MIT model explains how the brain can learn novel tasks while still remembering what it has already learned.
A TRULY BEAUTIFUL MIND
On March 22, a few days before the Oscars were announced, MSNBC ran a story on its web site titled "Eyes on the Wrong Prize" that focused on the disparity between media coverage of the Academy Awards and coverage of the 2001 Draper Prize or "engineering's Nobel Prize." The winner of this year's Draper Prize was MIT's Robert Langer, the Germeshausen Professor of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering.
Langer was recently "honored for a body of work that launched a medical industry, which, in the Unites States alone, rings up $20 billion annually--way more than the box office receipts of all this year's Best Picture nominees combined," wrote Randy Atkins, publicist for the National Academy of Engineering, which awards the Draper Prize.
"With few exceptions, the media ignored his achievement," continued Atkins. "A reporter from one of the nation's most respected newspapers told me this story wasn't fit for his publication to print because such awards are self-promotional. 'News is what we hunger for, ole buddy,' he told me. I guess I could accept this if I didn't know that this same paper is providing its readers with a complete list of every motion picture Academy Award winner ... dress styles, party location ... and other such minutiae ad nauseum."
In a section subtitled "A Truly Beautiful Mind," Atkins wrote that Langer's "creative engineering is now allowing delivery of medicine in unique ways to difficult locations within the human body." He concluded: "The American public will be better served when the news media more fully accept the challenge to make the important as interesting as the glitzy."
KUDOS: SLOAN WEB SITE
The web site for Sloan Management Review was featured in a "Reader's Guide" column Feb. 17 in the St. Paul, Minn. Pioneer Press. "Some of the best brains in business and business education exchange ideas" at the site, wrote Rob Hubbard. "Click on mitsloan.mit.edu/smr and you'll be able to horn in on these conversations, as questions like 'Do CEOs matter?' are bandied about."
Hubbard also recommends exploring the essays and opinion pieces "that really bring this site to life, especially those under the 'Intelligence' umbrella that regularly leads the home page."
STUDYING THE HEART
Richard Cohen was in the news two days in a row for different projects involving the cardiovascular system.
On March 25, Science@NASA explored why many astronauts feel dizzy upon re-entry to Earth's atmosphere, and a possible solution to the problem.
The immediate cause: a temporary drop in blood pressure because of the change in gravity. "The effect is more severe after prolonged space flights," said Cohen, a professor in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology who leads the Cardiovascular Alterations Team at the National Space Biomedical Research Institute.
A new drug for treating the problem was recently approved by the FDA. NASA has given a thumbs-up for testing the drug's effects on space shuttle astronauts and International Space Station crew members, Cohen told Science@NASA.
Cohen's work is also helping those of us who remain on Earth. The March 26 Orlando Sentinel focused on a test invented by Cohen that can accurately predict the risk of dying suddenly from a wildly irregular heartbeat, or sudden cardiac death.
The noninvasive test detects tiny electrical changes in the beat-to-beat fluctuations of the heart. People with these tiny changes, called T-wave alternans, are at higher risk for sudden cardiac arrest.
"Before now, we really haven't had a good tool to diagnose the electrical workings of the heart," Cohen told the Sentinel. "I do see the technology spreading and entering routine clinical use."
CLIPS AND QUOTES
"If this battery existed and I had the patent, I'd be lying next to a kidney-shaped pool with the sun on my back right now."--Professor Don Sadoway of materials science and engineering about a battery powerful and cheap enough to make electric cars feasible. He was interviewed for a March 3 Associated Press (AP) story about batteries that ran in papers nationwide. Sadoway went on to predict that such a battery will be here "within a handful of years."
"Engineering solutions need to be found if the city is to be saved for future generations."--Professor Rafael Bras of civil and environmental engineering about increased tidal flooding in Venice, the focus of some of his research. Bras was quoted in a March 4 story in the Washington Post.
"You might rebel against me by getting a stud in your tongue. But your kids will rebel against you by getting a wireless Internet connection installed in their brain, so they can instant message their friends, while you think they're listening to you."--Professor Rodney Brooks of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory to his teenage kids, as reported in a San Francisco Chronicle story Feb. 25.
"It's just got a booster rocket stuck on it right now."--Ken Morse, managing director of MIT's Entrepreneurship Center, about the interest in security technology after Sept. 11. His comments appeared in a March 10 AP story.
"If you have a lot of false positives, you just tie up the airport."--Richard Lanza, a senior research scientist in nuclear engineering, registering concerns about new luggage screening devices in an AP story that ran in the April 3 issue of the Los Angeles Times.
"Nobody really cares what your gender is, you're really judged on your ability."--Karen Noyes, a graduate student in nuclear engineering, on her experiences as an MIT student, as reported in the Boston Globe on March 24.
"Part of the challenge is to hold on to the raft."--Composer and Media Lab Professor Tod Machover comparing his music to whitewater rafting in the April 1 Irish Times.
"The antitrust weapon is too blunt an instrument for dynamic, high-tech industries."--Richard Schmalensee, dean of the Sloan School, on the lesson to be learned from the Microsoft antitrust trial. He was quoted in the March 26 Lebanon Daily Star.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 10, 2002.