ALUMNI COLUMN ON WEB
The Association of Alumni and Alumnae of MIT has launched a new guest opinion column on its web site that features the contribution of a different alumnus or alumna each month. Titled "What Matters," the column celebrates MIT graduates' diverse accomplishments and interests.
In the first column, "Engineering When It Had to Be Perfect," Joseph G. Gavin Jr. (SB 1941) writes about aerospace engineering in the days of the Apollo program. He played an important role in bringing Apollo 13 back to earth safely in 1970.
Upcoming columns for March and April will feature Bryan Blackwell (PhD 1996) writing about his experiences living and working in Japan, and Joan Gosink (SB 1962) writing about her efforts to encourage more women to pursue careers in engineering.
WEB II: THE MIDDLE EAST
A web site created for an IAP event is helping the MIT community and others to better understand the complexities of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
The site offers links to major US and international sources of news on the conflict, as well as the home pages of leading think tanks and human rights organizations that address the issue. It also provides syllabi for a range of courses on the politics, history and culture of the Middle East, as well as links to the spokespersons for the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Defense Forces.
Created by Jeremy Pressman, a PhD student in the political science department's Center for International Studies and co-author of Point of No Return: The Deadly Struggle for Middle East Peace (1997), the site is an offshoot of an IAP event organized by Assistant Professor Stephen Van Evera, "The Renewed Arab-Israeli Conflict: Causes, Implications and Prospects for Resolution."
MEDIA LAB ROCKS
Looks like U2's Bono will join the board of directors for MediaLab-Europe in Ireland. According to the January 24 issue of Wired News, Media Lab co-founder Nicholas Negroponte persuaded the rock star, 3Com founder Bob Metcalf, and Siemens CEO Gerhard Schulmeyer to take positions on the board.
Some members of the MIT community may still remember Ferdi, the fiberglass cow that "somehow" made its way to the top of the Great Dome in 1981. Now those who don't can visit the cow at the MIT Museum's Hall of Hacks.
A January 18 Associated Press (AP) story about the hall reported that it "may be the only place in the world that pays homage to a smoot," the unit of measurement found on the Harvard Bridge and based on MIT fraternity pledge Oliver Smoot Jr. (SB 1962).
According to Professor Emeritus and hack aficionado Samuel Jay Keyser, probably the best hack of all was the full-size fake police car found on the dome in 1994. "It was so unexpected, and it was very hard to do," he said.
But back to Ferdi. The cow originally graced the lawn of the Hilltop Steakhouse in Saugus. What did its then-owner think of the joke? "At first, [the restaurant's owner] was upset about it," Hilltop Steakhouse's vice president of operations told the AP. "But then we got so much publicity about it. We got inundated with people who came to see the place where it was missing. I've been here 24 years, and [that incident] still comes up often."
Dreaming rats have been everywhere in the news since Professor Matthew Wilson announced January 25 in the journal Neuron that the animals have complex dreams and are able to retain and recall long sequences of events while they are asleep.
Professor Wilson told Deborah Halber of the News Office that the work provides a basis for analyzing the content of dream states. It could also be a valuable tool in treating memory disorders such as amnesia or Alzheimer's disease, or it may help devise ways for people to learn and memorize more effectively (MIT Tech Talk, January 31, 2001).
The findings "are the strongest evidence we have to date that animals have something close to human dreaming," he told Erica Goode of the New York Times in a January 25 front-page story. Other articles on the work ran in publications including the Washington Post, the Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times. Also on January 25, Good Morning America featured an interview with Professor Wilson, who is affiliated with MIT's Center for Learning and Memory and the Departments of Biology and Brain and Cognitive Sciences.
And that was just the beginning.
As word spread, the professor's voicemail box literally filled. Both CNN and National Geographic TV, for example, wanted to interview Professor Wilson live -- within a few hours. MIT Video Production Services helped him comply via their studio in Building 9. "It worked out quite well," he later reported.
Various queries also came in to the News Office. One of the more interesting came from a woman who wrote via e-mail that her pet dog, a shih tzu, dreams quite frequently. She said she would "be happy to answer any of [Wilson's] questions or even record Gidget's dog gibberish when she is dreaming."
In honor of the World Wide Web's 10th birthday, the Associated Press interviewed its inventor, Tim Berners-Lee, for a December 23 story that ran in papers across the country. Mr. Berners-Lee is currently the director of the World Wide Web Consortium here at MIT.
Among his comments: "The whole development of the browser was very exciting. The difficulty was in knowing what to do next." Wrote Anick Jesdanun, "At the time... Berners-Lee wanted to show off his browser, but with only one web site initially, there wasn't much to browse."
Ms. Jesdanun further reported that according to Professor Michael Dertouzos, director of the Laboratory for Computer Science, "the web might not have grown at all had someone other than Berners-Lee invented it." Said Dertouzos, "While everybody wanted to make the web theirs, he wanted to make the web belong to everybody."
In mid-January, two independent research teams announced that they'd stopped light. They brought its speed to zero, "in effect halting [it] in its tracks and trapping it inside a glass cell," said Ira Flatow, host of the January 19 Talk of the Nation/Science Friday on National Public Radio.
To learn more about the phenomenon, Flatow interviewed Professor Seth Lloyd of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. (Professor Lloyd was not involved in the research itself, but is an expert in the general field.) Following are some excerpts from the interview.
Flatow: "This was a fascinating little parlor trick, wasn't it?"
Lloyd: "Yeah... I must say, I was there when these groups announced it, and I was pretty stunned. I am happy to accept that you can slow light down, even that maybe you can slow it down to a walking pace, but stopping it altogether? Now that's pretty amazing."
Flatow: "When you say 'stopping it,' does that mean you don't see it? If it moves in through this little cell, you don't see it coming out the other side?"
Lloyd: "Yeah, it went in, but it didn't come out. It reminds me of certain Roach Motels."
Flatow: "Let's talk about how this was done..."
Lloyd: "...It's actually an extension of the way that light slows down in the first place when it travels through something like water... It slows down because the beam of light is made up of little particles called photons. And when these little particles go through water, every now and then one of them jostles up against a water molecule, and it slows it down.
"Only it doesn't slow down that much in water. But a few years ago, Lene Hau at Harvard slowed it down by a lot more, and the way she did it was by zapping a bunch of atoms through which the light was traveling with a laser, and this made the atoms excited, and they grabbed hold of the light as it was going past. And the beam that she sent through to slow it down, the atoms would grab hold of the photons and then they'd let go of them a bit later. And so they'd slow them down more.
"And now what's happening is that the atoms are grabbing hold of the photons and they're not letting go. So as the beam of light goes into the bottle, the atoms grab hold of the individual photons and they don't let them go until the experimentalist says, 'let them go.'"
CLIPS AND QUOTES
Artificial intelligence "is becoming more important as it has become less conspicuous, and it's less conspicuous because it's everywhere, but often under the surface." -- Professor Patrick Winston of electrical engineering and computer science in a January 5 New York Times story on the evolving field of artificial intelligence. The article also ran in a number of other papers, including the Houston Chronicle.
"It's important that the child is actively in charge of the process -- not just reacting to the toy, but using the opportunity for creating and designing." -- Professor Mitchel Resnick of the Media Lab in a February 2001 Child magazine story about high-tech toys.
"For months, people were waiting for the slowdown, waiting for the slowdown, and then -- boom -- there it was. It's certainly true thatthese things seem to happen more quickly now." -- Institute Professor Emeritus Robert Solow in a December 24 Washington Post story about the US economy. He is a 1987 Nobel laureate in economics.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 28, 2001.