Konialian studies nexus of engineering and climate change policy
Michael Konialian’s independent work at the intersection of engineering and policy is excellent preparation for his post-Princeton plan -- a two-year placement in the State Department.
“Many of the greatest problems facing our society are fundamentally engineering problems; one naturally thinks of climate change, energy independence, and nuclear nonproliferation amongst others,” said Konialian, a senior in mechanical and aerospace engineering.
“However, many of the solutions for these problems require innovative policy solutions and international cooperation,” he continued. “By studying both engineering and policy, I hope to use my understanding of the technical factors of these challenges to craft and communicate effective policies that will get at the heart of the core challenges of these issues.”
A native of Los Angeles, Calif., Konialian was selected last year to participate in Princeton’s Scholars in the Nation’s Service Initiative. Undergraduates chosen for the program complete a federal government internship the summer before their senior year and a two-year federal government fellowship after graduation.
These scholars then return to Princeton to complete the two-year master in public affairs program in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Konialian hopes to work in the Office of Climate Change at the State Department and contribute to negotiations for a post-Kyoto climate treaty in Copenhagen in December.
In this vein, he is currently working on two independent research projects on carbon capture and storage methods. These techniques have been proposed as a means to mitigate the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by capturing the carbon dioxide produced when fossil fuels are burned and sequestering it in underground formations or the deep ocean. Konialian focuses on oxy-fuel technology, which calls for burning fossil fuels in pure oxygen, making it easier to separate the carbon dioxide from the other substances produced during combustion.
Supported by a fellowship from the Eugene Wong ’55 Fund for Engineering and Policy, Konialian conducts research on a pilot oxy-fuel power plant operated by Swedish power company Vattenfall in Schwarze Pumpe, Germany. He uses the Schwarze Pumpe plant as a case study to explore how carbon capture and storage technologies can be commercialized as well as how various proposed capture and storage techniques can be used together.
In his senior thesis work, Konialian studies the technical and political factors associated with the development of oxy-fuel technology, advised by mechanical and aerospace engineering professor Robert Socolow, co-director of the Princeton Carbon Mitigation Initiative.
During his time at Princeton, Konialian learned to balance his rigorous academic career with his hobbies, whether participating in a North Indian dance troupe, playing ultimate Frisbee or catching a movie with friends.
“I’ve gotten better at making time for these sorts of things, which is important,” he said.
This year, he is sharing his insights with freshman engineers through the Engineering Interactor Program. Through this program, interactors organize activities, including study breaks, and introduce their advisees to opportunities in independent research projects and student organizations.