Guest Post by Sarah Jensen from the Ask an Engineer series, published by MIT’s School of Engineering

Photo: Reggie35

Photo: Reggie35

Since the time of Aristotle, researchers and amateur scientists alike have batted about the counter-intuitive theory that hot water freezes faster than cold. The notion even has a name: the Mpemba effect, named for a Tanzanian schoolboy who in 1963 noticed that the ice cream he and his classmates made from warm milk froze quicker than that made from cool milk.

“No matter what the initial temperature of water is, it must be brought to the freezing point before it will change state and become ice,” says Prakash Govindan, most recently a postdoctoral associate in MIT’s Mechanical Engineering Department. It will actually take more time and energy to freeze hot water because it must be brought down further in temperature until it reaches the freezing point, about 0°C.

Govindan suggests conducting a simple experiment to demonstrate that hot and cold water will behave as logic predicts. “Fill two identical containers with hot and cold tap water from the kitchen sink and see which freezes first,” he says. Interestingly, he points out, the rates of change in this experiment will not be the same. “When you set them in the freezer, the freezer will work harder to bring the temperature of the hot water down, so initially the rate of heat transfer will be faster in the hot water.” However, the other container will be cooling at the same time (if not at quite the same rate).

When the temperature of the water in each container reaches just about 0°C it will undergo the same changes as it moves from a liquid to a solid, and it will take the same amount of time to begin forming tiny ice crystals. At that point, each mixture of liquid and ice will be at a uniform temperature, and as more heat is taken from the mixtures, the thermodynamic principle of latent heat kicks in: The water continues to convert to a solid state, but no longer changes in temperature. “As long as you have a mixture of liquid water and solid ice, the temperature will remain at 0 until all the water is frozen,” says Govindan.

It’s never been convincingly proven than hot water and cold water behave differently from each other at any step of the freezing process, despite the ongoing fascination with the Mpemba effect. In early 2013, Europe’s Royal Society of Chemistry even held a competition for the best explanation of the theory. The winner speculated that hot water indeed freezes more quickly if the cold water is first supercooled. But logic triumphs when it comes the plain ordinary water that comes from the household faucet. Most likely to impact the freezing point of water is the presence of impurities such as salt, dissolved solids, and gases—and the ingredients of homemade ice cream. 

Thanks to Khubaib Mukhtar of Pakistan for this question. Visit the MIT School of Engineering’s Ask an Engineer site for answers to more of your questions.

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Adding the word fortis to the MIT motto, 40 runners of the MIT Strong team employed mind, hand, and strength on April 21 in the 118th running of the Boston Marathon. In doing so, the 40 runners raised over $150,000 for the Sean A. Collier Memorial Fund.

On the 26.2-mile route from Hopkinton to Boston, the runners, ten of whom are alumni, had plenty of inspiration.

Along the course were seven cheering stations operated by volunteer alumni and friends of MIT. On the streets of Boston one could hear chants of “MIT Strong” as resoundingly as “Boston Strong.” And from the field of over 36,000 runners, the team earned plenty of encouragement along the way.

Dava Newman '89, SM '89, PhD '92. Photo: Dave Conlon.

Professor Dava Newman ’89, SM ’89, PhD ’92. Photo: Dave Conlon. More photos.

It paid off for Maddie Hickman ’11, who earned her finisher medal after five and one-half hours of running.

“The marathon was incredible, one of the best experiences ever,” Hickman said. “The energy along the entire route was amazing, the run was wonderful, and seeing friends throughout was awesome! Thank you so much to the MIT Strong team—to the organizers for making this happen, and to all of you for being such a great community! And special thanks to [teammate] Rachel DeLucas, who told me in January that I could totally run the marathon despite never having run more than a mile before. I never would have done this otherwise.”

Brian Mulcahey ’86 overcame injury, dehydration, and a scary post-race trip to the medical tent. “If ever I experienced an example of mind over body, this race was it,” he said. “By all accounts, I probably should have dropped out by mile 20. However, this was not a year to do that—after last year’s tragedy, the crowd support, the MIT Strong cause, and my 800 miles of training. My mind wouldn’t let my body quit.”

Maggie Lloyd ’12 added: “Those red MIT Strong signs were my motivation throughout the course. They were a constant reminder of why we started this race and why we would finish it strong!” When she picked up her phone at day’s end, Lloyd had messages “from a whole variety of friends–people I’ve known since I was little and people I just met in the past few months were so kind to think of me on this day. I am honored to have made them proud, and to have worn the MIT Strong singlet that day.”

Since the attacks in Boston last year, the MIT Strong team found inspiration in the healing spirit on campus, in their colleagues and fellow students, and from each other in training. At a community rally for the team on Friday afternoon, Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart spoke to the team’s dedication through one of the harshest winters in recent memory.

“They were undaunted by the cold, the ice, the slush, and snow, and the uncleared sidewalks,” said Barnhart. “They ran on, knowing that much greater sacrifices had been made and knowing that all of you were right behind them. They sacrificed a great deal to get here today and they did it to run for us, so that we can show the world that we are still strong, we are a team, and we will keep doing the things that define us as a community.”

Dan Oliver '60 and the team at Friday's rally.

Dan Oliver ’60 and the team at Friday’s rally.

Hickman, who befriended Sean Collier during MIT Outing Club adventures, presented Barnhart with an honorary team singlet at the picnic. Dan Oliver ’60 concluded the rally with a presentation of a poster he had prepared. ”The marathon is not 26.2 miles long,” said Oliver, “it’s 24.8 kilosmoots.”

On Saturday evening, the MIT Alumni Association honored the team and family members at a pre-race dinner at Walker Memorial. On Monday, the team powered through rising temperatures and a crowded field, wending its way through eight cities and towns and over a million spectators. Whether it took them three hours or six hours to finish, the team’s runners made their way to Boylston St. and to a post-race reception at Ashdown House on Monday evening.

The ten alumni runners on MIT Strong were Maggie Lloyd ’12, Mike Gerhardt ’12, Gordon Wintrob ’12, Brian Mulcahey ’86, Dava Newman ’89, SM ’89, PhD ’92, Alex Slocum ’82, SM ’83, PhD ’85, Maddie Hickman ’11, Jeremy Rishel ’94, Stephen Shum ’11, and Dan Oliver ’60.

Before the rally on Friday, the MIT community hosted a ceremony of remembrance marking the one-year anniversary of the death of  Officer Collier. At the ceremony, Professor J. Meejin Yoon unveiled plans for a permanent memorial honoring Collier.

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Alexandria Lawn of Ra Ra Riot, Sasquatch Music Festival, The Gorge, WA (© Paige Parsons).

Alexandria Lawn of Ra Ra Riot, Sasquatch Music Festival, The Gorge, WA (© Paige Parsons).

Paige Parsons is a photographer in San Francisco. View more work on her website. View other alumni photos of the week.

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Fred Kaneb ’43 has been a soldier, petroleum trader, fiberglass manufacturer, and Pepsi distributor.  But for the past 40 years in Cornwall, Ontario, Kaneb has been a farmer too.

Fred Kaneb '43.

Fred Kaneb ’43.

Managing an orchard of nearly 900 apple and pear trees that he bought in the 1970s on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, Kaneb is an engineer of the land. Reached by phone this week, Kaneb spoke warily of the half-foot of April snow the farm received right in the midst of pruning season. At 94 years old, though, nothing fazes him. Kaneb shoveled out then returned to the orchard to prune, a rite of spring he hasn’t missed in four decades.

“I work away at it, six days a week,” says Kaneb. “It takes five or six weeks to get everything pruned.”

Kaneb grows MacIntosh, Honey Crisp, Cortland, Russet, and Empire apples, and Flemish Beauty, Bartlett, and Anjou pears. Some varieties came with the farm when he bought it. Others, like the Honey Crisp and Empire, he introduced himself.

Kaneb says that while he used to sell his produce and make part of his living off the land, “times have changed, the people have changed, and how we eat has changed.” No matter. Kaneb has plenty of willing consumers in church groups, food banks, and schools. “Even then, we still have some left over,” he says.

Though Kaneb is known well in town for his bountiful crops and generosity, he is also somewhat of a legend. After graduating from MIT, Kaneb entered the Naval Reserve and was put to work applying his engineering talent in Pensacola, FL, home of the Navy’s flight school. Kaneb designed the Dilbert Dunker, a detached cockpit from an old plane that plunged frightened, aspiring pilots deep into a swimming pool upside down to train them for escaping crashes at sea.

Fred Kaneb's Dilbert Dunker. About 8,000 pilots trained in them over the years.

The Dilbert Dunker made Kaneb famous in the ’40s—about 8,000 pilots trained on them. Today, Kaneb works on engineering his orchards.

Kaneb designed four Dilbert Dunkers in all, one of which went on display last fall at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola. The museum honored Kaneb for his contribution in 2009, when he donated his papers to it and was reunited with his invention of seven decades prior.

“The Army colonel said somebody has got to teach them what it is like to be drowning,” Kaneb recalled at the time. “It took us between six months to a year to design and build it.”

“If you think of all the people who have gone through [the Dilbert Dunker], all the astronauts, the people who went to the moon…they all had to go through Pensacola, through this one,” said the Navy captain overseeing the visit.

Kaneb is most at home on his farm, though, where his four children, seven grandchildren, and five great grandchildren visit often. In the winter, Kaneb snowshoes across the acreage, surveying the deer tracks, taking stock of the pond he designed, the rows of fruit trees he planted, the fire pit where he burns trees blighted with disease, and the irrigation system he built to water them. “We do everything ourselves,” says Kaneb, “and everything is pretty good.”

Though he missed his 70th reunion, Kaneb says he’ll be at his 75th. And he occasionally gets a call from his classmate, Israel Lenzner ’43, who lives in Florida. Few alumni can chat about the old days at MIT as they do.

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Guest Blogger: Nicole Taylor, Continuum

In the hunt for signs of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370—which disappeared on March 8 after deviating for unknown reasons from its scheduled flight path—all eyes turn to a company that got its start at MIT.

The Bluefin-21 autonomous underwater vehicle (pictured) will help search for missing flight MH370. Photo: Bluefin Robotics

The Bluefin-21 autonomous underwater vehicle (pictured) is searching for missing flight MH370. Photo: Bluefin Robotics

Bluefin Robotics, founded in 1997 by a core group of engineers from the MIT Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Lab, is the maker of the Bluefin-21 autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV). The US Navy, which has used a version of the unmanned submersible to locate landmines, has kept it standing by for weeks while larger vessels worked to narrow down the plane’s resting place off the coast of Australia. On Monday, April 14, the Bluefin’s operators finally got the go-ahead to send it into the depths. Although the first try ended without success, searchers sent Bluefin-21 back out several times later in the week.

The long, skinny AUV (more than 16 feet long and only 21 inches in diameter) can run for up to 25 hours at a time. Moving at three knots, however, it’s no speedier than the average pedestrian, which is why narrowing the field of search has been so crucial to its use—and why its explorations could take six to eight weeks. More challenging still is the enormity of the unknown environment into which the robot will descend. Last week, Commodore Peter Leavy of the Royal Australian Navy remarked to reporters, “It has been said that we know more about the surface of the moon than our own seabed.”

Why deploy the Bluefin-21 now? The black box of an aircraft has enough power to emit pings for approximately 30 days. At day 38, with the last of four pings detected nearly a week ago, searchers are assuming those signals have ceased for good. The only other new clue to help the Bluefin’s team zero in on the wreckage is an oil slick discovered yesterday.

Once the Bluefin-21 gets into the water, it will take roughly two hours to descend about 2.5 miles, at which point its sensors will begin imaging the ocean floor with sonar. If it can find any signs of a crash—or, better yet, the voice recorder that captured the last sounds from the cockpit—the world may at last learn what befell the 239 people whose flight never got to its destination.

And the work continues: in the spirit of Harold “Doc” Edgerton, Boston-area teenagers will design and build an AUV at MIT this summer.

 

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Pins passed out at Nerd Nite. Photo: Mary Lewey

Pins passed out at Nerd Nite. Photo: Mary Lewey

Can robots learn to bake cookies? Can ceramic filters make water drinkable in the developing world? MIT alumni Mario Bollini ’09, SM ’12 and Amelia Servi ’10, SM ‘13 shared insights on these topics at recent Nerd Nites, a popular event that showcases new research from MIT and other area universities.

The bonus? You can drink beer while you learn.

Over the past 10 years, Nerd Nite has grown from one grad student presenting evolutionary biology research at a Boston pub to monthly events in 80 cities around the world. There are Nerd Nites in Milan, Liberia, Detroit, Amsterdam, and Auckland. And if it’s not in your city, you can start one.

Typical Nites include a mix of hard science talks like membrane desalinization, social science presentations, such as the history of cycling in New England, and the (fake) history of Godzilla monsters.

Adrian Ward speaks at a special Nerd Nite held at the Oberon Theater on how the Internet is reshaping our lives. Photo: Mary Lewey

Adrian Ward speaks at a special Nerd Nite held at the Oberon Theater on the impact of the Internet. Photo: Mary Lewey

“People have always been interested in science, technology, and the humanities,” explained Boston Nerd Nite co-organizer Tim Sullivan. “They’ve also always been interested in bars and beer. Nerd Nite just puts those two things together.”

Boston’s Nerd Nite is held monthly at Middlesex Bar, located a stone’s throw away from MIT campus. The event usually attracts upwards of 200 people, many affiliated with MIT. “It’s a format that lends itself to the MIT community really well,” said Mary Lewey, Boston Nerd Nite co-organizer. “The intention is to learn from people rather than judge or criticize,” said Lewey.

Amelia Servi presents at Nerd Nite Boston. Photo: Mary Lewey

Amelia Servi presents at Nerd Nite Boston.
Photo: Mary Lewey

MIT alumni are frequent speakers both in Boston and Nites worldwide. “Presentations to people outside of my field, like my recent one at Nerd Nite, make me take a step back to look at my motivation for the work and all of the foundational work that went before mine,” said Amelia Servi ’10, SM ’13, who first attended a similar event in Phnom Penh. “I felt like people were interested and learned something, which is a very satisfying feeling as a speaker.”

In Boston, Maxim Lobovsky SM ’11, co-founder of Formlabs, walked Nerd Niters through his company’s process of inventing one of the first affordable 3D printers.

At a New York City Nerd Nite, Hesky Fisher ’02 talked about developing Plover, an open source stenography application.

And in Seattle, Liang Sim SM ’06 made the unlikely connection between salsa dancing and theories of engineering and management consulting. Any good salsa dancing presentation includes actual dancing, and Sim did not disappoint, dancing with wife, Eliza.

Does the popularity of this Boston-born event demonstrate an upsurge in nerd pride? Perhaps, but Sullivan argues that Boston has always been a hotbed for nerds. “If you are passionate about a topic and you take the time to learn more about it, you are a nerd,” explains Sullivan. “You are a geek.”

But there’s a difference between a geek and a nerd. You guessed it—that was a topic at a Nerd Nite event too.

Find the Nerd Nite in your area, present, or start your own. 

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Collier_1

The temporary memorial to MIT Police Officer Sean Collier HM. Photo by Joe McGonegal.

MIT will mark the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings and the death of MIT Police Officer Sean Collier HM in a ceremony of remembrance on Friday, April 18—one year to the day that Collier was killed in active duty by the alleged marathon bombing suspects.

The one-hour ceremony will take place at 9:30 a.m. at MIT’s North Court and is open to the Institute community. The ceremony will include remarks from Senator Elizabeth Warren, Cambridge Mayor David Maher, MIT Executive Vice President and Treasurer Israel Ruiz, members of the MIT Police Department, graduate student Sara E. Ferry, and Associate Professor J. Meejin Yoon, who is designing a permanent memorial to Collier and will share a rendering of the memorial following the ceremony.

The ceremony will also include a singing of the national anthem by Cambridge Police Lt. Pauline Wells, a performance from Professor John Harbison and the MIT Vocal Jazz Ensemble, and a benediction from MIT chaplain Robert M. Randolph.

At 1 p.m. on April 18, Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart will host an MIT community picnic on the North Court that will cheer on the MIT Strong marathon team, the group of faculty, staff, and alumni who are running the 2014 Boston Marathon to raise funds for the Sean A. Collier Memorial Fund.

According to the Boston Globe, the Collier Fund—which has already raised more than $500,000 from nearly 2,000 individuals—will be used for annual scholarships at MIT and the Massachusetts Police Academy, a memorial medal fund that honor’s Collier’s legacy, and the Yoon-designed permanent memorial at the corner of Vassar St. and Main St. on MIT campus.

Collier_2

Photo by Joe McGonegal

A year later, MIT keeps Sean Collier’s memory alive,” Boston Globe:

“He touched so many lives around campus; people knew him directly or indirectly,” said Kris Brewer, the webmaster for MIT’s School of Engineering, who met Collier when he joined MIT’s Outing Club, a group of outdoor enthusiasts. “He was a bit of a techno geek, too. . . . He fit into [MIT’s] technology culture. He was working on websites.”

The April 18 ceremony and picnic crowns a year-long remembrance Collier’s of legacy at MIT.

On June 8, 2013, Collier was posthumously inducted as a member of the MIT Alumni Association at MIT’s Technology Day.

On Oct. 18—exactly six months to the day of Collier’s death—MIT Police and the Department Facilities unveiled a temporary memorial, made from a piece of the Great Dome, bearing an MIT police badge and Collier’s badge number, 179, at the corner of Main St. and Vassar St.

And earlier this year, a group of MIT alumni, students, faculty, and staff formed MIT Strong, a 40-person contingent that has raised more than $142,000 in support of the Collier Fund. According to its website, MIT Strong was formed to honor the life, sacrifice, and legacy of Collier; celebrate the spirit and strength of the MIT community; and to offer a visible MIT presence at the 2014 marathon.

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You may have seen Pantheon, the newest creation out of MIT Media Lab’s Macro Connection group, in the news lately. With the ability to rank globally famous people—Aristotle currently sits at number one—the platform has garnered a lot of attention. These rankings, however, are just one part of Pantheon.

A concept developed by Macro Connection’s Principal Investigator, César A. Hidalgo, which builds off his previous work with the Observatory of Economic Complexity and DataViva, Pantheon aims to map and visualize historical cultural production. Think of cultural production as contributions to our global culture, like Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone or Stephen King’s multitude of novels.

“The major insight at the project’s start was that a lot of things can count as culture, say Starbucks or blue jeans. Those things we can’t really measure, but we can measure Harry Potter as proxied by JK Rowling,” explains graduate student Kevin Hu ’13, who works with the Macro Connections group.

Consequently, cultural productions are represented in Pantheon’s database by the biographies of globally notable characters who have broken the boundaries of space, time, and language.

Pantheon then ranks, sorts, and visualizes the data of the 11,340 biographies sourced from Wikipedia that meet this criteria. For the language criteria, a biography must appear in Wikipedia in more than 25 different languages to be included in Pantheon’s database. Pantheon’s space criteria relates to how far a notable figure’s influence has reached around the world. Lastly, time helps to weed out cultural one-hit wonders that may seem huge in a specific year, but lose their cultural relevance beyond that.

With this information, Pantheon can then provide visitors myriad visualizations. It can showcase the cultural output of a country based on profession—the US is tops for actors. Or rank the most famous gymnasts of all time—Věra Čáslavská of the Czech Republic claims the number one spot.

Beyond the compelling visualizations, Hu says that the ultimate goal of Pantheon is to give everyone the chance to discover and draw conclusions from data it provides: “Anyone with a web browser and internet connection can learn the stories contained in our data.”

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Plum Island, MA (© Rowland Williams).

Rowland Williams ’72 is a photographer living in Amesbury, MA. View more photos on his website. View more alumni photos of the week.

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Christie Barany SM '00 makes her pitch on Shark Tank.

Christie Barany SM ’00 makes her pitch on Shark Tank. Screenshot via abc.com.

Imagine pitching your two-year-old startup to a panel of multi-millionaire entrepreneurs. Now imagine those potential investors dissecting your company’s potential—while nearly seven million people watch on television.

That scenario occurred for Christie Barany SM ’00 on April 5 when she promoted her company, Monkey Mat, on Shark Tank, a reality series that features business pitches from entrepreneurs to a panel of investors, or “sharks.”

“It was surreal,” says Barany. “The cameras start rolling and the sharks know nothing about you—then the questions start flying.”

Barany and business partner Courtney Tabor—the self-titled “Monkey Mat Mamas”—were seeking $100,000 in exchange for 30 percent stake in Monkey Mat, which sells 5’ x 5’ water-repellant mats that can be folded into a compact pouch. The company’s target audience is parents seeking a portable, clean surface that could be used at airports, picnics, and soccer games.

After their pitch, Barany and Tabor fielded questions—and criticism—from five sharks. One investor strongly disapproved of the mats’ then-price of $39.99 (“It needs to be $9.99!”) and another was unimpressed with their size and color. (“It’s too small…and the colors are off.”)

“Obviously you want every shark to be interested,” Barany says. “But the great thing is that it happens so fast, you don’t have any time to take it personally.”

The "Monkey Mat Mamas" inside the Shark Tank.

The “Monkey Mat Mamas” inside the Shark Tank.

Others were more receptive; shark Mark Cuban said he loved the product and shark Lori Greiner believed she could lower the sale price. Cuban and Greiner made an offer: $100,000 for a 35 percent stake in the company.

The Monkey Mat Mamas quickly accepted the handshake deal. (Watch the April 5 Shark Tank episode.)

“We were thrilled,” she says. “It was validation because we weren’t willing to compromise the quality to lower the price.”

Although the episode aired on April 5, filming took place in July 2013 following a months-long application process. Pitches are condensed into a 10-minute segment for TV, but in reality, many pitches can take more than an hour.

“We’ve tried to recreate the pitch so many times,” she says. “The dialogue went in so many different directions. They definitely focused on the price point during the show.”

In the nine-month period between the actual pitch and the show’s airing, Barany and Tabor have worked with closely with Cuban and Greiner to grow the product. Thanks in part to the sharks’ experience in manufacturing and retail, Monkey Mat was able to lower its price to $19.99.

“We’re amazed at how accessible they are,” she says. “They have so much on their plate but they are always available. They’re helping us expand the company with a lower cost and new price in a broader market.”

Barany co-founded Monkey Mat in 2012 after a career in the medical device and biotechnology industry. She says reaction from the Shark Tank appearance was instantaneous and overwhelming.

“Building this company is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done,” she says. “The response has been great, and because of DVR, it’s still coming. But the challenges that come with an MIT education—pushing boundaries and working through the night—has really prepared me.”

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