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.



MIT has a secretive resident in Random Hall: the Milk. For two decades, this carton of milk has migrated from floor to floor; since it no longer requires refrigeration, it could appear in the laundry room, on top of the piano, or in the common area. In honor of its recent 21st birthday, Slice investigated this fascinating entity, its history, and its science.

The Milk. Photo: Victor Lopez

The Milk. Photo: Victor Lopez

Justin O. Cave ‘98 was the original owner of the Milk, which he purchased in 1994 in a half-hearted attempt to make mac and cheese. “When I tell this story,” he says, “I say I probably forgot the butter, but if you talked to people who know me, they’d probably suspect that the mac and cheese was more likely.” Life and Rush Week intervened, and the Milk sat neglected. Ten months past its expiration date, Cave re-discovered it and decided that his floor should throw it a birthday. Then, he says, they were stuck with it. “We can’t throw it out just after we had a birthday party for it. That would just be rude!”

Attention around the Milk intensified in 1995 when Random residents campaigned for it to win that year’s Ugliest Manifestation on Campus (UMOC) award. They offered to bring the Milk to the competition, but “that argument ultimately did not win the day—something about hazardous materials,” says Cave. So residents dressed in a Milk costume and served as its emissary. The Milk won that year, and “once that had happened, it became its own little celebrity—it can never be gotten rid of now.”

And thus, the Milk was allowed to remain, despite some strange-smelling changes that started to take place. When it ate through its carton, the residents kept the liquid in a plastic container. “At some point as a joke we actually did negotiate on behalf of the people of Earth a mutual non-aggression treaty with it,” says Cave. The Milk became a fixture of Random Hall. It won UMOC again in 1998, 2000, and 2003.

Nina Davis-Millis, housemaster of Random Hall, says the Milk is now a mostly harmless presence. “I don’t think it has any odor to it anymore. I am told that it used to smell very bad,” she says. “I definitely try not to get too close to it.”

These days the Milk, now a brownish-orange liquid, sits quietly. Technically, it may no longer be milk, according to Steven C. Murphy, fluid milk expert in the Milk Quality Improvement Program at Cornell University. “There likely are living organisms in some form or another, but it may have become so toxic or nutrient deficient that little growth is occurring and that few actually survived,” he says.

What would happen if ingested? Nothing good, according to Murphy. “It is possible that some toxic or illness-causing agents are in the mix, or it could be benign. I would not use it on my Cheerios.”

Toxic or not, Random Hall would never even dream of getting rid of the Milk now. Davis-Millis says, “We just think of it as a mascot—or millions of little mascots—run amok in there. I guess you can think of it in terms of when good science goes bad, or as far as Random Hall goes, as appreciating the random moment. It began with one act of forgetfulness and then a year later a friend saying, this could be trash, but let’s make it treasure.”

Cave is still shocked at the persistence of the Milk. “I figured it would be gone a year or two after I was gone,” he says. Every time he hears about the Milk, he and his friends get excited. “It’s still around! It’s older than my kids!”

“I just hope that they haven’t lost the mutual non-aggression treaty,” he added. “At some point it will become sentient, and, if it does, I hope that it’s kind and loving.”



Angela Bassa ’03

Over 90 percent of all of the data in the world was created in the last two years. It’s Angela Bassa’s job to figure out what that might mean. A 2003 graduate, Bassa is manager of the data science team at EnerNOC, a provider of cloud-based energy intelligence software (EIS). But long before her role at EnerNOC, Bassa was already deep in data. “I’ve always been using data to try and explain what is happening, why it’s happening, when it will happen again,” she says.

To offer their cloud-based service that helps to increase energy productivity, EnerNOC needs tons of data. Bassa and her team work to turn messy data about everything from weather to energy use into information that can be used by customers. “Our data is made up of weather models, consumption tracking, tariff structures, geographic nuances, regulations, and much more,” she explains. Once Bassa gets the vital information from mountains of data, she needs to share it with customers in a way that makes sense. That’s where data visualizations come in. “Visualization is a key component of communicating findings, and talented data scientists are well-versed in different methods of communicating and visualizing outcomes,” she says.


Bassa used data to demonstrate some of EnerNOC’s software features.

Bassa and her team use several tools to explain complex data in visual form. For example, when explaining a new weather normalization feature for their software that allows customers to see if facilities are using energy effectively no matter the weather, Bassa relied on graphs to share huge data sets with clients. “Communicating the complexity of weather impacts on energy consumption in a simple and intuitive visual is incredibly valuable,” she says. Clients can then see how weather affects energy consumption.

A Course 18 grad, Bassa was a natural fit for a data science role, but says that was never her plan. “I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up,” she says. But Bassa always had an interest in math, science, and storytelling—the perfect mix for a would-be data scientist.

“I like to think of data science as a cross between three skills: math, computer science, and communications,” she says. The process of learning to break down problems in MIT courses also helped to ready Bassa for data science. “I’m sure grads from any course at MIT are well-prepared for a role in data science,” she explains. Bassa even has the data to prove that—MIT alumni make up the majority of her data science team.


Sh2-240 Spaghetti Nebula Narrowband Ha (© Jack Liu)

Jack Liu is an astrophotographer, and retired engineering manager, living in Silicon Valley, CA, See more of his photos on his websiteView other alumni photos of the week.