Desiree PlataDesirée Plata

Gilbert W. Winslow Career Development Professor in Civil Engineering
Associate Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering
MIT School of Engineering

Desirée Plata is the Gilbert W. Winslow Career Development Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at MIT.

Desirée’s research focuses on environmental chemistry, environmentally and economically sustainable design, and industrially-important processes and materials, with a particular focus on energy technologies and advanced materials synthesis. Her work in the area of environmental chemistry has applications in minimizing the environmental impact of emerging industries. She has made fundamental contributions to the field of heterogeneous catalysis with respect to the bond-building mechanisms in carbon nanotube synthesis, which can be leveraged to lessen environmental impacts of the process, as well as novel understanding of the environmental fate of carbon-based materials (e.g., from plastics to horizontal drilling fluids).

“I became interested in this field when I was a little kid living in coastal Maine. Coming to MIT allowed me to access innovators and think differently about the role of the environmental scientist in the context of industrially-important problems and society’s grand challenges,” Desirée said. “What a great time to be in this field!”

Her work continues to illuminate novel chemistries that occur during environmental transformation processes of organic molecules. Desirée is an NSF CAREER awardee, a two-time National Academy of Engineers Frontiers of Engineering Fellow, and a two-time National Academy of Sciences Kavli Frontiers of Science Fellow. She was recently recognized for excellence by Caltech’s Resnick Sustainability Institute and with MIT’s Junior Bose Award.

Desirée is also a co-founder of a company called Nth Cycle that is working to address major challenges in material circularity. This entrepreneurial spirit runs in her family. “The most influential person in my life is my dad, who is an entrepreneur who taught me to have a handshake that means something, to focus on things where you can make a meaningful change, and to always think positive,” Desirée said.

A central tenant of Desirée’s work for over a decade has been that academic researchers in environmental science should be partnering with industry to solve important environmental challenges.

“It is thrilling to see this consortium come together not only in realization of that vision, but also because of the unique opportunities for synergistic, positive actions that we will strive for as a collective,” she said.