Earth Institute's Jeffrey Sachs says Solve's goals align with the UN's new sustainability goals.

Earth Institute’s Jeffrey Sachs says Solve’s goals align with the UN’s new sustainability goals.

The average lifespan in the developing world is 57. Worldwide measures are required to hold climate change to a 2-degree rise and even that will spur a new era of destructive storms and agricultural shortages. Those facts underscored the dramatic problems facing today’s decision makers—and the hard truth that solutions are not in place. Solve, MIT’s Oct. 5-8 gathering, drew participants from 30 countries to examine problems and propose solutions to major challenges in health care, energy, the environment, food and water supply, education, civil infrastructure, and the economy.

The good news is that resources, technologies, and innovation can lead to many solutions. A Sprint executive at the opening session, for example, announced that his company plans to spend $100 million to provide free broadband access to teens, so they can take advantage of 21st century opportunities in education and entrepreneurship.

Linking up people and organizations committed to developing solutions—and then acting on them—is one goal of Solve. In his keynote, Jeffrey Sachs, an economist and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, detailed how Solve’s agenda overlaps with the 17 new sustainable development goals the United Nations unveiled in September—and he noted that the timing is critical.

“We are within reach on ending extreme poverty in the world and we are also with reach of blowing ourselves up,” says Sachs. “It’s a pretty strange world we are living in.”

Solutions include a call for universal Internet access, which is critical for improving education, health care, emergency relief, and alleviating poverty. Nicholas Negroponte ’66, MArch ’66, founder of the MIT Media Lab, predicted that “connectivity will become a human right.” In addition to the Sprint announcement, Yael Maguire SM ’99, PhD ’04, of Facebook described the company’s program to extend Internet access via solar-powered planes and Rich Devault of X Labs, a division of Google’s new umbrella company Alphabet, said his company is aiming for the same goal with balloon technology.

MIT President emerita Susan Hockfield, left, moderated a panel on health care.

MIT President emerita Susan Hockfield, left, moderated a panel on health care. Photos: Nancy DuVergne Smith.

Connectivity via cell phones and social media is already saving lives, says Josette Sheeran, head of the Asia Society. Her career has spanned roles such as managing emergency food aid as the executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme. When she arrived in Haiti shortly after the 2010 earthquake, the only way to find out whether food was actually arriving in remote areas was via Twitter. “The phone is a life-saving device and Twitter, a truth teller and a lifeline for the world,” Sherran says.

Solve is not a one-time event. MIT President L. Rafael Reif told the opening session on Monday that his dream for Solve is to connect the people and organizations who will continue to work for positive change. And, he says, MIT is good at harnessing the energy of diverse groups.

“MIT is a fantastic mosaic, an intermingling of people, ideas, and cultures from every corner of the world and a place where we have been known to have strong points of view.” Reif noted. “And here is the beautiful thing I’ve witnessed over and over. When we get very different people focused on very hard, meaningful problems, whatever differences are at the beginning disappear and people achieve amazing things. That is gratifying for everyone involved.”

Explore Solve’s four themes: Cure, Fuel, Learn, and Make and read MIT News office articles. Find out which MIT alumni spoke at Solve and at HUBweek, a coordinated festival celebrating ideas and innovation hosted by MIT, Harvard University, the Boston Globe, and Mass General Hospital.


The eastern edge of campus has come a long way since the 1960s. Click the image for a larger version. Image via MIT Technology Review.

The eastern edge of campus has come a long way since the 1960s. Click the image for a larger version. Image via MIT Technology Review.

In 1963, on the site of the old Lever Brothers soap factory, MIT opened the first building in a modern office complex known as Technology Square. The utilitarian structure would house MIT’s computing pioneers for more than four decades. Its construction also represented a first step in turning Kendall Square into a hotbed of innovation.

The transformation came in fits and starts. Not long after Tech Square debuted, NASA opened its Electronics Research Center at 55 Broadway, only to move out three years later because of federal budget cuts. Cambridge paved over much of the large parcel of land cleared for the space agency and began the slow process of courting developers. Although Draper Laboratory, which had spun out of MIT, moved into Tech Square in 1976, many companies left the city, lured by suburban office parks. So it was big news in 1980 that Boston Properties would break ground on the first office building in the new Cambridge Center development.

In the 1980s, the Kendall Square biotech revolution began. Biogen moved into a warehouse on Binney Street in 1983. The Whitehead Institute, which would help lead the Human Genome Project, arrived in 1984, followed by Genzyme in 1990. Today, the corner of Vassar and Main is a nexus of the life sciences, with the Broad Institute, the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, the Whitehead, and Novartis all within shouting distance.

In the late 1990s and 2000s, Kendall Square became the home of high-tech startups like Akamai and lured tech stalwarts like Microsoft and Google. Today many of the nearly 600 startups at the Cambridge Innovation Center at One Broadway are tech companies.Meanwhile, more than 50 Kendall restaurants have opened since 1990. And if MIT’s plan to add housing, retail, office, and R&D space gets approved by the Cambridge Planning Board, can a grocery store be far behind?

This article originally appeared in the September/October issue of MIT Technology Review magazine, and was published to coincide with HUBweek, Boston’s week-long celebration of the arts, science, and innovation; and Solve, a new MIT program that connects creative thinkers, doers, and influencers to explore, model, and test new solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.


Kendall Square, 2014. All images via MIT Technology Review.

Kendall Square, 2014. All images via MIT Technology Review.

Over the past century, Kendall Square—the loosely defined neighborhood around MIT campus—has undergone more than one transformation. Originally a salt marsh on the Charles River, in became a major industrial center in the early 1900s that was home to plants, factories, and even a carcass-disposal shop for Boston’s stockyards.

Later, when the factories closed, Kendall Square was deserted—blocks of empty buildings encompassed MIT. But slowly, over decades, many MIT-connected entrepreneurs would reinvent the neighborhood, first building biotech and IT companies then attracting companies like Microsoft, Google, and Facebook. In 2009, the Boston Consulting Group called the neighborhood “the most innovative square mile on earth.”

The Past and Future of Kendall Square: A Transformation in Five Acts,” MIT Technology Review

Now MIT is poised to complete the transformation with a massive project to build six buildings with space for research and development facilities, offices, residences, restaurants, and shops. “We want to create a vibrant, exciting sense of place,” says MIT provost Martin Schmidt, SM ’83, PhD ’88.

The September/October 2015 issue of MIT Technology Review highlights the neighborhood’s rise from industrial to innovation. Our favorite anecdotes are below. Read the full long-form piece in MIT Technology Review online.


Kendall Square, 1969

Act One: Kendall, We Have a Problem

“In the mid-1960s, NASA announced plans to site its Electronics Research Center, with a proposed staff of 3,000, on land abutting MIT.

Just a few years into the development, however, in 1969, President Richard Nixon abruptly ordered the new facility closed in a round of budget cuts, after only six of 14 planned buildings had been constructed.”

Novartis, 2003

Novartis, 2003

Act Two: Biotech to Big Pharma

“The first Big Pharma company to move to Kendall Square was Swiss drug maker Novartis, which repurposed the old NECCO building in 2003 and is completing the expansion of its headquarters this year on MIT-owned land on Mass. Ave.

With more than 2,000 employees, it’s now Cambridge’s largest employer.”


Point Park, 1960s

Act Three: Putting the There There

“Susan Hockfield, MIT’s president from 2004 to 2012, had just relocated to Cambridge from downtown New Haven, where she and her husband were Yale professors and she was provost.

As the story goes, one weekend he walked from Gray House to Kendall Square to get a haircut and found the neighborhood almost deserted. Hockfield took note.”

MIT's proposed plan for Kendall Square

MIT’s proposed plan for Kendall Square

Act Four: Filling in the Middle

“Meanwhile, the Institute not only reaps financial return for the endowment but also benefits from the increased vibrancy of the campus.

As part of the new initiative, the MIT Museum will move to a new building next to the T station, opening out onto a park with Ping-Pong tables, fire pits in winter, public art, and other amenities…all ventures will set aside 5 percent of their square footage for ‘innovation space.’”


Kendall Square, 2015

Act Five: [Insert Future Here]

“‘You could imagine years from now going and tracing something back to Kendall Square that really changed the world,’ says MIT Treasurer Israel Ruiz SM ’01.

“If through our efforts we will have made it possible to solve something that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to solve, that will be the best prize.”


This post was published to coincide with HUBweek, Boston’s week-long celebration of the arts, science, and innovation; and Solve, a new MIT program that connects creative thinkers, doers, and influencers to explore, model, and test new solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.

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Wound-Pump application

Initial Wound-Pump prototype in Haiti. Photo: Danielle Zurovcik and WiCare, Inc.

Before pursuing a doctorate at MIT, Danielle Zurovcik SM ’07, PhD ’12 had never designed or developed a medical device. But her exposure in Professor Alex Slocum’s Precision Engineering Research Group (PERG) led her to develop a simplified negative pressure wound therapy device (sNPWT) that would later become known as the Wound-Pump.

“I realized that I was passionate about medical devices. I liked the Wound-Pump because we were able to put it on patients faster than a technology that was highly invasive,” she said.

A negative pressure wound therapy device (NPWT) applies a vacuum dressing to the wound to drain fluid and increase blood flow. It also stresses the cells, which causes them to divide faster and accelerates the healing process. The NPWT currently on the market requires electricity to operate whereas Zurovcik’s sNPWT is entirely mechanical.

During her D-Lab Scale-Ups fellowship, the device was applied in the field after the earthquake in Haiti and during a study in Rwanda. After witnessing its successful application, Zurovcik realized that the device could solve an immediate and critical need.

Zurovcik is the founder and CEO of WiCare (Worldwide Innovative Healthcare Inc.), a company that develops effective and inexpensive medical devices. WiCare’s goal is to make high-quality healthcare available to remote or impoverished areas of the world. The Wound-Pump is the company’s first product.

A NPWT currently on the market has been proven to quickly and effectively heal chronic wounds but the high cost and electricity requirements limit its use. Zurovcik’s Wound-Pump requires no electricity to operate and costs less than $3 to make.

While starting a company isn’t an easy task, Zurovcik draws inspiration and motivation from the many patients that the Wound-Pump has already helped.

“Whenever you’re working all hours of the night and you’re like, ‘what am I doing this for?’ You have to think of those small cases that are making you move forward,” she said.

For aspiring entrepreneurs she offers this one piece of advice:

“Be true to yourself,” she said. “Because you’re going to have to put a lot of time into it so you should put a lot of time into what you’re comfortable with and what you love.”


Mindset_of_Big_Ideas_Podcast_RectangleGood ideas never exist in a vacuum—they come from life experiences, world views, curiosity, hard work, and collective brain power. And when put to practice, the best ideas address real issues and solve real problems.

And MIT is never at a shortage of big ideas. The Institute’s mindset lends itself to digging deeper to find solutions that question the status quo. So, how are MIT alumni putting this solve-anything mentality into practice? And what are some big ideas—and solutions—that are making a tangible impact? In this Slice of MIT podcast, recorded at the 2015 South by Southwest Interactive festival, five MIT alumni discuss how they confronting real-world problems with unconventional thinking.  (Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.)

You’ll hear how a hacking ethos is leading to breakthroughs in medicine; how embracing new technologies will shape the camera of the future; how rethinking microbes could change the way we treat disease; and how crowd-sourcing is helping protect Earth from asteroids. (Read the “Mindset of Big Ideas” transcript.)

Featured MIT Alumni

Hans_PeterHans Peter Brøndmo ’87 (@brondmo)
Advisor, TrueNorth Venture Partners

Brøndmo is an executive and entrepreneur who has spent his career at the intersection of technology innovation and consumer empowerment.

Lina_ColucciLina Colucci (@lina_colucci)
Co-Director, MIT Hacking Medicine

Colucci is a PhD candidate in the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology Program and focuses on non-invasive, portable sensors.

Priya_GargPriya Garg ’15 (@priyaisms)
Co-Director, MIT Hacking Medicine

Garg’s healthcare experience includes the MIT Biomechatronics Group, the Linda Griffith Lab, Covidien, and CAMTech.

Bernat_OlleBernat Olle SM ’05, PhD ’07, MBA ’07 (@bernatolle)
Chief Executive Officer, Vedanta Biosciences

The 2013 Innovator of the Year by MIT Technology Review Spain, Olle was awarded the 2015 Princess of Girona Award by the King of Spain.

Jenn_GusteticJenn Gustetic SM ’07 (@jenngustetic)
Assistant Director for Open Innovation, Executive Office of the President, Office of Science and Technology Policy

Gustetic career has focused on open innovation, open government, innovation, public-private partnerships, and technology policy.

Listen to podcast above or on the Alumni Association’s SoundCloud page, or read the transcript. And don’t forget to subscribe on iTunes and rate the podcast and leave a review. Tweet your thoughts on this episode to @mit_alumni.

This podcast was produced to coincide with HUBweek, Boston’s week-long celebration of the arts, science, and innovation; and Solve, a new MIT program that connects  creative thinkers, doers, and influencers to explore, model, and test new solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.



160km to Hanoi, Vietnam (© Owen Franken)

160km to Hanoi, Vietnam (© Owen Franken)

Learn more about Owen Franken from his profile, read a What Matters opinion column he wrote called “Life in Brownian Motion,” or visit his Web site.



HUBweek is co-sponsored by MIT and includes Solve, a new interdisciplinary program at MIT.

HUBweek, which begins on October 3, is a celebration of Boston’s unique culture of real-world innovation. The week-long festival will highlight the meaningful impact of science and technology in society, so it’s no surprise that the MIT community will have a strong presence as presenters and attendees.

HUBweek, which is co-sponsored by MIT and founded by chair Linda Pizutti Henry SM ’05, will take place in locations throughout Boston and Cambridge. More than 40 MIT community members, including at least 15 MIT alumni, will be part of HUBweek’s group of “creative thinkers, doers and influencers” who will discuss their research and host events throughout the week. (View the full list.)

Registration for HUBweek is now open. MIT campus will be part of HUBweek’s Inside Kendall Square event on Thursday, Oct. 8. MIT alumni invited to visit the MIT Alumni Lounge, which will feature a free Brass Rat polishing and liquid nitrogen ice cream.

The bulk of the Institute’s HUBweek content can be found in the newly-launched Solve, an ongoing program at MIT that aims to bring together interdisciplinary collaborators to explore, model, and test new solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. (Read more about Solve at MIT News.)

More than 500 people are expected to attend Solve, which is structured around four pillars—Learn, Cure, Fuel, and Make. The program features three public presentations throughout HUBweek, which require advanced registration.

  • Opening Convocation, Monday, October 5, featuring a keynote address from Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs
  • “Fuel” Pillar Roundtable, Tuesday, October 6, with Ratan Tata, Chairman Emeritus, Tata Sons Ltd.
  • “Learn” Pillar Roundtable, Wednesday, October 7, with Laurene Powell Jobs, Founder, Emerson collective

View the slate of MIT Community members participating in the festivals (view a larger version) then register for HUBweek and Solve. If we missed someone, let us know in the comments below or at @mit_alumni.




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A small group of the 700 alumni who attended ALC pose with Tim the Beaver and the ALC Instagram frame.

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MIT Sloan professor Renée Richardson Gosline explains why being a good leader means being vulnerable.

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A panel discussion moderated by Chancellor for Academic Advancement W. Eric Grimson PhD ’80 and the deans from MIT’s five schools.

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The 2015 MIT Alumni Leadership Conference took place on Sept. 25-26 with a record 700 registered for the weekend’s events. Alumni attendance at ALC was up 9.6% and, in addition, 232 non-ALC participants registered for the graduate-focused Startup in America panel, and 143 watched the live webcast of the Deans Panel.

The two-day conference kicked off with Professor Marty Culpepper SM ’97, PhD ’00—MIT’s official “Maker Czar”—and his talk on maker spaces at the Institute. Culpepper addressed the question “Why does making matter?” and discussed that while MIT has more maker spaces than any other institutions in the world (130,000 square feet), the Institute needs to shift in the way these spaces are used.

Day one of ALC included a keynote panel discussion, moderated by Chancellor for Academic Advancement W. Eric Grimson PhD ’80, that featured the deans from MIT’s five schools: Melissa Nobles, the Kenan Sahin Dean at School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences; School of Architecture and Planning Dean Hashim Sarkis; David C. Schmittlein, the John C. Head III Dean at the Sloan School of Management; School of Science Dean Michael Sipser; and School of Engineering Dean Ian Waitz.

ALCFacebook2The conversation included topics such as cross-department collaboration; what keeps the deans up at night; basic research funding; and what is needed to maintain top rankings for each school. Schmittlein stressed that MIT must “keep pursuing a distinctive path in the world.”

The Startup in America session on Friday evening, with nearly 300 in attendance, offered insight and advice to the audience from a panel of entrepreneurial alumni. Following the event, attendees joined all other ALC guests for a festive reception.

Saturday’s sessions began with a keynote conversation featuring MIT Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart SM ’86, PhD ’88 and MIT students discussing the Mind+Hand+Heart Initiative, which aims to change the conversations and stigmas around mental health and improve access and resources. This insightful presentation was followed by an informative update from President and Chair of the Alumni Association John Chisholm ’75, SM ’76.

MIT Sloan professor Renée Richardson Gosline concluded the morning sessions with a powerful talk on her research involving the relationship between social networks and consumer brand relationships. She stressed the notion of authentic leadership, recognizing that how you think you’re leading might not be the same as how you’re perceived.

“It’s about aligning the way you want to affect those around you with the way that you do,” says Gosline. And one good way to do this, she said, is to be vulnerable, yes vulnerable, and to tell your story in a genuine way to those around you. “The stories are what inspire and allow people to connect.”

The story of MIT’s ALC weekend was rich with many other highlights this year, including sessions like Thought Leaders and Planning + (Programming x Promotion) = Participation (a session on alumni club strategy and best practices), plus the popular traveling Instagram frame, which made its way onto MITAA social media as well, along with my other posts by alumni and friends throughout the weekend using the hashtag #mitalc. Overall, attendees and staff posted 845 tweets from 155 unique twitter accounts and 111 unique alumni shared or engaged with content on Facebook.

The conference closed with Saturday evening’s Leadership Awards Celebration. 23 alumni and five groups were honored for their dedication to MIT, including Robert V. Ferrara ’67, Jonathan M. Goldstein ’83, ’84, SM ’86, Robert N. Gurnitz ’60, SM ’61, PhD ’66, and Theresa M. Stone SM ’76, who received the Bronze Beaver Award, the highest honor that the Alumni Association bestows up on its volunteers.

Listen to a Slice of MIT Podcast with this year’s recipients.



Jeannine Mosely SM ’79, EE ’80, PhD ’84

Science and art come together in compelling ways for Jeannine Mosely. A software engineer at Akamai Technologies in Cambridge, she contributed to the development of cell-phone technology as a graduate student at MIT and has made a mark as a master of origami.

When she talks about the ancient art of folded paper, which her mother introduced her to at age five, it becomes clear that it shares a creative root with programming: the ability to find inspiration in a blank page.

Mosely earned undergraduate degrees in mathematics and electrical engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, followed by graduate degrees in electrical engineering and computer science at MIT. After MIT she began to work with the powerful new tools of computer-­aided design at Cambridge-based ICAD.

Mosely presented at the IgniteCraft Boston 2 event, hosted by the Common Cod Fiber Guild.

Meanwhile, she realized that business cards were an interesting shape for use in origami and began using them to build cubes. Watching her seven-year-old son Simon stack those cubes inspired her to create a stable and expandable structure: an illustration of a Menger sponge, a mathematical fractal formed by endlessly dividing each face of a cube into nine squares and removing the resulting smaller cube in the middle of each face and the center of the original cube.


Mosely stays connected to MIT through the campus group OrigaMIT.

A level-one Menger sponge is made of 20 cubes. Level two encompasses 20 times 20 cubes, and so on. Mosely completed a level-three sponge with 66,000 business cards over the course of 11 years, with help from about 200 volunteers.

“We had to get all new business cards after ICAD moved to Burlington, so I was able to get my hands on thousands of unneeded cards,” she says with a laugh.

Her creation inspired a successful effort to create a level-four mega–Menger sponge last year, involving 20 sites worldwide.



Juliana Chang PhD ’10

During her MIT years, ­Juliana Chan PhD ’10 could often be found at a lab bench, researching nanoparticle drug delivery technologies, or blogging on her laptop, reporting news about the Asian scientific community.

Today, back in her native Singapore, Chan has scaled up both activities to impressive levels. A fellowship at the city-state’s Agency for Science, Technology, and Research led her to an assistant professorship and a $750,000 startup grant to open her own multidisciplinary lab at Nanyang Technological University’s School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering and Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine.

And her blog, with an investment from a major scientific publishing company, has evolved into Asian Scientist magazine. The glossy quarterly journal offers in-depth coverage of biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, materials science, and other disciplines, with Chan as editor in chief.

“I’ve always liked writing and been a fangirl of magazines like MIT Technology Review and Scientific American,” says Chan, who earned her BA and MA in natural sciences at the University of Cambridge. “I noticed that no one was writing about great Asian scientists, even though there’s so much hunger for knowledge in Asian countries. I have no journalism training, so it’s crazy that I have a magazine, but it really makes me happy.”

Meanwhile, Chan’s six-person research team is pursuing the use of nanoparticles to treat cardiovascular and skin diseases—work inspired by her PhD studies in the biotech-materials lab of Institute Professor Robert Langer, ScD ’74, and her postdoc work in biological engineering with Professor Roger Kamm, SM ’73, PhD ’77.

The dermatological work is especially important in Asia, she notes, “because conditions like eczema and psoriasis are very common and the current standard of care is steroid creams, which can thin the skin.” Nanoparticles could deliver greatly reduced dosages directly to inflamed tissue, leading to better results with lower risk.

Chan met her husband, Chester Drum, at the Langer Lab, where he was a postdoc; he’s now a cardiology consultant and assistant professor at the National University of Singapore. Chan says that since the 2013 birth of their daughter, Heather, “we have no leisure time, but I don’t care because I love playing with her so much.”

This article originally appeared in the September/October issue of MIT Technology Review magazine.