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Alumni letters


February 23, 2016

A Long Way to Go
Recently, I had the pleasure of spending a late afternoon with Institute Professor Penny Chisholm talking about the future of environmental work at MIT. I went to visit her after being appointed director of the MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative, for which she spent many years laying the groundwork. “Understanding the Ocean’s Smallest Creatures” (January/February 2016) echoed two important points she made to me that afternoon.

First, Earth’s biology and geology are inextricably linked and should not be thought of independently—a concept particularly relevant to anyone seeking answers to the challenges of climate change. Having discovered Prochlorococcus, a bacterium that accounts for 10 percent of global photosynthesis and ultimately feeds 10 percent of the ocean’s species, Chisholm was one of the very first to understand that ecological networks are fundamentally responsible for and affected by changes in Earth’s geochemical systems.

Second, despite her work and that of others, we have a long way to go in understanding this complex symbiosis. There is also a critical need for more education and more effective communication. On this last point Penny is doing her part. As I was leaving, she graciously gave me a signed set of her Sunlight series of children’s books. Last weekend I gave a set to a friend with a newly adopted baby boy. For the next few years they will read, over and over again as one does with children’s books, about the relation between the sun, ancient organisms, and today’s energy resources.

Of course, I kept the signed copies for myself.

Professor John E. Fernández
Director, MIT Environmental
Solutions Initiative
Cambridge, Massachusetts

A Passion for Puzzles
My interest in solving and creating math and word problems led one of my freshman roommates to give me the nickname Puzzle Master. That interest and my nickname have stayed with me for almost five decades, and I now post a weekly puzzle at

At MIT, I missed meeting Allan Gottlieb by only a few months. Nonetheless, thanks to Puzzle Corner, I feel I know him very well. For almost 45 years, we have communicated on a regular basis.

I have made it a habit to try to solve at least one puzzle from each issue, preferring geometric and logic puzzles. Over the years, I have also enjoyed contributing puzzles to Allan and then seeing them appear in the column.

Puzzle Corner’s Keeper” (January/February 2016) gave an interesting window into the origin and development of the column and a clearer, more complete picture of this friend from the Class of ’67.

Avi Ornstein ’71
New Britain, Connecticut

Give My Regards to Kendall Square
I was fascinated (actually thrilled) by “The Past and Future of Kendall Square” (September/October 2015). My experience there and around Tech started very early—I was born on Broadway (Dr. Heaton’s clinic) in spring 1932. As secretarial staff, both my mother and my aunt helped Tech move from Boston to Cambridge around 1916. My aunt, Winnifred R. Bates, had a 45-year connection with MIT, ending with service to the Lowell Institute in 1956 or ’57. She and my grandmother lived for a while in what looks like Burton-Conner.

Bob Bates swims in the Charles River near Kendall Square, 1939.

I recall watching the columns on 77 Mass. Ave. being put in place when Lobby 7 was built and wandering around Tech labs in the late ’30s and early ’40s. The attraction stuck and culminated in two Course 20 degrees. That enticingly fragrant NECCO plant was my 1958 summer home, where I carried out quality control duties as I consumed copious amounts of broken Sky Bars. While learning to swim on the Boston public beach adjacent to and downstream from the Longfellow Bridge (see photo), I’d view those huge tanks in Kendall (which I often bicycled around) and wonder about their contents. (The Charles, by default, was then part of the Boston/Cambridge sewage system.)

On my infrequent trips back to Cambridge, I marvel at the architectural transformations. Thank you for bringing me back almost 80 years. I look forward to continuing news from my transformed old (ancient?) haunts.

Bob Bates ’59, PhD ’66
Gainesville, Florida


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