A couple by the Seine River, Paris (© Owen Franken)

A couple by the Seine River, Paris (© Owen Franken)

Curious about Owen Franken? View more of his work via the Franken Photo of the Week category, learn more in this profile, read a What Matters opinion column he wrote called “Life in Brownian Motion,” or visit his Web site.


One-time MIT student Daniel Chester French sculpted the Minute Man in 1875.

One-time MIT student Daniel Chester French sculpted the Minute Man in 1875.

Anyone who has spent spring on campus should be familiar with the Patriots’ Day holiday, Boston’s unofficial beginning of spring and the date of the Boston Marathon since 1897.

Historically, Patriots’ Day honors the first military engagements of the American Revolution—the battles of Lexington and Concord, which took place about 10 miles west of Cambridge in 1775. The battle at Concord’s Old North Bridge is commemorated by The Minute Man, a statue in Concord sculpted by former MIT student Daniel Chester French, who would later become famous for sculpting the colossal marble statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial.

French, who lived from 1850 to 1931, spent less than a year at MIT as a student in the late 1860s. According to Chesterwood.org, the website for his historic property in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, he failed physics, algebra, and chemistry before leaving school to work and study with artists John Quincy Adams Ward and William Rimmer.

He was commissioned to execute The Minute Man, his first major monument, in 1873, and the statue was dedicated on the battles’ centenary on April 19, 1875. The seven-foot statue, which depicts a farmer armed with a rifle, launched his career. French spent parts of the next 15 years working in Boston, Washington, D.C., New York, Florence, and Paris.

By the turn of the 20th century,French was a sought-after artist based at Chesterwood, which would be designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965. In 1903, he sculpted Continents, a massive four-part piece at the entrance of the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House in New York City, which depicts four women symbolizing Asia, America, Europe, and Africa.

A hacked John Harvard statue, which was sculpted by French and unveiled in 1884.

The (hacked) John Harvard statue, sculpted by French and unveiled in 1884.

French produced more than 100 monuments, memorials, and other works during his career, and in 1914, he was selected to sculpt the Lincoln statue. The work took more than three years, and the finished piece, unveiled in 1922, elicited some controversy: some believe that Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s face is carved into Lincoln’s hair.

“What I wanted to convey was the mental and physical strength of the great war President and his confidence in his ability to carry the thing through to a successful finish,” French wrote in 1922.

While his time as a student was unremarkable, French’s Cambridge legacy is permanent. He sculpted the bronze sculpture of John Harvard in Harvard Yard that is a frequent target for MIT hackers, who have added a toilet stall door, a brass rat, and an “Ask Me about My Lobotomy” sign over the years.

Because no photographic evidence exists to indicate what John Harvard actually looked like, an MIT urban legend suggests that French modeled the statue after one of his former MIT classmates.

Perhaps it was a hack, cast in bronze?

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2015 edition of MIT Technology Review magazine.



Image via @TechBreakfast

MIT’s alumni directory contains a lot of interesting job titles, but Ron Schmelzer ’97’s stands out as unique: Chief Event Wrangler.

Nope, he’s not a cowboy. Schmelzer wrangles for TechBreakfast, a monthly morning meetup founded by Schmelzer that demos new technologies and has connected thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs in more than a dozen U.S. cities.

Before starting TechBreakfast, Schmelzer was a Course 6 major-turned-serial entrepreneur who started his first company with an MIT classmate, Dan Housman ’95, in their Alpha Epsilon Pi dorm room.

Ron Schmelzer '97

Ron Schmelzer ’97

“Near the beginning of the dot-com boom, Dan and I started an internet software company,” he says. “We said, ‘Let’s try this e-commerce thing.’ So we built VirtuMall (later ChannelWave), one of the first e-commerce sites. We basically had to invent everything from scratch—shopping cart technology, credit card transactions—because none of it existed yet.”

By 1998, the internet’s popularity had exploded and ChannelWave had become a successful venture. After raising nearly $60 million in funding, Schmelzer and Housman sold the company to the larger Quick Commerce.

After ChannelWave’s sale, Schmelzer started the analyst firm ZapThink, among other ventures, which he sold in 2011 after he and his wife moved from Boston to Baltimore.

“When I got to Baltimore, I thought, ‘Well, I guess I need to start another software company,’” he says, “So I organized some small meet-ups in Baltimore to see what kind of startups people were working on. My only rule was no PowerPoint. That’s how TechBreakfast go started.”

The meetups quickly became popular and Schmelzer began expanding TechBreakfast out-of-state. Less than four years later, the monthly breakfasts have more than 12,000 active members in 13 U.S. cities. The meetup’s most recent event, “Ask a V.C.” in Boston on April 13, featured nearly 250 attendees who heard from two panels of more than 20 investors.

“TechBreakfast moved so fast that I actually put another software company I started, Bizelo, on hold,” he says. “I’m still in the startup industry. But instead of running a software company, I’m running TechBreakfast.”

Schmelzer spoke to Slice of MIT at the 2015 South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive, where he was one of more than 100 MIT alumni who presented at the festival. He organized the TechBreakfast Spectacular—“basically TechBreakfast on steroids”—which featured 25 demos and more than 1,400 attendees. He also hosted SXSW’s first-release hardware meetup, a showcase of new internet-related demos that he called a “show-and-tell from grownups.”

“MIT has a great overlap on technology advancement and entrepreneurial innovation,” he says, “It’s a very supportive place for people who are creative and innovative. SXSW attracts the same audience, and people who are successful innovators and creators—like MIT alumni—tend to come here.”

For more about TechBreakfast, visit their website and follow @TechBreakfast on Twitter.


What do serious science writers do for professional education? Come to MIT.

For 32 years, about a dozen science writers have join the community as Knight Science Journalism at MIT fellows each year. So far, that’s 320 journalists. For nine months, they get a fresh whiff of science-in-the-making through course work, field trips, and workshops, dig into emerging research, and learn skills such as audio storytelling.

You can learn about this year’s class of 11 journalists in interviews by Emily Hiestand, communications director of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, which is home base for the program. Here are excerpts from several interviews:

Scott Huler

Scott Huler

Scott Huler, author of six books, is taking a modern walking expedition through the Carolinas, retracing the 1700-era journey of explorer John Lawson and documenting it online.

How does the proliferation of social platforms—Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook—and digital storytelling tools—embedded video, slideshows, podcasts—change the way you conceive of your work as a journalist?

I like to tell people I want to be like Batman: to have the complete utility belt, with every tool imaginable to do my job. My project this year has enabled me to do that. I designed the Lawson Trek website, and as I do my research and take my treks into the field, I update the site constantly. All these new tools and platforms are exactly why I’m able to retrace a 300-year-old journey yet keep the storytelling in the moment.

I’ve posted blogs from my tent on barrier islands, shared Instagram pictures from a canoe, produced and shared video from picnic tables. I think my 18th-century subject, John Lawson, would have used these tools had they been available. The whole point for him—and for me—was to learn what was out there and share that information. For him, that meant publishing a book eight years after his fact-finding journey. For me, it means a book, eventually…but also a steady flow of images, sounds, and impressions as I discover them.

Olga Dobrovidova

Olga Dobrovidova

Olga Dobrovidova is a news reporter and producer based in Moscow, Russia.

Does the practice of science journalism differ in Russia from the U.S. or is it similar?

I think the biggest distinction lies in the fact that most Russian scientists now have little-to-no incentive to talk to journalists. Media attention doesn’t help them get grant funding or personal perks—if anything, it can bring trouble—and the American sentiment that government-funded research institutions should be accountable to taxpayers is not one shared by either the Russian government or those taxpayers.

Add a lack of infrastructure for science communication (most Russian research institutes have neither press offices nor Public Information Officers), and it can be a very challenging environment for a journalist. Of course, this only makes the great Russian science journalists out there even greater.

Bob Young

Bob Young

Bob Young is a staff reporter at The Seattle Times, where he covers marijuana as Washington state creates history by legalizing production and sale of the drug.

What has been the focus of your research during your fellowship? Why is this issue important to you and for the public?

Legal marijuana is poised to spread across the US. Then what?

Partisans on both sides of this emotionally charged debate have demonstrated they will pounce on any science—and even distort it—to make their case. I aim to be a journalist, in the thick of the fray, who can tell what’s real and what’s myth, what’s correlation and what’s causation, especially in the realm of marijuana’s impact on the developing brains of teens.

From neuroscience classes to medical-evidence workshops—and much more—the MIT fellowship has propelled me toward my goal of becoming the best-informed reporter on the beat.

Read the full interviews and find links to the journalists’ work.


At MIT, applying theories and skills through hands-on projects has been an educational theme from the very beginning—one which takes unique shape in forge, foundry, and glassblowing activities in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE). This week, MIT celebrated new opportunities in this area. On Monday, the renovated space was reopened as the W. David Kingery Ceramics and Glass Laboratory and the Merton C. Flemings Materials Processing Laboratory, thanks to the generosity of several generous donors.

In the updated facilities, additional space and equipment allows for more participation at all levels, something that students and alumni alike who vie for the chance to use the labs appreciate.


Chris Moore (left) working in the glass lab in the 1990s.

Chris Moore ’90, PhD ’96, was one of the lucky students who got to spend countless hours in the glass lab and helped make it what it is today. Moore started at the glass lab in January 1987 when he took a course during IAP and became one of the labs most supportive and active volunteers.

“There was a lot of interest in glassblowing glasses at MIT so I worked with Professor Michael Cima to rebuild the space with new equipment that better suited glassblowing. I took classes and was involved in building and maintaining equipment, cleaning factory-scrap glass before putting it in the furnace, and worked as Ms. Hazelgrove’s assistant one afternoon a week for more experience. I stayed at MIT until 1996, earning a bachelor’s and a Ph.D. in physics and was involved in the glass lab during my entire MIT career.

“Being a physicist, I was very interested in the physics and optics of the process and in particular in the process of glassblowing rather than just the completed pieces. Having the opportunity to imagine interesting and beautiful creations using the optical properties of the glass and then solving the physical challenges of making them happen in glass, gave me practice in integrated design and problem solving that I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else in my education. I also have enjoyed the tight teamwork required in glassblowing and have made lifelong friendships in the lab.”

Moore, a former astrophysicist and veteran data science leader, is chief analytics officer at True Fit and continues his involvement in the glass lab, including helping to run the annual Pumpkin Patch event.

See the new space in action in a video from the School of Engineering.

Read more about the renovation of the Materials Processing Lab and the Ceramics and Glass Lab.


Eugene Rumer, author, podcast

Eugene Rumer PhD ’88, author of Conflict in Ukraine.

When Boris Nemtsov, an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin and Russian policy on Ukraine, was murdered on a bridge in Moscow in February, the outlook that Eugene Rumer PhD ’88 had on Putin’s Russia changed dramatically.

“I was shocked,” says Rumer, whose new book, Conflict in Ukraine, was published by MIT Press that month. “I was in a state of shock and confusion for some days. What it tells us, and it’s something that’s really new to my thinking about Russia, is that it’s really unstable.”

“We tend to think about these kinds of situations happening in countries that don’t have stable political systems,” Rumer, a senior associate and the director of Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program, says in this month’s Alumni Books Podcast. “We just didn’t think about Russia as being as dangerous a place for opposition politicians, certainly establishment opposition politicians…this is a new situation in Russia—I dare say it’s a wake-up call for some in the ruling circles as well.”

In his new book, Rumer and co-author Rajon Menon take what they term a “first cut at explaining the context, causes, and consequences of Ukraine 2014,” a crisis which unfolded in dramatic fashion only weeks after the closing ceremonies of the 2014 Sochi Olympics, a few hundred miles away.

Since he completed the book last fall, of course, the crisis has continued to unfold, but “has sort of plateaued,” says Rumer.

“The one factor that perhaps we did not do justice to in the book…is how unprepared everyone has been and how everything that’s been happening throughout these really turbulent months has been a product of improvisation.”

Asked how his MIT education factored into his career path, Rumer explains, “I finished [at MIT] in 1988…soon after I started I found myself to be a failed Sovietologist. That said, the history of the place doesn’t change, the analytical skills that we need to apply don’t change, my study of –at the time in the defense and arms control program, of some of the fundamentals of nuclear strategy and arms control – all that comes in handy.”

Rumer’s devotion is evident in the book’s opening pages. He dedicated his portion of the book to his thesis advisor, Professor Stephen M. Meyer.

Listen to the complete podcast here. Listen to past books podcasts with novelists, professors, and entrepreneurs by visiting MITAA on Soundcloud.

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Jonathan Levene 4.13.15

Jonathan Levene ’97, MEng ’98

Jonathan Levene ’97, MEng ’98 is a Boston-based career coach specializing in engineering leadership and career development. Levene recently advised alumni interested in working in startup world in a live Lunch and Learn webinar hosted by the Alumni Association. As a follow up, Levene answered three questions for alumni interested in transitioning from the corporate sector to a startup.

What factors should be considered when deciding if a move to the startup world is the right choice for you and your career?

I recommend clarifying what you’re seeking in terms of an ideal work experience and then investigating how well this maps to a startup experience. For your ideal work experience, think of three favorite projects from the past few years that you led. Pick ones in which you felt most energized and would like to replicate.

Next, assess how well the mindsets and behaviors you demonstrated in your chosen projects align with those that startups typically value. Use the following questions as a guide.

To what degree did you demonstrate the following mindsets during the projects?

  • Building a vision for success
  • Embracing uncertainty
  • Learning through experimentation
  • Accepting change (such as a change in direction) when it arose
  • Resourcing creatively (“begging, borrowing, or stealing”)
  • Motivating others
  • Influencing the views of senior management or peers

To what degree did you demonstrate the following behaviors during the projects?

  • Being open to others’ ideas, opinions, and feedback
  • Straight talking, speaking factually and truthfully on key issues
  • Engaging others in a positive way, avoiding blame and resolving conflicts quickly
  • Being accountable through strong commitments, follow-through, and requests
  • Effective decision making involving others by evaluating data, exploring options and opinions, and creating consensus
  • Realizing innovative ideas through a bias for action

What advice do you have for being mentally and financially prepared for moving to a position with (or founding) a startup?

 In small companies, particularly those under 50 employees, you are freed from a lot of the process that slows innovation and hampers creativity at larger companies. Many people also find that there is greater acceptance of new ideas and organizational support for realizing them through one’s own initiative.

It is important to anticipate that you’ll need to embrace uncertainty, accept change when it comes, and resource creatively. It’s not uncommon in startups under 50 employees for sudden change to result in new priorities. This means that technology you create today may need to be quickly altered, released, or sometimes even scrapped down the road. It’s important not to be overly attached to what you build or have too-high a quality standard.

You’ll also be exposing yourself to greater financial risk as a result of this uncertainty. You can plan for this by calculating the number of months you might be unemployed if the company goes under, and setting aside the required number of months of salary.

What are some common shocks that may occur when transitioning from corporate to startup? How can you prepare for these?

Many people aren’t prepared for the lack of onboarding when they start. You should expect that you’ll need to pull information from people and be a self-starter. If you’re considering a move to a startup, it will help to spend some time learning about another technology or product that your company has that is new to you. Practice pulling knowledge out of others’ heads.

Another shock can sometimes be the intense cross-functional exposure. For example, it’s not uncommon in startups under 50 employees for engineering to work closely in sales. If you haven’t had experience with this, you can expect to encounter different aspirations, values, and norms in sales – in short, a different culture. Call up a peer in one of these functions and learn about what they’re up to and what is challenging for them.

Levene has 15 years of experience leading product development teams in Boston-area startups and serves as an executive coach at Harvard Business School’s Program for Leadership Development.


A northen bluet damselfly at the John Jeffries House garden (© Gary Blau).

A northen bluet damselfly at the John Jeffries House garden (© Gary Blau).

Gary Blau is a photographer in Cambridge, MA. View more work on his website. View other alumni photos of the week.


watch a performance of Draw Without Looking recorded in 2013 at the Tate Modern in London

Watch a performance of Draw Without Looking recorded at the Tate Modern in London.

Starting this week, you can make a deep dive in the art performances and videos of Joan Jonas, the MIT faculty emerita who will represent the US in the 2015 Venice Biennale. In her work, Jonas moves through space—using her body, props, sound, and a stage—and through time. She offers abstraction in motion, loaded with cultural insights.

Right on campus, you can visit the exhibit Joan Jonas: Selected Films and Videos, 1972-2005, which will be on view through July 5 at the MIT List Visual Arts Center. If you are not nearby, you can watch a performance of Draw Without Looking recorded in 2013 at the Tate Modern in London.

Jonas is captured in a reflection in a rehearsal for Mirror Piece One.

Jonas is captured in a reflection in a rehearsal for Mirror Piece One.

“I draw from many sources, literature, film, myth,” Jonas comments in a PBS ART21 video rehearsal for Mirror Piece One. “In the mirror pieces, the main idea is the visual of the mirrors in the space and how they are reflecting, how they look.” When she began her performances in the 1960s, she took workshops to learn “how to move, how to be in public.”

An Arts at MIT article, “Joan Jonas’s enduring influence at (and beyond) MIT,” former students and colleagues from her teaching era, 1989-2014, share the experience. Pia Lindman, professor and head of Environmental Art at the Aalto University in her native Finland, was Jonas’s TA:

“To me she seemed open-ended and didn’t want to dictate too much to people. She was not banging into everyone’s heads with this or that theory; instead, she really wanted to open up a space for students to explore, and that was also new to me.

“Now, in retrospect, I understand that was coming from the ‘60s, from the foundation of going into spaces to explore with the simplest tools to see what you get out of it. And what I saw happen was that all these students who had never done performance art—those who did not perceive themselves capable of doing something performative like standing up in front of an audience, and these guys who built things and felt that this was all women’s stuff—they all got over their own inhibitions and actually did amazing performances.”

Learn more about Jonas’s work in the Venice Biennale.


Edith Clarke first female electrical engineer

Edith Clarke SM ’19

Even after becoming the first woman to earn her master’s in electrical engineering from MIT, Edith Clarke SM ’19 was having trouble getting a job in her field. But she didn’t let that stop her. She took a position for General Electric as a supervisor of computers, a position she was vastly overqualified for, and used her spare time to invent the graphical calculator, applying for a patent in 1921. The device, approved in 1925, was used to solve electric power transmission line problems and for Clarke, this was just the beginning.

“There is no demand for women engineers, as such, as there are for women doctors; but there’s always a demand for anyone who can do a good piece of work,” she said. And her work would prove its worth.

Not only was Clarke the first female electrical engineer, she was the first female to hold a professional position as an electrical engineer in the US, and the first female professor of electrical engineering. Clarke also developed mathematical methods that simplified and reduced the work of electrical engineers, published 18 technical papers, and her textbook Circuit Analysis of A-C Power Systems became the standard for the industry in her time.

After a long career at GE, earning an engineering role in 1923, she retired in 1945 and spent the next 10 years teaching electrical engineering at the University of Texas in Austin. She died in November 1959 in Baltimore.

Although Clarke struggled as a female in a male-dominant career in the early 1900s, she eventually gained recognition and respect from her peers and has since been recognized.

This year’s National Inventors Hall of Fame will induct 14 individuals, including Clarke. The National Inventors Hall of Fame recognizes monumental individuals whose innovations are crucial to our lives, highlighting their contributions in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The event will be held from May 11-13 in Washington, DC.

Edith Clarke first female engineer, graphical calculator

Photo: Edith Clarke’s graphical calculator. Image credit: NIHF