News Archive 2009

School news from 2009.

Alan Brody play, Small Infinities, opens in Bangalore, India

Small Infinities, Brody's play about the life and work of Isaac Newton, opens at the Bangalore Little Theatre, Bangalore, India, on January 7, 2010.


The Reluctant Traveler | A Travel Blog by Jay Keyser

"I have been to over 40 countries (Africa seven times) and have always come back a nervous wreck. The blog is drawn from journals that I write while traveling. These journals are to me what Prozac is to others."

junot diaz


New York Magazine: Díaz's novel is a defining work of the decade

"If there is a signature novel of the aughts—one book that most artfully co-opted our newfangled webbiness, that allowed itself to feel simultaneously major and small, that anchored its post-postmodern gimmickry in solid fictional ground—it was Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007).... The really stunning thing about Oscar Wao, in true aughts fashion, is its style."

Noam Chomsky honored in Musical Tribute series

The linguist, philosopher and MIT professor Noam Chomsky, who inspired the creation of several compositions by Edward Manukyan, was the spotlight of an MIT concert held on January 22, 2010, at Kresge Auditorium. 


In Memoriam | Paul Anthony Samuelson

Nobel laureate and transformative economist
May 15, 1915 – December 13, 2009


How can we help the world's poor?
New York Times on J-PAL's major contribution 

Discussing the intense, contemporary debate about "how best to help poor people around the world," Nicolas Kristoff writes: "...recently there has been a revolution in evaluation, led by economists at the Poverty Action Lab at MIT."

Balliol College stained glass

MIT-Balliol College Faculty Exchange | Proposals due Jan 22

This reciprocal program with Balliol College in Oxford covers air travel, and housing and meal expenses for an MIT faculty member (and spouse). The length of a visit at Balliol can range from one to four months, and can usually be tailored to individual needs, in order to coincide with a sabbatical or other leave. The Oxford academic year runs generally from October 1 to mid-June, but summer visits are also possible. • 

World premiere of Donal Fox concerto "Peace Out" at Carnegie Hall 

Visiting MLK Scholar Donal Fox performed the world premiere of his concerto Peace Out for Improvised Piano and Orchestra at Carnegia Hall on Monday, November 20, 2009.  The concerto and performance received a wonderful review from music critic Anthony Tommasini at the New York Times. 

clock of Prague City Hall

Musical Time | Winter Festival Concert and Forum Series
The Boston Chamber Music Society in Residency at MIT

The Boston Chamber Music Society and MIT's Music and Theater Arts Faculty jointly present the Winter Festival Concert and Forum Series on three successive Saturdays on January 9, 16, and 23, 2010. This series presents a free public forum from 4-5:30pm each Saturday, followed by an 8pm concert, which is free to students from kindergarten through graduate school with a current ID. 


Three MIT students—including two Burchard Scholars—win Rhodes Scholarships

Three MIT students—Ugwechi Amadi, Caroline Huang and Steven Mo—have won Rhodes Scholarships to study next year at Oxford University. The School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences is very proud of these students, who have engaged deeply with the School's disciplines. Warm congratulations! 


School offers courses for Studies in Energy Minor

MIT's energy minor provides a multidisciplinary approach to understanding the policy, economics, science and technology of energy. All MIT undergraduate students now have a new academic option available: a minor in energy, which can be combined with any major subject. The minor is inherently cross-disciplinary, encompassing all of MITs five schools. SHASS-based courses include: Environmental Policy and Economics; Energy Economics and Policy; and Energy, Environment, and Society.  

cover image for Angles magazine

Angles 2009 Published

Announcing the second edition of an online magazine of exemplary writing from introductory writing classes at MIT


Washington Post interviews Gruber on health costs

"Jon Gruber is a health economist at MIT. But that understates his influence in the field...He's unabashedly pro-reform, but he's from the camp of reformers that worry incessantly about the economics of the plan. So I asked him: Are the economics of the plan sound?" 

zakim bridge

Stewart Analyzes 2009 Boston Mayoral Race

The Boston Globe writes that "Stewart finds that the demographics of Boston have changed the nature of the political campaign, with pivotal voters now minority residents and younger whites, "less attached to Boston and more committed to specific issues."     

MIT Focus on Educating Leaders

A recent story in The Boston Globe reports on the increasing focus at MIT on giving students opportunities to develop leadership skills. The School has a strong role in leadership education at MIT: teaching communication skills, critical thinking, fluency in historical and cultural perspectives, and languages. As The Boston Globe writes, this work is crucial to the mission of the Institute:  "By training more engineering leaders, MIT will help the industry develop competitive products and, in turn, enable the United States to regain its technical edge."  

Ian Condry named Associate Director of CMS 

CMS Director William Uricchio recently introduced Ian Condry, cultural anthropologist with a focus on contemporary Japan, as the new Associate Director of the Comparative Media Studies program. Uricchio said, "Ian's work across a variety of media platforms (music and club scenes, anime, social networks and literature) and between cultures (particularly the US and Japan) fits CMS perfectly. Particularly in this time of transition for CMS, Ian's presence is vitally important."

sara brown

Washington Post admires Sara Brown's design for "Island"

"[W]ithin the past month, three fascinating world premieres have tackled historical moments, using movement as political as well as poetic expression....last week Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Co. depicted the hard lot of Chinese immigrants in the early 'Island.' Sarah Brown, MIT's director of theater design, created the visual display...Here was an artistic statement that hit you in the gut." 

Gruber provides White House economic analysis for health reform

"The [administration's] analysis comes from MIT health economist Jon of the most-respected health economists in the country. You can download his analysis, which is based on Congressional Budget Office data, here.  — from The Washington Post, 12 October 2009.

marcus thompson

Thompson named Artistic Director of Boston Chamber Music Society

Marcus Thompson, acclaimed violinist and viola d'amour player, and Robert R. Taylor Professor of Music in the School's Music and Theater section, is beginning his first season as Artistic Director for the Boston Chamber Music Society. A founding member of the BCMS, Thompson has also catalyzed winter festival concerts on three successive Saturdays in January at MIT.


Why do some charter schools do so well?

MIT economists researching why some Boston charter schools have been able to produce stunning results. What they discover could serve as a lesson for America’s struggling public schools.



Mens et Manus et Mundus:
MIT Global Council plan for international education


A September 2009 report from the MIT Global Council outlines an historic opportunity to deepen international learning at the Institute, and to make international education a core component of an MIT education. 

Emme Prize to Mindell for Digital Apollo 

David Mindell has won the 2008 Eugene E. Emme Award for Astronautical Literature, granted by the American Astronautical Society, for his book Digital Apollo: Human and Machine in Spaceflight (MIT Press, 2008). The award is given annually to a work that contributes to the public understanding of astronautics. Full story

Caballero Proposes Plan for Reducing Financial Fear 

Just one year ago [in 2008] a worldwide panic was unfolding. How can we stave off fear-enhanced episodes in the future? Ricardo Caballero, Ford International Professor of Economics, offers a distinctive solution: Government-issued investment insurance for banks.   

Esther Duflo


Esther Duflo receives MacArthur "genius" grant

Duflo, whose research has helped change the way governments and aid organizations address global poverty, has received a 2009 MacArthur Fellowship Grant. Duflo is the Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics, and director of the Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). More


American premiere of Evan Ziporyn opera, A House in Bali 

A House in Bali is a new opera by Evan Ziporyn with libretto by Paul Schick based on a memoir by Colin McPhee. This stunning, multi-media spectacle brings together ensembles of east and west, and features some of the finest operatic and Balinese voices of our time. The opera premiered in June 2009 at Puri Saraswati in Ubud. The American premiere will be presented by Cal Performances in Berkeley, California, September 26-27, 2009.    

blue neurons

Philosophers Annual "ten best" for von Fintel and Rayo    

Two articles by MIT authors have been listed by The Philosopher’s Annual as among the ten best philosophy articles of 2008: "CIA Leaks," authored by Kai von Fintel, Professor of Linguistics and Associate Dean of the School, and Anthony S. Gillies (Rutgers); and "Vague Representation," authored by Agustin Rayo, Associate Professor, Department of Linguistics and Philosophy. 

Elena Ruehr


Fanfare Reviews Elena Ruehr's New Album

"Back in summer of 2007 I recommended Elena Ruehr’s opera, "Troussant and the Spirits," released on Arsis (Fanfare 30:5). I ended the review with a plea to hear more of Ruehr’s music. My wish has been granted." 

Martin Marks

American Music reviews music in "Treasures III,"
curated by Martin Marks

Senior Lecturer in the Music section, and pioneer scholar and performer of silent-film accompaniment, Marks curated the music for "Treasures III: Social Issues in American Film, 1900-1934," four-DVD box set presenting a cross-section of early twentieth-century social-issue films. 

Fotini Christia

Fotini Christia on the Meaning of Afghani Election Campaign Attire 

From The New York Times: "In ethnically divided Afghanistan, what a candidate wears sends as powerful a message as what he says. Fotini Christia, Assistant Professor of Political Science, and Thalia Chantziara, an artist in New York City, present a slideshow...of the three top candidates (President Hamid Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani) who have all used dress in their election strategy — be it for ethnic unity or exclusion." 

Professor Melissa Nobles

U.S. Congress Encounters the "Politics of Apology" 

Congressional lawmakers ran into barriers recently, while attempting to pass a resolution calling on the U.S. to apologize for historic injustices to African-Americans. The Ledger-Enquirer's story about the proposed resolution includes perspective from Melissa Nobles, MIT political science professor and author of The Politics of Official Apologies.

Chomsky on American Identity

Frankie Martin, Ibn Khaldun chair research fellow at the American University in Washington DC, reflects on a conversation with Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor of Linguistics....It was last October, and I was sitting face to face with Noam Chomsky at MIT.  Chomsky was answering a question posed by Akbar Ahmed, American University's chair of Islamic studies: "What is American identity?"

Evan Ziporyn

Evan Ziporyn's New Opera Premieres in Bali   

The MIT News Office recently interviewed Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Music, Evan Ziporyn about his new opera "A House in Bali." Based on a 1930s memoir of the same title, "A House in Bali" traces the roots of the West's century-long infatuation with Bali, through the true story of three Westerners—composer Colin McPhee, anthropologist Margaret Mead, and artist Walter Spies—during their 1930s sojourn in Bali. Ziporyn composed the music, which premieres June 26-27 in the Puri Saraswati, a part of the palace complex in the village of Ubud, Bali. 

violin on score


Objects and Identity: Sherry Turkle's Research

"In 1976, when Sherry Turkle arrived at MIT to teach the sociology of science, she quickly noticed how the still-new computer was becoming part of the fabric and language of daily life. When she probed deeper, she found 'there was a real passionate attachment to the computer, a possibility to project yourself into the machine.' Within that, Turkle, a psychologist as well as a professor, saw bigger questions about how that might change our very sense of self-identity."

Jonathan Gruber on Obama's Health Plan Guarantee  

WASHINGTON - June 19, 2009 - Associated Press   "MIT's Jonathan Gruber, a leading health economist, said Obama's promise shouldn't be taken as a sign that Americans will be able to keep indefinitely the same coverage they have now. 'With or without reform, that won't be true,' said Gruber. 'His point is that the government is not going to force you to give up what you have, but that's not to say other circumstances won't make that happen.' Gruber predicts only a small share of employers will drop coverage, and they will use the money they would have spent on premiums to give raises to their workers."

Sir Isaac Newton


Newton and the Counterfeiter
Boston Globe on Levenson's new book

"MIT professor Thomas Levenson has written a page-turner about Isaac Newton's mind at work, Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World's Greatest Scientist (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). In a little known episode, Newton was tapped to manage England's Royal Mint at a time when the preponderance of fake money in circulation caused a financial crisis.   

Foreign Languages and Literatures Awards

Awards have been announced to students for several FL&L prizes:  the Awards for Excellence in foreign language and cultural understanding; the Lufthansa Prize, for Excellence in German Studies; the Summer Study Scholarship in Mexico, for Excellence in Spanish Studies; and the January Scholars in France, for Excellence in French studies. For a list of all recipients visit MIT News. 

Susan Silbey Receives Harry J. Kalven Jr. Prize

Professor Susan Silbey has received the 2009 Harry J. Kalven Jr. Prize from the Law and Society Association. The award is given in recognition of a body of scholarly work, and goes to individuals who have demonstrated empirical scholarship that has contributed most effectively to the advancement of research in law and society.    

Paxson Receives Belasco Prize

Heather Paxson, Associate Professor of Anthropology, has received the Belasco Prize for Scholarly Excellence from the Association for the Study of Food and Society.  The prize recognizes an article published in the last two years, that exhibits superior research, a unique perspective and methodological approach, and novel insights for the study of food.

Charles Stewart, Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Political Science, receives Arthur C. Smith Award

Part of the MIT Awards Convocation, the Arthur C. Smith Award is given annually to recognize a faculty member for exceptional dedication and heartfelt contributions to undergraduate student life and learning at MIT.

HASTS graduate student, Nick Buchanan, receives Siegel Prize.

The Benjamin Siegel Prize annually awards $2500 to an MIT undergraduate or graduate student who excels in the history and philosophy of science and technology, in social and cultural studies of science and technology, or in science and technology policy.

Meg Jacobs

Panic at the Pump: Jacobs Examines Energy Policy   

In a forthcoming book, Panic at the Pump, Meg Jacobs argues that America’s rightward drift has been slowed by a durable thread in the fabric of American politics not yet fully appreciated: “the reality of conservative rule in an era of New Deal ideas."

What keeps people glued to gambling machines?  

Natasha Schull, Assistant Professor in the School's Science, Technology, and  Society Program, began observing people in Las Vegas in the 1990s, noticing that they were transfixed for hours at video poker and slot machines. What, she wondered, kept them glued to machines until they lost all they had to lose. After more than a decade of research that included lengthy observations and interviews focused on gambling machines, Schull is publishing her conclusions on how closely guarded, proprietary mathematical algorithms and immersive, interactive technology are used to keep people gambling until they—in the industry jargon—"play to extinction."


Natasha Schull examines technology and gambling addiction

Natasha Schull, Assistant Professor in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society, observed that gamblers become transfixed for hours at video poker and slot machines. What, she wondered, kept them glued to machines until they lost all they had to lose? Schull is publishing her conclusions that proprietary mathematical algorithms and immersive technology are used to keep people gambling until they—in the industry jargon—"play to extinction."

Anne McCants

Anne McCants Receives the Kennan Award

Anne McCants, MacVicar Faculty Fellow, Professor of History and Section Head, has received the Elizabeth Topham Kennan Award, given only periodically, by Mount Holyoke College, to an outstanding alumna educator. McCants received the honor on the occasion of her 25th reunion at Mount Holyoke.

First Annual Levitan Awards for Excellence in Teaching Announced

The first annual James A. and Ruth Levitan Award to honor extraordinary teaching has been presented to these members of the School community: Faculty members Chris Capozzola (History), Sally Haslanger (Linguistics and Philosophy) and Stefan Helmreich (Anthropology); Lecturers Laura Harrington (Music and Theater Arts), Martin Marks (Music and Theater Arts), and Douglas Morgenstern (Foreign Languages and Literatures); and Teaching Assistant, Brandon Lehr (Economics).  

animation of city

MIT Professors Bring Anime 'Madness' to life

"Live Action Anime 2009: Madness at Mokuba" takes the Japanese animated form to the stage. A collaboration between professors Ian Condry and Thomas DeFrantz, the performance by MIT Dance Theater Ensemble members was at the Hynes Convention Center in May, then traveled to Tokyo for two shows.  Cool Japan program

Indian man carrying basket of grain

MIT Alumnus Gives Increased Support to J-PAL

Alumnus Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel has committed a substantial gift to support the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) in its mission to reduce poverty worldwide by ensuring that policy is based on scientific evidence. 

Five at the School receive Fulbright Scholarships

5 of the 12 MIT students recently awarded Fulbright Scholarships are doctoral students in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.

MISTI Seeks Seed Grant Proposals 

MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) has launched a call for proposals for its second round of Global Seed Funds grants.  For more details and to apply, please visit

Five Students Receive MISTI Sun Fellowship Awards for 2009 

Five MIT students have received a 2009 Anthony Sun Fellowship Award to pursue international internships this summer through the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI).

Dean Deborah Fitzgerald gives Tech Talk interview on the role of the School, international education, and more

Tech Talk has brought readers a series of interviews with each of MIT's five school deans. The third in this series features Dean Deborah Fitzgerald, dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. In the following interview with Sarah H. Wright of the MIT News Office, Fitzgerald discusses the School's impact on the international-education aspect of MIT and the school's future.

Kai von Fintel, Professor of Linguistics, is named Associate Dean of SHASS.

Making the announcement, Dean Fitzgerald cites his intellectual acuity, institutional experience, and personal warmth.

Junot Díaz, Associate Professor of Writing and Humanistic Studies, receives the Pulitzer Prize, and the National Book Critics Circle 2007 Award.

MIT professor Junot Díaz' critically acclaimed debut novel, "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," enjoyed another wondrous round of literary praise today, winning the Pulitzer Prize for fiction just one month after receiving the National Book Critics Circle Award for best novel of 2007.

New York Times cites SHASS-based Jameel Poverty Action Lab for making economics relevant again.

It was only a decade ago that economics seemed to be an old and tired discipline. The field no longer had intellectual giants like John Maynard Keynes or Milton Friedman who were shaping public policy by the sheer force of their ideas. Instead, it was devolving into a technical discipline that was even less comprehensible than it was relevant.

Esther Duflo elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Esther Duflo, Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics, is one of eight members of the MIT community recently elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Established in 1780 by founders of the nation, the academy undertakes studies of complex and emerging problems. 

Wall Street Journal Editorial on Merton's Muh Lecture

L. Gordon Crovitz writes, "In his lecture, Mr. Merton said this crisis was not a failure like the space shuttle Challenger disaster that could be blamed on the single factor of a faulty O-ring. Instead, many factors we're just beginning to understand, sparked by the housing bubble, led to the collapse."  20 April 2009  


Video Feature on the Economic Crisis:
The School's economists see some bright spots

Six months after a panel of faculty economic and business experts forecast that the financial crisis could get far worse, the same group re-convened, and has identified a few bright spots on the economic horizon. 

Robert C. Merton

2009 Muh Award to Economist Robert Merton 

Robert C. Merton, a Nobel laureate economist whose work revolutionized financial markets and helped launch the growth of the risk-management industry, has received the 2009 Robert A. Muh Alumni Award presented by the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.


MIT's philosophers release eight books this year

It's unusual for philosophers to publish many books these days — major papers are the more typical way to publish research — which is why the publication of eight books by eight of the 12 MIT philosophy faculty in the span of a year marks a noteworthy chapter for the Institute's philosophy section.

Guido Lorenzoni named a Sloan Research Fellow

Six junior MIT faculty, including Guido Lorenzoni of the Department of Economics, have won 2009 Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellows, intended to enhance the careers of the very best young faculty members in specified fields of science.

2009 Burchard Scholars Selected

Twenty-six undergraduates have been named 2009 Burchard Scholars. The Burchard Scholars Program brings together distinguished members of the faculty and promising sophomores and juniors who have demonstrated excellence in some aspect of the humanities, arts, and social sciences, as well as in science and engineering.

John Harbison

Institute Professor John Harbison Celebrated on his 70th Birthday

This spring, the Music and Theater Arts Section at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology celebrated and honored one of the most prestigious members of its faculty—composer John Harbison—with a concert and other tributes to mark his 70th birthday. The celebration of composers' significant anniversaries is a tradition in the music world, and often includes events surrounding a major concert of the composer's works.

Alien Ocean bookcover


"Alien Ocean" explores the world of marine microbiologists

When Professor of Anthropology Stefan Helmreich set out to examine the world of marine microbiologists for a new book, his research took an unexpected twist. Helmreich, who has been recognized for his innovative cultural anthropology work, had decided to study scientists who chase some of the world's smallest creatures in some of the world's most forbidding places. So he spent long hours interviewing microbial biologists. But during the years of Helmreich's research, the entire field shifted gears.


Berger receives French Legion of Honor medal

MIT political science professor Suzanne Berger was presented with a French Legion of Honor medal Monday in recognition of both her research and her efforts to strengthen ties between MIT and French researchers.

Stewart and Ansolabehere on the Election of President Obama

Some political observers have declared that the election of the first black president signals a new era of post-racial politics in the United States—but the data show otherwise, two MIT researchers say."

J-PAL receives the Frontiers of Knowledge award

MIT's Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, which uses scientific methods to assess the effectiveness of poverty relief and development programs, has been given a major new international award in recognition of its contributions and innovations.

Three from the School Among World's Top Young Economists

Three of the School's economists—Esther Duflo, Amy Finkelstein and Iván Werning—have been singled out by The Economist magazine as among the world's eight best young economists, who are "making a big splash in their discipline and beyond." The magazine compiled the list of the top eight, who all received their PhDs in the past 10 years, by soliciting recommendations from leading economists.