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Vol. 4, No. 2, March 2007

Welcome to Engineering Our World, the MIT School of Engineering's free bulletin for alumni and friends. Updated six times yearly, Engineering Our World describes some of the work we're doing at the leading edge of technological change, providing news and articles of the School's major initiatives.Past Issues

Energy and the Environment

by Dean Thomas L. Magnanti

"Biomedicine has done amazing things for human health. Now we need to focus on planetary health. It's preventive medicine for the Earth, basically. The challenge is orders of magnitude greater."
      – Sallie (Penny) Chisholm, MIT Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and of Biology, at MIT Museum Soap Box, November 2006

As I write in mid-February, our single major snowstorm this winter hit Boston with a relatively modest accumulation. But a day's drive from here, near where I grew up, upstate New Yorkers measured the snowfall in many feet, and the storm wrought great devastation there and in the Midwest. Only a few short weeks before, we had witnessed cherry blossoms on campus in January, while around the same time, cold temperatures ruined fruit crops in southern California.

Many are attributing dramatic changes in weather patterns both around the country and around the world in recent years to environmental changes. An MIT survey released last fall says that 50 percent of Americans now see climate change as our No. 1 environmental concern, up from three years ago when it ranked No. 6, and are asking: "What are we going to do about this?"

Speaking on how to begin immediately addressing global warming and achieving a sustainable energy future, Director of the Center for 21st Century Energy and Professor of Mechanical Engineering John Heywood has encouraged three broad approaches: conservation, improving mainstream technology, and finding new ways to produce and use energy. (See MIT World video.) Following Professor Heywood's lead (always a good idea!), I'd like to provide you with a sampling of activities on campus that are aligned with each of these approaches.

Early last summer, I wrote about "'Energy' for Energy," discussing the report of the MIT Energy Research Council and the School of Engineering's extensive involvement in energy research. How might some of our research lead to significant and signature contributions, especially in reducing environmental impact? Our faculty, researchers, and students across all departments have responded to the challenges in characteristically energetic fashion. Let's see how!