Woman visits Disney World every month, donates plasma to cover costs: 'I can help somebody'

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Liz Gramlich is a huge fan of Disney

In fact, the 28-year-old from Philadelphia loves Disney so much that for her 2022 New Year’s resolution, she set a goal to visit Walt Disney World in Orlando once a month with her sister.

The pair have visited the resort in January, February and March with their latest "magical" adventure booked for April. 

Gramlich, who works in inside sales, told Fox News Digital that her regular visits to Disney began in 2020. As COVID-19 hit the U.S., she and her sister started to notice that flight prices were dropping significantly. 

Now, with pandemic restrictions being lifted and travel fees rising, Gramlich has gotten creative in order to cover portions of the costs.

Gramlich said she and her sister visited Disney about a dozen times over the last two years.

In 2020, Gramlich realized that flights to Orlando from Philadelphia were only two hours, so she'd fly out for a one-day-only visit to the theme park.

For Gramlich, it was the first time she had been to the resort since she was 3 years old. 


"This was brand new to us," Gramlich told Fox News Digital. 

Gramlich said the visits became "a little extra thing to bring some magic and fun to our lives with everything going on in the world right now."

"It became something that we bonded over," she added.

In January of this year, Gramlich said she had an idea: "I was like, ‘Why don’t we do this every month?’"

When Gramlich and her sister began visiting Disney World in the summer of 2020, the lowest price on round trip flights cost $25 from Philadelphia to Orlando. 

"That was cheaper than gas for a round trip somewhere," Gramlich said. 

Flight costs eventually went up to about $50 for a round trip, but that was still less expensive than the Uber or Lyft from the airport to one of the Disney World parks, Gramlich said. 


However, as fuel prices have increased, so have flight costs, Gramlich said. For her and her sister’s April visit, their round trip flights cost $150 each.

"That’s shocking compared to what we’ve paid in the past," Gramlich said. "So we’ve had to adjust to make sure we could cover those costs."

Gramlich said she plans her monthly visit to Disney based on when the cheapest flights are. In addition, Gramlich donates her plasma – the liquid part of blood without blood cells – up to twice a week, which helps her cover the costs of flights and hotels. 

Depending on when she goes, Gramlich said she makes between $500 and $1,000 per month, which varies based on a variety of factors including if there's a shortage in her area. 

Gramlich said her clinic doesn’t pay for her plasma, rather she’s paid for her time. Donating takes Gramlich about 30 minutes, eight times a month.

At one time, the money Gramlich received for donating plasma covered "the entire cost of being able to go to Disney World," including flights and other expenses.

With flight costs going up, her plasma donations are still covering a major portion of the trip, but she sometimes has to save a little extra to cover a longer visit or an upgrade to a deluxe resort, she said.

Plasma donations can benefit adults or children with cancer and people with liver or clotting factor disorders, according to the American Red Cross. It can also help someone who's suffering from burns, shock, trauma and other medical emergencies, Standford Children's Health explains on its website. "The proteins and antibodies in plasma are also used in therapies for rare chronic conditions. These include autoimmune disorders and hemophilia," the website states.

Gramlich is glad plasma donations could potentially serve a life-saving purpose.


"When it came down to it, I was like, ‘Oh, I can help somebody by donating plasma instead of doing something else,’" she said.

She added that her donation center is clear that plasma donation shouldn’t be anyone’s main source of income, because there's never a guarantee that you can donate.

For Gramlich, she said she’s sometimes deferred from donating because her pulse is too high, "because I get a little nervous," she said.

Gramlich has other cost-saving methods, too. 

The sisters also had annual passes for a time, which gave them discounts, Gramlich said. However, she added that her annual pass has expired and according to a FOX Business report from November, non-Florida residents can no longer get annual passes. 

She and her sister’s day trips to Disney helped them save on hotels. Now, they’ll stay for longer – primarily over the weekends – but they split their hotel room, which is often at a value resort. They also split ridesharing costs, Gramlich said.

Gramlich’s recent visits to Disney World have been during the pandemic. She noted how since then, the park is constantly opening, or re-opening new attractions. 

"Every time we go, we experience new things," Gramlich said. "There’s always new experiences that you find, and it becomes your favorite park or your favorite thing to do."

Some of Gramlich’s recent favorites at Disney World include the new Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance ride in Hollywood Studios, and the Ohana restaurant in Magic Kingdom for breakfast. 

Gramlich said that her monthly visits to Disney World have offered some much-needed relief after a few difficult years. 

"It’s definitely become a great place to be," Gramlich said. "We’ve been sitting in the pandemic all this time… And this has just been a way, not to escape, but to add a little bit of magic into your life."


Gramlich said that even though she’ll be visiting Disney frequently this year, she doesn’t think she’ll get tired of it. 

"Maybe we won’t go as often [as every month] after this year," she said. "But I just always feel like Disney opens up something new and gives you a new experience."

"In one Disney trip, I never feel like we experience everything that we want to experience," she added. "So it always keeps you coming back."


Source: Woman visits Disney World every month, donates plasma to cover costs: 'I can help somebody'

Q&A: Climate Grand Challenges finalists on new pathways to decarbonizing industry

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Note: This is the third article in a four-part interview series highlighting the work of the 27 MIT Climate Grand Challenges finalist teams, which received a total of $2.7 million in startup funding to advance their projects. In April, the Institute will name a subset of the finalists as multiyear flagship projects.

The industrial sector is the backbone of today’s global economy, yet its activities are among the most energy-intensive and the toughest to decarbonize. Efforts to reach net-zero targets and avert runaway climate change will not succeed without new solutions for replacing sources of carbon emissions with low-carbon alternatives and developing scalable nonemitting applications of hydrocarbons.

In conversations prepared for MIT News, faculty from three of the teams with projects in the competition’s “Decarbonizing complex industries and processes” category discuss strategies for achieving impact in hard-to-abate sectors, from long-distance transportation and building construction to textile manufacturing and chemical refining. The other Climate Grand Challenges research themes include using data and science to forecast climate-related risk, building equity and fairness into climate solutions, and removing, managing, and storing greenhouse gases. The following responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Moving toward an all-carbon material approach to building

Faced with the prospect of building stock doubling globally by 2050, there is a great need for sustainable alternatives to conventional mineral- and metal-based construction materials. Mark Goulthorpe, associate professor in the Department of Architecture, explains the methods behind Carbon>Building, an initiative to develop energy-efficient building materials by reorienting hydrocarbons from current use as fuels to environmentally benign products, creating an entirely new genre of lightweight, all-carbon buildings that could actually drive decarbonization.

Q: What are all-carbon buildings and how can they help mitigate climate change?

A: Instead of burning hydrocarbons as fuel, which releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to atmospheric pollution, we seek to pioneer a process that uses carbon materially to build at macro scale. New forms of carbon — carbon nanotube, carbon foam, etc. — offer salient properties for building that might effectively displace the current material paradigm. Only hydrocarbons offer sufficient scale to beat out the billion-ton mineral and metal markets, and their perilous impact. Carbon nanotube from methane pyrolysis is of special interest, as it offers hydrogen as a byproduct.

Q: How will society benefit from the widespread use of all-carbon buildings?

A: We anticipate reducing costs and timelines in carbon composite buildings, while increasing quality, longevity, and performance, and diminishing environmental impact. Affordability of buildings is a growing problem in all global markets as the cost of labor and logistics in multimaterial assemblies creates a burden that is very detrimental to economic growth and results in overcrowding and urban blight.

Alleviating these challenges would have huge societal benefits, especially for those in lower income brackets who cannot afford housing, but the biggest benefit would be in drastically reducing the environmental footprint of typical buildings, which account for nearly 40 percent of global energy consumption.

An all-carbon building sector will not only reduce hydrocarbon extraction, but can produce higher value materials for building. We are looking to rethink the building industry by greatly streamlining global production and learning from the low-labor methods pioneered by composite manufacturing such as wind turbine blades, which are quick and cheap to produce. This technology can improve the sustainability and affordability of buildings — and holds the promise of faster, cheaper, greener, and more resilient modes of dwelling.

Emissions reduction through innovation in the textile industry

Collectively, the textile industry is responsible for over 4 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, or 5 to 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions — more than aviation and maritime shipping combined. And the problem is only getting worse with the industry’s rapid growth. Under the current trajectory, consumption is projected to increase 30 percent by 2030, reaching 102 million tons. A diverse group of faculty and researchers led by Gregory Rutledge, the Lammot du Pont Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, and Yuly Fuentes-Medel, project manager for fiber technologies and research advisor to the MIT Innovation Initiative, is developing groundbreaking innovations to reshape how textiles are selected, sourced, designed, manufactured, and used, and to create the structural changes required for sustained reductions in emissions by this industry.

Q: Why has the textile industry been difficult to decarbonize?

A: The industry currently operates under a linear model that relies heavily on virgin feedstock, at roughly 97 percent, yet recycles or downcycles less than 15 percent. Furthermore, recent trends in “fast fashion” have led to massive underutilization of apparel, such that products are discarded on average after only seven to 10 uses. In an industry with high volume and low margins, replacement technologies must achieve emissions reduction at scale while maintaining performance and economic efficiency.

There are also technical barriers to adopting circular business models, from the challenge of dealing with products comprising fiber blends and chemical additives to the low maturity of recycling technologies. The environmental impacts of textiles and apparel have been estimated using life cycle analysis, and industry-standard indexes are under development to assess sustainability throughout the life cycle of a product, but information and tools are needed to model how new solutions will alter those impacts and include the consumer as an active player to keep our planet safe. This project seeks to deliver both the new solutions and the tools to evaluate their potential for impact.

Q: Describe the five components of your program. What is the anticipated timeline for implementing these solutions?

A: Our plan comprises five programmatic sections, which include (1) enabling a paradigm shift to sustainable materials using nontraditional, carbon-negative polymers derived from biomass and additives that facilitate recycling; (2) rethinking manufacturing with processes to structure fibers and fabrics for performance, waste reduction, and increased material efficiency; (3) designing textiles for value by developing products that are customized, adaptable, and multifunctional, and that interact with their environment to reduce energy consumption; (4) exploring consumer behavior change through human interventions that reduce emissions by encouraging the adoption of new technologies, increased utilization of products, and circularity; and (5) establishing carbon transparency with systems-level analyses that measure the impact of these strategies and guide decision making.

We have proposed a five-year timeline with annual targets for each project. Conservatively, we estimate our program could reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the industry by 25 percent by 2030, with further significant reductions to follow.

Tough-to-decarbonize transportation

Airplanes, transoceanic ships, and freight trucks are critical to transporting people and delivering goods, and the cornerstone of global commerce, manufacturing, and tourism. But these vehicles also emit 3.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually and, left unchecked, they could take up a quarter of the remaining carbon budget by 2050. William Green, the Hoyt C. Hottel Professor in the Department Chemical Engineering, co-leads a multidisciplinary team with Steven Barrett, professor of aeronautics and astronautics and director of the MIT Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment, that is working to identify and advance economically viable technologies and policies for decarbonizing heavy duty trucking, shipping, and aviation. The Tough to Decarbonize Transportation research program aims to design and optimize fuel chemistry and production, vehicles, operations, and policies to chart the course to net-zero emissions by midcentury.

Q: What are the highest priority focus areas of your research program?

A: Hydrocarbon fuels made from biomass are the least expensive option, but it seems impractical, and probably damaging to the environment, to harvest the huge amount of biomass that would be needed to meet the massive and growing energy demands from these sectors using today’s biomass-to-fuel technology. We are exploring strategies to increase the amount of useful fuel made per ton of biomass harvested, other methods to make low-climate-impact hydrocarbon fuels, such as from carbon dioxide, and ways to make fuels that do not contain carbon at all, such as with hydrogen, ammonia, and other hydrogen carriers.

These latter zero-carbon options free us from the need for biomass or to capture gigatons of carbon dioxide, so they could be a very good long-term solution, but they would require changing the vehicles significantly, and the construction of new refueling infrastructure, with high capital costs.

Q: What are the scientific, technological, and regulatory barriers to scaling and implementing potential solutions?

A: Reimagining an aviation, trucking, and shipping sector that connects the world and increases equity without creating more environmental damage is challenging because these vehicles must operate disconnected from the electrical grid and have energy requirements that cannot be met by batteries alone. Some of the concepts do not even exist in prototype yet, and none of the appealing options have been implemented at anywhere near the scale required.

In most cases, we do not know the best way to make the fuel, and for new fuels the vehicles and refueling systems all need to be developed. Also, new fuels, or large-scale use of biomass, will introduce new environmental problems that need to be carefully considered, to ensure that decarbonization solutions do not introduce big new problems.

Perhaps most difficult are the policy, economic, and equity issues. A new long-haul transportation system will be expensive, and everyone will be affected by the increased cost of shipping freight. To have the desired climate impact, the transport system must change in almost every country. During the transition period, we will need both the existing vehicle and fuel system to keep running smoothly, even as a new low-greenhouse system is introduced. We will also examine what policies could make that work and how we can get countries around the world to agree to implement them.

Source: Q&A: Climate Grand Challenges finalists on new pathways to decarbonizing industry

Building bridges, not silos

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The MIT campus is built to connect people. Some structures, like the Stata Center, the Sloan building, or the Media Lab building, offer large lobbies, flexible labs, and common spaces to enhance collaboration. MIT’s Infinite Corridor — which is one-sixth of a mile long — mixes thousands of people together daily. Aerial walkways connect campus research buildings.

Do all these design elements truly help people to work together? A study led by MIT scholars reveals new details about collaboration on the Institute’s campus. Overall the study, which looks at email traffic between faculty, researchers, and staff on campus, confirms that physical proximity does matter for workplace collaboration, but it adds new wrinkles about how this happens.

People are more likely to communicate via email after running into each other at a campus eatery, for instance, than in a crowded corridor. The study also found that email exchanges occur more often among researchers whose workspaces are connected through indoor halls rather than outdoor paths. And greater physical proximity may not replace email communication among people who don’t know each other well — they are more likely to email each other even when working in close proximity.

“Studying how spatial relationships may influence social ties has been of interest to scholars of the built environment and sociologists alike for a long time,” says Andres Sevtsuk, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP), and co-author of a new paper detailing the study’s results. While past work often used survey data to account for interactions, here the campus email information added hard data to the research.

“We were interested in taking this idea of spatial relatedness further and examining its more nuanced aspects that have not been well-covered in prior research,” Sevtsuk notes.

Those findings apply to not only MIT but other organizations as well.

“These ideas could be explored analogously in other work environments beyond MIT, such as companies, organizations, or even public sector institutions,” says Bahij Chaucey, a researcher at the MIT City Form Lab and a co-author of the paper.

The paper, “Spatial structure of workplace and communication between colleagues: A study of E-mail exchange and spatial relatedness on the MIT campus,” was published in advance online form in March, by the journal Social Networks.

The authors are Chancey; Rounaq Basu, a doctoral candidate in DUSP; Martina Mazzarello, a postdoc at the MIT Senseable City Lab; and Sevtsuk, the Charles and Ann Spaulding Career Development Associate Professor of Urban Science and Planning in DUSP and head of the MIT City Form Lab.

The Allen Curve and onward

A large body of scholarship has examined workplace interactions — often influenced by the late Thomas Allen, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management whose interest in the subject was spurred in part by a stint working at Boeing. Allen’s research in the 1970s and 1980s found that greater proximity has a strong relationship with greater collaboration among engineers, a phenomenon represented by the “Allen Curve.”

To conduct this study, the researchers used anonymized email data collected by MIT’s Information Systems and Technology group in February 2020, a month before the Covid-19 pandemic altered campus routines. The data track how many bilateral email exchanges occurred between research units on campus, such as departments or labs; the scholars examined the number of individuals in a unit to estimate the typical amount of person-to-person exchange.

The team then examined the spatial relationships between research units, to see how the built environment might interact with email patterns. Overall, the study spanned 33 different departments, labs, and research groups, and 1,455 office occupants.

The scholars also modeled the likely walking routes to the office or lab of MIT workers, based on MIT’s 2018 Commute to Work survey, while also estimating the total foot traffic or crowdedness of each corridor and eating venue on campus. Sevtsuk’s research has included extensive modeling of pedestrian routes in city settings using such methods.

More food for thought

Many specific, granular findings emerged from the study — especially the idea that proximity matters along with the specifics of the built environment. For starters, other things being equal, workers in research units located near the same dining facilities are more likely to email and interact.

“Cafeterias are spaces where verbal and visual communication is an important part of eating culture, especially in a research environment like MIT,” says Basu.

Not having to venture outside also influences behavior — at least, it did during the wintery Massachusetts weather during the study period. For research units that are basically an equal distance apart, those linked by interior corridors tended to communicate more than those separated by outdoor space, even when that communication was in the form of email.

“We clearly saw that if people’s offices are linked via the indoor Infinite Corridor system, they are more likely to engage in email exchange than if the logical connections between their offices require outdoor paths,” Basu says.

As an added wrinkle, however, really busy corridors seem to generate brief greetings more than exchanges that lead to follow-up communication. “We found that if the corridor where person A may be walking past person B’s office on the way to work tends to be more crowded, then it reduces the likelihood of A and B engaging in email exchange,” Sevtsuk says.

However, this does not seem to be the case with very crowded cafeterias, which if anything seem to encourage more subsequent contact. “A more crowded cafeteria could provide more opportunities to engage in group conversations, where new social ties can emerge between people who are introduced by mutual connections,” Sevtsuk observes.

Not least, the effects of physical proximity are themselves related to preexisting relationships. For people already familiar with each other, the research suggests, proximity leads to more face-to-face interactions; for those previously unfamiliar with each other, meeting people due to proximity tends to lead to a greater proportion of emails being exchanged, at first.

Many pathways ahead

The researchers believe their methodology could suggest ways to place new faculty or staff in useful spots where they would be able to interact easily with others.  

“It is possible to use our findings to identify where such locations are within each department and school,” Sevtsuk says.

Campus planners could also continue to build on ideas evident in the Stata Center and Sloan building, which have large ground-floor cafeterias and “strategically position social lounges or dining facilities at locations where access from surrounding offices, and the likelihood of passing [by] is highest,” Sevtsuk adds.

In universities and tech-firm campuses, Sevtsuk suggests, when new building projects are being considered, it makes sense to “strategically evaluate their locations and circulation systems vis-a-vis spatial connectivity to surrounding departments with which they have the most potential for joint research.”

Certainly, MIT, other universities, and large companies cannot always quickly reconfigure themselves. But over time, good planning and design can enhance interdisciplinary work, collaboration, and generate serendipitous meetings between people. Or, as the authors state in the paper, “Planning environments to encourage greater interaction across different groups may offer a pathway to bridge siloed social networks and encourage information exchange between otherwise unlikely parties.”

Source: Building bridges, not silos

Reviving war-game scholarship at MIT

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War games and crisis simulations are exercises where participants make decisions to simulate real-world behavior. In the field of international security, games are frequently used to study how actors make decisions during conflict, but they can also be used to model human behavior in countless other scenarios. 

War games take place in a “structured-unstructured environment,” according to Benjamin Harris, PhD student in the Department of Political Science and a convener of the MIT Wargaming Working Group at the Center for International Studies (CIS).

This means that the games operate at two levels — an overarching structure conditions what kind of moves players can make, but interactions among team members are unstructured. As a result, people with different backgrounds are forced to engage and learn from each other throughout the simulation. “The game goes where the participants take it,” says Harris.

MIT researchers have been developing the craft of war gaming since the late 1950s. In “The Pioneering Role of CIS in American War Gaming,” Reid Pauly PhD ’19, assistant professor at Brown University and a CIS research affiliate, credits the origins of modern war-gaming methodology in large part to MIT professor Lincoln Bloomfield and other faculty affiliated with CIS.

Today, CIS is again at the center of new developments in the methodology, pedagogy, and application of war gaming. Over the last few years, CIS and the MIT Security Studies Program have responded to an increased demand for war gaming among students and from the policy community. This has resulted in new course offerings, student and faculty-produced research, and on-campus simulations. 

Learning through games

PhD student Suzanne Freeman and Harris started the Wargaming Working Group as a forum for students to engage with the war-gaming community on campus and in policy spaces. Now in its third year, the group has developed a partnership with the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) that brings mid-career military officers and academics together for an annual simulation.

Richard Samuels, Ford International Professor of Political Science and director of CIS, participated in his first crisis simulation in a game organized by Bloomfield, and subsequently organized nearly a dozen large-scale games at MIT in the 1990s through the early 2000s, most focused on Asia-Pacific security dynamics. Eric Heginbotham PhD '04, a principal research scientist at CIS, and Christopher Twomey PhD '05, were active participants. Together, they established the working group’s partnership with NPS, where Twomey is associate professor.

This year, participants worked through a crisis scenario centered on a nuclear reactor meltdown in Taiwan. Teams were assigned to represent Taiwan, China, the United States, and Japan, and the game was designed to tease out how civilian and military sub-teams would communicate during a crisis. Freeman and Harris presented some of the findings from the war game at Georgetown University in October 2021.

In addition to planning tabletop exercises at MIT, the working group invites speakers from universities and think tanks to present war-gaming research, and held online war games when MIT went virtual due to Covid-19. The working group has been especially successful at bridging the gap between academia and policy, allowing for PhD students and military officers to learn from each other, says Freeman.              

For students hoping to further explore the history and practice of war gaming in a classroom setting, MIT now offers “Simulating Global Dynamics and War,” co-taught biennially by Samuels and Heginbotham. Students participate in four war games over the course of the semester — an operational war game, political-military crisis game, experimental game, and a game designed by students as their final project. 

While the class is designed for security studies students and military fellows, it has included students and practitioners from other fields interested in incorporating gaming into their work. Lessons from the course can be applied to issues such as a global pandemic or refugee crisis, says Heginbotham.

For MIT undergraduates taking coursework in political science, war gaming is also a pedagogical tool used to consider the implications of policy decisions. In fall 2021, students in Erik Lin-Greenberg’s National Security Policy class participated in a simulation centered around a cyberattack on U.S. soil. Students worked in teams to represent U.S. government agencies at a National Security Council Principals Committee meeting. Lin-Greenberg is assistant professor of political science at MIT.

The revival of war gaming

Political scientists are increasingly considering how the method of war gaming can be improved and used in research and pedagogy. For scholars of interstate war and nuclear weapons, war gaming is an especially promising research tool.

Over the last decade, researchers have recognized that “war games and crisis simulations may have had an outsized influence on Cold War policymakers,” says Samuels. “Close, archival, analysis of Cold War games could provide insight into how policy elites thought about nuclear war.”

At the same time, the rise of the experimental method for political analysis has coincided with the revival of war gaming as a research tool, according to Samuels. “Experimental war games allow researchers to derive generalizations about leadership choice under stress,” says Samuels. However, scholars still face challenges related to external validity, or, the extent to which outcomes of war games apply to real-world scenarios. 

In addition to advances in experimental war gaming and nuclear simulations, Heginbotham adds that scholars are increasingly applying war gaming to emerging and nontraditional security challenges. “War gaming allows scholars to model complex conflicts, change individual variables, and run multiple iterations,” says Heginbotham. For researchers trying to understand the dynamics of political events, gaming has a number of advantages. 

In January 2022, Steven Simon, a former diplomat and National Security Council director now serving as a Robert E Wilhelm Fellow at CIS, wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times with Jonathan Stevenson about the need for war gaming focused on U.S. democratic backsliding. For Simon and Stevenson, war gaming is a tool scholars can adopt while studying low-probability but high-risk events like the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol. 

They argue, “War games, tabletop exercises, operations research, campaign analyses, conferences and seminars on the prospect of American political conflagration — including insurrection, secession, insurgency, and civil war — should be proceeding at a higher tempo and intensity.”  

A bright future for war gaming

Lin-Greenberg '09, MS '09 joined the Department of Political Science and the Security Studies Program in 2020 after completing a dissertation that pioneered the use of experimental wargames in international security research. As part of his doctoral research at Columbia University, he ran a war game with military audiences to understand how drones impact escalation dynamics. He wrote in War on the Rocks, “The experimental wargames revealed that the deployment of drones can actually contribute to lower levels of escalation and greater crisis stability than the deployment of manned assets.”

At MIT, Lin-Greenberg, Samuels, and Heginbotham co-convene the Wargaming Working Group, mentor PhD students working on war-gaming research, and continue to advance the field of war-gaming methodology. 

With co-authors Pauly and Jacquelyn Schneider, Lin-Greenberg published “Wargaming for International Relations Research” in the European Journal of International Relations in December 2021. The article establishes a research agenda for war gaming and highlights some of the methodological challenges of using war games. 

The authors “explain how researchers can navigate issues of recruitment, bias, validity, and generalizability when using war games for research, and identify ways to evaluate the potential benefits and pitfalls of war games as a tool of inquiry.” One of these benefits, according to the authors, is the ability of war gaming to provide new data and help answer challenges and questions about human behavior and decision-making. 

For Heginbotham, there is something unique about designing and participating in war games where decision-making under pressure leads to learning. “The data you uncover in the process of designing a game and the lessons you internalize while playing the game, would be very difficult to create in any other setting,” he says. 

Likewise, Samuels is optimistic about the role of war gaming moving forward. He explains that the future of war gaming is bright so long as organizations — political, educational, industrial, military, and civic — continue to recognize the need to train future leaders in decision-making. Samuels is fond of quoting the Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling, a pioneer of civil-military war gaming while at Rand in the late 1950s and a partner of Lincoln Bloomfield at CIS, who once wrote: “Games won’t play music or cook fish, cure a man of stuttering, or improve my children’s French, just as they may not predict Pearl Harbor. But unless [critics] can show that games would have accentuated the tendency to ignore Pearl Harbor … [they] might have taught us something else useful.”

Source: Reviving war-game scholarship at MIT

Advocating for vaccine equity

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When Digbijay Mahat arrived at MIT in 2017 to begin his postdoctoral studies, he had one very clear goal: to become an expert in cancer research and diagnostics so he could improve health care in Nepal, where he was born. In 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic laid bare additional discrepancies in resource equity around the world, his goal did not waiver. But it did expand to fill a more immediate need — helping Nepal find the best way to navigate widespread Covid testing requirements and vaccine rollouts.

Mahat was born in the western region of Nepal, where his family has owned a large swath of land for generations. Before Mahat was born, his grandfather passed away unexpectedly. And, as the eldest son, Mahat’s father assumed responsibility for his five of siblings at the age of 21. As a result, Mahat’s father missed his chance to pursue the education he’d envisioned. Perhaps because of this, he made it his mission to give Mahat the education he never received. However, no school was quite good enough, and he shuffled Mahat between nine different institutions before the age of 18.

While his father wished him all the success and prestige that would come with pursing a medical career, Mahat had other plans. Toward the end of high school, he became captivated by songwriting, and even secretly used his school tuition money one semester to record an album. “It was a disastrous flop,” he now recalls with a smile.

Although his foray into the music industry provides comic relief today, at the time Mahat was dismayed to be back on the medical track. However, he did convince his father to let him go to the United States for college. He ended up at Towson University in Maryland, living with his aunt and uncle and delivering pizzas to support his nuclear family back in Nepal. Some weeks, he clocked in over 100 hours of deliveries.

As a molecular biology, biochemistry, and bioinformatics major, he took every research opportunity he could get, and became enthralled by breast cancer research. Shortly thereafter, his mother was diagnosed with the same disease, which further strengthened his conviction to learn as much as he could in the U.S., and return to Nepal to help as many patients as he could.

“The state of cancer diagnostics is very poor in Nepal,” he explains. Patient biopsies must be sent to other countries such as India — a costly practice at the mercy of politics and travel restrictions. “The least we can do is become self-sufficient and provide these vital molecular diagnostics tools to our own people,” Mahat says.

He went on to earn his PhD in molecular biology and genetics from Cornell University, and by fall 2017 he had secured his dream job: a postdoc position in the lab of MIT professor of biology Susan Lindquist. Mahat had spent much of his time at Cornell studying a protein known as heat shock factor 1, and Lindquist had conducted seminal work showing that this same protein enables healthy cells to suddenly turn into cancer cells. Just as he had finalized his new apartment lease and was preparing to start his new job, Lindquist wrote from the hospital to tell him she had late-stage ovarian cancer, and suggested he complete his postdoctoral studies elsewhere.

Gutted, he scrambled to find another position, and built up the courage to contact Phillip Sharp, an Institute Professor, Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research member, and Nobel laureate. Mahat put together a formal research proposal and presented it to Sharp. A few days later, he became the lab’s newest member.

“From the beginning, the things that struck me about Phil were his humility, his attention to experimental detail, and his inexplicable reservoir of insight,” Mahat says. “If I could carry even just some of that same humility with me for the rest of my life, I would be a good human being.”

In 2018, Mahat and Sharp filed a patent with the potential to revolutionize disease diagnostics. Widely available single-cell sequencing technologies reveal the subset of RNAs inside a cell that build proteins. But Mahat and his colleagues found a way to take a snapshot of all the RNA inside a single cell that is being transcribed from DNA — including RNAs that will never become proteins. Because many ailments arise from mutations in the “non-coding” DNA that gives rise to this “non-coding” RNA, the researchers hope their new method will help expose the function of non-coding variants in diseases like diabetes, autoimmune disorders, neurological diseases, and cancer. 

Mahat was still immersed in this research in early 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic began to escalate. As case numbers soared around the world, it became clear to him that the wealth of Covid testing resources available on MIT’s campus — and throughout the United States in general — dwarfed the means available to his family back in Nepal. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing remains the most popular and accurate means to detect the virus in patient samples. While PCR machines are quite common in molecular biology labs across the U.S., the entire country of Nepal owned just a few at the start of the pandemic, according to Mahat.

"Digbijay was focused intensely on developing our novel single-cell technology when he became aware of Nepal's challenges to control the Covid-19 pandemic,” Sharp recalls. “While continuing his research in the lab, he spent several months contacting leaders in pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. and leaders in public health in Nepal to help arrange access to vaccines and rapid tests.”

Mahat was already in contact with the Nepali Ministry of Health and Population regarding the state of the country’s cancer diagnostics, and so the government called on him to advise their Covid testing efforts. Given the high cost and limited availability of PCR machines and reagents, Mahat began discussions with MIT spinoff Sherlock Biosciences in order to bring an alternative testing technology to Nepal. These Covid tests, which were developed at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, use the CRISPR/Cas9 system — rather than PCR — to detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19, making them cheaper and more readily available. Sherlock Biosciences ultimately donated $100,000-worth of testing kits, supplemented by an additional $100,000 grant from the Open Philanthropy Project, to help purchase the equipment necessary to implement the tests. In December 2020, Mahat and his wife Rupa Shah flew to Nepal to set up a testing center using these new resources.

Although this required Mahat to briefly pause his MIT research, Sharp was supportive of these extracurricular pursuits. “We are very proud of Jay’s effective work benefiting the people of Nepal,” Sharp says.

Around the same time, Mahat reached out to Institute Professor and Moderna co-founder Robert Langer to help initiate vaccine talks with the Nepali government. Through Sharp’s contacts, Mahat was also able to connect the government with Johnson and Johnson. In addition, Mahat, Sharp, and Professor Emeritus Uttam RajBhandary wrote a letter to MIT President L. Rafael Reif, who joined other university leadership in urging the Biden administration to donate vaccines to low-income countries.

Nepal ultimately received its Covid-19 vaccines through the COVAX program, co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, GAVI Alliance, and the World Health Organization. Today, the country has begun administering boosters. There were also some funds left over from the Open Philanthropy Project grant, which went toward sending Nepal several thousand PCR kits designed to distinguish between the delta and omicron variants. Professor Tyler Jacks, the Koch Institute director at that time, also connected Mahat with the company Thermo Fisher Scientific to secure additional PCR reagents.

Roshan Pokhrel, the secretary of Nepal’s Ministry of Health and Population, met Mahat prior to the pandemic, and relied on his expertise to begin establishing Nepal’s National Cancer Institute (NCI) in 2020. “It was his cooperation and coordination that helped us set up NCI,” Pokhrel says. “Mr. Mahat’s continuous support during the first two waves of our Covid-19 vaccine distribution was also highly appreciated. During the recent omicron outbreak, his support in our public laboratory helped us to monitor the variant.”

Bhagawan Koirala, chair of the Nepal Medical Council, participated in the vaccine talks that Mahat organized between Nepal’s Ministry of Health and Johnson and Johnson. Koirala says he was impressed by Mahat’s exceptional credentials and his modesty, as well as his desire to promote cancer research and diagnostics. As the chair of the Kathmandu Institute of Child Health, Koirala hopes to engage Mahat’s expertise in the future to help advance pediatric cancer research in Nepal. 

“We have spoken extensively about the policies regarding cancer diagnostics in Nepal,” Koirala says. “Dr. Mahat and I are eager to work with the government to introduce policies that will help develop local diagnostic capacity and discourage sending patient samples out of the country. This will save costs, ensure patient privacy, and improve quality of care and research.”

These days, Mahat is nothing short of a local celebrity in Nepal. Despite his current drive for ensuring vaccine equity, his ultimate goal is still to work with individuals like Koirala and Pokhrel to bring cancer treatment resources to the country. He not only envisions setting up his own research center there, but also inspiring young people to pursue careers in research. “Before me, no one in my entire village had pursued a scientific career, so if I could motivate even a few young kids to follow that path, it would be a win for me.”

But, he adds, he’s not ready to leave MIT just yet; he still has more to learn. “I feel privileged and honored to be part of this compassionate community,” he says. “I’m also proud — proud that we’ve been able to come together in this time of need.”

Source: Advocating for vaccine equity

MIT Morningside Academy for Design created as a new hub for cross-disciplinary education, research, and innovation

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MIT President L. Rafael Reif today announced the creation of the MIT Morningside Academy for Design, a major interdisciplinary center that will build on the Institute’s leadership in design-focused education and become a global hub for design research, thinking, and entrepreneurship.

The new academy, which aims to foster collaboration and innovation on campus, will be housed in the School of Architecture and Planning. Projected to launch in September 2022, it will create and administer academic and research programs across MIT, especially between the School of Architecture and Planning and the School of Engineering. It provides a hub that will encourage design work at MIT to grow and cross disciplines among engineering, science, management, computing, architecture, urban planning, and the arts. The academy will strengthen MIT’s ongoing efforts to tackle pressing issues of global importance, such as climate adaptation, public health, transportation, and civic engagement.

The academy was established through a $100 million gift from The Morningside Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the T.H. Chan family.

“At MIT, we sometimes de​scribe our work as ‘inventing the future,’” MIT President L. Rafael Reif says. “Beyond the Institute’s technical, scientific and analytical strengths, that assignment requires profound humanity and imagination — the capacity to listen closely and think broadly, to reframe old problems in unexpected ways, to crystallize bold new visions, to weave the wisdom of different disciplines and voices into fresh, humane solutions. These are essential strengths of design thinking.

“The MIT Morningside Academy for Design will amplify the impact of MIT’s existing world-class programs in design. It will dramatically enhance our ability to promote design education on our campus and elsewhere; to support our faculty and students in their daring endeavors; and to work with others to develop compelling solutions to humanity’s great challenges. We could not be more grateful for this transformative gift.”

Morningside Foundation trustee Gerald L. Chan says, “Design is a disciplined way of practicing creativity, and design education is a complement to traditional STEM education. If science and engineering education equips the students with technical prowess, design education gives them the process to innovate with their technical prowess. MIT is the perfect home for melding design education with STEM.”

By further integrating design into education and research, and by helping to bring creative, humanistic thinking to society’s biggest challenges, the academy aims to create new educational experiences in design for MIT students, enhance the capacity for research in creative fields, and attract leading students and faculty in design disciplines. By connecting to a global network of industrial, educational, civic, and governmental organizations, the academy will encourage a new generation of socially responsible entrepreneurs.

“Gerald Chan is a visionary who sees the profound impact of design education for technology and society, and not just on the traditional areas of design but on STEM education more broadly,” says Hashim Sarkis, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning. “This is why this is an academy for the whole of MIT and not a department of design.”

Given the broad-ranging goals of the MIT Morningside Academy for Design, its founding support will include funding for graduate and postdoctoral fellowships, faculty chairs, opportunities for undergraduate students, and new awards for entrepreneurship competitions. In addition, the academy will offer an array of public events, including symposia, lectures, and exhibitions, with a view to engaging and welcoming a broader community to the MIT campus.

“The creation of the Morningside Academy is an incredible step forward in our vision to elevate and strengthen interdisciplinary education, research, and innovation in design,” says Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of the School of Engineering and Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “We are thrilled to play a part in this shared vision, and to collaborate with others to shape the future for design at MIT.”

Bridging disciplines and global challenges

Two MIT faculty members, John Ochsendorf and Maria Yang, have worked extensively on the academy’s formation, convening planning discussions with faculty, students, and staff, which resulted in a series of recommendations in April 2021. Ochsendorf, the Class of 1942 Professor and a professor of architecture and of civil and environmental engineering, will be the founding director of the MIT Morningside Academy for Design. Yang, associate dean in the School of Engineering and the Gail E. Kendall Professor of Mechanical Engineering, will be associate director.

The academy has been developed from the start with the idea that cross-disciplinary collaboration, often a point of pride among MIT researchers, can be applied extensively in design matters. As Ochsendorf notes, the nature of pressing societal problems means that many of those challenges can best be addressed through creative interdisciplinary approaches.

“Many great problems facing the world today cannot be tackled with only one discipline,” Ochsendorf says. “We need thinkers who can not only be analytical in the best tradition of MIT but who can build connections and thereby find unexpected solutions. Fundamentally, this is about encouraging people to take risks across disciplines, to think both creatively and synthetically.”

Moreover, Yang observes, “Inherently, the act of designing something means you have to be creative, and it usually means you need to work with other people. Our vision is that the MIT Morningside Academy for Design will support students and faculty to explore the frontiers of design while convening people, and producing this power of multiplication. It is the right moment to bring people together in this way.”

Yang adds: “One of the main goals of the academy is to help our students be socially impactful as designers, and to give them this orientation in their work.”

The MIT Morningside Academy for Design will be housed in the Metropolitan Warehouse, a prominent campus building undergoing renovation from 2022 through 2025 to be the new home of the Department of Architecture and other units of the School of Architecture and Planning.

The Metropolitan Warehouse — the “Met,” to many in the campus community — is intended to be a versatile space, with research labs, design studios, lecture halls and collaborative classrooms, makerspaces such as Project Manus, exhibition areas, and space for engaging with both community and industry. A portion of the founding gift will be allotted to complete renovations on the area within the building that will be dedicated to the MIT Morningside Academy for Design.

“The academy will be the catalyst that brings together the elements of the Met to create a design hub,” says Sarkis. “Strategically located at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Vassar Street, it will also enliven the new center of the expanding, urban campus of MIT.”

A new chapter in MIT’s design tradition

The establishment of the MIT Morningside Academy for Design elevates MIT’s long-running commitment to design education. MIT is home to the nation’s first architecture program, and the School of Architecture and Planning has also developed design coursework and research through its Department of Urban Studies and Planning; the Program in Media Arts and Sciences; the Program in Art, Culture, and Technology; the MIT Center for Real Estate; MITdesignX; and a major and minor in design. The Office of the First Year has recently launched the DesignPlus learning community for undergraduates interested in design at MIT.

Design work also figures prominently across the Institute, housed in places like the Department of Mechanical Engineering, which offers project-based design curriculum and design-focused degree concentrations, and MIT D-Lab, which focuses on global poverty and helped pioneer the field of participatory design with low- and middle-income communities. This broad interest in design is also seen in many fields within the humanities and sciences.

“Many of our students think of themselves as designers, whether they are mechanical engineers or urban planners or composers,” Ochsendorf says. “The MIT Morningside Academy for Design creates a new community for us to elevate design across all of MIT, and to share best practices. At MIT we’ve always had a strong tradition of prototyping: If you have a design idea, you make it, break it, get feedback, and iterate on it. The academy builds on our many design strengths, including the tradition of the maker culture at MIT.”

Ochsendorf adds: “No matter what you study at MIT, you can encounter creative design ideas and use them to bring technology to bear on the world’s great problems, which is what we hope to do.”

Source: MIT Morningside Academy for Design created as a new hub for cross-disciplinary education, research, and innovation

ProWritingAid VS Grammarly: Which Grammar Checker is Better in (2022) ?

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Grammarly vs prowritingaid

ProWritingAid VS Grammarly:  When it comes to English grammar, there are two Big Players that everyone knows of: the Grammarly and ProWritingAid. but you are wondering which one to choose so here we write a detail article which will help you to choose the best one for you so Let's start

What is Grammarly?

Grammarly is a tool that checks for grammatical errors, spelling, and punctuation.it gives you comprehensive feedback on your writing. You can use this tool to proofread and edit articles, blog posts, emails, etc.

Grammarly also detects all types of mistakes, including sentence structure issues and misused words. It also gives you suggestions on style changes, punctuation, spelling, and grammar all are in real-time. The free version covers the basics like identifying grammar and spelling mistakes

whereas the Premium version offers a lot more functionality, it detects plagiarism in your content, suggests word choice, or adds fluency to it.

Features of Grammarly

  • Spelling and Word Suggestion: Grammarly detects basic to advance grammatical errors and also help you why this is an error and suggest to you how you can improve it
  • Create a Personal Dictionary: The Grammarly app allows you to add words to your personal dictionary so that the same mistake isn't highlighted every time you run Grammarly.
  • Different English Style: Check to spell for American, British, Canadian, and Australian English.
  • Plagiarism: This feature helps you detect if a text has been plagiarized by comparing it with over eight billion web pages.
  • Wordiness: This tool will help you check your writing for long and hard-to-read sentences. It also shows you how to shorten sentences so that they are more concise.
  • Passive Voice: The program also notifies users when passive voice is used too frequently in a document.
  • Punctuations: This feature flags all incorrect and missing punctuation.
  • Repetition: The tool provides recommendations for replacing the repeated word.
  • Proposition: Grammarly identifies misplaced and confused prepositions.
  • Plugins: It offers Microsoft Word, Microsoft Outlook, and Google Chrome plugins.

What is ProWritingAid?

ProWritingAid is a style and grammar checker for content creators and writers. It helps to optimize word choice, punctuation errors, and common grammar mistakes, providing detailed reports to help you improve your writing. 

ProWritingAid can be used as an add-on to WordPress, Gmail, and Google Docs. The software also offers helpful articles, videos, quizzes, and explanations to help improve your writing.

Features of ProWriting Aid

Here are some key features of ProWriting Aid:

  • Grammar checker and spell checker: This tool helps you to find all grammatical and spelling errors.
  • Find repeated words:  The tool also allows you to search for repeated words and phrases in your content.
  • Context-sensitive style suggestions:  You can find the exact style of writing you intend and suggest if it flows well in your writing.
  • Check the readability of your content: Pro Writing Aid helps you identify the strengths and weaknesses of your article by pointing out difficult sentences and paragraphs.
  • Sentence Length: It also indicates the length of your sentences.
  • Check Grammatical error: It also checks your work for any grammatical errors or typos, as well.
  • Overused words: As a writer, you might find yourself using the same word repeatedly. ProWritingAid's overused words checker helps you avoid this lazy writing mistake.
  • Consistency: Check your work for inconsistent usage of open and closed quotation marks.
  • Echoes: Check your writing for uniformly repetitive words and phrases.

Difference between Grammarly and Pro-Writing Aid

Grammarly and ProWritingAid are well-known grammar-checking software. However, if you're like most people who can't decide which to use, here are some different points that may be helpful in your decision.

Grammarly vs ProWritingAid

  • Grammarly is a writing enhancement tool that offers suggestions for grammar, vocabulary, and syntax whereas ProWritingAid offers world-class grammar and style checking, as well as advanced reports to help you strengthen your writing.
  • Grammarly provides Android and IOS apps whereas ProWritingAid doesn't have a mobile or IOS app.
  • Grammarly offers important suggestions about mistakes you've made whereas ProWritingAid  shows more suggestions than Grammarly but all recommendations are not accurate
  • Grammarly has a more friendly UI/UX whereas the ProWritingAid interface is not friendly as Grammarly.
  • Grammarly is an accurate grammar checker for non-fiction writing whereas ProWritingAid is an accurate grammar checker for fiction writers.
  • Grammarly finds grammar and punctuation mistakes, whereas ProWritingAid identifies run-on sentences and fragments.
  • Grammarly provides 24/7 support via submitting a ticket and sending emails. ProWritingAid’s support team is available via email, though the response time is approximately 48 hours.
  • Grammarly offers many features in its free plan, whereas ProWritingAid offers some basic features in the free plan.
  • Grammarly does not offer much feedback on big picture writing; ProWritingAid offers complete feedback on big picture writing.
  • Grammarly is a better option for accuracy, whereas ProWritingAid is better for handling fragmented sentences and dialogue. It can be quite useful for fiction writers.

ProWritingAid VS Grammarly: Pricing Difference

  • ProWritingAid comes with three pricing structures. The full-year cost of ProWritingAid is $79, while its lifetime plans cost $339. You also can opt for a monthly plan of $20.
  • Grammarly offers a Premium subscription for $30/month for a monthly plan  $20/month for quarterly and $12/month for an annual subscription.
  • The Business plan costs $12.50 per month for each member of your company.

ProWritingAid vs Grammarly – Pros and Cons

Grammarly Pros

  • It allows you to fix common mistakes like grammar and spelling.
  • Offers most features in the free plan
  • Allows you to edit a document without affecting the formatting.
  • Active and passive voice checker
  • Personal dictionary 
  • Plagiarism checker (paid version)
  • Proofread your writing and correct all punctuation, grammar, and spelling errors.
  • Allows you to make changes to a document without altering its formatting.
  • Helps users improve vocabulary
  • User-friendly interface
  • Browser extensions and MS word add-ons
  • Available on all major devices and platforms
  • Grammarly will also offer suggestions to improve your style.
  • Enhance the readability of your sentence
  • Free mobile apps 
  • Offers  free version

Grammarly Cons

  • Supports only English 
  • Customer support only via email
  • Limits to 150,000 words
  • Subscription plans can be a bit pricey 
  • Plagiarism checker is only available in a premium plan
  • Doesn’t offer a free trial
  • No refund policy
  • The free version is ideal for basic spelling and grammatical mistakes, but it does not correct advanced writing issues.
  • Some features are not available for Mac.

ProwritingAid Pros

  • It offers more than 20 different reports to help you improve your writing.
  • Less expensive than other grammar checkers.
  • This tool helps you strengthen your writing style as it offers big-picture feedback.
  • ProWritingAid has a life plan with no further payments required.
  • Compatible with Google Docs!
  • Prowritingaid works on both Windows and Mac.
  • They offer more integrations than most tools.

ProWritingAid Cons

  • Editing can be a little more time-consuming when you add larger passages of text.
  • ProWritingAid currently offers no mobile app for Android or iOS devices.
  • Plagiarism checker is only available in premium plans.
  • All recommendations are not accurate

Summarizing the Ginger VS Grammarly: My Recommendation

As both writing assistants are great in their own way, you need to choose the one that suits you best.

  • For example, go for Grammarly  if you are a non-fiction writer
  • Go for ProWritingAid if you are a fiction writer.
  • ProWritingAid is better at catching errors found in long-form content. However, Grammarly is more suited to short blog posts and other similar tasks.
  • ProWritingAid helps you clean up your writing by checking for style, structure, and content while Grammarly focuses on grammar and punctuation.
  • Grammarly has a more friendly UI/UX whereas; ProWritingAid offers complete feedback on big picture writing.

Both ProWritingAid and Grammarly are awesome writing tools, without a doubt. but as per my experience, Grammarly is a winner here because Grammarly helps you to review and edit your content. Grammarly highlights all the mistakes in your writing within seconds of copying and pasting the content into Grammarly’s editor or using the software’s native feature in other text editors.

Not only does it identify tiny grammatical and spelling errors, it tells you when you overlook punctuations where they are needed. And, beyond its plagiarism-checking capabilities, Grammarly helps you proofread your content. Even better, the software offers a free plan that gives you access to some of its features.

Source: ProWritingAid VS Grammarly: Which Grammar Checker is Better in (2022) ?

Sticks! What Can’t They Do?

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Elizabeth Zephyrine McDonough welcomes you to Stickworld in this comedic short film.

Source: Sticks! What Can’t They Do?

Using nature’s structures in wooden buildings

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Concern about climate change has focused significant attention on the buildings sector, in particular on the extraction and processing of construction materials. The concrete and steel industries together are responsible for as much as 15 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. In contrast, wood provides a natural form of carbon sequestration, so there’s a move to use timber instead. Indeed, some countries are calling for public buildings to be made at least partly from timber, and large-scale timber buildings have been appearing around the world.

Observing those trends, Caitlin Mueller ’07, SM ’14, PhD ’14, an associate professor of architecture and of civil and environmental engineering in the Building Technology Program at MIT, sees an opportunity for further sustainability gains. As the timber industry seeks to produce wooden replacements for traditional concrete and steel elements, the focus is on harvesting the straight sections of trees. Irregular sections such as knots and forks are turned into pellets and burned, or ground up to make garden mulch, which will decompose within a few years; both approaches release the carbon trapped in the wood to the atmosphere.

For the past four years, Mueller and her Digital Structures research group have been developing a strategy for “upcycling” those waste materials by using them in construction — not as cladding or finishes aimed at improving appearance, but as structural components. “The greatest value you can give to a material is to give it a load-bearing role in a structure,” she says. But when builders use virgin materials, those structural components are the most emissions-intensive parts of buildings due to their large volume of high-strength materials. Using upcycled materials in place of those high-carbon systems is therefore especially impactful in reducing emissions.

Mueller and her team focus on tree forks — that is, spots where the trunk or branch of a tree divides in two, forming a Y-shaped piece. In architectural drawings, there are many similar Y-shaped nodes where straight elements come together. In such cases, those units must be strong enough to support critical loads.

“Tree forks are naturally engineered structural connections that work as cantilevers in trees, which means that they have the potential to transfer force very efficiently thanks to their internal fiber structure,” says Mueller. “If you take a tree fork and slice it down the middle, you see an unbelievable network of fibers that are intertwining to create these often three-dimensional load transfer points in a tree. We’re starting to do the same thing using 3D printing, but we’re nowhere near what nature does in terms of complex fiber orientation and geometry.”

She and her team have developed a five-step “design-to-fabrication workflow” that combines natural structures such as tree forks with the digital and computational tools now used in architectural design. While there’s long been a “craft” movement to use natural wood in railings and decorative features, the use of computational tools makes it possible to use wood in structural roles — without excessive cutting, which is costly and may compromise the natural geometry and internal grain structure of the wood.

Given the wide use of digital tools by today’s architects, Mueller believes that her approach is “at least potentially scalable and potentially achievable within our industrialized materials processing systems.” In addition, by combining tree forks with digital design tools, the novel approach can also support the trend among architects to explore new forms. “Many iconic buildings built in the past two decades have unexpected shapes,” says Mueller. “Tree branches have a very specific geometry that sometimes lends itself to an irregular or nonstandard architectural form — driven not by some arbitrary algorithm but by the material itself.”

Step 0: Find a source, set goals

Before starting their design-to-fabrication process, the researchers needed to locate a source of tree forks. Mueller found help in the Urban Forestry Division of the City of Somerville, Massachusetts, which maintains a digital inventory of more than 2,000 street trees — including more than 20 species — and records information about the location, approximate trunk diameter, and condition of each tree.

With permission from the forestry division, the team was on hand in 2018 when a large group of trees was cut down near the site of the new Somerville High School. Among the heavy equipment on site was a chipper, poised to turn all the waste wood into mulch. Instead, the workers obligingly put the waste wood into the researchers’ truck to be brought to MIT.

In their project, the MIT team sought not only to upcycle that waste material but also to use it to create a structure that would be valued by the public. “Where I live, the city has had to take down a lot of trees due to damage from an invasive species of beetle,” Mueller explains. “People get really upset — understandably. Trees are an important part of the urban fabric, providing shade and beauty.” She and her team hoped to reduce that animosity by “reinstalling the removed trees in the form of a new functional structure that would recreate the atmosphere and spatial experience previously provided by the felled trees.”

With their source and goals identified, the researchers were ready to demonstrate the five steps in their design-to-fabrication workflow for making spatial structures using an inventory of tree forks.

Step 1: Create a digital material library

The first task was to turn their collection of tree forks into a digital library. They began by cutting off excess material to produce isolated tree forks. They then created a 3D scan of each fork. Mueller notes that as a result of recent progress in photogrammetry (measuring objects using photographs) and 3D scanning, they could create high-resolution digital representations of the individual tree forks with relatively inexpensive equipment, even using apps that run on a typical smartphone.

In the digital library, each fork is represented by a “skeletonized” version showing three straight bars coming together at a point. The relative geometry and orientation of the branches are of particular interest because they determine the internal fiber orientation that gives the component its strength.

Step 2: Find the best match between the initial design and the material library

Like a tree, a typical architectural design is filled with Y-shaped nodes where three straight elements meet up to support a critical load. The goal was therefore to match the tree forks in the material library with the nodes in a sample architectural design.

First, the researchers developed a “mismatch metric” for quantifying how well the geometries of a particular tree fork aligned with a given design node. “We’re trying to line up the straight elements in the structure with where the branches originally were in the tree,” explains Mueller. “That gives us the optimal orientation for load transfer and maximizes use of the inherent strength of the wood fiber.” The poorer the alignment, the higher the mismatch metric.

The goal was to get the best overall distribution of all the tree forks among the nodes in the target design. Therefore, the researchers needed to try different fork-to-node distributions and, for each distribution, add up the individual fork-to-node mismatch errors to generate an overall, or global, matching score. The distribution with the best matching score would produce the most structurally efficient use of the total tree fork inventory.

Since performing that process manually would take far too long to be practical, they turned to the “Hungarian algorithm,” a technique developed in 1955 for solving such problems. “The brilliance of the algorithm is solving that [matching] problem very quickly,” Mueller says. She notes that it’s a very general-use algorithm. “It’s used for things like marriage match-making. It can be used any time you have two collections of things that you’re trying to find unique matches between. So, we definitely didn’t invent the algorithm, but we were the first to identify that it could be used for this problem.”

The researchers performed repeated tests to show possible distributions of the tree forks in their inventory and found that the matching score improved as the number of forks available in the material library increased — up to a point. In general, the researchers concluded that the mismatch score was lowest, and thus best, when there were about three times as many forks in the material library as there were nodes in the target design.

Step 3: Balance designer intention with structural performance

The next step in the process was to incorporate the intention or preference of the designer. To permit that flexibility, each design includes a limited number of critical parameters, such as bar length and bending strain. Using those parameters, the designer can manually change the overall shape, or geometry, of the design or can use an algorithm that automatically changes, or “morphs,” the geometry. And every time the design geometry changes, the Hungarian algorithm recalculates the optimal fork-to-node matching.

“Because the Hungarian algorithm is extremely fast, all the morphing and the design updating can be really fluid,” notes Mueller. In addition, any change to a new geometry is followed by a structural analysis that checks the deflections, strain energy, and other performance measures of the structure. On occasion, the automatically generated design that yields the best matching score may deviate far from the designer’s initial intention. In such cases, an alternative solution can be found that satisfactorily balances the design intention with a low matching score.

Step 4: Automatically generate the machine code for fast cutting

When the structural geometry and distribution of tree forks have been finalized, it’s time to think about actually building the structure. To simplify assembly and maintenance, the researchers prepare the tree forks by recutting their end faces to better match adjoining straight timbers and cutting off any remaining bark to reduce susceptibility to rot and fire.

To guide that process, they developed a custom algorithm that automatically computes the cuts needed to make a given tree fork fit into its assigned node and to strip off the bark. The goal is to remove as little material as possible but also to avoid a complex, time-consuming machining process. “If we make too few cuts, we’ll cut off too much of the critical structural material. But we don’t want to make a million tiny cuts because it will take forever,” Mueller explains.

The team uses facilities at the Autodesk Boston Technology Center Build Space, where the robots are far larger than any at MIT and the processing is all automated. To prepare each tree fork, they mount it on a robotic arm that pushes the joint through a traditional band saw in different orientations, guided by computer-generated instructions. The robot also mills all the holes for the structural connections. “That’s helpful because it ensures that everything is aligned the way you expect it to be,” says Mueller.

Step 5: Assemble the available forks and linear elements to build the structure

The final step is to assemble the structure. The tree-fork-based joints are all irregular, and combining them with the precut, straight wooden elements could be difficult. However, they’re all labeled. “All the information for the geometry is embedded in the joint, so the assembly process is really low-tech,” says Mueller. “It’s like a child’s toy set. You just follow the instructions on the joints to put all the pieces together.”

They installed their final structure temporarily on the MIT campus, but Mueller notes that it was only a portion of the structure they plan to eventually build. “It had 12 nodes that we designed and fabricated using our process,” she says, adding that the team’s work was “a little interrupted by the pandemic.” As activity on campus resumes, the researchers plan to finish designing and building the complete structure, which will include about 40 nodes and will be installed as an outdoor pavilion on the site of the felled trees in Somerville.

In addition, they will continue their research. Plans include working with larger material libraries, some with multibranch forks, and replacing their 3D-scanning technique with computerized tomography scanning technologies that can automatically generate a detailed geometric representation of a tree fork, including its precise fiber orientation and density. And in a parallel project, they’ve been exploring using their process with other sources of materials, with one case study focusing on using material from a demolished wood-framed house to construct more than a dozen geodesic domes.

To Mueller, the work to date already provides new guidance for the architectural design process. With digital tools, it has become easy for architects to analyze the embodied carbon or future energy use of a design option. “Now we have a new metric of performance: How well am I using available resources?” she says. “With the Hungarian algorithm, we can compute that metric basically in real time, so we can work rapidly and creatively with that as another input to the design process.”

This research was supported by MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning via the HASS Award.

This article appears in the Autumn 2021 issue of Energy Futures, the magazine of the MIT Energy Initiative.

Source: Using nature’s structures in wooden buildings

Understanding the war in Ukraine

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MIT’s Security Studies Program (SSP) presented a special seminar on March 2 entitled, "Understanding the War in Ukraine." Over 100 alumni and affiliates in far-flung locations tuned in to hear the seminar during a livestream presentation, which featured commentary by four experts in this realm.

Participants in the discussion included two MIT professors of political science: Mariya Grinberg, whose work focuses on conflict economics, and Barry Posen, whose specialties include military doctrine and grand strategy. They were joined by Carol Saivetz, a Russia expert and special adviser to MIT SSP, and Elizabeth A. Wood, a Russia specialist and professor of history at MIT. Professor M. Taylor Fravel moderated the discussion.

Wood began the seminar by offering her opinion on Russian president Vladimir Putin’s motivations for invading Ukraine. Referencing public addresses the Russian autocrat has given in recent weeks, Wood said “Clearly, he's expressing a great deal of emotion — I would call it rage — at Ukraine for daring to go an independent route.”

She clarified to note that independence, for Putin, is not so much about democracy, “as it is about economics.”

“He wanted Ukraine to be the jewel in his Eurasian Union,” she said. “[In] 2014, it became clear that they were not going to be [that] jewel.”

Following Wood, Saivetz initially focused on Russia’s inability to exercise influence in “rule-setting” during the twilight of the Cold War.

“Russia was not part of the rule-setting” after the Soviet Union collapsed, she said. “It's not just about NATO expansion.” She added that after 1991, Russian government officials had rules and regulations imposed on them unilaterally. “Russia didn't set those rules. Russia wasn't consulted in that process,” she said.

Posen, the Ford International Professor of Political Science, began his opening presentation by noting the fog of war continued to obscure any expert analysis of the situation on the ground.

He said he believed both the Ukrainian and Russian governments were capably “managing” information flowing out of the country. Any expert outside of Ukraine “was reading tea leaves” in coming to conclusions, he added.

“Even the press has a problem,” Posen said. “If you look at the various key press outlets, if you look at their war situation maps, that all comes from the same place. There is no independent judgment by these journalists.”

Grinberg, an expert in conflict economics, described the various sanctions aimed at Russia by Western allies, including: “smart sanctions,” which are things like travel bans directed at individual actors; commercial sanctions, which ban the export of certain products to a country; and financial sanctions, which impact a country’s ability to raise capital and use currency that it has in store in foreign banks.

The seminar was live-streamed to an audience of Department of Political Science faculty, students, and alumni. 

Source: Understanding the war in Ukraine

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