MIT's plasmatron, a device that could drastically cut smog-producing emissions from cars and other vehicles, has been in the news recently after one of its inventors presented the work November 18 at a meeting of the American Physical Society.
Stories on the device have since appeared in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, New Scientist magazine and the United Press International newswire. Dan Cohn, head of the Plasma Technology Division at the Plasma Science and Fusion Center, was also interviewed by Deutschlandfunk (German National Radio).
"My technical word for that is baloney."
That was Professor Michael Dertouzos's response to predictions that the Internet would soon pervade all aspects of everyday life. The head of the Laboratory for Computer Science joined experts from industry and government in a discussion of e-commerce issues in a forum sponsored by the Massachusetts Legislature's Science and Technology Committees on October 27.
In a few years, Professor Dertouzos predicted, Internet transactions will reach $4 trillion a year, a figure equal to the national debt. He said MIT engineers are now perfecting technology that allows a person to talk directly to his or her computer. However, "in industrial terms, you're still shoveling," he said. "We have not given you the bulldozers yet."
The forum was the ninth in a series sponsored by the legislative committees, House Speaker Thomas Finneran and Senate President Thomas Birmingham.
"While clearly a visionary, Professor Dertouzos knows the meaning of common sense and practicality and is not afraid to embrace these concepts," said State Rep. Lisa Harkins (D-Needham), chair of the House Science and Technology Committee.
President Charles M. Vest and Professors Phillip Sharp and David Marks spoke at earlier forums.
Research at the Plasma Science and Fusion Center will be featured on cable TV's C-SPAN in a story scheduled to air December 8. Although C-SPAN coverage primarily focuses on the US Capitol, Producer Brandon Tilman explained that the show also produces a variety of short features on other topics, including science.
For the MIT story, Miklos Porkolab, PSFC director and a professor of physics, showed Mr. Tilman projects including Alcator C-Mod (the lab's primary nuclear-fusion experiment) and the Versatile Toroidal Facility (which carries out basic research in plasma physics, investigating important plasma phenomena such as wave-particle interactions and magnetic reconnection). Mr. Tilman also saw the Levitated Dipole Experiment (a new approach to nuclear fusion), a device using plasmas that can monitor metals in smokestack emissions, and the plasmatron (a device that could cut the emissions of pollutants from cars; see story in this issue of Tech Talk). C-SPAN is viewed nationwide by some 70 million households.
IN THE NEWS
On November 2 at 8pm, PBS aired a new segment of "Scientific American Frontiers" hosted by Alan Alda. The program, titled "Natural Born Robots," included interviews with Michael Triantafyllou and John Kumph about their development of a robotic pike at the MIT Towing Tank. Dr. Triantafyllou is a professor in ocean engineering; Mr. Kumph is a graduate student in the department.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 24, 1999.