Research

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.

{ 0 comments }

Cathy Kenworthy, Interactive Health

Cathy Kenworthy SM ’91

Cathy Kenworthy has always sought challenging problems—as a McKinsey management consultant; in executive roles at GE, Bank of America, and JP Morgan Chase; and even at leisure. She’s a self-described “fanatic for finding the hardest sudokus and crossword puzzles.”

Today, as CEO of Interactive Health, she leads an organization that’s addressing an especially knotty challenge: high costs and mediocre outcomes in the U.S. health-care system.

Her work doesn’t involve new drugs or diagnostic equipment but, as she puts it, “simple principles broadly applied” to employees of more than 2,000 client companies. “We get hired to help employees be healthier through preventive care,” she explains.

Nutrition, activity level, and tobacco use are three areas of emphasis. “It’s so simple, but so profound,” says Kenworthy. “One area where we can generate tremendous impact is in the prevention of diabetes, which is a major life-altering event. You never stop being diabetic: it affects your longevity, it complicates many other medical conditions, and treatment costs a minimum of $20,000 annually.”

Interactive Health’s data analytics group, which Kenworthy built in her previous COO role, can now show the impact of the company’s work with pre-diabetics through counseling, coaching, and goal setting: 40 percent of them returned to normal health within one year.

“That’s a gigantic number, off the charts in any clinical sense,” she says. “And it’s one of the best things you can do for someone.”

Kenworthy originally planned to apply that type of compassionate problem solving as a doctor. During her sophomore year at Georgetown University, she was accepted to the university’s medical school, but after working in an emergency room and reflecting on her goals, she chose to major in chemistry and mathematics. She graduated in 1987 and went to work in finance.

At the Sloan School, Kenworthy gained insight from her classmates, who came from diverse lines of work and corners of the world. “I’d come from Wall Street with a total focus on financial engineering,” she says. “Sloan helped me consider the many ways to think about the topic of business.”

Kenworthy and her husband, William, are recent transplants to the Chicago area and have three teenage sons. They enjoy cooking together and are avid hikers, skiers, and walkers.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2015 edition of MIT Technology Review magazine.

{ 0 comments }

Water, essential to the survival of all living things, is scarce in many developing nations. Lack of water for drinking, bathing, and farming effects the quality of life, health, and productivity. With this in mind, Kevin Simon and his teammates at the Tata Center are working on addressing these issues in India this week—Simon’s sixth trip in the past year and a half.

Kevin Simon, Tata Center, water irrigation, India

Kevin Simon (left) and Katherine Taylor (right) install a solar-powered pump system in Southern Jharkhand, India.

Simon, an Engineering Systems Division graduate student, is developing irrigation technology to meet the needs of agriculture in India. Water shortages, caused by inconsistent access to fresh water and no solar pumps for small farmers with shallow groundwater, result in underdeveloped crops and inefficient farming practices. Simon has co-invented low-cost, solar-powered pumps that enable farmers to access shallow water for irrigation. This innovation has the potential to give approximately 20 million farmers access to water without the need for deep wells and expensive diesel generators.

“Witnessing this sort of resource-constrained environment has driven me to focus on figuring out how to help these people most effectively,” says Simon.

During his last trip, Simon deployed two of the pumps in Southern Jharkhand, India, along with fellow graduate student Katherine Taylor and mechanical engineering senior Marcos Esparza. The farmers have been successfully operating the system and are already seeing results. “India and other developing countries are facing huge challenges and how they address those challenges will have a lot of say in the future of our planet,” says Simon. “It’s important for us to be engaged with these countries and working in partnership with them.”

This project was recently recognized, along with other campus-wide initiatives, as part of the MIT Innovation Initiative, an Institute-wide effort that encourages the Institute’s innovative ecosystem, which was launched in 2013 by President L. Rafael Reif.

Tata Center, water irrigation, india

Local farmers examine the pump

“The Tata Center is a great example of rigorous MIT research being pushed in new directions,” says Simon. “There’s a cross-pollination of ideas with our partners in India that helps us grow as students, engineers, and entrepreneurs. We get pushed out of our comfort zone and sometimes the things we believe are challenged. The MIT Innovation Initiative shows that we, as an Institute, are not complacent. We’re asking new questions and looking for new ways to approach old problems.”

Other Innovation Initiatives include a proposed innovation and entrepreneurship undergraduate minor, a semester for innovative “passion projects,” and a Laboratory for Innovation Science and Policy.

{ 1 comment }

Katy Croff Bell '00, Exploration Vessel Nautilus, Media Lab, MIT

Katy Croff Bell ’00

Katy Croff Bell ’00 has helped discover dozens of ancient shipwrecks and new species of marine organisms. Now she brings the abyss to your desk, streaming her adventures aboard the Exploration Vessel Nautilus via Nautiluslive.org.

“The most exciting part of what I do is share discoveries in real time with millions of people all over the globe,” Bell says.

At MIT, Bell worked with Professor David Mindell PhD ’96, and his then-new Deep Water Archaeology group. They undertook expeditions to the Black Sea, working off small Turkish fishing boats, checking out features on the seafloor with a side-scan sonar and a remotely operated underwater vehicle.

“It was great experience to apply what I was learning in classes at MIT to a project in the field,” Bell says. It was also a chance to work with underwater archaeologist Robert Ballard, who found the Titanic.

Bell was a leader of several marine and engineering student societies at MIT, and she helped create an umbrella organization called 13SEAs, the Course 13 Student Engineering Association, which lives on as MIT’s ocean engineering, naval architecture, and marine technology student organization.

After graduation, Bell served as a marine policy fellow in NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration in Washington. In 2006, National Geographic Society awarded Bell an Emerging Explorer Award. She earned a master’s degree in maritime archaeology at England’s University of Southampton, and then she joined Ballard’s research group at the University of Rhode Island, where she earned a PhD in geological oceanography in 2011.

She’s now the vice president and chief scientist of Ocean Exploration Trust, leading expeditions on Nautilus in the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico. “We’re going to places that have never been explored to see what’s there,” she says. “There are things we can’t even conceive of out there, and it will take a long, long time to fully understand our own planet.”

In 2014, Joi Ito named Bell an MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow, a two-year appointment. “It’s been fun to come back and reconnect with incredible people doing groundbreaking research at the Institute,” she says. “I’ve been talking with Professor Ed Boyden, who uses fluorescent proteins to map neuron connections in the brain. There are marine organisms that glow; we can study their genomes and, we hope, identify new proteins and combine what we’re doing, pushing the boundaries of both our fields.”

Bell and her husband, fisheries biologist Rich Bell, live in Narragansett, Rhode Island, and are expecting their first child in April. During her maternity leave, Bell plans to use telepresence technology to participate in the 2015 Nautilus expedition through the Panama Canal to the Galápagos Islands from April through December.

{ 0 comments }

An artist's illustration of the European Space Agency's comet-chasing Rosetta spacecraft. Image: space.com

An artist’s illustration of the European Space Agency’s comet-chasing Rosetta spacecraft. Image: space.com

After more than 10 years in space, the Rosetta spacecraft’s lander touched down on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on November 12, 2014, making the Rosetta mission the first to successfully land a spacecraft on a comet’s surface. For the European Space Agency’s Philippe Kletzkine SM ’83, who served as the lander’s manager, it was a career highlight—the culmination of an ambitious 15-year project that covered more than six billion kilometers and required great patience.

When he joined the Rosetta team in 2000, the challenges were formidable. “Remember, all this was done with 1990s technology and a limited budget,” Kletzkine says. “The greatest difficulty was to design to an unknown environment. How do you specify the elements of a landing gear when you don’t know whether you will land on compact hard rock, porous terrain, or fluffy regolith? We did not even know what the gravity field of the comet would be like.”

The journey included a 31-month spacecraft hibernation designed to conserve energy and a tense moment during landing when the two harpoons on the lander, known as Philae, could not anchor in the surface and the lander settled under a cliff. That will make it more difficult to recharge the secondary battery using solar panels when the primary is empty.

Philippe Kletzkine SM ’83

Philippe Kletzkine SM ’83

Philae is likely to have settled down quite far from the original touchdown but still in good health and attitude,” Kletzkine says. “The drawback is that Philae has now settled in a much less sunny area.”

Kletzkine moved on to other ESA projects during Rosetta’s journey and is now project manager for the Solar Orbiter, a satellite that aims to travel closer to the sun than any satellite has ever gone before.

“We’re now right in the middle of the development,” he says. “Our goal is to launch in 2017 or 2018.”

Over his career, Kletzkine has spent nearly 30 years at ESA, including a three-year stint in French Guiana, where he worked on satellite and commercial launches. Between graduating from MIT and joining the ESA, he served in the French Air Force, where he worked on space-related programs.

Kletzkine is thankful for his MIT experience, with only one exception. “My MIT education gave me added insights into other engineering cultures, and this came in very handy in my later career,” he says. “The only thing I could never really get accustomed to was nonmetric units—it’s archaic and inelegant, and also risky.”

Kletzkine currently works at the ESA center in the Netherlands, where he lives with his wife, Wilma. They have three children, Daniella, Stephanie, and Jonathan, and one granddaughter, Yaela.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2015 edition of MIT Technology Review magazine.

{ 0 comments }

Can’t attend SXSW Interactive this week? By our count, more than a hundred alumni are presenting at this year’s conference, and four alumni joined us for last week’s #MITAlum SXSW Preview Twitter chat, co-sponsored by MIT’s Comparative Media Studies/Writing Department.

Sam Ford SM ’07 tweeted about the paid editing conundrum on Wikipedia, and Geoffrey Long SM ’07 tweeted his predictions on how virtual reality will impact storytelling. Denise Cheng SM ’14 and Matt Stempeck SM ’13 discussed how reputation management and online rating systems are changing the market and free speech. Check out the conversation recapped in tweets below.

Keepin’ It Real
At their March 13th talk “The Real Risks of “Keepin’ It Real” Cheng and Stempeck addressed how the share economy is bringing issues of credibility to the forefront. They previewed key points with us on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Storytelling of the Future Geoffrey Long SM ’07 gave his predictions for the future of storytelling. His talk “Storytelling with the New Screens” was held on Sunday, March 15.

 

 

Wikipedia
Sam Ford SM ’07 discussed the conflict-of-interest policies that Wikipedia has in place and how they are thawing the once icy relationship between PR executives and Wikipedians. His “Getting Past ‘Gotcha’” talk was on March 13.

 

Free Speech and Anonymity
We also explored how reputation management brings up questions of free speech.


And connections were made…

Follow MIT Alumni’s Twitter channel all week for additional on-the-ground updates from SXSW. Check out the MIT CMS/W complete Storify of the chat. 

{ 0 comments }

Professor Munther Dahleh

Professor Munther Dahleh

At the next Faculty Forum online on March 19, you can find out what 21st century statistics means and how this new approach can shape global problem solving. Plus you can ask your own questions either now via email or during the 45-minute live webcast.

The speaker is Munther Dahleh, an expert in areas from networked systems to the future of the electric grid. Dahleh, the William A. Coolidge Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, will lead a new center at MIT aimed at applying 21st century statistics to diverse problems from systems behavior to social networks.

Dahleh is already working with complex problems. He is the acting director of the Engineering Systems Division, founded in 1998 to undertake interdisciplinary, systems approaches to challenges such as making healthcare affordable and accessible and managing global manufacturing and supply chains. He led the Laboratory for Information and Decisions Systems, an interdepartmental research center engaged in the analytical information and decision sciences. Both ESD and LIDS will become part of the new, as yet unnamed, entity, which will also include a significant new initiative in statistics.

During the Faculty Forum Online, Dahleh will share his hopes for this new undertaking and take questions from the worldwide MIT community via interactive chat.

Register today to participate in the Thursday, March 19, webcast from noon-12:45 p.m. EDT. A link to the webcast will be sent upon registration. A reminder email will be sent on the morning of the event. Email questions for the speaker ahead of time or ask them live or via Twitter using #mitfaculty.

About Munther Dahleh

Munther Dahleh’s research interests include networked systems, social networks, the future electric grid, transportation systems, and systemic risk. He is a three-time winner of the prestigious George Axelby Outstanding Paper Award from IEEE, winner of the Eckman Award for the best control engineer under 35, and a fellow of IEEE. At MIT, he has received the Graduate Student Council’s best teaching award. He is currently the housemaster at MacGregor House and the chair of the Committee on Discipline.

In the Press

The Connector,” MIT News
Dahleh appointed leader in LIDS,” MIT News
Gaming the System,” Technology Review

About Faculty Forum Online

Up to eight times per season, the Faculty Forum Online presents compelling interviews with faculty on timely and relevant topics, including nuclear weapons, neuroscience, digital privacy, and climate policy and research. Viewers watch and participate in live 30-minute interviews via interactive chat. Since its inception in 2011, archival editions of these programs have been viewed more than 75,000 times.

{ 1 comment }

Jose Cisneros

José Cisneros ’78

In February 2014, President Barack Obama named José Cisneros ’78 to the new President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans. In large part, this was an acknowledgement of Cisneros’s work to help lower-income residents in San Francisco enter the financial mainstream. Appointed city treasurer in 2004 and elected to three terms since, Cisneros has spearheaded innovative financial programs for adults as well as kids.

Cisneros launched his Office of Financial Empowerment because he believes that all San Franciscans are responsible for safeguarding the city’s money. “When people use fewer resources, maintain current resources, and contribute new resources through taxes, San Francisco stays strong,” he says.

Perhaps his most well-known program is Kindergarten to College, credited with helping thousands of children from low-income families start saving and planning for higher education.

The program works this way: each fall, as some 4,500 new kindergartners begin public school in the city, they receive an initial deposit of $50 in a savings account. In the years between kindergarten and college, a student’s family can add to the account and receive bonuses and matching funds in the process. Families can withdraw from the account only to pay for tuition and other expenses for the child’s postsecondary education.

“We all know $50 is not going to pay for college,” Cisneros told one interviewer. “[But] just the existence of the account builds aspiration in the child’s mind.” And this assertion is backed up by research: a 2010 Washington University study reported that children with savings accounts are up to seven times more likely to attend college than those without an account.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in management at MIT, Cisneros worked in both finance and management at Bank of Boston, Lotus Development, and IBM. That, followed by two years at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority, gave him the skills he’s used to tackle such
ambitious projects.

Cisneros’s dream of financially empowering low-income families now extends beyond San Francisco. More than 100 cities and communities have replicated his office’s Bank On program, which helps families find and enroll in fee-free checking accounts. In 2008, in partnership with New York City, Cisneros founded the Cities for Financial Empowerment Coalition. The coalition now works to advance financial empowerment opportunities in 14 major cities across the United States. More than 21 million American households have access to its programs.

Last year was an exciting one for Cisneros personally as well. A longtime advocate of rights for same-sex couples in California, he married his partner of 24 years in August.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2015 edition of MIT Technology Review magazine.

{ 0 comments }

MIT2_crop

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.

{ 0 comments }

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.

 

{ 0 comments }