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    Embracing ancient materials and 21st-century challenges

    When Sophia Mittman was 10 years old, she wanted to be an artist. But instead of using paint, she preferred the mud in her backyard. She sculpted it into pots and bowls like the ones she had seen at the archaeological museums, transforming the earthly material into something beautiful.

    Now an MIT senior studying materials science and engineering, Mittman seeks modern applications for sustainable materials in ways that benefit the community around her.

    Growing up in San Diego, California, Mittman was homeschooled, and enjoyed the process of teaching herself new things. After taking a pottery class in seventh grade, she became interested in sculpture, teaching herself how to make fused glass. From there, Mittman began making pottery and jewelry. This passion to create new things out of sustainable materials led her to pursue materials science, a subject she didn’t even know was originally offered at the Institute.

    “I didn’t know the science behind why those materials had the properties they did. And materials science explained it,” she says.

    During her first year at MIT, Mittman took 2.00b (Toy Product Design), which she considers one of her most memorable classes at the Institute. She remembers learning about the mechanical side of building, using drill presses and sanding machines to create things. However, her favorite part was the seminars on the weekends, where she learned how to make things such as stuffed animals or rolling wooden toys. She appreciated the opportunity to learn how to use everyday materials like wood to construct new and exciting gadgets.

    From there, Mittman got involved in the Glass Club, using blowtorches to melt rods of glass to make things like marbles and little fish decorations. She also took a few pottery and ceramics classes on campus, learning how to hone her skills to craft new things. Understanding MIT’s hands-on approach to learning, Mittman was excited to use her newly curated skills in the various workshops on campus to apply them to the real world.

    In the summer after her first year, Mittman became an undergraduate field and conservation science researcher for the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. She traveled to various cities across Italy to collaborate with international art restorers, conservation scientists, and museum curators to study archaeological materials and their applications to modern sustainability. One of her favorite parts was restoring the Roman baths, and studying the mosaics on the ground. She did a research project on Egyptian Blue, one of the first synthetic pigments, which has modern applications because of its infrared luminescence, which can be used for detecting fingerprints in crime scenes. The experience was eye-opening for Mittman; she got to directly experience what she had been learning in the classroom about sustainable materials and how she could preserve and use them for modern applications.

    The next year, upon returning to campus, Mittman joined Incredible Foods as a polymeric food science and technology intern. She learned how to create and apply a polymer coating to natural fruit snacks to replicate real berries. “It was fun to see the breadth of material science because I had learned about polymers in my material science classes, but then never thought that it could be applied to making something as fun as fruit snacks,” she says.

    Venturing into yet another new area of materials science, Mittman last year pursued an internship with Phoenix Tailings, which aims to be the world’s first “clean” mining company. In the lab, she helped develop and analyze chemical reactions to physically and chemically extract rare earth metals and oxides from mining waste. She also worked to engineer bright-colored, high-performance pigments using nontoxic chemicals. Mittman enjoyed the opportunity to explore a mineralogically sustainable method for mining, something she hadn’t previously explored as a branch of materials science research.

    “I’m still able to contribute to environmental sustainability and to try to make a greener world, but it doesn’t solely have to be through energy because I’m dealing with dirt and mud,” she says.

    Outside of her academic work, Mittman is involved with the Tech Catholic Community (TCC) on campus. She has held roles as the music director, prayer chair, and social committee chair, organizing and managing social events for over 150 club members. She says the TCC is the most supportive community in her campus life, as she can meet people who have similar interests as her, though are in different majors. “There are a lot of emotional aspects of being at MIT, and there’s a spiritual part that so many students wrestle with. The TCC is where I’ve been able to find so much comfort, support, and encouragement; the closest friends I have are in the Tech Catholic Community,” she says.

    Mittman is also passionate about teaching, which allows her to connect to students and teach them material in new and exciting ways. In the fall of her junior and senior years, she was a teaching assistant for 3.091 (Introduction to Solid State Chemistry), where she taught two recitations of 20 students and offered weekly private tutoring. She enjoyed helping students tackle difficult course material in ways that are enthusiastic and encouraging, as she appreciated receiving the same help in her introductory courses.

    Looking ahead, Mittman plans to work fulltime at Phoenix Tailings as a materials scientist following her graduation. In this way, she feels like she has come full circle: from playing in the mud as a kid to working with it as a materials scientist to extract materials to help build a sustainable future for nearby and international communities.

    “I want to be able to apply what I’m enthusiastic about, which is materials science, by way of mineralogical sustainability, so that it can help mines here in America but also mines in Brazil, Austria, Jamaica — all over the world, because ultimately, I think that will help more people live better lives,” she says. More

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    Courtney Lesoon and Elizabeth Yarina win Fulbright-Hays Scholarships

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

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

    Courtney Lesoon

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

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

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

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

    Lizzie Yarina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Inaugural fund supports early-stage collaborations between MIT and Jordan

    MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI), together with the Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation (AHSF), the cultural and social responsibility arm of the Arab Bank, recently created a new initiative to support collaboration with the Middle East. The MIT-Jordan Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation Seed Fund is providing awardees with financial grants up to $30,000 to cover travel, meeting, and workshop expenses, including in-person visits to build cultural and scientific connections between MIT and Jordan. MISTI and AHSF recently celebrated the first round of awardees in a virtual ceremony held in Amman and the United States.

    The new grant is part of the Global Seed Funds (GSF), MISTI’s annual grant program that enables participating teams to collaborate with international peers, either at MIT or abroad, to develop and launch joint research projects. Many of the projects funded lead to additional grant awards and the development of valuable long-term relationships between international researchers and MIT faculty and students.

    Since MIT’s first major collaboration in the Middle East in the 1970s, the Institute has deepened its connection and commitment to the region, expanding to create the MIT-Arab World program. The MIT-Jordan Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation Seed Fund enables the MIT-Arab World program to move forward on its key objectives: build critical cultural and scientific connections between MIT and the Arab world; develop a cadre of students who have a deep understanding of the Middle East; and bring tangible value to the partners in the region.

    Valentina Qussisiya, CEO of the foundation, shared the importance of collaboration between research institutes to improve and advance scientific research. She highlighted the role of AHSF in supporting science and researchers since 1982, emphasizing, “The partnership with MIT through the MISTI program is part of AHSF commitment toward this role in Jordan and hoped-for future collaborations and the impact of the fund on science in Jordan.”

    The new fund, open to both Jordanian and MIT faculty, is available to those pursuing research in the following fields: environmental engineering; water resource management; lean and modern technologies; automation; nanotechnology; entrepreneurship; nuclear engineering; materials engineering; energy and thermal engineering; biomedical engineering, prostheses, computational neuroscience, and technology; social and management sciences; urban studies and planning; science, technology, and society; innovation in education; Arabic language automation; and food security and sustainable agriculture.

    Philip S. Khoury, faculty director of MISTI’s MIT-Arab World program and Ford International Professor of History and associate provost at MIT, explained that the winning projects all deal with critical issues that will benefit both MIT and Jordan, both on- and off-campus. “Beyond the actual faculty collaboration, these projects will bring much value to the hands-on education of MIT and Jordanian students and their capacity to get to know one another as future leaders in science and technology,” he says.

    This year, the MIT-Jordan Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation Seed Fund received numerous high-quality proposals. Applications were reviewed by MIT and Jordanian faculty and selected by a committee of MIT faculty. There were six winning projects in the inaugural round:

    Low-Cost Renewable-Powered Electrodialysis Desalination and Drip Irrigation: Amos Winter (MIT principal investigator) and Samer Talozi (international collaborator)

    iPSC and CRISPR Gene Editing to Study Rare Diseases: Ernest Fraenkel (MIT principal investigator) and Nidaa Ababneh (international collaborator)

    Use of Distributed Low-Cost Sensor Networks for Air Quality Monitoring in Amann: Jesse Kroll (MIT principal investigator) and Tareq Hussein (international collaborator)

    Radiation Effects on Medical Devices Made by 3D Printing: Ju Li (MIT principal investigator) and Belal Gharaibeh (international collaborator)

    Superprotonic Conductivity in Metal-Organic Frameworks for Proton-Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells: Mircea Dinca (MIT principal investigator) and Kyle Cordova (international collaborator)

    Mapping Urban Air Quality Using Mobile Low-cost Sensors and Geospatial Techniques: Sarah Williams (MIT principal investigator) and Khaled Hazaymeh (international collaborator)

    The goal of these funded projects is for researchers and their students to form meaningful professional partnerships across cultures and leave a lasting impact upon the scientific communities in Jordan and at MIT.

    “[The fund will] enhance the future career prospects of emerging scholars from both countries,” said awardee Professor Kyle Cordova, executive director for scientific research at Royal Scientific Society and assistant to Her Royal Highness Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan for scientific affairs. “Our young scholars will gain a unique perspective of the influence of different cultures on scientific investigation that will help them to function effectively in a multidisciplinary and multicultural environment.” More