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Technology Day will address 'global challenges'

MIT alumni will return to campus in record numbers this weekend -- more than 3,275 alumni and guests are registered for Tech Reunions, which is gathering classes ending in 6 and 1.

The centerpiece of the weekend will be the annual Technology Day program on Saturday, June 10, which this year will address the topic, "MIT Tackles Global Challenges."

The weekend will also feature the 10th anniversary of the Reunion Row, set for the Charles River Sunday morning, with a record 95 rowers. Alumni are also invited to mingle with graduating seniors at such traditional events as Tech Night at the Pops, Tech Challenge Games and the Techsas BBQ.

Tech Day faculty speakers include economist Esther Duflo (Ph.D. 1999) on "Fighting Poverty: What Works? The World of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at MIT"; materials scientist Subra Suresh (Sc.D. 1981) on "Nanotechnology and the Study of Human Disease"; mechanical engineer Woodie C. Flowers (S.M. 1968, M.E. 1972, Ph.D. 1973) speaking "On a Liberal Education for the 21st Century"; and civil and environmental engineer Philip M. Gschwend, who holds a Ph.D. from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, addressing "Engineering and Earth Systems: Can We Educate a New Breed of Engineers?"

Duflo is a leading member of a group of scholars applying rigorous evaluation standards to development issues. "I'm interested in making the life of poor people better," Duflo said in an interview. "To me, that's unambiguously the most important and interesting question in economics."

She cofounded the economics department's Poverty Action Lab, which was renamed for Abdul Latif Jameel after a gift from his son, Mohammed Abdul Jameel (S.B. 1978). The lab aims to improve the effectiveness of poverty programs by providing clear scientific results that will help shape successful policies to combat poverty. Projects include studying the output of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, racial bias in employment in the United States and the role of women political leaders in India.

Suresh spent two decades studying the mechanical properties of engineered materials, from the atomic to the structural scale, and then turned his attention to cures for malaria and pancreatic cancer. In a recent article, Suresh and colleagues reported a new quantitative characterization of how a healthy human blood cell changes shape when invaded by a malaria-inducing parasite and how the deformation of human pancreatic cancer cells in response to certain biomolecules may affect the metastasis of that disease.

"Such information at the molecular level is vital to gain insights into the pathogenesis of malaria, and potentially offers the opportunity to develop better drugs," Suresh said in a Tech Talk interview.

Flowers and Gschwend will both focus on educational innovation. In a recent MIT World video, Flowers called for a cultural shift that will change the student focus from doing well in courses to doing good for the world.

More than 1,400 people are expected to overflow Kresge Auditorium into Little Kresge for the Tech Day symposium.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 7, 2006 (download PDF).

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