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Meet the women shaping science and engineering in Saudi Arabia

Sun, 08/05/2018 - 11:59pm

Since 2012, a handful of Saudi Arabia’s top scientists and engineers have arrived on MIT’s campus every year for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Through the Ibn Khaldun Fellowship for Saudi Arabian Women, these Saudi female scientists and engineers with PhDs are invited to spend one year conducting research at MIT. Each fellow is paired with an MIT faculty for a research project and exposed to a number of professional development opportunities.

While the program was launched in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, the 27 fellows have been placed in 14 different departments, labs, and centers across the Institute including the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, MIT Sloan School of Management, and the MIT Media Lab. Recently, 24 of these fellows convened on campus for the program’s first ever reunion.

“For me, this week has felt like a family reunion,” remarks Kate Anderson, former program manager for the fellowship. Anderson, along with program director and professor of mechanical engineering Kamal Youcef-Toumi and recently appointed program manager Theresa Werth, has worked with each fellow on identifying the appropriate research project and helping them navigate their new surroundings at MIT.

At the reunion, the five current fellows who are wrapping up their assignments at MIT provided an overview of their research projects. Topics ranged from carbon nanomaterials to solar cells and personalized drug screening. Alumni of the program then provided updates both on their research projects and how their careers have progressed since returning to Saudi Arabia.

“It was very inspiring to hear about how so many fellows have built successful careers by taking bold steps that required a lot of courage,” recalls Areej Al-Wabil, 2015 fellow and current principal investigator at the Center for Complex Engineering at King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) and MIT.  

In addition to serving as leaders in their respective research fields, many former fellows, such as Al-Wabil, have gone on to serve as deans, vice deans, directors of research centers, and principal investigators.

“You are the change and you are the leaders,” said Youcef-Toumi in his remarks at the reunion. “Each one of you — your contributions are very significant. You are influencing people and inspiring them to become motivated just by interacting with you.”

Finding sense of community inside and outside of the lab

Since the program launched, the 27 fellows have authored 34 journal publications and 27 conference papers, and submitted four patents all directly related to the research they conducted at MIT.

For current fellow Thamraa Al-Shahrani, her project afforded her the opportunity to research a topic that could have a major impact on her home country. She worked with Tonio Buonassisi, associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of the MIT Photovoltaics Research Laboratory, on developing solar cells that can function in hot or arid climates — like that of Saudi Arabia.


“Working on something that has direct applications to my country has been amazing,” says Al-Shahrani. She and her team exposed solar cells to varying temperatures and studied their behavior in the hopes of determining how to improve temperature stability. Al-Shahrani served as first author on the resulting research paper, which was presented at the Materials Research Society meeting in April.

Helping lead a team of scientists from MIT and Saudi Aramco did more than give Al-Shahrani critical research experience — she learned about the teamwork necessary for international research collaborations. “Tonio and his team were so supportive and encouraging,” she says. “If there was a problem with the study, we would all discuss it together to come up with a solution. The experience really gave me a sense of what it’s like to work on a team.” 

This sense of community extended beyond the lab to her fellow Ibn Khaldun classmates. “The program connects fellows to each other — we got to celebrate Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha together along with Kate and Theresa,” she recalls.

The network the fellows create continues after the experience at MIT concludes. “An important part of the fellowship for me was building a network of professional in a similar phase of our careers,” adds Al-Wabil. This network has resulted in career opportunities for the fellows back in Saudi Arabia.

Bringing hacker culture to Saudi Arabia

For Al-Wabil, her work researching the design planning and ideation process in engineering projects, with Maria Yang, associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of MIT’s Ideation Laboratory, was just the start. “The experience was so rich,” says Al-Wabil. “I learned on so many fronts about scientific research, educational best practices, and professional development skills.”

Al-Wabil served as a mentor for class 2.00b (Toy Design). In lab sessions, she and her fellow mentors brought their discipline-specific expertise to the design process to help guide students from the ideation phase to a working prototype. “In teaching we rarely touch on all phases, so that was an immersive learning experience for me as a teaching faculty,” she adds.

While at MIT, Al-Wabil also immersed herself in hacker culture. After participating in the annual Assistive Technologies Hackathon, she was inspired to bring the hackathon platform back to her institution in Saudi Arabia. “I was able to take that experience and introduce the same concept in Saudi at a smaller scale,” says Al-Wabil. In October, her institution will host a “Hacking Medicine” hackathon using the MIT hacking model.

Empowering a new generation of Saudi women

As Saudi Arabia works toward Saudi Vision 2030, which hopes to increase women’s participation in the workforce from 22 percent to 30 percent by the year 2030, programs like the Ibn Khaldun Fellowship take on a greater purpose.

“These women are not only contributing to the science and technology development of the Kingdom, they are changing the country as we speak,” says Anderson.

Al-Shahrani sees the value of the program at this particular time in Saudi Arabia’s history. “The fellowship has helped a new generation of Saudi women build their leadership skills,” she notes. “This is especially important now as Saudi Arabia is making big changes and supporting women in the workforce.”

In March, the program announced an agreement with new sponsor KACST to extend the fellowship for the next decade. In January 2019, five new fellows will join a community of women who are shaping the future of science and engineering in their country. 

PKG Summer Series: Documenting, preserving, and sharing Boston’s LGBTQ history

Fri, 08/03/2018 - 3:50pm

On July 12, a group of MIT students, staff, and faculty embarked on The History Project’s Pride Tour. The two-hour tour was led by Joan Ilacqua, co-chair of the board of directors for The History Project, which aims “to document, preserve, and share Boston’s LGBTQ history.”

Students connected with Ilacqua as part of the Priscilla King Gray (PKG) Center’s Summer Series, a program that offers numerous community service and engagement opportunities for students throughout the summer. All programs are free for the MIT community, and each allows them to explore and contribute to the greater Boston area through community service and outreach.

The tour followed the trail of the first-ever Boston Pride parade, while highlighting various historic LGBTQ landmarks. The day ended with a visit to The History Project’s archives. Here, students were able to see firsthand various historical documents beyond what they had learned on the tour, including posters, photographs, and newspaper clippings from Boston’s early days of LGBTQ activism.

Charlotte Minsky, a rising junior double majoring in earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences (Course 12) and humanities and engineering (Course 21E), explains how the tour affected her: “Personally, as a history nerd, I really love seeing the archives and actually handling the historical documents,” she says. “It was really amazing to hear about all these issues and to see these places, but [especially] to actually come in and touch and see these things the people we had just been talking about were handling and creating.”

Minsky said that the program was eye-opening. “As MIT students, we often think of ourselves as separate from the Boston community,” she explains. “We stay in our bubble [...] and don’t really engage with what’s around us, so I think it’s really important for us [...] to realize [...] all of the social and cultural contexts of the technologies we are engaging with so we can be more informed in our decisions of what to do with the opportunities we’ve been granted.”

Danny Becker, program coordinator for the PKG Center, seconds Minsky’s sentiment about the importance of these programs for MIT students. “To understand the opportunities in their community to apply those skills is truly impactful to their experience with MIT,” he says. “To see these communities and the context in which they are living is invaluable [to MIT students] in understanding how to leverage their skills.”

Ilacqua, who enjoys observing the differences between generations of LGBTQ people, says it is vital to close the gap between these age groups. “I think it’s super important to talk about history with people who haven’t experienced it because we are all part of the same story,” she explains. “I find it really fun but also really rewarding to hear about how people are experiencing life as an LGBTQ person today, to hear about what they know about and what they’ve heard about, [...] and to think about these questions of coming out and meeting people [...] and having the right to be gay.”

Hammer family gift to support doctoral fellowships in the MIT Institute for Data, Systems, and Society

Fri, 08/03/2018 - 1:10pm

MIT’s Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS) has taken a major step forward thanks to a generous endowment gift from Phyllis Thurm Hammer and the Hammer family, establishing the Michael Hammer Fellowship Fund. The Hammer Fellowships will be awarded annually to IDSS doctoral candidates in the Program in Social and Engineering Systems (SES). In addition, the Hammer family’s gift will also support postdoctoral fellows in IDSS.

The first Hammer Fellowship recipients were chosen this summer: Manxi Wu SM ’17, a second-year PhD student in SES; and Cate Heine and Leon Yao, who will join SES in September. The first postdoctoral fellow is Kiran Garimella, who will start in February 2019. Ultimately, the endowment will support 10 scholars annually. 

Since its launch in 2015, IDSS has been helping drive a revolution in the use of data drawn from networks and systems throughout society. IDSS is advancing education and research with a broad, ambitious goal: harness the massive amounts of data being generated, and use it to create knowledge and address complex societal challenges. IDSS faculty, researchers, and students are turning data troves into practical solutions on subjects ranging from transportation, climate, finance, and health care to social challenges such as radicalization, mass migration, and false news stories. The SES program is educating students to be researchers, policymakers, and thought leaders who solve society’s most pressing problems using ideas and analytical methods at the nexus of engineering, social sciences, and data science.  

In a short time, IDSS has achieved success on three strategic fronts. It has hired and promoted a major corps of faculty, now engaging more than 80 core and affiliate faculty from all five schools at MIT. It has driven an expanding academic program, welcoming 24 SES doctoral students, launching an undergraduate minor in statistics, and undertaking development of both an interdisciplinary statistics PhD and an online MicroMasters in statistics and data science. And it has been the catalyst for a growing number of major, multidisciplinary research projects — from ways of improving nuclear power generation facilities to assessing the health benefits of China’s climate policies to reducing control overheads in wireless networks

The addition of the Hammer Fellowships will empower the SES program to attract and support top students in the field. The Michael Hammer FellowshipFund will also support valuable programming for IDSS scholars, and will underwrite two postdoctoral research fellows who will further expand the Institute’s research initiatives. 

“Social and Engineering Systems is, in many ways, an extension of Michael Hammer’s insights and work,” observes Munther Dahleh, director of IDSS and the William A. Coolidge Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “He recognized that solving major societal challenges begins with an understanding of howcomplex systems function and interact — and that it requires a careful teasing apart of the interplay among inherently different kinds of systems: physical and engineered, economic and social-behavioral, and institutional.”

Michael M. Hammer ’68, SM ’70, PhD ’73 was a much-lauded educator, visionary engineer, and pioneering business leader and author. As a full-time MIT faculty member from 1973 to 1984, he was hailed for his teaching in courses on programming language processors, computer language engineering, data base management, and office automation. His research in the latter two fields earned him an international reputation. 

“Michael was, at heart, a life-long student and a life-long teacher,” says Phyllis Thurm Hammer, herself a former MIT bioscience researcher. “MIT was an integral part of his life — as a student, faculty member, and long-time collaborator. Even after he stepped away from a full-time faculty role, he remained a passionate educator and mentor, providing intellectual guidance and unique perspectives through adjunct faculty roles at MIT and Oxford University and the hundreds of classes he taught for corporate leaders around the world.”

As a business thought leader and consultant, Hammer helped drive fundamental changes in the nation’s engineering and business landscape. Widely known for his founding role in the business reengineering movement and his formulation of the process-centered organization, Hammer sought to transform business in ways that not only made it more efficient, but more personally engaging for workers across the entire corporate spectrum. As just one measure of his impact, he was named by TIME magazine to its first list of “America’s 25 Most Influential Individuals.” 

“Our family believes that creating the Michael Hammer Fellowships — supporting new generations of systems thinkers and integrative problem solvers at MIT — will continue Michael’s legacy of impactful and iconoclastic research and education,” says Phyllis Thurm Hammer. “It is one of the best ways we could honor his memory.”

How Africans developed scientific knowledge of the deadly tsetse fly

Thu, 08/02/2018 - 11:59pm

Few animals are more problematic than the tiny African insect known to English speakers as the tsetse fly. This is the carrier of “sleeping sickness,” an often deadly neurological illness in humans, as well as a disease that has killed millions of cattle, reshaping the landscape and economy in some parts of the continent.

For generations, vedzimbahwe (the “Shona” people, builders of houses) and their African neighbors, assembled a significant store of ruzivo — knowledge — about mhesvi, their name for the tsetse fly. As MIT Associate Professor Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga explains in a new book, this accumulation of local knowledge formed the basis for all subsequent efforts to control or destroy the tsetse fly and is an exemplary case of scientific knowledge being developed in Africa, by Africans.

“Ruzivo and practices based on it were the foundation of what became science and means and ways of tsetse control,” Mavhunga writes in “The Mobile Workshop: The Tsetse Fly and African Knowledge Production,” recently published by the MIT Press. However, he notes, Europeans nonetheless dismissed Africans as being “only good at creating and peddling myths and legends.”

In fact, Africans developed a diverse set of practices to combat mhesvi. For example, they used late-season forest burning to expose mhesvi to predators; moved herds through mhesvi-infested stretches at night while the insect was inactive; strategically located their settlements to neutralize the insect’s threat or turn it into a weapon against their human enemies; cleared bush and felled trees to create buffer zones between mhesvi-infested wildlife areas and human- and livestock-inhabited areas; and developed innoculations using live or dead mhesvi. Europeans appropriated many of these methods, or, at the very least, used their basic principles as starting points for what they then called “science.”  

Going mobile

To understand how Africans learned about the intricacies of mhesvi, Mavhunga says it is important to consider the connections between the mobilities of the insect and those of larger animals, people, and the environment itself. Mhesvi was, first of all, a vehicle carrying and spreading a deadly passenger, a nyongororo (parasite) that vachema (white people) would later call a “trypanosome.” This mobility of pest and human turned the forest land into an “open laboratory producing knowledge,” as Mavhunga puts it.

The generative value of mobility as a site for and influence on knowledge production is a theme within Mavhunga’s larger body of work. His first book, “Transient Workspaces: Technologies of Everyday Innovation in Zimbabwe” (MIT Press, 2014), looked at African hunting as a practice through which African science, technology, and innovation could be generated.

Much of “The Mobile Workshop” details the strategic deployment of mobility among the diverse tactics Africans developed to combat mhesvi. These methods had adverse social consequences when adopted by Europeans, whose practice of “prophylactic resettlement” forcibly relocated Africans to the mhesvi-infested margins of land, while they settled on lands vatema (black people) had made healthy and livable.    

“There is a contrast in environmental philosophy I wanted to highlight,” Mavhunga says.

The African approach centered on “strategic deployments within the environment,” as Mavhunga puts it in the book, including “careful siting of settlements, avoiding the potentially pestiferous insect’s territory.”

But the Europeans, he adds, were intent on “destroying species they designated vermin beings, and by any means necessary — slaughtering the host and food source animals, massacring whole forests, poisoning the environment with deadly pesticides whose environmental pollution consequences we are yet to study and understand, including possible links to cancers.”

As Mavhunga details, cancer rates in Zimbabwe have risen significantly in recent decades, following the use of pesticides — but much of the outside analysis of local health trends has focused on “lifestyle” choices by Africans, rather than environmental factors.

Appreciating language

Other scholars of African science say the book is an important contribution to the field. Ron Eglash, a professor in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has called it “a sophisticated sociological analysis, and a unique account of Africa’s relations between knowledge, science, nature, and politics.”

In addition to highlighting the robustness of African scientific knowledge and its place in the matrix of European solutions to the tsetse fly, Mavhunga’s book extensively deploys rich indigenous vocabularies, of vedzimbahwe and others across southern and eastern Africa, to help reconstruct this historical episode through the minds and languages of Africans. In addition to mhesvi and ruzivo, readers can learn the terms for everything from ngongoni (wildebeest) to tsika (culture or custom). It is all part of Mavhunga’s project of demonstrating the extent and sophistication of African scientific and technological knowledge on its own terms.

“To have written this book otherwise was, quite simply, impossible,” Mavhunga writes.  

“I wanted the reader to appreciate how language, deployed as a tool to silence African modes of knowledge, can be mobilized as a tool to recover that same knowledge,” Mavhunga says. “In a sense, the book hopes to excite younger scholars — and Africans! — to investigate, imagine, and make science from Africa.”

Paying it forward: Fellowship boosts women in physics

Thu, 08/02/2018 - 1:40pm

There’s no doubt that in order to study physics, students must be first-rate learners. But another essential skill that may not be so obvious is the ability to craft a great research proposal, which is key to career advancement.

Early in her career, Lindley Winslow, the Jerrold R. Zacharias Career Development Assistant Professor of Physics at MIT, received mentorship that was crucial to her career path. She is now paying it forward with the launch of a physics research fellowship program to help undergrads, graduate students, and postdocs in the Department of Physics, especially within a particularly underrepresented group: female physicists.

Winslow’s pilot program not only offers money for research, but also builds in a workshop on preparing research proposals. “The program is more than just how to write a proposal,” said Winslow. “It is designing a self-contained research project and then writing the supporting research proposal. It is putting together the idea, budget, and timeline as well as the text.”

Winslow says the program is aimed at women because at MIT alone, women make up only 22 percent of physics students, and 15 percent of physics faculty, if you include adjuncts and secondary appointments. In the hopes of increasing these numbers, Winslow received a $75,000 grant from the Heising-Simons Foundation to fund a program aimed at helping women in physics.

The heart of the program is to provide support on the research grant process, with guidelines of $5,000 for undergraduate projects, $10,000 for graduate student projects, and $15,000 for postdoctoral projects. Funds are expected to be used for non-stipend expenses including equipment, materials, supplies, computers, and travel for collaboration and scientific meetings. The proposals will be peer-reviewed in the National Science Foundation style, with Winslow acting as the program manager.

Winslow received 16 fellowship applications by the May deadline, and four were chosen. The first round of fellows selected are Clara Sousa-Silva, who is working on "Creating a Rosetta Stone for the Interpretation of Exoplanet Biospheres" with mentor Professor Sara Seager; Shuo Zhang, for her project "Probing MeV-GeV Cosmic-ray Particles in the Galactic Center," with Professor Kerstin Perez; Carina Belvin, for her project, "Investigating Nonequilibrium Magnetization Dynamics Using Ultrafast Terahertz Spectroscopy," under Professor Nuh Gedik; and Radha Mastandrea, for her project "Analyzing CMS Open Collider Data Though Machine Learning," with Professor Jesse Thaler.

The second round of proposals are due Dec. 7.

Winslow, an experimental nuclear physicist whose primary focus is on neutrinoless double-beta decay, modeled the fellowship on the 2010 $60,000 L’Oreal for Women in Science Fellowship that she earned while an MIT postdoc, which was from 2008 to 2012.

“I have been very lucky that I have had very strong mentoring, which I credit to my current success: My thesis advisor, who used the classical approach of having us contribute to the writing of the group grant, and my colleague at UCLA, who proofread my NSF CAREER proposal and told me I needed to make sure the big picture was front and center.”

It was her postdoc advisor, Professor Janet Conrad, who mentored Winslow on how to create a good proposal. “She took a very detailed approach of breaking down what is a good proposal, how to construct it, how to work with your program manager to tailor the budget and subject, and finally to deliver something that will be reviewed well by your peers,” said Winslow. “She was responsible for me applying to the L’Oreal and helped me re-write, refine, and edit that proposal (and a couple others since then).”

Winslow never forgot the importance of mentorship. In 2016, she was among a dozen leading scholars in physics and astronomy at a Heising-Simons Foundation summit that discussed academic and career pathways for women in these fields. She was also on the workshop committee for a separate Heising-Simons initiative at April’s Rising Stars in Physics Workshop, for women interested in navigating the early stages of academic careers in physics and astronomy.

At a kickoff event for the new fellowship, Winslow surveyed Women in Physics group members and discovered that few students knew much about the grant proposal process. “It was striking how confident they were that they could execute a research plan, but how that confidence disappeared when I asked about their ability to come up with ideas and actually prepare the proposal,” Winslow recalled.

To ensure their success, workshops trained applicants on how to put their best foot forward. “This program aims to “pull back the curtain” and teach our students and postdocs how that part of the system works,” says Winslow.

“The process of structuring projects and writing grants to support them is one of the most intimidating aspects of the academic path, and is a particular barrier for women. It’s these sorts of tasks — qualifying exams, physics GREs, job applications — that end up affecting women more due to a combination of confidence, unequal mentoring, and societal pressure. Confidence in your ability to get grants is integral to wanting to stay in the field, and the numbers (of women physicists) are so low that we cannot afford to lose anyone.”

Music as a gateway to shared humanity

Thu, 08/02/2018 - 12:40pm

When A. R. Rahman, two-time Academy Award winner, singer-songwriter, and music producer from India, came to visit and take a course at MIT in July, he was in his element during a tour of interactive music systems on campus.

Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of the School of Engineering, led Rahman and his group to Building 24 where the small group of mostly non-musicians jammed together using their smartphones to sound off as brass, clarinet, percussion, or strings.

Rahman tapped a sneakered foot to the beat. “This is fantastic,” says Rahman of the performance orchestrated by MIT professor of the practice Eran Egozy ’95, MEng ’95, who teaches, among other things, 21M.385 / 6.809 (Interactive Music Systems) — the first MIT music class that is also an electrical engineering and computer science class.

These creative points of convergence are exciting, says Chandrakasan, who is also the Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “There are tremendous opportunities to bring computing and artificial intelligence, sensing, and other technological advances to the world of music,” he says.

Rahman’s own music is known to experiment with the fusion of traditional instruments with new electronic sounds and technology. Like Egozy, he is passionate about using technology to enhance the experience of listening to or making music and enabling people to engage with it.

“You created games about things that are constructive not destructive.” Rahman says with a nod of approval to Egozy, co-founder and chief scientist of the company that brought the world “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band.”

A recipient of multiple Academy Awards, Rahman is especially interested in harnessing the power of technology in music to counter inequality, hate, and violence in social media and global discourse.

Music and technology for the next generation

Rahman was on a whirlwind MIT tour that involved visits with a string of creative academics in multiple realms: music, technology, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics among them.

His visit capped off a week during which Rahman dove into a four-day course offered by MIT Professional Education, “Advances in Imaging: VR-AR, Machine Learning, and Self-Driving Cars,” which is led by Ramesh Raskar, an associate professor of media arts and sciences at the MIT Media Lab.

The course immersed participants in imaging and how cameras are used in machine learning, self-driving cars, health, industrial settings, and more. Rahman took it all in, says Raskar.

“A.R. is focused on how to use imaging, machine learning, and AI not just for entertainment but to impart a sense of responsibility and cohesiveness and togetherness for the younger generation,” he says.

“We were pleased to offer a course that could contribute to A.R.’s quest,” said Bhaskar Pant, executive director of MIT Professional Education. “His work in entertainment and education exposes enormous numbers of people to the latest technologies. That is something we want to support.”

The tour stopped briefly on the green at Killian Court. “We are very happy to engage with A.R. here at MIT,” adds Chandrakasan, with a smile as Rahman’s family and friends snapped photographs in front of the Great Dome.

“A.R.’s participation in the course was coupled to a larger discussion about the role of computing and music and the role technology, such as machine learning and vision, can have in helping people experience the benefits of making music and media,” says Chandrakasan.

New tools for humanity

Rahman’s next stop was for a presentation by Dina Katabi, the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. She has created a WiFi-like device that uses radio signals to monitor breathing, sleep, heart rate, gait, and detects falls.

“This kind of technology is seamless and not intrusive at all,” says Rahman after the presentation. “Many people have complicated lives, but they love their parents and cannot take care of them in person. This is amazing.”

Rahman was equally engaged by a demonstration of an autonomous wheelchair, an invention spearheaded by Daniela Rus, the Andrew (1956) and Erna Viterbi Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

Finally, Rahman was off to meet with composer Tod Machover, the Muriel R. Cooper Professor of Music and Media. “Today was fascinating,” says Rahman on his return to the Media Lab, which he toured earlier in the day.

“I have a deep interest in music and how to bring technology to human emotion, how to conquer it to make beautiful things, to create emotions, to create beautiful songs,” he says. “But at heart, my interest is always in humanity. We need all kinds of new ideas and innovations that will help people.”

Navigating cultures while making a difference

Thu, 08/02/2018 - 11:55am

Lukas Kamphausen MFin '18 recently graduated with a master of finance degree from MIT’s Sloan School of Management. Last January, he participated in MIT Sloan’s Israel Lab, organized in collaboration with the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) MIT-Israel program. MISTI provides MIT students with high quality internship, research and teaching experiences in international companies, universities, research institutes, and high schools. While participating in the Israel Lab, Kamphausen took part in a hackathon organized by MISTI’s PeaceTech Initiative and Our Generation Speaks, a fellowship program and incubator, hosted at MassChallenge in Jerusalem. “I loved the Middle East so much and just had to come back in order to make an even larger impact for families living in this region,” Kamphausen says.

Learning about new regions while making a real impact

Currently, Kamphausen is doing an internship through MISTI at SunBox, a startup that sells affordable and self-installable solar energy systems to families living in the Gaza Strip. “This second experience in the region has really enabled me to get a deeper understanding both of how to work with people from very different backgrounds, and how as an MIT student I can make a real impact,” Kamphausen says. “More than 2 million Gazans live with less than four hours of electricity a day. Hence, most families do not have refrigerators, access to the internet or lights at night. People can’t work, students can’t study, and entrepreneurs can’t run a business.”

SunBox was founded in June 2017 by Majd Mashharawi, a 24-year-old recent civil engineering graduate from Gaza City. “She is one of the most inspiring entrepreneurs I have ever met,” Kamphausen says.

Mashharawi explains that entire areas in the Middle East suffer from a lack of sufficient electricity, which severely affects both quality of life and opportunity for economic growth. Reflecting on these regional issues, she says, “There did not seem to be any solution on the horizon, so we decided to bring the solution ourselves. That’s why we introduced SunBox to the market,” Mashharawi adds. “The region has a resource that can be harnessed: an average of 320 days of sunshine a year, making solar energy an ideal source of electricity production. It is simple, affordable and available to everyone.”

SunBox sells affordable smart solar kits that every family can install by themselves. It powers not just lights, but also laptops, phones, internet, and even a fan or a TV. The system is safe to use, even around children. “Gaza’s unemployment rate amounts to 44 percent. This is among the highest in the world. We believe that by providing people with a constant access to electricity, we will be able to improve this situation both significantly and sustainably. Kids will be able to study at night, students will have continuous access to the internet, and new entrepreneurs can build their own businesses.”

Last month, SunBox successfully sold and installed their first solar energy systems in Gaza. This month, the company plans to sell their next 200 devices. “For us, 200 units is not just a simple number in our cash flow statement,” Kamphausen says. “We’re proud that we’re changing the lives of 200 families, almost 1,200 people, in a single month!”

Making “an incredible difference for this region”

“Local families’ purchasing power is very limited; this is why we launched our crowdfunding campaign in order to subsidize each system by about $100 per unit,” Kamphausen says. “We want to make sure that all Gazan families will be able to afford our devices, especially those who are currently most disadvantaged or unlucky.”

Kamphausen, Mashharawi, and their team are already dreaming about expanding to other markets. After solving the energy crisis in Gaza, SunBox plans to support refugee camps around the region, including Syrian refugees in Jordan and off-grid Bedouin communities throughout the Middle East. “We just successfully installed our first pilot systems in the Bedouin community and we’re confident that we’ll soon be able to penetrate other markets, too.”

Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow

“After learning about the Middle East, its culture on campus and working in companies in the region, I decided I also wanted to see how I could bring the world class education I received at MIT to others.” Through MISTI, Kamphausen will teach entrepreneurship to Israeli and Palestinian students as part of the MEET program in Jerusalem. MEET brings together young Israeli and Palestinian leaders to create positive change through technology and entrepreneurship, in partnership with MIT.

At MEET, Kamphausen is working together with Celina Mukarker, the program's student program coordinator.

“Five years ago, I participated in the MEET program myself as a student. MEET and MIT student instructors provided me with outstanding knowledge in both entrepreneurship and programming, as well as an incredible global and local network,” Mukarker says. “As a Palestinian, I am now able to pursue so many different opportunities and career paths that would have otherwise been almost impossible. In the future, I aim to further challenge the current status quo by continuously trying to improve the Israeli-Palestinian relationship,” she adds.

After his experiences in the Middle East, Kamphausen will start working for a global management consulting firm in Berlin, Germany. “Nevertheless, I will always stay involved in this region,” he says. “I will continuously try to build on my MISTI experiences in the region to be effective in making global impact and improve the lives for the most disadvantaged families on earth, both in the Middle East and elsewhere.”

MISTI has sent over 9,500 students abroad to date, and currently sends over 1,200 students annually to more than 25 countries. It is housed within the Institute's School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. For more information about MISTI’s programs in the Middle East please contact David Dolev.

Collaboration between MIT and Weizmann Institute of Science supports new avenues of scientific research

Thu, 08/02/2018 - 11:30am

MIT and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel have announced a new research collaboration, made possible by a gift from the Sagol family, that will support a series of multidisciplinary projects between the two institutions across all areas of science. 

Longtime philanthropists, the Sagols are the founders of the Sagol Neuroscience and Longevity Network, a series of 12 centers at eight Israeli institutions focused on brain science, aging, and longevity. The gift was announced at MIT during the Global Gathering of the Weizmann Institute, which was held in Boston in June. 

“This gift will not only seed joint research between Weizmann and MIT, two great institutions but I would like it to be the starting point to seed scientific collaborations between the Sagol Network in Israel and scientists in Massachusetts, another major hub of scientific activity,” Sami Sagol said.

He says hopes others will follow his lead “so that Israel develops a deeper connection with Massachusetts.”

“When we’re done with that, the sky’s the limit,” he said.

The program entails competitively awarded grants to support research collaborations between pairs (or teams) of faculty from the Weizmann Institute and MIT. The Weizmann Institute and MIT will establish a scientific committee consisting of members of both institutions that will issue a call for research proposals. In addition, leadership at both institutions will actively solicit proposals in promising areas identified in consultation with faculty at the Weizmann Institute and at MIT. 

“We hope this gift will jump-start new opportunities for excellent collaborative work,” said Professor Daniel Zajfman, president of the Weizmann Institute. “We are deeply grateful that the Sagols have made this important step, and in doing so hope to inspire others to invest in the future of scientific collaboration between Israeli and American scientists at the basic research level.” 

Richard Lester, associate provost for international affairs, said that at MIT “we have long engaged with our peers across the globe to push the boundaries of science and technology.” 

“We are extremely grateful to the Sagol family for providing researchers from both MIT and Weizmann with rich opportunities to exchange and advance their ideas for the betterment of all humankind — and for their vision of an even stronger research connection between Israel and Massachusetts,” Lester said. 

The Weizmann Institute and MIT have a shared history in computer science research and faculty. In the late 1970s, Weizmann Professor Adi Shamir — then a researcher at MIT — together with MIT’s Ronald Rivest and Leonard Adleman, developed the RSA encryption algorithm, which made so-called public-key encryptions useful in practice. In 2002, the three scientists were awarded the A.M. Turing Award, the highest award in computer science, for the breakthrough.

The Weizmann Institute’s Shimon Ullman received his PhD in electrical engineering from MIT and became a member of its Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (1973-1983). From 1982 to 1986, he had a joint appointment as associate professor at MIT and the Weizmann Institute. He returned to the Weizmann full time in 1986 and has continued close collaborations with his MIT colleagues over the course of more than three decades.

RSA Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Shafi Goldwasser did her postdoctoral studies in computer science at MIT and has held a joint appointment in computer science at the Weizmann Institute and MIT for many years. In 2018, she also became the director of the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing at the University of California at Berkeley. She founded the Cryptography and Information Security Group at MIT. For her work in cryptography, she received the Turing Award in 2013.

The Sagol family established Keter Plastics in 1948 and turned it from a small workshop in Jaffa, Israel, into a world-leading industrial group within the home improvement consumer products industry. Sami Sagol is a member of the Weizmann Institute’s International Board and received an honorary doctorate from the Institute in 2016. 

Constantinos Daskalakis wins prestigious Nevanlinna Prize

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 2:10pm

Constantinos (“Costis”) Daskalakis, an MIT professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and principal investigator at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), has won the 2018 Rolf Nevanlinna Prize, one of the most prestigious international awards in mathematics.

Announced today at the International Conference of Mathematicians in Brazil, the prize is awarded every four years (alongside the Fields Medal) to a scientist under 40 who has made major contributions to the mathematical aspects of computer science.

Daskalakis was honored by the International Mathematical Union (IMU) for “transforming our understanding of the computational complexity of fundamental problems in markets, auctions, equilibria, and other economic structures.” The award comes with a monetary prize of 10,000 euros.

“Costis combines amazing technical virtuosity with the rare gift of choosing to work on problems that are both fundamental and complex,” said CSAIL Director Daniela Rus. “We are all so happy to hear about this well-deserved recognition for our colleague.”

A native of Greece, Daskalakis received his undergraduate degree from the National Technical University of Athens and his PhD in electrical engineering and computer sciences from the University of California at Berkeley. He has previously received such honors as the 2008 ACM Doctoral Dissertation Award, the 2010 Sloan Fellowship in Computer Science, the Simo Simons Investigator Award, and the Kalai Game Theory and Computer Science Prize from the Game Theory Society.

Created in 1981 by the Executive Committee of the IMU, the prize is named after the Finnish mathematician Rolf Nevanlinna. The prize is awarded for outstanding contributions on the mathematical aspects of informational sciences. Recipients are invited to participate in the Heidelberg Laureate Forum, an annual networking event that also includes recipients of the ACM A.M. Turing Award, the Abel Prize, and the Fields Medal.

Inexpensive biology kits offer hands-on experience with DNA

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 2:00pm

To help students gain a better grasp of biological concepts, MIT and Northwestern University researchers have designed educational kits that can be used to perform experiments with DNA, to produce glowing proteins, scents, or other easily observed phenomena.

Biology teachers could use the BioBits kits to demonstrate key concepts such as how DNA is translated into proteins, or students could use them to design their own synthetic biology circuits, the researchers say.

“Our vision is that these kits will serve as a creative outlet for young individuals, and show them that biology can be a design platform,” says James Collins, the Termeer Professor of Medical Engineering and Science in MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES) and Department of Biological Engineering. “The time is right for creating educational kits that could be utilized in classrooms or in the home, to introduce young folks as well as adults who want to be retrained in biotech, to the technologies that underpin synthetic biology and biotechnology.”

The new kits contain no living cells but instead consist of freeze-dried cellular components, which makes them inexpensive, shelf-stable, and accessible to any classroom, even in schools with minimal resources.

“Synthetic biology is a technology for the 21st century, and these ‘just add water’ kits are poised to transform synthetic biology education. Indeed, BioBits kits are user-friendly, engage the senses in a fun and exciting way, and reduce biosafety concerns,” says Michael Jewett, the Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence, an associate professor of chemical and biological engineering, and co-director of the Center for Synthetic Biology at Northwestern University, who led the research team with Collins.

The researchers describe the two kits, BioBits Bright and BioBits Explorer, in two papers appearing in Science Advances on Aug. 1. The lead authors of both papers are Ally Huang, an MIT graduate student; Peter Nguyen, a postdoc at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering; and Jessica Stark, a Northwestern University graduate student.

Hands-on biology

In recent years, Collins’ lab has been working on technology to extract and freeze-dry the molecular machinery needed to translate DNA into proteins. They developed freeze-dried pellets, which contain dozens of enzymes and other molecules extracted from cells, and can be stored for an extended period of time at room temperature. Upon the addition of water and DNA, the pellets begin producing proteins encoded by the DNA.

The Collins and Jewett labs recently began to adapt this technology to educational biology kits, in hopes of bringing hands-on, laboratory experiences to high school students, as well as younger students.

“I fell in love with biology in high school, but I never really truly understood the biological concepts until college, when I started working in a research lab and actually doing all the real experiments,” says Huang, who took on the project after joining Collins’ lab a few years ago. “The intent of this project was to find a way to bring these laboratory experiments into a nonlaboratory setting in an easy-to-do and cheap way.”

The researchers set out to create the equivalent of the toy chemistry kit, which allows users to perform their own simple chemical reactions at home.

“One of the best gifts I got as a kid was a chemistry kit,” Collins says. “I did all the prescribed reactions and then went off-script and created my own reactions, some of which were probably not recommended. But I had a tremendous time, and, like many faculty here, was inspired, in part, to consider a career in science because of those kits.”

Similar kits are available to help children build their own simple electronic or robotic systems, but right now, the researchers say, there is no cost-effective equivalent for biology. One reason for that is that most biology experiments involve living cells, which require expensive equipment to keep them alive and can also pose safety risks. The MIT and Northwestern researchers were able to overcome that obstacle with their freeze-dried cellular components.

“The goal was to create a kit where the teacher could open the box and hand out all the components to the kids, without any prep time,” Huang says. “You add the water that contains your DNA to these freeze-dried pellets, and just by doing that the kids can produce a variety of different proteins, and visualize or sense different outputs from these proteins.”

The BioBits Bright kit is based on fluorescent proteins. The kit includes tubes with freeze-dried pellets containing all of the cellular components needed to translate DNA into proteins, as well as DNA that encodes fluorescent proteins of several different colors. Students can add DNA to the pellets, put the tubes into an inexpensive incubator the researchers designed, and then image them using a $15 device that the researchers also developed.

This kind of experimentation, which allows students to vary the amount of DNA added, length of incubation, and temperature of the reaction, helps students to grasp firsthand the “central dogma” of biology: how information encoded by genes flows from DNA to RNA to proteins. The kit can be produced for less than $100 for a classroom of 30 students, making it feasible for use in schools with limited budgets.

In the BioBits Explorer kit, the researchers included DNA that encodes proteins with outputs other than fluorescence, helping to teach additional biological concepts such as reaction catalysis. One DNA sequence included in the kit codes for an enzyme that converts isoamyl alcohol into banana oil, producing a distinctive scent. Another DNA sequence produces an enzyme that can catalyze the formation of hydrogels. The kit also allows students to extract DNA from a fruit such as a banana or kiwi and then test it with a sensor that can distinguish between DNA sequences found in different types of fruit.

Mix and match

In addition to classroom experiments, the researchers believe these kits could be useful for school science clubs where students could “mix and match the components and try to come up with new reactions, or experiment to find what new combinations of outputs they could make,” Huang says.

In trial runs in the Chicago public schools, which began last year, the researchers found that students ranging in age from elementary school to high school were able to successfully perform their own experiments using the kits.

“Seeing the students’ and teachers’ results, which showed that a first-time user could run the BioBits Bright labs successfully, was when it started to become real,” Stark says. “That data gives us evidence that these kits have the potential to significantly expand the kinds of hands-on biology activities that are possible in classrooms or other non-lab settings.”

The team is now building new prototypes of the BioBits Bright kit that will be tested in high schools in Boston, Cambridge, and Chicago this fall. The researchers have launched a website to help enable the creation of an open source community that would allow teachers to add their own supporting curriculum, and scientists to add new components to the kits.

“Eventually, we hope to form a larger community of scientists and educators who are interested in continuing to translate cutting-edge science into hands-on educational experiences,” Stark says.

The researchers hope that the kits will not only help students grasp the connections between what they learn from their biology textbook and real-life biological events, but also stimulate their interest in careers in biology or other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

“We want the BioBits kits to help students see themselves as scientists and hope that these open-access kits might inspire the next generation of students to pursue STEM education,” Jewett says.

The research was funded, in part, by the Army Research Office, the National Science Foundation, the Air Force Research Laboratory Center of Excellence, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Program, and the Department of Energy.

On-chip optical filter processes wide range of light wavelengths

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 4:59am

MIT researchers have designed an optical filter on a chip that can process optical signals from across an extremely wide spectrum of light at once, something never before available to integrated optics systems that process data using light. The technology may offer greater precision and flexibility for designing optical communication and sensor systems, studying photons and other particles through ultrafast techniques, and in other applications.

Optical filters are used to separate one light source into two separate outputs: one reflects unwanted wavelengths — or colors — and the other transmits desired wavelengths. Instruments that require infrared radiation, for instance, will use optical filters to remove any visible light and get cleaner infrared signals.

Existing optical filters, however, have tradeoffs and disadvantages. Discrete (off-chip) “broadband” filters, called dichroic filters, process wide portions of the light spectrum but are large, can be expensive, and require many layers of optical coatings that reflect certain wavelengths. Integrated filters can be produced in large quantities inexpensively, but they typically cover a very narrow band of the spectrum, so many must be combined to efficiently and selectively filter larger portions of the spectrum.

Researchers from MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics have designed the first on-chip filter that, essentially, matches the broadband coverage and precision performance of the bulky filters but can be manufactured using traditional silicon-chip fabrication methods.

“This new filter takes an extremely broad range of wavelengths within its bandwidth as input and efficiently separates it into two output signals, regardless of exactly how wide or at what wavelength the input is. That capability didn’t exist before in integrated optics,” says Emir Salih Magden, a former PhD student in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) and first author on a paper describing the filters published today in Nature Communications.

Paper co-authors along with Magden, who is now an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Koç University in Turkey, are: Nanxi Li, a Harvard University graduate student; and, from MIT, graduate student Manan Raval; former graduate student Christopher V. Poulton; former postdoc Alfonso Ruocco; postdoc associate Neetesh Singh; former research scientist Diedrik Vermeulen; Erich Ippen, the Elihu Thomson Professor in EECS and the Department of Physics; Leslie Kolodziejski, a professor in EECS; and Michael Watts, an associate professor in EECS.

Dictating the flow of light

The MIT researchers designed a novel chip architecture that mimics dichroic filters in many ways. They created two sections of precisely sized and aligned (down to the nanometer) silicon waveguides that coax different wavelengths into different outputs.

Waveguides have rectangular cross-sections typically made of a “core” of high-index material — meaning light travels slowly through it — surrounded by a lower-index material. When light encounters the higher- and lower-index materials, it tends to bounce toward the higher-index material. Thus, in the waveguide light becomes trapped in, and travels along, the core.

The MIT researchers use waveguides to precisely guide the light input to the corresponding signal outputs. One section of the researchers’ filter contains an array of three waveguides, while the other section contains one waveguide that’s slightly wider than any of the three individual ones.

In a device using the same material for all waveguides, light tends to travel along the widest waveguide. By tweaking the widths in the array of three waveguides and gaps between them, the researchers make them appear as a single wider waveguide, but only to light with longer wavelengths. Wavelengths are measured in nanometers, and adjusting these waveguide metrics creates a “cutoff,” meaning the precise nanometer of wavelength above which light will “see” the array of three waveguides as a single one.

In the paper, for instance, the researchers created a single waveguide measuring 318 nanometers, and three separate waveguides measuring 250 nanometers each with gaps of 100 nanometers in between. This corresponded to a cutoff of around 1,540 nanometers, which is in the infrared region. When a light beam entered the filter, wavelengths measuring less than 1,540 nanometers could detect one wide waveguide on one side and three narrower waveguides on the other. Those wavelengths move along the wider waveguide. Wavelengths longer than 1,540 nanometers, however, can’t detect spaces between three separate waveguides. Instead, they detect a massive waveguide wider than the single waveguide, so move toward the three waveguides.

“That these long wavelengths are unable to distinguish these gaps, and see them as a single waveguide, is half of the puzzle. The other half is designing efficient transitions for routing light through these waveguides toward the outputs,” Magden says.

The design also allows for a very sharp roll-off, measured by how precisely a filter splits an input near the cutoff. If the roll-off is gradual, some desired transmission signal goes into the undesired output. Sharper roll-off produces a cleaner signal filtered with minimal loss. In measurements, the researchers found their filters offer about 10 to 70 times sharper roll-offs than other broadband filters.

As a final component, the researchers provided guidelines for exact widths and gaps of the waveguides needed to achieve different cutoffs for different wavelengths. In that way, the filters are highly customizable to work at any wavelength range. “Once you choose what materials to use, you can determine the necessary waveguide dimensions and design a similar filter for your own platform,” Magden says.

Sharper tools

Many of these broadband filters can be implemented within one system to flexibly process signals from across the entire optical spectrum, including splitting and combing signals from multiple inputs into multiple outputs.

This could pave the way for sharper “optical combs,” a relatively new invention consisting of uniformly spaced femtosecond (one quadrillionth of a second) pulses of light from across the visible light spectrum — with some spanning ultraviolet and infrared zones — resulting in thousands of individual lines of radio-frequency signals that resemble “teeth” of a comb. Broadband optical filters are critical in combining different parts of the comb, which reduces unwanted signal noise and produces very fine comb teeth at exact wavelengths.

Because the speed of light is known and constant, the teeth of the comb can be used like a ruler to measure light emitted or reflected by objects for various purposes. A promising new application for the combs is powering “optical clocks” for GPS satellites that could potentially pinpoint a cellphone user’s location down to the centimeter or even help better detect gravitational waves. GPS works by tracking the time it takes a signal to travel from a satellite to the user’s phone. Other applications include high-precision spectroscopy, enabled by stable optical combs combining different portions of the optical spectrum into one beam, to study the optical signatures of atoms, ions, and other particles.

In these applications and others, it’s helpful to have filters that cover broad, and vastly different, portions of the optical spectrum on one device.

“Once we have really precise clocks with sharp optical and radio-frequency signals, you can get more accurate positioning and navigation, better receptor quality, and, with spectroscopy, get access to phenomena you couldn’t measure before,” Magden says.

The new device could be useful, for instance, for sharper signals in fiber-to-the-home installations, which connect optical fiber from a central point directly to homes and buildings, says Wim Bogaerts, a professor of silicon photonics at Ghent University. “I like the concept, because it should be very flexible in terms of design,” he says. “It looks like an interesting combination of ‘dispersion engineering’ [a technique for controlling light based on wavelength] and an adiabatic coupler [a tool that splits light between waveguides] to make separation filter for high and low wavelengths.”

Boeing will be Kendall Square Initiative’s first major tenant

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 12:59am

Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace company, will soon become part of the MIT/Kendall Square innovation fabric. The company has agreed to lease approximately 100,000 square feet at MIT’s building to be developed at 314 Main St., in the heart of Kendall Square in Cambridge.

The agreement makes Boeing the first major tenant to commit to MIT’s Kendall Square Initiative, which includes six sites slated for housing, retail, research and development, office, academic, and open space uses. The building at 314 Main St. (“Site 5” on the map above) is located between the MBTA Red Line station and the Kendall Hotel. Boeing is expected to occupy its new space by the end of 2020.

“Our focus on advancing the Kendall Square innovation ecosystem includes a deep and historic understanding of what we call the ‘power of proximity’ to address pressing global challenges,” MIT Executive Vice President and Treasurer Israel Ruiz says. “MIT’s president, L. Rafael Reif, has made clear his objective of reducing the time it takes to move ideas from the classroom and lab out to the market. The power of proximity is a dynamic that propels this concept forward: Just as pharmaceutical, biotech, and tech sector scientists in Kendall Square work closely with their nearby MIT colleagues, Boeing and MIT researchers will be able to strengthen their collaborative ties to further chart the course of the aerospace industry.”

Boeing was founded in 1916 — the same year that MIT moved to Cambridge — and marked its recent centennial in a spirit similar to the Institute’s 100-year celebration in 2016, with special events, community activities, and commemorations. That period also represents a century-long research relationship between Boeing and MIT that has helped to advance the global aerospace industry.

Some of Boeing’s founding leaders, as well as engineers, executives, Boeing Technical Fellows, and student interns, are MIT alumni.

Earlier this year, Boeing announced that it will serve as the lead donor for MIT’s $18 million project to replace its 80-year-old Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel. This pledge will help to create, at MIT, the world’s most advanced academic wind tunnel.

In 2017, Boeing acquired MIT spinout Aurora Flight Sciences, which develops advanced aerospace platforms and autonomous systems. Its primary research and development center is located at 90 Broadway in Kendall Square. In the new facility at 314 Main St., Boeing will establish the Aerospace and Autonomy Center, which will focus on advancing enabling technologies for autonomous aircraft.

“Boeing is leading the development of new autonomous vehicles and future transportation systems that will bring flight closer to home,” says Greg Hyslop, Boeing chief technology officer. “By investing in this new research facility, we are creating a hub where our engineers can collaborate with other Boeing engineers and research partners around the world and leverage the Cambridge innovation ecosystem.”

“It’s fitting that Boeing will join the Kendall/MIT innovation family,” MIT Provost Martin Schmidt says. “Our research interests have been intertwined for over 100 years, and we’ve worked together to advance world-changing aerospace technologies and systems. MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics is the oldest program of its kind in the United States, and excels at its mission of developing new air transportation concepts, autonomous systems, and small satellites through an intensive focus on cutting-edge education and research. Boeing’s presence will create an unprecedented opportunity for new synergies in this industry.”

The current appearance of the 314 Main St. site belies its future active presence in Kendall Square. The building’s foundation and basement level — which will house loading infrastructure, storage and mechanical space, and bicycle parking — is currently in construction. Adjacent to those functions is an underground parking garage, a network of newly placed utilities, and water and sewer infrastructure. Vertical construction of the building should begin in September.

At 250 feet high, the new 17-floor building will accommodate additional commercial tenants, as well as the MIT Museum, which will occupy over 57,000 square feet on the building’s ground, second, and third floors. The ground floor is designed to feature retail and restaurant uses, including the entrance to the new home for the MIT Press Bookstore.

“Boeing will be a great addition to the Kendall Square innovation ecosystem, “ says Steve Marsh, managing director of MIT’s real estate group. “Boeing has chosen to locate at the new gateway to MIT’s campus being developed above the Kendall MBTA station. This is as close to MIT’s campus as industry innovators can physically get, and that helps promote important collaborations.”

On the other side of the MBTA station, MIT’s new graduate residence hall (“Site 4” on the map above) is already going up. The Institute decided to lead with that 450-unit facility in response to community interest in expanding on-campus housing inventory for graduate students. That building will also serve to shape the East Campus gateway by creating new homes for MIT’s Admissions Office, an innovation and entrepreneurship hub, a childcare center, active retail concepts, and the MIT Forum, which will provide shared space for community programming.

Tying these buildings together will be an outdoor space well over two acres. The area will feature a combination of hard and soft landscape treatments accompanied by art installations, interactive science experiments, inventions, and other engaging and surprising elements showcasing MIT’s innovative and welcoming spirit. The Institute has recently hired Jessie Schlosser Smith as its new director of open space programming; she is already beginning to collaborate with faculty, students, staff, and members of the Cambridge community to envision memorable programming for the outdoor spaces.

Inventing future fabrics

Tue, 07/31/2018 - 12:45pm

A T-shirt that can change color to complement your mood (and help you pare down your wardrobe). An apron that transforms into a dress and has interchangeable pockets with high-tech functionality. These are the forward-looking concepts presented by a group of three students from MIT and three students from the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), making practical use of the latest active textile technologies.

For the first FIT/MIT Summer Workshop, held over two weeks in June, the six students spent one week at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts and one week at FIT in New York City to explore and develop clothing concepts using advanced functional materials that incorporate 3-D printing or advanced knitting technologies. The workshop was held collaboratively with Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA), a Cambridge-based national nonprofit enabling a manufacturing-based transformation of traditional fibers, yarns, and textiles into highly sophisticated integrated and networked devices and systems.

Personal identity

Veronica Apsan, of Park Ridge, New Jersey, a 2018 FIT graduate who majored in fashion design, and Erika Anderson of Carlsbad, California, a rising MIT senior who is studying mechanical engineering with a minor in design, conceived a T-shirt that can change color.

“We were really interested in color and how it affects people’s moods and how they feel,” said Anderson. “Color and clothing are part of a person’s identity and how they want to portray that to the world.” Anderson and Apsan started with a color-changing filament that they 3D-printed into modular components. From there, they moved on to hollow fibers that can be filled with an ink that changes color when an electrical current is sent through it.

“Many people own basic clothing or similar shirts and pants in different colors,” Anderson explained. “This takes up a lot of closet space and costs a lot of money.” A large wardrobe is also not environmentally friendly. With a T-shirt that can change color, a person could radically pare down how many garments they buy and throw out.

The four other students in the workshop combined their ideas into a single wearable concept. David Merchan, of Bow, New Hampshire, a rising MIT senior double majoring in materials science and engineering and physics; Melanie Wong of Queens, New York, a rising senior at FIT majoring in fashion design; Calvin Zhong '18, of Manhattan, a recent MIT graduate who double majored in architecture and comparative media studies; and Jesse Doherty, an FIT rising senior majoring in fashion design, created a double-layer knit laboratory apron with reflective zippers that transforms into a dress or bag and has interchangeable pockets with customizable technological functions. For example, one pocket could have an energy socket that wirelessly charges a phone, while another could act as a hand sanitizer by working into the fiber antimicrobial chemicals or ultraviolet LEDs. The apron/dress itself could also be infused with conductive fibers that cool or warm the wearer.

“You could imagine that a lab tech would have different needs than a doctor, who would have different needs than a DIY hobbyist or a shop manager,” explained Zhong.

3-D-printed mesh

Using 3-D printing, the students knit an open, fully twistable weave mesh for their apron/dress. Once the soluble supports were removed in a chemical bath, the mesh moved in every direction because of the flexible fiber. “The same structure in different materials would behave differently,” noted Doherty.

In addition to conceiving their projects, the students had a packed schedule of workshops, talks, and site visits. While at MIT, they learned about bringing their ideas to market through an intensive entrepreneurship boot camp. They also attended an AFFOA member networking event at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, where Apsan said she and Anderson received positive feedback about their ideas. “The fact that someone in the industry who is working on textiles is thinking the same thing was so awesome to hear,” she said. During their week at FIT, the students visited WGSN, a leading fashion trend, forecast, and analysis service, and met with Gabi Asfour, founder and creative director at threeASFOUR, a clothing design brand, about incorporating 3-D-printed parts into garments. MIT and FIT faculty mentors assisted the students throughout the two weeks.

“We believe this is the future, so we want you all to be involved and help make it happen,” AFFOA Chief Executive Officer Yoel Fink told the group.

Inspiring collaboration

Gregory C. Rutledge, lead principal investigator for MIT in AFFOA and the Lammot du Pont Professor in Chemical Engineering, commented, "It is exciting to see what happens when students from different fields of engineering and design, but with a common interest in advanced fibers and fabrics, come together and engage with new kinds of materials and manufacturing techniques. The collaboration and creativity is inspiring.”

“Combining the talents and skills of FIT and MIT is truly the future,” said Apsan as the two-week workshop wrapped up.

“This workshop validates the benefits of bringing FIT and MIT students together. For this specific workshop, the students explored the possibilities of advanced knitting and 3-D printing,” said Joanne Arbuckle, deputy to the president for industry partnerships and collaborative programs at FIT. “As the fashion industry becomes more and more dependent on advanced textiles, students who have the experience this workshop has provided will prove to be the industry’s next leaders.”

Featured video: If the spacesuit fits

Tue, 07/31/2018 - 11:25am

Movement really moves Richard Fineman, a fourth-year PhD student in the Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology. Using wearable sensors and a range of complex modeling tools, Fineman is able to measure and understand a body in motion in unprecedented ways. He is using what he’s learning to advance human health and medicine, as well as astronaut garb.

As a lifelong athlete, Fineman has always been interested in biomechanics and human motion. In his work, he is “able to evaluate whether a patient is at risk for falling” by using cameras and computers to gather position and movement data. Subjects in the lab are fitted with wearable sensors and asked to complete certain tasks. Their movements are tracked and captured and the resulting data is processed and analyzed to help define models that can “determine whether or not someone is at high versus low fall risk,” he explains.

Fineman’s work measuring movement here on Earth piqued his curiosity about human bodies in motion in other environments. “How does human motion change in altered gravity environments?” he asks. “I think about how spacesuits are these big bulky objects. … Each suit has to be fit to the human, but we don’t really have objective ways to determine how well the suit fits.”

Luckily, Fineman is a member of Assistant Professor Leia Stirling's group in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, where he was able to step into a space suit himself to experiment. Using his wearable sensors, Fineman was able to come up with techniques to evaluate and improve the way the space suit fits on the human.

Submitted by: Carolyn Blais | Video by: Lillie Paquette | 2 min, 11 sec

Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab welcomes initial members

Tue, 07/31/2018 - 11:00am

In its first year, the Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab (J-WEL) has welcomed a diverse group of organizations as members, including leading universities, major non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and top companies. J-WEL, launched in May of last year, promotes excellence and transformation in global education across the lifespan of the learner, through collaboratives at the pK-12, higher education, and workplace learning levels.

The pK-12 Collaborative, under the direction of professors Angela Belcher and Eric Klopfer, has a growing list of members including the Hong Kong-based nonprofit Catalyst Education Lab, Save the Children, educational technology company EnglishHelper (United States), Australia’s Queensland University of Technology (QUT), and the Wadah Foundation (Indonesia).

The Higher Education Collaborative, led by faculty director Professor Hazel Sive, has been joined by members from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. These include Ahmadu Bello University (Nigeria), Covenant University (Nigeria), Seikei University (Japan), Universidad de los Andes (Colombia), Universidad Mayor (Chile), University of São Paulo (Brazil), and the University of The Bahamas.

Members joining the Workplace Learning Collaborative, which is led by MIT Sloan School of Management Principal Research Scientist George Westerman, include Intelligent Machines Lab and UBS.

“The high caliber of the organizations that have joined J-WEL, and the speed with which they have come on board, is testament to the impact that J-WEL has made in such a short space of time,” says Fady Jameel, president of Community Jameel International, the social enterprise organization that co-founded J-WEL with MIT in 2017. “The different members will bring wide-ranging insights to the table at the pulsating meetings of J-WEL Weeks and other events — but they are unified by their commitment to discovering and sharing innovative approaches to learning, and applying them in the real world.”

J-WEL promotes excellence and transformation in education at MIT and globally by engaging with educators, technologists, policymakers, societal leaders, employers, and employees. Through online and in-person collaborations, workshops, research, and information-sharing events, J-WEL member organizations work with MIT faculty and staff to address global opportunities for scalable change in education. J-WEL shares MIT’s “mens et manus” (“mind and hand”) approach, entrepreneurial spirit, and insights into digital learning, artificial intelligence, learning sciences, and other fields that are disrupting the education and training landscape as well as offering new opportunities to transform teaching and learning.

“Each collaborative is taking a unique approach to engaging with its members to define and explore educational challenges and opportunities that can have global impact,” says M.S. Vijay Kumar, associate dean for digital learning and J-WEL’s executive director, in discussing J-WEL’s first year. “We’re thrilled to have this remarkable group of organizations working with us.”

Professor Sylvio Canuto, University of São Paulo’s research provost and membership coordinator, describes his university’s motivation for involvement: “USP has joined J-WEL due to MIT's long history of excellence and due to the great opportunities that arise from being part of a global program that aims to tackle the great challenge of enhancing education.”

J-WEL supports educational research and innovation by MIT faculty and staff through grants and collaborative projects with J-WEL members. J-WEL engages MIT students through volunteer opportunities at J-WEL events and through the J-WEL Global Ambassadors program, which offers MIT students the opportunity to work on meaningful education projects across the globe.

J-WEL is an initiative of MIT and Community Jameel, the social enterprise organization founded by MIT alumnus Mohammed Jameel '78. Community Jameel was established in 2003 to continue the Jameel family's tradition of supporting the community, a tradition started in the 1940s by the late Abdul Latif Jameel, founder of the Abdul Latif Jameel business, who throughout his life helped tens of thousands of disadvantaged people in the fields of health care, education, and improving livelihoods. Today, Community Jameel is dedicated to supporting social and economic sustainability across the Middle East and beyond through a range of initiatives including J-WEL and two other labs at MIT: the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) and the Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab (J-WAFS).

China could face deadly heat waves due to climate change

Tue, 07/31/2018 - 10:59am

A region that holds one of the biggest concentrations of people on Earth could be pushing against the boundaries of habitability by the latter part of this century, a new study shows.

Research has shown that beyond a certain threshold of temperature and humidity, a person cannot survive unprotected in the open for extended periods — as, for example, farmers must do. Now, a new MIT study shows that unless drastic measures are taken to limit climate-changing emissions, China’s most populous and agriculturally important region could face such deadly conditions repeatedly, suffering the most damaging heat effects, at least as far as human life is concerned, of any place on the planet.

The study shows that the risk of deadly heat waves is significantly increased because of intensive irrigation in this relatively dry but highly fertile region, known as the North China Plain — a region whose role in that country is comparable to that of the Midwest in the U.S. That increased vulnerability to heat arises because the irrigation exposes more water to evaporation, leading to higher humidity in the air than would otherwise be present and exacerbating the physiological stresses of the temperature.

The new findings, by Elfatih Eltahir at MIT and Suchul Kang at the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, are reported in the journal Nature Communications. The study is the third in a set; the previous two projected increases of deadly heat waves in the Persian Gulf area and in South Asia. While the earlier studies found serious looming risks, the new findings show that the North China Plain, or NCP, faces the greatest risks to human life from rising temperatures, of any location on Earth.

“The response is significantly larger than the corresponsing response in the other two regions,” says Eltahir, who is the the Breene M. Kerr Professor of Hydrology and Climate and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The three regions the researchers studied were picked because past records indicate that combined temperature and humidity levels reached greater extremes there than on any other land masses. Although some risk factors are clear — low-lying valleys and proximity to warm seas or oceans — “we don’t have a general quantitative theory through which we could have predicted” the location of these global hotspots, he explains. When looking empirically at past climate data, “Asia is what stands out,” he says.

Although the Persian Gulf study found some even greater temperature extremes, those were confined to the area over the water of the Gulf itself, not over the land. In the case of the North China Plain, “This is where people live,” Eltahir says.

The key index for determining survivability in hot weather, Eltahir explains, involves the combination of heat and humidity, as determined by a measurement called the wet-bulb temperature. It is measured by literally wrapping wet cloth around the bulb (or sensor) of a thermometer, so that evaporation of the water can cool the bulb. At 100 percent humidity, with no evaporation possible, the wet-bulb temperature equals the actual temperature.

This measurement reflects the effect of temperature extremes on a person in the open, which depends on the body’s ability to shed heat through the evaporation of sweat from the skin. At a wet-bulb temperature of 35 degrees Celsius (95 F), a healthy person may not be able to survive outdoors for more than six hours, research has shown. The new study shows that under business-as-usual scenarios for greenhouse gas emissions, that threshold will be reached several times in the NCP region between 2070 and 2100.

“This spot is just going to be the hottest spot for deadly heat waves in the future, especially under climate change,” Eltahir says. And signs of that future have already begun: There has been a substantial increase in extreme heat waves in the NCP already in the last 50 years, the study shows. Warming in this region over that period has been nearly double the global average — 0.24 degrees Celsius per decade versus 0.13. In 2013, extreme heat waves in the region persisted for up to 50 days, and maximum temperatures topped 38 C in places. Major heat waves occurred in 2006 and 2013, breaking records. Shanghai, East China’s largest city, broke a 141-year temperature record in 2013, and dozens died.

To arrive at their projections, Eltahir and Kang ran detailed climate model simulations of the NCP area — which covers about 4,000 square kilometers — for the past 30 years. They then selected only the models that did the best job of matching the actual observed conditions of the past period, and used those models to project the future climate over 30 years at the end of this century. They used two different future scenarios: business as usual, with no new efforts to reduce emissions; and moderate reductions in emissions, using standard scenarios developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Each version was run two different ways: one including the effects of irrigation, and one with no irrigation.

One of the surprising findings was the significant contribution by irrigation to the problem — on average, adding about a half-degree Celsius to the overall warming in the region that would occur otherwise. That’s because, even though extra moisture in the air produces some local cooling effect at ground level, this is more than offset by the added physiological stress imposed by the higher humidity, and by the fact that extra water vapor — itself a powerful greenhouse gas — contributes to an overall warming of the air mass.

“Irrigation exacerbates the impact of climate change,” Eltahir says. In fact, the researchers report, the combined effect, as projected by the models, is a bit greater the sum of the individual impacts of irrigation or climate change alone, for reasons that will require further research.

The bottom line, as the researchers write in the paper, is the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in order to reduce the likelihood of such extreme conditions. They conclude, “China is currently the largest contributor to the emissions of greenhouse gases, with potentially serious implications to its own population: Continuation of the current pattern of global emissions may limit habitability of the most populous region of the most populous country on Earth.”

Q&A: Anne McCants on "Waves of Globalization," the 2018 World Economic History Congress at MIT

Mon, 07/30/2018 - 1:30pm

Approximately 1,500 economic, business, and social historians are gathering at MIT this week to discuss globalization, inequality, economic growth, and the changing role of technology. They are convening from around the world for the International Economic History Association's 18th World Economic History Congress — the first to be held in North America in the 50 years since 1968.

The event features talks from leading thinkers, including Thomas Piketty, author of the best-selling "Capital in the Twenty-First Century," who taught in the MIT Department of Economics from 1993 to 1995 and has returned to MIT as a visiting professor; Harvard University economist Claudia Goldin, author of "Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women;" Oxford University historian Jane Humphries, author of "Childhood and Child Labour in the British Industrial Revolution;" and MIT’s own Peter Temin, author of "The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy."

MIT professor of history Anne McCants, who was instrumental in bringing the conference to MIT, is the current vice president of the International Economic History Association (IEHA), the chair of this year's congress, and will serve as the next president of the IEHA. She recently shared her perspectives on the 2018 gathering with the communications team in the Dean's Office of MIT's School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.
                          
Q. Why is this conference a significant event for MIT?

A. The congress highlights the Institute’s commitment to the principles of international scholarly cooperation and open intellectual exchange. It also gives MIT the opportunity to highlight for the world the quality of its social science and humanistic research programs, as well as its commitment to the incorporation of the human sciences into its engineering and natural sciences curriculum.
 
Q. The 2018 conference topic is “Waves of Globalization.” Can you share why the research of economic historians is so important to understanding the impact of globalization on different institutions and regions?

A. When the theme of this year’s meeting was selected almost four years ago, globalization was the topic on everyone’s mind. Largely, the mood was celebratory. Economic historians then were asking: When did globalization begin and where? In general, they were not asking not whether globalization represented progress; that was largely taken to be true.

Everyone recognized that large-scale change is disruptive and can bring uneven benefits, but the basic assumption was that greater global integration of factor markets, consumer markets, financial markets, and the marketplace of ideas would bring enough prosperity overall that the bumps could be evened out by local political fixes.

So far, that has not proved to be the case. While the wealth effects of globalization have been real enough, the local distributional fixes seem to have been very uneven in their effectiveness. As a result, the political world looks very different today than it did just a few years ago, even if the fundamentals of the international economy have not changed much.

This strikes me as exactly the moment when the work of economic historians is of greatest importance. We have something useful to say about what the disruptions of previous “waves of globalization” have looked like and how social and political communities have resolved the disruptions of those episodes. Many of those resolutions were violent, but not all. So, there are important lessons for us to learn from those episodes, and opportunities to thoughtfully attempt to do better — especially if we take as a goal minimizing violence and human suffering.

First, however, we have to understand that this is not the first time that the forces of interconnection have altered people’s way of life in one place or another; far from it. The work of economic historians is valuable because they theorize about why events unfold as they do and speculate on how they might do so again in the future. But, significantly, economic historians also uncover the events themselves, often identifying totally unexpected phenomena in the many kinds of archives left by the past, be they written, material, artistic, biological, or even geologic.

If we don’t know what happened in the past, we are hard-pressed to understand usefully what we see in the present. Everything appears perpetually new, surprising, and often deeply unsettling. The consequences of taking such a blind path forward are rarely felicitous.

Q. What kinds of useful insights might this conference provide for addressing today’s top challenges?

A. From my survey of the agenda, I think the big topics are likely to be the costs and benefits of global interactions of all kinds; the pressing need for further development of nations that are home to the so-called “bottom billion” (the world’s poorest billion people); the sources of inequality in outcomes as well as opportunities; and the connections between political processes and the economy. These are, of course, also the most pressing issues of our time. So, the research presented at the congress will speak in the most direct way possible to the questions the whole world is asking at this moment. My great hope is that we can communicate the results of that research in a way that the world can hear.
 
Q. In what ways will the conference highlight new research techniques and the ways technology is changing the field of economic history? Any examples of exciting new work that will be unveiled?
 
A. The most evident way that new research techniques will be unveiled at the congress will be in the projects that rely on the various big data sources that have been in development in economics and also history over the past several years. The digitization of an increasing number of archives, and the application of data-mining tools, have opened up whole new avenues of investigation that were simply not possible before.

It will be interesting to see what kinds of surprises they will bring, and whether those surprises prove to upend well-established narratives about the past, or theories about how that past evolved. I’m excited by the possibilities here, but I also think the jury is still out.

Data-mining techniques can allow us to see patterns invisible to the naked-eye as it were; but they might also tempt us to look for answers only in the places where the data exist to be mined at all — leading us like the proverbial drunk to look for our keys under the streetlight rather than where they were actually dropped.




Interview prepared by SHASS Communications
Editorial team: Kathryn O'Neill, Emily Hiestand

The price of the pledge

Mon, 07/30/2018 - 1:15pm

On first glance, it could be a tall order for Turkey to fulfill its Paris Agreement pledge, which targets a reduction in the nation’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 21 percent below business-as-usual levels by 2030. Fossil fuels comprise nearly all of Turkey’s energy mix, and low-carbon options have not yet gained traction. Wind and solar accounts for about 5 percent of energy generation and nuclear power plants are only in the planning stages.

That means meeting Turkey’s Paris commitment will require a dramatic shift to low-carbon energy sources, but how much of a toll might such a transition take on the nation’s economy?

To address this question systematically, a team of researchers at the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change developed a computational general equilibrium (CGE) model of the Turkish economy, TR-EDGE. Unlike similar CGE models, TR-EDGE includes a detailed representation of the energy-intensive electricity sector. The team’s analysis appears in the journal Energy Policy.

“When the role of the power sector in decarbonizing an economy is taken into account, the TR-EDGE model enables researchers to more precisely estimate the economic impact of different climate policies in Turkey by capturing important characteristics of separate generation technologies and the intermittent nature of renewable power,” says Bora Kat, lead author of the study and a former Fulbright Visiting Scholar at the Joint Program who now serves on the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey.

Using the model, Kat and his collaborators — Joint Program Deputy Director Sergey Paltsev and Research Scientist Mei Yuan analyzed four different scenarios: business-as-usual (BAU), which incorporates the government’s current plans for a nuclear program and tariff-funded renewables initiative; no-nuclear (NoN), which assumes no nuclear program; and the combination of each of those two scenarios with a national emissions trading policy.

The results show that a national emissions trading market would at once incent GHG emissions reductions and mitigate negative impacts on economic growth. Absent an emissions trading policy, fossil fuels — oil, natural gas, and coal — continue to comprise nearly all of Turkey’s primary energy mix in 2030. Implementing an emissions trading policy eliminates carbon-intensive coal-fired power generation by 2030 in both BAU and NoN scenarios. Keeping a nuclear program reduces GHG emissions by about 3 percent more than scrapping it (NoN), while lowering the price of carbon from $70 per metric ton of carbon dioxide to $50.

Based on these results, fulfilling Turkey’s Paris pledge would cost the economy about 0.8 (with nuclear) to 1.1 percent of its GDP by 2030.

“The results show that the targets that Turkey envisioned for the Paris Agreement are reachable at a modest economic cost,” says Kat. “However, our estimates do not account for economic co-benefits of GHG emission reductions or the risks associated with nuclear power plants. Further research may include incorporating such factors in a more detailed analysis.”

The study’s approach of modeling the electric power sector in detail could be applied in assessing the likely national economic impact of other countries’ Paris climate commitments.

“At the Joint Program we have developed a global energy-economic modeling expertise that is extremely informative for understanding long-term energy and emission trends,” says co-author Sergey Paltsev. “Our new focus on using the lessons learned from our global modeling to create detailed country-specific models is equally important for helping decision-makers to design efficient policies for emissions mitigation.”

“We are especially happy when we can help to train local experts, as in the case of Turkey, who return to their home institutions and increase their country’s capabilities to perform their own world-class economic analysis,” Paltsev says.

The research was made possible by funding from the Turkish Fulbright Commission (Visiting Scholar Program) and the Joint Program’s consortium of sponsors.

Senior Vice President and Corporation Secretary Greg Morgan to retire

Mon, 07/30/2018 - 11:00am

After 12 years of service at MIT, Senior Vice President and Secretary of the MIT Corporation R. Gregory Morgan will step down at the end of this year, President L. Rafael Reif announced today in a letter to members of the MIT community. He will be succeeded by Suzanne Glassburn, who has been an attorney in MIT’s Office of the General Counsel (OGC) since 2008.

“Since I took office and long before, Greg has been among my closest and most trusted advisors,” Reif said in his letter. He pointed out that Morgan’s duties have covered a wide swath: “His vital work includes serving as chief of staff — coordinating the efforts of MIT’s senior leadership, the MIT Corporation, its Executive Committee and the overall administration, raising our sights and making us all more effective.”

Morgan came to MIT in January 2007 at the request of then-president Susan Hockfield, to be MIT’s first general counsel and create for the first time a unified in-house legal team for the Institute. Together with then-Deputy General Counsel Mark DiVincenzo, he quickly established the OGC by bringing together MIT’s internal legal talent and then steadily built the team by attracting other highly qualified attorneys to MIT from top law firms.

“Because the general counsel role was new for MIT, there was some skepticism at first, but Greg’s effectiveness quickly dispelled those doubts,” says MIT President Emerita Susan Hockfield. “His ability to listen astutely, his breadth of curiosity, and his tenacity at solving hard problems made him an invaluable thought partner, to me and to individuals across the Institute. We were incredibly fortunate to have Greg navigate the transition to the ‘Office of the General Counsel’ model, which continues to serve MIT so well.”

Before coming to MIT, Morgan was co-managing partner of the prominent law firm of Munger, Tolles and Olson, where he had practiced law since 1981, with clients including Berkshire Hathaway and its chair Warren Buffett. A graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, he had clerked for Judge J. Edward Lumbard of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, as well as for Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. of the U.S. Supreme Court.

At MIT, Morgan has played an important role in shaping the framework for several major new Institute initiatives, first as vice president and general counsel, and since 2015 in his present role. This work included setting the terms of MIT’s involvement in the creation of new universities in other countries, including the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) in Russia. He also played a key role in the launch of the online education platforms MITx and edX and in the transition of the Broad Institute into a free-standing, self-governed entity that remains tightly coupled to MIT.

President Reif, in his letter to members of the MIT community, praised Morgan’s abilities, saying “he has served the MIT community with extraordinary dedication, working at the highest levels, often behind the scenes, and around the clock. From helping to respond to terrible crises like the Boston Marathon bombing and the tragic impact on our campus, to the essential work of MIT’s governance, over and over I have counted on his rare scope and sensitivity to get things right.”

Recognizing that MIT students often need independent legal advice, Morgan was instrumental in creating a series of law clinics for students, to help them deal with matters such as the legal questions involved in creating new startup companies based on their research, or other legal issues relating to intellectual property or cybersecurity. He forged an agreement with the Boston University Law School, which agreed to provide law students to staff the clinics. The clinics are now offered weekly during the academic year and have seen steadily rising demand from students for their services. “It’s an educational experience for both the MIT students as clients and the BU students as lawyers,” Morgan says.

Morgan will continue his role at MIT until the end of 2018, and starting in September he will overlap with Glassburn in order to ensure a smooth transition. “I don’t know what I’m going to do next,” he adds, but he says he wants to “rediscover and reinvent,” and find out where his curiosity takes him.

Glassburn, one of Morgan’s early hires for the office, will conclude her work as an attorney for MIT as she assumes her new position. She joined MIT’s OGC in April 2008 after 17 years at the Boston-based law firm Nutter, McClennen and Fish, where she had been a partner since 1999.

“Through her deep understanding of MIT’s academic and research transactional needs, her ability to identify the core needs of each party and bring them to agreement, and her wise counsel to her OGC colleagues, Suzanne has been a tremendous asset to our office, and to the Institute,” says Vice President and General Counsel Mark DiVincenzo. “Though I will miss her representing MIT as a lawyer in the OGC, I have every confidence that the skills and qualities she has mastered in her legal role at the Institute will serve Suzanne very well in her new role.”

A graduate of Vanderbilt University and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, she handled a wide variety of subjects in her law practice, including mergers and acquisitions and intellectual property, and was co-chair of the firm’s Emerging Companies Group. But, after her years at the law firm, she came to a conclusion: “Where I’d really like to work is at a university.” Though she enjoyed her work, “I wanted something that excited me more,” she recalls, and MIT seemed the perfect fit.

In her years at the Institute, Glassburn says, she has had the good fortune to work on a number of projects that support President Reif’s agenda, including the establishment of MITx and edX; the launch of the Quest for Intelligence, an initiative focused on human and machine intelligence; and the creation of The Engine, a venture to support “tough-tech” companies at work on transformative ideas. 

She has also worked closely on several of the Institute’s significant initiatives, including the MIT–IBM Watson AI Lab; the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA) public-private partnership, established with support from the U.S. Department of Defense; and a number of international collaborations that led to new universities — Skoltech in Russia, the Singapore University of Technology and Design, and the Masdar Institute (now Khalifa University) in Abu Dhabi.

“The most exciting and interesting part of my career has been the time I’ve spent at MIT,” Glassburn says. Among other things, it has given her the chance to work with many amazing people on interesting and challenging projects, she says, and “in this new role, I’ll have an even greater opportunity” to collaborate with such talented people.

In taking on her new position, Glassburn says, “I’m looking forward to expanding the range of issues I get to work on,” including work on major issues such as “the future of education, the future of work, and the future of the environment. … I’m excited to have a more direct impact on what the Institute is trying to achieve.”

Featured video: Reshaping the Arab world through science and technology

Fri, 07/27/2018 - 4:50pm

The mission of the MIT Arab Students’ Organization lies in building cultural, academic, and industrial bridges between MIT and the Arab world. The student-led group aims to create a platform for Arab scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs to express their ideas, and a place for the MIT community to engage with the Arab world through various events and initiatives.

This spring, the ASO held its first Arab Science and Technology conference, where leaders and innovators from across the globe gathered to discuss issues relating to education, technology, and entrepreneurship in the Middle East and North Africa.

“I think it’s very useful to be able to listen to [different] perspectives and learn from their experiences,” says Safa Jabri, rising senior in mechanical engineering.

Submitted by: Arab Students' Organization | Video by: ASO | 1 min, 41 sec

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