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MIT Better World

By Christine Thielman

“The world’s existing technologies and policies are not sufficient to respond to this emergency,” says Associate Provost Richard Lester PhD ’80, the Japan Steel Industry Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering, who co-chairs the initiative with Vice President for Research Maria Zuber, the E. A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics. “With the entire MIT community focused on solutions, we could help move the needle on the world’s climate response.”

Taking up the charge, 385 researchers from throughout MIT submitted outlines for 94 potential projects. After evaluation by a committee of faculty leaders from MIT’s five schools and the college of computing, 28 teams have been invited to submit white papers and will receive funding to develop their ideas further. By year’s end, a small group of projects will be selected as multi-year Grand Challenge projects and launched with funding raised by the Institute.

While many at the Institute are already pursuing climate-related research, the Climate Grand Challenges initiative is intended to harness the best efforts of MIT’s multidisciplinary research community toward solving a few of the toughest problems. “Climate problems and solutions often have to do with how people live and work,” says Lester. “So researchers focused on science and technology will collaborate with colleagues who study economic, political, psychological, and ethical barriers to change. It’s imperative to generate real-world, workable strategies.”

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The Big Picture

Zuber, recently named co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, agrees: “The whole of humanity needs these solutions, and that’s why we have brought the whole of MIT together through the Climate Grand Challenges.”

Just as Climate Grand Challenges is accelerating research on climate science and solutions, the recently launched MIT Climate and Sustainability Consortium (MCSC)—chaired by Anantha P. Chandrakasan, dean of the School of Engineering and the Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science—aims to accelerate the adoption of such solutions, at scale and across industries.

Drawing from a broad range of industries, the MCSC will convene an alliance of influential corporations motivated to work with MIT, and with each other, to pilot and deploy the solutions necessary to reach their own ambitious decarbonization commitments. The goal: to vastly accelerate the implementation of large-scale, real-world solutions, across many sectors, to help meet the global climate emergency.