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MIT launches Future City Innovation Connector

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 18:00

A new collaboration between MIT and Tsinghua University will help startup teams from both institutions launch ventures to solve urban challenges in China.

The China Ventures Workshop will provide participants with training, mentoring, and access to partners and resources that could help deliver their innovations to the market in China. The workshop is a joint project of the China Future City Lab in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, the DesignX venture accelerator in the School of Architecture and Planning, and Tsinghua University. The deadline to apply for the China Ventures Workshop is March 4.

At MIT, the workshop is open to entrepreneurial teams with at least one member drawn from the MIT community, including faculty, students, researchers, and alumni. The workshop will take place in Beijing and three other cities, from July 1-14, 2018. Selected teams will receive training in Chinese city planning and economics prior to the workshop, and will have the opportunity to stay on afterward to pilot their innovations at test sites in partner cities and with companies. All expenses will be paid by the program.

“China has an acute need for urban innovation, yet it can be difficult for U.S. ventures to enter China,” says Siqi Zheng, faculty director of the China Future City Lab and Samuel Tak Lee Associate Professor of Real Estate Development and Entrepreneurship. “Working with Tsinghua University, the lab’s Future City Innovation Connector provides entrepreneurs with the knowledge they will need to navigate in China while also connecting them with a network of partners who can help them bring their startups to bear on the challenge of cities.”

The MIT-Tsinghua collaboration will offer distinct advantages to the participants from both institutions, Zheng says. Teams from MIT will get specialized instruction on operating in China, from setting up a company, to navigating legal or government issues, to understanding the landscape of political economy, and local cultural, social, and business environments. For Tsinghua participants, exposure to MIT’s strengths in innovation and entrepreneurship will improve their ability to form home-grown companies for tackling urban issues in China and beyond.

The workshop is co-organized by DesignX, an entrepreneurship center in the School of Architecture and Planning. “DesignX is dedicated to accelerating innovation in design, cities, and the built environment,” says Dennis Frenchman, the faculty director for DesignX and Class of 1922 Professor of Urban Design and Planning. “We’re excited to share our unique model with urban entrepreneurs seeking to make an impact in China.”

Deadline to apply: March 4, 2018, for inquiries: fcic2018@mit.edu.

MISTI Global Startup Labs celebrates 18 years

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 12:35

Entering its 18th year, the Global Startup Labs (GSL) program from MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) continues to recruit undergrads and graduate students across the Institute to teach entrepreneurship around the world.

Initially launched as a pilot program in Kenya, MISTI GSL now offers projects in 10 countries: Azerbaijan, Belgium, Brazil, Germany, Mauritius, Mexico, Nepal, Peru, Rwanda, and South Africa. Working in teams of three to four, MIT students travel abroad to help other students launch tech-based companies.

“Most MIT student instructors, when they land in a country, instantly become that country's foremost experts in entrepreneurship,” says Professor Saman Amarasinghe, the associate department head for the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) and faculty co-director for MISTI GSL. “It is not uncommon for a prominent CEO to consult them on how to take advantage of entrepreneurship, or senior university professors to sit in their classrooms. I have seen a vice chancellor of a leading university invite the MIT students to explain how flipped classrooms work, and an MIT freshman, who was the entrepreneurship assistant, calmly explain to a very attentive VC and his leadership team how her freshman classes at MIT worked.”

For the first time this year MISTI GSL is formally partnering with the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship at MIT and Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship. The Legatum Center will help map the strategic direction of the program and the Martin Trust Center will provide the students with predeparture trainings.

“GSL is an exciting opportunity for our students to teach and learn from entrepreneurs across the world,” says Legatum Center Executive Director Georgina Campbell Flatter, a senior lecturer in technological innovation, entrepreneurship, and strategic management at MIT Sloan and a MISTI GSL faculty advisor. “Through our workshop, we’re excited to share MIT best practice in entrepreneurship education with the students, and for them to make it their own and take it to the field.”

This past summer 25 MIT students traveled to Brazil, Germany, Mauritius, Peru, Russia, and South Africa as part of the GSL program. The GSL-Peru group comprised entrepreneurship co-lead April Baker MBA '17, entrepreneurship co-lead Sandhya Bhagwandin MBA '17, technical assistant and EECS undergrad Alexa Jan, and technical lead Dalitso Banda, a master's candidate in EECS. Hosted by the University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC), the student team led their Peruvian peers in discussions, hands-on workshops, and a demo day — the final day of the course during which the UTEC teams pitched their new startups to experts in the field. 

“We were not sure what to expect. We planned out the curriculum for the first week, but we had been warned that we had to be prepared to be flexible,” the group says in a co-written report of their experiences “Through the use of technology and with the help of teammates and the UTEC contacts, we found it fairly easy to adapt to the new environment. We gained confidence in our ability to navigate foreign cultures, and we left feeling intellectually enriched.”

While more than 200 MIT students have benefitted from the “learning by teaching” technique of GSL, the program’s success can also be measured by the impact it’s had on foreign students.

“I wouldn’t have had the courage and determination to start my own business without the GSL program,” shares Lashan Silva, a 2013 GSL alumnus from Sri Lanka and the CEO and founder of Enhanzer. Enhanzer is a product development company focused on enhancing the efficiency of other businesses via cloud data storage, automated processes, and ERP consulting services. Founded in 2013, the company boasts over 11,000 transactions a day. Silva attributes his success to the GSL incubator hosted by MIT students five years ago. As part of the seven-week course, MIT GSL instructors showed Silva and his peers how to think like entrepreneurs and introduced them to various startup CEOs, senior staff, and IT experts. “At that time we didn’t have any entrepreneurship-related programs in our country. The GSL program helped me a lot to change my track from a traditional engineer to an entrepreneur,” Silva says.

The MISTI GSL program annually trains and funds top MIT students to mentor international peers, network with entrepreneurs, and teach real-world mobile app development. GSL has launched 68 programs in 22 countries: Algeria, Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, Germany, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia, Nigeria, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and Zambia.

“It is so amazing to see some of the early GSL alumni who got to know about entrepreneurship through the program completely change their professional outlook and become successful entrepreneurs in their country,” Amarasinghe says. “Some are now leading companies with million dollar revenue and hundreds of employees.”

MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives is a program of the Center for International Studies within the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. Students who would like to apply to MISTI GSL can do so online before Feb. 15. Students with questions can submit them to misti-gsl@mit.edu

First students arrive on campus to pursue “hybrid” masters degrees

Tue, 01/30/2018 - 00:00

In early January, 40 students from around the world landed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to embark on their first semester at MIT. Though it was the first time they had set foot on campus, they weren’t new to MIT courses by any stretch.

After completing the online MicroMasters program in supply chain management (SCM) offered through MITx by the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics (CTL), passing a comprehensive exam, and making it through a demanding admissions process, these eager learners were simply taking the next step on their career journey: earning a full masters degree from MIT.

These students also happen to be pioneers. They make up the inaugural cohort of the blended SCM (SCMb) program, which allows students to apply online course credits toward a masters degree — one that is identical to that received by full-time residential students.

More than 1,900 learners have completed the rigorous MicroMasters slate of five courses; of those, 622 have passed the comprehensive final exam to earn the credential and qualify to apply to the SCMb program.

“Each of the five SCx courses in the MicroMasters curriculum is an intensive 13-week program,” says Chris Caplice, director of the SCM MicroMasters program and executive director of the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics. “Completing it takes a lot of grit, personal effort, and determination.”

An intense semester in Cambridge

These tough requirements ensure that only the most dedicated and capable students make it into the SCMb program — students like Bonaventure Mulama.

Originally from Kenya, Mulama has a background in information and communication technologies — he has a degree in computer science from the University of Nairobi — but he has learned much about logistics through a decade of hands-on work in the humanitarian sector. He worked on earthquake response in Haiti for the global NGO World Vision, on drought response in Ethiopia for Concern Worldwide, and coordinated emergency food aid in South Sudan for Joint Aid Management International.

“I was adding real value, but without a detailed grasp of the concepts I was implementing,” he says. “I decided to spend more time building skills around logistics, to get a really good grasp of the field I was now involved in.”

That’s when he discovered the MicroMasters courses. He completed part of the program in South Sudan and part in Ethiopia, while doing fieldwork as part of a humanitarian leadership program. “It was pretty intense,” he says. “You work and study, work and study. For a while you put aside a social life. I just decided that this was a priority.”

His fellow SCMb students come from a wide range of work and cultural backgrounds, but they all share this tenacity and focus. Mulama notes that most of his classmates are taking leave from full-time jobs, giving up regular income, and traveling far from their families to pursue their career goals.

The SCMb students are both more international — three-quarters hail from outside the U.S. — and more seasoned than the typical SCM masters student. Fifty-eight percent have graduate degrees, their average age is 32, and they have an average of nine years of work experience.

That experience will help see them through an intense semester. They must pass 36 units of coursework and complete a 12-unit research project to graduate in June. The students’ days are full, packed with guest lectures from industry experts; field visits to companies such as Walgreens, AB-InBev, AmazonFresh, and Boston Scientific to observe firsthand how major firms keep their shelves stocked and systems running; and group assignments that keep them up late into the night.

Yossi Sheffi, the founder of both the original residential SCM master’s degree program and the MicroMasters program, is not worried about how the blended students will fare. “They have shown unbelievable commitment,” he says. And he points out that there is little guesswork required in gauging how they will perform. He, Caplice, and other faculty already know how they handle MIT courses. During  the five online courses and exams, the instructors get to know the learners quite well, Sheffi notes, since every one of their key strokes is logged and analyzed.

Motivated by demand

The overarching goal of the MicroMasters program is to make MIT-quality instruction available and accessible to a far greater number of people. By that measure, the program has been a smashing success. In its first three years, over 243,000 participants have logged on from 196 different countries. The program has also spawned more than 45 additional MicroMasters programs, including two others from MIT: one on data, economics and development policy, and one on the principles of manufacturing.

Sheffi pushed to launch the MicroMasters program largely in response to increasing demand from industry. MIT’s residential master’s program in SCM is widely regarded as the best in the world, but he was getting calls from executives who needed many more skilled employees; 40 graduates a year didn’t seem nearly enough.

As a hybrid program that offers flexibility and affordability to midcareer students who might otherwise be unable to pursue a full residential masters degree, the MicroMasters is a perfect fit for students like Mina Saito.

For the past four years, Saito has worked for shipping and logistics giant DHL as a supply chain engineering senior manager in Hong Kong, running analytical projects to help customers improve their own supply chain systems. She took the free MITx course in supply chain design before she learned about the blended program.

“Once I learned that its admission process takes online courses into consideration, I thought it was an amazing concept,” she says. “I was very excited that this opportunity was coming from the best SCM program in the world, so I thought I had to give myself a chance to try.”

Saito, who is originally from Japan, plans to return to DHL in Hong Kong after the program ends. “The theories and knowledge we learn here will be applicable for my everyday work, as we have a wide range of projects,” she says. “I also think that working with such diverse teams with different backgrounds and experiences, and the network we build in class, will be great assets in the future.”

For both Saito and Mulama, the most enjoyable part of the semester thus far has also been the most difficult: collaborative group assignments on tight deadlines.

“Solving tasks as part of five different groups concurrently is a big challenge,” says Mulama. “But I see the value of it. After working 10 years, I know the importance of moving forward together as a team.”

“This is why you need to do blended,” says Sheffi, explaining why the online courses must be complemented with face-to-face instruction and interaction. “You can study on your own things like supply chain analytics. But to be effective in the real world you have to be working in teams. You also need to develop other people-related skills such as communications, leadership, and change management. These elements are taught better in a residential context.”

Measuring success

Caplice and Sheffi regard this first iteration as an experiment. As such, it’s being watched closely as a potential model for other MIT programs interested in casting a wider net to reach talented learners around the world. So how will they know if the experiment has succeeded?

“The real test,” says Sheffi, “requires looking out five or 10 years from now, and seeing what kind of jobs they get in industry.”

Mulama, for one, plans to return to the humanitarian sector after the program, but is open to future opportunities in the private sector; he thinks that international development organizations could learn from business’ emphasis on efficiency. Just a few weeks into the semester, he can already tell that he will emerge from the experience with two huge assets: more confidence and strategic insight.

“When you are exchanging ideas with some of the best in the industry — it gives you confidence in yourself,” he says. “And that leads people to trust you with more responsibility. The course is also giving me a platform and tools I can use to operate at the strategic level. I’m thinking more and more that I don’t have to limit myself.”

Contest seeks writing about bicultural experiences

Mon, 01/22/2018 - 15:30

The Isabelle de Courtivron Writing Prize is seeking student writing submissions (creative or expository) about immigrant, diaspora, bicultural, bilingual, and/or mixed-race experiences. The prize was established to honor distinguished Professor Emerita Isabelle de Courtivron, who dedicated her career at MIT to the study of bicultural and bilingual creative expression. The annual prize competition is open to all MIT undergraduates; this year the submission deadline is Feb. 20. More information is available at the Center for Bilingual/Bicultural Studies website.

The following is a brief Q&A with Eric Grunwald, chair of Isabelle de Courtivron Writing Prize and a lecturer in global studies and languages. 

Q: What relevance do you think this writing contest has to MIT students?

A: Regardless of what career path students are on, they need to be able to express themselves clearly and logically and to be able to think critically about complex issues. And as William Zinsser put it, “Writing and thinking and learning are all the same process.” Whether you’re arguing for funding for your work, or teaching a class, or advocating public policy, you need to be able to logically build an argument. It’s almost certain that at some point in their career MIT students will have to explain their work or their research to experts or to a general audience. And when you have to write a detailed argument, it forces you to think more deeply and clearly.

Let’s also not forget that writing, whether it’s expository or creative writing, can unlock different ways of seeing things. Writing helps you figure out what you think or feel about something you think you know. One of my favorite quotations I like to share with students is from Albert Einstein: “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” Creative writing — and, just as much, freewriting for an academic paper — gives students the chance to let their imaginations take them where it will. I mean, we can’t imagine Einstein discovering relativity by just coloring within the lines. Writing allows people to discover what may be inside them that they didn’t even know was there or to work out their position on a complicated issue — more valuable than ever in our age of sound bites and tweets.

Q: Why does the writing prize focus on cross-cultural experiences?

A: MIT attracts students from different cultures both internationally and here in the U.S. These different cultures, these ways of seeing, have a lot to offer to everyone here at MIT, different ways of looking at life and at solutions to problems. It’s something that enriches our community but can get shunted aside or overlooked in the intensity of the MIT environment.

Q: You’re a lecturer in English language studies in the MIT Global Studies and Languages Section, but you’re also a published writer and translator. How does this inform your participation in the writing contest?

A: Well, as I said, I believe strongly that writing is a tool for thinking and for self-discovery. When I first started thinking about becoming a writer, I had been through some difficult times, and “Prince of Tides” by Pat Conroy and “Bright Lights Big City” by Jay McInerney moved me deeply and consoled me. They made me want to write and convey something from within me — even if I didn’t know exactly what it was. 

Writing is something I get immense satisfaction from. It’s fun to create worlds, play with different characters and scenarios. You come out feeling more alive, more aware, more engaged in the world. I’m hoping that the writing prize might encourage others find that sense of, if not joy, at least satisfaction and discovery. I also think it’s very important that MIT students be encouraged to write and rewarded for it. I think we have a false dichotomy between, as we called them at Stanford, fuzzies and techies — i.e., humanities people and STEM people. But the ability to write is really a spectrum, and if you can speak you can write, and you can get better at it.

Q: What would you suggest to a student who wants to write a piece for the contest?

A: If it’s something you’ve already written, reread a clean copy from beginning to end without stopping, then think about how you might make it better. If you’re writing something new, sit down, turn off the censor and the judgement, and just write about an idea you have. Spit the whole thing out. Let it sit for a day or two and then go back and see what’s working and what you can or need to improve. Think about the questions you are exploring and what details you can include to portray or illustrate them. See if your perspective, your voice, comes through the writing in a vivid way, whether it’s a poem, a fictional story, a personal essay, or a research paper.

Knowledge, networking, and new ideas

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 14:55

The MIT Portugal Program (MPP) supports research visits by Portuguese scholars and PhD students at MIT — a unique opportunity that allows them to spend up to one year at the Institute. Thus far, 184 MPP PhD students and 41 scholars have visited MIT to conduct their research.

While at MIT, students work on their doctoral theses and are integrated in the research groups of their MIT thesis co-advisors, a collaboration that often leads to scientific breakthroughs, co-publication of papers and establishing bridges between research groups on both sides of the Atlantic. The students not only learn new methodological approaches, but also improve their scientific knowledge and even develop entrepreneurial ideas. MPP students also benefit from immersion in the MIT ecosystem and typically describe their stays at MIT as extremely positive for their academic careers. 

Márcia Baptista, an MIT Portugal engineering design and advanced manufacturing student who also did an internship at the NASA's Prognostics Center of Excellence, says “having the brand of MIT opens a lot of doors." The chance “to visit MIT, to have classes with MIT teachers, and to interact with MIT colleagues” is the best part of the program, she says.

Her enthusiasm is shared by Diana Silva Leal, a transportation systems student who says the opportunity to visit MIT meant getting to meet and work with several experts in her research area. The value of experiencing different higher education systems is also highlighted by MIT Portugal students like Ivana Kostic, who just completed her PhD in bioengineering.

“I had a chance to see similarities and differences between Europe and [the United States] in lab organization, grant writing, and grant management — how the labs are organized and how the students were delegated,” Kostic says. “This is not solely dependent on supervisors, but rather on the scientific systems adopted by two different continents.” 

In addition to numerous events and seminars generally available to MIT Portugal students at MIT, the MPP office at MIT offers special group events and seminars to stimulate the exchange of experiences and ideas among MPP students and faculty, and to expose them to relevant research, innovation, and entrepreneurship in different areas of interest. 

Recent events included group meetings with students presenting and discussing their research with fellow MPP students and faculty, as well as a seminar series on a variety of topics such as MIT Professor Douglas Hart’s entrepreneurial journey; a presentation titled Inspired Engineering by Christina Chase of the MIT Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; and a workshop called MATLAB Programming for Advanced Research and Data Science presented by Gonçalo Pereira, a PhD graduate in Sustainable Energy Systems from Instituto Superior Técnico of the University of Lisbon and a MIT Portugal alumni. Pereira is currently a postdoc at the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS) at MIT and is involved in one of the MPP seed projects at MIT. 

The last MPP seminar of 2017 was led by Jake Livengood, the senior assistant director of graduate student career services at MIT Global Education and Career Development. The presentation on the “Design Your Life” approach (DYL), originally created by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans from the Stanford University Design Program, engaged the MPP students in various exercises to familiarize them with the basic concepts of design thinking and how it can be applied to further their career. 

These events and seminars are part of the strategy adopted by the program to enrich the MPP student experience while conducting research at MIT. All events are organized by the MPP administration office in collaboration with MPP faculty and Bruce Tidor, the director of the MIT Portugal Program, and Pedro Arezes, the MPP national director who is currently at MIT for a long-term stay.

A bipartisan message of clean energy progress

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 12:30

The diverse group of energy leaders who spoke at the 2017 Clean Energy, Education, and Empowerment (C3E) Women in Clean Energy Symposium hailed from different professional, personal, and political backgrounds, bringing many viewpoints on the conference’s theme of transforming energy infrastructure — nationally and internationally — for a transition to a low-carbon future. Though opinions on the best strategies to bring about this transition differed, all agreed on the urgency of deploying strategies and technologies to achieve it.

“It’s inspiring to be surrounded by so many women at different stages of their careers, approaching clean energy issues from a wide range of perspectives and professions,” MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) executive director Martha Broad told the audience, which included industry professionals, government officials, and academic researchers, as well as students who were giving poster presentations. “MITEI is thrilled to host this event, celebrate our awardees, and hear from thought leaders in this space.” Broad is also a U.S. C3E ambassador — part of a cohort of senior leaders in business, government, and academia who serve as role models and advocates for women in clean energy.

Now in its sixth year being held at MIT, the C3E Symposium brings women at all stages of their careers together to discuss solutions to the most pressing energy issues of the day and to celebrate awardees from various disciplines. Founded under the auspices of the 25-government Clean Energy Ministerial, the U.S. C3E Initiative aims to advance clean energy by helping to close the gender gap and enabling the full participation of women in the clean energy sector. MITEI and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) have collaborated on the symposium since 2012, and the Stanford Precourt Institute for Energy joined the collaboration in 2016.

Inclusive clean energy solutions for the future

Panels throughout the two-day conference focused on strategies across the technology, policy, and business spheres to address energy challenges both local and global. Nevada State Senator Pat Spearman stressed the importance of forward-looking governance on a panel about innovative policies. For Spearman, innovation means taking advantage of Nevada’s natural energy resources, from an abundance of solar energy in the south to the potential for geothermal in the north. It also means developing progressive policies that facilitate timely regulatory changes in response to new and emerging technologies.

Spearman is particularly determined to account for low-income constituents with provisions in energy policy measures.

“We need to always include the fact that those who are on the lower spectrum of the income level are usually the ones who are the least likely to adopt because the price has not come down far enough,” she said. ”So those who can afford it do, and those who can’t, don’t. For me, it’s a matter of environmental and economic justice.”

On a panel about the future of the electric grid, Marcy Reed, National Grid’s chief of business operations, expanded on the importance of being mindful of customers’ needs.

“We have 20th-century infrastructure operating in a world with 21st-century demands,” she said, adding that at Massachusetts-based National Grid, and her colleagues take their cue on how to best affect change from their customers. “They’re savvy and passionate and environmentally-minded. They also want their energy delivery system to be modern and responsive to their needs.” She added that having the right tools and information enables customers to make energy-efficient choices.

Ugwem Eneyo, a Stanford University graduate and co-founder of Solstice Energy Solutions, explained how data are similarly important to her customers in sub-Saharan Africa.

“With the development and integration of solar and storage into the energy mix, data and connectivity will play a significant role in enabling future distributed energy grids, and will also play a significant role in driving efficiency and productivity of these distributed energy assets,” Eneyo said. Her company's technology uses a data-driven approach to intelligently manage distributed energy, helping consumers plan for their own cost- and energy-efficient power use.

As a panelist for a session on international energy infrastructure developments, Radhika Khosla discussed ongoing changes in India’s energy system.

“Not only is India a very large emitter, but it is also one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change,” said Khosla, who is a visiting scientist at the MIT Tata Center for Technology and Design. Citing rising temperatures, impending infrastructure and demographic transitions, and increased air pollution as a few among several factors, Khosla added, “What happens to India in terms of its growth trajectory matters not only in the global context, but also in the Indian context.”

Leveraging women’s expertise for the clean energy transition

Underscoring the bipartisan message of the importance of women’s involvement in the clean energy transition, U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry gave a video keynote address in which he noted the positive effect that gatherings like the C3E Symposium can have in trying to address current energy challenges.

“Each of you here today helps advance innovation, connect new ideas with existing markets, and use technology to promote clean energy solutions,” Perry said. “But even more importantly, your work will inspire the next generation of women leaders in STEM, and that is sorely needed.”

Secretary Perry’s predecessor under President Obama, Ernest Moniz, engaged in a fireside chat with MIT Vice President for Research Maria T. Zuber, the E. A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics. Zuber and Moniz, who is the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics and Engineering Systems Emeritus and special advisor to the MIT president, discussed the need for a rapid transition to a low-carbon economy and also highlighted the significance of initiatives like C3E in the mission to support and increase women’s involvement in STEM fields.

“If you can see it, you can be it”

Every year, C3E honors mid-career women who have made particular contributions to their area of energy and invites previous awardees to attend the conference. This year’s award-winners were: Anna Bautista, vice president of construction and workforce development for Grid Alternatives (Advocacy Award); Leslie Marshall, corporate energy engineering lead for General Mills (Business Award); Nicole Lautze, associate faculty member at the University of Hawaii Manoa and founder of the Hawaii Groundwater and Geothermal Resources Center (Education Award); Emily Kirsch, founder and CEO of intelligent energy incubator Powerhouse (Entrepreneurship Award); Chris LaFleur, program lead for Hydrogen Safety, Codes, and Standards at Sandia National Laboratories (Government Award); Allison Archambault, president of EarthSpark International (International Award); Sarah Valdovinos, co-founder of Walden Green Energy (Law and Finance Award); and Inês M.L. Azevedo, principal investigator and co-director for the Climate and Energy Decision-Making Center at Carnegie Mellon University (Research Award).

Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) were co-recipients of the C3E Lifetime Achievement award for their work on energy issues, including their leadership roles on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and their stewardship of the bipartisan Energy and Natural Resources Act of 2017.

In her prerecorded remarks, Murkowski said “We all recognize [that] women bring a different perspective to problem-solving, so it’s imperative, whether in your fields or mine, if we want to find the best and most innovative solutions to our biggest challenges, the female perspective must be present and active at the decision table.”

Cantwell, in written remarks delivered by C3E Ambassador Melanie Kenderdine, said, “I am proud to work alongside you as we continue to celebrate the women who are making incredible achievements in clean energy.”

Carol Battershell, principal deputy director of the DOE’s Office of Energy Policy and Systems Analysis and a U.S. C3E ambassador, noted how meaningful it was for the C3E ambassadors to have the honor of choosing the awardees. Several other speakers also remarked on how it felt to be in the presence of a group of such impactful leaders and diverse practitioners in the clean energy sector.

Sherina Maye Edwards, energy commissioner for the Illinois Commerce Commission, prefaced her comments by saying, “So often, I am on the road talking to rooms full of people who look nothing like me. It is so nice to see not just such a fantastic group of women, but also such a diverse group of women.”

Awardee Emily Kirsch, who attended the first C3E conference in 2013, met many C3E ambassadors there who mentored and encouraged her while she was launching her company. Accepting the Entrepreneurship Award, Kirsch said, “C3E is a testament to the idea that if you can see it, you can be it.”

Four from MIT awarded 2018 Schwarzman Scholarships

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 09:00

Three MIT students — Henry Aspegren '17, Katheryn Scott, and Joshua Woodard — were selected as Schwarzman Scholars and will begin postgraduate studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing next fall. An alumnus, Han Wu MEng '15, was also selected for this highly competitive program.

Schwarzman Scholars are chosen based on demonstrated leadership qualities and potential to bridge and understand cultural and political differences. They will live in Beijing for a year of study and cultural immersion, attending lectures, traveling, and developing a better understanding of China.

This year’s four Schwarzman Scholars bring to 11 the total number of MIT winners honored since the scholarship’s inception in 2015. In all, 142 Schwarzman Scholars were selected from over 4,000 applicants. The new class is comprised of students from 39 countries and 97 universities with 41 percent from the United States, 20 percent from China, and 39 percent from the rest of the world. The currently enrolled MIT students were supported by MIT’s Office of Distinguished Fellowships the Presidential Committee on Distinguished Fellowships.

“This year’s winners of the Schwarzman Scholarship exemplify the combination of intellectual prowess and public mindedness that characterizes MIT students at their best,” says Professor William Broadhead, co-chair of the Presidential Committee for Distinguished Fellowships alongside Professor Rebecca Saxe. “Those of us who have had the pleasure of working with them through the application process have been impressed at every turn by their immense potential for local and global leadership. It’s exciting to celebrate with them now; and it will be exciting to see what they do next!”

Henry Aspegren

Henry Aspegren, from Ann Arbor, Michigan, is an MIT master’s student in engineering. He received his BS in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT earlier this year. Aspegren aspires to develop public policy for addressing the new challenges and opportunities created by technology.

Aspegren recognized the economic disparities of the Detroit area growing up, when he played ice hockey on a team with players from manufacturing towns around metro Detroit that had been hit hard by the decline of the auto industry. This reality drew him to think about how economic incentives can stimulate economies, which fueled his academic interests in currency and financial institutions.

At MIT, Aspegren began conducting research in the MIT Media Lab’s Viral Communications Group, where he worked to help build a voting and ranking algorithm to quantify subjective qualities such as emotion across the internet in real time. During his junior year, he participated in the Cambridge MIT Exchange program and received a first from Cambridge University and a full blue in ice hockey.

This past January, Aspegren traveled to Korea through the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives' Global Teaching Laboratory to lead a robotics workshop in which students programmed a Roomba vaccum cleaner to drive around an obstacle course. He has also interned with the electronic trading team at Goldman Sachs in New York and London, and worked as a software engineer with BetterWorks in Palo Alto.

Aspegren is now completing his MEng degree and conducting research with the MIT Media Lab’s Digital Currency Initiative to examine injustices in financing. This led him to design a block chain-based system for agricultural financing in Latin America in collaboration with the InterAmerican Development Bank.

Aspegren has been an active participant in MIT Athletics, playing club ice hockey throughout his undergraduate and graduate career, and playing on the varsity lacrosse team his freshman year. He is also a brother of Theta Chi Fraternity.

Katheryn Scott

Katheryn "Kate" Scott, from Barrington, Illinois, is an MIT senior majoring in materials science and engineering. She studied abroad at Oxford University in her junior year through the Department of Materials Science and Engineering’s exchange program. Scott seeks to pursue a future career bridging the gap between science and communications, and eventually plans to found her own communications firm.

In the summer of her freshman year, Scott traveled to Singapore to conduct materials research, fabricating thin-film membranes to create nano-filtration systems for smog. She later began research with the MIT Libraries Conservation Lab, prototyping two different devices for reversible flattening of manuscripts, which would automate part of the conservation process. At Oxford, Scott conducted polymer research with the Polymer Group and Ashmolean Museum.

Scott has a keen interest in industry, and worked as a chemical engineering intern at Honeywell UOP. While there, she worked to improve wastewater filtration by developing a disinfectant and low temperature tolerant bacteria. The system saves 400,000 gallons of wastewater per day, results that led to the adoption of her system in October 2016.

Scott is a sorority sister of Sigma Kappa, and has held the role of continuing membership chair and new member assistant coordinator. She was elected as vice president of programming for the MIT Panhellenic Association.

Since Scott’s freshman year, she has been a member of MIT’s only Division I sport, rowing. She and her boat earned a bid to the 2016 national competition, and placed 5th, and Scott was named a Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association Scholar Athlete. When she was at Oxford University, she joined the university’s lightweight rowing club.

Joshua Woodard

Joshua Charles Woodard, from Chicago, Illinois, is an MIT senior majoring in mechanical engineering with a minor in Mandarin Chinese. At Tsinghua, Woodard will earn a degree in politics, with a focus on comparative government. He plans a future career in diplomacy and public policy, with the goal of enacting effective strategies for social change.

Woodard’s dedication to social justice issues began prior to arriving at MIT. As a junior in high school, he applied for and was granted a Boeing Scholars Academy award to research Chicago’s gun violence and devise solutions. He then coordinated a city-wide brainstorming event between youth and government officials.

At MIT, Woodard has been a pivotal voice on issues of diversity and inclusion. As a student advisor on MIT President L. Rafael Reif’s Presidential Advisory Committee, he has provided guidance on important campus issues and policies ranging from diversity initiatives to the influence of the current political climate. Woodard has also demonstrated his leadership skills as co-chair of the student community and living group Chocolate City, and has been instrumental in increasing campus awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement and creating opportunities for dialogue.

Woodard participated in the Internationally Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) worldwide competition for synthetic biology, and he has interned in industrial design at the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory and HTC. He has also advocated to help local Boston high school students from underrepresented communities gain access to STEM experiences by co-founding the summer leadership program MIT BoSTEM Scholars Academy.

A talented artist and musician, Woodard has studied and performed Beijing Opera at the Shanghai Theater Academy in China, runs his own freelance photography business, JC Woodard Photography, and has performed on violin and viola with the MIT Jazz Band.

Han Wu

Han Wu graduated from MIT in 2015 with a master's degree in structural engineering focusing on high performance structures.

Prior to enrolling at MIT, he received a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Los Angeles majoring in civil and environmental engineering and minoring in accounting. Currently, he works at Ove Arup and Partners Hong Kong (one of the worldwide leading engineering consulting firms) as a structural engineer and the chairman of Young Engineer’s Group.

Besides tackling challenging design problems, Wu also plays a key role in researching and implementing industry leading design tools as well as conducting training sessions. Upon completion of Schwarzman Scholars, he hopes to pursue a career in which he can combine his experience and knowledge in design and business development.

MIT architects, planners honored for sustainable design

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 17:00

Three projects led by MIT faculty — a greenhouse in Massachusetts heralded as a “virtuosity of integration;” a plan to weave together working and living in a neighborhood in Cartagena, Colombia; and an earthquake-resistant public building that doubles as an emergency shelter in Thecho, Nepal — have been recognized for forward-thinking excellence in this year’s LafargeHolcim Awards competition.

Sponsored by the LafargeHolcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction, the annual international competition recognizes “innovative projects and future-oriented concepts” in sustainable design in fields including architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design.

Two projects led by MIT alumni were also singled out for honors from a field of more than 5,000 submissions. MIT-related projects received recognition in three of the competition’s five global regions.

The Global Flora Botanical Conservatory

Sheila Kennedy, a professor in the Department of Architecture, and her firm Kennedy and Violich Architecture (KVA) received a Bronze award in the North America section of the competition for the design of the Global Flora Botanical Conservatory at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts. The interdisciplinary project was carried out in collaboration with Kristina Jones, director of the Botanical Gardens at Wellesley College, and Cathy Summa, director of Wellesley’s Science Center.

The project’s architecture integrates innovative passive and active sustainable systems that aim to meet the Net Zero Water and Net Zero Energy criteria of the Living Building Challenge, the most rigorous contemporary standards for measuring sustainable design. The elegant curved form of the Global Flora Conservatory follows the east-west arc of the sun to maximize solar heat gain in winter. In summer, the architecture’s environmentally responsive skin allows the biomes to be cooled entirely through natural ventilation.

“The Global Flora project is designed in section. The need to accommodate different tree heights produces a varying interior space which plays with the configured ground of the site’s topography,” says Kennedy. “This offers different spatial experiences of plant form that are slowly revealed as people move through the biomes.”

An Interactive Sensor Platform integrated in the Global Flora project provides real-time air, water, soil, and energy data, expanding public education and scientific research for on-site and online users around the world.

A plan for affordable housing in Colombia

Adèle Naudé Santos, professor and former Dean of the MIT School of Architecture and Planning, and Débora Mesa, research scientist in the Department of Architecture, were awarded an Acknowledgment prize in the Latin America section of the competition for a plan for an affordable-housing neighborhood with integrated workspaces in Cartagena, Colombia.

Weaving together working and living spaces into a neighborhood, the project promotes community building, enhanced livelihoods for its inhabitants, and social interaction, within an urban plan designed to maximize shading. The regional jury reported an exceptionally well-resolved project, citing “a richness of interpretation and a level of detail ripe for implementation.”

At MIT, Santos and Mesa co-taught an architectural design workshop, A New Neighborhood: Cartagena, Colombia, in which students from the Department of Architecture developed design proposals for an affordable housing neighborhood with integrated workspace. This workshop was part of a broader research collaboration with Mario Santo Domingo Foundation that has been examining urban resilience for low-income housing. Santos will exhibit this work as part of the Norman B. Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism’s third biennial theme on affordable housing in 2018.

A multifunctional space for urban Nepal

The MIT Urban Risk Lab received an Acknowledgment prize for the Asia Pacific section of the competition for an innovative renovation and repurposing of a community space damaged in the 2015 earthquake that devastated Nepal.

The team includes Miho Mazereeuw, associate professor of architecture and urbanism in the Department of Architecture, research scientists David Moses and Aditya Barve, research associate Larisa Ovalles, and graduate student Hugh Magee. Moses, Barve, and Ovalles are alumni of the Department of Architecture.

For their project, the team redesigned a paati — a type of small, open-air pavilion commonly found in Nepali neighborhoods — in Thecho. The new, multifunction building weaves together a paati’s traditional functions, such as hosting community activities and offering daily relief from sun and rain, with additional features and preparedness planning.

During normal times, the building will support a variety of public functions, such as a workshop and community hall for women entrepreneurs, and an outdoor washing and gathering space. In a disaster, the earthquake-resistant structure can serve as an emergency shelter and a source of safe, clean water.

Alumni honors

Two alumni of the School of Architecture and Planning led teams that also were honored by the foundation in the North America awards. Transdisciplinary design collaborative studio[Ci], based in Detroit and directed by Constance C. Bodurow, SMarchS ’91 MCP ’91, received a Gold award for its comprehensive neighborhood planning in Detroit.

“Taking the pocket vacancies normally characterized as the biggest problem in Detroit, the design turns them into an opportunity to create a compelling sustainable neighborhood,” the jury said in a statement.

Terreform ONE, cofounded by Mitchell Joachim PhD ’06, received an Acknowledgement prize for a modular-design farm for edible insects in New York City.

According to the jury: “The project should be seen as a provocation to the status quo of meat production, which is carbon intensive.”

The LafargeHolcim competition proceeds in two stages. In the regional phase, winning projects are drawn from five global regions: Europe, North America, Latin America, Middle East Africa, and Asia Pacific. In the global phase, which commences later this year, the 15 projects that receive the Gold, Silver, or Bronze Awards in the regions — including the projects from Kennedy and Bodurow — automatically qualify for consideration for LafargeHolcim Global awards.

MIT launches China Future City Lab

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 23:59

MIT has launched a unique new urban research and innovation program that looks to advance city life in China through an ambitious range of academic and entrepreneurial activities.

The China Future City Lab, created with university, corporate, and governmental partners, has officially taken flight following a two-day conference, launch event, and signing ceremony late last week.

“We want to be a pioneer,” said Siqi Zheng, the MIT urban studies associate professor who heads the new lab, speaking at the launch event last Friday. The China Future City Lab, she also noted, will have “a clear focus on China’s sustainable urbanization.”

The China Future City Lab consists of three foundational elements. First, the lab will support a wide range of basic research in China, investigating many aspects of urban social and economic life.

Second, the lab will house a program known as the MIT-Tsinghua Future City Innovation Connector (FCIC), which will support startup teams applying ideas to China’s urban areas. The FCIC will also aim to identify innovative concepts and technologies that could be implemented in China.

As a third element of its activities, the China Future City Lab will engage with Chinese cities that will serve as “living labs” or testing sites where MIT researchers will have a unique opportunity to examine their urban-focused ideas and innovations.

The development of the new lab comes at a time when China has been rapidly urbanizing. Over half of the country’s population now lives in urban areas, up from roughly 20 percent in the early 1980s. As Zheng noted in her remarks on Friday, lessons from this rapid change can be applied to other countries and regions, since the global population is also urbanizing markedly, albeit at a slower pace than in China.

“The new knowledge should have implications everywhere,” Zheng said.

Fitting the global strategy

The creation of the China Future City Lab fits closely with a new framework for global activities that MIT released last spring. As detailed in a preliminary report, “A Global Strategy for MIT,” this approach calls for, among other things, enhanced efforts to cultivate collaborative projects in different regions of the world, including China.

“Our intention is to bring the best of MIT to China, and the best of China to MIT, and I know the China Future City Lab will be a key building block of that strategy,” said Richard K. Lester, the associate provost of MIT overseeing the Institute’s international activities, in remarks at the launch on Friday.

China’s urbanization, Lester added, is “of enormous intellectual and practical interest to the MIT community, to our faculty, to our students, across a wide range of disciplines.” The areas of research that figure to be directly involved in the subject, Lester suggested, include urban studies, economics, architecture, management,  computer science, artificial intelligence, transportation systems, and civil and environmental engineering.

In turn, he noted, those disciplines will need to tackle a variety of large-scale problems common to China and other societies, including climate change mitigation and the deployment of clean energy technologies, access to clean water, access to affordable health care, and new challenges brought about by aging populations.

A tradition of engagement — and a renewal of it

As Lester detailed in his remarks, MIT also has a lengthy history of engagement with China. The first Chinese student at MIT arrived in 1877, just 16 years after the Institute opened, and, as shown in an ongoing campus exhibit, “China Comes to Tech,” curated by MIT professor of history Emma Teng, over 400 students from China studied at MIT over the next half-century.

More recently, MIT has been building a more extensive network of institutional ties with China, including parterships within academia. One of those agreements is with Tsinghua University, which is MIT’s partner in the Future City Innovation Connector component of the new lab.

The China City Future Lab also builds upon the precedent established by the Beijing Studio, a 30-year partnership the School of Architecture and Planning established with Tsinghua University that enabled hundreds of MIT students to evaluate urban studies issues in China.

The China Future City Lab is also launching with the help of eight corporate founding members, comprising six private companies and two state-run property firms, that have interests spread across China and Hong Kong. They are:

  • Hongkong Land, founded in 1889, which is one of Asia’s oldest established property groups;
  • Zall Group, a major developer in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province;
  • Fosun Property, an international conglomerate and investment company based in Shanghai;
  • China Resources Land, a state-run property developer with headquarters in Shenzhen;
  • Tusincere Science City Investment Group Co., Ltd., a firm that builds business parks;
  • Nash Work, China’s largest operator of co-working spaces, with sites in several major cities;
  • ChengYu Construction Investment Group, a development firm located in Zhengzhou; and
  • Tianyi Holding, a property firm with interests in investment, planning, design, development, and management, located in Tianjin.

Executives from the group of founding partners appeared and gave remarks at a launch event on Friday in MIT’s Samberg Conference Center.

A separate symposium for the China Future City Lab, on Thursday, featured talks by several MIT faculty members, as well as remarks from Hashim Sarkis, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning, and Eran Ben-Joseph, head of the school’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP).

Zheng is the Samuel Tak Lee Associate Professor of Real Estate Development and Entrepreneurship in DUSP and the Center for Real Estate.

On Friday, Lester lauded Zheng’s work, as both a researcher and a program-builder at the Institute. Zheng has formally been an MIT faculty member for less than a year, but, as Lester noted, she has quickly assembled the kinds of institutional and international support needed to launch a major new project.

“In that short time, she has established herself as a real force, and a builder of new educational and research programs in the very best tradition of MIT,” Lester said.

In her remarks, Zheng emphasized the open-ended nature of the new lab’s work. Set against an urbanizing population and the rapid economic growth of China this century, the nature of urban studies, she suggested, means that scholars need to be open-minded about the kinds of issues they will study and the methods they will use to examine them.

“I’m sure we can explore more and more opportunities,” Zheng said.

An American in Paris

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 15:30

“Living here has been a lesson in the importance of bridges, whether between different concepts of nationalism and faith, or on a personal level, between different ways of communicating, working, or even eating,” says Elizabeth Dekeyser, an American in Paris who also happens to be an MIT doctoral candidate in political science.

Moving to another country often sparks serious thinking about identity and belonging. This is doubly true for Dekeyser, who is on a multi-year research project investigating the ways Islam shapes people’s sense of citizenship and allegiance to the French state.

Newcomers to France must learn to build bridges that that take into account both the country’s laws and culture, she says. There are, for instance, commonly shared ideas about what it means to be French, tacit understandings about everyday behavior: “Not greeting someone at a store or speaking loudly on a bus can be viewed as a lack of respect for society," says Dekeyser.

There is also the principle of laïcité, or secularism, which occupies a central role in the French constitution. Dekeyser, who is focused on the challenges faced by Muslims attempting to assimilate in France, began her research with the hypothesis that mosques could provide crucial bridges between individuals and the state. During exploratory fieldwork, she visited a mosque where she met “an imam who quoted Rousseau on how to raise children, then two minutes later, the Koran.” 

“I was impressed by how eloquently he wove together his French and Muslim identities and philosophies, and wondered both how common and how influential this type of thinking was,” she says.

Conversations with strangers

After spending the past year conducting more than 150 interviews in the banlieues (autonomous suburbs) around Paris, Dekeyser has found that “while imams and religious organizations play a big role in how people view themselves in relation to the state, ideas about religion and France don’t emanate exclusively from the mosque,” she says. “Rather, an entire ecosystem of institutions, businesses, and social groups such as the halal boucherie or community centers reinforce the importance of religious identity.”

Engaging strangers in conversation about some of the most private aspects of their lives, Dekeyser says she found people “quite open to talking about their faith.”

“They are usually excited to find that someone is interested in their experiences and after about 30 minutes, people really start to open up” she says.

Among the deeply-felt beliefs shared by her interview subjects was that they had been rejected by the state.

“This is a belief that is reinforced by very real state failures, whether poor schools or unsafe streets in immigrant neighborhoods,” Dekeyser says. “For Muslims in these communities, it is the religious ecosystem that often fills in the gap for the state.”

Dekeyser understands how religion can play a central role in an individual’s life in a multiplicity of ways. She grew up in a devout Christian family in Houston — “a beautifully diverse city” — where she says her tightknit, multiethnic religious community “played an important role shaping everything in my life.” Whether through friends, summer camps, or an active volunteering life, Dekeyser says she observed first-hand “how religion can be all-encompassing, shaping not just social and spiritual life but political and national identity.”

Questions of religion and immigration

As a high school student, Dekeyser found anti-immigrant rhetoric “very jarring” and work in Africa cemented her desire to pursue international relations in college.

“My interest in other cultures — how people are different but so similar at the same time — has always been what drives me,” she says.

Dekeyser began her undergraduate degree at Vanderbilt University, but transferred to Stanford University in order to focus on nationalism in African nations. “I was really interested in the causes of instability in some countries, why some had a strong sense of national identity, and others were so factionalized that they failed.” Her undergraduate thesis on the topic won the Stanford Firestone Medal for excellence in undergraduate research, and the guidance and experience she received paved the way for her doctoral work at MIT.

Although she arrived at MIT in 2013 interested in these questions, with the encouragement of her first-year advisor, Fotini Christia, and graduate student office mates (one who is Jewish, one Muslim), she turned her attention to questions of religion and immigration. Then came the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo, the French weekly satirical magazine, a decisive moment for Dekeyser. She seized on a surprising research goal: “I wanted to understand what sorts of environments undermine the evolution of terrorism, not to understand where terrorists come from.”

In pursuit of this goal, Dekeyser is not merely conducting large-scale ethnographic interviews, but analyzing vast troves of French Twitter feeds, search results, Google maps data, and review websites looking at French Muslim communities’ varying responses to terror attacks and how this correlates with local-level religiosity and attitudes toward the state. These data are all geographically sourced, so she can pinpoint the locations of users and connect them to likely neighborhood mosques, organizations, crime rates, and businesses.

Data analysis, together with ethnographic research, will enable her to create a dynamic portrait of Muslim attitudes toward citizenship in France and the key factors shaping those attitudes.

Healthy communities

Dekeyser is still in the process of writing her dissertation, but she has already identified some potential policy applications of her research. Local governments, as the primary representative of the state, play an important bridging role in helping Muslims feel included as citizens, she says.

A local government can make choices about whether cafeterias serve halal food, how headscarf bans are enforced, or even whether mosques have access to free or inexpensive land in the same way that Christian churches do. These policies, she argues, have an important effect on how individuals reconcile their national and religious identities.

Yet she has observed that it is not solely religious policies that matter. Rather, towns in which Muslim communities appear to feel most integrated “offer effective policing, urban renewal projects, and lots of grassroots engagement celebrating ethnic, not just religious, diversity, such as Malian dancing demonstrations or Algerian movie festivals,” she says.

“I firmly believe that when people have a sense of community that goes above religion — when they feel accepted by the community where they buy groceries, go to school, there will be less anger toward the state and, possibly, less motivation to join terrorist or other anti-state movements.”

Tackling complex Middle East statehood issues

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 17:45

Two guest lecturers this fall offered a vivid look at the questions that concern any contested territory: Does a nation of people need a state to have self-determination, and if so, what is the most effective strategy for earning statehood? These questions have different answers in different historical eras, but represent one of the most fundamental debates in international studies.

Both Leila Faraskh and Peter Krause PhD '11 explored the complex forces and political workings behind national movements and the pursuit of statehood in separate lectures sponsored by the Emile Bustani Middle East Seminar.

Faraskh, an associate professor of political science at University of Massachusetts at Boston, laid out the history of the fight for Palestinian statehood, beginning with the Balfour Declaration of 100 years ago, through the various political movements that have sought to strengthen protections for the nation of Palestine within the state of Israel.

Frequently referencing political theorist Hannah Arendt’s notion of “the right to have rights,” Farsakh made a case for the idea that a formal state that respects the rights of all people regardless of “nation” is the only solution to the political struggle in Israel. As a part of her research, she recently conducted a survey of Palestinians in the West Bank which found that a majority of young people there approved of a single state in which all citizens enjoy the benefits of statehood, in contrast to the more hardline views of previous generations of Arab political leaders.

Krause, an assistant professor of political science at Boston College, gave an engaging presentation on the research that culminated in his new book, “Rebel Power: Why National Movements Compete, Fight and Win.” Krause, who earned his doctorate in political science at MIT and is a research affiliate with the MIT Security Studies program, offered an analytical approach to understanding and predicting the strategies of national movements.

Krause said most disputes over statehood involve multiple groups in competition with another. The organization in power, with the most to lose, is risk averse, while groups that seek to gain more power have a greater risk acceptance. In countries with extreme disparity between the amount of power wielded by those in control of the state and those seeking to gain control, challengers to organizational power are more likely to use divisive and “risky” tactics such as political violence, he said. Krause’s presentation was illustrated by examples from historical and current national movements including Algeria, Israel, Palestine, and Ireland.

The Bustani Middle East Seminar is now in its 32nd year. Presenting four speaking programs focused on Middle East affairs each academic year, the lecture series is funded by Myrna Bustani of Beirut, Lebanon, in memory of her father, Emile M. Bustani '33, who earned his degree in civil engineering. Ford International Professor of History and Associate Provost Philip S. Khoury has chaired the Bustani Seminar for three decades.

Portuguese delegation led by Minister Manuel Heitor visits MIT

Tue, 11/14/2017 - 16:50

Following previous meetings at MIT and Portugal, Manuel Heitor, the Portuguese minister for science, technology, and higher education, recently visited MIT to discuss and plan the development of a new phase of the partnership between Portugal and the American university. The president of the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT), Paulo Ferrão, and a representative of Portuguese universities, António Cunha, accompanied the Portuguese minister. 

During the two-day, visit the Portuguese delegation met with the Richard Lester, associate provost at MIT; Dava Newman, the Apollo Professor of Astronautics and Engineering; David Miller, the Jerome Hunsaker Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics; and Douglas Hart, professor of mechanical engineering. Last May, the same MIT team had been in Portugal to assess MIT Portugal's role in the academic and business communities but also to analyze areas where this partnership actions can be more critical in the future.

This recent visit of the minister is part of a series of contacts established between the Portuguese stakeholders and the American universities — namely MIT, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Texas at Austin — involved in science and education international partnerships aiming to reinforcing the continuity of the scientific and technological cooperation that has marked the relationship between Portugal and the U.S. in recent decades. They've also served to define a new and more ambitious framework for these impactful international partnerships.

Based on many areas of research and development — including bioengineering, sustainable energy, transportation, engineering, and manufacturing — the partnerships established between Portugal and the U.S. are a success story, as they have allowed the development of collaborative scientific research projects between higher education and industry. They are also associated with a range of innovation and technology initiatives that have resulted in business projects and new technology-based businesses.

Tackling the world’s challenges in the field

Mon, 10/02/2017 - 16:50

MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) — MIT’s pioneering international education program — asked the 700-plus students who studied and worked abroad this summer to submit photos and short videos showcasing the ways in which MIT is making the world a better place through the MISTI program.

From Chile to China, current MISTI students submitted one-minute videos and photographs focusing on their international projects and their experiences with different cultures. MISTI announced the contest winners via social media in the midst of its yearly information sessions. Video winners received $300 and photo winners received $50. MISTI received 25 video submissions and over 125 photographs this summer.

Winning videos:

MIT-Netherlands Better World Story: Yara Azouni

At MX3D, Yara Azoni, now a senior in mechanical engineering, worked on the first 3-D-printed steel bridge in the world. The bridge will be "intelligent" with a smart sensor network to monitor the structure's health in response to environmental changes.

MIT-India Better World Story: Wan Chantavilasvong

Chantavilasvong, a master's in city planning candidate, interned with the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH) under the Aga Khan Development Network to address the increasing threats to rural towns posed by natural disasters and climate change.

Winning photos:

Prosthetics in India (top left): Max Freitas and his D-Lab project partner Hope Chen (both juniors in biological engineering) developed and field tested prosthetics with Rise Legs through MIT-India.

Entrepreneurship in Jerusalem (top right): Dou Dou '17 brought over 80 Israeli and Palestinian high school students together by teaching them computer science and entrepreneurship through MIT-MEET (Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow).

For today's graduates of MIT, the ability to connect with, learn from and collaborate with people from different countries is essential. Interning, researching and teaching in over 30 countries around the world, MISTI students develop these practical intercultural skills working alongside international colleagues. An embodiment of MIT's "mens-et-manus" ("mind-and-hand") learning culture, MISTI provides students professional opportunities to take their education abroad and apply it to real world problems.

Each year, MISTI — a program of the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences within the Center for International Studies — matches nearly 1,000 students with internship, teaching, and research opportunities in leading labs, companies, and schools around the world. At graduation, MISTI students report a higher level of self-confidence and an improved ability to adapt to new situations and to communicate effectively with international peers.

Are you an MIT undergrad or graduate student? Get involved early by reviewing student opportunities and requirements; reading more about MISTI students abroad; and attending MISTI country-specific info sessions this fall.

MIT Hong Kong Innovation Node finds permanent home

Mon, 09/25/2017 - 00:00

The MIT Hong Kong Innovation Node yesterday announced the opening of its permanent, 5,000-square-foot facility, which will serve as a hub for collaborative innovation and entrepreneurship for MIT students, professors, and alumni, as well as others working in Hong Kong.

The opening ceremony at the facility was attended by Chief Executive of Hong Kong Carrie Lam, as well as alumni and friends of MIT, Innovation Node leaders, students, and startups, and MIT professors who helped launch and guide the Innovation Node’s development.

Located in Kowloon Tong, in an area closely linked to major Hong Kong universities and rapid transportation, the facility includes cutting-edge prototyping equipment, a makerspace, and a variety of multipurpose areas that can be used for lectures, classes, and working spaces.

By enabling new programs and initiatives, the new facility will boost innovation, education, and collaboration between the MIT and Hong Kong communities, including high school and college students, professors, entrepreneurs, and business leaders, says Charlie Sodini, the Clarence J. LeBel Professor in Electrical Engineering, who serves as faculty director for the Innovation Node. “It really is about education — we brought MIT’s entrepreneurship and making curriculum across the Pacific Ocean,” he says.

Conceived by the MIT Innovation Initiative, the Node was first announced in November 2015. In June 2016, the Innovation Node launched its first program, a unique hardware accelerator program designed to educate students in key areas of innovation practice. In January came the launch of its flagship program, the MIT Entrepreneurship and Maker Skills Integrator (MEMSI), a two-week, immersive miniaccelerator that connects MIT students with peers from universities in Hong Kong.

But those programs have been held in rented venues around Hong Kong. Having a permanent space saves time and resources, creates a stronger sense of community, and “opens the door for many more programs” for students, alumni, professors, and even the public, says Brian Yen, executive director of the Innovation Node. “Now that we have our own space, we can start running regular programs, from maker courses to education programs to workshops,” he says.

Prototyping and manufacturing

Inside the Innovation Node is equipment for varying levels of prototyping. For light, rapid prototyping, there are soldering irons, 3-D printers, and equipment for making electronics. For more sophisticated projects, there are laser cutters and machines that make custom circuit boards. The makerspace also has basic construction tools, such as table saws, pipe cutters, and power drills. A wet lab that will support biological engineering tools is in the works.

Positioned above a manufacturing facility, the space also gives students access to more advanced prototyping tools, such as molding equipment and automated machines used for cutting, carving, and milling materials including wood, aluminum, and plastics. “When students do advanced stuff, they can walk downstairs and pay for their time,” Yen says.

Among students who have already benefited from the facility is Aagya Mathur, an MIT Sloan School of Management student who co-founded the startup aam, which began as part of MEMSI in January.

The “femtech” startup — meaning it uses technology to address women’s health issues — is developing a “smart sleeve” for blister packs of contraceptives or other pills, which recognizes individual pills and sends the user a reminder if one hasn’t been taken on schedule. The startup was one of the first to use the new facility over the summer. Now, it has a working prototype. “Because we are a hardware startup, a big piece of the startup is prototyping,” Mathur told MIT News. “The node is really great about having so many machines, such as 3-D printers, mills, vacuum pumps, laser cutters, bandsaws, and soldering stations we were able to use.”

Mathur and her co-founders also took advantage of the Innovation Node’s close proximity to Shenzhen, a major city with advanced manufacturing facilities located a 40-minute train ride away. Over the summer, they visited four manufacturing plants for a look behind the scenes. “It was really eye-opening to see the intricacies of [manufacturing] in person,” Mathur says. “You see how much it costs, how fast things go, and that’s valuable, especially for a hardware startup.”

At the opening event, aam was one of several student startups to present the prototypes they launched at the Innovation Node. Others were: BeThere, a video-recording device on wheels that parents can control remotely to keep an eye on their young children; InterFace, a smart lanyard that enhances interaction among conference participants; Sella, a sensor-embedded office chair that improves sitting posture for employees; Sightecho, one of the first Innovation Node participants, which is developing an augmented-reality mask for divers that displays vital information, including depth and oxygen level; and TNKK, a high school team from Hong Kong making a smart stress ball that provides tactile sensory relief.

Building a collaborative community

A major benefit of the physical space is that it provides continued access to resources for alumni of Hong Kong universities and MIT, says Marina Chan, director of strategic initiatives for the Innovation Node. “In Hong Kong, university students get a lot of resources, but once they graduate, that access is considerably shrunk,” she says. “In a way, we’re an attachment area for them.”

Innovation Node alumni from MIT and Hong Kong universities can drop by to continue projects or mentor budding entrepreneurs. MIT professors can visit during trips to the region to interact with students or deliver lectures. Startups that launched in the Innovation Node also have continued access to the space for further prototyping, company meetings, and, perhaps as importantly, free coffee. “It’s fuel for the mind,” Yen jokes.

In the future, the Innovation Node may also open to allow members of the public to use the makerspace, for example to take classes in app inventing or 3-D printing. It could also serve as an offline meeting spot for edX and MITx users. “We want to curate the best of what MIT has to offer and bring in the ‘mens et manus’ philosophy into the local context,” says Chan, referring to MIT’s “mind and hand” motto.

As space is scarce in Hong Kong, the facility was designed to be multifunctional under tight area constraints. MIT architecture alumnus Dennis Cheung SM ’13, one of the first Innovation Node participants a year ago, designed the space along with his team at UPSOP, a design studio he co-founded. Inspiration came from MIT Department of Architecture Professor George Stiny’s concept of “shape grammar,” which says furniture and other features in spaces should be designed for assembling in different configurations that encourage working and social interactions.

All of the furniture is custom-made and, along with the whiteboards and partitions, can be scooted around on wheels to form different seating, socializing, lecturing, and working arrangements. Apart from optimizing space, the design is meant to inspire creativity. “It doesn’t look boring,” Yen says. “One of the things we wanted is for people to come in and feel the spirit of innovation, and feel creative about how they use the space.”

MIT and Tsinghua University sign urban innovation agreement

Tue, 09/19/2017 - 16:30

MIT and Tsinghua University in China have signed an agreement establishing a new technology project, the Future City Innovation Connector (FCIC), which is designed to support research and startup teams applying ideas to China’s rapidly growing urban areas.

FCIC will draw upon the work of MIT professors and labs to identify innovative concepts and technologies that could be implemented in China. At MIT, FCIC will be formally hosted in the MIT China Future City Lab. Its founder and faculty director is Siqi Zheng, the Samuel Tak Lee Associate Professor of Real Estate Development and Entrepreneurship, in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning and its Center for Real Estate. Zheng also holds a visiting professor position at Tsinghua University.

The program will run in conjunction with the MIT School of Architecture and Planning’s entrepreneurship accelerator, DesignX. FCIC will also work extensively with Chinese municipal governments and industry leaders to support research and startup teams.

The agreement was formally signed on Sept. 16 by MIT Provost Martin A. Schmidt and Tsinghua University Vice President and Provost Bin Yang. Richard Lester, MIT’s associate provost for international activities, also participated in the signing ceremony.

“I am thrilled to see the launch of this new collaboration initiative,” Schmidt says. “Under the leadership of Professor Zheng, the MIT-Tsinghua Future City Innovation Connector will become the new starting point of a series of engagements between MIT and Tsinghua in entrepreneurship, education, and urban research.”

Zheng, an expert on urban economics, development, and real estate, says “FCIC aims to support city innovation ideas and startup teams involving MIT and Tsinghua University students, across all disciplines, to make our cities better.”

As Zheng also noted, FCIC can play a significant practical role by linking together researchers and entrepreneurs, on the one hand, with Chinese policymakers and industrial leaders. The project aims to establish collaborations with Chinese cities that face challenges such as urban resilience, urban health, housing, environmental sustainability, responsive urban management, and the development of “smart” cities.

“Urban-focused research teams and startups face unique challenges when they want to work on urban problems in China,” Zheng adds. “Partnerships with city governments are most critical to the success of these teams. The MIT-Tsinghua Future City Innovation Connector will help the innovative urban research teams and startups at MIT and Tsinghua engage with the Chinese market and government resources to realize their societal impact and economic success.”

FCIC is the first program of its kind that explicitly aims to apply the frontiers of urban research and technology to the immense urbanization occuring in China, which should be powered by technological innovation and new business ventures, FCIC leaders believe.

“The rich academic intellectual resources and active entrepreneurship ecosystem at both universities have huge potential to land its impact in Chinese cities,” Bin Yang says. “MIT-Tsinghua FCIC will build broad partnership with local city and industries to scale up its impact. It is of great meaning to MIT, Tsinghua University, local governments, and industry leaders.”

MIT and Tsinghua University have developed extensive formal collaborations in recent decades, across a range of areas involving their shared commitment to research, education, and the support of entrepreneurship.

Saving Venice, MIT-style

Wed, 08/23/2017 - 12:15

This summer, MIT professors Paola Malanotte Rizzoli of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) and Andrew Whittle of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) led an intensive workshop with several Italian faculty exploring key challenges facing Venice. Ten MIT students and seven students from the University of Venice (IUAV) joined their engineering and urban planning expertise during the first two weeks at a research camp in Pellestrina, a small island in the Venetian Lagoon. Donning fluorescent orange vests and hard hats, the bilingual group worked in a pop-up classroom on a live construction site for the massive flood gates built to protect Venice from high waters.

Through a combination of lectures, interviews with local residents, and on-site visits to observe the city's Experimental Electromechanical Module (MOSE) floodgates in action, MIT and IUAV students set to work developing solutions to pressing engineering and climate change challenges.

Rizzoli explained the dynamics of rising sea levels, storm surges, and wind waves in the Venetian Lagoon under various climate change circumstances. IUAV Professor Laura Fregolent discussed depopulation, another major threat to Venice. Looking at solutions, Whittle compared the novel technology of the MOSE gates with about 15 major storm surge barriers worldwide. MIT students speculated about the risk of flooding back home, and what could be learned from the MOSE project as Boston considers building a four-mile barrier restricting the flow of water into the city.

Outside of the classroom, camp participants were treated to what Whittle describes as “an engineer’s delight” — the opportunity to observe the precise positioning of a 95-foot-long steel gate through four underwater cameras. Rising MIT junior Malik Coville enthusiastically concurred. “As a mechanical engineer, typically we tend to mess with smaller technologies in class,” he explains. “This is the first time I was introduced to something much larger.”

After the first week, MIT and IUAV students bridged divides across cultures and disciplines through field work, data collection, and big-picture ideas. One group performed statistical and spatial analysis of flood risk in the Venetian Lagoon and analyzed historical data to create projections for the years 2050 and 2100. Another group formed a think-tank to develop repopulation strategies, formulating plans to refurbish urban workspaces with 21st century technology and self-sustaining energy systems. They also created strategies to involve local students in community development by collaborating with Italian universities. A third group conducted extensive mapping and interviews to explore the impact and the perception of the MOSE project among Pellestrina’s inhabitants.

Paige Midstokke, MIT grad student in civil engineering and technology and policy, worked on mapping and data analysis, and appreciated her group’s multicultural, multidisciplinary composition. “It’s a really interesting group, a mix of Italian and U.S. university students with different styles of working and different perspectives on this place,” Midstokke said.

Of the 10 MIT students who participated in the research camp, eight stayed for an additional two-month period to continue their research. Hosted by IUAV and Consorzio Venezia Nuova, they continued to work on meteorological statistical models, urban issues, and prototyping an electrical system to control the MOSE floodgates. Thanks to their extensive contacts with Italian experts and locals, the MIT students came to view Venice not only as a unique research lab, but also as a deeply-rooted way of life. They embraced the urgency of the problems and the applied character of their research. “For one, it’s the most hands-on thing that we’ve ever dealt with,” Coville said. “We’re applying what we’re learning to actually save a city.”

Rizzoli, in agreement with Whittle, the Italian partners, and MIT-Italy Program Co-Director Serenella Sferza, praises the initiative as “successful beyond expectations.” She is working with EAPS, CEE, and all others involved to replicate the workshop next summer. “This is an exemplary prototype of how a global classroom should work,” Rizzoli says.

The students who participated in this year’s pilot experience will present their research, made possible by support from IROP, other academic grants, and MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI), on Sept. 8 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in Room 54-915 within the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences.

Bringing poverty-alleviating solutions to market in India, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda

Wed, 08/16/2017 - 12:20

Six social entrepreneurs who are addressing pressing poverty challenges through market-based approaches make up this year's cohort of the MIT D-Lab Scale-Ups Fellows.

The entrepreneurs are all part of the D-Lab-affiliated International Development Design Summit (IDDS). The 2017 fellows include Tunde Alawode PhD ’17, Honey Bajaj SM ’17, and Rebecca Hui MCP ’17, as well as three IDDS alumni: Abraham Salomon, Sebastian Rodriguez, and Chebet Lesan.

“I'm excited to be selected as a 2017 D-Lab Scale-Ups Fellow,” says Lesan, the founder and CEO of BrightGreen Renewable Energy, Ltd. in Kenya. “This fellowship will provide a wonderful opportunity for me to pursue my vision to increase the engagement of women in Kenya's green energy sector.”

Lesan joins a growing community of more than 30 current and former participants in the D-Lab Scale-Ups program, which offers one year of comprehensive support to social entrepreneurs.

“With MIT alumni fellows as well as fellows from our global network, the Scale-Ups Fellowship is a great example of the way D-Lab brings the MIT community together with innovators and entrepreneurs in the developing world,” says the D-Lab’s Jona Repishti, who manages the fellowship program.

During the yearlong program, D-Lab Scale-Ups fellows work to retire risk in technical feasibility and market viability to position their ventures for investment, partnership, and growth. Each social entrepreneur receives a $20,000 grant, tailored mentoring, skills building, networking opportunities, and an invitation to participate in a retreat for current and past fellows. Fellows are also encouraged to take full advantage of D-Lab courses, students, instructors, researchers, industry contacts, the D-Lab workshop, and the D-Lab’s global network of innovators, entrepreneurs, and industry contacts.

Now in its sixth year, the D-Lab Scale-Ups program has provided fellowships to 33 social entrepreneurs working on four continents in sectors including agriculture, energy, water, health care, housing, livelihoods, mobility, recycling, education, and personal finance. At the close of last year’s cycle, Scale-Ups Fellows had raised $11.4 million in capital, created over 343 direct and 3,278 indirect full-time equivalent jobs, and directly improved the lives of an estimated 700,000 people living in low-income settings through their product and service offerings.

Tunde Alawode: dot Learn, Nigeria

Tunde Alawode is compressing video to increase access to online education. The co-founder and chief operating officer of dot Learn, Alawode is working with his team to make video-based online education accessible and affordable on cheap smartphones and 2G connections, the devices and connections most commonly used in Africa. Their tagline is "We compress videos to expand education."

By encoding chalkboard-style learning videos, such as those created by the Khan Academy, in a text-based vector format, dot Learn is able to put an hour-long video into a tiny 1 megabyte file. By encoding video as text rather than pixels, file sizes are hundreds of time smaller, and a student can access five hours of video for the cost of sending a single text message. This makes online video learning practical and affordable for the first time to millions of students across Africa. “That is game-changing,” says Alawode. “With this technology, dot Learn is building Africa’s education platform in the form of apps.”

Honey Bajaj: Avir Technologies, India

Honey Bajaj is developing a low cost, clinically-validated mobile app for accurately diagnosing the most common types of pulmonary disease. Bajaj and the Avir Technolgies team have deep expertise in human-centered design to help patients and digitally-illiterate health workers understand test results and at-home care solutions. Bajaj will use the fellowship to advance work on Swas, a mobile solution that uses proprietary, clinically validated technologies to accurately diagnose the most common types of pulmonary disease.

Swas was specifically designed for rural health workers and low-income patients who lack familiarity with pulmonary disease and the use of sophisticated medical technology. Requiring only a mobile app and a complementary device to diagnose pulmonary symptoms, Swas is both low-cost and easy to use. It will initially include only an asthma diagnostic solution, but each license will include software updates which will allow the tool to diagnose other pulmonary diseases (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD, pneumonia, tuberculosis), and will eventually integrate with diagnostic tools in other disease areas to deliver individualized health recommendations to patients on a simple mobile phone.

Rebecca Hui: Roots Studio, India and other locations

Rebecca Huis is creating a digital marketplace where tribal artists can access licensing and intellectual property rights. Her venture, Roots Studio, is creating a digital marketplace that enables isolated rural artists living on less than $1,000 per household per year to do business with buyers around the world. Through Roots Studio, artists who previously had little opportunity to profit from their work in the global marketplace are able to both digitize and license their work. That allows them to benefit from long-term royalty streams and protect their intellectual property rights.

At a cost of about $1,000, Roots Studio installs a computer and scanner in a village to enable artists to digitize their art and post to Roots Studio online. Once the art is uploaded in their cloud repository, Roots Studio markets the collection to clients, such as stationery and home goods companies, around the world. Roots Studio gives back 30 percent of the gross profits, with 75 percent going to the artist and 25 percent to a village community fund. By creating income streams for rural artists, Roots Studio hopes their work will contribute to the dissemination and preservation of indigenous art forms, imagery, and techniques.

Chebet Lesan: BrightGreen Renewable Energy/Moto Briquettes, Kenya

Chebet Lesan is bringing affordable, cleaner-burning, and eco-friendly charcoal briquettes to low-income households in Kenya. Her women-led social enterprise, BrightGreen Renewable Energy, designs, produces, and sells innovative briquettes made from recycled waste such as captured char fines, carbonized sawdust from lumber industries, and waste flour from local flourmills. Lesan says BrightGreen will continue to iterate its product by testing new raw materials.

“With assistance from MIT D-lab, KIRDI, Energy 4 Impact, and University of Nairobi, the quality of our briquettes continues to be tested for bulk density, calorific value, fixed carbon, volatile matter, briquette durability, briquette moisture absorption, briquette moisture content, and ash content,” she says. “Our goal for this next year is to work closely with MIT D-lab to improve accessibility of recycled charcoal briquettes to local communities through developing a micro-distribution system of women entrepreneurs doing last-mile distribution in low-income areas in Nairobi City.”

Sebastian Rodriguez: KopaGas, Tanzania

Sebastial Rodriguez is bringing digital technology to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) distribution in order to accelerate access to clean cooking fuel for millions of households. More than 727 million people (four of every five households) in Sub-Saharan Africa use wood or charcoal for cooking their daily meals. Because cooking on an open fire is equivalent to being exposed to the smoke of 400 cigarettes per hour, contributing towards over 4.3 million deaths per year worldwide, it is essential to increase access to affordable cleaner burning fuels.

Using mobile money technology and a proprietary smart meter that can be attached to refillable cylinders, Rodriguez and the team at KopaGas are digitizing LPG distribution, enabling a pay-as-you-go business model. KopaGas has completed a commercial pilot in Dar Es Salaam Tanzania in close collaboration with Oryx Tanzania, giving each participating household access to a kit consisting of a stove, an LPG cylinder, a meter, and accessories, after payment of a small commitment fee. The household then pays for the service using mobile money and their meter automatically stops the gas flow when the credit or the gases in the cylinder are depleted. The pilot has shown a number of benefits including high consumer satisfaction, better user understanding of consumption, improved asset management, and a reduced need for cash management.

Abraham Salomon: Agriworks, Uganda

Abraham Salomon is providing irrigation solutions to small commercial farmers, who need technology that is powerful enough for commercial-scale production but that has low upfront investment costs and requires minimal technical know-how.

Private companies have traditionally been reluctant to invest in R&D and marketing for this customer segment. Salomon, the founder and chairman of Agriworks Uganda, is addressing this need by reducing the capital cost of irrigation systems through modular, easy-to-use, and easy-to-maintain mobile systems that can be shared by multiple farmers. Known as the Agriworks Mobile Irrigation System (AMIS), the water delivery system includes all the components needed to set up, irrigate a plot, and take it home again in a matter of hours. The AMIS is sized and designed to operate at small commercial scale, targeting smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, a substantial but neglected market.

Building on MIT’s ecosystem for social entrepreneurship

Many of the MIT Scale-Ups Fellows are the product not only of D-Lab, but of the wider MIT ecosystem for international development, innovation, and entrepreneurship. With programs like the Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center and the IDEAS Global Challenge, the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship, the MIT Innovation Initiative, the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, and the 100K competition, MIT graduates who pursue social ventures have been able to take advantage of a myriad of educational, mentorship, and funding resources.

“MIT Scale-Ups fellows are a great lens through which to experience the impressive and growing ecosystem of support for social entrepreneurship at MIT,” Repishti says.

Alawode, the co-founder of dot Learn, is a great example. 

"Dot Learn was created in the Development Ventures class in fall 2015, and our first real break was when we pitched to Pedro Reynolds-Cuellar when he was teaching D-Lab: Education,” says Alawode. “He offered us flight tickets to go for our very first market research trip in Ghana. Beyond that, we got the even more valuable network of contacts D-Lab has built in Ghana over the years. Over the course of last year, we also participated in D-Lab-supported programs such as the Scaling Development Ventures Conference and the IDEAS Global Challenge. We also particularly recognize the support we have received from the Legatum Center and the Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship."

Founded in 2012 at MIT D-Lab with support from Community Jameel, the Scale-Ups Fellowship Program has received additional funding from the International Development Innovation Network (which is funded by the USAID’s Global Development Lab). D-Lab Scale-Ups also receives generous support from the Newman’s Own Foundation and anonymous donors.

To find out more about the program, visit the D-Lab Scale-Ups Fellowship page or contact Jona Repishti.

Six from MIT awarded 2017 Fulbright grants

Wed, 08/09/2017 - 13:20

Three MIT undergraduate students and three recent alumni have been awarded Fulbright U.S. Student Program grants to conduct independent research projects overseas during the coming academic year. In addition, a graduate student alumnus was named a Fulbright Finalist but declined the award.

The 2017-2018 Fulbright Students from MIT will engage in research projects in Germany, Austria, China, New Zealand, Mexico, and Poland.

The Fulbright Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and operates in over 160 countries worldwide. It is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. Recipients of Fulbright awards are selected on the basis of academic and professional achievement as well as record of service and leadership potential in their respective fields. The MIT winners are:

James Deng '17 graduated from MIT this spring with a BS in chemistry. During his Fulbright year in Germany, he will do research on epigenetics at the Ludwig Maximillian University of Munich. Deng will be investigating the interactions and regulation of TET proteins, which are associated with cancer and other diseases.

Jesse Feiman is an art history doctoral student in the History Theory and Criticism program within the School of Architecture and Planning. He will be spending his Fulbright year in Austria conducting archival research on the taxonomy system developed by the 18th century Viennese artist Adam von Bartsch.  

Jessica Gordon is a doctoral student in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. Her Fulbright research in China will examine how governmental policies affect climate change adaptation. She will be conducting her research in Inner Mongolia, Jiangxi, and Guizhou provinces.

Jorlyn Le Garrec '17 graduated this spring with a BS in mechanical and ocean engineering. As a Fulbright Student in New Zealand, she will pursue a research-based mechanical engineering master’s degree through the University of Auckland. Le Garrec’s research focuses on underwater robotics.

Albert Lopez is an architectural history doctoral student in the History Theory and Criticism program within the School of Architecture and Planning. Lopez will be based in Mexico City, where he will use his Fulbright grant to investigate architects’ contributions to Mexican political society and the discourses of integration during the 1940s-1950s. 

Jiwon Victoria Park '17 graduated this spring with a BS in chemistry. She will be traveling to Poland to conduct research in organometallic chemistry at the Warsaw University of Technology. Park’s research has potential applications for drug delivery and electronic devices.

MIT’s Solve initiative seeks solutions to its 2017 global challenges

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 00:00

Solve — MIT’s initiative that brings together problem-solvers of all stripes to tackle the world’s pressing problems — has four new global challenges for 2017: brain health; sustainable urban communities; women and technology; and youth, skills, and the workforce of the future. Applications for those who have a solution to any of these challenges are due August 1.

Solve issues challenges for anybody around the world to apply to participate in. The program identifies the best solutions through open innovation. And, it builds and convenes a community of leaders who have the resources, the expertise, the mentorship, and the know-how to get each solution piloted, scaled, and implemented.

At its most recent event last May, Solve convened technologists, social entrepreneurs, business leaders, policymakers, researchers, and change agents on campus for three days of Solve at MIT.

“As I look out on the world, I’m more certain than ever of the power and significance of the collaborative problem-solving global platform we call Solve,” said MIT President Rafael Reif at Solve at MIT. “In the two and a half years since we first announced Solve, it has evolved in important ways. As many of you know firsthand, since then Solve has launched specific, actionable challenges around refugee education, carbon contributions, chronic diseases, and inclusive innovation. In its first cycle, Solve attracted more than 400 solutions from more than 57 countries.”

The May event celebrated the first cycle of Solvers, who worked on those 2016 challenges, by bringing them together with the Solve community to form partnerships to help implement their solutions. Also at that time, Solve launched its new challenges for 2017. Those challenges are now getting ready to close on August 1. They are:

  • Brain Health: How can every person improve their brain health and mental resilience?
  • Sustainable Urban Communities: How can urban communities increase their access to sustainable and resilient food and water sources?
  • Women and Technology: How can women and girls of all socioeconomic backgrounds use technology to fully participate and prosper in the economy?
  • Youth, Skills, and the Workforce of the Future: How can disadvantaged youth learn the skills they need to prepare them for the workforce of the future and thrive in the 21st century?

Solve further announced three prizes for the 2017 challenges during Solve at MIT. Applicants for these challenges should be sure to opt in if they’re eligible.

  1. Atlassian Foundation International is pledging up to $1 million in grant funding for the Youth, Skills, and the Workforce of the Future Challenge to selected Solvers from non-governmental organizations, nonprofits, social enterprises, academics, entrepreneurs, and for-profit organizations.
  2. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is pledging up to $1 million in grant funding for the Youth, Skills, and the Workforce of the Future Challenge to selected Solvers who will have an impact in developing countries across the Indo-Pacific. 
  3. World-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma is pledging to curate a mentorship prize for selected Solvers who propose solutions based in arts and culture to the four challenges.

Applicants who are selected as finalists will join the Solve Challenge Finals in New York City on Sept. 17 during the United Nations General Assembly Week. The Solve pitch session will take place in front of challenge judges, Solve members, and a live audience in New York. 

“This is just the beginning of the community, of the marketplace, of the movement,” said Solve Executive Director Alex Amouyel during Solve at MIT. “And to truly realize the vision of Solve, we need you to continue the charge.”

Jessica Myers: Liberté, Égalité, Sécurité

Mon, 07/10/2017 - 09:00

As an undergraduate at Princeton University, Jessica Myers MCP ’17 threw herself into writing a thesis on urban food markets in New Orleans. After many months of work, however, she was disappointed to see it filed away, virtually unread. For her graduate thesis in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP), she was determined to resist that fate.

Interested in writing about the urban fabric of Paris, she spoke with members of DUSP’s Community Innovators Lab (CoLab), who suggested that she produce a podcast that could be disseminated online to a wider audience. She’d never created a podcast, Myers says, but as an avid podcast listener, she was excited about the challenge of figuring it out.

The result is “Here There Be Dragons,” a two-season, 13-episode (and counting) exploration of urban life in New York and Paris through the themes of race, class, and security. “I basically wanted to ask questions about fear,” says Myers, “looking at how people prepare themselves to be in a city and create mental maps and strategies.”

Myers isn’t from a big city herself; she grew up in the bedroom community of Plainfield, New Jersey. But she fell in love with Paris during a study abroad semester during which she held a number of jobs — washing dishes at a restaurant, translating poetry for a cabaret, and working as an archivist at the Centre Pompidou. “I was all over the city, working in a lot of different contexts, and that made me very interested in how it works socially and politically.”

At MIT, she took a class with DUSP lecturer Jota Samper on “conflict cities” that examined how policies around security affect the use of public space. While other students studied Teheran, Donetsk, or Medellin, Myers chose to focus on Paris. “With older Western cities, we typically look at them as historical case studies, seeing them as ‘developed’ rather than ‘developing,’” says Myers. “But on a neighborhood level, they are dealing with the same social and cultural issues as the global south.”

For her podcast, Myers honed her craft with a first “season” on New York, featuring interviews with seven people about how they constructed mental maps of where they felt safe and unsafe. “If I am a woman, where am I not going to wear a short skirt; if I am queer, where can I hold hands,” she says. “I wanted to look at all of these strategies people have and how they change over time.”

After developing her interview techniques and tweaking the software she used to weave together the program, she set forth on a second season on Paris, starting with reactions to the terrorist attacks of November 2015. “What was interesting was that white men were very shocked at the prospect of having to feel worried in a public space,” says Myers. “Whereas women and LGTBQ interviewees were more like, ‘This is another thing I need to add to my running ticker tape of public stress.’”

As she spoke to different groups — white, immigrant, middle class, and poor — about where they felt safe or unsafe in the city, the conversations took a surprising turn toward issues of gentrification. For middle-class Parisians, the introduction of a wine shop or brunch spot on a previously “unsafe” corner made them extend their mental map. For residents of poor neighborhoods, however, an influx of unfamiliar faces made them feel unsafe. “If you rely on the so-called ‘eyes on the street’ to keep your kids safe,” Myers says, “then all of a sudden that change breaks up your sense of community trust.”

Later episodes of the podcast address the contradictions of the French policy of mixité, a social housing program based on the ideal of mixing social classes that relocates poorer people such as immigrants from North and West Africa into more affluent arrondissements. “But what exactly is the support offered to those families?” Myers asks. Often even second- or third-generation African-French citizens are referred to as “immigrants” by white French people. “If they cook food with strong peanut sauces and neighbors smell it, will it be a nuisance? Will they feel hostility in a place that is supposed to be their home?”

For each episode, Myers created a script, transcribing the interviews in French and then translating them into English. She cast English speakers to closely match the original subjects in age, gender, and ethnicity, and overlaid the English audio onto the French. It’s an effective strategy in bringing the issues alive, says Myers’s advisor, professor of landscape architecture and planning Anne Whiston Spirn. “Hearing their voices and their words, it makes it so clear that the ideas are emerging from the data,” she says. “You often don’t get that as directly in a more conventional thesis.”

Since DUSP first offered students the option of a media-based thesis four years ago, Spirn has overseen several other students with backgrounds in film and photography who created multimedia explorations of urban planning. She hopes that in the future, more students like Myers, who didn’t arrive with a media background, can take that approach. “I am interested in promoting these theses and in giving students the support they need in order to do them.”

In telling the stories of her subjects, Myers had to balance between the academic demands of her thesis and the entertainment value of a podcast. “I think academics have lost a crucial audience because there is little emphasis on being engaging, and news has decided to become so much a part of entertainment, that there is no grounding in rigor,” she says. In addition to receiving guidance from Spirn, she’s worked with a producer from BuzzFeed France in maneuvering between those poles.

Her formula seems to be working. “I would say it’s as rigorous as any thesis I’ve seen, and at the same time it’s enormously engaging,” says Spirn. In recognition of the achievement, Myers was awarded honorable mention for the department’s outstanding thesis award.

Currently the podcast is downloaded 200 times a week by listeners in the United States and France, as well as from as far away as Iceland, Hong Kong, and Chile. “I hope that people take away from this the fact that Paris is still developing, and the conversation isn’t over about what it can become,” says Myers, who is thrilled with the wide reach of the work. “Someone in Medellin or Mogadishu might have something to contribute.”

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