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    Strengthening students’ knowledge and experience in climate and sustainability

    Tackling the climate crisis is central to MIT. Critical to this mission is harnessing the innovation, passion, and expertise of MIT’s talented students, from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds. To help raise this student involvement to the next level, the MIT Climate and Sustainability Consortium (MCSC) recently launched a program that will engage MIT undergraduates in a unique, year-long, interdisciplinary experience both developing and implementing climate and sustainability research projects.

    The MCSC Climate and Sustainability Scholars Program is a way for students to dive deeply and directly into climate and sustainability research, strengthen their skill sets in a variety of climate and sustainability-related areas, build their networks, and continue to embrace and grow their passion.The MCSC Climate and Sustainability Scholars Program is representative of MIT’s ambitious and bold initiatives on climate and sustainability — bringing together faculty and students across MIT to collaborate with industry on developing climate and sustainability solutions in the context of undergraduate education and research.

    The program, open to rising juniors and seniors from all majors and departments, is inspired by MIT’s SuperUROP program. Students will enroll in a year-long class while simultaneously engaging in research. Research projects will be climate- and sustainability-focused and can be on or off campus. The course will be initially facilitated by Desiree Plata, the Gilbert W. Winslow Career Development Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Elsa Olivetti, the Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Associate Professor in Materials Science and Engineering and MCSC co-director.“Climate and sustainability challenges face real barriers in science, technology, policy, and beyond,” says Plata, who also serves on the MCSC’s Faculty Steering Committee. “We need to motivate an all-hands effort to bring MIT talent to bear on these challenges, and we need to give our students the tools to make tangible benefits within and between their disciplines. This was our goal in designing the MCSC Scholars Program, and it’s what I’m most excited about.”

    The Climate and Sustainability Scholars Program has relevance across all five schools, and the number of places the course is cross-listed continues to grow. As is the broader goal of the MCSC, the Climate and Sustainability Scholars Program aims to amplify and extend MIT’s expertise — through engaging students of all backgrounds and majors, bringing in faculty mentors and instructors from around the Institute, and identifying research opportunities and principal investigators that span disciplines. The student cohort model will also build off of the successful community-building endeavors by the MIT Energy Initiative and Environmental Solutions Initiative, among others, to bring students with similar interests together into an interdisciplinary, problem-solving space.The program’s fall semester will focus on key climate and sustainability topics, such as decarbonization strategies, policy, environmental justice, and quantitative methods for evaluating social and environmental impacts, and humanities-based communication of climate topics, all while students engage in research. Students will simultaneously develop project proposals, participate in a project through MIT’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, and communicate their work using written and oral media. The spring semester’s course will focus on research and experiential activities, and help students communicate their outputs in entrepreneurial or policy activities that would enable the research outcomes to be rapidly scaled for impact.Throughout the program, students will engage with their research mentors, additional mentors drawn from MCSC-affiliated faculty, postdoctoral Impact Fellows, and graduate students — and there will also be opportunities for interaction with representatives of MCSC member companies.“Providing opportunities for students to sharpen the skills and knowledge needed to pioneer solutions for climate change mitigation and adaptation is critical,” says Olivetti. “We are excited that the Climate and Sustainability Scholars Program can contribute to that important mission.” More

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    Finding her way to fusion

    “I catch myself startling people in public.”

    Zoe Fisher’s animated hands carry part of the conversation as she describes how her naturally loud and expressive laughter turned heads in the streets of Yerevan. There during MIT’s Independent Activities period (IAP), she was helping teach nuclear science at the American University of Armenia, before returning to MIT to pursue fusion research at the Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC).

    Startling people may simply be in Fisher’s DNA. She admits that when she first arrived at MIT, knowing nothing about nuclear science and engineering (NSE), she chose to join that department’s Freshman Pre-Orientation Program (FPOP) “for the shock value.” It was a choice unexpected by family, friends, and mostly herself. Now in her senior year, a 2021 recipient of NSE’s Irving Kaplan Award for academic achievements by a junior and entering a fifth-year master of science program in nuclear fusion, Fisher credits that original spontaneous impulse for introducing her to a subject she found so compelling that, after exploring multiple possibilities, she had to return to it.

    Fisher’s venture to Armenia, under the guidance of NSE associate professor Areg Danagoulian, is not the only time she has taught oversees with MISTI’s Global Teaching Labs, though it is the first time she has taught nuclear science, not to mention thermodynamics and materials science. During IAP 2020 she was a student teacher at a German high school, teaching life sciences, mathematics, and even English to grades five through 12. And after her first year she explored the transportation industry with a mechanical engineering internship in Tuscany, Italy.

    By the time she was ready to declare her NSE major she had sampled the alternatives both overseas and at home, taking advantage of MIT’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). Drawn to fusion’s potential as an endless source of carbon-free energy on earth, she decided to try research at the PSFC, to see if the study was a good fit. 

    Much fusion research at MIT has favored heating hydrogen fuel inside a donut-shaped device called a tokamak, creating plasma that is hot and dense enough for fusion to occur. Because plasma will follow magnetic field lines, these devices are wrapped with magnets to keep the hot fuel from damaging the chamber walls.

    Fisher was assigned to SPARC, the PSFC’s new tokamak collaboration with MIT startup Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CSF), which uses a game-changing high-temperature superconducting (HTS) tape to create fusion magnets that minimize tokamak size and maximize performance. Working on a database reference book for SPARC materials, she was finding purpose even in the most repetitive tasks. “Which is how I knew I wanted to stay in fusion,” she laughs.

    Fisher’s latest UROP assignment takes her — literally — deeper into SPARC research. She works in a basement laboratory in building NW13 nicknamed “The Vault,” on a proton accelerator whose name conjures an underworld: DANTE. Supervised by PSFC Director Dennis Whyte and postdoc David Fischer, she is exploring the effects of radiation damage on the thin HTS tape that is key to SPARC’s design, and ultimately to the success of ARC, a prototype working fusion power plant.

    Because repetitive bombardment with neutrons produced during the fusion process can diminish the superconducting properties of the HTS, it is crucial to test the tape repeatedly. Fisher assists in assembling and testing the experimental setups for irradiating the HTS samples. Fisher recalls her first project was installing a “shutter” that would allow researchers to control exactly how much radiation reached the tape without having to turn off the entire experiment.

    “You could just push the button — block the radiation — then unblock it. It sounds super simple, but it took many trials. Because first I needed the right size solenoid, and then I couldn’t find a piece of metal that was small enough, and then we needed cryogenic glue…. To this day the actual final piece is made partially of paper towels.”

    She shrugs and laughs. “It worked, and it was the cheapest option.”

    Fisher is always ready to find the fun in fusion. Referring to DANTE as “A really cool dude,” she admits, “He’s perhaps a bit fickle. I may or may not have broken him once.” During a recent IAP seminar, she joined other PSFC UROP students to discuss her research, and expanded on how a mishap can become a gateway to understanding.

    “The grad student I work with and I got to repair almost the entire internal circuit when we blew the fuse — which originally was a really bad thing. But it ended up being great because we figured out exactly how it works.”

    Fisher’s upbeat spirit makes her ideal not only for the challenges of fusion research, but for serving the MIT community. As a student representative for NSE’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, she meets monthly with the goal of growing and supporting diversity within the department.

    “This opportunity is impactful because I get my voice, and the voices of my peers, taken seriously,” she says. “Currently, we are spending most of our efforts trying to identify and eliminate hurdles based on race, ethnicity, gender, and income that prevent people from pursuing — and applying to — NSE.”

    To break from the lab and committees, she explores the Charles River as part of MIT’s varsity sailing team, refusing to miss a sunset. She also volunteers as an FPOP mentor, seeking to provide incoming first-years with the kind of experience that will make them want to return to the topic, as she did.

    She looks forward to continuing her studies on the HTS tapes she has been irradiating, proposing to send a current pulse above the critical current through the tape, to possibly anneal any defects from radiation, which would make repairs on future fusion power plants much easier.

    Fisher credits her current path to her UROP mentors and their infectious enthusiasm for the carbon-free potential of fusion energy.

    “UROPing around the PSFC showed me what I wanted to do with my life,” she says. “Who doesn’t want to save the world?” More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Nurturing human communities and natural ecosystems

    When she was in 7th grade, Heidi Li and the five other members of the Oyster Gardening Club cultivated hundreds of oysters to help repopulate the Chesapeake Bay. On the day they released the oysters into the bay, the event attracted TV journalists and local officials, including the governor. The attention opened the young Li’s eyes to the ways that a seemingly small effort in her local community could have a real-world impact.

    “I got to see firsthand how we can make change at a grassroots level and how that impacts where we are,” she says.

    Growing up in Howard County, Maryland, Li was constantly surrounded by nature. Her family made frequent trips to the Chesapeake Bay, as it reminded them of her parent’s home in Shandong, China. Li worked to bridge the cultural gap between parents, who grew up in China, and their children, who grew up in the U.S., and attended Chinese school every Sunday for 12 years. These experiences instilled in her a community-oriented mindset, which Li brought with her to MIT, where she now majors in materials science and engineering.

    During her first year, Li pursued a microbiology research project through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. She studied microbes in aquatic environments, analyzing how the cleanliness of water impacted immunity and behavioral changes of the marine bacteria.

    The experience led her to consider the ways environmental policy affected sustainability efforts. She began applying the problem to energy, asking herself questions such as, “How can you take this specific economic principle and apply it to energy? What has energy policy looked like in the past and how can we tailor that to apply to our current energy system?”

    To explore the intersection of policy and energy, Li participated in the Roosevelt Project, through the Center of Energy and Environmental Policy Research, during the summer after her junior year. The project used case studies targeting specific communities in vulnerable areas to propose methods for a more sustainable future. Li focused on Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, evaluating the efficiency of an energy transition from natural gas and fossil fuels to carbon-capture, which would mean redistributing the carbon dioxide produced by the coal industry. After traveling to Pittsburgh and interviewing stakeholders in the area, Li watched as local community leaders created physical places for citizens to share their ideas and opinions on the energy transition

    “I watched community leaders create a safe space for people from the surrounding town to share their ideas for entrepreneurship. I saw how important community is and how to create change at a grassroots level,” she says.

    In the summer of 2021, Li pursued an internship through the energy consulting firm Wood Mackenzie, where she looked at technologies that could potentially help with the energy transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Her job was to make sure the technology could be implemented efficiently and cost-effectively, optimizing the resources available to the surrounding area. The project allowed Li to engage with industry-based efforts to chart and analyze the technological advancements for various decarbonization scenarios. She hopes to continue looking at both the local, community-based, and external, industry-based, inputs on how economic policy would affect stakeholders.

    On campus, Li is the current president of the Sustainable Energy Alliance (SEA), where she aims to make students more conscious about climate change and their impact on the environment. During summer of her sophomore year, Li chaired a sustainability hackathon for over 200 high school students, where she designed and led the “Protecting Climate Refugees” and “Tackling Environmental Injustice” challenges to inspire students to think about humanitarian efforts for protecting frontline communities.

    “The whole goal of this is to empower students to think about solutions for themselves. Empowering students is really important to show them they can make change and inspire hope in themselves and the people around them,” she says.

    Li also hosted and produced “Open SEAcrets,” a podcast designed to engage MIT students with topics surrounding energy sustainability and provide them with the opportunity to share their opinions on the subject. She sees the podcast as a platform to raise awareness about energy, climate change, and environmental policy, while also inspiring a sense of community with listeners.

    When she is not in the classroom or the lab, Li relaxes by playing volleyball. She joined the Volleyball Club during her first year at MIT, though she has been playing since she was 12. The sport allows her to not only relieve stress, but also have conversations with both undergrads and graduate students, who bring different their backgrounds, interests, and experiences to conversations. The sport has also taught Li about teamwork, trust, and the importance of community in ways that her other experience doesn’t.

    Looking ahead, Li is currently working on a UROP project, called Climate Action Through Education (CATE), that designs climate change curriculum for K-12 grades and aims to show how climate change and energy are integral to peoples’ daily lives. Seeing the energy transition as an interdisciplinary problem, she wants to educate students about the problems of climate change and sustainability using perspectives from math, science, history, and psychology to name a few areas.

    But above all, Li wants to empower younger generations to develop solution-minded approaches to environmentalism. She hopes to give local communities a voice in policy implementation, with the end goal of a more sustainable future for all.

    “Finding a community you really thrive in will allow you to push yourself and be the best version of yourself you can be. I want to take this mindset and create spaces for people and establish and instill this sense of community,” she says. More

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    Students dive into research with the MIT Climate and Sustainability Consortium

    Throughout the fall 2021 semester, the MIT Climate and Sustainability Consortium (MCSC) supported several research projects with a climate-and-sustainability topic related to the consortium, through the MIT Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). These students, who represent a range of disciplines, had the opportunity to work with MCSC Impact Fellows on topics related directly to the ongoing work and collaborations with MCSC member companies and the broader MIT community, from carbon capture to value-chain resilience to biodegradables. Many of these students are continuing their work this spring semester.

    Hannah Spilman, who is studying chemical engineering, worked with postdoc Glen Junor, an MCSC Impact Fellow, to investigate carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS), with the goal of facilitating CCUS on a gigaton scale, a much larger capacity than what currently exists. “Scientists agree CCUS will be an important tool in combating climate change, but the largest CCUS facility only captures CO2 on a megaton scale, and very few facilities are actually operating,” explains Spilman. 

    Throughout her UROP, she worked on analyzing the currently deployed technology in the CCUS field, using National Carbon Capture Center post-combustion project reports to synthesize the results and outline those technologies. Examining projects like the RTI-NAS experiment, which showcased innovation with carbon capture technology, was especially helpful. “We must first understand where we are, and as we continue to conduct analyses, we will be able to understand the field’s current state and path forward,” she concludes.

    Fellow chemical engineering students Claire Kim and Alfonso Restrepo are working with postdoc and MCSC Impact Fellow Xiangkun (Elvis) Cao, also on investigating CCUS technology. Kim’s focus is on life cycle assessment (LCA), while Restrepo’s focus is on techno-economic assessment (TEA). They have been working together to use the two tools to evaluate multiple CCUS technologies. While LCA and TEA are not new tools themselves, their application in CCUS has not been comprehensively defined and described. “CCUS can play an important role in the flexible, low-carbon energy systems,” says Kim, which was part of the motivation behind her project choice.

    Through TEA, Restrepo has been investigating how various startups and larger companies are incorporating CCUS technology in their processes. “In order to reduce CO2 emissions before it’s too late to act, there is a strong need for resources that effectively evaluate CCUS technology, to understand the effectiveness and viability of emerging technology for future implementation,” he explains. For their next steps, Kim and Restrepo will apply LCA and TEA to the analysis of a specific capture (for example, direct ocean capture) or conversion (for example, CO2-to-fuel conversion) process​ in CCUS.

    Cameron Dougal, a first-year student, and James Santoro, studying management, both worked with postdoc and MCSC Impact Fellow Paloma Gonzalez-Rojas on biodegradable materials. Dougal explored biodegradable packaging film in urban systems. “I have had a longstanding interest in sustainability, with a newer interest in urban planning and design, which motivated me to work on this project,” Dougal says. “Bio-based plastics are a promising step for the future.”

    Dougal spent time conducting internet and print research, as well as speaking with faculty on their relevant work. From these efforts, Dougal has identified important historical context for the current recycling landscape — as well as key case studies and cities around the world to explore further. In addition to conducting more research, Dougal plans to create a summary and statistic sheet.

    Santoro dove into the production angle, working on evaluating the economic viability of the startups that are creating biodegradable materials. “Non-renewable plastics (created with fossil fuels) continue to pollute and irreparably damage our environment,” he says. “As we look for innovative solutions, a key question to answer is how can we determine a more effective way to evaluate the economic viability and probability of success for new startups and technologies creating biodegradable plastics?” The project aims to develop an effective framework to begin to answer this.

    At this point, Santoro has been understanding the overall ecosystem, understanding how these biodegradable materials are developed, and analyzing the economics side of things. He plans to have conversations with company founders, investors, and experts, and identify major challenges for biodegradable technology startups in creating high performance products with attractive unit economics. There is also still a lot to research about new technologies and trends in the industry, the profitability of different products, as well as specific individual companies doing this type of work.

    Tess Buchanan, who is studying materials science and engineering, is working with Katharina Fransen and Sarah Av-Ron, MIT graduate students in the Department of Chemical Engineering, and principal investigator Professor Bradley Olsen, to also explore biodegradables by looking into their development from biomass “This is critical work, given the current plastics sustainability crisis, and the potential of bio-based polymers,” Buchanan says.

    The objective of the project is to explore new sustainable polymers through a biodegradation assay using clear zone growth analysis to yield degradation rates. For next steps, Buchanan is diving into synthesis expansion and using machine learning to understand the relationship between biodegradation and polymer chemistry.

    Kezia Hector, studying chemical engineering, and Tamsin Nottage, a first-year student, working with postdoc and MCSC Impact Fellow Sydney Sroka, explored advancing and establishing sustainable solutions for value chain resilience. Hector’s focus was understanding how wildfires can affect supply chains, specifically identifying sources of economic loss. She reviewed academic literature and news articles, and looked at the Amazon, California, Siberia, and Washington, finding that wildfires cause millions of dollars in damage every year and impact supply chains by cutting off or slowing down freight activity. She will continue to identify ways to make supply chains more resilient and sustainable.

    Nottage focused on the economic impact of typhoons, closely studying Typhoon Mangkhut, a powerful and catastrophic tropical cyclone that caused extensive damages of $593 million in Guam, the Philippines, and South China in September 2018. “As a Bahamian, I’ve witnessed the ferocity of hurricanes and challenges of rebuilding after them,” says Nottage. “I used this project to identify the tropical cyclones that caused the most extensive damage for further investigation.”She compiled the causes of damage and their costs to inform targets of supply chain resiliency reform (shipping, building materials, power supply, etc.). As a next step, Nottage will focus on modeling extreme events like Mangkunt to develop frameworks that companies can learn from and utilize to build more sustainable supply chains in the future.

    Ellie Vaserman, a first-year student working with postdoc and MCSC Impact Fellow Poushali Maji, also explored a topic related to value chains: unlocking circularity across the entire value chain through quality improvement, inclusive policy, and behavior to improve materials recovery. Specifically, her objectives have been to learn more about methods of chemolysis and the viability of their products, to compare methods of chemical recycling of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) using quantitative metrics, and to design qualitative visuals to make the steps in PET chemical recycling processes more understandable.

    To do so, she conducted a literature review to identify main methods of chemolysis that are utilized in the field (and collect data about these methods) and created graphics for some of the more common processes. Moving forward, she hopes to compare the processes using other metrics and research the energy intensity of the monomer purification processes.

    The work of these students, as well as many others, continued over MIT’s Independent Activities Period in January. More

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    The language of change

    Ryan Conti came to MIT hoping to find a way to do good things in the world. Now a junior, his path is pointing toward a career in climate science, and he is preparing by majoring in both math and computer science and by minoring in philosophy.

    Language for catalyzing change

    Philosophy matters to Conti not only because he is interested in ethics — questions of right and wrong — but because he believes the philosophy of language can illuminate how humans communicate, including factors that contribute to miscommunication. “I care a lot about climate change, so I want to do scientific work on it, but I also want to help work on policy — which means conveying arguments well and convincing people so that change can occur,” he says.Conti says a key reason he came to MIT was because the Institute has such a strong School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (MIT SHASS). “One of the big factors in my choosing MIT is that the humanities departments here are really, really good,” says Conti, who was named a 2021 Burchard Scholar in honor of his excellence in the Institute’s humanistic fields. “I was considering literature, writing, philosophy, linguistics, all of that.”Revitalizing endangered indigenous languages

    Within MIT SHASS, Conti has focused academically on the philosophy of language, and he is also personally pursuing another linguistic passion — the preservation and revitalization of endangered indigenous languages. Raised in Plano, Texas, Conti is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, which today has fewer than 50 first-language speakers left.“I’ve been studying the language on my own. It’s something I really care about a lot, the entire endeavor of language revitalization,” says Conti, who credits his maternal grandmother with instilling his appreciation for his heritage. “She would always tell me that I should be proud of it,” he says. “As I got older and understood the history of things, the precarious nature of our language, I got more invested.” Conti says working to revitalize the Chickasaw language “could be one of the most important things I do with my life.”Already, MIT has given him an opportunity — through the MIT Solve initiative — to participate in a website project for speakers of Makah, an endangered indigenous language of the Pacific Northwest. “The thrust at a high level is trying to use AI [artificial intelligence] to develop speech-to-text software for languages in the Wakashan language family,” he says. The project taught him a lot about natural language processing and automatic speech recognition, he adds, although his website design was not chosen for implementation.

    Glacier dynamics, algorithms — and Quizbowl!

    MIT has also given Conti some experience on the front lines of climate change. Through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, he has been working in MIT’s Glacier Dynamics and Remote Sensing Group, developing machine learning algorithms to improve iceberg detection using satellite imagery. After graduation, Conti plans to pursue a PhD in climate science, perhaps continuing to work in glaciology.He also hopes to participate in a Chickasaw program that pairs students with native speakers to become fluent. He says he sees some natural overlap between his two passions. “Issues of indigenous sovereignty and language preservation are inherently linked with climate change, because the effects of climate change fall unequally on poor communities, which are oftentimes indigenous communities,” he says.For the moment, however, those plans still lie at least two years in the future. In the meantime, Conti is having fun serving as vice president of the MIT Quizbowl Team, an academic quiz team that competes across the region and often participate in national tournaments. What are Conti’s competition specialties? Literature and philosophy. 

    Story prepared by MIT SHASS CommunicationsEditor, Designer: Emily Hiestand, Communications DirectorSenior Writer: Kathryn O’Neill, Associate News Manager More