MIT Technology and Policy Program
TPP alumnus Karan Bhuwalka '21

Exactly what I was looking for

TPP alumnus Karan Bhuwalka is a PhD student in Mechanical Engineering at MIT, where he models how policies can increase plastics recycling. His thesis on the use of materials in electric vehicles was awarded best TPP thesis for 2020, and a paper on the subject co-authored by Karan was recently published in Environmental Science & Technology.

What was the focus of your TPP thesis research? What sort of knowledge and disciplines did it bring together? How can it make an impact?

My thesis quantified the use of materials in electric vehicles (EVs) compared to conventional vehicles. We found that EVs are much more susceptible to cost increases due to materials price volatility and also that the materials used in EVs are more likely to come from areas of slavery and conflict. The work brought together data science, manufacturing, and an understanding of social issues. The implication is not to put a pause on EV production but rather to make a business case for automobile manufactures to invest in monitoring these supply chain issues like labor and conflict, as it can reduce their materials cost volatility as well. I hope governments will increase support for guaranteeing the supply of essential minerals through investment in sustainable mining and increased recycling.

Why did you choose to come to TPP?

When I was an undergraduate in materials science at the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay, the divide between engineering and social sciences felt very wide. I could never really identify with either fully – I liked science and engineering but was also interested in policy issues that I would read and debate about, such as labor laws and environmental regulation. While I was torn deciding which direction to pursue next, I came across this program that seemed to allow you to do both. I didn’t even understand what it meant to be interdisciplinary and it sounded too good to be true. Only after joining did I realize that it was exactly what I was looking for.

What are you doing next? How did TPP help shape your future plans?

I am pursuing a PhD in Mechanical Engineering at MIT, where I’m modeling how policies can increase plastics recycling (with the same group I worked in during my masters). TPP was my first introduction to doing research and I realized I really enjoyed it – enough to want to do a PhD! I never wrote a line of code before joining TPP, and now I really like building models from data. TPP opened my horizons to many interesting problems that I want to work on and also many new things I want to learn.

What was your favorite thing about being a part of the TPP, MIT, or Boston/Cambridge communities?

TPP made me find a community of people I really enjoyed being around and learned a lot from. I decided that I want to surround myself with such people in my life, in the near and distant future. I liked that we were this group of people who were nerdy but also loved to talk and learn about all these issues in the world and experience different cultures. I loved going for trivia nights, having late night cooking, PSET and “chill” sessions, coming up with weird lingo and taking a break together in the middle of the day to watch football (soccer)!


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