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Alumni Letters

Comments from our readers

Institute Professors
I enjoyed the article on MIT’s Institute Professors (“Institute Professors,” MIT News, December 2005/January 2006). It brought to mind how interacting with MIT’s outstanding staff profoundly touched my life and led me to a nonstandard but fascinating career.

I would audit as many of Philip Morrison’s lectures on cosmology as my biomedical chemistry and brain science studies would allow. I could feel my mind expanding as he discussed our changing view of the universe. Just as important was his passion for teaching – the twinkle in his eye at his own joy of learning taught me that doing what you love is just as important as your salary.

I was also influenced by Jerome Lettvin’s neurophysiology classes. As rigorous as MIT was, you couldn’t help but smile as you saw Professor Lettvin’s Santa Claus body with hippy-length gray hair bopping down the halls in old-style tennis shoes. He would start by saying, “I am not going to teach this course on what we know about nerves: most of it was known in the ’50s, is boring, and would take only a few classes. Instead I am going to teach what we still don’t know about nerves. That is what is exciting.”

These unusual experiences led me to pursue breakthroughs in mind-body techniques for stress reduction and natural mood elevation. It was with great joy that I taught those discoveries at this year’s IAP (see article at http://alum.mit.edu/ne/noteworthy/index.html). Having the top technology matters, but people are our most important assets.
Pete A. Sanders Jr. ‘72
Sedona, AZ

President Killian’s Crib
Jan Hult’s account of receiving a crib from President Killian’s wife (Letters, MIT News, December 2005/January 2006) sounded very similar to my own experience. I started as a graduate student and research assistant in the CE department on July 1, 1955. My wife, our five-week-old baby girl, Magriet, and I moved into Westgate 5 a few days after our arrival in Cambridge.

On December 4, 1956, our second girl, Meta, was born in Mount Auburn Hospital. Like Jan and his family we gratefully accepted a crib donated by a support group run by the wives of the MIT staff. Mrs. Killian was their chairperson, as far as I can remember, and we were told that the crib was the one in which President Killian had spent his babyhood.

Today we went through all the letters we wrote home during that period. Luckily, my late mother kept all our letters and returned them to us after we came home in March 1958. You would not believe how one forgets details over a period of 50 years! I am translating (from Afrikaans) a letter to my mother dated February 5, 1957:

“The other day we received a cot as a present from a Swede who is on his way home. They in turn had received it as a gift from Mrs. Killian, the wife of the president of MIT. It is an antique iron cot and looks just like the one that you had. It is indestructible.”

It appears this was the same crib Jan Hult had when he lived in Westgate.
Marius Louw, ScD ‘58
Stellenbosch, South Africa

Food Science Department
I was pleased to see the article on Course XX (“Food of the Future,” MIT News, October 2005). Sadly, the once vibrant food technology department met an untimely death in the late 1980s. Nevertheless, some course graduates continue to practice what was so well preached by Sam Prescott starting over 100 years ago. A few graduates are presently on the Tech faculty. Occasional Technology Review articles mention developments related to Course XX mandates and remind us that the science of food contributes vitally to human health and well-being.

The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), the society for food science and technology, was cofounded by many Tech faculty, including Sam Prescott and Bernie Proctor; the inaugural meeting was held at Tech in 1939. Sam Goldblith, a Course XX graduate and faculty member, documents distinguished Course XX faculty and their accomplishments in Pioneers in Food Science, volumes I and II.

As a lab flunky in 1955, I helped make a number of Course XX plaques – blue shields with a red “XX” on a yellow background. These coveted shields were given by Bernie Proctor to PhD graduates around that time. I still see them in the offices of colleagues. Nevertheless, we’re a vanishing breed, and no more are being produced at Building 16. To the credit of the Course XX and IFT founders, more than 40 U.S. institutions and countless others globally now promote the field.

I hope the Course XX designation is resurrected and given to a discipline as worthy as food technology/science.
Bob Bates ‘59, PhD ‘66
Gainesville, FL

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