MIT Faculty NewsletterYou can get a glimpse of what your former professors are thinking about in the MIT Faculty Newsletter. A faculty editorial board runs the MFN, and most articles are written by faculty. Some matters are about MIT’s own governance, others are about global issues that intertwine with the Institute’s community life. Here are some highlights of the most recent issue:

Editorial: Our “Inescapable Network:” Haiti, the Diversity Initiative, and MLK

This editorial calls on the MIT administration to increase their efforts in response to the earthquake in Haiti. Faculty Chair Tom Kochan asks “Are We Doing Enough?” and three related articles address MIT faculty responses to the earthquake.

The Demand for MIT Graduates

Although graduating during the worst economic crisis in recent history, MIT’s class of 2009 still fared better than their peers. How was that accomplished?

Teach Talk: Toward a Personalized Graduate Curriculum

Learn how the grad school experience is changing because of student needs and changing knowledge.

2010 MIT Briefing Book Available Online

This comprehensive overview of MIT, which focuses on research activities, is compiled by Office of the Vice President for Research and the MIT Washington Office.

Students visit the rising city of Masdar as part of Terrascope.

Students visit the rising sustainable city of Masdar.

Spring break means exploring the exotic reaches of Abu Dhabi for students in MIT’s Terrascope Program, the academic program that tackles a fresh global problem each year. You can be there too by reading the student blogs this week, with posts that share visits to a resplendent mosque and walking magnificent sand dunes and, in later days, digging into the science and technology that underpin the experimental city of Masdar and the Masdar Institute, the world’s first graduate institution devoted to renewable energy and sustainability.

These students, all freshmen, are engaged in Terrascope’s Mission 2013, focusing on capture and storage of carbon dioxide from Earth’s atmosphere.

One student wrote: “Highlights from yesterday were seeing the technologies that we’ve been researching so extensively actually being implemented. We saw a 10 megawatt field of photovoltaic solar panels (5MW of thin-film and 5MW of crystalline cells) and the magnitude of such a proposition became clear. Row after row of sun-speckled panels lined the desert floor like engineered vegetation. The technology made the area flourish….”

Visit the Mission 2013 Web site for more information on the technologies involved in Masdar city. You can learn more about the development of the Masdar Institute, which is modeled on MIT and began offering classes last fall.


Erez Lieberman-Aiden won the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize.

Erez Lieberman-Aiden won the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize.

A scientific Renaissance man who works in mathematics, linguistics, biotechnology, and polymer physics, Erez Lieberman-Aiden, has won the prestigious $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize. His inventions range from a new 3-D method of genome sequencing to evolutionary graph theory to the iShoe, a sensor-laden insole for the elderly. And he’s a visual artist and a creative writer.

A graduate student at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, Lieberman-Aiden’s most recent invention is the Hi-C method for three-dimensional genome sequencing. Developed with his advisor Eric Lander, the founding director of the Broad Institute, and colleagues, Lieberman-Aiden hopes that Hi-C will help scientists understand how genes are turned on and off inside the cell and shed light on diseases like cancer.

Lieberman-Aiden and a Harvard mathematics professor developed evolutionary graph theory, which provides a quantitative language to describe replication of entities—such as organisms or ideas—along networks that can be applied fields ranging from cancer biology to social networks.

In 3-D genome imaging, nearby regions of DNA are depicted in different colors

In 3-D genome imaging, nearby regions of DNA are depicted in different colors.

A speaker of English, Hebrew, and Hungarian, he and a colleague have also contributed to the understanding of how languages follow the laws of natural selection in predictable ways, leading to specific equations that describe the evolution of verbs.

He and his wife, Aviva Presser Aiden, an MIT graduate student, run a 501c3 not-for-profit organization, Bears Without Borders, dedicated to the creation and delivery of toys and childhood necessities to children worldwide. An inventor herself, Aviva was on the team that developed a dirt-powered battery designed for rural, off-grid communities, which was named one of Popular Mechanics 10 Most Brilliant Innovations of 2009.


Firefly creates 3-D digital images in the air.

Firefly creates 3-D digital images in the air.

Swarm robots are lighting up the sky! Firefly, an MIT SENSEable City Laboratory project developed in collaboration with ARES Lab (Aerospace Robotics and Embedded Systems Laboratory), is launching a swarm of tiny helicopters embedded with sparkling LED lights. The swarm, on command, can render an uncanny representation of the Mona Lisa, then reform into complex 3-D shapes such as a moving face or the ocean’s surface alive with waves.

These fireflies act as ‘smart pixels’ soaring through the air and working in concert to produce digital displays with animated color and free-form images that are still or in motion and viewable from any angle. Though SENSEable has only a handful now in flight, the group wants to scale up the project quickly.

A fabulous video shows Firefly’s potential.


Guest Blogger Shan Wu, graduate student in biological engineering

I am in Beijing for five months interning with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) through the MIT-China Program. UNIDO works with various developing countries to develop more sustainable industrial practices while maintaining economic growth. My project in China will study carbon emissions standards for consumer products.

Shan Wu visiting China's Great Wall.

Shan Wu visiting China's Great Wall.

As global climate change awareness increases, consumers are becoming more and more environmentally conscious. From eating organic foods to recycling to purchasing responsible and green products, many of us are making deliberate life-style decisions and changes to reduce our personal carbon footprint. These changes in global spending patterns are also starting to take hold in developing countries like China. A bigger and more immediate impact, however, lies in how changing consumer sentiments in the West will affect China’s massive import and export industries, worth $1,133 and $1,428 billion dollars respectively in 2008.

Toward answering this question, one big challenge is the lack of global measurement standards for determining a product’s carbon footprint. This makes comparisons between Chinese products, Western products, and potential import and export restrictions based on environmental impacts difficult. My internship with UNIDO will be to develop recommendations for measuring product carbon emissions in China and how to apply them within the trade industry.

China, in collaboration with several frontrunner organizations in Asia and Europe, has already developed voluntary environmental certification standards for a variety of products ranging from household appliances to writing instruments. Thus, the first goal of my project is to evaluate how these standards compare to international ones as well as to determine how the standards can be expanded to include carbon emissions footprints in the certification process. The second goal of this project is to establish recommendations for what roles the environmental and carbon impacts of a product should play in China’s trade agreements with the rest of the world.

My long-term career interests are in science policy and particularly energy policy. I am extremely grateful to have this tremendous opportunity through MISTI and the MIT-China Program to be in Beijing and to work in an area immediately relevant to my career development.

Divya Jani, Deirdre Hatfield, and Calvin Cheung researched puppy choice

MBA students Divya Jani, Deirdre Hatfield, and Calvin Cheung researched dog choice.

A group of MBA students recently researched the decision-making process involved in selecting a pet dog in Drazen Prelec’s Listening to the Customer class. Calvin Cheung, Deirdre Hatfield, Divya Jani, John Curry, and Lauren Ready, all MBAs set to graduate in June, wanted to understand how households acquire dogs as pets. So they examined  the thought processes behind how families and individuals decide which dogs are best for them.

The team used a method known as the Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique (ZMET), an interview process that encourages participants to use images to highlight the subconscious thoughts behind their decisions. Then they asked their interview subjects detailed questions about how they obtained their dogs. A News@MITSloan article describes the results.

The ZMET technique proved valuable, according to Curry. “ZMET allowed us to use images, visualization, and stories to understand dog owners’ underlying choices and behaviors,” he said. “Since dogs are inherently a personal topic, ZMET was ideal for this study. For example, if someone says, ‘I like dogs with powerful looks,’ they likely have deeper feelings that drive that affinity,” he said.

Unemployment is a pressing national problem and, for individuals, a personal crisis. And, unfortunately, lots of our friends, neighbors, and colleagues are in the midst of this experience. However, an MIT economist has been thinking about how the experience of being unemployed can be improved.

In the News Office’s 3 Questions series, MIT economist Ivan Werning, who teaches macroeconomic theory, talks about his proposal to change the length and level of unemployment benefits and how that might help the nation.

The MIT AgeLab has given birth to a new understanding of how people over 50 can thrive, from mobility issues to lifelong productivity. How can elders be safe drivers? When should they give up their car keys? How can businesses create products and services that help this group? How can technology promote healthy, independent living? The AgeLab is working on all these questions.

Joseph Coughlin leads the AgeLab, which is set to celebrate its 10th birthday in February. Ever-dapper with a bow tie and ready grin, Coughlin was trained as a political scientist who turned his passion into new ideas and products to promote healthy, vital aging of the burgeoning post-50 population. A Boston Globe Q&A probes recent developments and a local television video takes you on a virtual spin of the Aware Car, a test car that tracks road conditions and the driver’s responses including fatigue levels. In fact, when the driver is stressed, the built in massager kicks on.

Check out the AgeLab Website to learn about new research, volunteer for a study, check resources for links to organizations that work on policy or services for older people, and download a new publication, Your Road Ahead: A Guide to Comprehensive Driving Evaluation.

Fotini Christia  interviews Afghanis.

Fotini Christia interviews Afghanis.

Studying war-torn Afghanistan, Fotini Christia, assistant professor of political science, challenges the view that diversity in religion or ethnicity leads inevitably to sharply drawn civil wars. In her field research with Afghanistan warlords, Christia is examining how regional or tribal leaders sometimes flip from warring against neighboring groups to forging alliances with these same neighbors.

Under certain conditions, she finds, groups can overlook longstanding grievances and form new, supportive alliances, according to a recent article in Soundings, published by the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, & Social Sciences. Her findings have implications for U.S. policy and for the future of peace in the region.

“Groups are driven by balance-of-power considerations,” says Christia. “That means that, as relative power changes, so do alliances. Groups then come up with narratives and stories about why they make the alliances they do.” Read the article for more on her research.

Christina, a native of Greece and fluent in several languages, learned Farsi and the regional dialect called Dari so she could speak directly with Afghanis. She began her field work in the country in 2004, and she has interviewed war loads, government officials, and other local people. Drinking tea is a very important part of the interview ritual, as she says: “You need to have at least three cups of tea before they start telling you the real stuff.”

Learn about New Media Medicine via LabCASTs.

Learn about New Media Medicine via LabCASTs.

LabCASTs are video doorways to the MIT Media Lab’s unorthodox research into technologies aiming to transform basic notions of human capabilities. You can catch new waves of research through this series of short videos or podcasts — visit the LabCAST site or subscribe to the RSS feed. And you are invited comment.

The New Media Medicine research group is working on technologies that will enable radical new collaborations between doctors, patients and communities, in essence, a power shift in health care.

The Chameleon Guitar, developed at the Media Lab, combines traditional acoustic values and digital capabilities. Hear it!

In Catalytic Cracking, Associate Media Lab Director Andy Lippman points to common flaws plaguing all U.S. institutions as a first step toward meaningful redesign.

The Future of News offers ideas on creative ways to provide people with the news and information they need to manage their communities effectively.