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Letter from President Reif: Tackling the grand challenges of climate change

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The following letter was sent to the MIT community today by President L. Rafael Reif.

To the members of the MIT community,

I am delighted to share an important step in MIT’s ongoing efforts to take action against climate change.

Thanks to the thoughtful leadership of Vice President for Research Maria Zuber, Associate Provost Richard Lester and a committee of 26 faculty leaders representing all five schools and the college, today we are committing to an ambitious new research effort called Climate Grand Challenges.

MIT’s Plan for Action on Climate Change stressed the need for breakthrough innovations and underscored MIT’s responsibility to lead. Since then, the escalating climate crisis and lagging global response have only intensified the need for action.

With this letter, we invite all principal investigators (PIs) from across MIT to help us define a new agenda of transformative research. The threat of climate change demands a host of interlocking solutions; to shape a research program worthy of MIT, we seek bold faculty proposals that address the most difficult problems in the field, problems whose solutions would make the most decisive difference.

The focus will be on those hard questions where progress depends on advancing and applying frontier knowledge in the physical, life and social sciences, or advancing and applying cutting-edge technologies, or both; solutions may require the wisdom of many disciplines. Equally important will be to advance the humanistic and scientific understanding of how best to inspire 9 billion humans to adopt the technologies and behaviors the crisis demands.

We encourage interested PIs to submit a letter of interest. A group of MIT faculty and outside experts will choose the most compelling – the five or six ideas that offer the most effective levers for rapid, large-scale change. MIT will then focus intensely on securing the funds for the work to succeed. To meet this great rolling emergency for the species, we are seeking and expecting big ideas for sharpening our understanding, combatting climate change itself and adapting constructively to its impacts.

You can learn much more about the overall concept as well as specific deadlines and requirements here.

This invitation is geared specifically for MIT PIs – but the climate problem deserves wholehearted attention from every one of us. Whatever your role, I encourage you to find ways to be part of the broad range of climate events, courses and research and other work already under way at MIT. 

For decades, MIT students, staff, postdocs, faculty and alumni have poured their energy, insight and ingenuity into countless aspects of the climate problem; in this new work, your efforts are our inspiration and our springboard. 

We will share next steps in the Climate Grand Challenges process later in the fall semester.


L. Rafael Reif

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