Authors

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.

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Anjali Mitter Duva, Faint Promise of Rain

Anjali Mitter Duva MCP ’99, author of Faint Promise of Rain.

More than 10 years ago, Anjali Mitter Duva MCP ’99 traveled to Rajasthan, India, to show her husband the country of her ancestry. In a guidebook on Jaisalmer, one of the cities they visited, Duva came across an anecdote that struck her: since children would often live till age five without seeing rain, families used to paint clouds on the walls near each window to prevent them from being scared when rain eventually fell.

“I wrote it down…just to save it, because I thought it was beautiful. I just felt I wanted to bring it to life somehow.”

In the coming years, that anecdote, combined with her love for Indian dance, resulted in her first novel, Faint Promise of Rain, published in fall 2014 by She Writes Press. The coming of age story of a young dancer named Adhira in the temple of Jaisalmer, faced with the conflict of embracing traditional norms and gender roles or rebelling against them, Faint Promise of Rain has earned critical acclaim and become the first of a four-novel series for Duva. Listen to a podcast interview with Duva.

“It was a confluence of things that just came together for me,” Duva says. “I hadn’t intended to set out writing a book.”

While set in the late 1500s, the novel has subtle echoes of contemporary challenges facing India, most pressingly the changing roles of women. “The dichotomy of how women are treated in India has always for me been a mystery—how it can survive this way for so long, that women are revered as the sustainer and on the other hand a blatant disregard for the rights of women,” says Duva. “It’s such a complicated issue that goes so far back. I don’t have an answer. In writing this book, it helped see the different sides even if it doesn’t explain them.”

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

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NinaTandon, EpiBone

Tissue-engineered bone, EpiBone

Bone-related surgeries, undertaken by nearly one million patients in the US each year, can fail due to unsuccessful integration of prosthetic or donor bone implants. Nina Tandon SM ’06 is working to solve this problem by growing human bone from the cells of the patient.

Tandon, CEO of EpiBone, leads the New York City-based company that is the first to grow human bones from stem cells, delivering custom-made bones. Not only are the bones more likely to integrate into the body because they are living, compatible bone, but also because they are created based on a CT scan of the target area and are made to fit exactly. “What we’re really proposing is a different view of the body,” says Tandon. “To view it as a renewable resource of stem cells that can regenerate new parts as you need them.”

Nina Tandon, EpiBone

Nina Tandon SM ’06 (right) in the lab at EpiBone

Tandon, who co-founded the EpiBone project two years ago, has spent the greater part of the past 10 years studying and testing bone and organ regrowth—and it all started at MIT.

As a graduate student studying bioelectrical engineering, Tandon did a research rotation with world-renowned professor and tissue engineering research scientist Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic.

“It was through the work I did at MIT with Gordana that I realized the power of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine and the way it would change medicine forever,” says Tandon. “By engineering human tissue and cells from their own human stem cells, we can change the way medicine is done. Whether it’s organ donation or drug testing, we can make the medicine fit the individuals.”

At EpiBone, Tandon works every day in the lab to perfect their method. With the technology in place, they have successfully grown bone and are in the testing stages. With one pilot study completed and another to begin this spring, they hope to be done with pre-clinical trials in the next three years and get on the path of FDA approval to bring their technology to market.

“I can’t wait for the day when someone who needs a transplant doesn’t have to wait on a list,” says Tandon. “And I’m hoping our research can get us one step closer to that day.”

A Fulbright Scholar, Tandon completed her PhD and an MBA at Columbia University. She is a senior TED fellow and co-author of Super Cells: Building with Biology, a book that explores the new frontier of biotech. Tandon was recently named one of CNN’s “7 ‘tech superheroes’ to watch in 2015.

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Collective-genius

Greg Brandeau ’84 SM ’85 spoke to Slice of MIT about his new book.

In the summer of 2008, Greg Brandeau ’84 SM ’85 faced a serious problem in the office.

As senior vice president of systems technology at Pixar Animation Studios, he had a major release coming out: Up. On the schedule for Pixar’s mammoth rendering computers in the next two weeks, Up was projected to be a $1 billion major movie release. Unfortunately, it was scheduled to render, the process by which each single command of an animator’s directions becomes digital film, at the same time as a new complex experiment in short film, Cars Toons.

Brandeau had personalities to manage, and deadlines with Pixar’s owner Disney, but most of all he had a serious logistics problem on his hand: how to find the computing power to get both projects done on time.

Brandeau collected the happy ending to this story, and other lessons in innovative leadership, in a new book Collective Genius: the Art and Practice of Leading Innovation, published in 2014 and co-authored with Linda Hill, Emily Truelove, and Kent Kineback.

Brandeau joined Pixar in 1996 and most recently served as chief technology officer for Disney Animation Studios, which acquired Pixar. After leaving that post to become a full-time consultant, Brandeau found the idea of a book appealing.

“I was puzzling about how was it that Pixar had made five unbelievable movies in a row,” he says, “and no other major studio had done this? And now Pixar has made 14 blockbusters in a row without one miss. What was causing this? I wondered if it was how we were managing the process that makes what we’re doing better.”

The book examines other major companies transformed by innovative leadership, such as HCL, Volkswagon, Pentagram, and Google. These are idea factories, says Brandeau, where leaders access each employee’s “slice of genius” to move the firm ahead.

“We firmly believe that it’s the context in which people work that allows them to be innovated. Instead of thinking of the role of the leader in the traditional sense…the leader’s role in our view is organizers of a place where people can thrive.”

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

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On a cold fall day, while waiting for the M2 shuttle back to the MIT campus, Livia Blackburne PhD ’13 passed a window display at the Harvard Coop. It was for a new series of young adult fiction about a girl and her vampire boyfriend.  MidnightThief-cov

“I picked it up, started reading, and got incredibly addicted. I got all four books and read them in three days. That just reminded me how much I loved reading and how I once wanted to be a young adult author,” she recalls.

After she finished her doctoral work in brain and cognitive science, Blackburne spent her nights returning to a craft she was first attracted to in high school. After graduating, she workshopped her first novel, found an agent for it, and sold it to Disney Hyperion books last year.

In this Alumni Books Podcast, Blackburne recounts the story behind Midnight Thief, her debut novel that has attracted widespread attention and enough encouragement to pursue writing full-time. Fans of the MIT Assassins Guild will appreciate Blackburne’s heroine’s journey in this tale, recruited at first by a group of assassins in a revolutionary plot before deciding to pursue her own course.

Asked whether any of her MIT education is at work in this novel of medieval mischief, Blackburne says: “What I found really helpful was the social psychology I learned while studying for my quals. I learned a lot about different cultures and world views. It was really useful to use that knowledge to build different societies.”

Having finished a book tour this fall, Blackburne, now living in Los Angeles, is at work on a sequel. For now, her career in academia is on hold.

Visit the MIT Alumni Association on Soundcloud and listen to past podcasts on architecture, gaming, health care, and oceanography.

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Update: Watch the archived broadcast.

Noam Chomsky interview webcast MIT

MIT alumni can ask live questions during the Jan. 20 webcast.

On January 20, 2015, at noon EST, Institute Professor Emeritus Noam Chomsky—the longtime political activist and founder the field of modern linguistics—discussed his career and took live questions from the MIT community in a Faculty Forum Online webcast. Chomsky also discussed the Chomsky Archive, an MIT Libraries project to preserve and digitize the lectures, personal papers, and materials he has donated to the Institute Archives and Special Collections.

Known as the “father of modern linguistics,” Chomsky shaped the linguistics field around the profound question, “What does language reveal about the nature of knowledge?” One of the world’s most-cited living scholars, he has authored more than 100 books and his political commentaries have sparked controversy and conversation for more than 50 years.

About Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky interview webcast MIT

Noam Chomsky

Known as the “father of modern linguistics,” Institute Professor Emeritus Noam Chomsky shaped the linguistics field around the profound question, “What does language reveal about the nature of knowledge?” Chomsky joined the MIT faculty in 1955 and was appointed Institute Professor in 1976.

Chomsky has authored more than 100 books on language and politics and is one of the world’s most-cited living scholars.

His well-known political beliefs have made him a significant figure in public activism, particularly on issues like capitalism and foreign policy.

Chomsky in the Press

The Chomsky Videos, YouTube
Noam Chomsky Official Website
The Chomsky Archives, MIT Libraries
MIT Libraries receive papers of distinguished linguist, philosopher and activist Noam Chomsky,” MIT News
Unboxing the Chomsky Archive,” MIT News
Chomsky on Russia: ‘The worst-case scenario, of course, would be a nuclear war,’” Salon
Interview with Noam Chomsky on the Crisis in Central America and Mexico,” The Nation
@chomsky_quotes, a collection of Noam Chomsky quotes on Twitter

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Institute Professor Emeritus Noam Chomsky, a prolific author, political activist, and philosopher, is one of MIT’s greatest scientists. He created the field of modern linguistics—the scientific study of language—and his political commentaries have sparked controversy and conversation for more than 50 years.

In the January 2015 Faculty Forum Online on Tuesday, January 20, Chomsky will shared insights on his career, took live questions, and discussed the Chomsky Archive, an MIT Libraries project to preserve and digitize the lectures, personal papers, and materials he has donated to MIT.

Watch the interview then share your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter using the hashtag #MITFaculty.

About Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky

Known as the “father of modern linguistics,” Institute Professor Emeritus Noam Chomsky shaped the linguistics field around the profound question, “What does language reveal about the nature of knowledge?” Chomsky joined the MIT faculty in 1955 and was appointed Institute Professor in 1976.

Chomsky has authored more than 100 books on language and politics and is one of the world’s most-cited living scholars.

Chomsky in the Press
Noam Chomsky Official Website
The Chomsky Archives, MIT Libraries
MIT Libraries receive papers of distinguished linguist, philosopher and activist Noam Chomsky,” MIT News
Unboxing the Chomsky Archive,” MIT News
Chomsky on Russia: ‘The worst-case scenario, of course, would be a nuclear war,’” Salon
Interview with Noam Chomsky on the Crisis in Central America and Mexico,” The Nation
@chomsky_quotes, a collection of Noam Chomsky quotes on Twitter

About Faculty Forum Online

Up to eight times per academic year, the Faculty Forum Online presents interactive interviews with MIT faculty on timely and relevant topics, including nuclear weapons, neuroscience, digital privacy, climate policy, and climate research. Viewers watch and participate in live 30-minute interviews via interactive chat. Since its inception in 2011, archival editions on YouTube and MIT TechTV have been viewed nearly than 100,000 times.

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Five years ago, Haiti was flattened by a devastating earthquake. Back in Cambridge, Paul Fallon ’77, SM ’81, MArch ’81 felt a special need to act in his role as an architect.

He attributes the massive loss of life to faulty architecture and poor construction practices. “So many people died because of the buildings,” said Fallon in a new Alumni Association video. “That’s something that I felt a personal responsibility for.”

Fallon, who had been to Haiti many times through volunteer service trips, visited again after the earthquake. “Their world was difficult before the earthquake, and it is difficult now, albeit in different ways,” he said in a November Boston Globe Magazine article.

Fallon helped design and build the Be Like Brit orphanage, named after Britney Gengel, an American casualty of the earthquake who had been on a service trip. In her last text to her parents, she told them of her dream to build an orphanage in Haiti, and her parents set about to build one in her honor. The orphanage is now home to 66 children.

Mission of Hope

Students at the Mission of Hope School. Credit: Mission of Hope International

He also served as the architect and helped train local workers in earthquake-resistant building practices for the construction of the Mission of Hope School. Eight of the school’s 12 classrooms have already been built teaching 500 children, with space for 100 more students once the school is completed.

Beyond permanent structures, Fallon has built permanent relationships. While working on one project he met Dieunison, a young Haitian recently orphaned by the quake and living on the streets.

“I was adopted by a little kid,” he jokes in a recent MIT Alum Books podcast. Fallon now supports Dieunison and his half-brother Dieurie in attending school. “What serves them and Haiti well is the opportunity for people with their energy, instincts, and capabilities to develop educational and training skills and stay in Haiti and help to improve Haiti,” he said.

Dieunison and Dieurie

Dieunison and his half-brother Dieurie

Fallon is not the only MIT community member sharing his skills to rebuild Haiti. Students developed Konbit, an open source platform for NGOs to find local workers. And many students and alumni continue to volunteer in service projects aiding in rebuilding efforts through MIT’s Public Service Center.

Listen to Paul Fallon discuss his new book Architecture by Moonlight in the MIT Alum Books podcast and at tonight’s 6:30 p.m. talk at the Main Cambridge Public Library. Watch Fallon talk about his experiences in Haiti in a new MITAA video produced by Brielle Domings.

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Ellen Swallow Richards, born this day in 1842, graduated from MIT in 1873 and later became an instructor there. In this edition of the MIT Alumni Books podcast, Richards’s cousin, three generations removed, tells the story of Richards’s remarkable life. Listen now.

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Pamela Curtis Swallow discusses “The Swallow Experiment” and the legacy of her forebear in this podcast.  “What a difference she made in her years at MIT,” Swallow says. “I’m so proud of her. I can’t believe I’ve got some of the same genes.”

Swallow, a children’s author, published The Remarkable Life and Career of Ellen Swallow Richards in August with John Wiley and Sons, the same house that published Richards’s fifteen books on ecology and science in her lifetime.

In her nearly 40 years at MIT, Richards tolerated prejudice, skepticism, and isolation, but she endured. She advocated for the founding establishment of a women’s laboratory for chemistry, spearheaded the New England Kitchen movement, and advanced research in the fields of hydrology, ecology, and home economics. Since her graduation in 1873, more than 26,000 alumnae have followed.

Swallow’s account of her cousin speaks to Richards’s immediate impact and enduring legacy. At her funeral in 1911, for instance, Richards’s critics turned admirers became her devoted pallbearers.

“They had certainly changed their tune as they had gotten to know her,” says Swallow. “MIT had its flags at half-mast. It certainly was a turnaround. What a difference she made in her years at MIT.”

Listen to the complete podcast here. Listen to past books podcasts on optics, health care, and architecture by visiting MITAA on Soundcloud.

Authored a new book? Tell us by using this simple form.

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Last week’s Boston Book Festival brought 150 notable authors to Copley Square to share their stories, research, and reflections on the future of publishing. Eight of the authors were from MIT. A few highlights:

  • David Rose, a visiting scientist at the Media Lab, spoke about his new book, Enchanted Objects: Design, Human Desire, and the Internet of Things. “There’s a huge opportunity now to have devices…that can simplify our relationship to technology,” said Rose, a self-described optimist on the future of smart devices in homes. “This will impact our health in a positive way, and our transportation, and housing, giving us a digital self-portrait of what we’re doing that hopefully nudges us towards being more healthy versions of ourselves. And once the other desires are being satisfied by robots, we can spend more time with personal expression.”
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Andrew McAfee ’88, SM ’90, David Rose, and Nicholas Carr discussed the Internet of things with host Sacha Pfeiffer.

  • Andrew McAfee ’88, SM ’90 spoke alongside Rose and author Nicholas Carr. McAfee, co-director of Sloan’s Initiative on the Digital Economy, co-wrote The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies with Erik Brynjolfsson. McAfeee sparred with Carr about machines replacing humans in technical fields: “In the example of commercial air-flight, what is our goal? To make commercial air flight as safe and cheap and efficient as possible for as many people as possible, or to keep pilots engaged? At some level those are two incompatible goals. I have a really clear preference for the first. The way to make [air travel] safe is to get the pilot out of the cockpit. We can preserve the status quo in the interest of people currently holding today’s jobs and most of the benefits workers are earning, or we can change the status quo and think about all the benefits that will come to everybody else. I find it an extraordinarily easy tradeoff to make. I actually find it immoral to preserve the status quo.”
  • DUSP MLK Visiting Professor Calestous Juma moderated a panel called Africa: Looking on the Bright Side, which included David Sengeh SM ’12. Sengeh, whose doctoral work on prosthetics is helping citizens in his native Sierra Leone, addressed the current culture of aid-dependency in Africa today: “Growth [there] does not come from youth or rely on a message of creative freedom today. When we don’t celebrate the local innovation that should be led by young people, when a stress to the system comes along, it breaks. Yes, it’s a global village but to blame another person for whatever error happens here? Innovate Challenges in Sierra Leone asks young people to sit down and figure out what challenges face their country.”

Also speaking: Judith Donath SM ’86, PhD ’97, on the Digital by Design panel, spoke about the state of social media today. Donath is most recently the author of The Social Machine: Designs for Living Online. MIT Technology Review editor Jason Pontin moderated the panel. Listen to Donath’s interview on the MIT Alumni Books PodcastMichael Hawley PhD ’93 moderated the Creativity: Agony and Ecstasy panel. Formerly of the Media Lab, Hawley is the founder or co-founder of numerous major research projects, including MIT’s GO Expeditions program; Things That Think, a program that explores how digital media infuses quotidian objects; Toys of Tomorrow, which innovates toy design and production; Counter Intelligence, a culinary research effort; and Friendly Planet, a nonprofit children’s education initiative. Associate Professor of Physics Max Tegmark joined a panel entitled My Memoir, My Quest. Tegmark wrote the 2014 book Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality.

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