Jamshied Sharifi ’83

Jamshied Sharifi, a lifelong musician, could play the piano, guitar, drums, and flute by age 10. He has written musical arrangements for artists like Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder and composed the movie soundtracks for Harriet the Spy and Muppets from Space. Songs from his 1997 album, A Prayer for the Soul of Layla, were featured in the Oliver Stone documentary Persona Non Grata and a season finale of the television show E.R.

So it’s a surprise that he spent more than a decade at MIT—four years as a student and seven-plus as director of the Festival Jazz Ensemble. “MIT was a phenomenal environment in so many ways,” he says. “It was a gift to be around people who were pushing themselves to be their absolute best.”

At 18 years old, Sharifi had no plans to attend MIT. After graduating from high school in Kansas, he briefly moved to New York’s Hell’s Kitchen to pursue a career in music. After about a year, Sharifi met up with a high school classmate, ­Stewart “Shlomo” Vile ’83, who was attending MIT and encouraged him to enroll. “Shlomo told me, ‘This place is great—you need to be here,’” he recalls. “And he was right.”

Sharifi enrolled a few months later. He spent his junior year on a domestic exchange program at Berklee College of Music and, the same year, joined MIT’s jazz ensemble under Herb Pomeroy, the legendary trumpeter who led the group for 22 years.

In 1985, Pomeroy retired and asked Sharifi to lead the ensemble. Sharifi did so until 1992, and he also wrote 20 pieces for the group. “Herb was the greatest relationship I made at MIT,” he says. “He cared about everyone so deeply. I knew I could not match his level of musicality, so I tried to bring the same love to it that he did.”

After leaving MIT, Sharifi spent the next two decades based in New York but recording and performing music all over the world. A Prayer for the Soul of Layla was named Best World Album of 1997 by New Age Voice.

In the spring of 2012, the MIT Wind Ensemble performed Sharifi’s Awakening, a musical piece inspired by the Arab Spring, a wave of political demonstrations in Arab countries that began in 2010. The concert was personal—Sharifi’s father is Iranian.

Today, Sharifi divides his time between musical production, arranging, and live performances; his 2015 schedule includes shows in Mexico City, Guadalajara, Switzerland, and California’s Joshua Tree National Park. He lives in New York with his wife and two children.

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


President Reif discusses innovation with Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. Photo: Justin Knight.

In a recent campus visit, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzer discusses strategies to bolster innovation with President Reif. Photo: Justin Knight.

When US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker sat down with MIT President L. Rafael Reif on Sept. 18, she elaborated on the connections between American’s success as innovators and entrepreneurs and national topics such as immigration, broadband access, and advanced manufacturing.

Pritzker, who has visited MIT labs and leaders several times during her two-year tenure, leads the Administration’s trade and investment promotion efforts. She has met with more than 1,500 business leaders to support new avenues for growth and traveled to 29 countries building new markets for US products. She addressed a campus audience at the Koch Institute before the armchair discussion with President Reif.

She sees immigration as a cornerstone of future innovation because some 40 percent of graduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields at US universities are international and often are forced to leave after they complete their educations.

“Advancing immigration reform is not just a moral obligation, it is a matter of economic necessity,” she says. “We should not be educating these young people then requiring them to return home. We should be stapling a green card to their diploma when they graduate.”

Pritzker has worked with Reif in his role as co-chair of the White House’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP) 2.0 and has supported advanced manufacturing with the creation of institutes focused on pre-competitive research in new technologies like 3D printing, photonics, digital design, and lightweight metals. Her department also issues patents, supports young entrepreneurs, and has launched Regional Innovation Strategy grants to build capacity in communities nationwide.

On Friday she visited the Research Laboratory for Electronics (RLE), which was founded in 1946 as the successor to the famed MIT Radiation Laboratory (RadLab) of World War II and today leads research on topics as diverse as atomic physics and information science.

“I learned about a graduate research assistant named Robert Noyce, who worked in the lab’s Physical Electronics Group—and who used the knowledge gained here at MIT to co-found Intel. I heard about a young professor named Amar Bose, who studied physical acoustics at RLE—and who went on to revolutionize the way we listen to music.”

Along with the innovation and science involved, Pritzker says she was also impressed with the dynamic research teams who are multigenerational and multicultural. “We need the insights from all these people to make these quantum leaps forward.”

Find out more about Pritzker’s visit and MIT’s Innovation Initiative.



Most of the MIT Solar Electric Vehicle Team with this year’s entry, Arcturus.

A team of 17 MIT students and alumni will travel 3,000 kilometers across the Australian Outback in a Solar Electric Vehicle for the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge 2015 starting on October 18. A total of 47 teams from 25 countries—made up of mostly colleges and universities—will compete in the six-day competition that encourages research into sustainable transportation methods as well as solar technology.

This year’s vehicle, Arcturus, was designed and manufactured by the MIT Solar Electric Vehicle Team (SEVT) in just one year as opposed to the usual two-year process. Work on the vehicle, which is completed mostly in MIT’s Edgerton Center, is underway year-round thanks to the contributions of 25 team members. The group is split into three teams, electrical, mechanical, and aerodynamics and composites. Dillon McConnon ’15, who got involved as a first-year student and is currently deferring the start of a full-time job at GM until November to participate as a driver in the challenge, was previously mechanical team lead and this year was the team’s first systems lead—a position they started to help all three teams to create a cohesive vehicle, especially given the short time frame.

SEVT members secure the upper body of Arcturus to the lower body on a test drive in Michigan this July. Pictured: Dillon McConnon '15, Chad Uyehara '16, Rose Abramson '15, and Michelle Chao '17. Photo: Christopher Pentacoff '06.

SEVT members secure the upper body of Arcturus to the lower body on a test drive in Michigan this July. Pictured: Dillon McConnon’15, Chad Uyehara ’16, Rose Abramson ’15, and Michelle Chao ’17. Photo: Christopher Pentacoff ’06.

Team captain Rose Abramson ’15 also got involved in her first year at MIT and will continue her involvement as she pursues her master’s in electrical engineering. She says that their competition category, the Challenger Class, is most concerned with maximizing efficiency.

“Each year the rules change,” says Abramson. “And over the years it’s become clear that they’re pushing the regulations to make the vehicles less like some sort of Soap Box Derby and making it more similar to the restrictions of a regular car.”

However, if you saw one on the road, you might not agree. And the challenge won’t look much like a regular day on the road either. To cover the Outback in the allotted time, the team’s three drivers—taking six-hour shifts—will need to continuously balance maximum speed and energy efficiency. Although the regulations have allowed for more room for the driver this year, the chassis of the vehicle is still cramped. While the job of the driver is grueling, especially in the heat and terrain of the Outback, the rest of the team has to be equally on their game. “There is a lead car to do the navigation and a chase car where the rest of the team does strategy,” says Abramson. “Even if you’re not driving you have to be very focused. If you’re in the chase car, you’re receiving data from the vehicle and using data from weather and elevation to determine the optimal speed for the car.”

Other changes to race regulations this year included the addition of a fourth wheel in the back of the vehicle, which affected the suspension, electrical system, and changed the aerodynamics of the vehicle. The team has also employed their newly developed solar cell encapsulation process, which should increase the power production of the vehicle and make the solar array more robust and less prone to damage.

A key component of the SEVT is the continual addition of new dynamic members and an equally strong use of knowledge gained through excellent documentation of previous vehicles and utilizing past alumni members. Not only are many alumni consulted for design input, many are still active members of the team, says graduate candidate Kathleen Alexander ’11. “At the end of each phase in design, we hold conference calls with alums saying, ‘hey guys, this is the design we came up with; tell us what we did wrong.’ And they can interject their tips and insights.”

This year, several alumni participated as active members of the team, including Christopher Pentacoff ’06. Since getting involved as a first-year in 2002, Pentacoff has been in a variety of roles including mechanical and aerodynamics systems, solar car driver, and now one of the team mentors. “I’ve always had a passion for building things, and mentoring the solar car team has let me continue doing that. The real-world skills and experiences that I’d gotten on the solar car team were very valuable to prepare me for industry, and I want to make sure that other students can continue to benefit from experiences like this in the future.”

Similarly, Kelly Ran ’12, MEng ’13, says the skills she learned from SEVT were some she simply couldn’t have gotten the classroom. “Students get the opportunity to design components and assemblies that are too complex and time-consuming to be included in the undergraduate curriculum…I learned schematic capture, PCB layout, enclosure design, complex wiring design, and debugging techniques…[as well as] composite layups, mechanical assembly, fundraising, and budgeting.”

Follow the MIT Solar Electric Vehicle Team on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Flickr and check out their website for more information on their progress.


Dillon McConnon ’15 TIG welding a mount plate to the chassis  of the vehicle. Photo: Micah Gale.

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ALC_Save_the_Date_Social_MediaThe MIT Alumni Leadership Conference (ALC), Sept. 25‒26, is a time for alumni to reconnect and learn new skills while also recognizing the work of alumni volunteers. A spotlight event for ALC is the Leadership Awards Celebration honoring MIT’s most dedicated volunteers. In this Slice of MIT podcast, you’ll hear personal stories from this year’s four alumni winners of the Bronze Beaver award, the Association’s highest honor.

In this podcast you’ll learn about the newest Bronze Beaver recipients: Robert V. Ferrara ’67; Jonathan M. Goldstein ’83, ’84, SM ’86; Theresa M. Stone SM ’76; and Robert N. Gurnitz ’60, SM ’61, PhD ’66. You’ll hear stories of rock stars and the second law of thermodynamics along with MIT memories and tales of volunteering long after graduation.

Head to the ALC website to learn more about the volunteer contributions of all the winners of this year’s  honors—the Bronze Beaver Award, the Henry B. Kane ’24 Award, the Harold E. Lobdell ’17 Distinguished Service Award, the George B. Morgan ’20 Award, and the Great Dome Award.

Listen to podcast linked above or on the Alumni Association’s SoundCloud page. And don’t forget to subscribe on iTunes and rate the podcast and leave a review. Tweet your thoughts on this episode to @mit_alumni. Follow this year’s Alumni Leadership Conference and join the conversation on social media with the hashtag #MITALC.


John Chisholm '75, SM '76

John Chisholm ’75, SM ’76

More than 33,000 companies have been founded by the MIT community—is yours among them? In today’s 3 p.m. EDT Twitter Chat, Alumni Association President John Chisholm ’75, SM ’76 will share lessons from Unleash Your Inner Company, his new play book for aspiring entrepreneurs.

He’ll share what resources helped him launch three successful companies and survive the dot com crash. He’ll also tweet about why he believes frugality is key to any startup’s livelihood.

“Before now, startups always seemed so distant, and I didn’t know where to start. Now I realize that I have all the resources I need,” said Ben Potash ’14 of Chisholm’s book.

The discussion will conclude with Chisholm’s preview of this weekend’s Alumni Leadership Conference, open to all alumni interested in getting more involved with MIT.

The chat will be co-sponsored by the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship. Join us by tweeting your questions with the hashtag #MITAlum.


Chihuly Ikebana and Float Boats (© Clinton Blackburn).

Chihuly Ikebana and Float Boats (© Clinton Blackburn).

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


Guest Blogger: Erin Bailie ’15


Erin Bailie ’15 (back row, left) joins students and staff at Canobie Lake Park to collect data for the Women’s Technology Program.

Imagine taking 20 high school students to an amusement park. Sunscreen? Check. Snacks? Check. A few selfies on the bus ride? Check. Accelerometers?

Check. On July 13, 20 high school students explored Canobie Lake Amusement Park with sensors and instruments, battery packs, and data storage devices taped all over their bodies. They carefully secured their seatbelts, turned on their instruments, and enjoyed rides all around the park. Later, they would analyze this data and present their findings—conclusions yielded from coaster speed, angular velocity, air pressure, and heart rate. Over the course of the day, the initial embarrassment for the bulky instruments and awkward questions from ride operators gave way to pride and excitement for learning.


A WTP student gets help attaching sensors to herself before boarding a ride.

The trip was part of my summer as a resident tutor for the MIT Women’s Technology Program (WTP), a month-long program for girls going into their senior year of high school. The program introduces girls to engineering through classroom learning, projects, presentations, and lab tours; many of these girls weren’t even considering the field before the program. My role was a residential tutor and I lived in McCormick Hall with the students and six other staff members. We taught them classroom lessons, helped them with problems sets and projects, and showed them dorm skills like cooking and doing laundry.

Over the month, I enjoyed watching the girls as they shed their embarrassment for the “nerdy” topics in the program and found pride in what they were learning. For many of them, WTP was the first time that they were in a setting where their peers were interested in the same things that they were, and they no longer felt that they had to hide their love for science and math in order to fit in. Being able to facilitate that kind of personal growth was exactly why I chose to get involved in WTP.

I knew when I heard about the opportunity to teach and mentor high school girls through WTP it was the perfect way to spend my summer. I was initially torn about what to do after graduating in June until my job would start in August. Looking back, I’m glad I began my time as an MIT alum giving back.

WTP ended almost two months ago. Since then, I’ve moved to California to start my job as a quality engineer for a software company in Silicon Valley. When I look back on the experience I realize that the girls in WTP had as much of an impact on me and my confidence as the program had for them.


CTO Dharmesh Shah SM ’06 introduced new HubSpot products at Inbound.

HubSpot CTO Dharmesh Shah SM ’06, a Sloan Fellow, introduced new products at Inbound.

What if marketing were not a barrage of unwelcome ads? What if digital media brought you timely offers about products you were interested in or wanted to acquire—right when you wanted that information? That’s the core idea behind Hubspot, a software venture founded at MIT by folks who want to transform that idea into a movement.

More than 14,000 people came to Boston in September to explore that premise at HubSpot’s annual Inbound conference. When the cofounders—CTO Dharmesh Shah SM ’06 and CEO Brian Halligan, who teaches at the Sloan School—took the stage, it was like a rock concert—swirling lights, club music, jumbotrons, and a roaring crowd.

Their message was business—marketing is about taking action, after all—but it was friendly. Their Inbound philosophy is about “creating value before you extract value out of the system,” says Shah. His chief tool, as someone who “writes for computers, not carbon-based life forms,” is software that helps marketers publish attractive content and track readers’ behavior. The company demonstrates that practice with their own cascade of blog posts, social media posts, white papers, webinars, and digital communities. After a successful IPO in 2014, HubSpot is now credited as the third largest marketing automation vendor by market share in the US.

Another new media star who spoke at Inbound is Jonah Peretti SM ’01, a founder of The Huffington Post and BuzzFeed, a social news and entertainment company. Peretti accidentally plunged into new media renowned when he ordered a pair of customized Nike sneakers with the word “Sweatshop” printed under the swoosh. After Nike refused the order and the incident became public primarily via shared emails, Peretti was soon appearing on TV as a labor expert. Another personal project, Rejection Line, attracted millions of users to a phone message recorded by local comedians that scotched unwanted romances; its success put Peretti and his sister and cofounder Chelsea, on television, this time as relationship experts. By then, 2002, he knew the power of viral online content.

Media Lab grad Jonah Peretti SM ’01 founded BuzzFeed.

MIT Media Lab grad Jonah Peretti SM ’01 founded BuzzFeed.

BuzzFeed topics can be serious or light. “Laughing is something that connects people,” says Peretti, especially through shared online content. “If you laugh with someone or feel the same about a cute kitten, it allows you to feel close to someone…. People consume BuzzFeed at work to feel better, it has therapeutic effect.”

The company’s evolving products include shareable quizzes—“Which city should you actually live in?”—and, he says, the highlight of his career so far is getting President Obama to use a selfie stick on video. Read about other Peretti ventures in a earlier Slice of MIT post.

“We strive to be the future of how you make media, not the future of media,” says Peretti. “We want to build a process for having really smart creative people who have a deep connection with their audience and continue experiment to see what connects with their audiences.”

Want to know what’s next? BuzzFeed, which attracts more than 12 million unique visitors a day, was founded in 2006 when Peretti was still working on Huff Po. “If you want to know what’s going to be happening in five years,” he says, “look at what people do in their spare time—hobbies often become bigger in a few years.”

For more on inbound marketing, check out the online marketing community inbound.org, the HubSpot blogs or video library, or read blog posts by Shah, who is also an angel investor, at onstartups.com.


hh_portrait_2In First to File: Patents for Today’s Scientist and Engineer, Henry Heines ’67 cites a number of puzzling patent cases, perhaps none more entertaining than the application for the clothespin.

“The claim, which sets out the metes and bounds of what the patent covers and doesn’t cover…went on for something like two pages, which I think is hilarious,” he says.

Hear Heines’s thoughts on this patent and other recent patent disputes in the MIT Alumni Books Podcast interview.

In four decades of helping individuals and firms develop patent portfolios and intellectual property estates in San Francisco, Heines became a lifelong student of patent law, studying cases as the Patent Trade Office published them and helping his clients capitalize on their innovations.

Every employee, manager, CEO, and corporation should take stock regularly of its intellectual property, says Heines.

“It’s really a question of recognizing a potentially patentable invention when you see it. There are many very small differences that could lead to patents and that people very frequently think of as being trivial,” he says.

In the past decade, Heines has collected his observations on patent law into three books. First to File addresses some of the most fundamental changes in American law since the 2013 America Invents Act.

“It’s a fascinating and wonderful field at the intersection of technology and industry,” Heines says.

Listen to the complete podcast here. Listen to past books podcasts with novelists, professors, and entrepreneurs by visiting MITAA on Soundcloud. Have a good book to recommend, written either by you or a classmate? Tell us about it.



Image via the IHTFP Hack Gallerys (hacks.mit.edu)

Two sure signs that the fall semester has begun on MIT campus:

  1. Traffic
  2. Hacks

Hackers successfully pulled off the first hack of the semester on September 4, when they simultaneously paid homage to pranks of the past and answered the age-old hack question, How do they actually get on top of the Great Dome, anyways?


The “hackapult” via hacks.mit.edu. Click for larger.

According to the hack, the answer is simple: catapults. The anonymous pranksters situated a catapult—renamed the “hackapult”—on the Killian Court lawn, with its barrel aimed directly towards the Great Dome, which featured an amalgam of hacks past, including a cow, a fire truck, the One Ring from Lord of the Rings, an MIT Police car, and a TARDIS.

The hackapult also featured handy diagrams and notes for each hack. They were not entirely effective, however, as the cow, truck, and police car appeared to crash land on the Dome. (Don’t try this at home.)

In latest MIT hack, a tribute to pranks of years past,” Boston Globe:

“This is what is great about MIT, “ Aaron Weinberger, MIT’s assistant director for institute affairs, said. “There is a sense of creativity here — something unusual occurs here all of the time.”

When asked if the school gets frustrated by the hacks each year, Weinberger said MIT “loves it.”

“This is at the heart of what MIT is about,” he said.

Perhaps the hack was also an homage (or protest) of last year’s Hack Madness tournament, which featured the cow, fire truck, and police car, but not the One Right or Tardis.


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