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MIT goes to Copenhagen

Delegation of MIT professors, students and alumni attend historic global warming conference to present research and report on event
Six brightly colored townhouses in a row built with wood, bricks, and plaster

MIT professors, students and alumni have joined representatives from nearly 200 nations at the international U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, where they will present research, collaborate with other schools on climate change projects and report live from the event.

Four professors and four alumni are scheduled to present research on innovations in their respective fields, and two students are live-blogging from the event. Another student is attending with the support of the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) and will take part in a student-led collaborative project on climate change.

On Dec. 11, John Sterman, the Jay W. Forrester Professor in Computer Science at the Sloan School of Management and delegation leader for the MIT group in Copenhagen, will speak about C-ROADS (Climate Rapid Overview and Decision Support), a computer simulation program that emerged from research at MIT. The simulation model can quickly calculate the climate impacts from mitigation proposals that are presented during the climate change talks.

Throughout the conference, Sterman and his team of modelers and researchers, including four MIT alums — Tom Fiddaman PhD ’97, Travis Franck SM ’05, PhD ’09, Andrew Jones SM ’97 and Beth Sawin PhD ’96 — are providing a “climate scoreboard” that uses the C-ROADS model to assess the likely change in global mean temperature resulting from all the emissions reductions proposals offered by the nations of the world. Sterman’s group is from Climate Interactive, a joint project of MIT, the non-profit Sustainability Institute and Ventana Systems Inc., a software and consulting firm founded by MIT alumni.

On Dec. 8, Ian Waitz, the Jerome C. Hunsaker Professor and head of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and James Hileman, a principal research engineer in the department, spoke about the “Greening of U.S. Aviation,” a program presented in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration Office of Environment and Energy. Waitz and Hileman spoke about current research at the Partnership for AiR Transportation Noise and Emissions Reduction (PARTNER), an MIT-led coalition of nine universities researching ways to curb aviation emissions and develop alternative fuels.

Waitz, director of the coalition, talked about science and decision making, and how PARTNER is developing metrics to decide which policies, technologies, fuels and operational procedures best address societal needs for mobility and a clean environment. Hileman, associate director of PARTNER, spoke about the coalition’s research on alternative fuels for aviation.

On Dec. 15, Carlo Ratti, associate professor of the practice and head of the MIT SENSEable City lab in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, will present the “Copenhagen Wheel,” a project that aims to transform bicycle use in Denmark’s largest city by promoting urban sustainability and building new connections between the city’s cyclists. The project uses a self-organizing smart-tag system that allows cyclists to exchange basic information and share their relative positioning with each other. This data can then be used to power applications that benefit citizens, such as a program that tracks personal fitness efforts and results. 

Two MIT students, Aaron Thom and Katherine Potter, president and former president of student group Sustainability@MIT, are attending the conference with support from the MIT office of the four-university Alliance for Global Sustainability, an organization with close ties to the World Student Community for Sustainable Development. They will be live-blogging from the conference daily, reflecting their observations of the meeting and studying the role of students in international issues, specifically climate change.

Another student, Katherine Dykes, is traveling to Copenhagen with the support of MITEI. A member of the MITEI Task Force on Campus Energy Management, Dykes was selected to be MIT’s representative to participate in a multi-university, student-led project hosted by Yale and the University of Copenhagen. The goal of the project is to brainstorm, develop and share detailed and feasible models for making university campuses important loci for sustainable practices. Along with Thom and Potter, Dykes will be joining the Yale/Copenhagen group during the conference to present campus project ideas and share best practices from around the globe on how campuses can contribute to developing relevant climate solutions.

Members of the MIT community who are interested in learning more about the repercussions of the so-called Climategate release of emails, a controversial backdrop to the conference, can attend a discussion from 3 to 5 p.m. today in Building 26-100. Five MIT faculty experts will discuss what Climategate means for climate science, the integrity of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, public perception of climate and the ongoing policy negotiations in the Congress and at Copenhagen.


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