Alumni in the News

betacup logoIf you’re like the majority of North Americans (65%), you drink coffee. And if you buy it from a coffee shop, you probably don’t hand the barista a travel mug before ordering—even though you’ve likely been given a few nice ones over the years as gifts or giveaways. Am I right?

Problem is, most of the to-go cups used to carry those tasty lattes, including those from Starbucks, are not recyclable. In fact, 58 billion paper cups are thrown away every year, and 20 million trees are cut down in the process of manufacturing said cups, which also uses some 12 billion gallons of water.

So what can be done? Two MIT alumni are part of a team that hopes you can figure that out—or at least provide some feedback for others with ideas. Marcel Botha SM ’06 and Shaun Abrahamson SM ’98 helped form the open innovation challenge known as the betacup, which offers $20,000 in prize money for a reusable or recyclable coffee cup people will actually use en masse.

Ideas submitted to the contest are viewable by the public for comment and ratings. So even if you don’t have an idea (yet), you can offer constructive comments and engage in discussions with community members and contest jurors. The contest is sponsored in part by Starbucks, which aims to serve all its beverages in sustainable cups by 2015. Learn more in the video below.

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Chip Chick, a blog devoted to “Tech and Gadgets from a Girls’ Perspective,” is saluting the 20th birthday of an MIT alumni business success, iRobot. Here is their shoutout:

“In the 90’s two MIT grads, Colin Angle [’89, SM ’91] and Helen Greiner [’89, SM ’90], and their MIT Professor, Rodney Brooks, joined forces to make practical robots a reality and 20 years later they are still at the forefront of technology with new and exciting ways to not only help us in our homes but in healthcare, research, and education. It all started by them winning the NASA Group Achievement Award from designing a behavior-controlled rover for NASA. This led to the Sojourner exploring Mars in 1997. In 2002, iRobot launched two robots that would ultimately cement them into our culture, the Roomba floor vacuuming robot and PackBot tactical mobile robot. Five million robots from the household line of vacuum robots have sold worldwide, making it the best-selling consumer robots in history. 3,000 units of the PackBot have also been dispatched to the military and as well as civilians worldwide.”

You can celebrate virtually by watching a Packbot music video created by the band Landsdowne and iRobot that shows off the Packbot at work deactivating bombs and such.

Buzz Aldrin in his astronaut days and now his dancing days.

Left: Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin takes photos during training on July 1, 1969. Photo: NASA Kennedy Space Center. Right: Aldrin rehearses with dance partner Ashly Costa. A typical session in the studio is three-and-a-half to four hours. Photo: ABC/Rick Rowell.

A competitive nature propelled Buzz Aldrin ScD ’63 into his career as an astronaut, and it’s that same spirit he’s taking with him on his next venture, as a contestant on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars (DWTS), premiering this Monday, March 22. Aldrin has already sized up his competition, targeting none other than Olympic figure skating gold medalist Evan Lysacek as his most formidable challenge.

“If you take [Lysacek’s] age and multiply by three, it’s still eight years younger than me,” Aldrin says. But he’s not daunted. For relaxation, the octogenarian scuba dives and downhill skis (which he took up at age 50) and continues exploring other non-celestial worlds: Antarctica, the Titanic ruins two-and-a-half miles below the ocean surface, the North Pole on a Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker. “This dude, for an 80 year old—he could probably bench-press me if he wanted to,” Lysacek told Access Hollywood.”

And let’s not forget that Aldrin brings something to the competition no other dancer does. An MIT degree. What exactly does that afford him? “Concentration, orderly thinking, memory, integrated thinking of transitions from one step to another,…an appreciation for the bigger picture” he says. “I learned all of those things at MIT.”

Buzz Aldrin dancing with partner Ashly Costa for the premier of Dancing with the Stars.

Photo: ABC/Rick Rowell.

On being hip
Dancing on a reality show is not Aldrin’s first foray into pop culture. You might actually be surprised to learn how visible he is. He’s performed in a rap video with Snoop Dogg and others (view the performance or see the making-of video at the end of this post—it’s hilarious); guest-starred in episodes of The Simpsons, Numb3rs, Sesame Street, 30 Rock (airing May 6), and more; will soon release an iPhone app; launched a space brand, Rocket Hero, that’s been licensed by electronics, toys, science-edutainment, and apparel companies, like Nike for a skate shoe; is the inspiration behind Disney’s Toy Story character Buzz Lightyear; and served as the icon for MTV’s original station identification and its video music award, the Moonman (originally called the Buzzy). MTV is so indebted to Aldrin that it has given him its first-ever official endorsement of a DWTS contender, dubbing Aldrin the celebrity they most hope wins the competition.

Some of Aldrin’s many public appearances are aimed at promoting books he’s coauthored, of which there are seven, including two illustrated children’s books, two science-fiction novels, and two autobiographies. His most recent is the memoir Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home from the Moon (Harmony 2009), written with Ken Abraham. (more…)

High School Quiz Show, hosted by Lakshminarayanan (center), will present students from 20 schools, including Hingham.

High School Quiz Show, hosted by Lakshminarayanan (center), will feature 20 schools, including Hingham.

Dhaya Lakshminarayanan ’96, ’99, MCP ’99 earned three degrees in urban studies and planning then embarked upon careers including business consultant and stand-up comedian. Now she’s adding a new gig as host of WGBH’s High School Quiz Show, which premieres Monday, March 22.

“As a former smart kid, I have a lot of ‘nerd pride,’” says Lakshminarayanan, a native Tamil-speaker who learned English watching Sesame Street and other PBS shows. “I love that this show celebrates brainy students. There’s already a lot of emphasis on the competitive nature of sports; now smart kids will have their moment. And the approach to High School Quiz Show’s competition is fun, entertaining, and supportive.”

Are you as smart as a high school student? Find out by watching High School Quiz Show on Monday nights, March 22-June 16, at 7:30 p.m. Watch on WGBH 2, on the live stream at, or after the broadcast on Comcast On Demand. You can also follow live tweets at @HS_QuizShow and @WGBHboston. On the show site, you can take a quiz to see your own grade level, read about the schools, and check the broadcast schedule.


Alex Rigopulos and Eran Egozy Good news for Alex Rigopulos ’92, SM ’94 and Eran Egozy ’95, MNG ’95, founders of Harmonix and creators of Guitar Hero and Rock Band. They have won one of USA Network’s Character Approved Awards honoring innovators who impact American culture and influence opinions, styles, and world views.

MIT Media Lab alumni Rigopulos and Egozy won for pioneering the field of instrument-based music games and for allowing people to more easily engage with music. They find themselves in good company. The nine other honorees include Oscar-winning Director Kathryn Bigelow, (peer-to-peer microlending) cofounder Jessica Jackley, and environmentally friendly architect Angela Brooks.

Check out video of the game designers on the USA Network site.

My name is Christina, and I am a sleepoholic. I will never be able to check “pull an all-nighter” off the list of 101 Things to Do Before You Graduate from MIT and I will always be snickered at by bleary-eyed friends when I complain of “getting only 7 hours.” The truth is, despite being an MIT student, I get an average of 8+ hours of sleep every single night.  I’ve never felt this was my own choice, but rather my brain’s choice, as getting less than 7 hours of sleep results in nodding off in all of my classes and on top of my books. In fact, I have skipped many morning classes in the past after not sleeping enough, knowing that sitting in class would be useless, as I would most certainly fall asleep.

After a lecture on sleep and hypnotics in a Psychopharmacology course I took last year (at that school down the street, aka Harvard), I sheepishly approached the lecturer and asked bluntly if there might be something wrong with a person who needs 8-9 hours of sleep. He chuckled and said it was perfectly normal.

But I still wondered. Was I waking up in the middle of the night and sleepwalking to Newbury Street? Were my sleep cycles abnormal? Did I ever actually enter restorative deep sleep? And if any of these were true, could I be doing something to definitively improve my sleep? I decided these were questions I would probably never get answers to, lest I wanted to spend time in a sleep lab, which I didn’t.

Until a few weeks ago, when I received an email from my friend Mollie ’06 (Course 7 & 9) who told me about the Zeo, a  device that records your sleep cycles as you slumber. I was amazed at the premise and decided to write a post about this device created with the help of a few MIT alums, but decided I had to see it to believe it. So I wrote to the company and asked to try the product. I didn’t actually expect a reply, but sure enough, one week later a package was waiting for me at Baker Desk.

In my next post, I will tell you all about my fascinating sci-fi-like-experience with the Zeo. Stay tuned…and good night!

The President and students talk to astronauts.

The President and students talk to astronauts.

President Obama called the International Space Station crew—including Nicholas Patrick SM ’90, PhD ’96 and Tim “T.J.” Creamer SM ’92—Wednesday to say thanks for installing the beautiful picture window and to let a group of excited middle school students ask the astronauts some questions.

In the course of the conversation, Obama made a pitch for continued space exploration and the astronauts pointed out the value of research in space. Scientists can study the impact of gravity, for example, because they see what happens without it—flames in space are ball-shaped not tear-drop shaped and cells grow “very purely” and stay round and so it’s easier to see how they are replicated.

Kwatsi Alibaruho '95 describes his personal journey to the NASA control room.

Kwatsi Alibaruho '95 describes his personal journey to the NASA control room.

Factoid: This is the 13th time in history that two or more MIT Astronauts are in space at the same time. In fact, the lead flight director on the current mission is an alumnus as well. Kwatsi Alibaruho ’95, the first African-American NASA flight director, describes in a YouTube video how he set his goal of going to MIT when he was ten—and that successful journey eventually led him to his position at NASA.

the BiDi Screen created by Media Lab researchers

The BiDi Screen created by Media Lab researchers.

The latest issue of Quick Take, in case you haven’t read it yet, celebrates MIT advancements that could transform the future of communications, gadgets, transportation, construction, and computing.

In the computing category, for example, the BiDi Screen created by Media Lab researchers turns LCD displays into giant lensless cameras that can both capture images and display them and allow users to control on-screen objects with hand gestures.

Since Quick Take’s publication, gestural interfaces have been attracting a lot of media buzz. Alumnus John Underkoffler ’88, SM ’91, PhD ’99 demonstrated the g-speak Spatial Operating Environment (SOE) at last week’s TED conference in California (see video of it in action below). The idea behind the technology can be seen in the 2002 film Minority Report, for which Underkoffler served as a science advisor. He based the movie’s technology on his earlier work in the Media Lab. Several MIT alumni, who all work for Oblong Industries, were instrumental in creating the SOE.

Of course, other noteworthy MIT innovations have cropped up as well recently. One is in the new field of network coding. MIT researchers discovered that communications networks could be made more efficient—that is, Internet file sharing faster, streaming video more reliable, and cell-phone reception better—by randomly combining data at routers. Read the two-part article about MIT’s contributions to making the most of a network’s bandwidth.

What other inventions and innovations are on the horizon? Here’s a peek: shotgun-riding robots, radiation-resistant steel alloys, redesigned silicon transistors, and computational photography. Read Quick Take: Future to find out more.

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Fewer than 48 hours ago, the space shuttle Endeavor docked at the International Space Station, bringing the count of MIT affiliates at the ISS up to three.  Nicholas Patrick SM ’90, PhD ’96, and Stephen Robinson, who was a visiting engineer at the MIT Man Vehicle Laboratory in the early 1990s, hitched a ride on the Endeavor. They joined  Tim Creamer SM ’92, who has been there since late December 2009.

Later in the week, Patrick will participate in three extravehicular activities to attach the Tranquility module and Cupola observatory to the ISS. The Cupola, which has received ample media attention recently, will function as a panoramic picture-window that will allow astronauts views of Earth, celestial objects, and visiting spacecraft.

Alumnus John Tylko ’79 attended the launch at the Kennedy Space Center in east-central Florida. Take a look at some of the photos he captured:

Credit: John Tylko

Credit: John Tylko

Credit: John Tylko

Two video games with MIT connections are currently up for the $10,000 Indie Game Challenge’s Gamer’s Choice Award, as voted on by the public.

Cogs (shown top), programmed by Lazy 8 Studios founder Rob Jagnow SM ’01, PhD ’05, is a 3-D puzzle game with high-end rendering in which players build a variety of machines from sliding tiles.

Waker (shown bottom), created by the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab, is an educational platform-arcade and puzzle game that aims to teach players about the theories of displacement and velocity. The GAMBIT team (Poof Productions) consisted of MIT staff and grad students as well as students from other universities.Screen shot of Waker

Find videos of each game as well as what inspired the creators on the IGC site. In addition to the Gamer’s Choice Award, both games are also up for $100,000 grand prizes—luckily in different categories. Winners will be announced Feb. 19, so hurry and vote.

What’s more, Cogs is also up for an Excellence In Design award from the Independent Games Festival. Winners will be announced March 11. Congrats to both!


Five MIT-Developed Video Games that Revolutionized the Industry

Even More Groundbreaking Alumni-Developed Video Games


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