January 2009

A 3-D intensity profile of reflected infrared light from the MIT-made mirror fiber.

In 2002, Fink created high-performance mirrors in the shape of hair-like flexible fibers--here "MIT" is rendered in mirror fiber.

A 19-year-old’s life was saved after his brain surgeon stumbled across information on a technology created at MIT. In December, a North Carolina surgeon was feeling down after a failed brain tumor surgery–he could only remove 20 percent of the tumor. That night, after putting his kids to bed, he was browsing CNN online when he discovered the exact tool he needed. Emails flew and within 72 hours he had the flexible, guided laser device (video) in his hands. A day later, he used it to incinerate and remove the remaining tumor.

The Omni Guide device was based on the invention of perfect mirrors created by Associate Professor Yoel Fink PhD ’00, when he was a graduate student. The device was originally designed for the military and only available to surgeons since fall. The device delivers a high-powered CO2 laser beam through a highly flexible fiber. See the device in action. Learn more about Fink’s research developing entirely new classes of fiber devices and other materials science news. Hot stuff!

Upcoming NPR event

Who: NPR journalist and two economic experts, including Sloan Professor Simon Johnson PhD ’89 (Check out Johnson’s blog)

What: Live chat about nationalizing the U.S. banking system

When: Monday, February 2nd at noon E.S.T.

Where: NPR Web site: http://snipurl.com/b0b9r

After the first $350 billion of the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program was distributed, American taxpayers became the *biggest shareholders* in Citigroup and Bank of America. The second round of TARP funding has gone out and, as NPR notes, the banks are still in hot water.

What do you think? Nationalize the banks now—or never? Tune in to the live chat, or if you have an opinion or a question for the panel, you can leave a comment on the NPR page.

Read some of the recent comments.

OpenCourseWare put MIT on the free knowledge path, and the Sloan School of Management has recently taken the next step. Free business knowledge! Isn’t that an oxymoron? Don’t corporations keep score by stacking up $$$?

Apparently Sloan has a broader view of how knowledge should travel. You’ll find free teaching materials, including case studies, simulations, deep dives, and industry, business, and country overviews in the MIT Sloan Teaching Innovation Resources. Just add students and entrepreneurs then stir. Voila! Seeds of economic recovery, perhaps?

MIT Sloan Management Review (SMR) is drinking the same Kool-Aid. With a new print and Web design, SMR offers access to the past year’s content online with free registration. You can also sample articles written in partnership with the Wall Street Journal plus a handful of blogs.

Will doves burst from his wallet? What else is he going to do?

Ezra Glenn, community development lecturer in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning had just organized a mock town meeting out of a table of IAP attendees. He circled the room and asked us to list off challenges to town meetings. Hostile audiences! Varying knowledge bases! Preconceptions! He scribbled the list on a big sheet of paper, ripped the paper from the wall, rolled it into a fat cone, and asked, “what do all of these problems give us??”

He tipped the cone onto the table  and confetti and raw eggs spilled out. “A big mess! That’s what!”
Egg and confetti

Everybody loved it. Sure, it was kind of cheap, but suddenly everyone was laughing and watching Glenn intensely. “What’s he going to do next? Are his pants going to fall down?” Glenn read our thoughts (close enough, anyway).

The rest of the hour was spent learning new tricks and talking about how public meetings and presentations can be made more interesting by interspersing simple magic tricks into the agenda. Glenn stressed that the tricks should carry a message or fit with a story–not be tricks simply for the sake of tricks. A meeting about raising money could include a cone full of coins; talk of beautifying a park could include a torrent of flowers.

Why would anyone do magic during a meeting?

  • Especially at public meetings held after working hours, attendees may have kids with them. Happy kids = happy parents.
  • Magic tricks break the ice.
  • If you want to humble yourself, schlocky, amateur magic tricks can make you more approachable and diminish the I’m-the-most-important-person-here-vibe. Good planners (and meeting facilitators in general) are also good listeners—but there will be nothing to listen to if people don’t talk because they’re intimidated.

We learned four or five other tricks during the IAP session (including the balloon feat below). Leave a comment if you’d like to hear more of them.
Balloon animals

Want to see real magic? The best show around, according to Glenn, still operates out of Beverly, MA: http://www.legranddavid.com/

On my way to the Z-Center last night, I ran into this guy:


Overseas Property Mall

Shanghai skyline, Photo: Overseas Property Mall

A couple mornings ago I woke up to the voice of Huang Yasheng, an MIT Sloan professor who was being interviewed on NPR’s “Morning Edition.” The segment was about how Shanghai’s glittering skyline may be masking serious economic troubles, among them, a deepening real estate slump. One person interviewed said that problems in the property market were just a regular dip, but the Sloan prof said that the rise of sky scrapers and housing vacancies were much more ominous–they exposed weaknesses in the interventionist, top-down style of Chinese capitalism.

“The way that China has urbanized is overbuilt, overinvested without making average people rich… Developers get rich, government officials get rich. Essentially you have a building boom, you have property development, but because the land prices are controlled by the government, the people don’t get that much from the building boom.”

Have you been to Shanghai? What’s your take?

Listen to the NPR broadcast.

MIT Physics Professor Emeritus Aron Bernstein kicked off a four-part lecture series called “Nuclear Weapons: Physics, History, and Abolition?” with a look at the history surrounding the development and deployment of the weapons. Here are some facts he presented that you may not be aware of.

1—Five years before nuclear fission (the energy-producer for nuclear power and weapons) was actually discovered, physicist Leó Szilárd conceived of the idea of the nuclear chain reaction that could release this energy and patented the concept and the yet-to-be-created nuclear reactor.

2—One of the reasons the U.S. succeeded in creating the atomic bomb and Germany did not is because physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Manhattan Project’s director of scientific research, gathered scientists from a wide range of fields in addition to physicists, including metallurgists to discover how to produce, purify, and use plutonium.

3—Scientists at three of the Manhattan Project’s major research sites, independent of one another, came to the unanimous conclusion—and vehemently advocated—that the atomic bomb should be used as a demonstration only, not on civilians, since there was no defense of such a weapon.

4—The first resolution of the United Nations, in January 1946, was to eliminate nuclear weapons.

5—The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) between the U.S. and Russia, which limits the number of nuclear warheads the two countries can deploy to 6,000 atop a total of 1,600 intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and bombers, expires December 5, 2009. Many in the arms community are hoping that number will drop to 1,000 under President Obama’s leadership.

For more information, read “Nuclear Disarmament Activities at MIT: Rising from the Ashes,” an article for MIT’s Faculty Newsletter penned by MIT professors Aron Bernstein and Heather Lechtman and researcher Kosta Tsipis.

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