Peace Is Possible
Only a few days after the Israelis and Palestinians agreed to the U.S. road map to peace, former U.S. senator George Mitchell (D-Maine) told the Class of 2003 he believed the conflict in the Middle East could be ended. Mitchell chaired the international fact-finding committee on violence in the Middle East and wrote its report, which led to the Bush administration’s peace plan. Under gray skies and cool temperatures, he outlined his proposal as part of his commencement speech to the 2,202 graduates and their families.
The goal, he said, is security for Israel and an independent state for the Palestinians: “Neither can attain its objective by denying to the other side its objective.” But he noted that the culture of peace nurtured over the previous decade is gone. “In its place there has developed a sense of futility and despair [about] the inevitability of conflict. The majorities on both sides largely agree on the solution, but they no longer trust the other sides’ intentions to reach it,” Mitchell said. It’s important, he cautioned, that the United States not turn away when the “inevitable setbacks occur.”
This is not the first time Mitchell has headed an international group aimed at establishing peace in a war-torn region. He chaired the negotiations that produced the Good Friday peace agreement in 1998, which led to peace in Northern Ireland. It was that experience that convinced Mitchell there is “no such thing as a conflict that can’t be ended.”
Mitchell also delivered a more personal message to the graduates. A good education, he said, is not a substitute for a life of effort. He encouraged them to oppose any action that would deny any child a good education; to support policies that would assure clean air, pure water, and unpoisoned land for the future; and to speak out against discrimination.
He went on to encourage graduates to devote themselves to more than just making money. “The more successful you are, the more evident it will become that there’s more in life. Real fulfillment in life will come from striving with all your physical and spiritual might for a worthwhile objective that helps others, that is larger than your self-interest.”
Edison’s “Brightest Boy”
For Wilber B. Huston ‘33, celebrating his 70th reunion brought back memories of his unusual path to the Institute. He didn’t bother to apply to MIT, because his family couldn’t afford it. That changed, however, when he won a full college scholarship in a national contest sponsored by Thomas A. Edison.
Edison announced the contest in the spring of 1929, Huston’s senior year in high school. Although Edison’s intention was to encourage young people to seek “mental development,” especially in the sciences, the press dubbed the contest the inventor’s “quest for genius,” or his search for the “brightest boy in America.”
Huston became one of 49 finalists who took a five-hour exam in math, physics, and chemistry, along with questions about character and historical events. Contestants met with the judges: Edison, George Eastman, Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, Lewis Perry (headmaster of Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, NH), and Samuel Stratton, president of MIT.
When Huston won, he decided he wanted to attend MIT-though he hadn’t applied. He was quickly admitted. After graduating, he became an aeronautical researcher at NASA’s Langley Research and Goddard Space Flight Centers. As long-standing president of his class, he has attended reunions for nine of the past 10 years.
Looking back, Huston is grateful to the “wizard,” as Edison was known, for providing the scholarship that changed his life. “It’s been a great ride!” he says.
Scoping Out Haystack
Alumni and guests who visited Haystack Observatory in Westford, MA, during reunion weekend not only got to see the Institute’s 37-meter radio telescope but also had the opportunity to stand inside the world’s largest space frame radome, a specially coated cloth structure that protects the telescope’s antenna from wind and ice.
On the outside, the radome looks like a colossal golf ball: its frame consists of 1,375 “ribs,” which give it a geodesic shape. But inside, it seems more like a beige camping tent. Alumni gathered around technical associate Phil Shute while the antenna dish rotated slowly above their heads. The 122-metric-ton instrument is usually controlled remotely, moving at a rate of two degrees per second. When the brakes are off, however, it can be moved by hand.
Haystack Observatory, along with nearby Millstone Hill Observatory and the Lincoln Space Surveillance Complex, is an interdisciplinary research center run by MIT. The observatory was built in the early 1960s and began operations in 1964. Irwin Shapiro, now director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, led some of the first research groups to use Haystack’s powerful transmitter. In the late 1960s, his research confirmed part of Einstein’s general theory of relativity.
Research scientist R. B. Phillips described how scientists now use the radio telescope to track space debris, create Doppler images of satellites, and detect radio energy from quasars in distant galaxies. “The galaxy is a place where things are happening. It’s not static,” he said.
A Date with Bates
On June 4, more than 20 researchers, engineers, and scientists took over the Bates Linear Accelerator in Middleton, MA. It wasn’t a technology coup, but an alumni tour of the nuclear-physics facility over reunion weekend.
For the past 30 years, scientists have used the MIT-run U.S. Department of Energy facility to study the structure of particles such as protons and neutrons-the building blocks of a subatomic world about which little is known. Although the research may seem esoteric, new discoveries in fundamental nuclear physics have often led to unexpected benefits, including advances in cancer treatment and medical imaging.
Richard Milner, Bates’s director, led the visitors into an immense room that contains two of the facility’s prized instruments. His voice echoing off the cement floors, Milner discussed the out-of-plane spectrometer, which measures the way beams of high-energy electrons are scattered by nuclei. By studying the direction and energy of the electrons, scientists can determine the properties of protons and neutrons. Milner also pointed out the large acceptance spectrometer toroid, which helps researchers study how a neutron’s charge is distributed.
MIT students at Bates have “real interaction with frontier science,” Milner says. About a dozen graduate students work at the center, and about 10 undergraduate students join the team each summer as part of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program.
What’s New, What’s Next
Faculty members from MIT’s five schools gave alumni a glimpse into current research-and ethical dilemmas-during the Technology Day symposium, “Fast Times at MIT: What’s New, What’s Next-Now What?” on reunion weekend. Their talks covered issues ranging from campaign finance reform to technologies aimed at protecting the soldier in battle.
Professor Richard Locke of the Sloan School of Management said that increasing globalization will force many companies to walk a thin line between profit and social responsibility. Nike’s phenomenal growth, for example, stemmed from its decision to manufacture products overseas, where labor is cheap. However, charges of child labor have greatly tarnished its image. Such issues, Locke said, will be commonplace as companies shift production to the developing world.
Edwin Thomas, professor of materials science and engineering and director of MIT’s new Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, gave alumni a peek at the soldier of the future. The institute’s goal is to create an ultralightweight battle suit that will not only protect soldiers from bullets and extreme climates but also monitor their health and ease injuries.
Speakers also included Lawrence Vale, head of urban studies and planning; Stephen Ansolabehere, professor of political science; and Rudolf Jaenisch, professor of biology.
A webcast of the program can be viewed at http://mitworld.mit.edu.
Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.Subscribe today