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IAP series designed to spark renewed interest in research

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A new IAP series, the Spark Forum, featured 10 talks by faculty members, each followed by an informal reception and small off-campus dinner for the professor and about 10 students who signed up on the web.

As chair of the IAP policy committee, Professor David Mindell said he planned the series with a nod to the millennium, selecting junior faculty who were asked to present their visions of the future of their fields of expertise.

The goal of the series, sponsored by the Office of the Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education, was "to reignite students' excitement about being at MIT," said Professor Mindell of the Program on Science, Technology and Society.

"Students come to MIT because of the research here, but in their first couple of years, they do primarily coursework and can lose sight of research. They don't really get a broad view of what goes on here. So we set up a series of talks covering a wide spectrum of things to try to reignite that enthusiasm," he said.

All faculty who spoke are involved in interdisciplinary research, and all were asked to talk about how they chose their fields.

"The faculty get pretty excited when they talk about their research, and it's good to provide a way for them to share that with the students," said Professor Mindell, the Dibner Assistant Professor of the History of Engineering and Manufacturing.

Talks were scheduled from 3:30-5pm with a reception following. Afterwards students and the speaker headed to dinner at a local restaurant, where they continued their conversations about research, MIT and life. Students were able to sign up for dinner with the speaker of their choice at a special web site.

In addition to the three talks described below, the series also included Professors Justine Cassell of media arts and sciences on "Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink: The Future of Conversation between Humans and Machines"; Ely Dahan of management on "Using the Internet to Get Close to Customers and Design Insanely Great Products"; Tina Voelker of civil and environmental engineering on "Clean Water: A Chemist's Outlook on Sustaining the Health of Aquatic Environments"; Peter So of mechanical engineering on "Optical Imaging: Capturing Biology in Action"; John-Paul Clarke of aeronautics and astronautics on "The Future of Air Traffic Control: Can We Do It Safely and Reliably Without Harming the Environment?"; Ned Hall of linguistics and philosophy on "Is Quantum Physics Inconsistent? (And Does It Matter If It Is?"); and Sebastian Seung of brain and cognitive sciences on "Towards a Unified Theory of the Brain: My Journey from Physics to Neurobiology."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 26, 2000.

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