MIT News - Alumni/ae MIT News is dedicated to communicating to the media and the public the news and achievements of the students, faculty, staff and the greater MIT community. en Mon, 09 Mar 2020 12:20:01 -0400 3 Questions: Renae Irving on creating supportive learning environments for middle- and high-school students Molecular biology researcher and MIT alumna is an Office of Engineering Outreach Programs (OEOP) instructor. Mon, 09 Mar 2020 12:20:01 -0400 Office of Engineering Outreach Programs <p><em>The MIT <a href="">Office of Engineering Outreach Programs</a> (OEOP) runs outreach programs under the School of Engineering for underrepresented and underserved students interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Since 1975, its programs have served more than 4,400 middle- and high-school students, free of charge.&nbsp;</em></p> <p><em>Renae Irving '18, is a molecular biology research associate at Finch Therapeutics Group, based in Somerville, Massachusetts, and a graduate of the OEOP <span class="ILfuVd rjOVwe"><span class="e24Kjd">Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES) </span></span>program. Her work focuses on developing genetic sequencing of the microbiome, and understanding its influence in inflammatory bowel disease and ulcerative colitis. She is also a Saturday Engineering Enrichment and Discovery (SEED) Academy Academic Mentoring Seminar (AMS) instructor, and during her five-year journey as part of the OEOP instructional staff she has also been teaching assistant for the MITES,<span class="ILfuVd rjOVwe"><span class="e24Kjd"> </span></span>MIT Online Science, Technology, and Engineering Community (MOSTEC), and E2 programs. Irving hails from Lawrenceville, Georgia, and holds a bachelor’s degree in biological engineering with a minor in Spanish from MIT; she is preparing to pursue a MD-PhD program. Irving recently spoke on her work with OEOP and its students.</em></p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> What inspired you to become an OEOP instructor and what keeps you coming back?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> I came to the OEOP as a MITES student, when I was a rising high school senior in 2013. I went to a STEM-focused high school, and had an interest in medicine and disease, but didn’t have a clear idea of the field. During MITES I was part of the genomics course, which is offered in collaboration with the <a href="" target="_blank">Broad Institute</a>. The course gave me a better understanding of biological engineering, synthetic biology, and the vast applications for microbes. After MITES, I decided to pursue my interest in bioengineering, and I ended up at MIT as an undergrad. I knew I wanted to be a doctor and have an MD-PhD one day, so, as a pre-med student, a lot of the work I chose to do was clinically focused.</p> <p>As an undergrad, I really wanted to give back to the OEOP, so I became a teaching assistant for MITES. Over the course of three years I expanded into other programs, including MOSTEC and E2. I found being a [teaching assistant] very rewarding, because I helped create the same environment that helped me learn when I was in MITES, giving students more exposure to science and engineering. After graduation, as a professional, it only made sense to continue to give back, and I found I was best suited to be a program instructor. I was really excited to apply, but I worried it would be difficult to teach bioengineering outside of a lab. Then I saw they were also looking for an Academic Mentoring Seminar instructor for the 12th grade, and I realized I had great training for the role, and could truly support students.</p> <p>The reason I stay engaged comes down to the OEOP feeling like family. It would feel like a loss if I wasn’t in contact with this community that is like my family. I also think everything that I give to the programs and the people that I’m working with actually comes back to me in some way. It gives me so much joy working with the students, and the staff, I can’t imagine not doing it.</p> <p>I know that one day, if I’m not steps away from MIT, that I’m definitely going to miss this.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> How do you help students gain confidence to pursue a career in STEM?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> As an instructor, I share as much as I can about my journey and how I got to the position where I am. Students have told me it is really helpful to hear and see the passion that I have for the STEM-focused work I do. They enjoy hearing about my research in biological engineering and how I obtained a position in a biotech company. As a MITES student, I remember having TAs that were really good at acknowledging the challenge of STEM fields, but also did a good job highlighting the benefits of collaboration, or cool research they were looking forward to. When I became a TA, I tried to intersperse my experiences taking biochemistry in MITES with my experiences thus far as an MIT college student.</p> <p>As an instructor, I work to create an open environment where students feel they can ask questions freely, without judgment, and feel like they can fail knowing that it will lead them to learning, which is something they may not experience on a day-to-day basis in their high schools. I want to offer a supportive community, because as a MITES student I felt that I always had a team of college students and instructors supporting me. In my instructor role I really try to reinforce that sense of community.</p> <p>I also encourage students by celebrating the work they do as part of OEOP programs. Students are often building amazing things, they are all super-excited for their projects, it’s important to have someone cheering for them, celebrating their achievements and being there as they go through the challenge. I see the instructor role as supporting students both in terms of knowledge, helping them understand concepts, but also working with them to reach their college and career aspirations. My metric for success as an instructor is to empower students to choose the college that fits them best, to make choices that benefit them and make them happy in the future.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> What is the most challenging part of the OEOP instructor experience? And the most rewarding?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> OEOP students are really driven and resourceful, which can make lesson planning challenging. I plan the lesson around concepts and foundational knowledge that I want them to walk away with, but sometimes I get to class and realize the students are steps ahead of me, so I have to plan ahead for the sorts of enrichment that will be best for them when this happens. I also have to know how to answer questions I might not be prepared for, and that’s a great challenge to have.</p> <p>The best part of my experience as an instructor is seeing the students and how much they grow in the programs, and in college. I see SEED students most weeks during a semester, and many OEOP alumni end up at MIT or around Boston/Cambridge. When they leave OEOP programs they’ve already achieved so much growth. When they’re in college, you feel like you have propelled them even further.</p> <p>It’s rewarding to hear students reflect on the impact that the OEOP had on them, but also any small impact I had on them. I treasure knowing that something that I taught a student about chemistry is something they remember two years into college. Or the times when I teach my students to knit during study break. I think of all my experiences with the OEOP, and they are all muddled together in warmth and happiness of knowing that I’ve touched so many students and that I’ve had some impact throughout that time.</p> Renae Irving '18 is a molecular biology research associate, and Academic Mentoring Seminar instructor for the SEED Academy program at MIT.Photo: Dora P. GonzalezBiological engineering, Broad Institute, School of Engineering, K-12 education, 3 Questions, Diversity and inclusion, Alumni/ae, Community, STEM education, Office of Engineering Outreach Program (OEOP) A mobile tool for global change Dimagi’s data-collection platform has helped improve health care for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Sun, 08 Mar 2020 23:59:59 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>Frontline health workers represent the lifeblood of many health care systems in low- and middle-income countries around the world. Often overworked and underpaid, these workers operate outside hospital settings to meet the community’s poorest people where they live and work, ensuring health care initiatives impact the families that need them most.</p> <p>The global growth in cell phone ownership has increased the potential for mobile solutions to help these workers, and perhaps no company has unlocked that potential with more success than the social enterprise Dimagi.</p> <p>Dimagi’s flagship product, CommCare, lets users with no coding experience build apps featuring things like registration forms, decision support, and multimedia that can be accessed offline by cell phones of all types. With the backing of nonprofit organizations and governments, those capabilities have been put into the pockets of frontline workers in the most remote, impoverished regions of the world, transforming the way they collect information and provide care for hundreds of millions of people across 80 countries.</p> <p>Multiple studies have documented CommCare’s transformative effect. Randomized control trials have shown it helped frontline workers improve child nutrition in India, increase the percentage of in-facility births in Tanzania, and reduce errors in screenings for cardiovascular diseases in South Africa. Other studies have shown CommCare helped increase the frequency of HIV tests for pregnant women in Nigeria and reduced infant and maternal mortality rates in Guatemala.</p> <p>Beyond health care, Dimagi’s mobile tools are also being used in education, agricultural, and financial initiatives around the world. For founders Jonathan Jackson ’03, SM ’05 and Vikram Kumar, the company’s impact has come one successful project at a time through a user-centered approach to creating the most empowering and scalable solutions possible.</p> <p>“Our motto at Dimagi is ‘impact, team, profit,’ in that order,” Jackson says. “It’s not just what’s the most impactful thing we could make in theory, it’s what’s the most impactful thing we could make in practice that will scale with the market.”</p> <p><strong>An idea scales</strong></p> <p>In 2002, Kumar was a graduate research assistant in MIT’s Media Lab and on his way to earning his MD in the MIT-Harvard Division of Health Sciences and Technology. Jackson was building a personal digital assistant for nurses in Zambia as part of his master’s work at MIT.</p> <p>The two students met through a teacher’s assistant in one of Jackon’s classes and immediately decided to start a venture together. They initially planned to use health informatics to improve public health but realized the developing world wasn’t quite ready for that approach.</p> <p>“As soon as we got into the sector we realized there’s no good data to begin with, so we had to build the underlying data management systems,” Jackson says. “We rapidly shifted the company from public health informatics to more of a global health software focus.”</p> <p>In early consulting projects around Africa and India, the founders built a drag-and-drop system for building forms that clinicians could use in hospitals, using the Nokia phones that were quickly becoming common.</p> <p>“The writing was on the wall for massive mobile adoption in general, with dumb phones, and then you could see smartphones were going to take off,” Jackson says. “But we always focused on building for the phone technology that users had today as opposed to the technology that might be available tomorrow, and I think that was one of the reasons we were so successful.”</p> <p>One of Dimagi’s early projects was working with partners to create a national medical record system for Zambia. The system is still in use today, and because Dimagi’s solutions have been open source from the beginning, the system has since been adopted by other countries around Africa.</p> <p>Around 2008, with SMS-based solutions and a case management app built out, Dimagi began focusing on helping frontline, or community, workers. Such workers have traditionally relied on paper-based data management systems in the field that offer little on-site guidance and require data entry into a central system later on.</p> <p>With health care workers in low- and middle-income countries, “you have a workforce with amazing potential, and they are often the only option for health care provision in rural settings,” Jackson says. “These workers are often not able to be trained sufficiently, not able to be paid well, and they’re often overburdened. We thought the inclusion of mobile phones and the value that could be delivered by community health care workers and frontline providers was a great synergy.”</p> <p>The pivot made Dimagi’s users more dispersed and numerous, but Jackson says his team never wavered in its philosophy of working closely with the people they are trying to help and learning from them as they design solutions.</p> <p>“We feel incredibly strongly about getting field experience and being humble,” Jackson says. “We have a methodology called ‘Design Under the Mango Tree’ based on how we did a lot of our early work with CommCare. We were out there with the users, getting feedback, staying up late and overnight so it looked how they recommended the next day. That experience, of seeing the frontline workers, them being able to tell us they want something different, going in and changing it, and then asking if they like the change, that was an adrenaline boost for us.”</p> <p><strong>Designing under the mango tree</strong></p> <p>Dimagi’s approach has led the company to a scale the founders never could have imagined when they first started out. It has also guided them as they’ve built out features.</p> <p>Today, Dimagi boasts that CommCare allows users to “collect data on everything, in any language.” The data can include text, images, GPS coordinates, barcodes, audio, and more. Customers designing a data collection app on CommCare can monitor field workers in real time and include notifications or progress updates. Incorporating multimedia components into the app, like pictures and video instructions, allows illiterate field workers and patients to interact with CommCare and gives credibility to the workers.</p> <p>Dimagi also offers extensive support services to go with some of its subscription options. The company of about 150 people includes experts specializing in programs around women’s health and empowerment, agriculture, financial literacy, and more.</p> <p>Some of Dimagi’s biggest customers are governments. India, for example, has equipped more than half a million workers with a CommCare solution to help with state childcare and nutrition services.</p> <p>Unfortunately, scale has not brought simplicity. In fact, Jackson says things have gotten as Dimagi has grown, noting the donor-centered social enterprise space is great at launching new projects, but not good at incentivizing mature companies to continue innovating in areas where they’re already deployed.</p> <p>That’s one of the reasons Dimagi restructured its company last year. Jackson says Dimagi is now divided into three parts: its software division, its professional services team, and what he calls the impact team, which has been instructed to break even while making as much impact as possible and not worrying about profit.</p> <p>“We’re built to make an impact,” Jackson says. “That’s why everyone works at this company. It’s why we’re here. A lot of that just requires going that extra mile for the end users and that’s something that is infused in our DNA as an organization.”</p> Dimagi offers users a way to design mobile tools like registration forms that can be used by frontline health care workers in the most remote, impoverished regions of the world, transforming care.Image: DimagiInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Health care, Poverty, Alumni/ae, Apps, Social entrepreneurship, MIT Media Lab, Agriculture, Development, Africa, Medicine, School of Architecture and Planning 3 Questions: Joe Steinmeyer on guiding students into the world of STEM Since 2009, Steinmeyer has taught more than 400 students in the MITES, MOSTEC, SEED Academy, and E2 programs. Wed, 04 Mar 2020 12:30:01 -0500 Dora P. Gonzalez | Office of Engineering Outreach Programs <p><em>Joe Steinmeyer is a principal lecturer in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) at MIT. His work includes the study of the intersection of biology and neuroscience with EECS, focusing on automation and control; and more recently, research in instrumentation and on novel ways to improve student learning. Steinmeyer&nbsp;SM ’10, PhD ’14 joined the Office of Engineering Outreach Programs (OEOP) instructional staff in 2009 and since then has taught more than 400 students in the Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES), MIT Online Science, Technology, and Engineering Community (MOSTEC), Saturday Engineering Enrichment and Discovery</em> (<em>SEED) Academy, and E2 programs. He is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and holds a bachelor’s degree in EECS from the University of Michigan in addition to his MIT degrees in EECS.</em></p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> What inspired you to become an OEOP instructor, and what keeps you coming back?</p> <p><strong>A: </strong>Coming out of undergrad, I was choosing between teaching as a career and engineering. I applied to PhD programs, but I also applied to Teach for America and almost went down that road. I got in MIT for grad school and decided to do research, but I wanted to keep teaching. The year after I got to MIT, around 2009, they were looking for an electronics instructor for MITES, and I was really excited because I have always liked the OEOP’s mission. Boston abounds with teaching opportunities, but few have a mission like the OEOP.</p> <p>I also liked that I could teach concepts I liked, so that’s how I got involved.</p> <p>Since I became a lecturer at MIT I’ve done more education-focused research, including some papers on the MITES curriculum, and devices we are using to teach EECS. For the past couple of years, I’ve also been trying to develop ways to analyze what students are doing in hardware when we are working from different locations, like with MOSTEC. You can analyze students’ programming capabilities through the internet, but how do you actually help them or give them a similar level of guidance in debugging a circuit, which is decoupled from a computer, when you’re not looking over their shoulder like you could in MITES and SEED? That has been an ongoing research project for me.</p> <p>I stay engaged because I like the mission of preparing students to be in a good position for college. OEOP programs are unique in that way, and there is also a lot of freedom with what we can teach students. It’s fun to teach them electronics because there is no one way to do programming, it’s an evolving field.</p> <p>I believe students benefit from a programming-focused curriculum, because that is one of the great have/have-not situations in education today. The schools with more resources will have programming curricula, where schools with less resources would not.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> How do you help students gain confidence to pursue a career in STEM?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> First by having sort of a judgement-free zone. Every student comes in with different background experiences, and I’ve learned to adjust curricula for the individual person. When I first started as an instructor, I had this vision that everyone would have to do the same kind of project. But a student that comes in with no experience may not end up moving as far along as someone who came in with lots of previous experience, so having a rough idea of what you want everyone to do, and tailoring that for people, works best.</p> <p>I am also a big fan of letting students develop projects that they come up with, so they have a vested interest in their work. I see computation as an essential skill in every modern STEM field. Programming is used in every engineering field now, which also allows students to apply EECS concepts to something they already are interested in or care about. A couple of years ago we had a student who was really into dance, so we did a dance-focused project. Other students are interested in medical-leaning applications. We also do a lot of traditional EECS-themed projects like games, because those can be done in a short period of time.</p> <p>STEM education for those who want to self-learn can be extremely daunting and scary. If you go on any of the common forums where people can learn how to program, people can be very harsh and mean, and a student who goes on for the first time can feel discouraged and think programming isn’t for them. So I let students learn about the environment, but also try to ‘bumper bowl’ or guide the experience a little bit.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> What is the most challenging part of the OEOP instructor experience? And the most rewarding?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> The vast differences in educational backgrounds of the students is a challenge, but it’s not one that I don’t like; I find that actually rewarding. It requires you to find what’s the right mix of challenging students but not breaking them down.</p> <p>The most rewarding part is seeing students a few years down the line, where they end up or what they are doing, it’s really fulfilling. I have been an instructor for MITES for 10 years so I have a couple early MITES kids who are in PhD programs now. It has been really nice to see students’ journeys.</p> <p>I had a student who came from East LA [Los Angeles, California], who was extremely smart, but had a lot of confidence issues. She worked really hard in the MITES electronics class, and at the time, they had to do individual presentations of their work, and she was really nervous about explaining her project but she did really well. She went through the college application process and got into Harvard and Brown. After visiting Brown she decided that was her college, and throughout her undergrad years she was a teaching assistant for MITES. She invited me to go to her graduation at Brown and it was a really fulfilling moment for me. It was neat to see her evolve into this really confident young woman. She then got into Harvard for her PhD and is doing very interesting hearing/ear research. Stories like this motivate me.</p> <p>Programming moves so fast and transforms so fast that there are no more books to learn from, it’s sort of like going out on to the web and scraping information from people. I find it rewarding to see how students go from not knowing that they can teach themselves from the internet, to learning how to look up information that’s out there, loosely organized, and use it to solve a problem with their final projects. It’s also nice to see how much students mature once they are in college. At the end they are a well-seasoned person who can have their pick of what they want to do with life, that’s my goal. I don’t want to see anyone get forced into a certain career path, it doesn’t have to be EECS, if they can get to a spot and they can make a choice, and they’re not forced into it, it’s success.</p> Joe Steinmeyer and SEED Academy students Lea Grohmann (left), Daysia Charles (center), and Yenifer Lemus (right) prepare for their final electronics presentations.Photo: Gretchen ErtlElectrical engineering and computer science (EECS), 3 Questions, Diversity and inclusion, Technology and society, Alumni/ae, Office of Engineering Outreach Program (OEOP), Computer science and technology, Faculty From culinary arts to nuclear engineering Ciara Sivels ’13 takes unusual path to a research career in nuclear engineering for national security. Wed, 26 Feb 2020 15:05:01 -0500 Leda Zimmerman | Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering <p>No one could be more astonished to find Ciara Sivels ’13 where she is today than Ciara Sivels herself. “Never in a million years would I have predicted that I’d be working as a nuclear engineer in a major research laboratory,” says Sivels. “My original dream was to be a pastry chef.”</p> <p>Instead, Sivels, who grew up in rural Virginia, went to MIT and majored in nuclear science and engineering with a focus on nuclear nonproliferation, and a concentration in middle school education. She then earned a PhD from the University of Michigan in nuclear engineering and radiological sciences, where she was the first African-American woman to graduate from this program.</p> <p>Today, Sivels is on staff at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), engaged in projects related to national security. While details about her research remain classified, Sivels&nbsp;can&nbsp;reveal that she works on radiation transport simulations focusing on materials effects: “In lay terms, I look at how radiation interacts with and changes the properties of various types of materials.”</p> <p>Sivels’ expertise in this area evolved during her graduate study and national security internships at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, where she helped develop a unique detection system for radioxenon, a gas linked to explosions from nuclear weapons testing.</p> <p>Although she must maintain a shroud of secrecy around her current work life, Sivels readily shares details of the remarkable journey she has traveled from her home in Hickory, Virginia, to a prestigious national defense lab. It has been a trek marked by some lucky breaks, hard-won battles, a fascination for problem solving, and an abiding passion to give back to others.</p> <p><strong>Not the engineering type</strong></p> <p>“I didn’t have a traditional engineering past,” says Sivels. “I wasn’t interested in tinkering or building things, and I was all over the place in high school, doing things like culinary arts and church-related activities like praise dancing.”</p> <p>No academic subjects resonated with Sivels until she tried chemistry. Her teacher, taking note of both her engagement and good grades, suggested she think about chemical engineering in college. “I was making a list of schools all related to culinary careers, and he was telling me to think about much better colleges, places I’d never heard about.”</p> <p>With her chemistry teacher’s help, she applied to several, including MIT. Unfamiliar with the admissions process, she missed learning about her acceptance on Pi Day. “I assumed I was going to Virginia Commonwealth University when one of my classmates told me to check my email,” she recalls.</p> <p>Sivels was sold on MIT after Campus Preview Weekend. “I thought it would be a great experience to attend a university far away from home,” she says. She also decided to shift her major that weekend, after learning that chemical engineering involved “polymers and plastics and manufacturing things,” which didn’t appeal to Sivels. “My weekend host thought nuclear engineering might be a better match for my interests, and I thought the field seemed really interesting, so I decided to major in it.”</p> <p>Before Sivels officially started, she completed MIT’s <a href="">Interphase EDGE</a> program, a summer school that helps admitted students fill academic gaps prior to their first year. “I had previously taken physics, but Interphase made me realize I didn’t know what vectors were, and I wasn’t up to speed on math,” she says. “I struggled, but the program was pivotal for me, because it helped me assimilate to the academics faster than I would have, and introduced me to a new group of friends.”</p> <p>Sivels’ academic challenges were not over, though. “Growing up, learning had come naturally to me, but at MIT, things were really hard for the first time — I felt I might even fail a class,” says Sivels. “It wasn’t until junior year, after learning new study skills, and thinking beyond cookie-cutter solutions, that I could take the tools I was given and really figure out how to solve problems.” Says Sivels, “MIT is where I became myself — a thinker and an engineer.”</p> <p>Her social experiences at MIT also proved formative. “I was thrown into a melting pot full of highly motivated people who held different perspectives from me, and at a human level, I grew.”</p> <p>Part of that growth came from Sivels’ immersion in secondary-school teaching during her undergraduate years. In high school, she routinely tutored younger students, and thought a career in education might ultimately prove rewarding. While earning her NSE degree Sivels pursued a middle school general science teaching degree, and worked directly with students at a Cambridge, Massachusetts, school. “I saw how important it was for students to learn from someone who looked like them — young, black, female — someone they could relate to,” she says.</p> <p><strong>Pushed toward nuclear engineering</strong></p> <p>Sivels pivoted from a teaching career on to the advice of her advisor, Richard K. Lester, then department head and now associate provost. “He knew I wanted to teach, but he told me I hadn’t really given nuclear engineering a chance, that I’d just taken the classes but not tried research,” recalls Sivels, whose summers had exclusively been occupied by teaching internships. Lester pointed her toward opportunities that would “show me what nuclear engineering was really about,” she says. “I was lucky he was my advisor; he changed the course of my career.”</p> <p>One of those opportunities included an internship at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, just after graduation from MIT. There Sivels became engaged in experimental studies to detect the release of radioxenon gas from underground nuclear weapons testing, an effort driven by the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. This research expanded to become the foundation of her graduate school studies at the University of Michigan.</p> <p>“I helped develop a novel device to improve monitoring stations all over the world, where detectors run 24/7,” she says. “We fabricated something that could plug and play in existing technology at these stations.”</p> <p>Now at APL, she leverages the knowledge and problem-solving skills she acquired at MIT and Michigan to make “critical contributions to critical challenges that face the nation,” Sivels says. But she also makes contributions in other areas important to her. She was recently named one of the nation’s 125 American Association for the Advancement of Science <a href="">If/Then ambassadors</a>, an initiative aimed at middle-school girls to further women in STEM fields. Also, she serves as a math mentor for elementary kids. “Working with students is a highlight for me,” she says. “Maybe if they see someone like me doing something they never knew was possible, it might change their lives.”</p> "MIT is where I became myself — a thinker and an engineer," says Ciara Sivels ’13.Photo courtesy of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.Nuclear science and engineering, School of Engineering, Diversity and inclusion, Alumni/ae, STEM education, Nuclear security and policy, Government, Women in STEM, Mentoring, Profile, Education, teaching, academics Esther Duflo PhD ’99 to speak at 2020 Investiture of Doctoral Hoods and Degree Conferral Ceremony MIT professor and alumna shared the 2019 Nobel Prize in economics, which recognized collaborators’ “experimental approach to alleviating global poverty.” Thu, 20 Feb 2020 10:10:09 -0500 Institute Events <p>Esther Duflo PhD ’99, the Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics at MIT, will be the guest speaker at the 2020 Investiture of Doctoral Hoods and Degree Conferral Ceremony on Thursday, May 28.</p> <p>“Professor Duflo is an impressive and inspiring leader — someone whose brilliant insight and relentless hard work have improved the lives of millions of people in poverty,” says Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart, host of the ceremony. “I have no doubt that hearing about her research and journey to the Nobel Prize — a path that was marked by hands-on problem-solving, collaboration, and selflessness — will capture the imaginations of our doctoral graduates. Her story will remind them of the impact MIT community members can have when we apply our minds, hands, and hearts to solving society’s most pressing challenges.”</p> <p>Duflo, known for her leadership and innovation in development economics, is a faculty member in the MIT Department of Economics, as well as co-founder and co-director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). She is the second woman and the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Prize in economic sciences.</p> <p>In her <a href="" target="_blank">Nobel speech</a>, given in December 2019 and titled “Field experiments and the practice of economics,” Duflo framed her own work to understand the economic lives of the poor in the context of a movement that leverages research in guiding social policy. She lauded the worldwide J-PAL network of antipoverty researchers, whose rigorous collection and evaluation of data has led to affecting policy in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America. Duflo — whose early ambitions included becoming a “changemaker” — said she hopes that J-PAL’s influence will foment a self-sustaining culture of learning within governments.</p> <p>The guest speaker is selected by a working group of doctoral students, from among nominees who hold a PhD or ScD from MIT. The group was unanimous and enthusiastic about Duflo’s nomination. Lily Bui, who will graduate in May with a PhD in urban studies and planning, participated in this year’s selection process. “Our committee is thrilled that Dr. Duflo will be our speaker,” she says. “We look forward to the wisdom that she will impart from both her extraordinary professional and personal experiences.”</p> <p>Following her study of history and economics at École Normale Supérieure in Paris, Duflo came to MIT, earning a PhD in economics and joining the faculty in 1999. The extraordinary list of her academic honors and prizes include the Princess of Asturias Award for Social Sciences (2015), the A.SK Social Science Award (2015), Infosys Prize (2014), the David N. Kershaw Award (2011), a John Bates Clark Medal (2010), and a MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellowship (2009).&nbsp;With Abhijit Banerjee, the Ford International Professor of Economics at MIT, she wrote&nbsp;“Good Economics for Hard Times” (2019) and “Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty” (2011), the latter of which won the <em>Financial Times</em> and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award in 2011 and has been translated into more than 17 languages. Duflo is the editor of the&nbsp;<em>American Economic Review</em>, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy.</p> <p>Duflo’s passionate commitment to research toward the betterment of humankind led her to a momentous choice: She and co-laureates Banerjee and Professor Michael Kremer of Harvard University made news again in December 2019 for the decision to donate their combined Nobel prize money to support grants sponsored by the Weiss Fund for Research in Development Economics. The Associated Press <a href="" target="_blank">reported</a> that Duflo was inspired in this gift by Marie Curie, who used her Nobel money to buy a gram of radium for research. The three professors’ donation to the Weiss Fund will support development economics for years to come.</p> <p>Nancy Rose, head of the MIT Department of Economics and the Charles P. Kindleberger Professor of Applied Economics, praised Duflo’s teaching and her relationships with MIT students. She commented, “Esther is not only an extraordinary scholar and educator, but a much-loved mentor and advisor for generations of students.&nbsp;As MIT’s first alumna to be recognized with the Nobel Prize, I can think of no finer choice to acknowledge the promise of our current graduates and to inspire them on the launch of their careers.”</p> <p>The 2020 Investiture of Doctoral Hoods and Degree Conferral Ceremony will take place on Thursday, May 28 at 10:30 a.m. on Killian Court. The ceremony is open to family, friends, and mentors of doctoral candidates; no tickets are required.</p> Esther DufloImage: Peter Tenzer/Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action LabCommencement, Community, Special events and guest speakers, Administration, Chancellor, Economics, Nobel Prizes, Alumni/ae, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) Maintaining the equipment that powers our world By organizing performance data and predicting problems, Tagup helps energy companies keep their equipment running. Wed, 12 Feb 2020 09:39:37 -0500 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>Most people only think about the systems that power their cities when something goes wrong. Unfortunately, many people in the San Francisco Bay Area had a lot to think about recently when their utility company began scheduled power outages in an attempt to prevent wildfires. The decision came after devastating fires last year were found to be the result of faulty equipment, including transformers.</p> <p>Transformers are the links between power plants, power transmission lines, and distribution networks. If something goes wrong with a transformer, entire power plants can go dark. To fix the problem, operators work around the clock to assess various components of the plant, consider disparate data sources, and decide what needs to be repaired or replaced.</p> <p>Power equipment maintenance and failure is such a far-reaching problem it’s difficult to attach a dollar sign to. Beyond the lost revenue of the plant, there are businesses that can’t operate, people stuck in elevators and subways, and schools that can’t open.</p> <p>Now the startup Tagup is working to modernize the maintenance of transformers and other industrial equipment. The company’s platform lets operators view all of their data streams in one place and use machine learning to estimate if and when components will fail.</p> <p>Founded by CEO Jon Garrity ’11 and CTO Will Vega-Brown ’11, SM ’13 —&nbsp;who recently completed his PhD program in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and will be graduating this month — Tagup is currently being used by energy companies to monitor approximately 60,000 pieces of equipment around North America and Europe. That includes transformers, offshore wind turbines, and reverse osmosis systems for water filtration, among other things.</p> <p>“Our mission is to use AI to make the machines that power the world safer, more reliable, and more efficient,” Garrity says.</p> <p><strong>A light bulb goes on</strong></p> <p>Vega-Brown and Garrity crossed paths in a number of ways at MIT over the years. As undergraduates, they took a few of the same courses, with Vega-Brown double majoring in mechanical engineering and physics and Garrity double majoring in economics and physics. They were also fraternity brothers as well as teammates on the football team.</p> <p>Garrity was&nbsp;first exposed&nbsp;to entrepreneurship as an undergraduate in MIT’s Energy Ventures class and in the Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship.&nbsp;Later, when Garrity returned to campus while attending Harvard Business School and Vega-Brown was pursuing his doctorate, they were again classmates in MIT’s New Enterprises course.</p> <p>Still, the founders didn’t think about starting a company until 2015, after Garrity had worked at GE Energy and Vega-Brown was well into his PhD work at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.</p> <p>At GE, Garrity discovered an intriguing business model through which critical assets like jet engines were leased by customers — in this case airlines — rather than purchased, and manufacturers held responsibility for remotely monitoring and maintaining them. The arrangement allowed GE and others to leverage their engineering expertise while the customers focused on their own industries.</p> <p>"When I worked at GE, I always wondered: Why isn’t this service available for any equipment type? The answer is economics.” Garrity says. “It is expensive to set up a remote monitoring center, to instrument the equipment in the field, to staff the 50 or more engineering subject matter experts, and to provide the support required to end customers. The cost of equipment failure, both in terms of business interruption and equipment breakdown, must be enormous to justify the high average fixed cost."</p> <p>“We realized two things,” Garrity continues. “With the increasing availability of sensors and cloud infrastructure, we can dramatically reduce the cost [of monitoring critical assets] from the infrastructure and communications side. And, with new machine-learning methods, we can increase the productivity of engineers who review equipment data manually.”</p> <p>That realization led to Tagup, though it would take time to prove the founders’ technology. “The problem with using AI for industrial applications is the lack of high-quality data,” Vega-Brown explains. “Many of our customers have giant datasets, but the information density in industrial data is often quite low. That means we need to be very careful in how we hunt for signal and validate our models, so that we can reliably make accurate forecasts and predictions.”</p> <p>The founders leveraged their MIT ties to get the company off the ground. They received guidance from MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service, and Tagup was in the first cohort of startups accepted into the MIT Industrial Liaison Program’s (ILP) STEX 25 accelerator, which connects high potential startups with members of industry. Tagup has since secured several customers through ILP, and those early partnerships helped the company train and validate some of its machine-learning models.</p> <p><strong>Making power more reliable</strong></p> <p>Tagup’s platform combines all of a customer’s equipment data into one sortable master list that displays the likelihood of each asset causing a disruption. Users can click on specific assets to see charts of historic data and trends that feed into Tagup’s models.</p> <p>The company doesn’t deploy any sensors of its own. Instead, it combines customers’ real-time sensor measurements with other data sources like maintenance records and machine parameters to improve its proprietary machine-learning models.</p> <p>The founders also began with a focused approach to building their system. Transformers were one of the first types of equipment they worked with, and they’ve expanded to other groups of assets gradually.</p> <p>Tagup’s first deployment was in August of 2016 with a power plant that faces the Charles River close to MIT’s campus. Just a few months after it was installed, Garrity was at a meeting overseas when he got a call from the plant manager about a transformer that had just gone offline unexpectedly. From his phone, Garrity was able to inspect real-time data from the transformer&nbsp;and give the manager the information he needed to restart the system. Garrity says it saved the plant about 26 hours of downtime and $150,000 in revenue.</p> <p>“These are really catastrophic events in terms of business outcomes,” Garrity says, noting transformer failures are estimated to cost $23 billion annually.</p> <p>Since then they’ve secured partnerships with several large utility companies, including National Grid and Consolidated Edison Company of New York.</p> <p>Down the line, Garrity and Vega-Brown are excited about using machine learning to control the operation of equipment. For example, a machine could manage itself in the same way an autonomous car can sense an obstacle and steer around it.</p> <p>Those capabilities have major implications for the systems that ensure the lights go on when we flip switches at night.</p> <p>“Where it gets really exciting is moving toward optimization,” Garrity says. Vega-Brown agrees, adding, “Enormous amounts of power and water are wasted because there aren't enough experts to tune the controllers on every industrial machine in the world. If we can use AI to capture some of the expert knowledge in an algorithm, we can cut inefficiency and improve safety at scale.”</p> Tagup's industrial equipment monitoring platform is currently being used by energy companies to monitor approximately 60,000 pieces of equipment around North America and Europe. That includes transformers, offshore wind turbines, and reverse osmosis systems for water filtration.Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Alumni/ae, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Mechanical engineering, School of Engineering, Machine learning, Energy, Artificial intelligence Out of the lab and into the world E14 Venture Summit celebrates the diversity of spinoff companies from the Media Lab. Tue, 11 Feb 2020 16:30:01 -0500 Chia Evers | MIT Media Lab <p>In collaboration with the <a href="">E14 Fund</a>, on Jan. 28-29 the MIT Media Lab hosted the inaugural <a href="" target="_blank">Media Lab Venture Summit</a> — the first-ever celebration of the myriad spinoff companies created by the extended community of Media Lab alumni, research staff, and faculty members.</p> <p>Slated to become an annual event, the summit convened on the sixth floor of Building E14, with introductory talks by Deb Roy,&nbsp;professor of media arts and sciences and Media Lab executive director of operations and communications, and E14 managing partners Habib Haddad and Calvin Chin. Later events included a panel discussion between entrepreneurs from the Media Lab, presentations by nearly 40 spinoff companies, a networking lunch hosted by the MIT Industrial Liaison Program, some 25 demos, and three breakout sessions focused on radical reinvention of traditional industries, digitizing product value chains, and radical sustainability for future products. On the second day of the summit, participants were invited to tour Formlabs, Tulip, and Ginkgo Bioworks — local startups with MIT roots.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Started in 2014, the E14 Fund began as a small experiment, and has since grown into a robust network of support for Media Lab spinoffs, students, alumni, and other members of the extended lab community. As Roy noted in his introduction, entrepreneurship is a natural outgrowth of the lab’s approach to research. “I’ve long described the Media Lab, and one of the core aspects of the spirit of the lab, as entrepreneurial — enterprising, and characterized by the taking of research risks in the hope of intellectual and practical advances. It’s part of the ethos of the lab, and it’s amazing to see this rich collection of startups that the E14 family has recognized and been fostering over the last several years.”</p> <p>The program for the first day of the summit reflected the broad diversity of those startups, which range from early-stage companies founded by recent graduates and based on their Media Lab research to companies created by alumni who left the lab some time ago.&nbsp;</p> <p>Moderated by Joe Chung SM ’89, the opening panel provided an informative, emotionally honest, and sometimes surprising discussion of the different paths labbers have taken to starting their own companies. Chung himself left the PhD program to co-found Art Technology Group with Jeet Singh ’86, while Nan-Wei Gong PhD ’13, founder of Figur8, co-founded her first company (3dim Tech Inc., which was acquired in 2014) after winning the <a href="">2013 MIT $100K Competition</a> with friends. Former Media Lab postdoc Rana El Kaliouby co-founded Affectiva with Professor Rosalind Picard when it became clear that their research project had outgrown the lab. LittleBits founder Ayah Bdeir SM ’06, meanwhile, shifted her focus from creative electronics for everyone<em> </em>to creative electronics for children after the 2009 Maker Faire in San Mateo, California, where so many kids swarmed around her booth and refused to leave that she had to pretend she was closing so that their parents could take them home.&nbsp;</p> <p>A recurring theme was that many of the panelists didn’t leave the lab with the intention of starting a company — rather, they started companies because it seemed like the best way to accomplish a specific mission. “We build starting from the passion,” says Gong, “and then we figure out a business model and ask how we scale up.” John Underkoffler ’88, SM ’91, PhD ’99, whose dissertation work inspired the production design of the film “Minority Report” — on which he served as a consultant — and whose company, Oblong, continues to build upon that work, was more blunt: “I had no idea what I was doing.” He credited fellow Media Lab alumnus David Kung ’93, SM ’95, now vice president for product strategy at Oblong, with making him understand that the calls he was getting from Fortune 500 companies meant there was interest in his technology. “It was sidelong and sideways and unanticipated.”&nbsp;</p> <p>The panelists also spoke candidly about both their successes and their greatest challenges. Harmonix co-founder Eran Egozy ’93, MEng ’95 described the unprecedented surge of interest in “Guitar Hero,” which saw its sales figures double month after month, bypassing the usual post-holiday slump. Others talked about stresses and failures, from running out of funding to making painful business decisions to the difficulty of balancing personal relationships with the needs of an early-stage startup. “I always used to think when people said things like, ‘If I’d known how hard it was, I never would have tried,’ were being dramatic, but it’s literally true,” Underkoffler says. El Kaliouby offered advice on how to weather those storms: “Go back to core values. They’re not important when things are rosy, but they’re especially important in these tough times, when you have to make tough decisions.”&nbsp;</p> <p>After the panel discussion, presenters from&nbsp;36 ventures delivered lightning-round overviews, inviting attendees to learn more about their organizations during the demo and networking sessions in the afternoon. These presentations&nbsp;further showcased the diversity of the enterprises,&nbsp;from artificial intelligence applications designed to improve crop yields and reduce overuse of fertilizer and pesticides in commercial farming, to high-efficiency heating and cooling systems, to autonomous mobility solutions at scales from individuals to mass transit. The demos also included room for the whimsical — like the beautiful, networked touch lamps developed by John Harrison’s SM ’05 Filimin.&nbsp;</p> <p>Ann Perrin, a liaison from Media Lab member company Deloitte who has long advocated for an event like this, says, “The inaugural Venture Summit exemplified the power of the lab by bringing together faculty, innovative spinoffs rooted in research pioneered at the lab, and corporate members scouting for emerging tech and exploring partnerships. A great success.” Haddad agrees: “The summit is a great opportunity to celebrate the impact of the lab beyond the lab. It’s great to see all those startups continue building on top of the work they did at the lab, creating ventures at scale to tackle large and tough problems.” Ryan McCarthy, director of member relations at the Media Lab, adds, “It was amazing to hear from older spinoffs, and see how much they've&nbsp;accomplished, alongside these new companies that have so much potential.”&nbsp;</p> <p>The event also highlighted something that Roy, Chin, and Haddad all emphasized in their opening remarks — that promising research from the lab may take years to come to fruition. “Some of the ideas that the Media Lab works on,” Roy says, “have gestation periods that will actually span not just years but decades, and eventually come into material practice.”</p> Left to right: Joe Chung (Redstar), Ayah Bdeir (littleBits), Nan-Wei Gong (Figur8), Rana El Kaliouby (Affectiva), Eran Egozy (Harmonix), and John Underkoffler (Oblong) participate in a panel discussion about their entrepreneurial paths out of the Media Lab.Photo courtesy of the MIT Media Lab.Media Lab, Startups, Alumni/ae, Staff, Faculty, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Special events and guest speakers, Business and management, School of Architecture and Planning Drawing daily doodles: Chalk of the Day brightens MIT Chalk of the Day, an MIT student group, draws beautiful daily works of art on the chalk wall in Building 32. Mon, 10 Feb 2020 16:10:01 -0500 Julia Newman | Division of Student Life <p>The Ray and Maria Stata Center is an architectural staple of MIT’s campus. Inside the angled walls and modern exterior lives the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (<a href="" target="_blank">CSAIL</a>), the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems (<a href="" target="_blank">LIDS</a>), and the <a href="" target="_blank">Department of Linguistics and Philosophy</a>. It's also a central hub for conferences, lunch meetings, and regular events like <a href="" target="_blank">Choose to Reuse</a>. Building 32 also houses the canvas used by student group Chalk of the Day to share daily works of art.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Chalk of the Day</a> was started in 2015 by Benjamin Chan ’17 as a way to give back to the MIT community through inspirational messages and doodles. Today, Chalk of the Day remains a tight-knit group of friends who craft new pieces of art that are visible to passers-by for a day, memorialized on the group's <a href="" target="_blank">Instagram account</a> — and then erased every night.</p> <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p>Priscilla Wong, a chalker who finished her coursework in computer science and engineering last fall and will be graduating in May, says she began chalking as a way to find an escape from the typical routine at MIT. Each semester, students schedule and claim a day based on their availability. Wong and her chalking partner Jessica Xu, a junior in mechanical engineering, have chalked before, and last semester, they made sure they shared free Tuesday mornings to continue their tradition of making art together.</p> <p>Using a pointillist technique, Wong taps the chalk repeatedly against the board to create a snow effect as she discusses the ways in which chalk is an unusual medium. “Some of the most difficult things about chalking are also what makes it the most interesting,” she says. “If you chalk over a really big area it ends up snowing down on everything below. Sometimes it’s an effect you want to achieve.” Her chalk partner, Jessica Xu, adds “for the most part we come up with techniques on our own.” Wong echoes how there’s a learning curve and the way they learn is simply by chalking.</p> <p>The works of art span from inspirational quotes to more political works, like a drawing in response to the Australian wildfires: a mama and child koala sit in a tree with the text “save us” above, the letters connecting like a crossword puzzle to configure AUS for Australia. The art is often incredibly detailed: One homage to the film “Up” displayed the characters lifted by a house tied to balloons with the message “adventure is out there,” while another featured a hummingbird eating nectar from a blossoming flower.</p> <p>Sarah Wu, a senior mathematics major, has been chalking since her first year at MIT, when she was looking for more artsy things to do around campus. She compares chalking with solving a math problem: Both require a level of creativity, but approaching a blank canvas is a totally different process and engages a different part of her mind. Chalking is a way to relax and de-stress for Wu: “Normally, I’m always thinking about the next assignment or the next test, but this is an opportunity where once a week I can actually remove myself from that and try to focus only on the art I’m making and the things I’m contributing to the community.” She and her chalking partner, Charleen Wang, a senior in electrical engineering and computer science, worked on a lettering piece that reads “Catch your breath, take your time,” filled with snowflakes mimicking the weather conditions outside.</p> <p>Wang shares a similar sentiment to Wu about the importance of Chalk of the Day in her routine. “I think sometimes I forget to engage in a more creative side of me. I learned a lot about how to put in other priorities that I might be forgetting into my schedule. It’s not all about grades,” she says. She likes how temporary chalk is as a medium. “I feel more free to try different things because it’s not something so permanent like pen or painting.” Every day is an opportunity for chalk artists to try something new, create a new work of art, and feel empowered to think outside of the box.</p> <p>Chalking helps students de-stress, but more than that, their artwork spreads positivity and inspiration to the entire MIT community. Passersby “send it to their boyfriend or girlfriend or friend or mother. I like that it has an impact that is beyond Stata or MIT,” Wong reflects. Chalk of the Day members hope that sharing the daily chalk-works encourages others to be more creative in their everyday lives.</p> Jessica Xu and Priscilla Wong stand in front of their finished chalk art in the Stata Center.Photo: Jeff Saint DicStudent life, Community, Arts, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Students, Alumni/ae, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), School of Engineering, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems (LIDS), Clubs and activities MIT helps first-time entrepreneur build food hospitality company Led by Christine Marcus MBA ’12, Alchemista is finding success with a human-centered approach to food service. Thu, 30 Jan 2020 23:59:59 -0500 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>Christine Marcus MBA ’12 was an unlikely entrepreneur in 2011. That year, after spending her entire, 17-year career in government, most recently as the deputy chief financial officer for the U.S. Department of Energy, she entered the MIT Sloan School of Management Fellows MBA Program.</p> <p>Moreover, Marcus didn’t think of herself as an entrepreneur.</p> <p>“That was the furthest thing from my mind,” she says. “I knew it was time to think about the private sector, but my plan was to leave Sloan and get a job in finance. The thought of entrepreneurship was nowhere in my mind. I wasn’t one of those people who came with a business idea.”</p> <p>By the end of Sloan’s intensive, 12-month program, however, Marcus was running a startup helping local organizations and companies serve food from some of Boston’s best restaurants to hundreds of people. Upon graduation, in addition to her degree, Marcus had 40 recurring customers and had sold about $50,000 worth of food from her classmates’ Italian restaurant.</p> <p>What happened to spark such a dramatic change?</p> <p>“MIT happened,” Marcus says. “Being in that ecosystem and listening to all the people share their stories of starting companies, listening to CEOs talk about their successes and failures, the mistakes they’ve made along the way, that was super-inspiring. What I realized at MIT was that I’ve always been an entrepreneur.”</p> <p>In the years since graduation, Marcus has used her new perspective to build Alchemista, a “high-touch” hospitality company that helps businesses, commercial real estate developers, and property owners provide meals to employees and tenants. Today, Alchemista has clients in Boston, New York City, and Washington, and serves more than 60,000 meals each month.</p> <p>The company’s services go beyond simply curating restaraunts on a website: Each one of Alchemista’s clients has its own representative that customizes menus each month, and Alchemista employees are on the scene setting up every meal to ensure everything goes smoothly.</p> <p>“We work with companies that focus on employee culture and invest in their employees, and we incorporate ourselves into that culture,” Marcus says.</p> <p><strong>Finding inspiration, then confidence</strong></p> <p>At first, all Marcus wanted from MIT were some bright new employees for the Department of Energy. During a recruiting trip for that agency in 2011, she met Bill Aulet, the managing director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and professor of the practice at Sloan.</p> <p>“I mentioned to Bill that I was thinking of doing an MBA,” Marcus remembers. “He said, ‘You need to come to MIT. It will transform your life.’ Those were his exact words. Then basically, ‘And you need to do it now.’”</p> <p>Soon after that conversation, Marcus applied for the Sloan Fellows Program, which crams an MBA into one year of full-time, hands on work. A few weeks after being accepted, she left her lifelong career in government for good.</p> <p>But Marcus still had no plans to become an entrepreneur. That came more gradually at Sloan, as she listened to experts describe entrepreneurship as a learnable craft, received encouragement and advice from professors, and heard from dozens of successful first-time entrepreneurs about their own early doubts and failures.</p> <p>“A lot of these founders had backgrounds in things that had nothing to do with their industry,” Marcus says. “My question was always, ‘How do you become successful in an industry you don’t know anything about?’ Their answer was always the same: ‘It’s all about learning and being curious.’”</p> <p>During one typically long day in the MBA program, a classmate brought in food from his Italian restaurant. Marcus was blown away and wondered why MIT didn’t cater from nice restaurants like that all the time.</p> <p>The thought set in motion a process that has never really stopped for Marcus. She began speaking with office secretaries, club presidents, and other event organizers at MIT. She learned it was a nightmare ordering food for hundreds of people, and that many of Boston’s best restaurants had no means of connecting with such organizers.</p> <p>“I made myself known on campus just hustling,” Marcus remembers. “First I had to spend time figuring out who orders food. … I made it my mission to talk to all of them, understand their pain points, and understand what would get them to change their processes at that point. It was a lot of legwork.”</p> <p>Marcus moved into the entrepreneurial track at Sloan, and says one of her most helpful classes was tech sales, taught by Lou Shipley, who’s now an advisor for Alchemista. She also says it was helpful that professors focused on real-world problems, at some points even using Alchemista as a case study, allowing Marcus’s entire class to weigh in on problems she was grappling with.</p> <p>“That was super-helpful, to have all these smart MIT students working on my company,” she says.</p> <p>As she neared gradation, Marcus spent a lot of time in the Trust Center, and leaned heavily on MIT’s support system.</p> <p>“That’s the best thing about MIT: the ecosystem,” Marcus says. “Everybody genuinely wants to help however they can.”</p> <p>Leaving that ecosystem, which Marcus described as a “challenging yet safe environment,” presented Marcus with her biggest test yet.</p> <p><strong>Taking the plunge</strong></p> <p>At some point, every entrepreneur must decide if they’re passionate and confident enough in their business to fully commit to it. Over the course of a whirlwind year, MIT gave Marcus a crash course in entrepreneurship, but it couldn’t make that decision for her.</p> <p>Marcus responded unequivocally. She started by selling her house in Washington and renting a one-bedroom apartment in Boston. She also says she used up her retirement savings as she worked to expand Alchemista’s customer base in the early days.</p> <p>“I’m not sure I would recommend it to anyone without a strong stomach, but I jumped in with both feet,” Marcus says.</p> <p>And MIT never stopped lending support. At the time, Sloan was planning to renovate a building on campus, so in the interim, Aulet started a coworking space called the MIT Beehive. Marcus worked out of there for more than a year, collaborating with other MIT startup founders and establishing a supportive network of peers.</p> <p>Her commitment paid off. By 2014, Marcus had a growing customer base and a strong business model based on recurring revenue from large customer accounts. Alchemista soon expanded to Washington and New York City.</p> <p>Last year, the company brought on a culinary team and opened its own kitchens. It also expanded its services to commercial property owners and managers who don’t want to give up leasing space for a traditional cafeteria or don’t have restaurants nearby.</p> <p>Marcus has also incorporated her passion for sustainability into Alchemista’s operations. After using palm leaf plates for years, the company recently switched over to reusable plates and utensils, saving over 100,000 tons of waste annually, she says.</p> <p>Ultimately, Marcus thinks Alchemista’s success is a result of its human-centered approach to helping customers.</p> <p>“It’s not this massive website where you place an order and have no contact,” Marcus says. “We’re the opposite of that. We’re high-touch because everyone else is a website or app. Simply put, we take all the headaches away from ordering for hundreds of people. Food is very personal; breaking bread is one of the most fundamental ways to connect with others. We provide that experience in a premium, elevated way.”</p> Alchemista co-founder and CEO Christine Marcus MBA ’12 says she sold her house and dipped into her retirement savings to get the company off the ground.Image courtesy of AlchemistaMartin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, Food, Startups, Sloan School of Management, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Business and management, Alumni/ae, Profile Accelerating the pace of engineering The 2019-20 School of Engineering MathWorks Fellows are using MATLAB and Simulink to advance discovery and innovation across disciplines. Tue, 28 Jan 2020 17:00:01 -0500 Lori LoTurco | School of Engineering <p>Founded in 1984 by Jack Little ’78 and Cleve Moler, MathWorks was built on the premise of providing engineers and scientists with more powerful and productive computation environments. In 1985, the company sold its very first order&nbsp;— 10 copies of its first product, MATLAB — to MIT.</p> <p>Decades later, engineers across MIT and around the world consistently rely on MathWorks products to accelerate the pace of discovery, innovation, and development in automotive, aerospace, electronics, biotech-pharmaceutical, and other industries.&nbsp;MathWorks’ products and support have had a significant impact on <em>MITx,</em> OpenCourseWare, and MIT’s digital learning efforts across campus, including the Department of Mathematics, one of the School of Engineering’s closest collaborators in the use of digital learning tools and educational technologies.</p> <p>“We have a strong belief in the importance of engineers and scientists,” says Little. “They act to increase human knowledge and profoundly improve our standard of living. We create products like MATLAB and Simulink to help them do their best work.”</p> <p>As the language of technical computing, MATLAB is a programming environment for algorithm development, data analysis, visualization, and numeric computation. It is used extensively by faculty, students, and researchers across MIT and by over 4 million users in industry, government, and academia in 185 countries.</p> <p>Simulink is a block diagram environment for simulation and model-based design of multidomain and embedded engineering systems, including automatic code generation, verification, and validation. It is used heavily in automotive, aerospace, and other applications that design complex real-time systems.</p> <p>This past summer, MathWorks celebrated 35 years of accelerating the pace of engineering and science. Shortly following this milestone, MathWorks awarded 11 engineering fellowships to graduate students within the School of Engineering who are active users of MATLAB or Simulink. The fellows are using the programs to advance discovery and innovation across disciplines.</p> <p>“PhD fellowships are an investment in the world’s long-term future, and there are few investments more valuable than that,” says Little.</p> <p>The 2019-20 MathWorks fellows are:</p> <p><a href="">Pasquale Antonante</a> is a PhD student in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He uses MATLAB and Simulink to build tools that make robots more accurate.</p> <p><a href="">Alireza Fallah</a> is a PhD student in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. He uses Matlab and Symbolic Math Toolbox to develop better machine-learning algorithms.</p> <p><a href="">James Gabbard</a> is a SM/PhD student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. He uses MATLAB to model fluids and materials.</p> <p><a href="">Nicolas Meirhaeghe</a><strong> </strong>is a PhD student in medical engineering and medical physics in the Bioastronautics Training Program at Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. He uses MATLAB to visualize activity in the brain and understand how it is related to an individual’s behavior.</p> <p><a href="">Caroline Nielsen</a> is a PhD student in the Department of Chemical Engineering. She uses MATLAB to implement and test new applications of non-smooth analysis. She also intends to use MATLAB to in the next phase of her research, developing methods to simultaneously optimize for minimal resource use and operating costs.</p> <p><a href="">Bauyrzhan Primkulov</a><strong> </strong>is a PhD student in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He uses MATLAB to build computational models and explore how fluids interact in porous materials.</p> <p><a href="">Kate Reidy</a><strong> </strong>is a PhD student in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. She studies how 2D materials — only a single atom thick — can be combined with 3D materials, and uses MATLAB to analyze the properties of different materials.</p> <p><a href="">Isabelle Su</a><strong> </strong>is a PhD student in civil and environmental engineering. She builds computational models with MATLAB to understand the mechanical properties of spider webs.</p> <p><a href="">Joy Zeng</a><strong> </strong>is a PhD student in chemical engineering. Her research is focused on the electrochemical transformation of carbon dioxide to fuels and commodity chemicals. She uses MATLAB to model chemical reactions.</p> <p><a href="">Benjamin "Jiahong" Zhang</a><strong> </strong>is a PhD student in computational science and engineering. He uses MATLAB to prototype new methods for rare event simulation, finding new methods by leveraging mathematical principles used in proofs and re-purposing them for computation.</p> <p><a href="">Paul Zhang</a><strong> </strong>is a PhD student in electrical engineering and computer science. He uses MATLAB to develop algorithms with applications in meshing — the use of simple shapes to study complex ones.</p> <p>For MathWorks, fostering engineering education is a priority, so when deciding where to focus philanthropic support, MIT — its very first customer — was an obvious choice.</p> <p>“We are so humbled by MathWorks' generosity, and their continued support of our engineering students through these fellowships,” says Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of the School of Engineering. “Our relationship with MathWorks is one that we revere — they have developed products that foster research and advancement across many disciplines, and through their support our students launch discoveries and innovation that align with MathWorks’ mission.”</p> MathWorks fellows with Anantha Chandrakasan (back row, center), dean of the MIT School of Engineering. Not pictured: Fellows Pasquale Antonante, Alireza Fallah, and Kate Reidy.Photo: David DegnerSchool of Engineering, MITx, OpenCourseWare, Mathematics, Electrical engineering and computer science (EECS), Mechanical engineering, Chemical engineering, Civil and environmental engineering, Awards, honors and fellowships, Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology, Alumni/ae, Startups, Aeronautical and astronautical engineering, DMSE, Computer science and technology, School of Science Helping military veterans nail that interview Interview coaching startup Candorful helps veterans transitioning to civilian life prepare for job interviews. Tue, 28 Jan 2020 00:00:00 -0500 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>The military is great at teaching soldiers to accomplish objectives under stressful conditions, work as part of a team, and lead groups of people. Those skills are useful in business as well as combat, but many veterans lack experience communicating their skills to recruiters or hiring managers in job interviews.</p> <p>As a result, many veterans struggle to land a good job after their service — a critical factor for a successful transition into civilian life. Now the startup Candorful is working to change that. The nonprofit facilitates video mock interviews for veterans with volunteer coaches to help them put their best foot forward with employers.</p> <p>“Veterans rapidly gain experience managing teams and projects, making an impact, working with minimal resources,” says Candorful co-founder and executive director Pat Hubbell SM ’91. When competing with civilians during the interview process, veterans “may be better prepared for a job, but civilians typically know how to talk about their experience and personal impact more effectively,” she adds. “In the military, it’s all about the team, so veterans are not comfortable talking about their individual impact. They often talk about what their team did instead.”</p> <p>Thinking about their accomplishments at the individual level is just one of the many mental pivots veterans must make as they learn to sell themselves to hiring managers. Candorful aids in that process through live interview simulations and feedback. Veterans accessing the company’s platform choose three coaches from Candorful’s pool of experienced interviewers. They then conduct three one-on-one mock interviews via a video conferencing platform, each lasting about 30 minutes, followed by 15 minutes of verbal feedback. After the session, veterans receive a full report on their performance from each coach.</p> <p>The company was started in 2017 by Hubbell and co-founder Peter Sukits, who served in the U.S. Army for five years. The founders celebrated their 1,000th training session in November and are planning to dramatically increase the number of veterans coming through their platform this year.</p> <p>“Our clients can be actively deployed or in a transition program,” Hubbell says, noting Candorful has even helped a soldier serving in a war zone. “They can be anywhere in the world.”</p> <p><strong>Giving back</strong></p> <p>As a captain in the Army, Sukits served as a platoon leader and head planning officer for a 400-soldier battalion in Afghanistan. He decided it was time to pursue a civilian career in 2011.</p> <p>At the time, Hubbell was working as a consultant and advisor at Cornell University, where she was running mock job interviews with students and alumni. That’s where she met Sukits.</p> <p>Sukits had attended Carnegie Mellon University as an undergraduate prior to commissioning as an Army officer, and Hubbell was impressed with his qualifications and charisma. But she also noticed his discomfort with elaborating on his personal experience.</p> <p>“Veterans have amazing skills, [such as] leadership skills, and rich experience, but the experience of selling yourself during a job interview doesn’t exist in the military.”</p> <p>Sukits was accepted into Cornell University’s MBA program and went on to land a great job at Procter and Gamble. But his desire to help others drove him to call Hubbell in 2016 to brainstorm business ideas around offering career services. It didn’t take long for them to focus on conducting mock job interviews for veterans transitioning back to civilian life.</p> <p>Hubbell had already measured the impact of mock interviews at Cornell. She found that students who participated in the interviews were twice as likely to land their desired job, and they did so sooner than students who hadn’t done the practice interviews.</p> <p>Although it had been 20 years since Hubbell was a student at MIT, she had kept in touch with fellow alumni and staff members. The founders received support from MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service early on, which Hubbell says gave the business legitimacy and helped them hone their story. Three of Hubbell’s former classmates at the MIT Sloan School of Management began serving on Candorful’s board of directors, and when it came time for the newly formed board to meet, Rod Garcia, the assistant dean of admissions at MIT Sloan, set them up with a conference room on campus.</p> <p>The startup began as a for-profit venture, but it became clear that securing nonprofit status was essential to gain the trust of partners like Hiring Our Heroes and the Department of Defense’s Transition Assistance Program. Hubbel says being a nonprofit changed the founders’ approach to fundraising, and it took about 18 months to be granted nonprofit status, but the founders didn’t let the wait prevent them from helping veterans.</p> <p><strong>Easing the transition</strong></p> <p>In the summer of 2017, relying on volunteers, the founders began coaching a small number of veterans. By 2018, they had partnered with veteran transition assistance programs and had a steady stream of veterans using their service.</p> <p>Hubbell credits a few large companies for providing assistance early on, including Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Amazon, PWC, Keystone Strategy, East Boston Savings Bank, and Ernst and Young. Some of those companies put Candorful on their internal volunteer opportunities lists, which helped establish a pool of highly qualified coaches. Volunteers come from a variety of fields, the one unifying factor being that they have extensive experience conducting job interviews.</p> <p>“Our volunteers are people who want to give back to veterans,” Hubbell says. “And it’s easy for them; they’re able to do it from their desk at lunch or dining room table after dinner.”</p> <p>Following the interview and verbal feedback, each volunteer fills out a scorecard that provides the veterans with grades on everything from their physical appearance to their response structure. Veterans, in turn, rate their coaches.</p> <p>Of the people who have gone through the Candorful process and left the military, Hubbell says 98 percent had landed their desired job as of the third quarter of 2019.</p> <p>As the founders work to update their numbers, Hubbell can happily report that Candorful has helped almost 500 veterans prepare for and land jobs, some of whom have even returned to Candorful as volunteer coaches.</p> <p>“The vast majority of our clients have worked in the military for 10 to 20 years,” Hubbell says. “By the time civilians are reaching the 10-year point of their career, they’ve had experience with interviews, learned, and gotten feedback. The military community &nbsp;doesn’t have the same experience, so we want to close that gap. Not to mention, if they’re eight to 20 years out of high school, they probably have kids. There’s a lot on the line when it’s time to get a good job.”</p> Candorful uses video conferencing to facilitate mock job interviews between volunteer coaches and military personnel to help prepare them for civilian job interviews.Image: CandorfulInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Jobs, Venture Mentoring Service, Alumni/ae, Social entrepreneurship, Security studies and military, Startups, MIT Sloan School of Management Bradford Parkinson SM ’61 awarded Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering “Father of GPS” honored with three colleagues for creating the first truly global, satellite-based positioning system. Fri, 24 Jan 2020 15:10:01 -0500 Mary Hopkins | Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics <p>Bradford Parkinson SM ’61, who received his master of science degree in the MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AeroAstro), was honored last month with the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering along with three colleagues responsible for creating the first truly global, satellite-based positioning system (GPS).</p> <p>The Queen Elizabeth Prize is the world’s most prestigious engineering accolade, a £1 million (about $1.3 million) award that celebrates the global impact of engineering innovation on humanity. Parkinson was honored along with Hugo Fruehauf, Richard Schwartz, and James Spilker Jr., whose widow received the award, at Buckingham Palace in December from the Prince of Wales.</p> <p>“This recognition reflects the responsibility incumbent upon those developing technology today to strive to do so for the good of humanity,” said Parkinson. “Day after day, we are astounded at the new ways in which people across the world use GPS. It is a ‘System for Humanity’ in each and every sense.”</p> <p>The global positioning system represents a pioneering innovation which, for the first time, enabled free, immediate access to accurate position and timing information around the world. An estimated 4 billion people use GPS, and its applications range from navigation and disaster relief to climate monitoring systems, banking systems, and the foundation of tomorrow’s transport, agriculture, and industry.</p> <p>Parkinson, often called the “father of GPS,” successfully built upon several separate systems to create the current GPS design. He directed the program and led the development, design, and testing of its key components, insisting that GPS needed to be intuitive and inexpensive, which is why it is accessible worldwide today. Leading the original advocacy for the system in 1973 as a U.S. Air Force colonel, he became the first director of the GPS Joint Program Office and led the original development of spacecraft, Master Control Station, and eight types of user equipment. He guided the program through the extensive test validation process, including being launch commander for the first GPS satellite launches.</p> <p>“One of the most important things we had when the project started was a vision of world impact,” said Parkinson. “Without that inspiration, it would have been difficult for us to weather the storms of doing something for the first time. Back in 1978, I made a few drawings that depicted GPS applications that I could personally foresee; they included an automobile navigation system, semi-automatic air traffic control, and wide-area vehicle monitoring, that seem to be rather accurate 41 years later.”</p> <p>GPS combines a constellation of at least 24 orbiting satellites with ground stations and receiving devices. Each satellite contains a set of atomic clocks that keep ultra-precise time down to a billionth of a second. The satellite broadcasts its time as well as a radio signal containing its location to GPS receivers on Earth, which require signals from at least four satellites to determine their position. GPS receivers measure the time delay in each signal to calculate the distance to each satellite, then use that information to pinpoint the receiver’s location on earth.</p> <p>Using GPS technology, simple smartphone apps can track disease outbreaks, self-driving tractors can optimize crop harvests, and sports teams can improve team performance. New applications for GPS continue to revolutionize entire industries, and its annual economic value has been estimated to be $80 billion for the United States alone.</p> <p>“This year’s laureates have demonstrated that engineering makes things happen. With the first global, satellite-based positioning system, they created an engineered system which provides free, immediate and accurate information about position and time, anywhere around the globe,” said Lord Browne of Madingley, chair of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Foundation. “The world now depends on GPS completely and without exception. In honoring the 2019 prize winners, we hope to inspire the next generation of engineers to continue to push back the frontiers of the possible.”</p> <p>A professor emeritus of aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford University, Parkinson received his undergraduate degree in engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1957, his master’s degree at MIT, and his doctoral degree in aeronautics and astronautics from Stanford in 1966. During his military career, he served 21 years in the Air Force and five years In the U.S. Navy, retiring as a full colonel in 1978. At Stanford University, he led the development of many innovative applications of GPS, including: commercial aircraft (Boeing 737) blind landing using GPS alone, fully automatic GPS control of farm tractors on a rough field to an accuracy of two inches, and pioneering the augmentation to GPS (WAAS) that allows any user to achieve accuracies of two feet and very high levels of integrity assurance.</p> Bradford Parkinson was honored with the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering.Photo courtesy of Bradford Parkinson.Aeronautics and Astronautics, School of Engineering, Alumni/ae, Technology and society, Invention, awards, Awards, honors and fellowships Three from MIT graduate from NASA astronaut training Chari, Hoburg, and Moghbeli, all with ties to the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, among the first class to graduate under agency’s Artemis program. Wed, 22 Jan 2020 17:00:01 -0500 Sara Cody | Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics <p>On Friday, Jan. 10, the newest class of astronauts graduated from basic training at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. During the graduation ceremony, Warren “Woody” Hoburg ’08 couldn’t help but reflect on the gratitude towards everyone who supported his dream of becoming an astronaut, including his parents, who were in the audience.</p> <p>“Whether I was skydiving or building 20-foot tall model rockets in their garage, my parents have always given me the freedom to explore my interests,” said Hoburg, a research affiliate in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AeroAstro) at MIT. “I was so happy to have them by my side celebrating graduation along with my NASA classmates, instructors, trainers and mentors, who were all instrumental in getting me here.”</p> <p>At the ceremony, Hoburg — along with fellow MIT AeroAstro alumni Raja Chari SM '01 and Jasmin Moghbeli '05, eight other NASA candidates, and two Canadian Space Agency (CSA) candidates — was among the first class of astronauts under the Artemis program to receive an astronaut pin, marking their graduation from basic training and their eligibility to be selected for upcoming missions to space.</p> <p>“Artemis is a bold new vision in space exploration uniting the international community. In addition to expeditions to the International Space Station, these astronauts could one day walk on the moon as a part of the Artemis program and perhaps one of them could be among the first humans to walk on Mars,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in his opening remarks. “Their trailblazing triumphs will transform humanity’s presence in our solar system and forever change life here on Earth. In short, they represent the best of humanity and our most fervent hopes for the future — no pressure.”</p> <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p>The graduation ceremony is a culmination of two years of rigorous training in spacewalking, robotics, International Space Station systems, T-38 jet proficiency, and Russian language. The Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory features a full-scale mockup of modules from the International Space Station (ISS) and other space agency vehicles in an indoor pool that is 40 feet deep. Astronaut candidates, dressed in space suits, perform tasks underwater to simulate working and maneuvering in a weightless environment.</p> <p>“Everyone comes to basic training with experiences that are relevant to being an astronaut, like pilots, engineers, and scientists, but no one has ever worn a space suit before, which is a significant part of our training,” said Hoburg. “I still remember my first run in the [Neutral] Buoyancy Lab, getting lowered into the pool in the suit and seeing my first view of the [International] Space Station through my helmet visor. It was an amazing and surreal experience.”</p> <p>Hoburg and his classmates, who were <a href="" target="_self">selected in 2017</a> from a record-setting pool of more than 18,000 applicants, will help develop spacecraft, support the teams currently in space and ultimately join the ranks of only about 500 people who have gone into space. The Artemis program is a particularly exciting new initiative that aims to send the first woman and next man to the moon by 2024.</p> <p>“The Artemis program will take a different approach than Apollo by setting up a sustainable established presence on the moon that is similar to that of the ISS,” said Hoburg. “From my perspective as an engineer, I am most excited about building and fixing hardware in space. We need to develop a range of technologies to get us to Mars, and the moon is a perfect training ground for that. If we need to develop architectures and systems that enable us to use the resources of another planetary body to support the mission in a way that our lives depend on, then why not do it first in a place where we have the option to come home?”</p> <p>Post-graduation, Hoburg will complete flight training in Corpus Christi, Texas, and will return to Johnson Space Center to support current and future exploration missions. Hoburg, along with classmates Chari and Moghbeli, bring up the total number of MIT astronaut alumni to 41, with 17 of them coming from MIT AeroAstro.</p> NASA's newest astronauts participate in a graduation ceremony at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Left to right: NASA astronaut Jonny Kim, Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut Joshua Kutryk, NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins, CSA astronaut Jennifer Sidey-Gibbons, NASA astronauts Frank Rubio, Kayla Barron, Jasmin Moghbeli, Loral O'Hara, Zena Cardman, Raja Chari, Matthew Dominick, Bob Hines, and Warren Hoburg. Photo: James Blair/NASAAeronautical and astronautical engineering, NASA, Alumni/ae, Staff, Space exploration, Moon, School of Engineering, Space, astronomy and planetary science Stick with me A campaign to spread notes of kindness is coming to MIT, inspired by alumni Nick Demas and Jerry Wang. Thu, 16 Jan 2020 14:40:01 -0500 Maisie O’Brien | MindHandHeart <p>Have you ever received a spontaneous note of encouragement on a bad day? Or a few kinds words that helped you overcome a daunting challenge? This year, MindHandHeart is hoping to create more of these moments of care and support.</p> <p>At tabling events from orientation to finals, MindHandHeart is giving away colorful sticky cards with instructions for writing encouraging messages to friends, colleagues, labmates, and others.</p> <p>This campaign began several years ago when two recent graduates, Jerry Wang PhD '19 and Nick Demas PhD '19, founded the “Stick with Me” project. Having served as co-presidents of Edgerton House, where they organized over 100 community events, Demas and Wang’s commitment to community has left an indelible mark on the MIT campus.</p> <p>Demas and Wang met as undergraduates at Yale University and arrived at MIT to study mechanical engineering. Wang studied the nanoscale physics of fluid, while Demas specialized in developing new sensors. They chose to live together in Edgerton House, where they stayed their entire time at MIT.</p> <p>“I feel truly lucky to have made such a terrific friend in Jerry,” says Demas. “MIT is a tough place to go through alone, but making strong friendships makes the good times really sweet and the hard times manageable.”</p> <p>Their “Stick with Me” project began during their first semester at MIT. “That’s when the huge wave of exams that comes with being an MIT student really hit us,” recalls Demas. “Jerry put a post-it note with a lighthearted good luck message on the back of our door for me to read before my first test. It was a really nice note of encouragement. The exam went horribly, but the note definitely helped keep everything in perspective.”</p> <p>Demas returned the favor, writing out a list of mathematical symbols that translated to “Good Luck Jerry!” on a sticky note. “Certainly, before a test, the last thing you need is more high-level cognitive reasoning, but it was a fun note and it made me laugh,” says Wang.</p> <p>Fast forward to the end of their PhDs at MIT and their door was covered in a mosaic of sticky notes, featuring drawings, puns, movie quotes, and much “nerd humor.”</p> <p>“I look back on all of our notes and caffeine-filled nights with such fondness,” says Demas. “There’s just so much camaraderie and fellowship that comes with sticking through thick and thin with somebody.”</p> <p>Motivated to share their “Stick with Me” tradition with others, Demas and Wang applied to the <a href="">MindHandHeart Innovation Fund</a>, a grant program supporting ideas to make MIT a more welcoming, inclusive, and healthy place. They were awarded funds to turn their sticky notes into postcards, which were distributed across campus and sent to regions as far away as Portugal, South Africa, and China.</p> <p>The pair also hosted an event in Edgerton House where over 100 students attended and made sticky notes and postcards for their friends and housemates. And, they covered the pillars in Lobby 7 with sticky notes and invited passersby to write messages of support and encouragement to students during finals period.</p> <p>“Being immersed in the intense, cutting-edge work we do here at MIT can be a lonely, demanding experience, but there’s also a lot of potential for community,” says Wang. “It’s your community that will ground you, and I think everybody can seek that out. It’s never too late to meet new people, join a club, or attend a social event.”</p> <p>Considering what advice they would give current MIT students, Demas reflects: “Take the initiative and reach out to others. Invite people to tell you about their day. People will reciprocate. That’s where making lifelong connections starts.”</p> <p>Nodding, Wang adds, “And make your own sticky notes or something else entirely for your friends. You can create your own story in your own medium, and brighten someone’s day.”</p> Nick Demas PhD '19 (left) and Jerry Wang PhD '19 stand outside Edgerton House with a larger-than-life note of encouragement.Photo: Maisie O'BrienMindHandHeart, Mechanical engineering, School of Engineering, Community, Student life, Arts, Alumni/ae Whitehead Institute receives $10 million to study sex chromosomes’ impact on women’s health Gift establishes the Brit Jepson d’Arbeloff Center on Women&#039;s Health. Wed, 15 Jan 2020 10:00:47 -0500 Whitehead Institute <p>The Whitehead Institute has announced that Brit Jepson d’Arbeloff SM '61 — a pioneering engineer, advocate for women in science, and philanthropic leader — has made a $10 million gift to support research uncovering the biological consequences of the sex chromosomes on women's health and disease. The gift, one of the largest contributions ever made to the Whitehead Institute, will underwrite the establishment of the Brit Jepson d’Arbeloff Center on Women's Health within the institute’s Sex Differences in Health and Disease Initiative.</p> <p>The overall initiative is a comprehensive effort to understand sex differences at the molecular level — a long-neglected area of biomedical research — by building a fundamental understanding of how the female and male genome, transcriptome, epigenome, proteome, and metabolome differ. In the long run, determining the practical implications of those differences should lead to better, more effective treatments for both women and men.</p> <p>The initiative<em> </em>holds particular promise for understanding health and treating disease in women. The d’Arbeloff Center<em> </em>is designed to drive progress toward that promise: catalyzing basic and translational research studies and collaborations that transform health care for women.</p> <p>“Brit d’Arbeloff has been a trailblazer in science, research, and education,” says David C. Page, Whitehead Institute director and MIT professor of biology, who leads the sex differences initiative. “This is just the latest example of her determination to help drive biomedical research forward in significant ways. She is a staunch supporter of our work to understand the effects of the sex chromosomes on human health and disease, and her leadership and generosity have enabled us to build a solid research foundation.</p> <p>“With this extraordinary new gift, she empowers us to build on that base by pursuing and translating discoveries that address the gaps in knowledge about health and disease in women,” Page says.</p> <p>D’Arbeloff, a member of the Whitehead Institute’s board of directors since 2008, says, “I have long marveled at the stream of scientific discoveries and technical advances by Whitehead Institute researchers. For me, the most exciting of that work is being done within the sex differences initiative — exciting for both the imperative task it is taking on and the invaluable knowledge it is creating. The initiative will help to redress the longstanding inadequacy of research into women’s health and disease, and to catalyze development of therapeutics that are demonstrated effective for women.</p> <p>“I believe that this is an essential biomedical quest, one as challenging today as the Human Genome Project was in 1991,” d’Arbeloff says. “No institution is better positioned to lead it than Whitehead Institute. And, in creating the Center for Women’s Health, I cannot make a more important investment in the health of my grandchildren and their children.”</p> <p>D’Arbeloff is known for her enduring commitment to advancing biomedical research and to ensuring opportunities for women scientists and engineers. It is a commitment born of her own experience. She was the first woman to earn a mechanical engineering degree from Stanford University, graduating at the top of her class, but she had difficulty finding a job. When she earned a master’s degree at MIT in 1961, she was the sole woman in the school’s mechanical engineering department. She went on to become part of pioneering industries — contributing to the design of the Redstone missile in the 1960s, then programming software for Digital Equipment Corporation and Teradyne. For decades since, she has supported the efforts of women to succeed in science and engineering by offering her energy and leadership, her knowledge and experience, and her philanthropy.</p> <p>While d’Arbeloff has provided substantial philanthropic support to a range of nonprofit organizations, she has had a particular impact in education, science, and technology. For example, beyond her decades of support for the Whitehead Institute, she established an MIT-based summer program to introduce female high school students to engineering careers, founded the Women in Science Committee of the Museum of Science, Boston, and supported the MGH Research Scholars Program to advance the careers of emerging clinical researchers.</p> <p>The d’Arbeloff Center will create synergies and collaborations among Whitehead Institute investigators and facilities and those at biomedical research organizations throughout the Boston, Massachusetts region, across the nation, and around the world. Leveraging the knowledge gained by the initiative’s investigations into the molecular mechanisms through which the X and Y chromosomes give rise to sex-specific differences in cells, tissues, and organs, the center will delve into the ways that those differences contribute to conditions of health and of disease in women.</p> <p>It will bring together experts in sex chromosome biology and sex hormones, computational biology and cutting-edge analytics, and proteomics, epigenetics, and metabolomics — fostering the kinds of researcher collaborations never before undertaken and spurring new approaches to the many-variable problem inherent in sex differences research. The center<em> </em>will also pursue partnerships to translate and develop meaningful discoveries into clinical applications for diagnosing, preventing, and treating disease in women. Ultimately, Page envisions, center-driven collaborations and partnerships will include university or medical school-based and independent research organizations, pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers, and federal agencies.</p> <p>Page, who will conclude his term as director in June, is also an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He has run a thriving research lab throughout his 35 years at Whitehead Institute, and is globally renowned for his groundbreaking research on sex chromosomes: His studies on the Y chromosome changed the way biomedical science views the function of sex chromosomes, and the work of his laboratory was cited twice in <em>Science</em>&nbsp;magazine’s “Top 10 Breakthroughs of the Year” — first for mapping a human chromosome and then for sequencing the human Y chromosome.</p> <p>D’Arbeloff observes, “I have very concrete hopes for the center: I want it to help ensure that biomedical research reflects and benefits all of humanity — women and men, young and old. And I believe it is not hyperbole to say that David Page’s sex differences initiative truly has the potential to change the future of health care — for everyone.”</p> Brit d’Arbeloff and David Page (both seated) with Page lab postdoc Adrianna San Roman (left) and Sahin Naqvi PhD '19, a former Page lab grad studentPhoto: Whitehead InstituteWhitehead Institute, Health care, Women in STEM, Medicine, Gender, Giving, Alumni/ae, Women, Funding, Genetics, DNA, Biology, School of Science A new way to irrigate crops year-round Startup Khethworks is deploying solar-powered pumps to help poor farmers in India irrigate crops all year long. Fri, 10 Jan 2020 15:04:12 -0500 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>Toward the end of 2019, startup Khethworks began selling what the team refers to internally as “version one” of its 320-watt solar-powered water pump. The pump allows farmers in India who rely on crop harvests to feed their families to farm year-round instead of being limited to the four-month monsoon season. In just a couple of months, the product has started to change the fortunes of underserved farmers in India, lifting up families and impacting entire villages.</p> <p>But getting to version one was neither quick nor easy. For Khethworks co-founder and CEO Katie Taylor SM ’15, the first product release is the culmination of an uncompromising journey, begun in 2014, to create a product that fits the lifestyles of farmers and minimizes risk for vulnerable communities.</p> <p>That approach has forced Khethworks to reject easier paths to commercialization. But now that the pump is available and production processes are in place, the founders, which also include Kevin Simon SM ’15 PhD ’19 and Victor Lesniewski SM ’15, are excited to scale the deployment of a product they know can change lives.</p> <p><strong>A long journey</strong></p> <p>Many farmers in rural areas of eastern India have limited access to electricity, making it difficult to use the groundwater they need to grow crops outside of monsoon season, which runs from June to September. One way to farm during dry months is to rent pumps that run on diesel or kerosene, but Taylor says that option leaves farmers with hardly any profit after the high costs of the rental and fuel.</p> <p>The situation forces many farmers to leave their villages each year to pursue physically demanding migrant work after monsoon season — separating families at a time when crop prices are at their highest because supply is lower.</p> <p>Taylor learned all of this during trips to eastern India as an MIT graduate student and Tata Fellow in 2013. At the time, she was working with smallholder farmers to design an inexpensive, low-pressure drip irrigation system. She quickly learned the bigger problem was accessing groundwater, so she partnered with Simon, Lesniewski, and Marcos Esparza ’15 (a co-founder who is no longer with the company), who were classmates in of hers in 2.760 (Global Engineering). The students began working nights and weekends to develop a groundwater pump that ran on the most reliable, abundant resource available to farmers during dry months: the sun.</p> <p>From the start, the founders made a point of becoming intimately familiar with the existing practices and preferences of smallholder farmers.</p> <p><strong>“</strong>We didn’t create this fancy technology at MIT and then think about where it was applicable,” Taylor says. “We were taking input from farmers from day one.”</p> <p>Taylor estimates she traveled to India eight times while attending classes at MIT and credits GEAR Lab Director Amos Winter, the Robert N. Noyce Career Development Assistant Professor at MIT, for encouraging students to pursue ideas outside of the classroom.</p> <p>The trips made for some insightful, if difficult, moments for the founders. Taylor remembers putting the final touches on a prototype at MIT in the middle of a blizzard with a flight scheduled for later that day. The typical route to the villages where the founders conducted testing included a flight to Mumbai, another flight to Kolkata, a seven-hour train ride, and a two-hour car ride. Things rarely went as planned.</p> <p>“Kevin and I had worked nights and weekends for years leading up to a launch [in February 2015],” Taylor remembers. “We’d spent so much time in the machine shop … and we finally get to this village, all the farmers are very excited — and it didn’t work the whole first day. I remember that hour-and-a-half jeep ride back from the village to our hotel being the most sad and angry I’ve ever been in my life. Since then I’ve had plenty of those ‘fun’ moments.”</p> <p>From then on, the founders traveled prepared. On another occasion, when they needed to make a change to their pump, they set up a soldering machine in their hotel room with an open door for ventilation. The hotel staff, perplexed, simply pulled up chairs and watched.</p> <p><br /> After going through delta v, the summer accelerator run out of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, Taylor and Lesniewski moved to India in the beginning of 2016, while Simon stayed at MIT to pursue his PhD. Although the challenges didn’t stop when they got to India, Taylor thinks moving was a hugely beneficial decision for the company.</p> <p>“The whole point of moving to India was so we could spend more time with farmers, get more feedback, manufacture in the country, build up a local team,” Taylor says. “It would be shortsighted to do all that from afar.”</p> <p>Indeed, the founders have achieved a series of key milestones since moving, including securing early funding, obtaining a patent from the Indian government for their pump design, and setting up a manufacturing base in the west Indian city of Pune. Khethworks is also planning to raise more funding this year.</p> <p>As the founders prepared to start selling their product, they were careful to go to market in a way that aligns with the company’s mission.</p> <p>“We’ve had organizations over the years say, ‘This sounds good, give me 10,000 pumps and we’ll take care of the rest,’” Taylor says. “But sometimes, people willing to do that might not care about the execution or the follow up for repairs and things like that. We care so much about it being done responsibly that we refuse to have any risks we take fall upon the backs of the farmers. Perhaps we could have gone faster, but I’m glad we’re proceeding ethically.”</p> <p><strong>A tool for impact</strong></p> <p>From a distance, you might guess someone carrying Khethworks’ pump is going to the beach. Up closer, you’d see a farmer with a small tote bag, a controller that looks like a lunch box, and two solar panels, each roughly a quarter of a ping pong table in size.</p> <p>The tote bag holds what is called a submersible centrifugal solar pump — the key to the system’s portability, low price point, and efficiency. Solar power drives the rotation of the pump’s curved, triangular channels. When the pump is dropped into water, fluid is pushed from the center axis to the ends of the channels, driving water above ground. Compared to other locally available pumps, Taylor says Khethworks’ solution is two to three times more efficient, allowing it to work with smaller, less expensive solar panels.</p> <p>To get the pump running, farmers connect the panels, pump, and controller, then connect the pump to the piping in the field, drop the pump into the water, and flip the on switch.</p> <p>The pump weighs under 10 pounds, and Taylor has seen elderly women carrying the solar panels with ease. Portability is essential because, in many villages, farmers sleep with their valuables to avoid theft.</p> <p>About 60 farmers used the pump during trials, and Khethworks is on track to sell 100 pumps to farmers in the states of Jharkhand and West Bengal by the end of the first quarter of 2020.</p> <p>For now, the company is only selling to farmers in a few areas of eastern India, where Taylor says early adopters are using the pumps to make thousands more rupees each year, a transformative amount of money for many families. Farmers also often split the cost of the pump with neighbors and share it throughout the dry season, multiplying Khethworks’ impact.</p> <p>Not bad for version one. The truth is Taylor has lost track of how many versions her team has designed, but puts it somewhere in the 30 to 40 range. Even while acknowledging the hard times, she wouldn’t have it any other way.</p> <p>“We’ve always had more demand than we could handle, so it’s been exciting getting this to people who have been asking for it for years,” Taylor says. “We just want to help farmers make more money. It’s simple. Now we want to make that happen at greater scales.”</p> A woman carrying a Khethworks solar panel. The efficiency of Khethworks' groundwater pump enables it to be powered by smaller panels, making the system portable.Image courtesy of KhethworksIndia, Startups, Alumni/ae, Farming, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Agriculture, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, Social entrepreneurship, Developing countries, Poverty, Business and management Professor Emeritus Ali Argon, pioneer in the mechanics of materials, dies at 89 Longtime MIT professor was a world leader in inelastic deformation and fracture of engineering materials. Fri, 03 Jan 2020 15:30:01 -0500 Mary Beth Gallagher | Department of Mechanical Engineering <p>Ali S. Argon SM '53, ScD '56, the Quentin Berg Emeritus Professor of Mechanical Engineering, passed away on Dec. 21, 2019, at the age of 89. A world-leading expert in the mechanics of materials, Argon’s pioneering research furthered the field’s understanding of inelastic deformation and fracture of materials including metals and alloys, ceramics, glasses, polymers, and composites.</p> <p>Argon was born in 1930 in Istanbul, Turkey, to a Turkish father and a German mother. After completing high school in Turkey, Argon moved to the United States, where he obtained a bachelor of science degree from Purdue University in 1952. He then enrolled in graduate school at MIT, where he studied materials science under Professor Egon Orowan. Argon received his master’s degree in mechanical engineering from MIT in 1953 and his doctoral degree in 1956. His doctoral thesis examined the strength and anelasticity of glass.</p> <p>After receiving his doctorate, Argon spent two years working on Van de Graaf particle accelerators for both research and medical applications at the High Voltage Engineering Corporation in Burlington, Massachusetts. He then returned to Turkey in 1958 to serve in the Turkish Army Ordnance Corps.</p> <p>In 1960, after two years of military service, Argon returned to MIT, having accepted a faculty position in mechanical engineering. By 1968, he was named a full professor. In 2001, Argon was named the Quentin Berg Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT.</p> <p>Throughout his career, Argon combined novel experiments with theoretical and computational modeling to deepen the understanding of inelastic deformation and fracture of engineering materials. His research shed light on the connections between microstructure and macroscopic deformation and failure properties of engineering solids.</p> <p>Having published 335 research works, Argon is one of the most-cited researchers in the field of mechanics of materials. Along with co-author Frank A. McClintock, he wrote the seminal text “Mechanical Behavior of Materials” (Addison-Wesley, 1966). As one of the first books to provide an overview of the mechanical behavior of metals as well as ceramics, rubbers, and polymers, many consider the work as the beginning of the mechanics and materials field.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>In addition to his impactful research contributions, Argon was a dedicated educator throughout his career at MIT. He mentored over 30 doctoral students, many of whom have gone on to become leading experts in the field. In the mid-1990s, Argon helped reshape the graduate program in mechanical engineering at MIT by leading an ad hoc committee. Under his leadership, the committee put forth recommendations for graduate programs designed for students interested in pursuing careers in industry.</p> <p>Argon received numerous awards and honors in recognition for his research contributions. In 1989, he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering for “major contributions to the understanding of deformation and fracture of engineering materials through the application of mechanics to microstructure." He was also made a fellow of the American Physical Society. Among his many awards are the ASME Nadai Medal, ETH’s Staudinder Durrer Medal, and the Heyn Medal of the German Materials Society. In 2005 he received an honorary doctoral degree from his alma mater, Purdue University.</p> <p>Argon is survived by his wife, Xenia (nee Lacher), and his son, Kermit. He was predeceased by his daughter, Alice, in 2015.</p> Professor Emeritus Ali Argon, Quentin Berg Emeritus Professor of Mechanical Engineering (1930-2019)Photo: John FreidahMechanical engineering, School of Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, Obituaries, Faculty, Alumni/ae, Mentoring, DMSE Featured video: 50 years of Interphase EDGE Impactful program for first-year students helps to ensure a successful transition to MIT. Mon, 30 Dec 2019 09:00:00 -0500 MIT News Office <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p>Fifty years ago, in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., a new legacy was born at MIT: Project Interphase, a summer session for incoming first-year MIT students that aims to ease the transition to MIT and build community among new students.</p> <p>This fall, alumni, current students, faculty, staff, administrators, friends, and family gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the program, today known as Interphase EDGE (Empowering Discovery, Gateway to Excellence).</p> <p>As part of the 50th anniversary celebration, the MIT Office of Minority Education, which coordinates the program, welcomed back Shirley Ann Jackson ’68, PhD ’73, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and one of the leaders behind the original idea for the program; as well as several members of the Project Interphase inaugural cohort, including Sylvester “Jim” Gates ’73, PhD ’77, a professor of physics at Brown University.</p> <p>A new video celebrates the history of Interphase EDGE, which now extends beyond an initial summer session into students’ first two academic years. “I recall that experience being really instrumental in helping me to feel a part of the MIT community,” says Eboney Hearn ’01, who is now the executive director of MIT’s Office of Engineering Outreach Programs.</p> <p>Adds Gates: “It was the singular, most important academic experience I ever had in my life.”</p> <p><em>Submitted by: Office of Minority Education | Video by: MIT Video Productions | 3 min, 48 sec</em></p> MIT is celebrating 50 years of Project Interphase, a summer session for incoming first-year students that aims to ease the transition to MIT and to help build community. Featured video, Classes and programs, Diversity and inclusion, STEM education, Students, Undergraduate, Alumni/ae, History of MIT Bose grants for 2019 reward bold ideas across disciplines Three innovative research projects in literature, plant epigenetics, and chemical engineering will be supported by Professor Amar G. Bose Research Grants. Mon, 23 Dec 2019 14:40:11 -0500 MIT Resource Development <p>Now in their seventh year, the Professor Amar G. Bose Research Grants support visionary projects that represent intellectual curiosity and a pioneering spirit. Three MIT faculty members have each been awarded one of these prestigious awards for 2019 to pursue diverse questions in the humanities, biology, and engineering.</p> <p>At a ceremony hosted by MIT President L. Rafael Reif on Nov. 25 and attended by past awardees, Provost Martin Schmidt, the Ray and Maria Stata Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, formally announced this year’s Amar G. Bose Research Fellows: Sandy Alexandre, Mary Gehring, and Kristala L.J. Prather.</p> <p>The fellowships are named&nbsp;for&nbsp;the late Amar G. Bose ’51, SM ’52, ScD ’56, a longtime MIT faculty member and the founder of the Bose Corporation. Speaking at the event, President Reif expressed appreciation for the Bose Fellowships, which enable highly creative and unusual research in areas that can be hard to fund through traditional means. “We are tremendously grateful to the Bose family for providing the support that allows bold and curious thinkers at MIT to dream big, challenge themselves, and explore.”</p> <p>Judith Bose, widow of Amar’s son, Vanu ’87, SM ’94, PhD ’99, congratulated the fellows on behalf of the Bose family. “We talk a lot at this event about the power of a great innovative idea, but I think it was a personal mission of Dr. Bose to nurture the ability, in each individual that he met along the way, to follow through — not just to have the great idea but the agency that comes with being able to pursue your idea, follow it through, and actually see where it leads,” Bose said. “And Vanu was the same way. That care that was epitomized by Dr. Bose not just in the idea itself, but in the personal investment, agency, and nurturing necessary to bring the idea to life — that care is a large part of what makes true change in the world."</p> <p><strong>The relationship between literature and engineering</strong></p> <p>Many technological innovations have resulted from the influence of literature, one of the most notable being the World Wide Web. According to many sources, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the web’s inventor, found inspiration from a short story by Arthur C. Clarke titled “Dial F for Frankenstein.” Science fiction has presaged a number of real-life technological innovations, including&nbsp;the defibrillator, noted in Mary Shelley’s "Frankenstein;" the submarine, described in Jules Verne’s "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea;" and earbuds, described in Ray Bradbury’s "Fahrenheit 451." But the data about literature’s influence on STEM innovations are spotty, and these one-to-one relationships are not always clear-cut.</p> <p>Sandy Alexandre, associate professor of literature, intends to change that by creating a large-scale database of the imaginary inventions found in literature. Alexandre’s project will enact the step-by-step mechanics of STEM innovation via one of its oft-unsung sources: literature. “To deny or sever the ties that bind STEM and literature is to suggest — rather disingenuously — that the ideas for many of the STEM devices that we know and love miraculously just came out of nowhere or from an elsewhere where literature isn’t considered relevant or at all,” she says.</p> <p>During the first phase of her work, Alexandre will collaborate with students to enter into the database the imaginary inventions as they are described verbatim in a selection of books and other texts that fall under the category of speculative fiction—a category that includes but is not limited to the subgenres of fantasy, Afrofuturism, and science fiction. This first phase will, of course, require that students carefully read these texts in general, but also read for these imaginary inventions more specifically. Additionally, students with drawing skills will be tasked with interpreting the descriptions by illustrating them as two-dimensional images.</p> <p>From this vast inventory of innovations, Alexandre, in consultation with students involved in the project, will decide on a short list of inventions that meet five criteria: they must be feasible, ethical, worthwhile, useful, and necessary. This vetting process, which constitutes the second phase of the project, is guided by a very important question: what can creating and thinking with a vast database of speculative fiction’s imaginary inventions teach us about what kinds of ideas we should (and shouldn’t) attempt to make into a reality? For the third and final phase, Alexandre will convene a team to build a real-life prototype of one of the imaginary inventions. She envisions this prototype being placed on exhibit at the MIT Museum.</p> <p>The Bose research grant, Alexandre says, will allow her to take this project from a thought experiment to lab experiment. “This project aims to ensure that literature no longer play an overlooked role in STEM innovations. Therefore, the STEM innovation, which will be the culminating prototype of this research project, will cite a work of literature as the main source of information used in its invention.”</p> <p><strong>Nature’s role in chemical production</strong></p> <p>Kristala L.J. Prather ’94, the Arthur D. Little Professor of Chemical Engineering, has been focused on using biological systems for chemical production during the 15 years she’s been at the Institute. Biology as a medium for chemical synthesis has been successfully exploited to commercially produce molecules for uses that range from food to pharmaceuticals — ethanol is a good example. However, there is a range of other molecules with which scientists have been trying to work, but they have faced challenges around an insufficient amount of material being produced and a lack of defined steps needed to make a specific compound.</p> <p>Prather’s research is rooted in the fact that there are a number of naturally (and unnaturally) occurring chemical compounds in the environment, and cells have evolved to be able to consume them. These cells have evolved or developed a protein that will sense a compound’s presence — a biosensor — and in response will make other proteins that help the cells utilize that compound for its benefit.</p> <p>“We know biology can do this,” Prather says, “so if we can put together a sufficiently diverse set of microorganisms, can we just let nature make these regulatory molecules for anything that we want to be able to sense or detect?” Her hypothesis is that if her team exposes cells to a new compound for a long enough period of time, the cells will evolve the ability to either utilize that carbon source or develop an ability to respond to it. If Prather and her team can then identify the protein that’s now recognizing what that new compound is, they can isolate it and use it to improve the production of that compound in other systems. “The idea is to let nature evolve specificity for particular molecules that we’re interested in,” she adds.</p> <p>Prather’s lab has been working with biosensors for some time, but her team has been limited to sensors that are already well characterized and that were readily available. She’s interested in how they can get access to a wider range of what she knows nature has available through the incremental exposure of new compounds to a more comprehensive subset of microorganisms.</p> <p>“To accelerate the transformation of the chemical industry, we must find a way to create better biological catalysts and to create new tools when the existing ones are insufficient,” Prather says. “I am grateful to the Bose Fellowship Committee for allowing me to explore this novel idea.”</p> <p>Prather’s findings as a result of this project hold the possibility of broad impacts in the field of metabolic engineering, including the development of microbial systems that can be engineered to enhance degradation of both toxic and nontoxic waste.</p> <p><strong>Adopting orphan crops to adapt to climate change</strong></p> <p>In the context of increased environmental pressure and competing land uses, meeting global food security needs is a pressing challenge. Although yield gains in staple grains such as rice, wheat, and corn have been high over the last 50 years, these have been accompanied by a homogenization of the global food supply; only 50 crops provide 90% of global food needs.</p> <p>However, there are at least 3,000 plants that can be grown and consumed by humans, and many of these species thrive in marginal soils, at high temperatures, and with little rainfall. These “orphan” crops are important food sources for farmers in less developed countries but have been the subject of little research.</p> <p>Mary Gehring, associate professor of biology at MIT, seeks to bring orphan crops into the molecular age through epigenetic engineering. She is working to promote hybridization, increase genetic diversity, and reveal desired traits for two orphan seed crops: an oilseed crop, <em>Camelina sativa </em>(false flax), and a high-protein legume, <em>Cajanus cajan </em>(pigeon pea).</p> <p><em>C. sativa, </em>which produces seeds with potential for uses in food and biofuel applications, can grow on land with low rainfall, requires minimal fertilizer inputs, and is resistant to several common plant pathogens. Until the mid-20th century, <em>C. sativa </em>was widely grown in Europe but was supplanted by canola, with a resulting loss of genetic diversity. Gehring proposes to recover this genetic diversity by creating and characterizing hybrids between <em>C. sativa </em>and wild relatives that have increased genetic diversity.</p> <p>“To find the best cultivars of orphan crops that will withstand ever increasing environmental insults requires a deeper understanding of the diversity present within these species. We need to expand the plants we rely on for our food supply if we want to continue to thrive in the future,” says Gehring. “Studying orphan crops represents a significant step in that direction. The Bose grant will allow my lab to focus on this historically neglected but vitally important field.”</p> Left to right: MIT Provost Martin Schmidt and President L. Rafael Reif stand with 2019 Bose Fellows Kristala Prather, Mary Gehring, and Sandy Alexandre, along with Judy Bose and Ursula Bose.Photo: Rose LincolnAwards, honors and fellowships, Grants, Faculty, Literature, Technology and society, Chemical engineering, Drug development, Chemistry, Biology, Microbes, Agriculture, Climate change, School of Science, School of Engineering, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Alumni/ae An engine for game-changing innovation The Engine, a venture firm built by MIT, is investing in companies tackling the world&#039;s most urgent problems. Fri, 13 Dec 2019 09:34:13 -0500 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>In 2016, MIT launched The Engine as a new way to fund and support Boston-area entrepreneurs who are using transformative technologies to address the world’s most pressing problems.</p> <p>By definition, these entrepreneurs’ plans for impact were as ambitious as they were uncertain; each would need to overcome fundamental technical and business challenges as they readied their breakthrough innovations to compete with legacy systems and technologies.</p> <p>Such uncertainty is often a deal breaker for venture capitalists, who prefer to invest in companies with easier paths to profitability than many startups working with cutting-edge technologies can promise. But The Engine, as MIT President L. Rafael Reif <a href="">announced</a>, would prioritize “breakthrough ideas over early profit, helping to shorten the time it takes these startups to become ‘VC-ready,’ providing comprehensive support in the meantime, and creating an enthusiastic community of inventors and supporters who share a focus on making a better world.”</p> <p>In the three years since its inception, The Engine has bridged the gap between “tough tech” companies and venture capital with remarkable success. It has invested in 20 startups to date — companies working on quantum computing, long-term energy storage, cancer therapies, nuclear fusion, and more. Those companies have raised more than $300 million in total venture capital to date and collectively employ more than 280 people.</p> <p>And much of The Engine’s early success lies beyond the&nbsp;numbers. Even as the firm’s team immerses itself in some of the hardest problems of science and engineering, its main focus remains on people. A core tenet of The Engine’s mission is to turn technical pioneers into leaders. Its emphasis on community and networking is also reflected in the Tough Tech Summit it hosts each year.</p> <p>Consequently, The Engine’s footprints are all over the world-changing paths its founders are traveling. Now, with its <a href="">recently announced</a> plans to add 200,000 square feet of work and lab space — enough to accommodate 1,000 entrepreneurs — that footprint is about to get a lot bigger.</p> <p>“It’s so inspiring to see the transformational innovations coming out of The Engine,” says MIT Executive Vice President and Treasurer Israel Ruiz, who also serves as chair of The Engine’s board of directors. “We’re all excited to see the original expansion plans come to reality, and I can’t wait to see how The Engine and its portfolio companies impact the region and the world.”</p> <p><strong>Founded around a mission</strong></p> <p>The Engine provides “patient” funding, mentoring, work and lab space, specialized equipment, and an extensive network to entrepreneurs working on transformative technologies. As a for-profit, public-benefit corporation, it has a unique structure, particularly in academia. But its creation didn’t surprise Katie Rae, who became its CEO and managing partner in 2017.</p> <p>“MIT is very willing to break new ground and try something unusual if it will tackle a big problem or impact the world,” Rae says.</p> <p>From the beginning, The Engine has sought out radically different approaches to some of the world’s most intractable problems — the kinds of ideas that might send more risk-averse investors running.</p> <p>Among the first seven startups The Engine invested in were Form Energy, which is using inexpensive alternatives to lithium to develop a new battery capable of storing energy from renewable sources for months at a time; Analytical Space, which is deploying a network of small satellites in low Earth orbit to improve the tracking of things like agricultural production, industrial assets, and weather; and Kytopen, which is developing an electric cell-engineering tool capable of delivering DNA to bacterial cells up to 10,000 times faster than current methods.</p> <p>“We want to create really important, breakthrough companies that last 100 years,” Rae says. “They have to be going after really big change, really big markets, and we want to give them an advantage; that’s our infrastructure, that’s our network.”</p> <p>The approach has allowed many innovators in the Boston area to pursue the full potential of their technologies in an environment that keeps them focused on the real-world problems they’re trying to solve.</p> <p>“I think a lot of the companies The Engine has invested in would not have been funded, or teams wouldn’t have formed, without significant pre-seed or seed capital,” says Adam Behrens, the CEO of Cambridge Crops, which has developed a natural, edible coating capable of dramatically extending the shelf life of food.</p> <p>When The Engine made its first financial commitment to the company in 2018, Cambridge Crops consisted of Behrens and co-founder Sezin Yigit dipping pineapples into its coating in the back of a warehouse. This summer, the company raised a $4 million seed round and hopes to earn approvals from the Food and Drug Administration next year.</p> <p>Cambridge Crops’ progress is not unique. In fact, all seven of The Engine’s first investments have raised additional funding in the form of investments or grants since The Engine’s early support. The companies have used that money to move into their own work spaces, hire local talent, and deploy their technologies in the areas that need them most.</p> <p>Those technologies are not limited to the physical realm. New approaches in artificial intelligence and other kinds of “deep software” have also featured prominently in The Engine’s investment strategy.</p> <p>Another one of The Engine’s early investments was iSee, which is developing humanistic AI to advance the capabilities of autonomous vehicles. Co-founders Yibiao Zhao and Chris Baker based the technology on theory of mind, or the ability to infer the intents and beliefs of others. The technology enables vehicles to deal with uncertainty by considering context and discerning the intentions of other drivers.</p> <p>Zhao, fresh off a postdoctoral research stint in the lab of MIT Professor Josh Tenenbaum, faced a steep learning curve when he began serving as the company’s chief executive in 2017. Since then, iSee has recruited a team of full stack engineers, deployed iSee’s software on roads in pilots with Fortune 400 companies, and, most recently, raised a $15 million funding round led by the well-known VC firm Founders Fund.</p> <p>Rae thinks the success of The Engine’s portfolio has made tough tech companies more attractive investments for corporations and venture capitalists.</p> <p>“We've uncovered many very important companies and brought them to market,” Rae says. “We've gathered a phenomenal group of founders, and I think we've excited a lot of people about this area of investment.”</p> <p>Leveraging its ties across industry, academia, and government, The Engine has also helped facilitate entirely new kinds of collaborations, like the one that formed around Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS), a company pursuing what has been called the holy grail of energy.</p> <p>The company is working to develop a potentially unlimited, carbon-free energy source based on nuclear fusion, the reaction that powers stars like our sun. CFS was <u><a href="">launched</a></u> as part of a collaboration with MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center and with funding from the Italian energy corporation Eni.</p> <p>“In the very beginning of CFS, there were a lot of people around who really loved the idea and wanted to see it happen, but didn't really want to take the first steps,” CFS co-founder and CEO Bob Mumgaard SM ’15 PhD ’15 says of early 2018, before his company had raised funding. “Those first steps are really hard to get when the idea is really big. It's sort of a standoff; everyone's ready to go, but who will be the first person to move? The Engine was really the first one to say, ‘We're going to jump in,’ and as soon as they did that, it broke the ice. It was so important to have The Engine in the room.”</p> <p><strong>A pillar for progress</strong></p> <p>The Engine’s expansion plans, <a href="">announced in August</a>, will increase its space sevenfold and place it squarely between Kendall Square and MIT’s campus. That should only enhance what is already a deeply collaborative environment.</p> <p>“It’s a like-minded community that expects excellence from one another,” Behrens says. “We’re all doing really good things, and trying to do big things; that takes diligence and execution, but it also takes support.”</p> <p>And as The Engine’s companies grow, Rae hopes they’ll become pillars in the greater Boston area’s innovation ecosystem similar to the local biotech industry.</p> <p>“Sometimes, entrepreneurs’ first decision when they start a company is to move to the [San Francisco] Bay Area,” Zhao says. “The Engine is the type of investor that wants to provide an environment for the founders from Boston to stay here and grow their team here. It’s working hard to be the influencer that makes the Boston area really tech friendly.”</p> The Engine’s team of 21 full time employees helps the entrepreneurs it invests in commercialize their transformative technologies.Courtesy of The EngineInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Industry, Business and management, Alumni/ae, President L. Rafael Reif, Cambridge, Boston and region MIT researchers examine cities worldwide for 2019 Seoul Architecture and Urbanism Biennale Transportation, communication, development, and social interaction are explored through the lens of the urban. Wed, 11 Dec 2019 12:35:01 -0500 School of Architecture and Planning <p>Inspired by the question “What are the problems our cities must confront?”, faculty, students, and alumni from the MIT School of Architecture and Planning participated in the 2019 Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism, which ran from September to November.</p> <p>The Biennale’s Cities Exhibition, curated by Rafael Luna MArch ’10 and Dongwoo Yim, invited participation from researchers in more than 80 cities worldwide, asking them to examine their most pressing concerns through the lens of the Biennale’s theme of “Collective City.” Their curatorial process included both identifying issues specific to cities and uncovering unexplored connections among them — and creating a new discourse in response.</p> <p>In their statement, the curators said, “[O]ur cities are a collective of spatial, temporal, and social environments and at the same time, organisms that constantly change due to the intervention of unintentional or unplanned factors. Even a [perfectly planned] city can reveal a new consequence due to the new variables; a city devised without solid plans creates a new order through the optimal interactions of the city’s elements. In all of these processes, temporal, spatial, and social elements are combined and work together. Thus, each city continues to evolve through every moment.”</p> <p>This year, the MIT-related participants and projects in the Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism included:</p> <p><a href=";cate=cities" target="_blank">Aldo: A Social Infrastructure</a>, from Julia Jamrozik and Coryn Kempster MArch ’08, examines Buffalo, New York — a 19th-century boomtown that declined sharply in the mid-20th century. Despite recent investment and activity, parts of Buffalo remain blighted by poverty and segregation. Aldo addresses this inequality with social infrastructures for playful public encounters, creating spaces for people from varied economic, political, and racial backgrounds to share experiences. &nbsp;</p> <p><a href=";cate=cities">Bangkok’s Urban Presence</a><a href=";cate=cities" target="_blank">: Toward the Future of Smart Urbanity</a>, by Non Arkaraprasertkul MS ’07 and Shouheng Shen, proposes interventions to address mobility obstacles in Bangkok, Thailand, such as traffic congestion. This work envisions a new “Smart Urbanity” that is scientific, data-driven, and socially sensitive to space and place. By investigating the challenges faced by pedestrians, this work seeks to provide a generalization of how and why we should not ignore physical realities when creating a sense of place.</p> <p><a href=";cate=cities">Big Plans: Made for China</a>, by Michael Sorkin Studio/Michael Sorkin MArch ’74, presents several projects that arise from fundamental predicates of the good city: neighborhoods; primacy of pedestrians; free mix of uses; recalculation of the ratio of green, blue, and built space; high levels of local autonomy; and the most radical environmental infrastructure possible. At a time when there is intense discussion of what, exactly, are the qualities of Chinese urbanism, these projects reflect a wide range — from the quasi-fantastical to the fully realizable.&nbsp;</p> <p><a href=";cate=cities">Boston Understories</a>, by Landing Studio (Dan Adams and Lecturer of Urban Design and Planning Marie Law Adams MArch ’06), uses the lens of the regulatory sign to contemplate spaces and activities under highway viaducts. Markers such as “no trespassing” signs fail to reflect the actuality of these sub-infrastructural spaces — where the market forces development into infrastructural margins, ecological systems converge with mobility networks, and public works intermingle with public recreation. Boston Understories introduces a new, more plural taxonomy of signs to encourage, amplify, and make legible actual and imagined collective domains of urban viaduct spaces.&nbsp;</p> <p><a href=";cate=cities">Creative Collectives</a>, from the platau platform for architecture and urbanism (Sandra Frem MS ’09, Boulos Douaihy, and Sabin), looks at the spatial history of the collective in Beirut — from political to social and economic — from 2000 to the present. It also investigates emerging forms of collectives at the intersection of private and communal, such as creative and entrepreneurial clusters. The project imagines a speculative future where Beirut is overlaid by a network of nodes — Creative Collectives — with specific criteria: creative reappropriation of vulnerable urban fabric and open spaces for positive negotiation among conservation, individual modes of practice, and collective experience.&nbsp;</p> <p>The <a href=";cate=cities">Heterotopial City</a> project by Ibañez Kim (Associate Professor Mariana Ibañez, Simon Kim SM ’08, Andrew Homick, Adam Schroth, Sarah Davis, Angeliki Tzifa, Tian Ouyang, and Kyuhun Kim) addresses master planning’s out-of-touch visions for urbanism and architecture; the complex role of citizenship in a highly dispersed communications landscape; and the shifting concept of natures without separate identities such as human/nonhuman, wild/civilized, public/private, and inside/outside. A crypto-city composed of familiar places is the location of new collective commons, synthetic natures, and hybrid environments; this city compresses elements of real metropolises to reveal our current human nature and suggest alternative actions.&nbsp;</p> <p>Introduction to Collective Consequences, by exhibition curators Luna and Yim, revealed their curatorial efforts and decisions as they interpreted the biennale’s main theme of Collective Cities. Collective consequences are an accumulation of multiple layers — the results of both planned and unplanned intentions. The Cities Exhibition was created with open-ended curation to allow for dialogue and chemistry between individual exhibits. The introductory exhibition provided methods for reading a city as a platform to understand different ways of discussing contemporary topics related to cities.</p> <p><a href=";cate=cities">Los Angeles: Towards an Automated Transitopia</a>, from associate professor of planning Andres Sevtsuk and Evan Shieh, envisions the year 2047, when the autonomous vehicle has catalyzed a mobility paradigm shift toward autonomous public transit in Los Angeles. A model of regional urban growth provides methods to combat the negative effects of the private automobile: urban sprawl, traffic congestion, environmental unsustainability, and mobility inequality.&nbsp;</p> <p><a href=";cate=cities">Manila Improstructure</a>, by Dietmar Offenhuber SM ’08 and Katja Schechtner, focuses on social practices in Manila’s streetlight and electricity grid. The project investigates how actors shape the infrastructural system through “improstructure” — infrastructure governance as an improvisational process of “call and response” among a diverse set of actors. This perspective is applied to ongoing modernization efforts by the City of Manila and its utility companies.</p> <p><a href=";cate=cities">Moving Nairobi</a>: Stories of Urban Mobility from the Civic Data Design Lab (project leader Sarah Williams and researchers Carmelo Ignaccolo and Dylan Halpern) explores Nairobi, Kenya — from wealthy neighborhoods to low-income communities — through the eyes of four commuters as they walk, ride motorcycles, take buses, and hire Ubers. Human movement data acquired from Uber and cell phones are presented in animated displays to illustrate the city's congestion; video shows four people's daily commutes, played in sync as their paths are drawn within a map.</p> <p><a href=";cate=cities">Retro-Utopian Alternatives for Belgrade, Serbia</a>, from the Collective Architecture Studio (Associate Professor Ana Miljački and graduate students Rodrigo Cesarman, Stratton Coffman, Sarah Wagner, Catherine Lie, Boliang Du, Gabrielle Heffernan, Benjamin Hoyle, Marisa Waddle, Sydney Cinalli, Yutan Sun, and Eytan Levi) explores both space for the common good and self-managed architectural enterprises through the lens of the architecture of Belgrade in the second half of the 20th century. &nbsp;</p> <p><a href=";cate=cities">Sit(e)lines of a Garden City</a>, by Associate Professor Rafi Segal, Monica Hutton SM ’18, Jung In Seo, and collaborating artist Gili Merin, explores the port city of Haifa, Israel, via its system of urban stairs in the&nbsp; neighborhoods of the garden city of Mount Carmel. Constructed in the 20th century, the stairs are surrounded by multifamily housing and vegetation and cut across varied ethnic neighborhoods, but many stairs are now neglected and without clear jurisdiction. This project explores how urban stairs could strengthen neighborhood identity by expanding and activating leftover green spaces and introducing new, small-scale interior and exterior commercial spaces.&nbsp;</p> <p><a href=";cate=cities">The Big Equalizer</a>, from Oficina de Resiliencia Urbana and Edwina Portocarrero PhD ’18, is an immersive installation exploring the perceptual effects of earthquakes. Outfitted with transducers, a living room's furniture vibrates and the room resonates with sounds collected during Mexico's last devastating earthquakes: live newscasts, chants of rescue workers, personal accounts. Visitors are encouraged to take cover — beneath the table, under the door frame — changing their experience of space and place.</p> Seoul Architecture and Urbanism Biennale attendees interact with the "Sit(e)lines of a Garden City" installation on the port city of Haifa, Israel.Photo courtesy of the researchers.School of Architecture and Planning, Architecture, Korea, Alumni/ae, Faculty, Global, Arts, Design Planning for death, as a way to improve life Startup co-founded by alumna Suelin Chen helps people share their end-of-life wishes with loved ones. Fri, 06 Dec 2019 12:58:14 -0500 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>Losing a loved one is always hard, but honoring their final wishes can provide a sense of fulfillment in the midst of grief. However, many people avoid thinking about their own death, even if they believe it’s a long way off, and thus don’t share their posthumous preferences with friends and family.</p> <p>End-of-life planning startup Cake is trying to change that. The company is borne out of the idea that planning for death now can make things a lot easier for loved ones down the line.</p> <p>Cake breaks down what can be an overwhelming process into a series of simple questions to help people make decisions around health care treatments, funeral arrangements, estate planning, and how they want to be remembered after they’re gone.</p> <p>“Ignoring the fact that we’re all mortal is not helping anyone, and you can actually use the fact that life is finite as a positive and motivating force, and as a way to cultivate gratitude,” says Cake co-founder and CEO Suelin Chen ’03 SM ’07 PhD ’10.</p> <p>Most people agree that the questions Cake asks have important answers, but those questions are often left to family and friends who must try their best to honor a loved one’s wishes. Among the many options Cake offers, users can decide who can make care decisions on their behalf, whether or not to get life insurance, what to do with their social media accounts after they’re gone, and who they want (or don’t want) at their funeral.</p> <p>“The space and services are very fragmented, so we bring it all together in one place,” Chen says. “We say ‘Here are all the areas you want to think about,’ because people don’t know what they don’t know. We then guide you on the things you should be doing, store all of that online securely in your profile, and enable you to share it with the important people in your life.”</p> <p>Chen says using Cake is a simple and thought-provoking experience that can give people peace of mind.</p> <p>“People are really surprised that you can make a topic like death interesting and reflective, and also illuminating and positive,” Chen says. “What you want for end-of-life is actually just what is important to you in life. With the name Cake, we’re really trying to emphasize the fact that end-of-life planning is a positive act, a gift. You want to honor your life and the life of those you love. Cake is a symbol of celebrating life milestones, and even though losing someone is always hard, thinking about death in and of itself is not inherently negative.”</p> <p>Cake has already partnered with life insurance companies, health care organizations, and financial institutions to offer its services to their customers. Now, it’s expanding to help individuals with their end-of-life plans. The progress is exciting for Chen, whose commitment to impact has led her down an unconventional path to entrepreneurship.</p> <p><strong>A researcher with a mission</strong></p> <p>In the 2000s, Chen spent nearly a decade at MIT earning her degrees, studying biology and biomedical engineering as an undergraduate before earning her master’s and PhD in MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering. During that time, Chen never once took a business or entrepreneurship class.</p> <p>“I had no aspirations to be an entrepreneur, but I wanted to have a positive impact on the world, and I thought health care was the best way to do that,” Chen says. “I also liked engineering, so I felt like the best way to use my skills was not to be a doctor, but to use engineering to solve problems in health care.”</p> <p>After completing her PhD in 2010, Chen became the director of The Laboratory at Harvard, an interdisciplinary program that emphasizes learning through real-world experimentation, where she says she “caught the business bug.”</p> <p>“Business is how you get these ideas into the world to touch real people and have a real impact,” Chen says.</p> <p>In 2014, Chen decided to attend the MIT Hacking Medicine Grand Hack. When she registered for the event, she shared her idea of using technology to improve people’s circumstances around the end of their life. Also attending the event that day was Mark Zhang, a palliative care physician and technologist, who suggested to Chen they team up. The pair ended up winning first place, and continued researching ways to address people’s anxiety about planning for the end of life.</p> <p>“Eventually we all die, and it didn’t really seem like anyone was paying attention to that,” Chen says. “It’s a part of the human experience that every single person goes through. Everyone experiences loss in their life, and I just kept coming back to, ‘Why is that experience still so bad even though we’re pouring so much money into the end of life, especially from a health care perspective?’”</p> <p>Chen returned to MIT occasionally to get guidance from the Venture Mentoring Service, and she says her MIT ties have helped immensely in her transition from a researcher to a founder.</p> <p>“I’ve emailed MIT [VMS] mailing lists many times, and I’m constantly talking to friends from MIT who are entrepreneurs,” Chen says. “So many of my classmates have started companies. When you’re an entrepreneur, having the MIT network is incredible.”</p> <p><strong>Thinking about life to plan for death</strong></p> <p>Chen and Zhang initially thought their service would be most useful for people closer to the end of their lives, but their early testing dispelled that idea.</p> <p>“There’s really complex psychology about how people engage with their mortality, and just because you are close to death doesn’t mean you’re going to be amenable to thinking about it,” Chen says. “Conversely, young, healthy people were really interested in what we were doing.”</p> <p>Chen says millennials are Cake’s second-biggest customer demographic. She guesses that’s because they are starting families, worried about aging parents, or are simply pragmatic and curious about their mortality. Also, instead of doing planning solely on paper, they may be expecting technology to help them with this task.</p> <p>Indeed, Cake’s questions address major concerns, like ensuring protection for planners’ dependents, and matters that have more to do with personal taste, like whether or not loved ones should plant a tree in the planner’s memory. (Sixty-seven percent of respondents say yes.) Chen says one of the most popular topics is the kind of music planners’ want played at their funeral.</p> <p>“We absolutely understand this is a hard topic for most people, so we are focused on getting the barrier to entry as low as possible, and getting people normalized to even thinking about death and dying,” Chen says. “What we’re trying to do is make it easier for people to think about what they’d want for end-of-life and to share that information with their loved ones, and also make it easier to know what their loved ones want.”</p> <p>Chen did not disclose information on Cake’s enterprise customers or the number of people using its services, but she says someone answers a question about their end-of-life preferences every five minutes on Cake’s platform, which is free for users.</p> <p>The momentum is a form of vindication for Chen, who as CEO has spent the last four years raising awareness of a topic that many people would prefer to ignore. In the midst of building Cake’s solution and securing early customers, with Chen immersed in the details of death, she also received a crash course in life, having two children who are both still under the age of three. She sees many parallels between how people enter and exit life, and believes that the same amount of thought and consideration should go into both events.</p> <p>“[Cake] is about people getting a sense for what’s important to them in life and communicating that to their loved ones,” Chen says. “That’s what it’s all about.”</p> Cake's end of life planning service breaks down what can be an overwhelming process into a series of simple questions to help people make decisions around health care treatments, funeral arrangements, estate planning, and how they want to be remembered after they’re gone.Courtesy of CakeInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, School of Engineering, DMSE, Materials Science and Engineering, Health care, Hackathon, Alumni/ae Three MIT seniors to join 2021 class of Schwarzman Scholars Two alumni have also been selected; the scholars will study global affairs at Beijing’s Tsinghua University. Wed, 04 Dec 2019 10:00:00 -0500 Julia Mongo | Distinguished Fellowships <p>Three MIT seniors, Mariam Dogar, Adedoyin Olateru-Olagbegi, and Jessica Quaye, and alumna Jessica Wang ’16, MEng ’17 are recipients of this year’s Schwarzman Scholarship distinguished fellowship. Another alumna was also awarded a scholarship but is waiting to make a public announcement until she has shared the news with her employer.</p> <p>The five winners were selected from an applicant of pool over 4,700 candidates and will join fellow Schwarzman Scholars from around the world in China next August. Scholars complete a one-year master’s degree in global affairs at Beijing’s Tsinghua University. Their education is complemented by internships, career development mentors, high-profile speakers, and opportunities to travel throughout China.</p> <p>Inspired by the Rhodes Scholarship, the Schwarzman Scholarship program began in 2015 to bring together talented young leaders and prepare them for the geopolitical and economic challenges of the 21st century by deepening their understanding of China. Since its inception, 18 MIT students and alumni have been named Schwarzman Scholars.</p> <p>Kim Benard, assistant dean of distinguished fellowships in Career Advising and Professional Development prepares MIT’s applicants, with assistance from the Presidential Committee on Distinguished Fellowships’ faculty members. MIT students and recent alumni interested in learning more about the Schwarzman Scholarship program should contact <a href=""></a>.</p> <p>Hailing from Northborough, Massachusetts, <strong>Mariam Dogar</strong> is majoring&nbsp;in biology and minoring&nbsp;in urban studies and planning.&nbsp;She aims to make health care more accessible and equitable through reworking outdated policies and utilizing technology.&nbsp;Dogar has&nbsp;worked at the World Bank developing telemedicine policy recommendations for lower middle-income countries.&nbsp;She has two years of&nbsp;experience on the teaching team of MIT’s negotiation and leadership classes, where she shaped pedagogy and co-taught a workshop for MBA students in Malaysia. She has taught humanitarian design in Greece with MIT D-Lab, worked in digital health care investing in the Middle East, and volunteered in refugee programs in Jordan. She is a co-president of MIT Mock Trial and&nbsp;GlobeMed@MIT. She is also an executive member of PaksMIT and counselor for Camp Kesem.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Jessica Quaye</strong><strong>, </strong>an electrical engineering and computer science major, has conducted research with&nbsp;MIT.nano and the HCIE&nbsp;group in CSAIL. She&nbsp;has also sharpened her technical and business management skills through internships at Google, Microsoft, and Bain and Company. Quaye, a Tau Beta Pi Scholar, is president of the MIT African Students’ Association. She serves on MIT’s Undergraduate Association committees and the EECS&nbsp;Undergraduate Student Advisory Group. She founded the International Students of Color Working Group to support the needs of first-year international students, and she established the first MIT Global Teaching Lab initiative in Ghana. Quaye is from&nbsp;Accra, Ghana. As a Schwarzman Scholar, she hopes to deepen her understanding of public policy and dreams of one day driving policy change&nbsp;in&nbsp;Ghana.</p> <p><strong>Adedoyin Olateru-Olagbegi,</strong> from Hanover, Maryland, is majoring in computer science, economics, and data science. She envisions a world where quality health care is accessible to all, and plans to focus on health in developing countries with an emphasis on innovative digital tools. She has explored her interests in development and public health through classes that have taken her to South Africa and Colombia. As director of Camp Kesem at MIT, Olateru-Olagbegi organizes an annual summer camp for children affected by a parent’s cancer and oversees the MIT students who work with them. She has also held leadership roles with MIT Emergency Medical Services, the MIT Black Students’ Union, and Sigma Kappa Sorority, and has served on several MIT Institute Committees, including as a student advisor to President L. Rafael Reif.</p> <p><strong>Jessica Wang</strong> graduated from MIT in 2016 with a Bachelor of Science in computer science and engineering and received a Master of Engineering in 2017. She is passionate about utilizing technology for good and bringing her joint engineering and design background to shape technology policy. She currently lives in San Francisco, where she builds collaborative design software at Figma. She works on diversity and inclusion initiatives in the workplace and volunteers with Larkin Street, a nonprofit serving homeless youth, as a YCore Fellow. In the past, she’s worked at a machine learning startup, Facebook, and Uber. At MIT, Wang researched online sociopolitical discourse and misinformation, writing her thesis on digital systems to bridge ideological divides. She served as president of MIT Chinese Students’ Club and held leadership positions in MIT TechX and HackMIT.</p> Clockwise from top left: seniors Mariam Dogar, Jessica Quaye, and Adedoyin Olateru-Olagbegi, and alumna Jessica Wang. Photos courtesy of Schwarzman ScholarsStudents, Alumni/ae, Undergraduate, awards, Awards, honors and fellowships, Biology, Urban studies and planning, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), School of Science, School of Architecture and Planning, School of Engineering, Graduate, postdoctoral, China 3 Questions: Dan Huttenlocher on the formation of the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing The inaugural dean shares an update on the process of building a college. Tue, 26 Nov 2019 14:15:01 -0500 Terri Park | MIT Schwarzman College of Computing <p><em>Since beginning his position in August, Dean Dan Huttenlocher has been working on developing the organizational structure of the new MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing. He shares an update on the process of building the college and offers a glimpse into the plans for the new college headquarters.&nbsp; </em></p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>Can you give us a status update on the college?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> We have been concentrating our efforts on developing an organizational plan for the college, drawing on last spring’s <a href="" target="_blank">College of Computing Task Force Working Group reports</a>, and discussions with the leadership of all of the schools and departments, the Faculty Policy Committee, and a number of other groups. The process has been ongoing and iterative, with the development of an approximately 20-page plan that has undergone substantial changes in response to feedback on previous versions.</p> <p>The latest draft of the plan was presented at the Institute Faculty meeting last Wednesday. It was sent to the entire faculty about three weeks ago and shared with student leadership as well. We expect to share it with the entire MIT community as soon as additional input from the faculty is reflected in the draft, and then to have the initial structure of the college in place by January.</p> <p>There will undoubtedly continue to be revisions to the organizational plan as we learn more, but I’m really excited to be moving forward with the implementation, some of which has already begun, such as academic implementation work led by Asu Ozdaglar and the initial startup of Social and Ethical Responsibilities of Computing led by David Kaiser and Julie Shah. Our work is just beginning, and in particular, new curricula, classes, and programs will be developed over time by academic units in the college, in partnership with others across MIT.</p> <p>I’m thankful to the MIT community for the tremendous amount of time and effort they have put into the initial planning of the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing.</p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>Last year MIT <a href="" target="_self">announced the location</a> for construction of the college’s new headquarters, near the intersection of Vassar and Main streets. What are the plans for the new building, and when is construction expected to be complete?<strong> </strong></p> <p><strong>A:</strong> The building’s central location will serve as an interdisciplinary hub. The new building will enable the growth of the faculty and bring together those from numerous departments, centers, and labs at MIT that integrate computing into their work, and it will provide convening spaces for classes, seminars, conferences, and interdisciplinary computing projects, in addition to much needed open areas for students across disciplines to meet, mingle, work, and collaborate.</p> <p>After an in-depth search and selection process, we have chosen Skidmore, Owings &amp; Merrill (SOM) to design the new building. SOM is a firm whose practice spans the fields of architecture, engineering, interior design, and urban planning. They have worked on thousands of projects around the world and have designed some of the most technically and environmentally advanced buildings, among them The New School in New York.&nbsp;</p> <p>We are currently early in the design with SOM, a process that began in October. Completion of the new college headquarters is slated for 2023.</p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>As the college begins to take shape, what has the reaction been so far?&nbsp;<strong> </strong></p> <p><strong>A: </strong>There has been widespread recognition of the importance of the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing and the changes that we are undertaking. Our colleagues at other top institutions are interested in what we are doing and how we are doing it, and some are already beginning to consider how they might make relevant changes at their university. No other academic institution is taking on the scale and scope of change that we are pursuing at MIT; reorganizing academic programs that involve many of the faculty and most of the students to position them for the computing age; changing how we develop what we teach in computing, changing how many of our research activities are organized to bring other fields together with computing and artificial intelligence, notably the social sciences, humanities, design, and the arts; and attending to the social and ethical responsibilities in both teaching and research.</p> Dean Dan Huttenlocher has been working on developing the organizational structure of the new MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing. He answers three questions about building the college and offers a glimpse into the new college headquarters. MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, Electrical engineering and computer science (EECS), Artificial intelligence, Computer science and technology, Technology and society, Alumni/ae, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), School of Engineering, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences Interdisciplinary team takes top prize in Mars colony design competition MIT PhD student George Lordos and his brother Alexandros led the project; goal of the Mars Society competition was to establish a colony on Mars for 1,000 residents. Mon, 25 Nov 2019 12:15:01 -0500 Sara Cody | Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics <p>Every 75 years, Halley’s Comet makes a triumphant return to the inner solar system, becoming visible to the naked eye from the Earth’s surface as it streaks across the night sky. In 1986, brothers George and Alexandros Lordos, who helped found the astronomy club at their high school in Cyprus, decided they were not going to miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity despite the cloudy weather.</p> <p>“Together with friends, we borrowed camping supplies from the hiking club and hiked up familiar terrain on Troodos Mountain to a cloudless spot that was 5,000 feet above sea level, miles away from city lights” says George Lordos, MBA ’00, SM ’18. “When we unzipped our tent at 3 o’clock in the morning, Halley’s comet was right in front of us, in all its glory. It was like seeing a ghost ship floating on a sea of stars.”</p> <p>Recently, the brothers again combined their shared passion with their professional expertise to team up and develop <a href="" target="_blank">Star City</a>, a concept for a human city on Mars. Their design won first place at the Mars Colony Prize Design contest, which was hosted by the Mars Society and judged by a panel that included experts from NASA and SpaceX.</p> <p>Today, Lordos is a PhD candidate in the Engineering Systems Laboratory at MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the head teaching assistant at MIT’s System Design and Management Program, researching sustainable human space settlement architectures with professors Olivier de Weck and Jeffrey Hoffman. His brother, Alexandros Lordos, is currently the director of the Center for the Study of Life Skills and Resilience at the Department of Psychology at the University of Cyprus, and head of learning and innovation at the Center for Sustainable Peace and Democratic Development, researching the development of integrated systems to foster mental health and social cohesion in countries facing conflict-related adversities.</p> <p>“In addition to addressing the engineering requirements to put humans on Mars, the overall philosophy of our approach was to provide the residents with a diverse array of capabilities, rather than ready-made solutions, relying on the human capacity to be resourceful and resilient in addressing the many unknown challenges that will arise,” says Lordos. “This ensures not only their survival, but also that their well-being, agency, and capacity to grow will be duly considered so they may thrive there as well.”</p> <p>The goal of the competition was to establish a successful colony on Mars for 1,000 residents. One hundred entrants from around the world submitted proposals, which were eventually narrowed to 10 finalists who presented their proposals at the 22nd Annual Mars Society Convention in October. The criteria for the judges’ consideration included technical merit, economic viability, social and political organization, and aesthetics.</p> <p>Using abundant energy supplies and heavy equipment, Star City’s residents will first focus on carving out habitats by tunneling inside a crater rim to create networks of living and work spaces. By working with the natural topography of Mars, the residents will be able to develop large habitable spaces that will be safe from radiation and other dangers. At the same time, the excavated material will be mined for water and useful minerals that can then support local industry and the growth of self-sustaining crops through hydroponics. From there, they would continue to build around the crater rim to create residential and commercial areas that contain shops, restaurants, and libraries, eventually pooling their resources to develop the city’s central hub, which will house Mars University and other shared facilities.</p> <p>“The idea is to start with five distinct villages that will be constructed around the crater rim, each aiming for a population of 200 residents within a decade of the first landing, and originating from different Earth continents,” says Lordos. “The five villages will interconnect their tunnel networks and focus on continuous growth of their habitats, capabilities, stocks of resources, and quality of life.”</p> <p>According to Alexandros, the wheel-like physical layout is one of the key mechanisms to build an organic sense of community among Star City residents, which is essential to their well-being as they navigate the challenges of living together on a distant planet. Proximity will enable each village to have access to the other four for material and social support, inspiration, leisure, new ideas, different solutions to common challenges, and socialization. By teaming up to address survival challenges and achieve aspirational goals, they will establish a support network completely unique to Star City so residents can better navigate through times of difficulty.</p> <p>“Drawing on cumulative insights from the social sciences and our own experience in developing systems to support societies facing extreme adversities, we have identified core aspects of the human condition that will be relevant for socio-economic development on Mars,” says Alexandros. “Specifically, we considered the pivotal role that individual as well as community resilience will be expected to play on Mars, sought to ensure a balance between survival-orientation and self-expression in everyone’s daily life, while making room for Star City residents to develop multi-layered identities as members of their more intimate village communities and, at the same time, as citizens of a vibrant and forward-looking technological civilization.”</p> <p>In addition to building community by nurturing the well-being of its human residents, Star City will also build a viable economy and political system to ensure that commerce and governance provide stability for its residents. To pay for importing much-needed supplies from Earth in the short term, Star City residents will leverage their local know-how, infrastructure, and heavy equipment to provide construction services to others who may wish to build a city on Mars. In the long term, Star City could establish itself as a central hub for innovation, entrepreneurship, and tourism as humanity travels farther and farther into the reaches of space.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“Our vision is not to simply send human explorers to Mars in order to set up these scientific outposts where we can perform useful experiments, though that is an important and valuable component,” says Robert Zubrin, president of Pioneer Astronautics and the founder and president of the Mars Society, who organized the contest and served on the panel of judges. “The fundamental question we are asking is if we can expand human civilization into other worlds. Of course, you have to have the correct technical analysis, but there are all of these other human dimensions to make a colony on Mars work, and Star City addressed those in the most successful way.”</p> <p>The Star City sociotechnical concept and urban plan was created by George and Alexandros Lordos, with architectural support for the creation of design studies, drawings, and renderings by lead architects Nikos Papapanousis and Tatiana Kouppa, and their team members Efi Koutsaftaki, Aliki Noula, and Aris Michailidis of Delta Architects, Athens, Greece.</p> Star City, a concept for a human city on Mars, won first place at the Mars Colony Prize Design contest. The design, led by MIT PhD student George Lordos and his brother Alexandros, features five villages constructed around a crater rim.Image: Star City Team/Delta ArchitectsAeronautical and astronautical engineering, School of Engineering, Mars, Design, Arts, space, Space, astronomy and planetary science, System Design and Management, Contests and academic competitions, NASA, Alumni/ae Expanding education: From Africa to Cambridge and back again Mgcini &quot;Keith&quot; Phuthi ’19, a native Zimbabwean, uses his experiences at MIT to develop improvements in education policy in Sierra Leone through MISTI-Africa. Mon, 18 Nov 2019 16:20:01 -0500 Laura Carter | School of Science <p>For Mgcini "Keith" Phuthi ’19, spending a summer in Africa was more than a trip back to his home continent after graduation. It was an opportunity to directly impact national policy regarding education in the country of Sierra Leone.</p> <p>Originally from Zimbabwe, Phuthi, who majored in physics and minored in mechanical engineering, was looking for a particular combination of purposes in his third experience with the <a href="">MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives</a> (MISTI): a return to Africa and a chance to explore his passion for education. “I initially thought I would have to choose one or the other, but when I talked to the [MISTI-Africa] program manager about what I could do in Africa, he mentioned the Sierra Leone opportunity.”</p> <p><strong>Around the world and back again</strong></p> <p>Ari Jacobovits, the managing director of the MISTI-Africa program, was equally thrilled to match up a student with his ideal project. “What I try to do with every interested student is sit down with them, see what interests them, and build from there. When I met Keith, he obviously had a lot of experience in Africa, being from Zimbabwe, but he also had a particular passion for education,” says Jacobovits. “It’s exciting to facilitate interactions such as Keith’s between the southern region and the western region, thousands of miles apart.”</p> <p>This was an ideal chance to get hands-on for Phuthi, who often asks himself how to drive higher qualities into educational systems, particularly in regions where science interest and exposure is low. “I felt they could serve as a model for other countries,” he says of Sierra Leone, “and I wanted to be a part of that.”</p> <p>The mission of the <a href="">MIT-Africa initiative</a>, an Institute-wide effort, the principles of which help guide MISTI-Africa, is to seek mutually beneficial research, education, and innovation, contributing to economic and intellectual trajectories of African countries, while advancing MIT scholarship and research. “We are always looking to build engagement and collaboration with leading partners and institutions around questions of global import because the solutions to many of the world’s most pressing challenges are found, and will continue to be found, in Africa,” Jacobovits says.</p> <p><strong>Homeward bound</strong></p> <p>After a visit to MIT by a delegation from Sierra Leone this past March, Phuthi was excited. “A big draw was the incredible ambition and enthusiasm the delegation had,” he says. The delegation included President Julius Maada Bio and an MIT Media Lab alumnus, <a href="">David Moinina Sengeh SM ’12, PhD ’16</a>, who grew up in Sierra Leone and is now the chief innovation officer for the newly created Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI), uniquely located within the Office of the President in Sierra Leone.</p> <p>Recently, Sierra Leone’s government has directed significant attention and funding toward science, technology, and innovation. This includes <a href="">21 percent</a> of the country’s budget, invested in improving education and lowering the country’s high illiteracy rate — at present, <a href="">60 percent</a> of adults in Sierra Leone are unable to read or write. DSTI and the University of Sierra Leone’s Institute of Public Administration and Management&nbsp; went so far as to <a href="">sign a five-year memorandum of understanding</a> to support this goal. Educational systems are always evolving to better fit the information being taught, but they also need to accommodate the needs of the society they serve. Before any amelioration efforts can be made, the government needs to have a firm understanding of the present, including cataloging education levels, identifying the areas that need attention, and determining the best methods for addressing issues observed.</p> <p><strong>Education built on education</strong></p> <p>One project Phuthi helped develop was the national education dashboard for K-12 schooling, one of the first of its kind, he says. The dashboard required cataloging information about the status of education across Sierra Leone. The task called on his experience with data processing and validation pipelines during his physics research in the Laboratory for Nuclear Science under Department of Physics Professor Joseph Formaggio. “This drew a lot on my scientific background in developing metrics, quantifying uncertainties, and building models.”</p> <p>“But having accurate data wasn’t enough,” Phuthi says. “We needed to use data science and data visualization to develop narratives and models that answer the questions decision-makers might have.” These included complex logistical details such as the route a new government-purchased school bus should take and the optimal locations for the government to build new schools. &nbsp;</p> <p>To answer these questions, Phuthi also considered other experiences he gained at MIT, such as teaching assistantships and courses in the Education Studies Program, and even conversations he’s had with people from all over the world, including students. It has become a huge benefit to have stepped outside his fields of science and engineering and attend School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences classes in the <a href="">Teaching Systems Lab</a>. “My hope was to draw on these experiences to help design solutions to improving education in sub-Saharan Africa, and I think I managed to do so,” Phuthi reflects. The progress of DSTI’s current projects can be seen as <a href="">bar graphs on their website</a>, depicting most as over half complete. The Education Data Hub, the focus of Phuthi’s work, is far enough along to deploy <a href="">an interactive website</a> for testing.</p> <p>At the end of the summer, he joined Michel Reda, an electrical engineering and computer science major in her third year, and Hazel Sive, biology professor faculty director of the MIT-Africa program, for a <a href="">three-day short course</a>. There, he, Reda, and Sive spoke to faculty at Sierra Leone’s Njala University about the best practices for higher education. “It felt like we really got people thinking in the room,” Phuthi says about the forum that generated a report for future policy changes regarding higher education.</p> Left to right: chief innovation officer for the newly created Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation in Sierra Leone and alumnus David Sengeh PhD '15, EECS student Michal Reda, Minister of Tertiary and Higher Education of Sierra Leone Aiah Gbakima, and MISTI-Africa participant and physics and mechanical engineering alumnus Mgcini "Keith" Phuthi ’19. Photo: Keith PhuthiSchool of Science, MISTI, Physics, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, School of Engineering, Mechanical engineering, Alumni/ae, International relations, International development, Developing countries, Africa, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), International initiatives, Media Lab, School of Architecture and Planning Advancing nuclear detection and inspection Assistant professor of nuclear science and engineering Areg Danagoulian probes deep inside cargo containers and ballistic warheads to ferret out fissile materials. Thu, 14 Nov 2019 11:25:01 -0500 Leda Zimmerman | Nuclear science and engineering <p>If not for an episode of soul-searching at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Areg Danagoulian ’99 might have remained content pummeling protons with photons and advancing experimental nuclear physics. Instead, the assistant professor of nuclear science and engineering took off on a different trajectory.</p> <p>“At Los Alamos, where I worked after my doctoral research, I began learning about the scale of the problem of nuclear weapons,” he recounts. “With two children, I was newly sensitive to the issue, and began wondering if I could apply what I had learned in nuclear physics to address such urgent challenges as nuclear terrorism and accidental nuclear war.”</p> <p>Since 2008, Danagoulian has committed himself to these challenges, generating new technologies that reduce nuclear security threats in the near term and that offer game-changing options in the arena of nuclear nonproliferation and treaty verification.</p> <p>This work has brought significant notice. This year the U.S. Department of Energy named him as a member of its Consortium of Monitoring, Technology, and Verification. And for scientific and engineering achievements that bear important implications for the field, he was just awarded the 2019 Radiation Science and Technology Award from the American Nuclear Society.</p> <p><strong>Verify, then trust</strong></p> <p>One of Danagoulian’s key research thrusts is development of a method for verifying the authenticity of nuclear warheads. His most recent work in the area, <a href="" target="_blank">published</a> in the Sept. 30 <em>Nature Communications</em>&nbsp;and coauthored by nuclear science and engineering graduate student Ezra M. Engel, may open up new paths to reducing nuclear stockpiles and reaching new treaties on deployed nuclear weaponry.</p> <p>“Up to now, there have been no ways to verify warheads, or to verify dismantlement of warheads,” says Danagoulian. For security reasons, nuclear powers don’t let inspectors get close to their warheads, and the conventional method for offering proof of dismantlement relies on destroying weapons delivery systems — e.g., cutting wings off B-52 bombers.</p> <p>And even where disarmament treaties exist, “there is an incentive to cheat and maintain an advantage,” says Danagoulian. Without the capacity to determine whether the other side’s warhead is real, or if its warhead has actually been dismantled, a nation might well view a current or future treaty as toothless.</p> <p>But Danagoulian has found a technical solution to this problem. His approach uses neutron resonance transmission spectroscopy to capture a unique fingerprint of the relevant isotopes in a nuclear weapon, as well as its geometry. During this process, information describing these key identifiers for a nuclear object becomes encrypted physically in a special filter. This encrypted, master version of data can be used as the basis for comparison of other warheads. If their nuclear signatures don't match this template, warheads may be deemed hoaxes.</p> <p>This technology offers two major advances: First, the physical encryption, unlike a digitally stored, computational record, cannot be hacked. And second, the process around this technology makes it possible for weapons inspectors to determine the nature of a weapon without ascertaining its engineering makeup.</p> <p>“This is a way to verify that something is a warhead, and find out nothing about it,” says Danagoulian. The capacity to protect proprietary nuclear weapon design while verifying the dismantlement of its treaty partner’s nuclear stockpile makes it more likely that nations will submit to inspections, and potentially sign new treaties.</p> <p>“By reducing technological barriers, our approach might catalyze future treaties,” says Danagoulian. While he knows that “without political will, even the coolest technology won’t come into play,” he wants the right technology in hand if and when the political door opens. “Our research is high risk, high reward: If and when the politics lines up, the impact will be enormous.”</p> <p><strong>Evolving nuclear concerns</strong></p> <p>Danagoulian was born in Soviet-era Armenia, the child of two physicists. While he grew up during the Cold War, he says that most of the Soviet public didn’t perceive nuclear weapons as an existential threat. “The party regulated all debate, and while my own father knew a lot and discussed with me the devastating power of the bomb, most people knew little about fallout and nuclear winter,” he recalls. “Then suddenly, in the late 1980s, the Soviet Union was all about peace, but no one could really say what it meant to try to prevent nuclear war.”</p> <p>Smitten with math, he decided to become a physicist. After moving to the United States with his family in 1993, he attended first North Carolina State University, then MIT as an undergraduate, where he was warmly welcomed by the nuclear physics group.</p> <p>Then came doctoral studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he investigated the interactions of fundamental particles, and next, his career-changing time at Los Alamos. “People there were working on nuclear detection and others on nuclear terrorism,” he says. “But not everyone shared my sense of the dangers of nuclear weapons, or the urgency to get rid of them.”</p> <p>Eager to pursue technological solutions to nuclear threats where he could employ his physics expertise, Danagoulian took a job at Passport Systems starting in 2009. Over the next five years, he helped spearhead a new process for detecting bomb-worthy nuclear materials concealed in large shipping containers. “We wanted to be able to find a tiny amount of material, maybe a two-inch cube representing a two- to three-kilogram uranium or plutonium weapon, inside a jammed 20-ton container,” he says.</p> <p>The technology he helped develop finds radioactive material by subjecting a container to a beam of photons. These energetic particles catalyze fission and breakup of elements like uranium and plutonium, releasing a flood of neutrons. “If we see a sudden increase in the count of fast neutrons in our detector, we know something weird is going on inside,” he says. This technology for sniffing out radioactive weapons has been put into practice at such sites as South Boston’s Conley terminal.</p> <p><strong>Contending with an existential threat</strong></p> <p>While bringing this technology to commercial fruition was rewarding, Danagoulian felt drawn back to academia. “I was more interested in focusing fully on research and the opportunity to work with students,” he says. Returning to MIT in 2014, he encountered an eager and engaged pool of young people.</p> <p>“Today’s students, even though they didn’t grow up in the shadow of the mushroom cloud, are imaginative and curious enough to understand the scale of the problem,” he says. “Many come to MIT motivated to adopt a mission, which is more important than a good job to them.”</p> <p>Danagoulian is happy for such motivated recruits, given the immensity of his cause. “We use abstract and technical language like deterrence and strategic balance to talk about these weapons, when what we’re really talking about are instruments of global genocide,” he says. “I’d like to see a world with no nuclear weapons at all.”</p> Areg Danagoulian has committed himself to generating new technologies that reduce nuclear security threats and that offer game-changing options in the arena of nuclear nonproliferation and treaty verification.Photo: Gretchen ErtlNuclear science and engineering, Research, Nuclear security and policy, Security studies and military, School of Engineering, Physics, International relations, Cryptography, Profile, Alumni/ae, Policy, Faculty Creating a network of drivers to lift a community With a focus on driver and passenger safety, startup Max NG provides delivery and transportation services in West Africa. Thu, 14 Nov 2019 00:00:00 -0500 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>Finding success in a big, informal market of a developing country is a tall task for any new company — which makes Nigerian mobility startup Max NG’s success all the more distinctive. The company is currently disrupting not just one huge market of West Africa, but two.</p> <p>In the four years since its founding, Max NG has created a network of motorcycle drivers — currently 1,500 and projected to double by year’s end — that perform both package deliveries and transportation services for residents in cities including Lagos, the Nigerian metropolis with nearly three times as many people as New York City.</p> <p>By the end of next year, Max NG’s founders hope to be operating in three or four countries, with about 20,000 drivers on their platform. To help realize its ambitious projections, the company has already secured partnerships with the likes of Yamaha, Mastercard, and the e-commerce giant Jumia.</p> <p>“The mototaxi industry and the tuk tuk industry are extremely popular, but they’re informal in the West Africa region,” co-founder Adetayo Bamiduro MBA ’15 says, referring to the three-wheeled, hooded rickshaws known as tuk tuks that Max NG drivers have also begun using. “Across West Africa, there’s about 12 million to 15 million mototaxi drivers, so Max has a huge opportunity to formalize this industry.”</p> <p>Max NG is also pushing the delivery and transportation industries forward as it seeks to stand out amid increasing competition. Bamiduro, who founded the company with Chinedu Azodoh MFin ’15, says Max NG recently developed the first locally assembled electric motorcycle in West Africa and will be deploying 500 such vehicles, along with charging stations, next year.</p> <p>The initiative to electrify comes on top of the founders’ core commitment to make the industries safer, part of a wider emphasis on looking beyond the business opportunity and focusing on the impact the company has on the tens of thousands of people who benefit from its services.</p> <p>Bamiduro thinks a lot about the woman working late who is now able to use a vetted, trained driver with an extra helmet to get home. He also thinks a lot about Max NG’s drivers — the company refers to them as champions — who he says experience an improved standing in their communities to go along with a bigger paycheck.</p> <p>“A huge chunk of the population relies on this industry to get by, so it’s really important just from the sense of jobs,” Bamiduro says. “But it’s also a dangerous industry because of the lack of structure. It’s a big economic opportunity, but also a big opportunity for impact.”</p> <p><strong>Reshaping transportation</strong></p> <p>The coastal city of Lagos, Nigeria, with its burgeoning skyline and rapidly growing economy, is home to more than 21 million people. The city is also one of the most congested in the world, with commuters spending an average of 30 hours per week stuck in traffic. Bamiduro says some people spend up to 70 percent of their work hours trapped in the city’s gridlocked, underdeveloped roadways.</p> <p>In response to this problem, people rely on informal mototaxis that come with their own problems. The vast majority of these informal drivers — Bamiduro says 98 percent — don’t wear helmets or provide them to passengers. Someone getting onto the back of a bike can’t tell if a driver is well-trained or if they will even obey traffic rules. Riders also risk being kidnapped or becoming the victim of some other crime in the city, a large chunk of which is perpetuated by people on motorcycles.</p> <p>Max NG provides its drivers with a pair of high-quality helmets, distinctive yellow jackets, and new bikes, which it can loan drivers who enter one-year repayment plans. Each driver goes through extensive training on basic traffic rules, strategies for driving in inclement weather, and defensive driving tactics. They also must pass a background check, and every bike is tracked to deter crime and poor driving.</p> <p>To order a ride, users can go through Max NG’s app, call the company’s service center, or simply flag down a free driver on the street. Cash and credit cards are accepted so people without smartphones or bank accounts can also benefit from the service.</p> <p>“Max makes it super easy to dash across town very quickly in a safe, affordable, and efficient way,” Bamiduro says.</p> <p><strong>Finding a business model</strong></p> <p>Bamiduro and Azodoh, who are both from Nigeria, entered MIT’s Sloan School of Management in 2013 and 2014, respectively. They started Max NG as a motorcycle delivery company in the beginning of 2015, participating in MIT’s IDEAS Global Challenge, the MIT $100K pitch competition,&nbsp;the Venture Mentoring Service, and receiving extensive support from the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship. Bamiduro was also a fellow at the Legatum Center at MIT.</p> <p>“We took full advantage of the MIT entrepreneurship ecosystem and resources that were available while we were there,” Bamiduro recalls.</p> <p>While still pursuing their degrees, they developed a mobile software tool that let people enter their pickup and drop off points and connect with drivers. Working on the project in Sloan's New Enterprises course, the founders&nbsp;were able to get three e-commerce companies, including Jumia, which went public on the New York Stock Exchange earlier this year, to commit to using their service.</p> <p>By the summer of 2017, the company was helping a network of motorcycle drivers complete 500 deliveries per day throughout Lagos, enabling customers to receive same-day delivery. That’s when the company began piloting its transportation solution.</p> <p>Today, Max NG’s employees are benefiting from the company’s success as much as its customers. Bamiduro says drivers make three times more money driving for Max NG compared to working as independent drivers. They also get access to high quality equipment, accident insurance, and the backing of an organized community.</p> <p>“In a market like Nigeria, where there are not a lot of protection systems built for the lower class, driving for Max is their ticket out of the wild wild west, where no one is looking out for you and you don’t belong to any organized system,” Bamiduro says. “You also ride a plaid motorcycle and you wear a plaid jacket, and that improves the level of dignity you enjoy out there, because then people know you are part of a formal organization committed to quality. One of the things drivers tell us they like most often is the dignity of the work.”</p> <p>Earlier this year, Max NG made a splash when it raised $7 million in a funding round that included motorcycle manufacturer Yamaha. But Bamiduro says the company is already in talks to raise another, much larger funding round by the middle of next year.</p> <p>The money will help the company build out charging infrastructure for its new electric fleet and help finance motorcycle purchasing agreements for a growing pool of drivers. The plan is to not only lift up the company, but also to improve West Africa’s infrastructure in the process.</p> <p>“We’re building infrastructure to provide energy and mobility in West African cities, and we’re also partnering with established players like local banks and Mastercard to build more robust payment infrastructure for that mobility,” Bamiduro says. “We and other startups are at the forefront of building basic infrastructure that’s required to deliver critical services in mobility, financial services, energy, agriculture, health care in the region today.”</p> Nigerian mobility startup Max NG is trying to formalize the delivery and transportation industries of West Africa. Each of the company's mototaxi drivers go through extensive training on basic traffic rules, strategies for driving in inclement weather, and defensive driving tactics. They also must pass a background check, and every bike is tracked to deter crime and poor driving.Courtesy of Max NGInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Electric vehicles, Transportation, Sloan School of Management, Africa, Alumni/ae, Cities Practicing for a voyage to Mars Barret Schlegelmilch ’18 takes part in simulated NASA mission to the Martian moon Phobos. Tue, 29 Oct 2019 12:15:01 -0400 Alice Waugh | Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics <p>If you want to make the long voyage to Mars, you first have to train and rehearse, and MIT alumnus Barret Schlegelmilch SM ’18, MBA ’18 is doing just that. He recently commanded a 45-day practice mission living and working with three other would-be astronauts in a cramped simulated spaceship.</p> <p>NASA’s&nbsp;<a href="">Human Exploration Research Analog</a> (HERA)&nbsp;analog mission “departed” last spring for a trip to Phobos, the larger of the two moons of Mars. It was the second of four planned missions to Phobos in the mock spacecraft located at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The goal is to study the physiological and psychological effects of extended isolation and confinement, team dynamics, and conflict resolution.</p> <p>While on the mission, Schlegelmilch and three other crew members spent their time just as they would on a real trip to Phobos. They performed experiments, tended plants and shrimp, collected data, maintained equipment, and even communicated with kids in a classroom back home. Once they “arrived” at Phobos, two crew members did a virtual-reality spacewalk, and Schlegelmilch and a flight engineer flew a simulated shuttle craft to the surface.</p> <p>“That was probably one of the most fun and rewarding things we did,” Schlegelmilch says.</p> <p>The crew also had to deal with emergencies including fire, loss of pressure, and solar flares, which release a deadly bombardment of radiation. In another scenario, Mission Control secretly told one of the crew to pretend to have a serious injury or heart attack. The others had to draw on their training and the supplies they had on board, along with some advice from a flight surgeon back on Earth (though messages took several minutes each way due to the distance).</p> <p>The average distance to Mars is about 225 million kilometers, which means that there will be on the order of a 10-minute delay from when any communication is sent and received between ground control on Earth and a crew near Mars. Over the course of the mission, “I saw our crew actually becoming more autonomous and relying on Mission Control less, just because it was so difficult to communicate with them through the time delays,” Schlegelmilch says.</p> <p>This wasn’t Schlegelmilch’s first experience with working conditions like this. His long-term personal goal has always been spaceflight, so he joined the U.S. Navy after college and served as a diver and officer on nuclear submarines. “I thought subs would be a good analog for the astronaut program. It’s kind of like a spaceship — it’s a self-contained vessel where you carry your own food and make your drinking water and air,” he says. “And you’re not able to just walk outside at the end of the work day; you’re out there for months at a time.”</p> <p>After his Navy service, Schlegelmilch joined the <a href="">MIT Leaders for Global Operations</a> (LGO) program, earning an MBA and SM in aeronautics and astronautics in 2018. “I wanted to get a more technical foundation and learn how to translate some of my leadership skills from the Navy into the private sector, and LGO is the perfect fit for doing both of those things,” he says.</p> <p>The HERA mission was actually more demanding than a submarine voyage in some ways, Schlegelmilch says. Instead of being on a 300-foot-long ship with 150 people, there were just four people crowded into a space half the size of a semi-truck trailer. His crew mates were Ana Mosquera, an astrophysicist and artificial intelligence researcher; Christian Clark, an accomplished cave diver and marine researcher; and Julie Mason, a rocket propulsion engineer at Boeing. The main thing they have in common? “Everyone’s been bitten by the space bug in one way or another,” he says.</p> <p>Before the mission, the crew underwent extensive psychological testing, and NASA gave them “tool sets” — similar to those taught in LGO for “storming and norming” group development exercises — to help them work more effectively as a team to solve problems. “As a crew, we got along surprisingly well, which I attribute partly to those toolsets,” Schlegelmilch says. “A lot of LGO, and MIT in general, is about how to work with small groups of people on very intense assignments.”</p> <p>After graduating from MIT, Schlegelmilch went to Blue Origin, a private firm founded by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to develop technologies to enable&nbsp;private human access to space. After taking a leave for the HERA mission, he returned to Blue Origin and is now head of integrated supply chain for the fluids and mechanical systems of the company’s New Glenn vehicle, a two-piece orbital rocket whose bottom portion autonomously lands itself on a barge at sea for reuse.</p> <p>As he works on the technology to make space travel more feasible, Schlegelmilch is also working to qualify for the next astronaut class at NASA. Though his first application in 2015 ultimately wasn’t successful, he remains hopeful he’ll have the opportunity to visit space himself.</p> <p>“I’ll keep applying. I think that’s the goal of a lot of people in this industry,” he says. “There’s a real possibility in our lifetime that spaceflight is something that’s going to be affordable and achievable for average people.”</p> The crew of HERA Campaign 5, Mission 2: (l-r) Barret Schlegelmilch SM ’18, MBA ’18, Christian Clark, Julie Mason, and Ana Mosquera. Photo: NASAAeronautics and Astronautics, School of Engineering, Leaders for Global Operations (LGO), Sloan School of Management, NASA, Alumni/ae, Mars, Space exploration, Leadership Students present mechanical engineering projects that have global impact At the sixth annual Mechanical Engineering Research Exhibition, graduate students and postdocs sharpen their communication and presentation skills. Tue, 29 Oct 2019 11:30:01 -0400 Mary Beth Gallagher | Department of Mechanical Engineering <p>One event has become a hallmark of nearly every academic conference: the poster session. Posters summarizing research are tacked onto endless rows of bulletin boards. Leaders in any given field meander through the posters, asking presenters questions about their work on the spot. For junior researchers participating in poster sessions for the first time, the events can be daunting.</p> <p>The <a href="">Graduate Association of Mechanical Engineers</a> (GAME) and MIT’s <a href="">Department of Mechanical Engineering</a> are working to remove the intimidation factor that surrounds poster sessions and presentations. For the sixth year in a row, they have organized the <a href="">Mechanical Engineering Research Exhibition</a> (MERE), which was held on Oct. 11 in MIT’s student center. Over 60 graduate students, postdocs, and Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) students presented their research projects to nearly 200 attendees in a poster session-style event. The event was organized by graduate students Crystal Owens and Maytee Chantharayukhonthorn.</p> <p>“Providing students with a venue to practice presenting has been instrumental in boosting their confidence,” says Evelyn Wang, Gail E. Kendall Professor and department head in mechanical engineering. “Whether students pursue a career in academia, industry, or government, the ability to clearly communicate about their work will always be a crucial skill.”</p> <p>Nicholas Fang, professor of mechanical engineering and GAME faculty advisor, has seen these skills of technical communication improve in students who participate in MERE year-to-year. He also sees the event as a great introduction to MIT for first-year graduate students and undergrads who are considering graduate study at MIT.</p> <p>“Participation by first-year students is very important to this event,” he explains. “New students can’t take a seat in every single lab to learn about each other’s work, so MERE gives them the best opportunity to get to know the research in the department as a whole.”</p> <p>Mechanical engineering research across MIT is incredibly diverse and touches upon a wide swath of disciplines, but one common theme united the research presented at MERE — every project offered solutions and insights that could one day have tangible impact on a global scale.</p> <p><strong>Solutions in human health</strong></p> <p>Two examples of projects that could impact human health took different approaches to improving our understanding of brain cancer. Cynthia Hajal is using microfluidic chips to grow blood vessels that mimic the human brain. A PhD candidate working with Roger Kamm, Cecil and Ida Green Distinguished Professor of Biological and Mechanical Engineering, Hajal is using microfluidics to learn more about how cancer metastasizes in the brain.</p> <p>“The idea is to rebuild human organs outside of the body to track and test different diseases,” explains Hajal. To track and test brain cancer, Hajal and her team place cells taken from a human brain into microfluidic channels that are pumped with nutrients and serum. About seven days later, the cells self-assemble into brain capillaries. The research team then places tumor cells into the channels and tracks their progression over time.</p> <p>“Our process helps us image metastasis in short intervals of time so we can really slow down and find out what exactly is happening at every stage of the process,” Hajal adds.</p> <p>Ali Daher, meanwhile, uses mathematical modelling in the hopes of one day helping doctors determine the best course of treatment for glioblastoma multiforme brain tumors. “When a doctor is in the process of coming up with a treatment plan for the patient, they are faced with many challenges,” says Daher, a senior studying mechanical engineering.</p> <p>To help inform a doctor’s treatment plan, Daher is utilizing mathematical models to predict how a tumor might react to treatment plans. Using a reduced-order scheme developed for fluid systems by Pierre Lermusiaux, professor of mechanical engineering, Daher worked on an algorithm that could help doctors determine what therapies would be most effective.</p> <p><strong>Improving access to food and water</strong></p> <p>In addition to human health, another pervasive theme at MERE this year was how humans interact with the environment. Two projects in particular honed in on how we can improve access to food and water, especially in developing countries.</p> <p>Sonal Thengane, a postdoc working with Ahmed Ghoniem, the Ronald C. Crane (1972) Professor, is developing fertilizers made of carbon-rich biochar to improve soil quality and crop yield. Biochar is made by torrefying (drying with fire) waste from farms or forests. “When it is mixed into the soil, the biochar is very porous and retains the moisture and nutrients for a longer time,” says Thengane.</p> <p>Thengane’s work has already been tested on a farm in Kenya and will soon be tested in the United States and India with support from the Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab (J-WAFS). He and his team have also explored the possibility of repurposing the debris from forest fires and logging residues, and using it in biochar-based soil. “We are also working in California, which has had so many forest fires recently,” he explains. “California has many farms that could benefit from this soil.”</p> <p>While Thengane is working on improving crop yield and increasing access to safer food, Hannah Varner is hoping to improve access to fresh water in India. A graduate student in MIT’s GEAR Lab, Varner is in the process of building a prototype system that desalinates brackish water in India.</p> <p>“Groundwater holds a lot of potential for solving the water crisis in places like India and the southwestern United States,” says Varner, who works with Associate Professor Amos Winter. The problem with groundwater is it often is brackish — containing too much salt to be potable. Utilizing modeling and an understanding of fluid dynamics and electrochemical processes, Varner was able to design a system for point-of-use desalination of brackish water in India.</p> <p>“The really exciting thing is I was able to design a system and then bring it to Bangalore this summer,” she says.</p> <p><strong>Award winners</strong></p> <p>Throughout MERE, participants like Varner spoke with judges who assessed their presentation skills. Awards were given to the following students:</p> <p>First-place presentations: Erin Looney for “Accelerating Cleantech Hardware System Development;” John San Soucie for “Gaussian dirichlet Random Fields For Inference Over High Dimensional Categorical Observations;” Nick Selby for “Teachbot : An Education System For Workforce;” and Meghan Huber for “Visual Perception Of Stiffness From Multijoint Motion”</p> <p>Best first-time presenter: Kuangye Lu for “Remote Epitaxy Of Gaas On Cvd Graphene For Wafer Re Usability And Flexible Electronics”</p> <p>Best UROP: Helen Read for “Fracture Toughness Of Polyacrylamide Hydrogels”</p> <p>Second-place runners-up include: Chinmay Kulkarni, Cynthia Hajal, Jongwoo Lee, Francesco Sigorato and Matteo Alberghini, Kiarash Gordiz, Nisha Chandramoorthy, Noam Buckman, Emily Rogers, and Sydney Sroka.</p> <p>The following presenters were given honorable mentions: James Hermus, Yeongin Kim, ZhiYi Liang, Lauren Chai, Sanghoon Bae, Antoine Blanchard, Rabab Haider, Scott Tan, and Jaewoo Shim.</p> <p><strong>Making your own luck</strong></p> <p>After the conclusion of the exhibition, Helen Greiner '89, SM '90 delivered a keynote speech. An innovator in the field of robotics, Greiner traced her career path in front of an audience filled with mechanical engineering students. Inspired by the Star Wars character R2D2, Greiner took an early interest in robotics. In 1990, she co-founded iRobot.</p> <p>After a decade of trial and error, iRobot found success with products such as the Roomba and PackBot. While the Roomba has cemented its place in popular culture, thanks in large part to a Pepsi advertisement featuring Dave Chappelle, the PackBot has made a huge impact on how military operations are executed.</p> <p>“These robots were credited with saving the lives of hundreds of soldiers and thousands of civilians,” Greiner recalls.</p> <p>Greiner encouraged students to “make their own luck.” With luck and determination, the students and postdocs who presented earlier in the day could someday see their products, designs, and theories have the kind of impact Greiner’s robot innovations have had.&nbsp;</p> Graduate students, postdocs, and undergraduate UROP students presented their research to members of the MIT community, alumni, and industry representatives at the sixth annual Mechanical Engineering Research Exhibition. Photo: Tony PulsoneMechanical engineering, School of Engineering, Biological engineering, Graduate, postdoctoral, Students, Education, teaching, academics, Community, Agriculture, Desalination, J-WAFS, Alumni/ae, Invention, Special events and guest speakers, Research Economist Stanley Fischer calls for autonomy in central banking In MIT talk, the former vice chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve reflects on his career as a policy leader. Wed, 16 Oct 2019 14:05:03 -0400 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p>Former U.S. Federal Reserve vice chair Stanley Fischer PhD ’69 emphasized the importance of independence in central banking, while outlining key aspects of his own career as a policy leader, in an MIT lecture on Sept. 30.</p> <p>“Should a central bank be independent? The answer is yes,” Fischer said, emphasizing the need for policymakers to have maximum flexibility to determine interest rates while grappling with complex economic situations.</p> <p>Specifically regarding the U.S., Fischer noted, “We are the country with the highest interest rate in the G7, because our economy is in the best shape.” For that reason, he observed, the U.S. has the most leverage to address future economic slowdowns — but would still need to be judicious about it.</p> <p>“We need to be careful not to let the system degenerate” and head too quickly toward a zero interest rate, Fischer said, which would then likely limit room for the Federal Reserve to spur the economy by lowering rates at a future point when it might be more useful.</p> <p>Fischer noted that current uncertainty surrounding U.S. economic conditions is considerable. Fears of a recession have lessened in the last two months, he said, but the gains of recent years were not automatically going to continue.&nbsp;</p> <p>“We’re not guaranteed to have a recession, but we’re not guaranteed to not have a recession,” he said.</p> <p>In his remarks, Fischer added that the Fed’s supervisory role in the banking system was vital, and suggested that the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial-sector legislation — which provided additional banking oversight and limited some forms of banking activity — should be fully enforced.</p> <p>“The regulations have been eased back,” Fischer said. “I think that’s a mistake.”</p> <p>Fischer was an MIT economics professor from 1976 to 1998 and built an influential career in global monetary policy after leaving the Institute. Besides being vice chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve, from 2014 to 2017, where he worked with then-chair Janet Yellen, Fischer served as governor of the Bank of Israel from 2005 to 2013; first deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) from 1994 to 2001; and chief economist of the World Bank from 1988 to 1990.</p> <p>Fischer is a native of Zambia, who attended school in multiple countries before working across the world professionally. Still, he told the audience, when people ask him what he considers to be his home, “I say, and I mean it, MIT.”</p> <p>Fischer’s talk was delivered to a standing-room-only audience of over 125 people in MIT’s lecture hall 1-190. The event was jointly sponsored by MIT’s Undergraduate Economics Association and the Finance and Policy Club of the MIT Sloan School of Management.</p> <p>Fischer was introduced by James A. Poterba, the Mitsui Professor of Economics at MIT, who called Fischer a “remarkably effective policymaker” and “an incredibly thoughtful and informed source of wisdom about how to think through policy challenges.”</p> <p>At MIT, Poterba added, Fischer made his mark “not just as a stellar researcher, but as one of the absolute clearest teachers and most successful mentors of graduate students and undergraduates alike.” Poterba added that Fischer was known for the quality of his lectures in MIT’s course 14.02 (Principles of Macroeconomics): “People used to hang from the rafters just to get into Stan’s 14.02 lectures.”</p> <p>Fischer was also the principal PhD thesis adviser of Ben Bernanke PhD ’79, chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve from 2006 to 2014.</p> <p>In his remarks, Fischer also talked about gender issues in central banking. He noted that Yellen, whom he called an “excellent economist,” would prepare intensively for four or five days ahead of public Fed meetings. After a while, he suggested to Yellen that her performance would be equally good with less prep time, noting her strong record of the last two years. However, Yellen told him, “I’ve always done that. I’ve always prepared absolutely fully.” In part, Fischer suggested, Yellen thought the attention she might draw for a public misstatement, as the first woman to chair the Fed, would be considerable.</p> <p>Fischer later raised the subject with Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, who will become next chair of the European Central Bank in November and had a similar perspective. As Fischer recalled, Lagarde told him, “You men simply don’t understand the pressure that is on women in the public sector. We know if we make a mistake, we will be fried. Whereas if a man makes a mistake, no one gets very excited.”</p> <p>Fischer also talked in some detail about his work as governor of the Bank of Israel — equivalent to the role of Fed chair — where he introduced a monetary policy committee, among other reforms intended to diffuse the governor’s power.</p> <p>The idea, Fischer said, “was to precisely change the model of the single decision-maker.” By intentionally giving himself less power, he added, jokingly, “I was very idealistic, or stupid, or both.” But he felt the change would align Israel with the practice of allowing more voices into the process of setting rates — where a lot of information must be processed and multiple interpretations of data can arise, making extensive discussion useful.</p> <p>Expanding the Bank of Israel’s administration required some additional investment, Fischer noted, drawing laughs by observing, “What you can’t say as a central banker is, ‘We don’t have the money.’ [In fact,] you have all the money you can print.”</p> <p>In Israel, Fischer faced unusual economic conditions: Israel made it through the financial crisis relatively unscathed but faced a resulting inflow of global capital and had to work to keep economic conditions relatively stable. He assessed his own performance in the job as “pretty good.”</p> <p>Fischer said he thought Yellen’s Fed had been “very successful” at its postcrash efforts at normalization, and noted that its leaders, including himself, spent a significant amount of time examing the prospect of interest rates hitting the “Zero Lower Bound,” beyond which they would become negative. Fischer said he was “stunned” there was not more general public discussion about that issue at the moment.</p> <p>Noting that he had taken on the governorship of the Bank of Israel with a list of 15 policy goals to accomplish, Fischer also offered some career advice to the audience members, most of whom were MIT students: “If you take a job, it’s a good idea to decide what you want to do there.”</p> Stanley FischerImage: Zach WinnSchool of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Economics, Students, Undergraduate, Special events and guest speakers, Policy, Alumni/ae, Global Professor Emeritus Woodie Flowers, innovator in design and engineering education, dies at 75 Beloved teacher and pioneer in hands-on engineering education developed design and robotics competitions at MIT, FIRST, and beyond, while promoting his concept of “gracious professionalism.” Mon, 14 Oct 2019 18:00:08 -0400 Mary Beth Gallagher | Department of Mechanical Engineering <p>Woodie Flowers SM ’68, MEng ’71, PhD ’73, the Pappalardo Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering, passed away on Oct. 11 at the age of 75. Flowers’ passion for design and his infectious kindness have impacted countless engineering students across the world.</p> <p>Flowers was instrumental in shaping MIT’s hands-on approach to engineering design education, first developing teaching methods and learning opportunities that culminated in a design competition for class 2.70, now called <a href="">2.007 (Design and Manufacturing I)</a>. This annual MIT event, which has now been held for nearly five decades, has impacted generations of students and has been emulated at universities around the world. Flowers expanded this concept to high school and elementary school students, working to help found the world-wide <a href="">FIRST Robotics Competition</a>, which has introduced millions of children to science and engineering.</p> <p>Born in 1943, Flowers was reared in Jena, Louisiana. He became interested in mechanical engineering and design at a young age thanks in large part to his mother and his father, who was a welder with a penchant for tinkering and building. Growing up, Flowers also expressed a love of nature and traveling. When he wasn’t working on cars or building rockets as a teenager, he was camping with his family in Louisiana or collecting butterflies. This interest in nature led to an award-winning science fair project on the impact the environment has on <em>Lepidoptera</em>. Flowers’ passion for both building and nature also helped him earn the rank of Eagle Scout.</p> <p>Flowers received his bachelor’s degree in engineering from Louisiana Tech University in 1966. After graduating, he spent a summer as an engineering trainee for the Humble Oil Company before enrolling in MIT for graduate school. He received his master’s of science in mechanical engineering in 1968 and an engineer’s degree in 1971. Two years later he earned his doctoral degree under the supervision of the late Professor Robert Mann. For his thesis, Flowers designed a “man-interactive simulator system” for the development of prosthetics for above-knee amputees. He would continue to design above-knee prosthetics throughout his career.</p> <p>As Flower’s academic career progressed, his wife Margaret acted as a partner in everything he did. Early in their marriage, when Flowers was just starting out at MIT, she worked to support their family financially. Later in life, she left her own career to partner with Flowers on his work in FIRST.</p> <p>After earning his PhD, Flowers joined MIT’s faculty as assistant professor of mechanical engineering. Within his first year he was teaching what was then known as 2.70, now called 2.007. Under Flowers’ leadership, the class evolved into a hands-on experience for undergraduate students, culminating in a final robot competition.</p> <p>“From the beginning 2.007/2.70 was about building a device to accomplish a task,” Flowers explained in a <a href="">2015 video</a>. Students were given an assortment of materials to design and build their devices. In the 1970s these materials included tongue depressors and rubber bands, but over the years the competition has gone on to include 3D-printed parts and computer chips.</p> <p>Despite the increased sophistication, according to Flowers the core of the course remained unchanged. “Some of the stuff that stayed the same is the wonderful way you compete like crazy but help each other out,” he said. Flowers would coin the phrase “gracious professionalism” to describe this idea of being kind and respecting and valuing others, even in the heat of competition.</p> <p>PBS highlighted Flowers’ innovative educational approach to class 2.007 in a 1981 documentary “Discover: The World of Science.” The network continued to cover the 2.007 robotics competition throughout the 1980s, and nearly a decade later, Flowers hosted the popular PBS series “Scientific American Frontiers,” from 1990-1993. One of the program’s objectives was to get people interested in science and engineering. He was awarded a regional Emmy Award for his work on the series.</p> <p>At the same time, Flowers helped develop a new program to inspire young people that built upon the competition he developed for 2.007. He collaborated with Dean Kamen, founder of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), to develop a robotics competition for high school students. In 1992, the inaugural FIRST Robotics Competition was held, giving high school students from around the world an opportunity to design and build their own robots.</p> <p>Over the past three decades,&nbsp;FIRST robotics has grown into a global movement serving 660,000 students from over 100 countries each year. It provides scholarship&nbsp;opportunities totaling over $80 million available to&nbsp;FIRST&nbsp;high school students.&nbsp;Flowers’ mantra of “gracious professionalism” remains at FIRST’s core. In 1996, William P. Murphy, Jr. founded the annual <a href="">Woodie Flowers Award</a> within FIRST to celebrate communication in engineering and design. The award “recognizes an individual who has done an outstanding job of motivation through communication while also challenging the students to be clear and succinct in recognizing the value of communication.”</p> <p>While working on FIRST, Flowers continued to have impact on mechanical engineering education, its future directions, and engineers’ professional role in society, in addition to envisioning how the use of digital resources could enhance residential learning.</p> <p>At MIT, he served as head for the systems and design division in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the early 1990s and was named Pappalardo Professor of Mechanical Engineering in 1994.&nbsp; While Flowers retired in 2007, he remained an active member of the MIT community as professor emeritus up until his death.</p> <p>Flowers mentored countless engineering students during his 35 years on the MIT faculty. He served as undergraduate and master’s thesis advisor for Megan Smith ’86, SM ’88, former chief technology officer of the United States, as well as doctoral advisor to David Wallace SM ’91, PhD ’95, Ely Sachs ’76, SM ’76, PhD ’83, and Alexander Slocum ’82, SM ’83, PhD ’85, all of whom are professors of mechanical engineering at MIT.</p> <p>Flowers has had a lasting impact on the generations of mechanical engineering students he taught. From encouraging students to embrace ambiguity to pulling out a massive dictionary in the middle of class to help students find a precise word to articulate their point, his role in shaping students’ lives went far beyond the tenants of design and engineering. Many of his students who have gone on to be educators themselves have implemented his educational ethos in their own classrooms and labs.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Throughout his career, Flowers received numerous awards and accolades for his vast contributions to engineering education. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers honored him with both the Ruth and Joel Spira Outstanding Design Educator Award and the Edwin F. Church Medal. Flowers received the J.P. Den Hartog Distinguished Educator Award, was a MacVicar Fellow, and was elected to the National Academy of Engineering. He also served as a distinguished partner and a member of the President's Council at Olin College of Engineering.</p> <p>Flowers is survived by his beloved wife Margaret Flowers of Weston, Massachusetts, his sister, Kay Wells of St. Augustine, Florida, his niece Catherine Calabria, also of St. Augustine, his nephew, David Morrison of Arlington, Virginia, as well as generations of grateful and adoring students.</p> <p>Memorial donations to FIRST and memories of Flowers may be delivered via <a href="" target="_blank">this website</a> or mailed to FIRST c/o Director Dia Stolnitz, 200 Bedford Street, Manchester, New Hampshire, 03101.</p> <p>MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering will be organizing a digital memorial in Woodie’s honor where alumni, former colleagues, and students are welcome to share their remembrances. Remembrances may be submitted via the <a href="" target="_blank">MechE website</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>This article will be updated with information about memorial services as it becomes available.</p> Woodie Flowers, Pappalardo Professor Emeritus of Mechanical EngineeringPhoto: Tony PulsoneObituaries, Mechanical engineering, School of Engineering, Design, teaching, academics, Robots, Robotics, STEM education, Alumni/ae, Faculty Robots help patients manage chronic illness at home Move over, Alexa and Siri. Talking Mabu robot provides one-to-one support while relaying information to doctors. Thu, 10 Oct 2019 23:59:59 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>The Mabu robot, with its small yellow body and friendly expression, serves, literally, as the face of the care management startup Catalia Health. The most innovative part of the company’s solution, however, lies behind Mabu’s large blue eyes.</p> <p>Catalia Health’s software incorporates expertise in psychology, artificial intelligence, and medical treatment plans to help patients manage their chronic conditions. The result is a sophisticated robot companion that uses daily conversations to give patients tips, medication reminders, and information on their condition while relaying relevant data to care providers. The information exchange can also take place on patients’ mobile phones.</p> <p>“Ultimately, what we’re building are care management programs to help patients in particular disease states,” says Catalia Health founder and CEO Cory Kidd SM ’03, PhD ’08. “A lot of that is getting information back to the people providing care. We’re helping them scale up their efforts to interact with every patient more frequently.”</p> <p>Heart failure patients first brought Mabu into their homes about a year and a half ago as part of a partnership with the health care provider Kaiser Permanente, who pays for the service. Since then, Catalia Health has also partnered with health care systems and pharmaceutical companies to help patients dealing with conditions including rheumatoid arthritis and kidney cancer.</p> <p>Treatment plans for chronic diseases can be challenging for patients to manage consistently, and <a href="">many people don’t follow them</a> as prescribed. Kidd says Mabu’s daily conversations help not only patients, but also human care givers as they make treatment decisions using data collected by their robot counterpart.</p> <p><strong>Robotics for change</strong></p> <p>Kidd was a student and faculty member at Georgia Tech before coming to MIT for his master’s degree in 2001. His work focused on addressing problems in health care caused by an aging population and an increase in the number of people managing chronic diseases.</p> <p>“The way we deliver health care doesn’t scale to the needs we have, so I was looking for technologies that might help with that,” Kidd says.</p> <p>Many studies have found that communicating with someone in person, as opposed to over the phone or online, makes that person appear more trustworthy, engaging, and likeable. At MIT, Kidd conducted studies aimed at understanding if those findings translated to robots.</p> <p>“What I found was when we used an interactive robot that you could look in the eye and share the same physical space with, you got the same psychological effects as face-to-face interaction,” Kidd says.</p> <p>As part of his PhD in the Media Lab’s Media Arts and Sciences program, Kidd tested that finding in a randomized, controlled trial with patients in a diabetes and weight management program at the Boston University Medical Center. A portion of the patients were given a robotic weight-loss coach to take home, while another group used a computer running the same software. The tabletop robot conducted regular check ups and offered tips on maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle. Patients who received the robot were much more likely to stick with the weight loss program.</p> <p>Upon finishing his PhD in 2007, Kidd immediately sought to apply his research by starting the company Intuitive Automata to help people manage their diabetes using robot coaches. Even as he pursued the idea, though, Kidd says he knew it was too early to be introducing such sophisticated technology to a health care industry that, at the time, was still adjusting to electronic health records.</p> <p>Intuitive Automata ultimately wasn’t a major commercial success, but it did help Kidd understand the health care sector at a much deeper level as he worked to sell the diabetes and weight management programs to providers, pharmaceutical companies, insurers, and patients.</p> <p>“I was able to build a big network across the industry and understand how these people think about challenges in health care,” Kidd says. “It let me see how different entities think about how they fit in the health care ecosystem.”</p> <p>Since then, Kidd has watched the costs associated with robotics and computing plummet. Many people have also enthusiastically adopted computer assistance like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri. Finally, Kidd says members of the health care industry have developed an appreciation for technology’s potential to complement traditional methods of care.</p> <p>“The common ways [care is delivered] on the provider side is by bringing patients to the doctor’s office or hospital,” Kidd explains. “Then on the pharma side, it’s call center-based. In the middle of these is the home visitation model. They’re all very human powered. If you want to help twice as many patients, you hire twice as many people. There’s no way around that.”</p> <p>In the summer of 2014, he founded Catalia Health to help patients with chronic conditions at scale.</p> <p>“It’s very exciting because I’ve seen how well this can work with patients,” Kidd says of the company’s potential. “The biggest challenge with the early studies was that, in the end, the patients didn’t want to give the robots back. From my perspective, that’s one of the things that shows this really does work.”</p> <p><strong>Mabu makes friends</strong></p> <p>Catalia Health uses artificial intelligence to help Mabu learn about each patient through daily conversations, which vary in length depending on the patient’s answers.</p> <p>“A lot of conversations start off with ‘How are you feeling?’ similar to what a doctor or nurse might ask,” Kidd explains. “From there, it might go off in many directions. There are a few things doctors or nurses would ask if they could talk to these patients every day.”</p> <p>For example, Mabu would ask heart failure patients how they are feeling, if they have shortness of breath, and about their weight.</p> <p>“Based on patients’ answers, Mabu might say ‘You might want to call your doctor,’ or ‘I’ll send them this information,’ or ‘Let’s check in tomorrow,’” Kidd says.</p> <p>Last year, Catalia Health announced a collaboration with the American Heart Association that has allowed Mabu to deliver the association’s guidelines for patients living with heart failure.</p> <p>“A patient might say ‘I’m feeling terrible today’ and Mabu might ask ‘Is it one of these symptoms a lot of people with your condition deal with?’ We’re trying to get down to whether it’s the disease or the drug. When that happens, we do two things: Mabu has a lot of information about problems a patient might be dealing with, so she’s able to give quick feedback. Simultaneously, she’s sending that information to a clinician — a doctor, nurse, or pharmacists — whoever’s providing care.”</p> <p>In addition to health care providers, Catalia also partners with pharmaceutical companies. In each case, patients pay nothing out of pocket for their robot companions. Although the data Catalia Health sends pharmaceutical companies is completely anonymized, it can help them follow their treatment’s effects on patients in real time and better understand the patient experience.</p> <p>Details about many of Catalia Health’s partnerships have not been disclosed, but the company did announce a collaboration with Pfizer last month to test the impact of Mabu on patient treatment plans.</p> <p>Over the next year, Kidd hopes to add to the company’s list of partnerships and help patients dealing a wider swath of diseases. Regardless of how fast Catalia Health scales, he says the service it provides will not diminish as Mabu brings its trademark attentiveness and growing knowledge base to every conversation.</p> <p>“In a clinical setting, if we talk about a doctor with good bedside manner, we don’t mean that he or she has more clinical knowledge than the next person, we simply mean they’re better at connecting with patients,” Kidd says. “I’ve looked at the psychology behind that — what does it mean to be able to do that? — and turned that into the algorithms we use to help create conversations with patients.”</p> Catalia Health uses a personal robot assistant, Mabu, to help patients managing chronic diseases.Courtesy of Catalia HealthInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Media Lab, Artificial intelligence, Medicine, Data, Health care, Behavior, Robots, Robotics, Health, Health sciences and technology, Alumni/ae, School of Architecture and Planning MIT alumna addresses the world’s mounting plastic waste problem Renewlogy’s system is converting plastic waste from cities and rivers into fuel. Wed, 09 Oct 2019 23:59:59 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>It’s been nearly 10 years since Priyanka Bakaya MBA ’11 founded Renewlogy to develop a system that converts plastic waste into fuel. Today, that system is being used to profitably turn even nonrecyclable plastic into high-value fuels like diesel, as well as&nbsp;the precursors to new plastics.</p> <p>Since its inception, Bakaya has guided Renewlogy through multiple business and product transformations to maximize its impact. During the company’s evolution from a garage-based startup to a global driver of sustainability, it has licensed its technology to&nbsp;waste management companies in the U.S. and Canada, created community-driven supply chains for processing nonrecycled plastic, and started a nonprofit, Renew Oceans, to reduce the flow of plastic into the world’s oceans.</p> <p>The latter project has brought Bakaya and her team to one of the most polluted rivers in the world, the Ganges. With an effort based in Varanasi, a city of much religious, political, and cultural significance in India, Renew Oceans hopes to transform the river basin by incentivizing residents to dispose of omnipresent plastic waste in its “reverse vending machines,” which provide coupons in exchange for certain plastics.</p> <p>Each of Renewlogy’s initiatives has brought challenges Bakaya never could have imagined during her early days tinkering with the system. But she’s approached those hurdles with a creative determination, driven by her belief in the transformative power of the company.</p> <p>“It’s important to focus on big problems you’re really passionate about,” Bakaya says. “The only reason we’ve stuck with it over the years is because it’s extremely meaningful, and I couldn’t imagine working this hard and long on something if it wasn’t deeply meaningful.”</p> <p><strong>A system for sustainability</strong></p> <p>Bakaya began working on a plastic-conversion system with Renewlogy co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Benjamin Coates after coming to MIT’s Sloan School of Management in 2009. While pursuing his PhD at the University of Utah, Coates had been developing continuously operating systems to create fuels from things like wood waste and algae conversion.</p> <p>One of Renewlogy’s key innovations is using a continuous system on plastics, which saves energy by eliminating the need to reheat the system to the high temperatures necessary for conversion.</p> <p>Today, plastics entering Renewlogy’s system are first shredded, then put through a chemical reformer, where a catalyst degrades their long carbon chains.</p> <p>Roughly 15 to 20 percent of those chains are converted into hydrocarbon gas that Renewlogy recycles to heat the system. Five percent turns into char, and the remaining 75 percent is converted into high-value fuels. Bakaya says the system can create about 60 barrels of fuel for every 10 tons of plastic it processes, and it has a 75 percent lower carbon footprint when compared to traditional methods for extracting and distilling diesel fuel.</p> <p>In 2014, the company began running a large-scale plant in Salt Lake City, where it continues to iterate its processes and hold demonstrations.</p> <p>Since then, Renewlogy has set up another commercial-scale facility in Nova Scotia, Canada, where the waste management company Sustane uses it to process about 10 tons of plastic a day, representing 5 percent of the total amount of solid waste the company collects. Renewlogy is also building a similar-sized facility in Phoenix, Arizona, that will be breaking ground next year. That project focuses on processing specific types of plastics (identified by international <a href="" target="_blank">resin codes</a> 3 through 7) that are less easily recycled.</p> <p>In addition to its licensing strategy, the company is spearheading grassroots efforts to gather and process plastic that’s not normally collected for recycling, as part of the Hefty Energy Bag Program.</p> <p>Through the program, residents in cities including Boise, Idaho, Omaha, Nebraska, and Lincoln, Nebraska, can put plastics numbered 4 through 6 into their regular recycling bins using special orange bags. The bags are separated at the recycling facility and sent to Renewlogy’s Salt Lake City plant for processing.</p> <p>The projects have positioned Renewlogy to continue scaling and have earned Bakaya entrepreneurial honors from the likes of <em>Forbes</em>, <em>Fortune</em>, and the World Economic Forum. But a growing crisis in the world’s oceans has drawn her halfway across the world, to the site of the company’s most ambitious project yet.</p> <p><strong>Renewing the planet’s oceans</strong></p> <p>Of the millions of tons of plastic waste flowing through rivers into the world’s oceans each year, roughly 90 percent <a href="" target="_blank">comes from just 10 rivers</a>. The worsening environmental conditions of these rivers represents a growing global crisis that state governments have put billions of dollars toward, often with discouraging results.</p> <p>Bakaya believes she can help.</p> <p>“Most of these plastics tend to be what are referred to as soft plastics, which are typically much more challenging to recycle, but are a good feedstock for Renewlogy’s process,” she says.</p> <p>Bakaya started Renew Oceans as a separate, nonprofit arm of Renewlogy last year. Since then, Renew Oceans has designed fence-like structures to collect river waste that can then be brought to its scaled down machines for processing. These machines can process between 0.1 and 1 ton of plastic a day.</p> <p>Renew Oceans has already built its first machine, and Bakaya says deciding where to put it was easy.</p> <p>From its origins in the Himalayas, the Ganges River flows over 1,500 miles through India and Bangladesh, serving as a means of transportation, irrigation, energy, and as a sacred monument to millions of people who refer to it as Mother Ganges.</p> <p>Renewlogy’s first machine is currently undergoing local commissioning in the Indian city of Varanasi. Bakaya says the project is designed to scale.</p> <p>“The aim is to take this to other major polluted rivers where we can have maximum impact,” Bakaya says. “We’ve started with the Ganges, but we want to go to other regions, especially around Asia, and find circular economies that can support this in the long term so locals can derive value from these plastics.”</p> <p>Scaling down their system was another unforeseen project for Bakaya and Coates, who remember scaling up prototypes during the early days of the company. Throughout the years, Renewlogy has also adjusted its chemical processes in response to changing markets, having begun by producing crude oil, then moving to diesel as oil prices plummeted, and now exploring ways to create high-value petrochemicals like naphtha, which can be used to make new plastics.</p> <p>Indeed, the company’s approach has featured almost as many twists and turns as the Ganges itself. Bakaya says she wouldn’t have it any other way.</p> <p>“I’d really encourage entrepreneurs to not just go down that easy road but to really challenge themselves and try to solve big problems — especially students from MIT. The world is kind of depending on MIT students to push us forward and challenge the realm of possibility. We all should feel that sense of responsibility to solve bigger problems.”</p> Renewlogy co-founder and CEO Priyanka Bakaya inside one of the company's commercial plants, which are capable of processing ten tons of plastic each day to create about 60 barrels of fuel.Image courtesy of RenewlogyInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Chemistry, Sloan School of Management, Environment, Pollution, Oceanography and ocean engineering, Social entrepreneurship, Alumni/ae, Recycling, Sustainability Learning from MIT, learning from the field Robert Rains MS ’19 earned his master’s without putting his important work — improving safety and quality of life for struggling communities in Africa — on hold. Thu, 26 Sep 2019 16:00:01 -0400 Suzanne Day | MIT Open Learning <p>As project manager for an organization charged with improving conditions in austere and hostile environments in developing countries, Robert Rains MS ’19 has seen his share of high stakes, risky projects — responding to the Ebola outbreak in Africa, monitoring a ceasefire in South Sudan, and launching counter-poaching efforts in Tanzania and Democratic Republic of the Congo. He’s also a former member of the U.S. military, having served time in Iraq.&nbsp;</p> <p>His work in the field, as a member of the military and as a civilian, has prepared him well for the difficult conditions he faces every day in international development. “In the military, we made our living by being tough and durable,” he said.&nbsp;</p> <p>It was his work on the Ebola response that really impressed employers and helped him to land his first project manager role.&nbsp;</p> <p>At that point in his career, he joined a room full of project managers with long resumes — many of them with degrees and credentials in supply chain management.&nbsp;</p> <p>Motivated to add these qualifications to his resume as well, Rains sought further training through the <em>MITx</em> MicroMasters program in supply chain management. He felt that this would give him a competitive edge in securing projects, as well as prepare him for the more challenging ones in the future.&nbsp;</p> <p>Importantly, the program also allowed Rains the flexibility of time and geography to continue working across Africa.</p> <p>“The online program was very helpful in making sure that I could complete the bulk of that course work on my own schedule, which was very hectic,” Rains says. “Not only was I based in Africa at the time, but I moved countries almost every week. I had to study around different time zones and shifting work schedules.”</p> <p>The world’s first-ever MicroMaster’s program, the supply chain management credential is a rigorously assessed online educational pathway consisting of a series of courses that culminate in a digitally-delivered credential. The credential is recognized by employers and institutions as commensurate with one semester of graduate-level coursework at MIT. Successful credential earners must complete a demanding sequence of <em>MITx</em> massive open online courses (MOOCs) that demonstrates their mastery of the concepts and skills necessary for a strong foundation in the supply chain management profession.</p> <p>For Rains, the courses mirrored much of what he sees at work every day. When a community needed help getting proper nutrition, Rains applied the analytical and forecasting tools he learned in the courses to develop a nutrition program.&nbsp;</p> <p>“There’s always a supply chain component to the projects and programs we support, as much of the supplies that we bring in are not procured locally” he says. “We need to think carefully about what goes into sustaining something that we’re putting on the ground. We need to be sure that the life cycle extends beyond our putting things on the ground.”</p> <p>In late 2017, Rains successfully earned his credential — and decided that he wasn’t ready to stop there. With support from his employer, he took a six-month leave of absence from work to spend time on the MIT campus as a graduate student, earning his full master’s degree in supply chain management last May.&nbsp;</p> <p>The in-person experience, he says, was invaluable.&nbsp;</p> <p>“MIT really makes the most of the time on campus,” Rains says. “I appreciated the time we had to work together in teams, which was an important complement to the independent work we did online.”</p> <p>Now back at work in Africa, Rains is taking his experience in online and on-campus classrooms back to the field.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Pursuing this program put me in a position to advocate for solutions better,” he says. He explained that, using the systems-thinking strategies and project management tools he studied, “Now, I’m not just a field guy. I can advocate for things with a mix of my experience in the field and from a rigorous academic program.”</p> Robert Rains MS ’19 earned his master's degree in supply chain management from MIT, despite his limited time and challenging location, by first earning an MITx MicroMasters credential online.Photo: Yvonne Ng/MIT Open LearningMITx, Massive open online courses (MOOCs), Office of Open Learning, EdX, Classes and programs, Technology and society, Graduate, postdoctoral, MicroMasters, Alumni/ae, Global Helping lower-income households reap the benefits of solar energy Solstice makes community solar projects more accessible for people unable to invest in rooftop panels. Thu, 26 Sep 2019 00:00:00 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>Rooftop solar panels are a great way for people to invest in renewable energy while saving money on electricity. Unfortunately, the rooftop solar industry only serves a fraction of society.</p> <p>Many Americans are unable to invest in rooftop solar; they may be renters or lack the upfront money required for installations or live in locations that don’t get enough sun. Some states have tried to address these limitations with community solar programs, which allow residents to invest in portions of large, remote solar projects and enjoy savings on their electricity bills each month.</p> <p>But as community solar projects have exploded in popularity in the last few years, higher-income households have been the main beneficiaries. That’s because most developers of community solar arrays require residents to have high credit scores and sign long-term contracts.</p> <p>Now the community solar startup Solstice is changing the system. The company recruits and manages customers for community solar projects while pushing developers for simpler, more inclusive contract terms. Solstice has also developed the EnergyScore, a proprietary customer qualification metric that approves a wider pool of residents for participation in community solar projects, compared to the credit scores typically used by developers.</p> <p><strong>“</strong>We’re always pushing our developer partners to be more inclusive and customer-friendly,” says Solstice co-founder Sandhya Murali MBA ’15, who co-founded the company with Stephanie Speirs MBA ’17. “We want them to design contracts that will be appealing to the customer and kind of a no-brainer.”</p> <p>To date, Solstice has helped about 6,400 households sign up for community solar projects. The founders say involving a more diverse pool of residents will be essential to continue the industry’s breakneck growth.</p> <p>“We think it’s imperative that we figure out how to make this model of residential solar, which can save people money and has the power to impact millions of people across the country, scale quickly,” Murali says.</p> <p><strong>A more inclusive system</strong></p> <p>In 2014, Speirs had been working on improving access to solar energy in Pakistan and India as part of a fellowship with the global investment firm Acumen. But she realized developing countries weren’t the only areas that dealt with energy inequalities.</p> <p>“There are problems with solar in America,” Speirs says. “Eighty percent of people are locked out of the solar market because they can’t put solar on their rooftop. People who need solar savings the most in this country, low- to moderate-income Americans, are the least likely to get it.”</p> <p>Speirs was planning to come to MIT’s Sloan School of Management to pursue her MBA the following year, so she used a Sloan email list to see if anyone was interested in joining the early-stage venture. Murali agreed to volunteer, and although she graduated in 2015 as Speirs entered Sloan, Murali spent a lot of time on campus helping Speirs get the company off the ground. Speirs also received a fellowship from MIT's Legatum Center.</p> <p><strong>“</strong>Steph’s time at Sloan was focused on Solstice, so we kind of became an MIT startup,” Murali says. “I would say MIT sort of adopted Solstice, and we’ve grown since then with support from the school.”</p> <p>Community solar is an effective way to include residents in solar projects who might not have the resources to invest in traditional rooftop solar panels. Speirs says there are no upfront costs associated with community solar projects, and residents can participate by investing in a portion of the planned solar array whether they own a home or not.</p> <p>When a developer has enough resident commitments for a project, they build a solar array in another location and the electricity it generates is sent to the grid. Residents receive a credit on their monthly electric bills for the solar power produced by their portion of the project.</p> <p>Still, there are aspects of the community solar industry that discourage many lower-income residents from participating. Solar array developers have traditionally required qualified customers to sign long contracts, sometimes lasting 30 years, and to agree to cancellation fees if they leave the contract prematurely.</p> <p>Solstice, which began as a nonprofit to improve access to solar energy for low-income Americans, advocates for customers, working with developers to reduce contract lengths, lower credit requirements, and eliminate cancellation fees.</p> <p>As they engaged with developers, Solstice’s founders realized the challenges associated with recruiting and managing customers for community solar projects were holding the industry back, so they decided to start a for-profit arm of the company to work with customers of all backgrounds and income levels.</p> <p>“Solstice’s obsession is how do we make it so easy and affordable to sign up for community solar such that everyone does it,” Speirs says.&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2016, Solstice was accepted into The Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship’s delta v accelerator, where the founders began helping developers find customers for large solar projects. The founders also began developing a web-based customer portal to make participation in projects as seamless as possible.</p> <p>But they realized those solutions didn’t directly address the biggest factor preventing lower-income Americans from investing in solar power.</p> <p>“To get solar in this country, you either have to be able to afford to put solar on your rooftop, which costs $10,000 to $30,000, or you have to have the right FICO score for community solar,” Speirs says, referring to a credit score used by community solar developers to qualify customers. “Your FICO score is your destiny in this country, yet FICO doesn’t measure whether you pay your utility bills on time, or your cell phone bills, or rental bills.”</p> <p>With this in mind, the founders teamed up with data scientists from MIT and Stanford University, including Christopher Knittle, the George P. Shultz Professor at MIT Sloan, to create a new qualification metric, the EnergyScore. The EnergyScore uses a machine learning system trained on data from nearly 875,000 consumer records, including things like utility payments, to predict payment behavior in community solar contracts. Solstice says it predicts future payment behavior more accurately than FICO credit scores, and it qualifies a larger portion of low-to-moderate income customers for projects.</p> <p><strong>Driving change</strong></p> <p>Last year, Solstice began handling the entire customer experience, from the initial education and sales to ongoing support during the life of contracts. To date, the company has helped find customers for solar projects that have a combined output of 100 megawatts of electricity in New York and Massachusetts.</p> <p>And later this year, Solstice will begin qualifying customers with its EnergyScore, enabling a whole new class of Americans to participate in community solar projects. One of the projects using the EnergyScore will put solar arrays on the rooftops of public housing buildings in New York City in partnership with the NYC Housing Authority.</p> <p>Ultimately, the founders believe including a broader swath of American households in community solar projects isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also an essential part of the fight against climate change.</p> <p>“[Community solar] is a huge, untapped market, and we’re unnecessarily restricting ourselves by creating some of these contract barriers that make community solar remain in the hands of the wealthy,” Murali says. “We’re never going to scale community solar and make the impact on climate change we need to make if we don’t figure out how to make this form of solar work for everyone.”</p> Solstice works with solar developers to fund large, remote solar farms that communities can invest in.Image courtesy of SolsticeInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Alumni/ae, Technology and society, Depression, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, Sloan School of Management, Energy, Solar, Renewable energy Game changer: How Christopher Weaver helped to transform video games and game studies at MIT Revolutionizing video games with physics, Weaver has also influenced MIT students with lessons on design, virtual reality, storytelling, and games for social change. Wed, 25 Sep 2019 13:40:01 -0400 Comparative Media Studies/Writing <p>In the mid-1980s, an electrical engineer and avid sports fan named Ed Fletcher approached his boss with a simple question: The communications consultancy firm Fletcher worked for had just acquired a <a href="">Commodore Amiga</a> computer. Could he use it to build a football-themed video game? Christopher Weaver SM ’85, the company’s founder and president, had a background in physics, mechanical engineering, and computer science but had spent most of his professional life in broadcast television. He had never played a sports video game before, but he agreed, and months later saw Fletcher’s work.</p> <p>“It was really very boring. He put in the same inputs and got the same outputs,” Weaver explains. “I said, look, let’s build a <a href="">physics engine</a> bounded by the rules of football and see what it looks like. It will be a hell of a lot more dynamic.”</p> <p>The result was <a href="">Gridiron!</a>, the first sports game to incorporate real physics into gameplay. While the game’s graphics were primitive, Gridiron!’s pixelated players were modeled off of statistics from real-life football stars, giving players different masses and accelerations. Players with larger masses could block and break tackles, but speedier players could beeline to the end zone, adding a never-before-seen layer of reality-based strategy to sports simulators. Weaver formed <a href="">Bethesda Softworks</a>, released Gridiron! as the company’s first title in 1986, and watched as the game captured attention from football and video game fans as well as Electronic Arts, then a goliath game company that hired Weaver’s team and used Gridiron!’s engine as the basis for the original Madden game series. Suddenly, Weaver was a game pioneer entirely by accident.</p> <p>“Sometimes not having a lot of knowledge about an area can be a good very useful thing,” he says. “It forces you to look at it with untutored or naive eyes.”</p> <p>After more than 30 years in the game industry, Weaver still tries to approach the field from new angles, and he encourages his MIT students to do the same. A longtime research scientist and lecturer in MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program (now Comparative Media Studies/Writing), Weaver spent nearly two decades at Bethesda, overseeing seminal titles including the massively popular Elder Scrolls role-playing game series, before co-founding the multimedia development company <a href="">ZeniMax Media</a>. Weaver returned to his alma mater in 1998 to teach courses in game theory and development, as well as media systems.</p> <p>Weaver’s work, both as an instructor and in bolstering MIT’s game studies curriculum, has rippled through the industry. Started informally in the late 1990s by Henry Jenkins and William Uricchio, the flexible curriculum originally centered largely on game design and research. Weaver brought a much-needed industry perspective and as game engines like Unity and Flash enabled small teams to make interesting projects, he began to teach an always-popular game industry course. Since its inception, the MIT games curriculum has transformed to include both game studies and design courses as well as coursework in virtual reality, data storytelling, and games for social change.</p> <p>Doris C. Rusch, a game designer and founder of the Play for Change lab at DePaul University, connected with Weaver after taking his class in 2006.</p> <p>In that class, “I learned that all my lofty, artsy ambitions, they have to measure up to reality,” Rusch said in a CMS/W interview. “If the game is not entertaining, then nobody’s going to care about all of the positive stuff you’re trying to put into it. It’s about keeping that engagement and the game play front and center.”</p> <p>Troy Ko, who graduated from the MIT Sloan School of Management in 2011, recalls Weaver challenging existing paradigms.</p> <p>“When you meet him, just be prepared to think critically,” Ko says. “Be prepared to come in with an open mind, because he’s going to just introduce all of these ideas and try to push you and nudge you in different directions to really question the norm and how things are done.”</p> <p>Today, Weaver splits his time between teaching in Comparative Media Studies/Writing — he has long taught <a href="">CMS.610 Media Industries and Systems: The Art, Science and Business of Games</a> — and the MIT Microphotonics Center. He also teaches STEM development at Wesleyan University and co-directs the <a href="">Videogame Pioneers Initiative</a> in the Lemelson Center for the Study of Innovation and Invention at the National Museum of American History. His goal is to broaden the reach of games and help students understand how to apply the power of game tools to break ground in areas ranging from education to medicine to senior care.</p> <p>“There’s a lot of research now that is demonstrating that if you want to teach, simulate, or train, if you’re capable of using some of these tools, you’ll have a much higher success ratio than standard methodology that’s been developed during the Industrial Revolution,” Weaver says. “We have a whole 21st century to bring students into.”</p> Christopher Weaver, research scientist and lecturer at MIT Comparative Media Studies/WritingImage courtesy of Christopher WeaverComparative Media Studies/Writing, Staff, Video games, Mechanical engineering, Technology and society, Industry, Alumni/ae, Startups, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Physics, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, School of Engineering, Sloan School of Management, DMSE, Microphotonics Center Rethinking orientation for new grad students Recent improvements aim to ease the transition to life at MIT, from day one and beyond. Tue, 24 Sep 2019 13:45:01 -0400 Bridget E. Begg | Elizabeth Durant | Office of the Vice Chancellor <p>In late August, MIT officially welcomed 2,056 new graduate students to campus to begin their intellectual journey. They hail from 46 states and 75 countries, some with partners or entire families in tow. Given the rich diversity of their perspectives and experiences, it’s no easy feat to introduce them to MIT — a place that can take time to get to know.</p> <p>Using insights gleaned from a 2018 survey, the <a href="">Graduate Student Council</a> (GSC), with assistance from the Office of the Vice Chancellor, rethought orientation, in terms of timing, programming, and communications. Some modifications were simple — appointing an orientation chair earlier in the planning process, for example, and moving graduate events to nights and weekends, to reduce conflicts with department-specific orientation. Others involve significant shifts in the program, or new events altogether. The net effect has been a smoother, more welcoming program rolled out over several weeks.</p> <p>Somesh Mohapatra, chair of the GSC Orientation Committee, was inspired to tweak graduate orientation shortly after he first set foot on campus in June 2018 (a bit earlier than many new students arrive). Since he had a chance to acclimate somewhat, he was inundated with questions from new students who arrived later in the summer. He recalls one in particular, from Vietnam, asking if her winter garb would be sufficient for the inevitable Boston cold.</p> <p>“Motivated by that incident especially, I started a pilot series of webinars for the incoming students hosted by current students, which covered 66 countries in the first year itself,” he says. These webinars covered what to pack, how to travel, and importantly, were designed to be culturally-specific in describing the changes students would face.</p> <p>Given the appetite for more information, the committee expanded pre-orientation outreach and programming through partnerships with the International Students Office (ISO) and the MIT Alumni Association (MITAA). The ISO added more webinars for international students, and the MITAA recruited regional alumni to host <a href="">summer send-off events</a> in the United States and abroad to welcome and connect incoming grads to MIT. The committee also worked with staff in the Division of Student Life and Office of the Vice Chancellor to improve incoming grad communications, revamp the <a href="">GSC orientation website</a>, and publish a <a href="">new orientation brochure</a>.</p> <p>Once students arrive, helping them learn to navigate campus (literally) is critical. A new event piloted this year, the Campus-wide Scavenger Hunt, used a game-based, team-building format to introduce students to MIT’s important physical and virtual spaces. Teams competed to find objects, locations around campus, and solve riddles. “The hunt was really well received, and we will definitely expand on it for next year,” says Lauren McLean, a finance and events assistant who works closely with the GSC.</p> <p>The committee also reconsidered the Graduate Student Welcome Lunch, the first event for all graduate students, partners, and families. “Last year we had the presidential welcome and the lunch as separate events. But at this point (in time), some students are still settling in, some just have arrived here, so we just want to have an official welcome in an informal setting for the students.” In that spirit, during the lunch MIT President L. Rafael Reif offered very brief, casual remarks, describing his own experience coming to MIT from Caracas, Venezuela. He concluded with sound, practical advice: “Wear several layers, and invest in a good coat!”</p> <p>Orientation week offered a bevy of events to welcome students who identify with specific groups on campus, including international students, students of color, LGBTQ+ students, and graduate women. In addition, a <a href="">new website</a> was launched for grads with partners and families to familiarize them with the resources available to address their unique needs.</p> <p>“All these changes are about making it easier for incoming students; it’s about making it less overwhelming,” Mohapatra explains. “MIT is already pretty tough place to be in. You know you’re going to be drinking from the firehose, so this is just making it a little easier.”</p> <p>Given that there is so much to take in, the committee made a conscious decision to extend events into the fall, so that students can pace themselves. Grad 101, an orientation program previously offered for six hours over two days, was recast and expanded into an eight-week Resources 101 series, which runs from August through October. Each three-hour presentation provides students with a deeper dive into an important topic, including finances, advising and personal support, wellness, career and professional development, and entrepreneurship and innovation.</p> <p>With help from MIT Institutional Research, the committee plans to survey students again this year to analyze how the changes were received and make adjustments to 2020 orientation. In addition, they’ll consult department administrators and heads of houses to understand how the modifications impacted department and dorm events.</p> <p>In the meantime, the feedback Mohapatra has received in his conversations with students and staff has been quite positive. “I’m happy that the pulse for the orientation has been less overwhelming, more welcoming, and catering to all aspects of graduate student life, for both students and their families,” he says.</p> Students get to know each other at the GSC Welcome Dinner at Morss Hall.Photo: Kevin S. LyGraduate, postdoctoral, Students, Student life, Vice Chancellor, Community, Alumni/ae Study finds hub linking movement and motivation in the brain Detailed observations in the lateral septum indicate region processes movement and reward information to help direct behavior. Thu, 19 Sep 2019 12:50:01 -0400 David Orenstein | Picower Institute for Learning and Memory <p>Our everyday lives rely on planned movement through the environment to achieve goals. A new study by MIT neuroscientists at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT identifies a well-connected brain region as a crucial link between circuits guiding goal-directed movement and motivated behavior.</p> <p>Published Sept. 19 in <em>Current Biology</em>, the research shows that the lateral septum (LS), a region considered integral to modulating behavior and implicated in many psychiatric disorders, directly encodes information about the speed and acceleration of an animal as it navigates and learns how to obtain a reward in an environment.</p> <p>“Completing a simple task, such as acquiring food for dinner, requires the participation and coordination of a large number of regions of the brain, and the weighing of a number of factors: for example, how much effort is it to get food from the fridge versus a restaurant,” says&nbsp;Hannah Wirtshafter PhD '19, the study’s lead author. “We have discovered that the LS may be aiding you in making some of those decisions. That the LS represents place, movement, and motivational information may enable the LS to help you integrate or optimize performance across considerations of place, speed, and other environmental signals.”</p> <p>Previous research has attributed important behavioral functions to the LS, such as modulating anxiety, aggression, and affect. It is also believed to be involved in addiction, psychosis, depression, and anxiety. Neuroscientists have traced its connections to the hippocampus, a crucial center for encoding spatial memories and associating them with context, and to the ventral tegmental area (VTA), a region that mediates goal-directed behaviors via the neurotransmitter dopamine. But until now, no one had shown that the LS directly tracks movement or communicated with the hippocampus, for instance by synchronizing to certain neural rhythms, about movement and the spatial context of reward.</p> <p>“The hippocampus is one of the most studied regions of the brain due to its involvement in memory, spatial navigation, and a large number of illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease,” says&nbsp;Wirtshafter, who recently earned her PhD working on the research as a graduate student in the lab of senior author Matthew Wilson, Sherman Fairchild Professor of Neurobiology. “Comparatively little is known about the lateral septum, even though it receives a large amount of information from the hippocampus and is connected to multiple areas involved in motivation and movement.”</p> <p>Wilson says the study helps to illuminate the importance of the LS as a crossroads of movement and motivation information between regions such as the hippocampus and the VTA.</p> <p>“The discovery that activity in the LS is controlled by movement points to a link between movement and dopaminergic control through the LS that that could be relevant to memory, cognition, and disease,” he says.</p> <p><strong>Tracking thoughts</strong></p> <p>Wirtshafter was able to directly observe the interactions between the LS and the hippocampus by simultaneously recording the electrical spiking activity of hundreds of neurons in each region in rats both as they sought a reward in a T-shaped maze, and as they became conditioned to associate light and sound cues with a reward in an open box environment.</p> <p>In that data, she and Wilson observed a speed and acceleration spiking code in the dorsal area of the LS, and saw clear signs that an overlapping population of neurons were processing information based on signals from the hippocampus, including spiking activity locked to hippocampal brain rhythms, location-dependent firing in the T-maze, and cue and reward responses during the conditioning task. Those observations suggested to the researchers that the septum may serve as a point of convergence of information about movement and spatial context.</p> <p>Wirtshafter’s measurements also showed that coordination of LS spiking with the hippocampal theta rhythm is selectively enhanced during choice behavior that relies on spatial working memory, suggesting that the LS may be a key relay of information about choice outcome during navigation.</p> <p><strong>Putting movement in context</strong></p> <p>Overall, the findings suggest that movement-related signaling in the LS, combined with the input that it receives from the hippocampus, may allow the LS to contribute to an animal’s awareness of its own position in space, as well as its ability to evaluate task-relevant changes in context arising from the animal’s movement, such as when it has reached a choice point, Wilson and Wirtshafter said.</p> <p>This also suggests that the reported ability of the LS to modulate affect and behavior may result from its ability to evaluate how internal states change during movement, and the consequences and outcomes of these changes. For instance, the LS may contribute to directing movement toward or away from the location of a positive or negative stimulus.</p> <p>The new study therefore offers new perspectives on the role of the lateral septum in directed behavior, the researchers added, and given the known associations of the LS with some disorders, it may also offer new implications for broader understanding of the mechanisms relating mood, motivation, and movement, and the neuropsychiatric basis of mental illnesses.</p> <p>“Understanding how the LS functions in movement and motivation will aid us in understanding how the brain makes basic decisions, and how disruption in these processed might lead to different disorders,” Wirtshafter says.</p> <p>A National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship and the JPB Foundation funded the research.</p> An MIT study is the first to show that a brain region called the lateral septum directly encodes movement information such as speed. Image: Hannah Wirtshafter/Picower Institute for Learning and MemoryPicower Institute, School of Science, Biology, Neuroscience, Behavior, Alumni/ae, Brain and cognitive sciences, Research Cody Friesen PhD ’04 awarded $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize Materials scientist recognized for social, economic, and environmentally-sustaining inventions that impact millions of people around the world. Wed, 18 Sep 2019 10:10:01 -0400 Stephanie Martinovich | Lemelson-MIT Program <p>Cody Friesen PhD ’04, an associate professor of materials science at Arizona State University and founder of both Fluidic Energy and Zero Mass Water, was awarded the 2019 $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize for invention. Friesen has dedicated his career to inventing solutions that address two of the biggest challenges to social and economic advancement in the developing world: access to fresh water and reliable energy. His renewable water and energy technologies help fight climate change while providing valuable resources to underserved communities.</p> <p>Friesen’s first company, Fluidic Energy, was formed to commercialize and deploy the world’s first, and only, rechargeable metal-air battery, which can withstand many thousands of discharges. The technology has provided backup power during approximately 1 million long-duration outages, while simultaneously offsetting thousands of tons of carbon dioxide emissions. The batteries are currently being used as a secondary energy source on four continents at thousands of critical load sites and in dozens of microgrids. Several million people have benefited from access to reliable energy as a result of the technology. Fluidic Energy has been renamed NantEnergy, with Patrick Soon-Shiong investing significantly in the continued global expansion of the technology.</p> <p>Currently, Friesen’s efforts are focused on addressing the global water crisis through his company, Zero Mass Water. Friesen invented SOURCE Hydropanels, which are solar panels that make drinking water from sunlight and air. The invention is a true leapfrog technology and can make drinking water in dry conditions with as low as 5 percent relative humidity. SOURCE has been deployed in 33 countries spanning six continents. The hydropanels are providing clean drinking water in communities, refugee camps, government offices, hotels, hospitals, schools, restaurants, and homes around the world.</p> <p>“As inventors, we have a responsibility to ensure our technology serves all of humanity, not simply the elite,” says Friesen. “At the end of the day, our work is about impact, and this recognition propels us forward as we deploy SOURCE Hydropanels to change the human relationship to water across the globe.”</p> <p>Friesen joins a long lineage of inventors to receive the Lemelson-MIT Prize, the largest cash prize for invention in the United States for 25 years. He will be donating his prize to a project with Conservation International to provide clean drinking water via SOURCE Hydropanels to the Bahia Hondita community in Colombia.</p> <p>“Cody’s inventive spirit, fueled by his strong desire to help improve the lives of people everywhere, is an inspiring role model for future generations,” says Michael Cima, faculty director for the Lemelson-MIT Program and associate dean of innovation for the MIT School of Engineering. “Water scarcity is a prominent global issue, which Cody is combating through technology and innovation. We are excited that the use of this award will further elevate his work.”</p> <p>“Cody Friesen embodies what it means to be an impact inventor,” notes Carol Dahl, executive director at the Lemelson Foundation. “His inventions are truly improving lives, take into account environmental considerations, and have become the basis for companies that impact millions of people around the world each year. We are honored to recognize Dr. Friesen as this year’s LMIT Prize winner.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Friesen will speak at EmTech MIT, the annual conference on emerging technologies hosted by <em>MIT Technology Review</em> at the MIT Media Lab on Sept. 18 at 5 p.m.</p> Cody Friesen is the winner of the 2019 Lemelson-MIT Prize for invention. Photo: Zero Mass WaterLemelson-MIT, School of Engineering, DMSE, Alumni/ae, Awards, honors and fellowships, Batteries, Energy, Water, Solar, Materials Science and Engineering, Global Startup uses virtual reality to help seniors re-engage with the world Rendever’s VR platform brings new experiences and fond memories to aging adults in nursing homes. Thu, 12 Sep 2019 23:59:59 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>Reed Hayes MBA ’17 wasn’t quite sure what to expect. He stood inside an assisted living facility in front of an elderly man struggling with dementia. The man sat slouched in his wheelchair, unmoving, his eyes barely open. Hayes had enrolled in MIT’s Sloan School of Management with the idea of helping older adults overcome depression and isolation through the immersive world of virtual reality. Now he needed to test his idea.</p> <p>Hayes turned on a virtual reality experience featuring a three-dimensional painting by Vincent Van Gogh and a classical piano playing in the background. Nervously, he placed the headset on the man. What happened next stunned everyone in the room.</p> <p>“He just came alive,” Hayes remembers. “He started moving around, tapping his feet, laughing. He was all of a sudden much more engaged in the world, and this from someone who was slouched over, to now kind of bouncing around. [My classmate] Dennis and I looked at each other like, ‘Holy cow, we might be onto something.’ It was remarkable.”</p> <p>It would not be the last time Hayes and Dennis Lally MBA ’17 saw the transformative impact of virtual reality (VR). Their startup, Rendever, which they founded with Kyle Rand and Thomas Neumann, has since brought its VR experiences to more than 100 senior living communities, and has launched in hospitals to extend the enthralling world of VR to patients of all ages.</p> <p>“Starting Rendever was one of the most important things I’ve done in my life,” Hayes says. “It holds a special place in my heart, and it’s probably the most material impact I’ll have in my life.”</p> <p>Rendever’s main product is its resident engagement platform, which offers users a variety of games and activities like virtual scuba diving and hiking, and includes content from diverse sources that let users travel almost anywhere in the world. One of the most important features of the platform, though, is its ability to sync to multiple headsets at once, prompting social group activities.</p> <p>“It’s amazing to see them point things out to each other and engage with one another, yelling ‘Look left!’ Or ‘There’s a puppy at our feet!’” says Grace Andruszkiewicz, Rendever’s director of marketing and partnerships. “Or, if they’re in Paris, someone might say, ‘I was in Paris in 1955 and there was this cute café,’ and people start adding details and telling their own stories. That’s where the magic happens.”</p> <p>The company, which uses off-the-shelf headsets, also offers a family engagement portal so relatives can upload personal content like photos or videos that let users relive fond memories or be present in places they can’t physically be in. For example, family members can borrow a 360-degree camera, or purchase their own, to take to weddings or on family vacations.</p> <p>The idea for the company was first sketched out by Hayes on a napkin at MIT’s Muddy Charles Pub as part of a pitch to Lally shortly after they’d come to MIT. The co-founders brought on Rand and Neumann during the delta v summer accelerator, which is run out of the Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship. They officially launched the company in the fall of 2016.</p> <p>Since then, everyone at the company has racked up a series of unforgettable memories watching older adults use the platform. Lally remembers one early test when they gave an older woman the experience of seeing the Notre-Dame cathedral in France.</p> <p>“She was so ecstatic to be able to see this church from the inside, something she had dreamt about, and we were able to kind of fulfill a lifelong dream of hers,” Lally says. Indeed, the company says it specializes in helping seniors cross items off their bucket list.</p> <p>Rendever’s team adds original content to its platform twice a month, much of it based on feedback from residents at the communities that subscribe to the service. Subscriptions include headsets, a control tablet, a large content library, training, support, and warranties.</p> <p>The company also helps nursing homes deliver personalized content to their residents, which makes for some of the most powerful experiences.</p> <p>“Once there was an older adult who just kept saying ‘I want to go home,’ but she was in an assisted living community because she was showing signs of dementia,” Hayes remembers. “With the technology that we’d built, we were able to type in the address of her home and take her there. And she started crying tears of joy. She kept saying, ‘This is the most beautiful place in the world.’”</p> <p>Now the company is working to reproduce in clinical trials the results they’ve seen with individual clients.</p> <p>A <u><a href="" target="_blank">study</a></u> performed in conjunction with the MIT AgeLab and presented at the 2018 International Conference on Human Aspects of IT for the Aged Population compared social VR experiences for older adults with watching the same scenes on a television. The researchers found that the people who had shared these experiences through VR were significantly less likely to report depression or social isolation and more likely to feel better about their overall well-being.</p> <p>“To this day, the power of the shared experience remains at the heart of our philosophy, and we owe much of that to our roots at MIT and ongoing collaboration with the MIT AgeLab,” says Rendever CEO Kyle Rand.</p> <p>Rendever is also deploying its system outside of senior living communities. A study with UCHealth in Colorado used Rendever’s VR as a distraction for patients undergoing unpleasant treatments such as chemotherapy. After the program, 88 percent of participants said they’d use VR again.</p> <p>The system has worked so well that many of Rendever’s employees have used it with their own aging relatives. Before Andruszkiewicz accepted a job at the company, she asked if she could take a demo set to her 89-year-old grandmother.</p> <p>“She started telling me stories that I’d never heard before, and she and I have a really close relationship, so it was surprising that some of her memories had come back,” Andruszkiewicz says. “That sealed the deal for me.”</p> <p>Factors such as quality of life and mental stimulation have long been suspected to influence impairments related to aging. Rendever’s team is hoping the transformations they’ve seen can be replicated through peer-reviewed research. One particular transformation sticks with everyone.</p> <p>For years, an elderly woman named Mickey was the most outgoing and friendly person in her Connecticut assisted living community. She knew everyone’s name, was a regular at community events, and always had a smile on her face.</p> <p>Then she was diagnosed with dementia. One of her first symptoms was expressive aphasia, a disorder that robbed her of her ability to speak. Mickey’s silence left a void in the community and saddened residents and staff members.</p> <p>Then Rendever’s team came in to do training. A staff member, with tears in his eyes, told the team about Mickey, so they cued up a scene of golden retriever puppies and put the headset on her.</p> <p>“She completely lights up,” Andruszkiewicz recalls. “Mickey was trying to pet the puppies, and calling them over, and she was talking throughout the experience.”</p> <p>From a clinical perspective, it’s too early to say that VR improves symptoms related to aging, but when Rendever followed up with the Connecticut community six months later, they learned something interesting: Mickey had continued using Rendever, and continued communicating with old friends who never thought they’d hear from her again.</p> <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> The startup Rendever uses virtual reality to help aging adults overcome widespread problems like depression and social isolation.Courtesy of RendeverInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Augmented and virtual reality, Digital technology, Health sciences and technology, Technology and society, Depression, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, Sloan School of Management, Aging, Memory, Alumni/ae, AgeLab Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics awarded to Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration for black hole observation Nearly 30 MIT-affiliated researchers will share in the prize, while David Jay Julius ’77 wins Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences; assistant professor of physics Max Metlitski shares New Horizons prize with Xie Chen PhD ’12 and Michael Levin PhD ’06. Fri, 06 Sep 2019 11:58:57 -0400 MIT News Office <p>The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) Collaboration, including scientists and engineers from MIT, will receive a 2020 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. The team is being honored for making the <a href="">first direct detection</a> of a black hole. Assistant professor of physics Max Metlitski and several MIT alumni are also receiving awards from the Breakthrough Prize Foundation.</p> <p>The $3 million fundamental physics prize will be shared equally with the 347 EHT researchers from around the world who co-authored the six papers published on April 10, 2019, which reported the detection of the supermassive black hole at the heart of Messier 87, or M87, a galaxy within the Virgo galaxy cluster.</p> <p>The new laureates will be recognized at an awards ceremony in Mountain View, California, on Nov. 3.</p> <p><strong>Earth-sized telescope</strong></p> <p>The EHT is a global network of radio telescopes that work together as one virtual telescope, with a resolution sharp enough to “see” a black hole’s shadow.</p> <p>Researchers at MIT’s Haystack Observatory made several key contributions as members of the global collaboration, such as developing the ultrafast devices that record the vast volumes of data captured by each telescope.</p> <p>After the observing run ended, the data were sent to Haystack and to the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, where they were processed using a specialized supercomputer called a correlator, also developed by Haystack researchers. Teams at both institutions then undertook the painstaking process of “correlating” the data and ensuring they were rigorously verified before being released to the independent teams that would create the images of M87.</p> <p>The result, according to the Breakthrough Prize citation, was “an image of this galactic monster, silhouetted against hot gas swirling around the black hole, that matched expectations from Einstein's theory of gravity.”</p> <p>MIT-affliated scientists and engineers who will share in the prize include researchers and alumni from Haystack Observatory, the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, the Department of Physics, the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, and the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. They are: Kazunori Akiyama, Frederick K. Baganoff, John Barrett, Christopher Beaudoin, Lindy Blackburn, Katherine L. Bouman, Roger Cappallo, Geoffrey B. Crew, Joseph Crowley, Mark Derome, Sheperd S. Doeleman, Chris Eckert, Vincent L. Fish, William T. Freeman, Michael H. Hecht, Colin Lonsdale, Sera Markoff, Lynn D. Matthews, Stephen R. McWhirter, James Moran, Kotaro Moriyama, Michael Nowak, Joseph Neilsen, Daniel C. M. Palumbo, Michael Poirier, Alan Rogers, Chet Ruszczyk, Jason SooHoo, Don Sousa, Michael Titus, Alan R. Whitney, and Shuo Zhang.</p> <p><strong>Additional accolades</strong></p> <p>The Breakthrough Prize Foundation has also honored assistant professor of physics Maxim Metlitski, awarding him a New Horizons prize, which recognizes early-career achievements in physics and mathematics. Metlitski will share the prize with three collaborators, two of whom are MIT alumni: Xie Chen PhD ’12 of Caltech, Michael Levin PhD ’06 of the University of Chicago, and Lukasz Fidkowski of the University of Washington.</p> <p>The team is being honored “for incisive contributions to the understanding of topological states of matter and the relationships between them,” according to the Breakthrough Prize citation.</p> <p>“Max is part of a very talented group of experimentalists and theorists working on new materials with very unusual properties,” says Peter Fisher, professor and head of the Department of Physics. “These materials are teaching us how quantum mechanics plays an unexpected role in how electrons and vibrations can travel in materials that could result in new technologies.”</p> <p>Metlitski earned a BS in physics and mathematics and an MS in physics from the University of British Columbia. After obtaining his PhD in physics from Harvard University in 2011, he held a postdoctoral position at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He joined MIT’s Department of Physics as an assistant professor in January 2017, following a faculty appointment at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada.</p> <p>“On behalf of the School of Science, I congratulate Max Metlitski for this impressive early-career achievement in condensed matter theory,” says Michael Sipser, dean of the MIT School of Science and the Donner Professor of Mathematics. “In addition, I applaud our researchers in the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, who contributed to our first images of a black hole.&nbsp;We celebrate our scientists’ pursuit of fundamental research to advance human knowledge and all recipients of these prestigious awards.”</p> <p>David Jay Julius ’77, a professor at the University of California at San Franciso, has also won a 2020 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, for discovering molecules, cells and mechanisms underlying pain sensation. And last month, Daniel Z. Freedman, professor emeritus in MIT’s departments of Mathematics and Physics, <a href="">was awarded</a> a Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics.</p> The MIT Haystack Observatory houses a specialized supercomputer called a correlator, which crunched data generated by the EHT project.Image: courtesy of MIT Haystack ObservatoryAstronomy, Astrophysics, Black holes, Haystack Observatory, National Science Foundation (NSF), Faculty, Staff, Alumni/ae, Kavli Institute, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), School of Engineering, School of Science, EAPS, space, Space, astronomy and planetary science, awards, Awards, honors and fellowships, Physics Cleaning up hydrogen peroxide production Solugen’s engineered enzymes offer a biologically-inspired method for producing the chemical. Thu, 05 Sep 2019 13:31:42 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>The large factories that have historically manufactured all of the world’s hydrogen peroxide have new, microscopic competitors: altered protein molecules called enzymes.</p> <p>Certain enzymes, which quicken the pace of chemical reactions, have long been known to work with hydrogen peroxide in various biological systems. But translating that knowledge into a biological-based way to create hydrogen peroxide has proven difficult — until recently.</p> <p>For the past few years, the startup Solugen, which was co-founded by an MIT alumnus, has been producing hydrogen peroxide by combining genetically modified enzymes with organic compounds like plant sugars. The reaction creates bio-based hydrogen peroxide as well as organic acids, and the company says this method is cheaper, safer, and less toxic than traditional processes.</p> <p>Solugen currently has two pilot facilities in Texas that produce more than 10 tons of hydrogen peroxide per month, with a much larger site opening next summer. The technology has the potential to reduce the carbon footprint of an extremely common chemical used for a host of consumer and industrial applications.</p> <p>Science companies like Solugen are often started by researchers who have spent years studying a specific problem. Their success often hinges on securing government grants or corporate partnerships. But Solugen has a much more colorful history.</p> <p>The company can attribute its success to research into pancreatic cancer, a Facebook group of float spa enthusiasts, a fruitful splurge at Home Depot, and the emergence of several fields that make Solugen’s solution possible.</p> <p><strong>Getting by with help from Facebook friends</strong></p> <p>Solugen co-founder Gaurab Chakrabarti was in medical school studying pancreatic cancer in 2015 when he discovered an enzyme in cancer cells that could function in extremely high concentrations of hydrogen peroxide.</p> <p>The enzyme required another expensive chemical to be useful in reactions, so Chakrabarti partnered with Sean Hunt SM ’13 PhD ’16, whom he’d befriended while attending medical school with Hunt’ wife. Hunt was studying more traditional chemical processing methods for his PhD when Chakrabarti showed him the enzyme.</p> <p>“My background is not in biotech, so I’m kind of the recovering biotech skeptic,” Hunt says. “I learned about enzymes in school, and everyone knew how active and selective they were, but they were just so unstable and hard to manufacture.”</p> <p>Using computational protein design methods, Hunt and Chakrabarti were able to genetically modify the enzyme to make it produce hydrogen peroxide at room temperature when combined with cheap organic compounds like sugar.</p> <p>Soon after, the founders were finalists in the 2016 MIT $100K pitch competition, earning $10,000. But they still weren’t sure the technology was worth pursuing.</p> <p>Then they were contacted by a Facebook group of float spa enthusiasts. Float spas suspend people in salty waters while shutting out all noise and light to help them achieve sensory deprivation. Hydrogen peroxide is used to keep float spa waters clean.</p> <p>“There’s about 400 float spas in the U.S., and they’re all on one Facebook group, and one owner saw our MIT $100K pitch video and shared it to the Facebook group,” Hunt explains. “That’s really what made us continue Solugen that summer. Because we were contacted by these float spa owners saying, ‘This is how much we pay for peroxide. If you guys can make it, we’ll buy it.’”</p> <p>Emboldened, the founders rented cheap lab space in Dallas and sent one of their early enzyme designs to a protein manufacturer in China. Then Hunt spent $7,000 at Home Depot to create a pilot reactor he describes as “this little PVC bubble column.”</p> <p>Running out of money, the founders bought 55 gallon drums of sugar and ran them through the reactor with their enzyme, watching triumphantly as organic acids and hydrogen peroxide came out the other end. The founders began selling all the peroxide they could produce, sometimes sleeping on the floor to keep the reactor running through the night. By December of 2016, they were making $10,000 a month selling pails of peroxide to the float spa community.</p> <p>The company used its PVC bubble reactor until the summer of 2017, when they built a fully automated reactor capable of producing 10 times more hydrogen peroxide. That’s when they moved into the oil and gas industry.</p> <p><strong>A big, toxic problem</strong></p> <p>As companies pump oil and gas out of the ground, they generate large amounts of contaminated salt water that needs to be treated or disposed of. Billions of gallons of such water are produced each month in the U.S. alone. Hydrogen peroxide can be used in the treatment process, but Hunt says the traditional methods for creating hydrogen peroxide leave a large carbon footprint associated with the constant venting of the working solution.</p> <p>“What I really love about this is it’s a true environmental crisis that I think we’re making a big difference on,” Hunt says, noting other chemicals used to treat wastewater are extremely toxic.</p> <p>Solugen’s current production facilities ship concentrated forms of hydrogen peroxide, but the founders plan on building “minimills” next to oil and gas plants that don’t require concentration and dilution to further reduce costs and improve sustainability.</p> <p>“When we were building these things out, we realized that because we’re doing all this chemistry with enzymes where it’s room temperature, in water, and low pressure, it’s very safe, and as a result we can build these small plants,” Hunt says. “That’s really exciting for us. … For instance, you can sell hydrogen peroxide for $2 a gallon. It costs $1.50 a gallon just to ship it to the customer. The freight is almost the price of the chemical. And in some instances, it’s more than the chemical itself.”</p> <p>Solugen’s solution is also intriguing because it couldn’t have existed until recently. To make its proprietary enzymes, the company says it’s leveraging new methods for computational protein design and genetic engineering. It also relies on an industry of protein contract manufacturers that can produce large amounts of the enzymes less expensively than what would have been possible even five years ago.</p> <p>Looking forward, Hunt says Solugen’s infrastructure could be used to co-produce hundreds of different organic acids by changing the enzymes and compounds being mixed. One of the co-products he’s most excited about is acetic acid, which is used to make vinegar. Acetic acid is also used in the production of important materials like polyester fiber and plastic.</p> <p>“Hydrogen peroxide and acetic acid are fundamental building blocks for our economy,” Hunt says. “We see Solugen as a platform [for other solutions]. In the long term, that’s what really excites us.”</p> <p><em>This story has been revised to more accurately depict traditional hydrogen peroxide production processes</em>.</p> Solugen's proprietary process for producing hydrogen peroxide uses modified enzymes and inexpensive compounds like sugar. It is currently being used in two pilot facilities that create more than 10 tons of the chemical every day.Image courtesy of SolugenInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, School of Engineering, Chemical engeering, Proteins, Emissions, Climate change, Safety, Pollution, Computational biology, Alumni/ae, Sustainability From city to city, MIT Better World connects alumni and ideas New MIT Better World video playlist documents events touching on the science of teaching and learning, challenges in environment and sustainability, and more. Wed, 04 Sep 2019 12:25:01 -0400 Nicole Estvanik Taylor | MIT Alumni Association <p>In&nbsp;<a href="">New York City</a>, they filled a theater in Times Square to hear how MIT is evolving to provide its students with the best educational experience in and out of the classroom. They converged on hotel spaces in&nbsp;<a href="">San Francisco and Palo Alto</a> and <a href="">Los Angeles and San Diego</a>, California, to discuss the science of teaching and learning, as well as ways researchers are meeting environmental challenges. Over the course of the past academic year, MIT alumni and friends have turned out in each of these locations — not just for insights into how the MIT community is making a better world, but to see each other and to reconnect with a global network that thrives on the lively exchange of ideas.</p> <p>While those gatherings have passed, the ideas live on. A&nbsp;<a href="">new playlist of videos</a>&nbsp;recaps the programming from these and other MIT Better World events held since 2018. Among the moments recorded:</p> <ul> <li>In New York, Edward Fan ’19, PhD candidate Candace Ross SM ’18, architecture professor and Environmental Solutions Initiative Director John E. Fernández ’85, and associate dean of engineering and Neil and Jane Pappalardo Professor of Mechanical Engineering Peko Hosoi <a href="">took turns recalling the moment</a>&nbsp;each found community at MIT.</li> </ul> <ul> <li>In Houston, Texas, Dina Katabi SM ’99, PhD ’03, the Andrew (1956) and Erna Viterbi Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, described how an obsession with "Star Wars" and&nbsp;<a href=";list=PLC7Gc73Oo41XQn5Frb5XcycqHiMeNCKjs&amp;index=2">MIT’s “outside-the-box” culture</a>&nbsp;helped her to develop a new wireless monitoring technology for health care.</li> </ul> <ul> <li>In the San Francisco Bay Area, Sanjay Sarma, vice president for open learning and Fred Fort Flowers (1941) and Daniel Fort Flowers (1941) Professor of Mechanical Engineering, explained how MIT’s “very controversial decision … to&nbsp;<a href="">give its entire curriculum away</a> for free to the world” is playing out two decades later in the gig economy.</li> </ul> <ul> <li>In Southern California, MIT School of Architecture and Planning Dean Hashim Sarkis asked for&nbsp;<a href="">signs of hope</a>&nbsp;in the face of daunting climate challenges, with responses from&nbsp;Dennis Whyte, Hitachi America Professor of Engineering, head of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering, and director of the Plasma Science and Fusion Center; and Meghana Ranganathan, a PhD student in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences.</li> </ul> <p>As the MIT Campaign for a Better World continues, so does its tour of cities. In Atlanta, Georgia, on Oct. 18, a panel will share how MIT is pioneering new insights into the social implications of artificial intelligence. The speakers will include Hope M. Barrett ’98, director of audience intelligence at CNN and a member of the MIT Alumni Association Board of Directors; Thomas W. Malone, the Patrick J. McGovern Professor of Management and founding director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence; Melissa Nobles, the Kenan Sahin Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences and professor of political science; Harini Suresh ’16, MEng ’17, a PhD student in the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory; and Maria Zuber, MIT vice president for research and the E. A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics.</p> <p>Zuber will also appear in London, England, on Nov. 8, to continue conversations around environment and sustainability. Joining her will be panelists Alpha Yacob Arsano SM ’17, a PhD candidate in architecture and researcher at the MIT Sustainable Design Lab; and Jason Jay PhD ’10, MIT Sloan senior lecturer and director of the MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative.</p> <p>In 2020, alumni in the Westchester, New York, and Fairfield, Connecticut, areas will convene to talk innovation and entrepreneurship on Feb. 27, and the Toronto, Canada, community will gather for a science-themed discussion on April 29. Additional topics and locations will be announced in the coming months.&nbsp;</p> <p><a href="">Learn more</a>&nbsp;about MIT Better World events and how to register to attend.</p> Attendees at the MIT Better World San Diego event in March 2019Campaign for a Better World, Alumni/ae, Special events and guest speakers David H. Koch, prominent supporter of cancer research at MIT, dies at 79 Alumnus supported pioneering biomedical center, among many Institute causes and activities. Fri, 23 Aug 2019 09:30:19 -0400 MIT News Office <p>David H. Koch ’62, SM ’63, one of the most important benefactors in MIT’s modern history, has died. He was 79 years old.</p> <p>Koch’s willingness to back significant initiatives at the Institute was exemplified by his foundational gift establishing the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, a pioneering facility that brings research scientists and engineers together to advance the frontiers of cancer medicine. The Koch Institute has become a centerpiece of MIT’s pursuit of biomedical innovation and the useful application of knowledge to global health.</p> <p>Koch had wide-ranging interests concerning the life of the Institute, however, and in addition to cancer research, he supported many other causes and activities at MIT, including chemical engineering, childcare for employees, and athletics. At any given moment around MIT, beneficiaries of Koch’s gifts included faculty with endowed professorships, students with fellowships he supported — and toddlers in the childcare center he helped found.</p> <p>“David Koch had a brilliant instinct for opportunities where the lever of his philanthropy could make a transformative difference,” says MIT President L. Rafael Reif. “As one example, his gift to launch the Koch Institute dramatically advanced a new strategy in which engineers and scientists push the frontiers of cancer research by working side by side. At the same time, he saw that the David H. Koch Childcare Center could play an indispensable role in helping young faculty, staff, postdocs, and graduate students manage the balance of family and career. We are grateful for his longstanding devotion to the Institute. Very few graduates have left such a broad and indelible mark on the life of MIT.”</p> <p>The Koch Institute, dedicated in 2011, was backed by a $100 million gift Koch made to MIT in October 2007, allowing for a new state-of-the-art facility at MIT and an innovative, interdisciplinary approach to the fight against cancer. The Koch Institute houses a wide array of world-leading scientists: Five current and former faculty have been awarded the Nobel Prize, and nine current and former faculty have been awarded the National Medals of Science or Technology and Innovation. All told, Koch has given MIT $134 million to support cancer research and facilities.</p> <p>“From my very first days as MIT’s president, David Koch became a friend, collaborator, supporter, and enthusiast,” says President Emerita Susan Hockfield, who led MIT from 2004 to 2012. “He already had a long history of generosity to MIT, but his commitment to accelerating progress against cancer gave particular force to MIT’s efforts to reimagine our own cancer research. David was one of this nation’s most generous donors to cancer research, and his engagement with many of the leading cancer research centers gave him an amazingly sophisticated understanding of the frontier of cancer biology and therapy.”</p> <p>The Koch Institute emphasizes five main areas of research: the development of nanotechnology-based cancer treatments; new devices for cancer detection and monitoring; research about the molecular and cellular processes of metastasis; the advancement of personalized medicine, by studying cancer pathways and resistance to drugs; and research about how the immune system can fight cancer.</p> <p>“This is a new approach to cancer research with the potential to uncover breakthroughs in therapies and diagnostics,” Koch <a href="">said in 2007</a>. “Conquering cancer will require multidisciplined initiatives and MIT is positioned to enable that collaboration. As a cancer survivor, I feel especially fortunate to be able to help advance this effort.”</p> <p>President Emerita Hockfield, whose tenure included the period when David H. Koch made his initial gift funding the Koch Institute, as well as its opening, lauded Koch’s visionary support of the project.</p> <p>“David provided resources, of course, but also wisdom and strategy to keep the project on time and on budget,” Hockfield says. “He took personal interest in the people and projects at what became the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.”</p> <p>Koch’s embrace of an interdisciplinary center for fighting cancer advanced and enhanced MIT’s capabilities in this arena, notes Tyler Jacks, the David H. Koch Professor of Biology at MIT, and director of the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.</p> <p>“As an MIT-trained engineer, David immediately saw the value in bringing together the great strengths in engineering on our campus with our cancer science efforts in order to solve the most challenging problems in cancer,” Jacks says. “As a cancer survivor, he has been deeply committed to supporting innovative approaches to improve outcomes for patients. David chose to invest in MIT because he believed that we were uniquely positioned to change the course of cancer, and his generosity has enabled us to do that.”</p> <p>Jacks added that MIT benefitted from Koch’s high level of interest in the the research projects he backed.</p> <p>“From the earliest days of planning the Koch Institute, David dug into the details,” Jacks says. “He was always inquisitive and really enjoyed asking probing questions, whether about the HVAC system in the building or the intricacies of nanotechnology-based cancer therapy. David was a huge supporter of what we do and rightly proud of what we have created in the Koch Institute. And we are extremely grateful for his support.”</p> <p>In addition to the named chair Jacks holds, Koch endowed other professorships that bear his name, held by MIT faculty in the fields of biology, biological engineering, chemical engineering, and materials science and engineering.</p> <p>David H. Koch was born in Wichita, Kansas, on May 3, 1940. He graduated from Deerfield Academy, a prep school in Massachusetts, and received his bachelor’s degree and master’s degree from MIT in chemical engineering, the Institute’s Course 10. He joined Koch Industries, the firm founded by his father, in 1970, and became president of a division of the company, Koch Engineering, in 1979. He served as executive vice president of Koch Industries until publicly announcing his retirement, due to his health, in June 2018.</p> <p>Koch was also a Life Member Emeritus of the MIT Corporation. He first became a Member of the Corporation in 1988, and was elected a Life Member in 1998.</p> <p>Beyond cancer research, Koch was also a significant supporter of MIT’s programs in chemical engineering. In the 1980s, Koch made a significant gift to sustain the School of Chemical Engineering Practice at MIT, whose roots go back to 1916. Now known as the David H. Koch School of Chemical Engineering Practice, this is a unique program for graduate students combining coursework with internships, to enhance both academic and professional development.</p> <p>“David Koch was a model philanthropist who funded initiatives across a swath of cultural, scientific, and medical institutions,” says Robert Millard, chair of the MIT Corporation. “His generosity has benefited humanity broadly — from the arts to cancer research to science. MIT is deeply thankful for his many contributions to our community.”</p> <p>In a different vein, Koch served as lead donor for the David H. Koch Childcare Center at MIT, which opened in 2013 and almost doubled the childcare capacity on campus. Situated on Vassar Street on the west side of the MIT campus, the center provides high-quality support for MIT faculty, postdocs, graduate students, and staff who are raising young families, often while pursuing intensive research careers.</p> <p>Koch decided to give $20 million for the facility after serving on the Biology Visiting Committee at MIT — one of many such groups that advise the Institute — and recognizing the need for more extensive childcare facilities in order to help attract and retain talented personnel on campus. Along with Koch, Charles W. Johnson ’55 and Jennifer C. Johnson also helped fund the facility.</p> <p>A less well-known but vital aspect of Koch’s relationship with MIT was his enduring support for the Institute’s basketball team. Koch was a standout basketball player as an undergraduate, and captained the MIT team during the 1961-62 season, his senior year; he played alongside his brother Bill on MIT’s varsity team. David Koch’s attachment to the program continued throughout his life.</p> <p>Indeed, Koch not only followed the team, and attended team banquets, but endowed the position of coach for the men’s basketball team, a role that has been filled since the 1995-96 season by Larry Anderson. During that time, MIT has had a superb run of success, which includes making the NCAA Division III Final Four in 2012.</p> <p>“My heart goes out the entire Koch family," says Anderson. “I know that David had lots of love and interests – we were lucky enough that MIT Basketball was one of them. He was proud to wear the MIT Cardinal red and silver gray as captain of the team. He was the record-holder for 47 years for the most points scored in a single game with 41, and his support meant so much to the MIT Basketball family.”</p> <p>“David’s generous philanthropy allowed us to do many impossible things at MIT, but I have valued equally his curiosity, interest, engagement, and enthusiasm,” Hockfield says.&nbsp;“Coming from an MIT family, David Koch was truly a son of MIT who made the Institute a better place, for its students and faculty, and for the lives they change through their work.” &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;</p> David Koch during a visit to MIT on Oct. 4 2013 to dedicate the Koch Childcare Center on Vassar StreetPhoto: Dominick ReuterObituaries, Administration, Chemical engineering, School of Engineering, Department of Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation (DAPER), Giving, Alumni/ae, President L. Rafael Reif A major expansion for the Green Building $60 million upgrade will add 12,000 square feet for meetings, classrooms, and study spaces. Thu, 22 Aug 2019 12:00:01 -0400 MIT Resource Development <p>Rising nearly 300 feet from the ground, the Cecil and Ida Green Building, aka <a href="" target="_blank">Building 54</a>, stands out as not only the tallest building on MIT’s campus but also (until recently) the tallest building in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Yet it’s not obvious from the outside what actually goes on within this imposing 55-year-old structure designed by the late I.M. Pei ’40.</p> <p>People on campus tours often hear about the annual pumpkin drop, or about instances when students have commandeered the Green Building’s LED-equipped windows to play giant games of Tetris. But not everyone learns about the groundbreaking work carried out inside — such as the development of chaos theory, seismic tomography, numerical weather prediction, climate modeling, and far-reaching NASA missions.</p> <p>This is the headquarters of MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), and plans are now underway to give Building 54 a major facelift, including a new LEED-certified addition that will offer a window into the important work taking place inside.</p> <p>The $60 million upgrade will allow construction of an Earth and Environment Pavilion designed to be a vital center for environmental and climate research on MIT’s campus. With assistance from the Institute and generous private donors — including John H. Carlson; George Elbaum ’59, SM ’63, PhD ’67; Fred A. Middleton Jr. ’71; Neil Pappalardo ’64; and Shell — EAPS recently passed the midway point on its $30 million fundraising campaign for the new pavilion and other improvements to the Green Building, such as a renovated lecture hall (54-100) to be renamed the Shell Auditorium.</p> <p>The project will yield about 12,000 square feet of additional space, providing new meeting places, classrooms, and study areas. The enlarged and revamped Green Building is expected to help EAPS attract and retain top faculty and students. But the more ambitious objective is to enhance the research undertaken within the department by co-locating EAPS and the MIT-Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program with the MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative, affording greater opportunities for interaction and the cross-pollination of ideas.</p> <p><em>This article originally appeared in <a href="" target="_blank">MIT Spectrum</a>. </em></p> An artist’s rendering depicts the Green Building (Building 54), home to the MIT Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, with the planned Earth and Environment Pavilion.Image: EllenzweigEAPS, Woods Hole, Campus buildings and architecture, Design, Earth and atmospheric sciences, Space, astronomy and planetary science, School of Science, Alumni/ae, ESI, Giving A more intelligent system for the scooter wars MIT spinout Superpedestrian has developed a smart electric scooter to improve urban mobility. Thu, 22 Aug 2019 00:00:00 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>Startups racing to deploy rentable electric scooters around the world seem to be following Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s famous motto for disruption: Move fast and break things. Unfortunately for those startups, the things that break most often are their scooters.</p> <p>Vehicle maintenance, repair, and turnover have forced scooter operators to stomach huge financial losses in their two-wheeled quest to rule the road.</p> <p>When the so-called “scooter wars” began a couple of years ago, MIT spinout Superpedestrian was enjoying strong sales of its first product, an adaptive, electric powertrain for bicycles called the <a href="" target="_blank">Copenhagen Wheel</a>.</p> <p>But the natural boost riders get as they pedal with the Copenhagen Wheel is only half the story. Within the wheel’s distinctive red hub are sensors and microcomputers that allow it to autonomously diagnose problems and even take steps to protect itself against common hazards in a matter of nanoseconds. If the system identifies an issue it can’t correct, it takes itself offline and reports back detailed information to scooter operators for quick repair.</p> <p>Superpedestrian calls the system its Vehicle Intelligence platform. As relatively low-tech scooters began appearing on street corners everywhere, the company saw an opportunity to partner with their operators. Now Superpedestrian has unveiled its new electric scooter designed for fleet operators. The scooter features Superpedestrian’s Vehicle Intelligence platform to improve safety and run time, and drastically reduce maintenance costs.</p> <p>“When this [micromobility] industry was born, we said ‘We have the perfect solution for optimizing safety while also completely transforming the economics of running these things,” founder and CEO Assaf Biderman ’05 says. “So instead of having vehicles that can run for a month or two, now you can have vehicles that can run for a year or longer, because they’re not damaged as much by things that damage other scooters, while the cost of charging and maintaining them is cut to a fraction.”</p> <p>Superpedestrian already has orders in the books for their new scooters and the data they produce. Within a matter of months, they will be whizzing down roads across North America, Europe, and parts of Asia.</p> <p><strong>From prototype to product</strong></p> <p>Since its inception in 2004, Biderman has served as the associate director of MIT’s <a href="" target="_blank">Senseable City Laboratory</a>. The group’s research identified several factors that are straining cities’ traditional transportation networks, including a growing global population, increased urbanization, and automakers’ incentives to sell larger cars even though most people commute to work alone.</p> <p>“All of this puts immense pressure on transportation,” Biderman says. “Your downtown street is not going to double in width anytime soon. … Most studies predict that by the middle of this century, we’ll have around three times more people wanting to move on urban roads. The only way we’re going to address this demand is by making smarter use of our existing roads.”</p> <p>In 2009, the lab started building a prototype electric bicycle that could help address some of those issues. The result was the Copenhagen Wheel. The wheel’s hub stores energy every time a rider brakes, then provides a power boost when they push down on the pedals. The wheel can also monitor the rider’s speed, torque, and calories burned, as well as an array of environmental parameters.</p> <p>In 2013, Biderman decided to start Superpedestrian, with the idea of combining intelligent software with all of the things that make electric vehicles go.</p> <p>The Vehicle Intelligence system the company eventually designed uses on-board microprocessors to monitor and control all the mechanical, electrical, and thermal aspects of the vehicle. It can also infer problems with the vehicle based on outliers in the data it collects — including higher temperatures in battery cells or slight changes in motor current. If such data appear, the system can take steps to compensate for the problem, protecting both the rider and vehicle within nanoseconds.</p> <p>For example, if a capacitor in one of Superpedestrian’s scooters is damaged as the result of a crash or fall, the Vehicle Intelligence system will detect the problem immediately. The vehicle will then measure how much capacitance is left in the system, and, if there’s enough capacitance to continue operating safely, it will simply reduce the scooter’s speed limit and send a nonurgent service request to the cloud that could be addressed the next time the vehicle is picked up for charging.</p> <p>The Copenhagen Wheel, the company’s first product to feature its Vehicle Intelligence system, was released at the beginning of 2017, quickly becoming one of the best selling e-bikes in the U.S, according to the company. As the system was used in various conditions and climates, Superpedestrian came to fully appreciate its power.</p> <p>“Because the vehicles communicate rich data about their own functionality in real-time to our servers, we realized in about a year that more than 55 percent of technical issues were addressed without human intervention,” Biderman says. “That’s got no parallels in the electric bike, micromobility, or automotive industries.”</p> <p><strong>Scooters come to town</strong></p> <p>As the Superpedestrian team was gearing up for a focused launch of the Copenhagen Wheel in Europe, rentable e-scooter companies like Bird and Lime started appearing in cities around the world. The scooters quickly became a popular — if controversial — way to get around.</p> <p>It soon became clear, however, that scooter operators had put more thought into finding new markets and attracting customers than designing sophisticated transportation vehicles. One common problem is that different scooter subsystems, such as batteries, motors, and controllers, are made by different manufacturers. That can negatively impact both performance and operators’ ability to gather higher-level insights into their vehicles. The dearth of self-protection and diagnostic capabilities in these vehicles, along with &nbsp;their nonconnected components, make maintenance and repair efforts so time consuming that many operators resort to throwing out damaged vehicles rather than repairing them.</p> <p>Superpedestrian, on the other hand, builds every component of its platform. Having anticipated building other vehicles in addition to bikes, the company designed its Vehicle Intelligence system to work with any vehicle that has a power output under 3 kilowatts.</p> <p>“When this [e-scooter] industry was born, we said, ‘Let’s pause; we’ll come back to the European consumer market, because we’re still bullish on that, but this industry is booming now. It’s here, it’s a large market, and it really needs what we have,” Biderman says.</p> <p>Now Superpedestrian is in the final stages of shipping its scooters to some of the largest operators in the world. Although Biderman cannot disclose specific partnerships, he says orders are currently being fulfilled and expects them to be on roads in the next few months.</p> <p>With a slightly wider platform and handlebar stem than other scooters, it feels and looks more rugged than what’s on the road today. The company also says the vehicles have a much longer range than other scooters thanks to “the industry’s most efficient powertrain.” And, with its Vehicle Intelligence system, the company says the scooters are safer and much cheaper to maintain than anything the industry has seen.</p> <p>Biderman believes e-scooters are just the beginning of a revolution in urban mobility, and thinks Superpedestrian has positioned itself well to accelerate that transformation: “We’ll see scooters and e-bikes and mopeds and enclosed vehicles and multiwheel vehicles. It’s about minimizing the number of miles that cars drive while maximizing access to mobility for people. That’s where we think we contribute.”</p> Superpedestrian says its vehicle intelligence system makes its scooters safer, more durable, and easier to maintain.Image: SuperpedestrianInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Transportation, cars, Senseable City Lab, Cities, human-robot interaction, Emissions, Sustainability, Urban studies and planning, Alumni/ae, School of Architecture and Planning Mentorship and scholarship keep summer biology research program strong Support from Squire Booker PhD ’94 and the Bernard S. and Sophie G. Gould Fund helps MSRP-bio students excel. Mon, 19 Aug 2019 13:45:01 -0400 Laura Carter | School of Science <p>When you get a call offering you the chance to get involved in research at MIT, says <a href="">Squire Booker PhD ’94</a>, as he did when he was a student back home in Beaumont, Texas, with no summer plans, you don’t say no. This is how he joined seven other students from around the United States as the first class in the <a href="">MIT Summer Research Program (MSRP)</a>, even though the start date was only days away. “I was given the opportunity to get out of Texas, the opportunity to go to a big cosmopolitan city, the opportunity to go to MIT. So, I got a plane ticket and flew up a few days later,” says Booker.</p> <p>Thirty-three summers later, back on campus to deliver the <a href="">doctoral graduation ceremony speech</a>, where he had lunch with several current members and fellow alumni of the program, Booker insists that he has no regrets with his decision.</p> <p>Booker was one of three from that inaugural class who remained at MIT to pursue a PhD to continue the research he started during the program. He was incredibly fortunate, he notes, to get a “perfect match” placement, working with former professors of biology Bill Johnson and Chris Walsh on a project that aligned with his interests of combining chemistry and biology. He didn’t have much more of an idea of his preferred area of study than that.</p> <p>Prior to arriving at MIT, given the lack of exposure to science, he didn’t know what research entailed, or what scientists did every day. But he says he quickly fell in love with the subject and his research group, even joining their summer lab softball team.</p> <p>Although Walsh left MIT the year Booker was accepted as a PhD student, he easily shifted into the lab of Novartis Professor of Chemistry Emeritus <a href="">JoAnne Stubbe</a>, a new faculty member at the time, who was also working on the interface of chemistry and biology and provided the amount of hands-on support he needed as a new graduate student. “Ever since leaving the lab, she’s been my number one supporter,” he says of Stubbe.</p> <p>Stubbe and her research inspired the direction Booker’s education took. He continues to conduct research revolving around proteins and catalysis reactions as a professor at Penn State University and a principal investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Now, he heads a large lab group himself.</p> <p><strong>From mentee to mentor</strong></p> <p>Booker oversees an average of 10 group members at any given time, not including undergraduate students. Like his mentor, he tries to be very hands-on, resorting to email when he’s traveling — which is often. He admitted with a chuckle that his students keep track of where he is at any given time by following his Twitter account. Always trying to find ways to include motivated students who approach him about contributing to his research, the only time Booker turns them away is for their benefit — if they have a full course load and additional time on research will overload their schedules. He even considers high school students.</p> <p>The first high school student to join his lab was Martin McLaughlin ’15, who Booker describes fondly as “aggressively motivated” and “trembling with excitement to do research.” Within the first week, McLaughlin was taking the initiative to use his lunch breaks from school to bike to Booker’s lab. Martin’s results, which were <a href="">published in <em>Science</em></a> in collaboration with Professor <a href="" target="_blank">Cathy Drennan</a> in the MIT Department of Biology, introduced Booker into a new niche: crystallography.</p> <p>When McLaughlin asked to continue working on the discovery with Drennan as an undergraduate at MIT, he didn’t hesitate to agree. McLaughlin had moved into Drennan’s lab a week into his first semester.</p> <p><strong>Research for all</strong></p> <p>Not all students share this drive to delve into research. Like Booker himself, many aren’t even aware of possibilities to get involved in science and consider a career in research. It’s still hard, he says, even though “people are more serious about this diversity thing,” as he calls it, than when he was first starting his education.</p> <p>Booker tries to reach out, especially to other minority students, through several programs, much like the MSRP, an invaluable program. While on campus this past spring, <a href="">Booker met with current and past MSRP students</a>.</p> <p>One of those students was Jeandele Elliot, a chemical engineering student at Howard University from Saint Lucia in the Caribbean, who is working in the <a href="">Jing-Ke Weng Lab</a> in the Department of Biology this summer on a molecule that can protect pollen grains. For her, meeting Booker was another connection the program affords her. “The MSRP program has been beneficial to me in a special way since it has connected me with people I can really relate to,” she said.</p> <p>The advice he gave to Elliot, and the others in the same position he was in once, was to prepare for exciting careers. The program is not just a steppingstone into research, he proclaimed, but it places participants with the best mentors and being privy to the best frontiers. Booker was delighted that some of the 25 current and past participants then attended MIT for graduate school as he did.</p> <p>Tsehai A.J. Grell PhD ’18, a current chemistry graduate student in Drennan’s research group and an alumnus of MSRP, calls Squire Booker a “labhold” name — a household name in the lab. “As an African-American professor of biochemistry, an alumnus of my department, and a leader in my field, he instantly became one of my role models,” Grell said. “This was further solidified when I found out that he was a part of the first cohort of MSRP students, the summer research program which is responsible for me enrolling in MIT’s graduate program.”</p> <p>Grell reminisced on his experience and the spring luncheon with Booker. “Because MSRP was such a foundational experience in my career, I am always enthused to interact with the current MSRP cohort and to encourage them to make the most of this opportunity, as it can be a pivotal summer in their careers,” says Grell. In addition, he said, “the excitement of the students is palpable and contagious. It reenergizes me and gives me purpose.”</p> <p>Elliott, Grell, and Booker are three of more than 800 students from institutions with limited research opportunities who have participated in the MSRP, which was divided into two subcategories in 2003: <a href="">general</a> and <a href="">biology</a>, the latter of which has hosted 450 students. Since 2003, the MRSP-Bio program has been administered by Mandana Sassanfar, a biology lecturer in charge of the Department of Biology’s diversity and outreach programs. Since then, nearly 70 MSRP alumni have, like Booker, continued their research as graduate students at MIT.</p> <p><strong>Going for Gould</strong></p> <p>Bernard “Bernie” Gould ’32, who received his BS from MIT, was a longstanding and beloved biochemistry professor in the Department of Biology, well known for being an incredibly dedicated mentor to biology and pre-med students at MIT for nearly 40 years. His wife, Sophia Gould CMP ’48, shared his passion for counseling students. To honor this investment in encouraging student learning, the Goulds’ son, Michael, and his wife, Sara Moss, founded the <a href="">Bernard S. and Sophia G. Gould Fund</a> in 2016. Gould is a philanthropist and the retired chairman and CEO of Bloomingdales. Moss is the vice chairman of Estée Lauder Companies. The <a href="">Gould Fellow Fund</a> sponsors students, such as Elliott, in MSRP-Bio. Each year, Gould and Moss return to the MIT campus to meet with students benefitting from their support.</p> <p>Recently, the couple has designated a second fund, which will aid in extending the academic careers of students interested in the life sciences by providing support for MSRP-Bio alumni entering into the MIT biology graduate program.</p> <p>Six of the 16 Gould Fellowship alumni who have graduated from college have already been admitted to MIT as graduate students. “This is an exceptionally high rate by any standards, which demonstrates the amazing success of this initiative,” says Sassanfar. “Gould Fellows are truly grateful for the generosity of Mike and&nbsp;Sara and are very eager to succeed and give back to their communities,” a goal that is always stressed by the founders.</p> <p>With successful role models from previous MSRP cohorts, like Booker, combined with philanthropy from those like Gould and Moss, who believe strongly in supporting the education of our next generation of scientists, students are given the opportunity to thrive.</p> 2019 MIT Summer Research Program students gather to present the results of their work.Photo: Mandana SassanfarSchool of Science, Biology, Chemistry, Students, Graduate, postdoctoral, Undergraduate, Alumni/ae, Diversity and inclusion, Awards, honors and fellowships, Mentoring, Classes and programs, Funding The intersection of technology and war MIT excels in teaching the science and technology associated with the operation of societies, businesses, and militaries, says Fiona Cunningham PhD ’19. Tue, 13 Aug 2019 13:30:01 -0400 Michelle English | Center for International Studies <p>Pursuing big questions is part of the MIT ethos, says Fiona Cunningham PhD ’19.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“Walking through the Infinite Corridor, you can see what people are doing in this space. There is such dedication across the Institute to solving big problems. There is dedication to doing the best work, without hubris, and often without a break. I find this so exciting, and it’s a huge part of what makes me so proud to be an alumna. This dedication will stay with me forever.”</p> <p>Cunningham completed her PhD at the Department of Political Science, where she was also a member of the Security Studies Program. Her work explores how technology affects warfare in the post-Cold War era. She studies how nations — China specifically — plan to use technology in conflict to achieve their aims.&nbsp;</p> <p>“I want to understand the changing nature of warfare and how new technologies have become both opportunities and restraints for countries in international politics. These questions are the kinds of questions that global leaders are thinking about when they are grappling with the rise of China, how technology factors into the current U.S.-China trade war, and how technology does or doesn’t fit within national boundaries.”</p> <p>She received the Lucian Pye Award for&nbsp;<a href="">outstanding PhD thesis</a>. The award was established by the political science department in 2005 and recipients are determined by the graduate studies committee. Pye was a leading China scholar who taught political science at MIT for 35 years.</p> <p>"Fiona’s thesis was exemplary. She asked an important question that bears on the future of peace and stability among nations, and conducted an impressive amount of original research about a topic that is especially challenging to study. In this way, she combined academic rigor with policy relevance,”&nbsp;says Taylor Fravel, the Arthur and Ruth Sloan Professor of Political Science and director of the MIT Security Studies Program.</p> <p><strong>The road to China</strong></p> <p>Cunningham was born and raised in Australia, where the influences of neighboring East Asia are strong. This is what led to her initial curiosity about the region. After high school, she took a gap year and spent part of it in China, where she was drawn into the culture and politics — and the challenge of learning Chinese.</p> <p>She returned to Australia for her undergraduate studies and recalls two pivotal experiences that guided her academic path: a visiting semester at Harvard University, where she got a taste for the U.S. approach to studying international relations, and working as a research associate at the Lowy Institute for International Policy, an Australian think tank. There she worked with Rory Medcalf, whose early attention to the international security challenges created by the rise of China really helped shape her research questions, says Cunningham.&nbsp;</p> <p>After those experiences, she knew what she wanted to study and she knew she wanted to study at MIT.</p> <p>“I chose MIT because no other political science graduate program had such strengths in both East Asia and security studies. And, as someone who has always been interested in science and technology and its impact on international politics, the idea that I would be at an Institute where so much brain power is dedicated to advancing the scientific and technological aspects of how our societies, businesses, and militaries operate was amazing!”</p> <p><strong>A model community&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>The Department of Political Science and the Security Studies Program provided a thriving community for Cunningham.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The faculty and scholars she worked with —Taylor Fravel, Vipin Narang, Barry Posen, Owen Coté, Frank Gavin — are models of how to do rigorous scholarship about the things that really matter for the way our world works, she says: “They somehow contribute fully to the discipline and the public debate, which is both super-human and very inspiring.”</p> <p>Fravel served as her dissertation chair. “Taylor was my mentor, my professor, and, in addition to that, my co-author. I was so fortunate to be able to learn how to think, research, write, and teach from him in all of those roles.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Fravel and Cunningham co-authored a paper in 2015 on&nbsp;<a href="">China’s nuclear strategy</a>. They have a forthcoming paper delving further into that topic that examines China’s views of nuclear escalation.</p> <p>Three women — Lena Andrews ’18, Marika Landau-Wells ’18, and Ketian Zhang ’19 — went through the program with Cunningham. “We really helped each other and we will always have a special bond.”</p> <p>The support she found in these relationships, plus her family, has been a source of inspiration. “My parents have always encouraged me to do something I was passionate about, do it really well, and to do something that will make a difference,” she says.</p> <p><strong>Breaking new ground</strong></p> <p>Cunningham joined George Washington University as assistant professor of political science and international affairs this fall after completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University.&nbsp;</p> <p>She chose an academic track because she wants the freedom to continue to pursue the international relations questions she finds most important.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>It is also her strong ambition to continue doing fieldwork, especially within China.&nbsp;<br /> <br /> “I want to see the problems I research through the eyes of people on the front lines. In addition to my fieldwork in China, the Security Studies Program provided me with these kinds of experiences through field trips to U.S. military bases during graduate school. You can’t get that from a book.”</p> <p>She also looks forward to teaching. “For me, teaching is about teaching students how to think critically about future problems, and how to write and communicate their analysis and their thinking.”</p> <p>Cunningham had the opportunity to serve as a teaching assistant in undergraduate courses while at MIT. “The students at MIT are so capable. They would bring their STEM background to topics like cybersecurity and the causes of war. I would walk away amazed! If these students are our future, then our world will be good hands.”&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>As a professor, she aims to help her students consider the consequences, both intended and unintended, of employing technology. She wants them to think about the political questions that come into play both now and into the future.</p> <p>MIT really gets you attuned to this crossover of technology and its social and political implications, she explains.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The San Francisco (California) Bay Area, where she has spent the last year, provided fertile ground for her to dig deeper.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Silicon Valley is the innovation engine of the U.S. economy, and arguably the world economy. I've been looking around there to see what are the next political science questions.&nbsp;What is the next big question that sits at the intersection of technology and conflict? And what role does great power competition play in the day-to-day life of tech companies? What is the role of individuals and the companies they are running in making decisions that have big political implications?”&nbsp;</p> <p>Pursuing big questions is a part of Cunningham’s ethos. This dedication will stay with her forever.&nbsp;</p> “I chose MIT because no other political science graduate program had such strengths in both East Asia and security studies,” says Fiona Cunningham PhD ’19. “I want to understand the changing nature of warfare and how new technologies have become both opportunities and restraints for countries in international politics.”Photo courtesy of Fiona CunninghamCenter for International Studies, Political science, China, Security studies and military, Technology and society, Alumni/ae, Profile, Asia, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences The music of the spheres MIT hosts &quot;Songs from Extrasolar Spaces,&quot; a musical melding of art and science inspired by the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). Fri, 09 Aug 2019 13:25:01 -0400 Ken Shulman | Arts at MIT <p>Space has long fascinated poets, physicists, astronomers, and science fiction writers. Musicians, too, have often found beauty and meaning in the skies above. At MIT’s Kresge Auditorium, a group of composers and musicians manifested their fascination with space in a concert titled “Songs from Extrasolar Spaces.” Featuring the Lorelei Ensemble — a Boston, Massachusetts-based women’s choir — the concert included premieres by MIT composers John Harbison and Elena Ruehr, along with compositions by Meredith Monk and Molly Herron. All the music was inspired by discoveries in astronomy.</p> <p>“Songs from Extrasolar Spaces,” part of an MIT conference on TESS — the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, launched in April 2018. TESS is an MIT-led NASA mission that scans the skies for evidence of exoplanets: bodies ranging from dwarf planets to giant planets that orbit stars other than our sun. During its two-year mission, TESS and its four highly-sensitive cameras survey 85 percent of the sky, monitoring more than 200,000 stars for the temporary dips in brightness that might signal a transit — the passage of a planetary body across that star.</p> <p>“There is a feeling you get when you look at these images from TESS,” says Ruehr, an award-winning MIT lecturer in the Music and Theater Arts Section and former Guggenheim Fellow. “A sense of vastness, of infinity. This is the sensation I tried to capture and transpose into vocal music.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Supported by the MIT Center for Art, Science and Technology’s Fay Chandler Creativity Grant; MIT Music and Theater Arts; and aerospace and technology giant Northrop Grumman, which also built the TESS satellite, the July 30 concert was conceived by MIT Research Associate Natalia Guerrero. Both the conference and concert marked the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing — another milestone in the quest to chart the universe and Earth’s place in it.</p> <p>A 2014 MIT graduate, Guerrero manages the team finding planet candidates in the TESS images at the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research and is also the lead for the MIT branch of the mission’s communications team. “I wanted to include an event that could make the TESS mission accessible to people who aren’t astronomers or physicists,” says Guerrero. “But I also wanted that same event to inspire astronomers and physicists to look at their work in a new way.”</p> <p>Guerrero majored in physics and creative writing at MIT, and after graduating she deejayed a radio show called “Voice Box” on the MIT radio station WMBR. That transmission showcased contemporary vocal music and exposed her to composers including Harbison and Ruehr. Last year, in early summer, Guerrero contacted Ruehr to gauge her interest in composing music for a still-hypothetical concert that might complement the 2019 TESS conference.</p> <p>Ruehr was keen on the idea. She was also a perfect fit for the project. The composer had often drawn inspiration from visual images and other art forms for her music. “Sky Above Clouds,” an orchestral piece she composed in 1989, is inspired by the Georgia O’Keefe paintings she viewed as a child at the Art Institute of Chicago. Ruehr had also created music inspired by David Mitchell’s visionary novel “Cloud Atlas” and Anne Patchett’s “Bel Canto.” “It’s a question of reinterpreting language, capturing its rhythms and volumes and channeling them into music,” says Ruehr. “The source language can be fiction, or painting, or in this case these dazzling images of the universe.”</p> <p>In addition, Ruehr had long been fascinated by space and stars. “My father was a mathematician who studied fast Fourier transform analysis,” says Ruehr, who is currently composing an opera set in space. “As a young girl, I’d listen to him talking about infinity with his colleagues on the telephone. I would imagine my father existing in infinity, on the edge of space.”</p> <p>Drawing inspiration from the images TESS beams back to Earth, Ruehr composed two pieces for “Songs from Extrasolar Spaces.” The first, titled “Not from the Stars,” takes its name and lyrics from a Shakespeare sonnet. For the second, “Exoplanets,” Ruehr used a text that Guerrero extrapolated from the titles of the first group of scientific papers published from TESS data. “I’m used to working from images,” explains Ruehr. “First, I study them. Then, I sit down at the piano and try to create a single sound that captures their essence and resonance. Then, I start playing with that sound.”</p> <p>Ruehr was particularly pleased to compose music about space for the Lorelei Ensemble. “There’s a certain quality in a women’s choir, especially the Lorelei Ensemble, that is perfectly suited for this project,” says Ruehr. “They have an ethereal sound and wonderful harmonic structures that make us feel as if we’re perceiving a small dab of brightness in an envelope of darkness.”</p> <p>At the 2019 MIT TESS conference, experts from across the globe shared results from the first year of observation in the sky above the Southern Hemisphere, and discussed plans for the second-year trek above the Northern Hemisphere. The composers and musicians hope “Songs from Extrasolar Spaces” brought attention to the TESS missions, offers a new perspective on space exploration, and will perhaps spark further collaborations between scientists and artists. George Ricker, TESS principal investigator; Sara Seager, TESS deputy director of science; and Guerrero presented a pre-concert lecture. “Music has the power to generate incredibly powerful emotions,” says Ruehr. “So do these images from TESS. In many ways, they are more beautiful than any stars we might ever imagine.”</p> <p>TESS is a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and operated by MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and managed by Goddard Spaceflight Center. Additional partners include Northrop Grumman, based in Falls Church, Virginia; NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley; the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge; MIT Lincoln Laboratory; and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. More than a dozen universities, research institutes, and observatories worldwide are participants in the mission.</p> The Lorelei Ensemble performs in "Songs from Extrasolar Spaces: Music Inspired by TESS" on July 30 in MIT's Kresge Auditorium.Photo: Danny GoldfieldArts, Center for Art, Science and Technology, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Kavli Institute, Astronomy, NASA, TESS, Music, Faculty, School of Engineering, Satellites, Exoplanets, Theater, Special events and guest speakers, Technology and society, Space, astronomy and planetary science, Aeronautical and astronautical engineering, Alumni/ae