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Daniel Yergin, IHS Vice Chairman, chaired the Friday morning session “The View from MIT.” The panel comprised five professors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Robert Armstrong, Director of the MIT Energy Initiative, noted the ways in which MIT has played an important role in many of the discoveries and innovations surrounding technology in the energy industry. He credits much of MIT’s success in this initiative to the school’s connections with industry and government. Dr. Armstrong said that the MIT Energy Initiative strives to connect across multiple disciplines and countries all around the world.
Donald R. Sadoway, John F. Elliot Professor of Materials at MIT, began by giving an overview of the metals industry and discussed one of the key problems facing the industry, the production of unfavorable by-products, such as carbon emissions. He said that high capital costs have hindered innovation in the metals industry. Dr. Sadoway also told the audience that he believes carbon-free electricity is in our future but that it will take time to get there.
Sanjay Sarma, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Dean of Digital Learning at MIT, focused his remarks on the importance of digital learning and the initiatives MIT has taken to deliver education via the Internet to people all over the world. Dr. Sarma provided an overview of EdX, a massive online course provider that began as a partnership between MIT and Harvard. He suggested that in fact very little has changed in the way academia delivers education and that we should be moving to a more adaptive learning environment. He said he believes that classroom lectures are more effective if they are condensed into shorter intervals in order to leave more class time for discussion. He noted that this format is difficult to achieve in traditional classroom lectures and that online classes are more appropriate for this format.
Kripa Varanasi, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, discussed how interfaces can be used to gain massive efficiency improvements in industry. Dr. Varanasi and his team founded LiquiGlide, a company that develops coatings that create wet, slippery surfaces. He explained that this coating technology has significant applications for many industries, including power, oil and gas, and agriculture. The technology also has other applications such as improving the flow rate of condiment bottles to avoid food waste.
Dennis Whyte, Director of the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center, discussed the promising future of fusion energy. Dr. Whyte described fusion energy as the power source of the universe and said that the benefits of fusion energy are significant. He said that fusion energy has an effectively limitless fuel supply and is safer and cleaner when compared to other forms of energy. Dr. Whyte also noted that fusion energy is a mature science and that developments such as 3-D printing will likely spur additional breakthroughs in this field.
Dr. Yergin concluded the session by taking questions from the audience. When asked about the role of digital learning in the residential sector, Dr. Sarma stated that digital learning can be used to enhance residential education. When asked about how the coating technology developed by LiquiGlide could be applied to pipelines in the oil and gas industry, Dr. Varanasi stated that these coatings are durable enough to be applied to both new and existing pipeline infrastructure.
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By Brian Stetter, April 24, 2015

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