,” which balanced the intersection of economic decision-making and the demands of farmers competing for the same water, with the known environmental research on hydrology and groundwater resources.</p> <p>Using data from San Joaquin, California, Sahu created a model that considers “competitive economic decision making,” while factoring in the environmental feasibility of putting demands on these resources.</p> <p>“[CEE Research Night] is a platform for me to share my research with others in the department and in the community and, at the same time, to get broader feedback on my project to see if it is really relevant to people who are not familiar with my [research] problems,” Sahu said at the event.</p> <p>Other posters, such as graduate student Li Jin’s “Resilient Control of Smart Highways,” considered the future of transportation systems and smart cities. A graduate student in Professor Saurabh Amin’s Resilient Infrastructure Networks Lab, Jin works on resilient operations and smart transportation systems. His work considers the implications of embedding computer technology into transportation. The conditions he considers range from the “nominal,” or expected setting; a scenario with “random perturbations” that may arise; as well with scenarios with security failures.</p> <p>Jin’s poster covered two case studies that modeled instances of smart highways. One example was of “vehicle platoons,” or trains of trucks on the highway that are not physically connected but maintain contact through communications. These platoons allow more efficient operations, which could result in fuel savings and more streamlined traffic flows by managing the distance between vehicles. The other example identified the potential bottlenecks and congestion that may arise in existing infrastructure with smart highway technology, such as vehicle platoons traveling as moving bottlenecks for the background traffic. This helps traffic managers identify the tradeoffs of smart highways in order to help them deploy optimal solutions, Jin explained.</p> <p>“I think [CEE Research Night] is a very good opportunity to present my research to other people and ask for their feedback and see if there is anything that I can improve,” Jin said at the event. “It’s also a good chance to do some brainstorming and to walk around and see what other people are doing and to get some new ideas.”</p> <p>Jane Chui, a graduate student in Ruben Juanes’ research group, presented a poster on her work which considers the physics of fluid viscous materials underground, such as oil. Chui is seeking to understand how active, living organisms like bacteria could potentially change the nature of these fluid flows, as bacteria interaction could change the viscosity of the surrounding environment and ultimately help with applications like microbial enhanced oil recovery.</p> <p>“Viscous fingering is something that’s been studied by the oil industry for a very long time, but I want to expand this to other applications like the bioremediation of subsurface spills,” Chui said. “I wanted to present my research [at CEE Research Night] because I think a lot of people think of viscous fingering as an old problem,&nbsp;but this is a new and exciting development and a branch off of the classical problem that’s picking up now.”</p> <p>Sahu, Jin, and Chui provide just a sample of the diverse and wide-ranging research represented at the event. The multitude of poster presentations and were judged by attendees, including CEE faculty, who evaluated the clarity and impact of the research, as well as participants’ presentation skills.</p> <p>At the conclusion of the night, three top prizes, determined by students and faculty at the event, were awarded to graduate student Murat Uzun for “Learning Full-scale structures;” Chui for “Impact of motile bacteria on viscous fingering;” and postdoc Diego Lopez Barreiro for “Multiscale modeling and manufacture of biomass-derived materials.”</p> <p>“In a conference setting, the audience is composed of researchers with a similar background. In CEE Research Night type of events, however, you really need to identify and convey the key aspects of your research. I found this information condensation and filtering helpful for my thinking process,” Uzun said after the event. “Here in MIT CEE, we have a very multidisciplinary culture with people from various backgrounds. Different perspectives can be really beneficial.”</p> CEE Research Night encouraged students, postdocs, and researchers to present an electronic poster of their work.Photo: Allison Dougherty/Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringSchool of Engineering, Civil and environmental engineering, Special events and guest speakers, Research, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral, Systems engineering 3Q: Juliana Mitkiewicz on sustainable development and empowering women in developing countries Former MIT D-Lab visiting graduate student is helping local communities address environmental challenges, improve regional economies, and promote gender equality. Fri, 06 Apr 2018 10:50:01 -0400 Cátia Bandeiras | School of Engineering <p><em>Juliana Miranda Mitkiewicz learned a great deal from her role in MIT D-Lab’s Resilient Economies Action Lab (REAL), which is led by D-Lab Inclusive Markets Specialist Libby McDonald. REAL collaborates with regional partners to promote the development of resilient and inclusive economies in Central America.</em></p> <p><em>Mitkiewicz studies sustainable energy systems under the MIT Portugal Program at the Faculty of Engineering of University of Porto in Portugal. Her PhD dissertation work focuses on a small solar-biogas hybrid energy system as a solution for sewage, organic waste management, and energy generation. She recently returned from Mongolia, where she was engaged in an independent project, and Nicaragua, where she was a trip leader for a group of D-Lab: Gender and Development students.</em></p> <p><em>She recently talked with the School of Engineering about her projects and views.</em></p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> What did you learn while working toward sustainable solutions with villagers in Mongolia and Nicaragua?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> When I arrived at MIT D-Lab, I thought I would be able to solve basic needs of disadvantaged communities with my technology. However, the vision of D-Lab changed me. Instead of giving technology to communities, the goal is to empower them by co-creating and designing local technologies and businesses that combine scientific with traditional knowledge.</p> <p>In Mongolia, we aimed to develop sustainable solutions to replace the coal burning process used for heating people’s yurts. This process is highly pollutant and detrimental to health, especially to women and children who spend their days indoors. People from the community, together with local students, built solar water heating systems, charcoal presses, and alternative insulation methods. Women, in particular, felt very empowered by learning how to work with tools, such as hacksaws, gridding and welding.</p> <p>I also recently had my third field research trip to Estelí, Nicaragua, where we were astonished by the empowerment of cooperatives of female farmers. There is a huge problem in water supply and management, as well as sanitation, where these co-ops are located. These women are also wives and mothers responsible for collecting water for their households. Despite being the people who manage water in their communities, they are not part of local water decision-making committees.</p> <p>By better understanding the challenges and opportunities for water management, together with power dynamics, my hope is that the water supply crisis can be mitigated. This theme will be further explored in Nicaragua this year, as well as in Ethiopia.</p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>How are these communities dealing with climate change?</p> <p><strong>A: </strong>Most of the communities I have visited are suffering from the effects of climate change without even without knowing exactly what it is. Mongolia has a long way to go to mitigate air pollution. The government is taking steps, but the local communities are not yet aware of them. The city of Ulanbataar provides free electricity at night to reduce the consumption of coal inside the yurts, but people prefer buying a LCD TV than an electric heater.</p> <p>Contrarily, in Nicaragua, the co-ops of female farmers note that climate change is increasing extreme weather patterns, causing pest appearance and big crop losses. Through agro-ecologic and bio-intensive practices, together with reforestation, they are producing different organic products and exporting them. And at the same time that they are growing grains to feed their families.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> Climate change and gender imbalance are highly connected from your experience. What were the main lessons?</p> <p><strong>A: </strong>Gender imbalance is very noticeable in Nicaragua. Not only in the local water committees I mentioned, but also in the impact of flooding caused by weather pattern variations. Flooding kills more women than men because men know how to swim. Most women didn’t learn how. Those examples reflect the current education system and the old fashioned patriarchal society.&nbsp;</p> <p>Luckily, this women’s foundation, called Fundacion Entre Mujeres, managed to plant a seed to change this reality in Estelí, and it is working! They call the strategy a Feminist Economy, based on a pacific, non-patriarchal economic system, promoting improvements in the quality of life of women. When women are united and have a common ideology, they can do so much!</p> <p>I consider myself a climate-oriented woman, aiming to reduce gender imbalances and climate change threats. The best way to do that is including all genders, ethnicities, and religions to take actions together and be protagonists of change.</p> Juliana Mitkiewicz (fourth from right) was a 2017 MIT D-Lab visiting graduate student. She is pictured in Estelí, Nicaragua with a group of MIT D-Lab: Gender and Development students and colleagues from Universidad Centroamericana de Nicaragua in January. From left to right: Janel Mendoza, Gabriela Orozco, Thea Louis, Olivia Waring, Mitkiewicz, Nelson Salazar, Migdalia Herrera, and Laureano Arcia.Image courtesy of D-Lab.D-Lab, Developing countries, International initiatives, Women, Energy, Pollution, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral, School of Engineering, Global Work continues toward a more diverse, inclusive MIT Many of the changes recommended by black students in 2015 have been implemented; departmental discussions are ongoing. Wed, 07 Feb 2018 21:13:16 -0500 Kathy Wren | MIT News Office <p>Since a watershed meeting just over two years ago, when representatives from the Black Students’ Union and the Black Graduate Student Association met with President L. Rafael Reif, the administration has introduced a number of changes intended to enhance diversity and inclusion at MIT.</p> <p>These changes have been guided by two sets of recommendations, one from the BSU and one from the BGSA, that emerged from this initial meeting. Many of the recommendations — particularly those involving orientation for incoming students, mental health services, implicit bias training, financial aid, and student surveys and data collection — have now been partially or completely implemented. Discussions are under way to address other recommendations for department-level actions, administration leaders have told <em>MIT News</em>.</p> <p>The scope of individual recommendations has varied — from enhancing diversity orientation for incoming students to developing and implementing a 10-year plan to increase the number of graduate students from underrepresented minority groups — and thus so has the timeframe for responding to them, according to Vice President Kirk Kolenbrander.</p> <p>“Many changes could be implemented relatively quickly, and they have been. Others must be addressed across departments that vary greatly in their size, organizational structure, and standard operating procedures, so these require creative thinking and a sustained effort,” Kolenbrander says.</p> <p><strong>A multifaceted response</strong></p> <p>Kolenbrander has convened an Academic Council working group, consisting of students, faculty, and senior officers, dedicated to addressing these recommendations. With DiOnetta Jones Crayton, the associate dean for undergraduate education and director of the Office of Minority Education, he has also convened another group to align staff who are advancing diversity and inclusion issues across the Institute. These groups have worked alongside Ed Bertschinger, the Institute’s community and equity officer, and Judy “JJ” Jackson, who joined MIT in 2016 as the diversity and inclusion officer.</p> <p>The BSU and BGSA remain engaged in following up on their recommendations. The BSU’s political action committee, for example, is planning a survey to learn more about how the administration’s responses thus far have impacted students.</p> <p>“MIT was very responsive and we’re very happy with the actions that have been taken, but we still want to make sure that the Institute remains accountable to the commitment that it’s made,” says third-year student Gabrielle Ballard, who co-chairs the BSU with third-year student Anthony Rolland and chairs the BSU political action committee.</p> <p>“I hope that MIT will continue to engage with the students in order to figure out what the best plan is moving forward,” says Tsehai Grell, a BGSA member who has served on the group’s executive board and helped to draft the recommendations in 2015. “I’d like to see [Institute leadership] make sure student involvement continues. It has to be a unified effort. Everybody needs to be involved.”</p> <p>Still other members of the MIT community have responded to the black student groups’ recommendations as well. For example, graduate student Ty Austin leads the diversity and inclusion subcommittee of the Graduate Student Council, which recently organized a <a href="">network of students</a> whose goal is to further diversity and inclusion efforts in academic departments.</p> <p>When the BSU and BGSA presented their recommendations, the administration also invited other members of the MIT community to share additional ideas for making MIT a more welcoming, inclusive place. More than 90 are now under consideration or being actively addressed. For example, the Institute recently received permission from state authorities to launch a pilot program with four all-gender bathrooms on campus.</p> <p><strong>Enhancing mental health and counseling services</strong></p> <p>Both the BSU and BGSA have put forward recommendations for enhancing mental health and counseling services and hiring staff with expertise in race-based traumatic stress.</p> <p>In October 2016, MIT <a href="">hired Karen Singleton</a>, who specializes in multicultural psychology and trauma, as chief of Mental Health and Counseling and associate medical director at MIT Medical. Three clinicians with expertise in race-based trauma have also been appointed: Cecil Webster Jr., Leslie Langston, and Erik Marks.</p> <p>Recent activities by Mental Health and Counseling staff have included antioppression training for staff; the formation of a multicultural competency counseling team; development of a workshop series on the imposter phenomenon; a biweekly event called Let’s Chat@OME, which allows students to drop into the Office of Minority Education and talk with mental health and counseling staff; and biweekly therapy groups for graduate students of color.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Orientation and implicit bias training</strong></p> <p>The Office of Multicultural Programs and the Office of Graduate Education (OGE) made a number of changes to the orientation programs for undergraduate and graduate students in the last two years.</p> <p>In fall 2016 and 2017, incoming first-year students participated in small focus-group conversations on diversity and inclusion, facilitated by a trained conversation leader. MIT also began making modifications in fall 2016 to the graduate student orientation, including a dedicated networking reception for graduate students from underrepresented minority groups to meet senior leaders, faculty, and returning graduate students, and to learn about campus resources. The graduate students of color welcome planning committee is composed of graduate students, and OGE staff are beginning to discuss additional changes for 2018.</p> <p>Implicit bias training, which the BGSA recommended for faculty, staff, and students, was launched in 2017 in several areas of the Institute, including the Institute Community and Equity Office, the Teaching and Learning Lab, Human Resources, Academic Council, and some academic departments.</p> <p><strong>Surveys and data collection</strong></p> <p>Other student recommendations related to collecting and sharing data about the MIT student body, broken down by race and other identity groups, could inform other efforts to further diversity and inclusion at the Institute.</p> <p>These recommendations have led, for example, to the publication of a <a href="">diversity dashboard</a>, in cooperation with the Institutional Research section of the Office of the Provost. Targeted questions have also been added to key student <a href="">surveys</a> and the results made public. And, the Office of the Registrar is publishing a report on the number of underrepresented minority students by course and year on its <a href="">enrollment page</a>, which is available to everyone in the MIT community with an MIT Certificate.</p> <p>The BSU has also met with Stu Schmill, the dean of admissions and student financial services, to review data collected by that office and work together to plan new efforts to increase acceptance rates for students from underrepresented minority groups.</p> <p><strong>Financial aid</strong></p> <p>The BSU recommended increasing financial aid commitments to at least match peer institutions, reaffirming MIT’s commitment to keeping MIT education accessible through need-blind admission and a generous need-based financial system.</p> <p>Over the last two years, MIT has <a href="">increased financial aid expenditures</a> by $23.4 million, from $97.3 million in FY16 to $120.7 million projected for FY18. The Institute has also reduced student self-help levels from $5,500 to $3,400 a year. MIT is one of only five U.S. colleges and universities that currently admit all undergraduate students without regard to their financial circumstances, award all financial aid based on need, and meet the full demonstrated financial need of all admitted students.</p> <p>MIT continues to be unique in allowing low-income students to use Pell Grants to reduce or eliminate their self-help and summer savings expectations, and it guarantees that any family earning $90,000 or less will have scholarships that at least cover tuition. This guarantee serves more than one-third of MIT’s students.</p> <p><strong>Recruitment and retention</strong></p> <p>Both student groups have made recommendations around increasing diversity among graduate students and faculty, which involve a longer timeline. The BGSA, for example, recommended developing and implementing a 10-year plan to increase the number of underrepresented minority graduate students, in particular black graduate students.</p> <p>“One thing that stands out to me is that to really increase the number of faculty members of color, we have to increase the number of graduate students of color. In the 2016-17 academic year, for example, only about 1 percent of MIT’s graduate students were black. We’d like to see a very concerted, coordinated effort to recruit graduate students of color,” says Candace Ross, a member and former president of the BGSA.</p> <p>Thus far, every academic department has posted an <a href="">online statement</a> affirming its commitment to students’ health, diversity, and inclusion. Implementation of a longer-term plan is more complex and requires departmental customization, as MIT departments range widely in terms of size, organization, and recruitment and retention practices.&nbsp; A review of personnel in each department, to assess what may be feasible, is being considered, according to Jackson.</p> <p>The BSU is keen to see how the departmental statements are put into practice, says Ballard: “Holistically, the goal would be seeing more students and faculty from underrepresented groups in those departments, and seeing [inclusionary practices extend even further], for example when professors are talking about people who have contributed to the field. It’s important for everyone to see that there’s a diverse range of voices that are in the STEM and humanities fields.”</p> <p>“This is something that going forward we want to keep in mind, that diversity and inclusion doesn’t just stop at who you see. It’s what you’re talking about, the conversations you’re having,” she adds.</p> <p>OGE has addressed the BGSA recommendations on multiple fronts. Staff have implemented a Graduate Diversity Ambassador program, increasing MIT’s presence at <a href="">recruitment conferences</a> across the country and providing personalized advice on MIT graduate applications to alumni of the <a href="">MIT Summer Research Program</a> (MSRP General) and <a href="">CONVERGE</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>With input from the Office of the General Counsel, OGE implemented an <a href="">expanded fee waiver policy</a> during the 2016 application cycle to remove potential financial barriers for applicants who may not have considered MIT.</p> <p>OGE is also renewing its commitment to the University Center for Exemplary Mentoring, which provides professional development activities to prepare doctoral students from underrepresented minorities for careers in academia.&nbsp;The OGE’s “Ignite Your Vision,” a monthly discussion series facilitated primarily by MIT faculty and alumni of color, touches upon general professional-development topics and provides an opportunity for graduate students to learn from the experiences of representatives from diverse career paths in industry, education, health care, and government. &nbsp;</p> <p>In recent months,&nbsp;OGE has hired new team members to serve MIT’s graduate student community. Assistant Dean Suraiya Baluch joined the Graduate Personal Support office, and is helping to expand the support network for graduate students. Two diversity staff positions have been filled in order to focus on maintaining MIT’s diversity recruitment efforts and provide bandwidth for the office to revamp its involvement in professional development.&nbsp;OGE plans to continue its collaboration with several academic departments and administrative offices at MIT, including Global Education and Career Development, to devise a targeted approach to addressing the BGSA’s recommendation that the Institute provide tailored resources to help graduate students from underrepresented minority groups compete successfully on academic and professional job markets.</p> <p><strong>A sustained effort</strong></p> <p>Members of the MIT community who have been engaged in furthering diversity and inclusion at the Institute agree that this work will need to continue for years to come.</p> <p>“The students have not given up on these recommendations; they are not going to let them disappear,” Crayton says. “We have to continue to be thoughtful about them. If there are things we cannot do, or cannot do right away, we have to be very transparent about sharing that information. That’s what will build stronger relationships.”</p> <p>Work on inclusion is inherently a constant process, Jackson says.</p> <p>“When I look at these recommendations, what I see the students are looking for is an equitable opportunity for everyone to be free and unfettered to do their best at MIT and make a contribution to the community,” she says. “Inclusion does not first demand that you be like somebody else. It says whoever you are, bring the best of you into the community and let’s together help to make MIT a better place if MIT is going to help make a better world.”</p> Photo: Jake BelcherCommunity, Diversity and inclusion, Faculty, Students, Staff, Student life, History, Policy, Education, teaching, academics, Admissions, Administration, Undergraduate, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral Students share their passions outside the classroom #ThisisMIT video contest gives students a chance to indulge their creativity and submit short videos showcasing the magic of MIT. Thu, 18 Jan 2018 14:00:00 -0500 Division of Student Life <p>It is well-known that MIT students are academically exceptional. What is less known is how well-rounded, creative, and artistic they are.</p> <p>To showcase what students do outside of the classroom, MIT Communications Initiatives and the Division of Student Life created a campaign to&nbsp;encourage students&nbsp;to produce videos for social sharing. The goal was to give&nbsp;audiences around the world a greater sense of the magic and culture of MIT.</p> <p>Following brainstorming sessions with a group of students and discussions of what might encourage students to participate, the #ThisisMIT video contest was created. The contest ran from the second week of September until Thanksgiving.</p> <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p>Students submitted short videos focusing on what defines their MIT experience outside of the lab and classroom, with topics ranging from athletics to art. Their lens provides&nbsp;a glimpse into what makes MIT such a special place to so many. The top three&nbsp;video winners received $100 in TechCASH, while&nbsp;two runners-up&nbsp;received $50 in TechCASH.</p> <p>The winning videos were:</p> <p><strong>$100 TechCASH Winners</strong></p> <p>“#ThisIsMIT”&nbsp;by sophomore Daniel “Gonzo” Gonzalez Cunningham</p> <p>“Dance at MIT” by junior Claire Nobuhara</p> <p>“Are you Artistic?” by sophomore Max Kessler</p> <p><strong>$50 TechCASH Winners</strong></p> <p>“Making a Batman Bass Guitar,” by graduate student Jin Wu</p> <p>“MIT Women's Rugby,” by senior Alexa Jaeger</p> The #ThisisMIT contest asked students to submit short videos focusing on what defines their MIT experience outside of the lab and classroom.Image: Wing NganContests and academic competitions, Student life, Students, Video, Athletics, Sports and fitness, Arts, Clubs and activities, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral, Undergraduate, Community Two from AeroAstro named to Aviation Week&#039;s “20 Twenties” for 2018 Grad students Alexa Aguilar and Arthur J. Brown receive honor that recognizes outstanding student academic performance, civic contributions, and research. Wed, 17 Jan 2018 14:00:00 -0500 Bill Litant | Aeronautics and Astronautics <p>MIT aeronautics and astronautics graduate students Alexa Aguilar and Arthur J. Brown have been selected as recipients of <a href="">Aviation Week Network’s</a> 2018 “Tomorrow’s Technology Leaders: The 20 Twenties” awards.</p> <p>The awards recognize 20 students nominated by universities for academic performance, civic contributions, research, or design projects. The program is part of an effort to create and awareness by technology hiring managers, students, and faculty of elements that contribute to business and academic success.</p> <p>Aguilar works in AeroAstro’s <a href="">Space Telecommunications, Astronomy, and Radiation Laboratory</a> (STAR Lab) on Cubesat Lasercommunication Infrared CrosslinK, a cubesat mission collaboration including NASA's Ames Research Center, the University of Florida, and MIT. A&nbsp;mission objective is to demonstrate a laser crosslink between two spacecraft at 20 megabits per second.</p> <p>“I’m responsible for managing the optical link budgets, performing a trade study on receivers using a time-to-digital converter versus a traditional analog-to-digital converter, and potentially designing a novel optical receiver to replace commercial off-the-shelf components,” Aguilar says. “For this mission, I helped with the engineering model assembly that identified problem areas in the initial design, which were later fixed for the flight mode.”</p> <p>Professor and STAR Lab Director Kerri Cahoy says&nbsp;Aguilar&nbsp;“has been supporting our nanosatellite laser communications project sponsored by NASA, and she continues to support other MIT projects that she worked on in the past.”</p> <p>Cahoy&nbsp;praises&nbsp;Aguilar for her “sharp intellect, high productivity, cheerful energy, and outreach and advocacy for space exploration and innovation, which have made an impact on our group and the department.”</p> <p>Brown’s research focuses on on-demand aviation —&nbsp;specifically, an air taxi service using small, autonomous, vertical-takeoff-and-landing, battery-powered electric aircraft.</p> <p>“The proposed service offers numerous advantages over existing transport solutions, including greatly reduced commute times, by avoiding gridlock; lower energy costs, due to the use of electricity instead of gasoline; reduced environmental impact in terms of noise, greenhouse gases, lead, and other emissions, and due to the use of electric propulsion; and lower or no pilot operating costs, due to autonomy,”&nbsp;Brown says.</p> <p>Brown is an officer of MIT’s <a href="">Academy of Courageous Minority Engineers</a> and a member of the <a href="">Graduate Student Council’s</a> Diversity and Inclusion subcommittee.</p> <p>“In my opinion, Arthur’s work exceeds all published investigation and produces tools to make industry-grade decisions for on-demand aviation,” says AeroAstro Professor Wesley Harris, Brown’s thesis advisor.</p> <p>Harris also praises&nbsp;Brown’s involvement with organizations focusing on underrepresented students. “He’s influenced the MIT administration to structure programs and activities that enable advancement of underrepresented students, and done so with a positive, firm approach,” he says.</p> <p>Aviation Week Network president Greg Hamilton says 20 Twenties&nbsp;recognition is built on “three pillars of what the aerospace industry values most: learning, civic service, and high-value research. This year’s winners reflect these pillars, while bringing to the fore the innovation and creativity that are hallmarks for this generation.”</p> <p>Aguilar and Brown will be honored at Aviation Week’s Annual Laureates Awards on&nbsp;March 1 in Washington.</p> Aviation Week Network “20 Twenties” award recipient Alexa Aguilar is a grad student working in AeroAstro’s Space Telecommunications, Astronomy, and Radiation Laboratory (STAR Lab) on the Cubesat Lasercommunication Infrared CrosslinK mission. She assisted with an engineering model assembly that identified problem areas in the initial design.Photo: William LitantAeronautics and Astronautics, Awards, honors and fellowships, Autonomous vehicles, School of Engineering, NASA, Satellites, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral, space, Space, astronomy and planetary science, Diversity and inclusion Expanding the pipeline to graduate school Outside of the chemistry lab, PhD candidate Tsehai Grell works to make MIT more inclusive for grad students. Tue, 22 Aug 2017 23:59:59 -0400 Dara Farhadi | MIT News correspondent <p>Tsehai Grell grew up in a small island nation in the Caribbean called the Commonwealth of Dominica. Known as “the nature island,” Dominica features black sand beaches, rolling mountains, tropical green foliage, and a close-knit community.</p> <p>“I grew up there and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It’s a warm, friendly culture. You cannot walk into a room without greeting everyone, even if you don’t know them. Even on the street you say hello,” says Grell, a rising sixth year PhD candidate in the Department of Chemistry.</p> <p>Many people in this supportive environment helped launch Grell on her path to academic success. “It wasn’t just my family; my whole community wanted to see me succeed,” she recalls. “They were equally as proud of me as my parents were, because they had a hand in raising me to become the person that I am today.”</p> <p>Grell has carried that “it takes a village” philosophy with her to MIT, where in addition to conducting research at the interface of chemistry and biology, she has been active in a number of efforts that encourage underrepresented minorities to pursue graduate studies in STEM fields.</p> <p>MIT’s <a href="">enrollment data</a> attests to the importance of these initiatives. For example, as of fall 2016, black and Latino students represented roughly 21 percent of MIT’s undergraduate class but only about 7 percent of the graduate class.</p> <p>Grell believes the variety of MIT students’ experiences and perspectives is one of the Institute’s greatest qualities. “When you don’t have diversity of thought and experiences, you are missing out on a number of problems and potential solutions, especially in the research lab,” she says.</p> <p><strong>Challenging research that “builds character”</strong></p> <p>Grell works in the lab of professor of chemistry and biology Catherine Drennan, using X-ray crystallography techniques to look at the molecular structure of enzymes and learn about how they function.</p> <p>Her research is focused on metalloenzymes, which contain metal ions at their core. The metalloenzymes that Grell works with are able to manipulate highly reactive free-radical chemistry to accomplish reactions that require large amounts of energy.</p> <p>“[Free radicals] are very, very reactive; they’re in a war zone and react with everything,” she explains. “But the enzymes have found a way to contain this reactivity to within the active site, to make crazy, difficult reactions happen to their benefit.”</p> <p>One of the metalloenzymes Grell is studying is found in bacteria, where it can synthesize antifungal compounds. Another may have an important role in modifying tRNA molecules, which participate in producing the body’s proteins.</p> <p>X-ray crystallography is a long and arduous process, according to Grell. The first challenge is to get the targeted protein purified, and then the protein must be crystallized — which can take as few as 12 hours and as many as 10 years. The next hurdle is to solve the protein’s structure, and then the researchers must determine whether the final structure contains the information they were searching for. They may wish to capture, for example, a view of the protein while it’s interacting with its substrate. If any of these challenges are not accomplished, the researcher must start over.</p> <p>“Yeah, it’s a lot. You learn to appreciate the process and how long it takes. This requires a lot of willpower. Our lab says it builds character,” Grell says.</p> <p><strong>Helping others succeed</strong></p> <p>Outside of lab, Grell participates in multiple programs that aim to make MIT more inclusive and welcoming at the graduate level, particularly to underrepresented minorities.</p> <p>She served as treasurer for the Black Graduate Student Association, or BGSA, around the time when the Black Lives Matter movement was developing. She and other BGSA leaders helped put together panels and other events to address racial inequalities, and in 2015 the BGSA and the Black Students’ Union came together to present <a href="">recommendations to MIT’s senior administration</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>Grell is also dedicated to encouraging underrepresented minorities who might be interested in graduate study at MIT. She has volunteered for several programs, including Dow-MIT Access and MIT CONVERGE, which bring talented undergraduates of color to a weekend on campus to explore prospects for graduate education. Grell says she enjoys interacting with students and getting them excited about chemistry research.</p> <p>Grell did similar work as a program assistant with the MIT Summer Research Program (MSRP), which gives approximately 40 students with a broad array of backgrounds the opportunity to spend the summer at MIT. Participants conduct research and take part in other activities aimed at preparing them for graduate school.</p> <p>“[MSRP] gave me that access to the MIT community, where you build lasting relationships with the staff and faculty. It shows you that you can thrive in a research environment where you are constantly being pushed out of your comfort zone,” says Grell, who participated in the program when she was an undergraduate at Morgan State University.</p> <p>As a program assistant, she helped read applications and served as an advisor to 10 students. She was their resource when there was a problem in lab, for example, or if they were worried about their personal statement for graduate school applications. So far, three students she has mentored have started graduate school at MIT.</p> <p>Grell is also part of an organization started by a fellow graduate student, called i-Trek, which stands for “I Turn Research into Empowerment and Knowledge.” The program offers nontraditional research opportunities to underserved and underrepresented minority students in community colleges and small liberal arts colleges that don’t have the capacity to expose such students to scientific research. She also served as treasurer and later co-president for an MIT club called the Academy of Courageous Minorities in Engineering, or ACME.</p> <p><strong>A personal perspective</strong></p> <p>Grell can identify with the prospective students she welcomes when they visit MIT.</p> <p>“I think that’s another reason why I love getting involved in [programs that advise undergraduates], because I felt it was so essential for me,” she says. “Entering undergrad, I never thought, I’m going to grad school at MIT. It wasn’t something that was even on my radar until people at MSU and MIT put it on my radar, and when I got here it was such a welcoming environment.”</p> <p>She adds: “It’s always really great when you can encourage students who have the grades but just don’t have that someone to say ‘you can do that’ and ‘you need that.’ You need someone to say, ‘this is definitely a possibility for you to consider. Don’t let anybody tell you you can’t do it.’”</p> PhD student Tsehai Grell believes the variety of MIT students’ experiences and perspectives is one of the Institute’s greatest qualities. “When you don’t have diversity of thought and experiences, you are missing out on a number of problems and potential solutions, especially in the research lab,” she says. Photo: Ian MacLellanStudents, Profile, Chemistry, School of Science, Diversity and inclusion, Community, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral MIT’s first MicroMasters learners earn credentials More than 1,100 learners finish online course series; 622 pass final exam that offers opportunity to apply for hybrid master’s. Tue, 20 Jun 2017 00:00:00 -0400 David L. Chandler | MIT News Office <p>The first-ever cohort in MIT’s inaugural online MicroMasters program — consisting of more than 1,100 learners who completed all five of the online courses in supply chain management — has received its final MicroMasters certificates and will be honored at an online ceremony today.</p> <p>Of those learners who opted to take the proctored comprehensive final exam, 622 achieved passing grades, automatically earning a chance to apply for a full master’s degree. Combining credit for the completed online coursework plus one semester of on-campus classes, this “hybrid” master’s is available at MIT or any of several partner institutions: <a href="">University of Queensland</a>, in Australia; <a href="">Curtin University</a>, in Australia; <a href="">Rochester Institute of Technology</a>, in Rochester, New York; and the <a href="">Zaragoza Logistics Center</a>, in Spain.</p> <p>Given that the MicroMasters’ testing process and course standards are designed to be as demanding as those of on-campus MIT classes, the MicroMasters credential itself is also expected to provide those who earn it with opportunities for career advancement.</p> <p>"When we first announced the MicroMasters, our goal was to offer serious learners anywhere a practical credential that does justice to their academic drive, ambition, and achievement,” says MIT President L. Rafael Reif. “Thanks to the members of this remarkable first cohort — their commitment to learning, their sustained efforts and determination, and their inspiring success as MicroMasters pioneers — we have the confidence to continue to find creative ways to leverage MicroMasters programs to build pathways to a master's degree.”</p> <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p>This initial MicroMasters program, offered through MIT’s top-ranked graduate program in supply chain management (SCM), was the first such MicroMasters program created through <a href=""><em>MITx</em></a><em>.</em> There are currently more than 5,000 additional learners in the supply chain management MicroMasters pipeline who have successfully completed at least one of the five required courses. Last December, <em>MITx</em> launched a second <a href="">MicroMasters program</a> in data, economics, and development policy, and others are under consideration. Additionally, more than 10 other universities now offer MicroMasters certificates through the <a href="">edX</a> online platform, which was co-developed five years ago by MIT and Harvard University.</p> <p>The MicroMasters program in supply chain management has drawn more than 180,000 learners of all ages, from around the world, says Yossi Sheffi, director of MIT’s Center for Transportation and Logistics and director of the MIT supply chain management program, who taught some of the online classes. “Their enthusiasm and excitement were amazing,” he says of the MicroMasters participants, some of whom met him in person at the finals and described how the experience had already changed their lives.</p> <p>More than 1,100 learners finished all five of the required courses, he says, and there was a great deal of interaction among them, the faculty, and an army of volunteer “community teaching assistants” who responded to all learners’ queries. The teaching team had decided that all such queries should be answered within an hour, so “The scale of it makes it very difficult,” says Sheffi, who is the Elisha Gray II Professor of Engineering at MIT. But the process worked, and participants around the world responded with enthusiasm. “The impact is enormous,” he adds.</p> <p>Sheffi estimates that it would take roughly 350-580 years of teaching traditional MIT classes in supply chain management to teach a comparable number of students as were reached through the MicroMasters program. In the end, more than 750 learners chose the extra step of taking the in-person final exam, on which a passing grade could earn them a MicroMasters credential in supply chain management as well as the opportunity for a mixed online and residential master’s degree.</p> <p>Those who passed can now qualify for a master’s program even if they lack many of the traditional application requirements, including GRE scores or even an undergraduate degree. Since their progress through the classes has been monitored and recorded, click by click, “We know about these students,” Sheffi says. “We don’t have to rely on a letter from a professor we don’t know.”</p> <p>The fact that these learners have completed the five required classes “shows grit,” says Chris Caplice, director of the MicroMasters program in supply chain management and executive director of the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics, who taught most of the classes. “They’ve spent a lot of time working on this to advance their careers.”</p> <p>The participants spanned a wide range of nationalities, ages, and backgrounds. They ranged from supply-chain professionals with decades of experience who wanted to expand their skills, to a pair of 14-year-old twins looking toward future career possibilities. Those teaching the classes were surprised by the number and diversity of the participants.</p> <p>Sanjay Sarma, vice president for open learning and the Fred Fort Flowers and Daniel Fort Flowers Professor in Mechanical Engineering, says “I’m over the moon” about the outcome of this first experiment with an <em>MITx</em> MicroMasters. “When you create a program like this, there’s a lot of guesswork — informed, but still guesswork. So I’m very pleased and pleasantly surprised” by the response. Clearly, he says, “there’s a huge unmet need here. These are not easy courses. It’s a lot of work, but people have taken the effort to do it.”</p> <p>Paulina Gisbrecht, a logistics manager with a German power company who earned the MicroMasters certificate, says, “What we learned was on the one hand challenging and complex enough to reflect the real-world problems, but on the other hand still sufficiently simple to be understood well.”</p> <p>“I've enjoyed being challenged academically in my own professional field,” says Bill Seliger, director of supply chain at LSC Communications in Chicago. “As a lifelong learner, a supply chain practitioner, and an educator, it's been a honor and a pleasure to be able to take part in these classes.”</p> <p>Michel Groenner, a senior logistics analyst at Votorantim Cimentos, in São Paulo, Brazil, plans to follow up the online learning with the full hybrid master’s program. He says, “I looked for this course to reinforce some concepts of SCM, and I ended up enjoying it so much that I am completing the credential. I plan to apply for the blended master’s degree in SCM. I was very impressed to see that the concepts covered in the course were extremely close to my daily life.”</p> <p>The program has also reached many learners who would have been unlikely or unable ever to take part in a residential master’s program like MIT’s. Moses Mfune of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, says “I’m convinced beyond doubt that supply chain management could offer a very good reason for the poor state of economic performance in many African countries. Teaching SCM and making others understand the importance of SCM will not only be beneficial to individuals or small and medium enterprises, but to my country too.”</p> <p>Sarma sees this project as a great example of MIT’s strengths: “We’re meritocratic; we search for merit and talent. Our exclusivity is our inclusivity, in that sense.” The MicroMasters program embodies that concept, providing multiple advantages, he says.</p> <p>First, it makes the knowledge and learning associated with an MIT credential more broadly accessible than ever. It also provides a way of identifying talent, no matter where in the world it may be. And, it provides people who are already working in the field a way to hone their skills, without having to leave their jobs to do so.</p> <p>For those who get admitted to the hybrid master’s program, the ability to transform the effort of a semester’s worth of online learning into a semester of credit toward a full MIT master’s, Sarma says, “helps to establish [the MicroMasters] as a credit equivalent. It is signaling that it’s good enough for us.”</p> <p>The <a href=";utm_medium=partner-marketing&amp;utm_source=referral&amp;utm_content=mm-scm-fl17-mitnews-jun20">next course</a> of the MicroMasters program in supply chain management starts on Sept. 13.</p> MIT’s inaugural MicroMasters program in supply chain management drew more than 180,000 learners of all ages, from around the world. More than 1,100 learners finished all five of the courses required to earn the MicroMasters credential. Office of Digital Learning, MITx, Supply chains, online learning, Massive open online courses (MOOCs), graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral, Technology and society, Classes and programs, EdX, Center for Transportation and Logistics Danielle Olson: Building empathy through computer science and art CSAIL PhD student creates immersive media to help users understand each other’s backgrounds and feelings. Tue, 30 May 2017 23:59:59 -0400 Rachel Gordon | CSAIL <p>Communicating through computers has become an extension of our daily reality. But as speaking via screens has become commonplace, our exchanges are losing inflection, body language, and empathy.</p> <p>Danielle Olson ’14, a first-year PhD student at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), believes we can make digital information-sharing more natural and interpersonal, by creating immersive media to better understand each other’s feelings and backgrounds.</p> <p>Olson’s research focuses on inventing and analyzing new forms of media, from gaming experiences to interactive narratives. Through a course last fall, she contributed to “<a href="">The Enemy</a>,” a virtual reality experience that lets users stand “face-to-face” with soldiers from opposing sides of global conflicts.</p> <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p>The project is the brainchild of photojournalist Karim Ben Khelifa, who worked on it with Fox Harrell, an associate professor of digital media with appointments in the MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing Program and CSAIL. Khelifa traveled to places such as Israel, Palestine, and El Salvador to interview soldiers from different sides of conflicts. Under the guidance of Harrell, Olson helped work on algorithms that analyzed users’ body language in different scenarios. That information was then incorporated into the live experience: As the user listens to the soldiers, they can dynamically respond based on the user’s behavior.</p> <p>Khelifa describes “The Enemy” as an effort to enable the public to develop more meaningful relationships to world events than they would simply by reading news articles.</p> <p>“You’re looking someone in the eye as they describe death and war conflicts, and seeing their facial expressions and body language,” Olson says. “There’s a different level of empathy that you can cultivate with these sorts of technologies.”</p> <p>Her other areas of research follow a similar thread of building empathy by examining different cultures. As part of Harrell’s Imagination, Computation, and Expression Laboratory, she’s working on developing interactive narrative experiences to help kids practice dealing with social identity issues. For example, one game involves an elf trying to get past a gatekeeper from a different clan, who may try managing the impressions others have of their identity to get past the gate. This work has already gained attention from notable artists like rapper Lupe Fiasco, who came into Harrell’s lab at MIT and offered feedback. &nbsp;</p> <p>Growing up, Olson got a late start to coding. As a kid she wasn't one to play video games or pull apart computers, and didn't even know what MIT was until she watched “Iron Man” as a high-schooler. At 17 she was accepted to MIT's Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science Program (MITES) program, and she returned the following year as an undergraduate.</p> <p>She says that her passion for education comes from her mother, who came to the U.S. from Cameroon with only an eighth-grade education before going on to earn her master’s degree.</p> <p>“I always hear my mom’s voice saying that education is the one thing nobody can take away from you,” Olson says.</p> <p>As an MIT senior she founded <a href="">Gique</a>, a nonprofit focused on teaching local students skills in STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts, and math — embracing the intersection of art and technology. Her team creates hands-on curricula, experiments, and activities to help students develop more holistic viewpoints of the world.</p> <p>“A 2008 study on ‘No Child Left Behind’ showed that half of the nation's districts decreased class time for art, drama, history, and science, which left students with a narrow learning environment,” she says. “We need to fight back against policies that discourage interdisciplinary education.”</p> <p>Olson says that it’s vital for people in power to use their influence to help give underrepresented groups more access to resources that can level the playing field.&nbsp;</p> <p>“I had access to programs like FIRST Robotics and MITES because I didn’t have to pay for them,” she says. “They’re sponsored by people who put their money where their mouth is and who aren’t just acknowledging the need for workplace diversity: They’re actually taking steps to invest directly in people of color."</p> <p>Outside of her research and educational work, Olson feeds her creative pursuits, whether it’s cooking, reading comic books, or taking care of her pet rabbit and cat.</p> <p>“I see my place as raising the next generation of computer science warriors who ingrain their culture into the fabric of computing,” she says. “I think it’s important to build systems that aren’t catered only to certain populations, but actually represent many values and bolster our political capital as developers, engineers, and makers.”</p> <p><u>Fast Facts</u></p> <p><strong>Favorite place for news: </strong>Twitter</p> <p><strong>One thing people would be surprised to know about her: </strong>She was an MIT cheerleader. The year she started and served as co-captain was the first time in MIT history that the cheerleading team went to nationals.</p> <p><strong>Advice to incoming students: </strong>“You’re going to have failures. The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried. Make sure you have an identity outside of research, so it’s not threatened when you hit a bump in the road.”</p> <p><strong>Her tech role model:</strong> Stacie LeSure Gregory, a postdoc at the American Association of University Women (AAUW). “She’s dedicated her career to empowering women and underrepresented groups in STEM.”</p> PhD student Danielle Olson believes we can make digital information-sharing more natural and interpersonal, by creating immersive media to better understand each other’s feelings and backgrounds.Photo: Jason Dorfman/CSAILProfile, Students, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Arts, Photography, Augmented and virtual reality, Video games, Artificial intelligence, Social media, School of Engineering, SHASS, Women in STEM, Diversity and inclusion, Office of Engineering Outreach Program (OEOP), Alumni/ae, STEM education Two from MIT recognized as outstanding engineering leaders Grad students Kristen Railey and Alexander Feldstein were named to the Aviation Week Network’s “20 Twenties” for 2017. Wed, 15 Mar 2017 17:05:01 -0400 Meg Cichon | Lincoln Laboratory <p>Alexander Feldstein '15, an MIT graduate student in aerospace engineering, and Kristen Railey '13, an MIT graduate student in mechanical engineering and former technical staff member in MIT Lincoln Laboratory’s Advanced Undersea Systems and Technology Group, were selected as two of the Aviation Week Network’s “20 Twenties” for 2017.</p> <p>The "Tomorrow's Engineering Leaders: The 20 Twenties" awards program recognizes the top science, technology, engineering, and math undergraduate and graduate students for their academic excellence, research and projects they undertake, and their contributions to the broader community. The 2017 winners were honored during Aviation Week's 60th Annual Laureate Awards on March 2 at the National Building Museum in Washington.</p> <p>"One of the pillars of our service to the aerospace community is actively engaging and developing next-generation technology talent who are essential to the future of this exceptional industry," said Greg Hamilton, Aviation Week Network president. "Truly, this year's nominees and winners represent the best in terms of their talent, their creativity, and their ability."</p> <p>In collaboration with the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), the Aviation Week Network reviewed nominations from 37 universities. This year’s nomination pool was particularly competitive, with more than 70 of the top scores differing by just hundredths of a point.</p> <p>Railey first worked with Lincoln Laboratory in 2012 as an undergraduate in the MIT Engineering Systems Design and Engineering Systems Development courses, which are capstone courses sponsored by Beaver Works. As part of a 25-member team, Railey worked to create a novel power supply system for unmanned underwater vehicles that produces hydrogen from a reaction between aluminum and seawater.</p> <p>In 2014, Railey joined Lincoln Laboratory as assistant staff in the Rapid Prototyping Group and then moved to the Advanced Capabilities and Systems Group. In 2015, she joined the then newly developed Advanced Undersea Systems and Technology Group, where she programmed, designed, and analyzed robotic underwater military defense systems and their components. During her time at the laboratory, Railey was heavily involved in outreach programs. She founded the Girls Who Build workshop series, which encourages young women to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. For example, the Girls Who Build Cameras workshop teaches girls how to build a Raspberry Pi camera and how to program Instagram-like image filters. Railey also published online curricula for the Make Your Own Wearables and Girls Who Build Cameras workshops for students and educators to freely download. MIT also offers the workshops among its online coursework.</p> <p>“Kristen has been an impressive force in the impact she had made on students in STEM initiatives. Her efforts in inspiring young girls to get interested in engineering through creative workshops has been very effective.” said David Granchelli, manager of the Communications and Community Outreach Office at Lincoln Laboratory. “Kristen reminds girls at the workshops that they can do anything and pursue any career that they want by believing in themselves and working hard.”</p> <p>In 2016, Railey became a PhD candidate in the MIT/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute joint program, which is considered one of the world’s most prestigious graduate degree programs in marine science. During the two-year Oceanographic Engineering program, Railey will focus her research on signal processing and autonomy in underwater robotics. She is also a joint Draper and National Defense Science and Engineering Fellow. Railey holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from MIT.</p> <p>Alexander Feldstein is a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in the MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AeroAstro). His research focuses on multi-fidelity, uncertainty quantification, and design under uncertainty techniques for complex system design. He has held internships working on aircraft design at the Cessna Aircraft Company (now Textron Aviation) and The Boeing Company.</p> <p>During his undergraduate studies, he worked as a student researcher at the Aerospace Computational Design Laboratory, aiding in the design of an optimization algorithm chooser. He was also a researcher at MIT’s Gas Turbine Laboratory, where he assisted with wind tunnel testing of the D8 model aircraft.</p> <p>During his senior year of undergraduate work, he was the co-winner of the MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering de Florez Award for a project on the use of zero-net mass-flux jets for wing flutter control. Feldstein was also recognized with the AeroAstro Teaching Assistantship Award. He holds a bachelor’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics from MIT.</p> <p>The Aviation Week Network is the largest multimedia information and services provider for the global aviation, aerospace, and defense industries. The “20 Twenties” awards were established in 2009 in partnership with Raytheon Company.</p> The Aviation Week Network’s 2017 “20 Twenties” winners were honored during an awards ceremony in March. MIT graduate students Kristen Railey (front row, fourth from left) and Alexander Feldstein (second row from bottom, first from left) were among the honorees.Photo: Chris ZimmerAwards, honors and fellowships, Students, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral, Mechanical engineering, Aeronautical and astronautical engineering, Woods Hole, Lincoln Laboratory, School of Engineering, Women in STEM, STEM education, K-12 education, Aviation Iodine may protect batteries MIT, Carnegie Mellon researchers explore “self-healing” batteries with new metal-halide solid electrolyte material. Wed, 08 Mar 2017 17:50:01 -0500 Denis Paiste | Materials Processing Center <p>Researchers at MIT and Carnegie Mellon University are studying a new kind of electrolyte for “self-healing” lithium battery cells, which will be formed by adding a halide element such as iodine, under a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The work could lead to longer driving range, lower cost electric vehicle batteries.</p> <p>MIT’s Kyocera Professor of Materials Science and Engineering&nbsp;<a dir="ltr" href="" target="_blank">Yet-Ming Chiang</a>&nbsp;and Carnegie Mellon University assistant professor of mechanical engineering&nbsp;<a dir="ltr" href="" target="_blank">Venkat Viswanathan</a>&nbsp;received first-year funding of $456,742 through Sept. 30. The project has the potential to receive up to $1.25 million over three years.</p> <p>“One of the most promising pathways to higher energy density vehicle batteries is to use metal electrodes such as lithium. However, to do so requires that we solve a problem first recognized 40 years ago. Even though lithium metal has been widely used in disposable batteries, it has not been possible to use them in batteries that undergo repeated charging,” Chiang says.</p> <p>Through a combination of computer modeling work at CMU and experimental tests at MIT, the researchers hope to show that halide-enriched battery cells can electrochemically form a lithium-halide-based solid electrolyte to protect lithium metal electrodes. Electrolytes are the barrier through which the active elements of a battery, for example, lithium ions, cycle back and forth between a positive electrode and a negative electrode.</p> <p>The researchers hope the combination of a lithium-halide solid electrolyte with lithium metal negative electrodes will slow or prevent the buildup of icicle-like metal filaments, known as “dendrites,” that build up on the metal electrode. This unwanted buildup eventually leads to battery failure. The researchers believe the iodine-enhanced electrolyte may offer a “self-healing” process that protects the electrode from sprouting these dendrites. Under this project, they will develop prototype batteries, whose performance can be compared to similar lithium batteries without halide additives.</p> <p>MIT postdoc Linsen Li and undergraduate senior Harry Thaman are working on the MIT portion of the project.</p> <p>The project is one of 35 that the U.S. Department of Energy <a dir="ltr" href="" target="_blank">selected</a>&nbsp;last year to develop advanced vehicle batteries and electric drive systems.</p> Kyocera Professor of Materials Science and Engineering ‪Yet-Ming Chiang (left), is working with MIT senior Harry Thaman (center) and postdoc Linsen Li to study a new kind of electrolyte for “self-healing” lithium battery cells, which will be formed by adding a halide element such as iodine.Photo courtesy of the researchers.Research, Funding, Energy, Materials Science and Engineering, DMSE, Batteries, School of Engineering, Faculty, Students, Undergraduate, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral Brandon Sorbom: Designing a fusion future PhD candidate explores a faster, high-magnetic-field pathway to fusion energy. Mon, 23 Jan 2017 16:10:01 -0500 Paul Rivenberg | Plasma Science and Fusion Center <p>When Brandon Sorbom injured his hip, he did not realize how it would help his future in fusion research.</p> <p>The MIT Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering (NSE) graduate student, now in his sixth year at MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center, is researching how much radiation magnetic materials in fusion tokamak reactors can endure before they are compromised. He is specifically interested in high-temperature superconductors, a recently commercialized class of superconductor that could reduce the size and expense of future fusion projects.</p> <p>It was an injury to his hip as an undergraduate member of the Loyola Marymount University rowing team that provided Sorbom with the time he needed to discover and work on fusion. The injury, serious enough to require surgery, kept him off the crew for nine months. But a combination of savings and an academic scholarship allowed him to stay for a fifth year in college and redeem his lost rowing season.</p> <p>Given the extra year, Sorbom had time to double-major in electrical engineering and engineering physics — and to find fusion.</p> <p>“I was interested in clean energy. In a physics textbook, on literally the last page, they made a reference to fusion, ‘the power source of the future.’ I was intrigued and decided to find out more.”</p> <p>Fusion, the energy source of the sun and stars, has provided physicists with one of their most challenging pursuits. In nature, huge gravitational forces and high temperatures keep the plasma in stars fusing, burning and producing energy. Replicating this process in a laboratory experiment requires a machine, such as a tokamak, that can produce high magnetic fields to contain the plasma, while heating it to temperatures even higher than the sun.</p> <p>The more Sorbom read, the more excited he became, discovering a hobbyist community online dedicated to building Farnsworth fusors, tabletop experiments capable of producing fusion reactions. He convinced the physics department to underwrite the construction of his own fusor, building and running it over the course of a year and a half, until he graduated.</p> <p>His experience with the fusor, however, did not prove comprehensive enough to land him in the freshman class of any of the fusion graduate programs he had applied to. But by now Sorbom was hooked on fusion, and his first choice was MIT.</p> <p>“I had a little money saved, enough to float me for six months. So I packed my bags and flew to Boston. I decided to take an extension class at MIT and knock on doors to find a job in a lab.”</p> <p>NSE professor Ian Hutchinson’s class 22.105 (Electricity and Magnetism) introduced Sorbom to the Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC), part of MIT’s energy corridor on Albany Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His year of study, and temp work for the PSFC, provided him with the experience he had lacked, and he entered MIT in 2011 as a graduate student.</p> <p>Today, Sorbom is an integral part of the PSFC’s fusion program. His current study of the effects of radiation on high temperature superconductors used for fusion research stems from a design class he took from PSFC director and NSE Professor Dennis Whyte. Whyte challenged the class to use any current technology to design as small a fusion pilot plant as possible, while matching the projected performance of ITER, the large, international fusion project being built in France.</p> <p>“ITER is a tremendously exciting experiment but has a size problem. If you could somehow shrink that device you could build it faster and cheaper. This would kick us out of the fusion development cycle where we’ve been building bigger and bigger machines. You don’t want to build a demo that is even bigger than ITER because based on our experience with ITER, a larger device would take decades to build.”</p> <p>Whyte’s class was able to design a smaller, modular fusion reactor that made use of new high-temperature superconducting tape. After the class finished, Sorbom and other classmates fleshed out some of the less-developed ideas in the original presentation, and, with the assistance of Whyte, published a preconceptual design in the journal <em>Fusion Engineering and Design</em>.</p> <p>The concept, now known as ARC, is in the line of high-field fusion reactor designs the PSFC has long promoted, most recently with the Alcator C-Mod tokamak, which had its record-setting final run last September. ARC is designed to explore all the possibilities of high temperature superconductors in a fusion device.</p> <p>Sorbom soon proposed research that could help take the ARC concept one step further — or smaller. It would require testing how long the high-temperature superconductor (HTS) tapes used to control the plasma could survive the radiation created by the fusion process, and discovering how much shielding they would need.</p> <p>“I started looking around at the lab spaces we have at MIT and I said, ‘Hey, we have a fission reactor, we have accelerators, we have a magnet group: We have all this infrastructure to do a lot of this testing here. So I pitched the idea to Dennis to do this HTS radiation damage testing.’”</p> <p>Sorbom plans to test the new magnet technology to failure.</p> <p>“We want to go to as high fluence as we can and push these tapes to their limit. This research is trying to answer the fundamental question of how long the HTS tapes will last under the specific conditions in a compact, modular fusion reactor. This has big implications for how small you can build things and how long you can run a plant.”</p> <p>Sorbom explains that the PSFC has designed the magnet technology in ARC conservatively, based on data collected for ITER. Since ITER is larger, it has much more shielding and not as much radiation at the magnet.</p> <p>“But we want to get rid of as much shielding between the plasma and magnets as possible to shrink the device. So determining the limits of how much radiation these tapes can take could have potentially far-reaching effects for how reactors are designed.”</p> <p>Sorbom is excited by how the ARC concept has taken hold of the imagination at the center.</p> <p>“Now it’s driving a lot of development within PSFC. It’s really humbling to be part of the project that is leading the path of one of the foremost fusion centers in the world.”</p> “I was interested in clean energy. In a physics textbook, on literally the last page, they made a reference to fusion, ‘the power source of the future.’ I was intrigued and decided to find out more,” says PhD candidate Brandon Sorbom.Photo: Lillie Paquette/MIT School of EngineeringFusion, Students, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral, Profile, Nuclear science and engineering, School of Engineering, Plasma Science and Fusion Center, Alternative energy, Energy How engineering students are seeking to solve major food and water security problems Students with a common passion for food and water security share their research at the MIT Water and Food Security Symposium. Mon, 09 Jan 2017 15:45:01 -0500 Carolyn Schmitt | Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering <p>Food and water are two necessities for survival, but what happens when a changing climate in key agricultural regions threatens crop production? Or when the quality of milk cannot be ensured as it is exchanged between producer and seller?</p> <p>Seven MIT graduate students studying food and water security issues presented their research and preliminary findings on issues such as these during the MIT Water and Food Security Student Symposium held on Nov. 21. Hosted by the MIT Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) and the MIT Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab (J-WAFS), the event brought together professors and students to discuss food and water challenges and opportunities to address these through research.</p> <p>Chandra Madramootoo, CEE visiting professor and J-WAFS visiting scholar, curated the event and spoke briefly of the importance of water and food security. “The withdrawal of water varies in different parts of the world. Much larger amounts of water are withdrawn for agriculture compared to industry and domestic uses in South Asia, Middle East, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and East Asia Pacific. This puts stresses on water resources available for food production and our ability to achieve food security. It also puts stress on a very finite resource amongst the other economic and environmental sectors that are competing for that water supply,” Madramootoo highlighted in his opening remarks.&nbsp;</p> <p>During the event, each student presenter was tasked with conveying a broad overview of his or her research in a five minute presentation. There was a wide range of topics, but each student sought to solve a problem relating to food or water. Presentations addressed research as varied as understanding the impact of an environmental threat to agriculture to developing improved irrigation technology to help smallholder farmers around the world.</p> <p><strong>Understanding food and water through an environmental lens </strong></p> <p>Paige Midstokke, a master’s candidate in CEE and a Tata Fellow in Technology and Policy, kicked off the student component of the symposium. Through her research, Midstokke is seeking to improve the drought planning process by researching water security for the state of Maharashtra in India. Since most water planning and management is done at the district level, Midstokke is conducting a case study, focusing on the Aurangabad district.</p> <p>For her thesis, Midstokke is developing a “vulnerability-scarcity index” that integrates socioeconomic data, pumping rates from observation wells, and geographic information system data. “If you work with the government of India, they have a ton of data and they are often willing to give it to you; you get to decide how to put it all together,” she said. Her index is intended to improve early indicators of drought and thus improve water scarcity planning at the district and local levels.</p> <p>Anjuli Jain Figueroa, a PhD candidate in CEE, introduced her research by asking if the question of “sustainable agriculture” is an oxymoron. She noted that historically, increased food production has had negative environmental impacts. Her research, entitled “Sustainable agriculture – quantifying the trade-offs between food security and environmental impacts,” uses case studies from India to describe this trend.</p> <p>During her presentation, Jain Figueroa provided an example of a trade-off she is studying, wherein profit increased for farmers, but there was an unforeseen negative impact. “We see this in a shift that happened with rice. India is growing a lot of rice but it has come at a cost; the cost was nutritional value. Even though families are making more money, the nutritional value for that household decreased. That’s one of the unintended consequences we’re only realizing now,” Jain Figueroa said. She is now working to solve problems like these in her thesis by using a systems approach to study how farmers could increase crop production to meet 2050 population needs, while limiting the negative environmental impacts.</p> <p>Luke Schiferl, a PhD candidate in CEE, added a global perspective to food and water security. Schiferl looks at how air quality affects crop productivity on a global scale and how these effects can be quantified. In his research project “Contrasting particulate matter and ozone effects on crop production,” he uses crop production simulations and chemistry models to quantify the offsetting effects of ozone and particulate matter on crop productivity. This research can suggest how crop production losses can be properly mitigated by air quality improvements once the effects are understood.</p> <p>“We can relate ozone and particulate matter effects with known relationships to crop production and basically plot the different effects,” he said. In the future, Schiferl hopes to apply similar research to simulate the effects water and nutrient restrictions have on these air quality effects and predicting crop productivity.</p> <p><strong>Creating tools and technology to solve food and water security issues </strong></p> <p>Four student contributors to the symposium presented on technological solutions to various environmental issues. Many of these innovative tools are already in use and tested, ready to make positive changes for food and water security around the world.&nbsp;</p> <p>Kevin Patrick Simon, a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering, lent the energy perspective to the water and agriculture discussion. Energy is needed to access water sources with pumps, but energy supply from electricity grids and water sources are distributed unequally across India. In rural India, small farmers still use diesel to run their water pumps. Unfortunately, the cost of diesel discourages year-round cultivation in favor of lower-paying jobs during the winter and dry season. Simon is seeking a solution with his research on “High efficiency, low-cost positive displacement pumps for solar irrigation.”</p> <p>The central question to Simon’s research — “How can we enable people to have better access to water in order to irrigate their land?” — is addressed in part by solar irrigation. He explained the numerous benefits of solar irrigation, including its potential for cost-savings, independence from the electricity grid and environmental sustainability. “It gives small farmers an unprecedented amount of independence and an ability to draw income from their land,” he said.</p> <p>Pulkit Shamshery, also a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering, is taking a different approach to irrigation by making drip irrigation systems more energy-efficient and more accessible to small farmers. Shamshery noted that 15 percent of India’s food production is dependent on over-exploited water resources; “there is an extreme need for more food with less water, and that’s the motivation for drip irrigation.” Advantages of drip irrigation are increased water savings and higher yields. Additionally, farmers can use less fertilizer by only applying it where it is needed. However, drip irrigation is typically a costly endeavor, which led Shamshery to his project “Low cost, energy-efficient drip irrigation system.”</p> <p>Along with a research team, Shamshery looked at where the most pressure was being lost in irrigation systems when using them to retrieve water from surface sources, and then figured out how to reduce that pressure loss. The team created an off-grid product to make irrigation more efficient and available at a lower cost. Shamshery’s component is patent-pending and will be licensed, and the pressure loss results in a cut of cost of an off-grid drip system by 50 percent for an acre of land.</p> <p>“In the United States you can buy milk off the shelf and not worry about any contamination, but that’s not true for developing countries,” said Pranay Jain, Legatum Fellow and PhD candidate in mechanical engineering. Jain highlighted the public health and economic consequences of milk contamination in India, noting that when people don’t trust the quality of milk that is sold to them, the milk industry suffers.&nbsp;</p> <p>Jain’s research project, “Milk quality analysis for villages in India,” addresses the question: “If milk changes hands so many times before it reaches the consumer, how can these buyers and sellers trust each other?” Jain’s solution was to create an affordable, portable instrument to quickly and accurately determine the quality of milk as it moves through the supply chain from farm to grocery store, and to help improve payment mechanisms. By testing the quality of milk on the spot, “the supply chain simplifies; more farmers opt to sell their milk to processing plants, these plants can get more milk, they will pay the farmer more accurately and both sides benefit.” The device is also powered by mobile phones and collects data; the data collected by the device will be saved in the cloud, allowing for researchers to observe trends and monitor the health of their livestock.&nbsp;</p> <p>In India, approximately one out of every five crates of produce is lost due to spoilage, but Kendall Nowocin, Legatum Fellow and PhD candidate in electrical engineering and computer science, is tackling that problem with CoolCrop, a storage apparatus for small farmers. The storage unit is about the size of a walk-in closet and extends the freshness of their produce.</p> <p>CoolCrop is already being piloted through cooperatives involving non-governmental organizations, and their use is augmented with market analytics. Following supply-and-demand, farmers get the most value for their crops if they are in markets with fewer competitors. CoolCrop fills this void by providing market analytics to small farmers, so they know which markets will increase their profit. Explaining their business model, he said that they “can extract an initial profit that pays for the cold storage and increases the value for the farmer.”&nbsp;</p> <p>CEE Professor Dennis McLaughlin noted in the closing remarks that although most of the research shared at the symposium was centered on India, other developing areas around the world are dealing with similar issues.</p> <p>The MIT Water and Food Security Student Symposium was the final component of a seminar series hosted by Chandra Madramootoo. Commenting that on the importance of water security, he said “I think it’s important when we think about water in the broader context, to think about the competition that’s placed between agricultural water and other sources of water. It’s this competing pressure for resources that we need to think about.”</p> Kevin Patrick Simon (left) sets solar panels in place with villagers at a pilot site in Jharkhand, India. Simon, an MIT PhD candidate in mechanical engineering, is studying solar irrigation. Photo courtesy of Kevin Patrick Simon.Civil and environmental engineering, Mechanical engineering, Global, India, Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab (J-WAFS), Food, Water, Tata Center, School of Engineering, Students, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral, International development, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Poverty, Special events and guest speakers, J-WAFS Letter to the community reaffirming MIT&#039;s support for students Sat, 03 Dec 2016 22:16:47 -0500 MIT News Office <p><em>The following email was sent Thursday to the MIT community from Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart.</em></p> <p>To the members of the MIT community,<br /> &nbsp;<br /> In President Reif's <a href="">message</a> of November 9, he reminded us that, “Whatever may change in Washington ... it will not change the values and mission that unite us.” I write today to update you on our work to fulfill this pledge, and the steps we are taking to protect the safety and wellbeing of our students.<br /> &nbsp;<br /> <strong>Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)</strong><br /> &nbsp;<br /> The election has created uncertainty about the future of DACA and, as a result, understandable concern for our undocumented students. We have met with these students to understand and respond to their needs, and we will continue to do so.<br /> &nbsp;<br /> I say to you what we have said to them in person: MIT's commitment to our undocumented students will not change. We will do everything we can that is legally permissible to continue to enroll undocumented students and ensure they have the same student life and learning experience as documented students.<br /> &nbsp;<br /> In addition to meeting undocumented students' immediate and long term needs, MIT has reaffirmed its unequivocal support for the continuation and expansion of DACA. Last week, President Reif joined over 400 other university and college presidents from across the nation in signing an <strong>open letter</strong> citing the “moral imperative” and “national necessity” of the program.<br /> &nbsp;<br /> <strong>Federal immigration law enforcement</strong><br /> &nbsp;<br /> In the days since the election, questions have arisen about MIT's role in enforcing federal immigration laws. Like the City of Cambridge, MIT Police have a longstanding practice of not inquiring about individual's immigration status, and our officers do not enforce federal immigration laws.<br /> &nbsp;<br /> Moreover, MIT does not voluntarily share information about the immigration status of our undocumented students, and law enforcement officials seeking to enter our community are expected to alert MIT Police first.<br /> &nbsp;<br /> To prepare for possible changes to current federal law and agency practices, Vice President and General Counsel Mark DiVincenzo has been working with his team and outside legal experts to better understand these complex issues. His office has created a helpful <a href="">Frequently Asked Questions</a> document with more information about DACA, federal immigration rules, and how to obtain legal advice. This document will be updated regularly to account for new developments or requests for information.<br /> &nbsp;<br /> <strong>Establishing a working group</strong><br /> &nbsp;<br /> I am in the process of establishing a working group of faculty, students, and staff that will be responsible for helping to address potential changes to federal policy and law that limit student access to MIT or ability to thrive here. I am pleased Associate Professor of History and Secretary of the Faculty Christopher Capozzola has agreed to chair this group. &nbsp;<br /> &nbsp;<br /> We are working to finalize the group's membership and charge before the end of the semester. I believe it will enable us to respond nimbly to new federal rules or laws in a manner consistent with MIT's core values and mission.<br /> &nbsp;<br /> <strong>Caring for ourselves and others</strong><br /> &nbsp;<br /> The free exchange of ideas and beliefs is the lifeblood of academic institutions — something that we all have a responsibility to vigorously defend. MIT's commitment to protecting and encouraging freedom of speech, regardless of policy preferences or political viewpoints, must remain steadfast.<br /> &nbsp;<br /> Sadly, national reports of intolerance, harassment, discrimination, and violence are on the rise. To protect every MIT community members' rights, safety, and wellbeing, we have longstanding <a href="">policies</a> against bias, harassment, and discrimination, and processes in place to report violations of these policies. Human Resources, the Division of Student Life, the Offices of the Dean for Graduate and Undergraduate Education, the Ombuds Office, and the MIT Police are among the offices available to assist any community member who is subject to a bias-related incident.<br /> &nbsp;<br /> The Division of Student Life, Title IX Office, and other departments are currently reviewing existing reporting processes to ensure they are easy to access, coordinated, and responsive to community members' needs.<br /> &nbsp;<br /> In addition to being in the midst of an uncertain, anxious political climate, we are entering the most stressful time of the term. As a result, we all must be mindful of our own health and wellness. MindHandHeart has compiled <a href="">a list of December community events</a> related to wellness, mental health, stress relief, and post-election dialogue.<br /> &nbsp;<br /> Students have told me time and again how much they appreciate faculty members who acknowledge and discuss issues that impact students' academic and personal wellbeing. The Office of Student Support and Wellbeing has compiled these <a href="">outreach tips</a> that faculty, as well as staff and peer mentors, may find useful in the days and weeks ahead.<br /> &nbsp;<br /> As we focus on the better world we are committed to creating, I know we will find strength in our community's big, bold ideas — and our even bigger and bolder hearts.<br /> &nbsp;<br /> Sincerely,<br /> &nbsp;<br /> Cynthia Barnhart<br /> Chancellor<br /> &nbsp;<br /> &nbsp;</p> Letters to the Community, Administration, Undergraduate, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral, President L. Rafael Reif, Community Brian Henderson: Experimenting with physics and policy Nuclear Science and Engineering Stanton Fellow Brian Henderson brings his physics experience to bear on nuclear weapons disarmament policies. Mon, 21 Nov 2016 16:12:01 -0500 Elizabeth Dougherty | Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering <p>As a graduate student in MIT’s Laboratory of Nuclear Science (LNS) in the Department of Physics, Brian Henderson applied his skills in physics to study sub-atomic particles, such as protons. He is now the first Stanton Fellow in Nuclear Science and Security in the Laboratory for Nuclear Security and Policy in the MIT Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering (NSE). His job is to put his experience in experimental particle physics to work in the realm of nuclear weapons detection, with an eye for making sure nuclear weapons policies are scientifically plausible.&nbsp;</p> <p>“No one wants me to come here and just build experiments,” says Henderson. “My role is to have a broader perspective, which is very appealing. I’m interested in finding ways for my skills to be useful to society.”</p> <p>Henderson’s projects are related to nuclear weapons detection. In one, he is exploring potential ways to solve the difficult problem of patrolling United States ports for nuclear materials that may be concealed among the tens of thousands of containers arriving in U.S. ports each day. “Cargo containers are generally considered the easiest way to smuggle a nuclear weapon into a populated area,” says Henderson.</p> <p>The strategy may appear simple — scan the cargo and flag containers that could potentially contain a nuclear weapon or weapons material — but it is scientifically tricky. To get a good picture of what’s inside a container, a scanning system must deliver a high dose of radiation. So Henderson and his advisor Areg Danagoulian, assistant professor of NSE, are experimenting with ways of interrogating the cargo with the least amount of radiation possible.</p> <p>The second project is related to a nuclear weapons verification project that supports nuclear disarmament. The technology aims to allow an inspector overseeing a treaty-driven nuclear weapons dismantlement process to authenticate a weapon with confidence yet still have no access to the classified information about that weapon’s design. Henderson’s first job is to help put together an experimental setup that mimics a real warhead in need of verification. He is also working with scenarios involving fake nuclear weapons designed to defy the system.</p> <p>“I joined this group to bring my experimental experience to these problems,” says Henderson. “The plans in place are sound on paper, but what we need to do now is build an experiment.”</p> <p>As an undergraduate at Rice University, Henderson majored in physics and mathematics and participated in several undergraduate research projects in particle physics. Experiences working at Brookhaven National Laboratory and at Cornell University convinced him that his role in particle physics was as an experimentalist — working with particle detectors and accelerators and simulations of particle interactions — and not as a theorist.</p> <p>Henderson wanted to continue work on particle physics in graduate school, but he didn’t want to participate in the very large experiments, such as those at the Large Hadron Collider. Experiments there often have thousands of physicists participating and writing papers together. “I wanted to work on a small team experiment,” he says.</p> <p>There are few to choose from, but he found one at MIT’s Laboratory for Nuclear Science. He studied hadronic physics and focused on particles like protons and neutrons. He worked on an experiment called OLYMPUS with a goal of learning more about the composition of protons. It is understood that protons are not elemental particles; they are made of other particles. But it isn’t clear how those particles are distributed within the proton.&nbsp;</p> <p>OLYMPUS, like most experiments in particle physics, is designed to uncover more about the composition of the proton by shooting things at it. “It’s a bit like having a hard object in a paper bag and shooting BBs at the bag to try to learn more about what’s inside,” says Henderson. “It’s the same with a proton, but we’re probing at a much smaller scale.”</p> <p>These types of experiments inform theories about protons and neutrons and also about how most of the mass we experience in the world arises, which is still somewhat of a mystery. Henderson’s work was narrowly focused. He contributed to a specific test of a single hypothesis about two competing methods of making the same measurement. The two methods produce different results, underscoring a gap in physicists’ understanding of the underlying physics. Henderson’s project was part of an effort to close that gap.&nbsp;</p> <p>Instead of pursuing a career with a continued focus on such fundamental science, when Henderson completed his PhD in 2016, he wanted to apply his skills more broadly. He found a match at NSE. “I’m working on bigger questions not only from a scientific perspective, but also from a societal perspective,” he says.</p> “I’m working on bigger questions not only from a scientific perspective, but also from a societal perspective,” says Brian Henderson, Stanton Fellow in Nuclear Science and Security.Photo: Susan YoungProfile, Students, Nuclear security and policy, Security studies and military, School of Science, School of Engineering, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral, Laboratory for Nuclear Science Ten from the Department of Physics honored by the American Physical Society Prize winners include faculty, students, and alumni from all divisions. Wed, 19 Oct 2016 16:55:01 -0400 Department of Physics <p>Ten affiliates of the MIT Department of Physics are among those recently honored with prizes and fellowships by the the <a href="" target="_blank">American Physical Society</a> (APS). The awardees include six faculty, three alumni, and a former Pappalardo Fellow, representing all divisions within the department. A faculty member in the Department of Mechanical Engineering also joined the new APS fellows, making a total of four from MIT this year.</p> <p>As the leading membership organization for physicists from academia, industry, and the national laboratories, the APS prizes are highly regarded and showcase critical recognition by peers worldwide.</p> <p>“I’m delighted to see how many of our faculty, students and alumni have been honored by the APS this year,” said Peter Fisher, head of the department.</p> <p>The 2016 MIT APS Fellows include:</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">William Detmold</a>, assistant professor of physics, who was elected for his "pioneering work in calculating few-body hadronic systems from first principles using lattice quantum chromodynamics, including the spectrum of the light nuclei and hypernuclei, Bose-condensed multimeson systems, and the first inelastic nuclear reaction.” Affiliated with both the MIT Center for Theoretical Physics and Laboratory for Nuclear Science, Detmold is also a recipient of a U. S. Department of Energy Outstanding Junior Investigator award.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Ahmed Ghoniem</a>, the Ronald C. Crane (1972) Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, for “contributions to computational fluid dynamics with vortex and particle methods, flame modeling for turbulent combustion, and explanation and control of combustion dynamics.” Ghoniem serves as director of MIT's Center for Energy and Propulsion Research and of the Reacting Gas Dynamics Laboratory.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">William Oliver</a>, professor of the practice in physics and principal investigator in MIT's Engineering Quantum Systems Group, and a senior member of the Quantum Information and Integrated Nanosystems Group at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, for “pioneering contributions to the physics and associated engineering of robust, reproducible, superconducting quantum systems and high-performance cryogenic control electronics.” Oliver also serves on the U. S. Committee for Superconducting Electronics.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Martin Zwierlein</a>, professor of physics, in recognition of his “groundbreaking experiments with ultracold Fermi gases.” Zwierlein also received the I.I. Rabi Prize in Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics, for his “seminal studies of ultracold Fermi gases, including precision measurements of the equation of state, the observation of superfluidity, solitons, vortices, and polarons, the realization of a microscope for fermions in a lattice; and the production of chemically stable polar molecules.” Among other honors, he is a recipient of a 2010 Presidential Early Career Award and a 2010 David and Lucille Packard Fellowship.<br /> <br /> Other 2016 APS award winners include:</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Henriette Elvang</a>, associate professor of physics at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and 2005-2008 MIT Pappalardo Fellow in Physics, received the Maria Goeppert Mayer Award for “discovering new types of black holes in higher dimensions, and giving us a deeper understanding of scattering amplitudes in quantum field theory.” Elvang’s previous honors include a 2010 NSF Career Award; a 2013 Cottrell Scholar Award from the Research Corporation for Science Advancement; the University of Michigan 2014 Individual Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education; and a 2015 Henry Russell Award.</p> <p><a href=";display=Research%20Staff" target="_blank">Yonatan Kahn</a> PhD ’15 received the J.J. and Noriko Sakurai Dissertation Award in Theoretical Particle Physics for “proposing a novel method to detect dark photons, for developing halo-independent techniques of direct dark matter detection, and for finding a new viable supersymmetric extension of the standard model.” Kahn earned his PhD at MIT under the supervision of Professor Jesse Thaler, and received the department's 2014 Andrew M. Lockett III Memorial Fund Award. Kahn is currently a postdoc at Princeton University.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Daniel Kleppner</a>, the Lester Wolfe Professor of Physics Emeritus, was awarded the APS Medal for Exceptional Achievement in Research for his “seminal research setting the direction for modern atomic, molecular, and optical physics, including precision measurements with hydrogen masers, the physics of Rydberg atoms and their quantum chaotic behavior in high fields, cavity quantum electrodynamics, and the production of quantum degenerate atomic gases.” The atomic, molecular, and optics physics leader is the second winner of the recently-endowed annual award. In addition to his pioneering research, Kleppner has been a dedicated mentor and educator, whose many awards and honors include the 2006 National Medal of Science and the 2005 Wolf Prize.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Sekazi Mtingwa</a> ’71 was one of three co-winners of the Robert R. Wilson Prize for Achievement in the Physics of Particle Accelerators for his “detailed, theoretical description of intrabeam scattering, which has empowered major discoveries in a broad range of disciplines by a wide variety of accelerators, including hadron colliders, damping rings / linear colliders, and low emittance synchrotron light sources.” The first African-American scientist to receive a prize from the American Physical Society, Mtingwa was also 2001-2003 MLK, Jr., Visiting Professor at MIT. He is currently a principal partner with Triangle Science, Education and Economic Development in North Carolina.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Nicholas Rivera</a> ’16 was named co-winner of the LeRoy Apker Award for contributing to “important advances in the field of photonics and exceptional leadership of the Society of Physics Students.” As an undergraduate, Rivera worked under the supervision of Professor Marin Soljacic in the MIT Photonics and Modern Electromagnetics Group. In 2016, he received the department’s Order of the Lepton Award and was a co-winner of the Joel Matthew Orloff Award for Research and Service. Rivera is a member of Sigma Pi Sigma and Phi Beta Kappa, and is currently a PhD candidate in MIT’s Department of Physics.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Tracy Slatyer</a>, the Jerrold R. Zacharias Career Development Assistant Professor of Physics, received the Henry Primakoff Award for Early-Career Particle Physics for her “innovative theoretical calculations and data analyses of the multi-wavelength sky to probe the nature of dark matter.” A theoretical physicist who works on particle physics, cosmology, and astrophysics, Slatyer is also a co-winner of the 2014 Bruno Rossi Prize of the American Astronomical Society.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Xiao-Gang Wen</a>, the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics, was named a co-winner of the Oliver E. Buckley Condensed Matter Physics Prize for his “theories of topological order and its consequences in a broad range of physical systems.” Given annually, the Buckley Prize recognizes outstanding theoretical or experimental contributions to condensed matter physics. Among other honors, Wen is an APS Fellow; Distinguished Moore Scholar at Caltech; Newton Chair at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, and a Sloan Fellowship recipient.</p> Awards, honors and fellowships, Faculty, Alumni/ae, Students, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral, Physics, Mechanical engineering, School of Science, School of Engineering, Lincoln Laboratory Michael Mitchell wins Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award at the Scientific Interface MIT postdoc is among 10 scientists honored for combining biology with the physical sciences and engineering toward medical breakthroughs. Tue, 05 Jul 2016 17:53:01 -0400 School of Engineering <p>Michael J. Mitchell, a National Institutes of Health Ruth L. Kirschstein postdoc in the lab of&nbsp;Robert&nbsp;Langer at the Koch Institute for Cancer Research at MIT, has won a Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award at the Scientific Interface (CASI).</p> <p>“It’s an honor to be included among the outstanding young investigators from across the nation who won the CASI award,” says Mitchell. “I’m grateful for the incredible support from Bob Langer and the MIT Koch Institute&nbsp;for paving the way for scientists and engineers like myself who work across many disciplines to advance biology and medicine.”</p> <p>He is among 10 researchers who will be provided with $500,000 over five years — as well as job placement, mentoring, and professional networking resources. The awards are meant to help foster the careers of promising academics and celebrate bleeding edge, cross-disciplinary science and engineering.</p> <p>“Of all our research investment programs at the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, this award comes closest towards bridging science fiction with reality — and we can’t wait to see all the ideas and breakthroughs these researchers will contribute to the biomedical world as their careers unfold,” says BWF President John E. Burris.</p> <p>Mitchell, who received his PhD in biomedical engineering with Professor Michael King from Cornell University and his ME/BE from Stevens Institute of Technology, was recognized for his research on developing a new class of materials and devices that detect and treat bone marrow disorders.</p> <p>Currently, Mitchell and Langer are working with clinician-scientists Kenneth Anderson and Ruben Carrasco at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute on novel therapeutics to treat multiple myeloma, an incurable hematologic cancer that colonizes in bone marrow.</p> <p>“Mike has done a wonderful job at Cornell and at MIT, and I'm very hopeful that this prestigious grant will permit him to make important contributions to cancer research," says Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT and a member of the Koch Institute.</p> <p>Past CASI awardees have investigated topics spanning robotic prosthetic limb programming, DNA computing, biomagnetic manipulation of stem cells, and the chemistry of human circadian rhythms.</p> <p>The Burroughs Wellcome Fund is a private, independent foundation dedicated to advancing the biomedical sciences by supporting research and other educational endeavors.</p> Michael Mitchell has been recognized with a Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award at the Scientific Interface for his research on developing a new class of materials and devices that detect and treat bone marrow disorders.Photo: Karin Wang/Harvard UniversityStaff, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral, Awards, honors and fellowships, Biological engineering, Koch Institute Air quality sensors track pollution Research from MIT&#039;s Tata Center for Technology and Design is helping to quantify emissions in the world’s most polluted cities. Wed, 15 Jun 2016 17:54:01 -0400 Ben Miller | Tata Center for Technology and Design <p>Glimpses of blue sky are becoming a rare sight in Delhi, India’s capital, particularly in wintertime, when a thick white haze smothers the city. David Hagan, an MIT PhD candidate studying atmospheric chemistry and a Fellow in the MIT&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Tata Center for Technology and Design</a>, says that the city’s air quality is now quantifiably among the worst in the world.</p> <p>“Beijing has bad episodes, but Delhi is worse because of the meteorology,” says Hagan. “It’s hot, it’s humid, and in the winter an inversion layer settles in. Delhi is a perfect reactor of anthropogenic and biogenic particulates.”</p> <p>Meanwhile, a lack of specific data has frustrated scientists and governments hoping to understand the complex environments of megacities in India and China, where air quality is inextricably linked to energy systems. Emissions in megacities such as Delhi can be traced to a wide variety of sources, including automobiles, fossil fuel-driven power plants, and open burning of biomass for warmth and cooking, each producing different kinds of particles.</p> <p>Hagan and his advisor, Associate Professor&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Jesse Kroll</a>&nbsp;of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, saw this complexity as motivation to design a compact, low-cost air quality sensor that they hope will be deployed in dense networks across cities like Delhi, logging accurate, real-time data on the chemistry of the air.</p> <p>“Air quality monitoring is often discussed as an either-or situation,” says Kroll. “One can have expensive, regulatory-grade monitors or else distributed, low-cost sensors. But in reality it’s a continuum, with a tradeoff between cost, size, and power on one hand, and accuracy, precision, and sensitivity on the other. We’re somewhere in the middle of the continuum, with enough accuracy and precision to provide quantitative measurements.”</p> <p>“If we can generate a better data set,” Hagan adds, “it could lead to a sustainable public good.”</p> <p>The production of particulate matter less than 2.5 microns across, known as&nbsp;PM2.5, is a particular area of concern for epidemiologists. These fine particulates are largely generated by fuel combustion, and when they’re inhaled, they can have dire health effects, including asthma, lung disease, and heart attack. In fact, a recent study by the Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute estimated that half of Delhi’s schoolchildren have suffered irreversible lung damage.</p> <p>“In Manhattan the highest level of PM2.5&nbsp;you’ll see is about 12 micrograms per cubic meter,” Hagan says. “Delhi can be anywhere from 150 to 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter, so the levels are dozens of times higher. However, there is no safe level of PM2.5. We all have a long way to go to make it better.”</p> <p>Kroll and Hagan already have several prototypes on the ground in India, reporting data to a remote server every 30 seconds. Two units are located at Nehru Place in south Delhi, and four are near Connaught Place in central Delhi, co-located with a regulatory-grade sensor for calibration. Two are in the city of Pune, near Mumbai, and one is mobile — Hagan can frequently be seen taking it on rickshaw rides around Delhi.</p> <p>A regulatory-grade sensor, of which there are roughly 20 in Delhi, costs between $50,000 and $100,000. Kroll and Hagan’s sensor costs “on the order of $1,000” per unit, says Hagan, and offers comparable performance, measuring six types of gases (O<sub>3</sub>, NO, NO<sub>2</sub>, SO<sub>2</sub>, CO, and volatile organic compounds) and 16 size groups, or “bins,” of particles, ranging from coarse to fine. The lower cost makes it feasible for these sensors to be deployed in large volumes, creating an opportunity to map pollutant distribution at greater levels of detail.</p> <p>There are several low-cost and do-it-yourself devices on the market already, but the sensitivity of Hagan’s design, including its ability to measure particles as small as 380 nanometers across, sets it apart.</p> <p>“Most low-cost sensors only measure one size bin of particulate — coarse,” he says. “I’m very interested in both the atmospheric chemistry and the user experience, which is why my sensor is different. There hasn’t been a low-cost sensor made with a good mix of quality components and a well-engineered interface.”</p> <p>Kroll adds: “We’re interested in measurements with reasonably good spatial coverage, but that are also directly comparable to those from regulatory-grade monitors and that provide insight into the chemical changes that pollutants undergo in the atmosphere.”</p> <p>Part of the learning process for Kroll and Hagan has been understanding how the sensors will respond to a diverse set of environmental circumstances.</p> <p>They, along with other MIT researchers, have subjected different generations of sensors to the seasonal extremes of the Boston area, where two small grids are up and running — one on the MIT campus and the other in Dorchester — and to the highly variable conditions around the Hawaiian volcano Kilauea.</p> <p>Now, with a refined prototype, they’re beginning to see how the intense heat and dirty air of Delhi will affect the sensor’s performance. One of the Nehru Place sensors became so clogged with black grime that air could no longer pass through, and, ironically, it began to record low pollutant numbers.</p> <p>Transparency is vital to the success of the project, Hagan says. “It’s important to be honest about what the sensor is measuring and what its limitations are.” He adds, “The next generation will be much better,” citing a robust filtration system to prevent clogging and a smaller, more energy-efficient design.</p> <p>Hardware is just one part of the equation. Hagan also wrote the algorithms that interpret the sensors’ raw data. He envisions a number of different possible applications for the data in both the public and private sectors. Governments and academic researchers could use it to identify emissions sources and create mitigation strategies, while factories and office buildings could integrate the sensors into their HVAC systems for indoor air quality monitoring. Entrepreneurs might purchase access and use the data in commercial products, such as in-home monitoring systems or smartphone apps that show people real-time information on the air they’re breathing.</p> <p>For millions of Delhi residents who live with the effects of air pollution every day, solutions can’t come soon enough.</p> <p>This research was supported by the&nbsp;MIT Tata Center for Technology and Design. More details can be found at&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank"></a>.</p> <p><em>This article appears in the Spring 2016 issue of&nbsp;</em><a href="" target="_blank">Energy Futures</a><em>, the magazine of the MIT Energy Initiative.</em></p> David Hagan, a Tata Fellow and MIT PhD candidate in civil and environmental engineering, is designing and building low-cost sensors that could be deployed in dense networks to monitor air pollution. Photo: Shriya ParekhResearch, Tata Center, MIT Energy Initiative, Pollution, Emissions, Health, India, Energy, Students, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral Prison is the ideal classroom for new urban studies course A seminar explores inequality through conversations in Massachusetts’ largest prison. Tue, 31 May 2016 12:23:01 -0400 Jonathan Mingle | School of Architecture and Planning <p>Each Friday morning this semester, the 24 students in MIT course 11.469 (Urban Sociology) have traveled one of two routes to class.</p> <p>Half of them gather at 6:50 a.m. in Cambridge, Massachusetts, clamber into a rented van for an hour-long drive, and then make their way through a lengthy security screening. The other 12 take a short walk — from their cells.</p> <p>The students convene in a room at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Norfolk (MCI-Norfolk), the largest medium-security prison in the state, where together they pass into another realm — one where the ideas of Max Weber, Émile Durkheim, and W.E.B. DuBois are discussed along with topics such as desegregating Boston public schools.</p> <p>Conceived and taught by Justin Steil, assistant professor of law and urban planning in the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP), the course covers core foundational texts in urban sociology. But it’s also “an opportunity to create new knowledge about the drivers of urban inequality,” he says. “The wide range of experiences on both sides creates much more productive conversations about the nature of urban inequality and potential responses.”</p> <p>The DUSP contingent is a mix of masters and doctoral students. Their classmates at MCI-Norfolk are enrolled in a bachelor’s degree program, earning credits from Boston University’s Metropolitan College.</p> <p>The MCI-Norfolk students are a racially and economically diverse group, ranging in age from mid-20s to 60s. They are also serving a range of sentences. “Some get out in the next few years,” says Steil, “some are serving life without parole.”</p> <p>“When you put such a diverse group of people together, and everyone has their own perspective, your interpretation and understanding of these texts is really different,” says doctoral student Aditi Mehta, the teaching assistant for the course. “So the idea that you have such different lived experiences to draw from is really powerful.”</p> <p>To help bridge those divergent experiences on the first day (which, Mehta observes, is “always a little awkward in any class”), the teachers distributed 12 historic and contemporary photographs to pairs of MCI-Norfolk and MIT students, who analyzed and described the social processes they saw at work. “The idea was to recognize that everybody is bringing knowledge to the classroom, that we’d be working together and learning from each other,” says Steil.</p> <p>That first class also introduced an idea that resonated deeply with the students: C. Wright Mills’s concept of the “sociological imagination.”</p> <p>“The students keep coming back to this concept,” says Steil. “How do we think about our individual experiences in relation to collective experiences and history, and our place in it? What are the commonalities and variations in our experiences?”</p> <p>One incarcerated student noted the multiple perspectives in the class that made possible new kinds of conversations about inequality, adding: “Two groups of strangers essentially came together from two different worlds and formed a classroom dynamic that cannot be repeated.”</p> <p>For MIT and MCI-Norfolk students alike, it’s a demanding course, involving roughly 200 pages of theory-laden readings each week, weekly response papers, student-led presentations, a midterm reflection paper, and a final paper. Through discussions of the texts and various in-class group activities, the students have built a strong rapport.</p> <p>Pairs of MIT and MCI-Norfolk students lead a conversation based on each week’s readings, often connecting them to their own lived experiences and current events. Doctoral student Laura Delgado and her project partner structured a debate based on readings about social capital and social networks, using as a case study the Metco Program, through which students in Boston public schools can attend schools in suburban neighborhoods.</p> <p>Prisoners do not have Internet access, so project teams can’t rely on email or other digital communication tools to map out their strategy. Instead, students use the 15-minute break during each week’s class to plan their presentations.</p> <p>“It was a really good learning experience, and nice to be able to develop it over the semester together,” says Delgado. “My project partner has been really proactive. We set up a reading schedule, a deliberate process to pace ourselves and have time to prepare.”</p> <p>The course was made possible in part by a grant from MIT’s Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center, which enabled the DUSP students to travel to MCI-Norfolk in the rented van each week. It was an obvious fit with the PKG Center’s mission to help students work collaboratively with communities beyond campus.</p> <p>“Justin’s proposal was an innovative approach to both enriching the education of MIT students and enhancing higher education opportunities for a typically overlooked population,” says Alison Hynd, director for programs and fellowship administrator at the PKG Center.</p> <p>Several of the incarcerated students have expressed how the class has given them confidence as they prepare to reenter society and motivation to continue learning.</p> <p>“One of the most memorable class sessions for me was one in which we participated in a debate,” one student from MCI-Norfolk wrote. “I had a grasp on the material and was able to defend it well. Receiving ‘well dones’ from my classmates, especially the MIT students, was a highlight. It proved to me that I had something to offer even amongst great minds.”</p> <p>“The class has inspired me to work toward earning a master's degree,” wrote another, “when I am finally released.”</p> <p>As for the MIT students, Steil says the course has motivated some to engage more deeply with prisoners’ issues going forward. “One of the students is very interested in the experiences of prisoners reentering society when they’re released,” he says. “For her final paper she is working on developing a map of stakeholders engaged in reentry issues and thinking about ways that students from the class in Norfolk, who are getting their bachelor’s degree in prison, could find opportunities to be part of research work afterward.”</p> <p>“As a teacher, I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do this,” he says, “finding ways to bring MIT students beyond the Kendall Square neighborhood to be part of the metropolitan area we all live in, and teaching and learning with the broader communities to which we are connected.”&nbsp;</p> MIT students led by Assistant Professor Justin Steil leave MCI-Norfolk prison after a class session.Photo: Aditi MehtaClasses and programs, Urban studies and planning, School of Architecture and Planning, Volunteering, outreach, public service, Public Service Center (PSC), Community, education, Education, teaching, academics, Students, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral Carolyn Coyle: Engineering CRUD for better nuclear reactors In an effort to improve reactor safety and efficiency, new research aims to bring corrosive particle buildup out of the shadows. Fri, 29 Apr 2016 13:40:01 -0400 Leda Zimmerman | Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering <p>Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering doctoral student Carolyn Coyle ’13 SM ’16 specializes in the corrosive particle buildup found on primary components of nuclear reactors, known by its apt acronym, CRUD (for chalk river unidentified seposits). The substance is a common byproduct of reactor operation, yet its impacts on reactor function have not yet been carefully elucidated.</p> <p>Coyle’s research, part of a larger effort to improve reactor safety and efficiency, aims to bring CRUD out of the shadows. It is work, she says, that “integrates everything that I am most excited about.”</p> <p>Her primary interest involves engineering properties of surfaces on materials used in heating, such as metals tailored for nuclear fuel rods. Different surfaces affect how such materials transfer heat to surrounding fluid, producing different kinds of bubbling and boiling. “One characteristic we like in nuclear engineering is a hydrophilic surface,” she says. This means water is attracted to the surface and will maximize its contact with the top layer of the material.</p> <p>This property is crucial, because it helps delay a condition nuclear engineers really want to avoid, called critical heat flux (CHF). Without surface rewetting, a thin film of vapor forms, “coating the entire surface of the material, trapping heat, and the surface temperature shoots up, potentially causing failures,” says Coyle.&nbsp;</p> <p>In research she began as an undergraduate, working in the Reactor Hydraulics Laboratory under the supervision of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering (NSE) Professor Jacopo Buongiorno and research scientist Thomas McKrell, Coyle learned nano- and microfabrication techniques to engineer custom surfaces. She fabricated surfaces with different porosity, wettability, and roughness on indium tin oxide-sapphire material, then tested these surfaces in a pool to vet their boiling behaviors. The results, published in <em>Applied Physics Letters</em> in 2013, demonstrated that “a porous, hydrophilic surface was the best way to enhance boiling, to prolong a happy, bubbling regime.”</p> <p>It was this project that sold Coyle on pursuing nuclear engineering. “I loved the research so much, because it combined my passion for building and creating things, and my interest with thermal fluids analysis, design of experiments, understanding and using physics to create better, cleaner, safer energy,” she says.</p> <p>This same work led to Coyle’s focus on CRUD. The substance, which accumulates over time as metallic reactor components corrode, “happens to be a naturally occurring porous hydrophilic surface,” says Coyle. “And there had not been a lot of research on how it affects heat transfer and boiling performance of fuel rods.”</p> <p>Since it was impossible to perform experiments on radioactive fuel rods coated with CRUD, Coyle and her team decided to test synthetic versions of CRUD in a laboratory setting to see if it might improve boiling performance and delay the onset of CHF.</p> <p>So Coyle set out to design her own CRUD, using photolithography and layer-by-layer deposition to create the porous surface. She dotted indium tin oxide with an ultraviolet light-sensitive polymer using a mask, like a stencil, to imprint different microsized post patterns on the surface. She then dipped the surfaces in a silicon oxide nanoparticle solution to create the porous, hydrophilic surface. Finally, the post pattern was removed to create tiny heat escape hatches called chimneys that exist in naturally occurring CRUD.</p> <p>“Creating synthetic CRUD is exciting, because you can control different aspects of the engineering process — the thickness of the CRUD deposition, chimney patterns, size of chimneys — to achieve different results, she says.</p> <p>After testing these synthetic CRUD surfaces in a flow boiling loop that replicated a reactor flow environment, Coyle got the results she’d hoped for: consistent hydrophilic porous layers improve boiling, and surfaces with boiling chimneys enhance boiling even more.</p> <p>Coyle’s master’s research resulted in an award-winning paper, “Synthesis of CRUD and its Effects on Pool and Subcooled Flow Boiling,” presented at a 2016 Nuclear Reactor Thermalhydraulics conference. “I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback.” She is especially heartened that her research made a positive contribution to the mission of her project's sponsor, the Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors, of which MIT is a member.</p> <p>“Doing experiments in nuclear applications can be very expensive and one way to improve efficiency and safety and reduce the costs of nuclear reactors is through better modeling,” Coyle says. “If we can design an ideal reactor, and improve heat transfer in the reactor core, we can do a better job of building reactors in the future.” Coyle’s novel research, implementing her own process to create and test synthetic CRUD, may advance these goals.</p> <p>While she has not yet identified her doctoral research focus, Coyle is sure that it will involve nuclear thermal hydraulics. “Heat transfer problems are really interesting to me, and I especially like the applications in energy,” she says. While Coyle took a brief time out from her MIT studies late last year to intern with SpaceX (working on the Falcon 9 rocket), she is committed to pursuing nuclear engineering.</p> <p>“I love the positive environmental impact of nuclear engineering,” she says. “With the effects of climate change increasingly apparent, we need young people to contribute and help us move forward.”</p> “I love the positive environmental impact of nuclear engineering. ... With the effects of climate change increasingly apparent, we need young people to contribute and help us move forward.” —Carolyn Coyle, PhD candidate in the Department of Nuclear Science and EngineeringPhoto: Susan YoungStudents, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral, Nuclear science and engineering, Research, Energy, Materials Science and Engineering, Nuclear power and reactors, School of Engineering, Profile, Alumni/ae Addressing members of Congress, MIT students advocate for science funding Congressional visits help to impress the need for scientists&#039; involvement in national policy. Thu, 28 Apr 2016 15:25:03 -0400 Science Policy Initiative <p>On April 11-13, 24 MIT graduate students traveled to our nation's capital to participate in the annual Science-Engineering-Technology Congressional Visits Day (CVD). The Science Policy Initiative (SPI), a student group that recognizes the need for scientists’ involvement in policy formation, organized the trip. This was the 10th consecutive year that a delegation from the MIT participated in CVD.</p> <p>The students’ goal was to communicate to congressional members and their staff the importance of sustainable, long-term federal investments in science research and development funding. In President Barack Obama's 2017 budget, overall R&amp;D investment totaled $152 billion, a 4 percent increase from 2016. However, this is just a small increase considering that last year's R&amp;D funding, as a share of the total federal budget, was the lowest it had been in 50 years. Moreover, the president’s proposed budget only restores funding for federal agencies that support scientific research back to fiscal year 2012, before budget cuts experienced during federal sequestration.</p> <p>In total, the MIT students had 61 meetings with members of the Senate and House of Represenatives, as well as their staff, sharing how federal funding benefits them personally, their home states and districts, and the national economy as a whole. "Every industry and special interest group has its lobbyists. If we [in the scientific community] don't advocate for ourselves, no one is going to do it for us," said trip organizer Scott Grindy, a graduate student in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.</p> <p>On their bipartisan visit, the MIT students spoke with 29 Democratic offices and 32 Republican offices. For Congress members such as Rep. Mike Capuano, whose district includes MIT and Boston University, the impact of R&amp;D investments on constituents is clear. Many students were eager to speak with Republicans, who, with a majority in Congress, have made recent overtures to support continued federal investments in scientific research by passing the 21st Century Cures Act in the House. The bill, which has yet to be considered in the Senate, includes an additional $9 billion in funding to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) over the next five years.</p> <p>While in Washington, the MIT group was briefed by Kate Stoll and Bill Bonvillian from the MIT Washington Office on the status of federal R&amp;D funding and the role MIT is playing to promote federal investments in basic research. MIT recently authored a report entitled “The Future Postponed” underscoring why declining investments in basic research threatens an “innovation deficit” in the future.</p> <p>The MIT students also asked congressional members to support a collective of $54 billion in fiscal year 2017 funding for NIH, the National Science Foundation, NASA Science and Department of Energy Office of Science, which matched the requests of MIT, Harvard University and Boston University in a letter circulated to Massachusetts congressional representatives and senators.</p> <p>“Policy-making is a long and hard process and with a tight federal budget, tough funding decisions need to be made,” said Georgia Lagoudas, a graduate student in the Department of Biological Engineering. “Small conversations and visits with your representatives can help put a face to the issue and are powerful moments to promote the necessity for scientific funding.”</p> 2016 marked the 10th year that MIT students participated in Congressional Visits Day.Funding, Policy, Research, Government, Political science, Students, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral Finding inspiration for architecture and urban planning in Latin America and Spain Site visits by grad students in the School of Architecture and Planning sharpen proposals in art, architecture, and urbanism studios. Fri, 22 Apr 2016 15:54:01 -0400 School of Architecture and Planning <p>This spring, six advanced architecture and urban design and planning classes visited study sites in five countries on two continents. Site visits included: Bogotá, Colombia; Santiago and the Atacama Desert, Chile; São Paulo, Brazil; Mexico City, Mexico; and Barcelona, Spain.</p> <p>The trips presented graduate students with the opportunity for on-the-ground explorations of&nbsp;topics ranging from water and urban development to artistic action in the public realm. Several of the course trips also allowed students to examine historical approaches in specific contexts, from ancient settlement patterns in Chile’s Atacama Desert to a Brazilian transportation project from the 1970s.</p> <p>The goal, say the instructors, was to bring back vital data, knowledge, observations — and questions — to inform classroom work with real-world experience over the final weeks of the semester. Site visits were made to:</p> <p><strong>Bogot</strong><strong>á, Colombia</strong></p> <p>“<a href="" target="_blank">Territorial Stitch: Bogotá</a>,” taught by Associate Professor Alexander D’Hooghe and lecturer Oscar Grauer, is a collaboration between MIT and the University of the Andes and La Salle University, both in Bogotá, Colombia. “The objective of this course is to reconceptualize the relationship between water and mobility infrastructures in urban environments as a means to reshape urban development patterns,” D’Hooghe says.</p> <p><strong>Santiago and the Atacama Desert, Chile</strong></p> <p>“<a href="" target="_blank">The Radical De-substantiation of Architecture</a>” considers the Atacama Desert in Chile. “The ancient settlements in the San Pedro oasis and the camps of the vast Chuquicamata open-cast mines offer starkly contrasting logics of temporary habitation millennia apart in the most arid environment on earth,” says Associate Professor Mark Goulthorpe.&nbsp;“The challenge is to devise a new logic of ‘building dwelling thinking’ through computation and innovative material processing, at a significant locus of extraction.”</p> <p><strong>S</strong><strong>ão Paulo, Brazil</strong></p> <p>Two courses visited São Paulo, Brazil. Visiting professor Angelo Bucci’s studio, “<a href="" target="_blank">São Paolo’s Thick Ground: A Strategy for the Redesign of Minhocão’s Architectural Front</a>,” focuses on a 2.7-kilometer viaduct, the Minhocão, built in 1970 to promote high-speed and long-distance travel. Like many infrastructural projects, it divided the neighborhood and resulted in building degradation. &nbsp;</p> <p>Associate Professor Gediminas Urbonas and&nbsp;visiting lecturers Bik Van der Pol’s studio seminar, “<a href="" target="_blank">Public Art/Public Sphere</a>” focuses on artistic action in the public realm as a way of emphasizing coproduction and cooperative ethics. Broader forms of “environmental” thinking are considered alongside historical models of art and action, including ecosystematic aesthetics, post-conceptual art, and contemporary interventionist tactics and artistic strategies.</p> <p><strong>Mexico City, Mexico</strong></p> <p>“<a href="" target="_blank">Renacimiento: Reviving Mexico’s Abandoned Towns</a>” is a joint architecture/urban studies and planning studio taught by associate professors Rafi Segal and Brent Ryan. The course focuses on proposing novel interventions for isolated housing estates built outside of Mexico City. Intended to provide affordable housing, the developments were sited so far from infrastructure and public services that many were abandoned.</p> <p><strong>Barcelona, Spain</strong></p> <p>Visiting professor Clara Solà-Morales, of Cadaval and Solà-Morales, is teaching “<a href="" target="_blank">Sagrada Familia: Tourism and Conflict</a>.” The Sagrada Familia church, designed by Antoni Gaudí, receives 3.25 million visitors per year. “The studio addresses interventions in the vicinity of Gaudí’s temple to build up the necessary infrastructures to absorb such influxes of people,” Solà-Morales says. “Architecture and public space work together to build&nbsp;coherent and scaled spaces that are able to maintain urbanity and the city identity.”&nbsp;</p> Public art/public sphere class visits the Glass House in São Paulo, designed by Lina Bo Bardi.Photo: Gizem GumuskayaClasses and programs, Architecture, Urban studies and planning, Research, Design, Arts, Art, Culture and Technology, education, Education, teaching, academics, Students, graduate, Graduate, postdoctoral, Latin America, Brazil, Mexico, Spain, School of Architecture and Planning, Global