You can change the world!

Submit your idea to MIT Solve

Maybe it’s an idea that’s been rattling around your head or maybe you’re about to have an epiphany that can dramatically improve the lives of hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people.

Now is your chance to make your idea become a reality.

Solve, an initiative of MIT, has launched three new challenges on its open innovation platform and is seeking submissions which could be pitched at the United Nations on March 7th.

Aimed at developing and implementing solutions to major global issues, the current Solve challenges seek innovative solutions that address: 

  • Refugee Education: How can we improve learning outcomes for refugee and displaced young people under 24? Click here to view the challenge.
  • Carbon Contributions: How can individuals and corporations manage and reduce their carbon contributions? Click here to view the challenge.
  • Chronic Diseases: How can we help people prevent, detect and manage chronic diseases, especially in resources-limited settings? Click here to view the challenge.

Challenges are active and open for applications until January 20, 2017. Anyone with innovative ideas and a passion for finding affordable, far-reaching, and implementable solutions is encouraged to apply.

You can find out more information about MIT Solve at

William Bowen, Mellon Foundation president who led initial OCW funding, dies at 83

Photo of man standing at a Princeton University lectern, giving a speech.

Photo of William Bowen by Brian Wilson, Office of Communications, Princeton University.

MIT OpenCourseWare joins with our colleagues across higher education to mourn the passing of William Bowen. As president of the Mellon Foundation, he played a central role in the creation of OpenCourseWare.

More on the OCW story below. But first, those who didn’t know Bowen can get a glimpse of his life and reach in Brian Rosenberg’s eloquent rememberance in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

To Bill Bowen, the important things always mattered, regardless of his age or his title. He cared in 2016 as passionately about the entrenched inequities in higher education as he did when he assumed the presidency of Princeton, at age 38. He cared as much about issues of academic freedom and free speech as he did in 1973, when he defended the right of William Shockley, a physics professor who believed blacks were genetically inferior, to say things that Bowen himself found deeply offensive. He argued as forcefully for the importance of the arts and humanities in our culture as he did when he assumed the presidency of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, in 1988.

He never stopped caring, and he never stopped being the most thoughtful and articulate voice on these and a host of other issues central to our educational system and our civic life…

Outside the circles of academe, his name is not nearly as well known as those of innumerable politicians and business people. But whether they know his name or not, many people who have attended a college whose doors would have been closed to them previously, or who received financial aid that created a world of new possibilities, are better off because Bill Bowen cared about their lives.

How did Bill Bowen come into the OCW fold? In 2000, MIT President Charles Vest had just received the revolutionary recommendation that would lead to OpenCourseWare. An Institute committee of faculty, staff and alumni felt that MIT should respond to the rapid growth of the Internet by giving all of its basic teaching materials away on the web for free.

President Vest quickly saw the wisdom and the enormous potential of the proposal, and set out to make it real. One of the first big questions: how to fund it? His first stop was none other than Bill Bowen. Vest describes their initial meeting:

I had breakfast in New York with Bill Bowen, the distinguished former president of Princeton University and current president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Bill is that rare combination, a deep thinker and an effective leader.

Over eggs, I said, “Bill, I want to tell you how MIT is thinking about using the Internet for education. Then I’ll have three questions. Do you think it’s a good idea? If you think it is a good idea, do you think foundations might fund it? And, if so, might The Mellon Foundation be interested?”

Normally when one approaches a foundation for support, the answer, if not “No,” is a request to send a letter. Then one might be asked to do a draft proposal with an approximate budget. Finally, one might be asked for a full-blown proposal, to which the ultimate response seems most likely to be rejection. In this case, Bill looked at me and said, “Don’t take this idea anywhere else. Let’s go to work to figure out how to fund it.”

Vest tells an expanded version of this story, with more recollections of Bill Bowen, in the following video from a 2011 panel discussion (clip starts at 13:20).

Obama to Leave the White House a Nerdier Place Than He Found It (NY Times)

Photo of woman pointing out aspects of aparatus on a lab bench, with President standing beside her looking on.

Professor Paula Hammond discusses her research with President Barack Obama during his 2009 visit to the MIT campus.

President Barack Obama has evolved in many ways during his eight years in office, both personally and politically. Add now to that list, becoming a self-professed science nerd?  We caught an early glimpse of this leaning when he visited the MIT campus in October 2009, touring several labs, showing “keen interest, quick understanding and warm appreciation,” and giving an address on clean energy.

A recent piece by Gardiner Harris in the New York Times highlights the arc of President Obama’s enthusiastic embrace of science.

President Obama has started initiatives to study the brain and gene-based diseases. He has led attacks on the Ebola virus and antibiotic resistance. Last month, he wrote an academic article in a prominent medical journal.

But the science event many in the White House remember most powerfully was the kid with the marshmallow cannon.

“So would it, like, hit the wall up there?” Mr. Obama asked during the 2012 White House Science Fair when he came upon Joey Hudy, 14, standing before his homemade Extreme Marshmallow Cannon.

“Yeah,” Joey answered.

“Would it stick?”

“I don’t know.”

“Let’s try it,” Mr. Obama said with glee.

And so, for what may have been the first time since the British burned the house down in 1814, a fast-moving projectile hit the State Dining Room wall. The marshmallow did not stick.

He began an annual tradition of science fairs, arguing that if he celebrates the nation’s top athletes at the White House, he should do the same for the best young scientific talent. He often mentions the students he has met at the fairs, including Elana Simon, who at age 12 survived a rare form of liver cancer and before graduating high school helped discover its genetic cause.

Mr. Obama’s presidential science advisory committee has been the most active in history, starting 34 studies of subjects as varied as advanced manufacturing and cybersecurity. Scientists on the committee said they worked so hard because Mr. Obama was deeply engaged in their work.

We took particular note of this statement:

In a recent interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, Mr. Obama listed science as one of the few subjects he intended to pursue after the presidency.

So, President Obama: perhaps OCW can help you out here?

Our resources in science and beyond are perfect for self-paced learning, and well-suited to a busy lifestyle (which you’re certain to maintain). Most of the professors whose labs you visited in 2009 have classes on OCW. Whether you’re pursuing new curiosities in retirement, exploring a career transition, or even supplementing a current course of study in school, OCW is ready with a wealth of learning resources.

Making sense of the violence in the US

March from the White House to the Capitol. Image by Susan Melkisethian

March from the White House to the Capitol. Image by Susan Melkisethian

Our hearts ache from the violence that has taken place this month. The shooting deaths of Alton SterlingPhilando Castilefive police officers in Dallas and three police officers in Baton Rouge fill families, friends, communities, and a country with deep sorrow.

It’s almost impossible to make sense of this violence but in these tragedies, it’s clear that fear, racism against Black Americans, the police, and guns played important roles.

However, any understanding or solution begins with education. Education can profoundly change belief systems, shift perceptions, and reduce ignorance and hate.

With the hope of gaining knowledge to enact positive change, here are some resources that offer some understanding of underlying causes surrounding these horrific events, and perhaps ways we can better communicate and connect with each other for the better.

Understanding current events

21H.319 Race, Crime, and Citizenship in American Law – The readings of this course offer insight into the key issues in the historical development and current state of modern American criminal justice, with an emphasis on its relationship to citizenship, nationhood, and race/ethnicity.

24.236 Topics in Social Theory and Practice: Race and Racism – lecture notes delve into the questions “How should we understand racial injustice? Does racial injustice continue to exist? If so, what steps might legitimately be taken to end it?”

24.02 Moral Problems and the Good Life – the Racism, sexism and speech section surface questions about the the cultural and economic structures that may reinforce sexism and racism.

17.922 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. IAP Design Seminar – students develop in-depth understanding of the history of US racial issues as well as past and present domestic and international political struggles.

21M.630J Black Matters: Introduction to Black Studies – explores the experiences of people of African descent through the overlapping approaches of history, literature, anthropology, legal studies, media studies, performance, linguistics, and creative writing. The course also has a good reading list.

Other resources

Black Lives Matter –  an online forum intended to build connections between Black people and Black allies to fight anti-Black racism, to spark dialogue among Black people, and to facilitate the types of connections necessary to encourage social action and engagement.

I, Racist – text from a sermon that John Metta, a Black writer and poet, gave as a congregational reflection to an all White audience.

Changing the world and yourself for the better

CMS.615 Games for Social Change – workshop to design and prototype games for social change and civic engagement.

Letter from President Reif to the MIT community – reflecting on the importance of “leading civic institutions have a responsibility to speak clearly against these corrosive forces and to act practically to inspire and create positive change.”

17.905 Forms of Political Participation: Old and New – examines the associations and networks that connect us to one another and structure our social and political interactions.

CMS.361 Networked Social Movements: Media & Mobilization – a seminar that examines the relationship between social movements and the media and how resources and awareness can be mobilized.

11.948 Power of Place: Media Technology, Youth, and City Design and Development – workshop that explores the potential of information technology and the Internet to transform public education, city design, and community development in inner-city neighborhoods.

21G.019 Communicating Across Cultures – course that helps you become more sensitive to intercultural communication differences, and to provide you with the knowledge and skills that will help you interact successfully with people from cultures other than your own.

Other resources

The Science of Happiness – an edX course that focuses on how happiness is inextricably linked to having strong social connections and contributing to something bigger than yourself—the greater good.

Social Work Practice: Advocating Social Justice and Change – an edX course that helps you learn the values, techniques, and themes social workers use to help others as well as strategies for addressing social justice challenges.

[Updated July 20 after police officers killed in Baton Rouge LA]

Math and Hollywood mix it up at MIT

Photo of Matt Damon writing mathematical symbols on a chalkboard.

Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. (© Miramax).

At this Friday’s MIT commencement, the featured speaker is Matt Damon: actor, filmmaker, co-founder of, and Cambridge MA native. In Good Will Hunting, Mr. Damon played an unrecognized math-genius janitor at MIT; and as a stranded astronaut in The Martian, his ability to assess, plan, improvise and survive is an extreme illustration of the MIT motto “Mens et Manus” (Mind and Hand).

Damon’s fusion of Hollywood fame, humanitarian activism, and on-screen math/science wizardry should make for a memorable speech. In anticipation, let’s play with another mashup of mathematics and Hollywood: the Erdős–Bacon number. Per Wikipedia,

A person’s Erdős–Bacon number is the sum of one’s Erdős number—which measures the “collaborative distance” in authoring mathematical papers between that person and Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdős—and one’s Bacon number—which represents the number of links, through roles in films, by which the individual is separated from American actor Kevin Bacon. The lower the number, the closer a person is to Erdős and Bacon, which reflects a small world phenomenon in academia and entertainment.

According to the Oakland University Erdős Number Project, MIT math professor Daniel Kleitman is an Erdős–Bacon star. Kleitman coauthored at least six papers with Erdős, giving him an Erdős number of 1. And since Minnie Driver, who appeared in Good Will Hunting, also appeared in Sleepers with Kevin Bacon, Kleitman has a Bacon number of 2. With the resulting Erdős–Bacon number of 3, he’s tied for the lead with University of Illinois professor Bruce Reznick.

How is Matt Damon’s Erdős–Bacon score? Well, Kleitman was an advisor and an extra in Good Will Hunting, so Damon’s Erdős number is 2. Meanwhile, Damon was in School Ties with Will Lyman, who appeared with Kevin Bacon in Mystic River, for a Bacon number of 2.  So Matt Damon’s Erdős–Bacon number is a quite respectable 4.

Had enough?  Check out these marquee OCW resources by Professor Kleitman.

[Concept and research for this post by Elizabeth DeRienzo, OCW Publication Manager]

2001 was a banner year

Image of New York Times headline about OCW announcement, alongside Wikipedia logo and an image of DNA sequences on a computer screen.

OCW launched in 2001, alongside the creation of Wikipedia and the first publication of the Human Genome sequence.

This week, as we celebrate the 15 year anniversary of  MIT OpenCourseWare’s unveiling, we’re reflecting on other great strides taken in 2001 and in the years since. It wasn’t so long ago, but it can be hard to remember life before these other prominent “firsts.”

January 2001Wikipedia launched with the crowdsourcing concept that no central authority should control editing.

February 2001: the Human Genome Project published its draft sequence and analysis in Nature.

October 2001: Apple released the first iPod, putting “1,000 songs in your pocket.”

2001 was a time of tremendous energy, and also great uncertainty, about the growth and impact of the Internet. The dot-com investment bubble had burst in the previous year, and many early Internet high-fliers were crashing back to Earth.

The MIT faculty and administration were asking, “What impact will the Internet have on education, and what should MIT do about it?” Their answer, in the form of OCW, was a bold bet on the power of openly shared knowledge. Fifteen years later, the 200 million learners and educators around the world who have used OCW are grateful for their foresight and generosity.

15 years ago, the big idea was announced

People hear about OpenCourseWare for the first time every day (I see the comments on Twitter!), but can you believe that the idea of OCW was announced 15 years ago?!

Screenshot of a New York Times articleIf you’d like to learn about MIT OpenCourseWare’s origins, read the story in the New York Times that announced the big idea to the world.