This year’s climate talks in Copenhagen are exciting for a number of reasons; chief among them is the fact that, after years of turning a blind eye, the United States is now actively participating! Another point of interest is MIT’s engagement in the talks.

Alumni engagement:

Tom Fiddaman PhD ’97, Travis Franck SM ’05, PhD ’09, Andrew Jones SM ’97 and Beth Sawin PhD ’96 are providing a “climate scoreboard” that uses the C-ROADS  simulation to calculate the long-term climate impacts of proposals under consideration. Watch the video below for background and explanation of its features.

Student engagement:

Aaron Thom and Katherine Potter, leaders of student group Sustainability@MIT, have been live-blogging from the conference daily. Read some of their posts:

60-100,000 March Through Copenhagen in Support of Action Against Climate Change

Access Denied: UN begins restricting entrance to COP15, Delays among negotiations

Bright Green Conference: Steven Chu and Rajendra Pachauri

Closing the Climategate

Faculty engagement:

Ian Waitz, the Jerome C. Hunsaker Professor and head of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and James Hileman, a principal research engineer in the department, spoke about the “Greening of U.S. Aviation” on December 8th. View the presentation notes (PDF).

Carlo Ratti, associate professor of the practice and head of the MIT SENSEable City lab in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, presented the “Copenhagen Wheel,” a project that aims to transform bicycle use in Denmark’s largest city by promoting urban sustainability and building new connections between the city’s cyclists. View a short video about the project:

I live in a house with six other people (half of whom graduated from MIT), and together we care for three ducks, two chickens, and several tanks of fish. I can say with total confidence that our house produces a lot of trash.

Now some of that trash—food scraps, coffee grounds, the straw used to line the duck run, etc—gets composted in our backyard, and then we use the compost as garden fertilizer, or we give it away.

But the rest of our trash disappears along with the recycling on Friday mornings. And I have no idea where it goes.

Researchers at MIT’s SENSEable City lab are hoping to change that. A new project called Trash Track is using location-aware smart tags to document where 3,000 pieces of garbage go once they have been disposed of, with the dual intention of making the refuse removal chain more transparent and highlighting potential inefficiencies in city sanitation systems.

Alum and associate director of the lab Assaf Biderman ′05 recently told Popular Science that, “The study of what we could call the ‘removal chain’ is becoming as important as that of the supply chain.'”

Below, check out a screenshot of a visualization depicting the route of a Starbucks coffee cup in Seattle:


The Trash Talk project will be exhibited at the Architectural League in New York City and in Seattle starting September 2009. Stay tuned for details.

Right around the time that Obama hit his 100th day in office, MIT’s senseable city lab released a series of data visualizations depicting, among other things, fluctuations in call activity recorded during Obama’s inaugural address in January. Take a look at the video below to see how call activity changed—who was calling whom, how locations shifted over time—and, perhaps of equal import, how unusually beautiful reams of otherwise dull cell phone data can become.

If you’re hooked on the visualizations and want to see more, visit the senseable city lab Obama/One People Web site or check out the site (specifically the mapping section) from MOMA’s “Design and the Elastic Mind” exhibit.