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A Born Teacher
As one of the first people to benefit from Walter Lewin’s teaching, I was pleased to read “The Professor Who Brings Physics to Life” (March/April 2012). Wouter (as we spell his name in Dutch) and I were classmates at the Grotius Lyceum in The Hague, where he stood out as an excellent math student who grasped new concepts much faster than the rest of us. One day he invited a group of us 10th graders to his home, where there was a room with a big blackboard. He then proceeded to explain the latest math concept (which our teacher had been unable to make clear to us) with a flair and ease that already promised a successful teaching career. He opened our eyes.

During final exams at the Lyceum, Wouter and I would go back and forth on our bikes until late at night, he bringing me math problems and solutions and I giving him English, French, and German language translations. I still have some of those papers we exchanged. We both passed, and I owe a perfect grade 10 in one of the math subjects solely to Wouter.

Emmy McArver
Vienna, Virginia

Professor Sears’s Physics Demos
I was surprised to see no reference in the article about Professor Lewin to the work Professor Sears did in the 1940s to make his physics lectures interesting by using demonstrations. His book and demonstrations were well received by students. However, MIT chose to eliminate his position, possibly because his colleagues did not appreciate his style. In fact, although not as dramatic and lacking in access to modern equipment, he led the way for Professor Lewin.

Garth Coombs ’51, SM

A Born Teacher
As one of the first people to benefit from Walter Lewin’s teaching, I was pleased to read “The Professor Who Brings Physics to Life” (March/April 2012). Wouter (as we spell his name in Dutch) and I were classmates at the Grotius Lyceum in The Hague, where he stood out as an excellent math student who grasped new concepts much faster than the rest of us. One day he invited a group of us 10th graders to his home, where there was a room with a big blackboard. He then proceeded to explain the latest math concept (which our teacher had been unable to make clear to us) with a flair and ease that already promised a successful teaching career. He opened our eyes.

During final exams at the Lyceum, Wouter and I would go back and forth on our bikes until late at night, he bringing me math problems and solutions and I giving him English, French, and German language translations. I still have some of those papers we exchanged. We both passed, and I owe a perfect grade 10 in one of the math subjects solely to Wouter.

Emmy McArver
Vienna, Virginia

Professor Sears’s Physics Demos
I was surprised to see no reference in the article about Professor Lewin to the work Professor Sears did in the 1940s to make his physics lectures interesting by using demonstrations. His book and demonstrations were well received by students. However, MIT chose to eliminate his position, possibly because his colleagues did not appreciate his style. In fact, although not as dramatic and lacking in access to modern equipment, he led the way for Professor Lewin.

Garth Coombs ’51, SM ‘52
Evergreen, Colorado

How MIThenge Got Its Name
MIThenge? Heeeeeeeeelloooooooo! (“There Goes the Sun,” January/February 2012). Ain’t it MITChichenItza? Or MITTulum?

José Luis López Léautaud, SM ’63
Mexico City, Mexico

Keith J. Winstein ’03, MNG ’05, official deputy MIThenge predictor, responds:

We don’t know for sure where the name “MIThenge” came from, but we assume it was inspired by the predictions done in 1975 by Thomas Norton, an affiliate of the architecture department. Norton put up posters around campus announcing an “MIT Sun Set Celebration” with a diagram of MIT’s phenomenon alongside famous solstice alignments at the Temple of Amun-Ra in Egypt, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and Stonehenge. The last one was featured most prominently and the name seems to have stuck, especially as “henge” is used to denote many earthworks built in the British Isles by prehistoric peoples unknown.

Nations regard their astronomically aligned ancient monuments as beacons of intellectual heritage, and though I’m no archeologist, I understand that the Mayan temples and the Nazca Lines in the Peruvian desert stand among the most significant. But “MIThenge” seems appropriate for MIT’s phenomenon for two reasons. For one, the sandstones of Stonehenge were placed and aligned with the solstice more than 3,000 years before the Mayans built their temples, and about 4,500 years before we placed the limestone of MIT. Also, MIT’s Doc Edgerton was fascinated by Stonehenge; he took a famous flash picture of it during World War II and lectured on the monument at the Lecture Series Committee as early as 1955. Of course, there are some big differences: unlike Stonehenge, MIThenge wasn’t made on purpose and does not mark the solstice or equinox. And while Stonehenge’s most famous alignment is the summer solstice sunrise over “Stonehenge Avenue,” MIThenge is at sunset—a bit more pleasant to observe for us at MIT!

Wiener Watching
The article on Norbert Wiener (“The Original Absent-Minded Professor,” July/August 2011) brings back memories. When I was an undergraduate, Wiener watching was a popular sport. It is true that he apparently navigated the halls by feel rather than sight, trailing his right forefinger along the walls while gazing upward and a bit to the right.

Every afternoon he read the comic strips that were always posted on the TCA bulletin board in the basement of Walker Memorial, usually tossing peanuts into his mouth as he read. I recall sitting in a class in Building 2 and seeing him sedately walking across the then-empty space toward Walker, properly dressed in suit and tie, oblivious to a tremendous downpour. He was drenched by the time he arrived.

I was so curious about Wiener that I enrolled in a one-semester course in modern philosophy, solely because he was presenting it. He lectured with no apparent awareness of his students or their limitations. He quoted sources in Dutch and in Mandarin. When we went off Daylight Saving Time, he missed two classes before he had adjusted his personal schedule to the rest of the world.

Quentin Wald ’41
Port Townsend, Washington

Contact MIT News

Email mitnews@technologyreview.com
Write MIT News, One Main Street,
13th Floor, Cambridge, MA 02142
Fax 617-475-8043

52
Evergreen, Colorado

How MIThenge Got Its Name
MIThenge? Heeeeeeeeelloooooooo! (“There Goes the Sun,” January/February 2012). Ain’t it MITChichenItza? Or MITTulum?

José Luis López Léautaud, SM ’63
Mexico City, Mexico

Keith J. Winstein ’03, MNG ’05, official deputy MIThenge predictor, responds:

We don’t know for sure where the name “MIThenge” came from, but we assume it was inspired by the predictions done in 1975 by Thomas Norton, an affiliate of the architecture department. Norton put up posters around campus announcing an “MIT Sun Set Celebration” with a diagram of MIT’s phenomenon alongside famous solstice alignments at the Temple of Amun-Ra in Egypt, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and Stonehenge. The last one was featured most prominently and the name seems to have stuck, especially as “henge” is used to denote many earthworks built in the British Isles by prehistoric peoples unknown.

Nations regard their astronomically aligned ancient monuments as beacons of intellectual heritage, and though I’m no archeologist, I understand that the Mayan temples and the Nazca Lines in the Peruvian desert stand among the most significant. But “MIThenge” seems appropriate for MIT’s phenomenon for two reasons. For one, the sandstones of Stonehenge were placed and aligned with the solstice more than 3,000 years before the Mayans built their temples, and about 4,500 years before we placed the limestone of MIT. Also, MIT’s Doc Edgerton was fascinated by Stonehenge; he took a famous flash picture of it during World War II and lectured on the monument at the Lecture Series Committee as early as 1955. Of course, there are some big differences: unlike Stonehenge, MIThenge wasn’t made on purpose and does not mark the solstice or equinox. And while Stonehenge’s most famous alignment is the summer solstice sunrise over “Stonehenge Avenue,” MIThenge is at sunset—a bit more pleasant to observe for us at MIT!

Wiener Watching
The article on Norbert Wiener (“The Original Absent-Minded Professor,” July/August 2011) brings back memories. When I was an undergraduate, Wiener watching was a popular sport. It is true that he apparently navigated the halls by feel rather than sight, trailing his right forefinger along the walls while gazing upward and a bit to the right.

Every afternoon he read the comic strips that were always posted on the TCA bulletin board in the basement of Walker Memorial, usually tossing peanuts into his mouth as he read. I recall sitting in a class in Building 2 and seeing him sedately walking across the then-empty space toward Walker, properly dressed in suit and tie, oblivious to a tremendous downpour. He was drenched by the time he arrived.

I was so curious about Wiener that I enrolled in a one-semester course in modern philosophy, solely because he was presenting it. He lectured with no apparent awareness of his students or their limitations. He quoted sources in Dutch and in Mandarin. When we went off Daylight Saving Time, he missed two classes before he had adjusted his personal schedule to the rest of the world.

Quentin Wald ’41
Port Townsend, Washington

Contact MIT News

Email mitnews@technologyreview.com
Write MIT News, One Main Street,
13th Floor, Cambridge, MA 02142
Fax 617-475-8043

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