Here and There


An article in The Boston Globe Sunday magazine (Dec. 3), titled "The Secrets of Soot," reported that "an MIT team is working on a method of fingering air polluters that would make Sherlock Holmes proud." The writer, Katharine Whittemore, identifies Professor Adel F. Sarofim of the Department of Chemical Engineering, Professor John B. Vander Sande of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and Dr. William A. Peters, principal research engineer and associate director of the Energy Laboratory, as the MIT researchers who are "on to another breakthrough in the art of identification."

She continues: "The quarry this time? Air polluters. Method of tracking? A complicated process in which molecules of soot are electromagnetically photographed, then examined and catalogued, so they can be traced back to their source. The MIT team is putting together a library of soot images, a sort of massive portfolio of tiny, black-and-white Seurats."

"We thought of calling them `soot signatures,'" Professor Vander Sande, now acting dean of the School of Engineering, told the writer. "but we just had to go with `sootprints.'"

In studying soot's microscopic structure, Dr. Vander Sande said, you can piece together its level of oxidation, which temperature it has experienced, and what type of fuel was burned in its creation. The resulting `sootprint' helps pinpoint where the soot was produced-and by whom.

"How precise can we be?" asks Dr. Vander Sande. "Can I tell you this one soot particle clinging on your left lung came from a diesel engine that was three years old, going uphill at the time, and was filled with fuel bought in Pennsylvania, because its sulfur content is the legal limit there? Not yet, but that's the aim. This will have considerable scientific impact."
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On the subject of long feature stories, The Boston Globe Magazine provided one on Dr. Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor and professor of linguistics, and Discover magazine probed deeply into the research of Dr. Alex P. Pentland, associate professor of computers, communication and design technology in the Program in Media Arts and Sciences.

The article on Dr. Chomsky, by Anthony Flint, was titled, "Divided Legacy," with the subhead, "Noam Chomsky's theory of linguistics revolutionized the field, but his radical political analysis is what gave him a cult following. When people mention his name a century from now, which Chomsky will they mean?"

On Dr. Chomsky's recent book, The Minimalist Program, a further refinement of his linguistics theory, his colleague, Dr. Morris Halle, Institute Professor and professor of linguistics, told Mr. Flint: "He's come out with major things every 15 years or so, and this will be a very major thing. It will be enormously important."

The piece on Dr. Pentland, by Ivan I. Schwartz, titled "A Face of One's Own," has the subhead, "As any newborn baby knows, no two faces are alike. Now, finally, a computer knows this, too." It focuses on Professor Pentland's Media Laboratory research into the emerging science of "perceptual computing." According to the magazine, he has captured thousands of faces in a photographic computer database and has developed software for searching through this collection and picking one face out of the multitude.

"When you are out on the street, walking past a parade of faces," Schwartz writes, "you are comparing each passing face against the ones you've remembered. If you get a match, a bell goes off in your head and you instantly recall who that person is. This is essentially what Pentland's software does."

QUOTES:

"A lot of parents are afraid of raising their children bilingually. because they feel their child will be put at a disadvantage in terms of, say, schooling. That's based on a real misunderstanding of what language is. In principle, the human mind is unique in that it has this infinite capacity to learn languages."-Dr. Suzanne Flynn, professor of linguistics and second language acquisition, in a Los Angeles Times story on the overall positive aspects of teaching second languages to children at a young age.

"In each period, people project on these guys the prevailing values and meanings of the times."-Dr. Leo Marx, William R. Kenan Professor Emeritus of American Cultural History, on how people view Bill Gates, the billionaire founder of Microsoft Corp., in an AP story on Gates.

"If you imagine how an area of calm water gathers behind a rock in a fast-flowing stream, you get an idea of what we're talking about. If we could blow water through that rock to fill in the flow, the stream would act as if there were no obstruction."-Dr. Ian A. Waitz, assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics and director of the Aero-Environmental Research Laboratory, on a NASA-funded project to develop a new generation of quieter, more efficient aircraft engines by modifying the airflow inside the jet engine to reduce noise, in The Times of London.

"Companies like Intel have done a lot of things that we all said American companies weren't doing-investing heavily for the long term and buckling down to really take manufacturing seriously."-Dr. Richard K. Lester, professor of nuclear engineering and director of the Industrial Performance Center, in a New York Times story on how Intel Corporation's new futuristic factory in New Mexico is leading a surge of investment in semi-conductor manufacturing by American companies.


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