Research

In 2022, MIT MAD and the Hasso Plattner Institute (HPI) co-created “Designing for Sustainability.” This program, funded by the Hasso Plattner Foundation, is a multi-year partnership to drive joint scientific design research in multidisciplinary teams at both institutes. It focuses on sustainable design, innovation, and digital technologies, through the allocation of approximately ten grants, ranging from $50,000 to $200,000 per year.

Creative collaboration across spatial, temporal, and cultural boundaries is central to design. The program's vision is to develop ambitious, long-term explorations related to the innovation strategies of design, to generate sustainable impact for society across various domains of practice. Design research teams with divergent backgrounds in computer science, AI, machine learning, engineering, design, architecture, natural sciences, humanities, business and management... are encouraged to apply.

We are thrilled to collaborate with HPI to apply the power of design to sustainability and digital technologies. By working together, the research talents of HPI and MIT can accelerate design innovations for a low-carbon economy.
— John Ochsendorf, founding director of the MIT Morningside Academy for Design
Alongside artificial intelligence, design research is a key driver for innovation in sustainability.
— Ralf Herbrich, managing director and professor at HPI, Chair for Artificial Intelligence and Sustainability

HPI–MIT Designing for Sustainability Workshop

2024-25 TIMELINE

CALL FOR APPLICATIONS NOW OPEN / Deadline June 3, 2024, 23:59 (GMT).
HPI and MIT Principal Investigators are invited to formally apply as teams by this date. Read the “Funding & Guidelines” section below for more information.

DECISIONS / Summer 2024.
Funding decisions communicated.

There is a selection process to become a Principal Investigator at HPI or MIT.

WORKSHOP / March 21–22, 2024
A workshop will be held at MIT to allow meetings between HPI and MIT researchers. The workshop is meant to identify possible synergies and areas of interest between attendees, facilitating their ability to propose collaborative projects. Participating in the workshop does not guarantee funding.

If you wish to participate to present your current research, aligning with design and sustainability, you may fill this form. Presentations can take place in person at MIT, or remotely.

Funding and guidelines

If you are an HPI or MIT Principal Investigator interested in the “Designing for Sustainability” program, please download and read carefully the document(s) applying to your situation.

2024 Pre-proposal Questionnaire (One-page Summary for MIT Teams) / PDF
2024 Call for Applications / PDF
2024 Project Extension / PDF
2024 Budget Template for PIs / Spreadsheet

2023-24 FUNDED PROJECTS

  • Telesymbiosis

Aims to shift from an egocentric to an ecocentric work approach in design, considering the impact on human-nature relationships. It focuses on creating perspective-taking objects to help designers empathize with diverse needs in ecosystems, promoting sustainable design.

Principal Investigators: Prof. Dr. Bert Arnrich (HPI), Prof. Hiroshi Ishii (MIT, Media Lab)


  • Sidewalk Ballet

A scalable urban analytic approach for explaining social qualities of urban streets: Conducts a large-scale analysis of social interactions on urban streets, considering demographics, design features, and land use. It seeks to understand what makes some streets more vibrant and lively than others.

Principal Investigators: Prof. Dr. Gerard de Melo (HPI), Prof. Andres Sevtsuk (MIT, DUSP)


  • Predicting Functional Effects of Genetic Variants

Combines proteomics, transcriptomics, and clinical health records to predict the functional effects of mutations in voltage-gated ion channels using AI methods.

Principal Investigators: Prof. Dr. Bernhard Renard (HPI), Prof. Connor Coley (MIT, Chemical Engineering)


  • 2D Magnetic Material for Sustainable AI

Focuses on designing 2D magnetic material-based stochastic computing devices to create energy-efficient computers, contributing to environmentally sustainable Artificial Intelligence.

Principal Investigators: Prof. Dr. Ralf Herbrich (HPI), Prof. Deblina Sarkar (MIT, Media Lab)


  • Culture and the Supply Chain

Explores developing a shared value model of cybersecurity that can be transmitted and adopted by organizations throughout the supply chain, aiming to advance cybersecurity norms and practices adoption.

Principal Investigators: Prof. Dr. Christian Doerr (HPI), Dr. Keri Pearlson (MIT, Sloan School of Management)


  • Automatic Example Generation for Babylonian Programming

Bridges the gap between domain experts and programmers by introducing interactive examples meaningful to all stakeholders in the programming environment, making software development more participatory.

Principal Investigators: Prof. Dr. Robert Hirschfeld (HPI), Prof. Martin Rinard (MIT, CSAIL)


  • AI-Powered Startup Design for the Anthropocene

Explores AI-augmented decision-support systems to improve startup success forecasting, especially for enterprises addressing planetary challenges.

Principal Investigators: Dr. Frank Pawlitschek (HPI), Prof. Dr. Gerard de Melo (HPI), Prof. John Fernandez, (MIT, Architecture and ESI), Prof. Svafa Grönfeldt (MIT, SA+P, designX)


  • Personalizing Product Design with Minimal Material Waste

Investigates how to allow customers to personalize products while optimizing material use in novel digital manufacturing processes.

Principal Investigators: Prof. Patrick Baudisch (HPI), Prof. Stefanie Mueller (MIT, EECS)


  • Securing the Global Supply Chain

Despite growing standards, this project addresses the unintended cybersecurity risks introduced by some regulations in supply chains.

Principal Investigators: Prof. Christian Doerr (HPI), Dr. Keri Pearlson (MIT, Sloan School of Management)


  • Generative Models for Novel Antimicrobials

Explores the use of AI to design novel therapeutic agents and combat antibiotic resistance, a critical global health threat.

Principal Investigators: Prof. Bernhard Renard (HPI), Prof. Regina Barzilay (MIT, CSAIL)

Priorities

Funding decisions favor projects that set new research priorities for this emergent knowledge domain. The collaboration plan must demonstrate scientific depth and mechanisms to sustain the proposed innovation. Selection is also based on scientific merit, methodology, rigor, and evidence of open collaboration.

We seek proposals positioned to yield deep insights into building and designing sustainability and have visibility and potential to make a large societal impact. The protocols that design researchers might apply to achieve “insights” versus “data” will be appraised by the selection committee for viability.


We are particularly interested in the following areas:

  • Approaches for sustainable design innovation: How can new frameworks, tools, systems, and methods — in design, computer science, or other disciplines — augment, capture, and re-use successful practices for sustainable design innovation? How can stakeholders engage in sustainable design innovation?
  • Motivating stakeholders in sustainable design innovation: What are the impacts and roles of human stakeholders in the process of sustainable design innovation? How can stakeholders be motivated to implement more sustainable solutions in the future?
  • Assessing the impacts of sustainable design innovation: What is the impact of design on human, business, and technology performance as it relates to sustainability and reaching United Nations Sustainable Development goals? How do tools, systems, and methods create the right innovation at the right time? How do they fail? Why is now the right time to apply these tools, methods and/or (computational) systems? What societal impact can design and computer science have in navigating digital transformation or for reaching the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals?


We prioritize funding projects with research priorities reflecting the novelty of this emergent knowledge domain. The collaboration plan must demonstrate scientific depth and mechanisms to sustain the proposed innovation. Selection is also based on scientific merit, methodology, rigor, and evidence of open collaboration.

Program components

The program focuses on community building, research and knowledge exchange, and the creation of joint research outcomes.

  • Part of the program are two collaborative on-site workshops, one at HPI and one at MIT each year. External guests might give talks or feedback on the projects. Parts of these community events may be open to the academic public, creating vibrant exchanges between researchers and other stakeholders.
  • Approximately every six weeks, virtual research seminars and exchange workshops will take place. Based on a rigorous curriculum, PIs of the program and external guests will give talks about current ideas, theories, methods, and progress on joint papers. Moreover, community members will exchange information about their projects and share feedback. In addition to advancing knowledge, these virtual events ensure strong community building throughout the year.
  • The program includes a yearly research exchange, i.e., a stay on the partner campus for one week, so that every program member has the chance to better connect with colleagues from the other institution and initiate further projects. These visits are part of the funded budget (app. $1,500 per person).


The Principal Investigators (PI) must be tenured or tenure-track professor at MIT or the Hasso Plattner Institute. They must be authorized to supervise PhD candidates as the primary dissertation advisor. The National Science Foundation (USA) eligibility criteria define PI requirements. Principal investigators can propose promising and excellent junior scholars (PhD students and postdocs, the minimum requirement is a full Master’s degree or equivalent) who apply with a research proposal.

For questions, email [email protected].

To submit application packages, email [email protected].