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Susumu Tonegawa is a Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist, but his greatest achievement may be his ability to help the Red Sox win baseball games through the influence of brain waves.
Tonegawa, the Whitehead Professor of Biology and Neuroscience and director of the Picower Center for Learning and Memory, was the second MIT faculty member to throw the ceremonial first pitch at a Red Sox game this season. His moment on the Fenway Park mound came on May 7 as part of an ongoing tribute by the team to the Boston area's scientific and medical communities. Professor Ron Rivest did the honors on April 16 (see MIT Tech Talk, May 5).
Tonegawa admits to being "a pretty avid Red Sox fan. In fact when people ask me whether I am a baseball fan, I tell them 'No, I am not a baseball fan, I am a Red Sox fan!'--the implication being I don't care so much what happens in baseball other than in relation to the Red Sox."
His affection for the Red Sox began in the late 1970s when he was doing research at Harvard, and he roots for the team while watching televised games at home. "I am rather serious when I say to my wife, Mayumi, 'The Red Sox won today because I sent energizing waves to them in front of the TV set,'" he said (not very seriously) last week.
Tonegawa practiced pitching on MIT's baseball field. "However, when I actually stood at the Fenway mound, my immediate reaction was, 'Wow, it's pretty far [to home plate]! Is [the distance] really right?"
About 25 people from Tonegawa's lab as well as his wife and two children were in the stands near the field for his first pitch. The lab group showed support by holding up signs with letters that spelled out "SUSUMU." He in turn displayed his support of them with his jersey--a modified Red Sox uniform shirt with the words "Picower Center at MIT" stitched on the back.
"I thoroughly enjoyed this once in a lifetime occasion," Tonegawa said. "But the greatest thing that happened that evening was that the Red Sox came from behind and [won] in the bottom of the ninth inning. Do you know why this was possible? Because I sent my secret waves from the top of the grandstand!"