Dinner will be served.

Dinner will be served.

One more Star Trek Next Generation commonplace, the replicator, is emerging in the 21st century. For Earthlings, it’s a Fluid Interfaces Group project, housed in the Media Lab, called Cornucopia: Digital Gastronomy. Call it a personal food factory or a 3-D printer for food, it works the same way:

Cornucopia’s cooking process starts with an array of food canisters, which refrigerate and store a user’s favorite ingredients. These are piped into a mixer and extruder head that can accurately deposit elaborate combinations of food…. This fabrication process not only allows for the creation of flavors and textures that would be completely unimaginable through other cooking techniques, but it also allows the user to have ultimate control over the origin, quality, nutritional value and taste of every meal.

Yummy? We can’t tell yet because it’s still in prototype stage, but it’s buzzing in media like Gizmodo and Trendhunter and blogs like Make.

Though it comes as no surprise, Leg Lab spinoff Boston Dynamics (of BigDog and PETMAN fame) announced earlier this month that it has been awarded a contract by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop the first ever “Legged Squad Support System.”

The legged robot, called the LS3, will be designed to lighten warfighters’ load by carrying over 400 lbs of gear and enough fuel for missions covering 20 miles and lasting 24 hours. Development of LS3 will take 30 months at a cost of $32M, with first walk out scheduled for 2012.

In a press release, Boston Dynamics president Marc Raibert PhD ’77 said, “If LS3 can offload 50 lbs from the back of each solider in a squad, it will reduce warfighter injuries and fatigue and increase the combat effectiveness of our troops.”

Learn more about BigDog, PETMAN, the LS3 program, and the Waltham-based company, Boston Dynamics.

Design Squad Host Nate Ball ’05, SM ’07 stands ready (on roof) while Zach Tribbett ’12 tests a T-shirt shooter for the WNBA that can reach an arena's upper deck.

Design Squad Host Nate Ball ’05, SM ’07 stands ready (on roof) while Zach Tribbett ’12 tests a T-shirt shooter for the WNBA that can reach an arena's upper deck.

Ask MIT engineers to help create a TV show and what do you get? Design Squad, PBS’s Emmy- and Peabody-award-winning show that aims to educate and excite tweens and teens about engineering. On it, teams of teenage contestants design and build problem-solving products for actual clients, such as a remote-controlled aquatic pet rescue vehicle for the New Orleans Fire Department or a portable peanut-butter-making machine for a women’s collective in Haiti, while competing for a $10,000 scholarship. Filmed near Boston, Design Squad is half show, half engineering outreach. The companion Web site offers hands-on activities, educators’ guides, videos of working engineers, and more. Watch the show.

As host of the show, Ball would monitor teams' progress and scout for lessons to emphasize to viewers through narrated animations.

As host of the show, Ball would monitor teams' progress and scout for lessons to emphasize to viewers through narrated animations.

Several members of the MIT community have been instrumental in the development and production of the show. To name a few, Daniel Frey PhD ’97, associate professor of mechanical engineering and engineering systems, served as the show’s first advisor, in 2002, and created the curriculum in collaboration with producers at WGBH-TV Boston. He also oversaw UROP students participating in the show. David Wallace SM ’91, PhD ’95, professor of mechanical engineering, has created design challenges, served as technical advisor on set, mentored teams, and aided post-production. Inventor Nate Ball ’05, SM ’07 hosts the show and some MIT students have been cast members.

The show aims to introduce the process and practice of engineering and demystify it as a possible career choice. “[TV] can certainly offer exposure to the world of engineering in a much more visual and experiential way than you can get otherwise,” says Ball, who loved to tinker and build things as a kid but didn’t know what mechanical engineers did until he went to college. Still, reality TV as a teaching tool does have its demands. Ball has to balance a mix of excitement, interest, competence, and zaniness and also works to buoy and motivate contestants during frustrating moments so they don’t just reflect aggravation on camera.

Tribbett during the season finale, when contestants were dropped off on Misery Island in Salem Sound and given limited materials to build a boat and make it a half mile back to shore. Ball thinks this was one of the most successful challenges of the season. "It was a great mix of we've got to get this right or we're going to sink."

Tribbett during the season finale. Contestants had to build a boat on Misery Island in Salem Sound and make it a half mile back to shore. Ball considers this a successful challenge. "It was a great mix of we've got to get this right or we're going to sink."

Tight time and budget constraints, which prevent overtime, offer some of the greatest struggles. Contestants have 16 hours to complete challenges, yet they can be held up waiting to film key moments, like joining two pieces of a design together. “Whenever we were going on to the next step in the process, they’d have to get that on camera,” says Zach Tribbett ’12, a math and brain and cognitive sciences major from West Chester, Pennsylvania, who appeared on the third (and most recent) season. If the camera operator was occupied, contestants had to wait. Then, they’d have to restage the shot from different angles. A two-minute procedure could take 20 minutes to an hour. (more…)

Looking for holiday gift ideas? Let’s face it, there are only so many cleverly concealed flash drives and digital photo frames you can give out before your gift recipients start complaining about your lack of imagination. Here are some suggestions with MIT connections. If you want to do a good deed while you shop and you’ll be on, consider linking to the retailer via the OpenCourseWare Web site. Your purchases will cost the same, but OCW will receive up to 10 percent of the price of what you buy during that visit.


Khet laser game

Khet laser game

Khet laser game—developed by Michael Larson PhD ’92, this Egyptian-themed board game combines classic strategy with the physics of lasers and optics. Players position mirrored pieces to bounce laser beams onto an opponent’s pharaoh.

Rock Band Unplugged or The Beatles: Rock Band—created by Harmonix Music Systems, which was founded by Alex Rigopulos ’92, SM ’94 and Eran Egozy ’95, MNG ’95.

No Limit Hold ’em: Theory and Practice—Learn from poker expert Ed Miller ’00 in this definitive text on the game covering topics such as manipulating the pot size, adjusting correctly to stack sizes, winning the battle of mistakes, reading hands, and manipulating opponents into playing badly. Check out his other books too.

Fashion and design

Nervous System jewelry. Left: large algal bloom pendant. Right: two-layer center ring inspired by the complex forms of radiolarians. Rosenkrantz and Rosenberg created interactive software to morph, twist, and subdivide each design, transforming a simple mesh to a complex patterned structure.

Nervous System jewelry. Right: large algal bloom pendant. Left: two-layer center ring inspired by the complex forms of radiolarians. Rosenkrantz and Rosenberg created interactive software to morph, twist, and subdivide each design, transforming a simple mesh into a complex patterned structure. lingerie, pajamas, and leisurewearJuli Lee ’89, MBA ’95 is founder, designer, and chief merchandising officer of this line, which targets women 35 to 55.

Nervous System jewelry—Inspired by complex patterns generated by computation and nature, Jessica Rosenkrantz ’05 and Jesse Louis-Rosenberg, who studied math at MIT, design necklaces, bracelets, earrings, rings, and brooches that combine nontraditional materials like silicone rubber and stainless steel with rapid prototyping methods.

Essential or Pom Pom wall dimmers—Whimsical and funky fabric alternatives to traditional plastic dimmer switches designed by Maggie Orth SM ’93, PhD ’01.

Household items

Looj gutter cleaner or Verro pool cleaner—You’ve heard of the Roomba. These are other handy cleaning devices from the robotics firm iRobot, which was cofounded by Colin Angle ’89, SM ’91; Helen Greiner ’89, SM ’90; and their MIT professor, Rodney Brooks.

Clocky—The elusive alarm clock on wheels that forces you to chase it down to silence it. Designed by Gauri Nanda SM ’05.

The homemade touch

Prefer to make a gift? Check out these sites.

Tikatok children’s books—Write, illustrate, and publish original stories with your child into professional-quality hardcover and paperback books via this online platform. Orit Zuckerman SM ’06 cofounded the company, and Neal Grigsby SM ’07 is director of online community.

DIY electronicsAdafruit Industries, founded by Limor Fried ’03, MNG ’05, sells kits and parts for original, open-source hardware electronics projects. Check out Drawdio (shown below) a pencil that draws music and was created by Jay Silver SM ’08; the Ice Tube clock, a Russian vacuum fluorescent tube clock; and Tweet-a-Watt, a wireless home-power monitoring system. See all projects. how-to community—Find instructions for all kinds of projects, such as turning a dead stuffed beaver into a computer and pimping a USB drive. The site spun out of engineering design firm Squid Labs, which was cofounded by Eric Wilhelm ’99, SM ’01, PhD ’04 and Saul Griffith SM ’00, PhD ’04. Wilhelm is CEO of Instructables and his wife, Christy Canida ’99, works there as a community manager. Check out Wilhelm’s traditional Polynesian ice canoe for when you really want to kitesurf but the lake is frozen over.

Howtoons—A kids’ project-building book in comic strip format. Howtoons shows children how to use common household items like soda bottles, duct tape, mop buckets, and more to build imaginative things. Activities range from simple (a flute made from a turkey baster) to more complex (a marshmallow shooter). Howtoons was cocreated by Saul Griffith SM ’00, PhD ’04 and Joost Bonsen ’90, SM ’06.


Psych—Written and coexecutive produced by Saladin K. Patterson ’94.

Time Warp—Hosted by Jeff Lieberman ’00, SM ’04, SM ’06.

Num3ers—Dylan Bruno ’94 plays FBI agent Colby Granger.

Science fiction and fantasy books

Mars Crossing—By Geoffrey Landis ’77. View other titles by Landis.

Elfquest—A fantasy adventure series told in various media (comics, graphic novels, short stories, children’s books, and more) written, edited, and published by Richard Pini ’72. Learn more about him.

Forbes InnovatorsHere’s something I imagine Professor Yet-Ming Chiang ’80, ScD ’85 is thankful for this year. He was chosen as one of seven World’s Most Powerful Innovators by Lemelson-MIT Program Director and Professor Michael Cima for Forbes magazine. The seven were chosen for their curiosity, empathy, and leadership.

Chiang, who teaches materials science and engineering at MIT, developed an advanced lithium-ion battery that lasts longer than the traditional type and recharges quickly. It’s been hailed as a breakthrough for powering automobiles and power tools. The company he cofounded in 2001, A123 Systems, went public in September and is now worth more than $1 billion. According to Forbes, Chiang himself drives a Toyota Prius outfitted with his invention that can get more than 100 miles per gallon, twice that of a typical Prius. Learn more about Chiang.

And, on Forbes’ list of the World’s Most Powerful People, alumnus and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke PhD ’79 ranks fourth, behind President Obama, Chinese President Hu Jintao, and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Not bad. Not bad at all.

greenlogoProfessor Patrick Henry Winston ’65, SM ’67, PhD ’70

The day was full of the accoutrements of a Presidential visit—cameras, barricades, fresh paint, devotees, police, people on the rooftops with binoculars and guns, and somber-looking men whose darting eyes constantly scanned the crowd.

It was a good-feeling type of day because President Obama knows something about motivation. He said he values us, he values our work, and he knows our work makes a difference. Speaking of MIT in particular, and saluting entrepreneurs, inventors, researchers, and engineers in general, he also said, “The nation that wins this competition will be the nation that leads the global economy.” It’s nice, and refreshing, to know that the President of the United States knows that.

It all took me back to another speech, Susan Hockfield’s inaugural address, four years ago. She identified the two major interdisciplinary themes she would promote as President of MIT: engineering + biology + brain and cognitive science was one; energy and the environment was the other. Out of the energy and the environment theme emerged MIT’s Energy Initiative, aka MITEI, and that is what drew the other President to use MIT as the venue for his call-to-arms speech.

Now more often that not here at MIT, I stand with the loyal opposition on matters of policy, and sometimes I get quite cranky about what I take to be a shift toward a more corporate look and feel. But when our current President is a past president, and people ask what she accomplished, if the answer is that she started the MIT Energy Initiative, which saved the planet, not to mention the economy, then I think she will have left behind a pretty good legacy.

It’s the nature of big jobs. The superposition principle does not apply. You don’t sum up all the things people do, you honor the best thing or condemn the worst thing. In this case, the best thing has big potential.

Photo: Sandia National Laboratories

Photo: Sandia National Laboratories

Boston Dynamics, the MIT spinoff now famous for its quadruped robots, is working on a new urban-surveillance robot that is capable of launching itself more than 25 feet in the air.

The Precision Urban Hopper is semi-autonomous and about the size of a shoe box. It typically relies on four wheels to get around, but a piston-actuated leg that has been likened to an explosive pogo stick allows it to hop over obstacles 40-60 times its own height.

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico originally designed the hopper, which is being funded through the military’s research wing, DARPA. Waltham-based Boston Dynamics was recently awarded the contract for producing the next generation of robots. Delivery is planned for late 2010.

Watch a video of the Precision Urban Hopper:

These days, with advances in science and technology proliferating at breakneck speed, one of the most valuable allies a researcher can have is someone to explain all that complicated information to the masses. And some of the communicators most skilled at making sense of science are trained at MIT in the Graduate Program in Science Writing. Alumni of the program have gone on to publish in and/or work at most of the prestigious publications, including Discover, Technology Review, Nature, New Scientist, Popular Mechanics, Science News, and Psychology Today, among many others.

Here’s a little taste of what these talented MITers have to offer.

Robot chauffeurs at London's Heathrow airport. Learn more.

Robot chauffeurs at Heathrow airport.

On his Main Sequence blog, grad student, writer, musician, and video artist MacGregor Campbell offers “music, science, and experiments.” Check out some of his articles and videos, completed during a recent internship at New Scientist, about topics including the “smell of death” as a tool for forensic investigators and robot chauffeurs at London’s Heathrow airport. Also check out archives of his popular feature Sound-a-Day, where he puts a new spin on ordinary sounds. As he explains, one audio clip based on a printer is “the same printer sound layered on itself seven times, each time with a different pitch and bandpass filter setting. There’s also a bit of volume oscillation between the layers to make the shifting pitches more dynamic—and some reverb.”

Environmental writer Phil McKenna SM ’06 provides videos and stories from the People’s Republic of China, including posts about white-headed langurs (monkeys, shown below) and encounters with king cobras.

Lissa Harris SM ’08 has been writing her Women Do blog since 2006. In it, she exposes media accounts focused on “the shocking spectacle of women doing stuff that people generally do.” One example: a Boston Globe article about female musicians on tour that tries to force a feminist framework on the gig.

Professor Thomas Levenson’s blog, The Inverse Square, looks at writing about science, the history of science, interactions between science and politics, and more. One recent post looks at navigating the changing media landscape for science communicators and their teachers with regards to video and audio.

The Artful Amoeba blog, by Jennifer Frazer SM ’04, looks at natural history and biodiversity—or, as the tagline says, “the weird wonderfulness of life on Earth”—with some stunning photography to boot.

Find more blogs, books, and articles written by the program’s alumni and read Scope, the quarterly student publication showcasing some of the fine products of writing assignments: news articles, features, personal essays, podcasts, videos, and more.

The carbon counter, seen here on the Deutsche Bank building in New York City, estimates and displays the amount of green house gases in our atmosphere. Photo:

The carbon counter, shown above on the Deutsche Bank building in New York City, estimates and displays the real-time amount of green house gases being released into the atmosphere. Photo:

From NASA’s recent green rocket to apparel brand PACT’s sustainable underwear, “green” inventions are cropping up all over the United States. Curious what the rest of the world is up to? Take a look at’s list, “10 Eco-Inventions From Around the World.”

Keep your eyes peeled for MIT’s contribution—a real-time carbon counter, developed by the Institute’s Global Climate Change Program and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Other highlights on the list include a foot pump phone charger from the UK, and solar powered air purifiers from Singapore.


This year’s Emerging Technology Conference, September 22-24, 2009, is shaping up to be a great event, with speakers from DuPont, BP, GE, IDEO, and Facebook (among others) scheduled to give talks about emerging technologies and their impact on MIT alumni and the world in general.

If that sounds enticing, you’ll be happy to hear that generous discounts are now available to alumni interested in attending. Receive the discount by entering one of three promotion codes below in step two of the conference’s online registration.

Workshop only: Use the code MITAlumW to receive $210 off the standard rate of the preconference workshop, Lab to Market. The discounted cost will be $185.

Full conference plus workshop: Use the code MITAlumFCW to receive $800 off the standard rate of the full conference and workshop. The discounted cost will be $995.

Full conference only (no workshop): Use the code MITAlumFC to receive $600 off the standard rate of the full conference. The discounted cost will be $895.

What’s in store?

  • New! Lab to Market Workshop that explores technological innovation and tackles how to enter the marketplace in a tough economic climate
  • Powerful keynotes and interactive breakout sessions
  • New! Preview Sessions that give you a first look at powerful emerging technologies
  • Unveiling of the 2009 TR35—the top 35 innovators under the age of 35

Register online today.

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