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    Charting the landscape at MIT

    Norman Magnuson’s MIT career — culminating in his role as manager of grounds services in the Department of Facilities for the past 20 years — started in 1974 with a summer job. Fresh out of high school and unsure of his next step, Magnuson’s father, Norman Sr., a housing manager at MIT, encouraged him to take a summer staffer position with MIT Grounds Services. That temporary job would turn into a 48-year career, in which Magnuson found and fed his passion for horticulture.

    Over the years, Magnuson has had a number of roles, including mover, truck driver, and landscaper. In his most recent role, Magnuson was responsible for managing and maintaining the grounds of MIT’s more-than-168-acre campus — work that includes landscaping, snow removal, and event setup — a position where his pride of work could be seen across campus. Now, after nearly half a century at the Institute, Magnuson is retiring, leaving an enormous set of shoes to fill.

    “Norman’s passion for stewarding an immense array of green spaces has delighted the eyes of tens of thousands of people from around the world who have worked, visited, studied, and resided at MIT over the years,” says Vice President for Campus Services and Stewardship Joe Higgins. Adds Martin O’Brien, senior manager of Campus Services, “Not only do he and his team excel at high-profile events like snowstorms and Commencement, but day to day, they keep the campus shining.”

    Touching six decades on a transforming campus

    Like many who have spent dozens of years at the Institute, when asked what has changed the most in his time here, Magnuson thinks first of MIT’s skyline. He notes that the Landau Building (Building 66) was the first new construction he saw on campus. He remembers seeing E40 and E51 be transformed from warehouses to more functional spaces for research and labs — a pattern that would be repeated often during his time at MIT. As each part of campus dramatically evolved, so did the quiet and steadfast work of Magnuson and Grounds Services.

    When Magnuson first started working for Grounds Services, he says that landscaping was often an afterthought. “We worked with whatever extra budget money there was,” he remembers, speaking of the landscaping support for new buildings. Magnuson says that over his long career, the work of his department became more professionalized and integrated with departments like the Office of Campus Planning. Grounds Services now works closely with that office to support design and management of resilient campus landscapes that incorporate systems of soils, plantings, and hardscapes for stormwater management, as well as mitigating heat island effects while growing and diversifying the urban forest canopy.

    “There’s growing recognition of the contributions that our campus green spaces make to both community well-being and campus resiliency,” explains Laura Tenny, senior campus planner. “Over the last two years, people have rediscovered the outdoors as a place to come together, and so these campus spaces have become part of the social fabric of MIT. As landscapes become more performance-based and more like living green infrastructure, Norman has overseen a complex campus system that’s working at multiple levels, not unlike our sophisticated building and infrastructure systems.”

    Magnuson says he always welcomed change in the landscaping space and has worked hard to drive it. “I like to be on the cutting edge,” he says highlighting environmentally- and climate-friendly change he’s pushed for. “I can remember when we used to do things like throw leaves in the trash in plastic garbage bags,” he says. “These days, we’ve almost eliminated herbicides and pesticides, we’re mindful of the fertilizer that we use, and we’re very cognizant of things like this because we work with teams like the Office of Sustainability (MITOS).”

    As Magnuson and his team have striven to do better for the environment, he notes that he has also seen firsthand how climate change is transforming the campus landscape: “Leaves fall off the deciduous trees earlier than they used to. This year the azaleas bloomed late; the rhododendrons were a little bit early. When you look at particular plants that have been in the ground for many years, you do see the difference,” he says, adding that snow seasons have also become more unpredictable despite improved forecasting technology.

    Enduring connections with the community

    With his craft and campus always changing, one thing remained constant for Magnuson: MIT students. Magnuson and his team have connected with students for countless interviews and research projects over the years — a highlight of his work and a reminder of its impact. “I always tell my staff that we help educate the students — not directly most times, but we are part of the mechanism that makes it possible for them to be here,” he says.

    A recent project for Magnuson was working with students to create and maintain The Hive Garden, MIT’s first sustainability garden and a collaborative project between MITOS, the Undergraduate Association Committee on Sustainability, and Grounds Services. “That was probably one of my favorite interactions with the students,” Magnuson says of the garden. Susy Jones, senior sustainability project manager who worked with Magnuson on the garden, says Magnuson played an essential role: “He took real joy in working with the students — they brought him sketches of these complex hexagonal garden beds, and I watched him and his team sit patiently with them and come up with something we could implement quickly that would maintain the integrity of their designs,” she remembers. “His team happily taught the students how to irrigate the beds and which plants to cut back in the winter — little lessons about the natural world they’ll take with them forever.” 

    As Magnuson begins his retirement, he capped off his career with one more go at this favorite MIT event — Commencement. Though the event requires tremendous amounts of work for Grounds Services, Magnuson looks forward to it each year. “It’s our Super Bowl,” he says. Each spring the Grounds Services team partners with the MIT Repair and Maintenance Carpentry crew to ready Killian Court for several thousand people by turning the open court into a massive seating area and stage while protecting and highlighting the grounds. “When the students come in and they announce them, it’s always an emotional moment for me, because it’s, ‘OK, this is it, it started, and everything looks perfect,’” he says. Former executive officer for Commencement Gayle Gallagher, who worked closely with Magnuson for more than two dozen Commencement weekends, agrees with the “perfect” assessment. “His commitment to the campus grounds — regardless of the season — was unparalleled. He spent countless hours each year to ensure our campus looked its absolute best for our graduates, their families and guests, and our alumni,” she recalls. “I always looked forward to collaborating with him — he is simply one-of-a-kind.”

    When Magnuson looks back on his long career, he notes that community and camaraderie are a large part of what kept him with MIT for so long. He’s built many relationships at MIT (his wife, Diane, recently retired from MIT Medical after 44 years, and his daughter Kelsey works with the Department of Facilities Contracts team) and says his department has the unique ability to support individuals and foster careers like it did for him. “We have some very, very talented people and we have a lot of people like me who learned on the job. Landscaping is one of those professions that if you put your all into it, you can get a degree in landscaping without having an actual degree,” he says.

    “Everybody that works for Grounds is so proud of what they do — you can see it in the work,” he adds. “I’m so proud of the work I’ve done.” More

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    Tapping into the million-year energy source below our feet

    There’s an abandoned coal power plant in upstate New York that most people regard as a useless relic. But MIT’s Paul Woskov sees things differently.

    Woskov, a research engineer in MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center, notes the plant’s power turbine is still intact and the transmission lines still run to the grid. Using an approach he’s been working on for the last 14 years, he’s hoping it will be back online, completely carbon-free, within the decade.

    In fact, Quaise Energy, the company commercializing Woskov’s work, believes if it can retrofit one power plant, the same process will work on virtually every coal and gas power plant in the world.

    Quaise is hoping to accomplish those lofty goals by tapping into the energy source below our feet. The company plans to vaporize enough rock to create the world’s deepest holes and harvest geothermal energy at a scale that could satisfy human energy consumption for millions of years. They haven’t yet solved all the related engineering challenges, but Quaise’s founders have set an ambitious timeline to begin harvesting energy from a pilot well by 2026.

    The plan would be easier to dismiss as unrealistic if it were based on a new and unproven technology. But Quaise’s drilling systems center around a microwave-emitting device called a gyrotron that has been used in research and manufacturing for decades.

    “This will happen quickly once we solve the immediate engineering problems of transmitting a clean beam and having it operate at a high energy density without breakdown,” explains Woskov, who is not formally affiliated with Quaise but serves as an advisor. “It’ll go fast because the underlying technology, gyrotrons, are commercially available. You could place an order with a company and have a system delivered right now — granted, these beam sources have never been used 24/7, but they are engineered to be operational for long time periods. In five or six years, I think we’ll have a plant running if we solve these engineering problems. I’m very optimistic.”

    Woskov and many other researchers have been using gyrotrons to heat material in nuclear fusion experiments for decades. It wasn’t until 2008, however, after the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) published a request for proposals on new geothermal drilling technologies, that Woskov thought of using gyrotrons for a new application.

    “[Gyrotrons] haven’t been well-publicized in the general science community, but those of us in fusion research understood they were very powerful beam sources — like lasers, but in a different frequency range,” Woskov says. “I thought, why not direct these high-power beams, instead of into fusion plasma, down into rock and vaporize the hole?”

    As power from other renewable energy sources has exploded in recent decades, geothermal energy has plateaued, mainly because geothermal plants only exist in places where natural conditions allow for energy extraction at relatively shallow depths of up to 400 feet beneath the Earth’s surface. At a certain point, conventional drilling becomes impractical because deeper crust is both hotter and harder, which wears down mechanical drill bits.

    Woskov’s idea to use gyrotron beams to vaporize rock sent him on a research journey that has never really stopped. With some funding from MITEI, he began running tests, quickly filling his office with small rock formations he’d blasted with millimeter waves from a small gyrotron in MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center.

    Woskov displaying samples in his lab in 2016.

    Photo: Paul Rivenberg

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    Around 2018, Woskov’s rocks got the attention of Carlos Araque ’01, SM ’02, who had spent his career in the oil and gas industry and was the technical director of MIT’s investment fund The Engine at the time.

    That year, Araque and Matt Houde, who’d been working with geothermal company AltaRock Energy, founded Quaise. Quaise was soon given a grant by the Department of Energy to scale up Woskov’s experiments using a larger gyrotron.

    With the larger machine, the team hopes to vaporize a hole 10 times the depth of Woskov’s lab experiments. That is expected to be accomplished by the end of this year. After that, the team will vaporize a hole 10 times the depth of the previous one — what Houde calls a 100-to-1 hole.

    “That’s something [the DOE] is particularly interested in, because they want to address the challenges posed by material removal over those greater lengths — in other words, can we show we’re fully flushing out the rock vapors?” Houde explains. “We believe the 100-to-1 test also gives us the confidence to go out and mobilize a prototype gyrotron drilling rig in the field for the first field demonstrations.”

    Tests on the 100-to-1 hole are expected to be completed sometime next year. Quaise is also hoping to begin vaporizing rock in field tests late next year. The short timeline reflects the progress Woskov has already made in his lab.

    Although more engineering research is needed, ultimately, the team expects to be able to drill and operate these geothermal wells safely. “We believe, because of Paul’s work at MIT over the past decade, that most if not all of the core physics questions have been answered and addressed,” Houde says. “It’s really engineering challenges we have to answer, which doesn’t mean they’re easy to solve, but we’re not working against the laws of physics, to which there is no answer. It’s more a matter of overcoming some of the more technical and cost considerations to making this work at a large scale.”

    The company plans to begin harvesting energy from pilot geothermal wells that reach rock temperatures at up to 500 C by 2026. From there, the team hopes to begin repurposing coal and natural gas plants using its system.

    “We believe, if we can drill down to 20 kilometers, we can access these super-hot temperatures in greater than 90 percent of locations across the globe,” Houde says.

    Quaise’s work with the DOE is addressing what it sees as the biggest remaining questions about drilling holes of unprecedented depth and pressure, such as material removal and determining the best casing to keep the hole stable and open. For the latter problem of well stability, Houde believes additional computer modeling is needed and expects to complete that modeling by the end of 2024.

    By drilling the holes at existing power plants, Quaise will be able to move faster than if it had to get permits to build new plants and transmission lines. And by making their millimeter-wave drilling equipment compatible with the existing global fleet of drilling rigs, it will also allow the company to tap into the oil and gas industry’s global workforce.

    “At these high temperatures [we’re accessing], we’re producing steam very close to, if not exceeding, the temperature that today’s coal and gas-fired power plants operate at,” Houde says. “So, we can go to existing power plants and say, ‘We can replace 95 to 100 percent of your coal use by developing a geothermal field and producing steam from the Earth, at the same temperature you’re burning coal to run your turbine, directly replacing carbon emissions.”

    Transforming the world’s energy systems in such a short timeframe is something the founders see as critical to help avoid the most catastrophic global warming scenarios.

    “There have been tremendous gains in renewables over the last decade, but the big picture today is we’re not going nearly fast enough to hit the milestones we need for limiting the worst impacts of climate change,” Houde says. “[Deep geothermal] is a power resource that can scale anywhere and has the ability to tap into a large workforce in the energy industry to readily repackage their skills for a totally carbon free energy source.” 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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    MIT Climate “Plug-In” highlights first year of progress on MIT’s climate plan

    In a combined in-person and virtual event on Monday, members of the three working groups established last year under MIT’s “Fast Forward” climate action plan reported on the work they’ve been doing to meet the plan’s goals, including reaching zero direct carbon emissions by 2026.

    Introducing the session, Vice President for Research Maria Zuber said that “many universities have climate plans that are inward facing, mostly focused on the direct impacts of their operations on greenhouse gas emissions. And that is really important, but ‘Fast Forward’ is different in that it’s also outward facing — it recognizes climate change as a global crisis.”

    That, she said, “commits us to an all-of-MIT effort to help the world solve the super wicked problem in practice.” That means “helping the world to go as far as it can, as fast as it can, to deploy currently available technologies and policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” while also quickly developing new tools and approaches to deal with the most difficult areas of decarbonization, she said.

    Significant strides have been made in this first year, according to Zuber. The Climate Grand Challenges competition, announced last year as part of the plan, has just announced five flagship projects. “Each of these projects is potentially important in its own right, and is also exemplary of the kinds of bold thinking about climate solutions that the world needs,” she said.

    “We’ve also created new climate-focused institutions within MIT to improve accountability and transparency and to drive action,” Zuber said, including the Climate Nucleus, which comprises heads of labs and departments involved in climate-change work and is led by professors Noelle Selin and Anne White. The “Fast Forward” plan also established three working groups that report to the Climate Nucleus — on climate education, climate policy, and MIT’s carbon footprint — whose members spoke at Monday’s event.

    David McGee, a professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary science, co-director of MIT’s Terrascope program for first-year students, and co-chair of the education working group, said that over the last few years of Terrascope, “we’ve begun focusing much more explicitly on the experiences of, and the knowledge contained within, impacted communities … both for mitigation efforts and how they play out, and also adaptation.” Figuring out how to access the expertise of local communities “in a way that’s not extractive is a challenge that we face,” he added.

    Eduardo Rivera, managing director for MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) programs in several countries and a member of the education team, noted that about 1,000 undergraduates travel each year to work on climate and sustainability challenges. These include, for example, working with a lab in Peru assessing pollution in the Amazon, developing new insulation materials in Germany, developing affordable solar panels in China, working on carbon-capture technology in France or Israel, and many others, Rivera said. These are “unique opportunities to learn about the discipline, where the students can do hands-on work along with the professionals and the scientists in the front lines.” He added that MISTI has just launched a pilot project to help these students “to calculate their carbon footprint, to give them resources, and to understand individual responsibilities and collective responsibilities in this area.”

    Yujie Wang, a graduate student in architecture and an education working group member, said that during her studies she worked on a project focused on protecting biodiversity in Colombia, and also worked with a startup to reduce pesticide use in farming through digital monitoring. In Colombia, she said, she came to appreciate the value of interactions among researchers using satellite data, with local organizations, institutions and officials, to foster collaboration on solving common problems.

    The second panel addressed policy issues, as reflected by the climate policy working group. David Goldston, director of MIT’s Washington office, said “I think policy is totally central, in that for each part of the climate problem, you really can’t make progress without policy.” Part of that, he said, “involves government activities to help communities, and … to make sure the transition [involving the adoption of new technologies] is as equitable as possible.”

    Goldston said “a lot of the progress that’s been made already, whether it’s movement toward solar and wind energy and many other things, has been really prompted by government policy. I think sometimes people see it as a contest, should we be focusing on technology or policy, but I see them as two sides of the same coin. … You can’t get the technology you need into operation without policy tools, and the policy tools won’t have anything to work with unless technology is developed.”

    As for MIT, he said, “I think everybody at MIT who works on any aspect of climate change should be thinking about what’s the policy aspect of it, how could policy help them? How could they help policymakers? I think we need to coordinate better.” The Institute needs to be more strategic, he said, but “that doesn’t mean MIT advocating for specific policies. It means advocating for climate action and injecting a wide range of ideas into the policy arena.”

    Anushree Chaudhari, a student in economics and in urban studies and planning, said she has been learning about the power of negotiations in her work with Professor Larry Susskind. “What we’re currently working on is understanding why there are so many sources of local opposition to scaling renewable energy projects in the U.S.,” she explained. “Even though over 77 percent of the U.S. population actually is in support of renewables, and renewables are actually economically pretty feasible as their costs have come down in the last two decades, there’s still a huge social barrier to having them become the new norm,” she said. She emphasized that a fair and just energy transition will require listening to community stakeholders, including indigenous groups and low-income communities, and understanding why they may oppose utility-scale solar farms and wind farms.

    Joy Jackson, a graduate student in the Technology and Policy Program, said that the implementation of research findings into policy at state, local, and national levels is a “very messy, nonlinear, sort of chaotic process.” One avenue for research to make its way into policy, she said, is through formal processes, such as congressional testimony. But a lot is also informal, as she learned while working as an intern in government offices, where she and her colleagues reached out to professors, researchers, and technical experts of various kinds while in the very early stages of policy development.

    “The good news,” she said, “is there’s a lot of touch points.”

    The third panel featured members of the working group studying ways to reduce MIT’s own carbon footprint. Julie Newman, head of MIT’s Office of Sustainability and co-chair of that group, summed up MIT’s progress toward its stated goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2026. “I can cautiously say we’re on track for that one,” she said. Despite headwinds in the solar industry due to supply chain issues, she said, “we’re well positioned” to meet that near-term target.

    As for working toward the 2050 target of eliminating all direct emissions, she said, it is “quite a challenge.” But under the leadership of Joe Higgins, the vice president for campus services and stewardship, MIT is implementing a number of measures, including deep energy retrofits, investments in high-performance buildings, an extremely efficient central utilities plant, and more.

    She added that MIT is particularly well-positioned in its thinking about scaling its solutions up. “A couple of years ago we approached a handful of local organizations, and over a couple of years have built a consortium to look at large-scale carbon reduction in the world. And it’s a brilliant partnership,” she said, noting that details are still being worked out and will be reported later.

    The work is challenging, because “MIT was built on coal, this campus was not built to get to zero carbon emissions.” Nevertheless, “we think we’re on track” to meet the ambitious goals of the Fast Forward plan, she said. “We’re going to have to have multiple pathways, because we may come to a pathway that may turn out not to be feasible.”

    Jay Dolan, head of facilities development at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, said that campus faces extra hurdles compared to the main MIT campus, as it occupies buildings that are owned and maintained by the U.S. Air Force, not MIT. They are still at the data-gathering stage to see what they can do to improve their emissions, he said, and a website they set up to solicit suggestions for reducing their emissions had received 70 suggestions within a few days, which are still being evaluated. “All that enthusiasm, along with the intelligence at the laboratory, is very promising,” he said.

    Peter Jacobson, a graduate student in Leaders for Global Operations, said that in his experience, projects that are most successful start not from a focus on the technology, but from collaborative efforts working with multiple stakeholders. “I think this is exactly why the Climate Nucleus and our working groups are so important here at MIT,” he said. “We need people tasked with thinking at this campus scale, figuring out what the needs and priorities of all the departments are and looking for those synergies, and aligning those needs across both internal and external stakeholders.”

    But, he added, “MIT’s complexity and scale of operations definitely poses unique challenges. Advanced research is energy hungry, and in many cases we don’t have the technology to decarbonize those research processes yet. And we have buildings of varying ages with varying stages of investment.” In addition, MIT has “a lot of people that it needs to feed, and that need to travel and commute, so that poses additional and different challenges.”

    Asked what individuals can do to help MIT in this process, Newman said, “Begin to leverage and figure out how you connect your research to informing our thinking on campus. We have channels for that.”

    Noelle Selin, co-chair of MIT’s climate nucleus and moderator of the third panel, said in conclusion “we’re really looking for your input into all of these working groups and all of these efforts. This is a whole of campus effort. It’s a whole of world effort to address the climate challenge. So, please get in touch and use this as a call to action.” More

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    A community approach to improving the health of the planet

    Earlier this month, MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering (MechE) hosted a Health of the Planet Showcase. The event was the culmination of a four-year long community initiative to focus on what the mechanical engineering community at MIT can do to solve some of the biggest challenges the planet faces on a local and global scale. Structured like an informal poster session, the event marked the first time that administrative staff joined students, researchers, and postdocs in sharing their own research.

    When Evelyn Wang started her tenure as mechanical engineering department head in July 2018, she and associate department heads Pierre Lermusiaux and Rohit Karnik made the health of the planet a top priority for the department. Their goal was to bring students, faculty, and staff together to develop solutions that address the many problems related to the health of the planet.

    “As a field, mechanical engineering is unique in its diversity,” says Wang, the Ford Professor of Engineering. “We have researchers who are world-leading experts on desalination, ocean engineering, energy storage, and photovoltaics, just to name a few. One of our driving motivations has been getting those experts to collaborate and work on new health of the planet research projects together.”

    Wang also saw an opportunity to tap into the passions of the department’s students and staff, many of whom devote their extracurricular and personal time to environmental causes. She enlisted the help of a team of faculty and staff to launch what has become known as the MechE Health of the Planet Initiative.

    The initiative, which capitalizes on the diverse range of research fields in mechanical engineering, encouraged both grand research ideas that could have impact on a global scale, and smaller personal habits that could help on a smaller scale.

    “We wanted to encourage everyone in our community to think about their daily routine and make small changes that really add up over time,” says Dorothy Hanna, program administrator at MIT and one of the staff members leading the initiative.

    The Health of the Planet team started small. They hosted an office supply swap day to encourage recycling and reuse of everyday office products. This idea expanded to include the launch of “Lab Reuse Days.” Members of the Rohsenow Kendall Lab, including members of the research groups of professors Gang Chen, John Lienhard, and Evelyn Wang, gathered extra materials for reuse. Researchers from other labs picked up Arduino kits, tubing, and electrical wiring to use for their own projects.

    While individuals were encouraged to adopt small habits at home and at work to help the health of the planet, research teams were encouraged to work together on solutions on a larger scale.

    Seed funding for collaborative research

    In early 2020, the MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering launched a new collaborative seed research program based on funding from MathWorks, the computing software company that developed MATLAB. The first seed funding supported health of the planet research projects led by two or more mechanical engineering faculty members.

    “One of the driving goals of MechE has been fostering collaborations and supporting interdisciplinary research on the grand challenges our world faces,” says Pierre Lermusiaux, the Nam P. Suh Professor and associate department head for operations. “The seed funding from MathWorks was a great opportunity to build upon the diverse expertise and creativity our researchers have to address health of the planet related issues.” 

    The research projects supported by the seed funding ranged from lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles to high-performance household energy products for low- and middle-income countries. Each project differs in scope and application, and draws upon the expertise of at least two different research groups at MIT.

    Throughout the past two years, faculty presented about these research projects in several community seminars. They also participated in a full-day faculty research retreat focused on health of the planet research that included presentations from local Cambridge and Boston city leaders, as well as experts from other MIT departments and Harvard University.

    These projects have helped break down barriers and increased collaboration among research groups that focus on different areas. The third round of seed funding for collaborative research projects was recently announced and new projects will be chosen in the coming weeks.

    A community showcase

    Upon returning to the campus last fall, the Health of the Planet team began planning an event to bring the community together and celebrate the department’s research efforts. The Health of the Planet Showcase, which took place on April 4, featured 26 presenters from across the mechanical engineering community at MIT.

    Projects included a marine coastal monitoring robot, solar hydrogen production with thermochemical cycles, and a portable atmospheric water extractor for dry climates. Among the presenters was Administrative Assistant Tony Pulsone, who presented on how honeybees navigate their surroundings, as well as program manager Theresa Werth and program administrator Dorothy Hanna, who presented on reducing bottled water use and practical strategies developed by staff to overcome functional barriers on campus.

    The event concluded with the announcement of the Fay and Alfred D. Chandler Jr. Research Fellowship, awarded to a MechE student-led effort to propose a new paradigm to improve the health of our planet. Graduate student Charlene Xia won for her work developing a real-time opto-fluidics system for monitoring the soil microbiome.

    “The soil microbiome governs the biogeochemical cycling of macronutrients, micronutrients, and other elements vital for the growth of plants and animal life,” Xia said. “Understanding and predicting the impact of climate change on soil microbiomes and the ecosystem services they provide present a grand challenge and major opportunity.”

    The Chandler Fellowship will continue during the 2022-23 academic year, when another student-led project will be chosen. The department also hopes to make the Health of the Planet Showcase an annual gathering.

    “The showcase was such a vibrant event,” adds Wang. “It really energized the department and renewed our commitment to growing community efforts and continuing to advance research to help improve and protect the health of our planet.” More

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    Finding the questions that guide MIT fusion research

    “One of the things I learned was, doing good science isn’t so much about finding the answers as figuring out what the important questions are.”

    As Martin Greenwald retires from the responsibilities of senior scientist and deputy director of the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC), he reflects on his almost 50 years of science study, 43 of them as a researcher at MIT, pursuing the question of how to make the carbon-free energy of fusion a reality.

    Most of Greenwald’s important questions about fusion began after graduating from MIT with a BS in both physics and chemistry. Beginning graduate work at the University of California at Berkeley, he felt compelled to learn more about fusion as an energy source that could have “a real societal impact.” At the time, researchers were exploring new ideas for devices that could create and confine fusion plasmas. Greenwald worked on Berkeley’s “alternate concept” TORMAC, a Toroidal Magnetic Cusp. “It didn’t work out very well,” he laughs. “The first thing I was known for was making the measurements that shut down the program.”

    Believing the temperature of the plasma generated by the device would not be as high as his group leader expected, Greenwald developed hardware that could measure the low temperatures predicted by his own “back of the envelope calculations.” As he anticipated, his measurements showed that “this was not a fusion plasma; this was hardly a confined plasma at all.”

    With a PhD from Berkeley, Greenwald returned to MIT for a research position at the PSFC, attracted by the center’s “esprit de corps.”

    He arrived in time to participate in the final experiments on Alcator A, the first in a series of tokamaks built at MIT, all characterized by compact size and featuring high-field magnets. The tokamak design was then becoming favored as the most effective route to fusion: its doughnut-shaped vacuum chamber, surrounded by electromagnets, could confine the turbulent plasma long enough, while increasing its heat and density, to make fusion occur.

    Alcator A showed that the energy confinement time improves in relation to increasing plasma density. MIT’s succeeding device, Alcator C, was designed to use higher magnetic fields, boosting expectations that it would reach higher densities and better confinement. To attain these goals, however, Greenwald had to pursue a new technique that increased density by injecting pellets of frozen fuel into the plasma, a method he likens to throwing “snowballs in hell.” This work was notable for the creation of a new regime of enhanced plasma confinement on Alcator C. In those experiments, a confined plasma surpassed for the first time one of the two Lawson criteria — the minimum required value for the product of the plasma density and confinement time — for making net power from fusion. This had been a milestone for fusion research since their publication by John Lawson in 1957.

    Greenwald continued to make a name for himself as part of a larger study into the physics of the Compact Ignition Tokamak — a high-field burning plasma experiment that the U.S. program was proposing to build in the late 1980s. The result, unexpectedly, was a new scaling law, later known as the “Greenwald Density Limit,” and a new theory for the mechanism of the limit. It has been used to accurately predict performance on much larger machines built since.

    The center’s next tokamak, Alcator C-Mod, started operation in 1993 and ran for more than 20 years, with Greenwald as the chair of its Experimental Program Committee. Larger than Alcator C, the new device supported a highly shaped plasma, strong radiofrequency heating, and an all-metal plasma-facing first wall. All of these would eventually be required in a fusion power system.

    C-Mod proved to be MIT’s most enduring fusion experiment to date, producing important results for 20 years. During that time Greenwald contributed not only to the experiments, but to mentoring the next generation. Research scientist Ryan Sweeney notes that “Martin quickly gained my trust as a mentor, in part due to his often casual dress and slightly untamed hair, which are embodiments of his transparency and his focus on what matters. He can quiet a room of PhDs and demand attention not by intimidation, but rather by his calmness and his ability to bring clarity to complicated problems, be they scientific or human in nature.”

    Greenwald worked closely with the group of students who, in PSFC Director Dennis Whyte’s class, came up with the tokamak concept that evolved into SPARC. MIT is now pursuing this compact, high-field tokamak with Commonwealth Fusion Systems, a startup that grew out of the collective enthusiasm for this concept, and the growing realization it could work. Greenwald now heads the Physics Group for the SPARC project at MIT. He has helped confirm the device’s physics basis in order to predict performance and guide engineering decisions.

    “Martin’s multifaceted talents are thoroughly embodied by, and imprinted on, SPARC” says Whyte. “First, his leadership in its plasma confinement physics validation and publication place SPARC on a firm scientific footing. Secondly, the impact of the density limit he discovered, which shows that fuel density increases with magnetic field and decreasing the size of the tokamak, is critical in obtaining high fusion power density not just in SPARC, but in future power plants. Third, and perhaps most impressive, is Martin’s mentorship of the SPARC generation of leadership.”

    Greenwald’s expertise and easygoing personality have made him an asset as head of the PSFC Office for Computer Services and group leader for data acquisition and computing, and sought for many professional committees. He has been an APS Fellow since 2000, and was an APS Distinguished Lecturer in Plasma Physics (2001-02). He was also presented in 2014 with a Leadership Award from Fusion Power Associates. He is currently an associate editor for Physics of Plasmas and a member of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Physical Sciences Directorate External Review Committee.

    Although leaving his full-time responsibilities, Greenwald will remain at MIT as a visiting scientist, a role he says will allow him to “stick my nose into everything without being responsible for anything.”

    “At some point in the race you have to hand off the baton,“ he says. “And it doesn’t mean you’re not interested in the outcome; and it doesn’t mean you’re just going to walk away into the stands. I want to be there at the end when we succeed.” More

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    Building communities, founding a startup with people in mind

    MIT postdoc Francesco Benedetti admits he wasn’t always a star student. But the people he met along his educational journey inspired him to strive, which led him to conduct research at MIT, launch a startup, and even lead the team that won the 2021 MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition. Now he is determined to make sure his company, Osmoses, succeeds in boosting the energy efficiency of traditional and renewable natural gas processing, hydrogen production, and carbon capture — thus helping to address climate change.

    “I can’t be grateful enough to MIT for bringing together a community of people who want to change the world,” Benedetti says. “Now we have a technology that can solve one of the big problems of our society.”

    Benedetti and his team have developed an innovative way to separate molecules using a membrane fine enough to extract impurities such as carbon dioxide or hydrogen sulfide from raw natural gas to obtain higher-quality fuel, fulfilling a crucial need in the energy industry. “Natural gas now provides about 40 percent of the energy used to power homes and industry in the United States,” Benedetti says. Using his team’s technology to upgrade natural gas more efficiently could reduce emissions of greenhouse gases while saving enough energy to power the equivalent of 7 million additional U.S. homes for a year, he adds.

    The MIT community

    Benedetti first came to MIT in 2017 as a visiting student from the University of Bologna in Italy, where he was working on membranes for gas separation for his PhD in chemical engineering. Having completed a master’s thesis on water desalination at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin, he connected with UT alumnus Zachary P. Smith, the Robert N. Noyce Career Development Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT, and the two discovered they shared a vision. “We found ourselves very much aligned on the need for new technology in industry to lower the energy consumption of separating components,” Benedetti says.

    Although Benedetti had always been interested in making a positive impact on the world, particularly the environment, he says it was his university studies that first sparked his interest in more efficient separation technologies. “When you study chemical engineering, you understand hundreds of ways the field can have a positive impact in the world. But we learn very early that 15 percent of the world’s energy is wasted because of inefficient chemical separation — because we still rely on centuries-old technology,” he says. Most separation processes still use heat or toxic solvents to separate components, he explains.

    Still, Benedetti says, his main drive comes from the joy of working with terrific mentors and colleagues. “It’s the people I’ve met that really inspired me to tackle the biggest challenges and find that intrinsic motivation,” he says.

    To help build his community at MIT and provide support for international students, Benedetti co-founded the MIT Visiting Student Association (VISTA) in September 2017. By February 2018, the organization had hundreds of members and official Institute recognition. In May 2018, the group won two Institute awards, including the Golden Beaver Award for enhancing the campus environment. “VISTA gave me a sense of belonging; I loved it,” Benedetti says.

    Membrane technology

    Benedetti also published two papers on membrane research during his stint as a visiting student at MIT, so he was delighted to return in 2019 for postdoctoral work through the MIT Energy Initiative, where he was a 2019-20 ExxonMobil-MIT Energy Fellow. “I came back because the research was extremely exciting, but also because I got extremely passionate about the energy I found on campus and with the people,” he says.

    Returning to MIT enabled Benedetti to continue his work with Smith and Holden Lai, both of whom helped co-found Osmoses. Lai, a recent Stanford PhD in chemistry who was also a visiting student at MIT in 2018, is now the chief technology officer at Osmoses. Co-founder Katherine Mizrahi Rodriguez ’17, an MIT PhD candidate, joined the team more recently.

    Together, the Osmoses team has developed polymer membranes with microporosities capable of filtering gases by separating out molecules that differ by as little as a fraction of an angstrom — a unit of length equal to one hundred-millionth of a centimeter. “We can get up to five times higher selectivity than commercially available technology for methane upgrading, and this has been observed operating the membranes in industrially relevant environments,” Benedetti says.

    Today, methane upgrading — removing carbon dioxide (CO2) from raw natural gas to obtain a higher-grade fuel — is often accomplished using amine absorption, a process that uses toxic solvents to capture CO2 and burns methane to fuel the regeneration of those solvents for reuse. Using Osmoses’ filters would eliminate the need for such solvents while reducing CO2 emissions by up to 16 million metric tons per year in the United States alone, Benedetti says.

    The technology has a wide range of applications — in oxygen and nitrogen generation, hydrogen purification, and carbon capture, for example — but Osmoses plans to start with the $5 billion market for natural gas upgrading because the need to bring innovation and sustainability to that space is urgent, says Benedetti, who received guidance in bringing technology to market from MIT’s Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation. The Osmoses team has also received support from the MIT Sandbox Innovation Fund Program.

    The next step for the startup is to build an industrial-scale prototype, and Benedetti says the company got a huge boost toward that goal in May when it won the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition, a student-run contest that has launched more than 160 companies since it began in 1990. Ninety teams began the competition by pitching their startup ideas; 20 received mentorship and development funding; then eight finalists presented business plans to compete for the $100,000 prize. “Because of this, we’re getting a lot of interest from venture capital firms, investors, companies, corporate funds, et cetera, that want to partner with us or to use our product,” he says. In June, the Osmoses team received a two-year Activate Fellowship, which will support moving its research to market; in October, it won the Northeast Regional and Carbon Sequestration Prizes at the Cleantech Open Accelerator; and in November, the team closed a $3 million pre-seed round of financing.

    FAIL!

    Naturally, Benedetti hopes Osmoses is on the path to success, but he wants everyone to know that there is no shame in failures that come from best efforts. He admits it took him three years longer than usual to finish his undergraduate and master’s degrees, and he says, “I have experienced the pressure you feel when society judges you like a book by its cover and how much a lack of inspired leaders and a supportive environment can kill creativity and the will to try.”

    That’s why in 2018 he, along with other MIT students and VISTA members, started FAIL!–Inspiring Resilience, an organization that provides a platform for sharing unfiltered stories and the lessons leaders have gleaned from failure. “We wanted to help de-stigmatize failure, appreciate vulnerabilities, and inspire humble leadership, eventually creating better communities,” Benedetti says. “If we can make failures, big and small, less intimidating and all-consuming, individuals with great potential will be more willing to take risks, think outside the box, and try things that may push new boundaries. In this way, more breakthrough discoveries are likely to follow, without compromising anyone’s mental health.”

    Benedetti says he will strive to create a supportive culture at Osmoses, because people are central to success. “What drives me every day is the people. I would have no story without the people around me,” he says. “The moment you lose touch with people, you lose the opportunity to create something special.”

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