Antipods practice in the pit.

Antipods practice in the pit.

Like to build things with kids? Architect Ken Filar ’81 does and he is one of many alumni who coach FIRST robotics teams worldwide. And his team is cooking! The Antipodes, his all-girl FIRST Lego League team from Pacifica CA, will represent Northern California in the European Lego Championships in Istanbul, Turkey, April 22-24.

The For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) robotics competitions were founded in 1989 by Segway inventor Dean Kamen with the help of MIT’s mechanical engineering professor emeritus Woodie Flowers SM ’68, ME ’71, PhD ’73. The mission is very MIT: “To transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.” One of Flowers contributions was the concept of Gracious Professionals who “learn and compete like crazy, but treat one another with respect and kindness in the process.”

Alumni can get involved as mentors and coaches through the MIT Alumni Association’s new collaboration with FIRST. If you are already involved and your team is heading to the world robotics championships in Atlanta, April 14-17, come to the MIT day-long event there for alumni, parents, students, coaches, and mentors with speakers including Flowers. Email the Association’s K12 team to find out more.

And how about those Antipods? Filar says there is lots of work to be done. “We now have three tasks ahead of us: 1) to improve our robots reliability, primarily through programming, 2) to improve our maglev train model, and 3) to fundraise for the trip.” To check out the team, go the Antipods Web site, see their work, watch their videos, and feel free to donate to tournament and travel costs.


Kendra Johnson with residents of Santa Ana.

Kendra Johnson with residents of Santa Ana.

Guest blogger: Kendra Johnson ’09

As a Public Service Fellow, Kendra Johnson ’09 undertook a big project—establishing family-size rainwater collection systems in indigenous communities in the rain forest of Ecuador. Today she’s a medical student in San Francisco but she recently revisited the area to check on progress at the original village and nearby sites where MIT students and local residents are installing the system.

Here’s an excerpt from Johnson’s blog about her recent trip back to Ecuador:

“The community water system is still working. It is not textbook perfect, but they know about the problems and how to solve them, and that means my role is to step back and let Santa Ana handle these challenges for themselves….

“We also repeated a house to house health survey and found that the reported number of times a child had diarrhea in a year dropped from an average of 6.9 to 1.9 times per year from before our intervention, which is quite promising….”

“The most exciting part of all is that the new mayor has made water her top priority for the next 5 years. Two communities have asked for Santa Ana’s help to apply to her for funding for the tanks, and they have both gotten tanks and are working with Santa Ana’s water technical team to do the installations. How amazing is that?”

Johnson’s blog, such stuff as dreams are made of, documents the water project,  Sachu Yaku; her semester in Cuba; and her new life in medical school. Or you can read only the Sachu Yaku posts that describe the early stages of the project.

Interested? The Public Service Center is looking for MIT students to continue the project this summer.

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EECS Optical Micrograph

Research in MIT’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) Department is, arguably, the future.

EECS researchers are designing revolutionary new ways to make chips and using living cells’ electronic properties to develop clinical applications. They are designing a new scheme for quantum money (and doing away with cash altogether) and gaining understanding of human languages through statistical language learning. They are producing transformative knowledge that will affect daily lives this year—and in the future.

So reading the recent EECS newsletter might be a smart way to start 2010. Here are a few places to begin:

Guest Blogger: Steve Lustig ’93

As they approached graduation, Omprakash Gnawali ’01 , SM ’02 and Hesky Fisher ’02 talked about starting a non-profit organization to help out children in Omprakash’s native Nepal. With the help of a social worker in Nepal and some other interested friends at MIT, the Nepalese Children’s Education Fund (NCEF) was born. As Omprakash explains, “We gathered a group of students who wanted to stop talking and start doing.”

Volunteers distribute educational materials.

Volunteers distribute educational materials.

Today NCEF is a non-profit organization whose mission is to develop the potential of disadvantaged Nepalese children through education. NCEF identifies children unable to pursue education because of the economic situation of their families. Students are provided with tuition, textbooks and supplies to enroll in school. Our dedicated network of volunteers in Nepal meet regularly with the children and their parents to monitor the progress of the student through school. We dedicate our resources to each child until they complete their high school education. NCEF is sponsoring over 60 students this year, making a major impact on their lives and those of their families. Why focus on education, when there are a variety of needs waiting to be met? Omprakash comments, “Most people that I know who have been successful in leading a life with some basic human dignity have been able to do so through education.”

As MIT students, the first thing they did was set up a website for the charity. At the time they laughed that this was a very nerdy way to start a charity. However, it very quickly began to pay off. While they recruited and raised funds among friends and family and even found a board member by posting in the Tech Review, it was through the web site that most people found NCEF. It didn’t take long before they started getting contacted by people across the U.S. and the world wanting to get involved.

As the founding members of NCEF were graduating and moved far from each other, it became clear that the organization existed as a distributed entity with the web site at its center. Most records are kept directly on the web site—transparency is an important aspect. Members collaborate over email and phone conferences as there is no paid staff or office, which allows more of the money to be spent directly on funding the childrens’ education. Many members…

Learn how alumni and students help today…


Well, most alumni are…at least with their undergraduate education at MIT.

A new Alumni Survey, sponsored by the Office of the Provost and conducted with a consortium of peers, indicates that 91 percent of MIT participants are generally or very satisfied with their undergraduate education. And that’s a 3 percent increase over the last survey conducted in 2005. Further, 85% would encourage a high school student similar to them to attend MIT.

Survey asks about when home was under the dome.

Survey asks about when home was under the dome.

Browse some data reported by the participants, members of the classes of 1982, 1987, 1992, 1997, 2004 and 2007, who reported on their experiences, life after MIT, and suggestions for strengthening the educational experience.

  • 65.9% have enrolled in grad or professional schools.
  • 69.3% work in the same field as their major or a related field.
  • 75.2% worked with faculty on their research.
  • 74.2% work full time; 6.9% work part time.
  • 70% have donated to MIT at some point; 78% way they will in the future.
  • 70% have done volunteer work in the past year.
  • Most popular occupations: engineer, 20%, programmer/computer scientist/analyst, 13%, physician, 8%, college faculty member, 8%, and financial manager or analyst, 7%.
  • Most popular co-curricular activities: Campus job, 74%; Intramural sports, 65%; Fraternity/sorority, 44.6%.
  • Skills best developed at MIT: #1 Think analytically and logically; #2 Acquire new skills and knowledge on your own; #3 Use quantitative tools.
  • Most important connections: #1 Friendships from college; #2 MIT as a whole; #3 Fraternity/sorority.

coolstandingsYour team is six games back in August…What are their realistic chances of winning the division, winning the wildcard, or just making the playoffs? A couple of MIT alumni can help you there.

Theta Chi buddies Greg Agami ’93 and Sean Walsh’93  started in 2005 when these Red Sox fans thought it would be fun to know exactly what chances the Sox had of making the postseason. Within a few months, was online, simulating the remainder of the MLB season one million times each day to determine the playoff probabilities for every team.

“The model uses a modified version of the Bill James Pythagorean Theorem to determine the chance each team has of beating other teams on its schedule,” Agami says. “Home/away statistics and recent team performance are used as variables for the Monte Carlo simulation, and we even implemented the various tie-breaking rules as needed to determine divisional and wild card winners. We’ve used historical data going back to 1903 to evaluate and optimize the model.”

These days, you can follow football and basketball as well as baseball in the real season and a fantasy pre-season. And this is not even their day jobs—Agami is an engineer at Motorola, while Walsh is CTO at

At 90, Bill Stern ′40, SM ′41 has been running for 46 years. And in early August, he competed in the 2009 Summer National Senior Games—and did MIT proud.

Bill Stern '40, SM '41.

Bill Stern ′40, SM ′41.

“The games went well,” Stern emailed the Alumni Association. “Good accommodations, excellent race management. I lucked out in my 90-94 men’s age group, getting gold in the 1500 meters run, silver in the 200 meters dash, and bronze in the 100 meters dash.”

Of course, Stern was well prepared for the races—he’s a member of the venerable Cambridge Sports Union running club, he completed a Boston Marathon, and now belongs to the New England 65 Plus Runners Club. You can read about his life and his successful career in sensing, measuring, and recording equipment, including starting a company with MIT faculty, in his alumni profile.

After his run, he was up for fun. “Now we (the whole family) are week-ending at Point Reyes National Seashore, north of San Francisco,” he wrote, “wonderful weather, great hiking, and gawking.”

Talking books used in Ghana's schools.

Talking books used in Ghana's schools.

Good intentions rarely change the world, but today with a click of the mouse you can take action. The creator of Gmail and Adsense at Google is pledging to give money to deserving nonprofits based on online voting by supporters. At top contender is Literacy Bridge, an all-volunteer nonprofit started by MIT alumni, which is using hand-held audio computers to boost literacy and improve life in rural Ghana.

Executive Director Cliff Schmidt ’92 started Literary Bridge’s Talking Books project after spending six weeks in rural Ghana in 2007. Supported by individual donations and thousands of volunteer hours, the group completed R&D, produced 100 Talking Book devices, and began feasibility studies in January 2009. Just six months later, you can now check the Literacy Bridge blog to see and hear how the devices have been used to improve farming methods and health care—and school kids love it.

Talking Books.

Talking Books.

A recent article in describes the device as “a low-cost (<$10 US) audio compute designed to help spread information within impoverished rural communities, while helping illiterate people learn to read.”

You can vote on the Literacy Bridge site, learn about Schmidt and other alumni volunteers,  and investigate this interactive philanthropic event.

Newly discovered in Georgia. Photo: Courtesy University of Georgia.

Newly discovered in Georgia. Photo: Courtesy University of Georgia.

Jennifer Frazer SM ’04, a science writer living in Boulder, CO, set out to be a scientist, “but like many science writers, realized in horror that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in a windowless lab staring at racks of Eppendorf tubes filled with clear liquids.” You can benefit from her lab exit by reading the newest entry on the Slice of MIT blogroll–the Artful Amoeba, her commentary on the wonders of biological diversity.

A recent post, “How Many Salamanders Can Dance on the Head of a Pin,” describes the 2007 discovery of the tiny patch-nosed salamander (pictured). “What’s a Sea Pig” gives a short description, “a cross between a star-nosed mole, a naked mole rat, and a hallucinogen-induced, Cthulu-themed nightmare” then links the reader on to the real definition.

Read Frazer’s profile in Technology Review for her scientific journey, but, in brief, she earned degrees from Cornell in biology and plant pathology, then a master’s in science writing from MIT. She worked on a small newspaper in Wyoming, winning a 2007 AAAS Science Journalism Award for uncovering a poisonous lichen as the cause of mysterious elk deaths. You can hear her four-minute acceptance speech. These days she’s living in Boulder, where she works as a science writer for a large science nonprofit—and roams the countryside discovering amazing bits of life on Earth.

Want to add your commentary on personal or professional matters to the Slice of MIT blogroll? Just email your name, blog name, URL, and short description to

Wednesday's Practice at the Reading Rowing Club boathouse. From left to right ( from bow to stern, then coxswain): Chuck Roth ‘66, Robert Lentz ‘98, John Malarkey ‘71, W. David Lee ‘69, Dusty Ordway ‘73, Bruce N. Anderson ‘69, Bruce Parker ‘69, Don Saer ‘70, and Willie Vicens ‘70.

July 8 practice at the Reading Rowing Club boathouse. From left to right ( from bow to stern, then coxswain): Chuck Roth ‘66, Robert Lentz ‘98, John Malarkey ‘71, W. David Lee ‘69, Dusty Ordway ‘73, Bruce N. Anderson ‘69, Bruce Parker ‘69, Don Saer ‘70, and Willie Vicens ‘70.

A shell and oars are the competitive tools that a nine-member alumni crew will  use in the UK’s Henley Veteran Regatta–some for the fourth time. Nearly the same crew  represented MIT at Henley 40 years ago. They compete today, July 10, and if they win, they compete tomorrow as well. Check the results of their E8 event online.

“In 1969, we won our first three races and lost in the semifinals,” says Bruce N. Anderson ’69. “In 1989, four of us returned to Henley and raced again. We got creamed (by crews 20 years younger than us!) In 1999, all nine of us returned to Cambridge to row in the Head of the Charles (our 30th anniversary); we’ve been racing every year since at the Head, with one to three ‘spares’ replacing oarsmen of the original crew that couldn’t make it that year. In 2003, most of the original crew returned to Henley to race again. We lost in the finals.”

The Henley Veteran Regatta, hosted at Upper Thames, is an internationally recognized event for veterans or masters crews, held on the weekend following the Henley Royal Regatta.

The crew after losing to Durham Boat Club (England).

The crew after losing to Durham Boat Club (England) July 10.

“One of the highlights of our university experience was racing in the Thames Cup at Henley in 1969,” John Malarkey ’71. “This year, we are all over 60 but for one young lad in his 30s. (He will have to pull extra hard, since he brings our average age down such that we are in category E rather than F!)  We will be coming from California, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Washington DC, Ohio, and Surrey.  Reading Rowing Club has very graciously hosted us and provided us with equipment, and we hope to do their colours proud, as well as our own.”

MIT’s connection to the regatta began even earlier. Read an archived Technology Review article that describes the 1954 and 1955 results when two MIT lightweight crews  won back-to-back international championships.

Update July 13 Alas, our guys lost. “We raced a fine and fast race but they were finer and faster,” says Anderson.