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IDEAS Global Challenge rewards inventions with social impact

Posted: 23 Apr 2018 01:30 PM PDT

Ten student teams with inventions to improve people's lives worldwide — from portable ventilators for resource-strapped hospitals, to wheelchair cushions that prevent sores, to multipurpose sleeping bags for refugees — on Saturday split awards totaling $92,500 at the annual MIT IDEAS Global Challenge showcase and awards ceremony.

Grand prize winner of $15,000 went to Umbulizer, a team developing a low-cost, portable ventilator — made by modifying and simplifying the machinery — for patients in rural areas where medical resources are scarce and unreliable.

"High-end ventilators are not affordable for hospitals in Pakistan. We've basically simplified the model" to make them less expensive, team member Moiz Imam, a senior in mechanical engineering, told MIT News.

An additional nine winners, chosen by a team of judges that include seasoned entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, received four $10,000 awards and five $7,500 awards.

Traditional ventilators come with about 20 different functions, which make them complex and expensive. Second-hand ventilators, which low-resource hospitals tend to buy, can run up to $15,000 to $20,000, the Umbulizer team said. The alternative is a $40 hand-operated ventilator, called an "artificial manual breathing unit," or AMBU bag, which requires constant manual pumping.

"People end up getting those AMBU bags, which are dangerous for lungs because you cannot regulate the volume or the pressure," team member Wasay Anwer, a junior in electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, told MIT News. "That's where our device comes in."

The Umbulizer team — including Sanchay Gupta, a Harvard Medical School student, and Hamza Khan, a Harvard Business School student — is developing an automated ventilator that keeps only four critical functions, reducing the price to around $2,000. "We talked to doctors in Pakistan and they said 90 percent of the patients only need four of the core functions of traditional second-hand ventilators. Our device provides those core functions at about 10 percent of the price," Gupta said.

The team has a working prototype and aims to pilot the device at a major Pakistan hospital in the summer. "The [IDEAS] prize money will go a long way to helping us developing the final version of that prototype," Imam said. "It will also help us find local manufacturers, because our end goal is to mass manufacture this device."

Throughout Saturday afternoon, 40 teams showcased innovations in the Samberg Conference Center in nine categories: water and sanitation, education and training, agriculture and food, health and medical, emergency and disaster relief, infrastructure, energy and environment, mobile devices and communication, and finance and entrepreneurship.

A team of two MIT mechanical engineers, Loop, took home a $7,500 prize for tackling an issue that is little known — even among the competition's judges — and affects people who use wheelchairs in developing countries: preventable pressure sores.

According to the World Health Organization, life expectancy for people with spinal cord injuries in many developing countries is as low as one year. A leading cause of death is, surprisingly, infected sores caused by sitting in wheelchair seats that cause the patient's weight to be unevenly distributed. Sores are easily prevented with high-quality air cushions that prevent pressure concentrations. But these can cost upward of $400, which is out of reach for many people in developing countries. Lower-cost cushion options are somewhat ineffective, according to Loop.

Loop is developing a cushion made of readily available and inexpensive bicycle inner tubes that are looped through a grid of holes in a plastic base. In testing, the team said its cushion prevents pressure concentrations as well as expensive, high-quality cushions do. The team hopes that when it reaches manufacturing scale it can sell its cushions for as low as $5 each.

"The goal is that high-quality seat cushion will be available to anybody regardless of price," team member Sarah Tress, an MIT junior in mechanical engineering, told MIT News. The other team member is Shannon McCoy, also an MIT junior in mechanical engineering. With the prize money, Loop will bring its prototype to Bali this summer to test the design and gain feedback for further refining.

The eight other winners were:

  • TravelerPack ($10,000), developing a water-resistant sleeping bag for refugees that withstands extremely cold temperatures, comes equipped with mosquito nets, and can be zipped together with other bags to fit entire families;
  • OZÉ ($10,000), developing a mobile app that empowers small business owners in Africa to make data-driven decisions;
  • DIL ($10,000), developing a mobile app that generates dictionaries and offers a convenient way to record and store proverbs, songs, and stories;
  • STEMgem ($10,000), developing tech toolkits that allow learners, especially young girls, to build internet of things and wearable technologies for sports and social interactions;
  • Aeolian ($7,500), developing an air-quality monitoring network for indoor spaces;
  • Libremente ($7,500), developing a text message-based program to improve mental health of disaster victims;
  • PreserveAir ($7,500), developing climate field storage and transport services for farmers to minimize dehydration losses; and
  • Capiche ($7,500), developing an education discussion platform that uses artificial intelligence to evaluate student learning.

This year, more than 500 students participating in IDEAS attended dinners and other events, many sponsored the Bose Corporation, where they learned from past winners and entrepreneurial mentors, pitched ideas, and recruited team members. IDEAS also awarded 25 teams funding throughout the year to help them build prototypes.

Over its 17 years, IDEAS, organized annually by the Priscilla King Gray (PKG) Public Service Center, has awarded more than $970,000 to 150 teams that now impact more than 2.5 million people in 44 countries. Winners have gone on to secure more than $42 million in additional funding.

Some of last year's winners have already field-tested a motorcycle ambulance in rural Tanzania, initiated trials of an opioid addiction recovery app at the Boston Medical Center, began testing a prosthetic knee that allows patients to sit cross-legged, and completed a design of a solar-powered education hub soon to be installed in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Past IDEAS winners were on hand at the ceremony to present awards to and provide brief remarks about their startups' progress and the long-lasting impact of IDEAS. One, keynote speaker Sean Grundy, co-founder of Bevi, won a $7,500 prize at the 2013 IDEAS competition for developing smart flavored-beverage refill machines that aim to help eliminate plastic bottles. With machines now in more than 2,000 offices nationwide, the startup saves more than 2 million plastic bottles per month, Grundy said.

Grundy attributed some of Bevi's success to participating in IDEAS, which provided his team early motivation and support. "You guys are dealing with the most inspirational and most useful people to get involved with on campus," he told the teams in the audience. "Especially during the early stages, someone to help you stay motivated is so important."

Using data science to improve public policy

Posted: 23 Apr 2018 11:15 AM PDT

100 researchers and students from MIT and six other universities gathered on campus this April for the first weekend-long MIT Policy Hackathon. This interdisciplinary event teamed data science, engineering, and policy students to explore solutions to real societal challenges submitted by sponsor organizations.

The hackathon, subtitled "Data to Decisions," was organized and run by students from MIT's Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS). Participants used datasets provided by nonprofit, education, and government institutions to pitch solutions to complex challenges in cybersecurity, health, energy and climate, transportation, and the future of work. A panel of judges evaluated the pitches and read final policy proposals.

"It's a different type of hackathon in that it is focused on public policy outcomes," says Amy Umaretiya, a student organizer with IDSS's Master's program in Technology and Policy (TPP). "We have these concrete challenges put forth by organizations that have data analytics needs for social good that aren't being met."

"We wanted to create a hackathon where interdisciplinary teams tackle complex societal problems," explains Marco Miotti, a doctoral student at IDSS. "The challenges were structured so you can't solve them without both data and policy expertise."

Data and diaper need

The winning team, called NappyTime, worked on the health challenge with sponsors from Yale's Mental health Outreach for MotherS (MOMS) Partnership and the National Diaper Bank Network (NDBN). The problem: lack of a sufficient supply of diapers to keep babies and toddlers clean, dry, and healthy. Diaper need affects one in three low- and middle-income families in the U.S., and can have a significant impact on the physical, mental, and economic well-being of both children and parents.

"The crux of this proposal was the need for more data on diaper need, and quantifying the benefits of addressing it," says Lawrence Baker, a TPP student on the winning team. "We wanted to propose policies that would be inexpensive for Connecticut, easy to implement, and would allow the collection of more data."

Lori Wallace, a postdoctoral associate with MOMS, mentored the challenge. She was joined by Lynn Comer of NDBN, who was also a judge. Both remarked on the applicability and ingenuity of the winning proposal, which is under a nondisclosure agreement. "By focusing on cost-effective means to embed the provision of diapers into our childcare system, the hackathon participants presented actionable solutions to this real life issue," they said.

Hackathon judge Frank Field, a senior research engineer with IDSS who is associate director of TPP, was also impressed with the team's proposal and presentation, both during their pitch and the follow-up Q&A session. Says Field: "Their proposal went right at the problem. It was pitched in the form of a staged implementation, which cleverly skirts some of the classic impediments to policy innovations by targeting some populations immediately while centering on issues whose resolution could inform and refine a wider deployment."

Real data, real problems

Two local challenges were sponsored by organizations within the Massachusetts government. The first, in transportation, looked for solutions to congestion on local highways and train lines. Transportation proposals considered the impact of autonomous vehicles and suggested ideas ranging from shielded bike paths to establishing a car-free area within Kendall Square.

Meanwhile, the energy and climate challenge asked teams to help Boston meet its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. Climate hackers worked with green building data that had previously been locked up in PDF format. Hackathon organizers partnered with WattzOn, a software company working in utility data, to extract the information into a usable dataset.

"It was great that the problem was drawn from the real world, that we had real data, and that our mentors had working knowledge of relevant policies. It really showed us how to work through a policy problem with various administrative constraints, interfering regulations, and incomplete data," says energy and climate hacker Zhen Dai, a PhD student researching the science and policy of solar geoengineering at Harvard University.

The cybersecurity challenge, sponsored by Boston University Law School's Technology and Cyberlaw Clinic, called upon students to examine the multitude of legislative and policy approaches that U.S. states use to respond to cybersecurity breaches such as those experienced by Equifax and Yahoo. Teams were asked to consolidate and compare these approaches across states, and then propose ways to identify and implement some of the more effective policies.

"It's important to have people who can think at the intersection of computer science and policy," says Nathaniel Fruchter, a hackathon organizer and TPP student. "The breach dataset provided to the hackers has been largely unexplored by academia or industry, so we were really excited to see what new perspective these teams could bring."

The future of work challenge came from the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy and Wonolo, an online labor market focused on local blue collar jobs. Hackers used Wonolo's job data to explore the design of policies for ensuring a social safety net for workers in the gig economy.

"It is very satisfying to use the skills we normally only apply to narrowly focused, high-level scientific problems in the lab instead on a broad range of social issues that impact the daily life of many community members," says hacker Ryan Badman, a Cornell University PhD student in physics.

To student organizer Christoph Tries, the hackathon demonstrated the applicability of data science tools to addressing many complex societal challenges — making IDSS an ideal host for the event. "We are lucky to have IDSS at MIT. Other students are more siloed at their universities and don't have that interdisciplinary focus. There are a lot of folks studying data science who are looking for ways to apply their knowledge to public policy and connect with people who actively need their help."

Playwrights Lab gives young writers a professional experience

Posted: 23 Apr 2018 10:00 AM PDT

On a recent Friday evening, six people gathered around a table in a mostly-empty studio in MIT's new theater arts building on the western edge of campus. In a few hours time, the group — local actors Marge Buckley and Sarah Bedard, the Brooklyn-based director Adam Greenfield, and MIT undergrads Kollin Wasserlein and Robert Thorpe — would stage a live reading of Wasserlein's new play, "Sand." They had never been in a room together before then.

The group made quick work of introductions and launched enthusiastically into the script. "Sand" is a short play about two working-class teenagers trying to escape the oppressions and frustrations of small-town life. It is based in part on Wasserlein's childhood in Utah. Although it has a timeless, otherworldly feel, the playwright's lyrical language propels his protagonists through a set of darkly absurd obstacles with alacrity and wit. The rehearsal in April was the first time Wasserlein, a junior, had ever heard professional actors read his work out loud.

And that, in a nutshell, was the whole point. "Sand" was one of eight student plays performed by working actors in readings directed by professional directors throughout the weekend of April 5-7 in MIT's first  Music and Theater Arts (MTA) Playwrights Lab. The lab's playwrights were all students in MIT's Playwrights' Workshop, taught by Senior Lecturer Ken Urban, who joined the MIT faculty last fall.

The three-day festival was Urban's idea. "I think hearing a professional actor read your words teaches you so much about language," Urban said in an interview that night. "What you learn is how much you can do with little, how certain choices about how a line is delivered has ramifications on the story you're telling."

With the MTA Playwrights' Lab, Urban hoped to give his students something invaluable: a chance to workshop their scripts with seasoned actors and directors in a professional setting. While it is common in theater arts programs for student plays to be staged by student companies, with the occasional director brought in from outside, Urban's model is unique. "It becomes the writer's educational experience and not the group's educational experience in this setting," said Greenfield, who serves as the associate artistic director of Playwrights Horizons theater in New York City. "Which I think is very valuable for writers."

The eight student plays had been workshopped in class during the first half of the semester, and after the readings, the writers had a chance to hone a final draft for submission at the end of the term. Their first drafts were written in response to a collection of prompts provided by Urban, including an article about Russian interference in the election and an essay by the musician David Byrne about the isolating impact of technology on modern life. The plays run the gamut, from a Game of Thrones-like fantasy piece to a present-day sociopolitical dama to a sci-fi caper. But Urban saw some common threads. "There ended up being a lot of death in these plays, and I don't think that's an accident. I think plays are always kind of records of our time, and I think young people going out into the world, they want to change the world because they think it's in pretty bad shape," he said. "There's a real concern about technology and the future and what world my generation is handing off to young people."

Rachel Yang, a senior at MIT, was one of those students whose plays tackled looming questions about technology. Her play, "Tactless," takes place in something like a bionic future, in which most of humanity has been implanted with brain-computer interfaces. Yang's protagonist, however, never received implants, and her position as an outsider in her own world brings up knotty questions of difference and belonging, privilege and oppression — issues that resonate with the current moment.

For Yang, the process of workshopping her piece was invaluable. "You learn a lot from hearing what other writings are working on: 'Oh, they're using that sort of device, cool, I should use that in mine,'" she said. "Playwriting, at the end of the day, it's one author, but it can be a really cool collaborative work."

Yang's group finished its rehearsal, breaking for dinner before the reading. Though her play had yet to be read publicly, Yang was already thrilled with the weekend's results. "This is going to be one of my best memories at MIT."

Vinod Vaikuntanathan wins Edgerton Faculty Award

Posted: 23 Apr 2018 09:00 AM PDT

Vinod Vaikuntanathan, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), has been recognized for excellence with the 2017-2018 Harold E. Edgerton Faculty Achievement Award.

The honor lauds Vaikuntanathan, who also a principal investigator in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), for "his innovative and broadly-applicable work in cybersecurity, and for his wonderfully conversational and comprehensible lectures and inspiring discussions," the award selection committee stated in its decision. The award was announced at a recent MIT faculty meeting.

The annual award was established in 1982 as a tribute to Institute Professor Emeritus Harold E. Edgerton, for his active support of junior faculty members. Each year, a committee presents the award to one or more non-tenured faculty members to recognize exceptional contributions in research, teaching, and service. 

Vaikuntanathan's colleagues and students have commended him for his clear, approachable, and engaging style as a teacher and mentor, as well as for his contributions to the EECS cryptography community and curriculum. The School of Engineering also recognized his contributions in these areas with the Ruth and Joel Spira Award for Distinguished Teaching in 2016.

"Vinod is widely considered the best cryptographer of his generation," one senior faculty colleague wrote in a nomination. "His teaching record is stunning; it is very rare for a junior faculty member to be considered one of the best lecturers in our department. His citizenship is exemplary and he has taken on a leadership role in the EECS and CSAIL communities."

Vaikuntanathan studies encryption systems that protect the privacy of data, digital signatures that protect its integrity, and cryptographic protocols that allow organizations that don't trust each other to collaborate and perform meaningful tasks while maintaining individual privacy. One example is fully homomorphic encryption (FHE), which enables encrypted computation without having to trust a cloud provider with sensitive data. The data are encrypted using a key that is known only to the user, but uses an FHE algorithm to perform computations on the encrypted data. Even if attackers managed to subvert the cloud, they get nothing of value as long as users keep their keys secret.

The selection committee noted that the state of the art in FHE is now based on methods that Vaikuntanathan invented, which are many orders of magnitude more efficient than previous techniques. His work has made major steps towards widespread adoption of FHE, while at the same time producing beautiful theoretical results.

Vaikuntanathan is globally sought out for lectures, tutorials, and participation in international conferences and workshops on cryptography and complexity theory. As of last year, he had given 60 invited presentations in 17 countries across four continents. He has also co-authored more 80 publications in proceedings of refereed conferences and journals. He holds five patents.

His additional career honors include an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship and a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, among others.

Vaikuntanathan received a bachelor of technology degree from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, and MS and PhD degrees in computer science from MIT. He was the Josef Raviv Postdoctoral Fellow at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center and a researcher at Microsoft Research Redmond. He served as assistant professor at the University of Toronto for two years before returning to MIT as an assistant professor of EECS in 2013, attaining the rank of associate professor in July 2015. He is also a co-founder and the chief cryptographer at Duality Technologies.

Among other EECS activities, Vaikuntanathan co-directs Masterworks, the annual EECS celebration of thesis research leading to the MS and MEng degrees. This year's event, which is free and open to the public, will be held on April 26 from 5-6:30 p.m. on the Charles M. Vest Student Street on the first floor of the Stata Center.

Geophysics field trip helps secure safe drinking water for local citizens

Posted: 23 Apr 2018 08:55 AM PDT

Every other January, when Cambridge is freezing and spring classes have not yet begun, a delegation of MIT students heads off to a beautiful island in the Caribbean. But this is no vacation, and the biennial trip led by Professor Dale Morgan of the Deptartment of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) has a serious mission: to teach cutting-edge geophysics techniques while finding drinking water for those in need.

This year, seven EAPS graduate students, one EAPS postdoc, and one graduate student in aeronautics and astronautics accompanied Morgan to St. Lucia. The team worked with the island nation's Ministry of Agriculture in the area around the Roseau River, whose residents rely on a large dam nearby for fresh water supply. In times of heavy rainfall, dam water becomes silty and Roseau valley residents lack drinking water. Therefore, this year's trip goal was to identify likely sources of groundwater in the area. Findings from previous trips to the drought-prone island resulted in the construction of at least one water treatment plant at a site recommended by the MIT group. This year the group performed a gravity survey, which can help locate underground aquifers, and a self-potential survey, which can detect flowing water.

In the geosciences, field work is just as important as lab and classroom work, according to Aarti Dwivedi, a second-year EAPS PhD student who took part in this year's trip and helped to coordinate the self-potential portion of the project. She explains that "Earth science is often applied, and it's important to be aware of difficulties that arise in the field and how they effect your data." It's also important for students to get experience in a variety of techniques, she says, because "you never know what your next project might be."

The trip takes place during MIT's Independent Activity Period and is followed by a for-credit spring term class, 12.511 (Field Geophysics), in which the students learn the techniques required to extract useful information from the data. For example, data collection for the gravity survey involved measuring the gravity field at a variety of locations, and the students must compare data from multiple sites to separate the information that is common to all of them — the Earth's gravity and that of large-scale terrain — from information that is specific to a given site. Dwivedi says they identified one to two likely groundwater sites, and Morgan will determine what recommendations to make to the St Lucia government.

The students stayed in a hotel about a mile from the beach, enjoying the island's breathtaking scenery, including its famous pitons (volcanic spires), and sampling the African-influenced cuisine of the former British colony. Dwivedi says the tropical weather, similar to her native West Bengal, was a nice break from the Boston winter. But the most valuable part of the trip, she says, was being reminded that "science does not exist in a vacuum — it's most useful when it's cognizant of the problems in society. It's very satisfying to help society in a tangible way."

Study: Health benefits will offset cost of China’s climate policy

Posted: 23 Apr 2018 08:00 AM PDT

A new MIT study reports that, if China follows through with its international pledge to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, every one of its provinces will experience benefits to air quality and human health, with associated monetary savings that could offset the total cost of implementing the climate policy.

The study, published  today in Nature Climate Change, estimates that by meeting its greenhouse gas-reduction goals, China would simultaneously improve its air quality, which would avoid a significant number of deaths due to air pollution, across every province. Fewer deaths from air pollution means a benefit for society that can be quantified — a $339 billion savings in 2030 that the researchers estimate could be about four times what it would cost China to meet its climate goals.

In other words, the country's climate policy would more than pay for itself.

"The country could actually come out net positive, just based on the health co-benefits associated with air quality improvements, relative to the cost of a climate policy," says study co-author Noelle Eckley Selin, an associate professor in MIT's Institute for Data, Systems, and Society and the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS). "This is a motivating factor for countries to engage in global climate policy."

The study was led by Selin and Valerie Karplus, the Class of 1943 Career Development Assistant Professor of Global Economics and Management in MIT's Sloan School of Management. Both co-authors are faculty affiliates of the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change. Their co-authors include EAPS graduate student and lead author Mingwei Li, research scientist and co-first author Da Zhang, former postdoc Chiao-Ting Li, and former research assistant Kathleen Mulvaney, a graduate of MIT's Technology and Policy Program.

China's co-benefits

As part of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, China has pledged, along with virtually every other nation in the world, to reduce domestic carbon dioxide emissions, in an international effort to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, mainly due to the fact that much of the country's energy comes from coal-fired power plants, which are a major source of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. In addition to the climate impact, burning coal has led to significant air pollution and respiratory problems throughout China.

The MIT team, which includes a mix of economists and atmospheric scientists, looked at whether China's local air quality and public health might benefit from a national policy meant to improve the global climate.

"Air pollution is an immediate problem that is directly linked to many of the economic, energy-related activities that are also responsible for greenhouse gases," Karplus says. "We wanted to understand to what extent you could address air quality by targeting carbon dioxide through a representative climate policy, carbon pricing."

Many researchers have explored air quality as a potential climate policy "co-benefit," or beneficial outcome that is not directly targeted by climate policy. Karplus and Selin decided to take this a step further, to see how such a co-benefit would change with a policy's stringency. For instance, would air quality and human health improve under a policy that aims for higher reductions in carbon dioxide?  

Climate's reach

To answer this question, the team developed the Regional Emissions Air Quality Climate and Health (REACH) framework, a new modeling approach which combines an energy-economic model called the China Regional Energy Model (C-REM) with GEOS-Chem, an atmospheric chemistry model.

C-REM models China's economy and energy system at a provincial level, and the researchers used the model to simulate how a given climate policy changes a province's economic activity, energy use, and emissions of carbon dioxide and air pollutants. They ran simulations under four stringency scenarios: a no-policy, business-as-usual scenario; and three different policy scenarios that aimed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 3, 4, and 5 percent per year, respectively, through 2030. The 4 percent scenario is in line with China's pledge to reach peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 under the Paris Agreement.

The team then plugged the results of each scenario into the GEOS-Chem model, which simulates how the various emissions and pollutants produced by C-REM combine in the atmosphere to form particulate matter, the concentrations of which the researchers could estimate, province by province. They overlayed this map of particulate concentrations onto population maps to calculate the amount of pollution that communities are breathing in.

The team then consulted epidemiological literature to determine the number of avoided deaths that would occur, based on a province's exposure to a certain amount of pollution. Finally, the researchers calculated the economic value of these deaths using standard methods, and compared this with the total cost of implementing a given policy scenario.

"When you price carbon dioxide emissions, that incentivizes reducing or switching from using fossil fuels to cleaner, more expensive sources of energy, which has economic costs," Karplus says. "The total economic impact of these shifts can be quantified in our model."

A sustainable path

In sum, the team found that, under a no-policy scenario, China would suffer more than 2.3 million premature, pollution-related deaths by 2030. If the country adopts a climate policy to reduce emissions by 3, 4, or 5 percent per year, it would avoid 36,000, 94,000, and 160,000 premature deaths, respectively. In other words, the country's health co-benefits would increase as climate policies became more stringent.

After converting each scenario's health co-benefits into a monetary value, the team found that, compared to the total cost of implementing a 3, 4, or 5 percent per year policy, the savings gained as a result of health co-benefits equals $138.4 billion, $339.6 billion, and $534.8 billion, respectively. In the 4 percent scenario, which is most in line with China's actual climate pledge, a net co-benefit of $339.6 billion would be about four times the cost of implementing the policy itself.

Selin and Karplus say that, in China's case, improvements to air quality and human health would increase with more stringent climate policies, mainly because the country's energy is so heavily reliant on coal.

"In China, as you go to tighter and tighter climate policies, you continue to reduce pollutant emissions from coal, whereas the U.S. has already reduced a lot of its air pollution from coal through end-of-pipe technologies," Karplus says. "The incremental reductions you're taking are coming from a fuel with a very high carbon content, which is also the major source of air pollution."

The team stresses that a climate policy alone will not solve any country's air pollution problems. However, the study shows that significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will result in better air quality, compared to continuing along on a business-as-usual path.

"This is really a sustainability story," Selin says. "We have all these policy goals for a transition toward a more sustainable society. Mitigating air pollution, a leading cause of death, is one of them, and avoiding dangerous climate change is another. Thinking about how we might inform policy to address these objectives simultaneously, when they actually interact economically and atmospherically, is important to sort out from a science perspective."

This research was supported in part by the founding sponsors of the China Energy and Climate Project (2011-2016): Eni, S.p.A.,  the French Development Agency (AFD), ICF International, and Shell International Ltd. The CECP was a special initiative of the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change. This work was also supported by a grant from the Energy Information Administration and the Department of Energy.