Research

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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The January 27 article  article. Screenshot via businessinsider.com

Screenshot via businessinsider.com

On February 3, Slice of MIT linked to an article on businessinsider.com that listed the 21 “most successful” MIT alumni. As Slice mentioned at the time, determining success is entirely subjective and determining the most successful MIT alumnus is impossible.

We were not endorsing the website’s arbitrary list, but we did hope it would generate conversation among the MIT community.

And it did.

Since the story was published, nearly 100 alumni have responded on Slice and social media. Some questioned why we would highlight the list and many saw list-making of any kind as futile. But the majority used the comments to disavow the idea of success and advocate for even more alumni who they felt have made a significant positive impact in the world.

We were so impressed with the thoughtfulness of the comments—which mentioned 39 alumni from 37 different class years—that we’ve listed many of them below.

Let’s agree that defining success is not possible but acknowledge the dozens of world-changing alumni mentioned by Slice readers. Read the comments then add your own below on Facebook and Twitter.

Magliozzi

Tom Magliozzi ’58

“What about the 30-plus Nobel Prize winners? The 40 astronauts? It’s silly to name the thousands more…I am so proud to be a small part of the MIT alumni Association.” – Reid S.

“How can you include actor James Woods and exclude Tom ’58 and Ray ’73 Magliozzi from the Car Talk radio show?” – Ed R.

“Where is Ilene Gordon ’75, SM ’76?” – Peter D.

“Bob Metcalfe ’69—the inventor of Ethernet—isn’t in the ranking?” – Ken S.

“I would insert Tom Perkins ’53 (founder of Kleiner, Perkins, Caulfield and Byers) ahead of at least half the list.” – Frank S.

“Not listing Ken Olsen ’50, SM ’52 is a major oversight. I would also consider Ray Stata ’57, SM ’58 and Alex d’Arbeloff ’49 as worthy of inclusion.” – Mark C.

“Charles ’57, SM ’58, SM ’60 and David ’62, SM ’63 Koch, co-owners of the largest private company in the US.” – Robert

“Can’t forget Doc Draper ’26, SM ’28, ScD ‘38!” – Robert

“Philip Ragon ‘72, owner of InterSystems, made Forbes 400 list of billionaires last year. I call that pretty successful!” – Gary

Oliver Smoot

Oliver Smoot ’62

“Maybe Oliver Smoot ’62—how many people get a unit of measure named after them? Or his cousin, George Smoot ’66, PhD ’71, who won the Nobel?” – Miles F.

“Vannever Bush ’16—first presidential science advisor, initiator of the Manhattan Project, initiator of the National Science Foundation, and founder of Raytheon.”- Mike D.

“Perhaps Business Insider never heard of Donald Douglas 1914 and the DC 2-10 aircraft, the DC-3, or the Dakota as the first really viable commercial airplane and of immortal fame in WWII!” – Eliot P.

“I would add Jimmy Doolittle SM ’24, ScD ’25 for consideration, based on his contributions to instrument flight and his namesake raid.” – Alberto C.

“Wow! They are missing Charles McMillan ’33, Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory.” – Carolyn Z.

“How about Doc Edgerton SM ’27, ScD ’31? Think of everything high speed photography has done for engineering, art, and instant replays!” – Jay C.

“What about software pioneers, like Mitch Kapor MBA ’81? And what about my school’s namesake, Alfred P. Sloan 1895 himself?” – Larry C.

“Don’t forget Henry Kendall PhD ’55, one of the founders/leaders of the Union of Concerned Scientists.” – Jay C.

“Why not mention Mario Draghi PhD ’76—the current President of the European Central Bank?” – Alberto

“What about Dan Bricklin ’73, who invented the computer spreadsheet?” – Alex L.

“They missed Lamberto Andreotti SM ‘77, CEO of Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Carl Gordon, PhD ’93, co-founder of Orbimed Healthcare Fund Management…Maybe the list should have been at least 100!” – Irene W.

“Just thinking of my own class—Rusty Scheickart ’56, SM ’63, astronaut, and a brilliant career afterwards, Gideon Gartner ’56, SM ’60, founder of the Gartner Group.” – Nelo S.

“I’d nominate Robert Shiller ’68, PhD ’72, the Nobel-prize winning economist at Yale, (and) Robert Swanson ’70, SM ’70, co-founder of Genentech.” – Jan J.

Tom

Tom Scholz ’69, SM ’70

“Let’s not forget Tom Scholz ’69, SM ‘70, musician and co-producer of Boston, the rock album that remains my favorite after 39 years.” – Tim C.

“Missing the likes of Claude Shannon SM ’40, PhD ’40 or Norbert Wiener HM ’63.” – Emre K.

“Hard to imagine Irwin Jacobs SM ’57, ScD ’69, founder and longtime CEO of Qualcomm, not being on this list.” – Eric R.

“How could you omit Amar G. Bose ’51, SM ’52, ScD ’56?” – Chuck H.

“How about George P. Shultz PhD ‘49? MIT PhD, MIT Professor, Dean of the business school at U. Chicago, Secretary of Labor and then the Treasury under Nixon.” – Simon van N.

“I would think that Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman ’39 would make the list. He made great strides in understanding a basic, but unintuitive, property of matter – quantum mechanics.” – Roy W.

“This list needs to add the name of Raghuram Rajan PhD ’91, Governor of the Reserve Bank of India.” – Harshal S.

“Bob Weinberg ’64, PhD ’49. His contributions to cancer research are unrivaled.” – Hanna S.

These comments have been edited for brevity and grammar, and to include MIT class years.

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William Linder

Bill Linder SM ’65, PhD ’68 has completed more than a dozen Ironman races.

In 1962, an MIT professor visited the graduate class of Bill Linder SM ’65, PhD ’68 graduate class at the industrial design school he was attending in Germany after leaving the U.S. Army. Linder, who had already earned a degree from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1956, was so impressed with the professor that he transferred to MIT to study civil and environmental engineering. The decision would profoundly shape his life both personally and professionally.

At MIT, Linder and his classmates worked on solving engineering issues with computers, a very new idea at the time. “It was civil engineering, but really, they were computer projects,” he says. “That was very remarkable.”

After graduating, Linder, who grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, wanted to return home and teach at the University of South Carolina. Soon he was hired as the university’s first full-time computer science professor. After 12 years on the faculty, he went on to serve as a county treasurer, a computer consultant, and an adjunct professor before retiring in 2002, eager to pursue his new passion: Ironman competitions.

Ironman races consist of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run. To date, Linder has completed more than a dozen Ironman races, including two Ironman World Championships, the race held annually in October in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. When he competed in it last year, he was one of just five participants 80 or older. Unfortunately, a strong headwind derailed Linder and his fellow octogenarians. None of them finished the swim and bike portions within 10 hours and 30 minutes of starting, which would have qualified them to advance to the run. The wind was so strong Linder was sometimes riding his bike in his lowest gear, going only 4 or 5 m.p.h.

Years ago, he didn’t have to worry about finishing in time; he simply exerted all his energy and usually had hours to spare. But as he has aged, his slower pace has erased those extra hours. “There’s not much slack anymore,” he says.

Linder, however, remains undeterred. Now 81, he wants to become the oldest finisher of the Ironman World Championship. To do that, he will have to complete the race as an 82-year old next fall. “No one thought this was possible, that older people could do the Ironman. I want to keep it up as long as I can,” he says.

If he’s not swimming, biking, or running, Linder is probably at home in Columbia with Lynne, his wife of 47 years, or spoiling their three grandchildren.

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

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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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