On a Fission and Fusion Mission

Most of MIT’s buildings are known not by name or by address, but by number. Building 10 is the iconic dome with the large grass courtyard stretching to the Charles river. Building 54 is the 295-foot tall, I.M. Pei-designed concrete block that looms over campus and from which pumpkins are dropped at Halloween. Building NW12 is the nuclear fission reactor.

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Starry Nights

A favorite daydream of mine is to imagine historical figures in the present day. I suspect the shock they’d experience would come in three forms. The most obvious would be the change in technology. Imagine the shock of a helicopter or the magic of air conditioning. Smart phones combine so many technologies that I’m not sure someone from even 200 years ago could comprehend them. Continue reading

Spring Flings

At the end of an earth science lecture last year, an undergraduate student leaned over and started asking me about my fellowship. She was curious how it was a middle-aged guy came to be in her science class. The more I told her, the more questions she had.

So you can take any classes you want?

Pretty much, I answered. So long as the professor approves. Of course, some courses aren’t appropriate — like labs where there is limited space.

And you don’t have to do any of the work?

I couldn’t tell if her question harbored jealousy or concern. Either way, that’s mostly right, I told her. Oh, I do the readings (usually), but not the problem sets or the papers or tests. Except in some rare cases.

And they pay you?

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So Much Time, So Little Time

It’s easy to forgot how unlike the “real” world the academic schedule is. It’s not just summer break, or the fact that campus is nearly empty on Fridays, or that every holiday is honored. There are the lenient hours, the extra breaks, and the flexible schedules. That’s not to say people don’t work hard. Just that the schedule is unlike what you find in the non-academic life. Another example: winter break. Continue reading

X-Rays, Social Justice and Garbage: Our Winter Seminars

The KSJ seminar series not only brings in a variety of interesting speakers, it also attracts attendees from around MIT and Harvard. We’ve been joined by MIT military fellows, graduate students, partners of Neiman fellows, and even a high school student attending an MIT science program, among others.

We love opening our seminars to others, who bring their own unique insights and perspectives. Of course, there would be no seminars without our speakers.

Here’s who we’ve visited since my last update on our seminars: Continue reading

Eleven Seminars and Counting

One of the benefits of the Knight Science Journalism fellowship at MIT is the twice-weekly seminar. Technically a requirement (in the sense that we are required to attend), the seminars are a fantastic opportunity to hear from and talk with experts in their fields. (Plus, we get food.) So far we’e had eleven seminars. Here’s a quick look at them.

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Overheard Around Town

Like many folks, I greatly enjoy people-watching, which, as it turns out, has it’s own Wikipedia entry. (Of course.) And part of people-watching is paying attention to the small snippets of conversation that flow through the air. It’s especially interesting to me how different the conversation in the Boston area is from D.C. For example…

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