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Pictured (clockwise): Olivetti, Gabrieli, Willcox, and Fernandez.

Can our brains show us when we’re ready to learn? That’s the question that professor John Gabrieli ’87 posed to the audience at the Tech Day program in June as he joined members of the MIT faculty to talk about problems in education and the environment that are being addressed here in Cambridge and around the globe.

In this Slice of MIT podcast, hear audio from a few talks given by alumni faculty at Tech Day, which focused on two of the themes from the MIT Campaign for a Better World, a $5 billion comprehensive fundraising initiative that launched in May. The first is teaching learning and living, and the second, the health of the planet.

 

Teaching, Learning, and Living

willcox2The first speaker to address education was AeroAstro Professor Karen Willcox ’96, PhD ’00, an innovator in the field. She is a professor of aeronautics and astronautics and co-director of MIT’s Center for Computational Engineering and the US Department of Energy’s Diamond Center. One of her projects, named for the fly-by-wire system in an aircraft, draws on her field of aerospace engineering. The system uses real-time feedback between the student and the teacher, through the fly-by-wire app, to modify assessments and assignments that adjust to the students’ needs and skill level—similar to the way the system is used on an airplane.

“It’s a really great example of humans and digit technologies working seamlessly together to achieve in an engineering system, things that we could never do with a human alone,” says Willcox.

Gabrieli4Professor John Gabrieli ’87 uses his understanding of the brain to figure out how learning works. From his research, he has shown that observing brain activity can inform ideal times for learning, therefore offering opportunity for optimization. “We know now with some scientific evidence that there’s a signal in your brain when you’re ready to learn and when you’re not ready to learn,” says Gabrieli.

Health of the Planet

Professor John Fernández ’85 is director of the Urban Metabolism Group, where he is establishing an understanding of the resource intensity of urbanization. He is also the director of MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative and co-director of the International Design Center. His Tech Day talk focused on the drastic rise in urban development and its impact on the use of resources and energy throughout the world.

“More than half of the people on Earth now live in cities…and that’s going to continue to increase to about 65 possibly 70 percent in the next 30 years or so,” says Fernández, whose group is working to find sustainable solutions. “Just like you hear there is no single energy technology that will solve our climate problem, there is no single kind of city or single kind of production and consumption system that will solve our environmental issues.”

For Professor Elsa Olivetti PhD ’07, making the world a better place starts with a better understanding of the ordinary materials that are used and thrown out daily. Olivetti is the Thomas Lord Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and holds a PhD from MIT in materials science.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, Olivetti says, in 2013 the average person in the US threw out around four pounds of trash per day. She then points out that, that when you consider all of the materials required in daily life, which includes everything from driving our cars to the manufacturing for the products we use, Olivetti says it’s “180 pounds per person, per day; 40 times what we throw out a day is required to support the way we live.”

Learn more: listen to the podcast above or on the Alumni Association’s SoundCloud page. And don’t forget to subscribe on iTunes to rate the podcast and leave a review. Tweet your thoughts on this episode to @mit_alumni.

This podcast was produced in association with the MIT Campaign for a Better WorldLearn more about how MIT is working to make a better world, and share your stories with #MITBetterWorld.

View all of the presentations from Tech Day below.

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You can download free EverDrive iPhone and Android apps to check your driving, engage friends, and compare your driving to your town or state.

You can download the free EverDrive iPhone or  Android app to assess your driving.

Who are better drivers? A competition conducted in June between Massachusetts and New York drivers has a data-based answer, but first you need to know that drivers from both states score among the lowest in the nation in safety (among the bottom 15). That said, Massachusetts drivers beat New Yorkers by 2 percent!

The EverDrive Safe Driving Challenge, which was based on mobile sensing technology developed by MIT faculty, enlisted tens of thousands of drivers who were attracted by a way to test their driving skills, the competitive fun, and, perhaps, the cash prizes.

The contest used a new app called EverDrive, developed by Cambridge Mobile Telematics (CMT), a company founded by MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence lab (CSAIL) researchers Hari Balakrishnan and Sam Madden ’99, MEng ’99. The app, built on CMT’s DriveWell program, measures dangerous practices that increase the chances of collisions: speeding, fast acceleration, hard turning, harsh braking, and phone distractions while driving.

Risky behaviors decreased among EverDrive participants. Images: courtesy CMT

Risky behaviors decreased among EverDrive participants. Images: courtesy CMT

The results showed that people tend to change how they drive when they get objective feedback on their behaviors, Madden says. “One of the consequences of the competition is that people began to drive better.” Those reductions in all unsafe driving practices by a majority of participants can be personally satisfying, but they also can reduce insurance rates—an interest of the co-sponsoring group, Everquote, an online insurance marketplace. In addition, some $50,000 in prize money was distributed to top drivers.

Other app incentives include social games, feedback to drivers, leaderboards, badges, as well as friendly competitions between towns. Some people signed up because they want to participate with their families because, for example, they were concerned about their teenager’s driving safety. “If you are competing with your kid, you can see their score,” he says.

“So many people know someone who has been affected by a car accident and they really want to do a good job of driving safely,” says Madden. “The app really does make them think about how they drive.”

Results of the contest, which began with a nationwide sweepstakes in April and ended with a two-week skills-based competition in June, included these points:

  • Consistent EverDrive users rank as safer drivers, with phone use reduced by 37 percent during the competition.
  • Majority of users improved by approximately 30 percent over two months.
  • Best drivers hailed from in North Reading, MA, and Amherst, NY.
  • Worst drivers come from Boston and New York City.

And how does Madden’s personal driving rank on EverDrive?I ride my bike just about every day,” he says. “I do drive some on weekends and my problem is speeding. Some Massachusetts roads have very low speed limits. It’s pretty easy to speed on those roads.”

What’s next at Cambridge Mobile Telematics? Follow their blog for news and watch for projects involving video and mapping. And is it too late to test your skills? No, free iPhone and Android EverDrive apps will let you assess your driving.

Madden and Balakrishnan co-led MIT’s CarTel project. Madden, a professor of computer science at MIT, is the director of BigData@CSAIL. Balakrishnan, the Fujitsu Professor of Computer Science at MIT, is the director of Wireless@MIT.

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Henry Heines ’67

Henry Heines ’67 combined his past career in chemical engineering with his second act as a patent lawyer in a way that may help MIT inventors. His most recent book, First to File: Patents for Today’s Scientists and Engineers, explains the impact of the 2013 America Invents Act, the first major change to U.S. patent law since 1952, discussing how the changes might affect scientists in a lab, engineers in a manufacturing plant, and inventors in a garage.

Heines studied chemical engineering at MIT and earned master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Illinois. He settled in San Francisco, where he got a job as a research engineer at the Stauffer Chemical Company. “The work didn’t leave much room for using your imagination,” he recalls. So when his bosses told him that the company was having a hard time finding good patent attorneys, he was intrigued. Still working full time, Heines earned his JD from Golden Gate University School of Law and became a patent attorney within Stauffer. Seven years later, in 1981, he shifted gears and joined the law firm of ­Kilpatrick Townsend and Stockton. There, Heines says, “I got into many areas of technology that I’d never worked with at the corporation—DNA, immunodiagnostics, metallurgy, crystallography. Right away it became very exciting.”

To get up to speed, Heines dusted off some of his old MIT textbooks and took classes in molecular biology and immunology at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1987 he made partner in the law firm. In 1992 he began writing a column in the journal published by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. The columns led to his books: First to File is the third. After 31 years at the firm, he has retired but still consults and serves as an expert witness in patent infringement trials.

A pianist from the age of six, Heines accompanied the MIT Glee Club and the Gilbert & Sullivan Society. He now plays the harp in three community orchestras and writes songs in the tradition of satirist and former MIT lecturer Tom Lehrer. He and his wife, Katherine Fines, a retired accountant, have been married for 27 years; they enjoy taking trips to New York City for opera, ballet, and Broadway shows. “What’s really important to me is creativity,” Heines says. “When you are doing research in any area of technology, creativity is what drives the innovation.”

BONUS: Listen to Heines’s discuss puzzling patent cases and other patent disputes in a podcast interview on the Slice of MIT Podcast.

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

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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.

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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.

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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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