Skip to content ↓

Here and there

Professor Joseph M. Sussman is a board member of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America.

But at the group's annual meeting in Houston, TX, he was the victim of some very unintelligent vertical transportation.

According to the society's newsletter, Dr. Sussman, JR East Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, entered an elevator with Carlos Villerreal, another board member-and didn't leave it until an hour and a half later.

Furthermore, their plight was open to all the world to see.

"Both were trapped in the glass-encased cubicle when the door failed to open at the third floor," the newsletter reported. "What ensued was straight out of a Hollywood plot as curious, sympathetic onlookers gathered to watch hotel engineers, Houston firemen and elevator mechanics attempted to pry open the doors or devise other means of escape."

A member of the ITS staff was able to communicate with the trapped men through a small opening in the elevator doors, keeping them apprised of the rescue efforts. Others waved or took photographs.

"Offers of liquid refreshment, to be inserted via plastic container, were turned down," the newsletter said, because the "caged occupants had no idea when they might be freed."

A crisis-trained fire official arrived to give words of encouragement. Attempts to unlock the doors failed when a key broke in two.

Meanwhile, Professor Sussman, not a man to let time go to waste, was seen doing paperwork, even as the elevator took small, sudden jolts up and down.

Only when an elevator mechanic managed to open a hydraulic drive valve did the elevator make its safe descent to the lobby, where the doors opened wide.

"For their ordeal, Sussman and Villerreal were each awarded a complimentary weekend stay at another hotel," the newsletter said, adding: "Ground-level rooms, please."

It seems that the man suspected of being the "Unabomber," Theodore Kaczynski, was offered admission to MIT in 1958, but chose to go to Harvard.

That information comes from a press interview with Lois Skillen, Mr. Kaczynski's guidance counselor at Evergreen Park Community High School in suburban Chicago.

Ms. Skillen, now retired, said of her former charge, "There was an intellectual fire in him. He absolutely stood alone among students, absolutely brilliant."

She added that he was one of five National Merit finalists at the high school and had his choice of colleges, "but was leaning toward the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard.

"We chose Harvard rather than MIT," she explained, "because we wanted a liberal arts education for him."

Still another link to MIT was one of the intended victims, Patrick Fischer, who received the PhD in mathematics in 1962 and is now head of Vanderbilt University's computer science department.

It was in 1985 that his secretary opened a package addressed to him and was severely injured when a pipe bomb blew up in her face.

Ever since he has wondered why the bomber singled him out, or even knew about him, and now he thinks he has the answer.

Dr. Fischer said he attended MIT while Mr. Kaczynski was at Harvard, and that he took a class at Harvard. "We could have been in the same class," he said in a newspaper interview. "I think he knew who I was."

Still another connection could have been the fact that Mr. Kaczynski was a graduate student in the mathematics department at the University of Michigan, where Dr. Fischer was a frequent visitor because his father taught in the department.

Elizabeth A. Thomson, assistant director and science writer in the News Office, is looking for someone who can translate English into English.

She recently received a communication from an English science writer who told her, "In recent weeks, I have been pipped to the post by other freelancers writing about MIT. I think I'm slowing down as I get older."

Pipped to the post? Ms. Thomson assumes he means he has been "scooped," in the American vernacular, by other reporters. But that's only a guess.

Scott Campbell, who edits newsletters for the Center for Transportation Studies and the School of Architecture and Planning, has published his first novel.

The book, Touched, tells the story of two neighboring families in a small town trying to cope with the revelation that the father of one family has molested the son of the other. The story is told from the separate points of view of the mother of the boy, the molester, the wife of the molester and the boy himself(15 years later).

Mr. Campbell, who would like it known that the story is not autobiographical, said friends have found the book "challenging." It is disturbing to people who have young children, he said, because the situation "is not as clear-cut, as black and white, as we would prefer to think."

Comments from other authors, gathered by the publisher, Bantam, have been enthusiastic. Rita Mae Brown called it " a sensational first novel." Audrey Shulman said "it questions every one of your assumptions about family, love and safety."

Mr. Campbell has a previous non-fiction book, Widower (Prentice Hall), which Baywood Publishing is bringing out in a second edition. It is a collection of oral histories of what happens to men when their mates die.

Another MIT author, Professor Alan Lightman, who has gained widespread recognition as a novelist and essayist, also has a new book out, Dance for Two (Pantheon), which New York Times reviewer Christopher Lehmann-Haupt calls "a charming collection of Mr. Lightman's favorite two-dozen essays."

Dr. Lightman, a physicist, is John E. Burchard Professor of Science and Writing and head of the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies. His previous work includes two acclaimed novels, Einstein's Dreams and Good Benito. Most of the essays in Dance for Two appeared in two earlier collections, Time Travel and Papa Joe's Pipe and A Modern-Day Yankee in Connecticut Court.

Mr. Lehmann-Haupt writes that for Professor Lightman, "the distinction between science and art is sharp. And out of the tension between the two arise some of the better effects in Dance for Two."

He adds: "Often he simply balances the two subjects, as in `Pas de Deux,' where he describes the physics of ballet, or in `Smile,' where he details what goes on biophysically when a man and woman see and greet each other.

"Yet science tends to have the upper hand in his awareness, and he writes delightfully about it. The problem for Mr. Lightman is that science, being objective, `offers little comfort to anyone who aches to leave behind a personal message in his work.' This presumably is why he set out to write fiction. You can see him taking his first steps in this collection."

Dr. John D. Joannopoulos, professor of physics, has co-authored a book that addresses one of the newest developments in physics-the discovery of photonic band-gap materials and their use in controlling the propagation of light. His co-authors are Dr. Robert D. Meade, who was a research scientist in the Research Laboratory of Electronics and Joshua N. Winn, a former graduate student in physics.

Recent discoveries show that many of the properties of an electron in a semiconductor crystal can apply to a particle of light in a photonic crystal. This has important implications for physicists, materials scientists and electrical engineers and suggests such possible developments as an entirely optical computer.

According to the publisher, Princeton University Press, the book, Photonic Crystals: Molding the Flow of Light, gives "undergraduates and researchers a concise, readable and comprehensive text on these novel materials and their applications."

Another new book co-authored by Professor Lawrence E. Susskind draws on his years of experience in mediating disputes to show how public resistance to both public and corporate projects can be overcome by a "mutual gains approach" involving face-to-face negotiation.

The book, Dealing With an Angry Public (The Free Press, New York), was written by Dr. Susskind, Ford Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning and director of the MIT-Harvard Public Dispute Program, and Patrick T. Field, senior associate of the Consensus Building Institute and a research associate of the MIT-Harvard program.

They analyze scores of private- and public-sector cases, such as the Alaska oil spill and the nuclear plant malfunction at Three Mile Island, outlining key elements that can help business and government leaders negotiate, rather than fight, with their critics. It's a strategy, they say, that has been applied successfully by more than 1,500 executives and officials who have attended Professor Susskind's MIT-Harvard "Angry Public" seminars.

"We all need to be concerned about a society in which the public's concerns, fears and anger are not adequately addressed," the authors write. "When corporate and government agencies must spend crucial time and resources on rehashing and defending each decision they make, a frustrated and angry public contributes to the erosion of confidence in our basic institutions and undermines competitiveness in the international marketplace."


The Boston Globe (March 31) carried an article on an improvisational troupe, Roadkill Buffet, made up of nine MIT and two Wellesley students.

"Considering the stress of MIT, it really is a good thing to get together for a couple of hours once a week and let off steam," said Karl Critz, a sophomore in mechanical engineering and "Supreme Dictator" of the group.

Members of the troupe "work within a lot of the standard improv forms," the Globe reported, "taking idea suggestions from the audience and forming them into spontaneous comedy skits. But being at MIT, the audience input can tend to lean toward the academic and esoteric." Mr. Critz told the Globe: "We asked for an emotion once and someone from the audience said, `insouciance.' Another time we asked for a geographical location and we got `the imaginary plane,' which is a mathematical abstraction. We always try to work with what people give us, no matter how weird or difficult."

The Globe reported that two former members of Roadkill Buffet have gone on to improvisational troupes in New York City, and another is doing professional theater.


"Societies get the best of what they celebrate. In this country, we celebrate sports stars and movie stars; they are showered with million-dollar salaries and media attention. So it follows that we have the best sports stars and actors. Imagine if we had the budget of Waterworld and put that money and talent into making a physics text more understandable. The country worships the wrong idols." -Dr. Woodie C. Flowers, Pappalardo Professor of Mechanical Engineering, in a Christian Science Monitor article on the Lemelson-MIT Prize program and the importance of inventors and education to the nation's future.

"Five or 10 minutes sometimes can make a difference in situations where there's a very high concentration of people going to one place."-Dr. Moshe E. Ben-Akiva, professor of civil and environmental engineering, on the importance a few minutes can make in getting onto a highway before the buildup of rush-hour traffic, in the Ft. Lauderdale (FL) Sun-Sentinel.

"The importance is tremendous. And the evidence is very, very intriguing."-Dr. B. Clark Burchfiel, Schlumberger Professor of Geology, on the discovery that a huge chunk of the Swiss Alps appears to have worked its way to the surface over millions of years from far deeper within the earth's interior-as much as 415 miles-than any previously known matter, in the San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune.

"The notion of rendering a human being visibly and audibly can be done badly today. We could put it together so it feels like he's answering you."-Dr. Michael L. Dertouzos, professor of computer science and electrical engineering and director of the Laboratory for Computer science, on the development of "remote presence" that could transmit lifelike images of political candidates into people's homes and have them respond to questions, in USA Today.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 1, 1996.

Related Topics

More MIT News