Engineering

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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Jonathan Levene 4.13.15

Jonathan Levene ’97, MEng ’98

Jonathan Levene ’97, MEng ’98 is a Boston-based career coach specializing in engineering leadership and career development. Levene recently advised alumni interested in working in startup world in a live Lunch and Learn webinar hosted by the Alumni Association. As a follow up, Levene answered three questions for alumni interested in transitioning from the corporate sector to a startup.

What factors should be considered when deciding if a move to the startup world is the right choice for you and your career?

I recommend clarifying what you’re seeking in terms of an ideal work experience and then investigating how well this maps to a startup experience. For your ideal work experience, think of three favorite projects from the past few years that you led. Pick ones in which you felt most energized and would like to replicate.

Next, assess how well the mindsets and behaviors you demonstrated in your chosen projects align with those that startups typically value. Use the following questions as a guide.

To what degree did you demonstrate the following mindsets during the projects?

  • Building a vision for success
  • Embracing uncertainty
  • Learning through experimentation
  • Accepting change (such as a change in direction) when it arose
  • Resourcing creatively (“begging, borrowing, or stealing”)
  • Motivating others
  • Influencing the views of senior management or peers

To what degree did you demonstrate the following behaviors during the projects?

  • Being open to others’ ideas, opinions, and feedback
  • Straight talking, speaking factually and truthfully on key issues
  • Engaging others in a positive way, avoiding blame and resolving conflicts quickly
  • Being accountable through strong commitments, follow-through, and requests
  • Effective decision making involving others by evaluating data, exploring options and opinions, and creating consensus
  • Realizing innovative ideas through a bias for action

What advice do you have for being mentally and financially prepared for moving to a position with (or founding) a startup?

 In small companies, particularly those under 50 employees, you are freed from a lot of the process that slows innovation and hampers creativity at larger companies. Many people also find that there is greater acceptance of new ideas and organizational support for realizing them through one’s own initiative.

It is important to anticipate that you’ll need to embrace uncertainty, accept change when it comes, and resource creatively. It’s not uncommon in startups under 50 employees for sudden change to result in new priorities. This means that technology you create today may need to be quickly altered, released, or sometimes even scrapped down the road. It’s important not to be overly attached to what you build or have too-high a quality standard.

You’ll also be exposing yourself to greater financial risk as a result of this uncertainty. You can plan for this by calculating the number of months you might be unemployed if the company goes under, and setting aside the required number of months of salary.

What are some common shocks that may occur when transitioning from corporate to startup? How can you prepare for these?

Many people aren’t prepared for the lack of onboarding when they start. You should expect that you’ll need to pull information from people and be a self-starter. If you’re considering a move to a startup, it will help to spend some time learning about another technology or product that your company has that is new to you. Practice pulling knowledge out of others’ heads.

Another shock can sometimes be the intense cross-functional exposure. For example, it’s not uncommon in startups under 50 employees for engineering to work closely in sales. If you haven’t had experience with this, you can expect to encounter different aspirations, values, and norms in sales – in short, a different culture. Call up a peer in one of these functions and learn about what they’re up to and what is challenging for them.

Levene has 15 years of experience leading product development teams in Boston-area startups and serves as an executive coach at Harvard Business School’s Program for Leadership Development.

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Edith Clarke first female electrical engineer

Edith Clarke SM ’19

Even after becoming the first woman to earn her master’s in electrical engineering from MIT, Edith Clarke SM ’19 was having trouble getting a job in her field. But she didn’t let that stop her. She took a position for General Electric as a supervisor of computers, a position she was vastly overqualified for, and used her spare time to invent the graphical calculator, applying for a patent in 1921. The device, approved in 1925, was used to solve electric power transmission line problems and for Clarke, this was just the beginning.

“There is no demand for women engineers, as such, as there are for women doctors; but there’s always a demand for anyone who can do a good piece of work,” she said. And her work would prove its worth.

Not only was Clarke the first female electrical engineer, she was the first female to hold a professional position as an electrical engineer in the US, and the first female professor of electrical engineering. Clarke also developed mathematical methods that simplified and reduced the work of electrical engineers, published 18 technical papers, and her textbook Circuit Analysis of A-C Power Systems became the standard for the industry in her time.

After a long career at GE, earning an engineering role in 1923, she retired in 1945 and spent the next 10 years teaching electrical engineering at the University of Texas in Austin. She died in November 1959 in Baltimore.

Although Clarke struggled as a female in a male-dominant career in the early 1900s, she eventually gained recognition and respect from her peers and has since been recognized.

This year’s National Inventors Hall of Fame will induct 14 individuals, including Clarke. The National Inventors Hall of Fame recognizes monumental individuals whose innovations are crucial to our lives, highlighting their contributions in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The event will be held from May 11-13 in Washington, DC.

Edith Clarke first female engineer, graphical calculator

Photo: Edith Clarke’s graphical calculator. Image credit: NIHF

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Design and Manufacturing 1—better known as 2.007, one of MIT’s iconic courses—requires students to create small robots to complete a specific task. Skills learned in 2.007 helped Logan Munro ’07, design and create Ringly, a ring that uses vibration and lights to alert wearers to their smartphone notifications. “My Course 2 expertise was invaluable early in designing. Machining from 2.670 and 2.007 helped make the product and 2.000 to critically think about how the product should work,” he says.

Ringly comes in multiple styles. Photo: Ringly

Munro, a co-founder of Ringly, explains that the is simple—a user’s ring will light up and vibrate to notify them of alerts such as phone calls and text messages. Bluetooth technology works to wirelessly send notifications from phone to ring, so Ringly wearers don’t have to keep their phone at arm’s reach. “The goal is for technology to be discreetly integrated into our lives,” Munro explains.

Though Munro didn’t imagine he would be creating and designing jewelry after MIT, he says Ringly matches his interest. “I have always been interested in consumer products, and jewelry is the ultimate consumer-driven market,” he says. “With Ringly, we are taking a product that is traditionally used to express our personality and style and adding functionality.”

RINGLY3

Ringly offers different notifications for different apps. Photo: Ringly

Ringly allows users to set different notification light colors and vibrations for several types of alerts. Users can also choose to receive alerts from apps like Uber, sending users a notification when their requested ride is outside. All this functionality comes in a ring with a gemstone measured at 14×19 mm. Munro explains this challenge of fitting technology into a small, stylish space motivates him.  “Applying an additional layer of functionality with some very difficult engineering is what drives me, and I couldn’t be happier with the outcome,” he says.

Ringly currently offers multiple styles of the ring for pre-order with some styles already sold out.

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NinaTandon, EpiBone

Tissue-engineered bone, EpiBone

Bone-related surgeries, undertaken by nearly one million patients in the US each year, can fail due to unsuccessful integration of prosthetic or donor bone implants. Nina Tandon SM ’06 is working to solve this problem by growing human bone from the cells of the patient.

Tandon, CEO of EpiBone, leads the New York City-based company that is the first to grow human bones from stem cells, delivering custom-made bones. Not only are the bones more likely to integrate into the body because they are living, compatible bone, but also because they are created based on a CT scan of the target area and are made to fit exactly. “What we’re really proposing is a different view of the body,” says Tandon. “To view it as a renewable resource of stem cells that can regenerate new parts as you need them.”

Nina Tandon, EpiBone

Nina Tandon SM ’06 (right) in the lab at EpiBone

Tandon, who co-founded the EpiBone project two years ago, has spent the greater part of the past 10 years studying and testing bone and organ regrowth—and it all started at MIT.

As a graduate student studying bioelectrical engineering, Tandon did a research rotation with world-renowned professor and tissue engineering research scientist Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic.

“It was through the work I did at MIT with Gordana that I realized the power of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine and the way it would change medicine forever,” says Tandon. “By engineering human tissue and cells from their own human stem cells, we can change the way medicine is done. Whether it’s organ donation or drug testing, we can make the medicine fit the individuals.”

At EpiBone, Tandon works every day in the lab to perfect their method. With the technology in place, they have successfully grown bone and are in the testing stages. With one pilot study completed and another to begin this spring, they hope to be done with pre-clinical trials in the next three years and get on the path of FDA approval to bring their technology to market.

“I can’t wait for the day when someone who needs a transplant doesn’t have to wait on a list,” says Tandon. “And I’m hoping our research can get us one step closer to that day.”

A Fulbright Scholar, Tandon completed her PhD and an MBA at Columbia University. She is a senior TED fellow and co-author of Super Cells: Building with Biology, a book that explores the new frontier of biotech. Tandon was recently named one of CNN’s “7 ‘tech superheroes’ to watch in 2015.

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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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Like many graduate students, Gwen Sisto SM ’10 worked on a startup while at MIT. Unlike many MIT students, this startup wasn’t in biotech, software, or technology. Sisto’s startup makes weightlifting shoes.

“Whenever I told someone I had a startup they would get excited. When I told them it was shoes they would stop talking to me,” she remembers.

Sisto-Lift

Sisto competing. Photo: Gwen Sisto

Sisto—an aerospace engineer and Olympic-style weightlifter—and her husband weightlifting coach Ivan Rojas founded Risto Sports in 2008 to serve what they saw as an untapped market, Olympic-style weightlifters.

Sisto and Rojas came up with the idea for Risto Sports while training for the 2008 Olympic trials. “We were training and realized there was really only one brand of weightlifting shoes for the lifters to buy,” she says. “Our initial mission was to be a service to the weightlifting community and bring high-quality shoes.”

Sisto used her deep understanding of weightlifting and engineering to create the best shoes for weightlifters. “I can take my experience in both worlds and try to come up with something more high-tech and more sophisticated,” she says. “It’s an extremely technical sport, so you really need the right equipment.”

Risto Sports Classic weightlifting shoe. Photo: Risto Sports

This expertise made Risto Sports a favorite among lifters and helped create the shoes’ defining characteristic—a wood heel. Sisto explains that wood doesn’t mean low-tech, “We did a lot of materials testing to find the right wood and all these technical specifications. A lot of thought goes into the product using my engineering background.”

Sisto hopes her technical and personal approach to weightlifting shoes will help to change the industry. “There’s a lot of nepotism and snake oil salesmen in the weightlifting world in products and training. Somebody’s got to change that and who better than a rocket scientist?” she says.

Aside from working as an engineer and trying to change the weightlifting world, Sisto is also working on personal goals—she’s currently training for the 2016 Olympic trials.

 

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