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Green design research unites Institute across disciplines

Green design research at MIT has one focal point in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, where Professor Timothy G. Gutowski works on environmentally benign manufacturing processes, system analysis for environmental performance and product design for recycling, among other related topics. In the same department, David R. Wallace, associate professor of mechanical engineering and engineering systems and co-director of the MIT CADlab, focuses on environmentally conscious product design and integrated computer-aided design, including aesthetics.

Faculty members from the departments of materials science and engineering, urban studies and planning, chemistry and architecture, and the Engineering Systems Division, are also addressing aspects of "green" materials and production. Research ranges from targeted work on basic science to interdisciplinary methods bringing social and technological knowledge to bear on issues such as conservation and recycling.

MIT research on, for example, alternative energy or improved engine design holds promise in the search for a low-carbon energy regime. Reduced energy use is a critical objective of green design; others include waste management, efficiency, air and water quality, health impacts of pollution and policy tools.

Randolph E. Kirchain, assistant professor of materials science and engineering systems, has been investigating the sustainability of current and emerging material systems in the life cycles of automobiles and electronics.

Joel Clark, professor of materials science and engineering systems, is developing a framework to analyze the dynamic behavior of supply, demand and prices in mineral markets.

Jeffrey I. Steinfeld, professor of chemistry, is a leader in the study of high sensitivity spectroscopic techniques for the measurement of trace gas components in the atmosphere. His group is also investigating the application of supercritical fluids as environmentally acceptable reaction media.

In the Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP), Karen R. Polenske, professor of regional political economy and planning, has developed a new systemic approach to study the impacts of coal use in China. Assistant Professor JoAnn Carmin studies civic and organizational engagement in environmental governance. Assistant Professor Judy Layzer focuses on collaborative policy-making and ecosystem management.

Leon Glicksman, professor of building technology and mechanical engineering and head of the building technology program, leads research on energy-saving building technologies. His group is developing integrated real-time design tools to assess energy, lighting and comfort in buildings.

In the Department of Architecture, Leslie K. Norford, professor of building technology, is focusing on electric utility conservation and control of thermal storage systems. Associate Professor John Ochsendorf assesses the environmental impacts of building materials and design for sustainable construction and infrastructure.

The new MIT Energy Initiative will bring together existing and projected research on energy alternatives and climate change.

For a listing of MIT faculty members involved in environmental research at MIT, contact the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment (

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 1, 2006 (download PDF).

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