360 VR of the De La Cruz Collection, Miami, Florida. (© Shelley Lake).

360 VR of the De La Cruz Collection, Miami, Florida. (© 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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Kristen Wiig plays Erin Gilbert, a paranormal investigator an MIT alumna, in the new Ghostbusters.

Kristen Wiig plays Erin Gilbert, a paranormal investigator an MIT alumna, in the new Ghostbusters. (Click for a larger image to spot the Brass Rat.)

When it comes to MIT in the movies, the Institute’s most memorable character might be Tony Stark (or whoever is underneath the Iron Mark armor). Stark won Slice of MIT‘s fictional alumni tournament and notably wears an MIT Brass Rat in the Iron Man films. But earlier this month, the Brass Rat was spotted in another summer blockbuster—Ghostbusters.

Kristen Wiig plays Erin Gilbert, a ghost-busting paranormal investigator and physicist at Columbia University who is also an MIT alumna. Gilbert was spotted wearing a Brass Rat in at least one scene in the movie, and in a case of life imitating art, Wiig was spotted in MIT gear during the filming of the movie.

Image via @AmyChu.

Image via @AmyChu.

Much like Tony Stark, Erin Gilbert’s fictional time at MIT is clouded in mystery. So Slice will leave it you, our MIT alumni community, to begin to piece together her background.

  • When did she graduate, and from what Course?
  • Did she receive her undergraduate or graduate degree at MIT?
  • Where did she live in on campus?
  • And will we see any ghosts at MIT in the Ghostbusters sequel?

Wiig’s role as Gilbert is a small part of MIT’s role in the film. Read more about MIT post-doc James Maxwell and how his research was used in the film. And learn more about how MIT gave “Ghostbusters” its “geek cred” in an MIT News story from earlier this month.

And bonus points to any MITers who can spot a Brass Rat in any non-Iron Man films. A sleuthing Redditor found actor and actual MIT alumnus Erland van Lidth ’77 wearing his class ring as an extra in the 1980 film Stir Crazy. We know there’s more out there!

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Christopher Noe uses $2 bills for personal and professional reasons.

Christopher Noe uses $2 bills for personal and professional reasons.

Do you have a $2 bill in your wallet? Apparently quite a few people do and many have family history or personal stories attached.

Christopher Noe, a senior lecturer at the Sloan School of Management, regularly pulls his handy $2 bill from his wallet, a prop he has used for many years to illustrate the concept of fair value accounting. When he pulled that bill out a couple of years ago, he found that a dozen students in his course also had $2 bills with them.

Now you can do your own deep dive into $2 bill fact and folklore when The Two Dollar Bill Documentary, produced by filmmaker John Bennardo, premieres August 4 at the Kendall Square Cinema.

Erik Mintz MBA ’13, who was inspired to further research the $2 bill after taking Noe’s class as part of his MIT Executive MBA program, is helping to promote the film.

Mintz, who also collects $2 bills, was intrigued that day and spent a year researching the currency, according to a Sloan article. He wrote his own article that piqued Bennardo’s interest and led to Mintz’s role in the documentary. Now an associate producer of the film, Mintz introduced Bennardo and Noe. “It’s somewhat surreal,” Mintz said. “I got deeply involved in the movie.”  Learn about Mintz’s survey of $2 bill owners.

In 2014, Bennardo filmed Noe giving his lecture where he asks what the $2 bill is worth. It’s a topic that always results in an interesting class debate, Noe said. Typically, a student might answer—correctly—that the bill is worth $2. Noe will agree, but points out that his 1976 bill is nearly 40 years old.

Although Noe’s 40-year-old bill is, of course, worth $2 in cash—it’s worth more as a collectable—$8 in fact.

So what is the value of a $2 bill? There is no simple answer, Noe says, but it illustrates the distinction between historical cost ($2) and fair value accounting ($8).

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Sarah Platte presents her research in the Media Lab.

Everyone has probably seen a conductor, but how much do we really understand their role? According to Sarah Platte SM ’16, not much at all. As director of a performance for an orchestra or choir, the conductor is often revered but sometimes also scrutinized. Some use the term “maestro myth” to question what, if anything, a conductor does to enhance the musical performance.

As a musician, Platte was first introduced to conducting at age 13 but only when she studied the craft in college did she realize how vague and intangible the methods were. Her professor, a well-known conductor, did not use books or visuals and mostly instructed the students to “feel the music,” an experience that drove her to want to better understand the underlying mechanisms from a more scientific perspective.

Platte, who earned a master’s in visual communications and iconic research at FHNW HGK, a school of design in Switzerland, heard about the Media Lab through a friend and applied for the master’s program hoping to studying with Tod Machover, the influential composer (named Musical America’s 2016 Composer of the Year), professor of music and media, and head of the Media Lab’s Opera of the Future group. She worked with Machover to design and conduct two studies that resulted in Platte’s thesis titled, The Maestro Myth – Exploring the Impact of Conducting Gestures on the Musician’s Body and the Sounding Result.

“In contrast to previous studies, our research approaches the gestural language of conducting as an intuitively perceivable form of real-time communication rather than a semiotic sign language subject to interpretation and thus open for culture-bound misunderstandings,” says Platte.

The studies both involved observing the same conductor in the same setting performing three different common types of gestures. “The first study measured timing and pressure of touch-events on a touch-sensor,” says Platte. “Subjects were asked to tap a beat while shown videos of the three different conducting patterns. In the second study, we asked violinists to play single notes following the same videos as in study 1, but here we additionally measured differences in sound-quality.”

Armbands with sensors were used to measure the type of movements and muscle-tensions by the conductor and the sound quality was analyzed to measure the musicians’ reactions.

In both studies, they found a consistent and direct correlation between the gestures and muscle-tension of the conductor and the musicians. Their findings showed consistencies in musicians’ reactions to certain types of hand gestures, indicating that how and what a conductor conveys to the musician impacts the performance.

“Our findings do not aim to define any of the investigated types of gestures as being right or wrong,” says Platte. “But it turns out that since every gesture has a unique sounding consequence, certain gesture types are more capable–more economical and effective–of reaching predefined musical/interpretational goals than others. And a higher coherence in the communication between conductor and ensemble improves the overall quality of musical interpretations and performances.”

Platte hopes that understanding the gestural communication language of conducting could help improve performances as well as the relationships between musicians and conductors. She also sees implications beyond the musical world. “An improved and more detailed knowledge about conducting might also influence the overall awareness of and sensitivity to gesturality and the effect of our bodily expressions on others.”

Upon graduating from the Media Lab in May, Platte moved back to Europe to begin her doctoral studies at the new Center for Interdisciplinary Music Research in Freiburg, Germany. She will continue her research on conducting and hopes to focus on the conductor’s influence on the human voice.

Read her thesis.

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Chan Rogers was a 20-year-old sergeant when his unit freed the Dachau concentration camp during World War II.

During the 1950s, Boston bulldozed wide swaths of commercial and residential structures to build the Central Artery, an elevated expressway running north-south through the city. This proved such an aesthetic and traffic nightmare that the city began the Big Dig in the 1990s, spending billions to replace the Central Artery with tunnels. ­Cranston (Chan) Rogers ’50 served as a project manager for both projects during his almost half-century career as a civil engineer.

As the Central Artery sliced through downtown, public protests arose against so much destruction for such an eyesore. Commissioner of Public Works John Volpe and Rogers, a contractor, hit on the idea of putting the segment that Rogers was managing by South Station underground. Although the price of a tunnel, which Rogers estimated at $18 million, was about twice that of an elevated road, his plan won approval. This section was the only part of the national highway system to be put underground—and was the widest vehicular tunnel in the world when it was built.

The $15 billion Big Dig project replaced the elevated highway with tunnels topped by parks. Rogers proposed adopting a new European method called tunnel jacking to widen the tricky segment under South Station without rerouting its 14 active passenger loading platforms or its complex network of tracks. “I managed the whole team jacking the tunnels,” recalls Rogers, who enjoyed the work immensely.

Rogers says his structural engineering work under Professor John Wilbur ’26, SM ’28, ScD ’33, was key preparation for his career. In recognition of his work, he was named a Distinguished Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

After Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Rogers came out of retirement at age 80 and joined Lou Capozzoli PhD ’50, in New Orleans to help residents and the Army Corps of Engineers dispose of the tremendous amount of storm-generated debris.

More recently, Rogers has accompanied author Suzie Davidson as she lectures about her book I Refused to Die: Stories of Boston-Area Holocaust Survivors and Soldiers Who Liberated the Concentration Camps of World War II. Rogers was a 20-year-old sergeant when his unit freed the Dachau concentration camp in Germany, and he has spoken about his experiences to many groups.

Rogers and his wife, Francine, are the parents of eight and grandparents of five. A longtime U.S. Army reservist, he retired as a colonel. He is currently president of the 103rd Infantry Division World War II Association.

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

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When Reshma Shetty PhD ’08 came to MIT in 2002 to pursue a doctorate in applied biology, she was unsure of her path after completing her studies. That quickly changed when she began working with then-professor Tom Knight ’69, SM ’79, PhD ’83. Knight was researching a new field, synthetic biology, which combined engineering expertise with biology. “I fell in love with the idea,” Shetty remembers.

Shetty and Knight focused on understanding, reverse engineering, and rebuilding simple organisms using genetic engineering techniques. As she became immersed in the synthetic biology, Shetty began thinking of starting a company based on what she learned, a common path for many researchers. “Most times at MIT you start with a particular technology in your lab and then you spin it out and start your own company,” she says.

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Shetty along with the Ginkgo Bioworks cofounders.

Only Shetty wasn’t sure what that technology would be, so instead of focusing on the tech, she decided her company would focus on the mission. The mission? To make biology easier. Shetty
launched Ginkgo Bioworks in 2008 along with Austin Che SM ’04, PhD ’08; Jason Kelly ’03, PhD ’08; and Barry Canton PhD ’08.

Today, Ginkgo Bioworks uses the technology Shetty learned from synthetic biology and Knight—who later signed on as a cofounder—to build custom organisms that create sweeteners, certain flavors, and scents used by manufacturers. “We realized there was a lot of demand for cultured ingredients, so we began focusing on that,” she says.

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The foundry at Ginkgo Bioworks.

Companies interested in cultured ingredients from custom organisms come to Ginkgo Bioworks with a request, like adjusting the flavor of a specific sweetener. Ginkgo Bioworks then builds a genetic sequence to reflect that change and stitches together DNA fragments to create the new flavor. This almost-finished product is then transferred to yeast, where it will be cultured, and sent off to the buyer. The yeast continues to create the new, custom sweetener much like yeast converts sugar into alcohol to make beer. Shetty says large companies around the globe are using these cultured ingredients.

But as Ginkgo Bioworks catalog of custom organisms grows, so does public interest in what is in products and their origin. How does Shetty deal with her modified product in a world sometimes leery of GMOs? Easily, she says. “We try to be very transparent about what we’re doing and demonstrate that we’re passionate about biology,” she says. “We’re not trying to hide the fact that we’re changing biology, we’re front and center.”

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A white peacock butterfly, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic (© Gary Blau).

A white peacock butterfly, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic (© Gary Blau).

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

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In India, roughly 45 percent of the population is currently drinking untreated, salty water from bore wells. In the rural village of Mhasawad, many residents regularly drink water with salinity levels of 1,200 ppm (parts per million), double the levels recommended by the World Health Organization. Water at such high salinity levels can cause countless health problems including kidney stones and digestive problems. But for many villagers, purchasing clean, desalinated water comes at too high a price tag—costing upwards of 30 percent of a monthly salary.

Credit: John Friedah

Credit: John Friedah

Over the past several years, MIT Professor Amos Winter SM ’05, PhD ’11 and Natasha Wright SM ’13 have traveled to several rural Indian villages to meet with farmers and villagers to better understand the problem. Back at MIT, they are developing a cost-effective solar-powered desalination system to provide a safe and affordable source of drinking water. Join them for a live Reddit AskScience AMA on Wednesday, July 20 from 4-5 p.m. EDT to learn more about their work operating as engineers, product designers, ethnographers, social scientists, and machine designers to build a lasting solution. Visit this page to start posting your questions before today’s AMA: redd.it/4trgnz

 

About the Speakers:
Amos Winter is an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at MIT. He also serves as the director of the Global Engineering and Research (GEAR) Lab, which focuses on the marriage of mechanical design theory and user-centered product design to create simple, elegant technological solutions for use in highly constrained environments.

Natasha Wright is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, and a Fellow in the Tata Center for Technology and Design. Her current work focuses on using electrodialysis technology, powered by photovoltaics, to provide clean drinking water in off-grid settings.

How do I participate in the Reddit AskScience AMA?
In order to ask questions or vote on questions you would like answered, you will need to log in to Reddit or set up an account. Then follow these four easy steps:

1. Click on the “Clean Water AMA” listing at 4:00 p.m. EDT. NOTE: While the session will formally start at 4 p.m., you can start asking questions now.

2. Read what your fellow Redditers are asking. Like a question or want to ask your own? Click on the upvoting arrow to the left of the question. Questions with the most upvotes rise to the top of the page and are most likely to be answered.

3. Don’t see your question asked? Ask your own! Click on the “Ask a Question” blue box on the right side of the page. Type your question, and click save. It will automatically appear in the thread and the community can upvote the question if they like it.

4. What do I ask? Anything at all. Check out the text of Winter and Wright’s bios above for more information on their backgrounds and to get you thinking about good questions to ask.

This AskScience Reddit AMA is produced in association with the MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering. Learn more about how MIT is working to make a better world at betterworld.mit.edu, and share your stories with #MITBetterWorld.

 

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Each Open Style Lab team includes a designer, engineer, occupational therapist, and a client with an adaptive clothing need.

Each Open Style Lab team includes a designer, engineer, occupational therapist, and a client with an adaptive clothing need.

When Grace Teo PhD ’14 was working on her PhD in health, science, and technology, she had the opportunity to work in a hospital for three months. “At the hospital, I asked patients what they missed most about being healthy. A patient with multiple sclerosis told me it was independence.” The patient was sitting in an electric scooter, so mobility was not the problem. It was getting dressed. “It took her a whole hour to get dressed that morning.”

Teo decided to work on the problem of developing attractive, easy-to-don clothing for people with disabilities. She co-founded Open Style Lab (OSL), which has developed several adaptive clothing products now in use and conducts summer workshops at MIT, to put together teams with the right skills.

“Getting dressed is so intimate,” says Teo, OSL’s executive director. “I wanted to get the right people—fashion designers for aesthetics, engineers because we need that functional science set, and occupational therapists because they work with people with disabilities to carry out simple tasks and regain their independence.”

Ideas turn into prototypes that are tested and refined through the summer program.

Ideas turn into prototypes that are tested and refined through the summer program. Photos: OSL.

The fourth member of every team is the client, a person with specific clothing challenges who participates in several ways. “They will be educating the students,” she says. “They have to have the heart to teach.”

The first two weeks of each summer workshop, which is conducted on 10 Saturdays at the MIT International Design Center, is spent getting to know the clients, their needs, and their preferences. Since much existing adaptive clothing was created for geriatric clients, the client’s sense of style counts. Open Style Lab products are meant to look good and function well. The clients brainstorm solutions with the team and return for fittings and testings of three prototypes.

This summer, one of the program’s four clients is James Wice, the director of disability services at Wellesley College. His team is working on clothing with built-in temperature regulation; because he is paralyzed from the neck down, he can’t roll up his sleeves or easily add clothing layers. He wanted an all seasons jacket that would allow him to adjust temperatures up or down. The team is working on solutions including laser-cut ventilation patterns, heating and cooling technologies in the fabric, and different ways of folding sleeve fabric that would make it easier for him to control how much skin is exposed.

A recent Wall Street Journal article included OSL’s Rayn Jacket, designed to keep a wheel chair user’s lap dry in the rain, among new, fashionable choices. Other products, such as Neoclosure magnetic seams that provide easy ways to secure clothing, are described in an MIT News article.

For the future, Teo plans to continue working with Polartec and other innovative fabric manufacturers and she is now in talks with major clothing makers about creating adaptive versions of popular clothing items. She is also working with other academic institutions to help them found similar programs.

The real turning point, she says, will be when major designers and clothing makers make adaptive wear a part of initial design considerations. “Creating clothing that goes beyond the normative body type, but addresses the spectrum of body types,” Teo says, “that is the most sustainable way to create clothing for everyone.”

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Members of the MIT Pokemon League search for Pokemon in Stata.

Members of the MIT Pokemon League search for Pokemon in Stata.

In case you were on the Moon last week and missed it—Pokémon is back. The recently launched Pokémon Go, a GPS-based mobile app released by The Pokémon Company and Niantic on July 6 (in the US), has swept the nation with tens of millions of downloads and, with upcoming launches throughout Europe and Asia, it is set to become a global phenomenon.

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Lucy Yang (left) and two MIT Pokemon League officers recruit future students at CPW.

One MIT cohort has been particularly excited to see the Pokémon characters hiding all around campus: the MIT Pokémon League. In spring 2014, the club was started by Lucy Yang ’17, an avid Pokémon fan who got hooked after playing Pokémon Ruby as a child. When Yang arrived at MIT, she quickly found other Pokémon fans and, since there was no existing club, decided to start one.

“It’s a really rewarding game,” says Yang. “I like animals and I’m studying bioengineering now so I feel like it was also part of my academic interest as well.”

Pokémon, which first started in 1996, has seven generations of video games, an animated TV series, and a trading card game. The MIT Pokémon League is pretty niche as it is made up of followers both of the video game and the trading card game. Their meetings usually involve trading cards, participating in or watching others free-play, or playing games on their Pokémon Showdown server, an online battle simulator.

Yang describes the concept of the original game as a separate universe where you work alongside the Pokémon. “The animal-like creatures, called Pokémon, have special abilities and amazing powers…you’re supposed to befriend them, train with them, battle with them, trade them. In contrast, Pokémon Go is focused mainly on capturing Pokémon and then capturing locations, called Gyms, so there isn’t a personal connection to your Pokémon.”

Although some avid Pokémon devotees are mixed on the new version of the game, Yang is a big fan. “I’m enjoying it particularly ’cause everyone is playing Pokémon again,” says Yang. “Even if it’s not the original Pokémon game, everyone is enjoying the characters, which is pretty nice.”

Those hundreds of characters, says Yang, have made it such a huge success. “If you did this with a game like Mario, it just wouldn’t be a hit because there wouldn’t be enough characters.”

Yang is not just the club president of the MIT Pokémon League, she is an official Pokémon professor and league leader, a position that involved annual exams and required tournament staffing. It also gets her and the club the benefit of Pokémon prizes, promotional cards found only at Pokémon League events, and other paraphernalia.

The MIT Pokémon League meets every Thursday, 7:00-10:00 p.m., in MIT’s Student Center W20 in rooms 301 and 302, and the gatherings are open to the public. Alumni are encouraged to attend.

Yep, Pokemon are all over MIT, too. #aroundMIT #pokemon #pokemongo #statacenter

A photo posted by MIT Alumni (@mitalumni) on

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