Jonathan Bessette

Engineer, Humanitarian


Jon Bessette grew up in upstate New York, where he spent most of his time hiking the Adirondacks, sketching, and taking things apart. His passion for design led him to study mechanical engineering and studio art at State University of New York at Buffalo. While there, he constructed high payload Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for emergencies, learned traditional methods for water treatment in India, and studied ice-penetrating radar, a technique that enhances models for sea-level rise. Jon has led service trips abroad to teach English, taught an undergraduate course on service learning and critical thinking, and taught science in public schools. He is also an EMT.

His desire to explore research, to teach, and his interest in humanitarian engineering led him to MIT’s Global Engineering and Research Laboratory, where he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. His work focuses on water treatment and desalination for developing economies. His aim is to design and develop a deployable desalination system for humanitarian emergencies.

Design in these scenarios is nontrivial. Robust supply chains often do not exist, the need for reduced maintenance is crucial, and adaptability is necessary for mercurial crises. One of John’s recent projects focused on a novel control scheme for solar-powered electrodialysis desalination that eliminated the need for batteries, which are expensive and difficult to maintain in emergency scenarios in developing economies. While this is one important step, many more need to be taken for the realization of this deployable desalination system. Jon believes the creation of this water treatment system will be a significant benefit to highly constrained and historically underprivileged communities.