Memorial Blood Centers testing blood types at HealthFair 11

- Posted in Uncategorized by

Do you know your blood type? Find out for free at HealthFair 11.

Source: Memorial Blood Centers testing blood types at HealthFair 11

Advancing social studies at MIT Sloan

- Posted in Uncategorized by

Around 2010, Facebook was a relatively small company with about 2,000 employees. So, when a PhD student named Dean Eckles showed up to serve an intership at the firm, he landed in a position with some real duties.

Eckles essentially became the primary data scientist for the product manager who was overseeing the platform’s news feeds. That manager would pepper Eckles with questions. How exactly do people influence each other online? If Facebook tweaked its content-ranking algorithms, what would happen? What occurs when you show people more photos?

As a doctoral candidate already studying social influence, Eckles was well-equipped to think about such questions, and being at Facebook gave him a lot of data to study them. 

“If you show people more photos, they post more photos themselves,” Eckles says. “In turn, that affects the experience of all their friends. Plus they’re getting more likes and more comments. It affects everybody’s experience. But can you account for all of these compounding effects across the network?”

Eckles, now an associate professor in the MIT Sloan School of Management and an affiliate faculty member of the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society, has made a career out of thinking carefully about that last question. Studying social networks allows Eckles to tackle significant questions involving, for example, the economic and political effects of social networks, the spread of misinformation, vaccine uptake during the Covid-19 crisis, and other aspects of the formation and shape of social networks. For instance, one study he co-authored this summer shows that people who either move between U.S. states, change high schools, or attend college out of state, wind up with more robust social networks, which are strongly associated with greater economic success.

Eckles maintains another research channel focused on what scholars call “causal inference,” the methods and techniques that allow researchers to identify cause-and-effect connections in the world.

“Learning about cause-and-effect relationships is core to so much science,” Eckles says. “In behavioral, social, economic, or biomedical science, it’s going to be hard. When you start thinking about humans, causality gets difficult. People do things strategically, and they’re electing into situations based on their own goals, so that complicates a lot of cause-and-effect relationships.”

Eckles has now published dozens of papers in each of his different areas of work; for his research and teaching, Eckles received tenure from MIT last year.

Five degrees and a job

Eckles grew up in California, mostly near the Lake Tahoe area. He attended Stanford University as an undergraduate, arriving on campus in fall 2002 — and didn’t really leave for about a decade. Eckles has five degrees from Stanford. As an undergrad, he received a BA in philosophy and a BS in symbolic systems, an interdisciplinary major combining computer science, philosophy, psychology, and more. Eckles was set to attend Oxford University for graduate work in philosophy but changed his mind and stayed at Stanford for an MS in symbolic systems too. 

“[Oxford] might have been a great experience, but I decided to focus more on the tech side of things,” he says.

After receiving his first master’s degree, Eckles did take a year off from school and worked for Nokia, although the firm’s offices were adjacent to the Stanford campus and Eckles would sometimes stop and talk to faculty during the workday. Soon he was enrolled at Stanford again, this time earning his PhD in communication, in 2012, while receiving an MA in statistics the year before. His doctoral dissertation wound up being about peer influence in networks. PhD in hand, Eckles promptly headed back to Facebook, this time for three years as a full-time researcher.

 “They were really supportive of the work I was doing,” Eckles says.

Still, Eckles remained interested in moving into academia, and joined the MIT faculty in 2015 with a position in MIT Sloan’s Marketing Group. The group consists of a set of scholars with far-ranging interests, from cognitive science to advertising to social network dynamics.

“Our group reflects something deeper about the Sloan school and about MIT as well, an openness to doing things differently and not having to fit into narrowly defined tracks,” Eckles says.

For that matter, MIT has many faculty in different domains who work on causal inference, and whose work Eckles quickly cites — including economists Victor Chernozhukov and Alberto Abadie, and Joshua Angrist, whose book “Mostly Harmless Econometrics” Eckles name-checks as an influence.

“I’ve been fortunate in my career that causal inference turned out to be a hot area,” Eckles says. “But I think it’s hot for good reasons. People started to realize that, yes, causal inference is really important. There are economists, computer scientists, statisticians, and epidemiologists who are going to the same conferences and citing each other’s papers. There’s a lot happening.”

How do networks form?

These days, Eckles is interested in expanding the questions he works on. In the past, he has often studied existing social networks and looked at their effects. For instance: One study Eckles co-authored, examining the 2012 U.S. elections, found that get-out-the-vote messages work very well, especially when relayed via friends.

That kind of study takes the existence of the network as a given, though. Another kind of research question is, as Eckles puts it, “How do social networks form and evolve? And what are the consequences of these network structures?” His recent study about social networks expanding as people move around and change schools is one example of research that digs into the core life experiences underlying social networks.

“I’m excited about doing more on how these networks arise and what factors, including everything from personality to public transit, affect their formation,” Eckles says.

Understanding more about how social networks form gets at key questions about social life and civic structure. Suppose research shows how some people develop and maintain beneficial connections in life; it’s possible that those insights could be applied to programs helping people in more disadvantaged situations realize some of the same opportunities.

“We want to act on things,” Eckles says. “Sometimes people say, ‘We care about prediction.’ I would say, ‘We care about prediction under intervention.’ We want to predict what’s going to happen if we try different things.”

Ultimately, Eckles reflects, “Trying to reason about the origins and maintenance of social networks, and the effects of networks, is interesting substantively and methodologically. Networks are super-high-dimensional objects, even just a single person’s network and all its connections. You have to summarize it, so for instance we talk about weak ties or strong ties, but do we have the correct description? There are fascinating questions that require development, and I’m eager to keep working on them.”  

Source: Advancing social studies at MIT Sloan

Dreaming of waves

- Posted in Uncategorized by

Ocean waves are easy on the eyes, but hard on the brain. How do they form? How far do they travel? How do they break? Those magnificent waves you see crashing into the shore are complex.

“I’ve often asked this question,” the eminent wave scientist Walter Munk told MIT Professor Stefan Helmreich several years ago. “If we met somebody from another planet who had never seen waves, could [they] dream about what it’s like when a wave becomes unstable in shallow water? About what it would do? I don’t think so. It’s a complicated problem.”

In recent decades scientists have gotten to know waves better. In the 1960s, they confirmed that waves travel across the world; a storm in the Tasman Sea can create great surf in California. In the 1990s, scientists obtained eye-opening measurements of massive “rogue” waves. Meanwhile experts continue tailoring a standard model of waves, developed in the 1980s, to local conditions, as data and theory keep influencing each other.  

“Waves are empirical and conceptual phenomena both,” writes Helmreich in his new work, “A Book of Waves,” published this month by Duke University Press. In it, Helmreich examines the development of wave science globally, the propagation of wave theory into other areas of life — such as the “waves” of the Covid-19 pandemic — and the way researchers develop both empirical knowledge and abstractions describing nature in systematic terms.

“Wave science is constantly going back and forth between registering data and interpreting that data,” says Helmreich, the Elting E. Morison Professor of Anthropology at MIT. “The aspiration of so much wave science has been to formalize and automate measurement so that everything becomes a matter of simple data registration. But you can never get away from the human interpretation of those results. Humans are the ones who care about what waves are doing.”

“You need the world”

Helmreich has long been interested in ocean science. His 2009 book “Alien Ocean” examined marine biologists and their study of microbes. In 2014, Helmreich presented material that wound up in “A Book of Waves” while delivering the Lewis Henry Morgan lectures at the University of Rochester, the nation’s oldest anthropology lecture series.

To research the book, Helmreich traveled far and wide, from the Netherlands to Australia, among other places, often embedding himself with researchers. That included a stint on board the FLIP ship, a unique, now-retired vessel operated by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, which could turn itself from a long horizontal vessel into a kind of giant live-aboard vertical buoy, for conducting wave measurements. The FLIP ship is one of many distinctive wave science tools; as the book draws out, this has been a diverse and even quirky field, methodologically, with wave scientists approaching their subject from all angles.

“Ocean and water waves look very different in different national contexts,” Helmreich says. “In the Netherlands, interest in waves is very much bound up with hydrogical engineers’ desires to keep the country dry. In the United States, ocean wave science was crucially formatted by World War II, and the Cold War, and military prerogatives.”

As it happens, the late Munk (1917-2019), who The New York Times once called “The Einstein of waves,” developed some of the insights and techniques that helped to forecast wave heights for the Allied invasion of Normandy in World War II. In spinning out his thought experiment about aliens to Helmreich, Munk was making the case for empiricism in wave science.

“Mathematical formalisms and representations are vital to understanding what waves are doing, but they’re not enough,” Helmreich says. “You need the world.”

Disney makes waves

But as Helmreich also emphasizes in his work, wave science depends on a delicate interplay between theory, modeling, and inventive empirical research. What might the Disney film “Fantasia” have to do with wave science? Well, movies used to rely on optical film recordings to play their soundtracks; “Fantasia’s” film soundtrack also had schematic renderings of sound levels. British wave scientists realized they could adapt this technique of depicting sound patterns to represent sets of waves.

For that matter, by the 1960s, scientists also began categorizing waves into a wave spectrum, sorted by the frequency with which they arrived at the shore. That idea comes directly from the concept of spectra of light, radio, and sound waves. In this sense, existing scientific concepts have periodically been deployed by wave researchers to make sense of what they already can see.

“The book asks questions about the relationship between reality and its representations,” Helmreich says. “Waves are obviously empirical things in the world. But understanding how they work requires abstractions, whether you are a scientist at sea, a surfer, or an engineer trying to figure out what will happen at a coastline. And those representations are influenced by the tools scientists use, whether cameras, pressure sensors, sonar, film, buoys, or computer models. What scientists think waves are is imprinted by the media they use to study waves.”

As Helmreich notes, the interdisciplinary nature of wave science has evolved. Physics shaped wave science for much of the 20th century. More recently, as scientists recognize that waves transmit things like agricultural runoff and the aerosolized signatures of coastal communities’ car exhaust, biological and chemical oceanographers have entered the field. And climate scientists and engineers are increasingly concerned with rising sea levels and seemingly bigger waves.

“Ocean waves used to belong to the physcists,” Helmreich says. “Today a lot of it is about climate change and sea level rise.”

The shape of things to come

But even as other fields have fed into ocean wave science, so too has wave science influenced other disciplines. From medicine to social science, the concept of the wave has been applied to social phenomena to help organize our understanding of matters such as disease transmission and public health.

“People use the figure of the wave to think about the shape of things to come,” Helmreich says. “Certainly we saw that during the Covid pandemic, that the wave was considered to be both descriptive, of what was happening, and predictive, about what would happen next.”

Scholars have praised “A Book of Waves.” Hugh Raffles, a professor and chair of anthropology at The New School, has called it “a model of expansive transdisciplinary practice,” as well as “a constant surprise, a mind-opening recalibration of the ways we assemble nature, science, ethnography, and the arts.”

Helmreich hopes readers will consider how extensively social, political, and civic needs have influenced wave studies. Back during World War II, Walter Munk developed a concept called “significant wave height” to help evaluate the viability of landing craft off Normandy.

“There’s an interesting, very contingent history to the metric of significant wave height,” Helmreich says. “But one can open up the concept of significance to ask: Significant for whom, and for what? Significance, in its wider cultural meaning is about human projects, whether to do with warfare, coastal protection, humanitarian rescue at sea, shipping, surfing, or recreation of other kinds. How waves become significant is an anthropological question. “A Book of Waves” seeks to map the many different ways that waves have become significant to people.”

Source: Dreaming of waves

Announcing the 9th Annual ED Games Expo

- Posted in Uncategorized by

The 9th Annual ED Games Expo will occur September 19-22, 2023 in-person at the Kennedy Center REACH and locations across Washington, DC, and through a livestreamed virtual event on September 21. The ED Games Expo is the annual public showcase of game-changing education technology (EdTech) innovations created through more than 50 programs at the Institute

Continue Reading

The post Announcing the 9th Annual ED Games Expo appeared first on Blog.

Source: Announcing the 9th Annual ED Games Expo

New clean air and water labs to bring together researchers, policymakers to find climate solutions

- Posted in Uncategorized by

MIT's Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) is launching the Clean Air and Water Labs, with support from Community Jameel, to generate evidence-based solutions aimed at increasing access to clean air and water.

Led by J-PAL’s Africa, Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and South Asia regional offices, the labs will partner with government agencies to bring together researchers and policymakers in areas where impactful clean air and water solutions are most urgently needed.

Together, the labs aim to improve clean air and water access by informing the scaling of evidence-based policies and decisions of city, state, and national governments that serve nearly 260 million people combined.

The Clean Air and Water Labs expand the work of J-PAL’s King Climate Action Initiative, building on the foundational support of King Philanthropies, which significantly expanded J-PAL’s work at the nexus of climate change and poverty alleviation worldwide. 

Air pollution, water scarcity and the need for evidence 

Africa, MENA, and South Asia are on the front lines of global air and water crises. 

“There is no time to waste investing in solutions that do not achieve their desired effects,” says Iqbal Dhaliwal, global executive director of J-PAL. “By co-generating rigorous real-world evidence with researchers, policymakers can have the information they need to dedicate resources to scaling up solutions that have been shown to be effective.”

In India, about 75 percent of households did not have drinking water on premises in 2018. In MENA, nearly 90 percent of children live in areas facing high or extreme water stress. Across Africa, almost 400 million people lack access to safe drinking water. 

Simultaneously, air pollution is one of the greatest threats to human health globally. In India, extraordinary levels of air pollution are shortening the average life expectancy by five years. In Africa, rising indoor and ambient air pollution contributed to 1.1 million premature deaths in 2019. 

There is increasing urgency to find high-impact and cost-effective solutions to the worsening threats to human health and resources caused by climate change. However, data and evidence on potential solutions are limited.

Fostering collaboration to generate policy-relevant evidence 

The Clean Air and Water Labs will foster deep collaboration between government stakeholders, J-PAL regional offices, and researchers in the J-PAL network. 

Through the labs, J-PAL will work with policymakers to:

  • co-diagnose the most pressing air and water challenges and opportunities for policy innovation;
  • expand policymakers’ access to and use of high-quality air and water data;
  • co-design potential solutions informed by existing evidence;
  • co-generate evidence on promising solutions through rigorous evaluation, leveraging existing and new data sources; and
  • support scaling of air and water policies and programs that are found to be effective through evaluation. 

A research and scaling fund for each lab will prioritize resources for co-generated pilot studies, randomized evaluations, and scaling projects. 

The labs will also collaborate with C40 Cities, a global network of mayors of the world’s leading cities that are united in action to confront the climate crisis, to share policy-relevant evidence and identify opportunities for potential new connections and research opportunities within India and across Africa.

This model aims to strengthen the use of evidence in decision-making to ensure solutions are highly effective and to guide research to answer policymakers' most urgent questions. J-PAL Africa, MENA, and South Asia’s strong on-the-ground presence will further bridge research and policy work by anchoring activities within local contexts. 

“Communities across the world continue to face challenges in accessing clean air and water, a threat to human safety that has only been exacerbated by the climate crisis, along with rising temperatures and other hazards,” says George Richards, director of Community Jameel. “Through our collaboration with J-PAL and C40 in creating climate policy labs embedded in city, state, and national governments in Africa and South Asia, we are committed to innovative and science-based approaches that can help hundreds of millions of people enjoy healthier lives.”

J-PAL Africa, MENA, and South Asia will formally launch Clean Air and Water Labs with government partners over the coming months. J-PAL is housed in the MIT Department of Economics, within the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.

Source: New clean air and water labs to bring together researchers, policymakers to find climate solutions

Samuel Wurzelbacher, Celebrated as ‘Joe the Plumber,’ Dies at 49

- Posted in Uncategorized by

For Republicans in 2008, he briefly became a symbol of Middle America when he questioned the presidential candidate Barack Obama in a televised encounter.

Source: Samuel Wurzelbacher, Celebrated as ‘Joe the Plumber,’ Dies at 49

Ms. Nuclear Energy is winning over nuclear skeptics

- Posted in Uncategorized by

First-year MIT nuclear science and engineering (NSE) doctoral student Kaylee Cunningham is not the first person to notice that nuclear energy has a public relations problem. But her commitment to dispel myths about the alternative power source has earned her the moniker “Ms. Nuclear Energy” on TikTok and a devoted fan base on the social media platform.

Cunningham’s activism kicked into place shortly after a week-long trip to Iceland to study geothermal energy. During a discussion about how the country was going to achieve its net zero energy goals, a representative from the University of Reykjavik balked at Cunnigham’s suggestion of including a nuclear option in the alternative energy mix. “The response I got was that we’re a peace-loving nation, we don’t do that,” Cunningham remembers. “I was appalled by the reaction, I mean we’re talking energy not weapons here, right?” she asks. Incredulous, Cunningham made a TikTok that targeted misinformation. Overnight she garnered 10,000 followers and “Ms. Nuclear Energy” was off to the races. Ms. Nuclear Energy is now Cunningham’s TikTok handle.

A theater and science nerd

TikTok is a fitting platform for a theater nerd like Cunningham. Born in Melrose, Massachusetts, Cunningham’s childhood was punctuated by moves to places where her roofer father’s work took the family. She moved to North Carolina shortly after fifth grade and fell in love with theater. “I was doing theater classes, the spring musical, it was my entire world,” Cunningham remembers. When she moved again, this time to Florida halfway through her first year of high school, she found the spring musical had already been cast. But she could help behind the scenes. Through that work, Cunningham gained her first real exposure to hands-on tech. She was hooked.

Soon Cunningham was part of a team that represented her high school at the student Astronaut Challenge, an aerospace competition run by Florida State University. Statewide winners got to fly a space shuttle simulator at the Kennedy Space Center and participate in additional engineering challenges. Cunningham’s team was involved in creating a proposal to help NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission, designed to help the agency gather a large boulder from a near-earth asteroid. The task was Cunningham’s induction into an understanding of radiation and “anything nuclear.” Her high school engineering teacher, Nirmala Arunachalam, encouraged Cunningham’s interest in the subject.

The Astronaut Challenge might just have been the end of Cunningham’s path in nuclear engineering had it not been for her mother. In high school, Cunningham had also enrolled in computer science classes and her love of the subject earned her a scholarship at Norwich University in Vermont where she had pursued a camp in cybersecurity. Cunningham had already laid down the college deposit for Norwich.

But Cunningham’s mother persuaded her daughter to pay another visit to the University of Florida, where she had expressed interest in pursuing nuclear engineering. To her pleasant surprise, the department chair, Professor James Baciak, pulled out all the stops, bringing mother and daughter on a tour of the on-campus nuclear reactor and promising Cunningham a paid research position. Cunningham was sold and Backiak has been a mentor throughout her research career.

Merging nuclear engineering and computer science

Undergraduate research internships, including one at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where she could combine her two loves, nuclear engineering and computer science, convinced Cunningham she wanted to pursue a similar path in graduate school.

Cunningham’s undergraduate application to MIT had been rejected but that didn’t deter her from applying to NSE for graduate school. Having spent her early years in an elementary school barely 20 minutes from campus, she had grown up hearing that “the smartest people in the world go to MIT.” Cunningham figured that if she got into MIT, it would be “like going back home to Massachusetts” and that she could fit right in.

Under the advisement of Professor Michael Short, Cunningham is looking to pursue her passions in both computer science and nuclear engineering in her doctoral studies.

The activism continues

Simultaneously, Cunningham is determined to keep her activism going.

Her ability to digest “complex topics into something understandable to people who have no connection to academia” has helped Cunningham on TikTok. “It’s been something I’ve been doing all my life with my parents and siblings and extended family,” she says.

Punctuating her video snippets with humor — a Simpsons reference is par for the course — helps Cunningham break through to her audience who love her goofy and tongue-in-cheek approach to the subject matter without compromising accuracy. “Sometimes I do stupid dances and make a total fool of myself, but I’ve really found my niche by being willing to engage and entertain people and educate them at the same time.”

Such education needs to be an important part of an industry that’s received its share of misunderstandings, Cunningham says. “Technical people trying to communicate in a way that the general people don’t understand is such a concerning thing,” she adds. Case in point: the response in the wake of the Three Mile Island accident, which prevented massive contamination leaks. It was a perfect example of how well our safety regulations actually work, Cunningham says, “but you’d never guess from the PR fallout from it all.”

As Ms. Nuclear Energy, Cunningham receives her share of skepticism. One viewer questioned the safety of nuclear reactors if “tons of pollution” was spewing out from them. Cunningham produced a TikTok that addressed this misconception. Pointing to the “pollution” in a photo, Cunningham clarifies that it’s just water vapor. The TikTok has garnered over a million views. “It really goes to show how starving for accurate information the public really is,” Cunningham says, “ in this age of having all the information we could ever want at our fingertips, it’s hard to sift through and decide what’s real and accurate and what isn’t.”

Another reason for her advocacy: doing her part to encourage young people toward a nuclear science or engineering career. “If we’re going to start putting up tons of small modular reactors around the country, we need people to build them, people to run them, and we need regulatory bodies to inspect and keep them safe,” Cunningham points out. “ And we don’t have enough people entering the workforce in comparison to those that are retiring from the workforce,” she adds. “I’m able to engage those younger audiences and put nuclear engineering on their radar,” Cunningham says. The advocacy has been paying off: Cunningham regularly receives — and responds to — inquiries from high school junior girls looking for advice on pursuing nuclear engineering.

All the activism is in service toward a clear end goal. “At the end of the day, the fight is to save the planet,” Cunningham says, “I honestly believe that nuclear power is the best chance we’ve got to fight climate change and keep our planet alive.”

Source: Ms. Nuclear Energy is winning over nuclear skeptics

The Trump Mug Shot’s Art-Historical Lineage

- Posted in Uncategorized by

Assessing the forty-fifth President’s Georgia photo op in the context of Da Vinci, Warhol, and a rogues’ gallery of accused criminals.

Source: The Trump Mug Shot’s Art-Historical Lineage

The Hidden Risk of Getting Paid in Stock Options

- Posted in Uncategorized by

A new study found that workers often don’t understand equity compensation, exposing them to exploitation.

Source: The Hidden Risk of Getting Paid in Stock Options

Republicans Ease Off ‘Woke’ Rhetoric on Education Issues

- Posted in Uncategorized by

Ron DeSantis rose to prominence in part on his “anti-woke” agenda, especially when it comes to education. In some settings, culture-war messaging seems to be receding.

Source: Republicans Ease Off ‘Woke’ Rhetoric on Education Issues

Page 2 of 13