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Tech day promises serious fun

Tech Day is always fun and games, but this year it's official.

The annual event, sponsored by the Alumni Association, will explore the theme "Technology at Play: The World of Sports, Games and Toys." The all-day program will take place at Kresge Auditorium and the Stratton Student Center on Saturday, June 7, the day after Commencement.

"We want people to enjoy being there," said Woodie C. Flowers, Pappalardo Professor of Mechanical Engineering, the faculty advisor for Tech Day. "We want them to see people having fun and to have fun themselves. We also want them to walk away with the strong feeling that the educational mission has become much more important and complex."

Professor Flowers (SM '73) is one of four featured speakers at the morning session. His topic is "The Many Dimensions of Hard Fun." While he purposely refuses to be pinned down on a definition of hard fun, his presentation will include examples, among them slides and video of MIT students at the 2.007 design contest and other events "having a screaming big time."

"Hard fun is a way to learn about yourself, about nature and about society without feeling that you did nothing but suffer," Professor Flowers said. "We're not training people to be engineers; we're educating them for their lives. In life, we experience an array of sensations and satisfactions. Some things that are profoundly satisfying are very hard. That's the good news. They're hard and they're fun."

All this fun occurs for a serious purpose: to give people the confidence and courage to confront the unknown and seek solutions.

Other morning speakers and their topics follow:

Stephen C. Jacobsen (PhD '73), a professor at the University of Utah and chairman and CEO of Sarcos Inc., will talk "On the Design and Manufacture of Some Interesting Machines."

Seymour A. Papert, LEGO Professor of Learning Research at the Media Lab, will take "A New Look at Play as Child's Work."

Edward F. Crawley (SB '76, SM, PhD), head of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, will discuss "Airplanes, Baseball and the Fun of Flight."

The afternoon will be devoted to panel discussions.

Dr. Howard W. Johnson, 12th president of MIT, will moderate a discussion of "Sport, Money and the Pursuit of Happiness: What are the Impacts of Sports and Games on Society." The panelists will be Kenneth Wang (SB '71), president of US Summit Co.; architect Richard Dattner (BAR '60); and Albert L. Zesiger (SB '51), principal, Zesiger Capital. The session will take place from 3-5pm in the mezzanine lounge on the third floor of the Stratton Student Center.

"Pushing the Limits: What Are the Frontiers of Human Performance?" will be moderated by Martha L. Gray (SM '86), Kieckhefer Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and interim director of the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. The panelists are Thomas B. Sheridan (ScD '59), professor of engineering and applied psychology; Laurence R. Young (SB '57), Apollo Program Professor of Aeronautics; and Hugh M. Herr (SM '93), a PhD candidate in biophysics at Harvard University. This discussion will take place from 3-5pm in Twenty Chimneys on the third floor of the Stratton Center.

A third panel, "The Technology of Play," will be moderated by former MIT student Douglas E. Glen, senior vice president and chief strategy officer of Mattel Inc. Panelists are Tod Machover, professor of media arts and sciences in the Media Lab; Jennifer W. Glos (SB '95), research assistant in the Media Lab's Gesture and Narrative Language group; and Rudrapatna V. Ramnath, adjunct professor of aeronautics and astronautics. This discussion is scheduled for 3-5pm in Kresge Little Theater.

The Technology at Play Expo will run from noon-5pm in La Sala de Puerto Rico in the Student Center. Among the exhibitors will be Tectrix, producer of a virtual soccer game for two to four players on computer-enhanced exercise bicycles; FPD Technology Inc., maker of in-line skate wheels known as Black Daisies; Eyeworks, creator of virtual rides; and Science Media, producer of sports science toys.

Other exhibitors are Virtual Reality Climbing, North American Air Carnival, Reflective Technology and Holographic Lollypops. Professor Emeritus David Gordon Wilson and research engineer Jeffrey Di Tullio of mechanical engineering will demonstrate their recumbent bicycle and dimpled baseball bat inventions, respectively.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 21, 1997.

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