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    Nuno Loureiro named director of MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center

    Nuno Loureiro, professor of nuclear science and engineering and of physics, has been appointed the new director of the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center, effective May 1.Loureiro is taking the helm of one of MIT’s largest labs: more than 250 full-time researchers, staff members, and students work and study in seven buildings with 250,000 square feet of lab space. A theoretical physicist and fusion scientist, Loureiro joined MIT as a faculty member in 2016, and was appointed deputy director of the Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC) in 2022. Loureiro succeeds Dennis Whyte, who stepped down at the end of 2023 to return to teaching and research.Stepping into his new role as director, Loureiro says, “The PSFC has an impressive tradition of discovery and leadership in plasma and fusion science and engineering. Becoming director of the PSFC is an incredible opportunity to shape the future of these fields. We have a world-class team, and it’s an honor to be chosen as its leader.”Loureiro’s own research ranges widely. He is recognized for advancing the understanding of multiple aspects of plasma behavior, particularly turbulence and the physics underpinning solar flares and other astronomical phenomena. In the fusion domain, his work enables the design of fusion devices that can more efficiently control and harness the energy of fusing plasmas, bringing the dream of clean, near-limitless fusion power that much closer. Plasma physics is foundational to advancing fusion science, a fact Loureiro has embraced and that is relevant as he considers the direction of the PSFC’s multidisciplinary research. “But plasma physics is only one aspect of our focus. Building a scientific agenda that continues and expands on the PSFC’s history of innovation in all aspects of fusion science and engineering is vital, and a key facet of that work is facilitating our researchers’ efforts to produce the breakthroughs that are necessary for the realization of fusion energy.”As the climate crisis accelerates, fusion power continues to grow in appeal: It produces no carbon emissions, its fuel is plentiful, and dangerous “meltdowns” are impossible. The sooner that fusion power is commercially available, the greater impact it can have on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and meeting global climate goals. While technical challenges remain, “the PSFC is well poised to meet them, and continue to show leadership. We are a mission-driven lab, and our students and staff are incredibly motivated,” Loureiro comments.“As MIT continues to lead the way toward the delivery of clean fusion power onto the grid, I have no doubt that Nuno is the right person to step into this key position at this critical time,” says Maria T. Zuber, MIT’s presidential advisor for science and technology policy. “I look forward to the steady advance of plasma physics and fusion science at MIT under Nuno’s leadership.”Over the last decade, there have been massive leaps forward in the field of fusion energy, driven in part by innovations like high-temperature superconducting magnets developed at the PSFC. Further progress is guaranteed: Loureiro believes that “The next few years are certain to be an exciting time for us, and for fusion as a whole. It’s the dawn of a new era with burning plasma experiments” — a reference to the collaboration between the PSFC and Commonwealth Fusion Systems, a startup company spun out of the PSFC, to build SPARC, a fusion device that is slated to turn on in 2026 and produce a burning plasma that yields more energy than it consumes. “It’s going to be a watershed moment,” says Loureiro.He continues, “In addition, we have strong connections to inertial confinement fusion experiments, including those at Lawrence Livermore National Lab, and we’re looking forward to expanding our research into stellarators, which are another kind of magnetic fusion device.” Over recent years, the PSFC has significantly increased its collaboration with industrial partners such Eni, IBM, and others. Loureiro sees great value in this: “These collaborations are mutually beneficial: they allow us to grow our research portfolio while advancing companies’ R&D efforts. It’s very dynamic and exciting.”Loureiro’s directorship begins as the PSFC is launching key tech development projects like LIBRA, a “blanket” of molten salt that can be wrapped around fusion vessels and perform double duty as a neutron energy absorber and a breeder for tritium (the fuel for fusion). Researchers at the PSFC have also developed a way to rapidly test the durability of materials being considered for use in a fusion power plant environment, and are now creating an experiment that will utilize a powerful particle accelerator called a gyrotron to irradiate candidate materials.Interest in fusion is at an all-time high; the demand for researchers and engineers, particularly in the nascent commercial fusion industry, is reflected by the record number of graduate students that are studying at the PSFC — more than 90 across seven affiliated MIT departments. The PSFC’s classrooms are full, and Loureiro notes a palpable sense of excitement. “Students are our greatest strength,” says Loureiro. “They come here to do world-class research but also to grow as individuals, and I want to give them a great place to do that. Supporting those experiences, making sure they can be as successful as possible is one of my top priorities.” Loureiro plans to continue teaching and advising students after his appointment begins.MIT President Sally Kornbluth’s recently announced Climate Project is a clarion call for Loureiro: “It’s not hyperbole to say MIT is where you go to find solutions to humanity’s biggest problems,” he says. “Fusion is a hard problem, but it can be solved with resolve and ingenuity — characteristics that define MIT. Fusion energy will change the course of human history. It’s both humbling and exciting to be leading a research center that will play a key role in enabling that change.”  More

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    Dennis Whyte steps down as director of the Plasma Science and Fusion Center

    Dennis Whyte, who spearheaded the development of the world’s most powerful fusion electromagnet and grew the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center’s research volume by more than 50 percent, has announced he will be stepping down as the center’s director at the end of the year in order to devote his full attention to teaching, engaging in cutting-edge fusion research, and pursuing entrepreneurial activities at the PSFC.

    “The reason I came to MIT as a faculty member in ’06 was because of the PSFC and the very special place it held and still holds in fusion,” says Whyte, the Hitachi America Professor of Engineering in the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering. When he was appointed director of the PSFC in 2015, Whyte saw it as an opportunity to realize even more of the PSFC’s potential: “After 10 years I think we’ve seen that dream come to life. Research and entrepreneurship are stronger than ever.”

    Whyte’s passion has always been for fusion — the process by which light elements combine to form heavier ones, releasing massive amounts of energy. One hundred years ago fusion was solely the provenance of astronomers’ speculation; through the efforts of generations of scientists and engineers, fusion now holds the potential to offer humanity an entirely new source of clean, abundant energy — and Whyte has been at the forefront of that effort.

    “Fusion’s challenges require interdisciplinary work, so it’s always fresh, and you get these unexpected intersections that can have wild outcomes. As an inherently curious person, fusion is perfect for me.”

    Whyte’s enthusiasm is legendary, especially when it comes to teaching. The effects of that enthusiasm are easy to see: At the start of his tenure, only a handful of students chose to pursue plasma physics and fusion science. Since then, the number of students has ballooned, and this year nearly 100 students from six departments are working with 15 faculty members.

    Of the growth, Whyte says, “It’s not just that we have more students; it’s that they’re working on more diverse topics, and their passion to make fusion a reality is the best part of the PSFC. Seeing full seminars and classes is fundamentally why I’m here.”

    Even as he managed the directorship and pursued his own scholarly work, Whyte remained active in the classroom and continued advising students. Zach Hartwig, a former student who is now a PSFC researcher and MIT faculty member himself, recalled his first meeting with Whyte as an incoming PhD student: “I had to choose between several projects and advisors and meeting Dennis made my decision easy. He catapulted out of his chair and started sketching his vision for a new fusion diagnostic that many people thought was crazy. His passion and eagerness to tackle only the most difficult problems in the field was immediately tangible.”

    For the past 13 years Whyte has offered a fusion technology design class that has generated several key breakthroughs, including liquid immersion blankets essential for converting fusion energy to heat, inside launch radio frequency systems used to stabilize fusing plasmas, and high-temperature superconducting electromagnets that have opened the door to the possibility of fusion devices that are not only smaller, but also more powerful and efficient.

    In fact, the potential of these electromagnets was significant enough that Whyte, an MIT postdoc, and three of Whyte’s former students (Hartwig among them) spun out a private fusion company to fully realize the magnets’ capabilities. Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) both launched and signed a cooperative research agreement with the PSFC in 2018, and the founders’ vision parlayed into significant external investment, allowing a coalition of CFS and PSFC researchers to refine and develop the electromagnets first conceived in Whyte’s class.

    Three years later, after a historic day of testing, the magnet produced a field strength of 20 tesla, making it the most powerful fusion superconducting electromagnet in the world. According to Whyte, “The success of the TFMC magnet is an encapsulation of everything PSFC. It would’ve been impossible for a single investigator, or a lone spin-out, but we brought together all these disciplines in a team that could execute innovatively and incredibly quickly. We shortened the timescale not just for this project, but for fusion as a whole.”

    CFS remains an important collaborator, accounting for approximately 20 percent of the PSFC’s current research portfolio. While Whyte has no financial stake in the company, he remains a principal investigator on CFS’s SPARC project, a proof-of-concept fusion device predicted to produce more energy than it consumes, ready in 2025. SPARC is the lead-up to ARC, CFS’s commercially scalable fusion power plant planned to arrive in the early 2030s.

    The collaboration between CFS and MIT followed a blueprint that had been piloted more than a decade prior, when the Italian energy company Eni S.p.A signed on as a founding member of the MIT Energy Initiative to develop low-carbon technologies. After many years of successfully working in tandem with MITEI to advance renewable energy research, in 2018 Eni made a significant investment in a young CFS to assist in realizing commercial fusion power, which in turn indirectly funded PSFC research; Eni also collaborated directly with the PSFC to create the Laboratory for Innovative Fusion Technologies, which remains active.

    Whyte believes that “thoughtful and meaningful collaboration with the energy industry can make a difference with research and climate change. Industry engagement is very relevant — it changed both of us. Now Eni has fusion in their portfolio.” The arrangement is a demonstration of how public-private collaborations can accelerate the progress of fusion science, and ultimately the arrival of fusion power.

    Whyte’s move to diversify collaborators, leverage the PSFC’s strength as a multidisciplinary hub, and expand research volume was essential to the center’s survival and growth. Early in his tenure, a shift in funding priorities necessitated the shutdown of Alcator C-Mod, the fusion research device in operation at the PSFC for 23 years — though not before C-Mod set the world record for plasma pressure on its last day of operation. Through this transition, Whyte and the members of his leadership team were able to keep the PSFC whole.

    One alumnus was a particular source of inspiration to Whyte during that time: “Reinier [Beeuwkes] said to me, ‘what you’re doing doesn’t just matter to students and MIT, it matters to the world.’ That was so meaningful, and his words really sustained me when I was feeling major doubt.” In 2022 Beeuwkes won the MIT Alumni Better World Service Award for his support of fusion and the PSFC. Since 2018, sponsored research at the PSFC has more than doubled, as have the number of personnel.

    Whyte’s determination to build and maintain a strong community is a prevailing feature of his leadership. Matt Fulton, who started at the PSFC in 1987 and is now director of operations, says of Whyte, “You want a leader like Dennis on your worst days. We were staring down disaster and he had a plan to hold the PSFC together, and somehow it worked. The research was important, but the people have always been more important to him. We’re so lucky to have him.”

    The Office of the Vice President for Research is launching a search for the PSFC’s next leader. Should the search extend beyond the end of the year, an interim director will be appointed.  

    “As MIT works to magnify its impact in the areas of climate and sustainability, Dennis has built the PSFC into an extraordinary resource for the Institute to draw upon,” says Maria T. Zuber, MIT’s vice president for research. “His leadership has positioned MIT on the leading edge of fusion research and the emerging commercial fusion industry, and while the nature of his contributions will change, … the value he brings to the MIT community will remain clear. As Dennis steps down as director, the PSFC is ascendant.”  More

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    Robert van der Hilst to step down as head of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences

    Robert van der Hilst, the Schlumberger Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences, has announced his decision to step down as the head of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at the end of this academic year.  A search committee will convene later this spring to recommend candidates for Van der Hilst’s successor.

    “Rob is a consummate seismologist whose images of Earth’s interior structure have deepened our understanding of how tectonic plates move, how mantle convection works, and why some areas of the Earth are hot-spots for seismic and geothermal activity,” says Nergis Mavalvala, the Curtis and Kathleen Marble Professor of Astrophysics and the dean of the MIT School of Science. “As an academic leader, Rob has been a steadfast champion of the department’s cross-cutting research and education missions, especially regarding climate sciences writ large at MIT. His commitment to diversity and community have made the department — and indeed, MIT — a better place to do our best work.”

    “For 12 years, it has been my honor to lead this department and collaborate with all our community members — faculty, staff, and students,” says Van der Hilst. “EAPS is at the vanguard of climate science research at MIT, as well Earth and planetary sciences and studies into the co-evolution of life and changing environments.”

    Among his other leadership roles on campus, Van der Hilst most recently served as co-chair of the faculty review committee for MIT’s Climate Grand Challenges in which EAPS researchers secured nine finalists and two, funded flagship projects. He also serves on the Institute’s Climate Nucleus to help enact Fast Forward: MIT’s Climate Action Plan for the Decade.

    In his more-than-decade as department head, one of Van der Hilst’s major initiatives has been developing, funding, and constructing the Tina and Hamid Moghadam Building, rapidly nearing completion adjacent to Building 54. The $35 million, LEED-platinum Building 55 will be a vital center and showcase for environmental and climate research on MIT’s campus. With assistance from the Institute and generous donors, the renovations and expansion will add classrooms, meeting, and event spaces, and bring headquarters offices for EAPS, the MIT/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) Joint Program in Oceanography/Applied Ocean Science, and MIT’s Environmental Solutions Initiative (ESI) together, all under one roof.

    He also helped secure the generous gift that funded the Norman C. Rasmussen Laboratory for climate research in Building 4, as well as the Peter H. Stone and Paola Malanotte Stone Professorship, now held by prominent atmospheric scientist Arlene Fiore.

    On the academic side of the house, Van der Hilst and his counterpart from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), Ali Jadbabaie, the JR East Professor and CEE department head, helped develop MIT’s new bachelor of science in climate system science and engineering (Course 1-12), jointly offered by EAPS and CEE.

    As part of MIT’s commitment to aid the global response to climate change, the new degree program is designed to train the next generation of leaders, providing a foundational understanding of both the Earth system and engineering principles — as well as an understanding of human and institutional behavior as it relates to the climate challenge.

    Beyond climate research, Van der Hilst’s tenure at the helm of the department has seen many research breakthroughs and accomplishments: from high-profile NASA missions with EAPS science leadership, including the most recent launch of the Psyche mission and the successful asteroid sample return from OSIRIS-REx, to the development of next-generation models capable of describing Earth systems with increasing detail and accuracy. Van der Hilst helped enable such scientific advancements through major improvements to experimental facilities across the department, and, more generally, his mission to double the number of fellowships available to EAPS graduate students.

    “By reducing the silos and inequities created by our disciplinary groups, we were able to foster collaborations that allow faculty, students, and researchers to explore fundamental science questions in novel ways that expand our understanding of the natural world — with profound implications for helping to guide communities and policymakers toward a sustainable future,” says Van der Hilst.


    In 2019, Van der Hilst began looking ahead to the department’s 40th anniversary in 2023 and charged a number of working groups to evaluate the department’s past and present, and to re-imagine its future. Led by faculty, staff, and students, Task Force 2023 was a yearlong exercise of data-gathering and community deliberation, looking broadly at three focus areas: Image, Visibility, and Relevance; External Synergies: collaboration and partnerships across campus; and Departmental Organization and Cohesion. Despite being interrupted by the pandemic, the resulting reports became a detailed blueprint for EAPS to capitalize on its strengths and begin to effect systemic improvements in areas like undergraduate education, external messaging, and recognition and belonging for administrative and research staff.

    In addition to helping the department mark its 40th anniversary with a celebration this coming spring, Van der Hilst will oversee the dedication of the Moghadam Building, including the renaming of lecture hall 54-100 for Dixie Lee Bryant, the first recipient (woman or man) of a geology degree from MIT in 1891.

    As department head, faculty renewal and retention were key areas of focus for Van der Hilst. In addition to improvements in the faculty search process, he was responsible for the appointment of 20 new faculty members, and in the process shifted the gender ratio from one-fifth to one-third of the faculty identifying as female; he also oversaw the development and implementation of a successful junior faculty mentoring program within EAPS in 2013.

    Van der Hilst also made great strides toward improving diversity, equity, and inclusion within the department in other ways. In 2016, he formed the inaugural EAPS Diversity Council (now the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee) and, in 2020, made EAPS the first department at MIT to appoint an associate department head for diversity, equity, and inclusion, tapping Associate Professor David McGee to guide ongoing community dialogues and initiatives supporting improvements in composition, achievement, belonging, engagement, and accountability.

    With McGee and EAPS student leadership, Van der Hilst supported the EAPS response to calls for social justice leadership and participation in national initiatives such as the American Geophysical Union’s Unlearning Racism in Geoscience program, and he helped navigate the changes brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic while maintaining a sense of community.

    Seismic shift

    After stepping down from his current role, Van der Hilst will have more time to catch up on research aimed at understanding of Earth’s deep interior structure and its evolution. With research collaborators, he developed seismic imaging methods to explore Earth’s interior from sedimentary basins near its surface down to the core–mantle boundary some 2,800 kilometers under the surface. Recently, he authored a Nature Communications paper with doctoral student Shujuan Mao PhD ’21 on a pilot application that uses seismometers as a cost-effective way to monitor and map groundwater fluctuations in order to measure groundwater reserves.

    Before becoming department head, Van der Hilst served as the director of the Earth Resources Laboratory (ERL). In the eight years he served as director, he helped to integrate across disciplines, departments, and schools, transforming ERL into MIT’s primary home for research and education focused on subsurface energy resources.

    Van der Hilst was named a fellow of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in 1997 and became a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2014. Before he was named the Schlumberger Professor in 2011, Van der Hilst held a Cecil and Ida Green professorship chair. He has received many awards, including the Doornbos Memorial Prize from the International Association of Seismology and Physics of the Earth’s Interior, AGU’s James B. Macelwane Medal, a Packard Fellowship, and a VICI Innovative Research Award from the Dutch National Science Foundation.

    Van der Hilst received his PhD in geophysics from Utrecht University in 1990. After postdoctoral research at the University of Leeds and the Australian National University, he joined the MIT faculty in 1996. He was ERL director from 2004 to 2012, when he was then named EAPS department head, succeeding Maria Zuber, the E. A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics, MIT vice president for research, and presidential advisor for science and technology policy. More

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    Desirée Plata appointed co-director of the MIT Climate and Sustainability Consortium

    Desirée Plata, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at MIT, has been named co-director of the MIT Climate and Sustainability Consortium (MCSC), effective Sept. 1. Plata will serve on the MCSC’s leadership team alongside Anantha P. Chandrakasan, dean of the MIT School of Engineering, the Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and MCSC chair; Elsa Olivetti, the Jerry McAfee Professor in Engineering, a professor of materials science and engineering, and associate dean of engineering, and MCSC co-director; and Jeremy Gregory, MCSC executive director.Plata succeeds Jeffrey Grossman, the Morton and Claire Goulder and Family Professor in Environmental Systems, who has served as co-director since the MCSC’s launch in January 2021. Grossman, who played a central role in the ideation and launch of the MCSC, will continue his work with the MCSC as strategic advisor.“Professor Plata is a valued member of the MIT community. She brings a deep understanding of and commitment to climate and sustainability initiatives at MIT, as well as extensive experience working with industry, to her new role within the MCSC,” says Chandrakasan. The MIT Climate and Sustainability Consortium is an academia-industry collaboration working to accelerate implementation of large-scale solutions across sectors of the global economy. It aims to lay the groundwork for one critical aspect of MIT’s continued and intensified commitment to climate: helping large companies usher in, adapt to, and prosper in a decarbonized world.“We are thrilled to bring Professor Plata’s knowledge, vision, and passion to our leadership team,” says Olivetti. “Her experience developing sustainable technologies that have the potential to improve the environment and reduce the impacts of climate change will help move our work forward in meaningful ways. We have valued Professor Plata’s contributions to the consortium and look forward to continuing our work with her.”Plata played a pivotal role in the creation and launch of the MCSC’s Climate and Sustainability Scholars Program and its yearlong course for MIT rising juniors and seniors — an effort that she and Olivetti were recently recognized for with the Class of 1960 Innovation in Education Fellowship. She has also been a member of the MCSC’s Faculty Steering Committee since the consortium’s launch, helping to shape and guide its vision and work.Plata is a dedicated researcher, educator, and mentor. A member of MIT’s faculty since 2018, Plata and her team at the Plata Lab are helping to guide industry to more environmentally sustainable practices and develop new ways to protect the health of the planet — using chemistry to understand the impact that industrial materials and processes have on the environment. By coupling devices that simulate industrial systems with computation, she helps industry develop more environmentally friendly practices.To celebrate her work in the lab, classroom, and community, Plata has received many awards and honors. In 2020, she won MIT’s prestigious Harold E. Edgerton Faculty Achievement Award, recognizing her innovative approach to environmentally sustainable industrial practices, her inspirational teaching and mentoring, and her service to MIT and the community. She is a two-time National Academy of Sciences Kavli Frontiers of Science Fellow, a two-time National Academy of Engineers Frontiers of Engineering Fellow, and a Caltech Young Investigator Sustainability Fellow. She has also won the ACS C. Ellen Gonter Environmental Chemistry Award, an NSF CAREER award, and the 2016 Odebrecht Award for Sustainable Development.Beyond her work in the academic space, Plata is co-founder of two climate- and energy-related startups: Nth Cycle and Moxair, illustrating her commitment to translating academic innovations for real-world implementation — a core value of the MCSC.Plata received her bachelor’s degree from Union College and her PhD from the MIT and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (MIT-WHOI) joint program in oceanography/applied ocean science and engineering. After receiving her doctorate, Plata held positions at Mount Holyoke College, Duke University, and Yale University.  More

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    Elsa Olivetti appointed associate dean of engineering

    Elsa Olivetti, the Jerry McAfee (1940) Professor in Engineering in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, has been appointed as associate dean of engineering, effective Sept. 1.

    As associate dean, Olivetti will oversee a number of strategically important programs and initiatives across MIT’s School of Engineering. She will help lead and shape school-wide efforts related to climate and sustainability. In close collaboration with Nandi Bynoe, the assistant dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion; the school’s DEI faculty lead; and various program faculty leads, Olivetti will oversee the school’s DEI activities and programs. She will also assist with the faculty promotion process and will support both faculty and students across the school with regards fellowships, awards, and honors.

    “Professor Olivetti has demonstrated tremendous leadership abilities, particularly as co-director of the MIT Climate and Sustainability Consortium. Her contributions as a researcher, educator, and leader at MIT have been substantial,” says Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of the School of Engineering and the Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “I am thrilled to welcome her to the School of Engineering leadership team and look forward to closely with her in this new role.”

    Olivetti first joined MIT as a graduate student after receiving her bachelor’s degree in engineering science from the University of Virginia. As a PhD student in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE), her research focused on electrochemistry in inorganic materials for use in lithium-ion batteries. Through postdoctoral research and a staff scientist position with the MIT Materials System Laboratory beginning in 2009, Olivetti developed methods for streamlined carbon footprinting of electronics, a method that is still used widely by the electronics industry.

    In 2014, Olivetti joined the DMSE faculty, where her team works in sustainable and scalable design, processing, and manufacturing of materials use across industries. The Olivetti Group develops experimental and analytical methods for efficient use of industrial waste and recycled materials in concrete, metals, and plastic guiding decisions on a plant floor to policy makers.

    Olivetti’s team has also developed methods to automatically learn from texts within materials ranging from inorganic materials synthesis, zeolites, solid state batteries, and cement. Her work uses an interdisciplinary approach combining industrial ecology with materials science and engineering to inform and then mitigate the environmental and economic impact of materials.

    Olivetti has lead climate and sustainability efforts across the Institute. She serves as the co-director of the MIT Climate and Sustainability Consortium (MCSC). Launched in 2021, the MCSC fosters collaboration between academia and industry in an effort to accelerate real-world solutions for the climate crisis at scale. Under Olivetti’s leadership alongside co-director Jeffrey Grossman, the Morton and Claire Goulder and Family Professor in Environmental Systems, and executive director Jeremy Gregory, the consortium has grown to 18 member companies and has provided 20 research projects with seed funding. It has also launched programs such as the MCSC Climate and Sustainability Scholars Program for undergraduate students and the MCSC Impact Fellows Program for postdocs.

    In addition to her leadership at the MCSC, Olivetti is a member of the MIT Climate Nucleus, a faculty committee responsible for the implementation of “Fast Forward: MIT’s Climate Action Plan for the Decade.”

    A dedicated educator, Olivetti has made significant contributions to MIT’s material science and engineering education. She was instrumental in the development of a refined DMSE undergraduate curriculum. She also launched a new class 3.081 (Industrial Ecology of Materials) and served as a founding thread lead for MIT New Engineering Education Transformation’s Advanced Materials Machines program. Olivetti launched “Course 3 Industry Seminars,” which provide undergraduate students an opportunity to learn from industry leaders in fields like manufacturing and environmental consulting.

    Throughout her career, Olivetti has received numerous awards and honors for both her commitment to students and her research contributions. She is the recipient of the 2017 Earll M. Murman Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Advising, a 2020 Paul Gray Award for Public Service, the 2021 Bose Teaching Award, 2021 MacVicar Faculty Fellowship, and the 2023 Capers (1976) and Marion McDonald Award for Excellence in Mentoring and Advising. She also received an Early Career Faculty Fellowship from the Minerals, Metals and Materials Society as well as a National Science Foundation Early Career Development Award.

    Olivetti joins Dean Chandrakasan and Deputy Dean Maria Yang, the Gail E. Kendall (1978) Professor, on the School of Engineering faculty leadership team. More

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    Paula Hammond wins faculty’s Killian Award for 2023-24

    Paula Hammond, a leading innovator in nanotechnology and head of MIT’s Department of Chemical Engineering, has been named the recipient of the 2023-2024 James R. Killian Jr. Faculty Achievement Award.

    Hammond, an MIT Institute Professor, was honored for her work designing novel polymers and nanomaterials, which have extensive applications in fields including medicine and energy.

    “Professor Hammond is a pioneer in nanotechnology research, with a program that spans from basic science to translational research in medicine and energy. She has introduced new approaches for the design and development of complex drug delivery systems for cancer treatment and non-invasive imaging,” according to the award citation, which was read at the May 17 faculty meeting by Laura Kiessling, the chair of the Killian Award Selection Committee and the Novartis Professor of Chemistry at MIT.

    Established in 1971 to honor MIT’s 10th president, James Killian, the Killian Award recognizes extraordinary professional achievements by an MIT faculty member.

    “I’ve been to past Killian Award lectures, and I’ve always thought these were the ultimate achievers at MIT in terms of their work and their science,” Hammond says. “I am incredibly honored and overwhelmed to be considered even close to a part of that group.”

    Hammond, who earned her bachelor’s degree from MIT in 1984, worked as an engineer before returning to the Institute four years later to earn a PhD, which she received in 1993. After two years as a postdoc at Harvard University, she returned to MIT again as a faculty member in 1995.

    “In a world where it isn’t always cool to be heavy into your science and your work, MIT was a place where I felt like I could just be completely myself, and that was an amazing thing,” she says.

    Since joining the faculty, Hammond has pioneered techniques for creating thin polymer films and other materials using layer-by-layer assembly. This approach can be used to build polymers with highly controlled architectures by alternately exposing a surface to positively and negatively charged particles.

    Hammond’s lab uses this technique to design materials for many different applications, including drug delivery, regenerative medicine, noninvasive imaging, and battery technology.

    Her accomplishments include designing nanoparticles that can zoom in on tumors and release their cargo when they associate with cancer cells. She has also developed nanoparticles and thin polymer films that can carry multiple drugs to a specific site and release the drugs in a controlled or staggered fashion. In recent years, much of that work has focused on potential treatments and diagnostics for ovarian cancer.

    “We’ve really had a focus on ovarian cancer over the past several years. My hope is that our work will move us in the direction of understanding how we can treat ovarian cancer, and, in collaboration with my colleagues, how we can detect it more effectively,” says Hammond, who is a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.

    The award committee also cited Hammond’s record of service, both to MIT and the national scientific community. She currently serves on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and she is a former member of the U.S. Secretary of Energy Scientific Advisory Board. At MIT, Hammond chaired the Initiative on Faculty Race and Diversity, and co-chaired the Academic and Professional Relationships Working Group and the Implementation Team of the MIT response to the National Academies’ report entitled “Sexual Harassment of Women.”

    Among her many honors, Hammond is one of only 25 scientists who have been elected to the National Academies of Engineering, Sciences, and Medicine.

    Hammond has also been recognized for her dedication to teaching and mentoring. As a reflection of her excellence in those areas, Hammond was awarded the Irwin Sizer Award for Significant Improvements to MIT Education, the Henry Hill Lecturer Award in 2002, and the Junior Bose Faculty Award in 2000. She also co-chaired the recent Ad Hoc Committee on Faculty Advising and Mentoring, and has been selected as a “Committed to Caring” honoree for her work mentoring students and postdocs in her research group.

    “The Selection Committee is delighted to have this opportunity to honor Professor Paula Hammond, not only for her tremendous professional achievements and contributions, but also for her genuine warmth and humanity, her thoughtfulness and effective leadership, and her empathy and ethics. She is someone worth emulating. Indeed, simply put, she is the best of us,” the award committee wrote in its citation. More

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    Robert Armstrong: A lifetime at the forefront of chemical engineering research and education

    Robert C. Armstrong, the Chevron Professor of Chemical Engineering who has been the director of the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) since 2013 and part of MITEI’s leadership team since its inception in 2007, has announced that he will retire effective June 30. At that time he will have completed 50 years on the MIT faculty.  

    Armstrong plans to continue to work at 10 percent capacity, focusing on research projects on which he serves as principal investigator and also advising a number of graduate students.

    “Working at MIT has been a great honor and privilege for me,” says Armstrong. “Nowhere else can I imagine having had the opportunity to work with such exceptional students and colleagues and to have a ‘job’ that makes me want to get up every day to see what I can do to help humanity with its great challenges.”

    Armstrong joined the founding MITEI leadership team with Ernest Moniz, now the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics and Engineering Systems emeritus and special advisor to the MIT president. When Moniz left MIT in 2013 to become U.S. secretary of energy, Armstrong was named MITEI director.

    “MITEI has enabled us to leverage MIT’s great talent base to make significant advances in energy research, education, and outreach,” says Armstrong. “This is an incredibly important and exciting time in energy, and there is much to be done in envisioning and implementing an energy transition that mitigates the worst impacts of climate change, provides energy justly and equitably to those around the world without access or with inadequate access, and improves security of energy supply. I have been honored to do this work with amazing colleagues at MITEI and throughout MIT, and I will be cheering that team on, as it races to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.”

    MIT Vice President for Research Maria Zuber will form a search committee to select the new MITEI director. Zuber has worked closely with Armstrong since she became vice president for research in 2012.

    “Anyone who knows Bob knows that he is soft-spoken, but a person of deep conviction,” says Zuber. “He is a master of complexity, an admired educator, a respected leader, and a terrific colleague. During his decade as director, Bob has focused the MIT Energy Initiative on the urgent, daunting challenge of transforming the global energy system to respond to the climate crisis. In the last couple of years, Bob led the creation of MITEI’s Future Energy Systems Center, reflecting his keen understanding that an effective climate response requires integrated analysis and a systems approach — there is no one-fix-all solution. I congratulate Bob on a remarkable career, and I thank him for his half-century of dedicated service to MIT.”

    Armstrong joined the MIT faculty in 1973 after earning his doctorate in chemical engineering from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. A native of Louisiana, he earned his undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from Georgia Tech. He served as chair of the MIT Department of Chemical Engineering from 1996 until joining MITEI in 2007. 

    “In his 50 years at MIT, Bob has been a truly dedicated educator, researcher, and leader in our department, the Institute, and the field of chemical engineering,” says Paula T. Hammond, Institute professor and the head of the MIT Department of Chemical Engineering — a successor to Armstrong in that role. “During his time as head, he expertly expanded the breadth and depth of the department’s research and academics while maintaining its high level of excellence. He has served as a thoughtful and proactive mentor to so many of our faculty members, as well as a dedicated teacher and advocate for modernizing chemical engineering curriculum. We are extremely fortunate to have profited from his scholarship and leadership over the past several decades and will continue to benefit thanks to his vision and work toward the future of chemical engineering and energy.”

    In 2008, Armstrong was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering, based on his research into non-Newtonian fluid mechanics, his leadership in chemical engineering education, and his co-authoring of influential chemical engineering textbooks. He became a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2020.

    He received the 2006 Bingham Medal from The Society of Rheology, which is devoted to the study of the science of deformation and flow of matter, as well as the Founders Award (2020), the Warren K. Lewis Award (2006), and the Professional Progress Award (1992), all from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. More

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    3 Questions: New MIT major and its role in fighting climate change

    Launched this month, MIT’s new Bachelor of Science in climate system science and engineering is jointly offered by the departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) and Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS). As part of MIT’s commitment to aid the global response to climate change, the new degree program is designed to train the next generation of leaders, providing a foundational understanding of both the Earth system and engineering principles — as well as an understanding of human and institutional behavior as it relates to the climate challenge. Jadbabaie and Van der Hilst discuss the new Course 1-12 multidisciplinary major and why it’s needed now at MIT. 

    Q: What was the idea behind launching this new major at MIT?

    Jadbabaie: Climate change is an incredibly important issue that we must address, and time is of the essence. MIT is in a unique position to play a leadership role in this effort. We not only have the ability to advance the science of climate change and deepen our understanding of the climate system, but also to develop innovative engineering solutions for sustainability that can help us meet the climate goals set forth in the Paris Agreement. It is important that our educational approach also incorporates other aspects of this cross-cutting issue, ranging from climate justice, policy, to economics, and MIT is the perfect place to make this happen. With Course 1’s focus on sustainability across scales, from the nano to the global scale, and with Course 12 studying Earth system science in general, it was a natural fit for CEE and EAPS to tackle this challenge together. It is my belief that we can leverage our collective expertise and resources to make meaningful progress. There has never been a more crucial time for us to advance students’ understanding of both climate science and engineering, as well as their understanding of the societal implications of climate risk.

    Van der Hilst: Climate change is a global issue, and the solutions we urgently need for building a net-zero future must consider how everything is connected. The Earth’s climate is a complex web of cause and effect between the oceans, atmosphere, ecosystems, and processes that shape the surface and environmental systems of the planet. To truly understand climate risks, we need to understand the fundamental science that governs these interconnected systems — and we need to consider the ways that human activity influences their behavior. The types of large-scale engineering projects that we need to secure a sustainable future must take into consideration the Earth system itself. A systems approach to modeling is crucial if we are to succeed at inventing, designing, and implementing solutions that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, build climate resilience, and mitigate the inevitable climate-related natural disasters that we’ll face. That’s why our two departments are collaborating on a degree program that equips students with foundational climate science knowledge alongside fundamental engineering principles in order to catalyze the innovation we’ll need to meet the world’s 2050 goals.

    Q: How is MIT uniquely positioned to lead undergraduate education in climate system science and engineering? 

    Jadbabaie: It’s a great example of how MIT is taking a leadership role and multidisciplinary approach to tackling climate change by combining engineering and climate system science in one undergraduate major. The program leverages MIT’s academic strengths, focusing on teaching hard analytical and computational skills while also providing a curriculum that includes courses in a wide range of topics, from climate economics and policy to ethics, climate justice, and even climate literature, to help students develop an understanding of the political and social issues that are tied to climate change. Given the strong ties between courses 1 and 12, we want the students in the program to be full members of both departments, as well as both the School of Engineering and the School of Science. And, being MIT, there is no shortage of opportunities for undergraduate research and entrepreneurship — in fact, we specifically encourage students to participate in the active research of the departments. The knowledge and skills our students gain will enable them to serve the nation and the world in a meaningful way as they tackle complex global-scale environmental problems. The students at MIT are among the most passionate and driven people out there. I’m really excited to see what kind of innovations and solutions will come out of this program in the years to come. I think this undergraduate major is a fantastic step in the right direction.

    Q: What opportunities will the major provide to students for addressing climate change?

    Van der Hilst: Both industry and government are actively seeking new talent to respond to the challenges — and opportunities — posed by climate change and our need to build a sustainable future. What’s exciting is that many of the best jobs in this field call for leaders who can combine the analytical skill of a scientist with the problem-solving mindset of an engineer. That’s exactly what this new degree program at MIT aims to prepare students for — in an expanding set of careers in areas like renewable energy, civil infrastructure, risk analysis, corporate sustainability, environmental advocacy, and policymaking. But it’s not just about career opportunities. It’s also about making a real difference and safeguarding our future. It’s not too late to prevent much more damaging changes to Earth’s climate. Indeed, whether in government, industry, or academia, MIT students are future leaders — as such it is critically important that all MIT students understand the basics of climate system science and engineering along with math, physics, chemistry, and biology. The new Course 1-12 degree was designed to forge students who are passionate about protecting our planet into the next generation of leaders who can fast-track high-impact, science-based solutions to aid the global response, with an eye toward addressing some of the uneven social impacts inherent in the climate crisis. More