MIT has been called a machine for inventing the future, and though over time it has been refined and enlarged, the basic mechanism of this machine is as sound as when it was first made. One hundred and fifty years ago, on April 10, 1861, MIT received its official charter, and the world received a powerful engine of progress that continues to inspire people and institutions around the globe.
In founding MIT, William Barton Rogers set out to accelerate and amplify America’s industrial progress by making science more useful and the “useful arts” more scientific. If he could visit us today, he would be astonished at the fields we now explore and teach — nanotechnology, genomics, proteomics, computationally based design, advanced energy technologies — but he would feel perfectly at home at an Institute that continues to advance the leading edge of discovery and innovation.
The energy that powers this machine is people — MIT’s ever-changing cast of simply remarkable human beings. This issue of Spectrvm offers just a glimpse of the array of exciting work they pursue every day. We highlight faculty who are blazing new trails in cancer research, probing how matter behaves at astonishingly cold temperatures, revolutionizing building construction methods, making fundamental changes in new company formation, and pursuing low-carbon strategies for a safe, secure energy future.
MIT has always attracted people equipped with a rare combination of disciplinary rigor and bold inventive powers, people with a hard-earned respect for the laws of nature and a healthy disrespect for conventional wisdom. The students we profile here also demonstrate their irrepressible desire to drive positive change in the real world, another MIT hallmark.
Remarkably, again and again the creativity and vision of our faculty and students have found a perfect match in the Institute’s donors and friends. From MIT’s earliest days, extraordinary philanthropists have fueled our race to the frontiers of knowledge and have given us the power to tackle humanity’s great shared problems.
George Eastman, cofounder of Eastman-Kodak, stands as a classic example. When MIT moved from Boston to Cambridge, it rode on George Eastman’s insistent vision, spectacular generosity, and well-informed faith in the promise of MIT. For a striking example of contemporary philanthropy, we look to David Koch (S.B. 1962, S.M. 1963) whose gifts today make it possible for MIT to invent new directions in cancer research through a powerful teaming of scientists and engineers. The David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research’s new home will be dedicated in March, an important moment in our 150th anniversary festivities, which celebrate the past as fuel for our future.
Armed with the fearlessness to identify and tackle the most important problems, the nimbleness to cross boundaries between fields in search of new answers, and the deep expertise that enables true innovation, MIT’s faculty and students continue to prove the power of our founder’s elegantly simple yet far-reaching idea. With continued support from the broader family of MIT, they will, I have no doubt, continue to invent the future for centuries to come.