New robot adds two useful fingers to your hand.

New robot adds two useful fingers to your hand.

MIT is full of invention. One quick way to tap into the riches on campus is to browse the MIT Video collection, curated by the MIT News Office to bring highlights of research and campus culture into view. Whether you have just a minute—or an hour—you can learn something fun, intriguing, or maybe life changing. Here are a few suggestions:

Learn how to don the mascot costume.

Learn how to don the mascot costume.

If you browse by types, do venture into the Demonstrations section. Upwrap one of the mysteries of campus culture by watching Tim the Beaver: Putting on the Mascot Costume. First rule: do not try to put on the costume by yourself. Did you know ice packs are involved? Time: 00:03:54

Need an extra hand—or at least a couple of extra digits? Watch 7 Finger Robot, a 0:58 second spotlight on a new robotic device, worn on the wrist, that acts like two extra fingers adjacent to the pinky and thumb.

Learn how materials science is changing energy resources.

Learn how materials science is changing energy resources.

How are materials-driven advances transforming energy and economics worldwide? Watch Hey, Atoms: What Have You Done for Me Lately?: The age of materials design and how it will change the energy world. After an eight-minute introduction, hear Jeffrey C. Grossman, MIT professor of materials science and engineering, present the Wulff lecture. First, he lights things on fire, the way most energy is currently produced. And then it really gets interesting. Time: 58:12.

If you browse by channels, you can zoom in on 133 videos on mathematics including the 18.02 Tutorial Video: Partial Derivatives, which runs 11:59. Or among 261 videos on engineering, you will find Emmy-Award Winning Work on High-Speed Video Cameras by Brian Anthony SM ’98, PhD ’06, an entrepreneur who leads the MIT Medical Electronics Device Realization Center. Time: 02:51

Most visitors to Barcelona visit Antoni Gaudi’s iconic structures that join fanciful decorations with conservative structures—churches and housing. You can understand the subtleties of his work by watching an architecture and urban planning channel video titled the Creative Practices of Antoni Gaudi in Colònia Güell and Sagrada Familia. Time: 01:42:19

You can also explore channels devoted to the arts, student life, and entrepreneurship. Or click types to find history for a video on the Harnessing the Wind at MIT: Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel or the story of the telegraph and its impact in the Whole Wired World. Enjoy!


Ice shells become strong and artful objects.

Ice shells become strong and artful objects.

When MIT students are out in freezing weather making things, anything can happen. During Independent Activities Period (IAP), they made structurally complex objects using the power of frozen water-soaked fabric. Watch the video Forces Frozen: Structures made from frozen fabrics.

The three-day workshop drew students from many disciplines.

The three-day workshop drew students from many disciplines.

The IAP workshop, titled Forces Frozen, pushed the boundaries of ice shells through design, experimentation, and fabrication. Led by Assistant Professor Caitlin Mueller ’07, SM ’14, PhD ’14 and post-doc Corentin Fivet, the workshop invited 30 students to research and design ice/fabric forms and the methods for making them on the first day and then spend the second day building formwork and rigging systems.  On the final day, they constructed an outdoor landscape of frozen structures and shared the work in a public exhibition.

The projects focus “on thin shell structures that get their strength not from the materials they are using or a thickness of material, but from the form they are using, just like an eggshell,” says Mueller. “The shells that we are designing are inspired by a twentieth-century Swiss structural designer, Heinz Isler…he was really inspired by nature and the forms that come out naturally through the forces of gravity. This is a really fun opportunity to combine physics, mechanics, and science with creating something that is almost artistic.”

Learn more on the Forces Frozen tumblr and a BetaBoston article.

You can try this at home.


Guest Post by Aaron Johnson from the Ask an Engineer series, published by MIT’s School of Engineering

Because bikers are tougher than meteorologists. Just kidding! Read on…

Phoro: Brent Moore

Photo: Brent Moore

Turn on the news when a hurricane makes landfall and there’s a good chance you’ll see a brave (or foolish) meteorologist reporting live from the scene of the storm. He or she is probably yelling into the microphone about how the wind’s so strong that he or she has to hold onto a tree, traffic sign, or telephone pole to keep from blowing away. But attention-seeking meteorologists are not the only people who have to hang on during very high winds—motorcyclists are, too, every day. They’re also fully exposed, but they can zoom along at very high speeds and not fly off the back of their motorcycles? Why not?

It all comes down to a force called drag, says Richard Perdichizzi, a technical instructor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics who operates the Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel.“Drag is the force a body produces as the air moves around it,” he explains. The amount of force is a function of two factors—the body’s cross-sectional area, and its shape. The cross-sectional area is simply the size of the object facing the wind. According to Perdichizzi, “the average person presents approximately eight square feet of blockage.” But that’s only if you’re standing perfectly upright. If you stand sideways and suck in your stomach, or if you roll up into a ball, your cross-sectional area decreases and you’ll experience less drag force. This is essentially what a lot of motorcyclists do when they’re zipping down the highway. They put their heads and shoulders down and pull their knees up, minimizing their cross-sectional area.

Motorcyclists need to be able to see and steer their bikes, so there’s a limit to how small they can make their cross-sectional areas. This is where the shape of the motorcycle becomes important. The fairing—the contoured piece of metal or plastic covering the front of the motorcycle—and the windshield are specially designed to be as aerodynamic as possible. They smoothly deflect the air instead of stopping it or creating turbulence like a flat, boxy surface would. Stopped and turbulent air lead to more drag. Read more

Visit the MIT School of Engineering’s Ask an Engineer site for answers to more of your questions.


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.


The Swarmcreativity session examines what your social network tells you.

Sloan’s Swarmcreativity session examines what your social network reveals about you.

Warm up in January beside an intellectual campfire—that is, the many creative and learning opportunities available through Independent Activities Period (IAP). On campus, you can choose from an array of mostly free non-credit sessions from a film viewing to a multi-part programming course. IAP activities, which run through January 30, are open to MIT alumni and the campus community.

You can also stay cozy at home and tap into online course materials through MIT OpenCourseWare. Try out Transmedia Storytelling: Modern Science Fiction, a spring 2014 course, or select a Highlights for High School selection such as the Chandra Astrophysics Institute video course. OCW and the more structured courses on edX are available free to the public as well.

To identify interesting IAP sessions, search the options by date or sponsor or you can browse the 48 non-credit categories. IAP also offers intensive academic and physical education courses for students.

In the Computers: Web Design and Development category, you can sign up for a three-session class that includes Swarmcreativity—Introduction to Collaboration Science, Coolhunting, and Virtual Mirroring and Coolfarming. Sign up for Coolfarming – How to Create Collaborative Innovation Networks (COINs) by Jan. 12, first class is Jan. 14. You can also learn about the Sloan course through the OpenCourseware version or the COINs2013 seminar website.

Forces Frozen, an Art and Architecture (A&A) workshop, explores the world of structural ice shells, inspired by Swiss engineer and designer Heinz Isler. You begin by researching and designing ice/fabric forms, learn to build formwork and rigging systems, and on the final day, construct an outdoor landscape of frozen structures. Sign up for Forces Frozen by Jan. 9, first of five classes is Jan. 12.

Also in A&S, you can hear a Jan. 21 campus talk and tour of the LEED Platinum Certified Artists For Humanity EpiCenter to discover how they are employing energy-efficiency and renewable-energy systems. Sign up for the MIT Energy Initiative-sponsored event by Jan. 14.

Join staff from the List Visual Arts Center on Jan. 21, 2:00-4:00 p.m., to check out Boston’s most important contemporary art galleries and learn how institutions like the List collect contemporary art. The Boston Contemporary Art Gallery Crawl begins at 450 Harrison Avenue, Boston; no sign up required.

Film lovers can view the Best of the European Short Film Festival 2014 on Jan. 26, 7:00-9:00 p.m., in 32-123. View a full listing of the films, which include prize-winning entries and a selection of audience and jury favorites. No sign up necessary.

In Educational Technology, you can take a one-session course titled Introduction to Making at MIT and Beyond. You can learn more about 3D printing, rapid fabrication, and maker spaces at MIT and how alumni are using these techniques in the world. Overview, presentations, and a panel discussion is scheduled Jan. 27, 4:00-5:15 p.m. in 32-155. No signup required.

Or bring your Apple mobile device to Siri and Beyond: Using Speech and More to Control Your iOS Device. Technical consultant Kim Patch will demonstrate how to use the native speech control on the iPhone and iPad efficiently. Set for Jan. 14, 1:00-2:30 p.m. in E17-121. No signup required for this Educational Technology session.

In a Careers session, you can find out how to Get a Patent on Your Invention and Turn It into a Startup! An MIT technology licensing officer will describe when and how to file a patent and how to get the coveted exclusive license. Sign up by emailing kmkhalil@mit.edu by Jan. 15 for this session set for the same day, Jan. 15, from 12:30-2:00 p.m. in 3-133.


Slice of MIT Top Stories 2014

What do a Jeopardy! superstar, a battle of armrests, and fake MIT news from The Onion have in common? They’re all featured in Slice of MIT’s top 14 stories of 2014.

Relive all things quirky at MIT in 2014, including our most popular feature, the epic Hack Madness Tournament that named MIT’s hack of a 1982 hack of a Harvard-Yale game as the MIT’s community’s all-time favorite hack.

We hope Slice kept you entertained and informed in 2014. Thank you for reading. Happy New Year!

  1. The Harvard-Yale Football Game is MIT Hack Madness Champion: The game outlasted 31 MIT hacks, including the Caltech Cannon Heist.
  2. Ask an Engineer—How Do Birds Sit on Power Lines without Getting Electrocuted? There’s a reason you’ve never seen a bird straddle two wires.
  3. MIT Living Wage Calculator: Why Higher Wages Help Everybody: Showing the gap between the cost of necessities and the minimum wage.
  4. Waiting 37 Years for an MIT Degree: He now goes by Michael Zelin ’81.
  5. Welcoming the MIT 5: The Class of ’18 includes five pals from LA’s Polytechnic High.
  6. Ask an Engineer—Why is Speed at Sea Measured in Knots? Knots are the term for nautical speed. Why?
  7. Prepare for the Playoffs—An MIT Football Primer: A recap of the Engineers’ historic season.
  8. The Onion’s Best (Fake) Stories About MIT: More than 50 Onion stories mention MIT—here’s our 10 favorites.
  9. Record-Breaking MIT Alumna Questions the Jeopardy! Answers: Julia Collins’ 20 consecutive victories rank third-best all time.
  10. Ask an Engineer—Why Hasn’t Commercial Air Travel Gotten Any Faster Since the 1960s? Will we ever travel at supersonic speed?
  11. Armrest Wars—Designing an End to Elbow Battles: No more battles with a stranger for an armrest on a plane.
  12. Ask an Engineer—How do the Blades of a Jet Engine Start Turning? Here’s how commercial airlines start their engines.
  13. Who Coded Pied Piper for HBO’s Silicon Valley? Director Mike Judge relied on an alumnus’ algorithms to lend authenticity.
  14. Meet Elon Musk’s Top MIT Talent Many of his companies’ employees graduated from MIT.

Do you have a favorite MIT story from 2014? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.


What’s one thing MIT students can do to increase their well-being this winter break? Sleep, according to Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, Affective Computing, Rosalind Picard SM ’86, ScD ’91. Picard is an instructor for MAS S63 Tools for Well Being, a course launched this past fall with a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation aimed at better understanding how individuals can be healthier and happier.

“The course is our way to start learning about our health,” explains Picard. She says providing a semester-long credit course is important for students who need to make their time commitments count.  “People are interested in so much,” she says. “At MIT you have so much you have to do, you often only do what you have to do rather than you want to do.”

Tools for Well Being—a Media Arts and Sciences course—offers weekly lectures from researchers and experts on a range of topics including diet and nutrition, mental health, workplace well-being, and cognitive health. Another benefit is that the Wednesday lectures, on topics ranging from How to Measure Stress, Engagement, and Positive Affect to the Science of Workplace Fitness, are open to the public.

Picard recommends sleep as a first-step to wellbeing.

Picard recommends sleep as a first-step to well-being.

“This is the whole picture of well-being. It’s like a resilience guide. If you are going to drive yourself to maximum performance, what do you need to know?” she says.

The course—open to graduate and undergraduate students—also focuses on technology as it relates to well-being. Some class speakers have experience building and using technology for well-being—like Kevin Slavin Assistant Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the MIT Media Lab who previously worked in game development. The course culminates in a final project that requires students to design and prototype a tool for well-being. Past projects included a smart coupon model that would provide users with tailored coupons for healthy options and an app that assists in creating conversations to solve interpersonal conflicts at work.

Picard would like to see a smaller course focused on well-being as a requirement for undergrads, much like physical education is required.  She relates that though many courses may be interesting to students, taking courses outside of those required proves difficult for many.

“Students need to be as intelligent about their basic functioning as they are about bio and math. You must know how to take care of your own health so you can push yourself for four years and emerge strong and resilient,” she says.

A first step to increase that understanding is examining your sleep patterns, Picard says. As a recommendation to all students, the winter break is a great time to do this.

“Pay attention to how much sleep your body needs—that’s your natural rhythm. Figure out how to get closer to that when you get back to school,” she says.

Recorded lectures from Tools for Well Being are available to everyone.


Guest Post by Jason M. Rubin from the Ask an Engineer series, published by MIT’s School of Engineering


Photo: Pedro Figueiredo

Some people talk about cloud computing all the time, but they have their heads in the clouds if they think online information—web pages, music files, videos, and the vast seas of images and data—floats about magically in the ether, miraculously channeled through our laptops and smart phones. The Internet is not a magical cloud, explains Devavrat Shah, Jamieson Associate Professor in MIT’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department. It is a decidedly real collection of wires, optical fibres, electromagnetic waves, computers, and datacenters.

Understanding email is a good first step, Shah says. “A suitable analogy is the postal service. It uses an addressing system that enables a letter to be delivered to a specific place. The Internet does the same thing with emails. An email account is a specific unduplicated address.” There is, for example, only one askanengineer@mit.edu email address on the whole Internet.

When it comes to Facebook, Google, Netflix, or any other web destination, the situation is not so different. Facebook, for example, is a “virtual place,” Shah says, and its address is expressed as a URL, or a uniform (or universal) resource locator. When you type the URL of someone’s FB fan page, or your own page, into your web browser, the Internet takes you to that exact location – or, more accurately, it delivers that Facebook location to you by using a network directory service called the Domain Name System (DNS). Hosting more than a billion users, the Facebook you see on your computer actually lives on many servers in many different datacenters. Read more.

Visit the MIT School of Engineering’s Ask an Engineer site for answers to more of your questions.


Last week six alumni working in space exploration as managers, engineers, and researchers joined us for Twitter chat MIT Alumni and the Final Frontier. The alumni fielded questions about their favorite projects, life at MIT, and shared insider knowledge on upcoming missions like OSIRIS-REx and Mars 2020.

New NASA Projects

All the alumni experts have a connection to NASA—as a current or past employee—and all have a great interest in upcoming missions, especially their favorites. Alessondra Springmann SM ’11 leaned towards asteroids, while Allen Chen ’00 SM ’02 had to pick an obvious favorite. Bobak Ferdowsi ‘03 chimed in with why he thinks the Europa Clipper mission is so exciting.

Mars 2020

The Mars 2020 mission will send another rover to the red planet—one with more capabilities than current rover Curiosity. Tamra Johnson ‘01 and Vanessa Thomas ’98 were curious how this newest mission might be different. Chen and Noah Warner ‘01, SM ‘03, PhD ‘07 shared some changes we can look for in 2020.

See You on Mars

Warner also shared insight into the future of the Curiosity—one we may never get to see.

Mission Moments

Caley Burke SM ’10 works in launches and Chen works in landings—both of which can be very stressful. Burke and Chen discussed what it’s like when they can finally breathe again.


Which AeroAstro class do the alumni keep thinking about? David Oh ’91, SM ’93, SCD ’97 joined in with his favorite.

To end the chat, Chen summed up what makes MIT and NASA so similar in his eyes.

This chat was cosponsored by MIT AeroAstro. See a more complete transcript of the chat


Love space exploration? Join us Tuesday, October 7 at 2:00 p.m. EDT for a live Twitter chat with six alumni who explore space as engineers, managers, and researchers. Follow along and ask questions of our participants with the hashtag #MITAlum.

Many alumni work in the field of space exploration and MIT’s involvement can currently be seen in exciting projects like Mars 2020 and the Osiris-REx mission. Bring your questions on topics including Mars Curiosity and 2020, asteroids, and the future of human and autonomous flight missions.

Meet the alumni:

CaleyCaley Burke SM ’10 @NASA_Caley

Burke is an aerospace engineer for NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP) and performs analysis on the trajectories of the rockets launching NASA’s unmanned spacecraft missions. She works on the interface between the spacecraft and launch vehicle teams; currently she’s on the 2016 launch of InSight to Mars.

al chen

Allen Chen ’00, SM ’02 @icancallubetty

Chen is a senior systems engineer in the Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL) Systems and Advanced Technologies group at NASA’S Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).  He is currently the cruise and EDL phase lead for the Mars 2020 project. He also worked on the Mars Exploration Rovers project, performing EDL reconstruction analysis and testing.

bobakBobak Ferdowsi SM ’03 @tweetsoutloud

Ferdowsi is a systems engineer with JPL who gained Internet stardom for his haircut and role as activity lead during the Mars Curiosity rover landing. He has been working for JPL since 2003 and currently works on both Curiosity and the Europa Clipper mission.

DavidDavid Oh ’91, SM ’93, ScD ’97 @marstimrdad

Oh is a manager and senior systems engineer at JPL. He worked on the Curiosity Mars rover for seven years and led the team responsible for testing and delivery of the spacecraft’s core electronics, communications, and thermal control systems. He was also the mission’s lead flight director from launch in November 2011 to landing nine months later. After landing, Oh and family famously spent a month living on Mars time while he worked with the surface operations team driving the rover.

Sondy-2Alessondra Springmann SM ’11 @sondy

Springmann is a planetary astronomer working for the OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission as a graduate researcher at the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.  She spent two years at Arecibo Observatory observing near-Earth asteroids with the megawatt planetary radar system on the 305-meter William E. Gordon radio telescope.  Her research interests involve binary asteroids systems, and feedback between surface properties of asteroids and non-gravitational forces

NoahNoah Warner ’01, SM ’03, PhD ’07 @nzw

Warner is an instrument deployment deputy phase lead for the InSight Mission to Mars. Warner joined the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 2007 and worked on the Mars Science Laboratory project in various system engineering roles until 2014, with his last year spent as a Tactical Mission Manager in charge of day-to-day operations of the Curiosity rover.  After spending a decade in Cambridge, Warner lives in Southern California with his wife Anjeli–also an MIT grad–and his two children.

This chat co-sponsored by MIT AeroAstro and is part of the Alumni Association’s celebration of MIT AeroAstro’s centennial.