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News From Around Campus
For five weeks last spring, a family of red-tailed hawks captivated the campus when staff from MITs Academic Media Production Services produced a live-feed webcast of the birds nest. The adults, which have reportedly nested in various parts of campus in previous years, chose a pine tree outside a production studio in Building 9 this year.
Faculty and staff on the upper floors of the building started watching the nest in early March. Two chicks hatched on April 9 and were named Kitty and MITsi. At the end of April, Larry Gallagher, director of MITs video productions and digital-technologies office, decided to give others the chance to bird-watch, too, so he aired a live video feed of the nest on MITs cable station. Within days it went up on the Web.
Interest in the baby hawks swept the Institute. The question of when they would fly became a topic of conversation in offices, conference rooms, and corridors. This created a community at MIT like nothing Ive ever seen before, says Gallagher. On May 26, Kitty took its maiden flight, swooping across Mass. Ave. to a nearby bike rack. MIT police quickly cordoned off the area and put up signs about the hawk in training. MITsi tested its wings four days later. And then, seemingly overnight, the nest was empty.
Gallagher says the departure was so sudden that people had hawkcam withdrawal. Although the next nesting period is more than six months away, Gallagher is already thinking of an encore, possibly including an online classroom science project.
A video archive is at web.mit.edu/amps/spotlight/hawkcam.html.
It may be impossible to go unnoticed on the crowded streets of Manhattan, but now its at least possible to steer clear of hundreds of surveillance cameras stationed at building entrances, stoplights, and ATMs throughout the city.
A researcher at the MIT Media Lab is working with the Institute of Applied Autonomy, an anonymous group of artists, activists, and technologists, on the iSee Project. The projects Web-based interface displays maps that mark the locations of closed-circuit television surveillance cameras in Manhattan, as reported by volunteers. Tad Hirsch, a research assistant at the MIT Media Lab, recently adapted the desktop version of the program to handheld devices. Now, people walking around the city can find data about the cameras in their vicinity, map out routes, and also add to the database.
The project aims to promote the discussion of privacy rights and to raise awareness about the proliferation of surveillance cameras, which law-abiding citizens may wish to avoid; iSees creators cite several abuses of surveillance cameras in recent years, including instances of racial profiling and sexual voyeurism. The questions of who owns surveillance videos and what they can be used for also remain unanswered.
The infrastructure of publicly and privately owned surveillance cameras has grown in an ad hoc manner with little public discourse, says Hirsch, so it is virtually impossible to know how many cameras are in operation at a given time. Hirsch adds that iSee is intended as a tool to facilitate documentation of the growth of surveillance networks.
In recent years, the practice of sending information-technology, financial-services, and other professional jobs overseas has become a seething issue among U.S. workers. A new Sloan School of Management course taught last spring by Amar Gupta, SM 80, and Lester Thurow HM examines this controversial trend. The Special Seminar in International Management, 15.967, was the first business school course in the country devoted to professional offshoring.
The seminar covered both the financial benefits of offshoring and its associated difficulties, such as legal and security issues and intellectual-property loss. It also featured guest lecturers, including executives from Ford and Accenture and former U.S. secretary of labor Robert Reich.
We are not taking a stand as pro- or anti-outsourcing, says Gupta. Instead, he says, the goal of the faculty is to help future business leaders make informed decisions about the practice. The jobs businesses send offshore often go to nations where wages are a fraction of those here. Although the loss of jobs is hard on U.S. workers, Gupta says the costs of keeping some jobs in the country can exceed the lost income. Instead of cutting jobs, Gupta says, some companies could conduct business faster by hiring work forces in multiple time zones who pass their tasks on to workers in the next zone at the end of each shift.
Gupta recently left MIT for the University of Arizona, where he is continuing to develop his class. Though the future of the class at MIT is uncertain, This area needs a lot more attention, Gupta says.
Inspiring Young Innovators
Last june, dozens of high-school students from around the country traveled to MIT to demonstrate inventions ranging from a robot helicopter that monitors snow conditions and avalanche hazards to a pedestrian crosswalk that flashes light-emitting diodes when it senses that people have stepped into it.
These are just two of the 10 projects funded by the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams grant initiative, which gave teams of high-schoolers up to $10,000 each to create prototype devices that would benefit their schools or communities. The 10 teamseach led by a science, math, or technology teacherwere chosen from among 60 applicants in the fall of 2003. Unlike other Lemelson competitions, the InvenTeams initiative doesnt single out a winner; the goal is to get students excited about technology.
The initiative is trying to give [students] a unique, hands-on invention experience, says Joshua Schuler, a Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams grant officer. The grants have helped schools whose budgets couldnt otherwise support projects like these, he says. This fall, InvenTeams will select 15 student teams to fund for its 2005 program.
Tribute to Building 20
In the 55 years before it was razed in 1998, Building 20 had been celebrated as home to some of the most creative communities ever to exist at a university. A monument to the so-called Magical Incubator in the Stata Centerwhich was built on the Building 20 siteextols the virtues of those communities and pays tribute to their innovations.
The memorial occupies two brightly colored walls in the lobby of the Stata Centers Dreyfoos Tower. A soaring wall of cobalt blue serves as the backdrop for a series of enlarged photographs of researchers and experiments and a mounted panel that briefly describes the character of Building 20.
Another wall pays homage to the Radiation Lab, Building 20s first occupant and the reason it was erected in 1943. The lab pioneered the use of radar and developed half of the radar systems used in World War II. The most prominent artifact in the display sits atop a large wooden crate: a restored, 941-kilogram radar antenna. The crate contains a time capsule scheduled for opening in 2053.
Quotes of faculty and staff from the buildings heyday cover the walls, both in photo captions and as large graphic elements. And they drive home what most people found unique about the place. They didnt love Building 20. They loved working with each other. They loved the idea of Building 20, says Deborah Douglas, a curator at the MIT Museum and a member of the memorials advisory committee.
The memorial is quickly becoming an icon in its own right. On the day the Stata Center opened, people were already overheard saying Meet me at the antenna. For Building 20, the legacy lives on.
Neuroscience professor mark bear has discovered a way to treat fragile X syndrome, the most common type of hereditary mental retardation. Scientists have known for years that the disorder results from a single mutated gene, but its connection to the myriad of clinical symptomsfrom learning disabilities, to extreme sensitivity to touch, to epilepsyhad remained a mystery until Bears discovery.
Bear had been studying a seemingly unrelated molecule, a protein that governs a process whereby brain cells become deaf to each others signals. After a chance conversation with a colleague, he decided to examine a mouse with the fragile X mutation. His findings were surprisingly simple: the fragile X mice had too much of the protein that Bear studied. Their brain cells were consequently losing the ability to communicate with each other, which resulted in the neurological symptoms of the syndrome. Bear made a list of the predictable consequences of overproduction of the protein. It was unbelievable how well this mapped onto the symptoms of fragile X, he says.
The therapeutic possibilities were immediately apparent: preventing the protein from being created could reduce the fragile X symptoms. Drugs that do just that are currently being tested in animals. Bear hopes that treatments will be on the market within the next five years.
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