Skip to content ↓

Looking back at 2001

In the aftermath of the most memorable event of 2001, a student displays the American flag at a gathering of thousands of MIT communtiy members on Killian Court the day after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
In the aftermath of the most memorable event of 2001, a student displays the American flag at a gathering of thousands of MIT communtiy members on Killian Court the day after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Photo / Donna Coveney

Although the main memory of the year 2001 will be the events of Sept. 11, the year at MIT saw many other landmarks and research firsts, including a record number of Nobel Prize recipients with MIT ties announced in October. The Tech Talk staff has compiled some of these highlights. Links to the full stories with photos are given at the end of each item and also can be found online in the specified issue date of MIT Tech Talk .


Jan. 10--Professor of Chemistry Robert Silbey is named dean of science, succeeding Robert J. Birgeneau, who became president of the University of Toronto.

Jan. 10--Salt in the water in the Gaza Strip could eliminate agriculture there within 20 years, Assistant Professor Charles Harvey and Annette Huber-Lee of civil and environmental engineering report.

Jan. 24--Professor David Litster announces that he will step down from his post as vice president and dean of research. Professor Candace Royer is named director of athletics and head of the Department of Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation.

Jan. 24--MIT announces its purchase of Technology Square in Cambridge from Beacon Capital Partners Inc. The acquisition includes three existing buildings and four new commercial office buildings.

Jan. 31--Presidents, chancellors, provosts and 25 women professors of nine top research universities meet at MIT and agree to pursue equitable treatment for women faculty in science and engineering.

Jan. 31--Animals have complex dreams and are able to retain and recall long sequences of events while they are asleep, research by Associate Professor Matthew Wilson of the Center for Learning and Memory shows.


Feb. 7--A nationwide study of voting systems finds that paper ballots, optical scanning devices and lever machines are more efficient than punch-card and ATM-like electronic systems, according to a preliminary report of the MIT-Caltech Voting Project.

Feb. 14--Cynthia Breazeal, a postdoctoral associate in the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, shows off Kismet, a robotic head that can interact in a human-like way via myriad facial expressions, head positions and tones of voice.

Feb. 14--Lani Guinier, speaking at MIT's annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebratory Breakfast, challenges academia to "fix the atmosphere" for diversity in higher education.

Feb. 28--Mechanical engineering graduate student Brian Hubert wins the seventh annual $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for inventiveness. His inventions include stock analysis software and a hip joint replacement implant.


March 8--MIT announces a major increase in its scholarship program. In 2001-02, it will give undergraduate aid recipients an average need-based grant of $19,000, or 19 percent more than the 2000-01 figure.

March 14--MIT students can now test and probe fragile, microscopic electronic structures via WebLab, a novel online lab that can be accessed from dorm rooms and other locations 24 hours a day.

March 14--In a discovery that may someday help lengthen the human life span, Professor of Biology Leonard Guarente reports that he has helped roundworms live up to 50 percent longer.


April 4--For the 13th straight year, MIT's School of Engineering is ranked #1 in the nation by US News and World Report.

April 11--The newly announced OpenCourseWare, a plan to make course materials available free on the World Wide Web, receives kudos from around the world.

April 25--MIT announces three major environmental projects that will be launched as part of an agreement with the EPA.

April 25--Raymond Kurzweil (S.B. 1970), a pioneer of pattern recognition technologies, wins the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize, while Raymond Damadian, inventor of the first magnetic resonance scanner, receives the Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award. Read story


May 2--The Odyssey Ball on April 29 draws 1,500 costumed attendees who dance and eat desserts in a tent on Kresge Oval.

May 16--The 2.007 robot contest, "Tiltillator," was a win-win-win-win situation for the top four competitors in MIT's annual celebration of design, manufacturing, physics and fun.

May 16--Pete Dilworth, a research scientist in the Artificial Intelligence Lab, unveils Troody the walking robotic dinosaur.

May 23--Four separate hacks appear within the space of one week on campus, including a tribute to the late author Douglas Adams and a "Magic 8-Ball" fortune-telling replica on the Building 54 microwave dome.

May 23--Erich P. Ippen, the Elihu Thomson Professor of Electrical Engineering and Professor of Physics, is awarded the James R. Killian Jr. Faculty Achievement Award for 2001-02.


June 6--Professor Phillip Clay is named as MIT's new chancellor, succeeding Professor Lawrence Bacow, who left MIT to become president of Tufts University.

June 13--NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin says in his Commencement speech that this year's graduates will be among those responsible for "perhaps the most dramatic revolution in the history of humankind." The graduates include dual-degree recipient Kirimania Murithi, who came to MIT from a remote area of Kenya.

June 13--MIT sells $250 million in bonds to help fund one of the biggest construction booms in its history. Alumni and others also help fund projects now underway that include the Raymond and Maria Stata Center for Computer, Information and Intelligence Sciences; the Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center; and Simmons Hall, a new undergraduate residence.


July 18--Certain cells previously thought to be merely undertakers are actually the Jack Kevorkians of the cell world, report researchers including Professor H. Robert Horvitz. The discovery could lead to drugs that kill cells incapable of programmed cell death such as cancer cells.

July 18--Alice Gast, associate chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering at Stanford University, is appointed vice president for research and associate provost.

July 18--A team including scientists from the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research find the first evidence to show that even seemingly normal-looking clones may harbor serious abnormalities affecting gene expression that may not manifest themselves as outward characteristics. Story .

July 18--President Charles M. Vest and the presidents of 27 other leading colleges and universities reaffirm their schools' commitment to need-based financial aid in "A Consensus Approach to Need Analysis."


Aug. 29--David A. Tuveson, a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Professor Tyler Jacks, reports experiments that indicate that an existing leukemia drug may also work for an untreatable abdominal cancer.

Aug. 29--Scientists from the Research Laboratory of Electronics report that exploiting "quantum weirdness" would dramatically improve the precision of radar, sonar, the global positioning system and other object locators.

Aug. 29--The new graduate dormitory at 224 Albany St. opens on Aug. 22.

Aug. 29--Acting on recommendations in a draft report by the MIT Mental Health Task Force, Chancellor Phillip L. Clay announces actions to improve mental health and other health services on campus.

Aug. 29--The Class of 2005, consisting of 1,034 students from 46 states, arrives on campus. Five days later, the first group of Cambridge University students arrive at MIT to take part in the Cambridge-MIT Institute.


Sept. 12--MIT ranks fifth among national universities, first in graduate engineering and second in undergraduate business programs, according to the 2002 US News and World Report guidebook, "America's Best Colleges."

Sept. 12--The new MIT Center for the Study of Diversity in Science, Technology and Medicine at MIT is announced.

Sept. 12--Massachusetts State Police Colonel/Superintendent John DiFava is named chief of the MIT Campus Police Department, succeeding Anne P. Glavin, who was earlier named to the new post of director of public safety at MIT. Story .

Sept. 12--In a step toward creating energy from sunlight as plants do, researchers including Professor of Chemistry Daniel Nocera invent a compound that produces hydrogen gas with the help of a catalyst and a zap of light.

Sept. 19--The day after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, 5,000 MIT community members gather in Killian Court to share their feelings about the acts that stunned the nation and the world. The meeting is among the first of many MIT responses to the attacks, including religious services, a series of teach-ins, installation of a memorial depicting a WTC fragment, charitable drives, establishment of a task force on campus security, discussions of the technological issues surrounding skyscrapers and the WTC collapse, and ongoing examinations of the terrorism issue.


Oct. 3--Scientists report that they have identified a part of the brain that responds primarily to images of the human body or parts of the body. It's the latest in a series of findings on highly specific brain functions by Professor Nancy Kanwisher and colleagues.

Oct. 17--Professor of Physics Wolfgang Ketterle shares the Nobel Prize with two MIT alumni for their discovery of a new state of matter called Bose-Einstein condensate. Seven other 2001 Nobelists have ties to MIT: Leland H. Hartwell (Ph.D. 1964 in biology); Eric A. Cornell (Ph.D. 1990) and Carl E. Wieman (S.B. 1973), physics co-winners with Ketterle; former Professor of Chemistry K. Barry Sharpless; George A. Akerlof and Joseph E. Stiglitz (both 1966 Ph.D.s in economics); and Kofi N. Annan (S.M. 1972 in management as a Sloan Fellow).

Oct. 31--Forty middle-school science students and their teachers have near-Earth asteroids discovered by Lincoln Laboratory named for them.

Oct. 31--The Sloan School of Management announces plans for new buildings between Memorial Drive and Main Street next to the present Sloan building at 50 Memorial Drive.

Oct. 31--MIT's second Infinite Buffet on the Infinite Corridor draws 6,500 people, making it the largest student-run event in MIT history.

Oct. 31--Paul Woskov, inventor of an instrument that will aid efforts to store radioactive waste in stable glass, receives a 2001 R&D 100 Award, his fifth in seven years.


Nov. 7--Under heavy security, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and retired US Gen. Norman H. Schwarzkopf discuss "The Threat of Global Terrorism" at a day-long conference at MIT.

Nov. 7--An interdisciplinary MIT team identifies key factors for successful virtual collaborations among members of globally dispersed teams.

Nov. 7--The Program in Science, Technology and Society celebrates its 25th anniversary with an Oct. 31 symposium.

Nov. 28--Christina Park, a senior in mechanical engineering, wins two gold medals at the collegiate tae kwon do championships.

Nov. 28--The NSF awards $13.75 million to create a Center for Bits and Atoms at the Media Laboratory to explore how the content of information relates to its physical representation, from atomic nuclei to global networks.

Nov. 28--A defect in the modification process of messenger RNA may play a role in a common malignant brain tumor, report scientists including MIT's Stefan Maas and Professor Alexander Rich.


Dec. 5--A project headed by MIT's Susan Murcott to help provide clean drinking water for people in developing countries, began with an extraordinary conference that included the queen of Nepal and about 75 peasant women.

Dec. 5--Associate Professor Peter L. Hagelstein and colleagues have invented a semiconductor technology that could allow efficient, affordable production of electricity from a variety of energy sources--including waste heat--without a turbine or similar generator.

Dec. 12--Sanjay Basu, a senior in brain and cognitive science, and Paul K.Njoroge (S.B. 2000), a graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science, are named Rhodes Scholars.

Dec. 12--Three newly renovated classrooms make it possible for faculty to teach classic courses in modern ways, using high-tech communications equipment, desktop experiments and even innovative seating arrangements to encourage students--both here and abroad--to take more active roles in the learning process.

Dec. 12--An MIT sailing coach wins a major regatta, with an undergraduate as his crew in a boat built by the MIT sailing master.

Dec. 19--Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web and director of the MIT-based World Wide Web Consortium, receives the prestigious Japan Prize.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 9, 2002.

Related Links

Related Topics

More MIT News