ONE-MA3: Gypsum Adventures in Aramengo

July 16th, 2019ONE-MA3 2019

By Carene Umubyeyi '22 Our last day of ONE-MA3 was spent applying what we learned in Professor Ochsendorf’s lecture at the American Academy in Rome by constructing our own gypsum shell structures using minimal reinforcement. We spent the first part of the morning with a lesson from Dario Parigi on load-bearing structures, with emphasis on the principle of Hooke’s hanging chain—the idea that the shape a hanging chain forms under a set of loads, when made rigid and flipped right side up shows the necessary arched structure needed to support the same set of loads—followed by a lesson from Marco Nicola on gypsum and its chemical properties. Dario Parigi started off the day with a lesson about load-bearing structures  After the morning lessons we proceeded with small-scale experiments of different structural geometries we could create using mesh canvas and gypsum plaster, while still maximizing compressive strength by applying Hooke’s principle. Groups got extra creative with their structures, adding bamboo leaves and saw dust to gypsum mixtures for strengthening. One group even derived inspiration from the Pantheon by adding a miniature oculus in their structure! All this of course had to be done under 5 minutes before the gypsum started hardening and was no longer viscous enough to work with (as we sadly learned during our first attempt). Some groups added bamboo sticks and leaves for additional reinforcement              After a short discussion about lessons learned from the morning experiments, the afternoon was spent building larger gypsum structures (using the same principles) [...]

By Carene Umubyeyi ’22

Our last day of ONE-MA3 was spent applying what we learned in Professor Ochsendorf’s lecture at the American Academy in Rome by constructing our own gypsum shell structures using minimal reinforcement. We spent the first part of the morning with a lesson from Dario Parigi on load-bearing structures, with emphasis on the principle of Hooke’s hanging chain—the idea that the shape a hanging chain forms under a set of loads, when made rigid and flipped right side up shows the necessary arched structure needed to support the same set of loads—followed by a lesson from Marco Nicola on gypsum and its chemical properties.

Dario Parigi started off the day with a lesson about load-bearing structures 

After the morning lessons we proceeded with small-scale experiments of different structural geometries we could create using mesh canvas and gypsum plaster, while still maximizing compressive strength by applying Hooke’s principle. Groups got extra creative with their structures, adding bamboo leaves and saw dust to gypsum mixtures for strengthening. One group even derived inspiration from the Pantheon by adding a miniature oculus in their structure! All this of course had to be done under 5 minutes before the gypsum started hardening and was no longer viscous enough to work with (as we sadly learned during our first attempt).

Some groups added bamboo sticks and leaves for additional reinforcement 

            After a short discussion about lessons learned from the morning experiments, the afternoon was spent building larger gypsum structures (using the same principles) capable of supporting the load of at least 1 Admir*. After more gypsum mixing, adding bamboo leaves/sticks, and a multitude of hands quickly smearing layer upon layer of gypsum on the mesh canvas, two magnificent structures were completed and given a few hours to harden before final testing would begin after dinner.

At around 10 PM, we returned and began preparing for testing. I placed my hand on our structure and was surprised to find it still wet. That’s odd, I thought. Is the other one dry? I walked over and gingerly placed my hand on it. The hardness of the shell confirmed it was.

Sophia Fang ’22 examining her group’s structures

One of the final products

            “It’s not dry”, I heard Dario conclude as he examined our structure, “the gypsum mixture must have contained too much water, interfering with the setting process”. I looked around and saw slow nods of realization. We decided to still test it and see. Placing ourselves all around the wooden frame, we began lifting the structure upwards to flip it over. Halfway up, we felt a sudden shift and the entire structure came loose from the frame and went crashing down. After a sad moment of silence, we regrouped and discussed what could have been done differently in our use of water in the gypsum mixtures.

The next group’s structure was carefully lifted and flipped over successfully. So far, so good. Excitement built as one person was able to stand on the structure, then two, then three, then four, then five, and so on until a full eight people stood on the structure, before it too, finally buckled and collapsed. Everyone cheered for the winning team as they hoisted their trophy and celebrated their gypsum structure. It had successfully held a load of eight people, far surpassing the minimum load of 1 Admir.

Another group’s final product

            This activity was a great conclusion to ONE-MA3, combining different important aspects we had learned about into a fun-filled gypsum structure building competition that taught us the importance of teamwork and learning from our mistakes.

* 1 Admir – a unit of mass invented by ONE-MA3 students for this activity, equivalent to the weight of Professor Masic.

Pantheon-inspired gypsum structure

+ More

The Power of Pigments

July 15th, 2019ONE-MA3 2019

By Sophia Mittman '22 Even though the ONE-MA^3 program has finished, I decided to stay in Italy to work with the University of Turin and the Museo Egizio (Egyptian Museum) studying the pigment Egyptian blue and Egyptian faience. We learned lots about Egyptian blue during ONE-MA^3, but I had no idea how extensive the topic of ancient pigments really is, especially in a scientific—not just historic or artistic—context. As I have been reading through scientific journal papers for this new research project, I not only have learned lots about Egyptian blue and faience, but also about pigments that retain similar and fascinating chemical properties, such as Han blue and Han purple. A close-up example of Egyptian mummy net beads created out of Egyptian blue and faience Just to start, Egyptian blue alone is a mysterious yet seemingly-magical material that the Egyptians first synthesized thousands of years ago and is the first known synthetic pigment ever made. As a crystalline material, it is known as cuprorivaite, a calcium copper silicate. After reagents of copper, silica, calcium, and flux (also referred to as natron or sodium silicate, similar to baking soda) are ground together and fired, the blue pigment that forms is invincible to most types of acid and can retain its crystalline form for thousands of years, evidence that we are eye-witnesses of today. Sometimes the blue color will fade or become contaminated and show a darker color other than blue, but we are still able to identify the pigment as [...]

By Sophia Mittman ’22

Even though the ONE-MA^3 program has finished, I decided to stay in Italy to work with the University of Turin and the Museo Egizio (Egyptian Museum) studying the pigment Egyptian blue and Egyptian faience. We learned lots about Egyptian blue during ONE-MA^3, but I had no idea how extensive the topic of ancient pigments really is, especially in a scientific—not just historic or artistic—context. As I have been reading through scientific journal papers for this new research project, I not only have learned lots about Egyptian blue and faience, but also about pigments that retain similar and fascinating chemical properties, such as Han blue and Han purple.

A close-up example of Egyptian mummy net beads created out of Egyptian blue and faience

Just to start, Egyptian blue alone is a mysterious yet seemingly-magical material that the Egyptians first synthesized thousands of years ago and is the first known synthetic pigment ever made. As a crystalline material, it is known as cuprorivaite, a calcium copper silicate. After reagents of copper, silica, calcium, and flux (also referred to as natron or sodium silicate, similar to baking soda) are ground together and fired, the blue pigment that forms is invincible to most types of acid and can retain its crystalline form for thousands of years, evidence that we are eye-witnesses of today. Sometimes the blue color will fade or become contaminated and show a darker color other than blue, but we are still able to identify the pigment as Egyptian blue because of its fluorescent properties in the infrared spectrum. Like we did in ONE-MA^3, if you take a full-spectrum camera, shine an infrared-free LED light onto the pigment, and take a photo through a lens that only allows infrared light to go through, then the Egyptian blue pigment will luminesce as a bright white or bright blue when everything else in the photograph is either black or grey (this analysis process is known as Visible Induced Luminescence, or VIL). Thus, the bright Egyptian blue pigment emits light, while materials that are black absorb visible light and materials that are grey reflect it. This is why Egyptian blue is undergoing many studies to determine its potential uses in forensics, biomedicine, and optical electronics.

 Han blue synthesized in labs at Aramengo during ONE-MA^3

Another material that is oftentimes confused with Egyptian blue is Egyptian faience. That simply may be because faience, visibly, is a brilliant blue color, ranging from deep ocean blue to light turquoise. But, that’s where the similarities stop. Faience was used by the Egyptians mainly to create ushabti figurines or scarab amulets, but it was not applied as a paint because faience itself is not a crushable pigment like Egyptian blue is. In reality (and to my surprise when I first learned about it), faience is a type of self-glazing material when fired. Inside of its chemical composition is a large amount of silica, making it a ceramic, but not one made of clay, which is usually the case when it comes to ceramics. There are three distinct ways to create faience: application, efflorescence, and cementation. The application method is slightly self-explanatory: figurines are sculpted and then the faience mixture is applied to the outside, and after firing, results in a shiny coat. Efflorescence is where the term “self-glazing” applies most, for it is when a wet mixture of faience is sculpted into the desired figurine and allowed to dry so that salts rise to the surface of the figuring. Once fired, the salt-infused surface becomes a thin, glassy and glossy blue material. Finally, the cementation method is when, like before, figurines are sculpted, but this time they are buried in frit so that when fired and removed from the pile of frit, the surface exposed to the frit leaves a layer of shiny faience. It is mystifying to try to think of how the Egyptians could have discovered such processes to create such beautiful materials, but it has led me to realize that even the ancient Egyptians were indeed incredible scientists of their own.

Han purple painted onto Terracotta Warrior sculptures (picture from crystallography365.wordpress.com)

Finally, another pigment that mimics the properties of Egyptian blue is Han blue and Han Purple. While Egyptian blue is a calciumcopper silicate, Han blue and purple are bariumcopper silicates. Interestingly enough, these two other pigments also have the correct structure to luminesce during VIL analyses, just like Egyptian blue, only slightly less fluorescent. During our lab activities during ONE-MA^3, some of us created Han blue, but we never got to interact with Han purple. Interestingly enough, even though these two materials are structurally and chemically similar to Egyptian blue, they were created in completely different parts of the world in ancient times. While Egyptian blue reigned in Egypt, Han blue and Han purple were supreme in China, where the purple pigment was used to paint the surfaces of some of the famous Terracotta Warrior sculptures and other forms of pottery. More recently, Han purple has been studied as a superconducting material with the ability to reduce three-dimensional structure to two-dimensional structure when placed in extremely cold temperatures and strong electromagnetic fields. Again, just by studying and reading about these archeological advances in materials made by humans thousands of years ago, it is mind-boggling yet indescribably exciting to use what we know about ancient human technologies and apply them to modern research applications today.

+ More

ONE-MA3: Finding the Ever-Elusive “Work-Life Balance”

July 15th, 20192016 News in Brief

By Anna Landler '22 I think that I just received arguably the best lecture of my life. There is some serious competition – I had Professor Eric Lander for 7.012 – but this lecture is certainly up there. The lecture came from John Ochsendorf, MIT professor and Director of the American Academy in Rome. Before I get to the content of that lecture, let me set the scene. We left Sermoneta at 6:50 am to arrive in Rome 3-4 hours later. First stop: the American Academy. It’s a truly incredible institution. Once inside the gate, you pass a picturesque fountain, with modern white edifices on 4 sides, each a studio for one lucky artist. In an effort to not get lost in the details of the amazing interior I will make simple highlights: a staircase opening to a gorgeous courtyard, fountain in the center, stones with ancient Roman inscriptions scattered across the orange walls. Professor John Ochsendorf explaining the meaning of his favorite Roman inscriptions The groin vault ceiling above the table where the fellows at the Academy eat lunch all together. We were lucky to join them! After a quick tour, full of John’s joyful personality and short stories of the historic site (Galileo named the telescope there, which is pretty awesome), it was time for going into the aqueduct (which runs under the Academy), and finally, the lecture. If you had told me that we’d be received an hour and a half long lecture on structural integrity, geometries, design, and materials, I [...]

By Anna Landler ’22

I think that I just received arguably the best lecture of my life. There is some serious competition – I had Professor Eric Lander for 7.012 – but this lecture is certainly up there. The lecture came from John Ochsendorf, MIT professor and Director of the American Academy in Rome. Before I get to the content of that lecture, let me set the scene. We left Sermoneta at 6:50 am to arrive in Rome 3-4 hours later. First stop: the American Academy. It’s a truly incredible institution. Once inside the gate, you pass a picturesque fountain, with modern white edifices on 4 sides, each a studio for one lucky artist. In an effort to not get lost in the details of the amazing interior I will make simple highlights: a staircase opening to a gorgeous courtyard, fountain in the center, stones with ancient Roman inscriptions scattered across the orange walls.

Professor John Ochsendorf explaining the meaning of his favorite Roman inscriptions

The groin vault ceiling above the table where the fellows at the Academy eat lunch all together. We were lucky to join them!

After a quick tour, full of John’s joyful personality and short stories of the historic site (Galileo named the telescope there, which is pretty awesome), it was time for going into the aqueduct (which runs under the Academy), and finally, the lecture. If you had told me that we’d be received an hour and a half long lecture on structural integrity, geometries, design, and materials, I certainly would be intrigued, but hardly jumping up and down in eager anticipation. And yet, as I mentioned, I think it might have been the best lecture I’ve ever received.

So what makes a lecture good? Is it the content? Presentation style? Engagement of the audience?

I think it’s the ability of the lecturer to connect to the audience, not just through direct participation or inherent interest level of the material. What made John so compelling was his ability to connect the content to larger ideas – ideas that we could relate to. That’s not “big picture” in the general sense; it was not just a summary. It’s big picture in that he related his work to wider ideas within the field (such as the abundance of analysis tools and lack of design tools), but also talked about how work itself ought to be. He infused the joy of his work, but also his life into the presentation. As he demonstrated diagrams of thrust lines and models that are “all wrong [over simplified], but some are useful”, he would also mention how academia enables a free lifestyle. He would mention the sense of accomplishment that we all feel after finishing a project. He commented on the amazing opportunities afforded through education – MIT in particular.

John’s uncanny ability to inspire us not just about the material, but the entire culture of learning and research, is something every lecturer should strive for. We all left that room, looking at each other in something reminiscent of awe saying the same thing – “I didn’t even realize time was passing.”

The aqueduct that runs underneath the Academy 

+ More

Cajón del Maipo

July 11th, 2019Study Abroad

By Shannon Wing '22 When making the decision on what to do with my summer, I had two requirements. Number 1: Work within the field of sustainability. Number 2: Be somewhere where I could hike and climb. These two requirements brought me to Santiago, Chile. Chile has some of the highest potential for renewable energy in the world and also houses some of the most beautiful trekking in the world, as I got to experience this past weekend. When arriving to Santiago, I connected with a few other MISTI students as well as an MIT alumna in the area that were interested in hiking and climbing. After formally meeting up for a beer after work and bonding over our experiences with the MIT Outing club, we planned a weekend in Cajón del Maipo. Setting an early morning wakeup, we took off into the mountains and after a quick stop in town to pick up some more friends, eat some cheap empanadas, and ask for some local advice we had our route. “See that mountain over there? Hike to the backside of it, there should be a slope that isn’t too steep or snowy, climb that.” The mountain has no name that we can find, but it sure was beautiful, with 360 degree views of the Andes and no one else in sight. After a few hours or scrambling up scree and postholing through the snow, I celebrated taking the ridge with one of the best meals I have had here [...]

By Shannon Wing ’22

When making the decision on what to do with my summer, I had two requirements.

Number 1: Work within the field of sustainability.

Number 2: Be somewhere where I could hike and climb.

These two requirements brought me to Santiago, Chile. Chile has some of the highest potential for renewable energy in the world and also houses some of the most beautiful trekking in the world, as I got to experience this past weekend. When arriving to Santiago, I connected with a few other MISTI students as well as an MIT alumna in the area that were interested in hiking and climbing. After formally meeting up for a beer after work and bonding over our experiences with the MIT Outing club, we planned a weekend in Cajón del Maipo.

Setting an early morning wakeup, we took off into the mountains and after a quick stop in town to pick up some more friends, eat some cheap empanadas, and ask for some local advice we had our route. “See that mountain over there? Hike to the backside of it, there should be a slope that isn’t too steep or snowy, climb that.”

The mountain has no name that we can find, but it sure was beautiful, with 360 degree views of the Andes and no one else in sight. After a few hours or scrambling up scree and postholing through the snow, I celebrated taking the ridge with one of the best meals I have had here yet: a peanut butter sandwich. Now before you call me out for being a liar, hear me out. This statement is fully justified for three reasons. One, my cooking abilities are questionable. Two, to quote my coworker, “Where did you find Skippy peanut butter? That’s a delicacy around here.” The one jar of crunchy Skippy brand peanut butter that I brought down here has made me many friends, that and my maple syrup. Three, even Chilean’s admit, “go to a peruvian restaurant, their food is better.”


Now, I am back in the office, learning about how new renewable energy plants impact the Chilean power market as well as analyzing the world’s fuel prices. This week I also had the privilege of attending a renewable energy conference with Inodú titled “Hacia un futuro de energía 100% renovable,” where experts in the field debated in english and spanish what the best approach is for Chile to get to 100% renewable energy.

+ More

A Summer in Chile

July 11th, 2019Study Abroad

By Shannon Wing '22 Hello! Two weeks ago at around this time, I was waking up to my new neighbor friend tapping me on the shoulder saying, ‘we are here.” I had somehow managed to sleep through both meals on my overnight flight and now I was in Chile! My journal lay across my lap with my mid-sentence thoughts of excitement. I closed it and figured I’d come back later. When I walked out of the plane I was hit with a wave of cold, I began to shiver. I realized that I am back at it again traveling on my own in a new country. As I sat trying to obtain the airport wifi to message my host mom, I realized that my spanish 4 abilities were not prepared for what was going to come (I shamefully had to pull up Google Translate). Oh well, I am here! With a backpack full of my hiking equipment and a suitcase full of my business casual clothes, I headed off to my new home for 3 months, Santiago, Chile. Welcomed by my host mom and brother for breakfast, it didn’t take long to be reminded that even though we aren’t from the same place and don’t speak the same language, we are very similar. In broken conversation throughout the week, I learned that my host mom’s daughter is currently traveling alone like me in Denmark and she misses her very much. My host brother is in his final year of highschool [...]

By Shannon Wing ’22

Hello! Two weeks ago at around this time, I was waking up to my new neighbor friend tapping me on the shoulder saying, ‘we are here.” I had somehow managed to sleep through both meals on my overnight flight and now I was in Chile! My journal lay across my lap with my mid-sentence thoughts of excitement. I closed it and figured I’d come back later. When I walked out of the plane I was hit with a wave of cold, I began to shiver.

I realized that I am back at it again traveling on my own in a new country. As I sat trying to obtain the airport wifi to message my host mom, I realized that my spanish 4 abilities were not prepared for what was going to come (I shamefully had to pull up Google Translate). Oh well, I am here!

With a backpack full of my hiking equipment and a suitcase full of my business casual clothes, I headed off to my new home for 3 months, Santiago, Chile. Welcomed by my host mom and brother for breakfast, it didn’t take long to be reminded that even though we aren’t from the same place and don’t speak the same language, we are very similar. In broken conversation throughout the week, I learned that my host mom’s daughter is currently traveling alone like me in Denmark and she misses her very much. My host brother is in his final year of highschool and studies late into the night and on weekends in preparation for the PSU, similar to our SATs. He wants to get into a top university and is confused on what to study, but knows he wants to make a big impact on the world. All you MIT people out there, sound similar?

Here in Santiago I am working at a small, fast-growing startup called Inodu as an energy and sustainability intern. The company specializes in analysis of the Chilean power market, which is rapidly changing due to the fast implementation of renewables in the country. The office is half in english and half in spanish, which produces funny spanglish lunch conversations.

On weekends I am exploring. My first stop, a free walking tour starting in La Plaza de Armas. I always look for these when I first arrive in a new city alone. It’s a great way to make new friends, learn about a new city from a local, and of course it’s on a student budget. The day I picked also just happened to fall on the weekend celebration of Navy Day, a Chilean National Holiday that celebrates the Battle of Iquique which took place between Chile and Peru in 1879.  Lucky me, the square was lively with men in uniform, horses, fire trucks, dancing, and all the museums had free entry. Also lucky me, I got to experience some elbow throwing crowds.

(Image of Palacio de La Moneda, Coin Palace, during Navy Day Celebration)

My tour guide, an economics student at Universidad de Chile, welcomed me to Santiago, updated me on the political and social climate, and connected me with local trekking groups. My next stop, a quick coworker outing to the Andes. Next weekend: trekking in Cajon del Maipo.

Stay tuned.

+ More

A Discussion Over the Ethics of Mummified Hands

July 11th, 2019ONE-MA3 2019

By Sophia Mittman '22 While I’m here in Italy, I have been completing most of my research at the Museo Egizio of Turin, which is home to the second largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in the world, second only to that held in Cairo, Egypt. Each morning when I enter the museum, I walk past the Gallery of Kings, where a dark room with epic lighting displays large stone Egyptian statues of pharaohs, gods, and sphinxes, like those you would imagine you would see in the movie, “Night at the Museum.” After weaving through display cases filled with old parchment scrolls, stone slabs covered with countless figures of hieroglyphics, and well-preserved pottery, I enter into my main workspace in the registrar’s office. Some days I am the only one working at my desk, while other days visiting professors from universities like UCLA are sitting on the other side of the table analyzing ancient Egyptian sandals or are taking samples from woven bowls of thousand-year-old dried—and practically mummified—fruit. Intact mummy of Amhose             On one particular day, I met a graduate art conservation student who works in the restoration lab in the registrar’s office. He could tell that I was a curious student, so he gave me a mini-tour of the project that he had been working on. I walked into his lab and saw two mummified hands on the table, swaddled carefully on top of pieces of Styrofoam, one facing palm-up with its cloth wrappings still intact and a golden [...]

By Sophia Mittman ’22

While I’m here in Italy, I have been completing most of my research at the Museo Egizio of Turin, which is home to the second largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in the world, second only to that held in Cairo, Egypt. Each morning when I enter the museum, I walk past the Gallery of Kings, where a dark room with epic lighting displays large stone Egyptian statues of pharaohs, gods, and sphinxes, like those you would imagine you would see in the movie, “Night at the Museum.” After weaving through display cases filled with old parchment scrolls, stone slabs covered with countless figures of hieroglyphics, and well-preserved pottery, I enter into my main workspace in the registrar’s office. Some days I am the only one working at my desk, while other days visiting professors from universities like UCLA are sitting on the other side of the table analyzing ancient Egyptian sandals or are taking samples from woven bowls of thousand-year-old dried—and practically mummified—fruit.

Intact mummy of Amhose

            On one particular day, I met a graduate art conservation student who works in the restoration lab in the registrar’s office. He could tell that I was a curious student, so he gave me a mini-tour of the project that he had been working on. I walked into his lab and saw two mummified hands on the table, swaddled carefully on top of pieces of Styrofoam, one facing palm-up with its cloth wrappings still intact and a golden ring peeping out of the strips, and the other resting palm-down without any of its wrappings covering the dried skin, long past turning a dark wooden-like color. I must say, it was certainly strange yet still fascinating to examine the two hands from less than a foot away without glass to separate them from me as ancient pieces of cultural heritage are normally in a museum. I was surprised to find that the student had done similar analysis processes on the hands as we had done during ONE-MA^3 on other artifacts. He had modeled the hands on his computer and had mapped different areas of the hand, each section corresponding to different sections that needed repairing and the parts he had already restored. When it comes to restoring the fragile hands, it is forbidden to change or alter the original form of the cultural heritage, for example, by removing any piece of the wrappings or by cleaning any more than the outermost layer of dust that has accumulated on the surface. We were taught similar rules about art conservation in ONE-MA^3 when we had visited the art restoration labs of the Vatican Museums. When restoring artifacts like these hands, portions must only be restored so that those pieces cannot be damaged further or lost (he accomplished this by patching loose pieces of the mummified hand with small, nearly-invisible pieces of special Japanese paper).

Entire mummy of Imhotep

            I inquired if the hands would then go on display in the museum once he had finished restoring them. I quickly learned that the short answer is: absolutely not! These mummified hands are indeed pieces of priceless cultural heritage, but different museums have different approaches to dealing with ethical questions when it comes to displaying that cultural heritage, especially when human remains are in the conversation. In short, I learned that the Museo Egizio, as an archeological museum, does not look to display single mummified extremities that are separated from a body simply for public entertainment. If they are to display mummified human remains, they usually will only do so if they have the entire body intact, and more importantly, if they know certain pieces of information about the person who lived thousands of years ago. For instance, there is a room in the Museo Egizio that displays two complete mummies without their wrappings. On the display cases is the entire story of the two mummies, Ahmose and Imhotep. There is another complete mummy on display, curled up into a fetal position. Archeologists were not able to identify who exactly this man was, but along with the display case, they included an explanation that described as much information about this person as possible. In this way, the museum is able to display cultural heritage in a manner that is ethical, considerate, and respectful toward the humans who walked on Earth long before we ever did, and I believe that this same consideration of ethics is essential when it comes to displaying most other forms of cultural heritage, too.

Mummy of a 40-year-old man from the Predynastic period

+ More