In early February, Alison Criscitiello PhD ‘14, Rebecca Haspel, and Kate Harris SM ’10 set out on a 40-day winter ski traverse through the rugged Central-Asian Pamir Mountains carrying 50-pound backpacks and dragging sleds.

Their mission: bring attention to conservation issues related to migratory wildlife that populate an area made up of the bordering countries of Tajikistan, Afghanistan, China, and Kyrgyzstan. They named the journey Borderski.

Alison Criscitiello PhD

Alison Criscitiello PhD ’14

Called the Roof of the World by locals because of its dramatic 4,000-meter mountains, the region is home to endangered Marco Polo sheep, snow leopards, and ibex. “It’s beneficial to a healthy population of animals like ibex to have huge migratory corridors. They need a lot of land, and they cover a lot of land in a year,” said Criscitiello.

She argues that such migratory corridors are being threatened by the rise in fences being built along national borders. “Fencing borders means nothing when you are in the middle of the mountains, but has huge implications on migration,” said Criscitiello.

The Fanny Pack: Kate Harris, Rebecca Haspel, and Alison Criscitiello.

The Fanny Pack: Kate Harris, Rebecca Haspel, and Alison Criscitiello.

The women—nicknamed the Fanny Pack to honor 20th century woman mountaineer Fanny Bullock Workman—traversed along Tajikistan’s border with Kyrgyzstan, China, and Afghanistan. They met with locals in the eastern part of Tajikistan and got to know several farming and shepherding families.

Because certain areas of the route did not have enough snow suitable for skiing, the pack strapped sleds on their backs and shuttled loads or skied on frozen river beds. “I’ve avoided skiing on ice most of my life,” said Criscitiello. “This was a first.” At another point in the trip, a nearby avalanche prevented the women from meeting up with the filmmaker capturing the journey.

River skiing

River skiing

And it was cold. The pack experienced nights as cold as -40 degrees Fahrenheit, and had to stop skiing by 4:30 p.m. because temperatures dropped dramatically as night fell. “Friends joke with me that it’s impossible for me to get cold,” said Criscitiello. “But I think for the first time ever I did actually say out loud, ‘I’m sick of being cold’”

Now that Criscitiello has returned to postdoctoral work as a glaciologist at the University of Calgary, she and the other women in the pack are already planning their next adventure.

“Mountaineering is my other life,” she said in a recent Women in STEM podcast. “For me, there is really nothing else in the world that compares to that feeling of being somewhere incredibly remote and frozen, even if it’s inhospitable. It just makes me be really present.”

Visit Borderski to learn more about the trip and get updates on the forthcoming film

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ivester (2)Jo Ivester ’77 got her birth name from Jo March, the impassioned protagonist of Louisa May Alcott’s book Little Women. After many years of family commitments delaying her career ambitions, Jo March declares to a friend, “I should have been a great many things.”

Ivester has certainly been a great many things, to which she can now add author. Her new book, The Outskirts of Hope, was published this spring by She Writes Press. Listen to an interview with Ivester about the book.

The story of her idealistic parents taking up the call to President Johnson’s Great Society and moving to Mississippi to start a rural health clinic, The Outskirts of Hope merges two women’s diaries of the turbulent civil rights south in the 1960s. Excerpting entries from a diary her mother kept during the move, Ivester adds her own memories, sometimes traumatic ones, of being the only white girl in an all-black school and witnessing stark living conditions in the Jim-Crow south.

“It started as [my mother’s] coming of age story,” Ivester says in this podcast, “starting to teach in her 40s in this unusual setting. And gradually it became my coming of age story as well, as I brought in my voice and in some cases told the same story from the perspective of a 10-year old child.”

The Outskirts of Hope came out in a year of heightened tensions in race relations in America.

“There’s still a huge amount to be done [in civil rights]…,” Ivester says. “It’s very easy for people who are living a comfortable life to assume that everything is fine now. That’s just not the case. We have come a long way…the more that people are willing to tell personal stories as I have done, the better off we’ll be.

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

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Shhhhh! Library of Congress, Washington, DC  (© Clinton Blackburn).

Shhhhh! Library of Congress, Washington, DC (© 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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MIT Hacking Medicine co-directors Priya Garg '15 and Lina Colucci.

MIT Hacking Medicine co-directors Priya Garg ’15 and PhD candidate Lina Colucci.

MIT doesn’t have a medical school, so it might seem unusual that so many alumni and researchers are making a real-world impact in healthcare and medicine. But those two fields are rapidly evolving, and the need for MIT’s mindset of technology-focused solutions has never been greater.

“MIT is kind of like Switzerland—it’s neutral ground,” says Lina Colucci, a PhD candidate in the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology Program. “You can’t get a medical degree from MIT, but it’s filled with designers, developers, and engineers. And everyone in the medical community wants to work with all of these brilliant people.”

Colucci is a co-director of MIT Hacking Medicine, a student-run group that bring together innovative thinkers to rethink and solve healthcare’s most pervasive problems.

“Hacking is such a core part of the MIT culture,” says co-director Priya Garg ’15. “And we wanted to bring that mentality to healthcare. Our methodology is to disrupt the silos that are prevalent in healthcare by applying MIT’s hacking ethos to create innovations.”

A Health Hackathon in Uganda in 2013. Image: MIT Sloan

A Health Hackathon in Uganda in 2013. Image: MIT Sloan

Hacking Medicine’s main silo disruptor is Health Hackathons, weekend-long events that attract about 400 doctors, nurses, researchers, and designers who tackle solutions to shared healthcare issues. The first hackathon took place at MIT 2011, and since that time, more than 20 events have taken place across four continents.

“It’s design thinking for healthcare,” says Colucci. “We look at it from all perspectives—clinical, technological, design, and business. It’s asking, ‘How can you create a spark that gets lots of different people thinking together?’”

During the hackathons, strangers-turned-collaborators share ideas in pitch sessions, then turn to other participants for ideas and advice. According to Colucci, more than a dozen startups have been created as a results of the events.

“The healthcare industry is kind of seen as an industry that doesn’t keep up with technology and innovation,” Colucci says. “But that’s changing—all major hospitals have innovation centers now. They want to incorporate new methods and they’re working with us to do it.”

The first hackathon took place at MIT in October 2011.

The first hackathon took place at MIT in October 2011. Image: newsoffice.mit.edu

According to the Hacking Medicine database on its website, 10 hackathons have already been held in 2015 in major cities like Berlin, Paris, and Stockholm, and rural areas like Missoula, Montana, and Halifax, Nova Scotia. The next event, which will focus on elderly health, is scheduled for July 25 in Singapore.

Hacking Medicine has been so successful that plans are in place for the program to be spun out as a non-profit independent entity led in part by MIT Sloan senior lecturer Zen Chu. According to the Wall Street Journal, the program will form its first working groups in early October

Colucci and Garg spoke to Slice of MIT at the 2015 South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive, where they was part of a three-person panel that discussed design thinking for healthcare startups and the role technology can play in improving medicine. They were two of more than 100 MIT alumni who presented at the technology festival.

“South by Southwest tries converge a lot of people at the cutting edge of technology, culture, art, and everything else,” Garg says. “And when you’re trying to do that, inviting a critical mass of MIT alumni seems like a pretty obvious choice.”

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071615_ChrisCassidy2_cropChristopher Cassidy SM ’00, P ’16 spent 10 years as a US Navy SEAL and since becoming an astronaut in 2004 spent 182 days in space—his next mission: Chief of Astronaut Office. The recent promotion was announced by NASA last week and will include managing Astronaut Office resources, operations and safety programs, and developing astronaut flight crew operation concepts and crew assignments for future spaceflight missions for the approximately 50 astronauts.

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Cassidy’s 2013 space selfie

Cassidy was selected by NASA as an astronaut in 2004, following in the footsteps of fellow MIT alum William Shepherd OCE ’78, SM ’78, first-ever commander of the International Space Station. “I’d been in the SEALs team for about four years when I met Bill Shepherd,” says Cassidy. “He was a Navy SEAL before he became an astronaut. In talking to him I realized that my background was similar to his and thought maybe I could try to become an astronaut also.” After discovering that Shepherd went to MIT and studied in the ocean engineering department, Cassidy decided to pursue his master’s in ocean engineering and went on to graduate in 2000. “It seemed to me that it made perfect sense and the stars were aligning.”

In 2009, Cassidy’s first space mission made him the 500th person in space. His second trip to space was a 2013 expedition that lasted six months and included three spacewalks and his first space selfie—a photo that became one of the best selfies of 2013 according to many news sites.

“It’s the dream job,” says Cassidy. “To get the chance to go to space is something I wish everybody could experience. The awe-inspiring feeling of looking out the window at the planet below you—it’s just this peaceful green and brown that blends into the blue ocean with white swirly clouds, there’s no borders between countries, you’re just looking down at this blue marble—it’s a moving experience.”

“Chris has served this nation admirably in the most challenging of circumstances and he will be a great leader for the astronaut corps,” says NASA’s Director of Flight Operations Brian Kelly.

Cassidy, whose daughter, Grace, is a rising senior at MIT in Course 6, is one of nearly three dozen MIT alumni astronauts including Buzz Aldrin ScD ’63, the Apollo 11 pilot for the first manned lunar landing, and Rusty Schweickart ’56, SM ’63, who piloted the Apollo 9’s first lunar module flight.

Watch a video of Chris Cassidy and other MIT alumni talking about The View of Earth from Space.

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John Chisholm '75, SM '76 (left) succeeded Don Shobrys '75 as MIT Alumni Association president on July 1.

John Chisholm ’75, SM ’76 (left) succeeded Don Shobrys ’75 as MIT Alumni Association president on July 1.

John Chisholm, who took office as president of the MIT Alumni Association (MITAA) on July 1, is passionate about startups. A serial entrepreneur, he is the author of Unleash Your Inner Company: Use Passion and Perseverance to Build Your Ideal Business, which will debut at a book signing event at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech conference in November at the MIT Media Lab. The book is dedicated to his friends and colleagues at MIT.

“The quality and diversity of our 130,000 alumni worldwide make an extraordinary social network,” he says. “We—MITAA—simply need to provide the tools enabling them to find each other and connect. Who are the alumni in each of our cities, regions, and countries who most share our interests and passions, whether personal or professional? The eight billion possible alumni-to-alumni pairwise connections represent a universe of opportunities for collaboration, new ventures, and friendships.”

John_Chisolm_Slice

John Chisholm ’75, SM ’76

Chisholm has pushed for support of tools that facilitate such connections. At the fall Alumni Leadership Conference, September 25-26, the Association will pilot a new mobile app that allows alumni to find peers and MIT events nearby, receive MIT news tailored to individual interests, and invite and offer career networking opportunities.

Chisholm earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering and computer science, while he interned with GE in digital signal processing through the Course 6 co-op program. He received his MBA from Harvard in 1978 and started his career in Silicon Valley at Hewlett-Packard.

After working for several startups, in 1992 he founded Decisive Technology (now part of Google), publisher of the first desktop and client-server software for online surveys. His second company, CustomerSat (now part of ConfirmIt), became a leader in enterprise feedback management. Today he is chair and cofounder of Pyze, a mobile intelligence firm, and CEO of John Chisholm Ventures (JCV), a San Francisco–based venture investment and advisory firm. JCV’s investments include HighFive, a Web-conferencing platform founded by Shan Sinha ’01 and Jeremy Roy ’99.

He also enjoys advising aspiring entrepreneurs through the MIT Club of Northern California’s mentoring program, the Silicon Valley Plug and Play Tech Centers, and the Thiel Foundation 20under20 Fellowship. “Mentoring is satisfying and keeps me abreast of technology trends,” he says.

Over the years, his volunteer roles have ranged from local club leadership to membership on the MIT Corporation Development Committee. He served as president of the MIT Club of Northern California from 1990 to 1992 and as its chair from 2006 to 2014. Chisholm has been an MIT Educational Counselor, Corporation Visiting Committee member, Venture Mentoring Service mentor, Annual Fund board and reunion committee member, and LGBT advocate. In 2006 he received MIT’s highest alumni honor, the Bronze Beaver award.

“MIT alumni form the most creative, thoughtful, and proactive network of which I am privileged to be part,” says Chisholm. “Their ideas, plans, and achievements constantly energize and inspire me. Beyond that, alumni events and programs let us extend the intellectual growth and excitement we experienced at MIT throughout our lives.”

Finally, he advises young alumni, in particular, that volunteering can build skills: “Your regional club and class reunions are safe environments for developing leadership skills and discovering your management style. My long experience in alumni activities was key to the success of the companies I founded, for example. Any alum can enjoy these priceless resources and opportunities just by getting involved and volunteering.”

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2015 issues of MIT Technology Review magazine.

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Fast and Light to Pluto, a New York Times video, narrated by reporter Dennis Overbye ’66, outlines the challenge.

Fast and Light to Pluto, a New York Times video, narrated by reporter Dennis Overbye ’66, outlines the mission challenge.

Today the New Horizons spacecraft will cruise past Pluto, signaling back details of its surface and atmosphere from its closest flyby view. Pluto, which fell from planetary grace when it was demoted to an icy dwarf planet in the distant Kuiper Belt, is getting some respect. Will there be icy geysers? Craggy mountains? Planetary rings?

With the world paying attention, particularly NASA, MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) researchers, and many other scientists, some early facts have emerged over the nine-year, three-billion-mile trek.

  • Pluto has five moons.
  • NASA applied nine trajectory maneuvers to keep New Horizon on course.
  • Data takes 4.5 hours to return to Earth and flyby information will stream in through 2016.
  • 28 watts can power all seven tiny research instruments on board.
Watch NASA’s daily briefings and other short videos about the New Horizons mission.

Watch NASA’s daily briefings and other short videos about the New Horizons mission.

MIT has a long history with Pluto already. The late EAPS Professor Jim Elliot was the pioneer of the stellar occultation technique that led to the discovery of Uranus’ rings and Pluto’s atmosphere, and reported in 2002 that its atmosphere was expanding. Professor Rick Binzel is a co-investigator on the New Horizons Team and an expert on near-Earth asteroids.

Research scientist Michael Person ’94, SM ’01, PhD ’06, was aboard SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy), a high-altitude NASA plane racing over New Zealand on June 29 to catch a stellar occultation—a rare celestial alignment of Pluto passing directly between Earth and a distant star. Lecturer Amanda Bosh ’87, PhD ’94 was part of a team in Arizona that was triangulating the planetary and stellar positions. Read an interview with them on what they discovered from Pluto’s shadow.

Cathy Olkin ’88, PhD ’96, deputy project scientist and team leader for the PI on New Horizons, was interviewed about the countdown to Pluto. Here’s an excerpt:

EAPSpeaks: What excites you most about New Horizons?

Olkin: What excites me most is being one of the first people to get a close up look at this new realm of the solar system—somewhere we’ve never seen before. The New Horizons Pluto encounter will be the first time we have seen a Kuiper Belt object (KBO) close up. The Kuiper Belt is a completely different planetary regime from anything we have visited before—not the terrestrial planets, nor the gas giants we have become familiar with, but this great ring of hundreds of thousands of rocky and icy bodies out on the edge of our solar system: a great million-year-old debris field, the remnants from when our solar system formed. It can’t help but be a revelation to see this new class of bodies close up.

When I was an undergraduate at MIT in the 1980s, we didn’t even understand that there were objects in the Kuiper Belt—people had postulated that maybe there was something out there but that wasn’t confirmed until the discovery of the first KBO (after Pluto) in 1992.

Of course, Pluto, discovered in 1930 by American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh, famously was, for most of the 21st century, considered to be the solar system’s 9th planet (if a slightly oddball one). It was only in 2006, with New Horizons already many millions of miles into its journey, that it was formally reclassified as a dwarf planet, but I still consider Pluto a planet and refer to it that way….

EAPSpeaks: What comes after Pluto?

Beyond the Pluto encounter, using the Hubble telescope, we have identified two other potential KBOs that we could fly by—one or the other, not both—and so once we have passed Pluto we will write an extended mission proposal to NASA which, if approved, will see New Horizons flying by a second target in approximately 2019….

New Horizons is also making history for the large number of women working on the project, says Fran Bagenal PhD ’81 in a recent article in The Atlantic.

Update from Amanda Bosh:

Thank you for the wonderful article you posted on slice.mit.edu about the Pluto New Horizons mission!  I can say that it has been an amazing few days here at JHU/APL, seeing all the new pictures come in from the spacecraft, and talking with everyone about Pluto!

There were other MIT alums on the project as well:  Stacy Weinstein Weiss ’87 XVI worked on the spacecraft, Leslie Young PhD ’94 XII is a Deputy Project Scientist on New Horizons, and Bonnie Buratti SM ’74 XII is a New Horizons team member.  Amanda Zangari PhD ’13 XII is a postdoc at New Horizons.  Eliot Young SM ’87, ScD ’93 XII also worked on the project.  I’m sure there are many more, these are just the ones I know about!

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Bill Turville works on his airplane piano on loan for the celebration.

A live band playing near the entrance, the whoosh and hum of a canning operation, and an airplane-shaped piano being tuned—this is what it sounds like when Aeronaut Brewery celebrates a milestone. The startup launched by MIT PhD students Ronn Friedlander, who completed his degree in 2014, and Ben Holmes; Yale PhD student Steve Reilly; and computer scientist Daniel Rassi recently marked its one-year anniversary. Summing up the experience, Holmes says, “It was awesome!”

What made it awesome? The taproom at Aeronaut is often filled with customers and live music, but that’s just one part of the business.  “We really are running a few companies here, they’re just under one banner,” says Holmes. In Aeronaut’s massive warehouse space just outside of Union Square you can find the taproom and brewery, a science lab for cultivating yeast for beer, as well as an incubator space for food startups. “We make things much more complicated than it needs to be, but we like it like that. It’s kind of in our DNA,” Holmes says.

This complicated approach is working for Aeronaut. The brewery has become a go-to place for craft beers as well as an integral part of the neighborhood.  “Most people want to come here because we built a bar we’d want to come to,” Holmes says. Aeronaut supports the surrounding creative community in many ways, including offering an experimental recording stage for music and hosting Bring Your Own Beamer parties that invite locals to share projected art. Aeronaut even featured local art on their first canned beers, created for the one year anniversary.

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Anniversary cans featured four designs. Raul Gonzalez III created the art, Ryan Habbyshaw designed the illustrations to the cans.

Aeronaut has also faced some challenges, including issues of scale—like scaling up a batch of smoked butternut squash rauchbier. Increasing the batch size of the beer resulted in butternut squash paste gumming up the brew tanks as well as a blown brew tank door. While other challenges faced Aeronaut in their first year, Holmes, who is close friends with his co-founders, shared the rauchbier story because he says, “Beer won’t get mad at me.”

For the future, Holmes sees Aeronaut growing while still maintaining a sense of community and curiosity. “We’re never going to grow a business that sends a million bottles of beer to California unless we can figure out how to ship out just as much science and just as much community,” he says, “it wouldn’t be true to who we are.”

After one year of much success and many long nights, Holmes sums up what he’s learned with his first startup: “The second one is probably easier,” he laughs.

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Maxwell Hartley moped (© Shelley Lake).

Maxwell Hartley moped (© Shelley Lake).

Shelley Lake SM ’79 is a photographer in Florida. View more of her work on her website. View other alumni photos of the week.

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B_Olle_SXSW

We’re living in the era of the microbiome, says Bernat Olle SM ’05, MBA ’07, PhD ’07.

No matter where you are, you are surrounded by your microbiome—the complex biological system of more than 100 trillion microorganisms on the human body, in airwaves, and in every environment.

“You may not know it, but you’re walking around with two pounds of microbes on you,” says Bernat Olle SM ’05, MBA ’07, PhD ’07. “But only recently have scientists discovered how important and how useful they can be.”

Research in the field of the microbiome is still in its early stages, but it has already shown that microbes play important roles in metabolism, digestion, and even mood. And Olle is one of a growing group of engineers focusing on this area.

“Modern habits have been to clean up and sterilize everything—make it clean as possible,” he says. “But we’re starting to find out this might not be a good idea—and we’re abusing anti-microbial chemicals. These microbial exposures can help develop key human functions.”

Olle is co-founder and COO of Vedanta Biosciences, a Boston-based startup that researches interactions between the human microbiome and the immune system. He spoke to Slice of MIT at the 2015 South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive, where he was part of a three-person panel that discussed the benefits of microbes and the impact they could have on medicine in the future.

“In the future, I don’t think we’ll be saying, ‘all microbes are scary—stay away,” he says. “For example, if a diseased person is missing certain microbes that are very common in healthy people, we could generate a hypothesis that maybe these microbe are involved in preserving health. If we systematically test these hypotheses, that can be a starting point for creating a new drug.”

More specifically, Olle’s research has suggested that microbes may be able to train the part of the human immune system that is responsible for preventing autoimmune diseases. The result of this successful experiment were published in the journal Nature, and Olle was named “Innovator of the Year” by MIT Technology Review Spain.

“It’s a new wave of science but the results are already here,” he says. “We already have treatments in clinics that are being used to save lives.”

Olle has been active entrepreneur and scientist since earning graduate degrees from the department of chemical engineering and MIT Sloan on 2007. He has co-founded four biotechnology companies, including Vedanta, that have focused on baldness, food safety, and technology platforms for drug development.

“For me, chemical engineering and Sloan were a perfect fit,” he says. “You’re exposed to business principles and engineering skills. It’s an explosive cocktail for entrepreneurship.”

Olle was one of more than 100 MIT alumni who presented at the South by Southwest festival.

“There’s such a strong tech orientation at the conference, combined with a little bit nerdiness,” he says. “It goes perfectly with the MIT psyche—the Techie nerve. You could just as easily have this conference right in Cambridge.”

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