A twelve-spotted skimmer dragonfly (Libellula pulchella) (female) on an Echinacea stem (© Gary Blau).

A twelve-spotted skimmer dragonfly (Libellula pulchella) (female) on an Echinacea stem (© 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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MIT-Obesity-Genetics_0

Fat cells in human body. Image: shutterstock.

When it comes to understanding obesity, there are several known factors including behavioral, hormonal, and genetic influences. In addition to the most obvious—lack of exercise, poor diet, and eating habits—many have a genetic predisposition. Since 2007, researchers have been able to pinpoint a gene called FTO that is linked to obesity, but until now, not much was understood as to the cause.

How that gene works was revealed in an article published August 19 in the New England Journal of Medicine based on work led by scientists at MIT and Harvard University. This latest work found that the gene directly effects metabolism and the way energy from food is processed. The study showed that a faulty version of the gene actually causes the energy from food to be stored as fat rather than burned.

“Many studies attempted to link the FTO region with brain circuits that control appetite or propensity to exercise,” Melina Claussnitzer, a visiting professor at CSAIL and instructor in medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, told MIT News. “Our results indicate that the obesity-associated region acts primarily in adipocyte progenitor cells in a brain-independent way,”

By studying the genes of both mice and humans, researchers also found that the faulty gene could be turned off, showing promise for a drug in the future that could help treat the defect. “By manipulating this new pathway, we could switch between energy storage and energy dissipation programs at both the cellular and the organismal level, providing new hope for a cure against obesity,” says Manolis Kellis ’99, MEng ’99, PhD ’03, professor of computer science at MIT.

Cellmodel

Pictured: a model of the FTO locus association with obesity, implicating a developmental shift favoring lipid-storing white adipocytes over energy-burning beige adipocytes. 

Of course, this isn’t a cure for obesity, because there are many factors at play, but it could be a big help for those with this genetic defect. Also, just because you have the faulty gene, doesn’t guarantee you will be obese. The study did show, however, that people with a faulty gene from both parents, weighed an average of seven pounds more than those without them. “Some were a lot heavier than that,” says Kellis, “and seven pounds can be the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy weight.”

Kellis and study leader Melina Claussnitzer are seeking a patent related to the work.
Read more on the MIT News site and the Boston Globe.

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An overexposed photo, left, compared to information recorded by a modulo camera, center, and the results.

An overexposed photo, left, compared to information recorded by a modulo camera, center, and the results. Courtesy: MIT Camera Culture.

MIT’s Camera Culture research group works on “making the invisible visible.” A new project restores depth and detail to bleached-out skies and other poorly exposed surfaces in digital photos using a specialized modulo camera.

This invention could improve individual photographer’s efforts by eliminating the need for fumbling with aperture size and exposure length and boost the clarity of robot vision. With current cameras, a driver-less car might be blinded by entering a tunnel that mixes a dark environment with super bright exits. With the modulo camera, it could see both tunnel and exits clearly.

A poster explains how the modulo camera works.

Click the image to see details on how the camera works.

As a project in computational photography, the modulo camera relies on high dynamic range (HDR) imaging “a method that allows both very bright and very dim light sources to be pictured in a single image with no loss in quality.” Contemporary HDR cameras rely on multiple images but the modulo camera requires only one shot, so it’s less likely to suffer from motion blurring.

The project, formally called Unbounded High Dynamic Range Photography Using a Modulo Camera, was created in a collaboration between the Media Lab’s Camera Culture group, MIT Lincoln Lab, and Singapore University of Technology and Design.

How does it work? The Camera Culture website describes it this way:

Conventional camera sensors will get full, or saturated, after receiving an excess amount of light. This is because conventional camera sensors have a limited well capacity, or a limited amount of light the sensors can take in before they overflow. The modulo camera solves the saturation problem by resetting the sensor capacitors whenever the well gets full, and it uses an inverse modulo algorithm to calculate how much light the reset sensors took in. This algorithm recovers a much larger dynamic range. For example, if a certain camera sensor can record eight bits of information, then when those eight bits are filled, the capacitor will be reset to zero. The number of resets is recovered by the algorithm, which then calculates the relative brightness of each area of the photo.

Learn more about Camera Culture research.

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MIT Technology Review TR35 MIT alumni

At least seven MIT alumni were named to this year’s list.

MIT Technology Review has named its annual list of 35 Innovators Under 35—the TR35. According to Tech Review, the list honors the most compelling and innovative young researchers whose work is making a real-world impact on society.

The list is split into five categories: Entrepreneurs, Inventors, Humanitarians, Pioneers, and Visionaries. And Similar to past years, MIT has a strong presence—More than one-third of the list has connections to the Institute, including at least seven alumni.

View the list of MIT alumni below then visit MIT News to learn more about the full list, which includes Canan Dagdeviren, a post-doctoral researcher at MIT Langer Labs.

Anikeeva_TR35

Polina Anikeeva PhD ’09


Polina Anikeeva PhD ’09
(Pioneer)
Class of 1942 Assistant Professor, MIT Department of Materials Science and Engineering

“The tools we were using (to control the brain optically and investigate brain function) were too large and too bulky, and didn’t have enough capability. Since my background was nano–optoelectronics and nanofabrication, I felt that we should be able to do better.”

Lars Blackmore PhD ’07 (Visionary)
Entry, Descent and Landing Team Leader, SpaceX

“Blackmore (is) a soft-spoken Brit who leads a team at SpaceX that’s developing the onboard software necessary for a rocket to come down gently in an upright position onto a platform in the ocean.”

Patrick Collison ’10 (Entrepreneur)
Co-Founder and CEO, Stripe

“Making it so easy to participate in the online economy has a far larger effect than one might imagine. We’re enabling new business models, like crowdfunding…That enables more people in society to take advantage of these services.”

Gilad Evrony ’07 (Pioneer)
Researcher, Harvard Medical School

“From studying 300 neurons one at a time, Harvard Medical School researcher Gilad Evrony helped make a surprising discovery: brain cells sitting right next to each other don’t always have the same genetic codes.”

Connor Walsh

Connor Walsh SM ’06, PhD ’10

Conor Walsh SM ’06, PhD ’10 (Inventor)
Assistant Professor of Mechanical Biomedical Engineering, Harvard University John A. Paulson School of Engineering

“(Walsh is) working on robots that are soft, lightweight, and flexible so people can wear them to enhance their abilities…The exosuit could support soldiers as they walk, to increase their endurance. Or it could help patients who have trouble walking.”

Zhen Gu SM ’98 (Pioneer)
Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

“Zhen Gu, whose grandmother died from diabetes complications, is developing insulin delivery mechanisms that could be better. The most recent one is a fingernail-size patch covered in more than 100 microneedles.”

Rikky Muller ’04, MEng ’04 (Entrepreneur)
Co-Founder and CTO, Cortera Neurotechnologies, Inc.

“Rikky Muller, an Israeli-born entrepreneur and the cofounder of Cortera Neurotechnologies, is designing the implantable hardware intended to interact directly with the brain.”

Did we leave any MIT alumni off our list? And are there any alumni who deserve consideration for 2016? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.

Read Slice of MIT’s past coverage of MIT alumni the TR35 from 2014, 2013, 2012, and 2010.

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Since 1997, the MIT Alumni Association’s Student/Alumni Externship Program has placed thousands of MIT students in short-term alumni-sponsored internships around the globe. In 2014, the program placed more than 400 students—including 45 graduate students—at 278 companies in 16 US states and seven countries. 

More than 200 MIT alumni sponsored externships, including Carson Darling ’11 and Thomas Lipoma ’11, co-founders of Rest Devices, a Boston startup that hosted MIT externs for the third consecutive year.

“Part of the reason we love the Externship Program is because it brings people that are the highest-caliber engineers that we can find,” says Darling. “It can be a really great program in terms of getting people that are committed to a team and really productive members. I can’t recommend the Externship Program enough.”

Rest Devices is one example of the hundreds of externships offered each year. For more information on the Student/Alumni Externship Program, visit alum.mit.edu/externships.

Part two of a three-part video series. Watch part one, Coding for Humanity.

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08.17.15_high_five

MIT alumnus Shan Sinha believes that videoconferencing will soon be as common as email or phone calls.

Shan Sinha ’01, MEng ’05 aims to make videoconferencing as commonplace as e-mail in business. He has already pulled off a similar feat: he and his team created the technology that later became Google Drive, an online document collaboration tool now used by more than 240 million people.

The dot-com boom interrupted Sinha’s studies at MIT. He dropped out to work at two new companies, one of which he cofounded. “It was a pretty phenomenal time. That’s when I caught the startup bug for sure,” he says.

08.17.15_Shah_Sinha

Shan Sinha ’01, MEng ’05

When the bubble burst, Sinha returned to school, finishing his degrees in computer science and engineering. He then headed west for a job at Microsoft, where he worked on SharePoint, its business-oriented document-sharing product, for three years. He left to cofound Docverse, which created a way to help Microsoft Office work more like Google Docs. Google liked it enough to buy the company in 2010; Sinha stayed on to adapt the product and release it as Google Drive.

At Google, Sinha noticed that everyone was videoconferencing. Each day, the 40,000 employees of Google conducted 20,000 video calls. “There was a time before telephones were commonplace,” he says. “It was the same with e-mail. Now they are ubiquitous tools. We think every company will use video the same way.”

Sinha left Google to cofound Highfive. The startup focuses on the market in between consumer services like Skype, which Sinha says aren’t secure or robust enough for business needs, and the expensive systems that Cisco Systems and others sell to Fortune 500 companies.

Highfive’s customers can, with a swipe on their smartphones, bounce a secure video call to a big screen in a conference room. The company, which raised more than $45 million in capital, began shipping its product in December and already has more than 500 customers.

MIT has had a role in Sinha’s success. His cofounder, Jeremy Roy ’99, roomed with him at the fraternity Chi Phi, and several other alumni are investors and/or employees.

At the Institute, “we learned to work on really hard technical problems and turn them into really easy-touse products,” Sinha says. “I think about all those relationships at MIT, and how 10 to 15 years later they’ve led to us doing something pretty interesting on a whole different scale.”

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Manhattan viewed from the DC to Boston shuttle (© Forrest Milder).

Manhattan viewed from the DC to Boston shuttle (© Forrest Milder).

Curious about Forrest Milder? Learn more about him as a lawyer and visit his photo websiteView other alumni photos of the week.

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08.14.15_Jean_Wong

In 2014, Jean Wong moved to Google to work on mobile search, one of the company’s key initiatives.

Jean Wong’s impressive career track runs through Bain, Boston Consulting Group, Goldman Sachs, eBay, Apple, and now Google. But getting on that track took some doing, she says. Wong, who moved from Beijing to Maryland at age 10, began school with limited English skills. Since her parents had no experience with U.S. colleges, she steered herself through the application process after reading every relevant book in her local library.

Before even starting her first class at MIT, Wong had already contacted every professor in Course 6 and secured a job. “I found a booklet with their names, contact information, and research topics and I e-mailed them all to say I would be interested in working for them,” she says. The late EECS professor Ken Stephens, ScD ’52, hired her to assist with his study on voice recognition, a position she held throughout her undergraduate years.

Wong earned degrees in electrical engineering and economics, then began a year-long internship with Polaroid in China that grew into five years working for several companies in Hong Kong. After earning an MBA at Wharton, she worked for Bain, eBay, and then Apple, where she analyzed user data as head of media analytics for iTunes, looking for ways to increase profits.

In December, Wong moved to Google to work on mobile search, a key initiative. “They asked our team to set a really big, ambitious goal for Google app downloads, and then they said to double it. That’s really how they think across the board,” she says. “My work at Google brings together all of my past experiences—using data to drive decisions, having that business sense, and being able to understand customers and how can we meet their needs.”

Wong lives with her husband, Stanley, in Palo Alto with their three children, ages nine, eight, and four. “My kids don’t have the same immigrant experience that I had, which motivated me to always dream for more and never give up,” she says. “So I’m always trying to figure out how to motivate them and instill in them the value of hard work.”

MIT changed her life personally as well as professionally. “I was in crew, I loved to run around the Charles River, and I was in the hiking club,” she says. “Once a week I still hike, and that’s the way I recuperate and replenish my soul.”

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What can you learn from playing poker? Lots, according to Kevin Desmond, a 2015 master of finance graduate. Poker models larger games of risk like investment management and stock trading. If you boost your day-to-day poker skills, you can take that knowledge into professional fields, he says.

Kevin Desmond teaching Poker Theory and Analytics

Kevin Desmond teaching Poker Theory and Analytics

A lot of very successful people in finance have a background in poker,” said Desmond in a recent Sloan News interview.

Desmond taught Poker Theory and Analytics to 150 students this winter during MIT’s Independent Activities Period.

“Coming into a career in finance already understanding risk management on a personal level is critical.”

Now you can take the same course, Poker Theory and Analytics, through MIT’s OpenCourseWare online for free. What do you get?

  • Videos starting with Introduction to Poker Theory
  • Lecture notes on topics such as Poker Economics, plus assignments
  • Links to free online poker games, equity calculators, and animators
  • Information on how and why it was taught at MIT.

On the OCW site, Desmond describes why he taught the IAP class. “For students entering the business world, I believe the key concepts of poker that transfer well to management positions are decision making with incomplete information, reading the actions of others, and being comfortable with self-assessment. I believe these skills can benefit students in many aspects of life, not just their careers.”

So visit Poker Theory and Analytics and get started.

MIT OpenCourseWare offers free learning materials for some 1,800 MIT courses and specialized OCW Scholar courses for independent learners who want to master core college level subjects.

 

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Isis Wenger was told she didn’t look like an engineer. It wasn’t the first time it happened, but this time it was all over the Internet. After being featured in a recruitment ad for OneLogin, the software engineer faced a barrage of internet comments doubtful of her engineering skills because of her looks.

Wenger isn’t alone.

“I’ve witnessed it many times, both for myself and for others,” says May-Li Khoe ’99, MEng ’00. “Women are mistaken for being much more junior than they are, and are often taken less seriously in many roles and academic fields.”

Tired of people not believing in her abilities because of her appearance, Wenger fought back by launching the hashtag #ILookLikeanEngineer. The hashtag is growing increasingly popular as thousands of  engineers posted photos of themselves along with the hashtag to show the diversity that exists in the engineering world. “I felt compelled to respond because I wanted to help make us, women (and other people from underrepresented groups in tech) who are or were engineers, visible–to help overthrow the stereotype,” Khoe says.

MIT quickly joined in on the campaign, showcasing professors Sangeeta Bhatia SM ’93, PhD ’97, Mildred Dresselhaus HM ’86, Daniela Rus, and Paula Hammond ’84, PhD ’93. 

Many MIT students and alumni, including Khoe, tweeted their own photos showcase what engineers in the MIT community look like.

When people expect an engineer to look or act a particular way, usually subconsciously, it creates cognitive dissonance for them to receive the same information or work from somebody who doesn’t. As a result, it’s natural for them to take input less seriously from somebody who doesn’t fit the mold. — May-Li Khoe  ’99, MEng ’00. 

 

I was in the defense industry for four years, and even though I was often the only female in the room and half the age of everyone else, I was always respected and treated well. The “discrimination” really came from outside of the work office. People used to ask me what I do, and I would say that I was a rocket scientist, because I did missile integration and radar algorithm design. Half the time, men thought I was joking and didn’t believe me. The other half of the time, they walked away, because they were too intimidated to talk to me. — Sharmeen Browarek ’07, MEng ’10

 

—MIT Professor Rosalind Picard SM ’86, SCD ’91

I constantly get told that I don’t look like a typical engineer. I first heard about the hashtag when I logged onto Twitter and saw other women who looked like me adding to the hashtag. Although there were plenty of women in Course 6 during my time at MIT, I was still one of the very few black women in the major. So in order to encourage other girls like me to pursue or to continue on the same career path as me, I decided I wanted to participate in the hashtag. — Michelle Johnson ’15

 

Earlier this year, the National Society of Black Engineers established a new vision statement: “We envision a world in which engineering is a mainstream word in homes and communities of color, and all Black students can envision themselves as engineers.” I felt that this masterful Twitter campaign was a vehicle for fulfilling our vision–to literally help change the face of engineering. — Karl Reid ’84, SM ’85, Executive Director, National Society of Black Engineers

 

— Aurelie Jean, postdoctoral associate at MIT

Movements like these are so important.  It’s so motivating to see all the faces of engineering.  You may have a bias towards what an engineer should look like but hopefully these campaigns slowly chip away at that view. — Kimberly Gonzales ’11

 Do you look like an engineer? Tweet using the hashtag #ILookLikeanEngineer and tag @MIT_alumni in your photo. 

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