Photos of hands holding grain and hands under running water.Two major announcements this week from MIT underscore its commitment to addressing one of the most important challenges of our time: how to build a more sustainable human society.

First, a major new campuswide initiative will promote transformative, cross-disciplinary research relating to the environment. MIT President L. Rafael Reif says, “The intense interest in this subject from our students and faculty reflects a shared sense of urgency and obligation.” This initiative will formally launch in the fall, with founding director Susan Solomon, the Ellen Swallow Richards Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Climate Science.

This new initiative…will promote research that engages wide participation by members of the MIT community to address the most significant interdisciplinary problems in our environment, spanning the physical and social sciences; engineering; and urban planning and policy.

“The goal of the initiative will be very specific: for faculty members to self-organize into teams of people who are interested in defining genuinely new research directions; to come up with ideas across schools; and to propose research that might not easily be funded by current federal agencies, which tend to be defined by disciplinary areas,” Solomon says. Such interdisciplinary research is recognized as a key way to bring about significant advances in technology and understanding.

A major component of the initiative will be the newly-formed Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab (J-WAFS). J-WAFS was established through a major gift from MIT alumnus Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel. Headed by John Lienhard, the Jameel Professor of Water and Food, the lab is intended to help humankind adapt to a rapidly rising population, a changing climate, and increasing urbanization and development. The lab will work toward environmentally benign, scalable solutions for water and food supply across a range of regional, social, and economic contexts.

MIT has long been a leader in these fields, as reflected in OCW’s many courses on these topics.