The Class of 2007 got a dose of MIT humor during their first official meeting in Kresge Auditorium on Monday when Professor Ned Thomas gave them a list of things he likes: fishing, symmetry and microstructures, impacting the world, starting a company, starting a center and cats.
Thomas, the Morris Cohen Professor of Materials Science and director of the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnology, encouraged the freshmen to "blur the boundary between education and research. Be audacious. Get to the edge and go over it." He also suggested they learn to sail during their four years at MIT and amused them with references to his fondness for fishing, which he scattered throughout his talk on block copolymers and nanotechnology.
"Fifty years ago there was no Silicon Valley. Thirty years ago, no biotech; 10 years ago, no Internet. What's next? Nanotechnology," said Thomas, an expert in polymer physics. It's the job of the faculty to identify critical problems in the world, the job of President Charles M. Vest and the faculty to create a can-do environment, and the students' job to "be the talent that solves the problems," he said.
Thomas encouraged them to get involved in research as soon as possible in their undergraduate careers, and urged them to consider the work of the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnology, which he described as "open, non-classified, basic research."
In his convocation address, Vest referred to the students' upcoming undergraduate years as a "voyage of discovery. We are all learners and teachers ... the essence of what it means to be at a research university. And you're living through the most exciting era in science and technology in human history."
The problems may be social and political in root, he continued, but they demand that we use science and technology to solve them.
"This is where you and your potential for leadership come in. You are the reason I'm optimistic about the future," said Vest. "Members of the Class of 2007, go for it with all the energy, curiosity and passion that brought you to Cambridge this morning."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on August 27, 2003.