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    Five MIT PhD students awarded 2022 J-WAFS fellowships for water and food solutions

    The Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab (J-WAFS) recently announced the selection of its 2022-23 cohort of graduate fellows. Two students were named Rasikbhai L. Meswani Fellows for Water Solutions and three students were named J-WAFS Graduate Student Fellows. All five fellows will receive full tuition and a stipend for one semester, and J-WAFS will support the students throughout the 2022-23 academic year by providing networking, mentorship, and opportunities to showcase their research.

    New this year, fellowship nominations were open not only to students pursuing water research, but food-related research as well. The five students selected were chosen for their commitment to solutions-based research that aims to alleviate problems such as water supply or purification, food security, or agriculture. Their projects exemplify the wide range of research that J-WAFS supports, from enhancing nutrition through improved methods to deliver micronutrients to developing high-performance drip irrigation technology. The strong applicant pool reflects the passion MIT students have to address the water and food crises currently facing the planet.

    “This year’s fellows are drawn from a dynamic and engaged community across the Institute whose creativity and ingenuity are pushing forward transformational water and food solutions,” says J-WAFS executive director Renee J. Robins. “We congratulate these students as we recognize their outstanding achievements and their promise as up-and-coming leaders in global water and food sectors.”

    2022-23 Rasikbhai L. Meswani Fellows for Water SolutionsThe Rasikbhai L. Meswani Fellowship for Water Solutions is a fellowship for students pursuing water-related research at MIT. The Rasikbhai L. Meswani Fellowship for Water Solutions was made possible by a generous gift from Elina and Nikhil Meswani and family.

    Aditya Ghodgaonkar is a PhD candidate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, where he works in the Global Engineering and Research (GEAR) Lab under Professor Amos Winter. Ghodgaonkar received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the RV College of Engineering in India. He then moved to the United States and received a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue University.Ghodgaonkar is currently designing hydraulic components for drip irrigation that could support the development of water-efficient irrigation systems that are off-grid, inexpensive, and low-maintenance. He has focused on designing drip irrigation emitters that are resistant to clogging, seeking inspiration about flow regulation from marine fauna such as manta rays, as well as turbomachinery concepts. Ghodgaonkar notes that clogging is currently an expensive technical challenge to diagnose, mitigate, and resolve. With an eye on hundreds of millions of farms in developing countries, he aims to bring the benefits of irrigation technology to even the poorest farmers.Outside of his research, Ghodgaonkar is a mentor in MIT Makerworks and has been a teaching assistant for classes such as 2.007 (Design and Manufacturing I). He also helped organize the annual MIT Water Summit last fall.

    Devashish Gokhale is a PhD candidate advised by Professor Patrick Doyle in the Department of Chemical Engineering. He received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, where he researched fluid flow in energy-efficient pumps. Gokhale’s commitment to global water security stemmed from his experience growing up in India, where water sources are threatened by population growth, industrialization, and climate change.As a researcher in the Doyle group, Devashish is developing sustainable and reusable materials for water treatment, with a focus on the elimination of emerging contaminants and other micropollutants from water through cost-effective processes. Many of these contaminants are carcinogens or endocrine disruptors, posing significant threats to both humans and animals. His advisor notes that Devashish was the first researcher in the Doyle group to work on water purification, bringing his passion for the topic to the lab.Gokhale’s research won an award for potential scalability in last year’s J-WAFS World Water Day competition. He also serves as the lecture series chair in the MIT Water Club.

    2022-23 J-WAFS Graduate Student FellowsThe J-WAFS Fellowship for Water and Food Solutions is funded by the J-WAFS Research Affiliate Program, which offers companies the opportunity to collaborate with MIT on water and food research. A portion of each research affiliate’s fees supports this fellowship. The program is central to J-WAFS’ efforts to engage across sector and disciplinary boundaries in solving real-world problems. Currently, there are two J-WAFS Research Affiliates: Xylem, Inc., a water technology company, and GoAigua, a company leading the digital transformation of the water industry.

    James Zhang is a PhD candidate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, where he has worked in the NanoEngineering Laboratory with Professor Gang Chen since 2019. As an undergraduate at Carnegie Mellon University, he double majored in mechanical engineering and engineering public policy. He then received a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from MIT. In addition to working in the NanoEngineering Laboratory, James has also worked in the Zhao Laboratory and in the Boriskina Research Group at MIT.Zhang is developing a technology that uses light-induced evaporation to clean water. He is currently investigating the fundamental properties of how light interacts with brackish water surfaces. With strong theoretical as well as experimental components, his research could lead to innovations in desalinating brackish water at high energy efficiencies. Outside of his research, Zhang has served as a student moderator for the MIT International Colloquia on Thermal Innovations.

    Katharina Fransen is a PhD candidate advised by Professor Bradley Olsen in the Department of Chemical Engineering at MIT. She received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Minnesota, where she was involved in the Society of Women Engineers. Fransen is motivated by the challenge of protecting the most vulnerable global communities from the large quantities of plastic waste associated with traditional food packaging materials. As a researcher in the Olsen Lab, Fransen is developing new plastics that are biologically-based and biodegradable, so they can degrade in the environment instead of polluting communities with plastic waste. These polymers are also optimized for food packaging applications to keep food fresher for longer, preventing food waste.Outside of her research, Fransen is involved in Diversity in Chemical Engineering as the coordinator for the graduate application mentorship program for underrepresented groups. She is also an active member of Graduate Womxn in ChemE and mentors an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program student.

    Linzixuan (Rhoda) Zhang is a PhD candidate advised by Professor Robert Langer and Ana Jaklenec in the Department of Chemical Engineering at MIT. She received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she researched how to genetically engineer microorganisms for the efficient production of advanced biofuels and chemicals.Zhang is currently developing a micronutrient delivery platform that fortifies foods with essential vitamins and nutrients. She has helped develop a group of biodegradable polymers that can stabilize micronutrients under harsh conditions, enabling local food companies to fortify food with essential vitamins. This work aims to tackle a hidden crisis in low- and middle-income countries, where a chronic lack of essential micronutrients affects an estimated 2 billion people.Zhang is also working on the development of self-boosting vaccines to promote more widespread vaccine access and serves as a research mentor in the Langer Lab. More

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    Amy Moran-Thomas receives the Edgerton Faculty Achievement Award

    Amy Moran-Thomas, the Alfred Henry and Jean Morrison Hayes Career Development Associate Professor of Anthropology, has received the 2021-22 Harold E. Edgerton Faculty Achievement Award in recognition of her “exceptional commitment to innovative and collaborative interdisciplinary approaches to resolving inequitable impacts on human health,” according to a statement by the  selection committee.A medical anthropologist, Moran-Thomas investigates linkages between human and environmental health, with a focus on health disparities. She is the author of the award-winning book “Traveling with Sugar: Chronicles of a Global Epidemic” (University of California Press, 2019), which frames the diabetes epidemic in Belize within the context of 500 years of colonialism.

    On human and planetary well-being Moran-Thomas “stands out in this field by bringing a humanistic approach into dialogue with environmental and science studies to investigate how bodily health is shaped by social well-being at the community level and further conditioned by localized planetary imbalances,” the selection committee’s statement said. “Professor Moran-Thomas shows how diabetes resides not only within human bodies but also across toxic environments, crumbling healthcare infrastructures, and stress-inducing economic inequalities.”Heather Paxson, the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Anthropology and head of the MIT Anthropology program, calls Moran-Thomas “a fast-rising star in her field.” Paxson, who nominated Moran-Thomas for the award, adds, “She is also a highly effective teacher and student mentor, an engaged member of our Institute community, and a budding public intellectual.” A profound discovery for medical equity

    “Professor Moran-Thomas’s work has an extraordinarily profound and impactful reach,” according to the committee, which highlighted a widely read 2020 essay in Boston Review in which Moran-Thomas revealed that the fingertip pulse oximeter — a key tool in monitoring the effects of respiratory distress due to Covid-19 and other illness — gives misleading readings with darkly complected skin. This essay inspired a subsequent medical research study and ultimately led to an alert from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration spotlighting the limitations of pulse oximeters.

    The selection committee further lauded Moran-Thomas for her pedagogy, including her work developing the new subject 21A.311 (The Social Lives of Medical Objects). She was also commended for her service, notably her work on the MIT Climate Action Advisory Committee and with the Social and Ethical Responsibilities of Computing group within MIT’s Schwarzman College of Computing.

    Moran-Thomas earned her bachelor’s degree in literature from American University and her PhD in anthropology from Princeton University. She joined MIT Anthropology in 2015, following postdocs at the Woodrow Institute for Public and International Affairs and at Brown University’s Cogut Humanities Center. She was promoted to associate professor without tenure in 2019.

    The annual Edgerton Faculty Award, established in 1982 as a tribute to Institute Professor Emeritus Harold E. Edgerton, honors achievement in research, teaching, and service by a nontenured member of the faculty.The 2019-20 Edgerton Award Selection Committee was chaired by T.L. Taylor, a professor of Comparative Media Studies/Writing. Other members were Geoffrey Beach, a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering; Mircea Dinca, the W.M. Keck Professor of Energy in the Department of Chemistry; Hazhir Rahmandad, an associate professor of system dynamics in the Sloan School of Management; and Rafi Segal, an associate professor in the Department of Architecture.

    Story prepared by MIT SHASS CommunicationsSenior Writer: Kathryn O’NeillEditorial and Design Director: Emily Hiestand More

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    Bringing climate reporting to local newsrooms

    Last summer, Nora Hertel, a reporter for the St. Cloud Times in central Minnesota, visited a farm just northeast of the Twin Cities run by the Native American-led nonprofit Dream of Wild Health. The farm raises a mix of vegetables and flowering plants, and has a particular focus on cultivating rare heirloom varieties. It’s also dealing with severely depleted soil, inherited from previous owners who grew corn on the same land. Hertel had come to learn about the techniques the farm was using to restore its soil, many of which were traditional parts of Indigenous farming practice, including planting cover crops over the winter and incorporating burnt wood and manure into the earth.

    The trip was part of a multi-part reporting project that Hertel undertook as an inaugural fellow in a new program from the MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative (ESI). The ESI Journalism Fellowship was created to help local reporters around the United States connect climate change science and solutions with issues that are already of importance to their audiences — particularly in areas where many people are still unclear or unsure about climate change. For Hertel, that meant visiting 10 farms and forest lands across Minnesota to understand how natural climate solutions are taking shape in her state. The practices she saw at the Dream of Wild Health farm not only helped to restore soil, but also helped slow climate change by taking carbon dioxide out of the air and storing it in soils and plants.

    “There is enthusiasm for natural climate solutions,” Hertel says, but these practices can be expensive and difficult to adopt. She wanted to explain the benefits and the hurdles, especially for farmers and land managers considering new agricultural techniques.

    Hertel produced six news pieces for the St. Cloud Times as part of her project, as well as a six-episode podcast series and two videos. To conclude the series, she ran a public event where 130 attendees — including conventional farmers, regenerative farmers, state senators, the St. Cloud mayor, and other community stakeholders — gathered outside in the 40-degree Fahrenheit cold to discuss carbon markets in Minnesota. The stories were republished in 12 additional outlets, including USA Today, Associated Press, Yahoo News, and US News & World Report. 

    “I had been hoping to write about cover crops and carbon markets for about two years before I pitched my project to ESI,” says Hertel. “I hadn’t been able to take the time and resources with all my other responsibilities. Joining the fellowship allowed me to focus on those topics and dive in deep to understand how much is uncertain and changing in the field right now.”

    Supporting local climate reporting

    In today’s news landscape, local coverage is dwindling, which has major effects on the ways people hear about climate change. At times, the only in-depth climate coverage available is covered by specialty or national publications, which can miss the opportunity to understand the nuances of the communities they are parachuting into.

    “Climate change is or will impact all of us, but many Americans don’t see it as relevant to their lives,” says Laur Hesse Fisher, program director at the ESI, who created and manages the fellowship program. “We’re working to help change that.”

    In this first year of the fellowship, five local journalists were selected from around the country to pursue long-form or serial climate-focused reporting. Fellows received funding and stipends to help them dedicate extra time and resources to their projects. They gathered virtually for workshops and were connected with MIT experts in a variety of relevant fields: scientists such as Adam Schlosser, senior research scientist and deputy director for science research at the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change; economists and policy experts such as Joshua Hodge, executive director of the MIT Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research (CEEPR); and journalism experts from the MIT Knight Science Journalism Program.

    Fellows were also given full access to MIT’s extensive library databases and geographic data visualization tools, along with tools focused specifically on climate science and policy like the MIT Socio-Environmental Triage platform and CEEPR’s working papers. All these resources aimed to give the journalism fellows the backing they needed to undertake ambitious projects on climate issues their audiences might otherwise never have known were playing out right in their backyards.

    Stories around the country

    The result was five distinct reporting projects spread across the United States.

    ESI Fellow Tristan Baurick is an environment reporter for the Times Picayune | New Orleans Advocate, Louisiana’s largest newspaper. His multi-part series, “Wind of Change: How the Gulf of Mexico could be the next offshore wind powerhouse,” ran on the front page of the Thanksgiving print edition of the paper. It explores how the state’s offshore oil companies are pivoting to support the emerging wind energy industry, as well as the outcomes of the U.S.’s first offshore wind farm in Rhode Island, which Baurick visited on an extended reporting trip. The series looks at the history of Louisiana, which, despite being a hub for wind engineering technology production, has seen most of that technology exported. “The project relied on experts from the oil and gas industry to introduce the idea of offshore wind energy and the opportunities it could offer the region,” says Baurick. “This approach made readers who are skeptical of climate change and renewable energy let their guard down and consider these topics with a more open mind.”

    Oregon-based environmental journalist Alex Schwartz explored water rights and climate change within the Klamath River Basin for the Herald & News. The result was a five-part digital series that examines the many stakeholders, including Indigenous groups, farmers, fishers, and park managers, who depend on the Klamath River for water even as the region enters a period of extended climate change-induced drought. “The fellowship provided me with financial resources to be able to execute a project at this scale,” says Schwartz. “We never would have been able to take the time off and travel throughout the basin without the support of the fellowship.”

    Melba Newsome is a North Carolina-based independent reporter. Her two-part series for NC Health News focuses on Smithfield’s Foods, whose hog houses continue to have lasting health and environmental implications for majority Black communities in the southeastern part of the state. The series, which has been republished by Indy Weekly, the Daily Yonder, and others, interviews residents and activists to untangle a history of legal battles, neglect, and accusations of environmental racism — while noting that sea-level rise has made the region increasingly vulnerable to dangerous releases of waste from its growing factory farms.

    The final project supported by the fellowship came from Wyoming, famous for its vast outdoors and coal industry. In his three-part series for WyoFile, journalist Dustin Bleizeffer — whose beat shifted from education to energy and climate in part as a result of his fellowship — spoke to local residents to capture their personal experiences of warming temperatures and changing landscapes. “[Of] the people I interviewed and featured in my reporting … all but one are climate skeptics, but they spoke in detail about climate changes they’ve observed, and very eloquently described their concerns,” says Bleizeffer. “I’m still receiving comments and enthusiasm to keep the conversation going.” He also looked at how two Wyoming counties, Gillette and Campbell, are faring through the coal industry’s decline. His series provided a boost to efforts by grassroots organizations and conservation groups that are trying to open “the climate conversation” in the state.

    Lessons for climate conversations

    All five fellows joined ESI for a wrap-up event on Nov. 4, Connecting with Americans on Climate Change, which both showcased their work and gave them the opportunity to publicly discuss ways to engage Americans across the political spectrum on climate change.

    The event was joined by sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild, author of the bestselling “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right,” who had earlier joined the fellows in one of their workshops to offer her own experience engaging with people who feel ill-served by the national media. Her book, which followed members of the Tea Party in Louisiana for five years, illustrates the importance of deep listening to bridging America’s social and political divides. Hochschild applied this insight to climate change in talking with the fellows and event attendees about strategies to understand and respond to local perspectives on what is often framed as a contentious political issue. “Sociology gives us forgiveness; [it] gets blame and guilt out of the picture,” said Hochschild.

    That was an insight echoed by several of the journalism fellows. “I think rural people feel blamed a lot for every problem,” said Schwartz. “If we were to take the carbon footprint of the Klamath River Basin, it would be minuscule compared to any corporation, right? … We have to create that safety net for our communities to be able to bear the brunt of these cascading disasters that are already occurring and are just going to get worse in the future. Focusing on the adaptation side was really helpful in terms of just getting people to talk about climate change.”

    Other fellows had their own strategies for opening conversations about climate change — and by responding to their audiences’ concerns, they did see opportunities for change in their reporting. In Wyoming, Bleizeffer talked about the need to retain young people in the state, and about changes to landscapes residents loved. Newsome emphasized that people need to see climate change as not someone else’s problem — for her audience, it illustrated and exacerbated injustices they were already feeling.

    And Hertel, speaking of the conventional farmers, everyday people, and local government officials featured in her series, left event attendees with one more insight about effective climate reporting. “Don’t expect people to change on a dime,” she said. “You must bring people [along] on the journey.”

    ESI will be opening journalism fellowship applications for its second cohort later this year. Experienced reporters are encouraged to apply. If you are interested in supporting this fellowship or are curious about opportunities for partnerships, please contact Laur Hesse Fisher. More

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    Courtney Lesoon and Elizabeth Yarina win Fulbright-Hays Scholarships

    Two MIT doctoral students in the MIT School of Architecture and Planning have received the prestigious Fulbright-Hays Scholarship for Doctoral Dissertation Research Award. Courtney Lesoon and Elizabeth “Lizzie” Yarina are the first awardees from MIT in more than a decade.

    The fellowship provides opportunities for doctoral students to engage in full-time dissertation research abroad. The program, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, is designed to contribute to the development and improvement of the study of modern foreign languages and area studies. Applicants anticipate pursuing a teaching career in the United States following completion of their dissertation. There were 138 individuals from 47 institutions named scholars for the 2021 cycle.

    Courtney Lesoon

    Lesoon is a doctoral candidate in the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, in the History, Theory and Criticism Section of the Department of Architecture. Lesoon earned her BA from College of the Holy Cross and was a 2012-13 Fulbright U.S. Student grantee to the United Arab Emirates, where her research concerned contemporary art and emerging cultural institutions. Her dissertation is titled “Spatializing Ahl al-ʿIlm: Learning and the Rise of the Early Islamic City.” Losoon’s fieldwork will be done in Morocco, Egypt, and Turkey.

    “Courtney’s project presents an innovative idea that has not, to my knowledge, been investigated before,” says Nasser Rabbat, professor and director of the MIT Aga Khan Program. “How did the emergence and evolution of a particularly Islamic learning system affect the development of the city in the early Islamic period? Her work enriches the thinking about premodern urbanism and education everywhere by theorizing the intricate relationship between traveling, learning, and the city.”

    “I’ll be working in different manuscripts collections in Morocco, Egypt, and Turkey to investigate where and how scholars were learning inside of the early Islamic city before the formal institutionalization of higher education,” says Lesoon. “I’m interested in how learning — as a set of social practices — informed urban life. My project speaks to two different fields; Islamic urbanism and Islamic intellectual history. I’m really excited about my time on Fulbright-Hays; it will be a really fruitful time for my research and writing.”

    Before arriving at MIT, Lesoon worked as a research assistant in the Art of the Middle East Department at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Recently, she was awarded the 2021 Margaret B. Ševčenko Prize for “the best unpublished essay written by a junior scholar” for her paper “The Sphero-conical as Apothecary Vessel: An Argument for Dedicated Use.” Lesoon earned her MA from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where her thesis investigated an 18th-century “Damascus Room” and its acquisition as a collected interior in the United States.

    Lizzie Yarina

    Yarina is a doctoral candidate in the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP) and a research fellow at the MIT Norman B. Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism. She is presently co-editing a volume on the relationship between climate models and the built environment with a multidisciplinary team of editors and contributors. Yarina was a research scientist at the MIT Urban Risk Lab, where she was part of a team examining alternatives to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s post-disaster housing systems; she also conducted research on disaster preparedness in Japan. Her award supports her doctoral research under the title “Modeling the Mekong: Climate Adaptation Imaginaries in Delta Regions,” which will include fieldwork in Vietnam, the Netherlands, Thailand, and Cambodia.

    “Lizzie’s research brings together three dimensions critical to global well-being and sustainability: adapting to the inevitability of changing ecosystems wrought by the climate crisis; questioning the equity, appropriateness, and relationality of adaptation planning models spanning the global North and the global South; and understanding how to develop durable and just climate futures,” says Christopher Zegras, professor of mobility and urban planning and department head for DUSP. “Her work will be an important contribution toward the long-term health of our planet and of communities working to justly adapt to climate change.”

    Previously, Yarina was awarded a U.S. Scholarship Fulbright to New Zealand to research spatial mapping and policy implications of Pacific Islander migration to New Zealand.

    “My dissertation project looks at climate adaptation planning in delta regions,” she says. “My focus is on Vietnam’s Mekong River Delta, but I’m also looking at how models that are used in delta adaptation planning move between different deltas, including the Netherlands Rhine Delta and the Mississippi Delta.”

    Working on her masters at MIT, Yarina had a teaching fellowship in Singapore, where she conducted research on climate adaptation plans in four major cities in Southeast Asia.

    “Through that process I learned about the role of Dutch experts and Dutch models in shaping how climate adaptation planning was taking place in Southeast Asia,” she says. “This project expands on that work from looking at a single city to examining a regional plan at the scale of a delta.”

    Yarina holds a joint masters in architecture and masters of city planning from MIT, and a BS in architecture from the University of Michigan. More

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    Meet the 2021-22 Accenture Fellows

    Launched in October of 2020, the MIT and Accenture Convergence Initiative for Industry and Technology underscores the ways in which industry and technology come together to spur innovation. The five-year initiative aims to achieve its mission through research, education, and fellowships. To that end, Accenture has once again awarded five annual fellowships to MIT graduate students working on research in industry and technology convergence who are underrepresented, including by race, ethnicity, and gender.

    This year’s Accenture Fellows work across disciplines including robotics, manufacturing, artificial intelligence, and biomedicine. Their research covers a wide array of subjects, including: advancing manufacturing through computational design, with the potential to benefit global vaccine production; designing low-energy robotics for both consumer electronics and the aerospace industry; developing robotics and machine learning systems that may aid the elderly in their homes; and creating ingestible biomedical devices that can help gather medical data from inside a patient’s body.

    Student nominations from each unit within the School of Engineering, as well as from the four other MIT schools and the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, were invited as part of the application process. Five exceptional students were selected as fellows in the initiative’s second year.

    Xinming (Lily) Liu is a PhD student in operations research at MIT Sloan School of Management. Her work is focused on behavioral and data-driven operations for social good, incorporating human behaviors into traditional optimization models, designing incentives, and analyzing real-world data. Her current research looks at the convergence of social media, digital platforms, and agriculture, with particular attention to expanding technological equity and economic opportunity in developing countries. Liu earned her BS from Cornell University, with a double major in operations research and computer science.

    Caris Moses is a PhD student in electrical engineering and computer science specializing inartificial intelligence. Moses’ research focuses on using machine learning, optimization, and electromechanical engineering to build robotics systems that are robust, flexible, intelligent, and can learn on the job. The technology she is developing holds promise for industries including flexible, small-batch manufacturing; robots to assist the elderly in their households; and warehouse management and fulfillment. Moses earned her BS in mechanical engineering from Cornell University and her MS in computer science from Northeastern University.

    Sergio Rodriguez Aponte is a PhD student in biological engineering. He is working on the convergence of computational design and manufacturing practices, which have the potential to impact industries such as biopharmaceuticals, food, and wellness/nutrition. His current research aims to develop strategies for applying computational tools, such as multiscale modeling and machine learning, to the design and production of manufacturable and accessible vaccine candidates that could eventually be available globally. Rodriguez Aponte earned his BS in industrial biotechnology from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez.

    Soumya Sudhakar SM ’20 is a PhD student in aeronautics and astronautics. Her work is focused on theco-design of new algorithms and integrated circuits for autonomous low-energy robotics that could have novel applications in aerospace and consumer electronics. Her contributions bring together the emerging robotics industry, integrated circuits industry, aerospace industry, and consumer electronics industry. Sudhakar earned her BSE in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Princeton University and her MS in aeronautics and astronautics from MIT.

    So-Yoon Yang is a PhD student in electrical engineering and computer science. Her work on the development of low-power, wireless, ingestible biomedical devices for health care is at the intersection of the medical device, integrated circuit, artificial intelligence, and pharmaceutical fields. Currently, the majority of wireless biomedical devices can only provide a limited range of medical data measured from outside the body. Ingestible devices hold promise for the next generation of personal health care because they do not require surgical implantation, can be useful for detecting physiological and pathophysiological signals, and can also function as therapeutic alternatives when treatment cannot be done externally. Yang earned her BS in electrical and computer engineering from Seoul National University in South Korea and her MS in electrical engineering from Caltech. More

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    “Vigilant inclusion” central to combating climate change

    “To turbocharge work on saving the planet, we need effective, innovative, localized solutions, and diverse perspectives and experience at the table,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm, the keynote speaker at the 10th annual U.S. Clean Energy Education and Empowerment (C3E) Women in Clean Energy Symposium and Awards.

    This event, convened virtually over Nov. 3-4 and engaging more than 1,000 participants, was devoted to the themes of justice and equity in clean energy. In panels and presentations, speakers hammered home the idea that the benefits of a zero-carbon future must be shared equitably, especially among groups historically neglected or marginalized. To ensure this outcome, the speakers concluded, these same groups must help drive the clean-energy transition, and women, who stand to bear enormous burdens as the world warms, should be central to the effort. This means “practicing vigilant inclusion,” said Granholm.

    The C3E symposium, which is dedicated to celebrating the leadership of women in the field of clean energy and inspiring the next generation of women leaders, featured professionals from government, industry, research, and other sectors. Some of them spoke from experience, and from the heart, on issues of environmental justice.

    “I grew up in a trailer park in northern Utah, where it was so cold at night a sheet of ice formed on the inside of the door,” said Melanie Santiago-Mosier, the deputy director of the Clean Energy Group and Clean Energy States Alliance. Santiago-Mosier, who won a 2018 C3E award for advocacy, has devoted her career “to bringing the benefits of clean energy to families like mine, and to preventing mistakes of the past that result in a deeply unjust energy system.”

    Tracey A. LeBeau, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe who grew up in South Dakota, described the flooding of her community’s land to create a hydroelectric dam, forcing the dislocation of many people. Today, as administrator and CEO of the Western Area Power Administration, LeBeau manages distribution of hydropower across 15 states, and has built an organization in which the needs of disadvantaged communities are top of mind. “I stay true to my indigenous point of view,” she said.

    The C3E Symposium was launched in 2012 to increase gender diversity in the energy sector and provide awards to outstanding women in the field. It is part of the C3E Initiative, a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), Texas A&M Energy Institute, and Stanford Precourt Institute for Energy, which hosted the event this year.

    Connecting global rich and poor

    As the COP26 climate summit unfolded in Glasgow, highlighting the sharp divide between rich and poor nations, C3E panelists pursued a related agenda. One panel focused on paths for collaboration between industrialized nations and nations with developing economies to build a sustainable, carbon-neutral global economy.

    Radhika Thakkar, the vice president of corporate affairs at solar home energy provider Greenlight Planet and a 2019 C3E international award winner, believes that small partnerships with women at the community level can lead to large impacts. When her company introduced solar lamp home systems to Rwanda, “Women abandoned selling bananas to sell our lamps, making enough money to purchase land, cows, even putting their families through school,” she said.

    Sudeshna Banerjee, the practice manager for Europe and Central Asia and the energy and extractives global practice at the World Bank, talked about impacts of a bank-supported electrification program in Nairobi slums where gang warfare kept girls confined at home. “Once the lights came on, girls felt more empowered to go around in dark hours,” she said. “This is what development is: creating opportunities for young women to do something with their lives, giving them educational opportunities and creating instances for them to generate income.”

    In another session, panelists focused on ways to enable disadvantaged communities in the United States to take full advantage of clean energy opportunities.

    Amy Glasmeier, a professor of economic geography and regional planning at MIT, believes remote, rural communities require broadband and other information channels in order to chart their own clean-energy journeys. “We must provide access to more than energy, so people can educate themselves and imagine how the energy transition can work for them.”

    Santiago-Mosier described the absence of rooftop solar in underprivileged neighborhoods of the nation’s cities and towns as the result of a kind of clean-energy redlining. “Clean energy and the solar industry are falling into 400-year-old traps of systemic racism,” she said. “This is no accident: senior executives in solar are white and male.” The answer is “making sure that providers and companies are elevating people of color and women in industries,” otherwise “solar is leaving potential growth on the table.”

    Data for equitable outcomes

    Jessica Granderson, the director of building technology at the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the 2015 C3E research award winner, is measuring and remediating greenhouse gas emissions from the nation’s hundred-million-plus homes and commercial structures. In a panel exploring data-driven solutions for advancing equitable energy outcomes, Granderson described using new building performance standards that improve the energy efficiency and material performance of construction in a way that does not burden building owners with modest resources. “We are emphasizing engagements at the community level, bringing in a local workforce, and addressing the needs of local programs, in a way that hasn’t necessarily been present in the past,” she said.

    To facilitate her studies on how people in these communities use and experience public transportation systems, Tierra Bills, an assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering at Wayne State University, is developing a community-based approach for collecting data. “Not everyone who is eager to contribute to a study can participate in an online survey and upload data, so we need to find ways of overcoming these barriers,” she said.

    Corporate efforts to advance social and environmental justice turn on community engagement as well. Paula Gold-Williams, a C3E ambassador and the president and CEO of CPS Energy, with 1 million customers in San Antonio, Texas, described a weatherization campaign to better insulate homes that involved “looking for as many places to go as possible in parts of town where people wouldn’t normally raise their hands.”

    Carla Peterman, the executive vice president for corporate affairs and chief of sustainability at Pacific Gas & Electric, and the 2015 C3E government award winner, was deliberating about raising rates some years ago. “My ‘aha’ moment was in a community workshop where I realized that a $5 increase is too much,” she said. “It may be the cost of a latte, but these folks aren’t buying lattes, and it’s a choice between electricity and food or shelter.”

    A call to arms

    Humanity cannot win the all-out race to achieve a zero-carbon future without a vast new cohort of participants, symposium speakers agreed. A number of the 2021 C3E award winners who have committed their careers to clean energy invoked the moral imperative of the moment and issued a call to arms.

    “Seven-hundred-and-fifty million people around the world live without reliable energy, and 70 percent of schools lack power,” said Rhonda Jordan-Antoine PhD ’12, a senior energy specialist at the World Bank who received this year’s international award. By laboring to bring smart grids, battery technologies, and regional integration to even the most remote communities, she said, we open up opportunities for education and jobs. “Energy access is not just about energy, but development,” said Antoine, “and I hope you are encouraged to advance clean energy efforts around the globe.”

    Faith Corneille, who won the government award, works in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Energy Resources. “We need innovators and scientists to design solutions; energy efficiency experts and engineers to build; lawyers to review, and bankers to invest, and insurance agents to protect against risk; and we need problem-solvers to thread these together,” she said. “Whatever your path, there’s a role for you: energy and climate intersect with whatever you do.”

    “We know the cause of climate change and how to reverse it, but to make that happen we need passionate and brilliant minds, all pulling in the same direction,” said Megan Nutting, the executive vice president of government and regulatory affairs at Sunnova Energy Corporation, and winner of the business award. “The clean-energy transition needs women,” she said. “If you are not working in clean energy, then why not?” More

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    Taylor Perron receives 2021 MacArthur Fellowship

    Taylor Perron, professor of geology and associate department head for education in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, has been named a recipient of a 2021 MacArthur Fellowship.

    Often referred to as “genius grants,” the fellowships are awarded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to talented individuals in a variety of fields. Each MacArthur fellow receives a $625,000 stipend, which they are free to use as they see fit. Recipients are notified by the foundation of their selection shortly before the fellowships are publicly announced.

    “After I had absorbed what they were saying, the first thing I thought was, I couldn’t wait to tell my wife, Lisa,” Perron says of receiving the call. “We’ve been a team through all of this and have had a pretty incredible journey, and I was just eager to share that with her.”

    Perron is a geomorphologist who seeks to understand the mechanisms that shape landscapes on Earth and other planets. His work combines mathematical modeling and computer simulations of landscape evolution; analysis of remote-sensing and spacecraft data; and field studies in regions such as the Appalachian Mountains, Hawaii, and the Amazon rainforest to trace how landscapes evolved over time and how they may change in the future.

    “If we can understand how climate and life and geological processes have interacted over a long time to create the landscapes we see now, we can use that information to anticipate where the landscape is headed in the future,” Perron says.

    His group has developed models that describe how river systems generate intricate branching patterns as a result of competing erosional processes, and how climate influences erosion on continents, islands, and reefs.

    Perron has also applied his methods beyond Earth, to retrace the evolution of the surfaces of Mars and Saturn’s moon Titan. His group has used spacecraft images and data to show how features on Titan, which appear to be active river networks, were likely carved out by raining liquid methane. On Mars, his analyses have supported the idea that the Red Planet once harbored an ocean and that the former shoreline of this Martian ocean is now warped as a result of a shift in the planet’s spin axis.

    He is continuing to map out the details of Mars and Titan’s landscape histories, which he hopes will provide clues to their ancient climates and habitability.

    “I think answers to some of the big questions about the solar system are written in planetary landscapes,” Perron says. “For example, why did Mars start off with lakes and rivers, but end up as a frozen desert? And if a world like Titan has weather like ours, but with a methane cycle instead of a water cycle, could an environment like that have supported life? One thing we try to do is figure out how to read the landscape to find the answers to those questions.”

    Perron has expanded his group’s focus to examine how changing landscapes affect biodiversity, for instance in Appalachia and in the Amazon — both freshwater systems that host some of the most diverse populations of life on the planet.

    “If we can figure out how changes in the physical landscape may have generated regions of really high biodiversity, that should help us learn how to conserve it,” Perron says.

    Recently, his group has also begun to investigate the influence of landscape evolution on human history. Perron is collaborating with archaeologists on projects to study the effect of physical landscapes on human migration in the Americas, and how the response of rivers to ice ages may have helped humans develop complex farming societies in the Amazon.

    Looking ahead, he plans to apply the MacArthur grant toward these projects and other “intellectual risks” — ideas that have potential for failure but could be highly rewarding if they succeed. The fellowship will also provide resources for his group to continue collaborating across disciplines and continents.

    “I’ve learned a lot from reaching out to people in other fields — everything from granular mechanics to fish biology,” Perron says. “That has broadened my scientific horizons and helped us do innovative work. Having the fellowship will provide more flexibility to allow us to continue connecting with people from other fields and other parts of the world.”

    Perron holds a BA in earth and planetary sciences and archaeology from Harvard University and a PhD in earth and planetary science from the University of California at Berkeley. He joined MIT as a faculty member in 2009. More

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    Institute Professor Paula Hammond named to White House science council

    Paula Hammond, an MIT Institute Professor and head of MIT’s Department of Chemical Engineering, has been chosen to serve on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), the White House announced today.

    The council advises the president on matters involving science, technology, education, and innovation policy. It also provides the White House with scientific and technical information that is needed to inform public policy relating to the U.S. economy, U.S. workers, and national security.

    “For me, this is an exciting opportunity,” Hammond says. “I have always been interested in considering how science can solve important problems in our community, in our country, and globally. It’s very meaningful for me to have a chance to have an advisory role at that level.”

    Hammond is one of 30 members named to the council, which is co-chaired by Frances Arnold, a professor at Caltech, and Maria Zuber, MIT’s vice president for research.

    “Paula is an extraordinary engineer, teacher, and colleague, and President Biden’s decision to appoint her to the council is an excellent one,” Zuber says. “I think about the work ahead of us — not just to restore science and technology to their proper place in policymaking, but also to make sure that they lead to real improvements in the lives of everyone in our country — and I can’t think of anyone better suited to the challenge than Paula.”

    Hammond, whose research as a chemical engineer touches on the fields of both medicine and energy, said she hopes to help address critical issues such as equal access to health care and efforts to mitigate climate change.

    “I’m very excited about the opportunities presented at the interface of engineering and health, and in particular, how we might be able to expand the benefits that we gain from our work to a broader set of communities, so that we’re able to address some of the disparities we see in health, which have been so obvious during the pandemic,” says Hammond, who is also a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. “How we might be able to use everything from computational modeling and data science to technological innovation to equalize access to health is one area that I care a lot about.”

    Hammond’s research focuses on developing novel polymers and nanomaterials for a variety of applications in drug delivery, noninvasive imaging, solar cells, and battery technology. Using techniques for building polymers with highly controlled architectures, she has designed drug-delivering nanoparticles that can home in on tumors, as well as polymer films that dramatically improve the efficiency of methanol fuel cells.

    As an MIT faculty member and mentor to graduate students, Hammond has worked to increase opportunities for underrepresented minorities in science and engineering fields. That is a goal she also hopes to pursue in her new role.

    “There’s a lot of work to be done when we look at the low numbers of students of color who are actually going on to science and engineering fields,” she says. “When I think about my work related to increasing diversity in those areas, part of the reason I do it is because that’s where we gain excellence, and where we gain solutions and the foresight to work on the right problems. I also think that it’s important for there to be broad access to the power that science brings.”

    Hammond, who earned both her bachelor’s degree and PhD from MIT, has been a member of the faculty since 1995. She has been a full professor since 2006 and has chaired the Department of Chemical Engineering since 2015. Earlier this year, she was named an Institute Professor, MIT’s highest faculty honor. She is also one of only 25 people who have been elected to all three National Academies — Engineering, Science, and Medicine.

    She has previously served on the U.S. Secretary of Energy Scientific Advisory Board, the NIH Center for Scientific Review Advisory Council, and the Board of Directors of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. She also chaired or co-chaired two committees that contributed landmark reports on gender and race at MIT: the Initiative for Faculty Race and Diversity, and the Academic and Organizational Relationships Working Group. More