The Secret Life of a Physics Professor

MIT physics professor Allan Adams is a string theorist. Last year, he taught quantum physics to MIT undergraduates. You may recognize him from his lecture videos on OCW:


But do you know about his secret life? What does this physicist do when he’s not in the lab or the classroom?


NPR is sharing the secret lives of teachers in this fascinating special series; MIT professors have secret lives too!

Two MOOCs on Entrepreneurship

MIT senior lecturer Bill Aulet.

MIT senior lecturer Bill Aulet, instructor for MITx courses Entrepreneurship 101: Who Is Your Customer? and Entrepreneurship 102: What Can You Do For Your Customer?

Are you an engineer who has hacked a really cool idea in your spare time, but don’t have the business acumen to start up a company? Are you a serial entrepreneur who keeps failing in business, but don’t know why? Are you working in a large corporation but pining to …do something more entrepreneurial?

If you answer “yes” to any of these, then clear some time on your busy schedule for two upcoming Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) on edX. MITx is re-running the popular 15.390.1x Entrepreneurship 101: Who Is Your Customer? and releasing the new course 15.390.2x Entrepreneurship 102: What Can You Do for Your Customer?

Both courses will start on January 9, 2015, and will run simultaneously so you don’t have to wait for the followup course. And for the first time, MIT will be translating the courses into Spanish, French, Mandarin, Arabic and Turkish, so that aspiring entrepreneurs whose native tongue isn’t English will also be able to learn how to start a company using the “Disciplined Entrepreneurship” framework.

15.390.1x kicks off the entrepreneurial journey by focusing on any startup’s most essential resource: the customer. One of the rookie mistakes that entrepreneurs often make is to come up with a great technology or product without considering “who is your customer?” In 15.390.2x, the journey continues by shifting focus toward understanding your startup’s competitive advantage, asking “what can you do for your customer?

Both MOOCs are taught by MIT Sloan senior lecturer Bill Aulet. They are based on his MIT course 15.390 New Enterprises, whose teaching materials are on OCW — just one of over sixty openly-licensed MIT courses in OCW’s Entrepreneurship Courses collection.

Lecture as Dialog

Photo of a woman speaking in front of classroom chalkboard.

MIT Professor Hazel Sive teaching 7.013 Introductory Biology.

The lecture continues to be a mainstay of college education, and every college graduate knows that a good lecturer can make a huge difference in how well students learn.

Professor Hazel Sive has been teaching 7.013 Introductory Biology at MIT for more than a decade, and she shares her thoughts about how she teaches a class with upwards of 400 students on her This Course at MIT page.  Professor Sive has done a lot of reflecting and revising over the years, and her Instructor Insights contain a wealth of information on very practical concerns, such as why she uses a combination of slides, handouts, and chalkboard in class, how she designs assignments, and how she coaches students to attempt them.

She sees the lecture not simply as a way to impart knowledge, but as a group dialogue or conversation, in which she challenges students to think in practical and creative ways about the information they are learning. She makes a habit of responding in class to student questions that she receives from multiple channels: during office hours, by email, in an online discussion forum, and during class time and informally before class starts. Professor Sive makes a habit of walking up and down the aisles with a microphone. “I throw out challenges and give the class opportunities to think about and discuss them,” she says. Challenges are not the only things she throws out. She is famous for distributing at a distance toy prizes to students with the most intriguing questions and remarks. She likes toy sharks that squirt water, nose-shaped pencil sharpeners, and other quirky rewards.

Perhaps most important is her approach to the course material itself. In keeping with the MIT motto Mens et Manus, or “Mind and Hand,” she wants students to learn not just the terminology and facts of biology, but how to solve biological problems. Even as students are learning how proteins are assembled and how DNA replicates itself, they are being encouraged to think how to apply this knowledge in the real world in ways that can make a difference to people’s lives.

You might like other This Course at MIT pages. They are part of the OCW Educator initiative.

— Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

I’m studying poetry to be a better engineer, and this is why (MIT Admissions blog)

Photo of half-illuminated Earth taken from the moon.

Earthrise, 1968. (Courtesy of NASA.)

Are you curious about what it’s like to be a student at MIT? In the MIT Admissions blogs written by current students, you’ll find deeply personal insights into the MIT experience, and many inspiring moments.

Take this recent post by Michael C. ’16, a mechanical engineering major.

Poetry is such a dense, compact form of language. It packs pages and pages of meaning into just a few verses. In a world where we are surrounded by anonymous, thoughtless, prosaic prose — think endless listicles on Facebook — reading a piece where every syllable, every punctuation mark, every line, is carefully considered…it’s a breath of fresh air.

And that ability to convey lots of meaning very succinctly is vital in any walk of life. As one of my NASA supervisors told me over the summer, “Nobody cares unless you tell a story.”

Take the project I was working on: designing and building prototypes for an enormous space telescope. Why was this project important?

Find out why, in Michael C.’s complete blog post.

He embodies one of the reasons the humanities are so important and so strong at MIT. If this inspires you to engage with some poetry, you’re sure to find helpful resources in this collection of over 20 poetry-related courses on OCW.

New MIT initiative on cybersecurity policy (MIT News)

Photo of Bitcoin keychain on a circuit board.

Bitcoin is one of many recent topics in cybersecurity. (Courtesy of BTC Keychain on Flickr, license CC BY.)

Hewlett Foundation funds new MIT initiative on cybersecurity policy
Largest-ever private commitment to cybersecurity establishes major new academic centers.
MIT Resource Development  | November 18, 2014

MIT has received $15 million in funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to establish an initiative aimed at laying the foundations for a smart, sustainable cybersecurity policy to deal with the growing cyber threats faced by governments, businesses, and individuals.

The MIT Cybersecurity Policy Initiative (CPI) is one of three new academic initiatives to receive a total of $45 million in support through the Hewlett Foundation’s Cyber Initiative. Simultaneous funding to MIT, Stanford University, and the University of California at Berkeley is intended to jump-start a new field of cyber policy research. The idea is to generate a robust “marketplace of ideas” about how best to enhance the trustworthiness of computer systems while respecting individual privacy and free expression rights, encouraging innovation, and supporting the broader public interest.

With the new awards, the Hewlett Foundation has now allocated $65 million over the next five years to strengthening cybersecurity, the largest-ever private commitment to this nascent field. Read more »

Coincidentally, MIT OpenCourseWare — which received substantial startup funding from the Hewlett Foundation — has just published a new version of Prof. Ronald Rivest’s 6.857 Network and Computer Security. This OCW course features lecture notes, assignments with sample solutions, and links to many student projects.

A MOOC sees its greatest impact in the classroom at MIT (MIT News)

Banner image for VJx: a painting of a ship.

Japanese woodblock print of American warship, circa 1854. (Image courtesy of the Nagasaki Prefecture.)


MIT Professor Shigeru Miyagawa has been a long-time champion of online education and open sharing.  Now we can add “flipped classroom advocate” to that list.

This fall, Professor Miyagawa simultaneously taught two versions of his course Visualizing Japan to two very different audiences. He co-taught the massive online open course (MOOC) VJx on edX, and at the same time taught the residential course 21F.027 for MIT students.

The edX MOOC, which ran for 6 weeks, was a marked success. It had a completion rate of 13 percent — double the normal rate for a MOOC — and 97.5 percent of the learners said that they were satisfied to extremely satisfied with the course.

But the MIT classroom experience is perhaps the bigger story. While the MOOC was running, the MIT residential course operated largely in flipped mode. Students were assigned the MOOC video lectures and quizzes to complement their classroom work.

For both the students in class and for Miyagawa it became clear early on that something was very different. On the first day of the module “Black Ships and Samurai,” Miyagawa was set to give the lecture he had prepared with a PowerPoint presentation. Shortly into the lecture he asked the class, “What happened in 1868?” He was expecting a couple of students to raise their hands, but everyone seemed to know that this was the beginning of Meiji Restoration that put Japan on the road to modernization.

Miyagawa abandoned his lecture and pressed on with more questions. He was pleasantly surprised that most of the students were not only able to answer the questions, but also willing to engage him and the other students in discussion. “When I finished the class without showing even a single slide from my PowerPoint, I could only ask, what happened?” he remarks.

What happened was a transformative experience for both the students and the professor. Read the full story here.

More Women in Games! (HuffPost Tech)

Philip Tan and Sarah Verrilli are instructors for the MITx course Introduction to Game Design, currently running on edX. They’ve also just published an eloquent piece in HuffPost Tech that launches from the “current firestorm of harrassment aimed at women who work in video games” into broader consideration of diversity and the vital role of playfulness in society.  They write:

More players bring with them more perspectives and more tastes, and addressing those preferences is easier for creators who understand their audience. Recent news has focused on the role of women in designing games but we could insert any under-represented group into the title of this op-ed. Diversity – gender, racial, religious, and economic – is critical for making games that speak to a diverse world.…

As we’ve proven in the first couple of weeks in the course, many people who don’t consider themselves “gamers” are nevertheless able to rattle off long lists of games they played in childhood and games that engage them today. Given the opportunity, all of humanity participates in play, especially if they have the freedom to choose their form of play. For some people it’s sports, for others, cards games or board games. And for some, play happens on a computer or a phone.

Read the full article here.