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Rabies vaccination clinic for dogs is April 1; microchipping, licenses are also available

Cambridge Day - 53 min 10 sec ago
The city is holding a rabies vaccination clinic for dogs from 9 to 11 a.m. April 1. A vaccination will cost $15.
Categories: In the News

In 30 years, can we sustainably meet the needs of 9.5 billion people?

MIT Events - 2 hours 27 min ago

The Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) welcomed MIT’s President Emerita Susan Hockfield to the Iconic Voices from MIT public lecture series on March 21, at the SUTD auditorium. The lecture series serves as a platform for interaction with experts in the areas of science, architecture, technology, and design from MIT. Other distinguished speakers have included Institute Professor Peter Diamond, a Nobel Laureate in economics, and Institute Professor Emeritus Jerome Friedman, a Nobel Laureate in physics.

The public lecture was attended by a diverse audience including representatives from Singapore government bodies, corporate partners, and nonprofit organizations; as well as educators and students, and other members of the SUTD community.

With the world's population expected to exceed 9.5 billion by 2050, Hockfield noted that we face an unprecedented challenge to sustainably provide sufficient food, water, energy, and health care. “Convergence,” or the blending of insights and discoveries from the life sciences engineering, computation, and the physical sciences, holds the promise of accelerating discovery and the development of new technologies to meet the 21st century’s needs, she said.

As examples of convergence, Hockfield discussed the three recent revolutions in biology. The first revolution was the moving of traditional biology into molecular biology. She credited four outstanding scientists (Francis Crick, James Watson, Rosalind Franklin, and Maurice Wilkins) for their contributions in that transition and for their work in describing the structure of DNA. A key contribution of molecular biology, she explained, is that it gives us a “parts list” — a set of unifying principles for all living systems. Important products from this include disease genes and targeted disease therapies.

The second revolution was genomics. The cost of sequencing the human genome has dropped rapidly, from $3 billion in 2001 to about $1,000 today. It also takes significantly less time to sequence a human genome — as little as half a day. This marks an enormous advance in the power of molecular biology by allowing for massive data analysis for complex diseases.

The third revolution in modern biology was the convergence of biology with engineering and the physical sciences. This revolution has gained momentum. Hockfield cited three examples from MIT: new technologies for disease detection, by Sangeeta Bhatia, the John and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Health Sciences and Technology and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research; the production of sustainable energy by harnessing nature’s own processes, by Angela Belcher, the James Mason Crafts Professor in biological engineering and materials science and engineering at MIT and a member of the Koch Institute; and the development of anticancer nanoparticles, by Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor.

A lively Q&A session followed, with Hockfield sharing in greater detail how convergence has had an impact on the issues in the world we live in today and the future ahead. 

SUTD is Singapore’s fourth public university, and one of the first universities in the world to incorporate the art and science of design and technology into a multidisciplinary curriculum. Established in collaboration with MIT, SUTD seeks to nurture technically-grounded leaders and innovators in engineering product development, engineering systems and design, information systems technology and design, and architecture and sustainable design, to serve societal needs.

“To come back after six years and see the campus fully formed and populated just fills me with pride and joy,” commented Hockfield, who served as MIT’s president during the early years of the collaboration. “And as I think back to the days of planning, which were actually months and probably years, I had some ideas of how this (SUTD) might look like. But how it does look like has so far exceeded anything that I could possibly imagine,” she said.

Categories: In the News

In 30 years, can we sustainably meet the needs of 9.5 billion people?

MIT News - 2 hours 27 min ago

The Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) welcomed MIT’s President Emerita Susan Hockfield to the Iconic Voices from MIT public lecture series on March 21, at the SUTD auditorium. The lecture series serves as a platform for interaction with experts in the areas of science, architecture, technology, and design from MIT. Other distinguished speakers have included Institute Professor Peter Diamond, a Nobel Laureate in economics, and Institute Professor Emeritus Jerome Friedman, a Nobel Laureate in physics.

The public lecture was attended by a diverse audience including representatives from Singapore government bodies, corporate partners, and nonprofit organizations; as well as educators and students, and other members of the SUTD community.

With the world's population expected to exceed 9.5 billion by 2050, Hockfield noted that we face an unprecedented challenge to sustainably provide sufficient food, water, energy, and health care. “Convergence,” or the blending of insights and discoveries from the life sciences engineering, computation, and the physical sciences, holds the promise of accelerating discovery and the development of new technologies to meet the 21st century’s needs, she said.

As examples of convergence, Hockfield discussed the three recent revolutions in biology. The first revolution was the moving of traditional biology into molecular biology. She credited four outstanding scientists (Francis Crick, James Watson, Rosalind Franklin, and Maurice Wilkins) for their contributions in that transition and for their work in describing the structure of DNA. A key contribution of molecular biology, she explained, is that it gives us a “parts list” — a set of unifying principles for all living systems. Important products from this include disease genes and targeted disease therapies.

The second revolution was genomics. The cost of sequencing the human genome has dropped rapidly, from $3 billion in 2001 to about $1,000 today. It also takes significantly less time to sequence a human genome — as little as half a day. This marks an enormous advance in the power of molecular biology by allowing for massive data analysis for complex diseases.

The third revolution in modern biology was the convergence of biology with engineering and the physical sciences. This revolution has gained momentum. Hockfield cited three examples from MIT: new technologies for disease detection, by Sangeeta Bhatia, the John and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Health Sciences and Technology and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research; the production of sustainable energy by harnessing nature’s own processes, by Angela Belcher, the James Mason Crafts Professor in biological engineering and materials science and engineering at MIT and a member of the Koch Institute; and the development of anticancer nanoparticles, by Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor.

A lively Q&A session followed, with Hockfield sharing in greater detail how convergence has had an impact on the issues in the world we live in today and the future ahead. 

SUTD is Singapore’s fourth public university, and one of the first universities in the world to incorporate the art and science of design and technology into a multidisciplinary curriculum. Established in collaboration with MIT, SUTD seeks to nurture technically-grounded leaders and innovators in engineering product development, engineering systems and design, information systems technology and design, and architecture and sustainable design, to serve societal needs.

“To come back after six years and see the campus fully formed and populated just fills me with pride and joy,” commented Hockfield, who served as MIT’s president during the early years of the collaboration. “And as I think back to the days of planning, which were actually months and probably years, I had some ideas of how this (SUTD) might look like. But how it does look like has so far exceeded anything that I could possibly imagine,” she said.

Categories: In the News

MIT experts urge Trump administration to take immediate action on cybersecurity

MIT News - 3 hours 38 min ago

In a world where hackers can sabotage power plants and impact elections, there has never been a more crucial time to examine cybersecurity for critical infrastructure, most of which is privately owned.

According to MIT experts, over the last 25 years presidents from both parties have paid lip service to the topic while doing little about it, leading to a series of short-term fixes they liken to a losing game of “Whac-a-Mole.” This scattershot approach, they say, endangers national security.

In a new report based on a year of workshops with leaders from industry and government, the MIT team has made a series of recommendations for the Trump administration to develop a coherent cybersecurity plan that coordinates efforts across departments, encourages investment, and removes parts of key infrastructure like the electric grid from the internet.

Coming on the heels of a leak of the new administration’s proposed executive order on cybersecurity, the report also recommends changes in tax law and regulations to incentivize private companies to improve the security of their critical infrastructure. While the administration is focused on federal systems, the MIT team aimed to address what’s left out of that effort: privately-owned critical infrastructure.

“The nation will require a coordinated, multi-year effort to address deep strategic weaknesses in the architecture of critical systems, in how those systems are operated, and in the devices that connect to them,” the authors write. “But we must begin now. Our goal is action, both immediate and long-term.”

Entitled “Making America Safer: Toward a More Secure Network Environment for Critical Sectors,” the 50-page report outlines seven strategic challenges that would greatly reduce the risks from cyber attacks in the sectors of electricity, finance, communications and oil/natural gas. The workshops included representatives from major companies from each sector, and focused on recommendations related to immediate incentives, long-term research and streamlined regulation.

The report was published by MIT’s Internet Policy Research Initiative (IPRI) at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), in conjunction with MIT’s Center for International Studies (CIS). Principal author Joel Brenner was formerly inspector general of the National Security Agency and head of U.S. counterintelligence in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Other contributors include Hal Abelson, David Clark, Shirley Hung, Kenneth Oye, Richard Samuels, John Tirman and Daniel Weitzner.

To determine what a better security environment would look like, the researchers convened a series of workshops aimed at going beyond the day-to-day tactical challenges to look at deep cyber vulnerabilities.

The workshops highlighted the difficulty of quantifying the level of risk across different sectors and the return on investment for specific cybersecurity measures. In light of facility-directed attacks like the Stuxnet virus and the sabotage of a Saudi oil refinery, attendees expressed deep concern about the security of infrastructure like the electric grid, which depends on public networks.

“Connecting [these operations] to the Internet has brought undoubted efficiencies to electricity generators and other industries, but it has also created dangerous vulnerabilities in the systems that keep the lights on and power the economy,” the MIT team writes, echoing concerns that were raised in a Department of Energy report published in January.

Brenner and his colleagues also contend that the technical challenges could actually be easier to address than the legal and economic ones. To align incentives with better security, they call for tax and regulatory policy that rewards cybersecurity investment, including investment to convert to a more secure Domain Name System (DNS) for websites.

The authors are optimistic that President Trump’s team will be receptive to the report, given the shared desire to fix America’s vulnerable infrastructure. “Our recommendations complement their attention to federal systems,” Brenner says. “Our current cyber insecurity is a national disgrace, and we must defend the networks that the safety of our nation depends on.”

Categories: In the News

Celebrating 25 years of MIT-JR East Railway partnership

MIT News - Mon, 03/27/2017 - 17:50

In 1870, just nine years after the founding of MIT, the first international student arrived at the Institute; he was from Japan.

Over time, MIT has become an increasingly international organization. The partnership between the East Japan Railway Company (JR East) and MIT, which was founded in 1991, is one example of how international relationships strengthen research in Cambridge and abroad.

On March 2, MIT and JR East celebrated 25 years of their partnership and honored JR East Professor Joseph Sussman, a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) and the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS), who has held the title for the entirety of the partnership thus far.

“The greatest honor in my professional career has been to serve as the first JR East Professor and for 25 years of my career,” Sussman said. “I served, before my retirement, as an MIT professor for 50 years, so exactly half of my stay on the faculty was as JR East Professor. It’s something in which I take terrific pride.”

Over the past 25 years, Sussman has mentored many professionals from JR East. Additionally, staff members from JR East have studied and earned degrees from various departments at MIT, and interns from MIT have spent time working at JR East. Currently, JR East plans to use market selection processes, researched in Sussman’s Regional Transportation Planning and High-Speed Rail Research Group, in Asia.

Masaki Ogata, vice chair of JR East, gave an overview of the partnership and thanked Sussman for his work with JR East. “We deeply appreciate JR East Professor Sussman. Thank you for your generous longtime support to keep and strengthen this great relationship between both organizations,” Ogata said.

The JR-East professorship was recently awarded to Ali Jadbabaie, a professor of CEE as well as associate director of IDSS. Jadbabaie came to MIT in fall 2016.

“I want to thank Joe for his continued support,” Jadbabaie said. “He’s been a great role model for me, and if I could be half as successful as he has been, I’d be quite happy.”  

“Joe has been a tremendous colleague and leaders in CEE, and his career has inspired many students and faculty. The department has benefitted in many ways from Joe’s exceptional contributions in research, education and service, including his tenure as CEE department head in the 1980s” said Markus Buehler, head of CEE and the McAfee Professor Engineering. “What I find most inspiring is Joe’s deep commitment to students, and he would rarely miss any department event that offers an opportunity to build the community and make us stronger together.”

Representatives from both MIT and JR East reflected fondly on the partnership’s success and mentioned their hopes for the future of the JR East-MIT collaboration.

“We hope that the partnership with JR East will continue for another 25 years with the same success that it has had until now,” said Richard K. Lester, MIT associate provost and the Japan Steel Industry Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering. “Both MIT and JR East will be very different in 25 years, but I have no doubt that collaborations and partnerships will be every bit as important to us then as they are now.”

Categories: In the News

Celebrating 25 years of MIT-JR East Railway partnership

MIT Events - Mon, 03/27/2017 - 17:50

In 1870, just nine years after the founding of MIT, the first international student arrived at the Institute; he was from Japan.

Over time, MIT has become an increasingly international organization. The partnership between the East Japan Railway Company (JR East) and MIT, which was founded in 1991, is one example of how international relationships strengthen research in Cambridge and abroad.

On March 2, MIT and JR East celebrated 25 years of their partnership and honored JR East Professor Joseph Sussman, a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) and the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS), who has held the title for the entirety of the partnership thus far.

“The greatest honor in my professional career has been to serve as the first JR East Professor and for 25 years of my career,” Sussman said. “I served, before my retirement, as an MIT professor for 50 years, so exactly half of my stay on the faculty was as JR East Professor. It’s something in which I take terrific pride.”

Over the past 25 years, Sussman has mentored many professionals from JR East. Additionally, staff members from JR East have studied and earned degrees from various departments at MIT, and interns from MIT have spent time working at JR East. Currently, JR East plans to use market selection processes, researched in Sussman’s Regional Transportation Planning and High-Speed Rail Research Group, in Asia.

Masaki Ogata, vice chair of JR East, gave an overview of the partnership and thanked Sussman for his work with JR East. “We deeply appreciate JR East Professor Sussman. Thank you for your generous longtime support to keep and strengthen this great relationship between both organizations,” Ogata said.

The JR-East professorship was recently awarded to Ali Jadbabaie, a professor of CEE as well as associate director of IDSS. Jadbabaie came to MIT in fall 2016.

“I want to thank Joe for his continued support,” Jadbabaie said. “He’s been a great role model for me, and if I could be half as successful as he has been, I’d be quite happy.”  

“Joe has been a tremendous colleague and leaders in CEE, and his career has inspired many students and faculty. The department has benefitted in many ways from Joe’s exceptional contributions in research, education and service, including his tenure as CEE department head in the 1980s” said Markus Buehler, head of CEE and the McAfee Professor Engineering. “What I find most inspiring is Joe’s deep commitment to students, and he would rarely miss any department event that offers an opportunity to build the community and make us stronger together.”

Representatives from both MIT and JR East reflected fondly on the partnership’s success and mentioned their hopes for the future of the JR East-MIT collaboration.

“We hope that the partnership with JR East will continue for another 25 years with the same success that it has had until now,” said Richard K. Lester, MIT associate provost and the Japan Steel Industry Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering. “Both MIT and JR East will be very different in 25 years, but I have no doubt that collaborations and partnerships will be every bit as important to us then as they are now.”

Categories: In the News

Detecting mutations could lead to earlier liver cancer diagnosis

MIT News - Mon, 03/27/2017 - 15:00

In many parts of the world, including Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, exposure to a fungal product called aflatoxin is believed to cause up to 80 percent of liver cancer cases. This fungus is often found in corn, peanuts, and other crops that are dietary staples in those regions.

MIT researchers have now developed a way to determine, by sequencing DNA of liver cells, whether those cells have been exposed to aflatoxin. This profile of mutations could be used to predict whether someone has a high risk of developing liver cancer, potentially many years before tumors actually appear.

“What we’re doing is creating a fingerprint,” says John Essigmann, the William R. and Betsy P. Leitch Professor of Biological Engineering and Chemistry at MIT. “It’s really a measure of prior exposure to something that causes cancer.”

This approach could also be used to generate profiles for other common carcinogens, says Essigmann, who is the senior author of a paper describing the findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of March 27.

The paper’s lead author is MIT postdoc Supawadee Chawanthayatham. Other MIT authors are technical assistant Charles Valentine, research scientists Bogdan Fedeles and Robert Croy, BioMicro Center Director Stuart Levine, postdoc Stephen Slocum, and Professor of Biological Engineering Emeritus Gerald Wogan. University of Washington researchers Edward Fox and Lawrence Loeb are also authors of the study.

Seeking rare mutations

As Essigmann’s lab has previously reported, exposure to aflatoxin usually results in a genetic mutation that converts the DNA base guanine to thymine. This can often lead to liver cancer, although in regions such as the United States and Europe, where the food supply is more highly regulated, the risk of aflatoxin exposure is low.

In the new study, the MIT team set out to see if they could identify mutations produced by aflatoxin long before cancer develops. First, the researchers exposed mice to a single dose of aflatoxin, four days after birth. After this exposure, all of the mice eventually developed liver cancer. The researchers sequenced DNA from those tumors and also from liver cells removed only 10 weeks after exposure, before tumors developed.

To find mutations at 10 weeks, the researchers used a powerful genome sequencing technique that can identify very rare mutations — which occur in about 1 in 10 million to 100 million DNA base pairs.

Unlike most DNA sequencing techniques, the one used in this paper, developed by researchers at the University of Washington, combines data from two complementary strands of DNA. Usually each strand of double-stranded DNA is sequenced alone, and each strand must be copied many times in order to get enough DNA to sequence. This copying results in the introduction of errors — about one mistake for every 500 base pairs.

With the new technique, the two complementary strands are barcoded so that their sequence information can later be recombined. That way, the researchers can distinguish true mutations from copying errors. This technique is 1,000 to 10,000 times more accurate than conventional DNA sequencing, allowing researchers to be confident that the rare mutations they find are not simply mistakes.

“Detecting rare events is something that this technology was designed to do,” Fedeles says.

The researchers found that at 10 weeks, a distinctive pattern of mutations that can serve as a “fingerprint” for aflatoxin exposure had already emerged. Specifically, about 25 percent of the mutations occurred in CGC sequences. For reasons not yet known, aflatoxin is much more likely to produce mutations in guanine when it is flanked by cytosine on both sides.

“Even at 10 weeks, a very distinct mutational signature comes up,” Essigmann says. “It’s very early-onset, and you don’t see it with other carcinogens, to our knowledge.”

Aflatoxin exposure

The researchers then compared the mutational profile of the aflatoxin-exposed mice to the genetic sequences found in liver tumors of more than 300 patients from around the world. They found that the signature of the mouse cells very closely matched the signatures of 13 patients, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, who were believed to have been exposed to aflatoxin in their diet.

The MIT team now hopes to devise a simpler test, such as a blood test, that could easily be examined for this mutational profile. Patients who tested positive would likely benefit from regular screening of their liver to determine if tumors have begun forming, so the tumors could be surgically removed.

“You could imagine that you have a high-risk region of the world, with, say, a million people in the area. By measuring a mutational signature that is experimentally defined, you might be able to hone down to about 5,000 [people] out of 1 million, that carry that mutation. These are the people that you would want to intensively follow to do early diagnosis,” says John Groopman, a professor of preventive medicine at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who was not involved in the research.

This test could also be used to study new cancer-protective drugs, such as oltipraz, or dietary regimens that might prevent aflatoxin-induced DNA mutations. In China, scientists are testing whether broccoli sprout tea can help prevent this type of liver cancer, as broccoli contains a compound that also blocks the pathway leading to aflatoxin-induced mutations.

In addition to investigating how other factors such as inflammation influence the progression of aflatoxin-linked cancers, the MIT team plans to look for mutational profiles produced by other liver carcinogens such as dimethylnitrosamine, a chemical byproduct recently found as a contaminant in some sources of local drinking water. 

“The hypothesis that drives this field is that each agent that contributes to the genetic changes responsible for cancer has its own unique mutational signature, and those signatures can be used to identify the contributions of each of these agents to the tumor that ultimately develops,” Croy says.

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Categories: In the News

Tiny bacterium provides window into whole ecosystems

MIT News - Mon, 03/27/2017 - 15:00

William Blake may have seen a world in a grain of sand, but for scientists at MIT the smallest of all photosynthetic bacteria holds clues to the evolution of entire ecosystems, and perhaps even the whole biosphere.

The key is a tiny bacterium called Prochlorococcus, which is the most abundant photosynthetic life form in the oceans. New research shows that this diminutive creature’s metabolism has evolved in a way that may have helped trigger the rise of other organisms, to form a more complex marine ecosystem. Its evolution may even have helped to drive global changes that made possible the development of Earth’s more complex organisms.

The research also suggests that the co-evolution of Prochlorococcus and its interdependent co-organisms can be seen as a microcosm of the metabolic processes that take place inside the cells of much more complex organisms.

The new analysis is published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in a paper by postdoc Rogier Braakman, Professor Michael Follows, and Institute Professor Sallie (Penny) Chisholm, who was part of the team that discovered this tiny organism and its outsized influence.

“We have all these different strains that have been isolated from all over the world’s oceans, that have different genomes and different genetic capacity, but they’re all one species by traditional measures,” Chisholm explains. “So there’s this extraordinary genetic diversity within this single species that allows it to dominate such vast swaths of the Earth’s oceans.”

Because Prochlorococcus is both so abundant and so well-studied, Braakman says it was an ideal subject for trying to figure out “within all this diversity, how do the metabolic networks change? What drives that, and what are the consequences of that?”

They found a great amount of variation in the bacteria’s “metabolic network,” which refers to the ways that materials and energy pass in and out of the organism, along its phylogeny. The fact that such significant changes have taken place over the course of Prochlorococcus evolution “tells you something quite dramatic,” he says, because these metabolic processes are so fundamental to the organism’s survival that “it’s like the engine of the system. So imagine trying to change the engine of your car while you’re driving. It’s not easily done, so if something is changing, it’s telling you something significant.”

The variations form a kind of layered structure, with more ancestral variants living deeper in the water column and more recent variants living near the surface. The team found that as Prochlorococcus started out living in the top layers of the ocean, where light is abundant but food is relatively scarce, it developed a higher and higher rate of metabolism. It took in more solar energy and used that to power a stronger uptake of scarce nutrients from the water — in effect, creating a more powerful vacuum cleaner but in the process also generating more waste, Braakman says.

As newer variants vacuumed up nutrients in the surface layers, more ancestral types had to move down to greater depths where nutrients levels remained higher, ultimately resulting in the layered structure seen today.

The carbon compounds that make up Prochlorococcus’ waste in turn provided nutrients that drove the evolution of another kind of bacteria, known as SAR11, whose own waste products were useful to Prochlorococcus, thus forming a cooperative system that benefited both organisms. The mutual recycling of waste reinforces the collective maximization of metabolic rate. “It looks like the system is in fact evolving to maximize the total throughput” of energy, not just that of individual organisms, Braakman says.

“As they optimize their ability to acquire nutrients, cells produce more organic carbon and end up promoting greater levels of mutualism,” Follows adds.

That interdependent, cooperative relationship is very similar to the relationship between mitochondria and chloroplasts, the two kinds of subunits that provide the energy inside the cells of all forms of plant life, Braakman says. Chloroplasts collect energy from sunlight and use it to form chemical compounds that transfer energy to mitochondria, which can in turn release and transfer carbon and energy back to chloroplasts and the rest of the cell — through pathways very similar to those used by Prochlorococcus and SAR11.

Other features of the two systems are also very similar, including their photosynthetic pigments and how they deal with the detoxification of hydrogen peroxide. This suggests parallel evolutionary processes produced the same outcome in very different environments. “Plant cells really look like microscopic ocean microbial ecosystems,” he explains.

Partly because of those parallels, Braakman says this dynamic could potentially describe the evolution of the biosphere more generally. He suggests that the mathematical descriptions of Prochlorococcus evolution, which he and Follows developed together, emerge from basic principles of kinetics and thermodynamics and so could provide some insights into other systems as well. “It could be a universal kind of dynamic,” he says.

“This framework can also help us model the interactions of life, sunlight, and ocean chemistry at the ocean scale,” Follows says.

The metabolic evolution of Prochlorococcus may have had one other important effect: Through a complex geochemical cycle involving the carbon compounds the microbe produced and their interactions with iron, the bacteria may have contributed to a significant rise in oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere around half a billion years ago, from very low levels up to near-modern levels. This major rise in oxygen is believed to have unleashed a rapid explosion of new species also known as the Cambrian explosion, which saw the birth of most major animal phyla.

What this analysis suggests, he says, “is what looks like a directional evolutionary process, which is steadily marching toward a direction where it’s increasing the energy flux through the system. One of the consequences of that is that then oxygen ended up rising in the atmosphere, and the complexity of the ecosystem increased.”

A lot of evolutionary theory emphasizes competition, Braakman says, where “there are limited resources and we’re all fighting for them. But what this evolutionary dynamic is saying is that it’s a way of increasing the resources for the whole system, so everyone is better off. It increases total system resources.”

This work, Chisholm says, demonstrates that “you really have to think about evolution at all these scales, to understand it. It’s not just about a bunch of selfish genes jumping around. If you want to understand life in all its dimensions, you have to look at the genes, but also all the way up to the ecosystems. None of it will make sense if you don’t look at it at all those scales.”

This team’s “innovative integration of phylogeny, physiology, and genomics opens up novel avenues for research on phytoplankton evolution, while stimulating new thinking about the long term coevolution of Earth and life,” says Andrew Knoll, professor of natural history at Harvard University, who was not connected with this research.

The research was supported by the Simons Foundation, the Life Sciences Research Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the National Science Foundation.

Categories: In the News

Wisdom gained: A good engineer should have artisan spirit

MIT News - Mon, 03/27/2017 - 13:20

In February, the Edgerton Center hosted 60 10th-grade students from the Beijing Chenjinglun School in Beijing, China, for a workshop on underwater remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). The visit was organized by Pei Zhang, executive director of the U.S. China Scitech Education Promotion Association, and led by Edgerton Center instructors Ed Moriarty and Cheetiri Smith, with the assistance of many volunteers and translators.

Three days to build a working ROV 

With a short deadline to come up with a functional ROV, students had to work fast. They split into 10 groups with each group specializing in the fabrication of common ROV components, such as controllers, wiring harnesses, thruster assemblies, and tethers. The same task was performed by the same group throughout the day so less time was required to build each subsequent part and the quality improved after the completion of the previous part.

In this way, the students learned concepts related to mass manufacturing, including the learning curve, the value of interchangeable parts, and the importance of quality control. As well, the students had a sense of interdependency; every component of the ROV was mission critical, so if one part failed, the entire ROV would fail.  

Design, build, repeat, then plunge into water

On the second day, students were given free range to be creative in the design of their ROV using the components they had built the day before. Once assembled, the students tested the buoyancy properties of their ROVs by plunging them into tubs of water, learning along the way how the ROV’s buoyancy, center of mass, and aesthetic choices affected the ROV’s performance underwater.

Asked what was the most useful thing they learned about the process, one student remarked, “First design should be as simple as it can be. Perfect design is the one that you cannot remove something from it [sic].” “When you fail, you should try out all ideas you have denied in your mind,” said another.

"Don't be afraid of failure" 

On the final day, the students brought their ROVs to MIT's Zesiger pool for the competition. Each ROV successfully glided underwater, and some ROVs could even pick up rings at the bottom of the pool.  

After the experience at the Edgerton Center, one student remarked, “A good engineer should have artisan spirit.” “The knowledge you explore is more impressive than the one teacher tells you,” commented another. Others added that “Teamwork can improve efficiency, interest is the best teacher, and don’t be afraid of failure.”

Students' perception of MIT and engineering itself were altered after the workshop. “I thought engineering should be difficult and hard to understand,” said one student. “I thought MIT was a boring place, it was actually a funny, crazy, and attractive place,” commented another. “I thought MIT was a place filled with lectures, theories, and bookworms. … The lab here really impresses me, and everyone here is creative,” noted another.

Workshop facilitators included Mccain Boomna, Jonathan Dietz '73, Madison Evans, David Iwatsuki '76, Yveder Joseph, Jeevesh Konuru, Chung Wei Lee '07, John Lee, Zhiyi Liang, Chung Wei Lee, Michelle Kornberg, Abigail Lee, Alex Mathes, Yashasvi Raj, Kamala Raj, Aviel Stutman, Dan Stutman, Lauren TenCate, Philip Tran, Ellen Wang, and John Zhang.

Categories: In the News

Tech: It’s What’s For Dinner

Scout Cambridge - Mon, 03/27/2017 - 12:04

Café ArtScience has drinking and dining down to… well, a science. On any given night, the Café ArtScience bar is bubbling—and often, vaporizing or smoking—with...

The post Tech: It’s What’s For Dinner appeared first on Scout Cambridge.

Categories: In the News

Julien Barber: Protecting magnets and the environment

MIT News - Mon, 03/27/2017 - 11:45

“Where I grew up, it is below 0 degrees Celsius five months of the year.”

Julien Barber, a first-year graduate student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, is describing Winnipeg, Manitoba, where average temperatures do not rise above freezing from November to March. It may not be surprising, then, that he is currently keeping things cool at the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC), studying cryogenic methods of preventing superconducting magnets used in fusion research from overheating.

As an undergraduate at the University of Manitoba, Barber became accustomed to extreme cold. He spent time conducting climate change research in the high Arctic aboard the Canadian Icebreaker Amundsen, and first harnessed the cold, not for fusion devices, but for grocery stores.

“In Manitoba you have giant grocery stores, or data centers, that are burning carbon and spending money to cool things when the temperature outside is often colder than that of the component that requires cooling. My thesis partner, my advisor and I were attempting to find some way to transfer that cooling potential indoors.”

His work resulted in the design of a passive two-phase thermosyphon that could extend outside the roofs of buildings. Cool air passing the exposed thermosyphon would condense, liquefy, and fall to the bottom of the apparatus inside the building. The thermal energy from the source would then boil the liquid, sending it back up to the top as vapor, providing a passive means of cooling a given component.

“It would go back and forth. We designed an energy-saving system with no energy generation. We didn’t move a single electron. All we did was offset electricity by thermal transport. This is where I started to understand the role of thermodynamics, and how all energy is connected to heat transfer.”

At the PSFC, Barber works with Joe Minervini, head of the Magnets and Cryogenics Division. The group is trying to integrate high temperature superconductors (HTS) into field coils for a new generation of fusion devices that could be smaller and less expensive than previously envisioned. The tokamak design Barber studies uses a donut-shaped vacuum chamber surrounded by a system of magnets to confine hot plasma fuel long enough to create fusion energy.  The center of the plasma burns at temperatures hotter than the sun, while only meters away the superconducting cables must be maintained at -253 C. This temperature gradient is one of the largest known to exist, and represents a major engineering challenge.

Tokamaks have typically used low temperature superconductors (LTS) — a material that provides no resistance to electrical current — in order to create the magnetic fields required to confine the burning plasma. However, these LTS materials must be cooled to extremely low temperatures for them to remain superconducting. The high-temperature superconductors used in the new conceptual design present opportunities for fusion research.

“With LTS you were restricted to helium, which has limited thermal properties and ability to transfer heat from the magnetic coils. With HTS you can operate at higher temperatures, which allows you to explore new realms of cryogens for cooling, such as hydrogen.”

Little work has been done on using liquid hydrogen as a cooling mechanism for this kind of application. Barber’s work so far has focused on analyzing the thermal properties and the heat transfer potential of supercritical hydrogen, and exploring how this cryogen might improve the performance of the magnetic coils in fusion devices. Experiments are being designed to test his modeling. Despite hydrogen’s promising heat transfer potential, the fluid comes with its own set of challenges. Hydrogen is a volatile substance, most commonly used as rocket fuel, and requires extreme care in handling and implementation.

Barber’s attraction to fusion, a potentially endless source of carbon-free energy, developed naturally from his early interest in climate change. He credits his father, a professor and climate researcher at the University of Manitoba, not only for generating his interest in clean energy and conservation, but for providing him with a global perspective, a consequence of living in foreign countries during multiple sabbaticals.

“My upbringing fostered the desire to tackle big problems that have a global impact. Fusion fits the bill of a global remedy for both energy needs and some environmental problems. It’s not trying to solve the problem of one specific person. It’s trying to change the game.”

Barber is passionate about contributing to this change. A member of the MIT Energy Club, he formed a group called NRG, for students interested in developing ideas for carbon-free energy.

“We met weekly, brainstormed, and defined sectors of energy space ripe for the picking. We wanted to find ideas we could all work on together.”

Barber is hoping some of the ideas they have submitted to clean energy competitions will receive development funds. Beyond that, NRG is helping Barber approach energy on what he calls “a more holistic level,” not focusing on only one topic.

“I want to be sure I don’t just know about hydrogen and magnets. I’m interested in exploring the intersection between business and engineering. I love being in a lab, I like crunching numbers and solving problems with pen and paper — very academic — but I also like involving myself on the business side of things, engaging with people, pitching ideas, and figuring out how to implement new clean energy projects.”

He’s already a convincing salesman for fusion, a challenge that could occupy him for decades.

“I’ve always been of the mindset, go for the hard things. Tackle what’s difficult. Make the biggest impact you can.”

Categories: In the News

A big leap toward tinier lines

MIT News - Mon, 03/27/2017 - 11:00

For the last few decades, microchip manufacturers have been on a quest to find ways to make the patterns of wires and components in their microchips ever smaller, in order to fit more of them onto a single chip and thus continue the relentless progress toward faster and more powerful computers. That progress has become more difficult recently, as manufacturing processes bump up against fundamental limits involving, for example, the wavelengths of the light used to create the patterns.

Now, a team of researchers at MIT and in Chicago has found an approach that could break through some of those limits and make it possible to produce some of the narrowest wires yet, using a process that could easily be scaled up for mass manufacturing with standard kinds of equipment.

The new findings are reported this week in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, in a paper by postdoc Do Han Kim, graduate student Priya Moni, and Professor Karen Gleason, all at MIT, and by postdoc Hyo Seon Suh, Professor Paul Nealey, and three others at the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory. While there are other methods that can achieve such fine lines, the team says, none of them are cost-effective for large-scale manufacturing.

The new approach uses a self-assembly technique in which materials known as block copolymers are covered by a second polymer. They are deposited on a surface by first heating the precursor so it vaporizes, then allowing it to condense on a cooler surface, much as water condenses on the outside of a cold drinking glass on a hot day.

“People always want smaller and smaller patterns, but achieving that has been getting more and more expensive,” says Gleason, who is MIT’s associate provost as well as the Alexander and I. Michael Kasser (1960) Professor of Chemical Engineering. Today’s methods for producing features smaller than about 22 nanometers (billionths of a meter) across generally require building up an image line by line, by scanning a beam of electrons or ions across the chip surface — a very slow process and therefore expensive to implement at large scale.

The new process uses a novel integration of two existing methods. First, a pattern of lines is produced on the chip surface using standard lithographic techniques, in which light shines through a negative mask placed on the chip surface. That surface is chemically etched so that the areas that were illuminated get dissolved away, leaving the spaces between them as conductive “wires” that connect parts of the circuit.

Then, a layer of material known as a block copolymer — a mix of two different polymer materials that naturally segregate themselves into alternating layers or other predictable patterns — is formed by spin coating a solution. The block copolymers are made up of chain-like molecules, each consisting of two different polymer materials connected end-to-end.

“One half is friendly with oil, the other half is friendly with water,” Kim explains. “But because they are completely bonded, they’re kind of stuck with each other.” The dimensions of the two chains predetermine the sizes of layers or other patterns they will assemble themselves into when they are deposited.

Finally, a top, protective polymer layer is deposited on top of the others using chemical vapor deposition (CVD). This top coat, it turns out, is a key to the process: It constrains the way the block copolymers self-assemble, forcing them to form into vertical layers rather than horizontal ones, like a layer cake on its side.

The underlying lithographed pattern guides the positioning of these layers, but the natural tendencies of the copolymers cause their width to be much smaller than that of the base lines. The result is that there are now four (or more, depending on the chemistry) lines, each of them a fourth as wide, in place of each original one. The lithographed layer “controls both the orientation and the alignment” of the resulting finer lines, explains Moni.

Because the top polymer layer can additionally be patterned, the system can be used to build up any kind of complex patterning, as needed for the interconnections of a microchip.

Most microchip manufacturing facilities use the existing lithographic method, and the CVD process itself is a well-understood additional step that could be added relatively easily. Thus, implementing the new method could be much more straightforward than other proposed methods of making finer lines, such as the use of extreme ultraviolet light, which would require the development of new light sources and new lenses to focus the light. With the new method, Gleason says, “you wouldn’t need to change all those machines. And everything that’s involved are well-known materials.”

“Being able to create sub-10-nanometer features with polymers is major progress in the area of nanofabrication,” says Joerg Lahann, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Michigan, who was not involved in this work. “The quality and robustness of this process will open an entirely new area of applications, from nanopatterning to nanotribology.”

Lahann adds, “This work is an ingenious extension of previous research by these researchers. The fact that they can demonstrate arbitrary structures highlights the quality and versatility of this novel technology.”

The team also included Shisheng Xiong at the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory, and Leonidas Ocola and Nestor Zaluzec at Argonne. The work was supported by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Army Research Office, through MIT’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies.

Categories: In the News

Letter regarding federal funding priorities and MIT's budget

MIT News - Mon, 03/27/2017 - 10:00

The following email was sent today to the MIT community by President L. Rafael Reif.

To the members of the MIT community:

When the White House released a sketch of its budget priorities, it was impossible to ignore the scale of its cuts to many areas of research vital to MIT’s mission. Far more important, such a budget would damage the nation’s position as a global leader in science and innovation.

The document is far from a finished budget; Congress will shape the final terms. But because we rely on federal funding for 66% of our campus research support, we must take this “blueprint” seriously, for both what it says and what it signals.

  • Overall – and acknowledging the many uncertainties embedded in this judgment – if this budget blueprint were enacted, we estimate that, for FY2018, MIT campus might experience a drop in overall federal funding between 8-10%. We are also concerned that the federal government may sharply reduce its coverage of overhead costs, an arcane aspect of government funding that could have large budget implications for MIT.
  • This budget sketch does call for the Department of Defense, the primary funder of Lincoln Lab and the source of 18% of our campus research support, to receive a 10% budget increase. But the blueprint’s DOD section offers little detail and makes no mention of research. We are left to guess that this might result in no change or a slight increase to current DOD research funding on campus, and a possible increase in funding for Lincoln Lab.

Finding allies, building coalitions

The action now shifts to Congress, where we hope that some percentage of the proposed cuts will be restored. We are actively working with others to assemble all the support we can get.

Vice President for Research Maria Zuber, who has significant experience in science advocacy in DC, is heavily involved in this effort, which has been a non-stop priority of the MIT administration for years.

Speaking out

Along with other academic leaders, Maria and I have also been speaking out and writing about the importance of the nation’s investment in fundamental research. A few recent examples:

  • An essay just published in Foreign Affairs.
  • An op-ed published in December in the Wall Street Journal.
  • And Congressional testimony last week. In her role as chair of the National Science Board, Maria spoke strongly about the need to support all fields of basic research.

Keeping you informed

As we enter this period of uncertainty, I have asked Provost Marty Schmidt and Executive Vice President and Treasurer Israel Ruiz to work with Maria as she monitors the situation, and to assess how we can best respond to mitigate the impact. As the Congressional budget process unfolds, they will keep the community informed.

*                    *                    *

America's strength in science and engineering is central to America's strength, period. It's how we keep the nation safe, drive innovation, build infrastructure, power and connect our modern society, restore the environment, create new industries, feed our people, heal the sick – and understand the universe.

If you share these views, I encourage you to help your friends, your family, your neighbors, your elected representatives and the rest of the nation understand why.

Sincerely,

L. Rafael Reif

Categories: In the News

Of course school district is lacking results; leaders aren’t serious about collecting data

Cambridge Day - Mon, 03/27/2017 - 08:05
The School Committee had the opportunity to request data on the impact of race on student participation in extracurricular activities. It chose to assign the project to the high school student government.
Categories: In the News

End of the March - Interesting Items on the March 27, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Cambridge Civic Journal - Mon, 03/27/2017 - 01:51

Here's my take on this week's agenda:

Manager's Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Harvard Square Kiosk Working Group, effective Mar 27, 2017: Abra Berkowitz, Robyn Culbertson, Ankita Deshpande, Timothy Hyde, Janet Si-Ming Lee, Sarah Rosenkrantz, Daniel Andrew Schofield-Bodt, Kenneth Taylor, John DiGiovanni, Bertil JeanChronberg, Frank Kramer, Peter Kroon, Sohail Nasir, Abhishek Syal, Thomas Lucey and Mary Flynn

This is shaping up like a classic turf war and I hope these appointees can get beyond that. Personally, I would just like to see an active use for the Kiosk that's not all about the tourists - a place where the locals want to gather. My ideal would be something like Sullivan's at Castle Island in South Boston, but I don't suppose the Old Cambridge crowd could ever tolerate that much humanity.

Manager's Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the requirements of the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) that the City Council adopt an order for the Statement of Interest Form to be submitted to MSBA no later than Apr 7, 2017 for the Tobin and Vassal Lane Upper School located at 197 Vassal Lane.

The Putnam Avenue School is done and the King Open and Cambridge Street Upper Schools are now under construction. This Statement of Interest concerns the next major renovation or replacement - the Tobin and Vassal Lane Upper School. Let's hope there's some state grant money available to help pay for the project.

Manager's Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a proposed ordinance related to the growth and maintenance of “Running Bamboo”.

Alternatively, we could import pandas. City officials are just so resistant to creative solutions.

Manager's Agenda #12. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Numbers 16-64 and 17-9, regarding trash and recycling pick up for small businesses.

"DPW is proposing to expand the municipal recycling pick-up program on a trial basis to small businesses beginning in the spring/summer of 2018. It is proposed that this program will be made available to all small businesses throughout the City on a once per week basis, and will help reduce the cost to businesses in eliminating the need for them to contract with outside vendors as well as enabling the City to further increase the quantity of material diverted from the waste stream in the City. Funds are included in the FY18 budget to initiate the program."

Manager's Agenda #14. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the transfer of $1,000,000 from the Water Fund Other Ordinary Maintenance account to the Public Investment Fund Water Extraordinary Expenditures account to fund the replacement of water meters and meter transmitter units (MTUs).

Contained in the message is the following piece of good news: "In October 2016, the Council approved an appropriation to use $3.6 million from the Water Fund’s Fund Balance to purchase water from the MWRA to ensure an adequate supply of water to meet the needs of the community. The severity of the drought has lessened and the usable capacity in our reservoir system has stabilized. The City has not had to use MWRA water since the beginning of December and has only expended $1.6 million."

Manager's Agenda #15. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to recommendations for the block rates for water consumption and sewer use for the period beginning Apr 1, 2017 and ending Mar 31, 2018.

According to the Manager's report, the average triple-decker uses about 122 CCF of water per year. My triple-decker apparently uses nearly twice that and we're generally pretty conscientious about water use. This past year I paid over $2850 and the report says the average for a triple-decker was $1590. Either something is amiss with the plumbing or the Manager's figures or my water meter is reading a lot higher than it should. Actually, I just checked my records and it appears that the higher readings coincide with when the new meter was installed. Time to call the Water Department, I guess.

Order #1. City Council go on record urging the Governor to resist reducing funding for The Ride.   Mayor Simmons

It's stunning just how backwards things are in this state and, in particular, the Boston Metropolitan Area when it comes to public transportation. I don't doubt that there are some efficiencies to be had with The Ride and other services, but this hardly seems the place to close a budget gap.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Acting Police Commissioner with a view toward piloting a Cambridge Police outpost located in Carl Barron Plaza, to be ready for operation by Summer 2017.   Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern

What should really happen is for the City and the MBTA and a Central Square property owner to create a multi-function site that can house a police substation, an MBTA facility for bus drivers and other personnel, an information center, a public bathroom, and maybe even a newsstand. That, of course, would take coordination, so I won't hold my breath.

Order #6. That the City of Cambridge opposes H.R. 482 and S. 103, and calls on its representatives in the House and Senate to vote against these bills, and to exert influence on other representatives to oppose these bills and support the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in all efforts to affirmatively further fair housing and collect data to assess the progress of fair housing initiatives and inclusiveness of its communities.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons

In addition to the many positive effects of the Fair Housing Act, there is also the unintended consequence that efforts to more equitably locate some social-service types of housing throughout the city have actually been hindered by this Act. There is no legal way to prevent the over-concentration of such facilities in a place like Central Square.

Order #7. That the City Council agenda be altered to create a section in the agenda between public comment and the City Manager’s agenda entitled “General Council Discussion,” where Councillors would be able to bring their colleagues up-to-date on projects in which they are engaged or ask for updates about projects that other Councillors are working on, even if these issues do not appear on the Council’s agenda or have never been the subject of formal City Council attention.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Devereux

In an ideal world, city councillors would actually be working on such projects collaboratively and in accordance with the Open Meeting Law via the various City Council subcommittees. If this were the case there would be no need to set aside a special time at City Council meetings to reveal what they've been doing out of public view.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Mar 16, 2017 to discuss a zoning petition filed by Richard Harding, et al., to amend the Mass + Main Residential sub district and the Central Square Overlay District by amending Sections 20.307.8.1 (a) and (b) and 20.307.6.2 (a).

Even if someone has lingering objections to the Mass+Main project, this is an absurd way to go about expressing those objections long after that train left the station. - Robert Winters

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Categories: In the News

Student perspectives on grad life at MIT

MIT News - Mon, 03/27/2017 - 00:00

Being a graduate student at MIT is … well, it depends whom you ask. With more than 6,000 grad students enrolled in one of 32 doctoral or 27 master’s programs on campus, the variety of experiences (and opinions about those experiences) ranges wildly.

The Office of the Dean for Graduate Education (ODGE) has launched a new blog written entirely by current graduate students that tries to capture some of this variety. It is an eclectic mix of stories that offers readers a glimpse inside the MIT graduate community.

From inspiring overviews (“MIT is more than Killian Court, chalkboards, and groundbreaking discoveries. It’s the people, the intellectual curiosity, and the relentless passion for all things.”) to in-the-weeds pointers about campus life (“If there is an event, and if I’m on the fence about attending, it will come down to the food. … it can be a bonus on top of a talk by a Nobel laureate.”) to deeply personal revelations (“Honestly, I was scared to ask for help.”) — the blogs are written by students from all five schools at MIT and reflect a deeply varied range of origins, perspectives, and interests.

Modeled on the very popular (and irreverent) MIT undergraduate admissions blog, which features the musings of undergraduate students, the graduate student blog arose out of a partnership between ODGE, the School of Engineering, and the SoE Communications Lab. More than 100 students applied to participate in a one-week Independent Activities Period workshop on blog writing, which featured talks from dean of engineering Professor Ian Waitz, undergraduate admissions guru Chris Peterson, and Knight Science Journalism at MIT Director Deborah Blum. The 40 students the workshop worked in small groups with communications staff from all over MIT, and 29 of them completed the entries that just went live. Like the undergraduate blog, the new one publishes its submissions under a first-name-last-initial byline to inspire candid expression in its contributors.

One blogger, Dishita T., a graduate student in architecture, says she welcomed the opportunity to share a personal story that might resonate with others. Her piece, “To MIT With Love,” tells of falling in love: the first date in India, the cultural obstacles, and the ways in which a shared passion for MIT created a haven for the couple in Cambridge.

In her entry, Dishita asks: “Was it the moment of falling in love with MIT that brought the guy in my life, or falling in love with him that brought me to MIT?” Not only does MIT change the world at large, it also changes the people here in deep and personal ways, she says. And those tales are worth telling. “Whenever I hear those stories, I’m inspired.”

Because this is MIT, the graduate student blog is also a home for the offbeat. As Daniel G., a graduate student in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, says: “I wanted to give a voice to the light-hearted nerd-culture vibe that infects most aspects of my life here at MIT, and which I quite enjoy.” In his blog post, Daniel describes explaining his chosen field to those outside of it. When he tells people he’s a theoretical computer scientist, he writes, they sometimes ask: “What does that even mean?”

Daniel describes three flavors of computer scientists: cryptographers, algorithmists, and complexity theorists. “There is a drawback to being a cryptographer,” he writes. “I imagine it’s the same sort of drawback the Hulk would experience in an anger management class. Much like the Hulk can't control his impulse for aggression, the cryptographer can't help but deal in secrets.”

After similar treatments of algorithmists (“in their pursuit for algorithmic nirvana, they have inadvertently forgotten the English language”) and the complexity theorists (“they are like your drunk uncle telling you that your life will never amount to anything”), Daniel wraps up with: “Shhh. You are now part of a secret academic cabal. Welcome to the great conspiracy.”

In the end, the graduate student blog is about opening minds and drawing readers into a research community that is special in ways impossible to quantify. “A PhD can be wild,” says blogger and computer scientist Irene C. Her piece, “My Road to Yelp Elite,” catalogues her comic quest to dine at 180 restaurants, review them for the online ratings website, and, at a good clip, gain Yelp Elite status. (“Whereas I should be asking: interpretable natural language models talk vs. a mentorship lunch for women in computer science? I find myself asking instead: Do I want free Brazilian BBQ or free Indian curry?” she writes.)

Irene tells readers she chased the Yelp Elite moniker as “an escape from the all-consuming life of a PhD student: If I couldn’t figure out how to model the error of a Bayesian network relating medical diseases and symptoms, at least another Yelper had just complimented me on my review of The Friendly Toast.”

About the Graduate Student Blog, Irene says she is excited to contribute to the range of narratives at MIT. “Part of staying sane is finding what makes you come alive and following that — through research and beyond.”

Categories: In the News

Superintendent's MCAS Update

Cambridge Public Schools - Sun, 03/26/2017 - 20:00
Categories: In the News

Police investigate Inman Square gunshots, but vehicle, wall of home seem only victims

Cambridge Day - Sun, 03/26/2017 - 15:20
Police are investigating gunshots last night on the 300 block of Elm Street between Cambridge Street and Webster Avenue, near Inman Square.
Categories: In the News

Committee member talks size of classes, painted as referendum on program itself

Cambridge Day - Sat, 03/25/2017 - 23:59
A motion to cap certain class sizes ballooned somehow into an emotional referendum on an entire program, with School Committee members declaiming about staff morale and student “labels.”
Categories: In the News