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Back to (basics for) the future?

Ochsendorf to discuss intertwining of engineering's past, future
John Ochsendorf
John Ochsendorf
Photo courtesy / MacArthur Foundation

Regulation of carbon emissions could pose a significant challenge to the way engineers design products, cities and more, but a solution may be as simple as using archaic building materials such as soil, says MIT Associate Professor John Ochsendorf.

This idea is just one of many that Ochsendorf will explore during the Morison Prize lecture, being held at 2 p.m. on Friday, May 1, in the Bartos Theater. His lecture, titled "Engineering for the Ecological Age: Lessons from History," will examine ways engineers can utilize the past when designing for an environmentally conscious future.

"For thousands of years people were building with soil," says Ochsendorf, the Class of 1942 Associate Professor of Building Technology. "But as engineers today, if you were thinking of building a new building, dirt wouldn't be the first thing that comes to mind. However, in some applications it makes sense."

"If we start to consider the health of the planet as a whole in our designs," he adds, "it may cause us to re-evaluate what we are designing and what is appropriate for a planet that has constrained carbon emissions, for example."

Trained as a civil engineer at Cornell, Princeton and Cambridge, Ochsendorf's research focuses on the safety of historical structures and the design of more sustainable infrastructure. He is a recipient of a Rome Prize and a MacArthur "genius" grant.

The lecture is delivered by the winner of the Morison Lecture and Prize in Science, Technology, and Society, which recognizes the accomplishments of an individual who has made major contributions at the interface between science and technology on the one hand and matters of societal concern on the other.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 29, 2009 (download PDF).

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