Remember When…

Slice_Dec_13Slice of MIT‘s top stories for December 2013 featured powerful alumni, and most importantly, a scientific explanation of how Santa’s reindeers actually fly.

Ring in the new year with a slice of MIT. Happy New Year!

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Guest Blogger: Debbie Levey, CEE Technical Writer

Relocating from Boston to the new 1916 Cambridge campus solved many of MIT’s problems of cramped classrooms and inadequate lab space. However, students complained loudly about the lack of proper athletic facilities. When President Karl Compton announced plans for a new field house at the 1934 commencement, The Tech reported excitedly that the new building would double the current facilities for track, basketball, wrestling, squash, and other sports.

The brand-new Barbour Field House in 1934

The brand-new Barbour Field House in 1934.

Funded by the estate of MIT benefactor Edmund Dana Barbour, construction on the new Barbour field house began that July under the supervision of Professor Walter Voss of the Building Engineering and Construction Department (old Course 17) and Albert Smith, superintendent of buildings and power.

By fall, students marveled at the new one-story building of yellow brick. At the dedication on October 26, 1934, The Tech described how the new athletic center filled “a long felt need in athletics and at the same time replac[ed] one of the campus eyesores.” Lockers to accommodate 1,000 men was “a distinct enlargement over the previous locker space…. Although the building had no windows, skylights filled every room with soft light.”

The Tech reporter concluded, “The entire building is completely air conditioned and is a far cry from the draughty old building that was the hang-out of the athletes previously.”

Like the rest of campus, the field house adapted to different needs during World War II. From 1943 to 1944, much of the space became a temporary civilian cafeteria while military personnel occupied Walker. Campus maps in the early 1950s label it as the student activities building.

As campus expanded, the Barbour Field House was replaced in 1956 by the Compton Laboratories (Bldg. 26) and the Dorrance Building (Bldg. 16). Demolishing the former Westgate veterans’ housing in the late 1950s provided much more space for athletic fields on West Campus. The new Student Center (W20), dedicated in 1965.

As student interest in sports increased, DuPont Athletic Center opened in October 1959 and, unlike Barbour, included a women’s locker room. In 2002, the new Zesiger Center added an Olympic size swimming pool, fitness center, indoor track and flexible space. Today, the vast majority of MIT students participate in some type of physical activity at varsity, club, intramural, or recreational levels.

Thanks to Robert Doane and Ariel Weinberg of the MIT Museum for information and photos.


The History of Jazz at MIT offers cool music clips and a sketch of history in an interactive timeline. While MIT’s jazz history dates to the 1920s, the arrival in 1963 of Herb Pomeroy, a talented performer and teacher, transformed scattered efforts into a focused jazz program. Pomeroy, who retired in 1985, led the Festival Jazz Ensemble to national prominence with participation at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland and other festivals.

Pomeroy’s legacy, celebrated this year, continues today with an active—and innovative—jazz program on campus. “We are not just playing standards, we are playing new, innovative music and breaking new ground,” says Ali Azarbayejani ’88, trumpet.

Here are a few highlights on this interactive timeline created for the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.

1955: MIT Jazz Society is founded and quickly hosts a Stan Getz concert on campus.

Paul Padget ’58 recalls Getz originally turned down the offer to play at MIT. Then he heard about the fabulous acoustics at the newly opened Kresge Auditorium—and he called MIT.

“We had about four days’ notice and we were on the phone to everyone. We had volunteers sitting up nights creating posters that were hand-lettered because we were so short of time and money. But the concert was standing room only, and the MIT Jazz Society became established.”

1976: Hear Herb Pomeroy direct “Paper Dragon” by Rob Mounsey, featuring Paul Bangser ’77 on guitar.

1990: Hear a sample from a recording project initiated by Jamshied Sharifi ’83, that produced the first of two acclaimed CDs by the MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble.

2001: Rajesh Mehta ’86 and Paul Lovens premiere a new work by Mark Harvey composed for them and Aardvark.

 2013: When jazz great Chick Corea agreed to compose a work for the MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble’s 50th birthday this year, it was a salute, in part, to his own MIT experience. As a Chelsea high school junior, Corea came to campus to play played trumpet and piano in one of his first bands—a jazz sextet that he formed with musicians including Joel Karp ’62 and Rich Orr ’62, SM ’63, EE ’69, PhD ’73 trombones, and graduate student Roger Eiss PhD ’67, on trumpet and bass. Corea dedicated the piece to Pomeroy, who offered Corea his first professional club date as the opening act for Pomeroy’s band in a Boston club.

Visit the Jazz timeline, read about the teaching history in Illuminating Passion: 50 Years of Jazz at MIT, and visit the Listening Room’s jazz section for more music.


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What do the MIT mascot, Katy Perry, and a 3D printer have in common? They’re featured among Slice of MIT‘s top stories during November 2013.

Supplement your slice(s) of turkey with a slice of MIT. Happy Thanksgiving!

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In 1983, it took 2,280 pounds including three student bodies, to squash this 2.06 pound balsa-wood model bridge.

In 1983, it took 2,280 pounds, including three student bodies, to squash this 1.06 pound balsa-wood model bridge.

Guest Blogger: Debbie Levey, CEE Technical Writer

Bridge-building contests have some history at MIT. Mostly recently, MIT students began competing at the National Steel Bridge Competition sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2007. Today, they are contenders—they have placed second nationally for the past two years.

As part of a capstone class each spring, Civil and Environmental Engineering Department seniors split into teams to design and build strong, light bridges out of simple materials that could be used to replace washed-out roads or crossings in remote areas. Since 2001, students have created 10-foot-long bridges contrived of wood or recycled materials, laced together with steel cables, just outside the student center—and for the final test, they must bear one ton of concrete blocks.

Earlier still, Civil Engineering professor John Slater ’78 initiated a model bridge building contest for the January IAP session in 1983 to mark the centennial of the Brooklyn Bridge. Three-students teams received a kit of parts, instruction, and lab time for building suspension or cable-stayed bridges to span a river. The IAP description promised “substantial cash prizes to the top three entries with the highest combined scores in strength, deflection, weight, innovation, and aesthetic appeal.” After being examined and discussed, each bridge was then weighed down until it shattered.

“The inevitable explosive bridge failure made for a fun event,” said Slater. These bridge contests, no longer offered, remained a popular IAP event for years.

A Tech Talk photo of Lars Rosenblad ’85, SM ’85; Philip Michael ’84, SM ’86, PhD ’92; and Ling Chow ’84 documented their effort. After their 1.06-pound balsa wood design carried all the available weight in the Perini test lab (1,840 pounds), the three students crowded onto the deck to add their cumulative 440 pounds.

Finally the bridge collapsed under 2,280 pounds—and both Rosenblad and Michael report that they still carry small scars from banging into the metal column as they tumbled down with their bridge.

Michael recalled doing research on bridge designs before they started building. “Cable-stayed bridges had really risen to prominence, but given the choice of materials [in the kit], we couldn’t figure out a reliable means to tie cables into our bridge decking without the risk of having them pull through. Instead, we adopted the several-millennium-old arc as the basic design element. The one element we adapted from the cable-stayed design was to attach cables to the bridge towers so that any load would simultaneously pull in on the towers to keep the bottom of the arch from spreading outward. Those cables were inelegant but hardly weighed anything and worked extremely well in tension.”

Even though their bridge proved strong and light, low scores in the appearance category pushed them down to a fifth-place finish. Lars acknowledged that “our bridge was judged to be exceedingly ugly.”


JFK relied on MIT experts.

JFK relied on MIT experts.

On the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s death, we remember the Massachusetts man who inspired—and continues to inspire—the country. Here are a few of Kennedy’s MIT connections.

Centennial Presence

Newly in office, President Kennedy recorded a message in 1961 congratulating MIT on its centennial and addressing the increasingly important role of education in the life of the nation. Recorded in the White House on April 6, Kennedy’s voice was played two days later during MIT’s Centennial celebration. Watch the video with Kennedy’s message against footage of the centennial procession and images of Professor Walt Whitman Rostow, who Kennedy appointed as deputy special assistant to the President for national security affairs, and former MIT President Jerome Wiesner, who served as Kennedy’s special assistant for science and technology.

Kennedy Brought MIT to Washington

Wiesner’s 1994 obituary in The Tech noted his work with the late president in the first sentence and detailed the MIT president’s impact: “As Kennedy’s chief adviser and planner for science issues, he worked on the treaty banning all but underground nuclear tests that was signed by the United States, Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom in 1963….Wiesner returned to the Institute in 1964 shortly after Kennedy’s assassination.”

The 1963 Tech photo shows a flag flown at half mast to honor JFK.

The 1963 Tech photo shows a flag flown at half mast to honor JFK.

The MIT Libraries own a copy of JFK’s inaugural address, embossed with the Great Seal of the United States in gold plus a handwritten message in blue ink: “To James Killian Jr., with appreciation and best wishes, John Kennedy, Christmas 1961.” The presidential letters archive holds a Kennedy letter thanking Killian for agreeing to serve as chair of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.

Kennedy Scholars

MIT and Harvard announced plans in 2007 to expand the Kennedy Scholarship Fund, a program that has brought some 432 British students to MIT or Harvard for graduate work, including British Labour Party politician David Miliband SM ′90.

Campus Aftermath

According to The Tech’s article published November 26, 1963, MIT classes were cancelled at 3:15 p.m., Friday, November 22, shortly after the assassination. In observance of the day of national mourning proclaimed by President Lyndon Johnson, a memorial convocation was held in Kresge Auditorium Nov. 25. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

The Tech, Nov. 26, 1963 . Click for larger.

The Tech, Nov. 26, 1963 . Click for larger.

Immediately after the death of President Kennedy had been announced, Dr. James R. Killian Jr., Chairman of the Corporation, issued the following statement: “Our nation and civilized men over all the world have suffered a catastrophic and incalculable loss. Nothing can mitigate the tragedy of this barbarous event or the overriding sorrow we feel for the family and friends of our late President. But as a great leader and a superbly dedicated man, he would have counseled us to stand steady, to re-affirm our deep commitment to all things noble and sacred in life, and to gather together in strong support of our new President.”

The statement of President Stratton, issued Friday afternoon, read in part: “The assassination of President Kennedy is an enormous tragedy for the United States and the entire free world. This cruel and irrational act has taken from us a truly great President at the height of his powers. All Americans must feel a deep personal sorrow, and our hearts go out to Mrs. Kennedy and the Kennedy family. We have lost in a difficult hour the leader whose every approach to the great problems that beset us was guided by a keen intelligence and an ennobling vision of the highest aspirations of the American people.”

Undergraduate Reaction

News of the assassination of the President spread quickly among the MIT undergraduate body. Shocked students clustered around radios and television sets, awaiting the grim developments. A staggering load of telephone calls went through the MIT switchboard. Professor Carleton Tucker, administrator of the Institute telephone system, stated that the load was “one and-a-half times any previous peak.”

Were you there that day? Add your memories in the comments below or Facebook or Twitter.


Beaver_SliceMIT’s longtime mascot, Tim the Beaver, turns 100 in January. Tim crouched down for a tell-all interview with Slice and discussed his first days as mascot, the origins of his name, and his modified MIT motto.

Slice: You turn 100 in January 2014. How are you feeling?

Tim: Considering most beavers rarely live past 10 and I’m pushing triple digits—I feel great.

Slice: Where do you live?

A 99-year old Tim the Beaver

A 99-year old Tim the Beaver

Tim: I live in a beaver lodge near Kendall Square, not too far from my cousins Flat Tim and Sloanie Tim.

Slice: Wow, so there are a lot of beavers in the area?

Tim: Not at first. After I was born, there were no other beavers in Massachusetts until 1932, when the state reintroduced them into the wild. Now there’s more than 70,000, which makes tracking down Commencement tickets pretty hectic.

Slice: You were adopted as MIT’s mascot in January 1914. Can you talk a little about the early days?

Tim: I was so young back then—I had barely gnawed my first tree! I do remember Lester Gardner, class of 1898, proposed me as mascot to then-President Maclaurin at an alumni meeting in New York City.

The first official siting of the beaver. Credit: Technology Review, February 1914.

The beaver makes its mascot debut, Technology Review, February 1914. Credit: MIT Historical Collection

A few alumni—I won’t say who—were hoping for a kangaroo or an elephant. But the beaver is nature’s engineer—and it’s indigenous to North America! 100 years later, it’s still a perfect match.

Slice: Who named you Tim?

Tim: Great question—beavers don’t actually have first names. No one started calling me Tim until the late ’90s. Before that, I was called Bucky, Chipper, and Eager. I’m not particular. Tim works just fine.

Slice: According to MIT’s records, you didn’t make an official visit to campus until 1977, when you joined the Class of 1927 at their 50th reunion (see update below). Where were you between 1914 and 1977?

Tim: Just because it wasn’t an “official” visit doesn’t mean I wasn’t there. Remember when the Brass Rat was first designed in 1929? I was there. I helped carry the first piano to the top of Baker House in ’72. I also exec-produced The Social Beaver back in ’56.

Slice: By the way, you look much different than you did 1977. Care to comment?

A very different looking Tim the Beaver, Tech Reunions 1977.

A very different looking MIT beaver at Tech Reunions 1977. Credit: MIT Historical Collection

Tim: I’ve changed a lot since ’77—we all have. Around the year 2000, I cut down on my bark intake and started eating more roots and twigs. I try to build dams at least three times a week and I take part in as many MIT events as possible.

Plus, I’m dancing more. A lot more.

Slice: What do you have planned for your birthday?

Tim: Well, I know MIT is throwing a party for me on my actual birthday—January 17. I’m hoping to celebrate all the way to Tech Reunions.

Slice: Who’s invited to the party?

Tim: Everyone! Here’s the invite. Check me out on Facebook or visit my webpage.

Slice: After 100 years, do you still relate with MIT alumni and students?

Tim: Yes. Beavers are nocturnal workaholics—we do most of our work at night. We’re noted for our engineering and mechanical skills. And according to conversationists, beavers don’t just build communities, they’re working to make them safer, more efficient, and healthier. Sound familiar?

Slice: So you ascribe to MIT’s motto, mens et manus?

Tim: Well, for me it’s mens et paw, but basically the same thing.

Update: Bob L. ’52 contacted Slice with more information on Tim’s on-campus debut in 1977.

“You will note from the attached photo from TechTalk of June 15, 1977, that the beaver was brought in for the 25th reunion of the Class of 1952,” Bob writes. “The class of 1927 had nothing to do with it, it just happened to be their 50th…So that is the correct history of Tim’s first personal appearance at MIT.”

When reached for comment, Tim apologized for the error.



Got some smart people on your shopping list for the holidays? One option is to plunge into the heady universe of the MIT Press and pluck out a few prizes for family and friends. You’ll find books ranging from provocative to inspiring to fun. And MIT alumni get a 20 percent discount too.

“Publishers have personalities and, befitting the scholarly publisher with its home at MIT, the MIT Press is known for exploring new fields,” notes MIT Press Director Ellen Faran. “The press’s seasonal lists usually include some intriguing titles that transcend discipline boundaries to bring important ideas to the general reader.” A few of Faran’s picks:

MITpress_outer limitsThe Outer Limits of Reason: What Science, Mathematics, and Logic Cannot Tell Us by Noson S. Yanofsky

Examining the levels of infinity or human insights about time, Yanofsky argues that computers, physics, logic, and human thought processes are limited. Take the Monty Hall problem, for example. If the Let’s Make a Deal host offered you the prize behind one of three doors, what additional knowledge do you gain when he eliminates one of the doors? (Okay, so you may learn to overcome some limits with this book.)

China’s Vanishing Worlds: Countryside, Traditions, and Cultural Spaces by Matthias Messmer and Hsin-Mei Chuang

More than a thousand photographs illustrate this portrait of the changing face of China, from village school houses and eco-tourism outposts to modest country dwellings and festivals. These dynamic images document the disappearing cultural landscapes and lifestyles of rural China.

MITpress_nightworkOther choices?

Nightwork, updated edition, by Institute Historian T. F. Peterson

The giant Brass Rat placed on the borrowed Caltech Canon during the 2006 hack took some 1,000 hours of machining to make and now resides in the MIT Museum. Find many more facts and photos about MIT’s glorious hacking history in this revised version.

101 Things I Learned in Architecture School by Matthew Frederick

These concise lessons in design, drawing, the creative process, and presentation—from the basics of “How to Draw a Line” to the complexities of color theory—provide a enjoyable primer in architectural literacy. Learn about Informed Simplicity and how to explain architecture to your grandmother.

The Metamorphosis of Plants by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Originally published in 1790, German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe tells the story of botanical forms in process, revealing the metamorphosis of plants. The book includes 123 numbered paragraphs, accompanied by color photographs and line drawings.

Get your discount: MIT alumni earn a 20 percent discount on all titles ordered directly from the MIT Press website. At the checkout, use this promotion code: MITALUM. Sign up for the newsletter, if you want regular updates.



Guest Blogger: Debbie Levey, CEE Technical Writer

Central Artery under construction, 1950s. Photo: Leslie Jones, Boston Public Library prints collection.

Central Artery under construction, 1950s. Photo: Leslie Jones, Boston Public Library prints collection.

In the 1950s, many MIT alumni, professors, and students helped design the elevated Central Artery, Boston’s first modern highway that sliced through downtown. However, only two—Cranston (Chan) Rogers SM ’50 and Fred Salvucci ’61, SM ’62—are known to have played major roles in the Big Dig project 40 years later that relocated the expressway underground and dismantled the elevated Central Artery. This story describes Rogers’ contribution.

Laying out the elevated highway meant demolishing more than a thousand buildings and uprooting some 20,000 people from homes and businesses. As the green-painted highway forced its way through downtown, Rogers recalled public protests about so much destruction for such an ugly road.

“Commissioner (and later governor) John Volpe suggested putting the next segment by South Station underground and asked me to estimate what it would cost,” said Rogers, who was project manager for finding an alternate route for that section.

Rogers estimated that a tunnel would cost about $18 million or double the cost of an equivalent elevated structure. When Rogers reported the cost differential, Volpe said yes.

Central Artery under construction, 1950s. Photo: Leslie Jones, Boston Public Library prints collection.

Destruction before construction of the Central Artery.

The Dewey Square Tunnel ran about 3,800 feet with about 2,800 feet underground. It was the only part of the national highway system to be put underground at that time (1956) and was also the widest vehicular tunnel in the world.

Eventually, traffic clogged the new expressway. The proposed solution, dubbed the Big Dig, involved demolishing the entire elevated viaduct and rerouting traffic underground through the city and reuniting the downtown with the waterfront. More controversially, the 18-year construction project became the country’s most expensive public works project, finally completed in 2007.

In the early 1990s, Rogers joined the Big Dig effort. As New England’s main railroad terminal, South Station contained multiple tracks that fed into 14 passenger loading platforms. Tunnel work meant somehow getting underneath that area without halting train service.

“Shifting all those tracks around would have been a nightmare,” said Rogers. Instead, he proposed adopting a new European method called jacking the tunnels. Basically, workers built tunnel segments and gradually drove them underneath the tracks with hydraulic jacks, without disrupting the entire railroad yard.

“I managed the whole team jacking the tunnels,” said Rogers. The efficiency and savings brought Rogers and his team national and international awards and professional recognition.

“One of the great rewards of being a civil engineer is being involved in projects like that,” said Rogers. “Going to grad school at MIT under John Wilbur [’26, SM ’28, ScD ’33] really made my career. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time, and everything fell into place.”

Thanks to Aaron Schmidt of the Boston Public Library prints department for photos.

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Ms Nelly A Rosario '94 sent this photo of a treasured undergrad memory: the 1994 Ebony Affair event.

Nelly Rosario ’94 sent in a photo of a treasured undergrad memory: the Ebony Affair event.

Sophomores at MIT face a whole new set of pressures, but unlike first-year students, they cannot blame their stress on inexperience. As Tien Nguyen PhD ’91 put it, sophomore year is “the real thing … no more Pass/Fail.” In order to provide sophomores with inspiring stories from alumni who conquered their second-year second-guessing, we emailed the members of the Institute Career Assistance Network (ICAN). Here are some of the responses we received:

“Choose your major by what excites you most, but explore other areas that intrigue you. You can change your mind later.” – George Pavel ’72

“You still might have no precise idea of what you want to do, but you sure feel the pressure to succeed. Guillaume d’Orange, a European medieval Prince, is supposed to have copied Charles le Téméraire’s saying: Point n’est besoin d’esperer pour entreprendre, ni de reussir pour perseverer [One need not hope in order to undertake, nor succeed in order to persevere]. It’s a great saying about finding the resources into who you are, and not what the peer pressure pushes you to be.” — Jean-Louis L. Roux-Buisson SM ’78

“Forget what you told parents or high school teachers, and future salary.  Figure out what really interests you, grabs your imagination, fires you up.  Then choose.” – Mark Radka ’81

“In 1986, I was a materials science undergrad at MIT, taking literature courses for fun. I am now the chair of a film and photography department. Do what you love, not what other people told you would make money.” – Dr. Walter C. Metz ’89

“The best thing about MIT is that you can switch fields easily because MIT concentrates on basics. I switched 5 times at MIT (all in EE), and became a theoretical Plasma Physicist! After 25 years, I did computer security and air traffic analysis.” – James A. Rome ’64, EE ’67, ENG ’67, SM ’67, SCD ’71

“No matter how much pressure you feel, put things in perspective. Dedicate time to yourself and your loved ones, they are your most important support. Try and exercise, it’ll help take the pressure away … three or four of us used to run early in the freezing mornings along Memorial Drive, crossing the Charles on Mass Ave, coming back on Storrow Drive, crossing the Salt and Pepper bridge, to end at 60 Wadsworth. We would get inside a small car in the parking lot to see the windows fog with condensation. A stupid thing to do, but a lot of fun back then. Steam would come off our bodies like if we were in fire. I wanna think that steam was a form of stress getting out of our bodies.” – Jose L Antoniano PhD ’83

We also asked our Twitter followers to provide advice via the hashtag #MIT2016. You can read our round-up of tweeted advice here, and continue to participate via that hashtag or here in the comments. What do you remember about your sophomore year? What do you know now that you wish you had heard during undergrad?