Willis Barney ’48 was awarded France’s Legion of Honor medal honor for World War II service

A physicist and scientist who worked at Corning Glass for 40 years, Willis Barney hadn’t thought much lately about World War II—until November 6, 2015, when he received the Chevalier, France’s Legion of Honor medal, at a ceremony in New York City. The experience of receiving this distinction at 93, along with 20 other WWII veterans, has brought back a flood of memories.

A native of Syracuse, New York, Barney enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1942 and served as a radio operator on a B-17 Flying Fortress. He flew 35 missions, some over France, but mostly over Germany as the Allies pushed back against the Nazis in fights including the Battle of the Bulge.

Flying these missions was a grueling experience involving “eight or nine hours in the air at 25,000 to 30,000 feet, in a heated suit with oxygen,” he says. “It was tough to move around. It was cold, and people were shooting at you.”

We flew in formation, but if we lost an engine, we would be all by ourselves. The radio equipment allowed us to communicate with [our Allies in] Europe,” he recalls. “If you were separated, the Germans would pounce on you. It happened several times.”

After the mission it was disturbing to know you had to turn around and go through the whole thing again,” he adds. His body and mind did acclimate after a while, though, and he did not sustain any injuries during the war, a remarkable feat since his plane always came back with bullet holes.

While Barney was stationed overseas, his fiancée, Elsa, was finishing a degree in geology at Syracuse University. She wanted to pursue graduate work at MIT, so she sent an undergraduate application to Barney, who had interrupted his studies at Clarkson University to serve overseas. He and Elsa moved to Cambridge in 1945 to start classes. The development of the atomic bomb had intrigued him and drew him to the field of physics.

After they earned their degrees—Elsa received a master’s in earth and planetary science in 1947—Barney began his scientific career at Corning Glass in Corning, New York. Together, the couple raised four children.

At Corning, Barney’s research focused on electrical properties of glass and glass ceramics; he retired in 1998 as one of the company’s top scientists. In retirement, he coached high school tennis for 15 years, and he continues to play tennis and coach veterans at the VA Center in Bath, New York.

Although Elsa died in 2000, all four children were present when Barney received his Chevalier medal (rank of Knight) on Veterans Day last year. The three-hour ceremony was very personal, he says: “The French are grateful.” Each citation is read by a French high school student, who later, after pinning on the medal, kisses the recipient on both cheeks. “I’m very proud and glad that I participated,” he says.


The Sanga Market in Mali, WestAfrica (© Owen Franken)

The Sanga Market in Mali, West Africa (© 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.


Robert E. Smith ’41 at his 90th birthday.

Robert E. Smith ’41 at his 90th birthday.

When Robert E. Smith ’41 joins more than 3,800 alumni and guests on campus during MIT’s annual Tech Reunions weekend, June 2-5, he will participate in his 75th reunion—and keep his perfect attendance record. “I’ve never missed a reunion,” he says. “And I am enthusiastic that I can attend this one.”

Smith, who studied civil engineering and participated in advanced ROTC, was ordered into active duty in the U.S. Army Air Corps immediately after graduation in 1941; he served until February 1946. In the first year in the military, he taught math to navigators and bombardier cadets and later assumed administrative duties at Ellington Air Field in Houston, TX.

After WWII, he had the opportunity to take a few graduate courses at MIT under the GI Bill, so he was already in town for his fifth reunion. “It was small. We just had dinner in a restaurant, but I brought the girl I was dating.” That young lady, Eleanor Smith, who had studied voice at the New England Conservatory, would later become his wife. “We had a great time and went back for the 10th reunion in 1956,” he says.

Over the past 75 years, Mr. Smith has faithfully returned to Cambridge every five years for each of his class reunions. “It has always been a great opportunity to renew relationships with my fraternity brothers in Phi Delta Theta, my classmates in Course I, and even make new contacts with classmates I did not know when I was a student.”

One of the biggest draws to Tech Reunions has always been the music. This year he especially looks forward to attending Tech Night at Pops, the Symphony Hall concert exclusively for MIT alumni and their guests. In its 119th year, Tech Night at Pops will feature Julia Cha ’18, who will perform the first movement of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto. “I have never missed a reunion or a Pops Concert,” Smith says. And he plans to keep it that way.

Smith ’41, shortly after his graduation, in his dress white uniform.

Smith ’41, shortly after his graduation, in his dress uniform.

Smith journeyed back to campus for Tech Reunions from Pennsylvania where he had joined his father and five others in forming an engineering consulting firm in 1946. He worked there for the next 48 years, 27 as CEO. The firm, which specialized in water and sewage and highways and bridges, counted eight state transportation departments as clients.

From 1956 to 1962, the firm oversaw a joint effort by American and Vietnamese engineers and technicians under the auspices of the U.S. International Cooperation Administration. Smith’s job was to oversee the training of local Vietnamese engineers and encourage infrastructure maintenance; his group also designed and supervised the building of a major bridge over the Saigon River.

“It was an experience I value to this day,” he says. “I got to understand what it was like to live and work in another country, and made many, many friends,” including one who immigrated to the United States. “We kept in touch until he passed away about a year ago.”

Smith is the proud father of three daughters; his granddaughter Megan Goldman ’04 graduated from MIT in physics. As a volunteer, Smith enjoyed interviewing prospective students for the Admissions Office as an MIT Educational Counselor for several decades. Since retiring in 1994, he has enjoyed playing golf, reading, and keeping fit.

Registration for Tech Reunions 2016 is now closed, but you may register onsite starting Thursday, June 2. Learn more online.


The MIT Engineers softball team will play in their first Division III College World Series on Thursday, May 26. Image via MIT News.

Update: The Engineers scored two runs in the final two innings to defeat Illinois-Wesleyan, 2-0, in first round of the 2016 NCAA Division III Softball Championship. MIT (34-12) will play Messiah College on Friday, May 27, at 4:00 p.m. Visit the NCAA Live livestream page to watch game live and check out the NCAA’s MIT/Messiah Gamecenter page for updates and online discussion.

For the first time in the 40-year history of the program, the MIT Engineers softball team will play in the Division III College World Series. The Engineers (33-12) will play Illinois Wesleyan University on Thursday, May 26, at 4:00 p.m. EDT, in Salem, VA. Read the details below on how you can watch the game online or attend in-person.

Are you new to—or a few years removed from—MIT softball? No problem! Consider this a crib sheet on all things Engineers. You’ll be an MIT softball expert before Friday’s first pitch!

The game: MIT Engineers versus Illinois Wesleyan University (34-11), NCAA Division III College World Series, first round.

First pitch: Thursday, May 26, 4:00 p.m., Moyer Sports Complex, Salem, VA

How to watch/listen:

Social media: Follow the Alumni AssociationMIT Athletics, and NCAA Division III on Twitter.  Share your excitement using the hashtags #GoTech and #NCAAD3.

The Team 

Sophomore Katherine Shade’s game-ended catching helped MIT defeat WPI on May 20. Image via DAPER.

The 33-12 Engineers, who went 15-3 in NEWMAC conference play, advanced to the College World Series after sweeping WPI in a three-game series at the NCAA Softball Championship Super Regionals last weekend. [View the full season results.]

In the first game, Alexandra Marshall ’16 pitched a two-hit shutout in a 1-0 victory. In the second game, the Engineers prevailed, 2-1, thanks in part to a two-run home run from Amanda Lee ’18. Lee was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player and Marshall was named Most Outstanding Pitcher.

Earlier in May, the Engineers defeated nationally-ranked Williams College to win their first NCAA Division III Regional Championship. And during the regular session, the Engineers won 20 consecutive games, outscoring their opponents, 121-23, during that span.

Sixth-year Head Coach Jennifer Williams has led the Engineers to double-digit wins in five of the last six years and guided the team to its first 20-win season in 2015. Marshall was named team MVP and NEWMAC Pitcher of the Year, while centerfielder Jasmin Joseph ’18 was named to the NEWMAC all-conference first team. Catcher Tori Jensen ’16 was named an Academic All-America.  [View the full roster.]

The Players

Senior Alexandra Marshall 47 career wins are the most in the program’s history. Image via MIT News.

The left-handed Marshall compiled a 25-10 record and is the first pitcher in program history to win 20 games in a single season. Her 1.05 ERA and 252 strikeouts are nationally ranked in the top-10. In her career, Marshall broke the Engineers’ career record for wins (47), games (88), innings (485.2), and strikeouts (569).

First-year pitchers Ravenne Nasser ’19 and Amber Banhemel ’19 combined for 30 games, 8 wins, 74.2 innings, and a 2.65 ERA.

On offense, Joseph led the Engineers with a .427 batting average, 67 hits, a .474 on-base percentage, and 16 stolen bases. Jensen and shortstop Amanda Lee ’18 tied for the team lead in home runs (3) and Jensen led the team in RBI (29).

Lee and infielder Zoe Hinton ’18 combined for 46 RBI, while catcher Ali Trueworthy ’17, infielder Monica Shifflet ’17, and outfielder Katherine Shade ’18 all finished with more than 30 hits. [View all 2016 stats.]

The opponent: The 34-11 Illinois Wesleyan Titans defeated Becker College, 2 games to 1, to advance to the College World Series. Six Titans were named to the All-Great Lakes Region teams.

Trivia: Did you know?

  • Assistant coach Amanda Jason ’08 played four years for the Engineers from 2005–2008.
  • Head coach Jen Williams is also MIT’s Director of Varsity Strength and Conditioning, serving the Engineers’ 33 varsity teams.
  • The Engineers program has three no-hitters in its history: Amber Crabbe ’00, in 1998; Leah Bogsted ’08 in 2005; and a perfect game from Ellie Fodor ’15 in 2015.


Working as an urban planner for 25 years, James Rojas MCP ’91, SM ’91 noticed early on that there was an issue with his industry—a lack of diversity. “I began to notice that we had a very hard time engaging women, people of color, immigrants, and youth during the planning process,” Rojas recalls. “It’s a very male-dominated profession.” This lack of diversity meant fewer people engaged in the planning process for their own cities as well as a lack of new planning ideas from people from different backgrounds.

Workshoppers the the MIT Open House. Photo: James Rojas.

Workshoppers the the MIT Open House. Photo: James Rojas.

Committed to increasing diversity in urban planning, Rojas had an idea for how to do it—with art. “I was at an art gallery and noticed how inclusive art was, how good it was at involving a diverse group of people,” he says. Rojas believes one reason art draws a diverse crowd is the emotional connection to the work, which engages many people. Rojas says this emotional connection isn’t just limited to art. “Art is very visceral. Cities are also very visceral,” he says.

Armed with the idea of bringing art into urban planning and connecting to emotions, Rojas launched a series of workshops. In each workshop, participants—who range from kindergarteners to art aficionados—are tasked with building cities with found objects like blocks and small toys.

“I have people first start by building a place from a favorite childhood memory,” Rojas says. “It helps people understand what it is about certain places that makes them matter to them,” he says. Rojas says once people connect with what is important to them in these special places, the next challenge comes in the form of collaboration. “Most people have an idea of how to create something just fine, but don’t think about how it impacts other people,” he says.

Domed creations at the Open House. Photo: James Rojas.

Domed creations at the Open House. Photo: James Rojas.

Working in teams, workshop participants then craft their own city. The goal of these workshops is to get more people involved in urban planning by having a seat at the table, but also to highlight the profession for any would-be urban planners. “You can definitely identify the future planners,” Rojas says of the workshop groups.

While the workshops were designed to help teach a diverse group of people about urban planning, Rojas believes planners can also learn something from the workshops. “Urban planners tend to see cities as a problem to be solved, but other people see cities as a place that impacts their lives, experiences, and memories,” he says.

Rojas holds workshops around the country, recently making an appearance at MIT’s Open House in April, where young children were invited to build the campus of their dreams with just one requirement—lots of domes.


Marie Law Adams

Marie Law Adams MArch ’06

When most people see urban industrial sites, such as sand and salt piles or neglected land under highway overpasses, they don’t think of them as opportunities to serve the local community. However, Marie Law Adams sees endless possibilities in those spaces. She and her husband, Dan Adams, founded Landing Studio in 2005 to work on sustainable rehabilitation of those underutilized sites for public use.

Architects don’t typically design for spaces like that, but they should, she says: “We work fairly closely with MassDOT to figure out what their maintenance and operation requirements are and look for ways to choreo­graph those in relation to public access.”

One of their biggest ongoing projects has involved an industrial road-salt facility in Chelsea, Massachusetts. The space, which is filled with salt during the winter, has been transformed so that when the salt is gone, it becomes a public recreation site. The park was completed in 2014.

“There are places along Boston Harbor where you get dense residential areas, like in Chelsea, and then also really heavily industrial areas,” says Adams. “For a lot of years, those were always very contentious relationships between the local neighborhoods and the sites of global industry. We do a lot of work to figure out how to productively design the relationship between those industrial sites and local urban ­context.”

Adams is also working on repurposing underutilized space beneath an elevated stretch of Interstate 93 where the South End and South Boston meet. The design for the space, which has ample natural light and water, includes a maintenance access area and landscape features that support integrated stormwater management. The site will also include basketball courts, dog parks, and other recreational spaces.

“At Landing Studio, we often find that our work is not always the design of buildings but often industrial operations—seeing how trucks move through an environment and how that creates different kinds of landscape conditions,” she says. “And a lot of the sites we work with change over the course of the year.”

Adams’s studio was a winner of the 2015 Architectural League Prize and one of the winners of the Design Biennial Boston in 2015, which included an installation titled Marginal on the Rose Kennedy Greenway, a re-created wharf made of material salvaged from Boston Harbor.

Adams and her husband live in Cambridge with their two cats and enjoy running.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2016 issue of MIT Technology Review magazine. 


Guy Consolmagno, Jesuit, MIT, Vatican, Science Fiction

Guy Consolmagno ’74, SM ’75 was named director of the Vatican Observatory in 2015.

As researchers at the Vatican Observatory—and the only two MIT alumni in Vatican City—Jesuit brothers Guy Consolmagno ’74, SM ’75, and Robert Macke ’96 integrate astronomical research with religion at an institution that dates back more than 400 years.

“It’s a fascinating mixture of worlds,” says Consolmagno, the observatory’s director. “On the surface, faith and science can seem very different, but much like being an MIT student, it reminds people that all the clichés don’t always fit.”

The observatory traces its origins to a group that Pope Gregory XIII commissioned to study the implications of the Gregorian (Western) calendar, which was introduced in 1582. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the papacy and the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) operated separate observatories. Pope Leo XIII merged the operations in 1891 and founded the Vatican Observatory, which today is located in Castel Gandolfo—a scenic town 15 miles south of Rome—and has a satellite location at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

The observatory has 10 full-time researchers plus nine adjunct scholars, and it collaborates with scientists from around the globe, says Macke.

“The observatory exists to show the world that the Catholic church supports science,” says Consolmagno. “Good science is part of the heritage of religious faith. We’re trying to understand how the world works.”

The observatory’s scientists research areas like stellar evolution, galaxy clusters, and quantum gravity. Consolmagno focuses on asteroids and meteorites, and Macke studies meteorites’ physical properties.


Br. Robert Macke ’96 is curator of the Vatican’s collection of more than 1,200 meteorites.

Macke, who joined the observatory in 2013, serves as curator of the Vatican’s collection of more than 1,200 meteorites and has studied more than 50 moon rocks obtained from NASA’s Apollo missions.

A lifelong love of astrophysics led Macke to MIT, but it wasn’t until he arrived on campus that he began exploring his religious faith in depth.

“MIT forces you to think about important questions—it’s really where my faith was formed,” he says. “I had friends on campus of all faiths and no faith, and we’d have conversations for hours, and that gave me a reason to explore my own beliefs.”

Macke—who also holds master’s degrees in physics, philosophy, and theology, plus a doctorate in physics from the University of Central Florida—became a member of the Society of Jesus in 2001. He has encountered a few Christians who are surprised to hear about the Vatican’s interest in science but says the larger issue is battling the cultural stereotype that science and faith can’t complement each other.

“I’ve never seen any conflict or problem with being a person of faith and being a scientist,” he says. “In one sense, my faith is why I pursue science. It’s the foundation for my appreciation of the universe.”

Consolmagno was named director of the observatory in 2015. (He celebrated his appointment with Pope Francis over lunch.) A well-known spokesperson for the principle that science and faith can coexist, he has appeared on The Colbert Report and authored 10 books, including Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? … and Other Questions from the Astronomers’ In-box at the Vatican Observatory. He is as much a fan of science fiction as he is of real science—he transferred to MIT, after one year at Boston College, thanks in part to its massive SF collection.

“Science is fun—it is part of the reason I was attracted to MIT,” he says. “There is a joy you get when you do science and do it right.”

In 2014, Consolmagno was the first member of a religious order to receive the Carl Sagan Medal, which recognizes outstanding communication by a planetary scientist to the general public. He often finds himself talking about both scientific and ethical issues in astronomy.

“Every time we land a spacecraft on a planet, we’re literally changing the planet,” he says. “And when we place a telescope, we’re altering the ecology of the mountaintop we’re building it on. How much do we have the right to change the planets and mountains that we visit?”

Consolmagno and Macke first met at a scientific conference in 1995. “I actually noticed the brass rat first and the clerical collar second,” Macke says.

Vatican Observatory researchers split their time between Rome and Tucson, and all are expected to fulfill their clerical obligations such as being active in the community and local parishes. And according to Consolmagno, whether they’re pursuing faith or science, the end goal is the same: to be more aware of our place in the universe.

“Faith and science have so many parallels,” he says. “For every answer you uncover, you encounter five more questions. That’s why we’re doing this research—for the joy of discovering the universe. And maybe to show up the guys at Caltech.”

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2016 issue of MIT Technology Review magazine. 


A Burmese Fisherman, Yawnghwe, Shan State, Myanmar (© Erwin H. Straehley).

A Burmese Fisherman, Yawnghwe, Shan State, Myanmar (© Erwin H. Straehley).

Erwin H. (Terry) Straehley is retired, and lives in Santa Barbara, CA . View more of his photography on his website. View other alumni photos of the week.


Mapping_the_HeavensIn her new book Mapping the Heavens: The Radical Scientific Ideas That Reveal the Cosmos, Priyamvada Natarajan ’91, SM ’11 tells the stories of Albert Einstein’s troubles with gravity, an expanding universe, and dark matter. Arguably the most brilliant man of the century, Einstein was repeatedly proven wrong by his contemporaries and struggled to align his theories with new advances in observational physics.

For Natarajan, a professor of physics at Yale University, Einstein is just one of a cast of characters in 20th century astronomy and cosmology whose struggles are at times amusing and at other times most inspiring.

Priyamvada Natarajan ’91, SM ’11

Priyamvada Natarajan ’91, SM ’11

“If you’re living at this moment in time, we are so fortunate that the pace of discovery is so rapid, it’s reshaping our view of the universe,” says Natarajan. “Pretty much every decade there’s been a dramatic change. It seemed to be that this was a moment to sit back and think a little bit about how dramatic these changes have been and where they leave us.”

Detailing the advances of each of the past several decades, Natarajan asks the big questions about the origins of matter and energy and seeks answers from her contemporaries in the field. Natarajan’s book is also a chronicle of the changing nature of academia in the past century. The introduction of big science to her field brought about scientific collaborations involving hundreds or thousands of like minds.

“What is fascinating in the last 100 years in cosmology is the interplay between ideas and instruments,” she says. “The power that you get out of technology that has enabled us to see better, measure, and capture better. In a way astronomy is the original big data science. The role that technology has played in this is remarkable. If you look at the open problems today, for example dark matter and dark energy, at the moment the impetus for both of them has come from data. They weren’t theoretically predicted to be there.”

Listen to the 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.


The Human Factor shares interviews with the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS) faculty and graduates, online stories that broaden the understanding of global issues through the lens of political, cultural, and economic disciplines.

SHASS is influential on campus and off–some 25 percent of each undergraduate student’s required courses fall within its domain. The school is home to high-impact disciplines such as the world’s top-ranked graduate economics department and its Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, which has improved poverty programs by measuring their impact scientifically. The Comparative Media Studies/Writing is home to digital media creators and Pulitzer-prize winning authors. The Music program, populated with leading composers, offers a a conservatory-level track plus a cornucopia of performance opportunities.

Dip into the Human Factor with these excerpts:

Erica Caple James

Erica Caple James

Anthropologist Erica Caple James on Medical Humanities
The associate professor of anthropology describes how culture and behavior impact illness, treatment, and health outcomes

“As a medical and psychiatric anthropologist, I study historical and cross-cultural understanding of illness, healing, and bodily experience as they are inflected by power inequalities, health and healthcare disparities, changing conceptions of race and gender, and political and economic insecurities…

Q:  What economic, political, and cultural issues do you think most need to be addressed to make progress toward MIT’s global health care goals?

The most significant challenges to global health are actually conditions that are largely lifestyle or ‘behaviorally driven’ diseases in contexts where everyday life is insecure. In developing contexts, lack of access to affordable pharmaceuticals and medical technologies, medical infrastructures weakened by political conflict and legacies of colonial and authoritarian regimes, and insufficient medical personnel, remain significant components of any quest to improve health and reduce the cost of care, especially for the poorest.”

Tom Wolf PhD '81

Tom Wolf PhD ’81

Interview with Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf PhD ’81

The governor, who studied political science at MIT, sees a key role for his discipline in solving global issues

“The search for the answers to society’s most pressing questions always involves a political science dimension. Politics is above all a very practical discipline. It’s the art of figuring out what you want to do, how you’re going to do it, and how you’re going to convince others to go along with what you want to do. By the way, that’s pretty much how the world as a whole works.”

Q: In your view, what are the unique advantages of studying political science at MIT?

The Institute is famous for its pragmatic problem-solving vision, and at MIT, I learned how to view politics through a pragmatic lens. It taught me to rely less on dogma, ideology, cant, or pure theory in trying to understand real-world political processes. To a certain extent, this was consistent with MIT’s practical academic culture, built as it was on a foundation of engineering and science. This is also one of the reasons why public policy studies was — and maybe still is — such a big part of the political science curriculum….”

Anne McCants

Anne McCants

Economic Historian Anne McCants on Innovation and Opportunity

The professor of history describes the impact of poverty.

Q: What economic, sociopolitical, or cultural issues do you think most need to be addressed to make progress toward the global economic goals MIT has identified?

“We would go a long way to addressing our goals if we put a real priority on child homelessness, child hunger, child exposure to environmental toxins, child poverty, the emotional neglect (or worse) of children, and prenatal and childhood access to preventive health care.

“We fret endlessly (as we well might) about the quality of our schools and admission to and curriculum in our universities. Yet we too rarely talk about the damage that social exclusion and economic inequality intermingled with absolute poverty do before children come anywhere near such institutions.”