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In Sigma Xi lecture, Barsoum to focus on pyramids

Michel Barsoum PhD '85, distinguished professor at Drexel University, will deliver the 2008 Sigma Xi Lecture, entitled "The Mystery of the Great Egyptian Pyramids: The role of materials research in suggesting a partial solution," at 8:30 p.m., Wednesday, May 7, in the MIT Faculty Club, 50 Memorial Drive, Bldg. E26.

Barsoum earned his BSc degree in materials engineering from the American University in Cairo in 1977, and an MS from University of Missouri-Rolla in 1980 before getting his PhD in ceramics from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT. Barsoum's research into the highly controversial subject of pyramid building stems from his Egyptian heritage and his expertise in ceramic materials science, both of which he has applied to this highly visible research problem. He will discuss recent electron microscopical investigations strongly suggesting that ancient Egyptians had discovered a cement--based on dolomitic lime, diatomaceous silica and disaggregated limestone--that they may have used to cast in place some of the two-ton blocks used to assemble the great pyramids of the Giza plateau more than 4500 years ago. Such a discovery would have been the first monumental use of cementitious material on such a large scale and could have modern implications for low-cost, low-emissions production of building cements made from indigenous materials in our present world.

Sigma Xi, the national scientific research society, was founded in 1886 as an analogue to Phi Beta Kappa in the fields of science and engineering research. Its 100,000 members are affiliated with 500 chapters and clubs throughout the world. The MIT chapter is the organization's largest and annually elects new members from the undergraduate and graduate student bodies and the Institute's faculty and research staff. Each year, the chapter honors an outstanding academic researcher with MIT connections who has made important recent contributions to a scientific research field.

The annual lecture, which is open to the MIT community and the greater Boston area Sigma Xi membership, will be preceded by the Sigma Xi dinner for new initiates. Those wishing to attend the dinner at 6:30 p.m., immediately preceding the lecture, should contact Prof. Hobbs at 617-253-6835 or at

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 7, 2008 (download PDF).

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