June 2009


go-kart

The shopping cart-turned-go-kart, dubbed LOLrioKart. Photo: MITERS

More years passed than I care to acknowledge before the practice of perching on a shopping cart and zooming through the grocery store got old. In fact, it never got that old. Not to me, and evidently, not to these MIT students.

According to gadget blog Gizmodo, a group of MIT students recently fashioned a go-kart out of a shopping cart using a stack of NiCd aircraft batteries, a 15hp brushless motor, and some new wheels. The best (read: scariest) part? It can reach 45 miles per hour.

I don’t think they’ve taken it to any grocery stores, though they did record a charming tour of campus. Check it out on YouTube or view below:

The formation of a phantom traffic jam.

The formation of a phantom traffic jam.

The most frustrating sort of traffic jam may be the one that has, apparently, no cause. Think road rage with no one to blame.

MIT mathematicians have been working on the problem. No, they didn’t find someone to blame. Instead, they have developed a model that describes the circumstances that prompt such jams to form. This model could help road designers minimize the odds of their formation. The model can also help determine safe speed limits and identify stretches of road where high densities of traffic—hot spots for accidents—are likely to form

The mathematics of such jams, which the researchers call “jamitons,” are strikingly similar to the equations that describe detonation waves produced by explosions, says Aslan Kasimov, lecturer in MIT’s Department of Mathematics. The equations, similar to those used to describe fluid mechanics, model traffic jams as a self-sustaining wave.

Vic Sahney practices ladder climbing at base camp.

Vic Sahney practices ladder climbing at base camp.

Vikram Sahney SM ’05, MBA ’05 started getting serious about climbing in 2002, when he took a six-day glacier mountaineering course. He did his “first respectable climb,” summiting 14,411-foot Mount Rainier, while doing his MIT internship in Seattle in 2004. In May, he reached the ultimate summit— Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain at 29,035 feet.

“I think the best thing about mountain climbing is that is gives me perspective on daily life,” said Sahney, who works as an engagement manager at McKinsey & Co. in Seattle.

Sahney earned his degrees in an MIT program designed for manufacturing professionals. Created in 1988 as Leaders for Manufacturing, the program was renamed Leaders for Global Operations (LGO) in June. LGO students earn two degrees in two years: either master’s in management and a second master’s in an engineering field.

See the view from Mount Everest in a movie clip by Val Hovland ‘98, SM ‘98, who completed the climb this spring.

Security for Jean-Claude Duvalier in Port au Prince, Haiti, the day before he fled the country in 1986. (© Owen Franken)

Security for Jean-Claude Duvalier in Port au Prince, Haiti, the day before he fled the country in 1986. (© Owen Franken)

Curious about Owen Franken? View more of his work via the Franken Photo of the Week category, learn more in this profile, read a What Matters opinion column he wrote called “Life in Brownian Motion,” or visit his Web site.

OliVaylle olive oilAs a retiree in Australia, former civil engineer Jorge de Moya ’53 happened upon an olive oil production feasibility study from the State of South Australia and did what comes naturally to MIT alums. He dissected it and questioned everything. Back then, not much olive oil was produced Down Under. As late as 2006, Australia contributed only 0.31 percent of the world’s extra virgin olive oil, according to the Australian Olive Association. De Moya’s inquisitive nature took him and his brother, Juan de Moya ’52, on a three-month tour of the major olive oil producers in the Mediterranean, Spain, and the Middle East.

After the journey, De Moya decided there was no reason good olive oil couldn’t be produced in Australia. He also thought he could make a better product than anyone in the world by focusing on ways to combat the factors that can diminish quality: heat, oxygen, time, contaminants, and light. He devised his own production techniques that take just six hours from tree to storage tank. Human hands (which can cause contamination) don’t touch his olives. They are mechanically harvested from trees, and olive oil and paste are protected from oxygen throughout the crushing process. Temperatures are also strictly controlled and lowered to prevent premature aging. Typically, major producers will vacuum olives off the ground and use high temperatures to extract every last drop of oil (a process ironically called cold pressing), which lessens the quality, according to de Moya. His product is also bottled in nearly black glass, to prevent light exposure.

Jorge de Moya '53

Jorge de Moya ’53

The result is a product de Moya calls OliVaylle, which he claims blows away any competition. He may be right. Earlier this month, it won the gold award at the 4th China International Olive Oil Competition. And the Food Channel asked chefs and olive oil connoisseurs to conduct a taste test. Their unanimous verdict? That it was indeed a superior product. See what they had to say.

Learn more about de Moya’s innovative production process for olive oil (pdf) and his career, which includes designing and constructing parts of his native Cuba’s infrastructure.

Inside space shuttle Endeavor, mission specialist Chris Cassidy participates in a simulated launch countdown.  Photo: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Inside space shuttle Endeavor, mission specialist Chris Cassidy participates in a simulated launch countdown. Photo: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The year after Chris Cassidy earned his ocean engineering masters from MIT, he and a team of fellow Navy SEALS were deployed to Afghanistan to try to take down top al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Eight years later, Cassidy is preparing for a new mission: Space.

The 39-year-old father of three will be the second SEAL in space when he takes off in the shuttle Endeavor for the International Space Station. Mission STS-127, for which Cassidy is serving as mission specialist, will last 16 days. One of the main objectives is to complete construction of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Kibo laboratory.

The launch, originally scheduled for June 17th, has been delayed twice because of a hydrogen leak. NASA reported on Sunday that a plate that attaches the vent line to the shuttle’s external fuel tank is slightly misaligned, thus causing the tank to leak during fueling.

The new launch date is scheduled for July 11 at 7:39 pm EDT. If you’re interested in keeping up to date about the mission’s progress, check out NASA’s Web site for online updates, or subscribe to the NASA twitter feed.

Want to figure out how that take-it-apart-and-put- it-back-together gene can turn into something big? Come to Eurekafest, a three-day festival of invention that offers demonstrations, a design challenge, and events honoring winners of the Lemelson-MIT prizes. Eurekafest is free and open to the public, June 24-27. The $500,000 prize winner is nanotechnologist Chad Mirkin.

Student prize winner Geoffrey von Maltzahn '03.

Student prize winner Geoffrey von Maltzahn '03.

See presentations and demonstrations by the winners of the $30,000 Lemelson Collegiate Student Prizes Thursday afternoon at the Stata Center, including MIT’s winner Geoffrey von Maltzahn ’03, a Ph.D. candidate in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences & Technology. He was honored for his nanomedicine contributions: a new class of cancer therapeutics and a new paradigm for enhancing drug delivery to tumors.

Stroll down the Stata Student Street to see the InvenTeams Showcase prototypes Thursday and Friday evenings. On Saturday, you can cheer on some 200 high school students working through an all-day design challenge based on wind-powered devices or enjoy the hands-on learning activities for young children at the Museum of Science. Enjoy!

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