Visionaries in Technology

Thayer Distinguished Speaker Series

Thayer School's Visionaries in Technology series honors engineers and scientists whose insights have benefited humanity through revolutionary engineering solutions, paradigm shifting scientific advances, novel fields of inquiry, or policy shaping debate.

The 2015 event took place on October 30th:

Symbiotic Systems for The Future of Energy, Water, and Food

Alexander H. Slocum, Pappalardo Professor of Mechanical Engineering, MIT

There are many sources of clean energy to power the planet far into the future, if we just get there. If predictions for global warming are even modestly true, its not the sky is falling that we will have to worry about, it will be that the oceans are rising! A two meter sea level rise in the next 50 years and the resulting economic catastrophe will present unprecedented challenges for civilization. On the other hand, the threat of ocean’s rising could catalyze a new renascence in terms of our economic structure and strategic defense strategies. Symbiotic relationships between energy systems and food production could make overall costs low and thus hasten development of low carbon footprint technologies. The oceans in particular represent a vast resource (and challenge) for humanity: Offshore wind turbines can harvest wind energy, and their base structures can also serve as platforms for wave energy systems and even uranium-from seawater harvesting systems. Renewable energy systems (solar PV and wind turbines) combined with pumped hydropower storage systems collocated with reverse osmosis plants located near the ocean could provide all the power and fresh water for places like LA, Lima, Abu Dhabi, and Tehran, for example.

About the Speaker

Alexander H. Slocum

Alexander Slocum is the Pappalardo Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, a MacVicar Faculty Teaching Fellow, and a Fellow of the ASME. He has 100+ patents and has helped develop 12 products that have received R&D 100 awards for "one of the one hundred best new technical products of the year." He has helped start several successful companies and has a passion for working with industry to solve real problems and identify fundamental research topics. Alex was the Massachusetts Professor of the Year in 2000 and is the recipient of the Society of Manufacturing Engineer’s Frederick W. Taylor Research Medal, and the ASME Leonardo daVinci, Machine Design, and Thar Energy Awards. His current interests focus on the development of precision machines from medical devices and instruments to energy harvesting and storage machines. Recently he served on the DoE Science Team working on the Gulf Oil Spill, and has served in the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Executive Office of the President as the Assistant Director for Advanced Manufacturing. Since high school days, Alex has had a passion for furniture making and carpentry. Alex also loves sports from SCUBA to snowboarding to marathons and iron-distance triathlons.