Ever see physics professor Walter Lewin create a rainbow with a drop of water? Were you there for President Clinton's 1998 Commencement address? Want a glimpse of humanoid robot Kismet in action?
Through MIT World, you can see MIT moments like these whenever you choose.
An initiative of the Center for Advanced Educational Services (CAES), MIT World is a unique effort to reach MIT's 90,000 alumni. It will be a 24x7 streaming TV station available on the Internet, featuring campus lectures, colloquia, seminars and special events.
A prototype of MIT World exists on line. To view the videos, you need to download RealPlayer 8 Basic, a free web video/audio player.
MIT World is the brainchild of CAES Director Richard C. Larson, who is bothered by the idea that each semester, people who can't make it to campus miss scores of fascinating campus talks, seminars and colloquia on topics ranging from information technology to the arts.
"These talks, open to the public, are substantive, often newsworthy, and frequently present unpublished material ranging from specific research results to more general perspectives on technology, management and societal trends," he said. "Yet attendance is often limited."
"We believe that these publicly available talks comprise one of the most underutilized knowledge assets on university campuses today. Their wide dissemination could have profound beneficial effects on the broader society at large," he said. "With MIT World, you can experience MIT at the time and location of your convenience."
The MIT World prototype currently available on the web contains a September 18 set of lectures by MIT's three Nobel Prize-winning economists: Franco Modigliani, Paul A. Samuelson and Robert M. Solow. Alumnus John Perschbacher (SB 2000) of Cheshire, CT wrote, "I saw the notice for this lecture and seriously considered taking vacation to attend. Thank you ever so much for providing it on line. This is exactly the thing that attracted me to MIT in the first place: the proximity of the greatest minds on the planet. Please continue with this excellent series."
Recent real-time televised events included the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebratory breakfast on February 8, which featured civil rights attorney Lani Guinier; and Professor of Biology and Whitehead Institute researcher Eric Lander's February 24 talk on the Human Genome Project.
After the Lander webcast, which is only available through the MIT World web site, "I walked away from your broadcast thinking that what I had just seen was amazing, not just the subject matter or the technologies used, but what MIT was doing... your school's willingness to share your knowledge with all is what continues to make you a world-class institution," wrote James M. Dolan, husband of Information Systems staff member Allison Dolan.
Soon-to-be-added videos include Institute Professor Mildred S. Dresselhaus speaking on "Nanowires: Structure and Properties"; Pauline Maier, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of History, on "How Do History and Memory Shape Each Other?"; School of Architecture Dean William Mitchell on "The Future of Atoms in an Age of Bits"; and Amgen Professor of Biology Nancy Hopkins on "The Genetic Age."
Alumni were happy to hear about the coming service. "This is excellent. I am an alum living in Hong Kong and miss 'the Tech,'" wrote Margie Yang. "With these types of opportunities, I feel very close to MIT. It will do a lot for those of us who are overseas."
Ning Peng (SB 1990, SM) of Palo Alto, CA, wrote, "Just wanted to say this is an excellent idea! It makes alums feel connected to the Institute and gives us 'continuing education' from top professors. Also, it does a good job of marketing MIT as a school on the leading edge of technology. Since I happen to live in the midst of Stanford territory, I typically only hear about the laurels of Stanford, so it's nice to see that MIT is being innovative and marketing itself more these days! Thank you!"
With $500,000 a year in corporate or foundation support, Mr. Larson expects to make MIT available to many more people than currently possible. Initially, the web site will be password-protected, available only to MIT alumni and the on-campus MIT community.
Content selection will be made with the help of an advisory committee that includes members of the Office of Corporate Relations' Industrial Liaison Program, the Alumni Association, corporate and foundation sponsors, and CAES. Sponsors would be invited to post their corporate logos and URLs on MIT World productions, much like sponsoring companies are recognized on PBS broadcasts. Through corporate sponsorship, employees of companies that are part of the Industrial Liaison Program will have access to MIT World.
If funding is available, the webcasts may be made available to people unaffiliated with MIT.
In addition to Mr. Larson, others helping make MIT World a reality are Jay Collier, web designer and webmaster for the initiative; Glenn Strehle, special adviser to the President's office; David Mycue, head of video digitization and streaming media for CAES; and Melinda Cerny, interim manager of external relations for CAES and co-director of the sponsorship effort. Mr. Collier recently left MIT.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 21, 2001.