ALC takes place Sept. 25-26, 2015, on MIT campus.

MIT alumni volunteers are the Institute’s greatest ambassadors. And each year, hundreds of those ambassadors return to MIT campus for the Alumni Leadership Conference. The 2015 ALC takes place September 25–26 and will bring together MIT’s most dedicated volunteers for two days of networking, celebration, and developing new leadership skills.

Registration is now open for the conference. RSVP now to reserve your spot for this year’s conference then choose from more than 50 sessions and programs already on the ALC schedule.

Here are five things that you can expect at ALC 2015:

  • Gain and share insights for your club, group, or upcoming reunion.
  • Learn about life at present-day MIT from current students.
  • Hear in-depth updates from MIT leadership on new maker spaces, diversity, and more.
  • Rediscover MIT! Visit the newest campus buildings or take an ALC walking tour.
  • Celebrate! Reconnect at the Friday evening reception, network during lunches, and celebrate volunteers at Saturday evening’s festive Volunteer Leadership Awards.

You’ll hear from MIT faculty and leaders, including:

MITChancellor Cynthia Barnhart SM ’86, PhD ’88
Keynote Conversation, Saturday, Sept. 26, 9:00 a.m.
Chancellor Barnhart oversees graduate and undergraduate education at MIT, student life, student services, and other areas that impact student experience.

Culpepper_sliceProfessor Martin L. Culpepper SM ’97, PhD ’00
Opening Conference Keynote, Friday, Sept. 25, 9:00 a.m.
Culpepper is the Maker Czar for the Department of Mechanical Engineering. He the voice of the department’s makers and builders and provides oversight of its machine shops.

Gosline_sliceAssistant Professor Renée Richardson Gosline
Faculty Keynote, Saturday, Sept. 26, 10:30 a.m.
Gosline was named one of the world’s top 40 professors under 40 by Poets and Quants. An MIT Sloan faculty member, she studies how status-based bias and technology affect self-perceptions and behavior.

Grimson_sliceChancellor for Academic Advancement Eric Grimson PhD ’80
A Conversation with MIT’s Deans, Friday, Sept. 25, 4:30 p.m.
Grimson is a central adviser to MIT President L. Rafael Reif on strategy. He is playing a key role in gaining the sustained input of faculty and students that help set MIT’s fundraising priorities.

Visit the ALC website for more information, including details on logistics, FAQs, and the leadership awards celebration.

Connect with ALC and fellow volunteers before the conference. Share your ideas and post questions on the Alumni Association’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, and view campus photos on the Alumni Association’s Instagram page. Use the hashtag #mitalc to participate in the online conversation.

Curious about last year’s ALC? Relive the 2014 conference and read an ALC summary on Slice of MIT, view an Exposure photo gallery, and check out the top 14 tweets from ALC 2014.

Register today! And don’t forget to reserve your discounted rate at one of three campus-area hotels.


AL-QAMAR: Luna's Wanderer contains spatial spherical moon-shaped pods for algae-based air-purification and biofuel collection to produce and store oxygen.

AL-QAMAR: Luna’s Wanderer contains pods for algae-based air-purification and biofuel collection to produce and store oxygen. Photo: Yoram Reshef.

Sturdy, wearable skins that transform hostile environments into friendlier ones are among the projects developed by Media Lab’s Mediated Matter group, headed by Associate Professor Neri Oxman PhD ’10.

Oxman, who earned her PhD in design computation, leads her Mediated Matter group through explorations of “Nature-inspired Design and Design-inspired Nature” using the tools of computational design, digital fabrication, materials science, and synthetic biology. Many projects rely on advanced 3D printing technologies.

Four artifacts that represent this intersection of 3D printing and synthetic biology were unveiled in Germany last fall in an exhibit of Wanderers: An Astrobiological Exploration, a collaboration with German designers Christoph Bader and Dominik Kolb.

Mushtari, inspired by the human gastrointestinal tract, is designed to be filled with liquid containing cyanobacteria and E.coli bacteria.

Mushtari, inspired by the human gastrointestinal tract, is designed to be filled with cyanobacteria and E.coli bacteria.

The wearables, printed with Stratasys multi-material 3D printing technology, are designed to create the necessities of human life in space environments. Capillaries are expected to hold synthetically engineered microorganisms that could produce oxygen, light, food, and biofuels. Mediated Matter members led by Will Patrick and Sunanda Sharma are working on embedding living matter in the form of engineered bacteria inside the 3D structures.

“The future of wearables lies in designing augmented extensions to our own bodies, that will blur the boundary between the environment and ourselves,” according to Oxman. “With this collection, we have designed spatially and materially complex wearables pointing towards the possibility of containing living matter that can interact with the environment.”

Learn about Oxman’s earlier work in a previous Slice post, “FAB:REcology–Building on Natural Principles,” and current projects on her Media Lab page.


Senior Cimran Virdi spends a lot of time thinking about physics, but she’s not majoring in it. Virdi is a pole vaulter for MIT Track and Field. In addition to physical training, Virdi uses her knowledge of physics to help launch herself ever higher over the crossbar. So far it’s working—Virdi just captured another NCAA DIII Championship title in the event. She credits her success in part to Coach Patrick Barragán ’08, SM ’12, PhD ’15.

“Not many people can say their coach has a PhD,” she says. “Pole vaulting is a sport that requires an understanding of physics and he gets that—it gives him a big upper hand.”

Recruited out of high school as a Division I athlete, Virdi, who is originally from Canada, has long been a top pole vaulter with dreams of the Olympics. So why MIT? Virdi says it was an easy choice. “It was between MIT and UCLA and a coach told me to pick the school based on where I would be happiest if I were injured,” she says. Her choice became obvious.


Virdi clears the crossbar during this year’s NCAA Championship. Photo courtesy of MIT DAPER.

Though a Division III school, MIT has a history of a strong track and field program, collecting 286 All American awards, 34 of those awards to pole vaulters. Director of MIT’s Track and Field program Halston Taylor has a simple explanation for this dominance, “Tremendous coaching,” he says.

Virdi herself has earned three NCAA DIII Championship titles and the NCAA DIII women’s pole vault record at 14 feet. She also holds the rookie record for MIT women’s indoor pole vault as well as the varsity record for outdoor, along with numerous other accolades.

To continuously increase her athletic performance while taking on an MIT course load, Virdi leans on both her coach and teammates for help. “If I don’t understand something, so many of my teammates are Course 6, and I can work with them,” she says.

Virdi also looks to her teammates for motivation, “Not many other schools are filled with engineers, so it can be hard to stay motivated for such a high level of academics. That’s just not the case here.”

Virdi, who is spending the summer training in Boston, hopes to qualify for the Olympic team in 2016 or 2020. Look for her on Team Canada.


Kennebunkport, Maine (© Rowland Williams).

Kennebunkport, 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



The Spokes American team leaving Washington, DC: Simon Shuham, Brian Wagner, Jorge Troncoso ’18, Drew Bent ’18, Shadi Fadaee, Francesca Childs, and Tola Omilana.

On June 1, Drew Bent ’18 and Jorge Troncoso ’18 arrived in Washington, DC, after a nine-hour drive from Boston. The end of this trip marked the official start of their summer-long journey—biking across the country in an effort to rethink education as part of the Spokes America team, a collaboration with edX and Teach for America.

Spokes was founded in 2013 by two MIT students, Claire O’Connell ’14 and Turner Bohlen ’14, as a way to combine their interests in biking and teaching. O’Connell and Bohlen brought on Philip Daniel ’13, Titiaan Palazzi, and Jeff Prouty ’14 along with a few students at Harvard and one from Columbia for their first cross-country trip. This year’s team includes two students from MIT and five from Harvard. Together, they will bike across the country from Washington, DC, to San Francisco and along the way, hold 12 learning festivals to incite a passion for STEM education in children across the country through hands-on, project- and exploration-based teaching methods.


Drew Bent ’18(right) teaching a computer science workshop

The learning festivals are located in mostly rural communities at schools, libraries, engineering spaces, and home-school networks for students in grades 5-12 and feature three different workshops. The computer science workshop shows students how to program using Scratch (the digital programming language that came out of the MIT Media Lab), the mechanical engineering workshop shows students how to build and launch model rockets, and the electrical engineering workshop shows students how to build a small robot. The Spokes team knows they can’t teach the kids everything they need to know about programming or robotics, but their goal is to get them excited about something they may not have been exposed to in this way before.

They’ve only held three festivals and already they can see the value in their work. “The most rewarding part of the journey is seeing how our workshops make a difference in the lives of our students,” says Troncoso. At their first stop in Hazard, KY, several students ran across issues with their robots and weren’t able to complete them. “When the students came back the next day,” says Bent, “we were surprised to see that their robots were working—they’d gone home and spent the whole night fixing the problems.”

The results they have had from the teaching portion of their trip is just the beginning—they are thrilled at the opportunity to get to bike across the country, push themselves physically and mentally, and see the US from a very different vantage point. “We try to show the students how dedicated we are,” says Bent. “We come with our bikes and we actually use the bikes in the workshops. It means a lot to them that we traveled to their towns from half-way across the country, especially given that some of them traveled up to three hours to get to us.”

Spokes is one of several student clubs and teams supported by the Edgerton Center. The team has gotten national recognition, with coverage from The Associated Press as well as many local newspaper and television channels. Follow their blog to see how the trip is going.


In this Slice of MIT podcast, recorded at the 2015 South by Southwest Interactive festival, five MIT alumni discuss how their work and research are tackling these questions in innovative ways. Listen at

Data is everywhere—nearly anything can be represented by a number. In its simple form, data tells a story backed by numerical truth. But data is rarely simple or pure—and we have access to more data than any time in history.

So how can we make sense of this never-ending wave? And how can we better understand data and use it solve real-world problems? In this Slice of MIT podcast, recorded at the 2015 South by Southwest Interactive festival, five MIT alumni discuss how their work and research are tackling these questions in innovative ways. (Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.)

You’ll hear how five-star ratings online are driven by social identity; how designers are mapping data to improve major U.S. cities; how data can affect privacy and though stagnation; and how a Jeopardy!-winning computer is discover new recipes like Italian-Pumpkin Cheesecake. (Read the “Art_of_Data” transcript.)

Featured MIT Alumni

Sinan_AralProfessor Sinan Aral PhD ’07 (@sinanaral)
Professor of Management, MIT Sloan; Chief Scientist, Humin

Aral is an expert on social networks, social media, and digital strategy who has worked with Facebook, Yahoo, the New York Times, and Nike.

Denise_ChengDenise Cheng SM ’14 (@hiDenise)
Peer Economy Expert

Cheng is an expert in civic technology and the peer economy. Denise has been featured in Harvard Business Review and on NPR.

Tiffany_ChuTiffany Chu ’10 (@tchu88)
Cofounder, Remix

Chu is a cofounder of the transit planning tool Remix. She has worked at Code for America, Zipcar, and Pixar Animation Studios.

Jacquelyn_MartinoJacquelyn Martino PhD ’06 (@jamartino)
Designer, IBM

Martino works in the IBM Watson Group, where she helps Chef Watson brings cognitive computing to consumers.

Matt_StempeckMatt Stempeck SM ’13 (@mstem)
Director of Civic Technology, Microsoft

Stempeck leads Microsoft’s strategic outreach. He has designed technologies for civic impact at non-profits, startups, and consultancies.

Chef_WatsonChef Watson* (@IBMWatson)
Computer, IBM

Watson is a computer best known for winning $1 million on Jeopardy!  More recently, he helps consumers develop creative recipes.

*—Not an MIT alumnus/ae.

Listen to podcast above or on the Alumni Association’s SoundCloud page. 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 in association with MIT’s Comparative Media Studies/Writing. For more data-related topics at MIT, visit





Game of Thrones' most memorable face.

This face takes the #1 spot for most memorable.

Guest Blogger: Adam Conner-Simons, CSAIL

With the Game of Thrones season finale this month, fans have been feverishly discussing the show and its many polarizing characters. Who’s the meanest? The sexiest? The most memorable?

For that last one, MIT scientists are on the case.

Researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) have crunched the numbers on GoT characters using a special algorithm they developed that can predict how memorable an image will be.

Check out the list below to count down Westeros’ most memorable personalities. (Surprise, surprise: thin, attractive blondes capture people’s attention.)

MIT research analyzing faces may explain why these CEOs are successful

MIT research analyzing faces may explain why these CEOs are successful–Marketwatch.

You can also upload your own photos to see how memorable you and your friends are!

The CSAIL researchers developed a collection of over 60,000 images that represents the world’s largest existing memorability dataset. Each image had received a memorability score based on human subjects’ abilities to recall them in a memory test.

The team then fed the images to its software, which analyzed the information to pick subtle trends about the features of these images that made them more or less memorable.

“As humans, we tend to remember and forget the same pictures and faces as each other, which suggests that memorable images have features that automatically make them easier to remember,” says CSAIL PhD student Aditya Khosla, who developed the dataset with CSAIL graduate student Akhil Raju ’14, MEng ’15 and MIT professors Antonio Torralba and Aude Oliva.

The research uses techniques in deep-learning, an emerging field of computer science that teaches computers how to learn tasks and find patterns on their own. In recent years, companies like Facebook and Google have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire start-ups with expertise in the topic.

This face comes in #8 on the memorability scale.

This face comes in #8 on the memorability scale.

Game of Thrones’ Most Memorable Characters (most memorable to least)

Read more about the memorability research on MIT News.


Albert Saiz, director of the Center for Real Estate, addresses students in 11.355, International Housing Econ and Finance. Image: MIT Technology Review

Albert Saiz, director of the Center for Real Estate, addresses students in 11.355,
International Housing Econ and Finance. Image: MIT Technology Review

The buildings around us, where we dwell, work, shop, learn, and play, have a profound effect on our lives, our society, and our economy.And graduates of the MIT Center for Real Estate (CRE) master’s program are having a profound effect on how those buildings are developed.

Across the United States and internationally, CRE alumni are combining efficiency and economy with social and aesthetic appeal to create new building types that win both political and community approval. They are bringing greater transparency and accessibility to real estate finance. They are applying new development paradigms in emerging nations and aging cities. And very often, they are working with a sense of higher purpose.

“Having a positive impact on the built environment is what we’re all about,” explains David Geltner, a professor of real estate finance and engineering systems. He notes that the center, founded in 1983 as part of MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning, established the first one-year master’s program in real estate development. Today CRE also offers professional development classes. Many other graduate real estate programs are in business schools, which emphasize investment and finance.

“We certainly appreciate those aspects,” says Geltner, author of Commercial Real Estate: Analysis and Investments, the most widely-cited textbook on real estate investment. “But we also speak to how cash flow represents a physical modification to the social environment. Our students are extremely entrepreneurial, and many are very successful, but they generally have an orientation toward real estate as a physical product that can make the world a better place.”

Image courtesy of MIT Technology Review

Image: MIT Technology Review

Patrick Kennedy SM ’86, for example, is pioneering the construction in San Francisco of micro-unit buildings, which can house two people in as little as 300 efficient square feet. “That’s the unit of the future, and I think it can be made more of a modular manufactured product,” says Kennedy. “I want to put San Francisco in reach of middle-class people, and the only way is innovation in housing.”

Farther north, Lisa Picard SM ’95, heads Skanska Commercial Development’s Seattle office, where she aims to “not only create value from an investment perspective but also from a community perspective.”

Catherine Polleys SM ’96, and Mark Roberts SM ’94, worked through a nonprofit industry organization to develop an index that tracks performance of real estate investment and, by extension, the health of the U.S. real estate market. Their benchmark is widely used by investors, regulators, and researchers worldwide, and it has sparked similar efforts in other regions.

Real estate development involves dozens of stakeholders and an especially broad range of disciplines, including architecture, law, politics, finance, planning, and social sciences, says CRE director Albert Saiz, a professor of urban economics and real estate. That’s why, he says, “we want our graduates to be Renaissance men and women who understand the market from every dimension.”

That’s reflected in the collaborative intellectual milieu at CRE, which annually enrolls some 25 to 30 master’s students. Typically half come from outside the US, and virtually all have hands-on experience. “We have property portfolio managers, high-end leasing agents, people who’ve worked in construction and land use and mortgage derivatives,” says Saiz. “They talk to one another in a focused, productive, noncompetitive way and gain an understanding of the reality of real estate.”

Or as the center’s advisory board chair Tod McGrath puts it, “You get the sort of education you’d be lucky to get during decades in the real world, and you get it in eight months.”

Image: MIT Technology Review

Image: MIT Technology Review

McGrath teaches the popular Real Estate Ventures class, drawing on his wide network of top-tier attorneys and other professionals. A highlight, says Michael DiMinico SM ’12, director at Boston’s King Street Properties, is an exercise that divides the class into two groups, each representing a party to a sample contract.

“You negotiate in class, before a panel of celebrity judges from across the real estate industry,” recalls DiMinico. “Afterwards everyone goes to the Muddy Charles and the judges share feedback with the students. It’s an active learning process and great for networking.”

DiMinico is co-president of the CRE’s alumni association, which Saiz cites as a leading strength of the program. In addition to providing outstanding networking opportunities and financial support—including more than $1.4 million for new facilities in Bldg. 9—the association is making CRE a global knowledge hub through events and programs. One example is The Case, a six-year-old development proposal competition for graduate students, which had to be capped at 42 teams from six countries in 2014.

Another is the Real Disruption panel discussion series, which showcases startups and innovators, drawing hundreds of attendees with technology-related topics like novel tools for leasing transactions, crowdfunding, and big data’s impact on commercial real estate. “Real Disruption grew out of alumni conversations about crowdfunding,” says founder Steve Weikal SM ’08, vice president at Now Communities, which develops “pocket neighborhoods” of smaller, sustainable homes. “I started looking around and uncovered an explosion of new real estate ventures.”

McGrath says these events boost industry engagement, which he calls “key for our next 10 years,” with dividends for students, curriculum, and research. And cultivating a sense of purpose will remain a priority in those years, Saiz adds. “Our students want to solve problems, do things, collaborate—they feel they can learn from everyone,” he says. “I’m very proud of that and want to keep fostering that culture and make it endure.”


A Thai dish of fried black scorpions and noodles in Bangkok (© Owen Franken)

A Thai dish of fried black scorpions and noodles in Bangkok (© 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.


Since 1997, the MIT Alumni Association’s Student/Alumni Externship Program has placed thousands of MIT students in short-term alumni-sponsored internships around the globe. This year the program placed more than 400 students—including 45 graduate students—at 278 companies in 16 US states and seven countries.

In 2014, a record 1,028 students applied for the program and more than 200 MIT alumni sponsored externships, including Ned Sahin SM ’03, whose company, Brain Power, hosted 11 externs.

“We’ve worked with MIT students (for the past two years),” Sahin says. “I’ve given each one a task that would be for a professional coder that has five years of industry experience—and they’re doing it.”

Brain Power is one example of the hundreds of externships offered by the Alumni Association each year. For more information on the Alumni Association’s Student/Alumni Externship Program, visit

Part one of a three-part video series.