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Alumni Letters

Letters from our readers.
December 18, 2007

AMITA’s Perspective on ESR
As president of the Association of MIT Alumnae (AMITA), I was pleased to see your article about our first president, Mrs. Ellen H. Richards, in the alumni pages of Technology Review (“Ellencyclopedia,” ­September/­October 2007). AMITA’s exhibit “125 Years of MIT Women” (www.mit-amita.org/esr/swallow.html) points to some different perspectives on the role of Ellen Swallow ­Richards (ESR) in women’s history. ESR sought to bring science into traditional women’s work and within reach of the public and homemakers as a practical matter, the kind of approach any engineer would take.

The Women’s Laboratory was not really made “obsolete” in 1884. It was the collabo­rative effort by ESR and the women (and funding) of the Boston Women’s Education Association (WEA) that actually convinced MIT to admit women on a regular basis. The MIT archives show that the vote to admit women was “in pursuance of the wishes of the benefactors of the Women’s Laboratory.” The Women’s Laboratory proved more than 120 years ago that science education is within the capability of women and does not “harm our mothering skills.”

ESR derived great satisfaction from the chance to “do real things of value to ­people,” a mission broader than modern concepts like “social service,” “public-service initiatives,” and “expanding women’s boundaries.” She helped start the national public-health movement, a field that is coming back into its own as we have created the conditions for worldwide epidemics and bioterrorism. This movement assured clean drinking water for all Americans and led to our current ­environmental-quality protections. Many MIT alumnae and alumni received public-health degrees and worked in these fields.

The women of AMITA take great pride in our history, and we look forward to hearing from anyone who needs resources on MIT women. We would be happy to see more about ESR in the pages of Technology Review that go to all subscribers, since everyone in science and technology should know more about her amazing contributions.
Sarah Simon ‘72
President, Association of MIT Alumnae
Ipswich, MA

The Nessie Quest Continues
I can understand why most people would doubt the existence of the Loch Ness ­Monster after viewing the photo that appeared in the last issue (“The Nessie Quest,” November/December 2007). So that readers may judge for themselves the evidence that Doc ­Edgerton and I gathered, I’m sending along a copy of the photograph after it was enhanced by computer at the Jet Propulsion Lab to better define object outlines. (You can see a larger version at www.­technologyreview.com/nessie.)

To put this photograph into context, our underwater setup allowed us to flash Doc’s strobe light and take a photo once every 35 seconds. We had hours of blank frames showing nothing before, and nothing afterward–and in between, this one lucky shot of something getting in the way of our strobe light. It’s all we have. This object wasn’t there 35 seconds before or 35 seconds after. That’s a pretty fast-moving “log.” I’m just sorry that our 1975 technology wasn’t good enough to let us take more pictures.

Yes, to those who have never had a sighting, it may seem improbable that any such large creatures lived in the loch. But I, for one, don’t consider the idea a “myth unworthy of scientific investigation.” In fact, I’m still investigating 100 interesting targets, which I think could be their skeletons. (We don’t have the sonar activity we used to have, so I doubt any are still alive.) We looked at five sites last summer–and found a frog unbelievably active 325 feet below the surface of the lake–before I was sidelined by a small stroke. I hope to get back there this year. After all, we have 95 more sonar target sites to investigate.
Robert H. Rines ‘42
Boston, MA

Bronze Beavers, Take Two
No doubt you’ve heard from hundreds of others about the unfortunate swapping of the pictures of Arnie Kramer and Ted ­Heuchling on page M21 of the November/December issue of Technology Review. Too bad it had to occur on the occasion of such a distinguished award to two great guys.
Ken Brock ‘48
North Truro, MA

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves and regret the unfortunate swapping incident. To find out what Arnie and Ted really look like, please see page M22 of this issue. –The Editors

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