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.

The world of journalism is in financial turmoil, but science writing is still a great gig. Three writer/editors—either current or former Knight Journalism Fellows—described the thrill of (mostly) following their own curiosity among the wonders of contemporary science. At an IAP talk Jan. 21, they shared tips on how to get started and get paid for it with their audience: MIT students.

MIt student (left) chats with journalists Jonathan Fildes and Karen Weintraub.

MIT student (left) chats with journalists Jonathan Fildes and Karen Weintraub.

Author Trisha Gura first started writing as a PhD student intent on getting out of the lab occasionally. She took an evening writing course taught by a Chicago Sun journalist, and was promptly invited to become a freelancer. Since then, she’s found internships then jobs through professional organizations and contacts. Most recently, she’s completed a book on eating disorders, learned to market her book using podcasts and email blasts; she also blogs at the Huffington Post and freelances for magazines.

BBC News science and technology reporter Jonathan Fieldes got his start through a recommendation from his night school writing teacher as well. First he worked in radio as a producer and now he’s an online reporter writing one-three stories a day plus recording interviews and sometimes producing multimedia. Online writing tip: the first four sentences must tell the story.

Globe science and health editor Karen Weintraub said one of her best learning experiences was working for a small, but innovative, Virginia newspaper. “Don’t be afraid to step off the track to work with great people.”

Advice in brief: Get clips. Meet people. Develop good ideas and multimedia skills. Jobs mostly come via work experience and internships.


Art by Roy Lichenstein and Vincent Van Gogh. Quick Time panoramas of world architecture. Drawings from Darwin’s Endeavour voyage and a 264 A.D. Chinese method of finding pi. All these are available through ARTstor, an online collection of more than one million images now available to the MIT campus community.

An IAP talk Jan. 21 profiled the images available from dozens of fine art and historic collections from the Library of Congress to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the George Eastman House.

Use of the high-quality images for education and research is covered under the new MIT license. You may need to follow an online link to request permission for other uses. Anyone on campus can set up an account.

ARTstor: http://libraries.mit.edu/get/artstor

National Service Opportunities for Summer and Post-Graduation

IAP Close to Home Panel: National Service Opportunities for Summer and Post-Graduation

For many students, the days following graduation are marked with sleepiness, sweet pride over their hard-earned degrees, and little lumps in their throats that signal the start of job hunting season. What’s a student to do? The Public Service Center has answers.

At an IAP event yesterday, the PSC convened a panel of folks from nearby teaching programs who offer recent (and some not-so-recent) grads paid opportunities to teach and tutor area students after graduation. Four different organizations were represented: Breakthrough Cambridge, Match Corps*, Teach for America*, and the Massachusetts Promise Fellowship*. Each occupies its own niche in the service-teaching landscape, but there were a few surprising commonalities that they shared.

*These programs are open to recent grads and alumni

5 skills you’ll hone in an immersive teaching/tutoring job:

1. Leadership Management: The Teach for America representative stressed this skill over and over again, saying that when you walk into a room of rowdy high school kids, you have to learn quickly how to get control of the classroomand keep it.

2. Communication: “If you think it’s easy to waltz into a room and start chatting with a 16-year-old Dominican girl from Dorchester, that’s fine,” said the Match Corps representative. “But most people have to learn a lot about communication on the job. It’s essential.”

3. Motivation: One of my best friends completed the Match Corps program, which involved tutoring a handful of students throughout the academic year, sleeping on the fifth floor of the school that he worked in, and constantly racking his brain over how to keep his kids motivated and engaged with their school work. I remember him saying that with one student, he would tutor “in character,” using a different voice and persona to keep things interesting. He took his kids out to dinner, coached them day and night, and learned a ton about how to keep his students–and himself–motivated. (more…)

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