Best campgrounds across America

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Summer is a great time to check out some of the country's most popular campgrounds, and we've rounded up a few places that offer family fun in the great outdoors.

Many major amusement parks across the country offer camping options for guests who want to spend the night, but who might be looking for something different from a hotel. 

Disney World in Florida, for example, offers camping at the Fort Wilderness Resort (located near Bay Lake).


Theme parks like Dollywood in Tennessee, and Hersheypark in Pennsylvania, also offer cabin options for a camping experience.

For people looking to actually rough it, has put together a list of the eight best campgrounds in our national parks across the United States.

Campers on the East Coast can camp at Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland and Virginia. 

Aside from the scenic beaches, the park is famous for its 300 wild ponies.

On the West Coast, there is the Channel Islands National Park, which has been called "The Galapagos of North America."

Montana offers camping in Glacier National Park that allows guests to really get off the grid. 


While the scenery in Montana is breathtaking, Colorado's Great Sand Dunes National Park offers views of the country’s tallest sand dunes. 

Grand Canyon National Park's North Rim in Arizona also provides stunning views – and secluded camping. 


Further afield, Alaska's Denali National Park has the closest campground to North America's tallest peak, Denali. 

Campers looking for a truly unique experience can stay at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and take in views of active volcanoes. 

For people who can’t make it to Hawaii but are still looking for some heat, Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas has 47 natural hot springs that guests can enjoy.

Source: Best campgrounds across America

Tips for road tripping with dogs, from people who live in a van year-round

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Memorial Day weekend is upon us and if you’re heading out on a road trip, you don’t have to leave Fido behind. 

It may seem like an added challenge to have a dog with you in the car, but according to Will and Kristin Watson, it’s all worth it. 

The Watsons, along with their 3-year-old daughter Roam and their 10-year-old pit bull Rush, have been traveling in a renovated bus since April 2019. 

"I would not want to do this without Rush," Kristin told Fox News Digital. "I know some people don’t bring their dogs along, because they don’t think that their dog would be able to handle it, but I would say just try and see before you just don’t give your dog the opportunity."

"Most dogs really just want to be with their owners in any way that they can, so they adapt," Kristin added. "And they’re just the best companions to have on these kinds of trips."


When the family moved onto the bus three years ago, Kristin said Rush took a little time to adjust to the lifestyle change, though he was a little anxious early on. 

"I think he transitioned really well," Kristin said. "One thing that he did a lot of at the beginning is… while we were driving, he would run up to the front of the bus and then run to the back and then run to the front and run to back."

Will explained: "He was having a hard time protecting us when we’re driving on the road."

Now, the Watsons give Rush some CBD for dogs before they hit the road.

"That has really, really helped mellow him out and be able to chill while we’re driving," Kristin said. "It also helps great with his hips, because he’s getting older. So hopping in and out of the bus, he can do it so much better since we started giving him that."


Though the Watsons don’t crate Rush on the bus, he does have two spots where he spends most of his time. 

Giving your dog a spot in the car – or bus – helps make your pet feel calmer and at home while on the road, according to Outside magazine. 

In the Watsons’ bus, Rush spends his time either in the front with Will while he drives, or in the back on the bed. 

"He loves to just stick his head out the window of the back and just smell the new smells," Will said. 

The Watsons also leave all the essentials out for Rush, so he has access to them while they’re on the road. 

"He free-range eats and everything, so he has food and water available and his toys available any time he wants them," Kristin said. 

The Watsons also make sure to walk Rush every time they stop – which they do every few hours to stretch their legs and take bathroom breaks.


Two of the greatest benefits of having Rush with the Watsons on the road are security and companionship

"If Will has to leave me and Roam behind to go on a work trip, I feel super safe because I have my dog," Kristin said. "He’s one of those dogs that, he’s only going to bark if there’s someone sniffing around the bus or something. So he’s an alarm system." 

"He’s very friendly, but he sounds like he will bite your head off if you come around the bus," Kristin added. 

Plus, Rush loves to go on adventures.

"He loves that we go to different places all the time because he gets to smell new smells and pee on different things," Will said. 

"If we want to get out and just walk a trail or go do something, obviously Rush is always going to come and he just loves it," he added. 

One of the biggest challenges of having Rush along for family getaways is that some areas aren’t pet-friendly, Kristin said. 

"If you’re going to national parks, most of the trails in national parks aren’t dog friendly," Kristin explained. "So you really have to be mindful of the weather, because if you’re going to be leaving your dog or any animal behind in the summertime, you need to do things really early in the morning or in the evenings when it will be cooler."

The Watsons have a pet monitor, which measures the temperature and humidity levels in their bus and sends them alerts to their phones in case their AC shuts off. 

They also have a security system for the bus, so they can watch and talk to Rush, while they’re away.

An added challenge for the Watsons is that Rush is a pit bull, so he’s not allowed at some campgrounds. 

"They consider him an aggressive breed, unfortunately," Will said. 


The Watsons said they lean on a website called BringFido, which helps them find dog-friendly restaurants, activities and accommodations while they travel.

Kristin added that public lands are also some of the best places to take your dog. 

"They’re the places with the least amount of rules," she said. "You’ll find beautiful wide-open spaces there for your dog to run around and stuff. So we always try to find public land places."

Despite the few challenges, the Watsons have no regrets about bringing Rush on their travels.

"Bring the dog," Kristin said. "Never leave the dog behind."


Source: Tips for road tripping with dogs, from people who live in a van year-round

Congressional seminar introduces MIT faculty to 30 Washington staffers

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More than 30 congressional and executive branch staffers were hosted by MIT’s Security Studies Program (SSP) for a series of panels and a keynote address focused on contemporary national security issues. 

Organized by the Security Studies Program, the Executive Branch and Congressional Staff Seminar was held from Wednesday, April 20m to Friday, April 22, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The program, supported by a generous grant from the Raymond Frankel Foundation, is hosted by MIT every other year to encourage interaction and exchange between scholars studying national security and policymakers.

Staff members from the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate, and the Congressional Research Service were joined by more than 15 MIT SSP faculty members and research affiliates. Each of them is an expert on one of a broad range of topics, from China’s ambitions to great-power competition.

This year’s program included a guided tour of the MIT Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts, four intensive panels with SSP faculty and affiliates, and a keynote address by Admiral John Richardson, the former chief of naval operations.

Keynote address

In his address, Richardson argued the United States is facing two simultaneous revolutions that have the potential to reshape the world. First, a political revolution of rising powers is returning the world to multipolarity and spreading authoritarianism. Second, a technological revolution of interconnected new technologies, from artificial intelligence to quantum computing, promises not only to increase speed and efficiency, but also to allow for entirely new capabilities. 

Richardson compared the current moment to two points in history: the turn of the 19th century and the beginning of the Cold War. In both periods, he said, the United States faced intertwined political and technological revolutions. 

In each case, he said, the U.S. and its allies prevailed. This success was won in both the political and technological spheres. 

In those areas, there was a sense of existential urgency that enabled a more adaptable and learning-based approach to the rapid changes of the Cold War, he said. In the end, the United States benefited from a coherent strategy to address worldwide changes.

The current challenges, Richardson said, demand a similar sense of urgency, adaptability, and learning if the U.S. is to prevail in preserving its influence in the world, and its quality of life.

The changing international order

During a panel on the “Changing International Order,” staffers heard from Ford International Professor of Political Science Barry Posen, SSP Senior Advisor Carol Saivetz, and Jonathan Kirshner, a professor of political science and international studies at Boston College.

Posen focused his remarks on Russia and China’s growing power relative to the United States, in the context of the 2008 financial crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the war in Ukraine. Kirshner identified the domestic politics of key participants in the international order, especially domestic dysfunction in the United States, as the chief driver of change. Saivetz offered several hypotheses on the cause of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which include pushing back against the expansion of NATO and the European Union, the desire for great power status, concerns about a liberal democracy on its borders, and the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church.

New tools of statecraft

A panel on “New Tools of Statecraft” featured remarks by Richard Nielsen, associate professor of political science at MIT, Mariya Grinberg, assistant professor of political science at MIT, and Joel Brenner, senior advisor to MIT SSP. MIT’s R. David Edelman, director of the Project on Technology, Economy and National Security and Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory affiliate, chaired the panel.

Nielsen discussed the role of U.S. influence in a world beset by misinformation. He emphasized that the internet is more fragmented than it has ever been, and America’s ability to shape people’s opinions through the internet is extremely limited. Grinberg, an expert on conflict economies, addressed what policy changes are necessary — and what policy changes were unnecessary — in response to the Covid-19 pandemic’s effects on markets. Brenner observed that many existing tools of statecraft are not “new,” but the speed, coordination, and synchronization of tools is new, as demonstrated by both the Russians and the Ukrainians in the ongoing war.

China’s growing ambitions

A panel on “China’s Growing Ambitions” featured remarks by MIT SSP director and Arthur and Ruth Sloan Professor of Political Science M. Taylor Fravel along with two SSP alumni: Joseph Torigian PhD '16, an assistant professor with the School of International Service at American University, and Fiona Cunningham PhD '18, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania.

Torigian suggested that Chinese General Secretary Xi Jinping’s views are likely a balance between pursuing the Communist Party’s ideals and mission with a deep skepticism of radical policies, and the kind of leftism and radicalism associated with events such as the Cultural Revolution. Xi is ideological, he said, but is flexible. Cunningham spoke broadly on China’s ambitions, and concluded with an argument that the U.S. needs to do more work to implement a more competitive Indo-Pacific policy, especially in terms of trade, and that U.S. officials should work to protect and strengthen existing channels of communication so that they can be functional in a crisis. Fravel discussed recent military changes in China. He noted that China adopted a new military strategy in 2019, which identifies the U.S. and Taiwan as principal adversaries, but stated that this was fundamentally not much more than top-level cosmetic changes to the 2014 military strategy in order to help cement Xi’s role as a military leader. 

The new nuclear era

The “New Nuclear Era” panel featured three MIT faculty and affiliates: Senior Research Associate Jim Walsh, Principal Research Scientist Eric Heginbotham, and Caitlin Talmadge PhD '11, an associate professor with the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and an SSP alumna.

Heginbotham discussed the increasing number and variety of roles that nuclear weapons play in international affairs, emphasizing how multipolarity and nuclear proliferation create “nested security dilemmas.” Talmadge similarly highlighted the complexity of the deterrence environment with multiple, multi-sided nuclear competitions occurring at once. Walsh framed the war in Ukraine as a reminder of nuclear danger that motivates the public both to “hug nuclear weapons more closely in a more dangerous world” and to “reduce nuclear danger before unimaginably bad things happen.”

Source: Congressional seminar introduces MIT faculty to 30 Washington staffers

MIT Climate and Sustainability Consortium announces recipients of inaugural MCSC Seed Awards

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The MIT Climate and Sustainability Consortium (MCSC) has awarded 20 projects a total of $5 million over two years in its first-ever 2022 MCSC Seed Awards program. The winning projects are led by principal investigators across all five of MIT’s schools.

The goal of the MCSC Seed Awards is to engage MIT researchers and link the economy-wide work of the consortium to ongoing and emerging climate and sustainability efforts across campus. The program offers further opportunity to build networks among the awarded projects to deepen the impact of each and ensure the total is greater than the sum of its parts.

For example, to drive progress under the awards category Circularity and Materials, the MCSC can facilitate connections between the technologists at MIT who are developing recovery approaches for metals, plastics, and fiber; the urban planners who are uncovering barriers to reuse; and the engineers, who will look for efficiency opportunities in reverse supply chains.

“The MCSC Seed Awards are designed to complement actions previously outlined in Fast Forward: MIT’s Climate Action Plan for the Decade and, more specifically, the Climate Grand Challenges,” says Anantha P. Chandrakasan, dean of the MIT School of Engineering, Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and chair of the MIT Climate and Sustainability Consortium. “In collaboration with seed award recipients and MCSC industry members, we are eager to engage in interdisciplinary exploration and propel urgent advancements in climate and sustainability.” 

By supporting MIT researchers with expertise in economics, infrastructure, community risk assessment, mobility, and alternative fuels, the MCSC will accelerate implementation of cross-disciplinary solutions in the awards category Decarbonized and Resilient Value Chains. Enhancing Natural Carbon Sinks and building connections to local communities will require associations across experts in ecosystem change, biodiversity, improved agricultural practice and engagement with farmers, all of which the consortium can begin to foster through the seed awards.

“Funding opportunities across campus has been a top priority since launching the MCSC,” says Jeremy Gregory, MCSC executive director. “It is our honor to support innovative teams of MIT researchers through the inaugural 2022 MCSC Seed Awards program.”

The winning projects are tightly aligned with the MCSC’s areas of focus, which were derived from a year of highly engaged collaborations with MCSC member companies. The projects apply across the member’s climate and sustainability goals.

The MCSC’s 16 member companies span many industries, and since early 2021, have met with members of the MIT community to define focused problem statements for industry-specific challenges, identify meaningful partnerships and collaborations, and develop clear and scalable priorities. Outcomes from these collaborations laid the foundation for the focus areas, which have shaped the work of the MCSC. Specifically, the MCSC Industry Advisory Board engaged with MIT on key strategic directions, and played a critical role in the MCSC’s series of interactive events. These included virtual workshops hosted last summer, each on a specific topic that allowed companies to work with MIT and each other to align key assumptions, identify blind spots in corporate goal-setting, and leverage synergies between members, across industries. The work continued in follow-up sessions and an annual symposium.

“We are excited to see how the seed award efforts will help our member companies reach or even exceed their ambitious climate targets, find new cross-sector links among each other, seek opportunities to lead, and ripple key lessons within their industry, while also deepening the Institute’s strong foundation in climate and sustainability research,” says Elsa Olivetti, the Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Associate Professor in Materials Science and Engineering and MCSC co-director.

As the seed projects take shape, the MCSC will provide ongoing opportunities for awardees to engage with the Industry Advisory Board and technical teams from the MCSC member companies to learn more about the potential for linking efforts to support and accelerate their climate and sustainability goals. Awardees will also have the chance to engage with other members of the MCSC community, including its interdisciplinary Faculty Steering Committee.

“One of our mantras in the MCSC is to ‘amplify and extend’ existing efforts across campus; we’re always looking for ways to connect the collaborative industry relationships we’re building and the work we’re doing with other efforts on campus,” notes Jeffrey Grossman, the Morton and Claire Goulder and Family Professor in Environmental Systems, head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and MCSC co-director. “We feel the urgency as well as the potential, and we don’t want to miss opportunities to do more and go faster.”

The MCSC Seed Awards complement the Climate Grand Challenges, a new initiative to mobilize the entire MIT research community around developing the bold, interdisciplinary solutions needed to address difficult, unsolved climate problems. The 27 finalist teams addressed four broad research themes, which align with the MCSC’s focus areas. From these finalist teams, five flagship projects were announced in April 2022.

The parallels between MCSC’s focus areas and the Climate Grand Challenges themes underscore an important connection between the shared long-term research interests of industry and academia. The challenges that some of the world’s largest and most influential companies have identified are complementary to MIT’s ongoing research and innovation — highlighting the tremendous opportunity to develop breakthroughs and scalable solutions quickly and effectively. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry underscored the importance of developing these scalable solutions, including critical new technology, during a conversation with MIT President L. Rafael Reif at MIT’s first Climate Grand Challenges showcase event last month.

Both the MCSC Seed Awards and the Climate Grand Challenges are part of MIT’s larger commitment and initiative to combat climate change; this was underscored in “Fast Forward: MIT’s Climate Action Plan for the Decade,” which the Institute published in May 2021.

The project titles and research leads for each of the 20 awardees listed below are categorized by MCSC focus area.

Decarbonized and resilient value chains

  • "Collaborative community mapping toolkit for resilience planning," led by Miho Mazereeuw, associate professor of architecture and urbanism in the Department of Architecture and director of the Urban Risk Lab (a research lead on Climate Grand Challenges flagship project) and Nicholas de Monchaux, professor and department head in the Department of Architecture
  • "CP4All: Fast and local climate projections with scientific machine learning — towards accessibility for all of humanity," led by Chris Hill, principal research scientist in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and Dava Newman, director of the MIT Media Lab and the Apollo Program Professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics
  • "Emissions reductions and productivity in U.S. manufacturing," led by Mert Demirer, assistant professor of applied economics at the MIT Sloan School of Management and Jing Li, assistant professor and William Barton Rogers Career Development Chair of Energy Economics in the MIT Sloan School of Management
  • "Logistics electrification through scalable and inter-operable charging infrastructure: operations, planning, and policy," led by Alex Jacquillat, the 1942 Career Development Professor and assistant professor of operations research and statistics in the MIT Sloan School of Management
  • "Powertrain and system design for LOHC-powered long-haul trucking," led by William Green, the Hoyt Hottel Professor in Chemical Engineering in the Department of Chemical Engineering and postdoctoral officer, and Wai K. Cheng, professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Sloan Automotive Laboratory
  • "Sustainable Separation and Purification of Biochemicals and Biofuels using Membranes," led by John Lienhard, the Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Water in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab, and director of the Rohsenow Kendall Heat Transfer Laboratory; and Nicolas Hadjiconstantinou, professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, co-director of the Center for Computational Science and Engineering, associate director of the Center for Exascale Simulation of Materials in Extreme Environments, and graduate officer
  • "Toolkit for assessing the vulnerability of industry infrastructure siting to climate change," led by Michael Howland, assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Circularity and Materials

  • "Colorimetric Sulfidation for Aluminum Recycling," led by Antoine Allanore, associate professor of metallurgy in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering
  • "Double Loop Circularity in Materials Design Demonstrated on Polyurethanes," led by Brad Olsen, the Alexander and I. Michael Kasser (1960) Professor and graduate admissions co-chair in the Department of Chemical Engineering, and Kristala Prather, the Arthur Dehon Little Professor and department executive officer in the Department of Chemical Engineering
  • "Engineering of a microbial consortium to degrade and valorize plastic waste," led by Otto Cordero, associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Desiree Plata, the Gilbert W. Winslow (1937) Career Development Professor in Civil Engineering and associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • "Fruit-peel-inspired, biodegradable packaging platform with multifunctional barrier properties," led by Kripa Varanasi, professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering
  • "High Throughput Screening of Sustainable Polyesters for Fibers," led by Gregory Rutledge, the Lammot du Pont Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, and Brad Olsen, Alexander and I. Michael Kasser (1960) Professor and graduate admissions co-chair in the Department of Chemical Engineering
  • "Short-term and long-term efficiency gains in reverse supply chains," led by Yossi Sheffi, the Elisha Gray II Professor of Engineering Systems, professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and director of the Center for Transportation and Logistics
  • The costs and benefits of circularity in building construction, led by Siqi Zheng, the STL Champion Professor of Urban and Real Estate Sustainability at the MIT Center for Real Estate and Department of Urban Studies and Planning, faculty director of the MIT Center for Real Estate, and faculty director for the MIT Sustainable Urbanization Lab; and Randolph Kirchain, principal research scientist and co-director of MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub

Natural carbon sinks

  • "Carbon sequestration through sustainable practices by smallholder farmers," led by Joann de Zegher, the Maurice F. Strong Career Development Professor and assistant professor of operations management in the MIT Sloan School of Management, and Karen Zheng the George M. Bunker Professor and associate professor of operations management in the MIT Sloan School of Management
  • "Coatings to protect and enhance diverse microbes for improved soil health and crop yields," led by Ariel Furst, the Raymond A. (1921) And Helen E. St. Laurent Career Development Professor of Chemical Engineering in the Department of Chemical Engineering, and Mary Gehring, associate professor of biology in the Department of Biology, core member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, and graduate officer
  • "ECO-LENS: Mainstreaming biodiversity data through AI," led by John Fernández, professor of building technology in the Department of Architecture and director of MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative
  • "Growing season length, productivity, and carbon balance of global ecosystems under climate change," led by Charles Harvey, professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and César Terrer, assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Social dimensions and adaptation

  • "Anthro-engineering decarbonization at the million-person scale," led by Manduhai Buyandelger, professor in the Anthropology Section, and Michael Short, the Class of ’42 Associate Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering in the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering
  • "Sustainable solutions for climate change adaptation: weaving traditional ecological knowledge and STEAM," led by Janelle Knox-Hayes, the Lister Brothers Associate Professor of Economic Geography and Planning and head of the Environmental Policy and Planning Group in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, and Miho Mazereeuw, associate professor of architecture and urbanism in the Department of Architecture and director of the Urban Risk Lab (a research lead on a Climate Grand Challenges flagship project)

Source: MIT Climate and Sustainability Consortium announces recipients of inaugural MCSC Seed Awards

MIT J-WAFS announces 2022 seed grant recipients

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The Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab (J-WAFS) at MIT has awarded eight MIT principal investigators with 2022 J-WAFS seed grants. The grants support innovative MIT research that has the potential to have significant impact on water- and food-related challenges.

The only program at MIT that is dedicated to water- and food-related research, J-WAFS has offered seed grant funding to MIT principal investigators and their teams for the past eight years. The grants provide up to $75,000 per year, overhead-free, for two years to support new, early-stage research in areas such as water and food security, safety, supply, and sustainability. Past projects have spanned many diverse disciplines, including engineering, science, technology, and business innovation, as well as social science and economics, architecture, and urban planning. 

Seven new projects led by eight researchers will be supported this year. With funding going to four different MIT departments, the projects address a range of challenges by employing advanced materials, technology innovations, and new approaches to resource management. The new projects aim to remove harmful chemicals from water sources, develop drought monitoring systems for farmers, improve management of the shellfish industry, optimize water purification materials, and more.

“Climate change, the pandemic, and most recently the war in Ukraine have exacerbated and put a spotlight on the serious challenges facing global water and food systems,” says J-WAFS director John H. Lienhard. He adds, “The proposals chosen this year have the potential to create measurable, real-world impacts in both the water and food sectors.”  

The 2022 J-WAFS seed grant researchers and their projects are:

Gang Chen, the Carl Richard Soderberg Professor of Power Engineering in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, is using sunlight to desalinate water. The use of solar energy for desalination is not a new idea, particularly solar thermal evaporation methods. However, the solar thermal evaporation process has an overall low efficiency because it relies on breaking hydrogen bonds among individual water molecules, which is very energy-intensive. Chen and his lab recently discovered a photomolecular effect that dramatically lowers the energy required for desalination. 

The bonds among water molecules inside a water cluster in liquid water are mostly hydrogen bonds. Chen discovered that a photon with energy larger than the bonding energy between the water cluster and the remaining water liquids can cleave off the water cluster at the water-air interface, colliding with air molecules and disintegrating into 60 or even more individual water molecules. This effect has the potential to significantly boost clean water production via new desalination technology that produces a photomolecular evaporation rate that exceeds pure solar thermal evaporation by at least ten-fold. 

John E. Fernández is the director of the MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative (ESI) and a professor in the Department of Architecture, and also affiliated with the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. Fernández is working with Scott D. Odell, a postdoc in the ESI, to better understand the impacts of mining and climate change in water-stressed regions of Chile.

The country of Chile is one of the world’s largest exporters of both agricultural and mineral products; however, little research has been done on climate change effects at the intersection of these two sectors. Fernández and Odell will explore how desalination is being deployed by the mining industry to relieve pressure on continental water supplies in Chile, and with what effect. They will also research how climate change and mining intersect to affect Andean glaciers and agricultural communities dependent upon them. The researchers intend for this work to inform policies to reduce social and environmental harms from mining, desalination, and climate change.

Ariel L. Furst is the Raymond (1921) and Helen St. Laurent Career Development Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT. Her 2022 J-WAFS seed grant project seeks to effectively remove dangerous and long-lasting chemicals from water supplies and other environmental areas. 

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a component of Teflon, is a member of a group of chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These human-made chemicals have been extensively used in consumer products like nonstick cooking pans. Exceptionally high levels of PFOA have been measured in water sources near manufacturing sites, which is problematic as these chemicals do not readily degrade in our bodies or the environment. The majority of humans have detectable levels of PFAS in their blood, which can lead to significant health issues including cancer, liver damage, and thyroid effects, as well as developmental effects in infants. Current remediation methods are limited to inefficient capture and are mostly confined to laboratory settings. Furst’s proposed method utilizes low-energy, scaffolded enzyme materials to move beyond simple capture to degrade these hazardous pollutants.

Heather J. Kulik is an associate professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at MIT who is developing novel computational strategies to identify optimal materials for purifying water. Water treatment requires purification by selectively separating small ions from water. However, human-made, scalable materials for water purification and desalination are often not stable in typical operating conditions and lack precision pores for good separation. 

Metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) are promising materials for water purification because their pores can be tailored to have precise shapes and chemical makeup for selective ion affinity. Yet few MOFs have been assessed for their properties relevant to water purification. Kulik plans to use virtual high-throughput screening accelerated by machine learning models and molecular simulation to accelerate discovery of MOFs. Specifically, Kulik will be looking for MOFs with ultra-stable structures in water that do not break down at certain temperatures. 

Gregory C. Rutledge is the Lammot du Pont Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT. He is leading a project that will explore how to better separate oils from water. This is an important problem to solve given that industry-generated oil-contaminated water is a major source of pollution to the environment.

Emulsified oils are particularly challenging to remove from water due to their small droplet sizes and long settling times. Microfiltration is an attractive technology for the removal of emulsified oils, but its major drawback is fouling, or the accumulation of unwanted material on solid surfaces. Rutledge will examine the mechanism of separation behind liquid-infused membranes (LIMs) in which an infused liquid coats the surface and pores of the membrane, preventing fouling. Robustness of the LIM technology for removal of different types of emulsified oils and oil mixtures will be evaluated. 

César Terrer is an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering whose J-WAFS project seeks to answer the question: How can satellite images be used to provide a high-resolution drought monitoring system for farmers? 

Drought is recognized as one of the world’s most pressing issues, with direct impacts on vegetation that threaten water resources and food production globally. However, assessing and monitoring the impact of droughts on vegetation is extremely challenging as plants’ sensitivity to lack of water varies across species and ecosystems. Terrer will leverage a new generation of remote sensing satellites to provide high-resolution assessments of plant water stress at regional to global scales. The aim is to provide a plant drought monitoring product with farmland-specific services for water and socioeconomic management.

Michael Triantafyllou is the Henry L. and Grace Doherty Professor in Ocean Science and Engineering in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. He is developing a web-based system for natural resources management that will deploy geospatial analysis, visualization, and reporting to better manage and facilitate aquaculture data.  By providing value to commercial fisheries’ permit holders who employ significant numbers of people and also to recreational shellfish permit holders who contribute to local economies, the project has attracted support from the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries as well as a number of local resource management departments.

Massachusetts shell fisheries generated roughly $339 million in 2020, accounting for 17 percent of U.S. East Coast production. Managing such a large industry is a time-consuming process, given there are thousands of acres of coastal areas grouped within over 800 classified shellfish growing areas. Extreme climate events present additional challenges. Triantafyllou’s research will help efforts to enforce environmental regulations, support habitat restoration efforts, and prevent shellfish-related food safety issues.

Source: MIT J-WAFS announces 2022 seed grant recipients

Fourteen from MIT awarded 2022 Fulbright Fellowships

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This article was updated on July 22 to reflect the addition of alternate winners and their decisions.

Fourteen MIT undergraduates, graduate students, and alumni have been awarded Fulbright fellowships to pursue projects overseas in the 2022-23 grant year. Two other MIT affiliates were offered awards but declined them to pursue other opportunities.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program offers grants in over 150 countries for independent research, graduate study, and English teaching. MIT students and alumni interested in applying should contact Julia Mongo in Distinguished Fellowships in Career Advising and Professional Development.

Zachary Alfaro ’21 graduated with double majors in political science and finance. Growing up in Edinburg, Texas, along the U.S.-Mexico border, he always dreamed of seeing the world. At the University of São Paulo, he will conduct research on the supply chains of pirarucu, açai, Brazil nuts, and cocoa, in order to develop strong, sustainable supply chains to bring wealth and prosperity to producers in the Amazon rainforest. At MIT, Alfaro co-founded the MIT Political Review, was a member of the MIT Bhangra team, and taught internationally in Italy and also in Jerusalem through the Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow. Before traveling to Brazil, Alfaro will spend six months in Mexico City working with the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness.

Caleb Amanfu ’21 graduated with double majors in architecture and engineering. As the recipient of the Delft University of Technology’s Industrial Design Engineering Award, Amanfu is eager to journey to the Netherlands to pursue a master’s degree in integrated product design. He is currently an instructor for MIT’s class 2.00b (Toy Product Design) and is enjoying being involved in both teaching and learning in the world of design. He also enjoys video creation and is excited to explore the Netherlands himself as well as through his camera lens. After Fulbright, Amanfu intends to continue his pursuit of knowledge in the field of product design and other creative endeavors. ​

Julia Caravias will graduate this spring with a major in computer science, economics, and data science and minors in sustainability and statistics. At the Technical University of Munich in Germany, Caravias will conduct research on optimization models to study the efficient allocation of electric vehicle charging stations. At MIT, Caravias pursued her interest in using computational models to inform sustainable development through her research at the Environmental Solutions Initiative and D-Lab. She was also a member of the varsity women's volleyball team, Terrascope, and Alpha Phi sorority.

Prosser Cathey is a junior studying mathematical economics, political science, and management who will graduate this May. He grew up in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, where his parents instilled in him the importance of serving his community. This led to his interest in economics and climate change, the focus of his Fulbright research in Germany. In Munich, Cathey will study whether working a green job affects one’s support for public policies to combat climate change. Previously, he interned in the White House for the Council of Economic Advisors, was a Burchard Scholar and Pressman Award recipient, and was a member of MIT’s D1 Heavyweight Crew Team, where he won a gold medal at Head of the Charles. Cathey is also the co-founder of a nonprofit that has been recognized by Schmidt Futures and the founder of a startup backed by Y Combinator. 

Kylie Yui Dan is a senior majoring in physics with minors in astronomy and Japanese. She has been passionate about studying the universe since childhood. Her Fulbright fellowship will take her to Japan, where she will study galaxies at Hiroshima University. As half-Japanese, Dan hopes that this experience will help her connect more with her family and culture. Outside of research, Dan has spent her time tutoring children of all ages, running a mentorship program between physics undergrad and graduate students at MIT, and helping to plan Tsukimi and Hanami, MIT's semesterly Japanese festivals. After her time in Japan, Dan will head to University of Maryland, where she will start a PhD in astrophysics.

An Jimenez ’21 earned a BS in computation and cognition from MIT in February 2021 and completes her MEng degree with the MIT Human Cooperation Lab this spring. A recipient of the Fulbright Chile Science Initiative award, Jimenez will collaborate with the Center for Experimental Social Sciences at the University of Santiago to understand public attitudes toward the Covid-19 vaccine using machine learning techniques. Beyond research, Jimenez has instructed over 100 students for MIT’s flagship technical communication course for electrical engineering and computer science students; taught science and engineering courses to over 400 students in Jordan, Chile, and South Africa through MIT’s Global Teaching Labs; and biked across the country with MIT Spokes. Between graduation and the Fulbright fellowship, Jimenez will work at a tech impact startup in Amsterdam.

Kevin Lujan Lee is a PhD candidate in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. In Aotearoa/New Zealand, he will study how Pasifika-serving community organizations produce the boundaries of Indigeneity, race, and ethnicity within which low-wage Pasifika workers navigate the institutions of labor market regulation. This will comprise one-half of his broader dissertation project — a comparative study of Indigenous Pacific Islanders and low-wage work in 21st-century empires. His research is only made possible by activists in the U.S. immigrant labor movement and global LANDBACK movement, who envision a world beyond labor precarity and Indigenous dispossession. Lee hopes to pursue an academic career to support the work of these movements. Lee won a Fulbright New Zealand award last year but had to reapply to the competition when his grant was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Delanie J. Linden is a PhD candidate in art history in the Department of Architecture at MIT. For her Fulbright year in Paris, France, she will be hosted by the École Normale Supérieure, where she will conduct research on colorant commerce and chemistry in late-18th and early-19th century France under the guidance of Professor of Art History Charlotte Guichard. In Linden's MIT dissertation, “Other Colors: Chroma, Chemistry, and the Orient in Nineteenth-Century French Painting,” chaired by Professor Kristel Smentek, Linden examines French Orientalist painters’ experimentation with brightly contrasting hues. As she argues, artistic chromatic exploration paralleled vast innovations in colorant chemistry in Europe from circa 1780 to 1858, which were fundamentally tethered — and indebted to — colorant technologies and artistic color juxtaposition in China, India, and the Ottoman Empire. 

Ana McIntosh will graduate this month from the master of architecture program. Her architectural thesis focused on thinking about ecological and disaster resilience where water's edge and city meet. Growing up with strong ties to Latin America, McIntosh feels uniquely positioned to explore architectural and urban questions in the context of different histories and cultures. For her Fulbright grant in Porto Alegre, Brazil, she will research design for the activation of public space while supporting the city’s urban initiatives in response to climate change. She will be hosted by the University of Rio Grande do Sul’s Urban Technology Center and hopes that her research might help to inform decision-making for public spaces at the policy level.

Karna Morey is a senior majoring in physics and minoring in Spanish. For his Fulbright grant in Barcelona, Spain, Morey will research stellar streams using data collected from the European Space Agency’s GAIA satellite. He hopes to contribute to greater understanding of the galactic properties of the Milky Way. As a trained classical guitarist, he also looks forward to exploring Spain’s musical traditions. At MIT, Morey has contributed to diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives as co-chair of the Physics Values Committee, and he has served as advocacy chair of the MIT Society of Physics Students. Morey was awarded the Goldwater Scholarship in his junior year. After Fulbright, he plans on pursuing a PhD in astrophysics.

Aashini Shah is a senior majoring in mechanical and electrical engineering with a focus on medical technology. She is the recipient of the sole Fulbright Singapore award and will conduct research at the National University of Singapore on novel health-sensing devices. As an undergraduate, Shah’s research projects have spanned mobile health-care delivery, controls for a lower limb prosthesis, and a sensing platform for augmenting at-home rehabilitation exercises. She enjoys learning about international public health systems and technologies, and has interned in South Africa and Australia. Shah is excited to bring these global perspectives with her when she enters the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology PhD program in Fall 2023.

Nailah Smith is a senior double-majoring in electrical engineering/computer science and creative writing. She will head to Colombia as a Fulbright English teaching assistant. Passionate about community and education, Smith has worked with the Office of Engineering Outreach Programs to teach high schoolers computer science and robotics. She has also been a residential facilitator for Interphase EDGE/x, helping students improve their communication and writing skills, and through MISTI has participated in a radio electronics project to help students in South Africa get more involved in STEM. She was selected as a Burchard Scholar and received an MIT Women’s and Gender Studies writing prize for her prose. In Colombia, Smith is looking forward to facilitating writing workshops for her students, improving her Spanish skills, exploring the country’s rich biodiversity, and immersing herself in Afro-Colombian culture.

Natasha Stamler is a senior double-majoring in mechanical engineering and planning. As a Netherland-America Foundation-Fulbright grantee, Stamler will be analyzing the energy-efficient Atlas building at TU Eindhoven. Stamler’s research at MIT has focused on sustainability in the built environment, including optimizing the shape of concrete ceilings to reduce energy usage in buildings with the Digital Structures group. She has also worked on projects with NASA to study the overlapping risks posed by climate change and Covid-19 in New York City, design a greenhouse for Mars, and prototype a communications tower for the moon. After her Fulbright in the Netherlands, Stamler will return to MIT for graduate school.

Daniel Zhang is a senior majoring in biology and minoring in comparative media studies. At the Princess Maxima Center for Pediatric Oncology in Utrecht, Netherlands, Zhang will develop an organoid co-culture system to study malignant rhabdoid tumors, and in turn, use this platform to screen for new therapeutic vulnerabilities of the disease. At MIT, he has worked as an undergraduate researcher in Professor Tyler Jacks’ lab since his first year, developing CRISPR-Cas9 mediated gene knockout models for colorectal cancer. Outside of research, he has been actively involved in numerous educational STEM outreach programs, including dynaMIT, Global Teaching Labs, and Future African Scientist, and plans to continue this outreach while abroad in the Netherlands. After Fulbright, Zhang hopes to attend an MD/PhD program with the goal of translating his research findings from bench to bedside.

Source: Fourteen from MIT awarded 2022 Fulbright Fellowships

Can artificial intelligence overcome the challenges of the health care system?

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Even as rapid improvements in artificial intelligence have led to speculation over significant changes in the health care landscape, the adoption of AI in health care has been minimal. A 2020 survey by Brookings, for example, found that less than 1 percent of job postings in health care required AI-related skills.

The Abdul Latif Jameel Clinic for Machine Learning in Health (Jameel Clinic), a research center within the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, recently hosted the MITxMGB AI Cures Conference in an effort to accelerate the adoption of clinical AI tools by creating new opportunities for collaboration between researchers and physicians focused on improving care for diverse patient populations.

Once virtual, the AI Cures Conference returned to in-person attendance at MIT’s Samberg Conference Center on the morning of April 25, welcoming over 300 attendees primarily made up of researchers and physicians from MIT and Mass General Brigham (MGB). 

MIT President L. Rafael Reif began the event by welcoming attendees and speaking to the “transformative capacity of artificial intelligence and its ability to detect, in a dark river of swirling data, the brilliant patterns of meaning that we could never see otherwise.” MGB’s president and CEO Anne Klibanski followed up by lauding the joint partnership between the two institutions and noting that the collaboration could “have a real impact on patients’ lives” and “help to eliminate some of the barriers to information-sharing.”

Domestically, about $20 million in subcontract work currently takes place between MIT and MGB. MGB’s chief academic officer and AI Cures co-chair Ravi Thadhani thinks that five times that amount would be necessary in order to do more transformative work. “We could certainly be doing more,” Thadhani said. “The conference … just scratched the surface of a relationship between a leading university and a leading health-care system.”

MIT Professor and AI Cures Co-Chair Regina Barzilay echoed similar sentiments during the conference. “If we’re going to take 30 years to take all the algorithms and translate them into patient care, we’ll be losing patient lives,” she said. “I hope the main impact of this conference is finding a way to translate it into a clinical setting to benefit patients.”

This year’s event featured 25 speakers and two panels, with many of the speakers addressing the obstacles facing the mainstream deployment of AI in clinical settings, from fairness and clinical validation to regulatory hurdles and translation issues using AI tools. 

On the speaker list, of note was the appearance of Amir Khan, a senior fellow from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), who fielded a number of questions from curious researchers and clinicians on the FDA’s ongoing efforts and challenges in regulating AI in health care.

The conference also covered many of the impressive advancements AI made in the past several years: Lecia Sequist, a lung cancer oncologist from MGB, spoke about her collaborative work with MGB radiologist Florian Fintelmann and Barzilay to develop an AI algorithm that could detect lung cancer up to six years in advance. MIT Professor Dina Katabi presented with MGB’s doctors Ipsit Vahia and Aleksandar Videnovic on an AI device that could detect the presence of Parkinson’s disease simply by monitoring a person’s breathing patterns while asleep. “It is an honor to collaborate with Professor Katabi,” Videnovic said during the presentation.

MIT Assistant Professor Marzyeh Ghassemi, whose presentation concerned designing machine learning processes for more equitable health systems, found the longer-range perspectives shared by the speakers during the first panel on AI changing clinical science compelling.

“What I really liked about that panel was the emphasis on how relevant technology and AI has become in clinical science,” Ghassemi says. “You heard some panel members [Eliezer Van Allen, Najat Khan, Isaac Kohane, Peter Szolovits] say that they used to be the only person at a conference from their university that was focused on AI and ML [machine learning], and now we’re in a space where we have a miniature conference with posters just with people from MIT.”

The 88 posters accepted to AI Cures were on display for attendees to peruse during the lunch break. The presented research spanned different areas of focus from clinical AI and AI for biology to AI-powered systems and others. 

“I was really impressed with the breadth of work going on in this space,” Collin Stultz, a professor at MIT, says. Stultz also spoke at AI Cures, focusing primarily on the risks of interpretability and explainability when using AI tools in a clinical setting, using cardiovascular care as an example of showing how algorithms could potentially mislead clinicians with grave consequences for patients. 

“There are a growing number of failures in this space where companies or algorithms strive to be the most accurate, but do not take into consideration how the clinician views the algorithm and their likelihood of using it,” Stultz said. “This is about what the patient deserves and how the clinician is able to explain and justify their decision-making to the patient.” 

Phil Sharp, MIT Institute Professor and chair of the advisory board for Jameel Clinic, found the conference energizing and thought that the in-person interactions were crucial to gaining insight and motivation, unmatched by many conferences that are still being hosted virtually. 

“The broad participation by students and leaders and members of the community indicate that there’s an awareness that this is a tremendous opportunity and a tremendous need,” Sharp says. He pointed out that AI and machine learning are being used to predict the structures of “almost everything” from protein structures to drug efficacy. “It says to young people, watch out, there might be a machine revolution coming.” 

Source: Can artificial intelligence overcome the challenges of the health care system?

Eleanor Freund receives Jeanne Guillemin Prize

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The daughter of an American diplomat, Eleanor Freund spent most of her childhood living abroad in such places as Madagascar, Ghana, South Africa, and Austria. These experiences, she explains, led to an early interest in politics and international relations.

“Whether in South Africa, which was emerging from decades of racial discrimination and violence under apartheid, or Austria, which seemed practiced at navigating Cold War divisions between East and West, I was captivated by the import and impact of politics. I started college knowing that I wanted to major in political science and never doubted that decision.”

Freund, a PhD candidate in the MIT Department of Political Science, is the recipient of this year’s Jeanne Guillemin Prize at the MIT Center for International Studies (CIS).

The annual prize supports women pursuing doctorate degrees in international relations — a field that has long been dominated by men.

Jeanne Guillemin, a veteran colleague of CIS and a senior advisor in the Security Studies Program (SSP), endowed the fund shortly before her death in 2019. An expert in biological warfare, Guillemin’s groundbreaking work included an epidemiological inquiry into the 1979 anthrax outbreak in the Soviet Union and an investigation into the 2001 anthrax letters attack in the United States.

The funds from the prize will be used to support Freund’s dissertation research on Chinese foreign and security policies.

Through case studies, fieldwork abroad, and archival research, Freund aims to produce one of the first comprehensive historical studies on China’s alliances with other states.

This information could help contribute to a better understanding of how Chinese leaders evaluate threats and cooperate with other states to address these threats. It could also serve as an important resource for policymakers as they attempt to evaluate China’s current behavior, anticipate its future behavior, and avoid miscalculating during moments of crisis.

Embracing the China challenge

Freund became interested in China through international relations classes at college, when it became apparent that China would define the 21st century and dominate the attention of American diplomacy.

“I quickly realized that ensuring the relationship between the United States and China was peaceful and productive would require contending with a relationship defined by decades of mistrust. For anyone interested in foreign policy, there could hardly be a more meaningful challenge,” she says.

Shortly after graduating from the University of California at Berkeley, Freund moved to Beijing to study Chinese. This led to a host of other experiences, including jobs at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, a master’s degree from Tsinghua University as part of the Schwarzman Scholars program, and time at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

When considering PhD programs, MIT was a clear first choice.

“First, the political science department, like the rest of the Institute, is imbued with the guiding principle of education in service of practical application. That’s an important orienting philosophy for me. Second, the department offers substantial faculty expertise in my areas of interest — Chinese foreign policy and Asian security — and first-rate training in international relations and security studies more generally.”

MIT is among the few universities in the United States that provides the opportunity for graduate students in political science to specialize in security studies. A unique feature of SSP is its integration of technical and political analysis of national and international security problems.

This training is crucial to producing the civilian expertise that enables effective oversight of the military and clear-eyed foreign policy decision-making, explains Freund.

SSP also has a long track record of recruiting and training women interested in security studies. Many of these women have gone on to become successful academics and policymakers, including the current U.S. deputy secretary of defense, Kathleen Hicks PhD '10.

That legacy is a source of inspiration to Freund, who envisions a lifelong career in academia or government helping the United States navigate its relationship with China.

“It is an honor to receive an award named for Jeanne Guillemin,” says Freund. “I am particularly inspired by the tenacity and compassion she demonstrated while investigating the cause of the 1979 anthrax outbreak in Sverdlovsk. Although I never had the chance to meet her, the written account of her fieldwork in Russia illustrates her dedication to the principles of scientific research, her perseverance in overcoming the obstacles she encountered along the way, and her deep empathy for the victims and their families. I plan to use the award to fund my own fieldwork in Asia next year and hope to bring some of her passion and persistence to that experience.”

Source: Eleanor Freund receives Jeanne Guillemin Prize

When dueling narratives deepen a divide

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For more than four decades, the U.S. and Iran have had a relentlessly poor relationship. To be sure, it is hardly a shock that tensions would run high between the countries following the hostage crisis of 1979-1981, when Iran held more than 50 U.S. diplomats in captivity for 444 days. Even so, little progress has been made in U.S.-Iran relations in subsequent years.

Why is this? One factor could be that the dominant stories framing each country’s politics combine to inhibit any kind of lasting cooperation with each other. That’s the thesis of a new book co-authored by John Tirman, executive director and a principal research scientist at the MIT Center for International Studies (CIS).

The book, “Republics of Myth: National Narratives and the U.S.-Iran Conflict,” just published by Johns Hopkins University Press, explores this joint history of identities at odds with each other. The authors identify key moments when U.S.-Iran tensions became further heightened and opportunities for détente dwindled.

Knowing these narratives is “fundamental to how we understand the confrontation that we have seen over the years,” Tirman said on Wednesday during the latest iteration of MIT’s Starr Forum, a public event series on international affairs.

Iran’s dominant national narrative, Tirman said, stems from the story of Imam Hussein, the prophet’s Mohammed’s grandson, who was killed by outsiders, thus giving Iran a “key story of noble sacrifice. Among other attributes, the narrative warns of foreign intrigue and betrayal.”

As for the U.S., Tirman suggested, “the master narrative of America derives from the myth of the frontier,” with expansion, wars, and the establishment of rule over others. Thus the U.S.-Iran conflict thus features one country which is “expansionist at its core,” pitted against another that is “deeply suspicious of foreign influence, demanding respect,” with little political space for leaders to deviate from these postures.

“The narratives have had this inimical effect on relations between the two countries,” Tirman said.

Missed opportunities

Hosted by CIS, the Starr Forum features talks by experts from inside and outside of MIT, about international relations and global politics.

At Wednesday’s event, Tirman was joined by both of his co-authors: Hussein Banai, an associate professor of international studies at the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies at Indiana University and a research affiliate at CIS; and Malcolm Byrne, deputy director and director of research for the nongovernmental National Security Archive, based at George Washington University. Byrne is also a research affiliate at CIS.

The book, the scholars noted, draws, in part, on input they received at a series of four conferences they helped organized in recent years, where officials who have been direct participants in U.S.-Iran relations detailed their experiences.

In their remarks, Tirman, Banai, and Byrne mentioned some of the key events that have further damaged U.S.-Iran relations since the hostage crisis ended, from the 1988 downing of a Iranian civilian airliner by the U.S. military, to the fact that Iran helped organize the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing of American military personnel (and civilians) in Saudi Arabia.

Byrne also listed “missed opportunities” to improve relations between the U.S. and Iran, including the period soon after the Iran-Iraq War ended in 1988. Another was the period soon after terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, given that Iran and Afghanistan’s Taliban regime were adversaries. In 2003, the U.S. received a proposal from Iran, via diplomatic intermediaries, suggesting a “grand bargain” with Iran involving nuclear security, a cessation of Iran’s support for terror activites, an end to sanctions, and more. It was never seriously pursued, however.

“The more we looked into this concept, and studied the history and dynamics of the relationship, it became clear that those missed windows in many cases had a connection to the more fundamental ideas of national narratives, that they could be explained by the impact of the belief systems that both sides held so closely,” Byrne said.

Those belief systems helped feed what Byrne called “the fundamental ignorance” that has hampered this bilateral relationship. Byrne stated that U.S. officials often regarded Iran’s decisions as indecipherable, and coming out of a “black box,” while Iranian leaders also failed to grasp U.S. goals. As he noted, one Iranian offer to reorient its backing for terror activities, away from American targets and toward Europe, was made without the understanding that it would still be highly unacceptable to the U.S.

Add in “the lack of formal communications channels” between the countries, Byrne said, and there has been “the persistence of a sense of distrust of the intentions of the other side,” with few ways to improve matters.

Nuclear security: The 2015 deal and its dismantling 

For his part, Banai also emphasized that the cultural framework through which the U.S. and Iran view each other has greatly influenced high-level decision making.

“It’s very clear to us that the narrative that each government, each set of elites that are key players in maintaining this relationship, has curated over time, plays an enormously powerful role in conducting all sorts of direct, indirect, proxy relations between these two countries,” Banai said. As an example, he added, “The fact that the Islamic Republic [of Iran] is vociferous in its wish that the state of Israel disappear from the map of the Middle East [has] confirmed to the United States that this is a pariah, outlaw regime that has to be tamed; this is a frontier for the United States.”

At times, he noted, those perceptions can supercede what may be in the national interest of each country. The most noteworthy instance of cooperation between the U.S. and Iran in the last four decades came during the Obama administration, in the form of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JPCOA) in 2015, the treaty that limited Iran’s nuclear capabilities while lifting certain sanctions on Iran.  

The Trump administration then withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, “with gusto, and with the support of the entirety of the Republican Party and even some Democrats such as Chuck Schumer in the Senate as well,” Banai noted. The fact that the nuclear security deal would provoke such a quick policy backlash, Banai added, “really highlights in a very dramatic way how the exception ends up proving the rule.” That is, cooperation was soon replaced by mutual distrust again.

As matters stand, he added, any future acquisition of nuclear capability by Iran may prove the most difficult testing point of this entire fraught international relationship.

“It will put the two countries on a far different, perhaps alarming trajectory, because this narrative [would be] weaponized in a way we’ve never seen before,” Banai said.

Source: When dueling narratives deepen a divide

An Optimist at the Helm of IBM

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Arvind Krishna is trying to stay in touch with the company’s roots as he confronts today’s challenges.

Source: An Optimist at the Helm of IBM

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