Events

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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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.

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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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In honor of Women’s History month, MIT’s Program in Women’s and Gender Studies and the Graduate Consortium in Women’s Studies are co-organizing the fifth annual Women Take the Reel film festival. And there’s still two free screenings to go of the 17 women-directed films shown throughout March showcasing provocative issues like the work of women activists, cyberfeminism, and sexuality, race, and identity.

Upcoming films include Forbidden Voices: How to Start a Revolution with a Laptop to be screened on March 28. The documentary follows the dangerous work of three cyberfeminists—blogging activists using mobile technology, social networks, and the Internet as tools to fight for human rights and gender equality. During the film, Yani Sánchez is badly beaten for criticizing the Cuban government in her blog, which attracts more than 14 million readers each month. Farnaz Seifi of Iran is forced into exile for her outspoken protests online while Chinese blogger Zeng Jinyan is put on house arrest for four years for her blog fighting for freedom of speech and government transparency. “It takes courage to uncover the truth,” said Zeng Jinyan.

Off and Running: A Very American Coming of Age Story, set to be screened on March 31, is the story of a high school track star adopted into a white family and her quest to know her birth parents and understand her racial identity. “Do I feel black? I don’t even know what this is,” she said in the film.

The festival also presented Free Angela and All Political Prisoners, the story of Communist and Black Panthers activist Angela Davis and her sensational trial and eventual acquittal.

American Revolutionary follows the life of 98-year old Grace Lee Boggs, a Chinese American living in Detroit, and her important role in the civil rights, environmental justice, and women’s rights movements. In the movie, Boggs advises viewers to “keep recognizing that reality is changing and your ideas have to change. Don’t get stuck in old ideas.”

This year’s festival “shows figures that are still doing powerful work in the present,” said festival co-organizer Andrea Sutton. “These are voices that we can continue to be inspired by.” For Sutton, the series also gives students and the broader community a taste of what goes on in an MIT women’s studies course. “Film is a low bar of entry for students, and yet it is high content followed by very intellectually rigorous conversation.”

The festival mirrors the broader academic activities of the Graduate Consortium in Women’s Studies, an interdisciplinary collaboration of 11 Boston-area universities that developed the festival. During the festival, members of the consortium will be hosting free film screenings around Boston that conclude with conversation led by film directors, featured activists, or academics.

Visit Women Take the Reel for more information about the series and to attend a free screening. Can’t attend? Visit the site to read more about the individual films and host your own screening event.  

Collaborating institutions for Women Take the Reel include the Graduate Consortium in Women’s Studies and women and gender studies programs at Boston College, Boston University, Brandeis University, Harvard University, Lesley UniversityNortheastern University, Simmons College, Tufts University, and MIT as well as Emerson College’s Visual and Media Arts Program.

 

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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.

 

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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!

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Research focused on some women’s health issues, such as breast cancer, receives significant attention in scientific and funding communities while other areas, such as gynecological disorders, garner much less interest and support.

These disparities led MIT Department of Biological Engineering Professor Linda Griffith to co-found the MIT Center for Gynepathology Research, an interdisciplinary research group that brings new engineering and science approaches into the underserved area of gynepathology.

In the March 2014 Faculty Forum Online, Griffith shared insights into new techniques for attacking endometriosis and discussed research on systems biology and tissue engineering that has impact on clinical practice in gynecology.

Following her comments, Griffith—a renowned expert on regenerative medicine—took live questions from the worldwide MIT community. Enjoy a sample or watch the full webcast then continue the discussion in the comments below.

Linda_Griffith_FFO_Pic

Linda Griffith

About Linda Griffith

Professor of Biological and Mechanical Engineering Linda Griffith’s research focuses on tissue engineering, which the manipulation of cells using to form multi-dimensional structures that carry out the functions of normal tissue in vitro or in vivo. Her work focuses on controlling the spatial and temporal presentation of molecular ligands and physical cues which are known to influence cell behavior.

Griffith is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, the Popular Science Brilliant 10 Award, NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award, and the MIT Class of 1960 Teaching Innovation Award. As chair of MIT’s Undergraduate Curriculum Committee for Biological Engineering, she led development of the Biological Engineering undergraduate degree program—MIT’s first new undergraduate major in more than 40 years.

She earned a bachelor’s degree from Georgia Tech and a doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley, both in chemical engineering.

Related

MIT Department of Biological Engineering profile
MIT Center for Gynepathology Research

Cancer Fight: Unclear Tests for New Drug,” New York Times
MIT bioengineer works to unravel endometriosis,” Boston Globe
Scientist takes aim at her longtime silent scourge,” Boston Globe

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.

For the 2013-2014 season, the Alumni Association will produce three public service-themed evening editions, titled “One Community Together in Service.”

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Nate Silver and Daryl Morey, MBA ’00, at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. (Image via MIT Sloan)

Nate Silver and Daryl Morey MBA ’00 at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. (Image via MIT Sloan)

In February 2007, Daryl Morey MBA ’00 convened a small, one-day conference of about 175 MIT students, sports fans, and professionals. The sessions were held in MIT classrooms and focused on a niche topic—sports analytics, or the use of advanced statistics to employ data-driven strategy in athletics.

Nearly seven years later, thanks in part to the success of that conference, that topic has exploded in relevance, and the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference (SSAC) has positioned MIT as a pivotal part of the burgeoning sports analytics industry.

“We held the first conference at MIT basically because I was an alum and they were supportive,” says Morey, the SSAC conference co-chair who, in 2004, helped Sloan initiate one of the first MBA programs with a sports analytics courses. “Today, analytics, sports, and MIT makes perfect sense.”

The two-day conference annually attracts a sold-out audience of nearly 3,000 attendees that includes more than 300 owners, players, and representatives from the highest-level professional teams in the U.S. and Europe.

Morey is perhaps the most well-known MIT alum working in professional sports—he is general manager and managing director of basketball operations for the NBA’s Houston Rockets—but he is not alone. Nearly every team in the U.S.’s top professional leagues has created analytic-specific positions to help determine in-game and business strategy, and MIT alumni are a small but growing group that is filling those roles.

Brian Bilello '97

Brian Bilello ’97

“More alumni are getting involved in sports because the analytical skillset is becoming more valuable and more appreciated,” says Brian Bilello ’97, president of soccer’s New England Revolution. “I studied chemical engineering but MIT didn’t necessarily train me to be a chemical engineer. They trained me to solve chemical engineering problems, and I can apply that perspective to my job with the Revolution.”

Sports teams now use analytics to provide a deeper level of analysis beyond traditional data. In baseball, front offices that once relied on well-known stats like home runs and runs batted in now place greater emphasis on advanced metrics like VORP (Value Over Replacement Player), a calculation created by Keith Woolner ’90 that demonstrates how much a player contributes to his team in comparison to a near-average replacement player at the same position.

After graduating from MIT, Woolner worked in software development and system management in Silicon Valley for more than a decade. As a hobby, he wrote stat-heavy articles for Baseball Prospectus (BP), an organization devoted to advanced statistics. In 2007, he parlayed his analysis to a position with the Cleveland Indians, where he works as director of baseball analytics and focuses on metrics for player valuation and game strategy.

“I always viewed my writing as being more of a scientist—I gathered information and presented it,” Woolner says. “In the early days at BP, we were very much the outsiders. By the time I joined Cleveland, I came into an organization that was data-driven and had buy-in towards analytics.”

The outdated idea of a team’s front office is one of retired coaches who have graduated to executive positions. In reality, most teams employ a group with varied expertise that includes scouts, former players, and stat-focused analysts and executives.

Farhan

Farhan Zaidi ’98 (right)

“Front offices today are very balanced—traditional scouting backgrounds mixed with analytics backgrounds,” says Farhan Zaidi ’98, the Oakland Athletics’ director of baseball operations. “Much like MIT, sports now live in a very hypothesis-driven environment. You need to ask the right questions, accumulate the right data, and implement a strategy based on that data.”

While the number-crunching approach to improving on-field performance has gained significant attention—see Moneyball, the 2011 film starring Brad Pitt—teams are also taking an analytical approach unrelated to in-game strategy.

As vice president of business planning and basketball analytics for the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, Zaheer Benjamin MBA ’03 oversees an analytics team that focuses on diverse areas of Suns business, including marketing, ticket sales, and increasing revenue.

“Customer scoring models, for example, are something a lot of other industries do very well and sports is just getting up to speed on,” he says. “We use it to predict how likely season-ticket holders are to renew their ticket packages and align our resources to be as efficient as possible.”

While it continues to grow in popularity—Fast Company named the conference the third-most innovative sports organization in the world in 2012—it remains an MIT-rooted event. The conference’s organizing committee includes more than 60 MIT Sloan alumni and current students.

“That Venn diagram of MIT and sports may never have a ton of people in the middle,” Morey says. “But the MIT skillset fits perfectly with what teams are trying to accomplish. I’ve already hired one MIT alumni. I’d hire five more if I could.”

The 2014 conference takes place Feb. 28-March 1 in Boston and offers reduced-rate tickets for MIT alumni. Visit sloansportsconference.com for more information.

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Alexis Photiades

Alexis Photiades ’91, SM ’92

During Alexis Photiades’ five years at MIT, he earned two degrees and competed in three skiing events in two Olympic Games for Cyprus. Photiades was also a member of MIT’s ski team, qualifying for NCAA Nationals, and captained the tennis team, where he was ranked ninth in the country in NCAA men’s singles. His coach called him “Mr. Everything.”

The only MIT alumnus to participate in three Winter Games (he also competed as a 16-year-old in 1984), Photiades now runs a beverage distribution company based in Cyprus that operates throughout Eastern Europe. He answered 10 questions from Slice of MIT about his lack of sleep during college, life as a freshman Olympian, and similarities between the Games and MIT.

What’s more difficult—graduating from MIT or qualifying for the Olympics?

“Both were difficult, even though qualifying for the Cyprus team is far easier than qualifying for the team of a large country. But graduating from MIT was more precious to me. The experience at MIT has been more impactful in my life. The overall experience shaped my character a lot more than anything else I’ve ever done.”

You participated in two Olympics while you were a full-time MIT student. How difficult was it to balance training and studying?

“I didn’t sleep much. In 1988, my first year at MIT, I was taking course 6.001 as an elective, training with the MIT ski team in New Hampshire, and playing tennis. I was trying to balance all of these things. When I went to the Olympics, I took my books to study. I ended up not doing any work because I was so overwhelmed.”

How supportive were your fellow students?

“The people in my dorm, Conner House, were very excited. They wrote me cards and postcards. When I got back to campus, they had a party for me. It was really nice. I had a hard time catching up with my studies after the Games. The teaching assistants really spent a lot of extra time helping me get back to speed.”

2006 Olympian Pat Antaki ’84 compared the Olympic Village to an MIT dorm. Do you agree?

“That’s a good analogy. Everyone in the village is competitive, ambitious, and focused on their goals. Although I would say there is more camaraderie at MIT than in the Olympic Village.”

What’s more difficult: Competing in the actual Olympic Games or the work it takes just to qualify?

“Qualifying was tough, at least for me, and I was very proud when I finally made the team. But competing in the Olympics was something completely different. My first Olympic race, I was 16 years old. I’ll never forget looking around, seeing the media, plus the big, tough ski slopes and the best competitors in the world. Cyprus is a small country—the Olympics was my first big race.”

Photiades with Hall of Fame tennis player Ilie Năstase in 2013.

Photiades with Hall of Fame tennis player Ilie Năstase in 2013.

Of your three Olympic Games, which one stands out as your favorite?

“I was quite happy with my performance in 1992. I didn’t expect to win any medals coming from Cyprus but I wanted to minimize my difference and be as competitive as possible. I went for it with nothing to lose and nothing to prove. I was very happy with the result.” (Photiades had personal Olympic-best times in the Super G, Slalom, and Giant Slalom in 1992.)

Competing in one Olympics seems like a draining experience, physically and emotionally. What made you return for two more?

“It never crossed my mind to say no. In 1992 I had also qualified for the NCAA Nationals, but when I was asked by the Cyprus coach to return for the Olympics it was an easy choice. It was tough to manage everything, but I never considered saying no.”

How did MIT help you prepare for the Olympics?

“I always remember the MIT routine, like the problem sets that you have to do every week. Each problem set pushed you to the limit. And there’s no other way to excel without pushing your limits. That is the philosophy at MIT.”

What advice do you have for MIT students who are balancing coursework with athletics or other activities? You seem like an expert.

“The more you have to do in your daily schedule, the better programmed, more efficient, and more effective you become. Competitive sports meshes very well with a competitive educational environment like MIT. I didn’t have too much free time at MIT but it was some of the best years of my life.”

Finally, you also represented Cyprus in the Davis Cup international tennis tournaments. What’s your favorite sports, tennis or skiing?

“These days, I’m more of a tennis guy. My age is getting in the way of skiing. But if I look back, I really can’t say. They both played big roles in my life.”

For more information on MIT alumni the Olympics, view an infographic and read a history of alumni Olympians.

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At MIT’s Art of Astrophysics gallery exhibit, held in Lobby 10 on January 31, the MIT community celebrated the beauty of the universe. The show featured 49 works of art illustrating the wonders of the solar system and planetary nebulas, breathtaking supernovas and galaxies, and meditations on the universe’s beginnings. Ten alumni and 25 current students contributed works including photos, videos, paintings, and sculpture. See photos and videos of the award winners.

Slide background 100 Planetary Nebulas ~ Judy Schmidt
Slide background Pink Nebula ~ Conny Goelz-Schmitt
Slide background Postcard from the Moon ~ Hannah Wood
Slide background
Slide background Sight Beyond The Stars ~ Natalia Guerrero '14
Slide background Telescopic Moon, First Quarter ~ Elizabeth Cavicchi '78, SM '80
Slide background The Big Bang: Digital Animation ~ Christina Sun '17 and Kiran Wattamwar '17
Slide background Selenographia Revisited ~ Michael Benson, Erik Demaine, Martin Demaine

“In MIT and in astronomy in general there does seem to be a pretty big number of people who are secretly artists at heart,” said Zach Berta-Thompson, competition co-organizer with Bryce Croll, both postdoctoral fellows at MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. “This has been a fun way to get people to crawl out of the woodwork.”

First prize went to the video performance “The Life of a Star in the Flame Nebula.” A team of five performers danced with staffs of fire to act out a star’s formation. The full production team of 14 students and alumni was led by Rachel Bowens-Rubin ‘11, SM ‘12, who drew upon her background in planetary science and musical theater at MIT to choreograph the performance. She explained contests like Dance Your PhD inspired her to educate people about stars by “dancing out the topic to explain it.”

First Place Winner "The Life of a Star in the Flame Nebula"

First Place Winner “The Life of a Star in the Flame Nebula”

And dance they did. To represent gas collecting, the dancers—their flames each symbolizing a unit of atomic mass—gyrated faster and faster to intensifying electronic music. Eventually, the spinners combined their flames in a central bowl to represent the star formation and the start of fusion. The spinners then acted out a proton-proton chain reaction culminating in the creation of Helium-4.

The video’s captions offered a scientific commentary to the performance with some humor. “Doesn’t science make you feel all warm?” the video asked as Helium-3 was formed. “Maybe it was the 5.49MeV of energy release during the reaction…or the fire.”

Seven other works received prizes including “Telescopic Moon, First Quarter,” by Elizabeth Cavicchi ‘78, SM ‘80. Following in Galileo’s footsteps, she observed the moon’s surface through her own tiny telescope and illustrated what she saw in watercolor and ink.

Selenographia Revisited

Selenographia Revisited

Also receiving an honorable mention was “Selenographia Revisited” by Michael Benson, Erik Demaine, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science assistant professor, and Martin Demaine, a visiting artificial intelligence and computer scientist. An homage to lunar cartographer Johannes Hevelius and his 1647 book Selenographia, this intricately folded origami sculpture re-shapes a page from the seminal work into a dramatic series of geometric turns and twists. “This swirling equilibrium fold represents how space and time are flexible, warping and flexing depending on the forces at work,” the artists write in their description.

“Astrophysics is a very visual field,” said Berta-Thompson. “There’s a lot of space to explore. Literally.”

Visit the Art of Astrophysics online gallery for photos of all submitted works. MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research funded the competition.

 

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Exoplanets_Slice

Update: Watch the Feb. 11 webcast.

The study of exoplanets can be portrayed as a single-minded quest for habitable, Earth-like planets. But the most remarkable discoveries have been exoplanets with unanticipated properties that can make habitation impossible.

In the Feb. 2014 Faculty Forum Online, Associate Professor Joshua Winn ’94, SM ’94, PhD ’01 described these new worlds—and shared research discoveries about the formation and evolution of planets.

Following his comments, Winn took questions from the worldwide MIT community via interactive chat. Watch the archived webcast then return to Slice of MIT and continue the conversation in the comments.

About Joshua Winn ’94, SM ’94, PhD ’01

Joshua Winn

Joshua Winn

Associate Professor Joshua Winn’s research explores the properties of planets around other stars, how planets form and evolve, and seeks to answer if there are other planets capable of supporting life.

His research group uses optical and infrared telescopes to study exoplanetary systems—particularly those in which the star and planet eclipse one another—and pursues topics in stellar astronomy, planetary dynamics, radio interferometry, gravitational lensing, and photonic band-gap materials.

Winn is the deputy science director of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, a NASA mission scheduled for launch in 2017. He earned his bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and doctorate for MIT and spent one year as a Fulbright Scholar at Cambridge University. He is a contributor to the science section of the Economist and held postdoctoral fellowships with the National Science Foundation and NASA. He joined the MIT Department of Physics in January 2006.

Related

Searching for solar systems like our own,” MIT News, March 13, 2013
Learning from Hot Jupiters,” MIT News, December 15, 2010
MIT Department of Physics Faculty Profile: Joshua Winn

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