Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Guihua Yu, a mechanical engineering assistant professor, stands in one of the two labs he works in daily with his students — specifically with hydrogels, which are networks of hydrophilic polymer chains.

Photo Credit: Sarah Montgomery | Daily Texan Staff

A mechanical engineering professor at the University was named to Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s list of “35 Innovators Under 35.”

Guihua Yu was recognized last week on the list, which works to advance society through novel technological creations and applications, according to the list’s website. The list has also named notable innovators in the past, such as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

“This is not only a great honor for the [research] group members but also a valuable recognition for the engineering scientific works at UT-Austin,” said Borui Liu, a graduate student who works in Yu’s research group in the Materials Science and Engineering program.

The work done in Yu’s lab relates to hydrogels, which are networks of hydrophilic polymer chains that are highly absorbent and possess a degree of natural flexibility — much like human tissue. According to Yu, hydrogels have been used as a mechanism in drug delivery and as scaffolds for tissue engineering in the past, but the utility of these materials has been limited.

“Due to the intrinsic insulating properties, hydrogels are rarely useful for electronics and energy-related applications,” Yu said. 

The recognition from MIT was prompted after Yu’s research group created a hydrogel with a new nanostructure design that can transmit and store electricity.

“We would like to witness our conductive hydrogels to be put into use in a variety of daily-life applications, such as lithium-ion battery and supercapacitor electrodes, biosensors and drug delivery devices,” Liu said.

This year’s edition of the list brought Yu’s research group and its work prominence in scientific literature, and a variety of large technology companies have been in contact about the future applications of conductive hydrogels. 

According to Yu, increased funding may come in light of the list’s recognition, as well as future research in the field of conductive hydrogels both at UT and elsewhere.

“Knowing the interesting applications we demonstrated will attract more researchers to push together and make more exciting discoveries,” Yu said.

Francis J. Gavin, director of the Robert Strauss Center for International Security and Law, will leave the University in January to accept a position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His successor will be law professor Robert Chesney. 

Gavin was instrumental in the development of the Strauss Center, which began in 2004 and was established by 2006. He said his vision was to create an interdisciplinary institution that brought together thinkers capable of confronting complex global challenges.

“In our increasingly globalized world, it’s vital to have top minds looking at the problems facing the international community and helping develop solutions. Frank Gavin is one of those minds,” President William Powers Jr. said in a statement. “His leadership at the Strauss Center has been
invaluable and he has been an asset for the University
of Texas.”

Gavin will continue his work at UT and at the Strauss Center throughout fall 2013.

“Academic work should contribute to a larger conversation,” Gavin said. “We want to bring the world to Texas, and Texas to the world.” 

Gavin said this idea drives the wide variety of work the center has undertaken over the years. The projects of the center include hosting hundreds of world-renowned speakers and providing funding for more than 250 students to do research and study abroad.

Of all the Strauss Center’s accomplishments, Gavin said he considers its ability to attract world-class talent to Texas to be one of its main successes.

At the top of his list, Gavin includes his successor Chesney, a Strauss Distinguished Scholar and a leading expert on issues relating to national security and intelligence.

“We are proud to have such a prominent and influential scholar lead the Strauss Center for International Security and Law,” Powers said in
his statement.  

Chesney acknowledges the leadership legacy left by Gavin, and said he looks forward to building upon his accomplishments to further benefit UT and the world. 

“I’m honored to take the reigns from him, and as excited as I could possibly be about what we will accomplish next,” Chesney said in a statement. 

Gavin, who has been with the University for 13 years, said it is not easy leaving the place he loves. 

“It was very difficult,” Gavin said. “But its good for the soul, for institutions, to move on and do new things.” 

Gavin will be serving as the inaugural Frank Stanton Chair in Nuclear Security Policy at MIT starting in 2014. 

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — Authorities say a campus police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has died from injuries in a shooting on the campus outside Boston.

Cambridge police and the Middlesex District Attorney's office says the officer was responding to a report of a disturbance when he was shot multiple times. He later died at a hospital. His name was not immediately released.

State police spokesman Dave Procopio says the shooting took place about 10:30 p.m. outside an MIT building.

Procopio says authorities are searching for a suspect or suspects. There are no other victims.

About 11,000 people attend the prestigious school. The campus website said police were sweeping the campus and urged people to stay indoors.

Given the recent upgrade and completion of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) testing across high schools in the state of Texas, it is no surprise that standardized testing at the university level is being discussed.

Fortunately, Neal E. Armstrong, UT’s vice provost for faculty affairs, recently told The New York Times that “[University standardized testing] does not, in my opinion, measure value added very well for our kind of institution. Our freshmen come in with very high aptitude and critical thinking skills.”

At least UT has stated that standardized testing is not a good method for evaluating our school. And for clarification’s sake, by “value added,” Armstrong is addressing the idea of how much value is added by the time they leave college to students’ academic baseline that they have when they come into college. After all, standardized tests are touted as a potential way to finally provide some answers to the question: What does one learn in college?

But I’m not sure that knowledge can be tested. And for more than just the reasons iterated by Armstrong.

The main questions that come to my head concern the purpose of higher education — and I don’t think the answer to that is very clear. Some would argue that the purpose is to get a job. But if that were the case, why doesn’t every degree require internships, apprenticeships and other career preparation activities?

So what about the argument that higher education is meant to teach you to expand your mind and learn new things? If that were the case, why are restrictive core curricula so prevalent? Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently released a program called MITx, which is an online offering of a lot of their normal classes for free to non-MIT students. While this initiative has received applause for its innovation, no one has described the online courses as replacements for the MIT experience. In fact, even MIT does not count completed online MITx coursework toward any kind of degree. So it seems that MIT considers itself as more than just a means by which to take classes to get a degree. Earning the degree requires something else.

I think part of that “something else” that we learn in college is how to graduate from our specific college. I realize that sentence seems obvious, but with graduation one month away, I can honestly say, I’ve learned how to graduate at UT. I’ve learned which classes I can skip, which classes are difficult, which weeks I can go downtown on Thursday nights, which professors I can ask for recommendations from, which apartment complexes have good management, where all the great coffee places are and generally lots of other UT-centric things crucial to graduating here.

But none of those things would be covered on a standardized test. And while I’m sure every university has comparable aspects, they won’t be exactly the same. At UT, I had my first 300-plus person class, and I figured out how to learn in it. I’ve had at least two semesters where there was a glitch with my registration and had to call three different people to fix the problem. Through those experiences, I’ve gained a sense of independence and self-reliance that probably isn’t cultivated at much at smaller schools where administrators can do more administrative hand-holding.

Intuitively, we all know UT is different from other schools; that’s part of why we chose to go here instead of somewhere else. In graduating from UT, I didn’t just learn answers for tests, but I learned how to gain the necessary knowledge for that test in this kind of environment.

And it’s the how that is significantly more important than the what when it comes to finding future jobs, solving future problems and continuing to learn in the future.

For this reason, standardized tests miss the boat completely when it comes to testing what we learn in college both because they make comparisons between totally different environments and because they don’t focus on the important part of higher education in the first place.

Taylor is a Plan II and rhetoric and writing senior.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology is hoping to legitimize and further transform online learning. The school finds itself at the forefront of the open educational resources movement. With its many online course notes, lecture videos and other educational materials, MIT recently launched another online learning initiative called MITx. The goal of MITx is to extend the reach of higher education and provide students with a means of earning credentials to supplement their studies.

Online courses have earned a reputation for being “lite” versions of their classroom counterparts and are therefore regarded as easier. It is a widely accepted fact, for instance, that if a student needs an easy A for a core class, he or she would do well to take it online. MIT hopes to change this culture.

MITx is not an easier version of MIT but instead carries the MIT pedigree to an online medium where non-residential learners will receive the best possible experience. MITx builds upon MIT’s decade old OpenCourseWare, which now includes nearly 2,100 courses.

The idea of MITx is to allow students to supplement their current coursework in a way that is both easy to scale and accessible. For example, an engineering student will be able to take the knowledge he or she learns in an electronics class and apply it to an online lab. MITx will be a free program. However, those who wish to get credit from MIT will need to take an exam that will cost money.

The ultimate goal of MITx and other online learning programs is to create high-quality, affordable, accessible education for future generations. The Internet revolution has allowed an online learning community to develop. Contributions from MIT and other institutions of higher education will spearhead the movement to create an online consortium. An improved online teaching environment modeled after MITx would bring many benefits to UT.

A bona fide, undiluted online program would extend UT’s global reach. Unlike traditional classes, online courses are unrestricted by physical parameters such as classroom size or student-to-professor ratio. Anyone with a computer and the motivation will be able to complete
UT coursework.

The creation of such an online program can be easily achieved by recording lectures and scanning lecture notes. These materials can be uploaded online for anyone to access.

UT could also improve online courses by making them more interactive. The University could retool its lectures and coursework to be responsive to students’ academic progress. For example, homework grading software could analyze a student’s missed questions and provide suggestions for improvement. An online course could also crowdsource the grading process. Qualified moderators could be certified to comment on students’ work in real time. This would further personalize the course and tailor it to the needs of the student.

A UTx-type program could also better prepare incoming freshman for the rigors of a university-level education. Rather than taking an AP test, a graduating high school senior could take a freshman class early to get a better understanding of what it takes to succeed at the undergraduate level.

Moreover, the interest generated by MITx and MIT’s OpenCourseWare shows that online programs present an opportunity to create revenue. Depending on their size and quality, future online programs at UT could help generate much-needed money.

In its current state, online education is seen as an inferior manifestation of a real course. However, if done well, online education could become the preferred medium for future generations of students.

Shi is an electrical and computer engineering junior.

The British Petroleum oil spill in April 2010 inspired a new partnership between UT and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create a set of guidelines that will allow scientists to avoid future crises.

The Energy Institute at UT, MIT’s Energy Initiative and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute formed the Research Center for Environmental Protection at Hydrocarbon Energy Production Frontiers, REEF. Several UT colleges and schools will be involved, including the Cockrell School of Engineering, School of Law, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, McCombs School of Business and Jackson School of Geosciences. The team hopes to outline a set of realistic rules and steps to avoid major human-caused disasters, representatives said.

Director of the Energy Institute, Raymond Orbach is taking on a personal role with MIT faculty making sure programs from both schools are complimentary. Legal and regulatory aspects, environmental concerns and the risk of human error will be the main factors in REEF’s assessments, Orbach said.

Tadeusz Patzek, Chairman of UT’s Department of Petroleum & Geosystems Engineering, is part of the advisory board of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement which deals with issues relating to the REEF proposal.

“If we decide to drill, and most governments including U.S. government are of the opinion that we should, we should do it in a way as to minimize or eliminate damage to the environment,” Patzek said.

An option for extracting natural gas and oil is the process of fracking, a fairly recent method used since the ‘90s. It was first used extensively in the Barnett Shale in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, said energy and earth resources graduate student, Jenifer Wehner.

“People in the oil and gas industry commonly say ‘fracking’ to describe just one part of the whole gas exploration and production process,” according to a May 13 article from The New York Times. “Purists would say it is not really even part of ‘drilling’ but actually the ‘completion’ phase.”

Shale is a porous rock and because of its properties it holds on to gas molecules, and although there is gas in the rock, there is no way to extract it easily.

“Part of the concern regarding hydraulic fracking is putting water with chemicals down into the ground,” Wehner said. A concern is that water will seep out of the well where the oil was drilled and get into ground water.

The UT-MIT partnership is looking at areas where it’s tough to extract resources. The Arctic has a huge amount of oil and gas which is why it’s the next frontier, Orbach said, even though it’s a very sensitive environmental area. Further areas to explore include Alaska, Canada, Russia and Norway.

“We need to work with energy companies to ensure their practices are consistent with what we find best. We will bring to the government, awareness of what we’re doing but the government will decide whether to use our results or not,” Orbach said. “What we hope is that they will find them so attractive that they will help them formulate policy.”

According to an article from the Houston Chronicle on July 17, 2011, the center could require commitments of up to $100 million over five years, coming from multiple sponsors.