Abandon (© Shelley Lake).

Abandon (© 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.

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 Idit Harel, Globaloria, SXSW Interactive, gaming, education, Media Lab

New media entrepreneur Idit Harel PhD ’88 spoke to Slice of MIT at SXSW Interactive 2015.

There are 55 million K–12 students in 132,000 schools in the United States. Ninety-seven percent play video games. Many people see gaming as the enemy of education—an unproductive time-waster filled with violent images and unsavory themes.

“No one says, ‘Let’s stop reading because there are too many violent books,’” says Idit Harel PhD ’88. “So why say it about gaming? We need to understand this medium better and develop capabilities and literacies around it. Gaming is a powerful and pervasive tool that tells stories, explains concepts, and helps kids learn.”

Harel’s quest for gaming literacy led her to create Globaloria, a programmable game-making platform that teaches young learners STEM skills like software engineering and coding. The platform teaches students how to build video games through teacher-based instruction and hands-on learning.

“Playing games and apps are not enough—no one’s fully literate until they learn how to write them,” she says. “Of the 97 percent who play, not all are digitally literate. So how do we make them critical thinkers and computationally fluent? Through coding—we teach them how the games are made.”

Idit_Harel_SXSW_1_SliceSince 2006, more than 800 educators in 180 schools in 14 states have integrated Globaloria into their curriculum. And more than 17,000 students have built games like “English in Action,” “Save Me,” and “Puny Pestilent Problematic Parasites.”

“Our platform is focused on a central theme—encouraging students to create technology, not just use it,” Harel says. “Designing and engineering video games is the new literacy, coding is the new writing, and games are the lure.”

Harel spoke to Slice of MIT at the 2015 South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive festival, where she was part of a panel organized by the U.S. Office of Educational Technology on gaming and coding as entry point for teaching real-world skills. Globaloria also hosted the White House-sponsored Austin Education Game Jam during SXSW, a workshop and contest for game developers to create commercially-viable and education-focused video games.

“Not all of us become writers, poets, or journalists, but we become literate learners by both reading and writing,” she says. “It’s same with digital media. Playing and making games is fundamental to teaching and learning in a digital world.”

Idit_Harel_SXSW_2_SliceMost important, mastery of computational and coding literacy carries real-world implications for the future workforce. STEM-related fields will soon account for nearly 8 million unfilled U.S. jobs but only nine states list computer science as a requirement for a high school diploma and less than 4 percent of U.S. schools offer computer science and coding in their curricula.

“Our research shows that there’s talent in every zip code,” she says. “But we need to cultivate innovation skills. Having engaging STEM content should be a requirement in all K-12 schools.”

Harel’s learning-through-gaming mindset dates back 30 years when she part of the MIT Media Lab’s first-ever cohort. In 1989–1990, she received funding from Nintendo and the National Science Foundation to study the power of kids learning computer programming and her book, Children Designers, won the 1991 Outstanding Book Award from the American Education Research Association.

“The Media Lab’s perspective from the beginning was to construct imaginative applications, learning environments, and creative tech demos for new knowledge representations and new ideas for the future,” she says. “At MIT, we learn to design, invent, and engineer technologies to solve the world’s problems. I want all kids to learn just that. And games help, too.”

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MIT_alumni_most_powerful_Boston_Influential_WorldJudging by recent rankings in Boston Magazine and Time, many MIT alumni hold a significant amount of power and influence in Boston and around the world. Boston Magazine’s list of Boston’s 50 Most Powerful People is 10 percent MIT, including President L. Rafael Reif. And Time’s 100 Most Influential People ranking, which was announced earlier this month, features four MIT alumni, including Harvard Associate Professor Pardis Sabeti ’97, who was part of a group of Ebola fighters that were co-named Time‘s 2014 Person of the Year.

As with previous coverage of MIT-related rankings on Slice of MIT, we’re not endorsing these lists. But we do hope they continue to generate significant conversation among the MIT community.

What’s you take? Share your thoughts on the the rankings—or let us know if we left anyone out—in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.

Boston’s 50 Most Powerful People, via Boston Magazine

AounJoseph Aoun PhD ’82 (25)
President, Northeastern University
“Aoun has continued Northeastern’s march up the college rankings: It’s now among the most competitive schools in the Northeast. Aoun has flexed the university’s muscles in a relentless quest for a bigger footprint.”

pollackStephanie Pollack ’82 (26)
Massachusetts secretary of transportation
“A brilliant, wonky, and progressive veteran of Northeastern’s Dukakis Center, Charlie Baker’s most unlikely appointee survived the winter from hell, but now faces fixing a debt-crippled MBTA.”

ReifL. Rafael Reif HM ’14 (36)
President, MIT
“Reif presides over an institution that continues to transform Kendall Square into a hub of innovation. It’s engaging Boston as well, partnering with Boston 2024 and Linda Pizzuti Henry’s upcoming HUBWeek festival.”

de-la-torreRalph de la Torre SM ’92 (40)
Chairman and CEO, Steward Health Care System
“He’s leading the largest for-profit community-care organization in New England—17,000 employees, 11 hospitals—and betting on private healthcare.”

harthorneJohn Harthorne MBA ’07 (44)
CEO and founder, MassChallenge
“Harthorne’s Boston-based startup accelerator program, the largest in the world, has helped launch more than 600 businesses, and nearly 5,000 new jobs, since its establishment in 2010.”

Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People

KochsCharles Koch ’57, SM ’58, SM ’60
David Koch ’62, SM ‘63
Koch Industries
“Charles and David Koch are well known for their business success, their generous philanthropic efforts and for their focus on innovation in management.” – Rand Paul, United States Senator from Kentucky

Pardis Sabeti ’97Pardis
Associate Professor, Harvard University
“When the Ebola epidemic began, Dr. Pardis Sabeti led a team that did something critically important: it sequenced virus samples from infected patients almost as soon as the outbreak began.” – J. Craig Venter, biologist

netanyahuBenjamin Netanyahu ’75, SM ’76
Prime Minister, Israel
“Netanyahu was just elected, for the fourth time, to lead Israel. I personally know it’s not trivial to win office, simple to govern or easy to leave a positive imprint on history.” – Ehud Barak, former Prime Minister of Israel

Pardis Sabeti image via PopTech 2011, Camden, Maine, USA

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The Collier Memorial was dedicated April 29, 2015.

The Collier Memorial was dedicated April 29, 2015, to honor fallen MIT police officer Sean Collier.

Today at noon, the campus community gathers to dedicate the Officer Sean Collier Memorial, a star-shaped granite structure that symbolizes the flavor of his life and his sacrifice. Collier, who was killed during the Boston Marathon bombing aftermath on April 18, 2013, is represented by an exceptional symbol of community—32 granite pieces that depend upon each other for strength and balance.

Watch the dedication webcast or view a video on the creation of the memorial titled Strength Through Unity: the Making of the Collier Memorial at MIT.

“Each stone is necessary to transfer loads and create equilibrium. The memorial represents the community coming together where strength comes from unity,” says architect J. Meejin Yoon, who designed the memorial. Yoon, head of the department of architecture, worked with a team of faculty, staff, and students, and international experts, including MIT Professor John Ochsendorf, a structural engineer and expert of masonry vaulting structures. The structure represents ancient stone techniques as well as advanced technologies such as a robotic milling process that produced pieces that are within a 0.5 millimeter tolerance of the digital model.

Computer-controlled saws and a robotic arm were used to create the curved geometry of the blocks.

Computer-controlled saws and a robotic arm shaped the complex geometry of the blocks.

The oval void in the center of the vaulted structure represents the loss of MIT police officer Sean Collier, a 27-year-old MIT police officer. Collier has been lauded for his deep connection to the community. A MIT News article describes how, just two months before his death, he helped save the three-day-old daughter of Andrés Barriga MBA ’13 and his wife, Anita, who were living in campus housing. In 2014, 39 members of the MIT community ran the Boston Marathon as MIT Strong to honor Collier and raise money for the memorial. For his many contributions to the community, Collier was named an honorary member of the MIT Alumni Association at Technology Day in 2013.

In a letter to the community, MIT President L. Rafael Reif described him as “a young man with a wonderful spirit of kindness, service, curiosity and play, and an extraordinary ability to touch the hearts of everyone around him. Through the example of his life, and through our shared experience after his death, he taught us the power of community in ways that no one present at the time will ever forget.” Reif also noted that “it is fitting that we honor his sacrifice, celebrate his life and allow his spirit to lift our hearts and connect us with one another.”

Facts about the Collier Memorial:

  • The memorial is located between the Stata Center and the Koch Institute, a few feet away from where Collier was killed.
  • The 32 granite pieces weigh 100,000 pounds.
  • In an eight-hour process, the stones were set by masons through an intricate scaffolding sequence, until the compression of stone upon stone fully supported the structure.
  • The fabrication involved sophisticated stone carving by computer-controlled saws and a robotic arm to create the complex curved geometry of the blocks.
  • Rob Rogers, Sean Collier’s brother and project manager from Suffolk Construction, oversaw the construction of the memorial.

Learn more about the making of the Collier Memorial, dedicated April 29, 2015.

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042815_CynthiaRubin_crop

Associate Professor Cynthia Rudin

Cynthia Rudin says that her job is to encourage future managers to make decisions grounded in data, and this is exactly the mindset that earned her a spot on the 40 under 40 list of best business school professors by Poets & Quants.

As an associate professor of statistics at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, Rudin specializes in big data, applied statistics, data mining, and machine learning.

Rudin and her students are putting their theories into practice by designing predictive models and knowledge discovery systems to help inform decision makers. They are working with a variety of different industries including race car teams, police detectives, doctors, power engineers, marketing experts, and many others who are interested in data-centered prediction problems. “One of the reasons our research is effective is because we have such knowledgeable collaborators with domain expertise,” says Rudin.

Here are a few examples of complex problems that Rudin is using data to solve:

  • Predicting stroke in patients with atrial fibrillation
  • Diagnosing sleep apnea
  • Predicting power outages caused by manhole fires and explosions
  • Detecting patterns of crime committed by the same individual or group of individuals
  • Predicting recidivism of prisoners to allocate social services and determine bail

“My goal in teaching is to help people understand how and why data driven tools can be useful,” says Rudin.

Before coming to Sloan in 2009, Rudin earned her PhD in applied and computational mathematics from Princeton University and worked as a research scientist at both Columbia and New York University. Her work has been featured in Businessweek, The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Times of London, WIRED Science, U.S. News and World Report, and IEEE Computer.

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Alice_Brooks '10. Photo: Paul Sakuma

Alice Brooks ’10. Photo: Paul Sakuma

When Alice Brooks ’10 was eight years old, she asked for a Barbie for Christmas. To her surprise, her father told her that Santa Claus didn’t bring dolls.

“Santa brought me a saw instead,” Brooks says. “It worked out great. I ended up building a dollhouse.”

That gift sparked a passion for science and engineering that eventually led her to co-create the Roominate, a construction kit for a dollhouse that can be electrically wired. Time magazine called it the number one toy of 2014.

While in graduate school in 2012, Brooks and fellow Stanford student Bettina Chen recalled shared childhood experiences of building and making. But after looking at the modern toy market for girls ages six to 10, they saw little that spoke to the same interests.

“We wanted to create an engineering product that would be exciting and fun,” she says. “Girls love dolls and stuffed animals. But they also love Legos and Lincoln Logs, too.”

After months of research, Brooks and Chen launched Roominate through the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. They reached their $25,000 goal in less than five days, raised more than $85,000 in 30 days, and sold nearly 1,800 units.

“We were amazed by what these girls built—it went way beyond a dollhouse,” says Brooks. “We got pictures of doggy hotels, car washes, a cotton-candy maker, and a fully lit Golden Gate Bridge—completely built from their imagination.”


Roominate on Shark Tank. Video via abc.go.com.

Roominate’s popularity further increased in September 2014, when it was featured on Shark Tank, a television series that showcases entrepreneurs making business proposals to a panel of investors. Two “sharks,” Mark Cuban and Lori Greiner, combined to invest $500,000 for a 5 percent equity share. Cuban’s investment was contingent on a promise that Brooks and Chen would mentor his two young daughters.

“We e-mail weekly with Mark, and he’s been really helpful,” Brooks says. “A lot of his ideas are influenced by what he sees from his girls, who are in Roominate’s target age. The partnership has been great.”

A Massachusetts native, Brooks received a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford and still lives in Northern California. She says the company’s long-term goal is to create even more opportunities for young girls to fall in love—and stay in love—with science and engineering.

“We’re taking in feedback and stepping up the complexity,” she says. “We have a lot of things coming this year. Girls’ interests are always changing, and we want to evolve with them.”

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2015 issue of MIT Technology Review magazine.

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Calm, Long Pond, Acadia National Park, Maine (© Rowland Williams).

Calm, Long Pond, Acadia National Park, Maine (© Rowland Williams).

Rowland Williams ’72 is a photographer living in Amesbury, MA. View more photos on his website. View more alumni via the Photo of the Week category

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Today marks 25 years since the Hubble Telescope was launched into space. Thanks to over one million images Hubble has collected, scientists now have a dramatically enhanced understanding of the universe.

Hubble’s observations have allowed scientists to confirm the existence of black holes and identify new galaxies and planets. It observed and captured images of Supernova 1987A, a massive explosion marking the death of a star. This is notable since the last time astronomers observed a supernova was in the 1600s. And in March, Hubble observed the splitting of a supernova into four images.

MIT alumni and faculty have been a part of much of Hubble’s history. Mike Massimino SM ’88, ENG ’90, ME ’90, PhD ’92, MIT AeroAstro Professor Jeff Hoffman, John Grunsfeld ’80, Mark C. Lee SM ’80  have all contributed to either Hubble’s launch or participated in the telescope’s five repair and servicing missions.

“It [Hubble] can travel at 17,500 miles an hour, but yet it can fix a gaze on part of the sky so accurately as if you were shooting a laser from the Empire State Building, you could hit a dime on the Washington Monument,” said Mike Massimino of Hubble’s observation abilities. Massimino was part of STS-109 and STS-125 missions to upgrade and repair the Hubble Telescope.

Watch our Happy Birthday Hubble video to learn more about how the Hubble Telescope operates, how it was conceived, and its contributions to scientific research.

 The Happy Birthday Hubble video was produced by MITAA videographer Brielle Domings. 

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Feng Zhang applies his engineering background to problems in human health.

Feng Zhang applies his engineering background to problems in human health.

Genome editing is hot—especially at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. Through a special two-day Faculty Forum Online, you can learn how a new gene editing process may transform genetic engineering and open new paths to fight disease. The Broad’s Genome Engineering 3.0 Workshop is available to MIT alumni free via webcast on May 8‒9.

The workshop is organized by Feng Zhang, who won a 2014 patent for the CRISPR-Cas9 method, and his lab at the Broad Institute. Zhang is the W.M. Keck Career Development Assistant Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and Biological Engineering and a member of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research and the Broad Institute. While in graduate school at Stanford, he co-developed a revolutionary technology called optogenetics, now used by neuroscientists worldwide, and he used this and other tools to study animal models of depression and schizophrenia. His work at the Broad focuses on development of synthetic biology tools, like the CRISPR-Cas9 method, to study neuropsychiatric disease. Visit his McGovern page to view terrific short videos on his work and genome editing.

The CRISPR system has the potential to radically alter the current understanding of genetic engineering and how it could be applied to the treatment of diseases. In essence, it is a search-and-replace method for altering DNA.

Here’s how the Broad describes this breakthrough:

CRISPRs (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) have been harnessed as genome-editing tools in a wide range of species. The engineered CRISPR-Cas9 system allows researchers to mutate or change the expression of genes in living cells. The family of Cas9 nucleases—the centerpiece of this genome-editing system—recognizes DNA targets in complex with RNA guides. Researchers can now use these tools to home in on specific genes within the genome and cut the DNA at those precise targets. The cuts modify the activity of the targeted genes, allowing researchers to study the genes’ function.

Want to know more?

Register today for the May 8-9 Faculty Forum Online to listen to keynotes by MIT faculty and leading researchers, technical talks, and lively debates about the future of biotechnology, ethics, intellectual property, and academia vs. industry.

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What’s the science behind a warming climate, and can it be combated? In this All Ears MIT podcast, MIT faculty members discuss the history and science behind Earth’s warming climate, and if anything can be done to mitigate a rising global temperature.

Some public debates on climate change tend be centered on complex numerical models—great for predicting quantitative estimates, not so great for collaborative discussions and brainstorming solutions. During this podcast, listen to four MIT faculty members—supported by historical and scientific data—discuss divergent areas of climate-related research, including coastal flooding, global warming, hurricane activity, and economic policy.

Subscribe to All Ears MIT on iTunes and SoundCloud. Listen to past podcasts with novelists, professors, and entrepreneurs by visiting the Alumni Association’s SoundCloud page.

Associate Professor Dan Cziczo
Dept. of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences
Cziczo is an atmospheric scientist studying how whose research is analyzing the effects that clouds may have in a increasingly warming climate. His research focuses the effect of atmospheric aerosols on cloud formations, meteoritic debris, and vehicle emissions in the atmosphere.

Kerry Emanuel

Professor Kerry Emanuel ’76, PhD ’78
Dept. of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences

Emanuel is a co-founder of the Lorenz Center, MIT’s climate activity think tank. He is the author of What We Know about Climate Change and his research on hurricane activity earned him a place on Time’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2006.

Knittel_225

Professor Christopher Knittel
MIT Sloan School of Management
Knittel co-directs MIT’s Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research. The first energy chair at MIT, he has studied consumer and company reactions to energy price fluctuations—including rising prices of gasoline—and its implications on effective environmental policies.

whittle_225

Professor Andrew Whittle ScD ’87
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Professor Andrew J. Whittle is a geotechnical engineer who served on the panel reviewing the hurricane protection systems in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s safety review of Boston’s Big Dig tunnel system.

 

These interviews were culled from the Alumni Association’s Faculty Forum Online series—monthly live webcasts that feature faculty interviews on timely and relevant topics. View the entire archive on the Alumni Association website.

For more information on climate change research, visit  the Climate Change Conversation at MIT website, which is exploring the actions that MIT could take to make a significant positive contribution to confront climate change. MIT alumni can join the Energy, Environment and Sustainability Network, a group of worldwide alumni volunteers who want to share their energy interests with others.

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