Notes from the lab


COMPUTER CLUBHOUSE FOR KIDS

Where can youths from Boston's inner-city neighborhoods go to design their own robots, create an on-line art gallery or develop an interactive newsletter-all free of charge, using the latest computer technology?

The Computer Clubhouse, an innovative after-school learning center organized by The Computer Museum in Boston in collaboration with the Media Laboratory. The Clubhouse is the brainchild of Mitchel Resnick, assistant professor at the Media Lab, and Natalie Rusk, formerly of The Computer Museum.

"The Computer Clubhouse is most definitely not about playing computer games," Dr. Resnick said. "It's about allowing kids to design, create and construct things with new computational media." It is also an ideal environment to try out some of the Media Lab's new technologies, such as the Programmable Brick, which is being developed in collaboration with the LEGO company.

The Clubhouse recently marked its first anniversary. More than 500 young people participated during the year, including a handful who show up daily. The founders hope that similar learning centers can be established throughout the country. (Source: Frames)

DETERMINING THE AGE OF THE UNIVERSE

Recent reports on the age of the universe suggest it's only 8-12 billion years old, making it younger than some stars. These reports go against other calculations.

For example, scientists led by Professor Jacqueline Hewitt of the Department of Physics concluded about two years ago that the universe is roughly 15 billion years old. They made their calculations using a gravitational lens-a phenomenon in which radiation from a distant source bends around an obstacle such as a galaxy, like water flowing over a boulder.

"Radiation can take a straighter path by one side of the lens than the other," Professor Hewitt said. "If you can measure the time difference between the two signals, you can tell approximately how far away the source is."

The MIT scientists calculated the time delay for one lens system. By applying that to theoretical analyses of the system, they came up with an estimate for the scale-and by extrapolation, the age-of the universe. With respect to the difference between her team's estimate and recent reports, Professor Hewitt said "I'm very interested in that discrepancy. I'd like to know what accounts for it."

She is now calculating the universe's age using different lens systems. "Given the discrepancy with other techniques, [our work] needs to be verified," she said. The work is supported by an NSF Presidential Young Investigator award, a David and Lucile Packard Fellowship in Science and Engineering, and a Career Development Chair funded by MIT's Class of 48. (Source: Spectrum)

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 12, 1995.


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