Over the course of the Campaign for a Better World, MIT forged a number of creative research and philanthropic collaborations with industry that are advancing technology, shortening the innovation cycle, and translating research findings into real-world solutions, all while supporting MIT’s students. Though MIT researchers have long worked side by side with scientists from private industry, these alliances are distinctive because they incorporate fellowships and other funding, says Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of the School of Engineering. “As companies provide research sponsorship, they also make a commitment to invest in our students,” he says.
Fellows funded by the MIT-Takeda Program: 21
In 2020, MIT announced a collaboration with Takeda Pharmaceuticals to support research projects and fund 10 graduate fellowships annually. The MIT-Takeda Program, which is housed in the Abdul Latif Jameel Clinic for Machine Learning in Health (Jameel Clinic), seeks to advance artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to benefit human health and drug development. Along with student support, the collaboration is providing the Institute with unparalleled access to health care data and pharmaceutical expertise, says Chandrakasan, who is also the Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Additionally, the program will offer educational programs through Jameel Clinic for Takeda employees.
→ Fusing Industry and Academia for Clean Energy
Similarly, the Institute launched the MIT and Accenture Convergence Initiative for Industry and Technology in 2020 within the School of Engineering. Although Accenture, a multinational consulting firm, has worked with MIT researchers on a broad range of programs for more than a decade, the recent initiative is designed to advance research projects on technology and industry convergence while at the same time funding five fellowships annually for graduate students who are underrepresented, including by race and ethnicity and by gender.
Investing in People
Fellowships, such as those created by the Takeda and Accenture alliances, and through support from many other individuals and corporations over the course of the Campaign, are key to helping MIT recruit top students and to providing support for projects that may be high impact yet are not well funded by traditional sources. “With the help of these companies,” says Chandrakasan, “we’re creating cohorts of fellows and providing key support for them early in their careers.”
“As companies provide research sponsorship, they also make a commitment to invest in our students,” Chandrakasan says.
One of the first recipients of a Takeda Fellowship, Mindy D. Bishop PhD ’21, a postdoctoral researcher in the Research Laboratory of Electronics at MIT and a graduate of the Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology at MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, is studying the potential of nanotechology to benefit human health. “The beauty of working on emerging nanomaterials such as carbon nanotubes is that we’re constantly finding ways to use their properties in new ways,” Bishop says. In a sea of research possibilities at MIT, “fellowship funding allowed me more freedom to take time to really think about the best way to proceed,” she says.
The Institute’s industry alliances have also created exciting research opportunities for undergraduates. During the 2020–2021 academic year, 30 scholars worked on AI research through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) and five through the Advanced Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (SuperUROP) sponsored by the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab. The lab, created in 2017 as part of a 10-year collaboration between MIT and IBM, is conducting fundamental AI research and unlocking new AI applications. Supported by the lab, students explored new applications for AI in a range of areas such as climate science, cybersecurity, and natural language processing. Since its founding, the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab has provided funding for 91 UROP or SuperUROP students.
The MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab has funded 91 undergraduate research projects since 2017.
Jason Madeano ’21, who participated in SuperUROP as an MIT-IBM Watson AI Undergraduate Research and Innovation Scholar, worked on a project in which he examined knowledge transmission in complex environments using a video-game-like mechanism. “I loved applying my knowledge from machine learning and cognitive science classes in my research,” he says, citing the program as “key to his success at MIT.”
Investing in Research Capacity
The joint research at the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab has allowed the two organizations to pursue projects that will propel scientific breakthroughs and examine AI’s economic and ethical impact on society. In just four years, the lab has produced more than 140 joint papers that will help shape the future of AI.
“For researchers,” says Chandrakasan, “there’s nothing more powerful than seeing our ideas deployed at scale quickly.” In some research areas, he notes, collaborations yield greater impact for both MIT and corporations than either could achieve working alone.
“Industry brings world-class researchers, but they also bring data sets and computing capabilities that would otherwise be unavailable to us,” he says. Meanwhile, the companies benefit through access to the deep expertise and knowledge of MIT researchers and an opportunity to invest in the next generation of scientists, creating a pipeline of talent for the future.
A Better World Through Collaboration
Chandrakasan sees unlimited potential for the impact of joint research between academia and industry. “MIT researchers had already been successful in working with private industry,” he says. “Now, we want to accelerate the adoption of technologies by working with companies across different sectors to take on urgent global problems.”
In 2018, Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) joined forces with MIT to to carry out rapid research into fusion power, long viewed as a potential source of energy to replace damaging fossil fuels. Working with the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center, CFS developed a conceptual design for SPARC, a net fusion energy experiment.
Seeking to rapidly commercialize fusion energy, CFS is sponsoring fusion research at MIT. “This is an innovative model,” says Chandrakasan. “Industry and a startup and academia have come together to solve this problem. It’s really groundbreaking work with the potential to have a huge impact on clean energy.” Broad philanthropic support from alumni and friends that includes professorships and student support at MIT, in combination with sponsored research funding, is helping SPARC to become a reality.