Here and there


Dr. Janos M. Beer, professor emeritus of chemical and fuel engineering and a senior lecturer, was asked to go to the new cogeneration plant one day in February to accompany President Charles M. Vest on a tour of the facilities. At the start of the tour, he and Thomas Shepherd, the recently retired associate director of Physical Plant, were pleasantly surprised to receive plaques as Awards of Gratitude from Roger Moore, superintendent of utilities, thanking them for their "support and assistance" in the development of the new Central Utilities Plant Cogeneration Facility.

There also was a letter to Professor Beer from Victoria V. Sirianni, Physical Plant director, extending "our thanks and deep gratitude for all you have done. Your untiring work and counsel has been bountiful. It would not have really happened, I fear, if you had not played such a major role." Mr. Moore told Tech Talk that new methods developed by Professor Beer--a so-called low-NOx or lean-burn technology--literally saved the project at one point. Mr. Shepherd was recognized for "continued and untiring and work to assist this department," Ms. Sirianni said.

In December, Professor James L. Kirtley of electrical engineering and computer science and Wayne H. Hagman, a research engineer with the Laboratory for Electromagnetic and Electronic Systems, were also recognized by Physical Plant's Electrical Systems Review Team with similar awards for the substantial assitance they provided last summer and fall with the electrical portion of the project.
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USA Weekend last month focused on MIT for an article headlined "Religious Revival on Campus."

"At MIT, a temple long dedicated to the dual gods of science and technology, a different religion has taken root: the religion of well, religion," writer Jerry Shine said.

The story noted increased attendance at religious activities--many of them carried out at the Religious Activities Center--and quoted Rev. Betsy Draper, the Baptist chaplain at MIT, as finding "a real resurgence of student interest in organized religion."

Said one student: "It's good to have a group of people around you who believe as you do, especially in a very technical environment like MIT where it can be hard to be spiritual."

Robert M. Randolph, senior associate dean for undergraduate education and student affairs, said the influx of foreign students--who bring their native religions to MIT, as well as offshoots of Christianity--has played a role in the religious revival. "We sent missionaries to these countries decades ago," he said. "Now they're the missionaries."

The article, which appeared in the February 9-11 issue, also brought up the subject of cults and religious misconduct.

In the former case, Dean Randolph said the Institute's approach has been to monitor groups and keep in touch with students they recruit. "Our belief is that ideas should be shared. Then they'll either stand or fall on their own merit. The important thing is that we're much more aware of the presence of these groups than we might have been 10 or 12 years ago."

As to misconduct, Rev. Jane Gould, the Episcopal chaplain, told the magazine that warning students isn't as simple as it may seem. "What happens when a teaching assistant invites a student to a Bible-study group? At what point does the invitation become coercive? The problem is similar to sexual misconduct. The difference is that with sexual misconduct, it's clear that nothing is appropriate; with religious misconduct, the lines aren't so black and white."
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The Course 10 newsletter reports that Dr. Janos M. Beer, professor emeritus of chemical and fuel engineering and a senior lecturer, was asked to arrive at the Physical Plant one day in February to accompany President Charles M. Vest on a tour of the facilities.

At the start of the tour, he was pleasantly surprised to receive a plaque as an Award of Gratitude from Roger Moore, superintendent of utilities, thanking him for his "support and assistance" in the development of the new Central Utilities Plant Cogeneration Facility.

There also was a letter from Victoria V. Sirianni, Physical Plant director, extending "our thanks and deep gratitude for all you have done... Your unitizing work and counsel has been bountiful. It would not have really happened, I fear, if you had not played such a major role."

Mr. Moore told Tech Talk that new methods developed by Professor Beer--a so-called low nox or lean burn technology--literally saved the project.

CLIPS

The Boston Globe gave Page 1 play (January 31) to an "elaborate new computer program" developed by MIT researchers that "is being used by the builders of the $8 billion Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel project to find trouble spots that may need redesigning."

Dr. Moshe E. Ben-Akiva, professor of civil and environmental engineering and head of the Intelligent Transportation Systems Program, told the Globe his group had been working on the computer program for four years. "We have developed essentially a laboratory in which we can test new traffic-management technologies," he said.

Later, Globe science columnist Chet Raymo did an amusing take-off on the story suggesting the the MIT computer model, which takes into account driver behavior, may be no match for the infamously erratic habits of Boston drivers. He conjured up a similar project at Washington Institute of Technology (WIT) in which the model worked perfectly well in other cities, but ran into disaster in Boston when the computer blew up.
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The Chronicle of Higher Education (January 19) offered a feature story on a three-year-old Graduate Consortium in Women's Studies at Radcliffe, one of whose founders was Dr. Ruth Perry, professor of literature and women's studies. The consortium brings together women graduate students in what Radcliffe calls a "pioneering effort" involving professors and students from many disciplines and six institutions in the Boston area, including MIT.

The idea started as a conversation among faculty friends who saw a need to help younger scholars make connections with each other and with established academics, Professor Perry told the Chronicle. "If we want people to do interdisciplinary teaching," she said, "we have to introduce them to each other."

She and other feminist scholars had noticed that as women made gains in their fields, they began losing touch with their peers, the Chronicle reported. The consortium, she said, "was a way to create the intellectual community and ferment like in the '70s, when there weren't many feminists."

Professor Perry hopes institutions in other cities with several universities will adopt a similar consortium approach. "This is such a sensible way of using academic resources, of increasing brain power," she said. "I can't imagine anyone not recognizing the intellectual excitement in this."
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Dr. Barry R. Posen, professor of political science, writes in The Chronicle of Higher Education (January 19) that the United States must develop a national strategy in what he calls an era of "invitational crises."

Bosnia, he notes, is the fifth such crisis in which the US has agreed to intervene militarily abroad since the end of Desert Storm. "The crises have included two armed and one unarmed operation to provide humanitarian assistance: in Kurdistan, Somalia and Rwanda. They include three armed projects to help rebuild political systems in the second, nation-building phase of our operations in Somalia, in Haiti, and now in Bosnia."

His own preferred policy is "selective engagement," which acknowledges there are few obvious threats to the US. But because the US has been drawn into two world wars following an isolationist strategy, he writes, the US "should try to keep peace among all the great powers (even if they are `less great' than we)."

He concludes: "Scholars and policy analysts have produced an inventory of possible grand strategies for the United States, but much work remains to be done. In particular, the basic premises of each grand strategy should be subjected to more intense scrutiny and analysis. This will give us the means to evaluate more systematically the strengths and weaknesses of each strategy as a guide to US foreign policy. The time is ripe to turn what has been a desultory discussion among experts into a full-fledged national debate on what our overarching strategy should be in the post-Cold War period."
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In a column in The Boston Globe headlined "Reeling Retailers," Professor Lester C. Thurow warns that generally weak retail sales during the last Christmas season "is a harbinger of things to come."

Dr. Thurow, Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Professor of Management and Economics, explained: "Since 1973, inflation-corrected wages have been falling for most males. But wives worked a lot more hours per year and their extra earnings offset the falling earnings of their husbands. As a consequence, for another decade and a half, median family incomes continued to rise slowly.

"The end, however, came in 1989. Most women were already working full time and could not raise their family's earnings by working more hours. And with the exception of college-educated women, female earnings, like those of men, began to fall.

"Real median family income is now seven percent below where it was in 1989."

Thus, he writes, "the moment of truth arrived in 1995."

While the top 20 percent of the population is doing "very well indeed," Professor Thurow says, "they don't shop at Sears, Wal-Mart, Penney or Federated stores." While upscale stores will do well, major retail firms are facing major problems--and not only at Christmas.

They expanded on the assumption that they would get a rising share of a rising market, he states, and they were "wrong on both counts."

QUOTES

"The phrase I hear is, 'It's the last best hope.' It's clear it's the last hope. Whether it's the best remains to be seen... The level of political support for public housing has reached a new low point. The hope is that the broader image. could be improved by demolishing the most prominent examples of its failures."--Dr. Lawrence Vale, associate professor of the urban studies and planning, in a Houston Chronicle story on the demolition in a number of cities of run-down public housing projects.

"If you ask a kid, 'What's a scientist look like?' they think it's an old guy in a white coat with a white beard and clipboard. That's a stereotype. That is not what a scientist is."--Dr. Heidi Hammel, principal research scientist in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, in an interview with the Syracuse (NY) Herald-Tribune, during a workshop on astronomy for middle-school girls.

"In one fell swoop you have reduced the University of Rochester to a second-class status."--Dr. Herman Feshbach, Institute Professor Emeritus and professor emeritus of physics, in a letter to the president of the University of Rochester after the school announced it was abolishing its doctoral program in mathematics, as reported in The New York Times.

"This certainly helps to open some doors for investigation."--Dr. Monty Krieger, professor of molecular genetics in the Department of Biology, on findings by his research team pointing to the molecule thought to help the so-called "good' cholesterol--high density lipoprotein, or HDL--guard against heart disease, in The Dallas Morning News.

"The focus is to increase the quality of all our administrative processes here at MIT, and to do that in a most economical way."--Stephen D. Scarano, assistant to the vice president for information systems, on the installation of new software to help administrators keep track of personnel changes on campus, in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

"The whole notion of genre is exploding. People don't collect just jazz records now, or pop. Our similarities engine takes that into consideration and leverages it--if you are passionate about the Beatles, the system can help determine what else you might be passionate about--yes, John Lennon, but also sometimes Mozart."--Dr. Patricia E. Maes, Sony Corporation Career Development Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, and co-founder of Agents, Inc., whose Firefly software system automates word-of-mouth recommendations to give the user a list of artists he or she might like, in The New York Times.

"We've flown past asteroids but it was like taking snapshots of the Grand Canyon out the window of a car. Now we're going to stop and look and study one in detail. I think the mission will challenge our understanding of small bodies and force us to relearn fundamental things once we're confronted with the detailed data."--Dr. Richard P. Binzel, associate professor of planetary science, commenting for The Denver Post on a NASA spacecraft that will orbit the asteroid Eros--an elongated rock two times the size of Manhattan--for a close-up study lasting a year.

"If they [the police] are not only concerned about the number of people [in each car] but also about the license plate, it becomes a fairly complicated scheme."--Dr. Joseph M. Sussman, professor of civil and environmental engineering and JR East Professor, commenting to The Boston Globe on a proposal to open the Southeast Expressway's new carpool lane to vehicles with only two, rather than three, occupants, but only on alternating days determined by a car's license plate number (odd or even, coinciding with the calendar day).

"We want to migrate the computers into our environment, and even our clothing. This will allow us to receive the news through our carpet or a doorknob in the morning. It will then be sent to our glasses for reading."--Dr. Neil A. Gershenfeld, assistant professor of Media Arts and Sciences, in a Times of London story on the Media Laboratory's "Things that Think" project in which researchers, for example, by using the body's magnetic forces, are able to transfer data between computers mounted on their shoes simply by shaking hands.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 13, 1996.


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