Here and there


MIT now has two "Magnet Men" (Tech Talk, April 10), both of whom have proved attractive to sometimes confused media.

The first to wear that title was Paul Thomas, a sponsored research technical supervisor in the Plasma Fusion Center who demonstrates the wonders of magnetism to schoolchildren as part of the center's outreach program.

The second, who has had the title conferred on him by the media, is Dr. James D. Livingston, a senior lecturer in materials science and engineering and author of a recently published book on magnets and magnetism, Driving Force: The Natural Magic of Magnets.

After the Associated Press distributed a story on Mr. Thomas that appeared in newspapers across the nation, he became a celebrity of sorts through interviews on radio and television.

At the same time, Dr. Livingston and his book began getting attention from the media.

Mr. Thomas sent along this note to Tech Talk:

"It seems now with both Jim Livingston and me appearing in the press, some confusion has occurred. Several reporters, (including one from Monitor Radio) have asked me about "my book" on magnets and wanted to know about my work at General Electric (Jim worked for GE).

"Jim was interviewed on WBUR and the reporter [Chris Lydon, on his program, 'Connections'] kept referring to him as 'MIT's Mr. Magnet.'

"Of course, now that I am giving away Jim's book to schools that I visit, the press is convinced that the Jim Livingston, The Magnet Man, and Mr. Magnet are in fact the same person.

"Jim and I are taking great delight in all this press coverage and confusion."

Mr. Thomas added this postscript: "Toby Smith [Tobin L. Smith, assistant director of MIT's Washington office] is planning to send Mr. Magnet to Washington to put on a show for the Congressional people and families. He is looking for an appropriate space to do this. I told him that the East Room at the White House would be just fine."
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Over the past nine years, USA Today has chosen 179 high school students for its "All-USA Academic First Teams."

In a recent retrospective (May 17), the newspaper took a look at what they've accomplished. The group includes 10 who have attended MIT. Here's what USA Today said about them:

Jody White, Melbourne (FL) High: physics degree, MIT; currently a graduate student at Caltech in theoretical nuclear physics; plays ice hockey in the winter and races bikes during the summer.

Deborah Cheng, Rolla (MO) High: civil engineering degree, Stanford; completed graduate school at MIT in civil and environmental engineering; now a policy analyst for Abt Associates Inc. in Cambridge.

Derek Walker, Benjamin Mays High, Atlanta: electrical engineering degree, MIT; master's in information networking, Carnegie-Mellon; now research engineer with Bell South, Atlanta.

Jason Wang, University High, Irvine CA: molecular biology degree, MIT; now in fourth year at Harvard Medical School; published On the Way to Harvard: Experiences of an Immigrant Student in America, which was written in Chinese and published in Taiwan, where it's a best seller and won a Chinese literary prize for best nonfiction.

Scott Schiamberg, Okemos (MI) High: architecture degree, MIT; intern with architect I.M. Pei [an MIT alumnus]; graduate student in architecture and city planning, MIT; co-authored three papers on planning of metropolitan Bangkok.

Nicholas Cassimatis, Hubbard (OH) High: math degree, MIT; now pursuing PhD at Stanford, doing work in artificial intelligence in the psychology department; has done research in artificial intelligence, cognitive psychology and cognitive development.

David Goldhaber, Ward Melville High, East Setauket, NY: physics and history of science degrees, Harvard; now studying in Israel, part of pursuing his PhD in physics at MIT.

Angel Hsieh, Centennial High, Ellicott City, MD: electrical engineering degree, MIT; master's in electrical engineering; co-founder [with fellow MIT student Avik Roy-see below] of MIT magazine on sociopolitical issues; helped found MIT Asian-American Caucus; accomplished violist and pianist; writes software documentation for Business@Web in Watertown.

Avik Roy, Keystone School, San Antonio; life sciences degree, MIT; now in third year, Yale Medical School.

Peter Lee, North Augusta (SC) High: MIT senior, mechanical engineering; internship at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
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When Dr. W. Daniel Hillis was studying for his doctorate at MIT, he drove around in an old fire truck for the fun of it.

So it seemed fitting recently when the Walt Disney Co. announced that Dr. Hillis, a noted computer scientist, had become the first participant in a newly created Disney Fellows Program designed to attract men and women who have made major technical contributions to the creative arts, media and entertainment.

As the first fellow, Dr. Hillis has joined Disney as vice president of research and development at Walt Disney Imagineering. He will work will various divisions of the company, the announcement said, "to identify and create new technology and business opportunities as part of Disney's growing research and development activities."

"Integration of science and technology as part of our creative process has always been a key element in creating the Disney magic," said Michael D. Eisner, Disney's chairman and CEO. "More and more, creative people such as Danny Hillis. suggest technologies that open new doors for our story-tellers and designers."

Dr. Hillis, 39, pioneered the concept of parallel computers that is now the basis for most supercomputers. He co-founded Thinking Machines, the first company to build and market such systems successfully, and he holds some 40 patents.

Dr. Hillis received three degrees from MIT: the SB in mathematics in 1978, and both the SM and PhD in computer science, in 1981 and 1988.

QUOTES:

"We need to spread the word that inventing is fun. It's like exploration, going where nobody else has been before."--Graduate student David Levy, winner of the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT student prize for invention, in The Christian Science Monitor.

"TMI [Three Mile Island] melted down and Chernobyl blew up."-Dr. Lawrence M. Lidsky, professor of nuclear engineering, offering an example of the fundamental differences in the safety of nuclear reactors in the US and Russia, for the Gannett News Service.

"There's as much of a mystery there as in the origin of the universe. You don't have to look out at black holes. All you have to do is look at the little thing that holds up your refrigerator decorations."--Dr. James D. Livingston, senior lecturer in materials science and engineering and author of Driving Force: The Natural Magic of Magnets, in the Quincy Patriot Ledger (see above).

"We have shown the feasibility of going out and using the technology to detect asteroids. In fact, several discoveries made during the test period are now being studied and should soon join the official list of asteroids with known orbits."--Dr. Grant H. Stokes, assistant group leader (Surveillance Techniques) at Lincoln Laboratory, about a proposal to upgrade an existing Air Force system of telescopes to detect asteroids or comets that might threaten earth, in The Boston Globe.

"Some people wait, analyze these carefully, and they disappear, and other people publish and say it may be a new phenomenon."--Dr. Samuel C.C. Ting, professor of physics and Nobel laureate, urging caution by researchers in a Science article on sightings in particle physics experiments that some say represent a "new physics."

"Some argue that the United States has no business poking inside repressive societies such as China and Nigeria so long as they trade fairly with us. But in the end it is only mature democratic governments, responsive to pressures from their civil societies, that can overcome the moral and political weaknesses which still tear at the fabric of peace around the world."--Dr. Lincoln P. Bloomfield, professor emeritus of political science and author of the forthcoming book, Coping With Conflict at the Turn of the Century, in an op-ed essay for The Christian Science Monitor.

"There's a blocked memory that is so great that until that can be opened up, it's hard to see how that society can gel, how it can find a sense of identity."-Dr. Lucian W. Pye, professor emeritus of political science, on the refusal of China's leaders to acknowledge the excesses of the Cultural Revolution, in the Chicago Sun-Times.

"I believe that in the year 2000, more people will be on the Internet than looking at broadcast television. And if I'm wrong, it'll only be by a few months."-Nicholas P. Negroponte, Wiesner Professor of Media Technology and Media Laboratory director, in The Arizona Republic.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on July 24, 1996.


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