Science

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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What’s one thing MIT students can do to increase their well-being this winter break? Sleep, according to Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, Affective Computing, Rosalind Picard SM ’86, ScD ’91. Picard is an instructor for MAS S63 Tools for Well Being, a course launched this past fall with a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation aimed at better understanding how individuals can be healthier and happier.

“The course is our way to start learning about our health,” explains Picard. She says providing a semester-long credit course is important for students who need to make their time commitments count.  “People are interested in so much,” she says. “At MIT you have so much you have to do, you often only do what you have to do rather than you want to do.”

Tools for Well Being—a Media Arts and Sciences course—offers weekly lectures from researchers and experts on a range of topics including diet and nutrition, mental health, workplace well-being, and cognitive health. Another benefit is that the Wednesday lectures, on topics ranging from How to Measure Stress, Engagement, and Positive Affect to the Science of Workplace Fitness, are open to the public.

Picard recommends sleep as a first-step to wellbeing.

Picard recommends sleep as a first-step to well-being.

“This is the whole picture of well-being. It’s like a resilience guide. If you are going to drive yourself to maximum performance, what do you need to know?” she says.

The course—open to graduate and undergraduate students—also focuses on technology as it relates to well-being. Some class speakers have experience building and using technology for well-being—like Kevin Slavin Assistant Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the MIT Media Lab who previously worked in game development. The course culminates in a final project that requires students to design and prototype a tool for well-being. Past projects included a smart coupon model that would provide users with tailored coupons for healthy options and an app that assists in creating conversations to solve interpersonal conflicts at work.

Picard would like to see a smaller course focused on well-being as a requirement for undergrads, much like physical education is required.  She relates that though many courses may be interesting to students, taking courses outside of those required proves difficult for many.

“Students need to be as intelligent about their basic functioning as they are about bio and math. You must know how to take care of your own health so you can push yourself for four years and emerge strong and resilient,” she says.

A first step to increase that understanding is examining your sleep patterns, Picard says. As a recommendation to all students, the winter break is a great time to do this.

“Pay attention to how much sleep your body needs—that’s your natural rhythm. Figure out how to get closer to that when you get back to school,” she says.

Recorded lectures from Tools for Well Being are available to everyone.

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Grove Labs Towers

Grove Lab hopes its towers with become home centerpieces.

Every Thursday, the team at Grove Labs eats the fruits of their labor. They call it a Grove-grown lunch.

“From some of our prototypes, we’ve harvested a huge bowl of salad for our weekly team meetings,” said co-founder and CEO Gabe Blanchet ’13 of his company’s indoor aquaponic gardens, which grow fruits and vegetables and raise fish.

He and co-founder Jamie Byron ’13 launched Grove Labs over a year ago, but the idea really started  when they roomed together in the MIT chapter of Sigma Chi Fraternity. Byron built an aquaponics prototype in their room, and the pair started harvesting lettuce, peas, and kale.

“I think we inspired people even with that janckety first fraternity room prototype that growing your own food and maintaining your own ecosystem where you live is really cool,” said Blanchet.

Grove has transformed that prototype into bookshelf-like wooden towers designed to be home centerpieces. The shelves house an aquarium and gardens capable of growing everything from salad greens to tomatoes at a rate 20-40 percent faster than conventional farming and using 80-90 percent less water.

A piping system allows water to flow from the aquarium to clay pebble grow beds. The beds are home to healthy bacteria that convert ammonia in the fish waste into nitrate, a natural plant fertilizer. As the plant roots absorb these nutrients, they clean the water that flows back to the fish tank. LED lights give plants the light they need and mimic the patterns of the sun—rosy in the morning, blue at noon, and golden at dusk.

Grove mock up

Mock up of how a Grove will look in the home.

The Grove staff, nearly half of whom are recent MIT graduates, are also launching a smart phone app to monitor temperature, water level, power usage, and the livelihood of a customers’ particular plants. Blanchet jokes the app “gives you a green thumb even if your thumb is black.” He adds, “we’re not afraid of using technology to bring people back to their roots.”

Blanchet and Byron’s own roots have been nourished by an entrepreneurial environment. Their fraternity has been home to a number of successful entrepreneurs—Genentech founder Robert Swanson ’69, SM ’70 and 170 Systems co-founder and Grove mentor Karl Buttner ’87 both frequented Sigma Chi. Three other companies have been started by other members of their 2013 class.

“When you have that culture you are bound to have unconstrained thinking about the possibilities,” recalled Blanchet. The pair also graduated from MIT’s Global Founders Skills Accelerator program, learning how to raise money, communicate, and recruit.

What’s next? “We’re taking natural ecosystems and shrinking them…eventually for space travel,” says Blanchet. But in the short term, you can grow your vegetables at home on earth.

Visit the GroveLabs site to learn more about the Boston Early Adopter Program they recently launched. 

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Rinderknecht explains how he uses light to trigger nuclear fusion.

Rinderknecht explains how he uses light to trigger nuclear fusion in his research.

MIT is proud of its hands-on learning tradition but a new generation of scholars is putting feet to the test too. A case in point is the winner in physics of Science magazine’s 7th Dance Your PhD contest—MIT graduate student Hans Rinderknecht.

His performance, titled In The Ring: A Fusion Odyssey, explains how he uses light to trigger nuclear fusion. His actual dissertation topic is Studies of Non-Hydrodynamic Processes in Inertial Confinement Fusion implosions on OMEGA and the NIF, which he expects to defend in January.

Why did Rinderknecht decide to enter the Dance Your PhD contest?

“I have been dancing almost exactly as long as I’ve been studying physics: I began both in high school, and started studying both in earnest when I got to college. While a graduate student at MIT, I have continued performing with Quicksilver Dance, a local modern dance company, and have also been the company’s technical director (for the record, the choreographer and artistic director Mariah Steele happens to be married to me).

The winning dance was filmed in Simmons Hal

The winning dance was filmed in Simmons Hall with MIT students dancing.

“So I decided to enter the contest because it combines two pursuits that I value and enjoy. It also poses the very interesting and valuable challenge of communicating my research to a very wide audience in a way they can relate to. Honestly, I think that knowing how to strip away the specialist knowledge and express the core ideas of your work in a generally understandable way is a really critical skill for researchers. Dance doesn’t let you hide behind your sub-sub-field’s protective wall of jargon: it makes you think about what concepts are really important, and how to get them across.

“I do think that dance and physics (or science in general) is a natural pairing. Physics is fundamentally the study of dynamics, i.e. movement, and dance is fundamentally the study of the movement of the human body. In addition to helping become a better communicator, I think the benefits of combining the two fields go both ways: movement can provide a scientist physical intuition for scientific processes, and scientific findings offer lots of great inspiration for dance research. But that’s a whole other conversation.”

Rinderknecht got lots of help from the MIT community. The piece was filmed in Simmons Hall, as an introduction to the annual Quicksilver Dance performance. Nearly all the performers were MIT students, and the theatrical lighting, lighting designer, and costumes were supported by the Simmons housemasters John and Ellen Essigmann, he says.

MIT has some history with this contest. Professors Allan Adams, Rebecca Saxe, and Paula Hammond are judges. Learn about the contest history and previous MIT contestants.

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Images via mit.edu

Mildred Dresselhaus HM ’86 and Robert Solow HM ’90. Images via mit.edu.

The White House announced earlier today that Institute Professors Mildred Dresselhaus HM ’86 and Robert Solow HM ’90 will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. The professors are part of a group of 19 recipients who will be honored at a White Ceremony on November 24, 2014.

Dresselhaus, who joined the MIT faculty in 1967, is known as the “Queen of Carbon Science” with nearly 60 years of research in condensed matter, materials physics, and multi-faceted forms of carbon. She received the National Medal of Science in 1990 and was previously honored by President Obama with the Enrico Fermi Award in 2012.

President Obama Names Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom,” Office of the White House Press Secretary

“Mildred Dresselhaus is one of the most prominent physicists, materials scientists, and electrical engineers of her generation.  A professor of physics and electrical engineering at MIT, she is best known for deepening our understanding of condensed matter systems and the atomic properties of carbon, which has contributed to major advances in electronics and materials research.”

Solow, who joined the MIT faculty in 1949, is an economist whose work on the theory of economic growth resulted in the eponymous Solow–Swan model, an economic model developed in 1956 that explains economic growth through capital accumulation, labor growth, population growth, and productivity. He was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences  in 1987 and the National Medal of Science in 1999.

President Obama Names Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom,” Office of the White House Press Secretary

“Robert Solow is one of the most widely respected economists of the past sixty years. His research in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s transformed the field, laying the groundwork for much of modern economics.  He continues to influence policy makers, demonstrating how smart investments, especially in new technology, can build broad-based prosperity, and he continues to actively participate in contemporary debates about inequality and economic growth.  He is a Nobel laureate, winning the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1987.”

Read more about  Dresselhaus and Solow on MIT News.

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At last week’s Xploring Space Twitter Chat, Emily Calandrelli SM’13 and Astronaut Cady Coleman ’83 tweeted about space, life at MIT, and inspiring more young women to enter STEM fields.

The two alumnae met while Calandrelli, host of Xploring Outer Space, was filming an episode on astronaut training at the Johnson Space Center. They even shared a ride on the Zero G “Vomit Comet”.

Coleman has spent more than 180 days in space and participated in three missions. As the host and technical curator of Xploring Outer Space, Calandrelli highlights research on Mars, space travel, and astronaut life in the weekly television show.

From the Infinite Corridor to Hollywood
The chat started off with Calandrelli sharing how Xploration is attempting to inspire K-12 and her path from MIT to host of the weekly show.

Flying in Space: Tweets from an Astronaut
Coleman advised actress Sandra Bullock on her performance as an astronaut for the 2013 movie Gravity. She shared some of the tips she gave to Bullock, and Calandrelli joined in with their experience riding the Zero G shuttle.

Coleman also shared why she grew her hair out before her missions.


Inspiring K-12 in STEM
Both alumnae discussed the state of women in STEM and offered suggestions for inspiring more women to pursue the field.  

It Takes a Village

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Last week six alumni working in space exploration as managers, engineers, and researchers joined us for Twitter chat MIT Alumni and the Final Frontier. The alumni fielded questions about their favorite projects, life at MIT, and shared insider knowledge on upcoming missions like OSIRIS-REx and Mars 2020.

New NASA Projects

All the alumni experts have a connection to NASA—as a current or past employee—and all have a great interest in upcoming missions, especially their favorites. Alessondra Springmann SM ’11 leaned towards asteroids, while Allen Chen ’00 SM ’02 had to pick an obvious favorite. Bobak Ferdowsi ‘03 chimed in with why he thinks the Europa Clipper mission is so exciting.

Mars 2020

The Mars 2020 mission will send another rover to the red planet—one with more capabilities than current rover Curiosity. Tamra Johnson ‘01 and Vanessa Thomas ’98 were curious how this newest mission might be different. Chen and Noah Warner ‘01, SM ‘03, PhD ‘07 shared some changes we can look for in 2020.

See You on Mars

Warner also shared insight into the future of the Curiosity—one we may never get to see.

Mission Moments

Caley Burke SM ’10 works in launches and Chen works in landings—both of which can be very stressful. Burke and Chen discussed what it’s like when they can finally breathe again.

NASA and MIT

Which AeroAstro class do the alumni keep thinking about? David Oh ’91, SM ’93, SCD ’97 joined in with his favorite.

To end the chat, Chen summed up what makes MIT and NASA so similar in his eyes.

This chat was cosponsored by MIT AeroAstro. See a more complete transcript of the chat

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George F. Smoot '66, PhD '71. Smoot shared the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics for the "discovery of the blackbody form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation

George F. Smoot ’66, PhD ’71. Smoot shared the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics for the “discovery of the blackbody form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation. Click for a slide show of the MIT Nobelists featured.

Guest blogger: Elizabeth Thomson, Continuum

Six MIT professors and three alumni are among 50 Nobel laureates asked to “sketch their science” and pose with the resulting art for an unusual multimedia exhibition. The award-winning German photographer behind the project, Volker Steger, was a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT from 2000–01.

Steger provided each laureate with a poster-sized sheet of white paper and set of crayons and asked them to draw their discovery. He then snapped photos of each laureate holding, pointing to, or even wearing their art. The life-size photos radiate the fun and personality that is often missing from the media coverage of scientists.

Most of the pictures were taken at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings. “It was the perfect place. The atmosphere is relaxed. I hope that shows!” says Steger.

The laureates had no advance notice of what the photo shoot would entail. “The important thing is surprise. Otherwise you get PowerPoint presentations,” says Steger. “Also, deprive them of their beloved markers and chalk and use crayons! Crayons have character and last forever.” Steger notes that most laureates are also teachers. So, “they are familiar with sketching and expressing their ideas. I got the idea that most liked the approach.”

Steger concludes, “For me, the most important part of the project is that it shows what kind of people these laureates are (at least I hope so), and at the same time there is some representation of their scientific work. That is new. Think of how Nobel laureates are usually photographed.”

The Sketches of Science exhibition of Steger’s portraits is complemented by interviews with the laureates. It is currently on display in Seoul, South Korea, through November 23. It will travel to the United States early next year, where it will open January 7 at the University of California, Davis.

Sketches of Science was produced by the Nobel Museum in collaboration with the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings. Interviews were made in collaboration with Nobel Media.

Peruse a PDF of the art book, Sketches of Science, featuring 50 Nobel laureates. Watch a short video about the exhibit’s creation.

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TED talks are popular but the newly released talk by Nancy Kanwisher ’80, PhD ’86, a cognitive science professor at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT and in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Science, is exceptionally so. Her talk, A Neural Portrait of the Human Mind, received more than 100,000 hits in the first 24 hours after it was posted on October 2.

Why do so many brains want to know what she knows about brains? Described as a brain imaging pioneer, Kanswisher uses a method called fMRI, which allows you to see internal anatomy at high resolution, to study the activity of the human brain. The additional blood flow involve in a neutral activity can be mapped using functional fMRI. She’s been able to identify specific areas responsible for activities like face recognition.

“The human mind and brain is not a single, general purpose processor, but a collection of highly specialized components, each solving a different, specific problem and yet collectively making up who we are as human beings and thinkers,” she told the TED audience. “Understanding the fundamental mechanisms that underlie human experience….This is the greatest scientist quest of all time.”

Want to know more? Kanwisher has published nancysbraintalks.mit.edu, a website linking to some of her short talks on the scientific methods and recent findings. Sample topics include “How Early Does Face Perception Develop in Childhood?” and “What Is fMRI?”

 

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Love space exploration? Join us Tuesday, October 7 at 2:00 p.m. EDT for a live Twitter chat with six alumni who explore space as engineers, managers, and researchers. Follow along and ask questions of our participants with the hashtag #MITAlum.

Many alumni work in the field of space exploration and MIT’s involvement can currently be seen in exciting projects like Mars 2020 and the Osiris-REx mission. Bring your questions on topics including Mars Curiosity and 2020, asteroids, and the future of human and autonomous flight missions.

Meet the alumni:

CaleyCaley Burke SM ’10 @NASA_Caley

Burke is an aerospace engineer for NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP) and performs analysis on the trajectories of the rockets launching NASA’s unmanned spacecraft missions. She works on the interface between the spacecraft and launch vehicle teams; currently she’s on the 2016 launch of InSight to Mars.

al chen

Allen Chen ’00, SM ’02 @icancallubetty

Chen is a senior systems engineer in the Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL) Systems and Advanced Technologies group at NASA’S Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).  He is currently the cruise and EDL phase lead for the Mars 2020 project. He also worked on the Mars Exploration Rovers project, performing EDL reconstruction analysis and testing.

bobakBobak Ferdowsi SM ’03 @tweetsoutloud

Ferdowsi is a systems engineer with JPL who gained Internet stardom for his haircut and role as activity lead during the Mars Curiosity rover landing. He has been working for JPL since 2003 and currently works on both Curiosity and the Europa Clipper mission.

DavidDavid Oh ’91, SM ’93, ScD ’97 @marstimrdad

Oh is a manager and senior systems engineer at JPL. He worked on the Curiosity Mars rover for seven years and led the team responsible for testing and delivery of the spacecraft’s core electronics, communications, and thermal control systems. He was also the mission’s lead flight director from launch in November 2011 to landing nine months later. After landing, Oh and family famously spent a month living on Mars time while he worked with the surface operations team driving the rover.

Sondy-2Alessondra Springmann SM ’11 @sondy

Springmann is a planetary astronomer working for the OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission as a graduate researcher at the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.  She spent two years at Arecibo Observatory observing near-Earth asteroids with the megawatt planetary radar system on the 305-meter William E. Gordon radio telescope.  Her research interests involve binary asteroids systems, and feedback between surface properties of asteroids and non-gravitational forces

NoahNoah Warner ’01, SM ’03, PhD ’07 @nzw

Warner is an instrument deployment deputy phase lead for the InSight Mission to Mars. Warner joined the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 2007 and worked on the Mars Science Laboratory project in various system engineering roles until 2014, with his last year spent as a Tactical Mission Manager in charge of day-to-day operations of the Curiosity rover.  After spending a decade in Cambridge, Warner lives in Southern California with his wife Anjeli–also an MIT grad–and his two children.

This chat co-sponsored by MIT AeroAstro and is part of the Alumni Association’s celebration of MIT AeroAstro’s centennial.

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