Has the incessant drumbeat of campaign news got you thinking about what you can do—besides vote—to improve the political functioning of the country? MIT can help. Really. Join the new Alumni Legislative Advocacy Network to keep abreast of policy initiatives pertinent to science, technology, and education—and get an alert to act when proposals are at critical decision points.

Read the NewScience Policy blog for weekly news.

Read the NewScience Policy blog for weekly news.

The network, launched in December to inform and empower interested alumni, is a joint initiative of the MIT Alumni Association and the MIT Washington DC office, established in 1991 to advocate for education and research. MIT does not lobby for itself, but it does provide a host of data to Congress and share information with MIT constituents. Earlier this month, for example, the DC office posted a new item in its Innovation Policy section, a 20-page report on the future of manufacturing, and it annually publishes the MIT Briefing Book, which profiles the Institute’s major research programs.

The Washington office also publishes a weekly blog titled NEWScience Policy, written by Abby Benson MNG ′05, SM ′05, assistant director. Yesterday’s post commented on the President’s State of the Union address, pointing out the themes of affordable college education, investment in the manufacturing and energy sectors, and tax code reform. The post links to the Blueprint for an America Built to Last, released by the White House with in-depth information on proposed policies.

The blog also tips readers to news by the day—from a Department of Defense press event about the proposed cut of $259 billion in defense spending to a Government Accountability Office report on the overlap in current and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education programs. The blog also notes upcoming hearings.

Where is the action in advocacy? According to a talk by Benson on campus last fall, network participants can expect to be contacted by the Washington Office  two-five times a year to, for example, contact their representatives about particular policy initiatives. Of course, network volunteers are not obligated to advocate for any specific policy positions—it’s entirely a volunteer effort.

So how can you take action? Just log in to the MIT Alumni Infinite Connection, navigate to the Alumni Legislative Advocacy Network, and sign up to connect with alumni who want to speak out.

Editor’s note: In honor of MIT’s Independent Activities Period (IAP) in January, Slice is focusing on activities you can do yourself and on the experiences of students serving this month as externs with alumni in their workplaces. Stay tuned!


MIThenge evokes ancient rituals.

MIThenge evokes ancient rituals.

MIThenge, among the time-honored rituals of campus life, is as close to sun worship as the campus community gets. In mid-November and late January, the circular path of the sun crosses the axis of the Infinite Corridor. The setting sun can then be viewed from the far end of the corridor, evoking the mysterious wonder of Stonehenge. It’s a little bit of campus magic—and it has rolled around again.

The next sighting of this seasonal phenomenon is set for this Monday and Tuesday. If you are nearby, swing by the Infinite Corridor and see it in person.

  • January 30, 2012: from 4:46:00 p.m. to 4:52:30 p.m.
  • January 31, 2012: from 4:47:30 p.m. to 4:53:30 p.m.

For others, here’s how to celebrate from afar.

Visit the revised MIThenge site webpage, originally prepared by Ken Olum PhD ’97, now a Tufts faculty member, and maintained by Keith Winstein ’04, MNG ’05, back on campus as a CSAIL grad student. Go the site for viewing tips, get an update on the azimuth controversy, and see photos from the November 2011 sighting as well as older images.

Read the Slice of MIT post to find out how MIThenge got its start. Hint: the phenomenon was only discovered, calculated, and publicized in 1975-76.

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Late last year, Science Magazine invited the “next generation of scientists” to answer the questions, “How will the practice of science change in your lifetime?” and “What will improve and what new challenges will emerge?” The queries kicked off Science Magazine’s new section, NextGen VOICES, and highlighted the need for young scientific voices to address the critical challenges in an increasingly resource-limited world. The top 50 responses were posted in the January 2012 edition, which included four MIT graduate students.

Dianne Kamfonik (Civil and Environmental Engineering): “Science, more than ever, is being bottlenecked by politics. For example, scientists have not only shown that climate change is happening, but they have also already developed many ways to combat it.”

Andrew David Warren (Health Sciences and Technology): “Should researchers be afraid of being replaced? Not for a long time—scientists will continue to provide the creativity. Computers will simply help us identify what we do (and don’t) know.”

Vyas Ramanan (Health Sciences and Technology): “As robotic labor overtakes humans in efficiency across many industries and at many points along the value chain, new types of jobs must be created to ensure stable employment for the working-age population.”

Yiftach Nagar (Sloan School of Management): “Increasing stratification will cause many talented people to give up academic careers for work in rising multinational corporations, which will fund applicative research. As larger data sets become owned by companies, free dissemination and open scrutiny of findings will be challenged.”

Now, it’s your turn. The second NextGen VOICES survey asks, “What is your definition of a successful scientist?” and “How has this definition changed between your mentor’s generation and your own?” The question is open to any young scientists and the deadline is February 17. Click here to post your answers (250 words or less).


If you’re feeling spaced out this morning, you’re not alone. Teams of high school students are at MIT today for the finale of the third annual Zero Robotics SPHERES Challenge, a worldwide competition where students program satellites to complete tasks onboard the International Space Station (ISS).

The MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics has joined with NASA, Aurora Flight Sciences, TopCoder, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in sponsoring the competition. The finale takes place today at MIT from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Watch it live on NASA TV or the Zero Robotics site.

In the competition, NASA will upload software developed by the high school students onto SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites), basketball-sized satellites created at MIT, aboard the ISS. Students wrote algorithms for the SPHERES satellites, giving them the opportunity the opportunity to act as simulated ground controllers for space research.

The tournament began in September with over 2,000 students from 147 teams creating algorithms and devising codes. The top 27 teams will have their code sent to the space station where, during today’s competition, astronauts in microgravity will command the satellites to execute the teams’ flight programs. The team with the highest software performance over several rounds of the competition wins the challenge.

SPHERES satellites were developed at MIT in 1999 and first used aboard the ISS in 2006. In addition to the competition, the satellites are used inside the space station to conduct formation flight maneuvers for spacecraft guidance navigation, control, and docking, and they can test a wide range of hardware and software at an affordable cost.

David W. Miller, professor of aeronautics and astronautics, and research scientist Alvar Saenz-Otero PhD ’05 serve as principal investigator and co-investigator, respectively, of the challenge.

For more information on SPHERES, watch a 2009 video where the MIT SPHERES Team held a test session with astronauts Michael Barratt and Timothy Kopra aboard the International Space Station set to the score from “An der schönen blauen Donau” (On The Beautiful Blue Danube) by Johann Strauss II.


Billy Johnson, '09, '10

In 2010, the most popular jobs for new MIT graduates were in consulting and finance, and the most popular locations included Boston and New York City. Nowhere to be found on that list: professional basketball player…in Costa Rica…or Iceland.

But that road was traveled by Willard “Billy” Johnson ’09, ’10, assistant coach for the Engineers Men’s Basketball Team, who play WPI tomorrow in a Men’s/Women’s home doubleheader that begins at 1 p.m. (the women take on Smith). AT MIT, he earned a B.S. in management science with a finance concentration in 2009, and a B.S. in political science with an international studies concentration and minors in economics and theater in 2010. He then spent a year-plus odyssey that included professional stops in Reykjavik and San Ramon. He’s chronicled these adventures on his blog, Ballin’ on a Budget.

“When I graduated, I wanted to keep playing basketball but wasn’t sure if I could play professionally,” he said. “But I learned at MIT to never let unknown variables hold you back. If you have a goal, attack it with tenacity.”

Johnson was tri-captain of the celebrated 2009 team that–despite dressing only nine players–won the school’s first NEWMAC Tournament Championship and first NCAA Division III Tournament victory, and received national media attention from ESPN. Johnson returned as a fifth-year senior in 2010, leading the team to the NEWMAC Conference Championship. He left MIT as the team’s all-time win leader, and finished in the top 10 in three-point percentage, free-throw percentage, and blocked shots.

After graduation, Johnson spent a few months in India performing market research and forecasting, and working in a Leprosy/HIV clinic. He briefly assisted MIT basketball coach Larry Anderson before travelling to Costa Rica and helping lead ARBA-San Ramon to the playoff semifinals. While in Costa Rica, Johnson also worked at Beyond Study Abroad, a non-profit that connects NCAA athletes with children in impoverished parts of the world.

Following the season, he moved to Reykjavik, joining former teammate Jimmy Bartolotta on Íþróttafélag Reykjavíkur (Reykjavik Athletic). He played only six games before sustaining a gruesome finger injury (photos available on his blog). The cut-short season allowed Johnson to rejoin Anderson’s staff shortly before this season.

“The people in Costa Rica and Iceland were amazing but I missed MIT basketball,” he said. “It was tough being away. You learn so much at MIT that isn’t in the classroom, and I realized that when I was gone.”

The undefeated Engineers (15-0) are off to their best start in Engineers history and ranked number three nationally in Division III. The women’s team is 7-5 and poised for NEWMAC tournament run. Johnson says any fans attending Saturday’s doubleheader will not be disappointed.

“There’s a saying in MIT Athletics: Life begins at the end of your comfort zone,” he said. “When you go to these games, you see the MIT spirit of pushing yourself to the limit, then pushing yourself more, making yourself uncomfortable by working so hard. It’s the embodiment of MIT.”

For more information on Saturday’s doubleheader, visit the MIT Engineers athletics site.


Benjamin Francis '12 prepares dinner at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church.

The holiday season is behind us and, for many, so is its spirit of giving. But the commodity of community service is always needed, and MIT junior Benjamin Francis is helping address this need.

Since October, Francis has lead a group of students in founding a soup kitchen that helps the homeless and hungry in the Cambridge area. MIT Hillel, Professor Jeffrey Ravel, and Central Square’s St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church support the project. The kitchen operates every Wednesday evening, when no other community meals are served in the area.

From MIT News:

There are approximately 40 volunteers on the project, consisting of students from MIT Hillel, three MIT fraternities (Zeta Psi, Sigma Nu, and Phi Kappa Sigma), and others who joined after hearing about the project by word of mouth. At any given time on a Wednesday evening, 10 to 15 volunteers operate the soup kitchen. They cook, serve food, clean, and talk with many of the people who come in for dinner.

That group’s work personifies MIT’s spirit of giving, which will be on full display during MIT’s IAP Community Service Day on January 27. Open to all members of the MIT Community, volunteers can spend the day working with three local organizations: the Greater Boston Food Bank, where volunteers will inspect, sort, and repack grocery products to be distributed to hunger-relief agencies; the Salvation Army, where volunteers will help paint the group’s Harbor Light Center; and People Making a Difference, MIT, which was founded by Lori Tsuruda ’89 and promotes volunteerism in one-time projects that meet local needs. Volunteers will assemble Legos into DNA models that will be used by schools in the Boston area and across the country. (Register by January 23th and contact for more information.)

MIT-related volunteer efforts beyond the IAP period can be found at the Institute’s Public Service Center, which has a broad range of public service that suit the interests and abilities of the larger MIT community.

Volunteer opportunities for non-Cambridge-based alums are also available. The IDEAS Global Challenge is an annual invention competition that relies on volunteers to help organize events, work with teams, and reach out to new audiences. Many alumni can also volunteer through their Alumni Association connections, which includes serving as an Institute Career Assistance Network (ICAN) advisor and getting involved in MIT clubs in your region.

Editor’s note: In honor of MIT’s Independent Activities Period (IAP) in January, Slice is focusing on activities you can do yourself and on the experiences of students serving this month as externs with alumni in their workplaces. Stay tuned!


Xconomy has MIT roots. Before starting the business and technology news organization, many key staffers worked and/or graduated from MIT (see below). Their output includes a news website with localized blogs in six major cities, events, and a regular Friday morning update on Boston’s WGBH radio. You can also sign up for their RSS feed or newsletters.

Xconomy online and on air.

Xconomy online and on air.

What stories do they cover? Startups, life sciences, health IT, and clean tech are interest areas. Recent stories include an interview with the CEO of Paris-based biotech giant Sanofi, survey results on tech managers’ salaries for 2011, and Morgenthaler Ventures investments in the fast-growing Silicon Valley startup Evernote.

Localized blogs hail from Boston, Detroit, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle. Learn about new social media research expansion at Microsoft Research New England (Boston); Walk Score, an online service that ranks rental properties, cities, and neighborhoods by how pedestrian-friendly they are (Seattle); and funding progress for the Kalamazoo, MI-based startup Axonia Medical (Detroit).

Who is Xconomy? Founder Robert Buderi was a research fellow in MIT’s Center for International Studies and served as editor in chief of MIT’s Technology Review, which also published these folks: Cofounder, COO, Executive Editor Rebecca Zacks worked in an MIT neuroscience lab and was a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT. Wade Roush PhD ’94 is chief correspondent and editor of Xconomy’s San Francisco bureau. Gregory T. Huang SM ’02, PhD ’99 is national IT editor and editor of Xconomy Boston. Luke Timmerman, a former MIT Knight fellow, is the national biotechnology editor and editor of Xconomy Seattle.

Keep your ear tuned to innovation news at Xconomy.




Want to turn a fresh idea about video game platforms into a fabulously successful startup? You’ll need some business savvy to do that. You can start building those skills right now with a free, online simulation offered by the MIT Sloan School of Management—Platform Wars: Simulating the Battle for Video Game Supremacy.

MIT Professor John Sterman created Platform Wars.

MIT Professor John Sterman created Platform Wars.

In this real-time simulation, you play the role of senior management of a video game hardware platform producer with a hot new methodology. You will learn about the dynamics of competition in markets that depend not only on a product’s price and features, but also on how many people own it and how many games and applications are available. You plug in numbers, advance, and see how markets react.

The stakes are high, according to MIT Professor John Sterman PhD ’82, an expert in system dynamics who developed the simulation with colleagues. “The first truly successful video game was PONG, the arcade and home versions offered by Atari,” he says in an introductory video. Atari sales jumped from $100 million a year to $200 billion a year in just a few years in the 1970s largely because of their market dominance.

“Platform wars are not restricted to the Internet world, of course,” Sterman notes. “And important example that is playing out now is the competition to become the new standard for automobiles. We have the competition between the dominant platform of internal combustion engines being powered by gasoline or fossil fuels and that is being challenged by a variety of new contenders including plugin electric vehicles, plugin hybrids, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, and biofuel types of vehicles. So the lessons you can learn in the simulator are application to a variety of other markets.”

Get Started:

Go the Platform Wars page and watch the Student Instruction Video (26 minutes) and then log in to the Platform Wars simulation itself.

For more business savvy, download the 24-page case study “Sony’s Battle for Video Game Supremacy” by Sterman, Khan Jekarl, Cate Reavis.


Prototype of HelmetHub

Click the image to view a demo from the student inventors.

Urban bike sharing arrived in Boston last summer to great success. Hubway offered 60 modular solar-powered stations and 600 bikes, which residents and tourists put to good use, logging more than 140,000 trips in four months. But one thing was missing from 70 percent of the riders: helmets. Which, as we all know, save lives.

So some MIT students in the 2.009 Product Engineering Processes class set about finding a solution and developed a prototype of what they call HelmetHub. The solar-powered vending machine, which occupies half the space of soda machine, would offer headgear that adjusts to fit most head sizes.

Urban bike sharing

According to, the machines are currently being imagined as both sale and rental kiosks. Hubway users could return an $8 helmet for a partial refund if they desired. The students hope to begin beta testing next summer.

Want to learn more?

Explore prototyping and field implementation in OpenCourseWare’s Prototypes to Products class. Also check out the resources offered by the website for the class textbook, Product Design and Development, by Karl Ulrich and Steven D. Eppinger.


Photo Credit: Stephan Boyer, Double Dispatch blog

Recent data shows that thousands of commuters in Boston-Cambridge area ride their bicycle to work, with ridership more the doubling since 2007. But unicycle ridership? Not current data exists.

Meet Stephan Boyer, a third-year student in the School of Engineering who has created The Bullet, a sort of unicycle-meets-Segway device that can hit 15 miles per hour and can travel for five miles on a single charge.

The Bullet, an electric unicycle with a safety kill switch, does some self-balancing, with components that help prevent the device from falling forward or backward (good luck if you’re falling left or right!). Boyer uses the Bullet to travel around campus, even relying on semantics to travel inside.

Boyer writes on his Double Dispatch blog:

“Bullet is the primary way I navigate MIT and the surrounding Cambridge area. I often zoom past students, faculty, custodians, and tourists, with generally positive reactions from everyone. I’ve been told one can be fined for riding a scooter in the Infinite Corridor. Fortunately, Bullet ain’t no scooter.”

Boyer currently has no plan to market the Bullet for commercial use, but estimates the device cost only a few hundred dollars to build. Boyer (and Slice) urges caution to any burgeoning uni-enthusiasts and likens navigating the Bullet to learning to ride a bike with no hands.

“Unfortunately, one cannot simply pick up a self-balancing unicycle and ride it with ease. It took me several hours to be able to ride in a straight line without crashing, and it took several days to learn how to turn in a controlled manner. Many of my friends have tried riding it, usually with little success (including some actual unicyclers).”

For more information on how the Bullet was assembled, including its kit list and software, and some helpful riding tips, visit Boyer’s Double Dispatch blog entry.

Editor’s note: In honor of MIT’s Independent Activities Period (IAP) in January, Slice is focusing on activities you can do yourself and on the experiences of students serving this month as externs with alumni in their workplaces. Stay tuned!