According to MIT records, there are more than 4,400 married MIT couples. And since MIT alumni are prone to mention that MIT was the one place where they felt surrounded by like-minded individuals, it’s no surprise that many alumni end up meeting their spouses at the Institute.
You’ll hear a story about an East Campus romance between two next door neighbors, a story about first dates, and MIT’s unwritten November Rule. You’ll also hear how Match Day brought two medical students more than just residency placements. Plus, two MIT alumni talk about how even the best laid wedding plans can be stymied by the PhD thesis writing process. (Read the podcast transcript.)
David Rush ’07 at the MIT Juggle Mania event in 2006.
David Rush ’07 is an ambitious juggler. He doesn’t just want to break one Guinness World Record for juggling this month. He wants to break two. On February 6, the Boise-based Rush set a world record with 370 consecutive catches in one minute, while juggling five balls. (The previous record was 330.) And he’ll attempt to set another record—“most juggling head rolls in one minute”—later this month.
“These records are a lot easier to break when you’re alone in your living room,” Rush jokes. “And a lot harder to do when you’re in front of hundreds of people.”
Rush, who has been called the “world’s fastest five-ball juggler,” broke the speed juggling record at the Boise State Engineering and Science Festival in front of more than 500 people. After his Guinness attempt, Rush spoke to the crowd, primarily students and parents, about the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education, which he documents on his website DavidRush4STEM.com.
“Juggling or STEM are not that interesting by themselves as lecture topics,” he says. “But when you add them together with a story the audience can relate to, it helps create a message that’s memorable.”
Rush’s dueling passions of juggling and STEM became perfectly aligned at MIT. A Course 6-1 major, his interactive virtual juggling simulator, built with Chris Wilkens ’07, MEng ’08, won the George C. Sherman prize for best undergraduate project in Electrical Engineering and Computer during his junior year.
“During my freshman year IAP, I took a juggling class taught by Jacob Abernathy (’02),” Rush says. “After that, juggling ended up being a much bigger part of my time at MIT than I expected.”
Rush juggles his record-setting 370 ball with one second left in the February 6 performance.
He joined the MIT Juggling Club, which is the oldest continuously operating drop-in juggling club in world, and founded by Boston College Professor Arthur Lewbel ’78, PhD ’74, who encouraged Rush to start the spinoff MIT Student Juggling Club. He also juggled at the 2004 inauguration of MIT President Susan Hockfield.
“I have a lucky MIT shirt that I wore when I set my Guinness records,” he says. “I’ll be wearing later this month, too. Why fix what isn’t broke?”
In addition to his juggling exploits—he has ran five half-marathons and one full marathon, all while juggling—Rush is a product manager at Cradlepoint, a wireless router and software provider that was recognized as the fastest-growing private company in Idaho in 2015. He cites his MIT degree, and the STEM knowledge that came with it, as integral to his professional success, and hopes more young learners will pursue careers in STEM.
Rush (left) juggles around President Susan Hockfield at her MIT Inauguration block party.
“There is a huge shortage of computer science programmers out there right now,” he says. “And the production of STEM based jobs is far outpacing the number of STEM-degree graduates. We need to encourage students to get a better understanding of how coding works.”
When Amanda Parkes SM ’04, PhD ’09 was young, she was torn between learning about physics and reading an issue of Vogue cover to cover. Luckily Parkes has found a way to forge a career where science and technology meet fashion, revolutionizing both the fashion and tech industries.
Take stilettos. The women’s shoe has gone essentially unchanged since they debuted in the 1950s—despite their notoriously painful reputation. Parkes is partnering with Thesis Couture, a startup led by scientists, astronauts, and surgeons, to completely redesign the shoes. And that doesn’t mean just adding a more comfortable sole—they’re changing the shape and structure in a method more similar to designing the aerodynamics of a car.
Thesis’s stiletto prototype
“We started from a finite element analysis perspective and we look at the bodies of women,” says Parkes. “We look at all the statics and mechanics, dynamic loading of the structure, lateral stability. We also have an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in feet and looks at the damage of what is really happening in a standard Stiletto.”
High heels are currently built by assembling various materials around a central metal plate. Thesis Couture is using advanced polymers as the base of the structure, instead of metal, surrounded by thermoplastic polyurethane to cushion the foot.
Working with Thesis Couture to create their high-performance stiletto is just one of many partnerships that Parkes is involved in at Manufacture New York, a high-technology fashion and textiles research and development space where she serves as fashion technologist and CTO. The combined manufacturing innovation center, fashion incubator, and accelerator space brings together hundreds of innovators in both the fashion and technology industries—inspiring collaboration and creation, much like the Media Lab where Parkes spent more than six years earning her MIT degrees.
Parkes first developed an interest in the relationship between physical objects and connectivity during her time in the tangible media group in the Media Lab. “I was interested in how the technology of things like conductive thread and LEDs and textiles [can offer] a whole new range of expression and kind of interaction around the body,” says Parkes. “I’d always really loved fashion and I sew, so looking at wearable technology was something that was of interest to me even though it wasn’t my direct thesis.”
Parkes moved to New York and founded her own studio called Skinteractive in 2010 and has been acting as a fashion and technology consultant ever since. In one project, she worked with Logan Munro ’07 on the smart jewelry, Ringly. “I sort of became this translator between technology companies and technology processes and fashion companies,” says Parkes.
In the past 12 years, Parkes has seen huge changes in the industry. Today, while she does work on the more standard wearable electronics and devices, the products on the horizon include new and exciting things like washable flexible circuits, sustainable bio fabrics, and fiber batteries.
The best news, besides more comfortable footwear, is that Manufacture New York is about to expand. Thanks to recent funding via a grant through the New York City Economic Development Corporation, the group will be opening a 160-square-foot facility in Brooklyn. “We have this building filled with designers and technologists who want to come together to make amazing things to transform the way we live in relation to our technology and what we wear,” says Parkes. “There’s not enough communication between fashion and tech right now and if we can start to create exposure and create partnerships between these two worlds, we open a whole new angle on fashion manufacturing for the 21st century.”
Some of today’s hottest new technologies are at work at MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research. Heard of CRISPR-Cas9? It’s among the new techniques accelerating biomedical research worldwide. McGovern investigator Feng Zhang, a bioengineer with appointments at the Broad Institute and the MIT’s Brain and Cognitive Science department, developed key components of the editing tool used on the genomes of living cells and organisms.
What does CRISPR-Cas9 do? First, CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) can replace damaged genes with good ones by using RNA to target a bad area and an enzyme called Cas9 to snip it out; it can also target many genes at once. Zhang, who has been called the “most transformative biologist of his generation,” is using the technique to study complex disorders, such as psychiatric and neurological diseases, that are caused by multiple genetic and environmental risk factors and are difficult to model using conventional methods.
Advanced imaging is an important tool for brain research. Find out why McGovern investigator Rebecca Saxe, pictured with her infant son, decided to create this mother and child MRI.
During Zhang’s graduate studies at Stanford, he contributed to a project led by neuroscience professor Karl Deisseroth and graduate student Ed Boyden ’99, MEng ’99 on the development of optogenetics, a method of slipping light-sensitive proteins into neurons. As a result, Boyden and other scientists use light to activate specific neural circuits and reveal which circuits control specific behaviors, a way to search for the roots of illnesses such as schizophrenia.
Boyden, who also has appointments at the MIT Media Lab and the departments of brain and cognitive science and biological engineering, recently won a Breakthrough Prize for the development of optogenetics, which he is using to explore potential treatments for epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and mood disorders.
Zhang and Boyden are among the McGovern’s 20 principal investigators who work to understand how the brain functions and to address brain disorders. Founded in 2000 thanks to a gift from Patrick J. McGovern and Lore Harp McGovern, the McGovern Institute researchers work on developmental disorders along the lifespan. Autism and dyslexia, for example, appear in early childhood. Psychiatric diseases such as depression and schizophrenia are typically diagnosed in teens or early adulthood. And Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and macular degeneration tend to be challenges of later life.
“Statistics say one in four families are going to be affected by a brain disorder of some form,” says McGovern director Robert Desimone in a recent video. And that’s one reason the McGovern Institute’s multi-disciplinary neuroscientists are working on these widespread problems. “I think in my lifetime I will see serious improvements in our treatments of brain disorders.”
Learn more about the McGovern Institute including new research, explainer videos, emerging technologies, lectures, online or via newsletter updates.
The MIT Hyperloop Team accepts the award for Best Overall Design at the Hyperloop Pod Competition’s Design Weekend
Want to travel at the speed of sound? Elon Musk does and he’s engaging student teams around the world to design a new form of transportation vehicle capable of traveling that fast. Naturally MIT students were quick to respond and, in fact, won the first design round.
The Hyperloop Pod Competition focuses on the design of a pod, a prototype vehicle that will travel inside the Hyperloop track—an air-evacuated above-ground tube intended to connect major cities. At least that’s the vision that Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, has been advancing since 2013.
The MIT Hyperloop team entered Design Weekend, the first stage of judging, in late January at Texas A&M feeling confident and came away on top—their design for the pod was named best overall design out of the more than 100 teams.
A rendering of the MIT Hyperloop pod
“It’s important to us that we perform well in this competition both to represent MIT and to have the opportunity to contribute to what could be the future of transportation,” says team captain Philippe Kirschen, a master’s student in aeronautics and astronautics. “The thought that technology we are developing now could be part of a full-scale Hyperloop one day is tremendously exciting.”
The MIT Hyperloop pod is focused on three key technologies, high-speed, low-drag levitation, lateral control, and fail-safe emergency braking. Chris Merian, chief engineer and master’s student in mechanical engineering, showed a panel of industry experts and faculty advisors the effectiveness of their design through CAD drawings and specifications, simulations, cost of build, and timeline. Kirschen says that their team’s focus and commitment to design a pod that is safe, scalable, and feasible is what won the judges over and, specifically, their method of levitation—electrodynamic suspension.
Although Musk’s original idea proposed that the pod be lifted off the ground using air bearings, the MIT team has chosen a different way to keep it off the ground. “We chose electrodynamic levitation because it is massively simpler and more scalable,” says Merian.
Greg Monahan, levitation lead and master’s student in mechanical engineering, says that their decision to use electrodynamic suspension came after exploring several methods of levitation. “It’s entirely passive so we can design a permanent magnet array, stick it to the bottom, and use the motion of the pusher to generate our own lift so we don’t have to come up with complex control systems.” Monahan said that once they chose the levitation method, they did a lot of simulation and parametric studies to determine the best design for their system—settling on a design that set them apart in the end. “We had one of the lowest drag levitation systems,” says Monahan.
The team—which includes 25 students from aeronautics, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and business management—will spend the next five months building and testing their pod. The final prototype will participate in a trial run on the one-mile Hyperloop Test Track at the SpaceX headquarters in California for the final Competition Weekend in June.
MIT Professor Joseph Jacobson PhD ‘93 and his team invented e-ink.
Nearly one-third of the 2016 National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF) inductees hail from MIT. NIHF, in partnership with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), is recognizing 16 individuals, described as having a revolutionary impact on the nation, at a May 5 ceremony in Washington DC.
Three of the MIT alumni worked together to create electronic ink. The two others worked on projects involving Internet advances, such as spanning tree protocol (STP), and the computer graphics break though, Sketchpad.
Jonathan (JD) Albert ′97, a mechanical engineering major and Barrett Comiskey ′97, a mathematics major, worked with MIT professor Joseph Jacobson PhD ′93 to develop a changeable display for as many books as could be stored in a device’s memory. Albert, Comiskey, and Jacobson combined their skills from different disciplines and in January 1997 they completed a working prototype of electronic ink, which is the technology cornerstone of the e-reader and e-book industry.
What are they doing today? Jacobson is head of the MIT Media Lab’s Molecular Machines research group. Commiskey has relocated to Asia to work on bridging the digital divide for billions of people in developing countries. Albert teaches product design, engineering, and entrepreneurship at the University of Pennsylvania and is the director of engineering for Bresslergroup, a product design and development firm.
Internet Advances: STP, reliable and scalable routing
Radia Perlman ’73, SM ’76, PhD ’88 invented STP, which transformed the Ethernet.
Radia Perlman ′73, SM ′76, PhD ′88 has played a key role in driving the growth and development of the Internet. Her best known contribution came in 1985: the spanning tree protocol (STP), which transformed Ethernet from a technology limited to a few hundred nodes confined in a single building, into a technology that can create large networks. Perlman holds over 100 patents and has received many awards, including induction into the National Academy of Engineering, the Internet Hall of Fame, and lifetime achievement awards from ACM’s SIGCOMM and Usenix.
What is she doing now? Perlman, author of Interconnections, a widely read text on network routing and bridging, and coauthor of Network Security, is currently a fellow at EMC Corporation.
Sketchpad: A Human-Machine Graphical Communication System
Ivan Sutherland PhD ′63, considered the father of computer graphics, invented Sketchpad, a human-machine graphical communication system, which broke new ground in 3D computer modeling, visual simulation, and human-computer interaction. Sutherland’s invention enabled users to design and draw in real time directly on the computer display, using a light pen.
What is he doing today? Sutherland leads research in asynchronous systems—computers with no global clock—at Portland State University’s Asynchronous Research Center, which he founded in 2008 with Marly Roncken.
A few years ago, Shireen Taleghani MBA ‘13, who is gluten sensitive, had an idea to make her life and the lives of others easier. She wanted to develop a sensor device that could help identify foods with the sometimes-troublesome protein gluten.
The Nima sensor
“I was at a wedding and asked the waitress if the appetizers were gluten free,” she explains. “The waitress responded by asking ‘How allergic are you?’ I thought then how much easier it would be if I just had a way of knowing what was really in my food,” she remembers.
To turn her idea into reality, Taleghani needed help. “I knew what I wanted to do required a great deal of chemical and mechanical engineering knowledge,” she says. Taleghani reached out to a friend at MIT Sloan who connected her with Scott Sundvor ‘12, an undergrad student studying mechanical engineering, who also happened to have a gluten sensitivity.
Sundvor and Taleghani began working together on their company glutenTech—now 6SensorLabs—in advance of the MIT 100k Competition, where they walked away with two wins—the audience choice award and meeting Jingqing Zhang SM ’12, PhD ’13, who would become the lead scientist for the company. To further develop their idea, Taleghani and Sundvor worked with MIT Global Founders’ Skills Accelerator (GFSA) as well as MIT’S Venture Mentoring Service. “Every resource we could possibly use, we used,” Taleghani says.
The sensor, named Nima, is a small triangle with an opening for a “consumable,” a food sample placed in a cartridge. After sliding the sample into the sensor, it
6SensorLabs celebrates their TechCrunch Battlefield win.
takes just a few minutes for Nima to deem a food as safe or unsafe by displaying a smiley or frowny face on the display. Foods are considered unsafe if they contain more than 20 parts per millions of gluten. The sensor identifies the gluten by detecting an antibody—a type of test many may be familiar with. “It’s like a pregnancy test for gluten,” Taleghani says.
Currently the sensor only tests for gluten, but 6SensorLabs plans to expand the device’s capability to detect peanuts, dairy, and much more, giving people more power when it come to their food choices. “We want people to be able to know what’s in their food, whether that’s sugar, salt, whatever. We want to be able to look at consumption and what you’re putting in your body far beyond calorie counting,” she says.
And better yet, they’re all homemade creations, thanks in part to online tutorials and a self-teaching mindset. McCabe was recently profiled in a video with Fusion Media, where he discusses his love for building robots and showcases a few of his inventions in Bldg. 26-100.
“Building robots has really taken me to my dream college, MIT, I’ve gotten internships at robotics startups, I’ll be at SpaceX building rockets. Learning how to write code, use electronics, design circuits, it’s the basis of a lot of other technologies. I really hope everyone just goes out in the world and builds more robots. I think more robots in the world is just going to make a more entertaining and interesting world.”