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Intelligent Machines

Howard Messing '73

A career in science sparked by Sputnik

“I am a quintessential Sputnik generation member,” says Howard Messing. At age five, he stood with his father on the porch of their home in Cambria Heights, New York, and gazed overhead, where Sputnik sailed in low Earth orbit at a speed of 18,000 miles per hour. Fear and awe welled up in him as he listened to the satellite’s beeping on the radio.

After that evening, Messing dived into science. At age six he represented his class at a local science fair, using tiny model boats to explain magnetic poles. He started taking trips to New York’s American Museum of Natural History and its Hayden Planetarium. At 14, he became the president of the museum’s junior astronomy club. And at age 16, he enrolled at MIT.

This story is part of the July/August 2011 Issue of the MIT News Magazine
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“At some point I saw MIT win the television show G.E. College Bowl five weeks in a row, and the enthusiasm and earnestness of the students impressed me,” he says. “After that, I never thought about going anywhere else.”

Messing excelled at physics and computer science at MIT, ultimately earning a degree in Course VI, electrical engineering and computer science. Shortly after graduation, he interviewed at a hospital software company called Meditech with Neil Pappalardo ‘64, then its president. He got the job and stuck with it for 37 years, ultimately becoming president and CEO. Helping hospitals and other health facilities provide better, safer, and more organized care at less cost has been a source of great pride, he says.

In addition to his work at Meditech, Messing also serves as chair of the board at the Museum of Science in Boston, where he works to bolster the informal science education that takes place outside of classrooms and to improve public perception and understanding of science, engineering, and math.

In his little spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife, Colleen, who serves with him as an MIT Patron of Physics Fellow—or “cheerleader,” as they put it. They have two children and have been on numerous trips with the MIT Alumni Travel Program. And all the while, Messing’s scientific explorations have continued; most recently, he has been fascinated by geology, accumulating a collection of minerals that he loves showing to friends and family.

Messing likens his attraction to minerals to his love for astronomy. “It’s about experiencing the beauty of nature and trying to understand where it all comes from,” he says.

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