Alumni Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

{ 0 comments }

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

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

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

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

Kerry Emanuel

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

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

Knittel_225

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

whittle_225

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

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

 

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

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

{ 0 comments }

Externship students (from left) Bryan Williams ’16, Stanley Cen ’18, Berj Chilingirian ’16, and Joey Conway G

MIT IAP externship students (from left) Bryan Williams ’16, Stanley Cen ’18, Berj Chilingirian ’16, and Joey Conway G

For many MIT students, the annual Independent Activities Period (IAP) in January serves as a short-term break from all things MIT. But for five MITers who spent IAP at NASDAQ’s Boston office, it was the opposite: strangers-turned-friends who spent nearly the entire month working side-by-side.

“I didn’t even know there would be other students going in to it,” says Bryan Williams ’16. “But by the end, we were inseparable—lunch together, same meetings, and helping each other out whenever it was needed.”

Williams was part of a group that also included Stanley Cen ’18, Berj Chilingirian ’16, Joey Conway G, and Uma Girkar ’17 who worked with NASDAQ through the Alumni Association’s Externship Program, which places MIT students in alumni-sponsored externships (short-term internships) around the globe. This year’s program featured nearly 400 students—including 45 graduate students—working at 278 companies in 16 states and seven countries.

“There was definitely a shared connection from the beginning,” Chilingirian. “We didn’t know each other, but when I’m working with someone from MIT, I have an inherent trust that they’re capable. It was amazing what we accomplished together in a short time.”

NASDAQ senior vice president Heather Abbott, Cen, Uma Girkar ’17, Williams, Chilingirian, and Conway

NASDAQ senior vice president Heather Abbott, Cen, Uma Girkar ’17, Williams, Chilingirian, and Conway

The MIT students spent the externship in a shared office collaborating together and working on individual projects, like creating an app that could help NASDAQ’s sales team predict customer behavior.

“We hit the ground running from the first day,” says Chilingirian, “We got a rough outline of the work that needed to be done and our team was motivated to attack the presented problems. They basically said, ‘Here’s what we can give you—what can you do with it?’”

Each student served a played a different role in the group. For example, Conway, and MBA candidate, acted as de fact project manager while Cen, a first-year undergraduate, focused on programming.

“I’ve basically been programming since the fourth grade,” says Cen. “And our group was able to produce a list customers that were likely candidates to cancel in the next month. We definitely learned a lot and got a lot done.”

The paid externship was sponsored by NASDAQ EVP and CIO Brad Peterson SM ’89, P ’16, who connected with the students throughout their stay at NASDAQ and helped craft their work environment.

“They made a tremendous amount of progress in the time that they were there,” Peterson says. “We built their stay on what we had learned in previous non-MIT externships. Working without structure is unfair to students, so we made sure to maximize their time while they were there.”

Peterson initially connected with the program through his daughter, an MIT student who previously participated in an externship, and his MIT classmate David Birnbach SM ’89, a lecturer at MIT Sloan, who helped facilitate the interview process and connect NASDAQ with MIT.

“I was interested in helping facilitating work experiences for current students and I knew NASDAQ would be a perfect fit,” Birnbach says. “It was great to see how much impact they were able to make after starting at zero on day 1. Everyone was impressed with how cohesive they were as a group.”

A few months removed from IAP—and more than halfway through the spring semester—the MIT group has remained in touch and often connect on MIT campus.

“It was cool to work with other MIT students outside of classroom,” says Cen. “They definitely have a high amount of drive, which is something you might not see too many other places.”

{ 0 comments }

One-time MIT student Daniel Chester French sculpted John Harvard in the 1880s. Image: MIT News.

One-time MIT student Daniel Chester French sculpted John Harvard in the 1880s.

Anyone who has spent spring on campus should be familiar with the Patriots’ Day holiday, Boston’s unofficial beginning of spring and the date of the Boston Marathon since 1897.

Historically, Patriots’ Day honors the first military engagements of the American Revolution—the battles of Lexington and Concord, which took place about 10 miles west of Cambridge in 1775. The battle at Concord’s Old North Bridge is commemorated by The Minute Man, a statue in Concord sculpted by former MIT student Daniel Chester French, who would later become famous for sculpting the colossal marble statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial.

French, who lived from 1850 to 1931, spent less than a year at MIT as a student in the late 1860s. According to Chesterwood.org, the website for his historic property in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, he failed physics, algebra, and chemistry before leaving school to work and study with artists John Quincy Adams Ward and William Rimmer.

While his time as a student was unremarkable, French’s Cambridge legacy is permanent. In 1884, He sculpted the bronze sculpture of John Harvard in Harvard Yard that is a frequent target for MIT hackers, who have added a toilet stall door, a brass rat, and an “Ask Me about My Lobotomy” sign over the years.

One-time MIT student Daniel Chester French sculpted the Minute Man in 1875.

French sculpted the Minute Man in 1875.

About 10 years prior, he was commissioned to execute The Minute Man, his first major monument, and the statue was dedicated on the battles’ centenary on April 19, 1875. The seven-foot statue, which depicts a farmer armed with a rifle, launched his career. French spent parts of the next 15 years working in Boston, Washington, D.C., New York, Florence, and Paris.

By the turn of the 20th century, French was a sought-after artist based at Chesterwood, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965. In 1903, he sculpted Continents, a massive four-part piece at the entrance of the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House in New York City, which depicts four women symbolizing Asia, America, Europe, and Africa.

French produced more than 100 monuments, memorials, and other works during his career, and in 1914, he was selected to sculpt the Lincoln statue. The work took more than three years, and the finished piece, unveiled in 1922, elicited some controversy: some believe that Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s face is carved into Lincoln’s hair.

“What I wanted to convey was the mental and physical strength of the great war President and his confidence in his ability to carry the thing through to a successful finish,” French wrote in 1922.

John Harvard remains an immovable—and irresistible—pranking target, but some MITers believe the statue could be a hack itself. Because no photographic evidence exists to indicate what John Harvard actually looked like, an MIT urban legend persists that French modeled the statue after one of his former MIT classmates.

Perhaps it was a hack, cast in bronze?

An earlier version of this article appeared in the March/April 2015 edition of MIT Technology Review magazine.

{ 0 comments }

TechBreakfast

Image via @TechBreakfast

MIT’s alumni directory contains a lot of interesting job titles, but Ron Schmelzer ’97’s stands out as unique: Chief Event Wrangler.

Nope, he’s not a cowboy. Schmelzer wrangles for TechBreakfast, a monthly morning meetup founded by Schmelzer that demos new technologies and has connected thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs in more than a dozen U.S. cities.

Before starting TechBreakfast, Schmelzer was a Course 6 major-turned-serial entrepreneur who started his first company with an MIT classmate, Dan Housman ’95, in their Alpha Epsilon Pi dorm room.

Ron Schmelzer '97

Ron Schmelzer ’97

“Near the beginning of the dot-com boom, Dan and I started an internet software company,” he says. “We said, ‘Let’s try this e-commerce thing.’ So we built VirtuMall (later ChannelWave), one of the first e-commerce sites. We basically had to invent everything from scratch—shopping cart technology, credit card transactions—because none of it existed yet.”

By 1998, the internet’s popularity had exploded and ChannelWave had become a successful venture. After raising nearly $60 million in funding, Schmelzer and Housman sold the company to the larger Quick Commerce.

After ChannelWave’s sale, Schmelzer started the analyst firm ZapThink, among other ventures, which he sold in 2011 after he and his wife moved from Boston to Baltimore.

“When I got to Baltimore, I thought, ‘Well, I guess I need to start another software company,’” he says, “So I organized some small meet-ups in Baltimore to see what kind of startups people were working on. My only rule was no PowerPoint. That’s how TechBreakfast go started.”

The meetups quickly became popular and Schmelzer began expanding TechBreakfast out-of-state. Less than four years later, the monthly breakfasts have more than 12,000 active members in 13 U.S. cities. The meetup’s most recent event, “Ask a V.C.” in Boston on April 13, featured nearly 250 attendees who heard from two panels of more than 20 investors.

“TechBreakfast moved so fast that I actually put another software company I started, Bizelo, on hold,” he says. “I’m still in the startup industry. But instead of running a software company, I’m running TechBreakfast.”

Schmelzer spoke to Slice of MIT at the 2015 South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive, where he was one of more than 100 MIT alumni who presented at the festival. He organized the TechBreakfast Spectacular—“basically TechBreakfast on steroids”—which featured 25 demos and more than 1,400 attendees. He also hosted SXSW’s first-release hardware meetup, a showcase of new internet-related demos that he called a “show-and-tell from grownups.”

“MIT has a great overlap on technology advancement and entrepreneurial innovation,” he says, “It’s a very supportive place for people who are creative and innovative. SXSW attracts the same audience, and people who are successful innovators and creators—like MIT alumni—tend to come here.”

For more about TechBreakfast, visit their website and follow @TechBreakfast on Twitter.

{ 0 comments }

At MIT, applying theories and skills through hands-on projects has been an educational theme from the very beginning—one which takes unique shape in forge, foundry, and glassblowing activities in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE). This week, MIT celebrated new opportunities in this area. On Monday, the renovated space was reopened as the W. David Kingery Ceramics and Glass Laboratory and the Merton C. Flemings Materials Processing Laboratory, thanks to the generosity of several generous donors.

In the updated facilities, additional space and equipment allows for more participation at all levels, something that students and alumni alike who vie for the chance to use the labs appreciate.

04-14-15_glasslab_chrismoore_bw_crop

Chris Moore (left) working in the glass lab in the 1990s.

Chris Moore ’90, PhD ’96, was one of the lucky students who got to spend countless hours in the glass lab and helped make it what it is today. Moore started at the glass lab in January 1987 when he took a course during IAP and became one of the labs most supportive and active volunteers.

“There was a lot of interest in glassblowing glasses at MIT so I worked with Professor Michael Cima to rebuild the space with new equipment that better suited glassblowing. I took classes and was involved in building and maintaining equipment, cleaning factory-scrap glass before putting it in the furnace, and worked as Ms. Hazelgrove’s assistant one afternoon a week for more experience. I stayed at MIT until 1996, earning a bachelor’s and a Ph.D. in physics and was involved in the glass lab during my entire MIT career.

“Being a physicist, I was very interested in the physics and optics of the process and in particular in the process of glassblowing rather than just the completed pieces. Having the opportunity to imagine interesting and beautiful creations using the optical properties of the glass and then solving the physical challenges of making them happen in glass, gave me practice in integrated design and problem solving that I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else in my education. I also have enjoyed the tight teamwork required in glassblowing and have made lifelong friendships in the lab.”

Moore, a former astrophysicist and veteran data science leader, is chief analytics officer at True Fit and continues his involvement in the glass lab, including helping to run the annual Pumpkin Patch event.

See the new space in action in a video from the School of Engineering.

Read more about the renovation of the Materials Processing Lab and the Ceramics and Glass Lab.

{ 0 comments }

Eugene Rumer, author, podcast

Eugene Rumer PhD ’88, author of Conflict in Ukraine.

When Boris Nemtsov, an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin and Russian policy on Ukraine, was murdered on a bridge in Moscow in February, the outlook that Eugene Rumer PhD ’88 had on Putin’s Russia changed dramatically.

“I was shocked,” says Rumer, whose new book, Conflict in Ukraine, was published by MIT Press that month. “I was in a state of shock and confusion for some days. What it tells us, and it’s something that’s really new to my thinking about Russia, is that it’s really unstable.”

“We tend to think about these kinds of situations happening in countries that don’t have stable political systems,” Rumer, a senior associate and the director of Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program, says in this month’s Alumni Books Podcast. “We just didn’t think about Russia as being as dangerous a place for opposition politicians, certainly establishment opposition politicians…this is a new situation in Russia—I dare say it’s a wake-up call for some in the ruling circles as well.”

In his new book, Rumer and co-author Rajon Menon take what they term a “first cut at explaining the context, causes, and consequences of Ukraine 2014,” a crisis which unfolded in dramatic fashion only weeks after the closing ceremonies of the 2014 Sochi Olympics, a few hundred miles away.

Since he completed the book last fall, of course, the crisis has continued to unfold, but “has sort of plateaued,” says Rumer.

“The one factor that perhaps we did not do justice to in the book…is how unprepared everyone has been and how everything that’s been happening throughout these really turbulent months has been a product of improvisation.”

Asked how his MIT education factored into his career path, Rumer explains, “I finished [at MIT] in 1988…soon after I started I found myself to be a failed Sovietologist. That said, the history of the place doesn’t change, the analytical skills that we need to apply don’t change, my study of –at the time in the defense and arms control program, of some of the fundamentals of nuclear strategy and arms control – all that comes in handy.”

Rumer’s devotion is evident in the book’s opening pages. He dedicated his portion of the book to his thesis advisor, Professor Stephen M. Meyer.

Listen to the complete podcast here. Listen to past books podcasts with novelists, professors, and entrepreneurs by visiting MITAA on Soundcloud.

{ 1 comment }

Jonathan Levene 4.13.15

Jonathan Levene ’97, MEng ’98

Jonathan Levene ’97, MEng ’98 is a Boston-based career coach specializing in engineering leadership and career development. Levene recently advised alumni interested in working in startup world in a live Lunch and Learn webinar hosted by the Alumni Association. As a follow up, Levene answered three questions for alumni interested in transitioning from the corporate sector to a startup.

What factors should be considered when deciding if a move to the startup world is the right choice for you and your career?

I recommend clarifying what you’re seeking in terms of an ideal work experience and then investigating how well this maps to a startup experience. For your ideal work experience, think of three favorite projects from the past few years that you led. Pick ones in which you felt most energized and would like to replicate.

Next, assess how well the mindsets and behaviors you demonstrated in your chosen projects align with those that startups typically value. Use the following questions as a guide.

To what degree did you demonstrate the following mindsets during the projects?

  • Building a vision for success
  • Embracing uncertainty
  • Learning through experimentation
  • Accepting change (such as a change in direction) when it arose
  • Resourcing creatively (“begging, borrowing, or stealing”)
  • Motivating others
  • Influencing the views of senior management or peers

To what degree did you demonstrate the following behaviors during the projects?

  • Being open to others’ ideas, opinions, and feedback
  • Straight talking, speaking factually and truthfully on key issues
  • Engaging others in a positive way, avoiding blame and resolving conflicts quickly
  • Being accountable through strong commitments, follow-through, and requests
  • Effective decision making involving others by evaluating data, exploring options and opinions, and creating consensus
  • Realizing innovative ideas through a bias for action

What advice do you have for being mentally and financially prepared for moving to a position with (or founding) a startup?

 In small companies, particularly those under 50 employees, you are freed from a lot of the process that slows innovation and hampers creativity at larger companies. Many people also find that there is greater acceptance of new ideas and organizational support for realizing them through one’s own initiative.

It is important to anticipate that you’ll need to embrace uncertainty, accept change when it comes, and resource creatively. It’s not uncommon in startups under 50 employees for sudden change to result in new priorities. This means that technology you create today may need to be quickly altered, released, or sometimes even scrapped down the road. It’s important not to be overly attached to what you build or have too-high a quality standard.

You’ll also be exposing yourself to greater financial risk as a result of this uncertainty. You can plan for this by calculating the number of months you might be unemployed if the company goes under, and setting aside the required number of months of salary.

What are some common shocks that may occur when transitioning from corporate to startup? How can you prepare for these?

Many people aren’t prepared for the lack of onboarding when they start. You should expect that you’ll need to pull information from people and be a self-starter. If you’re considering a move to a startup, it will help to spend some time learning about another technology or product that your company has that is new to you. Practice pulling knowledge out of others’ heads.

Another shock can sometimes be the intense cross-functional exposure. For example, it’s not uncommon in startups under 50 employees for engineering to work closely in sales. If you haven’t had experience with this, you can expect to encounter different aspirations, values, and norms in sales – in short, a different culture. Call up a peer in one of these functions and learn about what they’re up to and what is challenging for them.

Levene has 15 years of experience leading product development teams in Boston-area startups and serves as an executive coach at Harvard Business School’s Program for Leadership Development.

{ 0 comments }

Edith Clarke first female electrical engineer

Edith Clarke SM ’19

Even after becoming the first woman to earn her master’s in electrical engineering from MIT, Edith Clarke SM ’19 was having trouble getting a job in her field. But she didn’t let that stop her. She took a position for General Electric as a supervisor of computers, a position she was vastly overqualified for, and used her spare time to invent the graphical calculator, applying for a patent in 1921. The device, approved in 1925, was used to solve electric power transmission line problems and for Clarke, this was just the beginning.

“There is no demand for women engineers, as such, as there are for women doctors; but there’s always a demand for anyone who can do a good piece of work,” she said. And her work would prove its worth.

Not only was Clarke the first female electrical engineer, she was the first female to hold a professional position as an electrical engineer in the US, and the first female professor of electrical engineering. Clarke also developed mathematical methods that simplified and reduced the work of electrical engineers, published 18 technical papers, and her textbook Circuit Analysis of A-C Power Systems became the standard for the industry in her time.

After a long career at GE, earning an engineering role in 1923, she retired in 1945 and spent the next 10 years teaching electrical engineering at the University of Texas in Austin. She died in November 1959 in Baltimore.

Although Clarke struggled as a female in a male-dominant career in the early 1900s, she eventually gained recognition and respect from her peers and has since been recognized.

This year’s National Inventors Hall of Fame will induct 14 individuals, including Clarke. The National Inventors Hall of Fame recognizes monumental individuals whose innovations are crucial to our lives, highlighting their contributions in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The event will be held from May 11-13 in Washington, DC.

Edith Clarke first female engineer, graphical calculator

Photo: Edith Clarke’s graphical calculator. Image credit: NIHF

{ 0 comments }

04.07.15 Matt-Lieber

Gimlet Media co-founder Matt Lieber MBA ’12.

If you have been paying attention to the podcast renaissance sparked by the 2014 hit Serial, you may already know Matt Lieber MBA ’12. As the co-founder of Gimlet Media, Lieber and his podcast company have turned their focus on their own evolution in the innovative podcast series StartUp.

StartUp, which garners an audience averaging around 120,000 listens per episode, is one of the first products of Gimlet Media, the brain child of This American Life contributor Alex Blumberg, who cofounded the company with Lieber.

Missteps, fundraising, and frustrations are all shared in the podcast that aims to give a real look at what it’s like to launch a startup—and not just the successful fairytale version. Following this format, listeners were first introduced to Lieber in Episode 2 of the series as Blumberg worked to woo Lieber into his co-founder role. A few awkward conversations about money later, Lieber was onboard.

Though Lieber burst onto the podcast and startup scene in unique fashion, his path to it was hardly random. Lieber spent years working for public radio, completed his MBA at Sloan in 2012, and was working as a management consultant for Boston Consulting when Blumberg tapped him to help launch his new startup.

Lieber will be joining us for a #MITAlum Twitter chat on Friday April 10 at 11:30 a.m. EDT. He will be talking about startup fundamentals, the podcast renaissance, and what it’s like sharing your startup challenges and successes with an audience each week. Follow along on Twitter starting at 11:30 a.m. EDT and ask questions using the #MITAlum hashtag.

{ 0 comments }