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Alumni Letters

October 20, 2009

1993’s Baseball Legacy

The profile of John Abbamondi ‘93, assistant general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals (“Inside Baseball,” September/October 2009), bolsters the theory that a serendipitous baseball bias influenced MIT ’s admissions process for our class. In 1993, the MIT varsity baseball team won its first championship and led the NCAA Division III in defense. Several members of that team maintain a lifeline to the sport: Peter ­Hinteregger ‘93, our MVP pitcher (he recorded 8 of the team’s 22 victories that year), continues to play baseball in adult leagues in Australia. Scott Schiamberg ‘93, MCP ‘96, MA ‘96, a middle infielder on our team and now an architect in New York, publishes and presents research on classic baseball stadiums, such as Boston’s Fenway Park. Ian Somerville ‘93, our team’s starting catcher and cocaptain, also plays adult baseball and now supports local teams through his Play It Again Sports franchise in Novi, MI. This summer, I published a book about that 1993 season, Beaverball: A (Winning) Season with the MIT Baseball Team (Aventine Press), and now I give talks around the country about the lessons we learned as baseball players under our coach, Fran O’Brien.

All of us are proud of John Abbamondi and, as loyal classmates, want to make ourselves available to him should he ever need a free-agent pinch hitter or utility player in St. Louis.

Brooks Mendell ‘93, SM ‘96
Cocaptain, 1993 MIT varsity baseball team
Bogart, GA

MIT’s Influence on Modern Astronomy

In “Before the Big Bang” (September/October 2009), Marcia Bartusiak has given us a wonderful summary of the contributions of MIT alumnus Georges Lemaître to our modern view of the expanding universe. Although MIT does not have an astronomy department, its graduates and faculty have played important roles in shaping modern astronomy. Space permits only a brief mention of two.

As an MIT undergraduate (1886-‘90), George Ellery Hale invented the spectroheliograph for taking images of solar prominences in selected spectral lines of hydrogen and the then-mysterious helium. During this time he also worked at Harvard College Observatory with the former head of the MIT physics department, Edward C. Pickering. Hale went on to an illustrious career as an astrophysicist and scientific entrepreneur. He built the 100-inch telescope at Mount Wilson (fortunately spared by the recent fire) that Edwin Hubble used to discover the famous law of galaxy recession described in the article. Hale concluded his career by planning and raising money for the 200-inch telescope at Mount Palomar, which was completed in 1948 after his death.

After particle accelerators began to dominate studies of elementary particles in the 1950s, MIT faculty member Bruno Rossi inaugurated the exploration of our galaxy using x-rays–which, fortunately for us, do not penetrate Earth’s atmosphere. In 1962, using data from a suborbital rocket flight, he and his colleagues discovered x-rays from a bright source near the center of our galaxy, called Scorpius X-1. This work began the observational study of neutron stars and black holes. Had Rossi lived long enough, he might have shared the 2002 Nobel Prize with his protégé Riccardo Giacconi.

Edmund Bertschinger
Head, MIT Department of Physics

Questioning an Alloy’s Safety

Your report on Christopher Schuh’s new nickel-tungsten alloy (“A Safer Shine,” September/October 2009) mentioned the toxic effects of chromium, but it didn’t address the safety of nickel and tungsten. It is a fundamental principle of environmental and occupational health that we should not replace a toxic material with a material that is untested or known to be toxic itself. I doubt that much toxicology has been done with the new nickel-tungsten alloy yet, but dozens of articles on the toxicity of nickel and a lesser number on the toxicity of tungsten are readily available on the PubMed website.

To state that we’d be “getting rid of the environmental baggage” by replacing chromium with a nickel-tungsten alloy may be wishful thinking.

Jerrold L. Abraham ‘66
Professor and director of environmental and occupational pathology,
SUNY Upstate Medical University
Syracuse, NY

Professor Schuh responds:

I agree that more environmental, health, and toxicity studies are always needed. In this case, however, it is important to note that the concern is not with the plated metal or alloy coating but with the dissolved metal ions in the precursor chemicals used in the plating solution. In this context, the hazards of hexavalent-chromium solutions vis-à-vis nickel-based plating chemistries are quite well documented. The use of the latter involves less in the way of regulation, shipping precautions, and health monitoring for workers.

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