MISTI Bikepacks the Atacama

August 27th, 2019CEE, Uncategorized

By Shannon Wing '22 When hearing about the Atacama Desert from my coworkers, I immediately knew that it was where I wanted to go for my one long weekend of the summer. Not until a few weeks after booking my flights did I have the idea to bikepack through the Atacama since it’s flat, there is lots of open space, it would be cheap and well, it would be an adventure. I pitched the idea to my adventure buddy for the summer, Lulu, and from there we were on our computers doing lots of research. There surprisingly wasn’t much to find. No one had done and documented a bikepacking trip through the Atacama besides a famous mountainbiker, and we were neither good at mountain biking or famous, so her itinerary wasn’t going to vibe with us. Now, at this moment I do admit we should have questioned WHY no one has done an overnight bikepacking trip through the Atacama, but as you can tell from the title, we did not. Before we left, we had acquired two other MISTI students, Cooper and Gianna, that were crazy enough to join us despite my thorough explanation that we have never done a biking trip as long as this,  and we would not have a route planned until we arrived. If I can, this is how I prefer to travel since it gives you the ability to be flexible. I think the best knowledge you will find about a place is when you [...]

By Shannon Wing ’22

When hearing about the Atacama Desert from my coworkers, I immediately knew that it was where I wanted to go for my one long weekend of the summer. Not until a few weeks after booking my flights did I have the idea to bikepack through the Atacama since it’s flat, there is lots of open space, it would be cheap and well, it would be an adventure. I pitched the idea to my adventure buddy for the summer, Lulu, and from there we were on our computers doing lots of research. There surprisingly wasn’t much to find. No one had done and documented a bikepacking trip through the Atacama besides a famous mountainbiker, and we were neither good at mountain biking or famous, so her itinerary wasn’t going to vibe with us. Now, at this moment I do admit we should have questioned WHY no one has done an overnight bikepacking trip through the Atacama, but as you can tell from the title, we did not.

Before we left, we had acquired two other MISTI students, Cooper and Gianna, that were crazy enough to join us despite my thorough explanation that we have never done a biking trip as long as this,  and we would not have a route planned until we arrived. If I can, this is how I prefer to travel since it gives you the ability to be flexible. I think the best knowledge you will find about a place is when you hit the ground and ask, and that was exactly the plan. Show up with a hostel booking for one night, find a bike rental shop, a tourist information center, and anyone else that could give us details on where to bike, where to camp and what to see. Then, we would take off on our adventure. 

The plan went accordingly as we arrived, rented cheap bikes, acquired all of our equipment and food, and got a route to bike. The route, however, did not go as planned. Roads that were on our map did not exist in real life and campsites that we were told existed were nowhere to be found. Being good environmentally friendly citizens, we did not illegally free camp, but rather stayed in random people’s houses instead that, to quote Cooper, were “Quite possibly the three nicest people I have met in my life.” A huge thank you to them for taking us stranded travelers in! I think that it is also worth noting that at one point we had a llama in our backyard.

Yes, we backtracked and biked much more than expected, but also encountered many beautiful sites including Valle de la Luna, Lagunas Altipanicas, and Salar de Atacama. We even managed to fit in some sandboarding at Valle de la Muerte and swam in one of the alpine lagoons. Ultimately, the trip did not go as planned, but I would say it was for the better. Cheers to the bikepacking crew!

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ONE-MA3: Atlantis and Gotham in One Roman City

August 27th, 2019Uncategorized

By Marcin Hajduczek '22 Standing in the middle of the city, I could barely open my eyes against the sun reflecting off of endless slabs of marble. The piazza I stood in was the size of a soccer field, its green turf replaced by polished white stone. Intricately carved columns lined the edges, stacked one on top of the other with a stone beam stretching from column to column above each layer; bold letters inscribed on the beam trumpeted the wealth of donors that had funded the elaborate masonry. In the piazza’s center stood an equestrian statue of a local hero, whose copper glaze had corroded to green and whose heroics were perhaps more folklore than history. It served as a role model for the senators and businessmen that would come every morning to work at the Curiaand bureaucratic offices just behind the columned promenade. At the front of the square stood a massive temple to the Capitoline Triad. More imposing than any surrounding building, its multiple floors of marble and gold decorations were topped with a statue of Jupiter. Juno and Minerva faithfully stood by his sides, their shadows creating thin strips of grey across the otherwise white piazza. Or at least that’s what Pompeii’s Forum would have looked like before Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, explained our personal tour guide and Professor at the University of Queensland Duncan Jones. Much of what was once a bustling city center was lost in the last two thousand years, with only [...]

By Marcin Hajduczek ’22

Standing in the middle of the city, I could barely open my eyes against the sun reflecting off of endless slabs of marble. The piazza I stood in was the size of a soccer field, its green turf replaced by polished white stone. Intricately carved columns lined the edges, stacked one on top of the other with a stone beam stretching from column to column above each layer; bold letters inscribed on the beam trumpeted the wealth of donors that had funded the elaborate masonry. In the piazza’s center stood an equestrian statue of a local hero, whose copper glaze had corroded to green and whose heroics were perhaps more folklore than history. It served as a role model for the senators and businessmen that would come every morning to work at the Curiaand bureaucratic offices just behind the columned promenade. At the front of the square stood a massive temple to the Capitoline Triad. More imposing than any surrounding building, its multiple floors of marble and gold decorations were topped with a statue of Jupiter. Juno and Minerva faithfully stood by his sides, their shadows creating thin strips of grey across the otherwise white piazza.

Or at least that’s what Pompeii’s Forum would have looked like before Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, explained our personal tour guide and Professor at the University of Queensland Duncan Jones. Much of what was once a bustling city center was lost in the last two thousand years, with only fragments remaining to hint at its former grandeur. The stone ground of the square was still polished, but by the footsteps of tourists rather than Roman manual labor. Some of the columns lining the edge of the forum were still partly erect, but only in one spot was the dual-layered promenade still visible; even this had been evidently put back together from scattered pieces like an archeological Lego set, red bricks filling the spaces where marble was missing. The names of the forum’s patrons were eroded beyond recognition, and written in a dead language, no less. The ruins of the temple hugged the earth too tightly to cast any shadows across the piazza, with only the base of a few thick columns remaining. Pompeiians might have felt that their gods had failed to protect their home from devastating destruction, but even if the city had survived, Jupiter would probably have been toppled and replaced by a figure of Christ in the later Roman Empire. At first glance Pompeii seemed to be a door into a foreign civilization: one with a confusing language, with unrelatable deities, and with emperors who decided food rations and put on gladiatorial spectacles.

“It might look a little destroyed now,” Duncan conceded, “but it’s still the best example we have of Roman urban architecture and engineering. Use your imagination to fill in the blanks- it is the basis for our own western civilization after all.” His commentary forced me to think about how the parts of Roman culture that have transcended time might be more important than what has been left behind. Although smaller, Pompeii’s forum wasn’t all that different from Washington DC’s National Mall; America replaced the senatorial Curiawith the Capitol Building and the White House, but they still served similar legislative purposes and were even built in a neo-classical style imitating the ancients. With a temple to Lincoln on one end of the Mall and an obelisk commemorating Washington in the middle, America clearly has its own “gods” and heroes to look up to. The city of Pompeii met its demise under the rule of an emperor, but it was built in Rome’s earlier Republican era, whose values and governmental separation of power was a clear inspiration for America’s founding fathers.

As an average citizen, American politics seemed somehow distant and tucked far away on Capitol Hill; Pompeiians, no doubt, felt equally far removed from an emperor in Rome. More prevalent to the typical plebeian was his everyday life. In the early morning, they would go greet their wealthy sponsors in their mansions in the wealthy district surrounding the forum. These mansions, orDomus, had lavish doorways kept open to show off the frescoes and mosaics decorating the interior to passing-by pedestrians. It was no different than modern celebrities wearing Gucci suits and being chauffeured in a Rolls Royce to impress tabloid readers and one-up their peers. Pompeii’s poor didn’t benefit from the same luxuries. The city’s water system was made of lead pipes even though Vitruvius’ writing tells us that the Romans were aware of the health risks involved. Like modern corporations judging if it’s cheaper to recall a product or settle lawsuits over the death of customers, the Roman elite judged that using cheaper pipes was more valuable than the lives of those drinking the water. Perhaps that’s why Pompeiians choose to drink beer and wine instead. As today, bars offered the cheapest meals, brothels coaxed the drunkards, and fresco-painted campaign posters advertised politicians that wouldn’t fulfil their campaign promises. Pompeii had all the elements of a city slum just a few streets away from its dazzling forum, a stinging reminder of the inequity of wealth that most Romans- and Americans- could never overcome.

Although literature and movies had romanticized my perception of Greeks and Romans, standing in the forum helped me realize that the gleaming column promenade and the wealth of the senators was no more than a daydream for Pompeii’s ninety-nine percent. Many may have felt that their gods abandoned them in favor of the rich well before the first flake of volcanic ash touched the city, and it wasn’t hard to understand their complaints as a modern city-dweller. Despite their emperors and gladiators, were the Romans really all that different from us?

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Flying Drones in the Construction Industry

August 23rd, 2019Uncategorized

Zachary Roberts '21 Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)—also known as drones—are disrupting the construction industry. They provide a cheap alternative for aerial surveying and surveillance, which has attracted the interest of many contractors and sent them in a rush to get their employees FAA certified, with the Part 107 exam. This blog post intends to serve as a guide to getting your certification and to tell you about my experiences as a drone pilot. I have been a commercial UAS pilot for two years, and I started my experience with D.L. Howell & Associates, Inc., out of West Chester, Pennsylvania. We used a software program there called DroneDeploy, which automates a drone flight, causing it to piece together a bunch of images to create one large picture, known as an orthomosaic image. The drone flies around in a zig-zag pattern and takes pictures every couple seconds. Drones also came in handy for construction updates. I would go out to a construction site weekly or biweekly and take photos and video. The images and video captured presented well for clients and gave them a better perspective about job progress. I currently fly for Skanska USA as a summer intern in Virtual Design in Construction (VDC), where we use drones for communication between all stakeholders by analyzing up-to-date site progress and activity, safety, quality control and coordination to name a few. Newer-model DJI drones take 360-degree photos, which provide an interactive and complete view of a construction site. Getting your drone license involves [...]

Zachary Roberts ’21

Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)—also known as drones—are disrupting the construction industry. They provide a cheap alternative for aerial surveying and surveillance, which has attracted the interest of many contractors and sent them in a rush to get their employees FAA certified, with the Part 107 exam. This blog post intends to serve as a guide to getting your certification and to tell you about my experiences as a drone pilot.

I have been a commercial UAS pilot for two years, and I started my experience with D.L. Howell & Associates, Inc., out of West Chester, Pennsylvania. We used a software program there called DroneDeploy, which automates a drone flight, causing it to piece together a bunch of images to create one large picture, known as an orthomosaic image. The drone flies around in a zig-zag pattern and takes pictures every couple seconds.

Drones also came in handy for construction updates. I would go out to a construction site weekly or biweekly and take photos and video. The images and video captured presented well for clients and gave them a better perspective about job progress. I currently fly for Skanska USA as a summer intern in Virtual Design in Construction (VDC), where we use drones for communication between all stakeholders by analyzing up-to-date site progress and activity, safety, quality control and coordination to name a few. Newer-model DJI drones take 360-degree photos, which provide an interactive and complete view of a construction site.

Getting your drone license involves a lot of preparation, but as a member of the construction workforce, having it is valuable. I was given the opportunity to take a training course provided by DARTDrones. This company was featured on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” and it gave me all the tools I needed to learn. You don’t need to spend money on a training course though. By visiting the FAA website or doing a Google search, you can find test material and study guides that should prepare you well for the licensing exam. I can personally endorse an app called Prepware Remote Pilot, which properly prepares you to take the exam. YouTube also provides a lot of free lessons that are really helpful for studying purposes.

There are plenty of uses for drones from a construction standpoint. The first is aerial surveying. Aerial surveys offer a new perspective on a construction site or property, give more accurate measurements than a Google Earth image would, and provide teams with accurate, up-to-date site conditions and layout. Drones also offer the possibility of doing an inspection that would certainly be dangerous for a person. For example, when there’s an overhanging beam off the edge of a building that needs inspection, you can use the drone to inspect the beam with no risk to a person’s safety. Another purpose for drones that I’ve seen personally is marketing. Drone imagery gives a company a great deliverable to send to a client or a showcase piece to help get that next job.

Taking the drone Part 107 licensing test requires you to go to an FAA-authorized location to take an online test, and you need a score of at least 70 percent to pass. Your FAA Part 107 license gives you permission to fly for commercial purposes. There are many types of photos that can be taken with drones that provide great service to the construction industry, including 360-degree, panorama and orthomosaic imagery, in addition to automated video functions.

The presence of drones are expanding in the construction industry. As one of two pilots at my first internship with DLHowell, I learned they expanded their number this summer to include two more engineers. I was part of a drone onboarding effort from Skanska USA’s Boston office this summer, where they introduced their first five pilots to fly in the area. As a national company, Skanska USA has a rapidly expanding program with over 20 FAA certified pilots.

Please feel free to reach out to me at zroberts@mit.eduif you have any questions! See below for some imagery from my personal flights this summer at Briggs Field – MIT and Kenmore Square – Boston:

 

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Professor Martin Polz publishes research in Cell titled “A reverse ecology approach based on a biological definition of microbial populations”

August 16th, 20192019 News in Brief

Professor Martin Polz published a new research paper in Cell titled, “A reverse ecology approach based on a biological definition of microbial populations.” The researchers have developed a new method that allows for the identification of ecologically and medically relevant microbial population structure that can help pinpoint the genetic factors associated with environmental factors as well as human diseases. Read more on MIT News.

Professor Martin Polz published a new research paper in Cell titled, “A reverse ecology approach based on a biological definition of microbial populations.” The researchers have developed a new method that allows for the identification of ecologically and medically relevant microbial population structure that can help pinpoint the genetic factors associated with environmental factors as well as human diseases. Read more on MIT News.

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Professor Lydia Bourouiba presents TEDMED Talk about the fluid dynamics of airborne disease transmission

August 16th, 20192019 News in Brief

Associate Professor Lydia Bourouiba presented a TEDMED 2018 talk in front of a live audience. In the talk, now released, Professor Bourouiba distilled her recent work on fluid dynamics and respiratory disease transmission. Spanning the arch from the miasma theory of the Middle Ages to the era of Louis Pasteur and the static isolated drop model of William Wells from the 1930s, which still underlies our central notion of transmission, she outlined how a mechanistic, spatiotemporal understanding of the fundamental fluid dynamics and biophysics of transmission can instead provide the power to predict and control the spread of airborne infectious diseases. Read more here.

Associate Professor Lydia Bourouiba presented a TEDMED 2018 talk in front of a live audience. In the talk, now released, Professor Bourouiba distilled her recent work on fluid dynamics and respiratory disease transmission. Spanning the arch from the miasma theory of the Middle Ages to the era of Louis Pasteur and the static isolated drop model of William Wells from the 1930s, which still underlies our central notion of transmission, she outlined how a mechanistic, spatiotemporal understanding of the fundamental fluid dynamics and biophysics of transmission can instead provide the power to predict and control the spread of airborne infectious diseases. Read more here.

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ONE-MA3 – Day XXII: Walking Through Amazonian, Medieval, and Egyptian Histories and Culture

July 31st, 2019ONE-MA3 2019

By Sophia Mittman '22 “When you first start, and then you fail, that’s when it gets interesting, and you realize what you need to do next.” The wise words of Professor Masic resonated in our ears as we opened the kiln in the Nicola Restoration labs in Aramengo a day after we had synthesized our first attempts at Egyptian blue. Some groups had put their black, rust-colored, or grey powders into the kiln the previous evening. Now, after a night of firing, most of the pigments came out as a combination of blues, turquoises, and teal colors...a success! As for my group, our powder went into the kiln as a bright turquoise color, which gave us a false sense of confidence as we waited overnight. When our crucible came out of the furnace, what used to be that bright-turquoise color had melted down into a glob of some strange greyish silver material...definitely not Egyptian blue. After a test of Visible Induced Luminescence (VIL) in a dark room void of sunlight, we discovered for sure that the blue pigments emitted varying amounts of fluorescence, while my group’s pigment gave off barely any fluorescence. Afterward, we contemplated our synthesis procedure and hypothesized that perhaps we had included too much flux (sodium carbonate) or simply hadn’t added enough copper, which could make the final product bluer. Either way, if we go back to try our synthesis again back at MIT, we will know what to adjust in our experiment! Our Egyptian blue pigments [...]

By Sophia Mittman ’22

“When you first start, and then you fail, that’s when it gets interesting, and you realize what you need to do next.” The wise words of Professor Masic resonated in our ears as we opened the kiln in the Nicola Restoration labs in Aramengo a day after we had synthesized our first attempts at Egyptian blue. Some groups had put their black, rust-colored, or grey powders into the kiln the previous evening. Now, after a night of firing, most of the pigments came out as a combination of blues, turquoises, and teal colors…a success! As for my group, our powder went into the kiln as a bright turquoise color, which gave us a false sense of confidence as we waited overnight. When our crucible came out of the furnace, what used to be that bright-turquoise color had melted down into a glob of some strange greyish silver material…definitely not Egyptian blue. After a test of Visible Induced Luminescence (VIL) in a dark room void of sunlight, we discovered for sure that the blue pigments emitted varying amounts of fluorescence, while my group’s pigment gave off barely any fluorescence. Afterward, we contemplated our synthesis procedure and hypothesized that perhaps we had included too much flux (sodium carbonate) or simply hadn’t added enough copper, which could make the final product bluer. Either way, if we go back to try our synthesis again back at MIT, we will know what to adjust in our experiment!

Our Egyptian blue pigments after one night of firing in the furnace

            Midday, we explored other materials of cultural heritage from around the world through a few lectures taught by guest professors and graduate students. For instance, we learned about a sustainable, ancient type of Amazonian soil from MIT Professor Dorothy Hosler. Ideally, agriculture within areas of the Amazon rainforest shouldn’t thrive very well. But, interestingly, this specific type of soil which is known as “terra preta de índio” (Indian black earth) is carbon-rich and gives rise to a sustainable and efficient manner to raise crops. Still, researchers are not certain how or why this soil contains carbon in this way, which provides us with the opportunity to pursue this as a research project in the near future at MIT! We were also enlightened a little bit by the least-massive mass in the world: aerogels, which are now being used in the restoration of paintings and old buildings (fun fact: there is a display of a mass of aerogel at the MIT museum!). Entering into an area of cultural heritage combined with some fantasy, we got to explore another area of material science that we had not yet been exposed to: metals! At least, we were trained to handle the actual products of medieval metalsmithing in short sword-fighting drill sessions. We quickly caught on that medieval swords are not simply a scientific feat of ancient artistry when it comes to metals, but also that medieval sword fighting is an art-form itself!

Practicing our medieval sword fighting skills!

            Finally, we stepped back even further in time to exercise our skills in reading Egyptian hieroglyphics. The master who had taught us sword fighting guided us in this lesson, too.  Growing up, I always assumed that hieroglyphics represented exactly what each picture depicted. For me, my interpretation would have gone something like this: a bird standing next to three trees and a bowl then flies over a river and then runs into a snake. After this professional lesson, though, I realized that I was obviously mistaken. Actually, different combinations and repetitions of figures depict different sounds, words, or ideas. What I found most interesting about Egyptian hieroglyphics was that there are no vowels in the written language. The consonant sounds are there, but the vowels must be filled in, which gives many Egyptian words and names like “Tutankhamun” or “Hatshepsut” that particular and easily identifiable Egyptian sound. Afterward, we participated in a hands-on exploration of how the Egyptians created their hieroglyphs, starting with a layer of mud and hemp that they would have applied to the surface of sarcophagi. For us, we used small wooden frames already filled with a mixture of mud and hemp. Then, like the Egyptians, we smoothed a layer of gypsum (basically plaster) over the mud and after letting it dry, used feathers and other brushes to paint natural pigments over the surface in patterns of hieroglyphics and iconic images of Egyptian gods. Overall, it was a day full of scientific experimentation and exploration, walking through a live version of a history book, and getting to recreate activities that humans did thousands of years ago around the world in different ancient civilizations.

Learning how to create hieroglyphics the Egyptian way with natural pigments on top of gypsum

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