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.

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.


Rolling Stone reports that MIT alumni had a hand in the “insanely complex video” for Of the Blue Colour of the Sky single “This Too Shall Pass,” which has gone viral on the net since its release March 1. Musicians OK Go, who even have a short video about how they love working with nerds, brought in folks from Syyn Labs and the MIT Media Lab including Heather Knight ’06, MNG ’08 to help create a two-story Rube Goldberg-esque structure.

“There were two Media Lab grads involved and me,” says Knight. “I managed the top floor in the final weeks and during shooting (first two minutes) with a dirty paw in almost every module there, Richard Whitney SM ’07 made the wooden ball bearing surface just after the music starts, and Jamie Zigelbaum SM ’08 worked with the lead singer Damian Kulash and his dad to make the first table full of small stuff.”

Kulash’s thoughtful New York Times essay on how free embedded videos boost revenues for bands and record companies may have influenced OK Go’s then-label, EMI, to disregard their own no embedding policy. “This Too Shall Pass” has been distributed freely throughout the Internet, much like the band’s star-making treadmill vid for “Here It Goes Again” in 2006. On OK Go’s Web site, you will find videos of top songs, the making of ‘This Too’, concerts,  and their recent decision to strike out on their own.

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.

Geeta Dayal and her new book.

Geeta Dayal and her new book.

Geeta Dayal ’01, who writes about visual art, sound, and technology, has just published a book on musician Brian Eno, Another Green World – and won recognition for her edgy work.

Dayal, who earned degrees in brain and cognitive sciences and in humanities, has been named one of 26 recipients of a 2009 Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant. She won $30,000 for a publication titled Locative Art and Urban Space: Mapping an Emerging Field, which will explore topics from Christian Nold’s emotional cartography to Stefan Schemat’s GPS-enabled aural landscapes. Her work will incorporate multimedia content and be made available online and on handheld mobile devices.

Check out her blog, the Original Soundtrack, to learn about her  work, reflections on turning 30, and a recent article for Rhizome at the New Museum titled “Brian Eno, Peter Schmidt, and Cybernetics.”

Mickey & Friends Parking Structure

Mickey & Friends Parking Structure

Parking garages are rarely compared to works of art. Consumers are more likely to think of them as unsightly yet convenient, clunky but inevitable. However a new exhibit at the National Building Museum may flip that thinking, in part, because it showcases the work of architect Harry Wolf  ’60.

House of Cars: Innovation and the Parking Garage, on display through July 11, 2010, features the Walt Disney Arrival Building and Parking Structure in Anaheim, CA (Mickey & Friends Parking Structure). The garage, which holds 10,500 cars, was the world’s largest parking structure when it was constructed in 1998…and may still be.

Wolf’s unusual design for the University of California, San Diego Revelle Parking Structure is an enormous urn, 316 feet in diameter. The circular building, which seems to recede from the viewer, reduces the sense of mass and suggests motion. The green project is naturally ventilated with courts bringing sunlight even to the lowest levels.

Hmmmm…the parking garage as beautiful and green.

MIT has another Nobel star to celebrate! Oliver E. Williamson ’55, a Sloan School of Management undergraduate, was named a co-winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economics Oct 12. MIT alumni, faculty, and staff have now claimed 75 Nobel Prizes–24 were awarded since 2000.

Oliver Williamson; courtesy UCBerkeley

Oliver Williamson; courtesy UCBerkeley

Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences lauded “his analysis of economic governance, especially the boundaries of the firm.” Williamson’s work describes how varying organizational structures for markets and institutions affect economic activity. He is credited with co-founding New Institutional Economics, which emphasizes the importance of formal institutions as well as informal institutions such as social norms, and how they affect transaction costs, according to the Haas School of Business at UCBerkeley where he is a professor emeritus. He earned an MBA from Stanford University in 1960 and a PhD from Carnegie Mellon University in 1963. He is the author of the most frequently cited work in social science research, The Economic Institutions of Capitalism: Firms, Markets, Relational Contracting.

After a sleepy, 4 a.m. start, Williamson describes his work in a brief phone interview with the Nobel Prize Web site editor.

You can also watch the 2008 Nobel Prize lecture by that year’s economics winner, Paul Krugman PhD ’77.

George Smoot greets fifth graders.

George Smoot greets fifth graders.

American astrophysicist George Smoot ’66, PhD ’71 won $1M on the TV game show “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” on Sept. 18. He was only the second person to win $1M on the show and the first man to do so.

Of course, this is not the first prize he’s won. Smoot was awarded a Physics Nobel Prize in 2006. He won the Nobel Prize for his work on Cosmic Background Explorer Satellite (COBE) with John C. Mather that led to the measurement “…of the black body form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation.” This work helped cement the big-bang theory of the universe. According to the Nobel Prize committee, “the COBE-project can also be regarded as the starting point for cosmology as a precision science.”

And he even had fun winning a million dollars. Watch the episode. His final question? “What’s the location of Acadia National Park?”

Dava Newman models the biosuit.

Dava Newman models a biosuit that relies on mechanical counter-pressure instead of gas pressurization.

Suborbital training is not for the faint of heart, which is why two MIT alumnae deeply involved in furthering space travel are happily headed for it in January. Dava Newman SM ’89, PhD ’92 and Erika Wagner SM ’02, PhD’07 are set to be among the first prospective scientist-astronauts to undergo spaceflight physiology training in a new private program at the National AeroSpace Training and Research Center (NASTAR).

Newman and Wagner hope to put these new skills to work. “We’re not going to space (yet :),” says Wagner, “but we are looking forward to training for the day when we can conduct science on Virgin Galactic or one of the other new commercial vehicles.”

Newman, professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Engineering Systems and director of the Technology and Policy Program, studies aerospace biomedical engineering and has invented a sleek and flexible space suit. Wagner is the founding executive director of the X PRIZE Lab@MIT and has served as science director and executive director of the Mars Gravity Biosatellite Program.

Not everyone would count this training as fun. NASTAR promises you “sustained elevated G exposure, altitude exposure, spatial disorientation, and other physiological effects of entering the space environment.”

A study of the digital gadgets we use to call, calendar, and connect reveals that they can accurately record the nuances of our relationships. Talk about Big Sister!

MIT Professor Sandy Pentland PhD '82.

Professor Sandy Pentland PhD '82.

A New Scientist article, reporting the work by MIT Professor Sandy Pentland PhD ’82 and two colleagues, described how matching the patterns of phone calls and phone locations allowed researchers to predict with 95 percent accuracy who the subjects would describe as close friends. That part is not so surprising. If the phones were together for several hours on a Saturday night, their owners were likely to be buddies.

However, researchers were also able to use the phone data to evaluate job satisfaction. “Those who reported themselves less satisfied were less likely to have friends in close proximity and more likely to call friends during work hours.” The phone data were more accurate than owners in describing how much time they spent with friends versus acquaintances. The owners overestimated the time they spent with friends.

Curious for more info on human patterns? Watch Pentland’s presentation to the 2009 Davos assembly on ideas in his new book, Honest Signals.