Can our brains show us when we’re ready to learn? That’s the question that professor John Gabrieli ’87 posed to the audience at the Tech Day program in June as he joined members of the MIT faculty to talk about problems in education and the environment that are being addressed here in Cambridge and around the globe.
In this Slice of MIT podcast, hear audio from a few talks given by alumni faculty at Tech Day, which focused on two of the themes from the MIT Campaign for a Better World, a $5 billion comprehensive fundraising initiative that launched in May. The first is teaching learning and living, and the second, the health of the planet.
Teaching, Learning, and Living
The first speaker to address education was AeroAstro Professor Karen Willcox ’96, PhD ’00, an innovator in the field. She is a professor of aeronautics and astronautics and co-director of MIT’s Center for Computational Engineering and the US Department of Energy’s Diamond Center. One of her projects, named for the fly-by-wire system in an aircraft, draws on her field of aerospace engineering. The system uses real-time feedback between the student and the teacher, through the fly-by-wire app, to modify assessments and assignments that adjust to the students’ needs and skill level—similar to the way the system is used on an airplane.
“It’s a really great example of humans and digit technologies working seamlessly together to achieve in an engineering system, things that we could never do with a human alone,” says Willcox.
Professor John Gabrieli PhD ’87 uses his understanding of the brain to figure out how learning works. From his research, he has shown that observing brain activity can inform ideal times for learning, therefore offering opportunity for optimization. “We know now with some scientific evidence that there’s a signal in your brain when you’re ready to learn and when you’re not ready to learn,” says Gabrieli.
Health of the Planet
Professor John Fernández ’85 is director of the Urban Metabolism Group, where he is establishing an understanding of the resource intensity of urbanization. He is also the director of MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative and co-director of the International Design Center. His Tech Day talk focused on the drastic rise in urban development and its impact on the use of resources and energy throughout the world.
“More than half of the people on Earth now live in cities…and that’s going to continue to increase to about 65 possibly 70 percent in the next 30 years or so,” says Fernández, whose group is working to find sustainable solutions. “Just like you hear there is no single energy technology that will solve our climate problem, there is no single kind of city or single kind of production and consumption system that will solve our environmental issues.”
For Professor Elsa Olivetti PhD ’07, making the world a better place starts with a better understanding of the ordinary materials that are used and thrown out daily. Olivetti is the Thomas Lord Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and holds a PhD from MIT in materials science.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, Olivetti says, in 2013 the average person in the US threw out around four pounds of trash per day. She then points out that, that when you consider all of the materials required in daily life, which includes everything from driving our cars to the manufacturing for the products we use, Olivetti says it’s “180 pounds per person, per day; 40 times what we throw out a day is required to support the way we live.”
Learn more: listen to the podcast above or on the Alumni Association’s SoundCloud page. And don’t forget to subscribe on iTunes to rate the podcast and leave a review. Tweet your thoughts on this episode to @mit_alumni.
View all of the presentations from Tech Day below.