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Here & There

President Charles M. Vest (right) met with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in January to discuss the restructuring of the Japanese university system.
President Charles M. Vest (right) met with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in January to discuss the restructuring of the Japanese university system.


WNBC-TV of metropolitan New York was on campus recently interviewing Professor James Williams about the material flaws that may have caused the crash of Airbus flight 587 soon after takeoff from New York on Nov. 12. If delamination, or separation, of the layers of material in the plane's tail was indeed responsible for the tragedy, how can we detect similar damage in other planes?

In the story that aired Feb. 6, WNBC reported that Airbus "explained that if delamination can't be seen on the outside, there is no problem." This is because, the company said, "nonvisible damage does not reduce strength below requirements and will not grow."

That statement "is basically ludicrous," said Williams, a professor of mechanical engineering and expert on nondestructive testing. "Visual inspection is simply the lowest level at which one would want to inspect one of these structures. Invariably, one would want to do more in order to increase a sense of reliability or comfort with respect to their integrity."

WNBC noted, however, that doing more than visual inspections "would cost [the companies] millions more every year."


"From the carbon-nanotube lab to the corridors of Washington power, Mildred S. Dresselhaus has followed a career that combines scientific research with public service," writes David Appell in a profile of the Institute Professor in the March 2002 issue of Scientific American. "Mildred S. Dresselhaus: Indefatigable," reads the caption to a photo accompanying the piece.

Among Dresselhaus' scientific accomplishments, reports Appell, "she was among the first to utilize lasers for magneto-optics experiments, and she was a pioneer in determining how certain semimetals ... transport heat and electricity."

The current focus of her research is carbon nanotubes. "In 1992 she predicted with her husband [MIT physicist Gene F. Dresselhaus] and [colleague] Riichiro Saito ... that carbon nanotubes could be either semiconducting or metallic depending on their geometric characteristics--an extraordinary hypothesis borne out by experiment in 1998."

A 1990 recipient of the National Medal of Science, among other honors, Dresselhaus also has "kept in mind the service side of science," Appell writes. Dresselhaus noted that "my own undergraduate education at Hunter College cost me $5 per semester ... The taxpayers invested in me." To "give back to taxpayers, to her discipline and to science at large," Dresselhaus also has served in many leadership positions including president of the American Physical Society and treasurer of the National Academy of Sciences. "Name a committee," Appell writes, "and Dresselhaus has been on it--and was probably its chair."

How does she do it? Professor of Physics Daniel Kleppner told Appell: "She has these fantastic personal skills and inexhaustible energy. She manages to do two or three things at once and do them well. She's never sitting idle."


Two MIT researchers are among the 30 "R&D Stars to Watch" profiled in the January issue of IndustryWeek magazine.

Steven Schwartz and Shuguang Zhang were cited, respectively, for "the first wearable computer" and work on self-assembling protein snippets that "may be the future of bionanotechnology."

Schwartz, a research scientist at the Media Lab, is the inventor of MIThril, "a tiny device implanted in a pair of special glasses and connected to a network of circuit boards designed into a vest worn under a suit," according to IndustryWeek. He expects MIThril "to make cell phones and handheld computers obsolete because the system projects an image as big as a TV screen to the person wearing the eyepiece."

The self-assembling peptides that Zhang studies "show promise as a natural material with uses in tissue engineering, biomedical devices and other applications that require biological "scaffolding." Zhang is associate director of the Center for Biomedical Engineering.


Here & There thoroughly enjoyed the following contribution from a Gentle Reader:

"Imagine my surprise to discover that LaVerde's Market at MIT ranks as the second best place to kiss in Boston: ."

This fascinating factoid came up on the web site "Best of Citysearch," which runs lists of the best restaurants, museums, "places to kiss" and more in cities around the country. Editors of the site offer their own overall winner for each category; they also include the top 10 winners selected by visitors to the site.

The LaVerde's citation was on the top 10 list determined by visitors to the site. And that makes Gentle Reader a little suspicious. Could this be yet another MIT hack? "Some MIT students may have decided to nominate LaVerde's and vote for it."


Kevin Dorn, a graduate student at the Sloan School of Management, appreciated a San Francisco Business Times story earlier this year about a trip to Silicon Valley by Sloan MBAs, but in a Feb. 14 letter to the Times editor, he decried the Times' references to "geeks" and "pocket protectors."

"Whilst the basic goal of journalism is to present news in a colorful way, the image of a pocket protector-carrying student body at the Sloan School is simply inaccurate," wrote Dorn. "The continued reinforcement of this stereotype in the popular press tends to damage the image of our business school."


Merriam-Webster's e-mail based Word of the Day for March 3 included a reference to MIT, reports Jeremy Pressman, a graduate student in political science.

Following the definition and pronunciation of "esplanade" was the following sentence: "In the space of half an hour, from my vantage point at MIT, I counted 17 dogs (with their owners), 14 joggers and 9 rollerbladers on the esplanade along the Charles River."


Some 100 members of the public have contacted the News Office about Manus, MIT's robotic physical therapist, since a story on the machine aired February 22 on ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings.

In response, the robot's developers--Professor Neville Hogan and Dr. Hermano Krebs--prepared a fact sheet that includes the names and phone numbers of the physical therapists running clinical trials with the robot at five different hospitals. Hogan holds appointments in mechanical engineering, brain and cognitive sciences, and the Biological Engineering Division; Krebs is a research scientist in mechanical engineering.

In addition to the fact sheet, the News Office is also providing callers with an earlier Tech Talk story/press release about the work. Around Feb. 19 an ABC producer called the News Office with the 2000 press release in hand. "Could we get an update?" she said. And the rest, as they say, is history.


"All of these are really neat technological steps, but then the question is who wants it and how much is it worth to them."--John Preston, associate director of the Entrepreneurship Center, in a Feb. 5 Boston Globe story about the two-wheeled scooter named Ginger unveiled in January by inventor Dean Kamen.

"This is a national issue that is an individual crisis."--Joseph Coughlin, director of the AgeLab, in a Jan. 29 Washington Post story by Mary-Ellen Phelps Deily about the needs of senior drivers, whose "age-related health problems can complicate life behind the wheel."

"A lot of people are helped by a lot of things. It's really hard to overestimate the power of the placebo effect."--James Livingston, a senior lecturer and magnet expert in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, on magnet therapy for various ailments. His comments appeared in a Jan. 31 story in The State, a newspaper in Columbia, SC.

"It's like putting a flag out in a hurricane. See how long it lasts."--Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics Mark Drela on the tattered flags attached to cars. He made the comment in a Jan. 24 story in the Wall Street Journal that was in turn reprinted in papers including the Sarasota, Fla. Herald-Tribune.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 13, 2002.

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