2015-08 Lightning storm 710-300

Adrian Dalca’s Boston Timescape Project features one million photos of the Boston Skyline, taken during different weather conditions and seasons.

If a picture says a thousand words, what can one million say?

Andrew Dalca PhD ’16 began taking photos of the Boston skyline when he moved to the city in 2010. Situated on the 22nd floor of his apartment building, he thought he had an optimal vantage point to capture the city’s activities.

“Boston is dynamic and these photos allow you to see that,” Dalca says. “It has many different feels to it, and it isn’t just the seasons. At the end of the summer, you can see the different patterns of how people use boats. In the winter, people still try to sail. If the river is frozen, people will ski and skate on it.”

Before moving to Boston, photography was just an interest for Dalca, as he mainly snapped pictures of nature and different landscapes. Shortly after living in Boston, he started noticing distinct and varied weather patterns. He set up a time lapse on his camera to automatically take photos every 10 seconds to track thunderstorms.

“This started out as a hobby – I didn’t know how many photos I had that captured rainbows, ice breaking on the Charles River, buildings being torn down, or fires,” Dalca says.

He eventually amassed a collection of several thousand photos, and created a data set of the city skyline – called the Boston Timescape Project – to track weather patterns.

Dalca recently completed his PhD in computer science, specializing in medical image analysis. His colleagues in MIT CSAIL approached him and asked if he would continue to expand his project, so they could use his photos for research.

“I didn’t think I would reach a million photos,” Dalca says. “Once I gathered a few hundred thousand, my friends at the computer vision lab and at some conferences asked me to release a data set so they could do some research.”

He then set up a web page to figure out how many photos he had – which was about 900,000. After reaching one million photos, he allowed his friends access to his website.

“I’m curious to see what can be done with this many photos,” Dalca says. “By taking these pictures, I was forced to explore these possibilities.”

Since this five-and-a-half-year project captured different seasons, like some mild and some frigid winters, Dalca says this collection of photos can be used to determine the temperature of the city or predict regional weather patterns.

“There are lots of things you can do with large data sets,” Dalca says.

With his PhD recently completed, Dalca plans to move to another city. Although his location may be different, he says he will embark on a similar project, with hopes of contributing his work to potential research.



Grace Han PhD ’15 conducts research on organic solar thermal fuels in a materials science and engineering lab. The Campaign for a Better World will fund a wide range of research at MIT.

Capital campaigns are important rites of passage for many nonprofits because they help sustain day-to-day activities while building for the future. MIT, which in May announced its $5 billion MIT Campaign for a Better World, aims even higher: to support a healthy future for the Institute and for the world.

At MIT, we focus on inventing the future,” says President L. Rafael Reif. “Since MIT was founded to help a young nation seize its future as an industrial powerhouse, the people of MIT have been busy solving hard problems and answering big questions, and they have left society transformed. Today, everyone at MIT is hacking societal problems. And we see humanity’s pressing global challenges as invitations to action.”

Campaign_Names_Six_PrioritiesSupport for the campaign is strong, says MIT Corporation chair Robert B. Millard ’73. “The MIT Corporation is deeply committed to a robust future for MIT. This campaign is designed to make sure that MIT continues as one of the greatest educational and research enterprises humanity has ever produced,” says Millard. “And we want MIT to be known as a force for good, an inventor of solutions to difficult problems, and a launching pad for people who work for the betterment of humankind.”

Early results are positive. In the March quarterly report detailing pre-launch giving, Resource Development reported that campaign gifts totaled $2.6 billion—more than half the goal. Campaign activities are planned for at least five years. All gifts to the Institute will be counted in the total, and bequests that meet specific criteria will also count.

All alumni have an opportunity to support this vision and make a positive impact. Participation from alumni at all levels is a significant focus—as is boosting the unrestricted contributions that allow the Institute to meet urgent needs and respond nimbly to emerging opportunities.

“Every day, MIT makes major contributions toward solving the world’s greatest challenges,” says Robert Scalea ’77, chair of the Annual Fund Board. “Through continuous innovation, the Institute is improving the quality of our lives and those of generations to come. Each of us who has benefited from MIT has a responsibility in this campaign. I encourage all alumni to make a gift every year, so that together we can ensure the Institute has the financial strength to reach new heights in education, basic science research, and transformational research—and unleash this powerful force for good.”

The announcement of the public phase of the Campaign for a Better World coincided with Moving Day events celebrating the centennial of MIT’s arrival in Cambridge. Starting this fall, MIT will take the campaign on the road with events for alumni in New York on October 20, 2016, San Francisco on November 2, 2016, and more locales worldwide.

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


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.


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!


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).



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.



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. 


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.

7.18.16_Ginkgo Team

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.

7.18.16_Ginkfo Foundry

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.”


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.


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.