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    Promoting systemic change in the Middle East, the “MIT way”

    The Middle East is a region that is facing complicated challenges. MIT programs have been committed to building scalable methodologies through which students and the broader MIT community can learn and make an impact. These processes ensure programs work alongside others across cultures to support change aligned with their needs. Through MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI), faculty and staff at the Institute continue to build opportunities to connect with and support the region.

    In this spirit, MISTI launched the Leaders Journey Workshop in 2021. This program partnered MIT students with Palestinian and Israeli alumni from three associate organizations: Middle East Entrepreneurs for Tomorrow (MEET), Our Generation Speaks (OGS), and Tech2Peace. Teams met monthly to engage with speakers and work with one another to explore the best ways to leverage science, technology, and entrepreneurship across borders.

    Building on the success of this workshop, the program piloted a for-credit course: SP.258 (MISTI: Middle East Cross-Border Development and Leadership) in fall 2021. The course involved engaging with subject matter experts through five mini-consulting projects in collaboration with regional stakeholders. Topics included climate, health care, and economic development. The course was co-instructed by associate director of the MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program (REAP) Sinan AbuShanab, managing director of MISTI programs in the Middle East David Dolev, and Kathleen Schwind ’19, with MIT CIS/ MISTI Research Affiliate Steven Koltai as lead mentor. The course also drew support from alumni mentors and regional industry partners.

    The course was developed during the height of the pandemic and thus successfully leveraged the intense culture of online engagement prevalent at the time by layering in-person coursework with strategic digital group engagement. Pedagogically, the structure was inspired by multiple MIT methodologies: MISTI preparation and training courses, Sloan Action Learning, REAP/REAL multi-party stakeholder model, the Media Lab Learning Initiative, and the multicultural framework of associate organizations.

    “We worked to develop a series of aims and a methodology that would enrich MIT students and their peers in the region and support the important efforts of Israelis and Palestinians to make systemic change,” said Dolev.

    During the on-campus sessions, MIT students explored the region’s political and historical complexities and the meaning of being a global leader and entrepreneur. Guest presenters included: Boston College Associate Professor Peter Krause (MIT Security Studies Program alumnus), Gilad Rosenzweig (MITdesignX), Ari Jacobovits (MIT-Africa), and Mollie Laffin-Rose Agbiboa (MIT-REAP). Group projects focused on topics that fell under three key regional verticals: water, health care, and economic development. The teams were given a technical or business challenge they were tasked with solving. These challenges were sourced directly from for-profit and nonprofit organizations in the region.

    “This was a unique opportunity for me to learn so much about the area I live in, work on a project together with people from the ‘other side,’ MIT students, and incredible mentors,” shared a participant from the region. “Furthermore, getting a glimpse of the world of MIT was a great experience for me.”

    For their final presentations, teams pitched their solutions, including their methodology for researching/addressing the problem, a description of solutions to be applied, what is needed to execute the idea itself, and potential challenges encountered. Teams received feedback and continued to deepen their experience in cross-cultural teamwork.

    “As an education manager, I needed guidance with these digital tools and how to approach them,” says an EcoPeace representative. “The MIT program provided me with clear deliverables I can now implement in my team’s work.”

    “This course has broadened my knowledge of conflicts, relationships, and how geography plays an important role in the region,” says an MIT student participant. “Moving forward, I feel more confident working with business and organizations to develop solutions for problems in real time, using the skills I have to supplement the project work.”

    Layers of engagement with mentors, facilitators, and whole-team leadership ensured that participants gained project management experience, learning objectives were met, and professional development opportunities were available. Each team was assigned an MIT-MEET alumni mentor with whom they met throughout the course. Mentors coached the teams on methods for managing a client project and how to collaborate for successful completion. Joint sessions with MIT guest speakers deepened participants’ regional understanding of water, health care, economic development, and their importance in the region. Speakers included: Mohamed Aburawi, Phil Budden (MIT-REAP) Steven Koltai, Shari Loessberg, Dina Sherif (MIT Legatum Center, Greg Sixt (J-WAFS), and Shriya Srinivasan.

    “The program is unlike any other I’ve come across,” says one of the alumni mentors. “The chance for MIT students to work directly with peers from the region, to propose and create technical solutions to real problems on the ground, and partner with local organizations is an incredibly meaningful opportunity. I wish I had been able to participate in something like this when I was at MIT.”

    Each team also assigned a fellow group member as a facilitator, who served as the main point of contact for the team and oversaw project management: organizing workstreams, ensuring deadlines were met, and mediating any group disagreements. This model led to successful project outcomes and innovative suggestions.

    “The superb work of the MISTI group gave us a critical eye and made significant headway on a product that can hopefully be a game changer to over 150 Israeli and Palestinian organizations,” says a representative from Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP).

    Leadership team meetings included MIT staff and Israeli and Palestinian leadership of the partner organizations for discussing process, content, recent geopolitical developments, and how to adapt the class to the ongoing changing situation.

    “The topic of Palestine/Israel is contentious: globally, in the region, and also, at times, on the MIT campus,” says Dolev. “I myself have questioned how we can make a systemic impact with our partners from the region. How can we be side-by-side on that journey for the betterment of all? I have now seen first-hand how this multilayered model can work.”

    MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) is MIT’s hub for global experiences. MISTI’s unparalleled internship, research, teaching, and study abroad programs offer students unique experiences that bring MIT’s one-of-a-kind education model to life in countries around the world. MISTI programs are carefully designed to complement on-campus course work and research, and rigorous, country-specific preparation enables students to forge cultural connections and play a role in addressing important global challenges while abroad. Students come away from their experiences with invaluable perspectives that inform their education, career, and worldview. MISTI embodies MIT’s commitment to global engagement and prepares students to thrive in an increasingly interconnected world. More

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    New J-WAFS-led project combats food insecurity

    Today the Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab (J-WAFS) at MIT announced a new research project, supported by Community Jameel, to tackle one of the most urgent crises facing the planet: food insecurity. Approximately 276 million people worldwide are severely food insecure, and more than half a million face famine conditions.     To better understand and analyze food security, this three-year research project will develop a comprehensive index assessing countries’ food security vulnerability, called the Jameel Index for Food Trade and Vulnerability. Global changes spurred by social and economic transitions, energy and environmental policy, regional geopolitics, conflict, and of course climate change, can impact food demand and supply. The Jameel Index will measure countries’ dependence on global food trade and imports and how these regional-scale threats might affect the ability to trade food goods across diverse geographic regions. A main outcome of the research will be a model to project global food demand, supply balance, and bilateral trade under different likely future scenarios, with a focus on climate change. The work will help guide policymakers over the next 25 years while the global population is expected to grow, and the climate crisis is predicted to worsen.    

    The work will be the foundational project for the J-WAFS-led Food and Climate Systems Transformation Alliance, or FACT Alliance. Formally launched at the COP26 climate conference last November, the FACT Alliance is a global network of 20 leading research institutions and stakeholder organizations that are driving research and innovation and informing better decision-making for healthy, resilient, equitable, and sustainable food systems in a rapidly changing climate. The initiative is co-directed by Greg Sixt, research manager for climate and food systems at J-WAFS, and Professor Kenneth Strzepek, climate, water, and food specialist at J-WAFS.

    The dire state of our food systems

    The need for this project is evidenced by the hundreds of millions of people around the globe currently experiencing food shortages. While several factors contribute to food insecurity, climate change is one of the most notable. Devastating extreme weather events are increasingly crippling crop and livestock production around the globe. From Southwest Asia to the Arabian Peninsula to the Horn of Africa, communities are migrating in search of food. In the United States, extreme heat and lack of rainfall in the Southwest have drastically lowered Lake Mead’s water levels, restricting water access and drying out farmlands. 

    Social, political, and economic issues also disrupt food systems. The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, supply chain disruptions, and inflation continue to exacerbate food insecurity. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is dramatically worsening the situation, disrupting agricultural exports from both Russia and Ukraine — two of the world’s largest producers of wheat, sunflower seed oil, and corn. Other countries like Lebanon, Sri Lanka, and Cuba are confronting food insecurity due to domestic financial crises.

    Few countries are immune to threats to food security from sudden disruptions in food production or trade. When an enormous container ship became lodged in the Suez Canal in March 2021, the vital international trade route was blocked for three months. The resulting delays in international shipping affected food supplies around the world. These situations demonstrate the importance of food trade in achieving food security: a disaster in one part of the world can drastically affect the availability of food in another. This puts into perspective just how interconnected the earth’s food systems are and how vulnerable they remain to external shocks. 

    An index to prepare for the future of food

    Despite the need for more secure food systems, significant knowledge gaps exist when it comes to understanding how different climate scenarios may affect both agricultural productivity and global food supply chains and security. The Global Trade Analysis Project database from Purdue University, and the current IMPACT modeling system from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), enable assessments of existing conditions but cannot project or model changes in the future.

    In 2021, Strzepek and Sixt developed an initial Food Import Vulnerability Index (FIVI) as part of a regional assessment of the threat of climate change to food security in the Gulf Cooperation Council states and West Asia. FIVI is also limited in that it can only assess current trade conditions and climate change threats to food production. Additionally, FIVI is a national aggregate index and does not address issues of hunger, poverty, or equity that stem from regional variations within a country.

    “Current models are really good at showing global food trade flows, but we don’t have systems for looking at food trade between individual countries and how different food systems stressors such as climate change and conflict disrupt that trade,” says Greg Sixt of J-WAFS and the FACT Alliance. “This timely index will be a valuable tool for policymakers to understand the vulnerabilities to their food security from different shocks in the countries they import their food from. The project will also illustrate the stakeholder-guided, transdisciplinary approach that is central to the FACT Alliance,” Sixt adds.

    Phase 1 of the project will support a collaboration between four FACT Alliance members: MIT J-WAFS, Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research, IFPRI (which is also part of the CGIAR network), and the Martin School at the University of Oxford. An external partner, United Arab Emirates University, will also assist with the project work. This first phase will build on Strzepek and Sixt’s previous work on FIVI by developing a comprehensive Global Food System Modeling Framework that takes into consideration climate and global changes projected out to 2050, and assesses their impacts on domestic production, world market prices, and national balance of payments and bilateral trade. The framework will also utilize a mixed-modeling approach that includes the assessment of bilateral trade and macroeconomic data associated with varying agricultural productivity under the different climate and economic policy scenarios. In this way, consistent and harmonized projections of global food demand and supply balance, and bilateral trade under climate and global change can be achieved. 

    “Just like in the global response to Covid-19, using data and modeling are critical to understanding and tackling vulnerabilities in the global supply of food,” says George Richards, director of Community Jameel. “The Jameel Index for Food Trade and Vulnerability will help inform decision-making to manage shocks and long-term disruptions to food systems, with the aim of ensuring food security for all.”

    On a national level, the researchers will enrich the Jameel Index through country-level food security analyses of regions within countries and across various socioeconomic groups, allowing for a better understanding of specific impacts on key populations. The research will present vulnerability scores for a variety of food security metrics for 126 countries. Case studies of food security and food import vulnerability in Ethiopia and Sudan will help to refine the applicability of the Jameel Index with on-the-ground information. The case studies will use an IFPRI-developed tool called the Rural Investment and Policy Analysis model, which allows for analysis of urban and rural populations and different income groups. Local capacity building and stakeholder engagement will be critical to enable the use of the tools developed by this research for national-level planning in priority countries, and ultimately to inform policy.  Phase 2 of the project will build on phase 1 and the lessons learned from the Ethiopian and Sudanese case studies. It will entail a number of deeper, country-level analyses to assess the role of food imports on future hunger, poverty, and equity across various regional and socioeconomic groups within the modeled countries. This work will link the geospatial national models with the global analysis. A scholarly paper is expected to be submitted to show findings from this work, and a website will be launched so that interested stakeholders and organizations can learn more information. More

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    Helping cassava farmers by extending crop life

    The root vegetable cassava is a major food staple in dozens of countries across the world. Drought-resistant, nutritious, and tasty, it has also become a major source of income for small-scale, rural farmers in places like West Africa and Southeast Asia.

    But the utility of cassava has always been limited by its short postharvest shelf life of two to three days. That puts millions of farmers who rely on the crop in a difficult position. The farmers can’t plant more than they can sell quickly in local markets, and they’re often forced to sell below market prices because buyers know the harvest will spoil rapidly. As a result, cassava farmers are among the world’s poorest people.

    Now the startup CassVita is buying cassava directly from farmers and applying a patent-pending biotechnology to extend its shelf life to 18 months. The approach has the potential to transform economies in rural, impoverished regions where millions of families rely on the crop for income.

    CassVita tells farmers how much cassava the company will buy each month, and processes the cassava at a manufacturing facility in Cameroon. It currently sells the first version of its product as a powdered food to people in Cameroon and to West African immigrants in the U.S.

    But CassVita founder and CEO Pelkins Ajanoh ’18 says the future of the company will revolve around its next product: a cassava-based flour that can act as a direct substitute for wheat. The wheat substitute would dramatically broaden CassVita’s target market to include the fast-growing, trillion-dollar healthy food market.

    Ajanoh says CassVita is currently able to increase farmers’ incomes by about 400 percent through its purchases.

    “Our objective is to leverage proprietary technology to offer a healthier and better-tasting alternative to wheat while creating prosperity for local farmers,” Ajanoh says. “We’re hoping to tap into this huge market while empowering farmers, all by minimizing spoilage and incentivizing farmers to plant more.”

    Gaining confidence to help a community

    While growing up in Cameroon, Ajanoh’s parents always emphasized the importance of education for him and his three siblings. But Ajanoh lost his father when he was 13, and his mother moved to the U.S. a year later to help provide for the family. During that time, Ajanoh lived with his grandmother, a cassava farmer. For many years, Ajanoh watched his grandmother harvest cassava without making any lasting financial gains. He remembers feeling powerless as his grandmother struggled to pay for things like diabetes medication.

    Then Ajanoh earned the top marks on the national exams that Cameroonian students take before college. After high school, he joined his mother in the U.S. and came to MIT to study mechanical engineering. Once on campus, Ajanoh says he had lunch with new people all the time to learn from them.

    “I’d never had this community of intellectuals — and they were from all over the world — so I soaked up as much as I could,” Ajanoh says. “That sparked an interest in entrepreneurship, because MIT is super entrepreneurial. Everyone’s thinking of starting something cool.”

    Ajanoh also got a confidence boost during an internship in the summer after his junior year, when he created self-driving technology for General Motors that was eventually patented.

    “It made me realize I could do something really valuable for the world, and by the end of that internship I was thinking, ‘Now I want to solve a problem in my community,’” he says.

    Returning to the crop he knew well, Ajanoh received a series of grants from the MIT Sandbox Innovation Fund to experiment with ways to extend the shelf life of cassava. In the summer of 2018, the MIT-Africa program sponsored three MIT students to fly to Cameroon with him to participate in internships with the company.

    Today CassVita partners with development banks to help farmers get loans to buy the cassava sticks used for planting. Ajanoh says CassVita decided on a powdered food for its first product because it requires less marketing to sell to West Africans, who are familiar with the dish. Now the company is working on a cassava flour that it will market to all consumers looking for healthy alternatives to wheat that can be used in pastries and other baked goods.

    “Cassava makes sense as a global substitute to wheat because it’s gluten free, grain free, nut free, and it also helps with glucose regulation, to normalize blood sugar levels, to lower triglycerides, so the health benefits are exciting,” Ajanoh says. “But the farmers were still living in poverty, so if we could solve the shelf-life problem then we could empower these farmers to offer healthier wheat alternatives to the global market.”

    The project has taken on additional urgency now that the war in Ukraine is limiting that country’s wheat and grain exports, raising prices, and heightening food insecurity in regions around the globe.

    Showing the value of helping farmers

    Ajanoh says the majority of people farming cassava are women, and he says the challenges related to cassava’s shelf life have contributed to gender inequities in many communities. In fact, of the roughly 500 farmers CassVita works with in Cameroon, 95 percent are women.

    “That has always excited me because I was raised by women, so working on something that could empower women in their communities and give them authority is fulfilling,” Ajanoh says.

    Ajanoh has already heard from farmers who have been able to send their children to school for the first time because of improved financial situations. Now, as CassVita continues to scale, Ajanoh wants to stay focused on the technology that enables these new business models.

    “We’re evolving into a food technology company,” Ajanoh says. “We prefer to focus on leveraging technology to impact lives and improve outcomes in these communities. Right now, we’re going all the way to consumers because this is an opportunity the Nestles and the Unilevers of the world won’t pick up because the market doesn’t make sense to them yet. So, we have to build this company and show them the value.” More

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    Helping renewable energy projects succeed in local communities

    Jungwoo Chun makes surprising discoveries about sustainability initiatives by zooming in on local communities.

    His discoveries lie in understanding how renewable energy infrastructure develops at a local level. With so many stakeholders in a community — citizens, government officials, businesses, and other organizations — the development process gets complicated very quickly. Chun works to unpack stakeholder relationships to help local renewable energy projects move forward.

    While his interests today are in local communities around the U.S., Chun comes from a global background. Growing up, his family moved frequently due to his dad’s work. He lived in Seoul, South Korea until elementary school and then hopped from city to city around Asia, spending time in China, Hong Kong, and Singapore. When it was time for college, he returned to South Korea, majoring in international studies at Korea University and later completing his master’s there in the same field.

    After graduating, Chun wanted to leverage his international expertise to tackle climate change. So, he pursued a second master’s in international environmental policy with William Moomaw at Tufts University.

    During that time, Chun came across an article on climate change by David Victor, a professor in public policy at the University of California at San Diego. Victor argued that while international efforts to fight climate change are necessary, more tangible progress can be made through local efforts catered to each country. That prompted Chun to think a step further: “What can we do in the local community to make a little bit of a difference, which could add up to something big in the long term?”

    With a renewed direction for his goals, Chun arrived at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning, specializing in environmental policy and planning. But he was still missing that final inspirational spark to proactively pursue his goals — until he began working with his primary advisor, Lawrence Susskind, the Ford Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning and director of the Science Impact Collaborative.

    For previous research projects, “I would just do what I was told,” Chun says, but his new advisor “really opened [his] eyes” to being an active member of the community. From the start, Susskind has encouraged Chun to share his research ideas and has shown him how to leverage his research skills for public service. Over the past few years, Chun has also taught several classes with Susskind, learning to approach education thoughtfully for an engaging and equitable classroom. Because of their relationship, Chun now always searches for ways to make a difference through research, teaching, and public service.

    Understanding renewable energy projects at a local level

    For his main dissertation project with Susskind, Chun is studying community-owned solar energy projects, working to understand what makes them successful.

    Often, communities don’t have the required expertise to carry out these projects on their own and instead look to advisory organizations for help. But little research has been done on these organizations and the roles that they play in developing solar energy infrastructure.

    Through over 200 surveys and counting, Chun has discovered that these organizations act as life-long collaborators to communities and are critical in getting community-owned solar projects up and running. At the start of these projects, they walk communities through a mountain of logistics for setting up solar energy infrastructure, including permit applications, budgeting, and contractor employment. After the infrastructure is in place, the organizations stay involved, serving as consultants when needed and sometimes even becoming partners.

    Because of these roles, Chun calls these organizations “intermediaries,” drawing a parallel with roles in in conflict resolution. “But it’s much more than that,” he adds. Intermediaries help local communities “build a movement [for community-owned solar energy projects] … and empower them to be independent and self-sustaining.”

    Chun is also working on another project with Susskind, looking at situations where communities are opposed to renewable energy infrastructure. For this project, Chun is supervising and mentoring a group of five undergraduates. Together, they are trying to pinpoint the reasons behind local opposition to renewable energy projects.

    The idea for this project emerged two years ago, when Chun heard in the news that many solar and wind projects were being delayed or cancelled due to local opposition. But the reasons for this opposition weren’t thoroughly researched.

    “When we started to dig a little deeper, [we found that] communities oppose these projects even though they aren’t opposed to renewable energy,” Chun says. The primary reasons for opposition lie in land use concerns, including financial challenges, health and safety concerns, and ironically, environmental consequences. By better understanding these concerns, Chun hopes to help more renewable energy projects succeed and bring society closer to a sustainable future.

    Bringing research to the classroom and community

    Right now, Chun is looking to bring his research insights on renewable energy infrastructure into the classroom. He’s developing a course on renewable energy that will act as a “clinic” where students will work with communities to understand their concerns for potential renewable energy projects. The students’ findings will then be passed onto project leaders to help them address these concerns.

    This new course is modeled after 11.074/11.274 (Cybersecurity Clinic), which Chun has helped develop over the past few years. In this clinic, students work with local governments in New England to assess potential cybersecurity vulnerabilities in their digital systems. At first, “a lot of city governments were very skeptical, like ‘students doing service for us…?’” Chun says. “But in the end, they were all very satisfied with the outcome” and found the assessments “impactful.”

    Since the Cybersecurity Clinic has kicked off, other universities have approached Chun and his co-instructors about developing their own regional clinics. Now, there are cybersecurity clinics operating around the world. “That’s been a huge success,” Chun says. Going forward, “we’d like to expand the benefit of this clinic [to address] communities opposing renewable energy [projects].” The new course will be a philosophical trifecta for Chun, combining his commitments to research, teaching, and public service.

    Chun plans to wrap up his PhD at the end of this summer and is currently writing his dissertation on community-owned solar energy projects. “I’m done with all the background work — working the soil and throwing the seeds in the right place,” he says, “It’s now time to gather all the crops and present the work.” More

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    Study finds natural sources of air pollution exceed air quality guidelines in many regions

    Alongside climate change, air pollution is one of the biggest environmental threats to human health. Tiny particles known as particulate matter or PM2.5 (named for their diameter of just 2.5 micrometers or less) are a particularly hazardous type of pollutant. These particles are produced from a variety of sources, including wildfires and the burning of fossil fuels, and can enter our bloodstream, travel deep into our lungs, and cause respiratory and cardiovascular damage. Exposure to particulate matter is responsible for millions of premature deaths globally every year.

    In response to the increasing body of evidence on the detrimental effects of PM2.5, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently updated its air quality guidelines, lowering its recommended annual PM2.5 exposure guideline by 50 percent, from 10 micrograms per meter cubed (μm3) to 5 μm3. These updated guidelines signify an aggressive attempt to promote the regulation and reduction of anthropogenic emissions in order to improve global air quality.

    A new study by researchers in the MIT Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering explores if the updated air quality guideline of 5 μm3 is realistically attainable across different regions of the world, particularly if anthropogenic emissions are aggressively reduced. 

    The first question the researchers wanted to investigate was to what degree moving to a no-fossil-fuel future would help different regions meet this new air quality guideline.

    “The answer we found is that eliminating fossil-fuel emissions would improve air quality around the world, but while this would help some regions come into compliance with the WHO guidelines, for many other regions high contributions from natural sources would impede their ability to meet that target,” says senior author Colette Heald, the Germeshausen Professor in the MIT departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. 

    The study by Heald, Professor Jesse Kroll, and graduate students Sidhant Pai and Therese Carter, published June 6 in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters, finds that over 90 percent of the global population is currently exposed to average annual concentrations that are higher than the recommended guideline. The authors go on to demonstrate that over 50 percent of the world’s population would still be exposed to PM2.5 concentrations that exceed the new air quality guidelines, even in the absence of all anthropogenic emissions.

    This is due to the large natural sources of particulate matter — dust, sea salt, and organics from vegetation — that still exist in the atmosphere when anthropogenic emissions are removed from the air. 

    “If you live in parts of India or northern Africa that are exposed to large amounts of fine dust, it can be challenging to reduce PM2.5 exposures below the new guideline,” says Sidhant Pai, co-lead author and graduate student. “This study challenges us to rethink the value of different emissions abatement controls across different regions and suggests the need for a new generation of air quality metrics that can enable targeted decision-making.”

    The researchers conducted a series of model simulations to explore the viability of achieving the updated PM2.5 guidelines worldwide under different emissions reduction scenarios, using 2019 as a representative baseline year. 

    Their model simulations used a suite of different anthropogenic sources that could be turned on and off to study the contribution of a particular source. For instance, the researchers conducted a simulation that turned off all human-based emissions in order to determine the amount of PM2.5 pollution that could be attributed to natural and fire sources. By analyzing the chemical composition of the PM2.5 aerosol in the atmosphere (e.g., dust, sulfate, and black carbon), the researchers were also able to get a more accurate understanding of the most important PM2.5 sources in a particular region. For example, elevated PM2.5 concentrations in the Amazon were shown to predominantly consist of carbon-containing aerosols from sources like deforestation fires. Conversely, nitrogen-containing aerosols were prominent in Northern Europe, with large contributions from vehicles and fertilizer usage. The two regions would thus require very different policies and methods to improve their air quality. 

    “Analyzing particulate pollution across individual chemical species allows for mitigation and adaptation decisions that are specific to the region, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach, which can be challenging to execute without an understanding of the underlying importance of different sources,” says Pai. 

    When the WHO air quality guidelines were last updated in 2005, they had a significant impact on environmental policies. Scientists could look at an area that was not in compliance and suggest high-level solutions to improve the region’s air quality. But as the guidelines have tightened, globally-applicable solutions to manage and improve air quality are no longer as evident. 

    “Another benefit of speciating is that some of the particles have different toxicity properties that are correlated to health outcomes,” says Therese Carter, co-lead author and graduate student. “It’s an important area of research that this work can help motivate. Being able to separate out that piece of the puzzle can provide epidemiologists with more insights on the different toxicity levels and the impact of specific particles on human health.”

    The authors view these new findings as an opportunity to expand and iterate on the current guidelines.  

    “Routine and global measurements of the chemical composition of PM2.5 would give policymakers information on what interventions would most effectively improve air quality in any given location,” says Jesse Kroll, a professor in the MIT departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Chemical Engineering. “But it would also provide us with new insights into how different chemical species in PM2.5 affect human health.”

    “I hope that as we learn more about the health impacts of these different particles, our work and that of the broader atmospheric chemistry community can help inform strategies to reduce the pollutants that are most harmful to human health,” adds Heald. More

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    Migration Summit addresses education and workforce development in displacement

    “Refugees can change the world with access to education,” says Alnarjes Harba, a refugee from Syria who recently shared her story at the 2022 Migration Summit — a first-of-its-kind, global convening to address the challenges that displaced communities face in accessing education and employment.

    At the age of 13, Harba was displaced to Lebanon, where she graduated at the top of her high school class. But because of her refugee status, she recalls, no university in her host country would accept her. Today, Harba is a researcher in health-care architecture. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Southern New Hampshire University, where she was part of the Global Education Movement, a program providing refugees with pathways to higher education and work.

    Like many of the Migration Summit’s participants, Harba shared her story to call attention not only to the barriers to refugee education, but also to the opportunities to create more education-to-employment pathways like MIT Refugee Action Hub’s (ReACT) certificate programs for displaced learners.

    Organized by MIT ReACT, the MIT Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab (J-WEL), Na’amal, Karam Foundation, and Paper Airplanes, the Migration Summit sought to center the voices and experiences of those most directly impacted by displacement — both in narratives about the crisis and in the search for solutions. Themed “Education and Workforce Development in Displacement,” this year’s summit welcomed more than 900 attendees from over 30 countries, to a total of 40 interactive virtual sessions led by displaced learners, educators, and activists working to support communities in displacement.

    Sessions highlighted the experiences of refugees, migrants, and displaced learners, as well as current efforts across the education and workforce development landscape, ranging from pK-12 initiatives to post-secondary programs, workforce training to entrepreneurship opportunities.

    Overcoming barriers to access

    The vision for the Migration Summit developed, in part, out of the need to raise more awareness about the long-standing global displacement crisis. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 82.4 million people worldwide today are forcibly displaced, a figure that doesn’t include the estimated 12 million people who have fled their homes in Ukraine since February.

    “Refugees not only leave their countries; they leave behind a thousand memories, their friends, their families,” says Mondiant Dogon, a human rights activist, refugee ambassador, and author who gave the Migration Summit’s opening keynote address. “Education is the most important thing that can happen to refugees. In that way, we can leave behind the refugee camps and build our own independent future.”

    Yet, as the stories of the summit’s participants highlight, many in displacement have lost their livelihoods or had their education disrupted — only to face further challenges when trying to access education or find work in their new places of residence. Obstacles range from legal restrictions, language and cultural barriers, and unaffordable costs to lack of verifiable credentials. UNHCR estimates that only 5 percent of refugees have access to higher education, compared to the global average of 39 percent.

    “There is another problem related to forced displacement — dehumanization of migrants,” says Lina Sergie Attar, the founder and CEO of Karam Foundation. “They are unjustly positioned as enemies, as a threat.”

    But as Blein Alem, an MIT ReACT alum and refugee from Eritrea, explains, “No one chooses to be a refugee — it just occurs. Whether by conflict, war, human rights violations, just because you have refugee status does not mean that you are not willing to make a change in your life and access to education and work.” Several participants, including Alem, shared that, even with a degree in hand, their refugee status limited their ability to work in their new countries of residence.

    Displaced communities face complex and structural challenges in accessing education and workforce development opportunities. Because of the varying and vast effects of displacement, efforts to address these challenges range in scale and focus and differ across sectors. As Lorraine Charles, co-founder and director of Na’amal, noted in the Migration Summit’s closing session, many organizations find themselves working in silos, or even competing with each other for funding and other resources. As a result, solution-making has been fragmented, with persistent gaps between different sectors that are, in fact, working toward the same goals.

    Imagining a modular, digital, collaborative approach

    A key takeaway from the month’s discussions, then, is the need to rethink the response to refugee education and workforce challenges. During the session, “From Intentions to Impact: Decolonizing Refugee Response,” participants emphasized the systemic nature of these challenges. Yet formal responses, such as the 1951 Refugee Convention, have been largely inadequate — in some instances even oppressing the communities they’re meant to support, explains Sana Mustafa, director of partnership and engagement for Asylum Access.

    “We have the opportunity to rethink how we are handling the situation,” Mustafa says, calling for more efforts to include refugees in the design and development of solutions.

    Presenters also agreed that educational institutions, particularly universities, could play a vital role in providing more pathways for refugees and displaced learners. Key to this is rethinking the structure of education itself, including its delivery.

    “The challenge right now is that degrees are monolithic,” says Sanjay Sarma, vice president for MIT Open Learning, who gave the keynote address on “Pathways to Education, Livelihood, and Hope.” “They’re like those gigantic rocks at Stonehenge or in other megalithic sites. What we need is a much more granular version of education: bricks. Bricks were invented several thousand years ago, but we don’t really have that yet formally and extensively in education.”

    “There is no way we can accommodate thousands and thousands of refugees face-to-face,” says Shai Reshef, the founder and president of University of the People. “The only path is a digital one.”

    Ultimately, explains Demetri Fadel of Karam Foundation, “We really need to think about how to create a vision of education as a right for every person all around the world.”

    Underlying many of the Migration Summit’s conclusions is the awareness that there is still much work to be done. However, as the summit’s co-chair Lana Cook said in her closing remarks, “This was not a convening of despair, but one about what we can build together.”

    The summit’s organizers are currently putting together a public report of the key findings that have emerged from the month’s conversations, including recommendations for thematic working groups and future Migration Summit activities. More

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    “The world needs your smarts, your skills,” Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala tells MIT’s Class of 2022

    On a clear warm day, the MIT graduating class of 2022 gathered in Killian Court for the first in-person commencement exercises in three years, after two years of online ceremonies due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

    Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala MCP ’78, PhD ’81, director-general of the World Trade Organization, delivered the Commencement address, stressing the global need for science-informed policy to address problems of climate change, pandemics, international security, and wealth disparities. She told the graduates: “In these uncertain times, in this complex world in which you are entering, you need not be so daunted, if you can search for the opportunities hidden in challenges.” She urged them to go “into the world to embrace the opportunities to serve.”

    An expert in global finance, economics, and international development, Okonjo-Iweala is the first woman and first African to lead the WTO. She earned a master’s degree in city planning from MIT in 1978, and a PhD in regional economics and development in 1981.

    Okonjo-Iweala began her address by paying tribute to MIT President L. Rafael Reif, who earlier this semester announced plans to end his decade-long tenure in that role. Calling this a “bittersweet day” because of his departure, she honored “his academic, institutional, and thought leadership of these past 10 years.”

    She spoke warmly of the way MIT had helped her while she was a graduate student struggling to pay the bills. She was assured that the Institute would do whatever was needed to make sure she could complete her studies, she recalled, saying, “They had my back.” Noting that this year’s graduating class had their own educational journeys challenged by the global pandemic, she described how her own early education was interrupted for three years by civil war in her home country of Nigeria. She also noted the recent tragic shootings in Uvalde, Texas, saying that “I feel grief as a mother and a grandmother.”

    “MIT has helped make me who I am today,” she said. “My parents made it clear to me that education was a privilege, and that with that privilege comes responsibility — the responsibility to use it for others, not just for yourself.”

    She said that what the world needs in this time of multiple global challenges, including Covid-19, climate change, public health, and international security, is an approach “combining science, social science, and public policy, to meet the challenges of our future.”

    Friday’s Commencement ceremony celebrated the 1,099 undergraduate and 2,590 graduate students receiving MIT diplomas this year.

    Photo: Gretchen Ertl

    MIT President L. Rafael Reif walked near the head of the procession to Killian Court, followed by Commencement speaker Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, MIT Chancellor Melissa Nobles, and others.

    Photo: Adam Glanzman

    Temiloluwa Omitoogun, president of the Class of 2022, told his classmates, “MIT is hard. MIT during an unprecedented pandemic is even harder, but we did it.”

    Photo: Adam Glanzman

    In a longstanding MIT Commencement ritual, graduates turn over their class ring, the “brass rat.” The ring’s image of the Boston skyline faces students until they graduate, and thereafter they will see the Cambridge skyline, in effect looking back at campus.

    Photo: Adam Glanzman

    Members of the Class of 2022 celebrated on Killian Court.

    Photo: Adam Glanzman

    Fifty years after their own graduation, members of the Class of 1972 attended the ceremony as special guests, wearing signature red jackets. Members of the Classes of ’70 and ’71 also joined the festivities.

    Photo: Gretchen Ertl

    Members of the Class of 2022 celebrated on Killian Court.

    Photo: Gretchen Ertl

    President Reif urged the assembled graduates to shout out a loud “thank you!” to all family, professors, friends, and others who helped them reach today’s milestone.

    Photo: Gretchen Ertl

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    Okonjo-Iweala, who was formerly head of the World Bank, said that “a common thread running through many of these challenges is the central role for science,” and she stressed the need for technological innovation to address the global problems facing humanity. “New inventions and new ways of doing things will have an impact, mainly to the extent they are scaled up across the dividing lines of income and geography,” she said.

    “We don’t just need vaccines,” she continued. “We need shots in arms across the world, to be safe. We need new renewable technologies diffused not just in rich countries to fight climate change, but also in poor ones. We need new agricultural technologies built to local conditions and culture, if we’re to fight hunger. In other words, we need innovation. But we also need access, equity, diffusion.”

    In the case of the global response to the pandemic, she noted that only 17 percent of people in Africa and 13 percent of people in low-income countries have been fully vaccinated, compared to 75 percent of people in high income countries. “Since we all know that no one is safe until everyone is safe, the risk of more dangerous variants and pathogens remains real because of this public policy lapse and the lack of timely international cooperation,” she said.

    As for climate change, she pointed out that the world somehow managed to come up with $14 trillion to address the Covid-19 pandemic but has not managed to fulfill the pledges nations made to provide $100 billion to help less-developed nations build renewable energy solutions.

    To address these global challenges, she told the new graduates, “the world needs your smarts, your skills, your adaptability, and the great training you have received here at MIT. The world needs you for innovation, for policymaking, for connecting the dots so that implementation can actually happen.”

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    President Reif, in his charge to the graduates, urged the assembled crowd to shout out a loud “thank you!” to all family, professors, friends, and other who helped them reach today’s milestone. He pointed out that research, including from MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, shows that “simply expressing gratitude does wonderful things to your brain. It gets different parts of your brain to act in a synchronized way. It lights up reward pathways!”

    “All of us could use a reliable device for feeling better. So now, thanks to brain science, Course 9, you have one! The Gratitude Amplifier is unbreakable. Its battery never dies, it will never try to sell you anything, you can use it every day, forever — and it’s free!”

    He recalled the example of the way students banded together to create a new space for relaxation on campus, now known as the Banana Lounge, a central location where students could relax with free coffee and bananas. “The students have done this all essentially themselves, applying their skills and the most delightful MIT values.” The project has already distributed a half-million bananas, he said, and produced a “wonderful, tropical, perfectly improbable new MIT institution.”

    He urged the graduating students to work to “make the world a little more like MIT. More daring and more passionate. More rigorous, inventive and ambitious. More humble, more respectful, more generous, more kind.” And, he added, “try always to share your bananas!”

    Adam Joseph “AJ” Miller, president of the Graduate Student Council, said, “Today marks the end of a chapter, the culmination of so many late nights, to forge lifelong friendships, to hold onto new experiences, to shape our dreams.” He added that “Something I heard a lot about when I first got here was all the doubt so many of us had in ourselves. I can say unequivocally today though, there are no impostors before me. Nobody sits where you sit by accident. You’re all now graduates of MIT, carrying on an incredibly impressive history.”

    Miller urged his fellow students to “stay confident in yourselves because of the challenges you’ve overcome. Be courageous in trying, because failure is learning and investing in each other.”

    Temiloluwa Omitoogun, president of the Class of 2022, told his classmates, “MIT is hard. MIT during an unprecedented pandemic is even harder, but we did it. Even if you don’t realize it, this is a huge accomplishment.” He added that “it’s sad that we’re all parting ways at the moment, but I’m even more excited than sad. I’m excited to see what more you all will accomplish. I look out and I don’t just see friends and classmates. I see future leaders, people who will change the world. I’m going to try my best to keep up and change the world too.”

    Later in the day, in a separate ceremony on Briggs Field, each of the members of the undergraduate Class of 2022 had a chance to hear their names read aloud as they walked across the stage to receive their diplomas. Right before this presentation, senior and physics and mathematics major Quinn Brodsky performed a heartful rendition of “Hypotheticals” by Lake Street Dive.

    Addressing the graduating seniors, Chancellor Melissa Nobles urged them to “absorb and relish this celebration of what you’ve achieved during your transformative time at MIT. How much you have grown, academically, professionally and personally!” She added that “the lifelong friends and mentors you found here are the people who I know will continue to be sources of encouragement, support, and inspiration as you make your way in the world.”

    Recalling the way the pandemic altered their academic careers, she said “you should know now that you can handle whatever life throws your way. Never forget that you are stronger and more resilient than you think you are.” She added, “hold on to the way this pandemic has put certain things into perspective. Time with people we care about is precious. So are our health and wellbeing, and the health and wellbeing of the ones we love. Looking out for others and feeling a sense of shared responsibility for the common good are paramount.”

    Nobles concluded that “your journey into the future holds countless possibilities, risks, joys, rewards, sometimes failures, and always surprises. … We wish you well on the road ahead.” More

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    Living Climate Futures initiative showcases holistic approach to the climate crisis

    The sun shone bright and warm on the Dertouzos Amphitheater at the Stata Center this past Earth Day as a panel of Indigenous leaders from across the country talked about their experiences with climate activism and shared their natural world philosophies — a worldview that sees humanity as one with the rest of the Earth.

    “I was taught the natural world philosophies by those raised by precolonial individuals,” said Jay Julius W’tot Lhem of the Lummi tribe of the Pacific Northwest and founder and president of Se’Si’Le, an organization dedicated to reintroducing Indigenous spiritual law into the mainstream conversation about climate. Since his great-grandmother was born in 1888, he grew up “one hug away from pre-contact,” as he put it.

    Natural world philosophiesNatural world philosophies sit at the center of the Indigenous activism taking place all over the country, and they were a highlight of the Indigenous Earth Day panel — one part of a two-day symposium called Living Climate Futures. The events were hosted by the Anthropology and History sections and the Program on Science, Technology, and Society in MIT’s School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS), in collaboration with the MIT Office of Sustainability and Project Indigenous MIT.

    “The Living Climate Futures initiative began from the recognition that the people who are living most closely with climate and environmental struggles and injustices are especially equipped to lead the way toward other ways of living in the world,” says Briana Meier, ACLS Emerging Voices Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology and an organizer of the event. “While much climate action is based in technology-driven policy, we recognize that solutions to climate change are often embedded within and produced in response to existing social systems of injustice and inequity.”

    On-the-ground experts from around the country spoke in a series of panels and discussions over the two days, sharing their stories and inspiring attendees to think differently about how to address the environmental crisis.

    Gathering experts

    The hope, according to faculty organizers, was that an event centered on such voices could create connections among activists and open the eyes of many to the human element of climate solutions.

    Over the years, many such solutions have overlooked the needs of the communities they are designed to help. Streams in the Pacific Northwest, for example, have been dammed to generate hydroelectric power — promoted as a green alternative to fossil fuel. But these same locations have long been sacred spots for Indigenous swimming rituals, said Ryan Emanuel (Lumbee), associate professor of hydrology at Duke University and a panelist in the Indigenous Earth Day event. Mitigating the environmental damage does not make up for the loss of sacred connection, he emphasized.

    To dig into such nuances, the organizers invited an intergenerational group of panelists to share successes with attendees.

    Transforming urban spaces

    In one panel, for example, urban farmers from Mansfield, Ohio, and Chelsea, Massachusetts, discussed the benefits of growing vegetables in cities.

    “Transforming urban spaces into farms provides not just healthy food, but a visible symbol of hope, a way for people to connect and grow food that reflects their cultures and homes, an economic development opportunity, and even a safe space for teens to hang out,” said Susy Jones, senior sustainability project manager in the MIT Office of Sustainability and an event organizer. “We also heard about the challenges — like the cost of real estate in Massachusetts.”

    Another panel highlighted the determined efforts of a group of students from George Washington High School in Southeast Chicago to derail a project to build a scrap metal recycling plant across the street from their school. “We’re at school eight hours a day,” said Gregory Miller, a junior at the school. “We refuse to live next door to a metals scrapyard.”

    The proposed plant was intended to replace something similar that had been shut down in a predominantly white neighborhood due to its many environmental violations. Southeast Chicago is more culturally diverse and has long suffered from industrial pollution and economic hardship, but the students fought the effort to further pollute their home — and won.

    “It was hard, the campaign,” said Destiny Vasquez. “But it was beautiful because the community came together. There is unity in our struggle.”

    Recovering a common heritage 

    Unity was also at the forefront of the discussion for the Indigenous Earth Day panel in the Stata Amphitheater. This portion of the Living Climate Futures event began with a greeting in the Navajo language from Alvin Harvey, PhD candidate in aeronautics and astronautics (Aero/Astro) and representative of the MIT American Indian Science and Engineering Society and the MIT Native American Student Association. The greeting identified all who came to the event as relatives.

    “Look at the relatives next to you, especially those trees,” he said, gesturing to the budding branches around the amphitheater. “They give you shelter, love … few other beings are willing to do that.”

    According to Julius, such reverence for nature is part of the Indigenous way of life, common across tribal backgrounds — and something all of humanity once had in common. “Somewhere along the line we all had Indigenous philosophies,” he said. “We all need an invitation back to that to understand we’re all part of the whole.”

    Understanding the oneness of all living things on earth helps people of Indigenous nations feel the distress of the earth when it is under attack, speakers said. Donna Chavis, senior climate campaigner for Friends of the Earth and an elder of the Lumbee tribe, discussed the trauma of having forests near her home in the southeastern United States clear-cut to provide wood chips to Europe.

    “They are devastating the lungs of the earth in North Carolina at a rate faster than in the Amazon,” she said. “You can almost hear the pain of the forest.”

    Small pictures of everyday life

    “People are experiencing a climate crisis that is global in really different ways in different places,” says Heather Paxson, head of MIT Anthropology and an event organizer. “What came out of these two days is a real, palpable sense of the power of listening to individual experience. Not because it gives us the big picture, but because it gives us the small picture.”

    Trinity Colón, one of the leaders of the group from George Washington High School, impressed on attendees that environmental justice is much more than an academic pursuit. “We’re not talking about climate change in the sense of statistics, infographics,” she said. “For us this is everyday life … [Future engineers and others training at MIT] should definitely take that into perspective, that these are real people really being affected by these injustices.”

    That call to action has already been felt by many at MIT.

    “I’ve been hearing from grad students lately, in engineering, saying, ‘I like thinking about these problems, but I don’t like where I’m being directed to use my intellectual capital, toward building more corporate wealth,’” said Kate Brown, professor of STS and an event organizer. “As an institution, we could move toward working not for, not to correct, but working with communities.”

    The world is what we’ve gotMIT senior Abdulazeez Mohammed Salim, an Aero/Astro major, says he was inspired by these conversations to get involved in urban farming initiatives in Baltimore, Maryland, where he plans to move after graduation.

    “We have a responsibility as part of the world around us, not as external observers, not as people removed and displaced from the world. And the world is not an experiment or a lab,” he says. “It’s what we’ve got. It’s who we are. It’s all that we’ve been and all we will be. That stuck with me; it resonated very deeply.”

    Salim also appreciated the reality check given by Bianca Bowman from GreenRoots Chelsea, who pointed out that success will not come quickly, and that sustained advocacy is critical.

    “Real, valuable change will not happen overnight, will not happen by just getting together a critical mass of people who are upset and concerned,” he said. “Because what we’re dealing with are large, interconnected, messy systems that will try to fight back and survive regardless of how we force them to adapt. And so, long term is really the only way forward. That’s the way we need to think of these struggles.” More