Scanning to Stun

Photo of a raw chicken egg on a black background.

Raw egg on a flatbed scanner. (Courtesy of Felice Frankel.)

Flatbed scanners are wonderfully handy things. They allow you to make digitized copies of print documents in seconds. They give old photos a new life as image files. They make sharing these things quick and easy.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could use scanners to make images of 3-D objects as well?

In fact, you can!

Thanks to Felice Frankel and her new OCW video series Making Science and Engineering Pictures, you can learn how to create images of objects that convey a real sense of three dimensions and are stunning in their extraordinary detail.

Felice Frankel is a science photographer and research scientist who works at MIT’s Center for Materials Science and Engineering  and departments of Chemical Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering. You’ve probably seen her photographs already in National Geographic, Nature, Science, Scientific American, and other journals and magazines, and perhaps in the books she has published.

Felice wants everyone to share in her understanding of how to use a high-resolution flatbed scanner to make finely detailed images—so finely detailed they rival the photographs she takes with an expensive camera.

In a series of four demonstration videos, followed by two how-to videos, Felice shows the tricks of this not-so-well-known trade.  A flatbed scanner has a single unadjustable light source that moves across the scanning plane in a single direction, so there’s no fussing with lighting to vary effects. The image-maker must use other methods to create engaging images.

What methods? Varying the position of the object, applying different backgrounds, directing the light from below or from above, even leaving the scanner cover open—all these things can produce very different artistic effects.

Using these methods, Felice shows how she has created high-resolution images of petri dishes, solar cells, microfluidic displays, watch gears, an agate, even a raw egg—images that can then be zoomed in on to show details at the level of 30 to 50 microns.

The videos in this OCW series are part of a more extensive online course in image-making that Felice plans to produce for MITx in 2015.

But why not get a head start now with this OCW resource!

— Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Dava Newman nominated for NASA post (MIT News)

A woman wearing a form-fitting space suit.

Prof. Newman is known for her research on form-fitting spacesuits that allow for greater mobility than traditional suits. Photograph by Douglas Sonders.

David L. Chandler | MIT News Office
October 17, 2014

The White House has announced the nomination of MIT’s Dava Newman, professor of aeronautics and astronautics and of engineering systems, as NASA’s deputy administrator, the space agency’s No. 2 leadership position. Newman’s appointment will require approval by the U.S. Senate.

Newman’s research has included the development of a radical new spacesuit design that is tighter-fitting and would afford much greater mobility and lighter weight than today’s bulky pressure suits. She has focused on quantifying astronaut performance in space, including computer modeling of the dynamics of human motion in microgravity conditions. Newman has also developed exercise countermeasures, serving as principal investigator for three spaceflight experiments, and specializes in understanding partial-gravity locomotion for future planetary exploration. Her development of patented, wearable compression suits has also led her into research on assistive technologies for people with locomotion impairment.

“It’s very exciting, and an enormous honor,” Newman says of her nomination as NASA’s deputy administrator. “Aerospace engineering, of course, is my passion. Maybe I’ve been training for this my whole life!” Read more on MIT News.

You can learn more about Prof. Newman’s research and teaching in her three courses on OCW:

Magilla Gorilla as philosophical inspiration

A cartoon gorilla.

Magilla Gorilla (c) Hanna-Barbera

The spark that ignites one’s lifelong pursuit…you never know where it will come from.

MIT philosophy professor Stephen Yablo has a rather unusual story, as told in his recent interview with 3AM Magazine.

3:AM: What made you become a philosopher?

Stephen Yablo: Hmmmm. I guess it was Hebrew school. The teacher said that we must never judge God, since we don’t know a thing about him. I was in love at the time with Magilla Gorilla, a cartoon character. He struck me as a higher sort of being. This sounded nutty, I realized, and I kept it to myself. Then on hearing that nothing was known about God, I inferred that in particular it wasn’t known that he was not my loveable ape. I was told on raising this question in class that one thing was known after all; God was not Magilla. This confused me enough to start me down the road to philosophy. Read more >

[As reported in Said and Done, the monthly newsletter of MIT's School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.]

You can sample Prof. Yablo’s teaching in these OCW courses.


Celebrating 100 years of MIT AeroAstro

A woman and two men examine and take measurements of a model jet inside a wind tunnel.

MIT AeroAstro Professor Mark Drela and two students prepare to test a super-efficient commercial airliner design in MIT’s Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel. ((Photo by William Litant/MIT)

This fall marks the 100th anniversary of MIT’s first course in aeronautics.

MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics is celebrating with a three-day AeroAstro Centential Symposium, October 22-24, 2014.

You can explore some of the program’s key milestones over the past century with their AeroAstro historical timeline. And you can learn about AeroAstro topics, and the department’s renowned curriculum and teaching, with the many AeroAstro courses published in OCW.

Learn from Nobel Laureates!

The winners of the 2014 Nobel Prize have been trickling from Sweden this week, so now seems like a great opportunity to highlight courses on OCW taught by MIT’s own Laureates.

A man standing, holding a large piece of paper with diagrams drawn in crayon.

Frank Wilczek, Herman Feshbach Professor of Physics. Wilczek shared the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics for “the discovery of asymptotic freedom in the theory of the strong interaction.” Photograph by Volker Steger. All rights reserved.

Professor Wolfgang Ketterle, 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics, taught Atomic and Optical Physics II (with video lectures!).

Professor Philip Sharp, 1993 Nobel Prize in Medicine/Physiology, co-taught Cell Biology: Structure and Functions of the Nucleus.

Professor Frank Wilczek, 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics, has taught both Particle Physics of the Early Universe and Relativistic Quantum Field Theory III.

And a little bonus: Professor Susan Solomon, 2007 Peace Prize winner for her work as co-chair of the IPCC, was a guest lecturer in Modeling and Assessment for Policy (see Lecture 7).

Get your MOOC prerequisites here

Screenshot of a MOOC website prerequisite statement: "Classical mechanics and chemistry at the 1st year university level; differential equations."The MOOC you’re taking suggests some college-level prerequisites? Have no fear.

Maybe you took the required math and science courses in college, but that was longer ago than you’d care to admit…and the details have gotten hazy. And maybe some parts didn’t fully sink in the first time around.

You just need a trustworthy resource for review, whether it’s a quick reminder on a few points, or a complete run-through.

You need this content right now, on demand, and built for self-paced learning.

You need MIT OpenCourseWare.

We’ve got videos, course notes, problems with solutions…everything you need to shake out those cobwebs, jog your memory, fill in the gaps. And if your MOOC inspires you to keep learning, look to OCW for more free learning materials, always available, on thousands of topics.

For upcoming and current MITx courses running in edX, OCW curates a list of related OCW content. But no matter who’s behind your MOOC, OCW can support you on your learning journey.

Here’s a selection of OCW resources most likely to help with MOOC prerequisites.





Computer Programming

Seeking a subject not on this list?  Browse by topic and subtopic through OCW’s nearly 2,300 courses, or drill down with a keyword search.

3 things you need to know about disruptive innovation in higher ed (

Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen — author of The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovative University, sage of “disruptive innovation”  —  has been back in the education news this week.  In his September 30 keynote address at Educause, Prof. Christensen shared his latest view of how disruptive forces in education may play out. posted a good summary of the address:

To paraphrase the best-selling author of eight critically acclaimed books, a disruptive innovation is, in the simplest terms, one that transforms a complicated, expensive product into one that is easier to use and more affordable than the one most readily available. This decentralization, he says, looks to the outliers of the core product’s audience — those who may not have previously had the skills or capital — and opens the doors. Meanwhile, the major player doesn’t pay attention to this new product because it is effectively offering “worse products with bad margins.”

This concept should sound familiar to anyone in higher ed, as it echoes exactly the scenario MOOCs were predicted to bring about. Through that lens, let’s take a look at Christensen’s three key takeaways…

Here’s a summary of those three key takeaways.

  1. Disruption competes with non-consumption: it begins with potential learners who aren’t otherwise served by conventional education
  2. Disruption doesn’t target the core business: it begins with skill-based certifications and “nano-degrees,” not with traditional 4-year degrees tied to institutions.
  3. Disruption demands modularity: look for more short-duration courses that can be flexibly repackaged toward varied and evolving educational goals.

Read the complete article.