Alumni Life

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!


Photo: Fleece Traveler

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

Yes, but you can’t generate enough to power the roller coaster with itself…

“Imagine a straight-line, one-hill roller coaster. It’s boring to ride, but it’s a useful example,” says Aaron Johnson, a PhD student in aeronautics and astronautics. If you start your ride at ground level, the first challenge is getting the coaster to the top of the hill. This takes energy, so you expend what you need against gravity and friction to get the coaster to the top. When the coaster crests the hill, all of the energy you have just expended against gravity is now stored as potential energy—though exactly how much depends on the height of the hill and the weight of the cars and passengers.

In an ideal world, Johnson says, a perfectly efficient energy collector on a frictionless coaster in a vacuum should be able to harness that potential energy and convert it to enough kinetic energy on the way down to drive you up a hill of exactly the same height. But in the real world, energy collection is more complicated. Much of the potential energy you have just gathered is going to scatter. Friction generates heat energy in the track and wheels, and drag buffets the cars and passengers, heating them and the air around them and dissipating more of your energy. This dispersion means realizing all of your potential is nearly impossible.

Interestingly, not all of this energy needs to be completely lost—whether it’s from a roller coaster or any other moving vehicle. One way to collect some of the energy that dissipates from moving vehicles is through something called regenerative braking, as used in hybrid cars such as the Toyota Prius. Regenerative brakes use energy normally lost to heat and friction during braking to charge batteries that power the car. “It works, but you’re never going to get enough energy to bring you back up the hill again,” says Johnson. “You’ve lost some of it to heat, plus the regenerative braking process isn’t 100 percent efficient.” (In Pittsburgh, engineers recently created just such a demonstration coaster and used the collected energy to power a display of amusement park lights.)

Another approach is to add a turbine to the coaster to collect wind energy. Airplanes do this. In an emergency, such as a power failure, a plane drops a so-called ram air turbine from a hatch. The turbine collects wind energy to power hydraulics and critical instruments. “It’s very inefficient, so it’s usually only for emergency use,” says Johnson.

While no solution is perfect, regenerative brakes and turbines are constantly being reworked and redesigned to become more efficient. For instance, in turbines, the shape and twist of the blade matters. “There’s a lot of people trying to design the most efficient blade possible,” says Johnson.

Visit the MIT School of Engineering’s Ask an Engineer site for answers to more of your questions.


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.”


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

In an era when everything else is accelerating, airplanes are actually flying at slower speeds than they used to…

A 1950s advertisement for the Boeing 707; Credit: 1950s unlimited

“Your link to faraway continents in hours less time: the new, fabulously swift Boeing 707.”
Credit: 1950s unlimited

Specified cruising speeds for commercial airliners today range between about 480 and 510 knots, compared to 525 knots for the Boeing 707, a mainstay of 1960s jet travel. Why? “The main issue is fuel economy,” says Aeronautics and Astronautics professor Mark Drela. “Going faster eats more fuel per passenger-mile. This is especially true with the newer ‘high-bypass’ jet engines with their large-diameter front fans.”

Observant fliers can easily spot these engines, with air intakes nearly 10 feet across, especially on newer long-range two-engine jetliners. Older engines had intakes that were less than half as wide and moved less air at higher speeds; high-bypass engines achieve the same thrust with more air at lower speed by routing most of the air (up to 93 percent in the newest designs) around the engine’s turbine instead of through it. “Their efficiency peaks are at lower speeds, which causes airplane builders to favor a somewhat slower aircraft,” says Drela. “A slower airplane can also have less wing sweep, which makes it smaller, lighter and hence less expensive.” The 707’s wing sweep was 35 degrees, while the current 777’s is 31.6 degrees.

There was, of course, one big exception: the Concorde flew primarily trans-Atlantic passenger routes at just over twice the speed of sound from 1976 until 2003. Product of a treaty between the British and French governments, the Concorde served a small high-end market and was severely constrained in where it could fly. An aircraft surpassing the speed of sound generates a shock wave that produces a loud booming sound as it passes overhead; fine, perhaps, over the Atlantic Ocean, but many countries banned supersonic flights over their land. The sonic-boom problem “was pretty much a show-stopper for supersonic transports,” says Drela.

Some hope for future supersonic travel remains, at least for those able to afford private aircraft. Several companies are currently developing supersonic business jets. Their smaller size and creative new “boom-shaping” designs could reduce or eliminate the noise, and Drela notes that supersonic flight’s higher fuel burn per passenger-mile will be less of an issue for private operators than airlines. “But whether they are politically feasible is another question,” he notes.

For now, it seems, travelers will have to appreciate the virtues of high-bypass engines, and perhaps bring along a good book.

Visit the MIT School of Engineering’s Ask an Engineer site for answers to more of your questions.


David Dobkin ’70 collects old popsicle sticks, credit cards, and lids from Snapple bottles. He owns over 800 snow-globes and 11 shoeboxes full of old postcards.

Dobkin also happens to be the dean of faculty at Princeton University.

But it was in the former role—that of collector—that Dobkin showcased his collected work in found sculpture, memorabilia from ages past, and photographs from his travels, at an exhibition at Princeton’s Lewis Center for Visual Arts last fall.

Entitled “Myself, I Think We Should Keep Collecting Titles,” the exhibit featured beaded curtains made from Dannon yogurt lids and keyboards, scores of license plates from various states, and photographs of phone booths and restaurant menus from around the world.

Take a tour of the exhibit of Dobkin’s work. You might also suggest a title for it in the comments below.

“I’ve taken quite a few pictures in my day,” says Dobkin, who has taught computer science at Princeton since 1981. “Lots of pictures of waiters and waitresses and menus…I think if it’s a sign and I’ve seen it I’ve taken a picture of it.”

Dobkin started building things from found objects at an early age. On business trips, he started collecting snow globes and paperweights, and then people started giving them to him as gifts each year.

“Paperweights are the quintessential form of kitsch,” he told one interviewer. “I have a paperweight of Jesus walking on water from a Bible Book Store in Nashville, a few high-end musical paperweights (including one from Graceland that plays ‘Love Me Tender’), salt and peppershaker paperweights, a paperweight that was made by a friend for my wedding using a candy jar, a bride and groom from a garden shop and filler from a bean bag chair.”

Making time for art does not completely conflict with Dobkin’s career in code.

“I’ve written software…before hashtags became popular, I created my own version of hash-tagging, so they’re all identified in a way that you couldn’t hope to do without a computer,” he says.

Much of his art serves at least one utilitarian purpose: reminding Dobkin of the places he’s been. Dobkin says he can recall where he was when he acquired 99% of the objects.

“A lot of the things you see constructed are in and of themselves boring, but if you step back and say ‘life is really about the details, and it’s the details that make life work,’ this is filled with life, and the details that make life work.”


Register for the Mar. 19 webcast.

Update: Watch the March 19 webcast.

Solving the world’s problems is synonymous with MIT. It is a quality that has fired the imaginations of students, faculty, and alumni.

In the March 19 Facutly Forum Online, three current MIT students shared how they are incorporating mens et manus into the 21st century. Public Service Center Dean Sally Susnowitz, alongside current MIT students Laura Stilwell ’14, Sofia Essayan-Perez ’15, and master’s degree candidate Rodrigo Davies, discussed the importance of public service in student life and how their  work is  address crucial global issues. Following their comments, the dean and students took live questions from the worldwide MIT community.

Watch the full webcast then return to Slice and continue the discussion in the comments.

The March 19 webcast is one three special public service-themed Faculty Forums Online, themed “One Community Together in Service,” that coincide with MIT Public Service Center’s 25-year anniversary. The first service-themed webcast, MIT Research at Work in the World, took place on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, and featured Chancellor Eric Grimson PhD ’80, Dean Christine Ortiz, and Dean Sally Susnowitz. Watch the archived webcast.

Sally Susnowitz

Sally Susnowitz

Sally Susnowitz

Sally Susnowitz has served as Director of the MIT Public Service Center (PSC) since 2000. She has co-developed many of the Center’s programs and initiatives, including the MIT IDEAS Global Challenge, which involves hundreds of MIT students in innovative social entrepreneurship each year.

Before MIT, Sally served as Director of the Service Learning Program at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and has spent more than 20 years as a scientific and technical writing teacher at several universities including CU-Boulder, CU-Denver, and the Colorado School of Mines.

Rodrigo Davies G

Rodrigo Davies G

Rodrigo Davies G

Rodrigo Davies—a master’s degree candidate and research assistant at the Center for Civic Media—spent a fellowship in Kansas City, MO, helping non-profit organizations develop fundraising strategies for civic projects that benefit the local community. He helped create a crowdfunding campaign that expanded a Kansas City bike-share scheme and hosted a series of interactive open workshops that helped organizations learn more about community-building strategies.

Davies has presented at South by Southwest, the Library of Congress, and the Federal Reserve. Prior to MIT, he was an advisor to the UK crowdfunding platform Spacehive, co-founded Conde Nast’s digital business in India, and worked as a broadcast journalist at the BBC.

Sofia Essayan-Perez

Sofia Essayan-Perez ’15

Sofia Essayan-Perez ’15

Sofia Essayan-Perez is a brain and cognitive sciences major in with a minor in applied international studies. Her public service work focuses on strengthening math and science education in rural Nicaraguan high schools and she helped create a new approach to teaching math and science, grounded in local health and socioeconomic challenges.

Essayan-Perez has also conducted research on autism at MIT’s Picower Institute, and attended University of California Berkeley as an Amgen scholar and the Pasteur Institute in Paris on an MIT-France internship. She is involved with many MIT community initiatives, including the Experimental Studies Group (ESG), the Office of Minority Education, and the Burchard Scholars Program.

Laura Stilwell

Laura Stilwell ’14

Laura Stilwell ’14

Laura Stilwell is an economics major with minors in biology and public policy. Since 2011, Laura has been involved in GlobeMed at MIT, which works to create a better understanding of global health and provide comprehensive health care services to communities in northern Togo.

In 2015, Laura will work at the Jameel Poverty Action Lab and has future aspirations to work at the intersection of global health, public policy, and economics.

About Faculty Forum Online

Eight times per season, the Faculty Forum Online presents compelling interviews with faculty on timely and relevant topics. Viewers watch and participate in live 30-minute interviews via interactive chat. Since its inception in 2011, archival editions of these programs have been viewed more than 50,000 times.




Click image for updated tournament bracket.

The 1982 Harvard-Yale football game outlasted 31 MIT hacks over five rounds and, at long last, is crowned MIT Hack Madness Champion. View full results in the updated bracket.

In the tournament’s championship round, the Harvard-Yale game—three separate hacks that unfolded on national television—defeated the Caltech Cannon Heist, a 2006 prank that transported Caltech’s three-ton Fleming House cannon more than 2,500 miles undetected to MIT campus, by a score of 63-37 percent.

PrintIn total, the football game collected a tournament-high 5,045 votes and overwhelming defeated its opponents—including an early favorite, the Smoot—in each round. On Facebook, Scott Berkenblit ’86, SM ’90, PhD ’96 called the game “a hack for the ages.”

“It was sad to have to vote against Smoot (sorry, Ollie),” Bruce Bottomly ’65 wrote on Facebook. “But nothing can beat Harvard-Yale in terms of MIT creativity, complexity, skill, stealth, national attention, and establishment of infinite bragging rights against that place down the street in Cambridge.”

The more-recent Cannon Heist put a valiant effort throughout the tournament, including winning by a tournament-best margin of 86 percent in Round 2 and soundly defeating Tetris on Bldg. 54—the so-called “Holy Grail of Hacks”—in the penultimate round.

Overall, the two-week tournament generated nearly 29,000 votes on Slice of MIT and social media and hopefully generated a significant amount of Tech nostalgia and polite disagreements. Choosing 32 hacks from MIT’s 153-year history was difficult and subjective—some favorites were undoubtedly omitted—and Slice respects all viewpoints of what truly is the MIT community’s favorite hack.

Thanks to all of the voters, especially those who shared opinions on Alumni Association social media. Five of our favorite comments:

Click to see full voting results.

Click to see full voting results.

“Dirty little secret: this is what we *really* do at MIT.”
- Robert L Krawitz ’87

“I vote for Cow on Dome! My great-grandfather is milking the cow!”
- Sophia Edwards, great-granddaughter of William A Pitbladdo ’31

“My dad was there…a Harvard Grad. He fully had to acknowledge MIT was the winner, hands down!”
- Elise Rose ’86, on the Harvard-Yale Game

“I still don’t know how they did all that (and I read the narrative.) The Brass Rat put it over the top.”
- David Plass ’90, on the Caltech Cannon Heist

“I was there for the ‘snow in shower.’ I don’t remember whose idea it was to call the newspaper, but it was a cool idea and they fell for it hook, line, and sinker. And the story was picked up by wire services and ran around the world. Best part was the sub-head of the front page story in Boston…went something like: Cold Air + Steam => Snow!”
- Paul Epstein ’51

For more on the tournament, view the completed bracket and overall voting results. Re-live the tournament and read descriptions on all 32 hacks in the original tournament bracket. Congratulations, Harvard-Yale Game!


Eagerly anticipating—or perhaps just patiently waiting for—the Pi Day announcement of the MIT Hack Madness champion? The winner of the final-round match between the 1982 Harvard-Yale game and the 2006 Caltech cannon heist will be announced at noon at Friday, March 14 (Pi Day, of course).

In the interim, check out Slice of MIT’s collection of hack-related stories, dating back to 2009, some of which were included in the tournament and many that were left out. Read about these pranks then head to the Hack Madness Championship to learn who was named the MIT community’s favorite hack.

Pac-Man, Hacked.



  • Even a Dome under Construction Can Be Hacked” (November 14, 2012). The Great Dome was lit blue and green in honor of Amphibious Achievement’s annual Erg-A-Thon.
  • Holy Hack, Batman!” (July 23, 2012). Mystery assailants–channeling their inner Commissioner Gordon–illuminated the Bat-Signal on the Green Building (Bldg. 54).
  • Heads Up! The Baker House Piano Drop” (April 27, 2012). About 200 spectators watched a piano tossed from the roof of the Baker House onto another piano six stories below.
  • Hacked! Tetris on the Green Building” (April 23, 2012). One side of the Cecil and Ida Green Building (Building 54) was transformed into a giant video game canvas.

Infinite Corridor Attacked!




View results for all 31 Hack Madness matches in the updated tournament bracket then visit Slice or social media to learn who was named the Hack Madness champion.