In the News


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.


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.


Hugh Herr at TED

Hugh Herr SM ’93 greets Adrianne Haslet-Davis, who used a leg designed by Herr to perform for the first time since her injury in the Boston Marathon bombings, and her dance partner Christian Lightner. Photo: James Duncan Davidson/TED

Guest Blogger: Stephanie Eich, Continuum

TED celebrated its 30th anniversary this month with a weeklong conference called the Next Chapter. What began as a small gathering featuring short (≤18 minutes) talks has grown into a worldwide media phenomenon, with more than 1,600 talks available online.

In honor of its anniversary, TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) welcomed back some of its “All-Star” speakers from previous years. Kicking things off was MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte ’66, MArch ’66, whose 1984 TED talk predicted tablet computing and online shopping. Negroponte offered a new prognostication this year—that one day, we will acquire knowledge by simply ingesting a pill.

Other TED All-Stars with MIT ties:

MIT was well represented throughout the week, both onstage and off:

Using the virtual reality technology Oculus Rift, attendees had the chance to experience Eyewire, a game developed at Sebastian Seung’s lab at MIT that is crowdsourcing a map of the brain.


Biomechatronics engineer David Sengeh SM ’12 speaks at a TED Fellows Talk. Photo: Ryan Lash/TED

LittleBits creator Ayah Bdeir SM ’06 and biomechatronics engineer David Sengeh SM ’12 joined a TED Fellows Talk, billed as a session in which attendees should “expect the unexpected.”

Physics professor Allan Adams took on the fundamental nature of the universe, as well as an explanation of Big Bang discovery, illustrated by the comic strip xkcd.

Nancy Kanwisher ’80, PhD ’86, MIT’s Walter A. Rosenblith Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, compared the brain to a Swiss Army knife.

Hugh Herr SM ’93, who heads the Biomechatronics research group at the MIT Media Lab, spoke of next-generation bionic limbs—and a first dance.

Ray Kurzweil ’70 explained his theory of the hierarchy of the brain.

Rodney Brooks, MIT professor emeritus and cofounder of iRobot, predicted that in the future, humans will work alongside robots, leading to a new manufacturing model.

XPRIZE founder Peter Diamandis ’83, SM ’88, announced a new competition for future TED talks on artificial intelligence.

And cyber illusionist Marco Tempest, a director’s fellow at the MIT Media Lab, showed up with his robotic friend EDI (Electronic Deceptive Intelligence).

TED’s the Next Chapter conference offered a wide range of opinions on how society and technology will evolve in the next 30 years. We’ll find out in 2044 which predictions became reality.

Watch more talks and read news from the TED 30th anniversary event.


Whether after tsunamis in Japan and Indonesia, hurricanes like Katrina and Sandy, typhoons in the Philippines, or even during search efforts after last month’s lost Malaysian Airlines flight, waves have been the focus of many urgent conversations in the past decade. Anyone who has a home on or near a coastline is talking more these days about the simple calculus of storm surges, beach erosion, and sea level rise than ever before.

Into this discussion last fall came Waves, a new book by Fredric Raichlen SM ’55, ScD ’62, a civil engineering professor emeritus at the California Institute of Technology. aas

Raichlen’s deceptively simple book, part of MIT Press’s Essential Knowledge Series, teaches its readers all the basics about waves, then takes direct aim at this century’s most pressing concerns about them. Listen to Raichlen’s discussion of the book in this month’s Alumni Books Podcast.

Raichlen, who studied waves at MIT’s hydrodynamics lab in the 1950s (now the Parsons Lab), says the book was his way to dial back the hysteria waves cause and ground readers in their fundamentals. In Waves, one learns that:

  • A tsunami, even far out to sea, is considered a shallow-water wave.
  • The sun has as much to do with tides as the moon does.
  • A storm in Alaska can cause wave damage to shorelines in Los Angeles, over 3,000 miles away.

“I wanted to lay down some of the basics of ocean waves in a simple fashion, and in the latter part of the book talk about areas I had become involved in both in research and in engineering consulting,” says Raichlen, who taught and conducted research at Caltech for nearly 50 years before retiring in 2001.

Readers will notice that the book sticks to its premise of essential knowledge and stops shorts of editorializing on climate change. “I really wanted to avoid that,” Raichlen says in the podcast. “Climate change and sea level rise are important to our coastal regions…[but] things are really not that definite in terms of quantitative estimates of sea level rise and there’s a wide range of ideas of the magnitude and rate of sea level rise. So I wanted to talk about things more definite.”

raichlen sound

Listen to the complete podcast here. Listen to past books podcasts on optics, health care, and architecture by visiting MITAA on Soundcloud.


Ayah Bdeir SM ’06

Ayah Bdeir SM ’06

Maker culture has swept through technology circles, bolstering invention, celebrating hands-on construction, and encouraging do-it-yourselfers—to be more like the MIT community. In fact, seven of the “25 Makers Who Are Reinventing the American Dream” recently honored in Popular Mechanics hail from MIT.

Did their MIT backgrounds play a role?

“My MIT experience was instrumental,” says Ayah Bdeir SM ’06, founder of littleBits, kits of color-coded bricks that snap together to create circuits with sensors, switches, and motors. “As soon as I set foot in the Media Lab, I learnt a whole new way of looking at engineering. That it was a way of thinking and solving problems; that technology was a means to an end; and technology could be a mode of expression, vision, and creativity. And most importantly, that any individual could ‘re-invent’ technology and its impact on the world. These ideas are instrumental to being a maker.”

Eric Wilhelm ’99, SM ’01, PhD ’04 and Christy Canida ’99 after making their Halloween sand worm costumes.

Eric Wilhelm ’99, SM ’01, PhD ’04 and Christy Canida ’99 after making their Dune-themed Halloween costumes.

Eric Wilhelm ’99, SM ’01, PhD ’04, who along with Christy Canida 99 was honored for their how-to company, Instructables, says his undergraduate living group gave him the opportunity to gain confidence and experience.

“Making things requires practice,” Wilhelm says, “and I had amazing opportunities in my living group to practice cooking, electronics, home repair, and myriad other techniques in an environment where the inevitable failure would result in laughs and a good story.”

Why is maker culture so popular now?

Danielle Applestone ’02

Danielle Applestone ’02

Several factors support maker culture, says Danielle Applestone ’02, who leads Othermill, a producer of $2,000 machines that can etch circuit boards and carve complex 3D shapes. “One of the big ones is that it is extremely easy to not only transfer and distribute digital plans everywhere for free, but you can also get support for making projects much easier than before,” she says. “I think people realize how far removed they are from making tangible things, and so ‘making’ is interesting and novel to the general public. The tools for making things of industrial quality are now becoming more affordable, so that puts the power of manufacturing into the hands of a much larger group of people.”

Scott Miller SM ’96

Scott Miller SM ’96

When Scott Miller SM ’96 earned an ocean engineering degree, being a maker was the only choice. “We had to design and build everything from scratch,” says Miller, head of Dragon Innovation, a firm that helps budding companies scale their ideas to industry size.

Now, he notes, makers have choices and advantages—including lower-cost electrical components, great prototyping tools, and access to cloud computing. Another boost is crowdfunding to generate startup resources and social media to reach millions of potential customers.

Who else was honored?


Update: Happy April Fools’ Day! Currently, there are no plans for a moving walkway in the Infinite Corridor. Walk safely! 

The Infinite Corridor may soon seem much less infinite. Beginning in 2015, portions of the corridor will include a moving walkway, called Zero Footprint, which will allow members of the MIT community to safely text, read a book, or study as they travel through the corridor.

The proposed walkway—similar to the slow-moving conveyors commonly seen in airports—was designed by researchers at MIT’s Historical Edifice Innovation Center and will have a dual purpose of safety and sustainability. According to a new MIT study, 30 percent of MIT students reported injuries related to texting or reading while walking within the Infinite Corridor or other busy MIT pathways in the past school year.

Fran Swanson, Hayden S. Finch Professor of Building Theory, says the walkway will add another layer of safety to campus while also being mindful of MIT’s commitment to sustainability. Zero Footprint will be a first-of-its-kind carbon-neutral moving walkway.

A mockup of Zero Footprint. Credit: Alan Scott

A mockup of Zero Footprint. Credit: Alan Scott

“It’s called Zero Footprint because it will create nearly 95 percent of the power required to operate,” explains Swanson. “The most important issue is student safety, but the name is a nice tie-in with the Infinite Corridor. It explains just how sustainable this new installation is.”

Based on research from MIT’s Urban Re:Construction Lab, Zero Footprint will be powered almost entirely by piezoelectric tiles that will frame the walkway. Those who choose to walk outside of Zero Footprint will generate energy with each step on the tiles.

To allow for maximum mobility within the corridor and easy on/off access, Zero Footprint will consist of five short moving walkways.

Additionally, to mitigate traffic congestion in the corridor, Zero Footprint has been designed as a one way walkway that will change direction depending on traffic flow. For example, as students rush to campus for morning classes, Zero Footprint will move away from Lobby 7 towards Bldg. 4. The walkway will then reverse directions in the late afternoon as students return home.

Plans for Zero Footprint are pending final review by the Cambridge Historical Commission. Currently, construction on the walkway is slated to begin April 1, 2015.


Witze pictured in Iceland while reporting on the Laki volcano.

This Monday, March 31, at 1 p.m. EDT, join a live Twitter chat with Alexandra Witze ’92, a correspondent with Nature. Find out how the geology major became an award-winning science journalist. Witze recently published Island on Fire about the 1783 eruption of Iceland’s Laki volcano, which she calls “one of the worst natural disasters you’ve never heard about.” Missed the chat? Read the storify recap of the discussion.

The chat will begin with questions about how MIT prepared her for a career in science writing, the massive societal impact of the Laki eruption, and why she thinks Twitter is a go-to tool for any journalist.

Follow the chat at #mitalum and tweet your own questions.

About Alexandra Witze
After graduating from MIT, Witze enrolled in a science journalism program at the University of California, Santa Cruz. In a recent interview with MIT’s Spectrum, she notes that MIT “has been very helpful in giving me a solid technical grounding. I can read a research paper and understand what it is trying to say.”

In addition to Nature, she has written for Science News, Dallas Morning News, and EARTH magazine covering a wide range of topics including the science of lightning, earthquakes, and features on high profile scientists. British explorer Nick Crane praised her book Island on Fire as “a volcanic tour de force; terrific story-telling.” Most recently, she served as a journalism fellow in complexity science at the Santa Fe Institute.

This event is co-sponsored by MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and the MIT Alumni Association


The morning after Facebook announced its $2 billion acquisition of Oculus VR, the virtual-reality headset company that many predict will transform the gaming and computer industry, Oculus COO and acting CFO Laird Malamed ’89 phoned Slice of MIT to share the news.

The Oculus Rift virtual headset. Photo: Forbes.

The Oculus Rift virtual headset. Photo: Forbes.

Since the headset will make its commercial debut later this year or early next year, Malamed, who previously worked on Call of Duty and Guitar Hero during a 16-year stint at Activision, has his work cut out for him. Fortunately, he now has a little more help.

What’s the last week been like for you?

It’s been a really busy six days. We got the verbal offer a week ago, and we went down to Facebook on Thursday morning and didn’t leave until we had a deal.

What first drew you to joining Oculus VR?

Three things: I liked the people, they were genuine and smart. The product was cool and I believed in it. And third, I thought it was something we could market easily. I’ve had a lot of great opportunities to work with a lot of great people, but I had never felt like I’d done anything on the level of MIT. I wanted to be part of starting a new thing. This is right in line with fulfilling MIT’s mission of developing and changing the world and being of service to it. I hope VR can do that.

Developers first got to try Oculus Rift in 2012 and have since started developing software for it. What has excited you about what they’ve done so far?

They’ve been doing basic things like asking what Breakout might look like in virtual reality. From a 1970s game like that to looking at what cinema looks like, what it feels like to be completely immersed in a movie. Then there’s a Kickstarter project, which I personally backed, to laser-scan a canyon in Australia that is decaying. The developer wants to put that in the Rift so that people can access it later on. I love the range of things they are doing with it.

Will you have a lot more people to please now that Facebook is in the mix?

Yes, and we’ve disappointed a lot of early fans who feel we’ve sold out and all I can say is that we got a commitment from [Facebook] management to keep running this the way we want it and at the same time leverage what they’ve built. Facebook has grown to a $160 billion company in 10 years. Say what you will about them, they’ve got 1.2 billion users. We want to remain true to [founder] Palmer Luckey’s ideals that the world can be magical and the experiences we can have with VR can really connect people. Who better than Facebook to help us do that?

Oculus COO Laird Malamed '89.

Oculus COO Laird Malamed ’89.

Are there other MIT alumni on board at Oculus VR?

It’s amazing that there aren’t, out of our 78 people right now. We’ve just started to reach out, though. We did some recruiting there a few months ago, and I imagine there are a lot of MIT alums at Facebook.

How does your aero/astro degree come in handy as a COO?

Do I use it every day? No, but MIT taught me how to think, and at the end of the day aero/astro was about communicating remote experiences to everyone. One of my favorite days at MIT was sitting in this lecture hall, during IAP, and watching images load on a screen from the Jet Propulsion Lab as Voyager II was passing Saturn…it was magical. I always loved the magic of engineering. Also, I’m proud to say I took 6.002x and got an A. I look forward to getting more time to take MITx courses!


After 12 years as an architect, Gilad Rosenzweig MCP ’13 knew he wanted to work on a larger scale. “Not larger buildings,” he says, “but to be involved in the development and improvement of cities.”

Rosenzweig saw his opportunity in Roxbury’s Dudley Square. Once known as Boston’s “second downtown” the neighborhood is currently among the poorest in the city.


Smarter in the City’s logo highlights its unique location.

“I was doing some work in the neighborhood on the nonprofit development side and noticing the impact that development had in the neighborhood. It might be good for physical qualities, but not necessarily for people who live there,” he says.

This prompted his idea for Smarter in the City: a high-tech incubator for inner city neighborhoods.

Rosenzweig sees Smarter in the City as a tool to improve neighborhoods from the inside out.  According to his website, “We are specifically addressing the lack of opportunities for computer science and digital media entrepreneurs in lower-income neighborhoods and minority communities.”

To ensure that Dudley Square residents benefit from Smarter in the City, Rosenzweig engaged with community members and local politicians to get the word out. “I thought ‘what is the big change here and who needs to be involved?’” he explains.

Set to open its doors in July, Smarter in the City’s first class will have four startups—businesses ranging from urban journalism to a social network. Ideally, as each startup expands, the new jobs created will be filled by residents of neighborhoods like Roxbury, Mattapan, and Dorchester.


A glance at where statups are located in Greater Boston. Credit: Techscence @Boston

“You don’t bring people from outside to change the community. You change it from inside. It all comes down to median income and education—the startup tech industry can deliver on both,” Rosenzweig says.

Rosenzweig, who is getting support from the MIT Venture Mentoring Service, credits his coursework at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning for his problem-solving approach to Smarter in the City. He says, “My ideas are coming both from the community and economic mindset, but not doing one without the other.”


A half-century ago, Radia Perlman ’73, SM ’76, PhD ’88 was a kid growing up in Asbury Park, New Jersey, with no particularly grand ambitions.

In an interview with The Atlantic Monthly this week, Perlman, often dubbed “the mother of the Internet,” discusses how her ordinary curiosities, though, emerged into a pursuit of math and computer science, which she majored in at MIT in the 1970s and 80s. Perlman also notes how radically, in her view, those disciplines have changed since she began.

Radia Perlman during her MIT years.

Perlman first encountered computer science in high school. “I walked into the class, and all the other students were talking about how they had built ham radios when they were seven,” she recalls.  “I didn’t even know what a ham radio was. They were also asking questions using scary words like ‘input.’ I had no idea what that meant, and it felt like I was so far behind that I’d never catch up. I wound up not getting anything out of that class.”

At MIT, Perlman learned some code from a boyfriend, and then she quickly earned attention—and a job—for her talents.

“My first paying computer job was in 1971 as a part time programmer at the MIT AI lab, in the Logo group,” she says, “writing system software like debuggers. I worked there while going to school.”

“Then I got inspired to design a programming language, together with special keyboards and other input devices, for teaching programming concepts similar to Logo, but to much younger children. This was actually a cool project…and decades later some people from the MIT Media project tracked me down and said this project started a whole field known as ‘tangible computing.’ But at the time, I abandoned it because, being the only woman around, I wanted to be taken seriously as a scientist and was a little embarrassed that my project involved cute little kids.”

In her sophomore year, Perlman said, she moved from McCormick Hall into the Institute’s first coed residences.

“It became so normal to me not to see women around that I didn’t notice the gender imbalance. It was only when occasionally there was a(nother) female in a class that I’d notice that it kind of looked weird…this other gender person looking curiously out of place in the crowd. I’d have to remind myself that I was also that ‘other gender,’” she says.

In between her master’s and PhD work, Perlman entered private industry, working at BBN, Digital Equipment Corporation, Novell, and Sun Microsystems. She is currently an Intel Fellow in Seattle. In 2010, Perlman received the ACM Sigcomm Award.

While Perlman holds more than 80 patents and has co-authored two books, she is perhaps best known for her work at Digital. There she worked on the routing for DECnet, including the Spanning Tree Protocol (STP), which ensured active paths between network nodes for computers sharing information. STP continues to be the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ (IEEE) standard.

So was Perlman, in fact, one of the Internet’s parents?

“The Internet was not invented by any individual,” she says. “There are lots of people who like to take credit for it, and it drives them crazy when anyone other than them seems to want credit, so it seems best to just stay out of their way. I did, indeed, make some fundamental contributions to the underlying infrastructure, but no single technology really caused the Internet to succeed. And sometimes, things get invented multiple times until the time just happens to be right. The thing that happened to be there at the right time isn’t necessarily better than the other ones.”

The Atlantic Monthly‘s senior editor Rebecca Rosen also interviewed Irene Greif ’69, SM ’72, PhD ’75 this month.


Downton Abbey fans have seen scant evidence of 20th-century media in the Masterpiece Classic program, but that may change in coming seasons. Thanks to the founding of BBC Radio in 1927, estates in financial trouble like that which Downton faces in season 4 get a huge boon, says Shundana Yusaf SM ’01.

In this edition of the MIT Alumni Books Podcast, Yusaf, a professor of architecture at the University of Utah, discusses her book Broadcasting Buildings: Architecture on the Wireless. Listen to this podcast9780262026741

Since architecture was a large focus of early BBC productions, the public came to appreciate homes like the Crawleys rather than looting or pillaging them as aristocratic strongholds in a changing world.

“Downton Abbey is a perfect example of houses becoming white elephants,” says Yusaf.

“They became a burden for the families…and architects become champions of conservation, but it puts them in a strange position. Conservation means that you have to promote the protection of properties that in popular culture are seen as symbols of historical injustice. Now you have to revamp them and package them as heritage of the people who have been subjugated.”


In the podcast, Yusaf discusses this topic and others, including the role of media in transforming architecture, how her MIT education made her rethink what one could do with an architecture degree, and how technology is changing the way people visit holy spaces around the world.

Hear more by listening to this podcast interview.

The MIT Alumni Books Podcast presents alumni authors discussing their latest books. It can be found on iTunes and on most other podcast platforms. Help us keep up with recent books or send along names of alumni authors you’d like to hear interviewed.

{ 1 comment }