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The United States Postal Service recently unveiled a new stamp commemorating the work of MIT alumnus Robert Robinson Taylor, considered the nation’s first academically trained African-American architect and the great-grandfather of Valerie Jarrett of the Obama Administration. Read more in a Slice post on Taylor.

Taylor is not the first alumnus to be honored as the face of American postage. Here’s a list of other alumni and MIT-affiliated notables that have also decorated our mail:

Credit: National Postal Museum

Buzz Aldrin ScD ’63: While the first stamp celebrating the Apollo 11 moon landing only featured Neil Armstrong, a 20-year anniversary stamp issued in 1989 honors both Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin ScD ’63, the second man to walk on the moon. Prior to Apollo 11, Aldrin served on the Gemini 12 mission and as a US Air Force jet fighter pilot during the Korean War. Aldrin ranks fourth in a recent Business Insider article highlighting MIT’s most successful alumni.

Credit: National Postal Museum

Credit: National Postal Museum

 

George Eastman: While not an alumnus, Eastman was a great benefactor of MIT having donated $7.5 million to the Institute in the early 1900s. He founded Eastman Kodak Company and invented the Kodak camera, widely credited with ushering in a new age of amateur photography. Visit a plaque celebrating Eastman in front of Room 6-120 to take part in an 80-year MIT tradition—rubbing his nose for good luck.

Credit: National Postal Museum

Credit: National Postal Museum

 

Richard Feynman ’39: As the 1965 Nobel Prize recipient in physics, Richard Feynman ‘39 is called a pioneer in Quantum Electrodynamics. His invention of the Feynman Diagrams revolutionized theoretical physics and were celebrated on the pop television show Big Bang Theory. Check out Slice next month for a larger story on Feynman’s quest to visit Tannu Tuva and his love of stamps.

Credit: National Postal Museum

Credit: National Postal Museum

I.M. Pei ’40: The Louvre Glass Pyramid and Entrance, Qatar’s Museum of Islamic Art, and Boston’s Hancock Tower all have been designed by I.M. Pei ‘40. His work on the East Building of the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., was commemorated as part of a 2005 stamp collection titled the “12 Masterworks of Modern American Architecture.” On MIT’s campus, his firm is responsible for the Green Building (54), as well as Landau (66), Dreyfuss (18), and Wiesner (E15) Buildings.

The Postal Service rolls out upwards of 30 new stamps each year, and the public can petition a subject to be considered. The Citizen’s Stamp Advisory Committee, appointed by the Postmaster General, reviews stamp ideas and recommends which subjects to consider. All subjects must be of Americans that have made contributions to society or events or themes of “widespread national appeal and significance that showcase our nation’s inclusiveness,” according to the US Postal Service site.

What alumnus or alumna would you like to see on your mail? Tell us in the comments below or share on our Facebook page.

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Brint Markle, AvaTech, MIT Alumnus

Photo credit: Philipp Becker

An increase in avalanche deaths has paralleled the rise in recreational backcountry activities in recent decades. Although avalanches can happen unexpectedly, many of the warning signs can be detected. Key risk factors include recent rain or snowfall, visible cracking and sounds of shifting terrain, extreme temperature changes, and weak layers of snow in the snowpack. These weak layers can often cause an avalanche when no other signs are present and they are the most difficult to detect with basic manual tests, such as digging snow pits and feeling layers, which offer only subjective insight.

After Brint Markle MBA ’14 had a close call in 2010 while skiing with friends in Switzerland, he wanted to know much more than the surface characteristics of snow. With this goal in mind, he enrolled in the Sloan School of Management.

SP1 Probe, AvaTech

The SP1 Probe, created by MIT alumni

While at MIT, Markle teamed up with Jim Christian SM ’14 and Sam Whittemore ’14 to form AvaTech, a company focused on proactive avalanche safety that starts with a better understanding of snow. Their first product is the SP1 probe, which was launched in September and was recognized as a National Geographic Gear of the Year for 2014 and one of the Top 100 Innovations of the Year by Popular Science. The probe is inserted into snowpack and reads the characteristics of the layers through numerous sensors—determining hardness, resistance, slope angle, aspect, GPS orientation, and ultimately detecting weak layers that could cause slides. Along with the SP1 probe, they also launched AvaNet, a cloud platform that helps backcountry travelers share critical snowpack and avalanche safety data all across the world.

The product is being marketed to professionals and forecasters, helping to make their evaluations of snow safety more informed. “The snowpack is really complex,” says Whittemore, “and we want the SP1 to make it much easier for the people out there in the backcountry to assess how the snow changes in space and time.”

Brint Markle, AvaTech, SP 1 Probe, Himalayas

Markle (right) tests the SP1 in the Himalayas, Feb. 2015. Photo credit: Brennan Lagasse.

Today Markle, who is AvaTech’s CEO, Christian, the lead product designer, and Whittemore, the lead engineer, are based in Park City, Utah, the most popular backcountry locale in the US. From there, they travel around the world demonstrating their product. For much of February, Markle has been working with the SP1 and AvaNet in the Alps and the Himalayas. “We’ve spent the last two years validating our technology with leading industry professionals,” says Markle. “Today, we have more than 400 organizations from 35 countries sharing data on the platform, spanning ski patrol, guiding companies, forecast centers, departments of transportation, snow scientists, and other snow professionals.”

Up to this point, most research and development in the avalanche field has been focused on equipment and devices to save individuals already caught in an avalanche, but a more technical understanding of avalanche prevention could truly revolutionize the industry.

Originally, the vision of the company was focused on developing the first proactive avalanche safety technology in the world, says Markle. But they have come to realize that the SP1 is the cornerstone of a much broader information sharing platform. “We talk about building a global mountain community that can share information in real time to benefit the safety of all mountain travelers. That to us, is extremely powerful.”

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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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Taylor’s photograph on the stamp was taken circa 1890, when he was an MIT student. Photo: MIT Museum.

Taylor’s photograph on the stamp was taken circa 1890, when he was an MIT student. Photo: MIT Museum.

The United States Post Office is honoring one of MIT’s own today, issuing a stamp to honor architect and educator Robert Robinson Taylor. He is MIT’s first African-American graduate and is believed to be the country’s first academically trained black architect.

Taylor’s lifework included supervising the design and construction of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama while also overseeing the school’s programs in industrial education and the building trades.

MIT President L. Rafael Reif addressed Taylor’s contributions at the dedication ceremony at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum in Washington, DC, on Feb. 12.

“As we honor the legacy of Robert Taylor, today’s ceremony reminds us that he was a builder…not only of structures, but of communities…and an architect who designed not only a campus of national importance…but a more promising future for generations to come,” said President Reif. “Robert Robinson Taylor truly represents the best of MIT.”

Taylor, who was born in North Carolina in 1868, learned carpentry and construction from his father, a former slave. After working as a construction foreman a few years, he moved to Boston in 1888, and threw himself into his MIT studies. He took as many as ten courses per semester, earning honors in trigonometry, architectural history, differential calculus, and applied mechanics.

After graduating from MIT’s architecture school, the first in the US, he accepted an offer from educator and activist Booker T. Washington to work at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.

At Tuskegee, he had an enormous impact—first by establishing a beginning architecture curriculum, which helped graduates enter collegiate architecture programs or win entry-level positions in architectural offices. He raised the sights of African-American students to look beyond working as builders and carpenters to taking on professional roles as designers and architects. His second major contribution at Tuskegee was designing and building major campus structures over a 30-year period, creating state-of-the-art buildings where cabins once stood.

Beyond Tuskegee, Taylor designed academic and commercial buildings and helped found the Booker Washington Agricultural and Industrial Institute in Liberia. After he retired in 1932, Taylor was involved in public service and advocacy until his death in 1942.

Taylor addressed MIT’s 50th anniversary in 1911, summarizing what his MIT training helped bring to Tuskegee: “the love of doing things correctly, of putting logical ways of thinking into the humblest task, of studying surrounding conditions, of soil, of climate, of materials and of using them to the best advantage in contributing to build up the immediate community in which the persons live, and in this way increasing the power and grandeur of the nation.”

Tuskegee named its architecture school after Taylor in 2010.

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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.

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Ben Bernanke MIT Business Insider Most Successful?

Ben Bernanke PhD ’79 spoke at MIT’s 2006 Commencement ceremony.

Determining one’s level of success is entirely subjective. And determining the most successful MIT alumni seems impossible.

But, according to the news site Business Insider, 21 MITers stand out in a field of more than 130,000 alumni. The site’s list, which was released last week, includes architects, CEOs, and scientists but gives no defined method for determining success.

While it’s an impressive list, we’ll let you decide if the ranking truly constitutes MIT’s most successful. (“Most well-known” may be a better descriptor.)

The 21-person list, which actually features 22 alumni, list is below. Click on each name to jump to Business Insider for more info.

Let us know your take—and which other alumni merit mention—in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

21. Lorenzo Mendoza SM ’93, CEO, Empresas Polar
20. I.M. Pei ’40, architect
19. Drew Houston ’05 and Arash Ferdowsi ’08, founders, Dropbox
18. William Hewlett SM ’36, co-founder, Hewlett-Packard (HP) Company
17. Jonah Peretti SM ’01, founder, BuzzFeed and Huffington Post
16. Brian Halligan MBA ’05, CEO and co-founder, HubSpot
15. John W. Thompson SM ’83, chair, Microsoft
14. William Porter SM ’67, founder, E-Trade
13. Robin Chase SM ’86, co-founder, Zipcar
12. Ivan Getting ’33, engineer, co-credited with development of GPS
11. Shirley Ann Jackson ’68, PhD ’73, president, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
10. James Woods ’69, actor
9. John Potter SM ’95, former United States Postmaster General
8. Benjamin Netanyahu ’75, SM ‘76, prime minister, Israel
7. Amar Bose ’51, SM ’52, ScD ’56, founder, Bose Corporation
6. Andrea Wong ’88, president of international, Sony Pictures Entertainment
5. John Thain ’77, chair and CEO, CIT Group
4. Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin ScD ’63, astronaut
3. Salman Khan ’98, MEng ’98, founder Khan Academy
2. Kofi Annan SM ’72, former secretary-general, United Nations
1. Ben Bernanke PhD ’79, former chair, Federal Reserve

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How do you transition from being an engineering graduate student at MIT to training individuals  to survive in the wild with very limited gear? That’s a question that Cliff Hodges ’02, MEng ’04, survival expert on gets all the time. “It’s something I’ve always been interested in. I would often wonder how I would survive outdoors if I didn’t have all my gear,” Hodges explains. But that’s not the whole story.

Hodges (in the red jacket) leading a 2003 IAP course on wilderness survival.

Hodges (in the red jacket) leading a 2003 IAP course on wilderness survival.

While at MIT, Hodges used his breaks to attend survival training camps and even taught a survivalist class during IAP 2003. “We built shelters and started fire by friction right in front of the dome,” he remembers. After Hodges graduated from MIT, he took a tech job in California, but quickly changed his mind about his career path. “It was just a bad starter job for me,” he says. And, at that job, Hodges began wondering what it would be like to work in his passion.

After a few months in the tech world, Hodges set out to launch his company, Adventure Out in Santa Cruz, CA, where he offers survivalist classes and training. In the early days of his business, Hodges says it was hard to fill the survival training classes.  But in recent years as survival shows like Man vs. Wild and Naked and Afraid, have become popular, his business started booming. “It’s hard to say which came first. I think the shows are increasing demand, but that demand may be increasing interest in the shows,” he explains.

DeadlyDessert_023_RemoteSurvivor

Hodges is a survival expert for Remote Survival. Photo: NatGeo

Hodges recently joined the fray of survival shows after NatGeo asked him to be a survival expert for their new show Remote Survival. On the show, untrained campers are dropped into the wild with limited gear. Hodges helps these campers survive by offering them instructions through radio communication.  The job is especially difficult , he says, because the campers are constantly on the move, the worst option for survival. “Unless you’re in imminent danger, you stay put,” he explains.

These difficult situations are when Hodges makes use of his MIT background. “A degree in engineering is a degree in problem solving,” he says. “I can take these situations that seem insurmountable and break them down piece by piece.”

Remote Survival’s first mini season is on NatGeo now.  Hodges is hoping to be renewed for a full season.

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How can you sharpen your business thinking while connecting with MIT alumni entrepreneurs and leaders in the Institute’s innovation culture? Sign up for Entrepreneurship 101 and 102, the free massive open online courses (MOOCs) created at MIT for edX, the global online learning platform established by Harvard and MIT.

The courses are based on the legendary MIT course 15.390 New Enterprises, which is taught by Bill Aulet SM ’94, the managing director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship. New Enterprises has been a cradle to hundreds of MIT startups, such as A123 Systems, Lark, and Okta among others.

Because the courses let you learn at your own pace, you can start as soon as you register—now through the end of March. A bonus: if you register for a verified certificate you can earn $1,000 in Amazon Web Services credit when you complete the course.

What will you learn?

MOOCs, free online courses, link students to MIT entrepreneurial culture.

MOOCs, free online courses, link students to MIT’s entrepreneurial culture.

According to Erdin Beshimov MBA ’11, who leads an MITx group creating these courses, the first class, Entrepreneurship 101: Who is your customer? teaches aspiring entrepreneurs how to find a customer for their idea. “Essentially, the course is about learning to look at the world through the eyes of the customer, an essential learning stage for every entrepreneur,” he says. “The course includes numerous case studies of MIT entrepreneurs from fields as diverse as power electronics, watchmaking, 3D printing, and mobile apps. For example, you’ll meet Hyungsoo Kim MBA ′12 of Eone—and be touched by his inspiring story of making watches, or timepieces as he calls them, for people who are visually impaired.”

In another module, students learn from Hanna Adeyema MBA ’13, who was born in Nigeria, raised in the former Soviet Union, and cofounded Tenacity Health after studying at the MIT Sloan School of Management. In a video interview, she describes challenges facing her startup and what she finds fulfilling.

Learn from Tenacity Health co-founder Hanna Adeyema MBA '13.

Learn from Tenacity Health co-founder Hanna Adeyema.

“Being an entrepreneur is very exciting because every day you are making decisions that impact the development of a new product that never existed and that maybe, in the distant future, is going to change someone’s life,” she says. “To know that you are directly responsible for this is pretty powerful.”

In the second course, Entrepreneurship 102: What can you do for your customer?, students use their knowledge of the customer to understand how they will solve the customer’s problem and, ultimately, what product or service they would build. Entrepreneurship 102 is also based on case studies of MIT entrepreneurs, such as Sandra Richter of Soofa and Max Faingezicht and Adam Blake of ThriveHive.

Alumni Connections

Beshimov says the two courses have already enrolled more than 120,000 students worldwide. And, he says, his group at MIT would welcome input from alumni on how to make the courses better. You can write to him at beshimov@mit.edu or tweet them at @erdinb or @mit15390x.

“What we are doing is making the entrepreneurial magic of MIT open to anyone in the world for the betterment of the world,” says Beshimov, “and we want MIT alumni to be involved in that process.”

Find out more about the impact of MIT’s entrepreneurial culture in a short video and explore other edX courses.

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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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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.

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