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September 1, 2004

Images from Protests Past

A display of Vietnam-War-era protest posters at the MIT Museum offers a colorful glimpse into a tumultuous time at the Institute. The exhibit, Telling It like It Is: Student Activism at MIT during the Vietnam War, was prompted by an unusual gift from Lawrence Linden, SM 70, PhD 76a bedsheet decorated with the iconic fist symbol and the words MIT Strike. The banner hung on campus during the national campus strike in May 1970, a nationwide protest against the Vietnam War. Linden, who was a member of ROTC, was not a protestor. Nevertheless, he cut down the banner after the strike and held onto it until the end of 2002, when he paid for its restoration. Several months later, after conservators touched it up, Linden donated the banner to the museum.

About half of the 15 posters on display are related to the campus strike, and the others are a sampling of antiwar posters from the late 1960s and early 70s. Many have distinctly MIT touches: two were silk-screened onto computer printouts, and one calls for all community members to participate in the strike, including students, faculty, groundsmenand keypunch operators. The posters will be on display through the fall.

Tae Kwon Do Club Packs a Punch

Less than a year after the Institute granted MITs Sport Tae Kwon Do Club official club status, the team has won a national tournament. At the 29th National Collegiate Tae Kwon Do Association Championship held last spring in Bridgeport, CT, 32 out of 37 team members walked away with medals. As if that werent enough, the entire team took first in the combined overall division, earning more than twice as many points as the second-place team from Brown University.

It was just amazing for us, says Tim Kreider 04, the clubs president at the time of the competition. Given the MIT teams margin of victory, it was no surprise when head instructor Daniel Chuang was recognized with the associations Coach of the Year Award. Chuang has been a driving force behind the club, which he established informally with Christina Park 02, SM 03, in the fall of 2000. Park, who is also one of the clubs coaches, placed first at the National Collegiate Team Trials held earlier in the year and as a result will represent the United States in the 2004 World University Tae Kwon Do Championships in Patras, Greece. And speaking of Greece, MIT Sport Tae Kwon Do alumnus and coach Chinedum Osuji, PhD 03, will spar for Trinidad and Tobago at the Olympics this summer. Not bad for a club thats still a little wet behind the ears.

Life Recorder

Ever wish you could recall a forgotten fact you learned a few months ago? A system developed by Sunil Vemuri, a doctoral candidate at MITs Media Lab, allows people to record and archive conversations and then search for snippets of them months or even years later. Vemuris system, which he calls a memory prosthesis, works in three stages: a commercial handheld computer records discussions throughout the day; the resulting audio files are downloaded to a laptop computer, where off-the-shelf speech recognition software translates them into text; and lastly, search tools Vemuri devised hunt for a specific conversation based on search criteria. Those criteria can include words or phrases and a date range.

The results appear on the computer screen as a list of days and times. A click reveals a transcript of a conversation, with search words or phrases in boldface. If a user does not remember the exact date of a conversation but recalls that it took place around some event, such as the New Hampshire primaries or the Super Bowl, he or she can employ a memory-trigger function Vemuri built into the application. This function automatically stores text from major newswires on the computer and then, when directed, sorts through it to find key dates that can be used to restrict a conversation search.

Vemuri says that the real obstacles to commercialization are social and legal, not technical. Hes currently working on a version of the system that will allow users to record, store, and search for conversations all on one handheld device. What Im thinking of is a watch- or cell-phone-sized device, he says. Really miniaturize this, and see how it helps in a more mobile setting.

Subverting Internet Censorship

Researchers in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory are developing software that allows users to covertly browse blocked or censored content on the Web. Foreign governments censors would have a tough time detecting it. Intelligence agencies could use the software to gather information, and workers could browse blocked sites without their employers knowledge.

The project, called Infranet, is the brainchild of Professors David Karger and Hari Balakrishnan, who started it in 2001. Infranet software connects a computer to a cooperating, unblocked Web server and requests blocked content through a special sequence of what appear to be requests for innocent pages. To censors, it all looks like normal Web browsing. In reality, the server retrieves content from a blocked website and delivers it to the users computer hidden within picture files. An adversary that can see all traffic from a client should not even be able to tell that anything out of the ordinary is going on, says Nick Feamster 00, Mng 01, a graduate student working on Infranet.

According to Feamster, most commercially available applications that protect Web browsing use a kind of encryption that is itself noticeable to censors, who can simply block traffic to encrypted sites, even if they cant tell what information is being exchanged. The MIT researchers are currently testing a working version of Infranet on PlanetLab, an international platform for the development of Internet applications.

Examining the Basics

MIT is taking a comprehensive look at the undergraduate core curriculum, first put in place more than 50 years ago. The study will determine if the present requirements provide both the best possible foundation for students in all majors and the kind of general scholarly background that they can rely on later in life. President Charles M. Vest HM appointed the 24-member Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons in March, charging it to examine not only the general Institute requirements but also other experiences that MIT undergraduates share, such as participation in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program.

Robert Redwine, dean for undergraduate education, says there are many factors that made it essential to review the general requirements. Among them are career paths that did not exist a half-century ago; the increasingly global economy, which calls for graduates to understand other cultures; and the growing importance of science and engineering in the world. He notes that students today are also more diverse, have higher SAT scores, and may be accustomed to different teaching methods than those of 20 or 30 years ago.

The task force of faculty, administrators, and students will review and modify the Institutes mission statement if appropriate, develop the common curriculum requirements for undergraduates, and suggest a strategy for implementation. The group is expected to report to the faculty by 2006. Alumni who would like to share ideas about curriculum changes should contact Redwine or Robert Silbey, chair of the task force.

Microwaves Zap Cancer

An experimental breast cancer therapy based on MIT missile detection research has shown promise in recent clinical studies. In April, researchers presented preliminary results of tests of a treatment that kills cancer cells by heating them with microwave radiation, a technique invented by Lincoln Laboratory researcher Alan J. Fenn.

Women with early-stage breast cancer often have tumors surgically removed, but cancer cells that remain in the surrounding flesh can lead to recurrences. The goal of the heat treatment, or thermotherapy, is to kill these outlying tumor cells before surgery. During the thermotherapy, a microwave beam heats the tumor region to 45 °C. Software algorithms focus the beam so that it does not overheat healthy tissue.

The clinical study was conducted at the University of Oklahoma and eight medical centers and was funded by Celsion, a Columbia, MD, company that exclusively licenses the microwave technology from MIT. About half of the 64 participants received thermotherapy before surgery to remove lumps, while the other half had the surgery alone. Seventeen percent of those who received thermotherapy had tumor cells in the surrounding tissue, compared to 29 percent of those who didnt receive thermotherapy.

Fenn first devised this application for Lincoln Labs radar technology around 1990, when cuts in the federal missile-defense research budget compelled researchers to find civilian applications for their work. Though thermotherapy is still years away from FDA approval, Fenn hopes that it will one day spare some patients from surgery altogether.

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