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The Pantelligent pan and app

No matter how many recipes we read, cooking food the right way can take years of practice—with lots of trial, error, and burnt meals—but not with this new device. Pantelligent takes a frying pan, a smartphone app, and the smarts of four MIT alums to help you prepare a perfect meal, every time.

The idea for Pantelligent started as an inside joke. Humberto Evans ’08, whose mother owned her own restaurant, was a whiz in the kitchen and always cooking for his roommate, Mike Robbins ’08, MEng ’09. Evans encouraged Robbins to cook as well, but was only successful when he provided step-by-step instructions. “He behaves like a robot in the kitchen,” says Evans. “If you tell him to chop, he’ll do it but won’t stop until you tell him to. On his own he’s pretty lost.” If only, they would say, you could just build a robot to cook for you.

Six years later, while working in California on their code-based startup, CircuitLab, they began pursuing the cooking idea. Since a full-on robot chef seemed beyond their reach, they conceptualized a frying pan that could sense temperature and give cooking instructions accordingly. “It’s by no means a brand new idea,” says Humberto. “In fact, in the first-ever episode of the Jetsons in the 1960s, their cooking robot breaks and that’s when they have to buy Rosie. This is something that people have been dreaming about for years.”

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Mike Robbins, Kyle Moss, Yuan, Wei and Humberto Evans with their product, the Pantelligent.

Evans, CEO, and Robbins, CTO, were already working on CircuitLab with fellow MIT housemate Yuan Wei ’08, MEng ’09, lead programmer, when they brought on Kyle Moss ’13 as mechanical engineer and industrial designer for the pan. Since their first prototype in early 2014, they have developed a completely functional frying pan, with Bluetooth capability to connect to a smartphone and an app.

For the amateurs in the kitchen, the app walks you through every step after choosing a meat or even a specific recipe, telling you when the pan has reached the right temperature to begin cooking, when to flip the meat, and when it’s done. If you’re cooking a one-inch steak to medium rare, for instance, Pantelligent uses thermal models of the cooking process—plus the live temperature data from the pan—to automatically adjust the cooking instructions.

Even for those who know their way around the kitchen, the pan helps to produce repeatable and reliable recipes. “Some people say, ‘do I really need this to cook an egg?’ says Evans. “Honestly, no, but your egg will be that much better if you do. And to cook amazing food every time the way chefs do, you have to learn the intuition for how long to cook something at the right temperature. We take all that knowledge and package it into our app.”

The alumni ran a successful Kickstarter campaign for Pantelligent at the end of last year and are hard at work bringing it to market. They are working with manufacturers to build the tooling and machinery needed to produce the pans and are on track to ship the advance units to the Kickstarter backers in August.

Prototypes of the product were featured on the NBC TODAY show, live on CBS This Morning, and one of Popular Science‘s “Top 10 Inventions of 2015.”

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An egg like Australia (© Owen Franken)

An egg like Australia (© Owen Franken)

Curious about Owen Franken? View more of his work via the Franken Photo of the Week category, learn more in this profile, read a What Matters opinion column he wrote called “Life in Brownian Motion,” or visit his Web site.

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Sam Ford, MIT, Peppercomm, Wikipedia, Wrestling,  SXSW Interactive.

Sam Ford SM ’07, who taught MIT’s only course on professional wrestling, spoke to Slice of MIT at SXSW Interactive.

The MIT Alumni Association’s online directory has some pretty distinctive job titles, like Chief Mom Officer and Chief Event Wrangler. But one title has eluded MIT’s 130,000+ alumni: professional wrestler, although Sam Ford SM ’07 comes close.

From 2005–2007, while Ford was a graduate student at MIT, he was also a licensed professional wrestling manager in his home state of Kentucky, where he portrayed the villainous character of an academic aristocrat who feverishly checked his Blackberry and snubbed his nose at the wrestling audience.

“My character had great disdain for the state of Kentucky—he was offended to even step foot on bluegrass,” Ford says. “In reality, I grew up there and I raise my family there now. But it was great insight into audience engagement and participatory culture, which I studied at CMS/W.”

Sam Ford, MIT, wrestling, CMS/W, Jim Ross, SXSW

Hall of Fame announcer Jim Ross was a guest speaker in Ford’s 2007 MIT course.

Devious character aside, a shared love of wrestling connected him with former CMS/W co-director Henry Jenkins, and as a CMS/W graduate student, Ford taught MIT’s only course on professional wrestling in 2007.

“One radio host called it a sign of the apocalypse,” Ford says. “In reality, it looked at the cultural and media history of American pro wrestling. The course brought an eclectic mix of students from media studies, humanities, science, and engineering.”

Ford spoke to Slice of MIT at the 2015 South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive festival, where he was part of a four-person panel that discussed the rise of paid editing in Wikipedia and its impact on internet neutrality and transparency in advertising. Ford was one of more than 100 MIT alumni who presented at the festival.

“I’ve always been interested in Wikipedia as a societal endeavor—it’s a collaborative project where people can build on individual expertise,” he says. “Wikipedia has a conflict of interest policy. You shouldn’t directly edit an entry related to a company you work for or with, for instance. Many business executives don’t understand how the Wikipedia project works.”

Ford helps brands better understand Wikipedia, and the importance of editing transparency, through his work as director of audience engagement at Peppercomm, a communications and marketing firm that specializes in audience engagement through new media. (He’s also an adjunct faculty member at Western Kentucky University.)

“Wikipedia is near the top of most organizations’ search engine rankings, and, meanwhile, more and brands are trying to connect with their audience directly,” he says. “There is a growing number of instances of companies getting caught editing their own Wikipedia entries. That’s a big problem, especially when they try to hide what the FTC calls ‘material connections’ that create a conflict of interest.”

Ford’s interest in Wikipedia stemmed from his overall CMS/W research, where he studied participatory cultures, collective intelligence, and the future of storytelling and audience engagement in a digital era. In 2013, he, Jenkins, and former MIT researcher Joshua Green co-authored Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture.

And perhaps no group is more participatory that a professional wrestling audience, who boo and cheer based on choreographed actions in the ring. As for an MIT-educated pro wrestler? Ford doesn’t think it’s that far off.

“We’ll call him the Fighting Beaver,” he says. “Beavers are innovative and focused on a sort of fighting spirit and attitude, just like the MIT ethos. It’s a perfect fit for the wrestling world.”

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At the Alumni Leadership Conference, Don Shobrys congratulates a award winner.

At the Alumni Leadership Conference, Don Shobrys, right, congratulates a member of the Senior Class Gift Committee, which achieved a record-breaking participation level. Photo: Melody Ko.

Guest Blogger: Don Shobrys ’75, Association president

Alumni often ask me how to get involved with MIT. Even the longest journey begins with a single step, and the first step is to connect with something that interests you. If you are competent and contribute, that first step will lead to many others.

My first job was in Houston, where I joined the local MIT Club, volunteered for telethons and worked on reunion committees. That led to being the chair of my 25th reunion gift committee. We had a great group of volunteers and our classmates were generous so we set a new record. That got me an invitation to join the MIT Annual Fund Board. A few years later I ended up as the chair, which also gave me an ex officio seat on the Alumni Association Board of Directors. A stint on the Visiting Committee for the Department of Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation (DAPER) led to my role in creating the Friends of DAPER. After a move to Boston, Annual Fund staff and a fellow visiting committee member pointed me towards the MIT Venture Mentoring Service. During a stint on the Corporate Development Committee, a chance conversation led to my role in creating the Alumni Advisory Council for the Engineering Systems Division. And now I am at the end of my term as president of the Alumni Association.

Alumni volunteers meet over festive meals as well as workshops and faculty talk during ALC.

Alumni volunteers meet over festive meals as well as at workshops and faculty talks during ALC.

So where should you start your journey? A great place is on the Association’s Become a Volunteer web page, where you will find out how to get involved with your class, a regional club, or with students. You can help others with their careers or explore a wide range of specific interests from public service to entrepreneurship to STEM education. A link lets you nominate yourself or others for leadership roles in the Alumni Association, and you can even reach out to Alumni Association staff.

If you are considering serious involvement with a nonprofit, or even starting your own, you can learn a lot by serving on your reunion gift committee, as a class or William Barton Rogers Society agent, or on the Annual Fund Board. Years ago the head development officer for a nonprofit in New Jersey told me that the elite academic institutions are the gold standard for nonprofit fundraising. My involvement with MIT has been a wonderful education in that area.

If you are adventurous, go to mit.edu and search for a specific interest plus the words “alumni volunteer.” Be persistent. At MIT anything worth doing is worth doing at least a dozen different ways, so there are many potential points of contact around any specific interest.

A final, terrific option is to go to the Alumni Leadership Conference on September 25−26. You get to catch up with what is going at MIT, meet a lot of wonderful people, and learn what volunteers do at MIT. MIT folks are a fascinating, friendly bunch. For me, the joy in getting involved comes from the people you meet, the friends you make, and the knowledge that you are helping one of the world’s great educational institutions move forward.

Maya Angelou once said “we find our path by walking it.” So start your journey today. Do some homework, ask some questions, and find something you want to pursue. Like me, you may be amazed at where your path takes you.

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Watch winners of this year's CEE video contest, including to top choice Research for a Thirsty World.

Watch winners of this year’s CEE video contest, including top choice: Research for a Thirsty World.

Ask your questions about Civil and Environmental Engineering discoveries during a live interview with department head Markus Buehler at the May 19 Faculty Forum Online. Alumni can register now, get a reminder email Tuesday morning, and then submit questions starting at noon with a special online link.

Professor Markus Buehler will highlight the research of Course 1 faculty and students, share his vision for education and student leadership, and describe research initiatives that cut across the Institute. In his own research, Buehler pursues new modeling, design, and manufacturing approaches to build materials and structures that offer greater resilience and a wide range of controllable properties from the nano to the macroscale.

So what’s up at CEE?

  • Professor Buehler and a CEE colleague shared their work at a recent Active Matter Summit where the discussed a new frontier of civil engineering.
  • CEE Professor David Simchi-Levi with students and colleagues won the Ford 2015 Engineering Excellence Award for a three-year supply chain study.
  • MIT’s Terrascope learning community presented energy-saving projects such as a vertical wind turbine, built partially from urban trash, for use in poor Cairo neighborhoods.
  • MIT’s CEE department ranked first place in the civil engineering subject and sixth place in the environmental subject in the 2015 QS World University Rankings.

Register today to participate in the Tuesday, May 19, webcast from noon‒12:45 p.m. EDT. Or you can submit a question now by emailing alumnilearn@mit.edu.

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Mathematicians build upon proofs in advancing their craft. So do cooks, who often use ingredients made of ingredients—ketchup, for instance, or condensed soup.

For Jim Henle PhD ’76, the beauty of both practices is in understanding from where those basics come and being able to make them oneself.

In a new book, The Proof and the Pudding, Henle, a professor of mathematics at Smith College, lays out equal parts math and cooking in a reflection on their similarities, their contributions to one another, and their continuing enigmatic puzzles. Listen to the interview with Henle.

Part cookbook and part textbook, Henle delights readers with countless stories of trial and error in the classroom and kitchen. But there are serious points to be made in The Proof and the Pudding too.

“I’m always thinking about how to bring mathematics to people and what is it that gets in the way of students connecting with mathematics,” Henle says. “In some sense this book is an answer to that, or one answer to that.”

“This is my serious point here: you have to have fun. IF you don’t have fun, you’re going to stay in math as long as people make you, and no longer,” he says.

Sprinkled among these arguments are Henle’s near-perfect recipes for breakfasts, breads, and sumptuous feasts. Ever the student of the kitchen, Henle shares his lifelong search for the perfect pizza dough and the quest to make desserts for dinner guests with high standards.

henle puzzle

To solve this puzzle, you must put the digits 1, 2, 3, 4 in the squares so that a) no digit appears twice in any row or column, and b) the sums of the digits in the two regions are the same.

In this podcast, Henle also shares his love of simple puzzles like the clueless Sudoku.

“I like the elegance of not seeing numbers in the puzzle but numbers appear in the answer. And my favorite of these is a little four by four, there are just two regions and the sum of the numbers in each region comes out the same,” he says. (Pictured right.)

Listen to the complete podcast here. Listen to past books podcasts with novelists, professors, and entrepreneurs by visiting MITAA on Soundcloud.

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Gates Atrium, Stata Center, MIT (© Clinton Blackburn).

Gates Atrium, Stata Center, MIT (© Clinton Blackburn).

Clinton Blackburn is a photographer in Cambridge, MA. View more work on his website. View other alumni photos of the week.

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Geeks and Greeks, the grahic novel by Steve Altes, includes a forward by Matthew Pearl, who wrote the MIT-set thriller The Technologists.

Geeks and Greeks includes a forward by Matthew Pearl, who wrote the MIT-set thriller The Technologists.

Steve Altes ’84, SM ’86, SM ’86, an aerospace engineer turned comedic writer, hopes to bring MIT’s legendary hacking tradition new fame in Geeks and Greeks, a graphic novel inspired by his campus adventures. “The story embodies everything I love about nerds—their brilliance, creativity, irreverence, and endearing quirkiness,” he says.

Steve Altes

Steve Altes ’84, SM ’86, SM ’86

Altes, who grew up near Syracuse, has admired hacks since he arrived at MIT and saw the Sheraton Boston sign altered to read simply “ATO” (though he joined Sigma Phi Epsilon). He earned three degrees at the Institute—two in aerospace engineering and one in public policy. His master’s thesis on the feasibility of an aerospace airplane was reviewed in the New York Review of Books. “My literary career peaked at age 24,” he quips.

After MIT, Altes worked at Orbital Sciences in Virginia on the Pegasus air-launched space booster. For that work, he was named a co-recipient of the National Medal of Technology in 1990. “Again, I knew it was going to be downhill from there,” he says. Soon after, he left engineering for show business.

Altes nabbed a few stunt jobs on film sets—including Die Hard with a Vengeance, in which he had to leap from the roof of one moving tractor-trailer to another. “I loved the freewheeling aspect of entertainment,” he says.

And then he had an idea for a movie. “The hacks and hijinks I saw, participated in, or heard about at MIT were mind-boggling,” he says. He wrote a screenplay that was optioned by writer and producer Dottie Zicklin ’86, who created the sitcom Dharma & Greg.

Image via Geeks and Greeks on Kickstarter. Artwork by Andy Fish.

Image via Geeks and Greeks on Kickstarter. Artwork by Andy Fish.

Although that film was not made, Altes kept writing, publishing essays in 45 magazines and newspapers, authoring two business humor books, and providing commentary for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and Us Weekly’s “Fashion Police.”

Two years ago he decided that a graphic novel would be the ideal medium for his hack story. He raised $40,000 on Kickstarter and hired an artist to illustrate the book. “The support I got from the MIT alumni community has been amazing,” he says. “I hope Geeks and Greeks gets people excited about engineering and especially MIT. If you’re a bright high school student and want to be where the most creative and dynamic people are, you’re going to want to go to MIT.”

Altes and his wife, actress Diana Jellinek, live in Valencia, California, with their two young sons. Geeks and Greeks will be released in June.

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

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ERS members participate in a public art tour on campus.

ERS members participate in a public art tour on campus.

Guest blogger: Nancye Mims, MIT Alumni  Association

The 25th anniversary celebration of the Emma Rogers Society (ERS) on May 13 marks a quarter century of the extraordinary connection between widows and widowers of alumni and faculty and MIT. Both the Institute and surviving spouses are enriched by these ongoing interactions.

The group is named for Emma Savage Rogers (1824-1911), the wife of MIT’s founder, William Barton Rogers. The daughter of a wealthy Boston banker and businessman, she married Rogers in 1849. Known for her intellect and vitality, she became a model of long-term engagement with the Institute. As his health began to fail, her unflagging support—including acting as an intermediary with faculty and colleagues—was a constant in their relationship and in his leadership of MIT.

After President Rogers passed away during commencement ceremonies in 1882, Mrs. Rogers continued to be a valued advisor to four MIT presidents and generously opened up her home and her heart to students, teachers, and alumni until her death in 1911.

Emma Rogers played an important role as the wife of the Institute's first president.

Emma Rogers played an important role as the wife of the Institute’s first president.

Inspired by Mrs. Rogers and many examples of highly engaged spouses, MIT President Paul Gray and his wife, Priscilla, began working with Vice President and Treasurer Glenn Strehle to find a way that MIT could formally address the needs of such spouses in 1989.

“MIT has always been like a big family in so many ways and surviving spouses are just as important to that family as they were in earlier years,” says Mrs. Gray.

Strehle hired Betsy Millard to gather alumni and faculty widows to discuss what this kind of outreach might look like. After a survey and much collaboration, ERS was launched in 1990 to be of service to widows of alumni and faculty, make them feel welcome on campus, and keep them connected to the Institute.

After Charles M. Vest succeeded Paul Gray as president of MIT in 1990, his wife Rebecca M. Vest was honorary chair of ERS for many years, often hosting ERS activities at Gray House. When Dr. Vest passed away in 2013, she became a member herself.

Today, there are more than 5,000 members of the Emma Rogers Society around the globe. The group meets in the Boston area three to five times a year for events such as the ERS Insider Series. Similar lecture-and-luncheon events are scheduled during Tech Reunions and sometimes in other locations and times.

Besides keeping up with MIT research, group members also support one another. “The group does not formally talk about grieving and loss, but there is great comfort in knowing that everyone in the room knows what it is like to be missing a spouse, whether it’s been a few months or many years,” says Ann Allen, a long-time member of the group whose husband, Professor Jonathan Allen PhD ‘68, passed away in 2000. “Many good and important conversations happen over lunch and often continue in the parking lot and beyond.”

Benefits of the program flow both ways: ERS members may participate fully in the life of the Institute community. Many travel with the MIT Alumni Travel program and attend events open to alumni on campus. Though they are not actively solicited for donations, surviving spouses contribute millions of dollars to MIT each year. Others form relationships with faculty and academic departments by volunteering, attending lectures, and participating as subjects in studies about memory and aging.

For more information about the Emma Rogers Society or the 25th anniversary program on May 13, visit the ERS web page or contact Nancye Mims at 617-253-8059 or ers@mit.edu.

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Images of Kathmandu, Nepal, before and after the April 2015 earthquake. The Nepali Students’ Association at MIT (MITeri) has built a platform to collect donations and has raised more than $26,000 as of May 5. More info: http://miteri.scripts.mit.edu/web/.

Durbar Square in Kathmandu, Nepal, in 2009 (left) and shortly after the April 25, 2015, earthquake. Photos: Bigyan Raj Bista (left) and Nirjal Stha via Wikimedia Commons (right)

Around 3:15 a.m. on Saturday, April 25, MIT graduate student Bigyan R. Bista was awoken by a phone call from a friend in his hometown of Kathmandu, Nepal.

“There’s been an earthquake,” his friend told him. “You need to call on your parents.”

For the next five hours, Bista frantically tried to reach his parents without success. At around 8:00 a.m., his phone rang again. It was his father. His parents were safe but their home had been damaged.

“It was frantic,” he says. “A non-stop feeling of fear overwhelmed me until I finally heard from them. Unfortunately, many others were not so lucky.”

The April 25 earthquake measured in magnitude at 7.8 and killed more than 7,000, injured more than 15,000, and left tens of thousands lacking food, shelter, and water.

To assist in the rescue and recovery efforts on the ground, the Nepali Students’ Association at MIT (MITeri) has built a platform to collect donations from the MIT community. The group has raised more than $26,000 for Help Nepal Network (HeNN) USA, a 501(c) (3) tax-exempt organization that has provided humanitarian services in Nepal since 1999. The website also includes links to relief effort information and real-time mapping data that documents the damage.

The Nepali Students’ Association at MIT (MITeri) has built a platform to collect donations and has raised more than $26,000. Visit their website for more information.: http://miteri.scripts.mit.edu/web/.

The Nepali Students’ Association at MIT (MITeri) has built a platform to collect donations and has raised more than $26,000. Visit their website for more information.

“Our goal is to provide basic necessities to the hardest hit areas,” Bista says. “We want to help the people who have no roof, food, shelter, or sanitation.”

In addition to the monetary donations, MITeri and the MIT Media Lab co-hosted a Hack-for-Nepal Buildathon led by Associate Professor Ramesh Raskar and Nikhil Naik SM ’12 on May 1. More than 40 volunteers signed up for projects that could aid mapping data, analyze satellite imagery, and build mobile applications and medical devices.

“We want to leverage all of MIT’s resources, which go beyond money,” Bista says. “The media will forget this disaster soon. Our goal is to keep this platform updated so that we can engage the MIT community in helping rehabilitate, reconstruct, and rebuild of Nepal.”

MIT senior Uddhav Sharma’s hometown of Solukhumbu, near Mt. Everest, was also severely damaged and his family’s home was destroyed. His nieces, who attend school in Kathmandu, barely escaped before the schoolhouse collapsed.

“My parents were planning to attend my MIT graduation next month but that’s not happening,” Sharma says. “Right now, they’re living in a tent. They need to focus on building a new home, especially since Monsoon season starts in June and runs through August.”

The Nepali and Nepali-American community at MIT is a small, close-knit community. The Alumni Association’s directory lists about 30 MIT alumni who were born in Nepal and a dozen alumni whose company is located there. On campus, there are about 15 current graduate and undergraduate students and all have contributed to the relief effort.

“We’ve all been active and the diaspora of Nepali in Boston has contributed as well,” Sharma says. “We need all the help we can get. Some in Nepal will be homeless for years and many areas will never be rebuilt.”

Visit the MITeri website or email miteri@mit.edu to make a donation and find more information on relief efforts.

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