Going Green sits down with Dr. Austin Sendek, Founder & CEO of Aionics, Inc. to discuss his path to building an artificial intelligence platform to help with R&D in decarbonizing materials.
Austin, thank you for being here. What is your occupation?
I am the CEO and Founder at Aionics, Inc.
Tell us a little bit about you and your background:
I am the CEO/Founder at Aionics, a company commercializing A.I. software for accelerating the pace of R&D in decarbonization materials. I founded Aionics after graduating with my Ph.D. in Applied Physics from Stanford in 2018. At the time, I had offers to join several materials companies at the executive or VP-level, but ultimately decided I could have a broader impact on global carbon emissions if I built an R&D platform that could be licensed across multiple companies in multiple industries.
My first priority is to help limit climate change and help us avert global disaster. Secondarily — I’m originally from rural California (Yreka, population 7,000) and care deeply about improving economic opportunity for America’s lower- and middle-classes, and I believe several key climate tech innovations have the potential to usher in a new era of more equitable prosperity.
What is a fun fact about you?
In 2010, I began a movement to make the Northern California slang word “hella” as the international scientific prefix for one octillion — e.g. one octillion meters = 1 hellameter. Unfortunately it was voted down by the international committee that regulates units, but it is now supported by Google Calculator.
What was your motivation to get into this industry?
I am motivated to ensure that the environmentally responsible technologies/choices are also the economically advantageous ones. Growing up in Yreka, I saw firsthand the conflict between environment and economics when the local timber industry crashed in the 90s. This downturn devastated our area’s economy and underscored to me from a young age that developing new means for environmentally responsible resource use would be key to long-term sustainability and prosperity.
Why do you think climate change and sustainability is such an important topic today?
Sustainability is the greatest challenge and opportunity of our time, bar none. Consider that we need to cut today’s carbon emissions in half over the next 30 years while also supporting two billion more people on the planet — this is a momentous task. This is the “space race” of the new generation: an existential threat that is animating all kinds of new innovation. Climate disaster will also not affect everyone symmetrically. It is imperative that we get this right if we care about global economic equity.
What do you envision your industry looking like 10 years from now?
Our industry of materials R&D will be significantly more automated than it is today. Most research is still driven by human intuition, which may not always be accurate — and often results in ineffective trial-and-error experimentation. While human scientists will always be necessary and valuable for R&D, the data analysis portion of R&D will be largely automated and vastly accelerated.
We like to imagine the Netflix-ification of materials science — that is, in the same way that Netflix analyzes your watch patterns and then recommends new movies to you, R&D software like Aionics will analyze material performance data and recommend new materials in real-time.
What can the average person do to make a difference?
I believe the best thing individuals can do is to be informed of the issues around climate and sustainability, and then advocate accordingly. There’s so much misinformation surrounding climate that taking time to study the facts and then discuss with others really goes a long way. This is especially true regarding anything involving policy, given that climate policy can often be quite complex and have far-reaching implications.
What positive changes are you seeing?
I’m seeing today’s generation of Ph.D. students in STEM are increasingly motivated to go into STEM because they want to make an impact in sustainability. Every year, the percentage gets higher.
Going Green wants to thank Austin for sharing his journey in Artificial Intelligence.
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Dylan Welch is the CEO and Host of Going Green, a podcast, website, and social media brand that highlights renewable energy, cleantech, and sustainable news.