David Collins SM '59

David Collins SM ’59

Bar codes are a hallmark of modernity, found on groceries, parcels, machine components, tickets, and billions of other items. You can thank David Collins for developing their first successful application and advancing them through an entrepreneurial career that’s still under way.

In the mid-1950s, while studying civil engineering as an undergraduate at Villanova University, Collins took a summer job with the Pennsylvania Railroad. He had a “grand adventure” rebuilding a bridge in five days after a wreck, but he also noticed that the railroad’s punch-card system for daily tracking of rolling stock was prone to errors. “It led to a lot of chaos,” he recalls.

Collins went on to the Sloan School, where he says he cultivated an “outsized self-assurance working within the scientific business community that has (mostly) served me well ever since.” He also took lessons at the Sailing Pavilion, which led to a lifelong romance with ocean racing and voyaging—and benefited MIT when he donated a 43-foot racing sloop to the Institute in 2011.

At GTE Sylvania after graduation, Collins convinced his managers to let him develop what became the KarTrack Automatic Car Identification System, which tagged railcars with colored lines read by photomultiplier vacuum tubes. Early installations led to its selection as a national standard for railcars, vans, and freight containers in 1967. Sylvania didn’t want to pursue broader applications, so the next year Collins founded Computer Identics to develop laser-scanned, black-and-white bar codes, which found instant interest in the auto industry, retail, and other sectors.

“It was fascinating how the technology got taken up,” he says. “In 1977, the New York City Marathon contacted us about collecting finishing times with bar codes. I thought it was crazy, but it showed how bar codes could simplify a process with a lot of room for error. That’s what I enjoy most—simplifying complex processes.”

Collins’s current business venture, Data Capture Institute, was founded in 1987 to focus on integrating barcodes into advanced information technology—a pursuit of “interesting things that don’t conflict with sailing,” he jokes. One major success: a Federal Aviation Administration program for uniquely identifying components of the air traffic control system, which the Department of Defense has adopted in recent years to track aircraft parts. He also serves as chair of A2B Tracking, founded by his sons Pete and Tim—next-generation bar-code entrepreneurs.

Collins and his wife, Joan, live in Duxbury, Massachusetts, where they sail their boat Next Dimension and often host their eight children and 12 grandchildren. “A big family is fun in a very special way,” he says.

This actually originally appeared in the November/December issue of MIT Technology Review magazine.


Alumni sends messages to students.

Alumni sent messages to students during the Alumni Leadership Conference.

Guest Blogger: Sarah Goodman, Dean for Graduate Education Office

Alumni and students joined together this fall to send the campus community a message—“Don’t struggle alone—It’s okay to ask for help.” That phrase served as a backbone for the two events at the Alumni Leadership Conference that focused on the MindHandHeart Initiative (MHH), a campus-wide effort to promote mental health and well-being and, over time, build a healthier, stronger MIT.

First, Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart SM ’86, PhD ’88 lead a panel discussion with students Lorraine Wong ’17 and Ariella Yosafat ’16 from Active Minds, a student activity group dedicated to raising mental health awareness and encouraging help-seeking. “The idea of the MindHandHeart Initiative,” the chancellor explained, “is to bring all of the different people in our community together around this topic of mental health and well-being on campus.”

Ask for Help! "I was lonely..."

Ask for Help! “I was lonely…”

The second event was an alumni message-making activity introducing MIT’s “Don’t struggle alone—It’s okay to ask for help” campaign. Yosafat joined the alums along with students Nolan Concannon ’17 from Save TFP, and Blake Elias ’16 from the Art of Living. Other groups actively involved in the Ask for Help campaign are the undergraduate peer counseling group Peer Ears and the graduate-student peer-counseling group, Resources for Easing Friction and Stress (REFS). The round tables of Mezzanine Lounge W20 buzzed with discussion about data from the 2015 Healthy Minds Study Barnhart had presented at her talk.

Alumni brainstormed ways to send messages of support to students—messages about asking for help, going it together, and taking the stigma out of struggle at MIT. The wall of Mezzanine Lounge and the walls of @MITstudents and @MITGradlink social media beamed alumni encouragement and courage. The messages range from general to personal. Styles varied from dashed-off to nuanced with puns, poetry, and graphic flair.

Since the chancellor and MIT Medical Director, William Kettle, announced the MindHandHeart initiative with a letter to the MIT community on September 2, more than 150 faculty, students, and staff have volunteered to participate in the program. Dozens more have submitted ideas to the MHH Innovation Fund and counseling services have expanded on campus.

Top 5 Ways Alumni Can Help MindHandHeart

  1. Learn about the initiative. Read the letter, the MIT News story and MindHandHeart.mit.edu Read the 2015 Healthy Minds Study results on chancellor.mit.edu
  2. Come to events if local.  “Wellness” and “Health” tags have been added to the MIT events calendar!
  3. Watch peer-to-peer videos, read stories, and download materials at the “Ask for Help” page. Submit your story about asking for help at MIT to askforhelp@mit.edu
  4. Stay connected to the community. Use the Infinite Connection, alumni clubs, become an educational counselor, and other volunteer efforts.
  5. Spread the word. Take a picture of yourself holding up your own “Ask for help” message. Post it with the hashtags #askforhelpMIT #mindhandheart and tag @mindhandheart @MITgradstudents and @MITstudents, or send it to askforhelp@mit.edu or mindhandheart@mit.edu


Amy Shui '02 performs as Powa Ranjuru for Kaiju Big Battel.

Amy Shui ’02 performs as Powa Ranjuru for Kaiju Big Battel.

Meet Powa Ranjuru, a fighting angel from the Tokyo suburbs who battles evil-doers like Uchu Chu the Space Bug, Kung-Fu Chicken Noodle, and Dr. Cube using moves like the “mallet protector beat down” and the “ultra-pain back hand.” She’s also an MIT alumna.

More specifically, the person behind the mask is Amy Shui ’02, who performs as Powa Ranjuru for the entertainment group Kaiju Big Battel.

“Kaiju Big Battel spoofs professional wrestling and old Japanese movies like Godzilla,” Shui says. “The good guys are trying to stop the evil factions from taking over the world. Powa Ranjuru is known for flying in and saving the day.”

Shui began performing as Ranjuru in 2004, about two years after graduating from MIT. After attending a Kaiju show earlier that year, she was captivated and knew her athletic experience would translate perfectly to the ring.

Powa Ranjuru versus Uchu Chu

“I had done gymnastics for 17 years, so so I was pretty sure I could learn some wrestling moves,” Shui says. “I was so excited I emailed the studio and told them I wanted to be one of their performers. A few months later, I was on a plane to Los Angeles for my first show.”

Kaiju originated in Boston, but the troupe performs all over the U.S. Since first donning Ranjuru’s trademark mystical red mask, Shui has performed in LA, New York, Philadelphia, the Mojave Desert, and at a West Virginia music festival where Big Battel performed with the Flaming Lips.

“It’s been amazing to perform in all of these different places,” she says. “We’ve performed outdoors at 4 a.m. and in front of hostile crowds that threw mud in the ring. It’s so much fun to be a part of.”

Shui was a varsity gymnast at MIT for four years, and the strength, flexibility, and acrobatics were essential to her career in Kaiju Big Battel.

Amy Shui was a varsity gymnast at MIT.

Amy Shui was a varsity gymnast at MIT from 1998-2002. Photos: Mike Wong (top) and Teruyoshi Yamaki

“If I hadn’t done gymnastics at MIT, I wouldn’t have been able to use my gymnastics training after college,” she says. “There are lots of similarities. You have to overcome performance anxiety, remember scripted moves, and be able to improvise on the spot. We used to joke about starting full-contact gymnastics when I was on the MIT team. That would have prepared me even more!”

Although saving the world from evil is a heavy task, it’s not a full-time job. Shui, a Course 18 major, is a biostatistician by day who focuses on autism and ALS research.

“MIT taught me that it’s OK, or even encouraged, to deviate from a standard path,” Shui says. “MIT people and Kaiju people can be very similar. Plus, science nerds and art school nerds usually get along pretty well.”

After a one-year hiatus, Powa Ranjuru returns to Boston when Kaiju Big Battel presents “The Danger Awakens” at Cuisine en Locale in Somerville, MA, on Saturday, November 21. Shui’s band, Hula School, will also perform during the show.  


11-09-15_LinderHal Linder ’58 paid $4,000 for his bachelor’s degree in geology at MIT. In six decades following graduation, Linder got his money’s worth, surveying and prospecting on all seven continents, eventually discovering a gold mine in California which produced over 1.2 million ounces.

Linder chronicles his adventures above and below the earth’s crust in a new book, Wild Places: The Adventures of an Exploration Geologist. Listen to an interview with Linder in this episode of the MIT Alumni Books Podcast.

In 1985, while consulting for Viceroy Resources in terrain on the California border near Las Vegas, Linder started drilling survey holes between two clay pits in the Castle Mountains.

“It was an old mining district, mined in 1906,” Linder says of the land where he made a lucrative discovery. “It was a classic boom town. Some narrow, vertical quartz veins had high-grade gold in them. The old-timers came in, set up a tent city, mined for three or four years, and the mines petered out because the gold didn’t continue at depth. Other mining companies came along later and looked at it and thought it was just steep, vertical veins.”

“I went in and looked for a few days, and I was very impressed with the amount of brecciation and solicification in the rocks. To me that suggested there was a good chance that there had been mineralization between the vertical veins. And that turned out to be the case. It was a large bulk deposit.”

In the seven years that followed, the deposit yielded 1.2 million ounces of gold. The discovery followed a hunch that Linder says he might not have had in his early twenties. “Experience is very important in exploration geology. The more deposits you’ve seen, the more places you worked, the better your judgment,” says Linder.

In the decades before his work in gold, Linder explored and surveyed in Canada, Russia, Alaska, Tasmania, and Antarctica. Along the way, he took photos and recorded scrupulous notes in a journal. The results are the meat of Wild Places. Listen to the complete interview with Linder.


A truffle hunter with his pig, southwest France (© Owen Franken)

A truffle hunter with his pig, southwest France (© Owen Franken)

Learn more about Owen Franken from his profile, read a What Matters opinion column he wrote called “Life in Brownian Motion,” or visit his Web site.



Jasmina Aganovic ’09, president of Mother Dirt. Photo: Pat Greenhouse/GlobeStaff.

When you hear the word clean, you might envision things like bathing, soaps, shampoos, and other hygiene products. But what if that idea of clean isn’t really keeping bodies clean and healthy? According to Jasmina Aganovic ’09, many of the products used to remove sweat and dirt on a daily basis, are actually negatively impacting health by removing the skin’s natural mechanisms to keep a healthy balance in skin—bacteria.

“We need to change our existing beliefs around cleanliness, we need to rethink clean,” says Aganovic, president of Mother Dirt, the consumer brand company under research company AOBiome, co-founded by David Whitlock ’77, SM ’78, which developed the science behind the products. The AO+ Mist was launched in June 2014 with live bacteria to help cultivate a healthier skin microbiome. Mother Dirt was created shortly after with additional products formulated for the skin biome.

For most of modern history, bacteria has had the reputation of being bad, perpetuating the notion that removing bacteria from the body and skin would result in greater cleanliness. An estimated one trillion bacteria live on the skin. Just as people have come to realize that the stomach needs good bacteria to maintain a healthy balance—hence the acceptance and obsession with probiotics—there is also evidence that the skin, our body’s largest organ, benefits from nurturing the good bacteria (specifically ammonia oxidizing bacteria (AOB)). Mother Dirt products embrace those bacteria by creating biome-friendly products that actually help rebalance the skin and reduce its dependence on conventional products such as soaps, deodorants, and moisturizers. “All of the statistics out there are showing that inflammatory skin problems keep increasing and the approaches to solving them have not changed generally in decades,” says Aganovic. “We are starting to learn that having a good balance of bacteria on the skin is a precursor to healthy skin.”

So are they suggesting that you stop bathing? Short answer, no. There are a range of products and various ways to incorporate some or all of the products into your life. The AO+ Mist can be used in conjunction with your existing routine, although they do have a specific cleanser and shampoo, and people are encouraged to spritz their entire body with the mist, focusing on areas with high amounts of sweat glands. By incorporating the products into a normal routine, they can in some cases reduce a need for certain products and overall help restore a healthy biome.

For Aganovic, it is a lot about educating people—helping them understand how and why the good bacteria of the skin is able to do a better job of protecting their body from the world we live in today than conventional products. When she joined AOBiome more than a year and a half ago, she was charged with building a brand based in science. “Ultimately you can’t sell science,” says Aganovic, “but consumers feel really good knowing that it’s there, so you have to understand that balancing act carefully.” Something she understands well given her unconventional background, with both technical education and past roles at cosmetic brands like Fresh and Living Proof. “Exploring cosmetics as a career option was not really a well-established or particularly encouraged path coming from MIT,” says Aganovic, “but I realized that my potential is limitless if I explore something I am passionate about.”


Katherine Taylor SM ’15 discusses her solar-powered irrigation pump to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo: Michael Laracy

Katherine Taylor SM ’15 discusses her solar-powered irrigation pump with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo: Michael Laracy

By Benjamin Miller, MIT Tata Center for Technology + Design

Katherine Taylor SM ’15 and Michael Laracy SM ’15 have spent the last two years working to craft solutions to pressing problems in India. For Taylor, that has meant harnessing solar power to drastically improve irrigation systems, while Laracy used industrial waste to create eco-friendly masonry materials. In September in San Jose, CA, they took the results of their research straight to the top: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Modi was in the San Francisco Bay Area to promote his Digital India initiative, meeting with the heads of Google, Facebook, and other Silicon Valley giants; delivering a speech before 17,000 people at San Jose’s SAP Center; and presiding over Startup Konnect, an event highlighting entrepreneurs doing high impact work in India.

Taylor and Laracy, alumni of the MIT Tata Center for Technology and Design, were among 30 entrepreneurs from the U.S. and India invited to participate in Startup Konnect. The event, which was open to the Silicon Valley investment community, “was a great way to meet other people who are putting their life’s work into making a difference for India,” says Taylor.

Taylor was among the five entrepreneurs selected to speak with the prime minister personally. “I got to tell him about what we’re doing. Solar pumping is one of his passion projects, so he was very interested.” Taylor is CEO of Khethworks, an MIT startup that emerged from the Tata Center and that has developed an irrigation pump optimized to serve the 30 million farmers in India’s vast Gangetic Plain.

Later, Modi singled out Taylor’s project in a speech. “MIT Tata Center’s Khethworks is changing the lives of small farmers with solar-based irrigation systems,” he said.

While Modi traveled to New York to meet with President Obama, Taylor and her team returned to Cambridge, where they’re preparing to relocate to India and launch Khethworks into the market. CTO Marcos Esparza ’15 and COO Victor Lesniewski SM ’15 will join her, while Tata Fellow Kevin Simon, a co-founder, will serve as technical advisor while he pursues his PhD in Mechanical Engineering.

Laracy’s research on the Eco-BLAC Brick aimed to solve two problems in India: industrial waste being sent to landfills and carbon emissions from traditional brick making. While Laracy has moved on to become an engineer at Silman, a structural engineering firm, a new Tata Center cohort are working toward implementing an Eco-BLAC Brick pilot plant in the city of Muzaffarnagar, India.

“India is a very exciting place for the startup community,” Taylor said. “We’re proud to be a part of it.”


On October 23, the Boston Globe unveiled its annual list of the top 100 women-led businesses in Massachusetts. And similar to past years, MIT alumnae had a strong presence on the 2015 list.

Image via Boston Globe

Image: Boston Globe magazine

The 14th annual list is a partnership between the Globe and the Commonwealth Institute, a non-profit group focuses advancing businesswomen in leadership positions. At least six MIT alumnae were named to the list—an increase from five in 2014.

According to the Globe, the rankings factor in revenue, operating budget, and other variables, including workplace and management diversity, innovative projects, and the number of full-time employees in Massachusetts. All leaders were in place at the end of 2014.

Check out the MIT alumnae on the list below and read a related story about each alumna. Then view the full list of the top 100 woman-led businesses from the Boston Globe.

Is there an alumna who made the Globe’s list that we did not mention? Let us know if the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.



Image courtesty of Mic via Flickr.

The airbag, first conceived in the 1940s, finally became a reality more than 30 years later thanks to David Breed. The ball-in-tube sensor for crash detection, which he developed at MIT, was a key component.

When he arrived on campus, Breed had a very specific goal in mind. His older brother was working on military projects including a mortar fuse, and Breed wanted to get involved.

“I looked at his design and I said to myself, ‘I think there’s a better way,’” he recalls. “For my thesis at MIT, I started working on redesigning the fuse, which used the same principle that went into the airbag crash sensors.”

After Breed completed MIT degrees in mechanical engineering and management, he and his brother formed Breed Corporation. They started working on military devices, making fuses for rockets and bombs, and eventually they translated the technology into a car crash sensor. After a decade of development and marketing, they won a contract with Ford in the early 1980s to produce airbags using their sensor design. Soon their technology was used in 90 percent of automotive airbags—and it still is.


David Breed ’61 , SM ’61, SM ’62

Breed, who earned a doctorate in mechanical engineering from Columbia in 1972, has continued to improve on various aspects of the airbag system, adding side curtain airbags and side impact protection as well as altering the airbag inflation mechanism to reduce the risk of accidental injuries.

In 1998, he left the Breed Corporation and founded Automotive Technologies International (ATI), which he still leads. His company’s latest airbag design, he says, uses a different technology—one that stops inflating the moment it comes in contact with an object, eliminating the risk of injury. It is also made of a stronger, cheaper, and much more compact material. He has always been motivated by “just solving problems,” Breed says. “That’s what engineers are supposed to do.”

ATI is working on projects including a new car wiring method that will eliminate 80 percent of the wires, a mapping project with the Chinese government, and an eyeglass product similar to Google Glass with retina identification. He has nearly 500 pending and granted U.S. patents and was honored with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s award for excellence in safety engineering.

Breed and his wife, Ria, stay active with tennis, swimming, hiking, skiing, and whitewater canoeing. They enjoy spending time in New Jersey, South Beach, and Lake Michigan, and with their kids,Genevieve, Christian, and Ryan.

This article originally appeared in the September/October issue of MIT Technology Review magazine.

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A female dot tailed whiteface dragonfly (© Gary Blau).

A female dot tailed whiteface dragonfly (© Gary Blau).

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