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Reunion 2004

Returning to campus
September 1, 2005

Back to the Classroom

At a special seminar held for the class of 1954, MIT experts provided insight into three of what moderator Paul Gray 54, SM 55, ScD 60, called the big Os in science and engineering: biotech, nanotech, and infotech. Robert Weinberg 64, PhD 69, Timothy Swager, and Victor Zue, ScD 76, each delivered one-hour talks that brought alumni up to date on advances in fields that were either in their infancy or not even born when the class graduated 50 years ago.

Weinberg, a professor of biology and pioneer in cancer research, outlined what molecular biologists have discovered about cancer. He pointed out that the overall cancer rate in the United States has remained relatively steady in the last 50 years, despite great strides in understanding how the disease starts and spreads. Although better diagnostic tools have allowed doctors to find cancers earlier, he said, new treatments have not kept pace. But he believes that information from the mapping of the human genome will improve cancer therapies. Indeed, physicians are now starting to treat cancers based on this knowledge.

Zue, codirector of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, demonstrated many of the pervasive-computing developments from Project Oxygen (see Rethinking the Computer, MIT News, July/August 2004). Swager, associate director of the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, rounded out the afternoon with an overview of the 49 MIT projects aimed at creating a high-tech battle suit for soldiers of the future.

Members of the Class of 1954 and their guests attended a seminar in the Stata Center during their 50th reunion. (Brilliant Pictures)

A Hack Retrospective

At first, the History and Lore of Pranks and Hacks at MIT presentation at McCormick Hall felt like a prank itself. Alumni and friends had to navigate around a horde of graduates lined up for commencement and then convince security guards to let them pass through a roped-off area. But it wasnt a prank; it was just unfortunate scheduling. Those who did reach McCormick Hall, however, were rewarded with an entertaining session about hacks of the past.

Edmund Golaski 99, SM 01, who worked on Nightwork, the MIT Museums recent book about hacks, presented a slide show of images from the book. He also described infamous hacks, such as a foiled attempt to set off explosives that would spell MIT in the turf at Harvard Stadium. According to Golaski, police apprehended MIT students carrying incriminating batteries but had to let them go when a dean explained that all Tech men carry batteries. Golaski also told of lesser-known pranks, such as the time students used a catapult to hurl air conditioners onto the presidents lawn and a performance hack inspired by the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey that involved students dancing in monkey suits, music, and a large box painted black.

After the presentation, alumni reminisced about hacks they had either seen or heard about. Some, like the one Bruce Schreiber 74 described, could just be myth. One year, Schreiber says, MIT students trained pigeons to descend and feed on the grass at Harvard Stadium when they heard a whistle. At the first football game of the season, a referee blew a whistle, and suddenly hundreds of pigeons swooped from the skies onto the field. Hackers intentional anonymity blurs the line between history and lore, but thats the point, says Golaski: Some of the stories are an oral tradition that we dont like to record.

Pages from the Past

A chat with a former classmate can revive hundreds of personal memories, but it takes a staff of six to preserve the institutional memory of a 143-year-old university. A dozen alums who toured the MIT libraries during reunion weekend were treated to a conservation demonstration by the libraries preservation services staff, which maintains the condition of all of the items in the libraries, including 45,000 rare books and historical Institute records.

In the Conservation Laboratory tucked away in the basement of Hayden Library, wooden sewing frames and iron book pressesstill used to refurbish old bookssit near computers, digital cameras, and microscopes. The lab, which was expanded significantly in 2002, is a place where old or damaged books can be stripped into individual pages, repaired, and reassembled. During the tour, preservation experts showed off some of their new equipment, including a washing station where pages are soaked and then carefully dried, a fume hood where staff can safely remove mold from pages, and a suction table that functions like an air hockey table in reverse, drawing out stubborn stains and adhesives from old paper.

The tour also featured a sampling of rare books from MITs archives and special collections and an introduction to DSpace, MITs ambitious digital archiving project.

Drive Lite

Driving into a city, whether its New York or Mumbai, is a guaranteed headache: there are too many cars and too few parking spots.

There is a significant worldwide problem of overcapacity, explained Daniel Roos 61, SM 63, PhD 66, codirector of MITs Engineering Systems Division and one of six panelists at this years Technology Day symposium, Shifting Gears. Panelists examined problems posed by automobiles and their solutions, addressing topics that ranged from environmental impact to automobile design for an aging population.

With soaring gas prices on everyones mind, Ernest Moniz, director of energy studies in the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment at MIT, spoke of the efficiency of fossil fuels and the worlds dependency on oil.

Dean Kamen, president of Deka Research and Development, offered his own solution for battling urban congestion: the Segway Human Transporter, a self-balancing personal transportation device, which he views as a practical alternative to using an automobile in the city. The Segway travels at the same average speed as a car in the city.

John Heywood, SM 62, PhD 65, director of the Sloan Automotive Laboratory, captured the essence of the days discussion: The basic problem, he said, is too many of us use too much stuff too often. His solution is equally straightforward: drive smaller, more efficient vehicles; drive less; and drive less aggressively. In other words, drive lite.

Tech Talent at the Pops

This years sold-out Tech Night at the Pops included the Boston Pops Orchestras familiar fare of music and a singalong version of In Praise of MIT. It also featured an unexpected guest conductorCharles M. Vest HM, who led the musicians in the concerts finale, Stars and Stripes Forever, by John Philip Sousa. The performance received a standing ovation, amid a shower of red, white, and blue balloons.

Another member of the MIT community, music professor Evan Ziporyn, also took to the stage. Ziporyn, who heads the music and theater arts program at MIT, performed Artie Shaws Concerto for Clarinet. The concert also included a birthday tribute to Count Basie, Glenn Miller, and Fats Waller, who were all born 100 years ago, and a performance of Robert Russell Bennetts The Four Freedoms, a symphony inspired by the Norman Rockwell paintings of the same name. Projections of the paintings and narrations exploring their themes accompanied the piece.

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