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    Understanding boiling to help the nuclear industry and space missions

    To launch extended missions in space, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is borrowing a page from the nuclear engineering industry: It is trying to understand how boiling works.

    Planning for long-term missions has NASA researching ways of packing the least amount of cryogenic fuel possible for efficient liftoff. One potential solution is to refuel the rocket in space using fuel depots placed in low Earth orbits. This way, the spacecraft can carry the lightest fuel load — enough to reach the low Earth orbit to refuel as necessary and complete the mission. But refueling in space requires a thorough knowledge of cryogenic fuels.

    “We [need to understand] how boiling of cryogens behaves in microgravity conditions [encountered in space],” says Florian Chavagnat, a sixth-year doctoral candidate in the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering (NSE). After all, understanding how cryogens boil in space is critical to NASA’s fuel management strategy. The vast majority of studies on boiling evaluate fluids that boil at high temperatures, which doesn’t necessarily apply to cryogens. Under the advisement of Matteo Bucci and Emilio Baglietto, Chavagnat is working on NASA-sponsored research about cryogens and the way the lack of buoyancy in space affects boiling.

    A childhood spent tinkering

    A deep understanding of engineering and physical phenomena is exactly what Chavagnat developed growing up in Boussy-Saint-Antoine, a suburb of Paris, with parents who worked for SNCF, the national state-owned rail company. Chavagnat remembers discussing the working of trains and motors with his engineer dad and building a variety of balsa-wood models. One of his memorable projects was a sailboat propelled by a motor from an electric toothbrush.

    By the time he was a teenager, Chavagnat received a metal lathe as a gift. His tinkering became an obsession; a compressed air engine was a favorite project. Soon his parents’ small shed, meant for gardening, became a factory, Chavagnat recalls, laughing.

    A lifelong love of math and physics propelled a path to the National Institute of Applied Science in Rouen, Normandy, where Chavagnat studied energetics and propulsion as part of a five-year engineering program. In his final year, Chavagnat studied atomic engineering from INSTN Paris-Saclay, part of the esteemed French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA).

    The final year of studies at CEA required a six-month-long internship, which traditionally sets the course for a job. Chavagnat decided to take a chance and apply for an internship at MIT NSE instead, knowing his future course might be uncertain. “I didn’t take a lot of risk in my life, but this one was a big risk,” Chavagnat says. The gamble paid off: Chavagnat won the internship with Charles Forsberg, which paved the way for his admission as a doctoral student. “I selected MIT because it has always been my dream school,” Chavagnat says. He also enjoyed the idea of challenging himself to improve his English-speaking skills.

    A love of physics and heat transfer

    Chavagnat loves physics — “if I can study any problem in physics, I’d be happy” he says — which led him to working on heat transfer, more specifically on boiling heat transfer. His early doctoral research focused on transient boiling in nuclear reactors, part of which has been published in the International Journal of Heat and Mass Transfer.

    Chavagnat’s research targets a specific kind of nuclear reactor called a material test reactor (MTR). Nuclear scientists use MTRs to understand how materials used in plant operations might behave under long-term use. Densely packed nuclear fuel, running at high power, simulates long-term effects using a very intense neutron flux.

    To prevent failure, operators limit reactor temperature by flowing very cold water at high velocity. When reactor heat power increases uncontrollably, the piped water begins to boil. Boiling works to prevent meltdown by altering neutron moderation and extracting heat from the fuel. “[Unfortunately], that only works until you reach a certain heat flux at the fuel cladding, after which the efficiency completely drops,” Chavagnat says. Once the critical heat flux is reached, water vapor starts to blanket and insulate the fuel elements, leading to rapidly rising cladding temperatures and potential burnout.

    The key is to figure out the behavior of maximum boiling heat flux under routine MTR conditions — cold water, high flow velocity, and narrow spacing between the fuel elements.

    Study of cryogenic boiling

    Boiling continues to occupy center stage as Chavagnat pursues the question for NASA. Cryogens boil at very low temperatures, so the question of how to prevent fuel loss from routine space-based operations is an important one to answer.

    Chavagnat is studying how boiling would behave under reduced or absent buoyancy, which are the conditions cryogenic rocket fuel will encounter in space.

    To reproduce space-like conditions on Earth, buoyancy can be modified without going to space. Chavagnat is manipulating the inclination of the boiling surface — placing it upside down is an example — such that buoyancy does not do what it usually does: help bubbles break away from the surface. He is also performing boiling experiments in parabolic flights to simulate microgravity, similar to what is experienced aboard the International Space Station.

    Chavagnat designed and built equipment which can perform both methods with minimum changes. “We observed nitrogen boiling on our surface by imaging it using two high-speed video cameras,” he says. The experiment was approved to go on board the parabolic flights operated by Zero-G, a company that operates weightless flights. The team successfully completed four parabolic flights in 2022.

    “Flying an experiment aboard an aircraft and operating it in microgravity is an incredible experience, but is challenging,” Chavagnat says, “Knowing the details the experiment is a must, but other skills are quite useful — in particular, working as a team, being able to manage high stress levels, and being able to work while being motion-sick.” Another challenge is that the majority of issues cannot be fixed once aboard, as aircraft pilots perform the parabola (each lasting 17 seconds) almost back-to-back.

    Throughout his research at MIT, Chavagnat has been captivated by how complex a simple phenomenon like boiling can truly be. “In your childhood, you have a certain idea of how boiling looks, relatively slow bubbles that you can see with the naked eye,” he says, “but you don’t realize the complexity until you see it with your own eyes.”

    In his infrequent spare time, Chavagnat plays soccer with the NSE’s team, the Atom Smashers. The group meets only five times a semester so it’s a low-key commitment, says Chavagnat who spends most of his time at the lab. “I am doing mostly experiments at MIT; it turns out the skills I learned in my shed when I was 15 are actually quite useful here,” he laughs. More

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    MIT junior Anushree Chaudhuri named 2023 Udall Scholar

    MIT junior Anushree Chaudhuri has been selected as a 2023 Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation Scholar. She is only the second MIT student to win this award and the first winner since 2008.

    The Udall Scholarship honors students who have demonstrated a commitment to the environment, Native American health care, or tribal public policy. Chaudhuri is one of 55 Udall Scholars selected nationally out of 384 nominated applicants.

    Chaudhuri, who hails from San Diego, studies urban studies and planning as well as economics at MIT. She plans to work across the public and private sectors to drive structural changes that connect the climate crisis to local issues and inequities. Chaudhuri has conducted research with the MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative Rapid Response Group, which develops science-based analysis on critical environmental issues for community partners in civil society, government, and industry.

    Throughout her sophomore year, Chaudhuri worked with MIT’s Office of Sustainability, creating data visualizations for travel and Scope 3 emissions as a resource for MIT departments, labs, and centers. As an MIT Washington intern at the U.S. Department of Energy, she also developed the Buildings Upgrade Equity Tool to assist local governments in identifying areas for decarbonization investments.

    While taking Bruno Verdini’s class 11.011 (Art and Science of Negotiation) in fall 2021, Chaudhuri became deeply interested in the field of dispute resolution as a way of engaging diverse stakeholders in collaborative problem-solving, and she began work with Professor Lawrence Susskind at the MIT Science Impact Collaborative. She has now completed multiple projects with the group, as part of the MIT Renewable Energy Siting Clinic, including creating qualitative case studies to inform mediated siting processes and developing an open-access website and database for 60 renewable energy siting conflicts from findings published in Energy Policy. Through the MIT Climate and Sustainability Consortium’s Climate Scholars Program and a DUSP-PKG Fellowship, she is conducting an ethnographic and econometric study on the energy justice impacts of clean infrastructure on local communities.

    As part of a yearlong campaign to revise MIT’s Fast Forward Climate Action Plan, Chaudhuri led the Investments Student Working Group, which advocated for institutional social responsibility and active engagement in the Climate Action 100+ investor coalition. She also served as chair of the Undergraduate Association Committee on Sustainability and co-leads the Student Sustainability Coalition. Her work led her to be selected by MIT as an undergraduate delegate to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change Summit (COP27).

    Chaudhuri’s research experiences and leadership in campus sustainability organizations have strengthened her belief in deep community engagement as a catalyst for change. By taking an interdisciplinary approach that combines law, planning, conflict resolution, participatory research, and data science, she’s committed to a public service career creating policies that are human-centered and address climate injustices, creating co-benefits for diverse communities. More

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    Six ways MIT is taking action on climate

    From reuse and recycling to new carbon markets, events during Earth Month at MIT spanned an astonishing range of ideas and approaches to tackling the climate crisis. The MIT Climate Nucleus offered funding to departments and student organizations to develop programming that would showcase the countless initiatives underway to make a better world.

    Here are six — just six of many — ways the MIT community is making a difference on climate right now.

    1. Exchanging knowledge with policymakers to meet local, regional, and global challenges

    Creating solutions begins with understanding the problem.

    Speaking during the annual Earth Day Colloquium of the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) about the practical challenges of implementing wind-power projects, for instance, Massachusetts State Senator Michael J. Barrett offered a sobering assessment.

    The senate chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy, Barrett reported that while the coast of Massachusetts provides a conducive site for offshore wind, economic forces have knocked a major offshore wind installation project off track. The combination of the pandemic and global geopolitical instability has led to such great supply chain disruptions and rising commodity costs that a project considered necessary for the state to meet its near-term climate goals now faces delays, he said.

    Like others at MIT, MITEI researchers keep their work grounded in the real-world constraints and possibilities for decarbonization, engaging with policymakers and industry to understand the on-the-ground challenges to technological and policy-based solutions and highlight the opportunities for greatest impact.

    2. Developing new ways to prevent, mitigate, and adapt to the effects of climate change

    An estimated 20 percent of MIT faculty work on some aspect of the climate crisis, an enormous research effort distributed throughout the departments, labs, centers, and institutes.

    About a dozen such projects were on display at a poster session coordinated by the Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab (J-WAFS), Environmental Solutions Initiative (ESI), and MITEI.

    Students and postdocs presented innovations including:

    Graduate student Alexa Reese Canaan describes her research on household energy consumption to Massachusetts State Senator Michael J. Barrett, chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy.

    Photo: Caitlin Cunningham

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    3. Preparing students to meet the challenges of a climate-changed world

    Faculty and staff from more than 30 institutions of higher education convened at the MIT Symposium on Advancing Climate Education to exchange best practices and innovations in teaching and learning. Speakers and participants considered paths to structural change in higher education, the imperative to place equity and justice at the center of new educational approaches, and what it means to “educate the whole student” so that graduates are prepared to live and thrive in a world marked by global environmental and economic disruption.

    Later in April, MIT faculty voted to approve the creation of a new joint degree program in climate system science and engineering.

    4. Offering climate curricula to K-12 teachers

    At a daylong conference on climate education for K-12 schools, the attendees were not just science teachers. Close to 50 teachers of arts, literature, history, math, mental health, English language, world languages, and even carpentry were all hungry for materials and approaches to integrate into their curricula. They were joined by another 50 high school students, ready to test out the workshops and content developed by MIT Climate Action Through Education (CATE), which are already being piloted in at least a dozen schools.

    The CATE initiative is led by Christopher Knittel, the George P. Shultz Professor of Energy Economics at the MIT Sloan School of Management, deputy director for policy at MITEI, and faculty director of the MIT Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research. The K-12 Climate Action and Education Conference was hosted as a collaboration with the Massachusetts Teachers Association Climate Action Network and Earth Day Boston.

    “We will be honest about the threats posed by climate change, but also give students a sense of agency that they can do something about this,” Knittel told MITEI Energy Futures earlier this spring. “And for the many teachers — especially non-science teachers — starved for knowledge and background material, CATE offers resources to give them confidence to implement our curriculum.”

    High school students and K-12 teachers participated in a workshop on “Exploring a Green City,” part of the Climate Action and Education Conference on April 1.

    Photo: Tony Rinaldo

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    5. Guiding our communities in making sense of the coming changes

    The arts and humanities, vital in their own right, are also central to the sharing of scientific knowledge and its integration into culture, behavior, and decision-making. A message well-delivered can reach new audiences and prompt reflection and reckoning on ethics and values, identity, and optimism.

    The Climate Machine, part of ESI’s Arts and Climate program, produced an evening art installation on campus featuring dynamic, large-scale projections onto the façade of MIT’s new music building and a musical performance by electronic duo Warung. Passers-by were invited to take a Climate Identity Quiz, with the responses reflected in the visuals. Another exhibit displayed the results of a workshop in which attendees had used an artificial intelligence art tool to imagine the future of their hometowns, while another highlighted native Massachusetts wildlife.

    The Climate Machine is an MIT research project undertaken in collaboration with record label Anjunabeats. The collaborative team imagines interactive experiences centered on sustainability that could be deployed at musical events and festivals to inspire climate action.

    Dillon Ames (left) and Aaron Hopkins, known as the duo Warung, perform a live set during the Climate Machine art installation.

    Photo: Caitlin Cunningham

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    6. Empowering students to seize this unique policy moment

    ESI’s TILclimate Podcast, which breaks down important climate topics for general listeners, held a live taping at the MIT Museum and offered an explainer on three recent, major pieces of federal legislation: the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill of 2021, and the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022.

    The combination of funding and financial incentives for energy- and climate-related projects, along with reinvestment in industrial infrastructure, create “a real moment and an opportunity,” said special guest Elisabeth Reynolds, speaking with host Laur Hesse Fisher. Reynolds was a member of the National Economic Council from 2021 to 2022, serving as special assistant to the president for manufacturing and economic development; after leaving the White House, Reynolds returned to MIT, where she is a lecturer in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning.

    For students, the opportunities to engage have never been better, Reynolds urged: “There is so much need. … Find a way to contribute, and find a way to help us make this transformation.”

    “What we’re embarking on now, you just can’t overstate the significance of it,” she said.

    For more information on how MIT is advancing climate action across education; research and innovation; policy; economic, social, and environmental justice; public and global engagement; sustainable campus operations; and more, visit Fast Forward: MIT’s Climate Action Plan for the Decade. The actions described in the plan aim to accelerate the global transition to net-zero carbon emissions, and to “educate and empower the next generation.” More

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    Will the charging networks arrive in time?

    For many owners of electric vehicles (EVs), or for prospective EV owners, a thorny problem is where to charge them. Even as legacy automakers increasingly invest in manufacturing more all-electric cars and trucks, there is not a dense network of charging stations serving many types of vehicles, which would make EVs more convenient to use.

    “We’re going to have the ability to produce and deliver millions of EVs,” said MIT Professor Charles Fine at the final session this semester of the MIT Mobility Forum. “It’s not clear we’re going to have the ability to charge them. That’s a huge, huge mismatch.”

    Indeed, making EV charging stations as ubiquitous as gas stations could spur a major transition within the entire U.S. vehicle fleet. While the automaker Tesla has built a network of almost 2,000 charging stations across the U.S., and might make some interoperable with other makes of vehicles, independent companies trying to develop a business out of it are still trying to gain significant traction.

    “They don’t have a business model that works yet,” said Fine, the Chrysler Leaders for Global Operations Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, speaking of startup firms. “They haven’t figured out their supply chains. They haven’t figured out the customer value proposition. They haven’t figured out their technology standards. It’s a very, very immature domain.”

    The May 12 event drew nearly 250 people as well as an online audience. The MIT Mobility Forum is a weekly set of talks and discussions during the academic year, ranging widely across the field of transportation and design. It is hosted by the MIT Mobility Initiative, which works to advance sustainable, accessible, and safe forms of transportation.

    Fine is a prominent expert in the areas of operations strategy, entrepreneurship, and supply chain management. He has been at MIT Sloan for over 30 years; from 2015 to 2022, he also served as the founding president, dean, and CEO of the Asia School of Business in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a collaboration between MIT Sloan and Bank Negara Malaysia. Fine is also author of “Faster, Smarter, Greener: The Future of the Car and Urban Mobility” (MIT Press, 2017).

    In Fine’s remarks, he discussed the growth stages of startup companies, highlighting three phases where firms try to “nail it, scale it, and sail it” — that is, figure out the concept and workability of their enterprise, try to expand it, and then operate as a larger company. The charging-business startups are still somewhere within the first of these phases.

    At the same time, the established automakers have announced major investments in EVs — a collective $860 billion over the next decade, Fine noted. Among others, Ford says it will invest $50 billion in EV production by 2026; General Motors plans to spend $35 billion on EVs by 2025; and Toyota has announced it will invest $35 billion in EV manufacturing by 2030.

    With all these vehicles potentially coming to market, Fine suggested, the crux of the issue is a kind of “chicken and egg” problem between EVs and the network needed to support them.

    “If you’re a startup company in the charging business, if there aren’t many EVs out there, you’re not going to be making much money, and that doesn’t give you the capital to continue to invest and grow,” Fine said. “So, they need to wait until they have revenue before they can grow further. On the other hand, why should anybody buy an electric car if they don’t think they’re going to be able to charge it?”

    Those living in single-family homes can install chargers. But many others are not in that situation, Fine noted: “For people who don’t have fixed parking spaces and have to rely on the public network, there is this chicken-and-egg problem. They can’t buy an EV unless they know how they’re going to be able to charge it, and charging companies can’t build out their networks unless they know how they’re going to get their revenue.”

    The event featured a question-and-answer session and audience discussion, with a range of questions, and comments from some industry veterans, including Robin Chase SM ’86, the co-founder and former CEO of Zipcar. She expressed some optimism that startup charging companies will be able to get traction in the nascent market before long.

    “The right companies can learn very fast,” Chase said. “There’s no reason why they can’t correct those scaling problems in short-ish order.”

    In answer to other audience questions, Fine noted some of the challenges that will have to be addressed by independent charging firms, such as unified standards and interoperability among automakers and charging stations.

    “For a driver to have to have six different apps, or [their] car doesn’t fit in the plug here or there, or my software doesn’t talk to my credit card … connectivity, standards, technical issues need to be worked out as well,” Fine said.

    There are also varying regulatory issues, including grid policies and what consumers can be billed for, which have to be worked out on a state-by-state basis, meaning that even modest-size startups will have to have knowledgeable and productive legal departments.

    All of which makes it possible, as Fine suggested, that the large legacy automakers will start investing more heavily in the charging business in the near future. Mercedes, he noted, just announced in January that it is entering into a partnership with charging firms ChargePoint and MN8 Energy to develop about 400 charging stations across North America by 2027. By necessity, others might have to follow suit if they want to protect their massive planned investments in the EV sector.

    “I’m not in the business of telling [automakers] what to do, but I do think they have a lot at risk,” Fine said. “They’re spending billions and billions of dollars to produce these cars, and I don’t think they can afford an epic failure [if] people don’t buy them because there’s no charging infrastructure. If they’re waiting for the startups to build out rapidly, then they may be waiting longer than they hope to wait.” More

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    Paula Hammond wins faculty’s Killian Award for 2023-24

    Paula Hammond, a leading innovator in nanotechnology and head of MIT’s Department of Chemical Engineering, has been named the recipient of the 2023-2024 James R. Killian Jr. Faculty Achievement Award.

    Hammond, an MIT Institute Professor, was honored for her work designing novel polymers and nanomaterials, which have extensive applications in fields including medicine and energy.

    “Professor Hammond is a pioneer in nanotechnology research, with a program that spans from basic science to translational research in medicine and energy. She has introduced new approaches for the design and development of complex drug delivery systems for cancer treatment and non-invasive imaging,” according to the award citation, which was read at the May 17 faculty meeting by Laura Kiessling, the chair of the Killian Award Selection Committee and the Novartis Professor of Chemistry at MIT.

    Established in 1971 to honor MIT’s 10th president, James Killian, the Killian Award recognizes extraordinary professional achievements by an MIT faculty member.

    “I’ve been to past Killian Award lectures, and I’ve always thought these were the ultimate achievers at MIT in terms of their work and their science,” Hammond says. “I am incredibly honored and overwhelmed to be considered even close to a part of that group.”

    Hammond, who earned her bachelor’s degree from MIT in 1984, worked as an engineer before returning to the Institute four years later to earn a PhD, which she received in 1993. After two years as a postdoc at Harvard University, she returned to MIT again as a faculty member in 1995.

    “In a world where it isn’t always cool to be heavy into your science and your work, MIT was a place where I felt like I could just be completely myself, and that was an amazing thing,” she says.

    Since joining the faculty, Hammond has pioneered techniques for creating thin polymer films and other materials using layer-by-layer assembly. This approach can be used to build polymers with highly controlled architectures by alternately exposing a surface to positively and negatively charged particles.

    Hammond’s lab uses this technique to design materials for many different applications, including drug delivery, regenerative medicine, noninvasive imaging, and battery technology.

    Her accomplishments include designing nanoparticles that can zoom in on tumors and release their cargo when they associate with cancer cells. She has also developed nanoparticles and thin polymer films that can carry multiple drugs to a specific site and release the drugs in a controlled or staggered fashion. In recent years, much of that work has focused on potential treatments and diagnostics for ovarian cancer.

    “We’ve really had a focus on ovarian cancer over the past several years. My hope is that our work will move us in the direction of understanding how we can treat ovarian cancer, and, in collaboration with my colleagues, how we can detect it more effectively,” says Hammond, who is a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.

    The award committee also cited Hammond’s record of service, both to MIT and the national scientific community. She currently serves on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and she is a former member of the U.S. Secretary of Energy Scientific Advisory Board. At MIT, Hammond chaired the Initiative on Faculty Race and Diversity, and co-chaired the Academic and Professional Relationships Working Group and the Implementation Team of the MIT response to the National Academies’ report entitled “Sexual Harassment of Women.”

    Among her many honors, Hammond is one of only 25 scientists who have been elected to the National Academies of Engineering, Sciences, and Medicine.

    Hammond has also been recognized for her dedication to teaching and mentoring. As a reflection of her excellence in those areas, Hammond was awarded the Irwin Sizer Award for Significant Improvements to MIT Education, the Henry Hill Lecturer Award in 2002, and the Junior Bose Faculty Award in 2000. She also co-chaired the recent Ad Hoc Committee on Faculty Advising and Mentoring, and has been selected as a “Committed to Caring” honoree for her work mentoring students and postdocs in her research group.

    “The Selection Committee is delighted to have this opportunity to honor Professor Paula Hammond, not only for her tremendous professional achievements and contributions, but also for her genuine warmth and humanity, her thoughtfulness and effective leadership, and her empathy and ethics. She is someone worth emulating. Indeed, simply put, she is the best of us,” the award committee wrote in its citation. More

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    Mike Barrett: Climate goals may take longer, but we’ll get there

    The Covid-19 pandemic, inflation, and the war in Ukraine have combined to cause unavoidable delays in implementation of Massachusetts’s ambitious goals to tackle climate change, state Senator Mike Barrett said during his April 19 presentation at the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) Earth Day Colloquium. But, he added, he remains optimistic that the goals will be reached, with a lag of perhaps two years.

    Barrett, who is senate chair of the state’s Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy, spoke on the topic of “Decarbonizing Massachusetts” at MIT’s Wong Auditorium as part of the Institute’s celebration of Earth Week. The event was accompanied by a poster session highlighting some the work of MIT students and faculty aimed at tackling aspects of the climate issue.

    Martha Broad, MITEI’s executive director, introduced Barrett by pointing out that he was largely responsible for the passage of two major climate-related bills by the Massachusetts legislature: the Roadmap Act in 2021 and the Drive Act in 2022, which together helped to place the state as one of the nation’s leaders in the implementation of measures to ratchet down greenhouse gas emissions.

    The two key pieces of legislation, Barrett said, were complicated bills that included many components, but a major feature of the Roadmap Act was to reduce the time between reassessments of the state’s climate plans from 10 years to five, and to divide the targets for emissions reductions into six separate categories instead of just a single overall number.

    The six sectors the bill delineated are transportation; commercial, industrial, and institutional buildings; residential buildings; industrial processes; natural gas infrastructure; and electricity generation. Each of these faces different challenges, and needs to be evaluated separately, he said.

    The second bill, the Drive Act, set specific targets for implementation of carbon-free electricity generation. “We prioritize offshore wind,” he pointed out, because that’s one resource where Massachusetts has a real edge over other states and regions. Because of especially shallow offshore waters and strong, steady offshore winds that tend to be strongest during the peak demand hours of late afternoon and evening, the state’s coastal waters are an especially promising site for offshore wind farms, he said.

    Whereas the majority of offshore wind installations around the world are in deep water, which precludes fixed foundations and adds significantly to construction costs, Massachusetts’s shallow waters can allow relatively inexpensive construction. “So you can see why offshore wind became a linchpin, not only to our cleaning up the grid, but to feeding it into the building system, and for that matter into transportation, through our electric vehicles,” he said.

    Massachusetts’s needs in addressing climate change are quite different from global averages, or even U.S. averages, he pointed out. Worldwide, agriculture accounts for some 22 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, and 11 percent nationally. In Massachusetts the figure is less than one-half of 1 percent. The industrial sector is also much smaller than the national average. Meanwhile, buildings account for only about 6 percent of U.S. emissions, but 13 percent in the state. That means that overall, “buildings, transportation, and power generation become the whole ballgame” for this state, “requiring a real focus in terms of our thinking,” he said.

    Because of that, in those climate bills “we really insisted on reducing emissions in the energy generation sector, and our primary way to get there … lies with wind, and most of that is offshore.” The law calls for emissions from power generation to be cut by 53 percent by 2025, and 70 percent by 2030. Meeting that goal depends heavily on offshore wind. “Clean power is critical because the transmission and transportation and buildings depend on clean power, and offshore wind is critical to that clean power strategy,” he said.

    At the time the bills passed, plans for new offshore wind farm installations showed that the state was well on target to meet these goals, Barrett said. “There was plenty of reason for Massachusetts to feel very optimistic about offshore wind … Everyone was bullish.” While Massachusetts is a small state — 44th out of 50 — because of its unusually favorable offshore conditions, “we are second in the United States in terms of plans to deploy offshore wind,” after New York, he said.

    But then the real world got in the way.

    As Europe and the U.K. quickly tried to pivot away from natural gas and oil in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the picture changed quickly. “Offshore wind suddenly had a lot of competition for the expertise, the equipment, and the materials,” he said.

    As just one example, he said, the ships needed for installation became unavailable. “Suddenly worldwide, there weren’t enough installation vessels to hold these very heavy components that have to be brought out to sea,” he said. About 20 to 40 such vessels are needed to install a single wind farm. “There are a limited number of these vessels capable of carrying these huge pieces of infrastructure in the world. And in the wake of stepped-up demand from Europe, and other places, including China, there was an enormous shortage of appropriate vessels.”

    That wasn’t the only obstacle. Prices of some key commodities also shot up, partly due to supply chain issues associated with the pandemic, and the resulting worldwide inflation. “The ramifications of these kinds of disruptions obviously have been felt worldwide,“ he said. For example, the Hornsea Project off the coast of the United Kingdom is the largest proposed offshore wind farm in the world, and one the U.K. was strongly dependent on to meet climate targets. But the developer of the project, Ørsted, said it could no longer proceed without a major government bailout. At this point, the project remains in limbo.

    In Massachusetts, the company Avangrid had a contract to build 60 offshore wind turbines to deliver 1,200 megawatts of power. But last month, in a highly unusual move for a major company, “they informed Massachusetts that they were terminating a contract they had signed.” That contract was a big part of the state’s overall clean energy strategy, he said. A second developer, that had also signed a contract for a 1,200-MW offshore farm, signaled that it too could not meet its contract.

    “We technically haven’t failed yet” in meeting the goals that were set for emissions reduction, Barrett said. “In theory, we have two years to recover from the setbacks that I’m describing.” Realistically, though, he said “it is quite likely that we’re not going to hit our 2025 and 2030 benchmarks.”

    But despite all this, Barrett ended his remarks on an essentially optimistic note. “I hate to see us fall off-pace in any way,” he said. But, he added, “the truth is that a short delay — and I think we’re looking at just a couple of years delay — is a speed bump, it’s not a roadblock. It is not the end of climate policy.”

    Worldwide demand for offshore wind power remains “extraordinary,” said Barrett, mainly as a result of the need to get off of Russian fossil fuel. As a result, “eventually supply will come into balance with this demand … The balance will be restored.”

    To monitor the process, Barrett said he has submitted legislation to create a new independent Climate Policy Commission, to examine in detail the data on performance in meeting the state’s climate goals and to make recommendations. The measure would provide open access to information for the public, allowing everyone to see the progress being made from an unbiased source.

    “Setbacks are going to happen,” he said. “This is a tough, tough job. While the real world is going to surprise us, persistence is critical.”

    He concluded that “I think we’re going to wind up building every windmill that we need for our emissions reduction policy. Just not on the timeline that we had hoped for.”

    The poster session was co-hosted by the MIT Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab and MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative. The full event was sponsored by the MIT Climate Nucleus. More

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    Solve at MIT 2023: Collaboration and climate efforts are at the forefront of social impact

    “The scale, complexity, the global nature of the problems we’re dealing with are so big that no single institution, industry, or country can deal with them alone,” MIT President Sally Kornbluth stated in her first remarks to the Solve community.

    Over 300 social impact leaders from around the world convened on MIT’s campus for Solve at MIT 2023 to celebrate the 2022 Solver class and to discuss some of the world’s greatest challenges and how we can tackle them with innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology.

    These challenges can be complicated and may even feel insurmountable, but Solve at MIT leaves us with the hope, tools, and connections needed to find solutions together.

    Hala Hanna, executive director of MIT Solve, shared what keeps her inspired and at the front line of social impact: “Optimism isn’t about looking away from the issues but looking right at them, believing we can create the solutions and putting in the work. So, anytime I need a dose of optimism, I look to the innovators we work with,” Hanna shared during the opening plenary, Unlocking our Collective Potential.

    Over the course of three days, more than 300 individuals from around the world convened to celebrate the 2022 Solver class, create partnerships that lead to progress, and address solutions to pressing world issues in real-time.

    Every technologist, philanthropist, investor, and innovator present at Solve at MIT left with their own takeaway, but three main themes seemed to underscore the overall discussions.

    Technology and innovation are as neutral as the makers

    Having bias is a natural part of what makes us human. However, being aware of our predispositions is necessary to transform our lived experiences into actionable solutions for others to benefit from. 

    We’ve largely learned that bias can be both unavoidable and applied almost instantly. Sangbae Kim, director of the Biomimetic Robotics Laboratory and professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, proved this through robotics demonstrations where attendees almost unanimously were more impressed with a back-flipping MIT robot compared to one walking in circles. As it turns out, it took one individual three days to program a robot to do a flip and over two weeks for a full team to program one to walk. “We judge through the knowledge and bias we have based on our lived experiences,” Kim pointed out.

    Bias and lived experiences don’t have to be bad things. The solutions we create based on our own lives are what matter. 

    2022 Solver Atif Javed, co-founder and executive director of Tarjimly, began translating for his grandmother as a child and learned about the struggles that come with being a refugee. This led him to develop a humanitarian language-translation application, which connects volunteer translators with immigrants, refugees, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and more, on demand. 

    Vanessa Castañeda Gill, 2022 Solver and co-founder and CEO of Social Cipher, transformed her personal experience with ADHD and autism to develop Ava, a video game empowering neuro-divergent youth and facilitating social-emotional learning.

    For Kelsey Wirth, co-founder and chair of Mothers Out Front, the experience of motherhood and the shared concerns for the well-being of children are what unite her with other moms. 

    Whitney Wolf Herd, founder and CEO of Bumble, shared that as a leader in technology and a person who witnessed toxic online spaces, she sees it as her responsibility to spearhead change. 

    During the plenary, “Bringing us Together or Tearing us Apart?” Wolf Herd asked, “What if we could use technology to be a force for positivity?” She shared her vision for equality and respect to be part of the next digital wave. She also called for technology leaders to join her to ensure “guardrails and ground rules” are in place to make sure this goal becomes a reality.

    Social innovation must be intersectional and intergenerational

    During Solve at MIT, industry leaders across sectors, cultures, ages, and expertise banded together to address pressing issues and to form relationships with innovators looking for support in real time.

    Adam Bly, founder and CEO of System Inc., discussed the interconnected nature of all things and why his organization is on a mission to show the links, “We’re seeing rising complexity in the systems that make up life on earth, and it impacts us individually and globally. The way we organize the information and data we need to make decisions about those systems [is highly] siloed and highly fragmented, and it impairs our ability to make decisions in the most systemic, holistic, rational way.”

    President and CEO of the National Resources Defense Council Manish Bapna shared his advocacy for cross-sector work: “Part of what I’ve seen really proliferate and expand in a good way over the past 10 to 15 years are collaborations involving startups in the private sector, governments, and NGOs. No single stakeholder or organization can solve the problem, but by coming together, they bring different perspectives and skills in ways that can create the innovation we need to see.”

    For a long time, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) were seen as the subjects that would resolve our complex issues, but as it turns out, art also holds a tremendous amount of power to transcend identity, borders, status, and concerns, to connect us all and aid us in global unity. Artists Beatie Wolfe, Norhan Bayomi, Aida Murad, and Nneka Jones showed us how to bring healing and awareness to topics like social and environmental injustice through their music, embroidery, and painting.

    The 2023 Solv[ED] Innovators, all age 24 or under, have solutions that are improving communication for individuals with hearing loss, transforming plastic waste into sustainable furniture, and protecting the Black birthing community, among other incredible feats.

    Kami Dar, co-founder and CEO of Uniti Networks, summarizes the value of interconnected problem-solving: “My favorite SDG [sustainable development goal] is SDG number 17— the power of partnership. Look for the adjacent problem-solvers and make sure we are not reinventing the wheel.”

    Relationships and the environment connect us all

    Solve is working to address global challenges on an ongoing basis connected to climate, economic prosperity, health, and learning. Many of these focus areas bleed into one another, but social justice and climate action served as a backdrop for many global issues addressed during Solve at MIT.

    “When we started addressing climate change, we saw it primarily as technical issues to bring down emissions … There’s inequality, there’s poverty, there are social tensions that are rising … We are not going to address climate change without addressing the social tensions that are embedded,” said Lewis Akenji, managing director of the Hot or Cool Institute. Akenji sees food, mobility, and housing as the most impactful areas to focus solutions on first.

    During the “Ensuring a Just Transition to Net Zero” plenary, Heather Clancy, vice president and editorial director at Greenbiz, asked panelists what lessons they have learned from their work. Janelle Knox Hayes, ​​professor of economic geography and planning at MIT, shared that listening to communities, especially front-line and Indigenous communities, is needed before deploying solutions to the energy crisis. “Climate work has this sense of urgency, like it rapidly has to be done … to do really engaged environmental justice work, we have to slow down and realize even before we begin, we need a long period of time to plan. But before we even do that, we have to rebuild relationships and trust and reciprocity … [This] will lead to better and longer-lasting solutions.”

    Hina Baloch, executive director and global head of climate change and sustainability strategy and communication at General Motors, asked Chéri Smith, founder of Indigenous Energy Initiative, to share her perspective on energy sovereignty as it relates to Indigenous communities. Smith shared, “Tribes can’t be sovereign if they’re relying on outside sources for their energy. We were founded to support the self-determination of tribes to revamp their energy systems and rebuild, construct, and maintain them themselves.”

    Smith shared an example of human and tribal-centered innovation in the making. Through the Biden administration’s national electronic vehicle (EV) initiative, Indigenous Energy Initiative and Native Sun Community Power Development will collaborate and create an inter-tribal EV charging network. “The last time we built out an electric grid, it deliberately skipped over tribal country. This time, we want to make sure that we not only have a seat at the table, but that we build out the tables and invite everyone to them,” said Smith.

    Solve at MIT led to meaningful discussions about climate change, intersectional and accessible innovation, and the power that human connection has to unite everyone. Entrepreneurship and social change are the paths forward. And although the challenges ahead of us can be daunting, with community, collaboration, and a healthy dose of bravery, global challenges will continue to be solved by agile impact entrepreneurs all around the world. 

    As Adrianne Haslet, a professional ballroom dancer and Boston Marathon bombing survivor, reminded attendees, “What will get you to the finish line is nothing compared to what got you to the start line.” More

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    Finding “hot spots” where compounding environmental and economic risks converge

    A computational tool developed by researchers at the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change pinpoints specific counties within the United States that are particularly vulnerable to economic distress resulting from a transition from fossil fuels to low-carbon energy sources. By combining county-level data on employment in fossil fuel (oil, natural gas, and coal) industries with data on populations below the poverty level, the tool identifies locations with high risks for transition-driven economic hardship. It turns out that many of these high-risk counties are in the south-central U.S., with a heavy concentration in the lower portions of the Mississippi River.

    The computational tool, which the researchers call the System for the Triage of Risks from Environmental and Socio-economic Stressors (STRESS) platform, almost instantly displays these risk combinations on an easy-to-read visual map, revealing those counties that stand to gain the most from targeted green jobs retraining programs.  

    Drawing on data that characterize land, water, and energy systems; biodiversity; demographics; environmental equity; and transportation networks, the STRESS platform enables users to assess multiple, co-evolving, compounding hazards within a U.S. geographical region from the national to the county level. Because of its comprehensiveness and precision, this screening-level visualization tool can pinpoint risk “hot spots” that can be subsequently investigated in greater detail. Decision-makers can then plan targeted interventions to boost resilience to location-specific physical and economic risks.

    The platform and its applications are highlighted in a new study in the journal Frontiers in Climate.

    “As risks to natural and managed resources — and to the economies that depend upon them — become more complex, interdependent, and compounding amid rapid environmental and societal changes, they require more and more human and computational resources to understand and act upon,” says MIT Joint Program Deputy Director C. Adam Schlosser, the lead author of the study. “The STRESS platform provides decision-makers with an efficient way to combine and analyze data on those risks that matter most to them, identify ‘hot spots’ of compounding risk, and design interventions to minimize that risk.”

    In one demonstration of the STRESS platform’s capabilities, the study shows that national and global actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could simultaneously reduce risks to land, water, and air quality in the upper Mississippi River basin while increasing economic risks in the lower basin, where poverty and unemployment are already disproportionate. In another demonstration, the platform finds concerning “hot spots” where flood risk, poverty, and nonwhite populations coincide.

    The risk triage platform is based on an emerging discipline called multi-sector dynamics (MSD), which seeks to understand and model compounding risks and potential tipping points across interconnected natural and human systems. Tipping points occur when these systems can no longer sustain multiple, co-evolving stresses, such as extreme events, population growth, land degradation, drinkable water shortages, air pollution, aging infrastructure, and increased human demands. MSD researchers use observations and computer models to identify key precursory indicators of such tipping points, providing decision-makers with critical information that can be applied to mitigate risks and boost resilience in natural and managed resources. With funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, the MIT Joint Program has since 2018 been developing MSD expertise and modeling tools and using them to explore compounding risks and potential tipping points in selected regions of the United States.

    Current STRESS platform data includes more than 100 risk metrics at the county-level scale, but data collection is ongoing. MIT Joint Program researchers are continuing to develop the STRESS platform as an “open-science tool” that welcomes input from academics, researchers, industry and the general public. More