Alina Rwei ’11, Chris Lai, and Sasha Huang.

A traditional household washing machine consumes between 15 to 54 gallons of water per load; even with just two loads per week, that’s 5,600 gallons of water per year. Three MIT PhD students have teamed up to create a filter system that can use only 50 to 100 gallons of water per year for the same process.

“Of the water we use for each laundry run, less than 1 percent is the actual waste component,” says Alina Rwei ’11, Course 3, who co-founded AquaFresco along with Chris Lai, Course 10, and Sasha Huang, Course 3.

Rather than discard all of the water and detergent for each load, as machines do now, their filter system allows the reuse of both water and detergent. “The AquaFresco system filters out the waste components in the laundry water and recycles the clean water and detergent for further cleaning cycles,” says Rwei. “The science behind it is based on the difference in surface energy between water and the waste component. AquaFresco filtration technology utilizes a different mechanism [physical absorption] for waste separation from our competitors [ultrafiltration, whose mechanism is based on size separation], providing a safer and more energy-efficient filtration process.”

The trio says that their system could use one batch of water to clean for up to six months, and widespread use would save millions of gallons a water every year. This saving would be especially important to hotels, where millions of gallons of water a year are being used just to clean sheets and towels. Although they plan to build a comprehensive system down the road, their core product is currently the AquaFresco filter, which can be added to an existing machine, so the transformation would be low cost. The system could also open up opportunities in places where clean water for laundry is hard to come by since it filters the water, allowing more full-service hotels to open in places where fresh water is not as accessible.

The first prototypes are currently being tested in hotel markets, since they have the highest need and a relatively low entry barrier both in terms of engineering and market. “If we can prove our system works in hotels, which have a high standard of laundry quality, it would be easier for us to enter the customer market where there are high perception barriers of using recycled water for laundry,” says Rwei.

AquaFresco was first conceived as part of MIT MADMEC (Materials Science Solutions for Sustainability) competition in 2014 where they successfully developed a lab-scale prototype and took first prize. They also won awards in the MIT $100K pitch competition and Water Innovation Prize, were one of six grand finalists in the Clean Energy Prize, and were chosen as one of the gold winners of MassChallenge this year. If these accolades didn’t say enough about the potential for changing the way we do laundry, it became clear they were onto something when they were contacted by NASA in March.

“They heard of us because we were the winners of the MIT MADMEC competition and they realized that our technology could be applied in space as well,” says Rwei. “We have had steady connections since and are planning to receive laundry wastewater from NASA to test the efficiency of our device with their wastewater.”


Schematic rendering of AquaFresco prototype


532 Beacon Street (002)

532 Beacon Street.

How do you completely renovate a century-old townhouse in just eight months? With careful planning says Karl Büttner ’87. Büttner is part of a group of MIT Sigma Chi alumni including Doug Bailey ’72, Josh Littlefield ’81, Mike DeLaus ’82, Mark Curtiss ’87, Dan Craig ’03, Tom Altmann ’15, and many others, who helped to facilitate the renovation of the fraternity’s house at 532 Beacon Street. The renovation of the over 10,000 square foot house was completed in record time for a good reason. “We wanted to make sure we displaced students for as short a time as possible,” Büttner says.

Though the renovation of the Sigma Chi house was completed in less than a year, fundraising for the project started many years before with assistance from the Independent Residence Development Fund (IRDF), which helps MIT’s many Fraternities, Sororities, and Independent Livings Groups (FSILGs) maintain and support their communities through grants and loans. “These loans were critical because it allowed our alumni donors to make their contributions over a several year period, but allowed us to pay the contractors now. Without that, projects like ours wouldn’t be possible,” says Büttner.

The Sigma Chi house, which was built in 1900, first became home to Sigma Chi—the Institute’s oldest continuously operating fraternity—in 1919. Aside from smaller renovations over the years, few major updates had been made to the house over its long history. “The house still had its original curved windows,” explains Büttner. The extensive renovation of the townhouse returned it to its original 1900 glory, while adding a fifth floor and making it a modern building with state of the art energy efficiency, accessibility, and life safety systems.

Sigma Chi brothers Josh Littlefield '81, Dan Craig '03, David Sherwood '17, Jake Mooney '16, Mike DeLaus '82, Karl Büttner '87, Mark Curtiss '87 at the Boston Preservation Alliance's Preservation Achievement Awards.

Sigma Chi brothers Josh Littlefield ’81, Dan Craig ’03, David Sherwood ’17, Jake Mooney ’16, Mike DeLaus ’82, Karl Büttner ’87, Mark Curtiss ’87 at the Boston Preservation Alliance’s Preservation Achievement Awards.

This meticulous renovation of the townhouse caught the eye of the Boston Preservation Alliance, a nonprofit organization that aims to protect and improve the quality of Boston’s “distinct architectural history.” The society named the Sigma Chi house one of its Preservation Achievement Award Winners for 2015. But the awards didn’t stop there—of the 10 winners for 2015, Sigma Chi was named the fan favorite, thanks to the daily voting of many MIT and Sigma Chi alumni. “The big award was the preservation award, but it was a fun icing on the cake to win the fan favorite,” Büttner says.

11.30.15 Sigma Chi Stairs

The renovated central staircase.

For Büttner and members of the FSILG community, the renovation of the Sigma Chi house isn’t just a triumph in preservation of a building, but of a way of life for many MIT students. “This project was only possible because alumni felt so strongly about the importance about continuing to provide environments such as our fraternity,” Büttner says. “It was about alumni believing that it’s critically important to continue to offer these outside-of-the-classroom learning environments for future generations of MIT students.”

Learn more about the extensive renovation and see a full tour of the house at 532 Beacon St.


The Artist's Studio, a 3 shot HDR bracket, Giverny, France. (© Shelley Lake).

The Artist’s Studio, a 3 shot HDR bracket, Giverny, France. (© Shelley Lake).

Shelley Lake SM ’79 is a photographer in Florida. View more of her work on her website. View other alumni photos of the week.


Doc Edgerton is known to MIT as a professor of electrical engineering, a leading expert in the development of photography and photographic equipment, and a contributor to sonar and deep-sea photography. But he is also known for his compassion and humility and for regularly opening his home to his students and coworkers. During this time of gratitude, Slice celebrates this man whose presence enhanced camaraderie and collaboration at MIT.

“Doc is one of my heroes,” says Martin Klein ’62, one of Doc’s students and a coworker at the Strobe Lab and EG&G. “With Doc, there was no pretense. He always had time, and he always listened to you.” Doc invited Klein over regularly for dinner, including Thanksgiving. Klein says, “He made you feel at home. He would get out the guitar and sing songs, he would tell jokes, he would take us on the roof to look at the construction. You saw human things—like the notes he and his wife wrote each other on the bathroom mirror.”

Charles Mazel SM ’76 was astounded by Doc’s affability and openness. “He had a basic decency,” he says. When Mazel was looking for work after graduation, Doc contacted him about a professional opportunity. “Somebody had contacted him about doing a sonar survey and he couldn’t go, and he said, ‘Why don’t you take the gear and go?’ I wasn’t an employee, but I knew him well enough, and the next thing you know, I’m the stand-in for Doc. That means something, that someone gives you that opportunity.”

Even after he retired in the 1960s, Doc continued to frequent campus and connect with students. As detailed in a Tech article, Yu Hasegawa-Johnson ’91 recounts that Doc invited her to dinner when he found her walking around campus crying. After that, he continued to support her while she was at MIT. “He told me he was my American grandfather, and [his wife Esther] was my American grandmother,” she said. “He would often ask me, ‘Are you making friends?’ and ask about Japan to make sure I was not lonely.”

Hasegawa-Johnson says she still thinks about Doc all the time. “It’s so comforting, to know that you could be someone so great and still be so warm-hearted, giving, supportive, and loving.” She says his passion for his life and work was contagious. “That’s an ideal kind of life—to love what you do, and, even after retiring, to still be a part of what you love. His love of students and people, and his wonderful wife and children, was an ideal world. It made me think that I could, perhaps, do that too.”

She was in Japan when he passed away, but when she returned to campus, she found a voicemail that Grandpa Edgerton had left before he died, inviting her to dinner. She still has it to this day.

Interested in learning more? Click on Doc’s bio page at the Edgerton Center.


MIT has a long history with food, from nutrition science to environmental costs, and today food innovation projects at MIT run the gamut. MIT’s newest food initiative, Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab (JWAFS) is bringing together research across disciplines.

Learn more about JWAFS and food projects at MIT in the Slice of MIT podcast, Food for Thought. This episode focuses on four things: an Institute-wide food and water security lab; a Media Lab Agriculture Initiative; a chemistry sensor project that can detect spoiling meat; and an alumnus chef that uses science to perfect his recipes.

This podcast is being released a few days before Thanksgiving 2015, so of course, we needed to address the Thanksgiving meal. Kenji Lopez-Alt ’02, culinary director of Serious Eats—a renowned food blog, offers insight into cooking with science and weighs in on the persistent Thanksgiving turkey question, to brine or not to brine?

Renee Robins ’83, executive director for JWAFS, talks about the growth of food and water projects at MIT and the promising technologies that are coming from interdisciplinary collaborations.

Caleb Harper shows off lettuce grown in the food server grown in the Media Lab. Photo: Lynn Johnson, National Geographic Fellow.

Caleb Harper shows off lettuce grown in the food server in the Media Lab. Photo: Lynn Johnson, National Geographic Fellow.

One promising research project is the Open Agriculture Initiative, run by Caleb Harper March ’14 in the Media Lab. Harper discusses his research that uses alternative growing methods, like aeroponics and hydroponics, along with LED lights, and controlled climate—all harnessed by open-source technology. He hopes his work can become the foundation for a new method of agricultural production to help produce food that can be eaten closer to the point of growing and to grow anything, anywhere in the world with similar technology and the right climate recipe.

Jan Schnorr ’12 was working toward completing his PhD in Tim Swager’s lab in the chemistry department when he started C2Sense, a startup that is developing sensors that can detect food spoilage and therefore help reduce food waste. “We had a project around ethylene detection, which is very relevant for fruit freshness,” says Schorr. There are several types of low-cost sensors being developed to monitor fruit and meat ripeness, indicating if the food has gone bad. These sensors could help at all steps in the supply chain—in distribution and storage, in grocery stores, and at home in refrigerators.

Listen to podcast and visit the Alumni Association’s SoundCloud page. Don’t forget to subscribe on iTunes and rate the podcast and leave a review. Tweet your thoughts on this episode to @mit_alumni.


J. Kenji Lopez-Alt at NYC: Meatopia. Photo: Wally Gobetz via Flickr

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt at NYC: Meatopia. Photo: Wally Gobetz via Flickr

Today, Monday, November 23, at 3:00 p.m. EST, join a live Twitter chat with J. Kenji Lopez-Alt ’02, managing culinary director at food blog Serious Eats and author of the new book The Food Lab.

In his weekly column, Lopez-Alt delves into the science of food in a way only an MIT alumnus can, applying the scientific method to everything from pie dough to Chicken Paprikash. Lopez-Alt works through countless iterations and techniques to find the best recipe for just about everything. But having the best recipe isn’t enough for Lopez-Alt, as he answers why recipes and techniques produced the results they did. What’s the right amount of batter for an onion ring? How does over cooking affect meat? Lopez-Alt knows from his many kitchen experiments.

In this Twitter chat, Lopez-Alt will answer your questions on MIT, food science, and what it takes to cook the perfect bird this Thanksgiving. Starting at 3 p.m. EST, follow the chat with #MITAlum and ask your questions using the hashtag #MITAlum.

About J. Kenji Lopez-Alt              

After starting his time at MIT as a biology major, Lopez-Alt graduated with a degree in architecture. While Lopez-Alt says he loved science, he didn’t like the practice of it. Lopez-Alt began working in kitchens around Boston while still at MIT and eventually started writing for Cooks Illustrated magazine, before moving to Serious Eats and launching his Food Lab column in 2009. The Food Lab addresses common cooking conundrums and offers step-by-step guides for the best versions of popular dishes. His first book, The Food Lab, debuted in September 2015. Learn more about Lopez-Alt and his approach to food in tomorrows, Slice of MIT podcast.


Yangon "End of Strife", former capital of Myanmar (© Philip Sager).

Yangon “End of Strife,” former capital of Myanmar (© Philip Sager).

Philip Sager ’77 lives in San Francisco, CA. He is is a photographer and a cardiologist deeply involved in biotechnology and drug development policy. View more photos on his website. View more alumni via the Photo of the Week category



Charles “Chip” Martel ’75. Photo: Peg Kaplan

For some people the game of bridge is a recreation. For others it’s a passion. For Chip Martel, it’s an art—he’s won five world championships and more than two dozen U.S. titles and was called “one of the best players ever” by the New York Times upon his 2014 election to the American Contract Bridge League Hall of Fame.

Chip Martel Enters the Hall of Fame,” New York Times

“Martel is one of the best players ever. In world championships, he has won nine medals: five gold, three silver, and one bronze…In addition, Martel has two golds, one silver and one bronze as either coach or non-playing captain of United States teams. He has won 30 nationals titles and been second 19 times.”

Simultaneously, Martel has built a distinguished academic career, earning a doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1980 and helping establish the computer science department at the University of California, Davis. He taught and conducted research there for more than 30 years and was named professor emeritus when he retired in 2013.

Martel’s focus on design, analysis, and application of algorithms dates to a small advanced class in computer algorithms during his senior year in Course 6.

“The professor made it very interesting and enjoyable because he would often start to present an algorithm and then discover a stumbling block,” he recalls. “Everyone in the class would have a good time figuring out the proof. It was very effective for us, and I worked in that area for my whole career.”

Martel notes that bridge and algorithms are both “puzzle-solving activities, where you have to find an answer based on what you know.”

He also cites the importance of his connection with longtime bridge partner and fellow Hall of Famer Lew Stansby. “Bridge is more multidimensional than poker or chess,” explains Martel. “In addition to the technical aspects of the game, you have to be good at partnership and psychology. Lew and I have spent a lot of time talking about bridge. Playing together for so long made it easier to have a serious academic career—starting a new partnership is a lot of work.”

Another example of strong partnership: Martel’s 33-year marriage to his wife, Jan Martel, a retired attorney, a Hall of Fame bridge player, and COO of the U.S. Bridge Federation.“We have friends all over the world through bridge,” says Martel. “Since retiring, we’ve enjoyed having time to visit and sightsee when we go to international tournaments.”

While challenging at times, Martel’s dual career has provided many highlights, including a single
academic year in which he won both a world championship and tenure. Moreover, he says, “when there are problems in one area, there are often good things in the other to pick you up. I’ve reaped many rewards from pursuing both of my passions.”

This actually originally appeared in the November/December issue of MIT Technology Review magazine.


EnergyHackathon1_StephenKai_editDetermining the energy use of 400 buildings and coming up with energy efficiency proposals or finding a reason for underperforming oil wells based on limited data points – those were just two of the eight challenges presented to the nearly 300 participants at last weekend’s Energy Hackathon. The challenges were presented by real companies including Schlumberger, OPower, McKinsey, and First Fuel, and addressed real-world issues around enabling energy access, reducing energy waste, and improving energy efficiency. Solutions to the challenges required a mix of technical, business, hardware, and software experience, so teams included a variety of expertise. They also came from varied backgrounds, including many MIT students and alums as well as students from other nearby universities and even local professionals.

EnergyHackathon5_editAfter being presented with the challenges on Friday evening, the 19 teams spent the whole weekend at MIT in lounges, dining halls, and meeting rooms hacking their way to a resolution. On Sunday afternoon, the hackers had five minutes to present their solution to the eight companies and several independent judges. A winner was chosen based on a clear and complete presentation that demonstrated a technically sound understanding of the issue—and one that could be feasibly implemented.

“We’ve been planning the competition since last September as a way of creating a platform to bridge the gap between large companies and talented individuals,” says PhD candidate and Energy Hackathon co-director Kai Xiang. The mission, says Xiang, is to create a platform for energy companies and individuals, students or professionals, to meet to solve energy challenges together. The companies posed real issues, getting insight into real solutions, and the individuals that participated were able to get real-world experience at solving energy problems.

“It was a good experience to work with students with different backgrounds to solve the challenging problems in the energy sector,” says PhD candidate Hang Chen, member of the second place team, Buildingram. “We were given a building’s address and had to come up with all the energy data. We came up a very innovative way to collect the information from social networks. It was so amazing to see the regular patterns of usage of the building by using statistical analysis.”

The first place team was FourUndergrads and they received a cash prize of $3,000. Second, third, and fourth place teams also received cash prizes. The team offered a solution to the challenge posed by Loci Controls, which revolved around optimizing landfill gas utilization.


First place team in the Energy Hackathon, FourUndergrads.




SA+P graduate students Marwan Abou Dib, Kun Qian, and Tengjia Liu

SA+P graduate students Marwan Abou Dib, Kun Qian, and Tengjia Liu spent the bulk of their first semester at MIT preparing for their final project, a gallery of MIT student work that artfully reimagined major cities that are running out of space and land. After weeks of planning, the three students keenly awaited the gallery’s opening night.

“But there was one problem—no one showed up,” Abou Dib says. “Not even our classmates. We realized that physical exposure was a huge problem. We knew we needed to create another marketplace to showcase the artwork.”

Instead of having the artwork go unseen, the trio devised another plan, and staged a series of impromptu galleries throughout campus. But after a space-related objection from some MIT staff, the team split up each piece and placed them independently in studio halls in the MIT Sloan building. They affixed a QR code for anyone interested in purchasing the art, even though they anticipated most being stolen or thrown away.

“After a month, we had sold seven pieces,” Abou Dib says. “We added value to both the artwork and the space. We realized there was disconnect between artists and the space they need. Most artists don’t have the best venue to distribute their work.”

Learning from their final project, Abou Dib, Qian, and Liu created Tekuma, a recently-launched startup that connects artists with hosts to create curated galleries in non-traditional spaces, like rented apartments via the short-term lodging website AirBnB.

Tekuma connects artists with venues, and vice versa.

Tekuma connects artists with venues, and vice versa.

Earlier this year, the team was part of the MIT Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship’s Global Founders Skills Accelerator. As part of the accelerator, the students leased and rented two Cambridge apartments on AirBnB then furnished and staged them for an art gallery.

“After two months, we were able to fully fund our startup,” Abou Dib says. “We created a sales channel that showcases emerging art and connects them with AirBnb hosts. By hybridizing and curating the space into a gallery, we’re making art more accessible and helping democratize the art industry.”

Next month, Tekuma will showcase the artwork of MIT students at Art Basel Miami Beach, the annual festival that highlights some of the world’s most significant works of Modern and contemporary art. The startup will host a gallery titled “I Am Not an Artist,” which is cosponsored by the Council of Arts at MIT will feature MIT students from all five Institute schools.

“Most people don’t think or art when they think of MIT,” Abou Dib says. “We’ll have artwork from an investment banker at Sloan, plus 3D jewelry and art inspired by 3D scanning. The art coming out of MIT is so innovative right now, and we’re proud that Tekuma is able to showcase it.”

art_baselThe MIT community is invited to take a private tour of “I Am Not an Artist” as part of Celebrate the Arts at MIT on December 4 at Art Basel.

The viewing will be preceded by an MIT reception featuring Leila Kinney, Executive Director of the Arts Initiative at MIT, and Music and Theater Arts Professor Evan Ziporyn. Register for the event on the MIT Alumni Association website.

Learn more about "I Am Not An Artist" at Art Basel Miami Beach.

Learn more about “I Am Not An Artist” at Art Basel Miami Beach.


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