Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Sign in | Create Account

Engineering and Earth Systems: Can We Educate a New Breed of Engineers?

06/10/2006 10:00 AM Kresge
Philip M. Gschwend, Associate Dept Head & Director of R M Parsons Lab; Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Description: Asbestos and chlorofluorocarbons earned their initial reputations as highly effective solutions to common, every day problems. But after a few decades, these breakthrough compounds earned more sinister distinctions, as powerful disrupters of human and environmental health. Philip Gschwend believes scientists have enough evidence by now to anticipate that new compounds will routinely diffuse into the environment over time, often with destructive effect. For instance, Gschwend says, -It's not rocket science” to project and demonstrate how MTBE, which refiners have been adding to gasoline for years to reduce tailpipe emissions, leaches into the water supply. If you know how a chemical moves through soil and groundwater, you can estimate the concentrations of MTBE that will end up in wells and reservoirs. This potential carcinogen is now being phased out in many locations. But ever more obscure chemical elements are showing up in industrial processes and the equipment on which we depend for contemporary life. -We invent and design but don't think about the environmental consequences,” says Gschwend. -The problem is absolutely everywhere.” So Gschwend is on an -evangelical mission” to change the approach engineers and scientists take when developing new products and processes. Society continues to require technology that works better, faster and more cost-effectively, but it can't continue to pump out compounds that throw the ecosystem and human health out of whack. The key, says Gschwend, is to introduce the issue of environmental impact early on in the production cycle. In addition, engineers should look more to nature for lessons in how to put materials together safely and sustainably. And perhaps MIT should help create a new engineering specialty in environmentally compatible design.

About the Speaker(s): Philip Gschwend's research seeks to learn what happens to organic chemicals in natural and engineered environments. Gschwend received his B.S. from the California Institute of Technology and his Ph.D. from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. He joined the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering in 1981. He is one of the authors of Environmental Organic Chemistry, Wiley-Interscience (1993).

Host(s): Alumni Association, Alumni Association

Comments (0)

It looks like no one has posted a comment yet. You can be the first!

You need to log in, in order to post comments. If you don’t have an account yet, sign up now!

MIT World — special events and lectures

MIT World — special events and lectures

Category: Events | Updated over 2 years ago

Created
December 13, 2011 12:50
Category
Tags
License
All Rights Reserved (What is this?)
Additional Files


Viewed
1580 times

More from MIT World — special events and lectures

Rebuilding New Orleans: An Opportunity to Re-Energize the Planning Profession?

Rebuilding New Orleans: An Opportun...

Added over 2 years ago | 01:10:00 | 2182 views

Why History Matters: International Law and the Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict

Why History Matters: International ...

Added over 2 years ago | 01:36:00 | 8622 views

Paradigm Shifts: From Biology to Technology to Medical Applications

Paradigm Shifts: From Biology to Te...

Added over 2 years ago | 01:25:00 | 4006 views

Opportunities in Building More Sustainable Supply Chains

Opportunities in Building More Sust...

Added over 2 years ago | 01:15:00 | 2638 views

The U.S. Economy: The Last 50 Years and the Next 50 Years

The U.S. Economy: The Last 50 Years...

Added over 2 years ago | 01:32:00 | 1645 views

New Frontiers with Ultracold Gases

New Frontiers with Ultracold Gases

Added over 2 years ago | 01:11:00 | 1630 views