Fixit Clinics pair critical thinking and hands-on engineering
Peter Mui ’82 works to improve the world in diverse ways, from advancing the latest digital manufacturing technology to troubleshooting the humble toaster.
Mui arrived on campus at age 16 and dove right in. “I tapped that MIT education fire hose right into my carotid artery,” he says. A computer science and engineering major, he noticed that MIT’s academic and administrative sides didn’t always communicate and collaborate as well as they could. So he helped bridge the gaps by cofounding the MIT Entrepreneurs Club (now the E-Club) in 1987 and the MIT $10K Entrepreneurship Competition (now the $100K Competition) in 1990.
More recently, he started Fixit Clinic, a nationwide pop-up workshop where participants cooperate to apply critical thinking to malfunctioning household appliances and electronics. Fixit Clinics are held at colleges and universities including MIT, where Mui has led events at the Edgerton Center.
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Today one of his priorities is helping digital technology make manufacturing processes more decentralized and democratic, which would help developing countries as well as workers whose manufacturing jobs have been shipped overseas, Mui says. For example, if you did need a new toaster, “imagine a world when a digital file gets sent next door to people in Somerville and they make one that matches your kitchen decor, costs $3, and lasts multiple generations.” He promotes several entrepreneurship programs at UCSF and UC Berkeley and served as director of strategic business development at Integrated Computer Solutions, which develops touch-screen interfaces for medical devices.
Mui’s cross-disciplinary, hands-on approach was shaped by his thesis advisor, MIT’s legendary Doc Edgerton, SM ’27, ScD ’38, who included Mui in his efforts to apply sonar technology to nautical archeology onboard Calypso, Jacques Cousteau’s research vessel. “Doc was like a second father to me, introducing me to amazing opportunities and people,” Mui says.
Now residing in Berkeley, California, Mui continues to mentor academic startups in areas from robotics and autonomous vehicles to energy and health care. “Life-sized” questions—the fundamental mechanisms of disease, the impact of technology, the future of work, our underlying judgment and decision-making processes—occupy his thoughts.
“There are major challenges with regard to civics and society, democracy and capitalism, and MIT instills a sense of service in its graduates,” he says. “It’s incumbent on us to help others, in the same way others helped us.”