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MIT in the media: 2020 in review

In a particularly newsworthy year, news and views from the MIT community made headlines.
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In 2020, with many aspects of our everyday lives turned upside-down, news and views from around the Institute continued to draw a great deal of media interest. Despite the challenges of this unusual and unprecedented year, the MIT community still found ways to grab headlines by breaking barriers, innovating, making discoveries, and taking a stand. Below are just some of the stories that captured the great work of MIT students, faculty, and staff in 2020.

Opinion: Has the coronavirus finally taught us how to listen to science?
After MIT and other area institutions acted swiftly to rearrange how we live and work in response to the coronavirus pandemic, President L. Rafael Reif wrote about how we might confront another big challenge: climate change. “If we can take the right lessons from the crisis, we will find ourselves better prepared to tackle the health of our fevered planet.” 
Full story via The Boston Globe

MIT fast-tracking face shields to country’s busiest hospitals treating coronavirus
Professor Martin Culpepper spoke with Cynthia McFadden of NBC News about his team’s work designing a new face shield that can be rapidly manufactured. “It’s the kind of ingenuity that MIT is known for,” says McFadden, noting that MIT “has long been on the front lines of solving America’s problems.”
Full story via NBC News

Meet MIT’s first Black female student body president
Danielle Geathers, president of the MIT Undergraduate Association, joined Kelly Clarkson to discuss the goals of her presidency. She highlighted the Talented Ten Mentorship program she founded, which aims to help increase matriculation of Black women by pairing Black girls and women in high school with Black women at MIT.
Full story via The Kelly Clarkson Show 

Opinion: The 2020 election meltdown that didn’t happen
Professor Charles Stewart III published numerous opinion pieces examining the administration of the 2020 presidential election. In The Wall Street Journal, Stewart wrote that “the U.S. should be thankful for the heroic — and successful — efforts of election administrators around the country.”
Full story via The Wall Street Journal 

Trump administration rescinds rules on foreign students studying online
In response to a lawsuit filed by MIT and Harvard University, the Department of Homeland Security rescinded a new policy that would have prevented thousands of foreign students from studying in the U.S. “This case made abundantly clear that real lives are at stake in these matters, with the potential for real harm,” said MIT’s president.
Full story via The Wall Street Journal 

Related: “I’m the President of MIT. America needs foreign students” via The New York Times

Karilyn Crockett appointed head of city’s new equity and inclusion office
Karilyn Crockett, a lecturer in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, was named chief of equity for the City of Boston. “Do we have the will and the courage to dream new dreams for populations long denied what we actually deserve?” Crockett asked. “I believe we do.”
Full story via The Boston Globe

Lessons from a study of the digital economy
Three years after answering an “intellectual call to arms” to examine the impact of technology on jobs, the MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future published its final set of recommendations. “In an extraordinarily comprehensive effort, they included labor market analysis, field studies and policy suggestions for changes in skills-training programs, the tax code, labor laws and minimum-wage rates,” wrote reporter Steve Lohr.
Full story via The New York Times

Astronomers find possible sign of life on Venus
In one of the most talked about discoveries this year, scientists at MIT and elsewhere reported that they have found phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus.
Full story via CBS This Morning 

Adapting to social media’s disruptions in “The Hype Machine”
Professor Sinan Aral explored the benefits and downfalls posed by social media. “I've been researching social media for 20 years. I've seen its evolution and also the techno utopianism and dystopianism,” said Aral. “I thought it was appropriate to have a book that asks, 'what can we do to really fix the social media morass we find ourselves in?'”
Full story via NPR

Compact nuclear fusion reactor is “very likely to work,” studies suggest
In a series of peer reviewed papers, MIT researchers provided evidence that plans to develop a next-generation compact nuclear fusion reactor, known as SPARC, should be feasible.
Full story via The New York Times 

Community ingenuity in the face of Covid-19

The coronavirus affected many aspects of Institute life, both directly for our community members, and indirectly, as a new challenge needing to be addressed worldwide. MIT students, staff, researchers, and other community members deftly answered the challenge.

MIT out-MITs itself; builds full scale campus replica on Minecraft
MIT community members recreated the MIT campus in Minecraft, providing an opportunity for students to enjoy MIT’s “intensely collaborate culture” from afar. “Being able to meet in a virtual space and have some kind of social interaction, even while being socially distant — it’s just really important to a lot of students,” explained first-year student Shayna Ahteck.
Full story via Boston Magazine

New York needed ventilators. So they developed one in a month.
A team in New York, inspired by the open-source ventilator design from the MIT E-Vent group, developed a lower cost ventilator now in production. The “hurry-up engineering feat” relied on a network of MIT professors, students, and alumni.
Full story via The New York Times

A few MIT students produced one of the best hackathons on Covid-19
A team of MIT students hosted the Africa Takes on Covid-19 virtual hackathon, which brought together participants from around the world to “create tech-driven solutions to address the most critical unmet needs caused by the Covid-19 outbreak across the continent.”
Full story via True Africa 

How MIT, Harvard are managing to keep COVID-19 numbers low
Ian Waitz, vice chancellor for undergraduate and graduate education, and Suzanne Blake, director of MIT Emergency Management, discussed MIT’s work to mitigate Covid-19 transmission on campus this fall.
Full story via Cambridge Chronicle

A pandemic upended their communities, so these teen inventors built apps to make life easier
When the MIT App Inventor team moved its hackathon online due to the coronavirus pandemic, it gave aspiring coders from all over the world an opportunity to enter the competition. “There was a sense of helplessness that was settling down. And a big theme in our workplace is empowerment,” said curriculum developer Selim Tezel. “We wanted to give them a context in which they could be creative and sort of get rid of that feeling of helplessness.”
Full story via CNN

In effort to fight Covid-19, MIT robot gets to work disinfecting The Greater Boston Food Bank
A robotic system developed by CSAIL researchers in collaboration with Ava Robotics uses UV-C light to kill viruses and bacteria on surfaces and aerosols.
Full story via TechCrunch

Media moments for math

The people of MIT were frequently recognized and profiled in the media, but one department in particular saw a number of stories that inspire: mathematics.

From NFL to MIT: John Urschel looking to increase diversity in mathematics
Graduate student John Urschel, a trustee of the National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath), spoke with ESPN about his efforts aimed at empowering and encouraging more Black students to pursue careers in STEM fields.
Full story via ESPN

A math problem stumped experts for 50 years. This grad student solved it in days.

Assistant Professor Lisa Piccirillo, who solved the Conway knot problem as a graduate student, reflected on what drew her to math.
Full story via The Boston Globe Magazine

Undergraduate math student pushes the frontier of graph theory
In a profile of graduate student Ashwin Sah, Quanta Magazine reported that he “produced a body of work that senior mathematicians say is nearly unprecedented for a college student.”
Full story via Quanta Magazine

More of the latest MIT In the Media summaries, with links to the original reporting, are available at

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