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February 22, 2011

Campus Smells
Remembering Necco” (November/December 2010) brings back memories of the campus smells. Not only did we have the benefit of chocolate from Necco, we had soap, pickles, and rendering!  Just off the northeast corner of the campus where Technology Square now stands, Lever Brothers made soap. You’d think maybe soap would smell good, but not while it’s being made. Not far from that was a pickle factory. You’d think maybe pickles would smell good, but … Finally, to the west of the campus was a rendering works.  Pour in a dense Boston fog. No wind. Now combine all four of those smells and you’ve got the olfactory “treat” of the century! 
Bill Eccles ‘54, SM ‘57
Terre Haute, Indiana    

What Happened to the Water Tower?
On November 9, 2001, the Tech reported that Necco would close its Mass. Ave. factory but that “its highly recognizable water tower, which resembles a roll of Necco wafers … will remain part of the Cambridge skyline after Necco moves.” On April 28, 2003, the Harvard Crimson reported that Novartis was moving into the old Necco building. “In order to receive a tax credit as one of Cambridge’s historical places, construction must meet stringent requirements,” it said. “The building’s external color, molding, and roofscape must be preserved … The building’s signature candy-striped water tower, painted to resemble a Necco wafer, will stay put. ‘Of course we’re keeping the water tower,’ Simpson [one of the architects] said. ‘I don’t think it was even a question.’ “  So how did we get to “the familiar roll of Necco Wafers vanished from the city skyline when Novartis repainted the water tower,” as you reported in “Remembering Necco”?
Lowell Ray Anderson ‘59
Cody, Wyoming 

Editor’s note: We asked Charles Sullivan, executive director of the Cambridge Historical Commission, whether Novartis was free to repaint the water tower. His response:  “Novartis ultimately decided that they wanted their own graphics on the tower, and ran a contest among schoolchildren to generate designs. There was some regret about losing the Necco design, but there were no violations of any local permits.”   

Tech Square “Photo”
The article on the development of the MIT campus (“The Evolution of Cambridge,” January/February 2011) was very interesting and informative, but the picture illustrating it (on page M19) is, to use today’s parlance, Photoshopped. While the actual campus area is unmodified, the Tech Square area clearly shows what an architect predicted the project might one day look like if developed. The buildings in the photo bear no resemblance to either the old Lever Brothers factory (shown on page M22) or the actual Tech Square development built in the 1960s. 
David Lebling ‘71, SM ‘73
Concord, Massachusetts  

Editor’s note: You’re right—thanks for noticing. The caption should have read “MIT in foreground, with a rendering of the new Technology Square Industrial Research Center superimposed in the background, 1960.”   

Food Technology to the Rescue 
While both MIT and Technology Review are fast becoming Course VI on steroids, the fascinating write-up of Ayr Muir (“Everything Will Be Different Tomorrow,” November/December 2010) suggested to me that familiarity with the developments at the long-since-discontinued food technology program, Course XX, would have been of material (no pun intended) assistance to him.  For example, lemon juice doesn’t lose its sweetness over time. Enzymatic and/or oxidative changes lead to increased bitterness or staleness, which overwhelms the sweetness. The changes can be prevented by freezing the juice or slowed by refrigerating it. Or the bitterness can be masked by adding a sweetener. Also, carbon dioxide extraction processes can extract caffeine from coffee beans without significantly reducing the flavor profile. Mr. Muir could have continued to use his cold-brewing process by mixing decaffeinated roasted beans with ordinary coffee to achieve the caffeine level he desired.  Unfortunately, too many scientists have regarded food technology as kitchen-level food preparation that anyone can do, so they keep relying on old wives’ cooking tips instead of science.
Gerald Peretsman ‘50 

Great Neck, New York   

A Trip to Trinity Site
I enjoyed “Tracing the Manhattan Project” (November/December 2010), which brought back some fond memories. Between my University of Michigan undergrad and MIT grad-school days, I was lucky enough to be assigned, as a newly minted OCS-commissioned army officer, to White Sands Missile Range.  Trinity Site, about 100 miles up range on WSMR, was then a restricted area. However, my roommate was a military police officer and had access (keys). So we took off to visit “ground zero” almost exactly 25 years after the test of July 16, 1945. The site appeared to have been pretty much undisturbed, with a large steel pressure vessel half-buried in the sand and commo wire strung along ceramic insulators at the top of short mesquite posts. I picked up a small piece of trinitite. 
Jerome M. Gruber, SM ‘73, SM ‘74
Newburgh, Indiana

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