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    MIT Policy Hackathon produces new solutions for technology policy challenges

    Almost three years ago, the Covid-19 pandemic changed the world. Many are still looking to uncover a “new normal.”

    “Instead of going back to normal, [there’s a new generation that] wants to build back something different, something better,” says Jorge Sandoval, a second-year graduate student in MIT’s Technology and Policy Program (TPP) at the Institute for Data, Systems and Society (IDSS). “How do we communicate this mindset to others, that the world cannot be the same as before?”

    This was the inspiration behind “A New (Re)generation,” this year’s theme for the IDSS-student-run MIT Policy Hackathon, which Sandoval helped to organize as the event chair. The Policy Hackathon is a weekend-long, interdisciplinary competition that brings together participants from around the globe to explore potential solutions to some of society’s greatest challenges. 

    Unlike other competitions of its kind, Sandoval says MIT’s event emphasizes a humanistic approach. “The idea of our hackathon is to promote applications of technology that are humanistic or human-centered,” he says. “We take the opportunity to examine aspects of technology in the spaces where they tend to interact with society and people, an opportunity most technical competitions don’t offer because their primary focus is on the technology.”

    The competition started with 50 teams spread across four challenge categories. This year’s categories included Internet and Cybersecurity, Environmental Justice, Logistics, and Housing and City Planning. While some people come into the challenge with friends, Sandoval said most teams form organically during an online networking meeting hosted by MIT.

    “We encourage people to pair up with others outside of their country and to form teams of different diverse backgrounds and ages,” Sandoval says. “We try to give people who are often not invited to the decision-making table the opportunity to be a policymaker, bringing in those with backgrounds in not only law, policy, or politics, but also medicine, and people who have careers in engineering or experience working in nonprofits.”

    Once an in-person event, the Policy Hackathon has gone through its own regeneration process these past three years, according to Sandoval. After going entirely online during the pandemic’s height, last year they successfully hosted the first hybrid version of the event, which served as their model again this year.

    “The hybrid version of the event gives us the opportunity to allow people to connect in a way that is lost if it is only online, while also keeping the wide range of accessibility, allowing people to join from anywhere in the world, regardless of nationality or income, to provide their input,” Sandoval says.

    For Swetha Tadisina, an undergraduate computer science major at Lafayette College and participant in the internet and cybersecurity category, the hackathon was a unique opportunity to meet and work with people much more advanced in their careers. “I was surprised how such a diverse team that had never met before was able to work so efficiently and creatively,” Tadisina says.

    Erika Spangler, a public high school teacher from Massachusetts and member of the environmental justice category’s winning team, says that while each member of “Team Slime Mold” came to the table with a different set of skills, they managed to be in sync from the start — even working across the nine-and-a-half-hour time difference the four-person team faced when working with policy advocate Shruti Nandy from Calcutta, India.

    “We divided the project into data, policy, and research and trusted each other’s expertise,” Spangler says, “Despite having separate areas of focus, we made sure to have regular check-ins to problem-solve and cross-pollinate ideas.”

    During the 48-hour period, her team proposed the creation of an algorithm to identify high-quality brownfields that could be cleaned up and used as sites for building renewable energy. Their corresponding policy sought to mandate additional requirements for renewable energy businesses seeking tax credits from the Inflation Reduction Act.

    “Their policy memo had the most in-depth technical assessment, including deep dives in a few key cities to show the impact of their proposed approach for site selection at a very granular level,” says Amanda Levin, director of policy analysis for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Levin acted as both a judge and challenge provider for the environmental justice category.

    “They also presented their policy recommendations in the memo in a well-thought-out way, clearly noting the relevant actor,” she adds. This clarity around what can be done, and who would be responsible for those actions, is highly valuable for those in policy.”

    Levin says the NRDC, one of the largest environmental nonprofits in the United States, provided five “challenge questions,” making it clear that teams did not need to address all of them. She notes that this gave teams significant leeway, bringing a wide variety of recommendations to the table. 

    “As a challenge partner, the work put together by all the teams is already being used to help inform discussions about the implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act,” Levin says. “Being able to tap into the collective intelligence of the hackathon helped uncover new perspectives and policy solutions that can help make an impact in addressing the important policy challenges we face today.”

    While having partners with experience in data science and policy definitely helped, fellow Team Slime Mold member Sara Sheffels, a PhD candidate in MIT’s biomaterials program, says she was surprised how much her experiences outside of science and policy were relevant to the challenge: “My experience organizing MIT’s Graduate Student Union shaped my ideas about more meaningful community involvement in renewables projects on brownfields. It is not meaningful to merely educate people about the importance of renewables or ask them to sign off on a pre-planned project without addressing their other needs.”

    “I wanted to test my limits, gain exposure, and expand my world,” Tadisina adds. “The exposure, friendships, and experiences you gain in such a short period of time are incredible.”

    For Willy R. Vasquez, an electrical and computer engineering PhD student at the University of Texas, the hackathon is not to be missed. “If you’re interested in the intersection of tech, society, and policy, then this is a must-do experience.” More

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    Keeping indoor humidity levels at a “sweet spot” may reduce spread of Covid-19

    We know proper indoor ventilation is key to reducing the spread of Covid-19. Now, a study by MIT researchers finds that indoor relative humidity may also influence transmission of the virus.

    Relative humidity is the amount of moisture in the air compared to the total moisture the air can hold at a given temperature before saturating and forming condensation.

    In a study appearing today in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, the MIT team reports that maintaining an indoor relative humidity between 40 and 60 percent is associated with relatively lower rates of Covid-19 infections and deaths, while indoor conditions outside this range are associated with worse Covid-19 outcomes. To put this into perspective, most people are comfortable between 30 and 50 percent relative humidity, and an airplane cabin is at around 20 percent relative humidity.

    The findings are based on the team’s analysis of Covid-19 data combined with meteorological measurements from 121 countries, from January 2020 through August 2020. Their study suggests a strong connection between regional outbreaks and indoor relative humidity.

    In general, the researchers found that whenever a region experienced a rise in Covid-19 cases and deaths prevaccination, the estimated indoor relative humidity in that region, on average, was either lower than 40 percent or higher than 60 percent regardless of season. Nearly all regions in the study experienced fewer Covid-19 cases and deaths during periods when estimated indoor relative humidity was within a “sweet spot” between 40 and 60 percent.

    “There’s potentially a protective effect of this intermediate indoor relative humidity,” suggests lead author Connor Verheyen, a PhD student in medical engineering and medical physics in the Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology.

    “Indoor ventilation is still critical,” says co-author Lydia Bourouiba, director of the MIT Fluid Dynamics of Disease Transmission Laboratory and associate professor in the departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Mechanical Engineering, and at the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science at MIT. “However, we find that maintaining an indoor relative humidity in that sweet spot — of 40 to 60 percent — is associated with reduced Covid-19 cases and deaths.”

    Seasonal swing?

    Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, scientists have considered the possibility that the virus’ virulence swings with the seasons. Infections and associated deaths appear to rise in winter and ebb in summer. But studies looking to link the virus’ patterns to seasonal outdoor conditions have yielded mixed results.

    Verheyen and Bourouiba examined whether Covid-19 is influenced instead by indoor — rather than outdoor — conditions, and, specifically, relative humidity. After all, they note that most societies spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors, where the majority of viral transmission has been shown to occur. What’s more, indoor conditions can be quite different from outdoor conditions as a result of climate control systems, such as heaters that significantly dry out indoor air.

    Could indoor relative humidity have affected the spread and severity of Covid-19 around the world? And could it help explain the differences in health outcomes from region to region?

    Tracking humidity

    For answers, the team focused on the early period of the pandemic when vaccines were not yet available, reasoning that vaccinated populations would obscure the influence of any other factor such as indoor humidity. They gathered global Covid-19 data, including case counts and reported deaths, from January 2020 to August 2020,  and identified countries with at least 50 deaths, indicating at least one outbreak had occurred in those countries.

    In all, they focused on 121 countries where Covid-19 outbreaks occurred. For each country, they also tracked the local Covid-19 related policies, such as isolation, quarantine, and testing measures, and their statistical association with Covid-19 outcomes.

    For each day that Covid-19 data was available, they used meteorological data to calculate a country’s outdoor relative humidity. They then estimated the average indoor relative humidity, based on outdoor relative humidity and guidelines on temperature ranges for human comfort. For instance, guidelines report that humans are comfortable between 66 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit indoors. They also assumed that on average, most populations have the means to heat indoor spaces to comfortable temperatures. Finally, they also collected experimental data, which they used to validate their estimation approach.

    For every instance when outdoor temperatures were below the typical human comfort range, they assumed indoor spaces were heated to reach that comfort range. Based on the added heating, they calculated the associated drop in indoor relative humidity.

    In warmer times, both outdoor and indoor relative humidity for each country was about the same, but they quickly diverged in colder times. While outdoor humidity remained around 50 percent throughout the year, indoor relative humidity for countries in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres dropped below 40 percent in their respective colder periods, when Covid-19 cases and deaths also spiked in these regions.

    For countries in the tropics, relative humidity was about the same indoors and outdoors throughout the year, with a gradual rise indoors during the region’s summer season, when high outdoor humidity likely raised the indoor relative humidity over 60 percent. They found this rise mirrored the gradual increase in Covid-19 deaths in the tropics.

    “We saw more reported Covid-19 deaths on the low and high end of indoor relative humidity, and less in this sweet spot of 40 to 60 percent,” Verheyen says. “This intermediate relative humidity window is associated with a better outcome, meaning fewer deaths and a deceleration of the pandemic.”

    “We were very skeptical initially, especially as the Covid-19 data can be noisy and inconsistent,” Bourouiba says. “We thus were very thorough trying to poke holes in our own analysis, using a range of approaches to test the limits and robustness of the findings, including taking into account factors such as government intervention. Despite all our best efforts, we found that even when considering countries with very strong versus very weak Covid-19 mitigation policies, or wildly different outdoor conditions, indoor — rather than outdoor — relative humidity maintains an underlying strong and robust link with Covid-19 outcomes.”

    It’s still unclear how indoor relative humidity affects Covid-19 outcomes. The team’s follow-up studies suggest that pathogens may survive longer in respiratory droplets in both very dry and very humid conditions.

    “Our ongoing work shows that there are emerging hints of mechanistic links between these factors,” Bourouiba says. “For now however, we can say that indoor relative humidity emerges in a robust manner as another mitigation lever that organizations and individuals can monitor, adjust, and maintain in the optimal 40 to 60 percent range, in addition to proper ventillation.”

    This research was made possible, in part, by an MIT Alumni Class fund, the Richard and Susan Smith Family Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation. More

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    Assay determines the percentage of Omicron, other variants in Covid wastewater

    Wastewater monitoring emerged amid the Covid-19 pandemic as an effective and noninvasive way to track a viral outbreak, and advances in the technology have enabled researchers to not only identify but also quantify the presence of particular variants of concern (VOCs) in wastewater samples.

    Last year, researchers with the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) made the news for developing a quantitative assay for the Alpha variant of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater, while also working on a similar assay for the Delta variant. Previously, conventional wastewater detection methods could only detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2 viral material in a sample, without identifying the variant of the virus.

    Now, a team at SMART has developed a quantitative RT-qPCR assay that can detect the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2. This type of assay enables wastewater surveillance to accurately trace variant dynamics in any given community or population, and support and inform the implementation of appropriate public health measures tailored according to the specific traits of a particular viral pathogen.

    The capacity to count and assess particular VOCs is unique to SMART’s open-source assay, and allows researchers to accurately determine displacement trends in a community. Hence, the new assay can reveal what proportion of SARS-CoV-2 virus circulating in a community belongs to a particular variant. This is particularly significant, as different SARS-CoV-2 VOCs — Alpha, Delta, Omicron, and their offshoots — have emerged at various points throughout the pandemic, each causing a new wave of infections to which the population was more susceptible.

    The team’s new allele-specific RT-qPCR assay is described in a paper, “Rapid displacement of SARS-CoV-2 variant Delta by Omicron revealed by allele-specific PCR in wastewater,” published this month in Water Research. Senior author on the work is Eric Alm, professor of biological engineering at MIT and a principal investigator in the Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) interdisciplinary research group within SMART, MIT’s research enterprise in Singapore. Co-authors include researchers from Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore National University (NUS), MIT, Singapore Centre for Environmental Life Sciences Engineering (SCELSE), and Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale della Lombardia e dell’Emilia Romagna (IZSLER) in Italy.

    Omicron overtakes delta within three weeks in Italy study

    In their study, SMART researchers found that the increase in booster vaccine population coverage in Italy concurred with the complete displacement of the Delta variant by the Omicron variant in wastewater samples obtained from the Torbole Casaglia wastewater treatment plant, with a catchment size of 62,722 people. Taking less than three weeks, the rapid pace of this displacement can be attributed to Omicron’s infection advantage over the previously dominant Delta in vaccinated individuals, which may stem from Omicron’s more efficient evasion of vaccination-induced immunity.

    “In a world where Covid-19 is endemic, the monitoring of VOCs through wastewater surveillance will be an effective tool for the tracking of variants circulating in the community and will play an increasingly important role in guiding public health response,” says paper co-author Federica Armas, a senior postdoc at SMART AMR. “This work has demonstrated that wastewater surveillance can be used to quickly and quantitatively trace VOCs present in a community.”

    Wastewater surveillance vital for future pandemic responses

    As the global population becomes increasingly vaccinated and exposed to prior infections, nations have begun transitioning toward the classification of SARS-CoV-2 as an endemic disease, rolling back active clinical surveillance toward decentralized antigen rapid tests, and consequently reducing sequencing of patient samples. However, SARS-CoV-2 has been shown to produce novel VOCs that can swiftly emerge and spread rapidly across populations, displacing previously dominant variants of the virus. This was observed when Delta displaced Alpha across the globe after the former’s emergence in India in December 2020, and again when Omicron displaced Delta at an even faster rate following its discovery in South Africa in November 2021. The continuing emergence of novel VOCs therefore necessitates continued vigilance on the monitoring of circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants in communities.

    In a separate review paper on wastewater surveillance titled “Making Waves: Wastewater Surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 in an Endemic Future,” published in the journal Water Research, SMART researchers and collaborators found that the utility of wastewater surveillance in the near future could include 1) monitoring the trend of viral loads in wastewater for quantified viral estimates circulating in a community; 2) sampling of wastewater at the source — e.g., taking samples from particular neighborhoods or buildings — for pinpointing infections in neighborhoods and at the building level; 3) integrating wastewater and clinical surveillance for cost-efficient population surveillance; and 4) genome sequencing wastewater samples to track circulating and emerging variants in the population.

    “Our experience with SARS-CoV-2 has shown that clinical testing can often only paint a limited picture of the true extent of an outbreak or pandemic. With Covid-19 becoming prevalent and with the anticipated emergence of further variants of concern, qualitative and quantitative data from wastewater surveillance will be an integral component of a cost- and resource-efficient public health surveillance program, empowering authorities to make more informed policy decisions,” adds corresponding author Janelle Thompson, associate professor at SCELSE and NTU. “Our review provides a roadmap for the wider deployment of wastewater surveillance, with opportunities and challenges that, if addressed, will enable us to not only better manage Covid-19, but also future-proof societies for other viral pathogens and future pandemics.”

    In addition, the review suggests that future wastewater research should comply with a set of standardized wastewater processing methods to reduce inconsistencies in wastewater data toward improving epidemiological inference. Methods developed in the context of SARS-CoV-2 and its analyses could be of invaluable benefit for future wastewater monitoring work on discovering emerging zoonotic pathogens — pathogens that can be transmitted from animals to humans — and for early detection of future pandemics.

    Furthermore, far from being confined to SARS-CoV-2, wastewater surveillance has already been adapted for use in combating other viral pathogens. Another paper from September 2021 described an advance in the development of effective wastewater surveillance for dengue, Zika, and yellow fever viruses, with SMART researchers successfully measuring decay rates of these medically significant arboviruses in wastewater. This was followed by another review paper by SMART published in July 2022 that explored current progress and future challenges and opportunities in wastewater surveillance for arboviruses. These developments represent an important first step toward establishing arbovirus wastewater surveillance, which would help policymakers in Singapore and beyond make better informed and more targeted public health measures in controlling arbovirus outbreaks such as dengue, which is a significant public health concern in Singapore.

    “Our learnings from using wastewater surveillance as a key tool over the course of Covid-19 will be crucial in helping researchers develop similar methods to monitor and tackle other viral pathogens and future pandemics,” says Lee Wei Lin, first author of the latest SMART paper and research scientist at SMART AMR. “Wastewater surveillance has already shown promising utility in helping to fight other viral pathogens, including some of the world’s most prevalent mosquito-borne diseases, and there is significant potential for the technology to be adapted for use against other infectious viral diseases.”

    The research is carried out by SMART and its collaborators at SCELSE, NTU, and NUS, co-led by Professor Eric Alm (SMART and MIT) and Associate Professor Janelle Thompson (SCELSE and NTU), and is supported by Singapore’sNational Research Foundation (NRF) under its Campus for Research Excellence And Technological Enterprise (CREATE) program. The research is part of an initiative funded by the NRF to develop sewage-based surveillance for rapid outbreak detection and intervention in Singapore.

    SMART was established by MIT in partnership with the NRF in 2007. SMART is the first entity in CREATE developed by NRF and serves as an intellectual and innovation hub for research interactions between MIT and Singapore, undertaking cutting-edge research projects in areas of interest to both Singapore and MIT. SMART currently comprises an Innovation Centre and five interdisciplinary research groups: AMR, Critical Analytics for Manufacturing Personalized-Medicine, Disruptive & Sustainable Technologies for Agricultural Precision, Future Urban Mobility, and Low Energy Electronic Systems.

    The AMR IRG is a translational research and entrepreneurship program that tackles the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance. By leveraging talent and convergent technologies across Singapore and MIT, they tackle AMR head-on by developing multiple innovative and disruptive approaches to identify, respond to, and treat drug-resistant microbial infections. Through strong scientific and clinical collaborations, our goal is to provide transformative, holistic solutions for Singapore and the world. More

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    New J-WAFS-led project combats food insecurity

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

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

    The dire state of our food systems

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

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

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

    An index to prepare for the future of food

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Photo: Gretchen Ertl

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

    Photo: Adam Glanzman

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

    Photo: Adam Glanzman

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

    Photo: Adam Glanzman

    Members of the Class of 2022 celebrated on Killian Court.

    Photo: Adam Glanzman

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

    Photo: Gretchen Ertl

    Members of the Class of 2022 celebrated on Killian Court.

    Photo: Gretchen Ertl

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

    Photo: Gretchen Ertl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Progress toward a sustainable campus food system

    As part of MIT’s updated climate action plan, known as “Fast Forward,” Institute leadership committed to establishing a set of quantitative goals in 2022 related to food, water, and waste systems that advance MIT’s commitment to climate. Moving beyond the impact of campus energy systems, these newly proposed goals take a holistic view of the drivers of climate change and set the stage for new frontiers of collaborative climate work. “With the release of ‘Fast Forward,’ the MIT Office of Sustainability is setting out to partner with campus groups to study and quantify the climate impact of our campus food, while deeply considering the social, cultural, economic, and health aspects of a sustainable food system,” explains Susy Jones, senior sustainability project manager. 

    While “Fast Forward” is MIT’s first climate action plan to integrate the campus food system, the Division of Student Life (DSL) has long worked with dining vendors, MIT’s Office of Sustainability (MITOS), and other campus partners to advance a more sustainable, affordable, and equitable food system. Initiatives have ranged from increasing access to low-cost groceries on and around campus to sourcing sustainable coffee for campus cafes.

    Even with the complexities of operating during the pandemic, efforts in this area accelerated with the launch of new partnerships, support for local food industries, and even a food-startup incubator in the Stratton Student Center (Building W20). “Despite challenges posed by the pandemic, MIT Dining has been focused on positive change — driven in part by student input, alterations to the food landscape, and our ongoing goal to support a more sustainable and equitable campus food system,” says Mark Hayes, director of MIT Dining.

    New vendors on campus focus on healthy food systems

    For many, a fresh cup of coffee is a daily ritual. At MIT, that cup of coffee also offers an opportunity to make a more sustainable choice at the Forbes Family Café in the Stata Center (Building 32). The cafe now brews coffee by Dean’s Beans, a local roaster whose mission is to “prove that a for-profit business could create meaningful change through ethical business practices rooted in respect for the earth, the farmer, our co-workers, and the consumer.” The choice of Dean’s Beans — a certified B Corporation located in Orange, Massachusetts — as the new vendor in this space helps advance MIT’s commitment to sustainability. Businesses that achieve this certification meet rigorous social and environmental goals. “With choices like this, we’re taking big issues down to the campus level,” says Hayes. Dean’s Beans focuses on long-term producer relationships, organic shade-grown and bird-friendly coffee, a solar-powered roasting facility, and people-centered development programs. These practices contribute to healthier environments and habitats — benefiting farmers, soils, birds, pollinators, and more.

    Another innovative new food concept for the MIT community can be found down the street in the Stratton Student Center. The Launchpad, a nonprofit food business incubator created in partnership with CommonWealth Kitchen (CWK), debuted this fall in the second-floor Lobdell Food Court. It offers the MIT community more variety and healthy food options while also “advancing CWK’s and MIT’s mutual goal to support diverse, local start-up food businesses and to create a more just, equitable, and sustainable food economy,” according to DSL. Work on the Launchpad began in 2018, bringing together the Student Center Dining Concepts Working Group, comprising students from the Undergraduate Association, Graduate Student Council, DormCon, house dining chairs, and other students interested in dining and dining staff from the MITOS and DSL. Their goal was to re-envision dining options available in Lobdell to support local, diverse, and sustainable menus. “We’ve been nurturing a partnership with CommonWealth Kitchen for years and are excited to partner with them on a project that re-imagines the relationship between campus and local food systems,” says Jones. “And, of course, the vegetarian arepas are a highlight,” she adds.

    Local partnerships for sustainability

    The impacts of Covid-19 on local food businesses quickly came into focus in early 2020. For the New England fishing industry, this impact was acute — with restaurant closures, event cancellations, and disruptions in the global supply chain, fisheries suddenly found a dearth of markets for their catch, undermining their source of income. One way to address this confluence of challenges was for fisheries to expand into new markets where they may have had limited knowledge or experience.

    Enter MIT Sea Grant and MIT Dining. Supported in part by funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, MIT Sea Grant created the Covid-19 Rapid Response Program to develop new markets for local fisheries, including local food banks and direct sales to organizations including MIT. Though MIT Dining was stretched thin by the pandemic, the partnership offered a singular opportunity to support vital regional businesses and enhance menus in campus dining venues. “The stress level was unimaginable as more people were testing positive in the early days of the pandemic — it was the worst and most stressful time to do anything outside of what was completely necessary, and I get this phone call about chowder,” recalls Hayes. “Everyone is wearing two masks and standing six feet apart, but in about 15 seconds, I said to myself, ‘This is the exact time this needs to happen — in the middle of a pandemic when fishermen need support, families need support, people need support.’”

    Shortly after getting the call, Hayes and MIT Dining hosted a tasting event featuring “Small Boats, Big Taste Haddock Chowder,” developed through MIT Sea Grant’s work with the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, which helped independent fishermen stay on the water during Covid-19. The tasting event also offered students a break to stop by and sample the chowder, which later debuted and continues to be served at MIT dining halls. For Hayes, one success of the partnership was the agility it demonstrated. “We don’t know what the next crisis is going to be, but these experiences will make us stronger to handle the next moment when people need the food system to work,” he says.

    In addition to ready-made options for students, MIT Dining and partners have also been working to support students who prepare their own meals, collaborating with local businesses to provide students access to lower-cost and at-cost groceries and food products. The Food Security Action Team, convened by Senior Associate Dean for Student Support and Well-being David Randall and DSL Executive Director for Administration Peter Cummings, is focused on taking action, tracking, and updating the community on food security efforts. These efforts have included collaborating with the Daily Table, a new nonprofit community grocer in Central Square. The store now accepts TechCASH and recently worked with the committee to host an interactive food tour for students.

    Because food systems are so interdependent and partnerships are critical — on and off campus — Hayes says it’s important to continue to share and learn. “Sharing our stories is crucial because we can help strengthen networks of campuses, institutions, and businesses in New England to grow more sustainable food programs like these.” 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

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    MIT in the media: 2021 in review

    From Institute-wide efforts to address the climate crisis to responding to Covid-19, members of the MIT community made headlines this year for their innovative work in a variety of areas. Faculty, students, and staff were on the front lines of addressing many pressing issues this year, raising their voices and sharing their findings. Below are highlights of news stories that spotlight the many efforts underway at MIT to help make a better world.

    Fireside chat: Tackling global challenges with a culture of innovationPresident L. Rafael Reif and Linda Henry, CEO of Boston Globe Media Partners, took part in a wide-ranging fireside chat during the inaugural Globe Summit, touching upon everything from the urgent need to address the climate crisis to MIT’s response to Covid-19, the Institute’s approach to artificial intelligence education and the greater Boston innovation ecosystem.Full discussion via Globe Summit

    A real-world revolution in economicsProfessor Joshua Angrist, one of the winners of the 2021 Nobel Prize in economic sciences, spoke with The Economist’s Money Talks podcast about the evolution of his research and how his work has helped bring the field of economics closer to real life. “I like to tell graduate students that a good scholar is like a good hitter in baseball,” says Angrist of his advice for economics students. “You get on base about a third of the time you’re doing pretty well, which means you strike out most of the time.”Full story via The Economist

    Paula Hammond guest edits C&EN’s 2021 Trailblazers issueC&EN’s 2021 Trailblazers issue, curated by guest editor Paula Hammond, celebrated Black chemists and chemical engineers. “As we learn from several of the personal stories highlighted in this issue,” writes Hammond, “that first connection to science and research is critical to engage and inspire the next generation.” Helping propel the issue’s message about the importance of mentorship was a one-on-one with Professor Kristala Prather about her career path and a wide-ranging interview with Hammond herself on building a home at MIT.Full issue via C&EN

    Can fusion put the brakes on climate change? MIT’s new Climate Action Plan for the Decade calls for going as far as we can, as fast as we can, with the tools and methods we have now — but also asserts that ultimate success depends on breakthroughs. Commercial fusion energy is potentially one such game-changer, and a unique collaboration between MIT and Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) is pursuing it. As Joy Dunn ’08, head of manufacturing at CFS, explains to the New Yorker’s Rivka Galchen: “When people ask me, ‘Why fusion? Why not other renewables,’ my thinking is: This is a solution at the scale of the problem.”Full story via New Yorker

    The genius next door: Taylor Perron discusses landscape evolutionProfessor and geomorphologist Taylor Perron, a recipient this year’s MacArthur Fellowships, joined Callie Crossley of GBH’s Under the Radar to discuss his work studying the mechanisms that shape landscapes on Earth and other planets. “We try to figure out how we can look at landscapes and read them, and try to figure out what happened in the past and also anticipate what might happen in the future,” says Perron.Full story via GBH

    How the pandemic “re-imagined how we can exhibit” Hashim Sarkis, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning and curator of this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, spoke with Cajsa Carlson of Dezeen about how the field of architecture is transforming due to climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic, and efforts to increase diversity and representation. “Talent and imagination are not restricted to advanced development economically,” says Sarkis. “I hope this message comes across in this biennale.”Full story via Dezeen

    10 years at the top of the QS World University RankingsProvost Martin Schmidt spoke with TopUniversities.com reporter Chloe Lane about how MIT has maintained its position as the top university in the world on the QS World University Rankings for 10 consecutive years. “The Institute is full of a diverse community of people from all corners of the globe dedicated to solving the world’s most difficult problems,” says Schmidt. “Their efforts have a demonstrable impact through ambitious high-impact activities.”  Full story via TopUniversities.com

    Tackling Covid-19 and the Impact of a Global PandemicIn 2021, MIT researchers turned their attention to addressing the widespread effects of a global pandemic, exploring everything from supply chain issues to K-12 education.Massachusetts Miracle: “There are a lot of potential Modernas”Boston Globe columnist Shirley Leung spotlighted how the development of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine demonstrates the success of the Massachusetts life sciences sector. “For more than half a century, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has been the epicenter of that curiosity, with a focus on molecular biology — initially to find a cure for cancer,” writes Leung.Full story via The Boston Globe

    Weak links in the supply chainProfessor Yossi Sheffi spoke with David Pogue of CBS Sunday Morning about what’s causing supply chain breakdowns. “The underlying cause of all of this is actually a huge increase in demand,” says Sheffi. “People did not spend during the pandemic. And then, all the government help came; trillions of dollars went to households. So, they order stuff. They order more and more stuff. And the global markets were not ready for this.”Full story via CBS News

    Recruiting students and teachers to rethink schoolsA report co-authored by Associate Professor Justin Reich proposed a new path forward for rethinking K-12 schools after Covid-19, reported Paul Darvasi for KQED. “The report recommends that educators build on the positive aspects of their pandemic learning experience in the years ahead,” notes Darvasi, “and supports increased student independence to cultivate a safe and healthy environment that is more conducive to learning.”Full story via KQED

    This staff member has been quietly curating a flower box at the Collier MemorialResearch Specialist Kathy Cormier’s dedication to tending a flower planter at the Collier Memorial throughout the pandemic captured the hearts of many in the MIT community. “Here’s something that’s empty that I can fill, and make myself feel better and make other people — hopefully — feel better,” she says.Full story via The Boston Globe

    Amazing Alumni MIT alumni made headlines for their efforts to change the world, both here on Earth and in outer space. NASA selects three new astronaut candidates with MIT rootsMarcos Berríos ’06, Christina Birch PhD ’15 and Christopher Williams PhD ’12 were selected among NASA’s 10-member 2021 astronaut candidate class, reported WBUR’s Bill Chappell. “Alone, each candidate has ‘the right stuff,’ but together they represent the creed of our country: E pluribus unum — out of many, one,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.Full story via WBUR

    Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala named WTO director-generalNgozi Okonjo-Iweala MCP ’78, PhD ’81, a former Nigerian finance minister, was named director-general of the World Trade Organization, reported William Wallace for the Financial Times. “Okonjo-Iweala sees an opportunity for the organization to rediscover some of its original purpose of raising living standards across the board and to bring its outdated rule book up to date at a time of accelerating change,” notes Wallace.Full story via Financial Times

    She doesn’t think skateboarding’s a sport, but she competed for a medalAlexis Sablone MArch ’16 spoke with Washington Post reporter Les Carpenter about street skateboarding, competing at this year’s Olympic Games, and why she is uncomfortable with being defined. “To me, I’m just always like trying to be myself and do things that I love to do and not try to fit into these categories in ways that I don’t feel comfortable with,” says Sablone.Full story via The Washington Post

    Applauding the culture of aerospace engineeringTiera Fletcher ’17, a structural design engineer working on building NASA’s Space Launch System, and her husband Myron Fletcher spoke with the hosts of The Real about what inspired them to pursue careers in aerospace engineering and their organization Rocket with the Fletchers, which is aimed at introducing youth to the field of aerodynamics.Full story via The Real

    Addressing the Climate CrisisThe urgent need to take action on climate change became more apparent in 2021. MIT researchers across campus answered the call and are unleashing innovative ideas to help address the biggest threat of our time.

    Why closing California’s last nuclear power plant would be a mistake The Washington Post Editorial Board highlighted a report co-authored by MIT researchers that found keeping the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in California open would help the state reach its climate goals.Full story via The Washington Post

    What will the U.S. do to reach emission reduction targets?Sergey Paltsev, deputy director of the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, spoke with Brian Cheung of Yahoo Finance about climate change, the path to net-zero emissions, and COP26. Paltsev was a lead author of the Fifth Assessment Report Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC. Full story via Yahoo News

    Lithium battery costs have fallen by 98% in three decadesA study by Professor Jessika Trancik and postdoc Micah Ziegler examining the plunge in lithium-ion battery costs finds “every time output doubles, as it did five times between 2006 and 2016, battery prices fall by about a quarter,” reports The Economist, which highlighted the work in its popular “Daily chart” feature. (Trancik’s research detailing carbon impacts of different cars was also cited by The Washington Post as a climate-change innovation helping respond to calls for action.)Full story via The Economist

    MIT students display a “climate clock” outside the Green BuildingBoston Globe reporter Matt Berg spotlights how a team from the MIT D-Lab created a climate clock, which was projected on the exterior of the Green Building at MIT in an effort to showcase key data about climate change. “The display highlights goals of the fight against climate change, such as limiting the annual temperature increases to no more than 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit,” writes Berg.Full story via The Boston Globe

    Social Impact

    MIT community members increasingly sought to address social issues around the world, from the spread of misinformation to ensuring marginalized communities could share their experiences. At MIT, arts, humanities and STEM fields forge an essential partnershipWriting for Times Higher Ed, Agustín Rayo, interim dean of MIT’s School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, and Hashim Sarkis, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning, underscore the importance of the arts, humanities, and design fields as “an essential part of an MIT education, critical to the Institute’s capacity for innovation and vital to its mission to make a better world.” They add that “the MIT mission is to serve humankind, and the arts and humanities are essential resources for knowledge and understanding of the human condition.”Full story via Times Higher Ed

    Helping Bostonians feel heard with MIT’s “Real Talk” portalAn MIT initiative called “Real Talk for Change” launched a new online portal of more than 200 audio stories collected from Boston residents as part of an effort to “help prompt future community dialogues about the lived experiences of everyday Bostonians, particularly those in marginalized communities,” reported Meghan E. Irons for The Boston Globe.Full story via Boston Globe

    Why nations fail, America editionProfessor Daron Acemoglu spoke with Greg Rosalsky of NPR’s Planet Money about his book, “Why Nations Fail,” and whether the attack on the U.S. Capitol signals difficulties for U.S. institutions, and how politicians can create more shared prosperity through a “good jobs” agenda. “We are still at a point where we can reverse things,” Acemoglu says. “But I think if we paper over these issues, we will most likely see a huge deterioration in institutions. And it can happen very rapidly.”Full story via Planet Money

    Why confronting disinformation spreaders online only makes it worseA study by MIT researchers found that correcting people who were spreading misinformation on Twitter led to people retweeting and sharing even more misinformation, reported Matthew Gault for Motherboard. Professor David Rand explains that the research is aimed at identifying “what kinds of interventions increase versus decrease the quality of news people share. There is no question that social media has changed the way people interact. But understanding how exactly it’s changed things is really difficult.” Full story via Motherboard

    Out of This WorldFrom designing a new instrument that can extract oxygen out of Martian air to investigating gravitational waves, MIT community members continued their longstanding tradition of deepening our understanding of the cosmos. MOXIE pulled breathable oxygen out of thin Martian airMichael Hecht of MIT’s Haystack Observatory spoke with GBH’s Edgar Herwick about how the MIT-designed MOXIE instrument successfully extracted oxygen out of Martian air. “I’ve been using the expression ‘a small breath for man, a giant leap for humankind,’” says Hecht, who is the principal investigator for MOXIE.Full story via GBH

    The down-to-Earth applications of spaceAssistant Professor Danielle Wood joined Bloomberg TV to discuss her work focused on using space technologies as a way to advance the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. She emphasizes how space “is a platform for serving the broad public. We use satellites to observe the environment and the climate, we use satellites to connect people across different parts of the Earth, and they give us information about our positions and our weather. All of these are broad public goods that really can serve people across the world all at once.”Full story via Bloomberg TV

    How Perseverance is hunting for life on MarsIn a conversation with New Scientist reporter Jonathan O’Callaghan, Professor Tanja Bosak discussed her work with the NASA Perseverance rover’s rock reconnaissance mission. “In the middle of a pandemic, I think we needed something good to happen, and that’s why so many people wanted all the science and engineering that goes into landing a rover on Mars to succeed,” says Bosak.Full story via New Scientist

    What scientists have learned from hidden ripples in spacetimeNergis Mavalvala, dean of the School of Science, spoke with Becky Ferreira of Motherboard’s “Space Show” about LIGO’s 2015 discovery of gravitational waves and what researchers in the field have learned since then. “Every one of these observations tells us a little bit more about how nature has assembled our universe,” says Mavalvala. “Really, in the end, the question we’re asking is: ‘How did this universe that we observe come about?’” Full story via MotherboardJoining the Conversation

    MIT authors contributed nearly 100 op-eds and essays to top news outlets this year, along with research-focused deep dives in The Conversation.

    Building on Vannevar Bush’s “wild garden” to cultivate solutions to human needsPresident L. Rafael Reif examined Vannevar Bush’s groundbreaking 1945 “Science, the Endless Frontier” report and considered how our needs today have changed. “To meet this moment, we need to ensure that our federally sponsored research addresses questions that will enhance our competitiveness now and in the future,” writes Reif. “Our current system has many strengths … but we must not allow these historical advantages to blind us to gaps that could become fatal weaknesses.”Full story via Issues in Science and Technology

    Good news: There’s a labor shortageWriting for The New York Times, Professor David Autor explored how the current labor shortage provides an opportunity to improve the quality of jobs in the U.S. “The period of labor scarcity, then, is an opportunity to catalyze better working conditions for those who need them most,” writes Autor.Full story via New York Times

    Opening the path to biotechIn an editorial for Science, Professor Sangeeta Bhatia, Professor Emerita Nancy Hopkins, and President Emerita Susan Hockfield underscored the importance of addressing the underrepresentation of women and individuals of color in tech transfer. “The discoveries women and minority researchers are making today have great potential as a force for good in the world,” they write, “but reaching that potential is only possible if paths to real-world applications are open to everybody.”Full story via Science

    To protect from lab leaks, we need “banal” safety rules, not anti-terrorism measuresMIT Professor Susan Silbey and Professor Ruthanne Huising of Emlyon Business School made the case that to prevent lab leaks, there should be a greater emphasis placed on biosafety. “The global research community does not need more rules, more layers of oversight, and more intermediary actors,” they write. “What it needs is more attention and respect to already known biosafety measures and techniques.”Full story via Stat

    Boston: The Silicon Valley of longevity?Writing for The Boston Globe, AgeLab Director Joseph Coughlin and Research Associate Luke Yoquinto explored how Greater Boston could serve as an innovation hub for aging populations. “By making groundbreaking creativity and inventiveness for older adults both seen and felt, Greater Boston and New England will be able to offer the world a new vision of old age,” they write.Full story via The Boston Globe

    More of the latest MIT In the Media summaries, with links to the original reporting, are available at news.mit.edu/in-the-media. More