Alumni Life

Gizmo Garden student works on powering a disco ball.

Students work on powering a disco ball and Hawaiian windstorm. Photo courtesy Gizmo Garden.

When a middle school girl from rural Maine updated her Facebook page with photo of herself soldering on a circuit board, the creators of Gizmo Garden© knew the project was working—participating students were developing new images of themselves.

Bill Silver ’75, SM ’80 and his wife, Judy, held the winter-break workshop in February for 10 students to bolster the opportunity for technical education in a place they loved—coastal Maine—but a location with limited resources.

The couple, living fulltime in Nobleboro, Maine, for the past five years, wanted to find a way to contribute to their community in a meaningful way. Bill Silver, a co-founder of the machine vision systems maker Cognex, and Judy Silver, who worked at Cognex in marketing and sales, drew on their technical and outreach skills. Working from MIT Edgerton Center curriculum models, they developed a week-long workshop that brought middle school students together in a local library and invited them to create their own projects using their newly acquired skills of breadboarding and soldering electronics onto circuit boards.

Bill Silver lead the Gizmo Garden workshop.

Bill Silver, who led the workshop along with a local educator and a librarian, works with students.

The Silvers, at their former home near Cognex’s headquarters in Natick, Massachusetts, routinely visited Boston’s Museum of Science and the MIT Museum, says Bill Silver, who continues to work remotely from Maine as a Cognex senior vice president. “Technology was in the air there,’ he says, “it’s not in the air up here.”

Feeling empowered to work with electronics could transform the five girls and five boys selected for the program, says Judy Silver. “As wonderful as this community is, kids growing up here don’t see engineering and technical careers as even in their universe. And now the kids see they can do this. And they have seen what young professionals can do from the videos we showed them.”

The Silvers plan to continue the Gizmo Garden project in 2016, again working from an established curriculum and adding their own opportunities for creativity and cooperation. This year they based the project on the Edgerton K-12 electronics curriculum course created initially for i2 Camp. Local TV produced a short video that shares student projects from a spinning a disco ball to recreating an Hawaii wind storm.

Want to know more? Visit the Gizmo Garden Facebook page or email the Silvers: gizmo@tidewater.net. Alumni interested in working on similar projects can join the K-12 Education Volunteer Network and tap the MIT Edgerton Center for ideas as well.

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Cathy Kenworthy, Interactive Health

Cathy Kenworthy SM ’91

Cathy Kenworthy has always sought challenging problems—as a McKinsey management consultant; in executive roles at GE, Bank of America, and JP Morgan Chase; and even at leisure. She’s a self-described “fanatic for finding the hardest sudokus and crossword puzzles.”

Today, as CEO of Interactive Health, she leads an organization that’s addressing an especially knotty challenge: high costs and mediocre outcomes in the U.S. health-care system.

Her work doesn’t involve new drugs or diagnostic equipment but, as she puts it, “simple principles broadly applied” to employees of more than 2,000 client companies. “We get hired to help employees be healthier through preventive care,” she explains.

Nutrition, activity level, and tobacco use are three areas of emphasis. “It’s so simple, but so profound,” says Kenworthy. “One area where we can generate tremendous impact is in the prevention of diabetes, which is a major life-altering event. You never stop being diabetic: it affects your longevity, it complicates many other medical conditions, and treatment costs a minimum of $20,000 annually.”

Interactive Health’s data analytics group, which Kenworthy built in her previous COO role, can now show the impact of the company’s work with pre-diabetics through counseling, coaching, and goal setting: 40 percent of them returned to normal health within one year.

“That’s a gigantic number, off the charts in any clinical sense,” she says. “And it’s one of the best things you can do for someone.”

Kenworthy originally planned to apply that type of compassionate problem solving as a doctor. During her sophomore year at Georgetown University, she was accepted to the university’s medical school, but after working in an emergency room and reflecting on her goals, she chose to major in chemistry and mathematics. She graduated in 1987 and went to work in finance.

At the Sloan School, Kenworthy gained insight from her classmates, who came from diverse lines of work and corners of the world. “I’d come from Wall Street with a total focus on financial engineering,” she says. “Sloan helped me consider the many ways to think about the topic of business.”

Kenworthy and her husband, William, are recent transplants to the Chicago area and have three teenage sons. They enjoy cooking together and are avid hikers, skiers, and walkers.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2015 edition of MIT Technology Review magazine.

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Water, essential to the survival of all living things, is scarce in many developing nations. Lack of water for drinking, bathing, and farming effects the quality of life, health, and productivity. With this in mind, Kevin Simon and his team at the Tata Center are working on addressing these issues in India this week—Simon’s sixth trip in the past year and a half.

Kevin Simon, Tata Center, water irrigation, India

Kevin Simon (left) and Katherine Taylor (right) install a solar-powered pump system in Southern Jharkhand, India.

Simon, an Engineering Systems Division graduate student, is developing irrigation technology to meet the needs of agriculture in India. Water shortages, caused by inconsistent access to fresh water and no mass-produced commercial pumps for farmers, result in underdeveloped crops and inefficient farming practices. Simon has co-invented low-cost, solar-powered pumps that enable farmers to access shallow water for irrigation. This innovation has the potential to give approximately 20 million farmers access to water without the need for deep wells and expensive diesel generators.

“Witnessing this sort of resource-constrained environment has driven me to focus on figuring out how to help these people most effectively,” says Simon.

During his last trip, Simon deployed two of the pumps in Southern Jharkhand, India, along with fellow graduate student Katherine Taylor and mechanical engineering senior Marcos Esparza. The farmers have been successfully operating the system and are already seeing results. “India and other developing countries are facing huge challenges and how they address those challenges will have a lot of say in the future of our planet,” says Simon. “It’s important for us to be engaged with these countries and working in partnership with them.”

This project was recently recognized, along with other campus-wide initiatives, as part of the MIT Innovation Initiative, an Institute-wide effort that encourages the Institute’s innovative ecosystem, which was launched in 2013 by President L. Rafael Reif.

Tata Center, water irrigation, india

Local farmers examine the pump

“The Tata Center is a great example of rigorous MIT research being pushed in new directions,” says Simon. “There’s a cross-pollination of ideas with our partners in India that helps us grow as students, engineers, and entrepreneurs. We get pushed out of our comfort zone and sometimes the things we believe are challenged. The MIT Innovation Initiative shows that we, as an Institute, are not complacent. We’re asking new questions and looking for new ways to approach old problems.”

Other Innovation Initiatives include a proposed innovation and entrepreneurship undergraduate minor, a semester for innovative “passion projects,” and a Laboratory for Innovation Science and Policy.

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Come back and celebrate at Tech Reunions 2015, June 4–June 7!  Learn more and register today.

Do you want to add to the excitement of this year’s festivities? Share your MIT memories and photos with the Alumni Association or on social media with #TechReunions, and they’ll be highlighted during Reunion season.

Send photos or any short summaries of your memories to the Alumni Association’s Nicole Morell. These memories will help make Tech Reunions even more special and may encourage even more friends and classmates to attend.

Too many memories for a short email?  Consider participating in the 2015 Reunions Access Memories project.

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Resume Scrabble

Credit: www.flazingo.com

Does your resume have what it takes to attract future employers while accurately demonstrating your skills? At the March 24 Career Lunch & Learn webinar, resume coach Robin Schlinger ’78 will discuss key components and information to consider before drafting a resume. All too often, individuals write a resume without taking the prep time to strategically think through the document. According to Schlinger, this process is essential to formulating a clear narrative that highlights your accomplishments—which is what a potential employer wants to know.

The free, online webinar will be held from 12-1 p.m. EDT and is available to alumni new to the workforce, considering a career transition, or just eager to strengthen an existing resume. Learn more and register.

About Robin Schlinger ’78
Robin Schlinger is a recognized leader in the Resume Writing and Career Coaching industry, a certified Federal Resume Writer (CFRW), Master Career Director (MCD), Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW), Certified Master Resume Writer (CMRW), Certified Electronic Career Coach (CECC), Job and Career Transition Coach (JCTC), Entrepreneur Coach, and 360 Reach Branding Specialist.

Since 2001, Schlinger has been coaching clients and adding value to federal and civilian resumes and other career marketing documents which get her clients the interviews and the job offers they want. In 2006, she started her own company, Robin’s Resumes® specializing in executive, technical, and federal resumes.

When Schlinger helps clients, she draws upon her previous career in industry and business. Prior to starting her practice, she worked as a Process, Research, and Quality Engineer and as a Planning Analyst for several Fortune 500 companies. She is an MIT alumna from the Class of 1978 who earned an SB in Chemical Engineering.

 

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The US Postal Service announced the issue of a stamp honoring 1965 Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman ’39 on August 14, 2004. The day of the announcement was the independence day of Tannu Tuva, and it wasn’t a coincidence. Feynman and his friend and drumming partner Ralph Leighton had spent years trying to visit this small central Asian country near Mongolia.

It all started with a stamp.

Credit: US Postal Museum

Credit: US Postal Museum

Tuvan Stamp

1935 Tuvan Stamp; Credit: Wikimedia

In the 1920s and 30s, Tannu Tuva’s uniquely shaped diamond and triangle-shaped stamps were in high demand among stamp collectors. “Stamp designers were working away on these wonderful idyllic themes…which were firing the imaginations of kids around the world,” said Leighton.

Tuvan Stamp

1927 Tuvan stamp; Scanned by Stan Shebs

As one of those young stamp enthusiasts, Feynman became entranced by Tuvan stamps’ dramatic illustrations of camels racing trains, horse wranglers, and cattle mongers against otherworldly, mountainous scenes.

Fifty years later, Leighton and Feynman had a dinner conversation about geography, and Feynman mentioned his love of Tuvan stamps. The pair decided to travel to Tuva, which turned into an 11-year quest detailed in Leighton’s book Tuva or Bust! In a documentary about their plans, Feynman said of Tannu Tuva, “any country with a capital Kyzyl has just got to be interesting….we had discovered our Shangri-La.

Getting to the country was no small feat. At the time, Tuva was under the rule of the USSR and was rumored to be a testing ground for atomic bomb research. “I’m sure we were being watched,” recalls Leighton. “People couldn’t figure out why these guys would want to go to Tuva, especially someone who worked on the bomb.” (Feynman famously worked on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos)

Mock up of Feynman Tuva Stamp Credit: Ralph Leighton

Mock up of Feynman Tuva Stamp Credit: Ralph Leighton

The pair learned phrases of the Tuvan language, dreamed up crossing the border from Mongolia in shepherds’ disguises, acquired a rare recording of a Tuvan throat singer—Tuva is famous for this unique type of overtone music—and collaborated on a traveling exhibition of nomadic culture that turned out to be the largest ever from the Soviet Union. Feynman never made it to Tuva—he died in 1988—but Leighton and his wife were finally able to visit a few months later.

After Feynman died, Leighton launched another years-long campaign with his organization Friends of Tuva to petition the US Postal Service to honor his friend with a commemorative stamp. But not just any stamp—a diamond-shaped Tuvan stamp.

“We definitely wanted to make a connection between Feynman stamp collecting, Tuva, and a US postage stamp,” said Leighton. In one tongue-and-cheek mock-up stamp they dreamed up, Feynman is dressed as a shaman holding elements of his famous Feynman diagram with Tuvan throat singer Kongar-ol Ondar.

Thousands of letters and many signed petitions later, the Postal Service ultimately decided to feature Feynman in a stamp series on American scientists.

Learn more about Feynman’s lively lectures. Check out Ralph Leighton’s latest project, an illustrated children’s book Legends of the Groovin’ Tuvan.  

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Katy Croff Bell '00, Exploration Vessel Nautilus, Media Lab, MIT

Katy Croff Bell ’00

Katy Croff Bell ’00 has helped discover dozens of ancient shipwrecks and new species of marine organisms. Now she brings the abyss to your desk, streaming her adventures aboard the Exploration Vessel Nautilus via Nautiluslive.org.

“The most exciting part of what I do is share discoveries in real time with millions of people all over the globe,” Bell says.

At MIT, Bell worked with Professor David Mindell PhD ’96, and his then-new Deep Water Archaeology group. They undertook expeditions to the Black Sea, working off small Turkish fishing boats, checking out features on the seafloor with a side-scan sonar and a remotely operated underwater vehicle.

“It was great experience to apply what I was learning in classes at MIT to a project in the field,” Bell says. It was also a chance to work with underwater archaeologist Robert Ballard, who found the Titanic.

Bell was a leader of several marine and engineering student societies at MIT, and she helped create an umbrella organization called 13SEAs, the Course 13 Student Engineering Association, which lives on as MIT’s ocean engineering, naval architecture, and marine technology student organization.

After graduation, Bell served as a marine policy fellow in NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration in Washington. In 2006, National Geographic Society awarded Bell an Emerging Explorer Award. She earned a master’s degree in maritime archaeology at England’s University of Southampton, and then she joined Ballard’s research group at the University of Rhode Island, where she earned a PhD in geological oceanography in 2011.

She’s now the vice president and chief scientist of Ocean Exploration Trust, leading expeditions on Nautilus in the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico. “We’re going to places that have never been explored to see what’s there,” she says. “There are things we can’t even conceive of out there, and it will take a long, long time to fully understand our own planet.”

In 2014, Joi Ito named Bell an MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow, a two-year appointment. “It’s been fun to come back and reconnect with incredible people doing groundbreaking research at the Institute,” she says. “I’ve been talking with Professor Ed Boyden, who uses fluorescent proteins to map neuron connections in the brain. There are marine organisms that glow; we can study their genomes and, we hope, identify new proteins and combine what we’re doing, pushing the boundaries of both our fields.”

Bell and her husband, fisheries biologist Rich Bell, live in Narragansett, Rhode Island, and are expecting their first child in April. During her maternity leave, Bell plans to use telepresence technology to participate in the 2015 Nautilus expedition through the Panama Canal to the Galápagos Islands from April through December.

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03.18.15_cybersecurity

Cybersecurity is a topic that MIT has been addressing since the 60s, before personal computers were even on the market. Today, as security breaches threaten both personal and professional networks, MIT has announced plans to address the problem from three angles: technology, public policy, and organizational management.

Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) Director Daniela Rus answered a few questions for Slice of MIT about the new initiatives:

What expertise can MIT offer for these programs?

One of MIT’s first efforts in cybersecurity was developing time-sharing computers in the 60s that could be used by multiple people at once. As soon as this system was developed, they knew that they also needed to think critically about the necessary infrastructure to keep users’ information safe. In fact, since different users had to sign in and out of the system, by many accounts MIT is credited as being ground-zero for the world’s first-ever computer password.

More recently, conversations with various researchers in our lab further solidified the realization that we can bring a lot of concentrated thought leadership to this area of study, and that it therefore is deserving of its own initiatives.

What are the distinctions between the different programs?

03.18.15_cybersecurity_DanielleRus2

CSAIL Director Daniela Rus. Photo credit: Jason Dorfman/CSAIL.

The three initiatives are aimed at tackling the technical, regulatory, and business aspects of cybersecurity.

1. Cybersecurity@CSAIL, led by Dr. Howard Shrobe, brings together experts in software, hardware, cryptography, and other fields to address the technical challenges associated with preventing, working through, and recovering from web-based attacks.

2. The MIT Cybersecurity and Internet Policy Research Initiative, an interdisciplinary program funded by a $15 million grant from the Hewlett Foundation and led by CSAIL principal investigator Daniel Weitzner (former U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Internet Policy in the White House), draws researchers from across MIT to create the foundations for smart, sustainable cybersecurity policy.

3. The Interdisciplinary Consortium for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity, (IC)3, a new consortium based at the MIT Sloan School of Management and led by Professor Stuart Madnick, will address the need to improve the cybersecurity of critical infrastructure through a focus on the strategic, managerial, and operational issues related to cybersecurity.

How will CSAIL work with other departments on these initiatives?

There will be close collaboration between CSAIL and other centers and departments at MIT.

Industry members of Cybersecurity@CSAIL and (IC)3 can attend the annual meetings of both initiatives and will also get access to joint-networking events and access to an exclusive online repository of relevant research.

The policy initiative, meanwhile, will involve individuals from all over campus, including political scientists, economists, cryptographers, and engineers.

We hope that these initiatives will help us work together with industry to create better tools to eliminate a lot of the current vulnerabilities that plague the digital landscape and to have some more substantive discussions about what can be done in terms of better technology policy.

Read the full article on MIT News.

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Do cognitive skills always peak early and then decline? Not according to a new study by MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital researchers. By catapulting the research project into the universe of online games, they were able to get information from a vastly larger pool of people than previous studies. And their findings shook up conventional views.

Crowdsourcing reseeach through online games.

Crowdsourcing research through online games produces more diverse data. Illustration: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT

Fluid intelligence, the ability to think quickly and recall information, was thought to peak around age 20, says coauthor Joshua Hartshorne, a postdoc in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. However, being able to tap some three million test subjects online led Hartshorne and coauthor Laura Germine, a MGH postdoc, to make several surprising discoveries—including that fluid intelligence may peak as late as the 40s. The data also showed that crystallized intelligence, the accumulation of facts and knowledge, may peak in the 60s or the early 70s.

Having a larger pool of subjects produced better data.

Josh Hartshorne

Josh Hartshorne is a post-doc in MIT’s  computational cognitive science group.

“Most of what we know about the human mind comes from studying children under five years old, college students, and retirees … because those are the people who have time to take out of their day to come into the laboratory,” says Harthorne. “This really limits how much of the human experience we understand. Even worse, for the most part, we are mostly able to study people who are part of a university community—again, because those are the people who are nearby the laboratory.”

“By switching to using the Internet, we can get a much more diverse population, and so we are in a better position to understand what generalizes and what does not. Otherwise, we are in the dangerous situation of trying to extrapolate from MIT undergraduates to the entire human race.”

All that data also allowed them to use a statistical technique called bootstrapping.

“The basic problem is in our actual data, it may be that people who are 33 years old did the best. But that could be due to random chance. How do you know that the people who are 33-years-old really are doing reliably better than people at other ages? What you’d like to do is run the experiment many times and see if you usually find the 33-year-olds doing the best. In bootstrapping, you use the data you collected to simulate those additional experiments.”

What are some other intelligence timestamps?

  • Raw speed in processing information appears to peak around age 18 or 19.
  • Short-term memory improves until around age 25, holds steady for a decade, then begins to drop off.
  • The ability to evaluate the emotional states of other people peaks in the 40s or 50s.

Now you can play

You can compare your responses in a series of quick games and quizzes to others of your age and education range on these research web sites: gameswithwords.org and testmybrain.org.

Read the MIT News article, the “Rise and Fall of Cognitive Skills,” to learn more. Or check out Hartshorne’s other writing on topics on such as brain games and the role of citizen scientists.

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An artist's illustration of the European Space Agency's comet-chasing Rosetta spacecraft. Image: space.com

An artist’s illustration of the European Space Agency’s comet-chasing Rosetta spacecraft. Image: space.com

After more than 10 years in space, the Rosetta spacecraft’s lander touched down on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on November 12, 2014, making the Rosetta mission the first to successfully land a spacecraft on a comet’s surface. For the European Space Agency’s Philippe Kletzkine SM ’83, who served as the lander’s manager, it was a career highlight—the culmination of an ambitious 15-year project that covered more than six billion kilometers and required great patience.

When he joined the Rosetta team in 2000, the challenges were formidable. “Remember, all this was done with 1990s technology and a limited budget,” Kletzkine says. “The greatest difficulty was to design to an unknown environment. How do you specify the elements of a landing gear when you don’t know whether you will land on compact hard rock, porous terrain, or fluffy regolith? We did not even know what the gravity field of the comet would be like.”

The journey included a 31-month spacecraft hibernation designed to conserve energy and a tense moment during landing when the two harpoons on the lander, known as Philae, could not anchor in the surface and the lander settled under a cliff. That will make it more difficult to recharge the secondary battery using solar panels when the primary is empty.

Philippe Kletzkine SM ’83

Philippe Kletzkine SM ’83

Philae is likely to have settled down quite far from the original touchdown but still in good health and attitude,” Kletzkine says. “The drawback is that Philae has now settled in a much less sunny area.”

Kletzkine moved on to other ESA projects during Rosetta’s journey and is now project manager for the Solar Orbiter, a satellite that aims to travel closer to the sun than any satellite has ever gone before.

“We’re now right in the middle of the development,” he says. “Our goal is to launch in 2017 or 2018.”

Over his career, Kletzkine has spent nearly 30 years at ESA, including a three-year stint in French Guiana, where he worked on satellite and commercial launches. Between graduating from MIT and joining the ESA, he served in the French Air Force, where he worked on space-related programs.

Kletzkine is thankful for his MIT experience, with only one exception. “My MIT education gave me added insights into other engineering cultures, and this came in very handy in my later career,” he says. “The only thing I could never really get accustomed to was nonmetric units—it’s archaic and inelegant, and also risky.”

Kletzkine currently works at the ESA center in the Netherlands, where he lives with his wife, Wilma. They have three children, Daniella, Stephanie, and Jonathan, and one granddaughter, Yaela.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2015 edition of MIT Technology Review magazine.

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