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A Challenge for IMES
I was intrigued to read about the work of the Ragon Institute (“Hacking HIV,” May/June 2013) and even more excited by the accompanying sidebar on the recent creation of the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES), an “intellectual hub” led by Professor Arup Chakraborty. MIT has a multitude of medical research initiatives, including the Ragon, Koch, and Broad institutes; the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences; and a broad range of individual research efforts. While each appropriately has its own focus and mission, IMES has the potential to drive further collaboration by breaking down boundaries across traditional scientific, engineering, and clinical disciplines, thereby accelerating breakthrough innovation and truly interdisciplinary graduate education.

MIT News May/June cover

But as a health-care executive and a concerned citizen, I believe that IMES and MIT have an opportunity to meaningfully contribute to a broader goal as well: reducing health-care costs. In 1975, the year I first came to the United States and to MIT, health care accounted for 8 percent of GDP; 35 years later, it has jumped to 18 percent of GDP. Our health-care spending per capita is now 2.5 times that of other OECD countries, but we do not achieve meaningfully better outcomes. It is clear that we are on an unsustainable trajectory. 

While we all want to see continued cutting-edge innovation, the largest single driver of cost escalation has been the continued proliferation of innovative new technologies. By some expert estimates, this accounts for up to half the cost increase. IMES can benefit from MIT’s unique innovation capabilities, along with its talent in systems engineering and economics, to drive innovations focused on reducing health-care costs and to help shape public policies that “bend the cost curve.” I look forward to seeing IMES rise to that challenge.

Eran Broshy ’79
New York  

MIT’s Yoda
Thank you so much for your story about Millie Dresselhaus (“The ‘What If?’ Whiz,” May/June 2013). At MIT, there are many Jedi knights, but Millie stands out as our Yoda. Students and faculty members alike seek out her advice and opinions about a wide range of problems, in both their research and personal lives. Warm and open, she is always receptive, ready to work, and willing to help. She has earned respect all over the world and made friends both old and young. I started working with Millie 17 years ago, when I was an assistant professor at Duke University writing a proposal on thermoelectrics. At that time, I did not know anything about thermoelectrics, yet Millie welcomed me with an open mind and entrusted me with leading a large project on a topic that she pioneered. We have been collaborating ever since. When I was at UCLA, she stopped by my office many times to discuss research until late at night, and after these fruitful discussions, she took a red-eye back to MIT to start a new day. Since I joined MIT, we have met almost every week. Every time we meet, I learn something from her, sometimes about research and often about life. She provides daily inspiration, and I habitually search for her car every morning when I first arrive on campus; it is always there, on weekdays and on weekends. After serving on the thesis committees of many of my graduate students, she continued to support them after they graduated. She attends the weekly meetings we hold for the Solid-State Solar Thermal Energy Conversion Center, offering the student and faculty members her unreserved advice. When we made a short Star Wars–themed YouTube movie about the center, the choice to cast Millie in the role of Yoda was unanimous.

Gang Chen
Professor of mechanical engineering

In Millie’s group, we did lots of iterations of paper drafts. Anyone who has ever written a paper with Millie can attest to this. I’d work for days and weeks on a draft, only to find it slipped under my door the very next morning buried in red ink. Even when she was traveling, there would be a faxed copy of her revisions when I arrived at the lab in the morning. Sometimes we’d do 50 draft revisions before submitting a paper. Even thesis chapters would be fully commented on and edited within 24 hours. I could never stay ahead of her. Sometime during my first year in her group, Millie said to me, “Steve, your English is worse than the foreign students’.” I was shocked. But her revisions were always clearer, more insightful, more to the point than my original text—every single time. This process taught me—and probably all her students and collaborators—how to write and communicate scientific ideas with precision and clarity. Now that I have graduate students of my own, I really appreciate what a painstakingly difficult task this is. 

Steve Cronin
Associate professor of electrical engineering
University of Southern­California Los Angeles

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