Idit Harel, Globaloria, SXSW Interactive, gaming, education, Media Lab

New media entrepreneur Idit Harel PhD ’88 spoke to Slice of MIT at SXSW Interactive 2015.

There are 55 million K–12 students in 132,000 schools in the United States. Ninety-seven percent play video games. Many people see gaming as the enemy of education—an unproductive time-waster filled with violent images and unsavory themes.

“No one says, ‘Let’s stop reading because there are too many violent books,’” says Idit Harel PhD ’88. “So why say it about gaming? We need to understand this medium better and develop capabilities and literacies around it. Gaming is a powerful and pervasive tool that tells stories, explains concepts, and helps kids learn.”

Harel’s quest for gaming literacy led her to create Globaloria, a programmable game-making platform that teaches young learners STEM skills like software engineering and coding. The platform teaches students how to build video games through teacher-based instruction and hands-on learning.

“Playing games and apps are not enough—no one’s fully literate until they learn how to write them,” she says. “Of the 97 percent who play, not all are digitally literate. So how do we make them critical thinkers and computationally fluent? Through coding—we teach them how the games are made.”

Idit_Harel_SXSW_1_SliceSince 2006, more than 800 educators in 180 schools in 14 states have integrated Globaloria into their curriculum. And more than 17,000 students have built games like “English in Action,” “Save Me,” and “Puny Pestilent Problematic Parasites.”

“Our platform is focused on a central theme—encouraging students to create technology, not just use it,” Harel says. “Designing and engineering video games is the new literacy, coding is the new writing, and games are the lure.”

Harel spoke to Slice of MIT at the 2015 South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive festival, where she was part of a panel organized by the U.S. Office of Educational Technology on gaming and coding as entry point for teaching real-world skills. Globaloria also hosted the White House-sponsored Austin Education Game Jam during SXSW, a workshop and contest for game developers to create commercially-viable and education-focused video games.

“Not all of us become writers, poets, or journalists, but we become literate learners by both reading and writing,” she says. “It’s same with digital media. Playing and making games is fundamental to teaching and learning in a digital world.”

Idit_Harel_SXSW_2_SliceMost important, mastery of computational and coding literacy carries real-world implications for the future workforce. STEM-related fields will soon account for nearly 8 million unfilled U.S. jobs but only nine states list computer science as a requirement for a high school diploma and less than 4 percent of U.S. schools offer computer science and coding in their curricula.

“Our research shows that there’s talent in every zip code,” she says. “But we need to cultivate innovation skills. Having engaging STEM content should be a requirement in all K-12 schools.”

Harel’s learning-through-gaming mindset dates back 30 years when she part of the MIT Media Lab’s first-ever cohort. In 1989–1990, she received funding from Nintendo and the National Science Foundation to study the power of kids learning computer programming and her book, Children Designers, won the 1991 Outstanding Book Award from the American Education Research Association.

“The Media Lab’s perspective from the beginning was to construct imaginative applications, learning environments, and creative tech demos for new knowledge representations and new ideas for the future,” she says. “At MIT, we learn to design, invent, and engineer technologies to solve the world’s problems. I want all kids to learn just that. And games help, too.”


MIT_alumni_most_powerful_Boston_Influential_WorldJudging by recent rankings in Boston Magazine and Time, many MIT alumni hold a significant amount of power and influence in Boston and around the world. Boston Magazine’s list of Boston’s 50 Most Powerful People is 10 percent MIT, including President L. Rafael Reif. And Time’s 100 Most Influential People ranking, which was announced earlier this month, features four MIT alumni, including Harvard Associate Professor Pardis Sabeti ’97, who was part of a group of Ebola fighters that were co-named Time‘s 2014 Person of the Year.

As with previous coverage of MIT-related rankings on Slice of MIT, we’re not endorsing these lists. But we do hope they continue to generate significant conversation among the MIT community.

What’s you take? Share your thoughts on the the rankings—or let us know if we left anyone out—in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.

Boston’s 50 Most Powerful People, via Boston Magazine

AounJoseph Aoun PhD ’82 (25)
President, Northeastern University
“Aoun has continued Northeastern’s march up the college rankings: It’s now among the most competitive schools in the Northeast. Aoun has flexed the university’s muscles in a relentless quest for a bigger footprint.”

pollackStephanie Pollack ’82 (26)
Massachusetts secretary of transportation
“A brilliant, wonky, and progressive veteran of Northeastern’s Dukakis Center, Charlie Baker’s most unlikely appointee survived the winter from hell, but now faces fixing a debt-crippled MBTA.”

ReifL. Rafael Reif HM ’14 (36)
President, MIT
“Reif presides over an institution that continues to transform Kendall Square into a hub of innovation. It’s engaging Boston as well, partnering with Boston 2024 and Linda Pizzuti Henry’s upcoming HUBWeek festival.”

de-la-torreRalph de la Torre SM ’92 (40)
Chairman and CEO, Steward Health Care System
“He’s leading the largest for-profit community-care organization in New England—17,000 employees, 11 hospitals—and betting on private healthcare.”

harthorneJohn Harthorne MBA ’07 (44)
CEO and founder, MassChallenge
“Harthorne’s Boston-based startup accelerator program, the largest in the world, has helped launch more than 600 businesses, and nearly 5,000 new jobs, since its establishment in 2010.”

Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People

KochsCharles Koch ’57, SM ’58, SM ’60
David Koch ’62, SM ‘63
Koch Industries
“Charles and David Koch are well known for their business success, their generous philanthropic efforts and for their focus on innovation in management.” – Rand Paul, United States Senator from Kentucky

Pardis Sabeti ’97Pardis
Associate Professor, Harvard University
“When the Ebola epidemic began, Dr. Pardis Sabeti led a team that did something critically important: it sequenced virus samples from infected patients almost as soon as the outbreak began.” – J. Craig Venter, biologist

netanyahuBenjamin Netanyahu ’75, SM ’76
Prime Minister, Israel
“Netanyahu was just elected, for the fourth time, to lead Israel. I personally know it’s not trivial to win office, simple to govern or easy to leave a positive imprint on history.” – Ehud Barak, former Prime Minister of Israel

Pardis Sabeti image via PopTech 2011, Camden, Maine, USA


The Collier Memorial was dedicated April 29, 2015.

The Collier Memorial was dedicated April 29, 2015, to honor fallen MIT police officer Sean Collier.

Today at noon, the campus community gathers to dedicate the Officer Sean Collier Memorial, a star-shaped granite structure that symbolizes the flavor of his life and his sacrifice. Collier, who was killed during the Boston Marathon bombing aftermath on April 18, 2013, is represented by an exceptional symbol of community—32 granite pieces that depend upon each other for strength and balance.

Watch the dedication webcast or view a video on the creation of the memorial titled Strength Through Unity: the Making of the Collier Memorial at MIT.

“Each stone is necessary to transfer loads and create equilibrium. The memorial represents the community coming together where strength comes from unity,” says architect J. Meejin Yoon, who designed the memorial. Yoon, head of the department of architecture, worked with a team of faculty, staff, and students, and international experts, including MIT Professor John Ochsendorf, a structural engineer and expert of masonry vaulting structures. The structure represents ancient stone techniques as well as advanced technologies such as a robotic milling process that produced pieces that are within a 0.5 millimeter tolerance of the digital model.

Computer-controlled saws and a robotic arm were used to create the curved geometry of the blocks.

Computer-controlled saws and a robotic arm shaped the complex geometry of the blocks.

The oval void in the center of the vaulted structure represents the loss of MIT police officer Sean Collier, a 27-year-old MIT police officer. Collier has been lauded for his deep connection to the community. A MIT News article describes how, just two months before his death, he helped save the three-day-old daughter of Andrés Barriga MBA ’13 and his wife, Anita, who were living in campus housing. In 2014, 39 members of the MIT community ran the Boston Marathon as MIT Strong to honor Collier and raise money for the memorial. For his many contributions to the community, Collier was named an honorary member of the MIT Alumni Association at Technology Day in 2013.

In a letter to the community, MIT President L. Rafael Reif described him as “a young man with a wonderful spirit of kindness, service, curiosity and play, and an extraordinary ability to touch the hearts of everyone around him. Through the example of his life, and through our shared experience after his death, he taught us the power of community in ways that no one present at the time will ever forget.” Reif also noted that “it is fitting that we honor his sacrifice, celebrate his life and allow his spirit to lift our hearts and connect us with one another.”

Facts about the Collier Memorial:

  • The memorial is located between the Stata Center and the Koch Institute, a few feet away from where Collier was killed.
  • The 32 granite pieces weigh 100,000 pounds.
  • In an eight-hour process, the stones were set by masons through an intricate scaffolding sequence, until the compression of stone upon stone fully supported the structure.
  • The fabrication involved sophisticated stone carving by computer-controlled saws and a robotic arm to create the complex curved geometry of the blocks.
  • Rob Rogers, Sean Collier’s brother and project manager from Suffolk Construction, oversaw the construction of the memorial.

Learn more about the making of the Collier Memorial, dedicated April 29, 2015.



Associate Professor Cynthia Rudin

Cynthia Rudin says that her job is to encourage future managers to make decisions grounded in data, and this is exactly the mindset that earned her a spot on the 40 under 40 list of best business school professors by Poets & Quants.

As an associate professor of statistics at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, Rudin specializes in big data, applied statistics, data mining, and machine learning.

Rudin and her students are putting their theories into practice by designing predictive models and knowledge discovery systems to help inform decision makers. They are working with a variety of different industries including race car teams, police detectives, doctors, power engineers, marketing experts, and many others who are interested in data-centered prediction problems. “One of the reasons our research is effective is because we have such knowledgeable collaborators with domain expertise,” says Rudin.

Here are a few examples of complex problems that Rudin is using data to solve:

  • Predicting stroke in patients with atrial fibrillation
  • Diagnosing sleep apnea
  • Predicting power outages caused by manhole fires and explosions
  • Detecting patterns of crime committed by the same individual or group of individuals
  • Predicting recidivism of prisoners to allocate social services and determine bail

“My goal in teaching is to help people understand how and why data driven tools can be useful,” says Rudin.

Before coming to Sloan in 2009, Rudin earned her PhD in applied and computational mathematics from Princeton University and worked as a research scientist at both Columbia and New York University. Her work has been featured in Businessweek, The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Times of London, WIRED Science, U.S. News and World Report, and IEEE Computer.


Alice_Brooks '10. Photo: Paul Sakuma

Alice Brooks ’10. Photo: Paul Sakuma

When Alice Brooks ’10 was eight years old, she asked for a Barbie for Christmas. To her surprise, her father told her that Santa Claus didn’t bring dolls.

“Santa brought me a saw instead,” Brooks says. “It worked out great. I ended up building a dollhouse.”

That gift sparked a passion for science and engineering that eventually led her to co-create the Roominate, a construction kit for a dollhouse that can be electrically wired. Time magazine called it the number one toy of 2014.

While in graduate school in 2012, Brooks and fellow Stanford student Bettina Chen recalled shared childhood experiences of building and making. But after looking at the modern toy market for girls ages six to 10, they saw little that spoke to the same interests.

“We wanted to create an engineering product that would be exciting and fun,” she says. “Girls love dolls and stuffed animals. But they also love Legos and Lincoln Logs, too.”

After months of research, Brooks and Chen launched Roominate through the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. They reached their $25,000 goal in less than five days, raised more than $85,000 in 30 days, and sold nearly 1,800 units.

“We were amazed by what these girls built—it went way beyond a dollhouse,” says Brooks. “We got pictures of doggy hotels, car washes, a cotton-candy maker, and a fully lit Golden Gate Bridge—completely built from their imagination.”

Roominate on Shark Tank. Video via

Roominate’s popularity further increased in September 2014, when it was featured on Shark Tank, a television series that showcases entrepreneurs making business proposals to a panel of investors. Two “sharks,” Mark Cuban and Lori Greiner, combined to invest $500,000 for a 5 percent equity share. Cuban’s investment was contingent on a promise that Brooks and Chen would mentor his two young daughters.

“We e-mail weekly with Mark, and he’s been really helpful,” Brooks says. “A lot of his ideas are influenced by what he sees from his girls, who are in Roominate’s target age. The partnership has been great.”

A Massachusetts native, Brooks received a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford and still lives in Northern California. She says the company’s long-term goal is to create even more opportunities for young girls to fall in love—and stay in love—with science and engineering.

“We’re taking in feedback and stepping up the complexity,” she says. “We have a lot of things coming this year. Girls’ interests are always changing, and we want to evolve with them.”

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2015 issue of MIT Technology Review magazine.


Feng Zhang applies his engineering background to problems in human health.

Feng Zhang applies his engineering background to problems in human health.

Genome editing is hot—especially at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. Through a special two-day Faculty Forum Online, you can learn how a new gene editing process may transform genetic engineering and open new paths to fight disease. The Broad’s Genome Engineering 3.0 Workshop is available to MIT alumni free via webcast on May 8‒9.

The workshop is organized by Feng Zhang, who won a 2014 patent for the CRISPR-Cas9 method, and his lab at the Broad Institute. Zhang is the W.M. Keck Career Development Assistant Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and Biological Engineering and a member of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research and the Broad Institute. While in graduate school at Stanford, he co-developed a revolutionary technology called optogenetics, now used by neuroscientists worldwide, and he used this and other tools to study animal models of depression and schizophrenia. His work at the Broad focuses on development of synthetic biology tools, like the CRISPR-Cas9 method, to study neuropsychiatric disease. Visit his McGovern page to view terrific short videos on his work and genome editing.

The CRISPR system has the potential to radically alter the current understanding of genetic engineering and how it could be applied to the treatment of diseases. In essence, it is a search-and-replace method for altering DNA.

Here’s how the Broad describes this breakthrough:

CRISPRs (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) have been harnessed as genome-editing tools in a wide range of species. The engineered CRISPR-Cas9 system allows researchers to mutate or change the expression of genes in living cells. The family of Cas9 nucleases—the centerpiece of this genome-editing system—recognizes DNA targets in complex with RNA guides. Researchers can now use these tools to home in on specific genes within the genome and cut the DNA at those precise targets. The cuts modify the activity of the targeted genes, allowing researchers to study the genes’ function.

Want to know more?

Register today for the May 8-9 Faculty Forum Online to listen to keynotes by MIT faculty and leading researchers, technical talks, and lively debates about the future of biotechnology, ethics, intellectual property, and academia vs. industry.


What’s the science behind a warming climate, and can it be combated? In this All Ears MIT podcast, MIT faculty members discuss the history and science behind Earth’s warming climate, and if anything can be done to mitigate a rising global temperature.

Some public debates on climate change tend be centered on complex numerical models—great for predicting quantitative estimates, not so great for collaborative discussions and brainstorming solutions. During this podcast, listen to four MIT faculty members—supported by historical and scientific data—discuss divergent areas of climate-related research, including coastal flooding, global warming, hurricane activity, and economic policy.

Subscribe to All Ears MIT on iTunes and SoundCloud. Listen to past podcasts with novelists, professors, and entrepreneurs by visiting the Alumni Association’s SoundCloud page.

Associate Professor Dan Cziczo
Dept. of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences
Cziczo is an atmospheric scientist studying how whose research is analyzing the effects that clouds may have in a increasingly warming climate. His research focuses the effect of atmospheric aerosols on cloud formations, meteoritic debris, and vehicle emissions in the atmosphere.

Kerry Emanuel

Professor Kerry Emanuel ’76, PhD ’78
Dept. of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences

Emanuel is a co-founder of the Lorenz Center, MIT’s climate activity think tank. He is the author of What We Know about Climate Change and his research on hurricane activity earned him a place on Time’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2006.


Professor Christopher Knittel
MIT Sloan School of Management
Knittel co-directs MIT’s Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research. The first energy chair at MIT, he has studied consumer and company reactions to energy price fluctuations—including rising prices of gasoline—and its implications on effective environmental policies.


Professor Andrew Whittle ScD ’87
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Professor Andrew J. Whittle is a geotechnical engineer who served on the panel reviewing the hurricane protection systems in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s safety review of Boston’s Big Dig tunnel system.


These interviews were culled from the Alumni Association’s Faculty Forum Online series—monthly live webcasts that feature faculty interviews on timely and relevant topics. View the entire archive on the Alumni Association website.

For more information on climate change research, visit  the Climate Change Conversation at MIT website, which is exploring the actions that MIT could take to make a significant positive contribution to confront climate change. MIT alumni can join the Energy, Environment and Sustainability Network, a group of worldwide alumni volunteers who want to share their energy interests with others.



Image via @TechBreakfast

MIT’s alumni directory contains a lot of interesting job titles, but Ron Schmelzer ’97’s stands out as unique: Chief Event Wrangler.

Nope, he’s not a cowboy. Schmelzer wrangles for TechBreakfast, a monthly morning meetup founded by Schmelzer that demos new technologies and has connected thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs in more than a dozen U.S. cities.

Before starting TechBreakfast, Schmelzer was a Course 6 major-turned-serial entrepreneur who started his first company with an MIT classmate, Dan Housman ’95, in their Alpha Epsilon Pi dorm room.

Ron Schmelzer '97

Ron Schmelzer ’97

“Near the beginning of the dot-com boom, Dan and I started an internet software company,” he says. “We said, ‘Let’s try this e-commerce thing.’ So we built VirtuMall (later ChannelWave), one of the first e-commerce sites. We basically had to invent everything from scratch—shopping cart technology, credit card transactions—because none of it existed yet.”

By 1998, the internet’s popularity had exploded and ChannelWave had become a successful venture. After raising nearly $60 million in funding, Schmelzer and Housman sold the company to the larger Quick Commerce.

After ChannelWave’s sale, Schmelzer started the analyst firm ZapThink, among other ventures, which he sold in 2011 after he and his wife moved from Boston to Baltimore.

“When I got to Baltimore, I thought, ‘Well, I guess I need to start another software company,’” he says, “So I organized some small meet-ups in Baltimore to see what kind of startups people were working on. My only rule was no PowerPoint. That’s how TechBreakfast go started.”

The meetups quickly became popular and Schmelzer began expanding TechBreakfast out-of-state. Less than four years later, the monthly breakfasts have more than 12,000 active members in 13 U.S. cities. The meetup’s most recent event, “Ask a V.C.” in Boston on April 13, featured nearly 250 attendees who heard from two panels of more than 20 investors.

“TechBreakfast moved so fast that I actually put another software company I started, Bizelo, on hold,” he says. “I’m still in the startup industry. But instead of running a software company, I’m running TechBreakfast.”

Schmelzer spoke to Slice of MIT at the 2015 South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive, where he was one of more than 100 MIT alumni who presented at the festival. He organized the TechBreakfast Spectacular—“basically TechBreakfast on steroids”—which featured 25 demos and more than 1,400 attendees. He also hosted SXSW’s first-release hardware meetup, a showcase of new internet-related demos that he called a “show-and-tell from grownups.”

“MIT has a great overlap on technology advancement and entrepreneurial innovation,” he says, “It’s a very supportive place for people who are creative and innovative. SXSW attracts the same audience, and people who are successful innovators and creators—like MIT alumni—tend to come here.”

For more about TechBreakfast, visit their website and follow @TechBreakfast on Twitter.


What do serious science writers do for professional education? Come to MIT.

For 32 years, about a dozen science writers have join the community as Knight Science Journalism at MIT fellows each year. So far, that’s 320 journalists. For nine months, they get a fresh whiff of science-in-the-making through course work, field trips, and workshops, dig into emerging research, and learn skills such as audio storytelling.

You can learn about this year’s class of 11 journalists in interviews by Emily Hiestand, communications director of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, which is home base for the program. Here are excerpts from several interviews:

Scott Huler

Scott Huler

Scott Huler, author of six books, is taking a modern walking expedition through the Carolinas, retracing the 1700-era journey of explorer John Lawson and documenting it online.

How does the proliferation of social platforms—Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook—and digital storytelling tools—embedded video, slideshows, podcasts—change the way you conceive of your work as a journalist?

I like to tell people I want to be like Batman: to have the complete utility belt, with every tool imaginable to do my job. My project this year has enabled me to do that. I designed the Lawson Trek website, and as I do my research and take my treks into the field, I update the site constantly. All these new tools and platforms are exactly why I’m able to retrace a 300-year-old journey yet keep the storytelling in the moment.

I’ve posted blogs from my tent on barrier islands, shared Instagram pictures from a canoe, produced and shared video from picnic tables. I think my 18th-century subject, John Lawson, would have used these tools had they been available. The whole point for him—and for me—was to learn what was out there and share that information. For him, that meant publishing a book eight years after his fact-finding journey. For me, it means a book, eventually…but also a steady flow of images, sounds, and impressions as I discover them.

Olga Dobrovidova

Olga Dobrovidova

Olga Dobrovidova is a news reporter and producer based in Moscow, Russia.

Does the practice of science journalism differ in Russia from the U.S. or is it similar?

I think the biggest distinction lies in the fact that most Russian scientists now have little-to-no incentive to talk to journalists. Media attention doesn’t help them get grant funding or personal perks—if anything, it can bring trouble—and the American sentiment that government-funded research institutions should be accountable to taxpayers is not one shared by either the Russian government or those taxpayers.

Add a lack of infrastructure for science communication (most Russian research institutes have neither press offices nor Public Information Officers), and it can be a very challenging environment for a journalist. Of course, this only makes the great Russian science journalists out there even greater.

Bob Young

Bob Young

Bob Young is a staff reporter at The Seattle Times, where he covers marijuana as Washington state creates history by legalizing production and sale of the drug.

What has been the focus of your research during your fellowship? Why is this issue important to you and for the public?

Legal marijuana is poised to spread across the US. Then what?

Partisans on both sides of this emotionally charged debate have demonstrated they will pounce on any science—and even distort it—to make their case. I aim to be a journalist, in the thick of the fray, who can tell what’s real and what’s myth, what’s correlation and what’s causation, especially in the realm of marijuana’s impact on the developing brains of teens.

From neuroscience classes to medical-evidence workshops—and much more—the MIT fellowship has propelled me toward my goal of becoming the best-informed reporter on the beat.

Read the full interviews and find links to the journalists’ work.


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.


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.