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    A home where world-changing innovations take flight

    In a large, open space on the first floor of 750 Main Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a carbon-capture company is heating up molten salts to 600 degrees Celsius right next to a quantum computing company’s device for supercooling qubits. The difference is about 900 degrees across 15 feet.

    It doesn’t take long in the tour of The Engine Accelerator to realize this isn’t your typical co-working space. Companies here are working at the extremes to develop new technologies with world-changing impact — what The Engine Accelerator’s leaders call “tough tech.”

    Comprising four floors and 150,000 square feet next door to MIT’s campus, the new space offers startups specialized lab equipment, advanced machining, fabrication facilities, office space, and a range of startup support services.

    The goal is to give young companies merging science and engineering all of the resources they need to move ideas from the lab bench to their own mass manufacturing lines.

    “The infrastructure has always been a really important accelerant for getting these kinds of companies off and running,” The Engine Accelerator President Emily Knight says. “Now you can start a company and, on day one, start building. Real estate is such a big factor. Our thought was, let’s make this investment in the infrastructure for the founders. It’s an agile lease that enables them to be very flexible as they grow.”

    Since the new facility opened its doors in the summer of 2022, the Accelerator has welcomed around 100 companies that employ close to 1,000 people. In addition to the space, members enjoy educational workshops on topics like fundraising and hiring, events, and networking opportunities that the Accelerator team hopes foster a sense of community among people working in the tough tech space overall.

    “We’re not just advocates for the startups in the space,” Knight says. “We’re advocates for tough tech as a whole. We think it’s important for the state of Massachusetts to create a tough tech hub here, and we think it’s important for national competitiveness.”

    Tough tech gets a home

    The Engine was spun out of MIT in 2016 as a public benefit corporation with the mission of bridging the gap between discovery and commercialization. Since its inception, it has featured an investment component, now known as Engine Ventures, and a shared services component.

    From the moment The Engine opened its doors to startups in its original headquarters on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, the services team got a firsthand look at the unique challenges faced by tough tech startups. After speaking with founders, they realized their converted office space would need more power, stronger floors, and full lab accommodations.

    The team rose to the challenge. They turned a closet into a bio lab. They turned an unused wellness room into a laser lab. They managed to accommodate Commonwealth Fusion Systems when the founders informed them a 5,000-pound magnet would soon arrive for testing.

    But supporting ambitious founders in their quest to build world-changing companies was always going to require a bigger boat. As early as 2017, MIT’s leaders were considering turning the old Polaroid building, which had sat empty next to MIT’s campus for nearly 20 years, into the new home for tough tech.

    Speaking of tough, construction crews began the extensive building renovations for the Accelerator at the end of 2019, a few months before the Covid-19 pandemic. The team managed to avoid the worst of the supply chain disruptions, but they quickly learned the building has its quirks. Each floor is a different ceiling height, and massive pillars known as mushroom columns punctuate each floor.

    Based on conversations with founders, The Engine’s Accelerator team outfitted the renovated building with office and co-working space, a full machine shop, labs for biology and chemistry work, an array of 3D printers, bike storage, and, perhaps most important, cold brew on tap.

    “I think of the Accelerator as a really great Airbnb host rather than a landlord, where maybe you rented a bedroom in a large house, but you feel like you rented the whole thing because you have access to all kinds of amazing equipment,” says Bernardo Cervantes PhD ’20, co-founder of Concerto Biosciences, which is developing microbes for a variety of uses in human health and agriculture.

    The Engine Accelerator’s team credits MIT leadership with helping them manage the project, noting that the MIT Environment, Health and Safety office was particularly helpful.

    A week after the Accelerator opened its doors in August 2022, on a single sweltering day, 35 companies moved in. By 2023, the Accelerator was home to 55 companies. Since then, the Accelerator’s team has done everything they could to continue to grow.

    “At one point, one of our team members came to me with her tail between her legs and sheepishly said, ‘I gave our office space to a startup,’” Knight recalls. “I said, ‘Yes! That means you get it! We don’t need an office — we can sit anywhere.’”

    The first floor holds some of the largest machinery, including that molten salt device (developed by Mantel Capture) and the quantum computer (developed by Atlantic Quantum). On the next level, a machine shop and a fabrication space featuring every 3D printer imaginable offer ways for companies to quickly build prototype products or parts. Another floor is dubbed “the Avenue” and features a kitchen and tables for networking and serendipitous meetings. The Avenue is lined by huge garage doors that open to accommodate larger crowds for workshops and meeting spaces.

    “Even though the founders are working in different spaces, we wanted to create an area where people can connect and run into each other and get help with 3D printing or hiring or anything else,” Knight says. “It fosters those casual interactions that are very important for startups.”

    An ecosystem to change the world

    Only about one-fifth of the companies in the Accelerator space are portfolio companies of Engine Ventures. The two entities operate separately, but they pool their shared learning about supporting tough tech, and Engine Ventures has an office in the Accelerator’s space.

    Engine Ventures CEO Katie Rae sees it as a symbiotic partnership.

    “We needed to have all these robust services for everyone in tough tech, not just the portfolio companies,” Rae says. “We’ll always work together and produce the Tough Tech Summit together because of our overarching missions. It’s very much like a rising tide lifts all boats. All of these companies are working to change the world in their own verticals, so we’re just focusing on the impact they’re trying to have and making that the story.”

    Rae says MIT has helped both of The Engine’s teams think through the best way to support tough tech startups.

    “Being a partner with MIT, which understands innovation and safety better than anyone, has allowed us to say yes to more things and have more flexibility,” Rae says. “If you’re going to go at breakneck speed to solve global problems, you better have a mentality of getting things done fast and safely, and I think that’s been a core tenet of The Engine.”

    Meanwhile, Knight says her team hasn’t stopped learning from the tough tech community and will continue to adapt.

    “There’s just a waterfall of information coming from these companies,” Knight says. “It’s about iterating on our services to best support them, so we can go to people on our team and ask, ‘Can you learn to run this type of program, because we just learned these five founders need it?’ Every founder we know in the area has a badge so they can come in. We want to create a hub for tough tech within this Kendall Square area that’s already a hub in so many ways.” More

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    MIT in the media: 2023 in review

    It was an eventful trip around the sun for MIT this year, from President Sally Kornbluth’s inauguration and Mark Rober’s Commencement address to Professor Moungi Bawendi winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In 2023 MIT researchers made key advances, detecting a dying star swallowing a planet, exploring the frontiers of artificial intelligence, creating clean energy solutions, inventing tools aimed at earlier detection and diagnosis of cancer, and even exploring the science of spreading kindness. Below are highlights of some of the uplifting people, breakthroughs, and ideas from MIT that made headlines in 2023.

    The gift: Kindness goes viral with Steve HartmanSteve Hartman visited Professor Anette “Peko” Hosoi to explore the science behind whether a single act of kindness can change the world.Full story via CBS News

    Trio wins Nobel Prize in chemistry for work on quantum dots, used in electronics and medical imaging“The motivation really is the basic science. A basic understanding, the curiosity of ‘how does the world work?’” said Professor Moungi Bawendi of the inspiration for his research on quantum dots, for which he was co-awarded the 2023 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.Full story via the Associated Press

    How MIT’s all-women leadership team plans to change science for the betterPresident Sally Kornbluth, Provost Cynthia Barnhart, and Chancellor Melissa Nobles emphasized the importance of representation for women and underrepresented groups in STEM.Full story via Radio Boston

    MIT via community college? Transfer students find a new path to a degreeUndergraduate Subin Kim shared his experience transferring from community college to MIT through the Transfer Scholars Network, which is aimed at helping community college students find a path to four-year universities.Full story via the Christian Science Monitor

    MIT president Sally Kornbluth doesn’t think we can hit the pause button on AIPresident Kornbluth discussed the future of AI, ethics in science, and climate change with columnist Shirley Leung on her new “Say More” podcast. “I view [the climate crisis] as an existential issue to the extent that if we don’t take action there, all of the many, many other things that we’re working on, not that they’ll be irrelevant, but they’ll pale in comparison,” Kornbluth said.Full story via The Boston Globe 

    It’s the end of a world as we know itAstronomers from MIT, Harvard University, Caltech and elsewhere spotted a dying star swallowing a large planet. Postdoc Kishalay De explained that: “Finding an event like this really puts all of the theories that have been out there to the most stringent tests possible. It really opens up this entire new field of research.”Full story via The New York Times

    Frontiers of AI

    Hey, Alexa, what should students learn about AI?The Day of AI is a program developed by the MIT RAISE initiative aimed at introducing and teaching K-12 students about AI. “We want students to be informed, responsible users and informed, responsible designers of these technologies,” said Professor Cynthia Breazeal, dean of digital learning at MIT.Full story via The New York Times

    AI tipping pointFour faculty members from across MIT — Professors Song Han, Simon Johnson, Yoon Kim and Rosalind Picard — described the opportunities and risks posed by the rapid advancements in the field of AI.Full story via Curiosity Stream 

    A look into the future of AI at MIT’s robotics laboratoryProfessor Daniela Rus, director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, discussed the future of artificial intelligence, robotics, and machine learning, emphasizing the importance of balancing the development of new technologies with the need to ensure they are deployed in a way that benefits humanity.Full story via Mashable

    Health care providers say artificial intelligence could transform medicineProfessor Regina Barzilay spoke about her work developing new AI systems that could be used to help diagnose breast and lung cancer before the cancers are detectable to the human eye.Full story via Chronicle

    Is AI coming for your job? Tech experts weigh in: “They don’t replace human labor”Professor David Autor discussed how the rise of artificial intelligence could change the quality of jobs available.Full story via CBS News

    Big tech is bad. Big AI will be worse.Institute Professor Daron Acemoglu and Professor Simon Johnson made the case that “rather than machine intelligence, what we need is ‘machine usefulness,’ which emphasizes the ability of computers to augment human capabilities.”Full story via The New York Times

    Engineering excitement

    MIT’s 3D-printed hearts could pump new life into customized treatments MIT engineers developed a technique for 3D printing a soft, flexible, custom-designed replica of a patient’s heart.Full story via WBUR

    Mystery of why Roman buildings have survived so long has been unraveled, scientists sayScientists from MIT and other institutions discovered that ancient Romans used lime clasts when manufacturing concrete, giving the material self-healing properties.Full story via CNN

    The most interesting startup in America is in Massachusetts. You’ve probably never heard of it.VulcanForms, an MIT startup, is at the “leading edge of a push to transform 3D printing from a niche technology — best known for new-product prototyping and art-class experimentation — into an industrial force.”Full story via The Boston Globe

    Catalyzing climate innovations

    Can Boston’s energy innovators save the world?Boston Magazine reporter Rowan Jacobsen spotlighted how MIT faculty, students, and alumni are leading the charge in clean energy startups. “When it comes to game-changing breakthroughs in energy, three letters keep surfacing again and again: MIT,” writes Jacobsen.Full story via Boston Magazine

    MIT research could be game changer in combating water shortagesMIT researchers discovered that a common hydrogel used in cosmetic creams, industrial coatings, and pharmaceutical capsules can absorb moisture from the atmosphere even as the temperature rises. “For a planet that’s getting hotter, this could be a game-changing discovery.”Full story via NBC Boston

    Energy-storing concrete could form foundations for solar-powered homesMIT engineers uncovered a new way of creating an energy supercapacitor by combining cement, carbon black, and water that could one day be used to power homes or electric vehicles.Full story via New Scientist

    MIT researchers tackle key question of EV adoption: When to charge?MIT scientists found that delayed charging and strategic placement of EV charging stations could help reduce additional energy demands caused by more widespread EV adoption.Full story via Fast Company

    Building better buildingsProfessor John Fernández examined how to reduce the climate footprints of homes and office buildings, recommending creating airtight structures, switching to cleaner heating sources, using more environmentally friendly building materials, and retrofitting existing homes and offices.Full story via The New York Times

    They’re building an “ice penetrator” on a hillside in WestfordResearchers from MIT’s Haystack Observatory built an “ice penetrator,” a device designed to monitor the changing conditions of sea ice.Full story via The Boston Globe

    Healing health solutions

    How Boston is beating cancerMIT researchers are developing drug-delivery nanoparticles aimed at targeting cancer cells without disturbing healthy cells. Essentially, the nanoparticles are “engineered for selectivity,” explained Professor Paula Hammond, head of MIT’s Department of Chemical Engineering.Full story via Boston Magazine

    A new antibiotic, discovered with artificial intelligence, may defeat a dangerous superbugUsing a machine-learning algorithm, researchers from MIT discovered a type of antibiotic that’s effective against a particular strain of drug-resistant bacteria.Full story via CNN

    To detect breast cancer sooner, an MIT professor designs an ultrasound braMIT researchers designed a wearable ultrasound device that attaches to a bra and could be used to detect early-stage breast tumors.Full story via STAT

    The quest for a switch to turn on hungerAn ingestible pill developed by MIT scientists can raise levels of hormones to help increase appetite and decrease nausea in patients with gastroparesis.Full story via Wired

    Here’s how to use dreams for creative inspirationMIT scientists found that the earlier stages of sleep are key to sparking creativity and that people can be guided to dream about specific topics, further boosting creativity.Full story via Scientific American

    Astounding art

    An AI opera from 1987 reboots for a new generationProfessor Tod Machover discussed the restaging of his opera “VALIS” at MIT, which featured an artificial intelligence-assisted musical instrument developed by Nina Masuelli ’23.Full story via The Boston Globe

    Surfacing the stories hidden in migration dataAssociate Professor Sarah Williams discussed the Civic Data Design Lab’s “Motivational Tapestry,” a large woven art piece that uses data from the United Nations World Food Program to visually represent the individual motivations of 1,624 Central Americans who have migrated to the U.S.Full story via Metropolis

    Augmented reality-infused production of Wagner’s “Parsifal” opens Bayreuth FestivalProfessor Jay Scheib’s augmented reality-infused production of Richard Wagner’s “Parsifal” brought “fantastical images” to audience members.Full story via the Associated Press

    Understanding our universe

    New image reveals violent events near a supermassive black holeScientists captured a new image of M87*, the black hole at the center of the Messier 87 galaxy, showing the “launching point of a colossal jet of high-energy particles shooting outward into space.”Full story via Reuters

    Gravitational waves: A new universeMIT researchers Lisa Barsotti, Deep Chatterjee, and Victoria Xu explored how advances in gravitational wave detection are enabling a better understanding of the universe.Full story via Curiosity Stream 

    Nergis Mavalvala helped detect the first gravitational wave. Her work doesn’t stop thereProfessor Nergis Mavalvala, dean of the School of Science, discussed her work searching for gravitational waves, the importance of skepticism in scientific research, and why she enjoys working with young people.Full story via Wired

    Hitting the books

    “The Transcendent Brain” review: Beyond ones and zeroesIn his book “The Transcendent Brain: Spirituality in the Age of Science,” Alan Lightman, a professor of the practice of humanities, displayed his gift for “distilling complex ideas and emotions to their bright essence.”Full story via The Wall Street Journal

    What happens when CEOs treat workers better? Companies (and workers) win.Professor of the practice Zeynep Ton published a book, “The Case for Good Jobs,” and is “on a mission to change how company leaders think, and how they treat their employees.”Full story via The Boston Globe

    How to wage war on conspiracy theoriesProfessor Adam Berinsky’s book, “Political Rumors: Why We Accept Misinformation and How to Fight it,” examined “attitudes toward both politics and health, both of which are undermined by distrust and misinformation in ways that cause harm to both individuals and society.”Full story via Politico

    What it takes for Mexican coders to cross the cultural border with Silicon ValleyAssistant Professor Héctor Beltrán discussed his new book, “Code Work: Hacking across the U.S./México Techno-Borderlands,” which explores the culture of hackathons and entrepreneurship in Mexico.Full story via Marketplace

    Cultivating community

    The Indigenous rocketeerNicole McGaa, a fourth-year student at MIT, discussed her work leading MIT’s all-Indigenous rocket team at the 2023 First Nations Launch National Rocket Competition.Full story via Nature

    “You totally got this,” YouTube star and former NASA engineer Mark Rober tells MIT graduatesDuring his Commencement address at MIT, Mark Rober urged graduates to embrace their accomplishments and boldly face any challenges they encounter.Full story via The Boston Globe

    MIT Juggling Club going strong after half centuryAfter almost 50 years, the MIT Juggling Club, which was founded in 1975 and then merged with a unicycle club, is the oldest drop-in juggling club in continuous operation and still welcomes any aspiring jugglers to come toss a ball (or three) into the air.Full story via Cambridge Day

    Volpe Transportation Center opens as part of $750 million deal between MIT and fedsThe John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Kendall Square was the first building to open in MIT’s redevelopment of the 14-acre Volpe site that will ultimately include “research labs, retail, affordable housing, and open space, with the goal of not only encouraging innovation, but also enhancing the surrounding community.”Full story via The Boston Globe

    Sparking conversation

    The future of AI innovation and the role of academics in shaping itProfessor Daniela Rus emphasized the central role universities play in fostering innovation and the importance of ensuring universities have the computing resources necessary to help tackle major global challenges.Full story via The Boston Globe

    Moving the needle on supply chain sustainabilityProfessor Yossi Sheffi examined several strategies companies could use to help improve supply chain sustainability, including redesigning last-mile deliveries, influencing consumer choices and incentivizing returnable containers.Full story via The Hill

    Expelled from the mountain top?Sylvester James Gates Jr. ’73, PhD ’77 made the case that “diverse learning environments expose students to a broader range of perspectives, enhance education, and inculcate creativity and innovative habits of mind.”Full story via Science

    Marketing magic of “Barbie” movie has lessons for women’s sportsMIT Sloan Lecturer Shira Springer explored how the success of the “Barbie” movie could be applied to women’s sports.Full story via Sports Business Journal

    We’re already paying for universal health care. Why don’t we have it?Professor Amy Finkelstein asserted that the solution to health insurance reform in the U.S. is “universal coverage that is automatic, free and basic.”Full story via The New York Times 

    The internet could be so good. Really.Professor Deb Roy described how “new kinds of social networks can be designed for constructive communication — for listening, dialogue, deliberation, and mediation — and they can actually work.”Full story via The Atlantic

    Fostering educational excellence

    MIT students give legendary linear algebra professor standing ovation in last lectureAfter 63 years of teaching and over 10 million views of his online lectures, Professor Gilbert Strang received a standing ovation after his last lecture on linear algebra. “I am so grateful to everyone who likes linear algebra and sees its importance. So many universities (and even high schools) now appreciate how beautiful it is and how valuable it is,” said Strang.Full story via USA Today

    “Brave Behind Bars”: Reshaping the lives of inmates through coding classesGraduate students Martin Nisser and Marisa Gaetz co-founded Brave Behind Bars, a program designed to provide incarcerated individuals with coding and digital literacy skills to better prepare them for life after prison.Full story via MSNBC

    Melrose TikTok user “Ms. Nuclear Energy” teaching about nuclear power through social mediaGraduate student Kaylee Cunningham discussed her work using social media to help educate and inform the public about nuclear energy.Full story via CBS Boston  More

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    MIT campus goals in food, water, waste support decarbonization efforts

    With the launch of Fast Forward: MIT’s Climate Action Plan for the Decade, the Institute committed to decarbonize campus operations by 2050 — an effort that touches on every corner of MIT, from building energy use to procurement and waste. At the operational level, the plan called for establishing a set of quantitative climate impact goals in the areas of food, water, and waste to inform the campus decarbonization roadmap. After an 18-month process that engaged staff, faculty, and researchers, the goals — as well as high-level strategies to reach them — were finalized in spring 2023.

    The goal development process was managed by a team representing the areas of campus food, water, and waste, respectively, and includes Director of Campus Dining Mark Hayes and Senior Sustainability Project Manager Susy Jones (food), Director of Utilities Janine Helwig (water), Assistant Director of Campus Services Marty O’Brien, and Assistant Director of Sustainability Brain Goldberg (waste) to co-lead the efforts. The group worked together to set goals that leverage ongoing campus sustainability efforts. “It was important for us to collaborate in order to identify the strategies and goals,” explains Goldberg. “It allowed us to set goals that not only align, but build off of one another, enabling us to work more strategically.”

    In setting the goals, each team relied on data, community insight, and best practices. The co-leads are sharing their process to help others at the Institute understand the roles they can play in supporting these objectives.  

    Sustainable food systems

    The primary food impact goal aims for a 25 percent overall reduction in the greenhouse gas footprint of food purchases starting with academic year 2021-22 as a baseline, acknowledging that beef purchases make up a significant share of those emissions. Additionally, the co-leads established a goal to recover all edible food waste in dining hall and retail operations where feasible, as that reduces MIT’s waste impact and acknowledges that redistributing surplus food to feed people is critically important.

    The work to develop the food goal was uniquely challenging, as MIT works with nine different vendors — including main vendor Bon Appetit — to provide food on campus, with many vendors having their own sustainability targets. The goal-setting process began by understanding vendor strategies and leveraging their climate commitments. “A lot of this work is not about reinventing the wheel, but about gathering data,” says Hayes. “We are trying to connect the dots of what is currently happening on campus and to better understand food consumption and waste, ensuring that we area reaching these targets.”

    In identifying ways to reach and exceed these targets, Jones conducted listening sessions around campus, balancing input with industry trends, best-available science, and institutional insight from Hayes. “Before we set these goals and possible strategies, we wanted to get a grounding from the community and understand what would work on our campus,” says Jones, who recently began a joint role that bridges the Office of Sustainability and MIT Dining in part to support the goal work.

    By establishing the 25 percent reduction in the greenhouse gas footprint of food purchases across MIT residential dining menus, Jones and Hayes saw goal-setting as an opportunity to add more sustainable, local, and culturally diverse foods to the menu. “If beef is the most carbon-intensive food on the menu, this enables us to explore and expand so many recipes and menus from around the globe that incorporate alternatives,” Jones says.

    Strategies to reach the climate food goals focus on local suppliers, more plant-forward meals, food recovery, and food security. In 2019, MIT was a co-recipient of the New England Food Vision Prize provided by the Kendall Foundation to increase the amount of local food served on campus in partnership with CommonWealth Kitchen in Dorchester. While implementation of that program was put on pause due to the pandemic, work resumed this year. Currently, the prize is funding a collaborative effort to introduce falafel-like, locally manufactured fritters made from Maine-grown yellow field peas to dining halls at MIT and other university campuses, exemplifying the efforts to meet the climate impact goal, serve as a model for others, and provide demonstrable ways of strengthening the regional food system.

    “This sort of innovation is where we’re a leader,” says Hayes. “In addition to the Kendall Prize, we are looking to focus on food justice, growing our BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] vendors, and exploring ideas such as local hydroponic and container vegetable growing companies, and how to scale these types of products into institutional settings.”

    Reduce and reuse for campus water

    The 2030 water impact goal aims to achieve a 10 percent reduction in water use compared to the 2019 baseline and to update the water reduction goal to align with the new metering program and proposed campus decarbonization plans as they evolve.

    When people think of campus water use, they may think of sprinklers, lab sinks, or personal use like drinking water and showers. And while those uses make up around 60 percent of campus water use, the Central Utilities Plant (CUP) accounts for the remaining 40 percent. “The CUP generates electricity and delivers heating and cooling to the campus through steam and chilled water — all using what amounts to a large percentage of water use on campus,” says Helwig. As such, the water goal focuses as much on reuse as reduction, with one approach being to expand water capture from campus cooling towers for reuse in CUP operations. “People often think of water use and energy separately, but they often go hand-in-hand,” Helwig explains.

    Data also play a central part in the water impact goal — that’s why a new metering program is called for in the implementation strategy. “We have access to a lot of data at MIT, but in reviewing the water data to inform the goal, we learned that it wasn’t quite where we needed it,” explains Helwig. “By ensuring we have the right meter and submeters set up, we can better set boundaries to understand where there is the potential to reduce water use.” Irrigation on campus is one such target with plans to soon release new campuswide landscaping standards that minimize water use.

    Reducing campus waste

    The waste impact goal aims to reduce campus trash by 30 percent compared to 2019 baseline totals. Additionally, the goal outlines efforts to improve the accuracy of indicators tracking campus waste; reduce the percentage of food scraps in trash and percent of recycling in trash in select locations; reduce the percentage of trash and recycling comprised of single use items; and increase the percentage of residence halls and other campus spaces where food is consumed at scale, implementing an MIT food scrap collection program.

    In setting the waste goals, Goldberg and O’Brien studied available campus waste data from past waste audits, pilot programs, and MIT’s waste haulers. They factored in state and city policies that regulate things like the type and amount of waste large institutions can transport. “Looking at all the data it became clear that a 30 percent trash reduction goal will make a tremendous impact on campus and help us drive toward the goal of completely designing out waste from campus,” Goldberg says. The strategies to reach the goals include reducing the amount of materials that come into campus, increasing recycling rates, and expanding food waste collection on campus.

    While reducing the waste created from material sources is outlined in the goals, food waste is a special focus on campus because it comprises approximately 40 percent of campus trash, it can be easily collected separately from trash and recycled locally, and decomposing food waste is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions found in landfills. “There is a lot of greenhouse gas emissions that result from production, distribution, transportation, packaging, processing, and disposal of food,” explains Goldberg. “When food travels to campus, is removed from campus as waste, and then breaks down in a landfill, there are emissions every step of the way.”

    To reduce food waste, Goldberg and O’Brien outlined strategies that include working with campus suppliers to identify ordering volumes and practices to limit waste. Once materials are on campus, another strategy kicks in, with a new third stream of waste collection that joins recycling and trash — food waste. By collecting the food waste separately — in bins that are currently rolling out across campus — the waste can be reprocessed into fertilizer, compost, and/or energy without the off-product of greenhouse gases. The waste impact goal also relies on behavioral changes to reduce waste, with education materials part of the process to reduce waste and decontaminate reprocessing streams.

    Tracking progress

    As work toward the goals advances, community members can monitor progress in the Sustainability DataPool Material Matters and Campus Water Use dashboards, or explore the Impact Goals in depth.

    “From food to water to waste, everyone on campus interacts with these systems and can grapple with their impact either from a material they need to dispose of, to water they’re using in a lab, or leftover food from an event,” says Goldberg. “By setting these goals we as an institution can lead the way and help our campus community understand how they can play a role, plug in, and make an impact.” More

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    Celebrating Kendall Square’s past and shaping its future

    Kendall Square’s community took a deep dive into the history and future of the region at the Kendall Square Association’s 15th annual meeting on Oct. 19.

    It’s no secret that Kendall Square, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, moves fast. The event, titled “Looking Back, Looking Ahead,” gave community members a chance to pause and reflect on how far the region has come and to discuss efforts to shape where it’s going next.

    “The impact of the last 15 years of working together with a purposeful commitment to make the world a better place was on display this evening,” KSA Executive Director Beth O’Neill Maloney told the audience toward the end of the evening. “It also shows how Kendall Square can continue contributing to the world.”

    The gathering took place at the Microsoft NERD Center on Memorial Drive, on a floor that also featured music from the Kendall Square Orchestra and, judging by the piles of empty trays at the end of the night, an exceedingly popular selection of food from Kendall Square restaurants. Attendees came from across Cambridge’s prolific innovation ecosystem — not just entrepreneurs and life science workers but also high school and college students, restaurant and retail shop owners, workers at local cleantech and robotics companies, and leaders of nonprofits.

    KSA itself is a nonprofit made up of over 150 organizations across Kendall Square, from major companies to universities like MIT to research organizations like the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and the independent shops and restaurants that give Kendall Square its distinct character.

    The night’s programming included talks about recent funding achievements in the region, a panel discussion on the implications of artificial intelligence, and a highly entertaining, whirlwind history lesson led by Daniel Berger-Jones of Cambridge Historical Tours.

    “Our vision for the state is to be the best, and Kendall really represents that,” said Yvonne Hao, Massachusetts secretary of economic development. “When I went to DC to talk to folks about why Massachusetts should win some of these grants, they said, ‘You already have Kendall, that’s what we’re trying to get the whole country to be like!’”

    Hao started her talk by noting her personal connection to Kendall Square. She moved to Cambridge with her family in 2010 and has watched the neighborhood transform, with her kids frequenting the old and new restaurants and shops around town.

    The crux of Hao’s talk was to remind attendees they had more to celebrate than KSA’s anniversary. Massachusetts was recently named the recipient of two major federal grants that will fuel the state’s innovation work. One of those grants, from the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), designated the state an “Investor Catalyst Hub” to accelerate innovation around health care. The other, which came through the federal CHIPS and Science Act, will allow the state to establish the Northeast Microelectronics Coalition Hub to advance microelectronics jobs, workforce training opportunities, and investment in the region’s advanced manufacturing.

    Hao recalled making the pitch for the grants, which could collectively amount to hundreds of millions of dollars in funding over time.

    “The pitch happened in Kendall Square because Kendall highlights everything magical about Massachusetts — we have our universities, MIT, we have our research institutions, nonprofits, small businesses, and great community members,” Hao said. “We were hoping for good weather because we wanted to walk with government officials, because when you walk around Kendall, you see the art, you see the coffee shops, you see the people bumping into each other and talking, and you see why it’s so important that this one square mile of geography become the hub they were looking for.”

    Hao is also part of work to put together the state’s newest economic development plan. She said the group’s tier one priorities are transportation and housing, but listed a number of other areas where she hopes Massachusetts can improve.

    “We can be an amazing, strong economy that’s mission-driven and innovation-driven with all kinds of jobs for all kinds of people, and at the same time an awesome community that loves each other and has great food and small businesses and looks out for each other, that looks diverse just like this room,” Hao said. “That’s the story we want to tell.”

    After the historical tour and the debut of a video explaining the origins of the KSA, attendees fast-forwarded into the future with a panel discussion on the impact and implications of generative AI.

    “I think the paradigm shift we’re seeing with generative AI is going to be as transformative as the internet, perhaps even more so because the pace of adoption is much faster now,” said Microsoft’s Soundar Srinivasan.

    The panel also featured Jennat Jounaidi, a student at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School and member of Innovators for Purpose, a nonprofit that seeks to empower young people from historically marginalized groups to become innovators.

    “I’m interested to see how generative AI shapes my upbringing as well as the lives of future generations, and I think it’s a pivotal moment to decide how we can best develop and incorporate AI into all of our lives,” Jounaidi said.

    Panelists noted that today’s concerns around AI are important, such as its potential to perpetuate inequality and amplify misinformation. But they also discussed the technology’s potential to drive advances in areas like sustainability and health care.

    “I came to Kendall Square to do my PhD in AI at MIT back when the internet was called the ARPA-Net… so a while ago,” said Jeremy Wertheimer SM ’89, PhD ’96. “One of the dreams I had back then was to create a program to read all biology papers. We’re not quite there yet, but I think we’re on the cusp, and it’s very exciting.

    Above all else, the panelists characterized AI as an opportunity. Despite all that’s been accomplished in Kendall Square to date, the prevailing feeling at the event was excitement for the future.

    “Generative AI is giving us chance to stop working in siloes,” Jounaidi said. “Many people in this room go back to their companies and think about corporate responsibility, and I want to expand that to creating shared value in companies by seeking out the community and the people here. I think that’s important, and I’m excited to see what comes next.” More

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    AI pilot programs look to reduce energy use and emissions on MIT campus

    Smart thermostats have changed the way many people heat and cool their homes by using machine learning to respond to occupancy patterns and preferences, resulting in a lower energy draw. This technology — which can collect and synthesize data — generally focuses on single-dwelling use, but what if this type of artificial intelligence could dynamically manage the heating and cooling of an entire campus? That’s the idea behind a cross-departmental effort working to reduce campus energy use through AI building controls that respond in real-time to internal and external factors. 

    Understanding the challenge

    Heating and cooling can be an energy challenge for campuses like MIT, where existing building management systems (BMS) can’t respond quickly to internal factors like occupancy fluctuations or external factors such as forecast weather or the carbon intensity of the grid. This results in using more energy than needed to heat and cool spaces, often to sub-optimal levels. By engaging AI, researchers have begun to establish a framework to understand and predict optimal temperature set points (the temperature at which a thermostat has been set to maintain) at the individual room level and take into consideration a host of factors, allowing the existing systems to heat and cool more efficiently, all without manual intervention. 

    “It’s not that different from what folks are doing in houses,” explains Les Norford, a professor of architecture at MIT, whose work in energy studies, controls, and ventilation connected him with the effort. “Except we have to think about things like how long a classroom may be used in a day, weather predictions, time needed to heat and cool a room, the effect of the heat from the sun coming in the window, and how the classroom next door might impact all of this.” These factors are at the crux of the research and pilots that Norford and a team are focused on. That team includes Jeremy Gregory, executive director of the MIT Climate and Sustainability Consortium; Audun Botterud, principal research scientist for the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems; Steve Lanou, project manager in the MIT Office of Sustainability (MITOS); Fran Selvaggio, Department of Facilities Senior Building Management Systems engineer; and Daisy Green and You Lin, both postdocs.

    The group is organized around the call to action to “explore possibilities to employ artificial intelligence to reduce on-campus energy consumption” outlined in Fast Forward: MIT’s Climate Action Plan for the Decade, but efforts extend back to 2019. “As we work to decarbonize our campus, we’re exploring all avenues,” says Vice President for Campus Services and Stewardship Joe Higgins, who originally pitched the idea to students at the 2019 MIT Energy Hack. “To me, it was a great opportunity to utilize MIT expertise and see how we can apply it to our campus and share what we learn with the building industry.” Research into the concept kicked off at the event and continued with undergraduate and graduate student researchers running differential equations and managing pilots to test the bounds of the idea. Soon, Gregory, who is also a MITOS faculty fellow, joined the project and helped identify other individuals to join the team. “My role as a faculty fellow is to find opportunities to connect the research community at MIT with challenges MIT itself is facing — so this was a perfect fit for that,” Gregory says. 

    Early pilots of the project focused on testing thermostat set points in NW23, home to the Department of Facilities and Office of Campus Planning, but Norford quickly realized that classrooms provide many more variables to test, and the pilot was expanded to Building 66, a mixed-use building that is home to classrooms, offices, and lab spaces. “We shifted our attention to study classrooms in part because of their complexity, but also the sheer scale — there are hundreds of them on campus, so [they offer] more opportunities to gather data and determine parameters of what we are testing,” says Norford. 

    Developing the technology

    The work to develop smarter building controls starts with a physics-based model using differential equations to understand how objects can heat up or cool down, store heat, and how the heat may flow across a building façade. External data like weather, carbon intensity of the power grid, and classroom schedules are also inputs, with the AI responding to these conditions to deliver an optimal thermostat set point each hour — one that provides the best trade-off between the two objectives of thermal comfort of occupants and energy use. That set point then tells the existing BMS how much to heat up or cool down a space. Real-life testing follows, surveying building occupants about their comfort. Botterud, whose research focuses on the interactions between engineering, economics, and policy in electricity markets, works to ensure that the AI algorithms can then translate this learning into energy and carbon emission savings. 

    Currently the pilots are focused on six classrooms within Building 66, with the intent to move onto lab spaces before expanding to the entire building. “The goal here is energy savings, but that’s not something we can fully assess until we complete a whole building,” explains Norford. “We have to work classroom by classroom to gather the data, but are looking at a much bigger picture.” The research team used its data-driven simulations to estimate significant energy savings while maintaining thermal comfort in the six classrooms over two days, but further work is needed to implement the controls and measure savings across an entire year. 

    With significant savings estimated across individual classrooms, the energy savings derived from an entire building could be substantial, and AI can help meet that goal, explains Botterud: “This whole concept of scalability is really at the heart of what we are doing. We’re spending a lot of time in Building 66 to figure out how it works and hoping that these algorithms can be scaled up with much less effort to other rooms and buildings so solutions we are developing can make a big impact at MIT,” he says.

    Part of that big impact involves operational staff, like Selvaggio, who are essential in connecting the research to current operations and putting them into practice across campus. “Much of the BMS team’s work is done in the pilot stage for a project like this,” he says. “We were able to get these AI systems up and running with our existing BMS within a matter of weeks, allowing the pilots to get off the ground quickly.” Selvaggio says in preparation for the completion of the pilots, the BMS team has identified an additional 50 buildings on campus where the technology can easily be installed in the future to start energy savings. The BMS team also collaborates with the building automation company, Schneider Electric, that has implemented the new control algorithms in Building 66 classrooms and is ready to expand to new pilot locations. 

    Expanding impact

    The successful completion of these programs will also open the possibility for even greater energy savings — bringing MIT closer to its decarbonization goals. “Beyond just energy savings, we can eventually turn our campus buildings into a virtual energy network, where thousands of thermostats are aggregated and coordinated to function as a unified virtual entity,” explains Higgins. These types of energy networks can accelerate power sector decarbonization by decreasing the need for carbon-intensive power plants at peak times and allowing for more efficient power grid energy use.

    As pilots continue, they fulfill another call to action in Fast Forward — for campus to be a “test bed for change.” Says Gregory: “This project is a great example of using our campus as a test bed — it brings in cutting-edge research to apply to decarbonizing our own campus. It’s a great project for its specific focus, but also for serving as a model for how to utilize the campus as a living lab.” More

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    Andrea Lo ’21 draws on ecological lessons for life, work, and education

    Growing up in Los Angeles about 10 minutes away from the Ballona Wetlands, Andrea Lo ’21 has long been interested in ecology. She witnessed, in real-time, the effects of urbanization and the impacts that development had on the wetlands. 

    “In hindsight, it really helped shape my need for a career — and a life — where I can help improve my community and the environment,” she says.

    Lo, who majored in biology at MIT, says a recurring theme in her life has been the pursuit of balance, valuing both extracurricular and curricular activities. She always felt an equal pull toward STEM and the humanities, toward wet lab work and field work, and toward doing research and helping her community. 

    “One of the most important things I learned in 7.30[J] (Fundamentals of Ecology) was that there are always going to be trade-offs. That’s just the way of life,” she says. “The biology major at MIT is really flexible. I got a lot of room to explore what I was interested in and get a good balance overall, with humanities classes along with technical classes.” 

    Lo was drawn to MIT because of the focus on hands-on work — but many of the activities Lo was hoping to do, both extracurricular and curricular, were cut short because of the pandemic, including her lab-based Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) project. 

    Instead, she pursued a UROP with MIT Sea Grant, working on a project in partnership with Northeastern University and the Charles River Conservancy with funding support from the MIT Community Service fund as part of STEAM Saturday.  

    She was involved in creating Floating Wetland kits, an educational activity directed at students in grades 4 to 6 to help students understand ecological concepts,the challenges the Charles River faces due to urbanization, and how floating wetlands improve the ecosystem. 

    “Our hope was to educate future generations of local students in Cambridge in order for them to understand the ecology surrounding where they live,” she says. 

    In recent years, many bodies of water in Massachusetts have become unusable during the warmer months due to the process of eutrophication: stormwater runoff picks up everything — from fertilizer and silt to animal excrement — and deposits it at the lowest point, which is often a body of water. This leads to an excess of nutrients in the body of water and, when combined with warm temperatures, can lead to harmful algal blooms, making the water sludgy, bright green, and dangerously toxic. 

    The wetland kits Lo worked with were mini ecosystems, replicating a full-sized floating wetland. One such floating wetland can be seen from the Longfellow Bridge at one end of MIT’s campus — the Charles River floating wetland is a patch of grass attached to a buoy like a boat, which is often visited by birds and inhabited by much smaller critters that cannot be seen from the shore.  

    The Charles River floating wetland has a variety of flora, but the kits Lo helped present use only wheat grass because it is easy to grow and has long, dangling roots that could penetrate the watery medium below. A water tray beneath the grass — the Charles river of the mini ecosystem — contains spirulina powder for replicating algae growth and daphnia, which are small, planktonic crustaceans that help keep freshwater clean and usable. 

    “This work was really fulfilling, but it’s also really important, because environmental sustainability relies on future generations to carry on the work that past generations have been doing,” she says. “MIT’s motto is ‘mens et manus’ — education for practical application, and applying theoretical knowledge to what we do in our daily lives. I think this project really helped reinforce that.” 

    Since 2021, Lo has been working in Denmark in a position she learned about through the MIT-Denmark program. 

    She chose Denmark because of its reputation for environmental and sustainability issues and because she didn’t know much about it except for it being one of the happiest countries in the world, often thought of synonymously with the word “hygge,” which has no direct translation but encapsulates coziness and comfort from the small joys in life. 

    “At MIT, we have a very strong work-hard, play-hard culture. I think we can learn a lot from the work-life balance that Denmark has a reputation for,” she says. “I really wanted to take the opportunity in between graduation and whatever came after to explore beyond my bubble. For me, it was important to step back, out of my comfort zone, step into a different environment — and just live.”

    Currently, her personal project is comparing the conditions of two lagoons on the island of Fyn in Denmark. Both are naturally occurring, but in different states of environmental health. 

    She’s been doing a mix of field work and lab work. She collects sediment and fauna samples using a steel corer, or “butter stick” in her lab’s slang. In the same way that one can use a metal tube-shaped tool to remove the core of an apple, she punches the steel corer into the ground, removing a plug of sample. She then sifts the sample through 1 millimeter mesh, preserves the filtered sample in formalin, and takes everything back to the lab. 

    Once there, she looks through the sample to find macrofauna — mollusks, barnacles, and polychaetes, a bristly-looking segmented worm, for example. Collected over time, sediment characteristics like organic matter content, sediment grain size, and the size and abundance of macrofauna, can reveal trends that can help determine the health of the ecosystem. 

    Lo doesn’t have any concrete results yet, but her data could help researchers project the recovery of a lagoon that was rehabilitated using a technique called managed realignment, where water is allowed to reclaim areas where it was once found. She says she’s glad she gets a mix of field work and lab work, even on Denmark’s stormiest days. 

    “Sometimes there are really cold days where it’s windy and I wish I was in the lab, but, at the same time, it’s nice to have a balance where I can be outside and really be hands-on with my work,” she says.  

    Reflecting her dual interests in the technical and the innovative, she will be back in the Greater Boston area in the fall, pursuing a master of science in innovation and management and an MS in civil and environmental engineering at the Tufts Gordon Institute.

    “So much has happened and changed due to the pandemic that it’s easy to dwell on what could’ve been, but I tell myself to be optimistic and take the positive aspects that have come out of the circumstances,” Lo says. “My opportunities with the Sea Grant, MISTI, and Tufts definitely wouldn’t have happened if the pandemic hadn’t happened.” More

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    Tackling the MIT campus’s top energy consumers, building by building

    When staff in MIT’s Department of Facilities would visualize energy use and carbon-associated emissions by campus buildings, Building 46 always stood out — attributed to its energy intensity, which accounted for 8 percent of MIT’s total campus energy use. This high energy draw was not surprising, as the building is home of the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Complex and a large amount of lab space, but it also made the building a perfect candidate for an energy performance audit to seek out potential energy saving opportunities.

    This audit revealed that several energy efficiency updates to the building mechanical systems infrastructure, including optimization of the room-by-room ventilation rates, could result in an estimated 35 percent reduction of energy use, which would in turn lower MIT’s total greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 2 percent — driving toward the Institute’s 2026 goal of net-zero and 2050 goal of elimination of direct campus emissions.

    Building energy efficiency projects are not new for MIT. Since 2010, MIT has been engaged in a partnership agreement with utility company Eversource establishing the Efficiency Forward program, empowering MIT to invest in more than 300 energy conservation projects to date and lowering energy consumption on campus for a total calculated savings of approximately 70 million kilowatt hours and 4.2 million therms. But at 418,000 gross square feet, Building 46 is the first energy efficiency project of its size on the campus.

    “We’ve never tackled a whole building like this — it’s the first capital project that is technically an energy project,” explains Siobhan Carr, energy efficiency program manager, who was part of the team overseeing the energy audit and lab ventilation performance assessment in the building. “That gives you an idea of the magnitude and complexity of this.”

    The project started with the full building energy assessment and lab ventilation risk audit. “We had a team go through every corner of the building and look at every possible opportunity to save energy,” explains Jessica Parks, senior project manager for systems performance and turnover in campus construction. “One of the biggest issues we saw was that there’s a lot of dry lab spaces which are basically offices, but they’re all getting the same ventilation as if they were a high-intensity lab.” Higher ventilation and more frequent air exchange rates draw more energy. By optimizing for the required ventilation rates, there was an opportunity to save energy in nearly every space in the building.

    In addition to the optimized ventilation, the project team will convert fume hoods from constant volume to variable volume and install equipment to help the building systems run more efficiently. The team also identified opportunities to work with labs to implement programs such as fume hood hibernation and unoccupied setbacks for temperature and ventilation. As different spaces in the building have varying needs, the energy retrofit will touch all 1,254 spaces in the building — one by one — to implement the different energy measures to reach that estimated 35 percent reduction in energy use.

    Although time-consuming and complex, this room-by-room approach has a big benefit in that it has allowed research to continue in the space largely uninterrupted. With a few exceptions, the occupants of Building 46, which include the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, The McGovern Institute for Brain Research, and The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, have remained in place for the duration of the project. Partners in the MIT Environment, Health and Safety Office are instrumental to this balance of renovations and keeping the building operational during the optimization efforts and are one of several teams across MIT contributing to building efficiency efforts.

    The completion date of the building efficiency project is set for 2024, but Carr says that some of the impact of this ongoing work may soon be seen. “We should start to see savings as we move through the building, and we expect to fully realize all of our projected savings a year after completion,” she says, noting that the length of time is required for a year-over-year perspective to see the full reduction in energy use.

    The impact of the project goes far beyond the footprint of Building 46 as it offers insights and spurred actions for future projects — including buildings 76 and 68, the number two and three top energy users on campus. Both buildings recently underwent their own energy audits and lab ventilation performance assessments. The energy efficiency team is now crafting a plan for full-building approaches, much like Building 46. “To date, 46 has presented many learning opportunities, such as how to touch every space in a building while research continues, as well as how to overcome challenges encountered when working on existing systems,” explains Parks. “The good news is that we have developed solutions for those challenges and the teams have been proactively implementing those lessons in our other projects.”

    Communication has proven to be another key for these large projects where occupants see the work happening and often play a role in answering questions about their unique space. “People are really engaged, they ask questions about the work, and we ask them about the space they’re in every day,” says Parks. “The Building 46 occupants have been wonderful partners as we worked in all of their spaces, which is paving the way for a successful project.”

    The release of Fast Forward in 2021 has also made communications easier, notes Carr, who says the plan helps to frame these projects as part of the big picture — not just a construction interruption. “Fast Forward has brought a visibility into what we’re doing within [MIT] Facilities on these buildings,” she says. “It brings more eyes and ears, and people understand that these projects are happening throughout campus and not just in their own space — we’re all working to reduce energy and to reduce greenhouse gas across campus.”

    The Energy Efficiency team will continue to apply that big-picture approach as ongoing building efficiency projects on campus are assessed to reach toward a 10 to 15 percent reduction in energy use and corresponding emissions over the next several years. 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