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    Q&A: Climate Grand Challenges finalists on using data and science to forecast climate-related risk

    Note: This is the final article in a four-part interview series featuring the work of the 27 MIT Climate Grand Challenges finalist teams, which received a total of $2.7 million in startup funding to advance their projects. This month, the Institute will name a subset of the finalists as multiyear flagship projects.

    Advances in computation, artificial intelligence, robotics, and data science are enabling a new generation of observational tools and scientific modeling with the potential to produce timely, reliable, and quantitative analysis of future climate risks at a local scale. These projections can increase the accuracy and efficacy of early warning systems, improve emergency planning, and provide actionable information for climate mitigation and adaptation efforts, as human actions continue to change planetary conditions.

    In conversations prepared for MIT News, faculty from four Climate Grand Challenges teams with projects in the competition’s “Using data and science to forecast climate-related risk” category describe the promising new technologies that can help scientists understand the Earth’s climate system on a finer scale than ever before. (The other Climate Grand Challenges research themes include building equity and fairness into climate solutions, removing, managing, and storing greenhouse gases, and decarbonizing complex industries and processes.) The following responses have been edited for length and clarity.

    An observational system that can initiate a climate risk forecasting revolution

    Despite recent technological advances and massive volumes of data, climate forecasts remain highly uncertain. Gaps in observational capabilities create substantial challenges to predicting extreme weather events and establishing effective mitigation and adaptation strategies. R. John Hansman, the T. Wilson Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and director of the MIT International Center for Air Transportation, discusses the Stratospheric Airborne Climate Observatory System (SACOS) being developed together with Brent Minchew, the Cecil and Ida Green Career Development Professor in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), and a team that includes researchers from MIT Lincoln Laboratory and Harvard University.

    Q: How does SACOS reduce uncertainty in climate risk forecasting?

    A: There is a critical need for higher spatial and temporal resolution observations of the climate system than are currently available through remote (satellite or airborne) and surface (in-situ) sensing. We are developing an ensemble of high-endurance, solar-powered aircraft with instrument systems capable of performing months-long climate observing missions that satellites or aircraft alone cannot fulfill. Summer months are ideal for SACOS operations, as many key climate phenomena are active and short night periods reduce the battery mass, vehicle size, and technical risks. These observations hold the potential to inform and predict, allowing emergency planners, policymakers, and the rest of society to better prepare for the changes to come.

    Q: Describe the types of observing missions where SACOS could provide critical improvements.

    A: The demise of the Antarctic Ice Sheet, which is leading to rising sea levels around the world and threatening the displacement of millions of people, is one example. Current sea level forecasts struggle to account for giant fissures that create massive icebergs and cause the Antarctic Ice Sheet to flow more rapidly into the ocean. SACOS can track these fissures to accurately forecast ice slippage and give impacted populations enough time to prepare or evacuate. Elsewhere, widespread droughts cause rampant wildfires and water shortages. SACOS has the ability to monitor soil moisture and humidity in critically dry regions to identify where and when wildfires and droughts are imminent. SACOS also offers the most effective method to measure, track, and predict local ozone depletion over North America, which has resulted in increasingly severe summer thunderstorms.

    Quantifying and managing the risks of sea-level rise

    Prevailing estimates of sea-level rise range from approximately 20 centimeters to 2 meters by the end of the century, with the associated costs on the order of trillions of dollars. The instability of certain portions of the world’s ice sheets creates vast uncertainties, complicating how the world prepares for and responds to these potential changes. EAPS Professor Brent Minchew is leading another Climate Grand Challenges finalist team working on an integrated, multidisciplinary effort to improve the scientific understanding of sea-level rise and provide actionable information and tools to manage the risks it poses.

    Q: What have been the most significant challenges to understanding the potential rates of sea-level rise?

    A: West Antarctica is one of the most remote, inaccessible, and hostile places on Earth — to people and equipment. Thus, opportunities to observe the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which contains enough ice to raise global sea levels by about 3 meters, are limited and current observations crudely resolved. It is essential that we understand how the floating edge of the ice sheets, often called ice shelves, fracture and collapse because they provide critical forces that govern the rate of ice mass loss and can stabilize the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

    Q: How will your project advance what is currently known about sea-level rise?

    A: We aim to advance global-scale projections of sea-level rise through novel observational technologies and computational models of ice sheet change and to link those predictions to region- to neighborhood-scale estimates of costs and adaptation strategies. To do this, we propose two novel instruments: a first-of-its-kind drone that can fly for months at a time over Antarctica making continuous observations of critical areas and an airdropped seismometer and GPS bundle that can be deployed to vulnerable and hard-to-reach areas of the ice sheet. This technology will provide greater data quality and density and will observe the ice sheet at frequencies that are currently inaccessible — elements that are essential for understanding the physics governing the evolution of the ice sheet and sea-level rise.

    Changing flood risk for coastal communities in the developing world

    Globally, more than 600 million people live in low-elevation coastal areas that face an increasing risk of flooding from sea-level rise. This includes two-thirds of cities with populations of more than 5 million and regions that conduct the vast majority of global trade. Dara Entekhabi, the Bacardi and Stockholm Water Foundations Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and professor in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, outlines an interdisciplinary partnership that leverages data and technology to guide short-term and chart long-term adaptation pathways with Miho Mazereeuw, associate professor of architecture and urbanism and director of the Urban Risk Lab in the School of Architecture and Planning, and Danielle Wood, assistant professor in the Program in Media Arts and Sciences and the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

    Q: What is the key problem this program seeks to address?

    A: The accumulated heating of the Earth system due to fossil burning is largely absorbed by the oceans, and the stored heat expands the ocean volume leading to increased base height for tides. When the high tides inundate a city, the condition is referred to as “sunny day” flooding, but the saline waters corrode infrastructure and wreak havoc on daily routines. The danger ahead for many coastal cities in the developing world is the combination of increasing high tide intrusions, coupled with heavy precipitation storm events.

    Q: How will your proposed solutions impact flood risk management?

    A: We are producing detailed risk maps for coastal cities in developing countries using newly available, very high-resolution remote-sensing data from space-borne instruments, as well as historical tides records and regional storm characteristics. Using these datasets, we aim to produce street-by-street risk maps that provide local decision-makers and stakeholders with a way to estimate present and future flood risks. With the model of future tides and probabilistic precipitation events, we can forecast future inundation by a flooding event, decadal changes with various climate-change and sea-level rise projections, and an increase in the likelihood of sunny-day flooding. Working closely with local partners, we will develop toolkits to explore short-term emergency response, as well as long-term mitigation and adaptation techniques in six pilot locations in South and Southeast Asia, Africa, and South America.

    Ocean vital signs

    On average, every person on Earth generates fossil fuel emissions equivalent to an 8-pound bag of carbon, every day. Much of this is absorbed by the ocean, but there is wide variability in the estimates of oceanic absorption, which translates into differences of trillions of dollars in the required cost of mitigation. In the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Christopher Hill, a principal research engineer specializing in Earth and planetary computational science, works with Ryan Woosley, a principal research scientist focusing on the carbon cycle and ocean acidification. Hill explains that they hope to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to help resolve this uncertainty.

    Q: What is the current state of knowledge on air-sea interactions?

    A: Obtaining specific, accurate field measurements of critical physical, chemical, and biological exchanges between the ocean and the planet have historically entailed expensive science missions with large ship-based infrastructure that leave gaps in real-time data about significant ocean climate processes. Recent advances in highly scalable in-situ autonomous observing and navigation combined with airborne, remote sensing, and machine learning innovations have the potential to transform data gathering, provide more accurate information, and address fundamental scientific questions around air-sea interaction.

    Q: How will your approach accelerate real-time, autonomous surface ocean observing from an experimental research endeavor to a permanent and impactful solution?

    A: Our project seeks to demonstrate how a scalable surface ocean observing network can be launched and operated, and to illustrate how this can reduce uncertainties in estimates of air-sea carbon dioxide exchange. With an initial high-impact goal of substantially eliminating the vast uncertainties that plague our understanding of ocean uptake of carbon dioxide, we will gather critical measurements for improving extended weather and climate forecast models and reducing climate impact uncertainty. The results have the potential to more accurately identify trillions of dollars worth of economic activity. More

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    Q&A: Climate Grand Challenges finalists on new pathways to decarbonizing industry

    Note: This is the third article in a four-part interview series highlighting the work of the 27 MIT Climate Grand Challenges finalist teams, which received a total of $2.7 million in startup funding to advance their projects. In April, the Institute will name a subset of the finalists as multiyear flagship projects.

    The industrial sector is the backbone of today’s global economy, yet its activities are among the most energy-intensive and the toughest to decarbonize. Efforts to reach net-zero targets and avert runaway climate change will not succeed without new solutions for replacing sources of carbon emissions with low-carbon alternatives and developing scalable nonemitting applications of hydrocarbons.

    In conversations prepared for MIT News, faculty from three of the teams with projects in the competition’s “Decarbonizing complex industries and processes” category discuss strategies for achieving impact in hard-to-abate sectors, from long-distance transportation and building construction to textile manufacturing and chemical refining. The other Climate Grand Challenges research themes include using data and science to forecast climate-related risk, building equity and fairness into climate solutions, and removing, managing, and storing greenhouse gases. The following responses have been edited for length and clarity.

    Moving toward an all-carbon material approach to building

    Faced with the prospect of building stock doubling globally by 2050, there is a great need for sustainable alternatives to conventional mineral- and metal-based construction materials. Mark Goulthorpe, associate professor in the Department of Architecture, explains the methods behind Carbon >Building, an initiative to develop energy-efficient building materials by reorienting hydrocarbons from current use as fuels to environmentally benign products, creating an entirely new genre of lightweight, all-carbon buildings that could actually drive decarbonization.

    Q: What are all-carbon buildings and how can they help mitigate climate change?

    A: Instead of burning hydrocarbons as fuel, which releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to atmospheric pollution, we seek to pioneer a process that uses carbon materially to build at macro scale. New forms of carbon — carbon nanotube, carbon foam, etc. — offer salient properties for building that might effectively displace the current material paradigm. Only hydrocarbons offer sufficient scale to beat out the billion-ton mineral and metal markets, and their perilous impact. Carbon nanotube from methane pyrolysis is of special interest, as it offers hydrogen as a byproduct.

    Q: How will society benefit from the widespread use of all-carbon buildings?

    A: We anticipate reducing costs and timelines in carbon composite buildings, while increasing quality, longevity, and performance, and diminishing environmental impact. Affordability of buildings is a growing problem in all global markets as the cost of labor and logistics in multimaterial assemblies creates a burden that is very detrimental to economic growth and results in overcrowding and urban blight.

    Alleviating these challenges would have huge societal benefits, especially for those in lower income brackets who cannot afford housing, but the biggest benefit would be in drastically reducing the environmental footprint of typical buildings, which account for nearly 40 percent of global energy consumption.

    An all-carbon building sector will not only reduce hydrocarbon extraction, but can produce higher value materials for building. We are looking to rethink the building industry by greatly streamlining global production and learning from the low-labor methods pioneered by composite manufacturing such as wind turbine blades, which are quick and cheap to produce. This technology can improve the sustainability and affordability of buildings — and holds the promise of faster, cheaper, greener, and more resilient modes of dwelling.

    Emissions reduction through innovation in the textile industry

    Collectively, the textile industry is responsible for over 4 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, or 5 to 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions — more than aviation and maritime shipping combined. And the problem is only getting worse with the industry’s rapid growth. Under the current trajectory, consumption is projected to increase 30 percent by 2030, reaching 102 million tons. A diverse group of faculty and researchers led by Gregory Rutledge, the Lammot du Pont Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, and Yuly Fuentes-Medel, project manager for fiber technologies and research advisor to the MIT Innovation Initiative, is developing groundbreaking innovations to reshape how textiles are selected, sourced, designed, manufactured, and used, and to create the structural changes required for sustained reductions in emissions by this industry.

    Q: Why has the textile industry been difficult to decarbonize?

    A: The industry currently operates under a linear model that relies heavily on virgin feedstock, at roughly 97 percent, yet recycles or downcycles less than 15 percent. Furthermore, recent trends in “fast fashion” have led to massive underutilization of apparel, such that products are discarded on average after only seven to 10 uses. In an industry with high volume and low margins, replacement technologies must achieve emissions reduction at scale while maintaining performance and economic efficiency.

    There are also technical barriers to adopting circular business models, from the challenge of dealing with products comprising fiber blends and chemical additives to the low maturity of recycling technologies. The environmental impacts of textiles and apparel have been estimated using life cycle analysis, and industry-standard indexes are under development to assess sustainability throughout the life cycle of a product, but information and tools are needed to model how new solutions will alter those impacts and include the consumer as an active player to keep our planet safe. This project seeks to deliver both the new solutions and the tools to evaluate their potential for impact.

    Q: Describe the five components of your program. What is the anticipated timeline for implementing these solutions?

    A: Our plan comprises five programmatic sections, which include (1) enabling a paradigm shift to sustainable materials using nontraditional, carbon-negative polymers derived from biomass and additives that facilitate recycling; (2) rethinking manufacturing with processes to structure fibers and fabrics for performance, waste reduction, and increased material efficiency; (3) designing textiles for value by developing products that are customized, adaptable, and multifunctional, and that interact with their environment to reduce energy consumption; (4) exploring consumer behavior change through human interventions that reduce emissions by encouraging the adoption of new technologies, increased utilization of products, and circularity; and (5) establishing carbon transparency with systems-level analyses that measure the impact of these strategies and guide decision making.

    We have proposed a five-year timeline with annual targets for each project. Conservatively, we estimate our program could reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the industry by 25 percent by 2030, with further significant reductions to follow.

    Tough-to-decarbonize transportation

    Airplanes, transoceanic ships, and freight trucks are critical to transporting people and delivering goods, and the cornerstone of global commerce, manufacturing, and tourism. But these vehicles also emit 3.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually and, left unchecked, they could take up a quarter of the remaining carbon budget by 2050. William Green, the Hoyt C. Hottel Professor in the Department Chemical Engineering, co-leads a multidisciplinary team with Steven Barrett, professor of aeronautics and astronautics and director of the MIT Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment, that is working to identify and advance economically viable technologies and policies for decarbonizing heavy duty trucking, shipping, and aviation. The Tough to Decarbonize Transportation research program aims to design and optimize fuel chemistry and production, vehicles, operations, and policies to chart the course to net-zero emissions by midcentury.

    Q: What are the highest priority focus areas of your research program?

    A: Hydrocarbon fuels made from biomass are the least expensive option, but it seems impractical, and probably damaging to the environment, to harvest the huge amount of biomass that would be needed to meet the massive and growing energy demands from these sectors using today’s biomass-to-fuel technology. We are exploring strategies to increase the amount of useful fuel made per ton of biomass harvested, other methods to make low-climate-impact hydrocarbon fuels, such as from carbon dioxide, and ways to make fuels that do not contain carbon at all, such as with hydrogen, ammonia, and other hydrogen carriers.

    These latter zero-carbon options free us from the need for biomass or to capture gigatons of carbon dioxide, so they could be a very good long-term solution, but they would require changing the vehicles significantly, and the construction of new refueling infrastructure, with high capital costs.

    Q: What are the scientific, technological, and regulatory barriers to scaling and implementing potential solutions?

    A: Reimagining an aviation, trucking, and shipping sector that connects the world and increases equity without creating more environmental damage is challenging because these vehicles must operate disconnected from the electrical grid and have energy requirements that cannot be met by batteries alone. Some of the concepts do not even exist in prototype yet, and none of the appealing options have been implemented at anywhere near the scale required.

    In most cases, we do not know the best way to make the fuel, and for new fuels the vehicles and refueling systems all need to be developed. Also, new fuels, or large-scale use of biomass, will introduce new environmental problems that need to be carefully considered, to ensure that decarbonization solutions do not introduce big new problems.

    Perhaps most difficult are the policy, economic, and equity issues. A new long-haul transportation system will be expensive, and everyone will be affected by the increased cost of shipping freight. To have the desired climate impact, the transport system must change in almost every country. During the transition period, we will need both the existing vehicle and fuel system to keep running smoothly, even as a new low-greenhouse system is introduced. We will also examine what policies could make that work and how we can get countries around the world to agree to implement them. More

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    Q&A: Bettina Stoetzer on envisioning a livable future

    In an ongoing series, MIT faculty, students, and alumni in the humanistic fields share perspectives that are significant for solving the economic, political, ethical, and cultural dimensions of climate change, as well as mitigating its myriad social and ecological impacts. Bettina Stoetzer is the Class of 1948 Career Development Associate Professor of Anthropology at MIT; her research combines perspectives on ecology and environmental change with an analysis of migration, race, and social justice. In this conversation with SHASS Communications, she shares insights from anthropology and from her forthcoming book, “Ruderal City: Ecologies of Migration and Urban Life in Berlin” (Duke University Press, 2022).Q: You research “ruderal” ecologies — those rising up like weeds in inhospitable locales such as industrial zones. What does your work reveal about the relationship between humans and the environment, particularly as climate change presents ever more challenges to human habitation?A: The term ruderal originates from the Latin word “rudus,” meaning “rubble.” In urban ecology it refers to organisms that spontaneously inhabit inhospitable environments such as rubble spaces, the cracks in sidewalks, or spaces alongside train tracks and roads. As an anthropologist, I find the ruderal to be a useful lens for examining this historical moment when environmental degradation, war, forced migration, economic inequality, and rising nationalism render much of the world inhospitable to so many beings.

    My book, “Ruderal City: Ecologies of Migration and Urban Life in Berlin,” is inspired by the insights of botany, ecology, as well as by social justice struggles. During my fieldwork in Berlin, I engaged with diverse communities — botanists, environmentalists, public officials, and other Berlin residents, such as white German nature enthusiasts, Turkish migrants who cultivate city gardens, and East African refugees who live in the forested edges of the city.The botanists I spoke with researched so-called “ruderal flora” that flourished in the city’s bombed landscapes after the end of World War II. Berlin’s rubble vegetation was abundant with plants that usually grow in much warmer climate zones, and the botanists realized that many of these plants’ seeds had arrived in the city by chance — hitching a ride via imported materials and vehicles, or the boots of refugees. At the same time, the initial appearance of these plants illustrated that Berlin had become hotter, which shed light on the early signs of climate change. But that is only part of the story. Listening to migrants, refugees, and other Berlin residents during my fieldwork, I also learned that it is important to consider the ways in which people who are often not recognized as experts relate to urban lands. White European environmental discourse often frames migrants and communities of color as having an inappropriate relation to “nature” in the city, and racializes them on that basis. For example, Turkish migrants who barbecue in Berlin’s parks are often portrayed as polluting the “green lungs” of Berlin.Yet from working with these communities, as well as with other Berliners who cultivated urban vegetable gardens, built makeshift shelters in abandoned lots, produced informal food economies in Berlin’s parks, or told stories about their experience in the forest edges of the city, I learned that people, while grappling with experiences of racism, actually carved out alternative ways of relating to urban lands that challenged white European and capitalist traditions.Engaging with these practices, I utilize the concept of the ruderal and expand it as an analytic for tracking seemingly disparate worlds — and for attending to the heterogeneous ways in which people build lives out of the ruins of European nationalism and capitalism. My goal in the book is not to equate people with plants, but rather to ask how people, plants, animals, and other living beings are intertwined in projects of capitalist extraction and in nation-making — and how they challenge and rework these projects.Q: In what ways do you think the tools and insights from anthropology can advance efforts to address climate change and its impacts?A: When tackling complex environmental challenges, climate change included, the focus is often on “the social consequences of” climate change and technological solutions to address it. What is exciting about anthropology is that it gives us tools to interrogate environmental challenges through a broader lens.Anthropologists use in-depth fieldwork to examine how people make sense of and relate to the world. Ethnographic fieldwork can help us examine how climate change affects people in their everyday lives, and it can reveal how different stakeholders approach environmental challenges. By providing a deeper understanding of the ways in which people relate to the material world, to land, and to other beings, anthropological analyses also shed light on the root causes of climate change and expand our imagination of how to live otherwise.Through these close-up analyses, ethnography can also illuminate large-scale political phenomena. For instance, by making visible the relation between climate change denial and the erosion of democratic social structures in people’s everyday lives, it can provide insights into the rise of nationalist and authoritarian movements. This is a question I explore in my new research project. (One case study in the new research focuses on the ways in which pigs, people, and viruses have co-evolved during urbanization, industrial agriculture, and the climate crisis, e.g.: the so-called African Swine Fever virus among wild boar — which proliferate in the ruins of industrial agriculture and climate changes — trigger political responses across Europe, including new border fences.)

    Through several case studies, I examine how the changing mobility patterns of wildlife (due to climate change, habitat loss, and urbanization) pose challenges for tackling the climate crisis across national borders and for developing new forms of care for nonhuman lives.Q: You teach MIT’s class 21A.407 (Gender, Race, and Environmental Justice). Broadly speaking, what are goals of this class? What lessons do you hope students will carry with them into the future?A: The key premise of this class is that the environmental challenges facing the world today cannot be adequately addressed without a deeper understanding of racial, gender, and class inequalities, as well as the legacies of colonialism. Our discussion begins with the lands on which we, at MIT, stand. We read about the colonization of New England and how it radically transformed local economies and landscapes, rearranged gender and racial relations, and led to the genocide and dispossession of Indigenous communities and their way of life.From this foundation, the goal is to expand our ideas of what it means to talk about ecology, the “environment,” and justice. There is not one way in which humans relate to land and to nonhuman beings, or one way of (re-)producing the conditions of our livelihoods (capitalism). These relations are all shaped by history, culture, and power.We read anthropological scholarship that explores how climate change, environmental pollution, and habitat destruction are also the consequences of modes of inhabiting the earth inherited from colonial relations to land that construct human and nonhuman beings as extractable “resources.” Considering these perspectives, it becomes clear that pressing environmental challenges can only be solved by also tackling racism and the legacies of colonialism.Throughout the semester, we read about environmental justice struggles that seek to stop the destruction of land, undo the harm of toxic exposures, and mitigate the effects of climate change. I hope that one of the takeaways students gain from this course is that Black, Indigenous, people-of-color, and feminist activists and scholars have been leading the way in shaping more livable futures.

    Q: In confronting an issue as formidable as global climate change, what gives you hope?A: I am really inspired by youth climate justice activists, especially from the Global South, who insist on new solutions to the climate emergency that counter market-driven perspectives, address global economic inequalities, and raise awareness about climate-driven displacement. Confronting climate change will require building more democratic structures and climate justice activists are at the forefront of this.Here at MIT, I also see a growing enthusiasm among our students to develop solutions to the climate crisis and to social injustices. I am particularly excited about Living Climate Futures, an initiative in Anthropology, History, and the Program on Science, Technology, and Society. We will be hosting a symposium at the end of April featuring environmental and climate justice leaders and youth activists from across the country. It will be a unique opportunity to explore how community leaders and research institutions such as MIT can collaborate more closely to tackle the challenges of climate change.

    Interview prepared by MIT SHASS CommunicationsSenior writer: Kathryn O’NeillSeries editor, designer: Emily Hiestand, communications director More

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    Q&A: Latifah Hamzah ’12 on creating sustainable solutions in Malaysia and beyond

    Latifah Hamzah ’12 graduated from MIT with a BS in mechanical engineering and minors in energy studies and music. During their time at MIT, Latifah participated in various student organizations, including the MIT Symphony Orchestra, Alpha Phi Omega, and the MIT Design/Build/Fly team. They also participated in the MIT Energy Initiative’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) in the lab of former professor of mechanical engineering Alexander Mitsos, examining solar-powered thermal and electrical co-generation systems.

    After graduating from MIT, Latifah worked as a subsea engineer at Shell Global Solutions and co-founded Engineers Without Borders – Malaysia, a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding sustainable and empowering solutions that impact disadvantaged populations in Malaysia. More recently, Latifah received a master of science in mechanical engineering from Stanford University, where they are currently pursuing a PhD in environmental engineering with a focus on water and sanitation in developing contexts.

    Q: What inspired you to pursue energy studies as an undergraduate student at MIT?

    A: I grew up in Malaysia, where I was at once aware of both the extent to which the oil and gas industry is a cornerstone of the economy and the need to transition to a lower-carbon future. The Energy Studies minor was therefore enticing because it gave me a broader view of the energy space, including technical, policy, economic, and other viewpoints. This was my first exposure to how things worked in the real world — in that many different fields and perspectives had to be considered cohesively in order to have a successful, positive, and sustained impact. Although the minor was predominantly grounded in classroom learning, what I learned drove me to want to discover for myself how the forces of technology, society, and policy interacted in the field in my subsequent endeavors.

    In addition to the breadth that the minor added to my education, it also provided a structure and focus for me to build on my technical fundamentals. This included taking graduate-level classes and participating in UROPs that had specific energy foci. These were my first forays into questions that, while still predominantly technical, were more open-ended and with as-yet-unknown answers that would be substantially shaped by the framing of the question. This shift in mindset required from typical undergraduate classes and problem sets took a bit of adjusting to, but ultimately gave me the confidence and belief that I could succeed in a more challenging environment.

    Q: How did these experiences with energy help shape your path forward, particularly in regard to your work with Engineers Without Borders – Malaysia and now at Stanford?

    A: When I returned home after graduation, I was keen to harness my engineering education and explore in practice what the Energy Studies minor curriculum had taught by theory and case studies: to consider context, nuance, and interdisciplinary and myriad perspectives to craft successful, sustainable solutions. Recognizing that there were many underserved communities in Malaysia, I co-founded Engineers Without Borders – Malaysia with some friends with the aim of working with these communities to bring simple and sustainable engineering solutions. Many of these projects did have an energy focus. For example, we designed, sized, and installed micro-hydro or solar-power systems for various indigenous communities, allowing them to continue living on their ancestral lands while reducing energy poverty. Many other projects incorporated other aspects of engineering, such as hydrotherapy pools for folks with special needs, and water and sanitation systems for stateless maritime communities.

    Through my work with Engineers Without Borders – Malaysia, I found a passion for the broader aspects of sustainability, development, and equity. By spending time with communities in the field and sharing in their experiences, I recognized gaps in my skill set that I could work on to be more effective in advocating for social and environmental justice. In particular, I wanted to better understand communities and their perspectives while being mindful of my positionality. In addition, I wanted to address the more systemic aspects of the problems they faced, which I felt in many cases would only be possible through a combination of research, evidence, and policy. To this end, I embarked on a PhD in environmental engineering with a minor in anthropology and pursued a Community-Based Research Fellowship with Stanford’s Haas Center for Public Service. I have also participated in the Rising Environmental Leaders Program (RELP), which helps graduate students “hone their leadership and communications skills to maximize the impact of their research.” RELP afforded me the opportunity to interact with representatives from government, NGOs [nongovernmental organizations], think tanks, and industry, from which I gained a better understanding of the policy and adjacent ecosystems at both the federal and state levels.

    Q: What are you currently studying, and how does it relate to your past work and educational experiences?

    A: My dissertation investigates waste management and monitoring for improved planetary health in three distinct projects. Suboptimal waste management can lead to poor outcomes, including environmental contamination, overuse of resources, and lost economic and environmental opportunities in resource recovery. My first project showed that three combinations of factors resulted in ruminant feces contaminating the stored drinking water supplies of households in rural Kenya, and the results were published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Consequently, water and sanitation interventions must also consider animal waste for communities to have safe drinking water.

    My second project seeks to establish a circular economy in the chocolate industry with indigenous Malaysian farmers and the Chocolate Concierge, a tree-to-bar social enterprise. Having designed and optimized apparatuses and processes to create biochar from cacao husk waste, we are now examining its impact on the growth of cacao saplings and their root systems. The hope is that biochar will increase the resilience of saplings for when they are transplanted from the nursery to the farm. As biochar can improve soil health and yield while reducing fertilizer inputs and sequestering carbon, farmers can accrue substantial economic and environmental benefits, especially if they produce, use, and sell it themselves.

    My third project investigates the gap in sanitation coverage worldwide and potential ways of reducing it. Globally, 46 percent of the population lacks access to safely managed sanitation, while the majority of the 54 percent who do have access use on-site sanitation facilities such as septic tanks and latrines. Given that on-site, decentralized systems typically have a lower space and resource footprint, are cheaper to build and maintain, and can be designed to suit various contexts, they could represent the best chance of reaching the sanitation Sustainable Development Goal. To this end, I am part of a team of researchers at the Criddle Group at Stanford working to develop a household-scale system as part of the Gates Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, an initiative aimed at developing new sanitation and toilet technologies for developing contexts.

    The thread connecting these projects is a commitment to investigating both the technical and socio-anthropological dimensions of an issue to develop sustainable, reliable, and environmentally sensitive solutions, especially in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). I believe that an interdisciplinary approach can provide a better understanding of the problem space, which will hopefully lead to effective potential solutions that can have a greater community impact.

    Q: What do you plan to do once you obtain your PhD?

    A: I hope to continue working in the spheres of water and sanitation and/or sustainability post-PhD. It is a fascinating moment to be in this space as a person of color from an LMIC, especially as ideas such as community-based research and decolonizing fields and institutions are becoming more widespread and acknowledged. Even during my time at Stanford, I have noticed some shifts in the discourse, although we still have a long way to go to achieve substantive and lasting change. Folks like me are underrepresented in forums where the priorities, policies, and financing of aid and development are discussed at the international or global scale. I hope I’ll be able to use my qualifications, experience, and background to advocate for more just outcomes.

    This article appears in the Autumn 2021 issue of Energy Futures, the magazine of the MIT Energy Initiative More

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    Q&A: Latifah Hamzah ’12 on creating sustainable solutions in Malaysia and beyond

    Latifah Hamzah ’12 graduated from MIT with a BS in mechanical engineering and minors in energy studies and music. During their time at MIT, Latifah participated in various student organizations, including the MIT Symphony Orchestra, Alpha Phi Omega, and the MIT Design/Build/Fly team. They also participated in the MIT Energy Initiative’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) in the lab of former professor of mechanical engineering Alexander Mitsos, examining solar-powered thermal and electrical co-generation systems.

    After graduating from MIT, Latifah worked as a subsea engineer at Shell Global Solutions and co-founded Engineers Without Borders – Malaysia, a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding sustainable and empowering solutions that impact disadvantaged populations in Malaysia. More recently, Latifah received a master of science in mechanical engineering from Stanford University, where they are currently pursuing a PhD in environmental engineering with a focus on water and sanitation in developing contexts.

    Q: What inspired you to pursue energy studies as an undergraduate student at MIT?

    A: I grew up in Malaysia, where I was at once aware of both the extent to which the oil and gas industry is a cornerstone of the economy and the need to transition to a lower-carbon future. The Energy Studies minor was therefore enticing because it gave me a broader view of the energy space, including technical, policy, economic, and other viewpoints. This was my first exposure to how things worked in the real world — in that many different fields and perspectives had to be considered cohesively in order to have a successful, positive, and sustained impact. Although the minor was predominantly grounded in classroom learning, what I learned drove me to want to discover for myself how the forces of technology, society, and policy interacted in the field in my subsequent endeavors.

    In addition to the breadth that the minor added to my education, it also provided a structure and focus for me to build on my technical fundamentals. This included taking graduate-level classes and participating in UROPs that had specific energy foci. These were my first forays into questions that, while still predominantly technical, were more open-ended and with as-yet-unknown answers that would be substantially shaped by the framing of the question. This shift in mindset required from typical undergraduate classes and problem sets took a bit of adjusting to, but ultimately gave me the confidence and belief that I could succeed in a more challenging environment.

    Q: How did these experiences with energy help shape your path forward, particularly in regard to your work with Engineers Without Borders – Malaysia and now at Stanford?

    A: When I returned home after graduation, I was keen to harness my engineering education and explore in practice what the Energy Studies minor curriculum had taught by theory and case studies: to consider context, nuance, and interdisciplinary and myriad perspectives to craft successful, sustainable solutions. Recognizing that there were many underserved communities in Malaysia, I co-founded Engineers Without Borders – Malaysia with some friends with the aim of working with these communities to bring simple and sustainable engineering solutions. Many of these projects did have an energy focus. For example, we designed, sized, and installed micro-hydro or solar-power systems for various indigenous communities, allowing them to continue living on their ancestral lands while reducing energy poverty. Many other projects incorporated other aspects of engineering, such as hydrotherapy pools for folks with special needs, and water and sanitation systems for stateless maritime communities.

    Through my work with Engineers Without Borders – Malaysia, I found a passion for the broader aspects of sustainability, development, and equity. By spending time with communities in the field and sharing in their experiences, I recognized gaps in my skill set that I could work on to be more effective in advocating for social and environmental justice. In particular, I wanted to better understand communities and their perspectives while being mindful of my positionality. In addition, I wanted to address the more systemic aspects of the problems they faced, which I felt in many cases would only be possible through a combination of research, evidence, and policy. To this end, I embarked on a PhD in environmental engineering with a minor in anthropology and pursued a Community-Based Research Fellowship with Stanford’s Haas Center for Public Service. I have also participated in the Rising Environmental Leaders Program (RELP), which helps graduate students “hone their leadership and communications skills to maximize the impact of their research.” RELP afforded me the opportunity to interact with representatives from government, NGOs [nongovernmental organizations], think tanks, and industry, from which I gained a better understanding of the policy and adjacent ecosystems at both the federal and state levels.

    Q: What are you currently studying, and how does it relate to your past work and educational experiences?

    A: My dissertation investigates waste management and monitoring for improved planetary health in three distinct projects. Suboptimal waste management can lead to poor outcomes, including environmental contamination, overuse of resources, and lost economic and environmental opportunities in resource recovery. My first project showed that three combinations of factors resulted in ruminant feces contaminating the stored drinking water supplies of households in rural Kenya, and the results were published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Consequently, water and sanitation interventions must also consider animal waste for communities to have safe drinking water.

    My second project seeks to establish a circular economy in the chocolate industry with indigenous Malaysian farmers and the Chocolate Concierge, a tree-to-bar social enterprise. Having designed and optimized apparatuses and processes to create biochar from cacao husk waste, we are now examining its impact on the growth of cacao saplings and their root systems. The hope is that biochar will increase the resilience of saplings for when they are transplanted from the nursery to the farm. As biochar can improve soil health and yield while reducing fertilizer inputs and sequestering carbon, farmers can accrue substantial economic and environmental benefits, especially if they produce, use, and sell it themselves.

    My third project investigates the gap in sanitation coverage worldwide and potential ways of reducing it. Globally, 46 percent of the population lacks access to safely managed sanitation, while the majority of the 54 percent who do have access use on-site sanitation facilities such as septic tanks and latrines. Given that on-site, decentralized systems typically have a lower space and resource footprint, are cheaper to build and maintain, and can be designed to suit various contexts, they could represent the best chance of reaching the sanitation Sustainable Development Goal. To this end, I am part of a team of researchers at the Criddle Group at Stanford working to develop a household-scale system as part of the Gates Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, an initiative aimed at developing new sanitation and toilet technologies for developing contexts.

    The thread connecting these projects is a commitment to investigating both the technical and socio-anthropological dimensions of an issue to develop sustainable, reliable, and environmentally sensitive solutions, especially in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). I believe that an interdisciplinary approach can provide a better understanding of the problem space, which will hopefully lead to effective potential solutions that can have a greater community impact.

    Q: What do you plan to do once you obtain your PhD?

    A: I hope to continue working in the spheres of water and sanitation and/or sustainability post-PhD. It is a fascinating moment to be in this space as a person of color from an LMIC, especially as ideas such as community-based research and decolonizing fields and institutions are becoming more widespread and acknowledged. Even during my time at Stanford, I have noticed some shifts in the discourse, although we still have a long way to go to achieve substantive and lasting change. Folks like me are underrepresented in forums where the priorities, policies, and financing of aid and development are discussed at the international or global scale. I hope I’ll be able to use my qualifications, experience, and background to advocate for more just outcomes.

    This article appears in the Autumn 2021 issue of Energy Futures, the magazine of the MIT Energy Initiative More

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    Q&A: Climate Grand Challenges finalists on accelerating reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions

    This is the second article in a four-part interview series highlighting the work of the 27 MIT Climate Grand Challenges finalists, which received a total of $2.7 million in startup funding to advance their projects. In April, the Institute will name a subset of the finalists as multiyear flagship projects.

    Last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an expert body of the United Nations representing 195 governments, released its latest scientific report on the growing threats posed by climate change, and called for drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to avert the most catastrophic outcomes for humanity and natural ecosystems.

    Bringing the global economy to net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by midcentury is complex and demands new ideas and novel approaches. The first-ever MIT Climate Grand Challenges competition focuses on four problem areas including removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and identifying effective, economic solutions for managing and storing these gases. The other Climate Grand Challenges research themes address using data and science to forecast climate-related risk, decarbonizing complex industries and processes, and building equity and fairness into climate solutions.

    In the following conversations prepared for MIT News, faculty from three of the teams working to solve “Removing, managing, and storing greenhouse gases” explain how they are drawing upon geological, biological, chemical, and oceanic processes to develop game-changing techniques for carbon removal, management, and storage. Their responses have been edited for length and clarity.

    Directed evolution of biological carbon fixation

    Agricultural demand is estimated to increase by 50 percent in the coming decades, while climate change is simultaneously projected to drastically reduce crop yield and predictability, requiring a dramatic acceleration of land clearing. Without immediate intervention, this will have dire impacts on wild habitat, rob the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of subsistence farmers, and create hundreds of gigatons of new emissions. Matthew Shoulders, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry, talks about the working group he is leading in partnership with Ed Boyden, the Y. Eva Tan professor of neurotechnology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, that aims to massively reduce carbon emissions from agriculture by relieving core biochemical bottlenecks in the photosynthetic process using the most sophisticated synthetic biology available to science.

    Q: Describe the two pathways you have identified for improving agricultural productivity and climate resiliency.

    A: First, cyanobacteria grow millions of times faster than plants and dozens of times faster than microalgae. Engineering these cyanobacteria as a source of key food products using synthetic biology will enable food production using less land, in a fundamentally more climate-resilient manner. Second, carbon fixation, or the process by which carbon dioxide is incorporated into organic compounds, is the rate-limiting step of photosynthesis and becomes even less efficient under rising temperatures. Enhancements to Rubisco, the enzyme mediating this central process, will both improve crop yields and provide climate resilience to crops needed by 2050. Our team, led by Robbie Wilson and Max Schubert, has created new directed evolution methods tailored for both strategies, and we have already uncovered promising early results. Applying directed evolution to photosynthesis, carbon fixation, and food production has the potential to usher in a second green revolution.

    Q: What partners will you need to accelerate the development of your solutions?

    A: We have already partnered with leading agriculture institutes with deep experience in plant transformation and field trial capacity, enabling the integration of our improved carbon-dioxide-fixing enzymes into a wide range of crop plants. At the deployment stage, we will be positioned to partner with multiple industry groups to achieve improved agriculture at scale. Partnerships with major seed companies around the world will be key to leverage distribution channels in manufacturing supply chains and networks of farmers, agronomists, and licensed retailers. Support from local governments will also be critical where subsidies for seeds are necessary for farmers to earn a living, such as smallholder and subsistence farming communities. Additionally, our research provides an accessible platform that is capable of enabling and enhancing carbon dioxide sequestration in diverse organisms, extending our sphere of partnership to a wide range of companies interested in industrial microbial applications, including algal and cyanobacterial, and in carbon capture and storage.

    Strategies to reduce atmospheric methane

    One of the most potent greenhouse gases, methane is emitted by a range of human activities and natural processes that include agriculture and waste management, fossil fuel production, and changing land use practices — with no single dominant source. Together with a diverse group of faculty and researchers from the schools of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences; Architecture and Planning; Engineering; and Science; plus the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, Desiree Plata, associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is spearheading the MIT Methane Network, an integrated approach to formulating scalable new technologies, business models, and policy solutions for driving down levels of atmospheric methane.

    Q: What is the problem you are trying to solve and why is it a “grand challenge”?

    A: Removing methane from the atmosphere, or stopping it from getting there in the first place, could change the rates of global warming in our lifetimes, saving as much as half a degree of warming by 2050. Methane sources are distributed in space and time and tend to be very dilute, making the removal of methane a challenge that pushes the boundaries of contemporary science and engineering capabilities. Because the primary sources of atmospheric methane are linked to our economy and culture — from clearing wetlands for cultivation to natural gas extraction and dairy and meat production — the social and economic implications of a fundamentally changed methane management system are far-reaching. Nevertheless, these problems are tractable and could significantly reduce the effects of climate change in the near term.

    Q: What is known about the rapid rise in atmospheric methane and what questions remain unanswered?

    A: Tracking atmospheric methane is a challenge in and of itself, but it has become clear that emissions are large, accelerated by human activity, and cause damage right away. While some progress has been made in satellite-based measurements of methane emissions, there is a need to translate that data into actionable solutions. Several key questions remain around improving sensor accuracy and sensor network design to optimize placement, improve response time, and stop leaks with autonomous controls on the ground. Additional questions involve deploying low-level methane oxidation systems and novel catalytic materials at coal mines, dairy barns, and other enriched sources; evaluating the policy strategies and the socioeconomic impacts of new technologies with an eye toward decarbonization pathways; and scaling technology with viable business models that stimulate the economy while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

    Deploying versatile carbon capture technologies and storage at scale

    There is growing consensus that simply capturing current carbon dioxide emissions is no longer sufficient — it is equally important to target distributed sources such as the oceans and air where carbon dioxide has accumulated from past emissions. Betar Gallant, the American Bureau of Shipping Career Development Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, discusses her work with Bradford Hager, the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Earth Sciences in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, and T. Alan Hatton, the Ralph Landau Professor of Chemical Engineering and director of the School of Chemical Engineering Practice, to dramatically advance the portfolio of technologies available for carbon capture and permanent storage at scale. (A team led by Assistant Professor Matěj Peč of EAPS is also addressing carbon capture and storage.)

    Q: Carbon capture and storage processes have been around for several decades. What advances are you seeking to make through this project?

    A: Today’s capture paradigms are costly, inefficient, and complex. We seek to address this challenge by developing a new generation of capture technologies that operate using renewable energy inputs, are sufficiently versatile to accommodate emerging industrial demands, are adaptive and responsive to varied societal needs, and can be readily deployed to a wider landscape.

    New approaches will require the redesign of the entire capture process, necessitating basic science and engineering efforts that are broadly interdisciplinary in nature. At the same time, incumbent technologies have been optimized largely for integration with coal- or natural gas-burning power plants. Future applications must shift away from legacy emitters in the power sector towards hard-to-mitigate sectors such as cement, iron and steel, chemical, and hydrogen production. It will become equally important to develop and optimize systems targeted for much lower concentrations of carbon dioxide, such as in oceans or air. Our effort will expand basic science studies as well as human impacts of storage, including how public engagement and education can alter attitudes toward greater acceptance of carbon dioxide geologic storage.

    Q: What are the expected impacts of your proposed solution, both positive and negative?

    A: Renewable energy cannot be deployed rapidly enough everywhere, nor can it supplant all emissions sources, nor can it account for past emissions. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) provides a demonstrated method to address emissions that will undoubtedly occur before the transition to low-carbon energy is completed. CCS can succeed even if other strategies fail. It also allows for developing nations, which may need to adopt renewables over longer timescales, to see equitable economic development while avoiding the most harmful climate impacts. And, CCS enables the future viability of many core industries and transportation modes, many of which do not have clear alternatives before 2050, let alone 2040 or 2030.

    The perceived risks of potential leakage and earthquakes associated with geologic storage can be minimized by choosing suitable geologic formations for storage. Despite CCS providing a well-understood pathway for removing enough of the carbon dioxide already emitted into the atmosphere, some environmentalists vigorously oppose it, fearing that CCS rewards oil companies and disincentivizes the transition away from fossil fuels. We believe that it is more important to keep in mind the necessity of meeting key climate targets for the sake of the planet, and welcome those who can help. More

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    Q&A: Randolph Kirchain on how cool pavements can mitigate climate change

    As cities search for climate change solutions, many have turned to one burgeoning technology: cool pavements. By reflecting a greater proportion of solar radiation, cool pavements can offer an array of climate change mitigation benefits, from direct radiative forcing to reduced building energy demand.

    Yet, scientists from the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub (CSHub) have found that cool pavements are not just a summertime solution. Here, Randolph Kirchain, a principal research scientist at CSHub, discusses how implementing cool pavements can offer myriad greenhouse gas reductions in cities — some of which occur even in the winter.

    Q: What exactly are cool pavements? 

    A: There are two ways to make a cool pavement: changing the pavement formulation to make the pavement porous like a sponge (a so-called “pervious pavement”), or paving with reflective materials. The latter method has been applied extensively because it can be easily adopted on the current road network with different traffic volumes while sustaining — and sometimes improving — the road longevity. To the average observer, surface reflectivity usually corresponds to the color of a pavement — the lighter, the more reflective. 

    We can quantify this surface reflectivity through a measurement called albedo, which refers to the percentage of light a surface reflects. Typically, a reflective pavement has an albedo of 0.3 or higher, meaning that it reflects 30 percent of the light it receives.

    To attain this reflectivity, there are a number of techniques at our disposal. The most common approach is to simply paint a brighter coating atop existing pavements. But it’s also possible to pave with materials that possess naturally greater reflectivity, such as concrete or lighter-colored binders and aggregates.

    Q: How can cool pavements mitigate climate change?

    A: Cool pavements generate several, often unexpected, effects. The most widely known is a reduction in surface and local air temperatures. This occurs because cool pavements absorb less radiation and, consequently, emit less of that radiation as heat. In the summer, this means they can lower urban air temperatures by several degrees Fahrenheit.

    By changing air temperatures or reflecting light into adjacent structures, cool pavements can also alter the need for heating and cooling in those structures, which can change their energy demand and, therefore, mitigate the climate change impacts associated with building energy demand.

    However, depending on how dense the neighborhood is built, a proportion of the radiation cool pavements reflect doesn’t strike buildings; instead, it travels back into the atmosphere and out into space. This process, called a radiative forcing, shifts the Earth’s energy balance and effectively offsets some of the radiation trapped by greenhouse gases (GHGs).

    Perhaps the least-known impact of cool pavements is on vehicle fuel consumption. Certain cool pavements, namely concrete, possess a combination of structural properties and longevity that can minimize the excess fuel consumption of vehicles caused by road quality. Over the lifetime of a pavement, these fuel savings can add up — often offsetting the higher initial footprint of paving with more durable materials.

    Q: With these impacts in mind, how do the effects of cool pavements vary seasonally and by location?

    A: Many view cool pavements as a solution to summer heat. But research has shown that they can offer climate change benefits throughout the year.

    In high-volume traffic roads, the most prominent climate change benefit of cool pavements is not their reflectivity but their impact on vehicle fuel consumption. As such, cool pavement alternatives that minimize fuel consumption can continue to cut GHG emissions in winter, assuming traffic is constant.

    Even in winter, pavement reflectivity still contributes greatly to the climate change mitigation benefits of cool pavements. We found that roughly a third of the annual CO2-equivalent emissions reductions from the radiative forcing effects of cool pavements occurred in the fall and winter.

    It’s important to note, too, that the direction — not just the magnitude — of cool pavement impacts also vary seasonally. The most prominent seasonal variation is the changes to building energy demand. As they lower air temperatures, cool pavements can lessen the demand for cooling in buildings in the summer, while, conversely, they can cause buildings to consume more energy and generate more emissions due to heating in the winter.

    Interestingly, the radiation reflected by cool pavements can also strike adjacent buildings, heating them up. In the summer, this can increase building energy demand significantly, yet in the winter it can also warm structures and reduce their need for heating. In that sense, cool pavements can warm — as well as cool — their surroundings, depending on the building insolation [solar exposure] systems and neighborhood density.

    Q: How can cities manage these many impacts?

    A: As you can imagine, such different and often competing impacts can complicate the implementation of cool pavements. In some contexts, for instance, a cool pavement might even generate more emissions over its life than a conventional pavement — despite lowering air temperatures.

    To ensure that the lowest-emitting pavement is selected, then, cities should use a life-cycle perspective that considers all potential impacts. When they do, research has shown that they can reap sizeable benefits. The city of Phoenix, for instance, could see its projected emissions fall by as much as 6 percent, while Boston would experience a reduction of up to 3 percent.

    These benefits don’t just demonstrate the potential of cool pavements: they also reflect the outsized impact of pavements on our built environment and, moreover, our climate. As cities move to fight climate change, they should know that one of their most extensive assets also presents an opportunity for greater sustainability.

    The MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub is a team of researchers from several departments across MIT working on concrete and infrastructure science, engineering, and economics. Its research is supported by the Portland Cement Association and the Ready Mixed Concrete Research and Education Foundation. More

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    3 Questions: The future of international education

    Evan Lieberman is the Total Professor of Political Science and Contemporary Africa in the MIT Department of Political Science. He conducts research in the field of comparative politics, with a focus on development and ethnic conflict in sub-Saharan Africa. He directs the Global Diversity Lab (GDL) and was recently named faculty director of the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI), MIT’s global experiential learning program. Here, Lieberman describes international education and its import for solving global problems.

    Q: Why is now an especially important time for international education?

    A: The major challenges we currently face — climate change, the pandemic, supply chain management — are all global problems that require global solutions. We will need to collaborate across borders to a greater extent than ever before. There is no time more pressing for students to gain an international outlook on these challenges; the ideas, thinking, and perspectives from other parts of the world; and to build global networks. And yet, most of us have stayed very close to home for the past couple of years. While remote internships and communications have offered temporary solutions when travel was limited, these have been decidedly inferior to the opportunities for learning and making connections through in-person cultural and collaborative experiences at the heart of MISTI. It is important for students and faculty to be able to thrive in an interconnected world as they navigate their research/careers during this unusual time. The changing landscape of the past few years has left all of us somewhat anxious. Nonetheless, I am buoyed by important examples of global collaboration in problem-solving, with scientists, governments and other organizations working together on the things that unite us all.

    Q: How is MIT uniquely positioned to provide global opportunities for students and faculty?

    A: MISTI is a unique program with a long history of building robust partnerships with industry, universities, and other sectors in countries around the world, establishing opportunities that complement MIT students’ unique skill sets. MIT is fortunate to be the home of some of the top students and faculty in the world, and this is a benefit to partners seeking collaborators. The broad range of disciplines across the entire institute provides opportunities to match in nearly every sector. MISTI’s rigorous, country-specific preparation ensures that students build durable cultural connections while abroad and empowers them to play a role in addressing critical global challenges. The combination of technical and humanistic training that MIT students receive are exactly the profiles necessary to take advantage of opportunities abroad, hopefully with a long-term impact. Student participants have a depth of knowledge in their subject areas as well as MIT’s one-of-a-kind education model that is exceptionally valuable. The diversity of our community offers a wide variety of perspectives and life experiences, on top of academic expertise. Also, MISTI’s donor-funded programs provide the unique ability for all students to be able to participate in international programs, regardless of financial situation. This is a direct contrast with internship programs that often skew toward participants with little-to-no financial need.

    Q: How do these kinds of collaborations help tackle global problems?

    A: Of course, we don’t expect that even intensive internships of a few months are going to generate the global solutions we need. It is our hope that our students — who we anticipate being leaders in a range of sectors — will opt for global careers, and/or bring a global perspective to their work and in their lives. We believe that by building on their MISTI experiences and training, they will be able to forge the types of collaborations that lead to equity-enhancing solutions to universal problems — the climate emergency, ongoing threats to global public health, the liabilities associated with the computing revolution — and are able to improve human development more generally.

    More than anything, at MISTI we are planting the seeds for longer-term collaborations. We literally grant several millions of dollars in seed funds to establish faculty-led collaborations with student involvement in addition to supporting hundreds of internships around the world. The MISTI Global Seed Funds (GSF) program compounds the Institute’s impact by supporting partnerships abroad that often turn into long-standing research relationships addressing the critical challenges that require international solutions. GSF projects often have an impact far beyond their original scope. For example, a number of MISTI GSF projects have utilized their results to jump-start research efforts to combat the pandemic. More