MIT De-Techified: Innovation in Transition

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.

Even John Harvard from the “red brick school up the street” dressed himself up for the inauguration, according to Harvard President Drew Faust.

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.

Inauguration ceremony of MIT President Rafael Reif at 2:30 today in Killian Court. (Photo credit to my friend and classmate, Lourdes Bobbio)

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.

MIT: Take 2!

It’s 9:02 pm.  Friday night.  I’m in college.  No I’m not at a party.  No I’m not eating out.  No I’m not walking into Boston for fun (ha, “fun”).  I’m sitting at my desk, with a ridiculously long list of things to do and a weekend too busy to do them.  Yes, yes, I understand how pathetic this is, and it is for this reason that I am now blogging instead of continuing to tackle this list–not that this would be considered any less pathetic, but I’ll work with what I got.

After a summer full of exciting, worldly travel, in some ways coming back to MIT is a way to slip back into a routine lifestyle.  The p-sets, exams, activity groups, and friends to hang out with, all on my mind while I scurry through the Infinite has ingrained itself so deeply within me that sometimes I hardly remember there is a world outside MIT.  But that’s exactly the other side of it as well: MIT is like its own world.  It’s this large, complicated  system with each of its parts, and the parts within the parts, working self-sufficiently in harmony.  I heard a story from a friend (a senior) the other day who had been talking to a freshman who was describing his dream research opportunity with an MIT scientist and professor.  It turns out this professor was my friend’s freshman advisor.  He would be meeting with him the next day.  “MIT,” he said, jokingly.  “Where legends walk.”  He speaks the truth.

I thought starting my second year would just be a repeat of last year–something that might grow stale with overuse.  Yet, the exact opposite is now happening.  My life here is extremely familiar to me, but new classes, new resolutions must be carried forward.  It’s easy over the summer in a new place with new people to start new things, like blogging or reviving my dance practices, but what really matters now is whether I can take that with me into my normal reality.  As can probably be seen with my posting history, that hasn’t worked out too well for blogging in the past week or so, as I moved in and got settled.  The goal is to make that change.  The goal is to learn from last year, throw out the bad, keep the good, and bring in the better.

photo cred to a fabulous best friend’s camera’s  auto-timer.

So in honor of this beautiful world I now inhabit for the second year, I’m going to start a new blog post series dedicated to MIT.  I haven’t ironed out all the details yet, but know that each week you will get yet another glimpse of this magnificent institution and the people who make it that way.  Yes, even when I’m being eaten alive by work, with all of my exams in a span of 3 days, and every club demanding my time and effort, even when I actually hate my life, I still call this place a magnificent institution.  In fact, as twisted as this may be, it might even be because of all of it.  Also the latest QS university rankings don’t seem to disagree with me, so I think I’m alright.  I hope I can impart at least a little bit of these emotions to you.

I also hope I can experience the thrill of crossing everything off my list by the end of this weekend.  Off to writing a speech on classical rhetoric for me!