The latest urban musical instrument created by Christopher Janney SM ’78, an artist, musician, and architect, greeted students at a Cambridge MA public school in January. These days students can walk down a hallway and touch or wave at a 7×32-foot panel that, in response, produces light, harmonic tones, indigenous bird songs, and forest sounds. The piece, titled Light Shadow MLK, makes the young teens, a notoriously tough crowd, laugh out loud.

Janney particularly likes working in schools and hospitals. His master’s thesis, created when he was studying environmental art with Otto Piene at the MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies, was a prototype of Soundstair, the responsive musical experience he has since created at Boston’s Museum of Science, Boston Children’s Hospital, and elsewhere. Kids and parents, the frisky and the ill, find a moment of delight as they produce music walking up and down the stairway.

Light Shadow MLK, located in the Martin Luther King, Jr. and Putnam Avenue Upper Schools, contains a riddle, a device he has used in other interactive architectural pieces. When the students solve the riddle, they are rewarded by a spontaneous dance of light and sound resounding from the wall, a grid that holds 200 sensors, LED lights, as well as 16 audio speakers.

“As long as I’ve always been making interactive sound and light installations, there has always been an educational component, especially in an academic environment. In a sense, the interactive work is a catalyst for education, using the instrument almost as a laboratory,” he says. The project is designed so that students will be able to experiment and reprogram the wall, which was funded by the Cambridge Arts Council’s Percent for Art program.

“Using art as part of education, that’s probably what intrigues me the most and where I find the most alignment with my own work,” Janney says. “Art is not just something solitary sitting on a wall, but, as artist Marcel Duchamp said, it only completes itself when it becomes part of the world.”

Students interact with Light Shadow MLK, Janney's new artwork in their school.

Students interact with Light Shadow MLK, Janney’s new artwork in their school.

His interactive pieces include diverse components: steam, water, dance performances, musical fire-stacks, computers, synthesizers, and all manner of building materials. His projects, which he describes as making architecture more spontaneous and music more physical, include Turn Up the Heat, the design of the Miami Heat scoreboard and season opener performances; HeartBeat, a dance performed by Mikhail Baryshnikov to a musical score based on the human heartbeat; and Sonic Forest, an arrangement of 25 eight-foot columns outfitted with photo sensors, lights, and loudspeakers that has toured urban plazas in the US and abroad.

When Janney turned on Sonic Forest the first time, he found he had created a human-scale forest and a 25-speaker surround-sound system. And, as with all of Janney’s projects, he learned from the artwork itself.

“When you finally get it built and first turn it on in the real world, it’s far more powerful than in your dreams,” Janney says. “And it starts to teach you.”

Visit Janney’s website to explore his work.

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mit2016-logoThe year 2016 marks the 100-year anniversary of MIT’s historic campus move across the Charles River from Boston to Cambridge. And beginning this spring, the MIT community will commemorate the river crossing and Celebrate a Century in Cambridge, which will feature nearly two months of centennial programming that honors the campus move.

And of course, no MIT celebration would be complete without a spirited competition—and MIT alumni.

The Bucentaur barge that transported the MIT charter across the Charles River in 2016.

The Bucentaur barge that transported the MIT charter across the Charles River in 2016.

Among the many events that will mark the centennial is the Crossing the Charles Competition, which will take place on Saturday, May 7, a.k.a. “Moving Day,” a day-long celebration that will commemorate the 1916 ceremonial flotilla that physically transported the Institute’s charter across the Charles River to its new Cambridge home.

The competition invites the MIT community to recapture the spirit of the original crossing and build a vehicle that crosses the Charles River by land or water. According to the Boston Globe, the 1916 crossing featured a naval regatta and Venetian-style barge called the Bucentaur that transported the charter. The 2016 crossing aims to be more high-tech.

MIT to host ‘Moving Day’ parade and celebration,” Boston Globe

“We are going to do some sort of reenactment of the original parade—but rather than call the Navy and ask them to bring a submarine, we are asking MIT students to come up with their own answers about how to cross the river,” said Professor John Ochsendorf, chairman of “Moving Day.”

According to the competition rules, the entries can move autonomously or not; can represent transport through artistic expression; and can demonstrate types of transport other than physical (like thought or emotion). View all the official rules on the MIT 2016 site.

How will you cross the Charles in 2015?

How will you cross the Charles in 2016?

All MIT faculty, students, staff, and alumni are invited to form or join teams of any size. (Non-MIT community members can make no more than 25 percent of each team.) According to the site, points can be earned for expressing speed, beauty, inclusiveness, an only-at-MIT sentiment, and evoking MIT’s celebration of a century in Cambridge, among other attributes.

The contest will be judged a panel of six MIT leaders, including Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart SM ’86, PhD ’88 and Provost Martin Schmidt SM ’83, PhD ’88, and the top five competition winners will be invited to cross the stage during the Mind and Hand Pageant later that day.

Sign up is open and runs through Monday, February 8. Visit the Crossing the Charles Competition webpage for more information plus full rules, deadlines, and eligibility requirements.

Happy sailing! See you on the other side of the river on May 7.

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KateMytty

Kate Mytty ’15, former MIT-India intern, will participate in a Twitter chat on Friday, 1/29. Photo: The Tata Center.

MIT has a rich India ecosystem: the Tata Center for Technology and Design, Development through Dialogue, Design & Dissemination (D-Lab), and Comprehensive Initiative on Technology Evaluation (CITE) are only some of the centers that focus on research and development for students and faculty in the region. But before all these, there was MIT-India.

The MIT-India program, founded in 1998, began when several students and faculty began collaborating with local alumni in India to develop a platform for internship and research opportunities. Interest in India across schools continued to grow, particularly with the advent of the Tata Center in 2012 and MIT UROPs, lectures, and courses.

Now MIT-India is one of the largest programs in the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI): in the last four years, the program has tripled and has sent over 650 students to India. It is also one of the largest India internship programs in the US. In collaboration with MIT groups as well as local start-ups, NGOs, and universities, it provides summer, IAP, and semester programs. It also runs short-term programs and labs joining MIT and students in India, including Global Startup Labs in India, Make in India, and Resonance.

“MIT-India serves as a hub between faculty, students, alumni, and our corporate partners in India,” says Melanie Mala Ghosh, program manager for MIT-India. She says alumni continue to find opportunities for seed fund research, internships, research, and housing, as well as providing a much-needed safety net for the students. In short, she says, “The program succeeds because of alumni.”

MIT-India provides a unique experience. Interns are scattered across major cities, living in local dorms or with host families. The experience is totally immersive, and the hands-on projects have very clear deliverables. It can be a very extreme experience, Ghosh says, but it’s a way for students to actively engage with the culture instead of acting as an observer.

Thus far, the results have been very strong. One MIT-India intern, Diana Jue ’09, MCP ’12, co-founded Essmart, a social enterprise that distributes life-improving technologies in rural southern India. Now living in Bangalore, she has a Fulbright Research Fellowship.

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Johanna Greenspan-Johnston, now a junior, at an MIT-India internship in Ahmedabad.

Ghosh says that the program helps the Institute and its students connect with India and make a measurable impact. “It’s a long term investment in training leaders and engineers to be exposed to the emerging world, India, and frugal engineering.”

Steven Guitron ’15, a graduate student in mechanical engineering, said he pursued the MIT-India program in his senior year. He studied robotics with IIT Madras in Chennai, performing research and designing a system to help control and balance a high-precision surgical robot. While he was there, he met with local alumni and presented his findings to them.

“I tried to share with them what an excellent opportunity this was,” he says. “I think this was one of the most memorable experiences that I’ve had. I feel it’s given me another perspective that I can’t get in a class or even by buying a plane ticket and touring.”

Henry Skupniewicz ’13, who participated in MIT-India twice and found a full-time career in India, added, “Being part of MISTI has given me a deep respect for and desire to participate in and facilitate exchanges of all types. The free and open exchange of ideas pushes us forward.”

One of MIT-India’s interns with the Tata Center, Kate Mytty MCP ’15, is a former fellow at the Tata Center and now works with D-Lab and CITE. Join us at 9 a.m. EST on Friday, January 29, as Kate participates in a Twitter chat to discuss her current work in India. Participants can follow along and ask questions with the hashtag #MITAlumni.

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Ticora Jones '00

Ticora Jones ’00

Being a scientist is not enough for Ticora Jones ’00.

“The technology of what you do is only one part of a much broader conversation,” she says. She is engaged in that conversation as the creator and division chief of the Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The network pairs universities working on global development challenges—like food security, climate change, health, and poverty—with organizations and funding to bring solutions to the people who need them.

“There’s a lot of ingenuity around the world,” she says. “But the opportunities people have to tap into it are not evenly distributed.”

Creating opportunity for others is a recurring theme for Jones. She cofounded the Black Women’s Alliance as an undergrad at MIT, where she majored in materials science and engineering. “Often we had been the only black women in an AP physics class, living a life of being the only one for a really long time,” she says. “When you find people who have had similar experiences, that kind of camaraderie is phenomenal.” After deferring grad school for a year to teach middle school, Jones began doctoral studies in polymer science and engineering at UMass Amherst, where she cofounded the Graduate Education Career Development Initiative to help graduate students build skills and find jobs outside the usual academic track. She earned her PhD in 2006.

Jones spent a year as a legislative fellow on Capitol Hill, advising Senator Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin on energy and environmental issues. That taste of life as a scientist in government led her in 2011 to USAID, where she launched HESN the next year. Since then, the network has supported hundreds of projects, including a community-based radio program recorded on a cell phone and broadcast to other phones, created by university students in Uganda; a company to distribute clean birthing kits, started in India by International Development Design Summit.

Jones, who lives in Washington, D.C., enjoys traveling and salsa dancing. In April, she gave an impromptu keynote speech at MIT’s Scaling Development Ventures conference when her boss was called away. “Seeing the beaver, having a photo op with my brass rat in the Infinite, was trippy,” she says of her campus visit. “I was appreciating all the kinds of people that go to MIT. There’s a desire for excellence but also a knack for the unorthodox. Keeping those things alive in your life—that’s important.”

This article originally appeared in the January/February issue of MIT Technology Review magazine.

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An orb weaver spider on a Dominican blade plant, Puerto Plata, RD (© Gary Blau).

An orb weaver spider on a Dominican blade plant, Puerto Plata, RD (© Gary Blau).

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

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012216_Puru_Akash_edit

Purushotham Botla SM ’13 and Akash Bhatia MBA ’12.

An MIT startup has found a way to make online shopping more interactive and more personal. Akash Bhatia MBA ’12 and Purushotham Botla SM ’13 founded Infinite Analytics, a predictive marketing and analytics company, in 2012 after creating a prototype for the idea in a class taught by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, MIT professor and inventor of the World Wide Web. They wanted to create something even better than the personalization of Amazon.

“There is a ton of data available,” says Botla. “Along with that there are platforms where you can make sense of this data. Trying to understand that data as well as building an application on top of it was conceptually challenging as well interesting.”

Infinite Analytics is one of 20 companies participating in the MIT Alumni Virtual Career fair on Jan. 29.

Infinite Analytics is one of 20 companies participating in the MIT Alumni Virtual Career fair on Jan. 29.

Their platform is designed to predict user behavior based on available and shared data, convert that into actionable insight, and then personalize the retail experience by providing buying recommendations on websites as well as email.

“You walk into a retail store,” explains Botla, “and of course, you’ve already entered a specific store that you like. You might be in one corner of the store looking at, maybe, dresses. Someone comes to you and asks you a question and helps you to better find what you’re interested in. That can’t happen for the online world and we’re trying to solve that problem. Our software understands what you might be looking for, what colors you’re interested in, what designs you are interested in, and starts showing you those kinds of products.”

Their product can learn and predict patterns of interest based on image recognition software—matching similar colors and patterns. In addition to image-search recognition, Infinite Analytics seamlessly integrates the shopping experience across multiple channels and devices—something that not even Amazon can do.

Aside from the benefit of delivering the exact products you want to your email when you’re ready to buy, the platform has proved valuable to retailers, with increased conversions as high as 217%.

The company recently showcased its retail personalization engine, built on the Microsoft Dynamics AX platform, in New York at the National Retail Federation (NRF) conference. Infinite Analytics also works with clients like Airbnb, eBay, Comcast, and the NBA.

Bhatia says that although they are currently focusing on retail, they plan to expand into healthcare and financial services.

Want to know more? Infinite Analytics is one of the 20 companies that will be represented at the MIT Alumni Virtual Career Fair Career fair on Friday, January 29. Learn more about the career fair and register today.

“Since the beginning, we’ve been attracting interns from MIT and have also had people join us from the school of engineering and Sloan,” says Botla. “We’re excited about the exclusive nature of the virtual career fair to try to attract more MIT people for some of the openings that we have to continue to build a great team and product.”

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Guest Blogger: Andrew Whitacre, CMS Communications Director

In this podcast, you can hear five alumni who earned master’s degrees in the Comparative Media Studies program describe the growth of their careers in new and evolving media.

In this podcast, you can hear five alumni, who earned master’s degrees in the Comparative Media Studies program, describe the growth of their careers in new and evolving media.

The Comparative Media Studies program, which admitted its first graduate students in 1999, was the brainchild of several MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Science faculty who argued there was a gap between the “mind” and “hand” of MIT’s motto—or, really, in all of media studies education. You either studied media production, such as how to shoot a short film or write a journalistic feature, or how to analyze media as a literature scholar might, in preparation for a career in the academy.

Program co-founder Henry Jenkins (now at USC) and then-Dean Philip Khoury argued MIT should instead be the home of applied humanities—taking a mixture of humanities and social science theory and putting it to the test within research groups, whose funding, like in the sciences, would support graduate education. The goal, as one early backer cheekily put it, was “to prepare students for jobs that don’t yet exist.”

Skip ahead to today, and we can see how thoroughly that bet on applied humanities has paid off. Its model helped foresee the emergence of digital humanities, games for education, the fragmentation (and empowerment) of audiences, and much else besides. Visit startups, game studios, city governments, public media outlets, cross-disciplinary PhD programs—you’ll find CMS grads. And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, we blush when we see how many other universities have adopted our approach.

Ultimately that success is why each spring CMS welcomes back some of its graduate program alumni to speak to prospective students, to describe their careers today and how the CMS program got them there.

That’s the subject of this podcast. You’ll hear from Margaret Weigel SM ’02, who works in digital education. Dan Roy SM ’07, whose take you can hear in the full recording of the panel, develops games for learning. Ilya Vedrashko SM 06 leads data-driven consumer research. Erik Stayton SM ’15 is a PhD candidate in MIT’s program in History, Anthropology, Science, Technology, and Society. And Chelsea Barabas SM ’15 is an advisor to the MIT Media Lab’s Digital Currency Initiative.

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Teevan

Jamie Teevan SM ’01, PhD ’07

Search engines are good at retrieving information. But they can’t assess its value, explore connections or contradictions, or incorporate findings into a larger task—that’s up to the person conducting the search.

Jaime Teevan SM ’01, PhD ’07 is working to change that. As a principal researcher at Microsoft Research, she’s already helped add personalized search to the Bing search engine. The work drew on work with Professor David Karger, her Course 6 master’s and PhD advisor, and resulted in her being named a 2009 Technology Review TR35 Young Innovator. Last year she received the Borg Early Career Award from the Computing Research Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research.

Teevan’s current focus is “slow search.” Search engines, she explains, prioritize speed, because user studies have consistently found that rapid search results are perceived as being of higher quality. “But that requires sacrifices,” she says. “Now we’re looking at providing better experiences by taking more time—so a search engine can respond to more complex questions and deliver more relevant content.” She compares slow search to posing a query in an online forum, where people happily wait hours or days for answers; complex tasks often involve multiple sessions, and the search engine could use the time between sessions to analyze or refine results.

Teevan says slow search engines could also be more helpful in the complex processes people already do—analyzing a business opportunity, responding to a newly diagnosed medical condition, or assessing a home repair project.

“Every book about how to be productive advises breaking complex tasks like search tasks into pieces, making action plans with concrete steps, doing the most manageable ones first,” she notes. “We’ve all been expected to do that task management ourselves, but what if you could algorithmically support the breakdown into small steps that only take a few seconds each? We’re exploring what it means to break something down into micro-tasks that could be done while waiting in line or during a break in your kid’s baseball game.”

The prospect of utilizing random snippets of time might be especially appealing to Teevan and her husband, Alexander Hehmeyer, a senior program manager at Skype, whom she met while earning her bachelor’s degree in computer science at Yale. The two are parents of “four awesome little boys” between the ages of seven and 11. “Being with them is what I do for fun,” she says.

This article originally appeared in the January/February issue of MIT Technology Review magazine.

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Lilly Kam '04.

Lilly Kam ’04.

There are rumors of musician will.i.am sitting in on classes at MIT, going undetected by MIT students. Those rumors are true according to Lilly Kam ’04, product manager at will.i.am’s tech company i.am+. “He’s always admired MIT and its culture—he’s a big tech geek,” Kam says of the musician.

Kam first met  will.i.am while she was working as product manager for a  social media company in China.   In 2012, when will.i.am headlined a concert in Beijing as part of the U.S. State Department’s 100,000 Strong Initiative, Kam got the chance to connect with the musician and share her MIT background. “After I told him about my experiences, he said ‘Oh you should come work for me,’” she remembers.

Kam and will.i.am at the FIRST Robotics Competition in St. Louis along with Megan Smith '86, SM '88 and Woodie Flowers.

Kam and will.i.am at the FIRST Robotics Competition in St. Louis along with Megan Smith ’86, SM ’88 and Woodie Flowers.

After moving to Los Angeles, Kam began working at will.i.am’s i.am.angel foundation which aims to “transform lives through education, inspiration and opportunity.” To achieve this mission, Kam worked to develop FIRST Robotics teams in East LA, where will.i.am grew up. “We spent a lot of time building a strategy to successfully put together these teams, focusing on low income areas,” she says. Kam and i.am.angel helped create 15 new FIRST teams by providing funding, resources, and guidance.

These days, Kam works for i.am+ as a product manager while still serving as STEM Advisor for  the i.am.angel foundation. After her move to Los Angeles, Kam—who is the former vice-president of the MIT Club of Beijing and an educational counselor—began looking for ways to connect with the MIT community, but a busy schedule limited her opportunities. “I wanted to give back, so I began researching the extern program,” Kam says referring to the MIT Alumni Association Student/ Alumni Externship Program. Kam became a sponsor for externs last year, hosting five externs at the i.am.angel foundation. “The externs learned what it’s like to run a nonprofit, start FIRST teams for underserved communities and got to visit a lot of the schools and shadow some of the teachers and coaches,” she says. “They learned about some of the struggles that inner city schools face, especially when it comes to increasing STEM opportunities for students,” she says.

This year, Kam will be supervising 10 externs from MIT.  Six externs will continue the mission of i.am.angel foundation, with their positions funded by grants from the Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center. Four externs will be working for i.am+. “The students working for i.am+ will be developing apps for a wearable device. I’m challenging them to demo their apps to Will,” she says. Kam says will.i.am often interacts with the externs, providing advice and encouragement.

Kam loves the experience of working with externs and is looking for more opportunities to expose MIT students to her work. “There’s so much overlap with MIT alumni. I’m always looking for more ways to expose MIT students to unique opportunities,” she says.

Want to see what life is like working with MIT externs? Follow @mitalumni on Instagram this week as Lilly Kam takes over the account, sharing life and work with MIT externs at i.am.angel and i.am+. For more extern stories, follow the hashtag #mitextern.

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An old gold mine at the end of the Lost Horse Trail in Joshua Tree National Park, CA (© Eladio Arvelo).

An old gold mine at the end of the Lost Horse Trail in Joshua Tree National Park, CA (© Eladio Arvelo).

Eladio Arvelo is an engineer, and photographer in San Diego, See more of his photos on his websiteView other alumni photos of the week.

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