Remember When…

Photo: Nicole Morell

Photo: Nicole Morell

As the Boston area is blanketed with more than 80 inches of snow, many MIT alumni shared memories from other major snowstorms while students at the ‘tute.

On the Association’s Facebook page, Mike Harlan ’78 recalled Boston being shut down for a full week. “It’s the only time I’ve ever seen or heard of a snowplow being snowed-in, trapped in three to four feet of snow on all sides,” said Harlan.

Rosemary McNaughton ’97 remembers the Tennis Bubble collapsing on April Fool’s Day 1997, the first snow day for MIT since 1978. And Aisha Taylor ’00 added, “We thought it was an April Fool’s Day joke because MIT closed. There’s a snowflake on our Brass Rat because of it.”

Other alumni commented on the challenges of riding a unicycle over snow (Pete LaMaster SM ’79), a dramatic drag race on the Mass Ave bridge (Dan Swanson ’75), and the joys of seeing a Hawaiian roommate playing in the snow for the first time (John Vencill ’64, SM ’65).

Have an MIT snow story to add? Share it on our Facebook page or in the comments below.

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Taking part in a combined 22 missions, the six alumni astronauts interviewed by Slice of MIT are no strangers to space. Yet John Grunsfeld ’80, Dominic Antonelli ’89, Mike Fincke ’89, Franklin Chang-Diaz ScD ’77, Chris Cassidy SM ’00, and Mike Massimino SM ’88, ENG ’90, ME ’90, PhD ’92 are still in awe of the experience of looking back on Earth. “It’s so hard to put it in words,” shared Chris Cassidy.

In fact this group of MIT alumni astronauts hold a common memory—how moving it is to see your home planet in a new way. “The Earth…I think it might actually be paradise,” Massimino remembered. “It is very much the most beautiful thing you ever saw,” Chang-Diaz recalled in the video. The astronauts also discussed the thrill of takeoff, including last minute fears that they might not be headed to space after all. “All the way up to the final countdown, I thought they were going to open the hatch and say ‘Hey, we made a mistake, get out,’” Fincke recalled.

The six astronauts cover nearly 30 years of space missions. Chang-Diaz, who leads the group with seven missions, took his first space flight in 1986 as a member of STS 61-C (1986) aboard Space Shuttle Columbia. Cassidy bookends the group’s collection of missions with his 2013 trip to the International Space Station as part of Expedition 36.  Many of the astronauts said that whether it’s your first or seventh visit, the experience of space is spectacular each time.

Hear what each astronaut had to say about their missions and what it’s like to look back home from hundreds of miles away.

The video was produced by Alumni Association videographer Brielle Domings. 

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The April 9, 9, 1968 front page of The Tech.

The April 9, 1968 front page of The Tech.

On February 4, 2015, MIT will host its 41st annual Martin Luther King Celebration Luncheon, an MIT community event that celebrates King’s legacy and the Institute’s commitment to diversity.

Past luncheons have featured a traditional silent march that travels from Lobby 7 to Kresge Auditorium and past speakers have included King’s widow Coretta Scott King, who delivered the keynote address at the luncheon’s 20th anniversary celebration in 1994.

While King may have never made a public appearance at MIT, he was a common visitor to Cambridge from the 1950s—when he was a doctoral student at Boston University—until the mid-1960s.

According to a January 2013 article in the Harvard Gazette, King took philosophy courses at Harvard in 1952 and 1953 and he was a guest preacher at Harvard’s Memorial Church in 1959 and 1960. He delivered a lecture titled “The Future of Integration” at Harvard Law School in 1962 and spoke at Memorial Church and Cambridge Rindge and Latin School on the same day in January 1965.

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A Tech article from March 23, 1965. Click for larger image.

King’s name appears regularly in issues of The Tech in the 1960s, including:

After his assassination on April 4, 1968, the front pages of The Tech’s preceding two issues were dedicated to King and articles included “Faculty, students consider role of MIT in race problems” and  “(Professor Harold) Isaacs cites racism in murder.”

The archives at the King Center museum also include two letters to King from the MIT/Harvard Joint Center for Urban Studies that discuss the center’s Social Statistics in the City conference that took place in June 1967.

According to a video by MIT Productions, King’s death directly led to, among other endeavors, the formation of the MIT Black Students’ Union and the creation of Interphase (now Interphase EDGE),  a seven-week summer program that prepared incoming students for the rigors of MIT.

For more information on King’s legacy at MIT, which includes the MLK Visiting Professors and Scholars Program, the MLK-Inspired IAP Design Seminar, and the MLK Leadership Award, visit diversity.mit.edu.

The 41st annual Martin Luther King Celebration Luncheon takes place Wednesday, February 4, 2015, at 11:00 a.m. in Walker Memorial. The event is open to the MIT community and features a keynote address from author and activist Rinku Sen. Find out more information and how to register.

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Cathleen Nalezyty ‘16 browses the MITSFS library.

Cathleen Nalezyty ‘16 browses the MITSFS library.

Brother Guy Consolmagno ’74, SM ’75, a Jesuit and an astronomer at the Vatican Observatory, was a first-year student at Boston College when he first visited the MIT Science Fiction Society (MITSFS) library. He quickly transferred to MIT.

“Visiting that library for the first time was one of the greatest days of my life,” Consolmagno says. “Science fiction reminds you that science is fun—it’s the best adventure anyone could have. I asked myself, ‘How could I be anywhere else?’”

Located on the fourth floor of the Stratton Student Center, the MITSFS (pronounced mits-fiss) collection is one of the world’s largest public science fiction libraries—home to an estimated 90 percent of all English-language science fiction ever published. More than 45,000 books occupy less than 1,700 square feet of space; another 16,000 books sit in storage at an East Boston warehouse.

“Plus, we have complete runs of almost every science fiction magazine dating back to the 1920s,” says graduate student D. W. Rowlands, a MITSFS member. “Our library keeps growing. It’s a good problem to have, but it’s exhausting.”

The library’s collection includes mainstream titles like the Lord of the Rings and Star Trek novels, rare works like fanzines (fan-published magazines), and even a small collection of science fiction erotica magazines from the 1950s that are locked away from public view.

Early History

The society dates back to 1949, when Rudolf Preisendorfer ’52 and a group of like-minded students met to read his collection of Astounding Science Fiction magazines and later set out to collect back issues of other periodicals from the genre. A few years later, members began dragging a wooden crate filled with books between dorm rooms and the Spofford Room for meetings. (The crate is still on display at the MITSFS library.)

In the 1960s, the society grew and, under the leadership of a group that included Anthony Lewis ’61, L. Court Skinner ’62, SM ’64, PhD ’65, and Marilyn Wisowaty Niven ’62, eventually became a formal MIT club whose popularity spread beyond campus. Annual picnics were attended by well-known authors of popular science fiction.

“MITSFS was a big part of my undergraduate years—the picnics were huge events,” Skinner says. “Isaac Asimov was a great guy, but Hugo Gernsback was a bit of a curmudgeon.”

Skinner served as society president for three years. Today, the student leader of the MITSFS is known as the skinner, one of many distinctive titles that include lady high embezzler (treasurer) and onseck (honorable secretary).

“I certainly didn’t think that the title would last this long,” Skinner says. “But it’s an honor to have your name continue to be associated with MIT.”

Today’s MITSFS

MITSFS “skinner” D. W. Rowlands G holds the steel wrench that the society clanks to begin its weekly meetings.

MITSFS “skinner” D. W. Rowlands G holds the steel wrench that the society clanks to begin its weekly meetings.

The current-day MITSFS is open about 40 hours per week and holds weekly meetings, usually on Friday evenings, that members admit usually feature very little business. Each meeting begins with the clanking of a two-foot steel wrench onto a massive slab of titanium, and each member of the society, collectively known as Star Chamber, can vote up to four times (once per limb) on any issues brought to poll.

“There is definitely a social aspect, but we’re really just an awesome science fiction library,” says Alexandra Westbrook ’13. “Even if a book isn’t popular or well known, we have almost everything.”

In addition to a near-overflow of books, the library’s shelves are strewn with bizarre trinkets, including a collection of randomly placed toy bananas that no current member can explain.

“MITSFS has a lot of inside jokes that predate current students and, it seems, most alumni,” Rowlands says. “We definitely have an obsession with bananas, but no one seems to know why.”

Physical size remains MITSFS’s biggest issue—there are no plans expand the library. But the society continues to expand, thanks to active membership, a small endowment, and a boundless supply of both science fiction literature and readers at MIT.

Matching MIT’s Mission

“Science is the heart of science fiction, but the meat of it is engineering,” says Susan Shepherd ’11. “MITSFS keeps growing because of MIT’s central mission—explore science, push boundaries. Someone who wants to change the world—that’s the type of person who loves to read science fiction.”

MITSFS currently has about 300 dues-paying members, and Rowlands estimates that about 60 percent are current MIT students. Annual membership, which is open to the general public, starts at $15, but there are more expensive options, including a $260 lifetime membership and a $2,600 membership that transcends mortality.

“The real purpose of the $2,600 membership was a way for people to give to MITSFS and feel like they were getting something in return,” Rowlands says. “But if you die and come back undead or uploaded, you do have the option to maintain your membership.”

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2015 issue of MIT Technology Review magazine.

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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.

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The 2015 TIME magazine Person of the Year, who will be announced this morning, will not be an MIT alumnus. The magazine’s list of eight finalists, which were announced earlier this week, was narrowed down from a larger list that includes perennial nominees Benjamin Netanyahu ’75, SM ’76; Charles Koch ’57, SM ’58, SM ’60; and David Koch ’62, SM ’63.

In honor of today’s announcement, Slice is recalling the five alumni, scattered over a 50-year period, who have been previously named Persons of the Year.

2009: Ben Bernanke PhD ’79, U.S. Federal Reserve Chair

TIME_BernankeIn two terms Federal Reserve chair, Bernanke oversaw the government’s response to the late-2000s financial crisis. According to TIME, His leadership helped ensure that 2009 was a period of recovery rather than depression.

“The main reason Ben Shalom Bernanke is TIME’s Person of the Year for 2009 is that he is the most important player guiding the world’s most important economy. His creative leadership helped ensure that 2009 was a period of weak recovery rather than catastrophic depression, and he still wields unrivaled power over our money, our jobs, our savings and our national future.”

1996: Dr. David Ho, 1978 graduate of the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, CEO and director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center.

TIME_HoHo was honored for his contributions to the understanding and treatment of HIV and AIDS, and he and his staff’s research on antiretroviral therapy have led significant reductions in AIDS-associated mortality.

“Ho and his’ colleagues have demonstrated that this picture of the (AIDS) virus is wrong. There is no initial dormant phase of infection. Ho showed that the body and the virus are, in fact, locked in a pitched battle from the very beginning. At first many AIDS researchers found this hard to accept; it challenged some of their most cherished assumptions. If Ho was right, doctors would have to radically alter the way they treated AIDS.”

1960: American Scientists

TIME_ScientistThe multi-person list included Charles Stark Draper ’26, SM ’28, ScD ’38; William Shockley PhD ’36, Robert Woodward ’36, PhD ’37; and former professor and provost Charles Hard Townes.

“U.S. scientists and their colleagues in other free lands are indeed the true 20th  century adventurers, the explorers of the unknown, the real intellectuals of the day, the leaders of mankind’s greatest inquiry into the mysteries of matter, of the earth, the universe, and of life itself. Their work shapes the life of every human presently inhabiting the planet, and will influence the destiny of generations to come.”

For even more end-of-year rankings and awards, check out the Forbes 2014 list of the world’s most powerful people, which includes Netanyahu, the Kochs, and European Central Bank President Mario Draghi PhD ’77.

Is there MIT alumnus who has been named Person of the Year that Slice is missing? Let us know in the comments or on Facebook and Twitter

 

 

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As an astronaut, Mike Massimino SM ’88, ENG ’90, ME ’90, PhD ’92  logged over 30 hours in spacewalks—most of them while working on the Hubble Telescope. “I think it’s the greatest scientific instrument that has ever been built,” he says. “It’s a great combination of engineering accomplishment and science accomplishment.”

Massimino

Astronaut Mike Massimino works in tandem with astronaut James Newman. Photo: NASA

One of Massimino’s most memorable moments from working on the telescope required him to think on his feet—even though solid ground was nowhere near. While on STS-125, Massimino was tasked with removing a handrail from the telescope during a spacewalk. After removing a few screws from the handrail, his tool—developed specifically for the mission—began to strip the remaining screws, leaving them stuck. Massimino feared he wouldn’t be able to complete his mission.

“I knew I had a safety tether that would probably hold, but I also had a heart that I wasn’t so sure about,” he says, recalling the experience to a live audience at The Moth.

Thankfully, Massimino went into problem-solving mode and simply yanked the handrail off with force. He credits MIT for the ability to problem-solve while floating in space—tenuously connected to Space Shuttle Atlantis. “MIT shows you how to engage a complex problem,” he says.

“You’re trying to do something really complicated and lots of things are going wrong.  You can’t handle everything, so you have to handle what’s really important…that’s what MIT taught me,” he says

Massimino recently shared lessons from MIT and explains how the Institute affected his choice to become an astronaut.

Astronaut Massimino’s testimonials are part of Space Shorts, a series of alumni astronaut stories, produced by Alumni Association videographer Brielle Domings. Watch all videos

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The new Standard Technology Ring was invented 85 years ago by representatives from the classes of 1930, 1931, and 1932. The committee’s major design debate centered on the position of the dome and the beaver—which would be on the face of the ring? The beaver was eventually selected, with committee members agreeing that many universities have domes, but few have beavers. The final design looked much like the current version with a beaver on the face of the ring and Great Dome and class year on either side. The beaver’s prominence on the ring led to its Brass Rat nickname.

Brass Rat Ad 1930

Sophomores still gather each year to design the ring for their graduating class, with the new design revealed each spring. Beyond the beaver, dome, and class year, new elements such as hacker maps, hidden symbols, and mementos make them unique to individual classes. Graduate students redesign their Grad Rat every five years.

Today the brass rat, which is purchased by more than 90 percent of undergraduates and is growing in popularity among graduate students, serves as a quick way to identify Institute alumni and make connections among them.

To highlight this MIT symbol, we asked alumni and students to share Brass Rat photos on social media with the hashtag #brassrat. Images came from Australia to Warsaw, Fenway to Lake Tahoe where alumni are working, playing, and reconnecting with their Brass Rats on. We saw Brass Rats as they began to age and fresh new rats on Class of 2016 hands. Browse photos and notes from fellow alumni below and take a look at the over 50 submitted brass rat photos on Exposure.

You can still share your brass rat on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Google+. Just upload your photo and tag it with #brassrat. We’ll share it with your fellow alumni.

Aud McKeown

Audubon Dougherty SM ’10 and her Grad Rat take a break from sketching screen flows for a digital platform for Vice President Joe Biden’s Jobs Data Jam

Stephen Rodan

Stephen Rodan ’16 and U.S. Department of Energy’s John Kelly SM ’78, PhD ’80 show of their Brass Rats at the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution

 

Catherine Jenkins '03, SM '14

Catherine Jenkins ’03, SM ’04 Brass Rat at Wieliczka Salt Mine in Wieliczka, Poland

Robert Wickham

Robert Wickham ’93, SM ’95 poses his Brass Rat 31 floors up in Melbourne, Australia.

Teresa DiGenova '99

Brass Rat family shot featuring Rocco DiGenova ’72, Mary Beth DiGenova ’10, Teresa DiGenova ’99, Kevin DiGenova ’07

 

 

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How do you make it at MIT? A new Alumni Association video features the advice of alumni that participated in the Reunions Access Memories project.

“All you can do is dive in as much as you possibly can,” said Norman Gaut SM ’64, PhD ’67. Check out the video and share your own advice in the comments:

The video was produced by Alumni Association videographer Brielle Domings. 

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Images Courtesy of Rosales + Partners

More than 50 years since its debut, the MIT-borne unit of measurement known as the Smoot is still growing in popularity.

For those uninitiated to MIT, the Smoot was concocted in October 1958 after a Lambda Chi Alpha headmaster sent seven students to calibrate the Harvard (Mass. Ave.) Bridge using 5’7 freshman Ollie Smoot ’62. The unofficial length: 364.4 Smoots, plus one ear. (A plaque commemorating the prank was added to the bridge in 2009.)

Oliver Smoot "62 is used to measure the  bridge in 1958.

Oliver Smoot ’62 is used to measure the bridge in 1958.

The measurement has long been a calculation used by Google, and in 2011, the word “Smoot” was added to the American Heritage Dictionary. Earlier this year, the Smoot finished in fourth place—garnering more than 2,600 votes—in a Slice contest to determine the MIT community’s favorite hack.

Anyone trekking across the bridge can relive Ollie Smoot’s journey—the measurements have endured as permanent markings, and Cambridge police often use the marks to report accident locations on the bridge.

And soon, thanks to a $2.5 million anonymous donation, the marking will be visible to more than pedestrians. According to the Boston Globe, the gift will pay for state-of-the art LED bulbs that will illuminate the bridge.

 “$2.5 million gift will shed light on the Harvard Bridge,” Boston Globe:

“The design utilizes energy-efficient bulbs on both the roadway and the pedestrian path, adding lighting at a lower level to make the bridge both more attractive and safer.

The roadway lights will be set every 30 Smoots. They will turn on for the night in sequence rather than all at once, a nod to the day more than 50 years ago when the year’s shortest pledge—who would go on to become chairman of the American National Standards Institute and president of the International Organization for Standardization—lay down again and again.”

The Boston architecture firm Rosales + Partners will oversee the design, led by Miguel Rosales SM ’87, the firm’s president and principal designer.

In an MIT News article commemorating the Smoot’s 50th anniversary, Ollie Smoot recounted the unplanned effort needed to calculate the new measurements.

Smoot reflects on his measurement feat as 50th anniversary nears,” MIT News:

“I don’t think any of us had the slightest idea how much work was involved with lying down, getting up,” Smoot said. “They had to help me a great way across the bridge. I started by doing a push-up, and then I couldn’t even do that. It deteriorated from there.”

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