Campus Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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watch a performance of Draw Without Looking recorded in 2013 at the Tate Modern in London

Watch a performance of Draw Without Looking recorded at the Tate Modern in London.

Starting this week, you can make a deep dive in the art performances and videos of Joan Jonas, the MIT faculty emerita who will represent the US in the 2015 Venice Biennale. In her work, Jonas moves through space—using her body, props, sound, and a stage—and through time. She offers abstraction in motion, loaded with cultural insights.

Right on campus, you can visit the exhibit Joan Jonas: Selected Films and Videos, 1972-2005, which will be on view through July 5 at the MIT List Visual Arts Center. If you are not nearby, you can watch a performance of Draw Without Looking recorded in 2013 at the Tate Modern in London.

Jonas is captured in a reflection in a rehearsal for Mirror Piece One.

Jonas is captured in a reflection in a rehearsal for Mirror Piece One.

“I draw from many sources, literature, film, myth,” Jonas comments in a PBS ART21 video rehearsal for Mirror Piece One. “In the mirror pieces, the main idea is the visual of the mirrors in the space and how they are reflecting, how they look.” When she began her performances in the 1960s, she took workshops to learn “how to move, how to be in public.”

An Arts at MIT article, “Joan Jonas’s enduring influence at (and beyond) MIT,” former students and colleagues from her teaching era, 1989-2014, share the experience. Pia Lindman, professor and head of Environmental Art at the Aalto University in her native Finland, was Jonas’s TA:

“To me she seemed open-ended and didn’t want to dictate too much to people. She was not banging into everyone’s heads with this or that theory; instead, she really wanted to open up a space for students to explore, and that was also new to me.

“Now, in retrospect, I understand that was coming from the ‘60s, from the foundation of going into spaces to explore with the simplest tools to see what you get out of it. And what I saw happen was that all these students who had never done performance art—those who did not perceive themselves capable of doing something performative like standing up in front of an audience, and these guys who built things and felt that this was all women’s stuff—they all got over their own inhibitions and actually did amazing performances.”

Learn more about Jonas’s work in the Venice Biennale.

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The modern definition of the word "hack" was coined at MIT in April 1955. Photo: Nancy Crosby.

The modern definition of the word “hack” was first coined at MIT in April 1955. Photo: Nancy Crosby.

According to Wired magazine, the meaning of the word “hack” has been evolving for more than 500 years. Definitions include its earliest known usage in Middle English—“to cut with heavy blows in random fashion”—and its MIT-specific form— “mischief pulled off under a cloak of secrecy or misdirection”—that includes, but is not limited to,  a stolen canon and a disrupted football game.

But the more broad definition of hack, commonly associated with disrupting technology, was also coined at MIT and quietly first appeared in the minutes of MIT’s Tech Model Railroad Club (TMRC) 60 years ago on April 5, 1955.

“Mr. Eccles requests that anyone working or hacking on the electrical system turn the power off to avoid fuse blowing.”

Mr. Eccles refers to William Eccles ’54, SM ’57, a then-MIT graduate student and member of the railroad club. In a 2014 post on the website trainorders.com, Thomas Madden ’59 elaborated on Eccles’ involvement.

“‘Hacks’ was the term applied to all manner of technology-based practical jokes at MIT, such as thermite welding a stopped trolley car to the tracks on Massachusetts Ave. I believe TMRC member Jack Dennis ’54, SM ’54, ScD ’58 is credited with applying the term as we now use it, but he was certainly abetted by fellow graduate student and roommate Bill Eccles.

“I remember each of them shouting ‘Hacker!’ in the club room whenever someone did something questionable—and they were particularly quick to shout it at each other. Often for no reason.”

And while many of the timeless MIT pranks that predated 1954—like gags on the old East Campus dorm in the 1930s or the Dipsy Duck in the late ’40s—are now known as hacks, Madden doesn’t recall that monicker during his time at MIT.

“Back then, I don’t remember calling them hacks,” he told Slice of MIT. “The were just practical jokes, or basically, things that you did and hoped you wouldn’t get caught.”

The first known mention of computer hacking occurred in a 1963 issue of The Tech.

The first known mention of computer hacking occurred in a 1963 issue of The Tech.

And for good measure, according to wordorigins.com, the first known connection between the hackers and computing also occurred at MIT, in a November 20, 1963, article in The Tech.

“Many telephone services have been curtailed because of so-called hackers, according to Profess Carlton Tucker…The hackers have accomplished such things as tying up all the tie-lines between Harvard and MIT, or making long-distance calls by charging them to a local radar installation.

“One method involved connecting the PDP-1 computer to the phone system to search the lines until a dial tone, indicating an outside line, was found…And because of the ‘hacking,’ the majority of the MIT phones are ‘trapped.’”

Hack isn’t the only world that hatched for the TMRC’s unique jargon. The club created released own dictionary beginning in 1959 and TMRC-spawned words like “foo,” “mung,” “frob,” and “cruft” are familiar words in the lexicon of computer programming.

Read more about the Tech Model Railroad Club in 2012 article in MIT Technology Review magazine.

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Mosely works with Yongquan Lu, co-president of OrigaMIT

During the MIT project, Mosely works with Yongquan Lu, co-president of OrigaMIT. Video: Melanie Gonick.

A Menger Sponge is the answer. MIT’s origami team, OrigaMIT, which made one out of 50,000 business cards, defines it as a mathematical fractal formed by iteratively removing the middle cross-sections of a cube. Their effort is special because it helped complete an international effort to recreate a Megamenger and because the level-3 version was first designed and built by origami artist Jeannine Mosely SM ’79, EE ’80, PhD ’84.

Watch a video about their project, completing a level-3 Menger sponge—that measured ~54 inches to each side—thanks to the help of Mosely and the students, faculty, and staff who stopped by to fold last fall.

So what was Mosely’s role in constructing the level-3 Menger Sponge?

Mosely learned how to fold modular origami cubes out of business cards in 1994 from a verbal description in an email. Most modular origami designs involve tucking flaps into pockets in order to the link the units together, but the business card cube has only flaps and no pockets and is stable only when all of the flaps are on the outside of the model, she says. Then she had an insight while watching her seven-year-old son make and play with cubes.

“I realized that the corners of the flaps could be tucked under each other to link the cubes together. So you could build any shape you could imagine out of enough of them. I also observed that you could use the same unit to cover the flaps on the external faces of your model, to add pattern or color to the surface.”

By gathering obsolete business cards from colleagues, Mosely accumulated several hundred thousand cards. Then she decided to build a level-3 approximation of a Menger Sponge, a fractal shape named for its discoverer, Karl Menger. It’s an approximate rendering because a true fractal has an infinitesimal degree of detail, she says.

preparing for a 2006 exhibit.

Mosely takes a break when re-assembling eight separate sections for a 2006 exhibition at Machine Project, an LA art gallery. Photo: Margaret Wertheim, Institute For Figuring.

She estimated the project would require about 66,000 cards and take 800 person-hours to build. It took much longer.

“I decided to build it as a group project so that I could spread the joy of origami, math, and engineering around and get help building it. I taught classes and workshops at various schools, the MIT Museum, the Boston Science Museum, at origami conventions and festivals, always collecting cubes and larger modules for the finished sponge.”

Even then, with raising two children and working full time, the project took from 1994 to 2005.

Why do business cards work so well for this type of origami? The size, shape, and stiffness work well for three-dimensional projects. And they are easy to fold.

“The ratio of the sides of an American business card is 1.75:1. But 1.75 is very close to the square root of 3 (1.732) which is the arctangent of 60 degrees. This means that it is very easy to fold equilateral triangles in a business card. Just fold two opposite corners to touch each other and you will see what I mean. There are dozens of things you can do with equilateral triangles.”

Dr. Mosely’s current work as an origami artist includes the creation in 2008 of a model of the Worcester’s Union Station, with 300 local school children and 100 Worcester Polytechnic Institute students, in time for the New Year’s Eve celebration. The train station incorporated around 60,000 business cards and was 10′ wide, 7′ deep and 6′ tall.

Learn more about Jeannine Mosely and about paperfolding at MIT

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Update: Happy April Fools’ Day! Currently, there is no forecast for a significant snowstorm in the Boston area—fingers crossed the snow totals for this historic winter stay where they are! If the Alps of MIT returns next year, however, we vote for the formation of a yodeling club and would urge them to perform for us daily.

Pictured: The Alps of MIT after last month’s Winter Storm Marcus. Today’s storm is expected to drop two feet of snow in the Boston area.

Boston-area weather reports are forecasting nearly two feet of snow for later today. MIT has announced several weather-related precautions for students, staff, and alumni. Unfortunately, a late-spring snowstorm is not unprecedented. In April 1997, an early-spring storm closed MIT and dropped 27 inches of snow around Boston.

Because the Institute was closed for four weather-related emergencies earlier this year—losing valuable research and class time—MIT will remain open on Thursday. In lieu of closure, the Institute has announced the following updates and precautions that will take place during the storm:

  • MIT subzero materials scientists will test a new hydro-polymer solution on sidewalks adjacent to 77 Mass Ave. The substance can resist snow accumulation, keeping it floating several inches above the walkway until it can be swept aside.
  • The MIT Department of Crystalline Fluid Conservation will preserve snow from campus, as part of a new federal grant that will research the connection between snow fall and the loss of sense of humor.
  • Alps of MIT, the five-story snow mound on Albany St., featured on TripAdvisor and the Boston Globe, will remain open through April 30. Hot cocoa, baked croissants, and fresh strudel will be served daily at 8:00 a.m., with live music from the Alpgorithms, MIT’s student yodeling club.
  • The MIT community is encouraged to use public transportation to arrive on campus. In the event that public transportation is shut down, the community is encouraged to sled.
  • MIT’s crew and sailing teams will use modified “skate boats” equipped with eight-foot blades to practice on the still-frozen Charles River.
  • A structural engineering competition, Snow Castles in Killian Court, will take place tonight at midnight. The winning team will receive a three-person sled for use on the Alps of MIT.
  • The Media Lab’s Relocation Correlation Group will conduct surveys to measure the emotional impact of Boston’s winter—including a longitudinal study on the increase in applications to graduate schools in warm-weather climates.

MIT’s facilities department anticipates that all snow will be removed from campus by April 1, 2016.

The evolution of a  Killian Court snowman after 90 inches of snow during a three week period earlier this year.

A still-growing Killian Court snowman after 90 inches of snow in a three week period earlier this year.

The MIT Edgerton Center had some April Fools’ fun as well with a story on a new infant program.

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Social Textiles respond when users share a common interest. GIF: Social Textiles

What if your likes and interests on social media were broadcast to the world offline? Would that make it easier for you to make real world connections with people? That’s the idea behind Social Textiles, a wearable social network created by Media Lab students Viirj Kan, Katsuya Fujii, Judith Amores, and Chang Long Zhu Jin—members of the Fluid Interfaces and Tangible Media groups.

This wearable network is made up of t-shirts that light up when wearers share a common interest. When people wearing Social Textiles are within 12 feet of one another, their shirts will give a quick buzz on the shoulder to alert them that someone with a common interest is near. When the wearers identify each other and make a connection—by physically touching their new connection’s shirt—the shirt will light up, revealing their shared interest.

The idea for Social Textiles came from a class assignment in MAS.834, Tangible Interfaces. “We were told to make something intangible, tangible,” explains Viirj Kan, which got the group thinking about social media. “Online is good at connecting us at a distance, but not connecting us when we’re close,” Kan says. “We wanted to change that.”

These shirts don’t store information from your profiles on established social networks, but instead connect and light up around one or two common interests like a certain brand or community you belong to, like a university. Kan explains, “If you were to buy your shirt through a certain blog, that blog would be your connection and interest. Or if you bought your shirt at the COOP, that’s your connection.”

For now, Social Textiles are still in the development stages and aren’t available for purchase, though Kan does believe the wearable network belongs on store shelves. “People are really excited about it. At some point it should go out into the world, but the next steps are to test it on users more,” she says.

Until then, the combined Media Lab group is getting plenty of attention. As media outlets learn of Social Textiles, the group has to balance interviews and class time—adding to the learning experience. “It’s kind of like another class,” laughs Kan.

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Tomorrow is Pi day and MIT offers infinite ways to celebrate. This day, observed on March 14, 2015, is actually Super Pi Day because the numeral date format represents the first five digits of the mathematical constant—3.1415.

For students applying for the Class of 2019, it is a momentous day. Some 850 will be very happy indeed with their acceptance news. Tomorrow morning at 9:26 a.m.—to continue with the next few digits of Pi—they will be able to check the results of their applications online. They also will get the news earlier than previous classes.

In recent years, MIT posted admission decisions online at 6:28 p.m., which is called Tau Time, to equally honor the rival numbers Pi and Tau. Not quite sure about the debate between Pi and Tau? Here’s the answer in a short video, Tau vs Pi Smackdown. If you are a glutton for Pi, you can peruse Numberphile’s list of Pi day videos.

In anticipation of the acceptance decisions, the Admissions Office created a fabulous video that shows a swarm of drones taking off from the Great Dome and delivering MIT acceptance tubes worldwide. In reality, though, drones were not involved. At least not this year.

If you’re looking for ways to honor this special day, here are some on-campus options:

Pi Day celebration at Ashdown House last year

The Pi Day celebration at Ashdown House last year. Photo credit: Aarthy Kannan Adityan, Ashdown House.

Students can party at the seventh-annual Pi Day event put on by the Ashdown House. This year’s event, a collaboration with Sidney-Pacific, will be held from 6:00–8:00 p.m. in the Hulsizer room and will include pie-throwing contests and a Pi recital competition.

Also Saturday night, the MIT Alumni Arts Exchange is hosting a special arts and music event for Super Pi Day from 6:00–10:00 p.m. in the Media Lab. Students will enjoy savory and sweet pies, a delicious way to celebrate the mathematical constant. Click here to register for the event.

Further afield, you can celebrate Pi Day virtually:

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Pi Day e-cards

Click here to learn more about Pi Day in years past at  MIT.

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The U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings on America’s best colleges and graduate schools were first released in 1983. In that time, the rankings and comprehensive guidebooks have become an integral part of the college application process and MIT has placed high in nearly every applicable category.

The magazine’s 2016 graduate rankings were officially released on March 10 and the Institute ranked first in more than 20 categories and sub-categories, including the best engineering graduate program for the 27th consecutive year.

The first-place School of Engineering’s top-ranked graduate programs include aerospace/aeronautical/astronautical engineering, chemical engineering, computer engineering (tied), electrical/electronic/communications engineering (tied), materials engineering, and mechanical engineering.

MIT’s other top-ranked graduate programs and departments include:

Biological Sciences
Economics
Chemistry
Computer Science
Discrete Mathematics and Combinatorics
Econometrics
Information Systems
Inorganic Chemistry
Materials Engineering
Math
Mechanical Engineering
Physics
Production/Operations
Supply Chain/Logistics

The MIT Sloan School of Management was ranked the fifth best graduate program for business and Sloan’s graduate program in entrepreneurship ranking third. Overall, more than 60 MIT programs and departments ranked in the top 10. View all of U.S. NewsMIT rankings.

In determining rank, U.S. News weighs factors such as reputation, research activity, quality of faculty, research, and students, and student selectivity to rank the top graduate engineering schools.

U.S. News released its most-recent undergraduate ranking in September 2014. MIT was ranked seventh overall among national universities and had the top-ranked undergraduate engineering program for the 25th consecutive year.

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Click the image to see the full list of MIT-connected SXSW Interactive presenters.

Click the image to see the full list of MIT-connected SXSW Interactive presenters.

The annual South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive festival is the world’s largest incubator for emerging technologies, new ideas, and inspired innovations. So it’s no surprise that the MIT community has a huge presence throughout the conference.

Alumni Association research indicates that more than 100 MITers will present their research during the five-day festival, which begins on Friday, March 13. (The other SXSW festivals, film and music, take place March 13–21 and March 17–22, respectively.)

The MIT contingent includes mix of faculty, alumni, and researchers on a number of eclectic topics, including the end of disability (Associate Professor Hugh Herr SM ’93); creating innovation (2015 MIT Commencement speaker Megan Smith ’86, SM ’88); the future of connected objects (Jennifer Dunnam MArch ’12); and how robots are changing the way we prepare food (Jacquelyn Martino PhD ’06).

See the Alumni Association still-growing list on MIT-connected presenters.

For more information on MIT’s role at the festival, join the #MITAlum SXSW Preview Twitter chat on Tuesday, March 10, at noon EDT. The chat will feature four alumni SXSW presenters who will answer questions and discuss their upcoming SXSW presentations. (Bio info via SXSW Interactive.)

Denise Cheng SM ’14, “The Real Risks of ‘Keepin’ It Real’

cheng “Denise has spoken, written, and been quoted widely by NPR, Harvard Business Review, NextCity, the New Museum, and others about the sharing economy. In the past, she co-founded and structured a citizen journalism outlet that became a national model for hyperlocal and citizen journalism.

Sam Ford SM ’07, “Paid Editing of Wikipedia: Getting Past ‘Gotcha’

ford“Sam Ford is director of audience engagement with Peppercomm. Sam was named 2014 Digital Communicator of the Year and a Social Media MVP by PR News and 2011 Social Media Innovator of the Year by Bulldog Reporter.”


Geoffrey Long SM ’07
, “Storytelling with the New Screens

long“Having previously been the Lead Narrative Producer for Microsoft Studios, in a think tank under Microsoft’s Chief Experience Officer and Chief Software Architect, a researcher and Communications Director for the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab, a magazine editor and a film producer, he serves as the Technical Director and a Research Fellow for USC’s Annenberg Innovation Lab.”

Matt Stempeck SM ’13, “The Real Risks of ‘Keepin’ It Real’

stempeck“Matt’s a civic technologist. He’s studied and built creative technologies in advocacy, politics, startups, news media, and peer-to-peer humanitarian aid. He became a Master of Science at the MIT Media Lab’s Center for Civic Media, and is now serving as Director of Civic Technology for Microsoft in New York City.”

The Twitter chat is co-sponsored by the MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing department. Tweet your questions and follow along with the hashtag #MITAlum beginning at noon EDT.

Are you attending SXSW? Let us know on social media. Tweet your photos to @MIT_alumni and post to the Alumni Association Facebook page.

 

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Guest blogger: Professor James H. Williams, Jr.

Professor James H. Williams, Jr.

Professor James H. Williams, Jr.

In the new issue of the MIT Faculty Newsletter, Professor James H. Williams, Jr. ‘67, SM ‘68 writes about an unusual topic—this year’s fabulous football season in the context of campus culture and personal history. Professor Williams, an accomplished author as well as faculty member in MIT’s mechanical engineering department and writing and humanistic studies program, discusses the art, discipline, beauty, and management of football at MIT. This excerpt is likely to give you a taste for the longer piece titled “A Magical, Almost Perfect, Season.”

If you are a first-year undergraduate and want to study economics, linguistics, literature, political science, urban studies and planning, or writing at MIT, you must nevertheless take—or, perhaps I should say be grateful for the opportunity to take—freshman biology, calculus, chemistry, and physics alongside some of the world’s future top engineers, mathematicians, and scientists. There are no “basket-weaving” subject offerings or scholarships for jocks at MIT.

Thus, the task of finding enough students to play competitive intercollegiate football at MIT is immense. Even so, one of the distinctions of the Institute’s undergraduate population is that this body of students is also the same pool that has produced the largest number of Division III Academic All-Americans in the history of collegiate athletics. [In fact, my former research student (SB, SM, PhD) in 1979-80 became MIT’s first Academic All-American.]

I suggest that anyone who has not visited the MIT Athletics homepage do so. Whatever positive feelings you may already have for our undergraduates, your respect for them will grow after visiting the MIT Athletics homepage. You may also better understand why during my years as a student and faculty member, I have attended hundreds of intercollegiate athletic events involving MIT undergraduates and I competed on dozens of intramural athletic teams (until I broke my leg playing softball for the New West Campus Houses in 1982).

I often write about our undergraduates who need to hear more often how much the faculty and administration enjoy observing their growth and want to support them in achieving their goals. Last month, I was chatting in the corridor—where many, if not most, important conversations occur at MIT—with a colleague who was so pleased with the dedication and intellectual development of the undergraduates in a demanding disciplinary subject in mechanical engineering. Last year, I wrote the following to a senior administrator, in response to a speech he gave: “In the daily hustle and bustle of MIT, our students’ global perspectives, capabilities, and potential impacts can be easily submerged, and occasionally even lost. Thus, daring to positively change the world becomes an important message for them to hear . . . .” Our students are too sophisticated to be enamored with false compliments but, in what is too frequently MIT’s no-praise culture, they need to hear the faculty’s and administration’s applause when they have earned it.

MIT's first marching band was formed in 1978.

MIT’s first marching band was formed in 1978.

As the first housemaster of New House in the late 1970s, I witnessed several uniquely memorable events in MIT’s history.

Throughout weekends during that period, oversized—and I do mean oversized—audio speakers in Burton-Connor and elsewhere along Dorm Row bathed Briggs Field in Chuck Mangione’s “Feel So Good.”

In 1978, the MIT Football Club was founded and joined the National Club Football Conference, with the team ultimately becoming a varsity program and a member of the NCAA Division III in 1987.

The MIT Marching Band was also formed in 1978. Although I never saw more than six or seven members at any single time, I found them to be musically skillful and cleverly resourceful as I observed them practicing on Briggs Field. The band had no uniforms, and several of its members bristled at The Tech’s characterizations that they constituted a “spoof,” employed “haphazard formations,” and that their sundry shirts, shorts, and bell-bottom jeans were “random costumes.” Nevertheless, applying both Gaussian and Lévy distributions, I tried to write a manuscript using statistical analysis to describe the band’s marching formations, but my assumption of ergodicity was too constraining.

On Saturday, October 28, 1978, the MIT Football Club played, but lost, its only home game that year. (Actually, the team lost all its games that year.) The game also served as a campus-unifying Homecoming during which the MIT Marching Band performed. Another highlight of that festive day was the appearance of the reigning UMOC (Ugliest Man on Campus) who, as the Homecoming Queen, rode into Henry Steinbrenner Stadium on his “chariot” (a decaying flatbed covered with cardboard, depicting the urging “Go Tech”), waggling his “scepter” (a wooden walking cane), and bedecked in the queen’s pink cape and “crown” (part of a milk carton). I must confess: I adored him then and I have never forgotten him.

In 1978, MIT’s student body was at its sui generis best.

Read the full article in the MIT Faculty Newsletter.

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