MPP 2021 Annual Conference Wrap-Up
The 2021 MIT Portugal Program Annual Conference took place on September 20th at the Porto Cruise Terminal, in Matosinhos. The event hosted more than 85 on-site participants and received over 220 online views. This year’s conference marked a very significant milestone, the 15th anniversary of the MIT Portugal Program (MPP).
The welcome session was kicked off with brief introductions from Pedro Arezes and John Hansman, MPP Co-Directors, and a video message from the Minister for Science, Technology and Higher Education, Manuel Heitor.
During his speech, Pedro Arezes expressed his gratitude for all past MPP directors and highlighted some notable MPP achievements. “One of the MIT Portugal Program’s flagships has been the training of highly qualified human resources. During the past 15 years, and supported by FCT, we have launched 8 PhD and Masters Executive Programs, receiving more than 1100 students, with over 490 graduate students.” The Program is now supporting PhD candidates through the opening of calls for PhD grants that allow students to enroll in any Portuguese University doctoral program which aligns with their research goals.
Pedro Arezes also lauded the efforts that MPP has made to foster strong and productive scientific collaborations between academia and industry. “Within the 2018-2021 period 55 new research collaborative projects have been funded under the MIT Portugal. 7 flagship projects; 40 seed projects and 8 exploratories. We will continue to increase these numbers in the coming years.”
Minister Manuel Heitor also emphasized the role of the partnership in providing the necessary opportunities to train and build a community of world-class researchers and leaders. “We’ve partnered with MIT and Portuguese institutions of higher education to build the leaders of the future. In this program, we create opportunities to work with world leaders and institutions and to be on the leading edge of knowledge in many areas. After 15 years of the MIT Portugal Program, we now have world leaders from AI to Space.”
MPP Co-Director (at MIT), John Hansman, congratulated the Program for continuing to build on its momentum by creating opportunities despite the COVID-19 crises and expressed his satisfaction to be more involved with MPP. “I’m looking forward to working with all of the students and research teams across each of the MPP areas”.
This year’s conference theme was “Science and Technology as the Catalyst for Tomorrow’s Living Spaces.” Discussions focused on the importance of science and technology to research new solutions to fight climate change, protect ecosystems and create smarter and more sustainable living spaces. The event strategically took place in Matosinhos, where the first “Free Zone for Technology” was established last year.
The session Free Zones for Technology: The Next-Gen Of Platforms For Research Deployment featured some of the entities involved in the first Free-Tech Zone. The session included José Pedro Rodrigues – Councilor for Civil Protection, Mobility and Transport of the Municipality of Matosinhos; Catarina Selada – Head of Policy, from CEiiA; Manuel Ramalho Eanes – Executive Board Member, from NOS; and Rui Costa – co-CEO of Ubiwhere, who shared their experiences in the area. This panel was moderated by Joana Mendonça, President of the Portuguese Innovation Agency (ANI).
The session was wrapped up by André de Aragão Azevedo, Secretary of State for the Digital Transition in Portugal. He noted, “there is no innovation without experimentation. Tech-Free Zones are essential to increase the competitiveness of our economy and stimulate innovation.”
The day’s first keynote speaker was Professor Sarah Williams, Director of the Civic Data Design Lab at MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning. She discussed the use of data for public good and provided a guide for working with data in more ethical and responsible ways. She also touched on how data can be used responsibly to improve the conditions of urban life. Former MPP Director, Paulo Ferrão, moderated the session and helped engage the audience in a lively question and answer period.
In the afternoon, the second keynote speaker was Shannon Kobs, Associate Professor at Idaho State University. Professor Kobs discussed the role of volcanoes in planetary exploration and her questions and answer period was moderated by Miguel Belló, CEO of AirCentre.
The first-afternoon session was titled “International Cooperation: Cruising the Atlantic and Beyond” and focused on MPP’s contribution to the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem in Portugal, highlighting some of the startup companies that were launched out of the Program. Miguel Carvalho (Watt-IS), Joana Rafael (Sensei), Daniela Couto (Cell2B and BGV) and Simão Soares (Silicolife) shared their experiences as both founders and MPP alumni. Also featured from MIT’s Office of Strategic Alliances & Technology Transfer was Alliance Manager Michael Leskiw. Michael offered the perspective of a program working to build bridges through partnerships across the Atlantic and beyond. The session was moderated by Susana Costa, from the MIT Portugal Coordination Office.
For the final official session “Meet The Catalysts For Science And Technology” we wanted to connect the past of the Program to its future and we did so by welcoming a selection of MIT Portugal PhD students which were selected under the inaugural call. The students were asked to share their research topics as they applied to the four MIT Portugal research areas and to speak about their ideas around the construction of tomorrow’s living spaces. The five students highlighted were Ana Pais (FEUP), José Caetano (FCT NOVA), Nazanin Fereidani (University of Coimbra), Rita Pombo (University of Aveiro), and Willian Weber de Melo (UMinho). Ana Mena, from the MIT Portugal Coordination Office, moderated the session.
We closed out the day with remarks from Doug Hart, MPP Co-Director at MIT; Zita Martins, MPP Co-Director in Portugal and José Paulo Esperança, Vice-President of the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT).
Doug Hart expressed his admiration for all of the MPP achievements over the years and added that MPP is a very exciting program for both him and MIT. “I’m really happy to be here in Portugal and to see all the progress that’s being made. I’m learning from the MPP students and faculty and for that, I want to say thank you”.
José Paulo Esperança thanked the Program for his invitation to the conference and praised the contributions that MPP continues to achieve 15 years in. “This program is a big effort. It created companies, attracted talent, knowledge, and capital, which is important for the development of the country”.
For the closing session, Zita Martins started by highlighting that MPP has been “privileged to count, for the past 15 years, so many different collaborators at MIT, Portuguese Universities and industry”. She shared some of the MPP initiatives accomplished during this year (successful call for PhD grants; call for Seed and Exploratory projects; Ciencia 2021 and the Marine Robotics Summer School) and invited all the participants to stay tuned for future MPP initiatives.
Zita also thanked the MPP researchers, industry affiliates and alumni for the significant contributions they are making in our society and shared a word with the PhD candidates: “Being part of the MIT Portugal community is to be able to share ideas and create new projects. So, I would like to encourage our PhD candidates to make the most of this network, whether you are starting your PhD now or almost finishing it. Be curious, be attentive to the problems that society is facing, and be creative in researching solutions to tackle them”.
Additionally, on display at the conference were 58 Conference Posters from MPP PhD students; and MPP projects – Flagships, Seed, and Exploratory – created by both faculty researchers from MIT and Portuguese universities/companies. We also had a VIPS – Very Important PhD Students – meeting with the MPP PhD Candidates selected in the 2020 PhD call and an exclusive tour of CIIMAR (Centro Interdisciplinar de Investigação Marinha e Ambiental).
We would like to give a warm thank you to the Porto Cruise Terminal for hosting the event and to all of the speakers, presenters, moderators, and participants for a wonderful day.
Thank you for joining us at our 2021 Annual Conference. We hope you will join us for more MPP events in the future!
All sessions have been recorded and are available on our YouTube channel.