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The Media Lab's New Pilot

Alumnus brings commercial expertise to research lab.

MIT’s interdisciplinary Media Lab, famous for its blue-sky research on the crea-tive use of technology, is now being piloted by an aero-astro alumnus from the commercial side of high tech. Frank Moss, SM ‘72, PhD ‘77, the new director of the Media Lab, served as CEO of information tech-nology management software provider Tivoli Systems and cofounded three high-tech companies, including Web services pioneer Bowstreet. He also delved into biotech, cofounding Infinity Pharmaceuticals to pursue cancer drug discovery.

Big thinking at the Media Lab has led to such achievements as MPEG video compression and the founding of E Ink, a company that provides electronic-paper display technologies. But its researchers’ freedom has depended on an unusual funding structure. “We have a system whereby sponsors join up as a member of the lab community,” says Moss, and get unrestricted access to the lab’s intellectual property.

Moss believes his commercial experience will help the Media Lab cultivate strong working relationships with sponsors. “We need to understand what corporations are looking for when they make an investment with an academic institution like the Media Lab,” he says. “Having been part of that world, I can put myself in their shoes and [make] it more compelling for them to invest their time and effort.”

Moss holds MIT’s Jerome B. Wiesner Chair in Media Technology and has been named Professor of the Practice of Media Arts and Sciences, a position reserved for distinguished practitioners.

Lab cofounder Nicholas Negroponte stepped down as chairman in February to focus on his nonprofit, One Laptop per Child (OLPC). Ex–lab director Walter Bender is on leave to serve as OLPC’s president.

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