Well, I promised it, and here it is: post #1 in my MIT series. The timing couldn’t have been better. For as I start this new endeavor to define and explore MIT for myself and all of you around the world, there is another man seeking to do that as well on a much larger scale– across the entire institute.
It’s an exciting time to be at MIT. As the weather turns cooler, the leaves redder, the winds stronger, MIT itself is experiencing its own change. The man I spoke of is L. Rafael Reif, MIT’s “number 17,” our new president, who was inaugurated today underneath a white tent on the beautiful green lawn of Killian Court. This time of presidential transition is new and exciting precisely for the unknown. True, President Reif has been with MIT for a long time, as the provost and as the head of Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, which is probably (no, definitely) the most represented department here, and very much embodies MIT culture. Yet, there are still questions. How will he direct the future of the institute? What kind of efforts will he take not only to preserve the freedom required to continue MIT’s rich history of creation and innovation, but also to re-define the framework to make it more efficient, more productive, more effective?
I wondered about these questions. The typical selfishness within me asked, What does all of this mean for me? Two days ago, however, many of those mind-wanderings were put to rest. Two days ago was the first day of the inauguration festivities, the first symposium called, “Infinite Innovation,” highlighting innovation in faculty research and student endeavors. Because of classes, I was only able to attend the first hour faculty session, but that was enough. I know now that whatever happens, innovation is so deeply ingrained in the souls of these buildings, that nothing can wash it away.
This was not a normal symposium. Fourteen faculty members from across the institute were chosen to present their innovative research (how they actually managed to filter the list down to fourteen is beyond me.) No professor was given more than 4 minutes to speak, and any slides used could not contain any text. Professors had to truly pitch their work to us and the world within these constraints, forcing them to bring out the best and most intriguing parts of their work.
This was the top of the top. We heard about neuroscience research which found that people who are blind still have brain activity in the areas of their brain responsible for visual stimuli when they hear sounds. We listened to innovations in the usage of a simple printer to cut down on the costs of fabrication in a factory. We saw glimpses of the future in which, innovations in cameras that allow us to see light itself in motion with cameras that image a trillion frames per second would bring about cameras that can see around corners.
As my friend, Ishwarya, and I were discussing, the truly amazing aspect of it all was that we knew these faculty members. As accomplished and talented as they are in their fields, we know them as our professors. My “Intro to Chemical Engineering” professor, Paula Hammond, spoke about the RNA drug delivery systems being developed in her lab. My “Thermodynamics and Kinetics” professor, Chris Voigt, who is actually a faculty member in Biological Engineering, discussed the ways in which his lab is applying principles of computer science and electrical engineering to biological systems, developing algorithms to direct cellular processes which allows for potential treatments when those processes go wrong in the human body. And one of MIT’s superstars, Dr. Robert Langer, called the “father” of drug delivery systems, is the principal investigator of the largest bioengineering lab in the world, the lab I also happen to work in. We know these people, as both the legends and humans they are. Despite their almost superhuman statuses, they are grounded enough to teach introductory classes and are so utterly approachable that sometimes you forget the kind of minds these people have.
So, no, there’s nothing to worry about. Innovation and MIT are here to stay, through better and worse. And now, in a new school year, with new opportunities, new friendships, new professors, and a new president, the innovative minds growing here within these walls will only serve to bring out the best this world has to offer.