massachusetts institute of technology

research and teaching firsts

Following are selected research and teaching achievements of MIT faculty since humans (including MIT alumnus Buzz Aldrin) landed on the moon in 1969.

research firsts

1969: Ioannis V. Yannas begins work on developing artificial skin -- a material used successfully to treat burn victims.

1970: David Baltimore reports the discovery of reverse transcriptase, an enzyme that catalyzes the conversion of RNA to DNA. The advance, which led to a Nobel Prize in 1975 for Baltimore, provided a new means for studying the structure and function of genes.

1973: Jerome Friedman and Henry Kendall, with Stanford colleague Richard Taylor, complete a series of experiments confirming the theory that protons and neutrons are made up of minute particles called quarks. The three received the Nobel Prize in 1990 for their work.

1974: Samuel C.C. Ting, Ulrich Becker and Min Chen discover the "J" particle. The discovery, which earned a Nobel Prize for Ting in 1976, points to the existence of one of the six postulated types of quarks.

1975: With the aid of NASA's space shuttles, Laurence Young begins research on the effects of weightlessness on humans. The work provided a basic understanding of motion sickness.

1975 - 1982: Joel Moses develops the first extensive computerized program (MACSYMA) able to manipulate algebraic quantities and perform symbolic integration and differentiation.

1976: Har Gobind Khorana and research team complete chemical synthesis of the first man-made gene fully functional in a living cell. The culmination of 12 years' work, it established the foundation for the biotechnology industry. Khorana won the Nobel Prize in 1968 for other genetics work.

1977: Phillip Sharp discovers the split gene structure of higher organisms, changing the view or how genes arose during evolution. For this work, Sharp shared the 1993 Nobel Prize.

1977: Ronald L. Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Leonard Adleman invent the first workable public key cryptographic system. The new code, which is based on the use of very large prime numbers, employs published keys, allows secret communication between any pair of users, and has so far proved unbreakable.

1979: Robert Weinberg reports isolating and identifying the first human oncogene -- an altered gene that causes the uncontrolled cell growth that leads to cancer.

1981: Alan Guth publishes the first satisfactory model of the universe's development in the first 10 -32 seconds after the "Big Bang."

1982: Alan Davison discovers a new class of technetium compounds leading to development of the first diagnostic technetium drug for imaging the human heart. Recent studies have shown that several compounds in this class can locate metastatic breast cancer and other cancers.

1985: Susumu Tonegawa describes the structure of the gene for the receptors -- "anchor molecules" -- on the white blood cells called T lymphocytes, the immune system's master cells. In 1987, Tonegawa received the Nobel Prize for similar work on the immune system's B cells.

1986: Stephen Benton and his students at the Media Laboratory invent the alcove hologram that projects a computer-generated 3-D image -- an automobile "parked" in mid-air -- into space.

1988: Sallie Chisholm and her associates report they have found a form of ocean plankton that may be the most abundant single species on earth.

1990: Michael Cima successfully adapts the technique called metal organic deposition to use in creating ultra-thin films of superconducting materials.

1990: Julius Rebek Jr. and his associates create the first self-replicating synthetic molecule.

1991: Cleveland heart doctors begin clinical trials of a laser catheter system for microsurgery on the arteries that is largely the work of Michael Feld and his associates at MIT.

1993: H. Robert Horvitz, along with scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital, discover an association between a gene mutation and the inherited form of Lou Gehrig's disease.

1993: David Housman joins colleagues at other institutions in announcing a successful end to the long search for the genetic defect linked with Huntington's disease.

1993: Alexander Rich and post-doctoral fellow Shuguang Zhang report the discovery of a small protein fragment that spontaneously forms into membranes, and is expected to find uses in drug development, biomedical research and in understanding Alzheimer's and other diseases.

1994: MIT engineers develop a robot that can "learn" exercises from a physical therapist, guide a patient through them, and -- for the first time -- record biomedical data on the patient's condition and progress.

1995: Scientists at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and MIT create a map of the human genome that will allow them to begin the final phase of the Human Genome Project. This powerful map contains more than 15,000 distinct markers and covers virtually all of the human genome.

1996: A group of scientists at MIT's Center for Learning and Memory, headed by Matthew Wilson and Nobel Laureate Susumu Tonegawa, using new genetic and multiple-cell monitoring technologies, demonstrate how animals form memory about new environments.

1997: MIT physicists led by professor of physics Wolfgang Ketterle create the first atom laser, a device that is analogous to an optical laser but emits atoms instead of light. The laser could have a variety of applications in fundamental research and in industry. Ketterle shared the 2001 Nobel prize for the discovery in 1995 of the Bose-Einstein condensate, the long-predicted material the laser employs.

1998: MIT biologists led by Professor Leonard Guarente identified a mechanism of aging in yeast cells that suggests researchers may one day be able to intervene in, and possibly inhibit, the aging process in certain human cells.

1999: MIT engineers report the first microchip that can store and release chemicals on demand. Potential applications include jewelry that emits different scents depending on your mood, and "pharmacies" that could be swallowed or implanted under the skin and programmed for the delivery of precise amounts of drugs at specific times. The chip was developed by Professor Michael Cima, Professor Robert Langer, and graduate student (now alum) John Santini.

2000: The McGovern Institute for Brain Research is established at MIT to aggressively explore human learning and communication through interdisciplinary research that encompasses neuroscience, molecular neurobiology, bioengineering, cognitive sciences, computation and genetics.

2000: An MIT solution for punching up the electrical power in future cars turns out to be inexpensive to implement and will also significantly increase a vehicle's fuel economy. The work was led by David Perreault, now an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

2001: In a step toward creating energy from sunlight as plants do, MIT researchers led by Professor Daniel Nocera invent a compound that produces hydrogen gas with the help of a catalyst and a zap of light.

2002: MIT researchers create the world's first acrobatic robotic bird--a small, agile helicopter that the military could use in mountainous and urban combat and that could offer the entertainment industry a new means of capturing aerial imagery.

2003: The Broad Institute, a new type of biomedical research institute aimed at realizing the promise of the human genome to revolutionize clinical medicine, is created through an alliance among MIT, Harvard University, and the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research together with Los Angeles philanthropists Eli and Edythe L. Broad.

2004: An MIT device that makes the world's most precise rulers--with "ticks" only a few hundred billionths of a meter apart--could impact fields from computer chip manufacturing to space physics. The Nanoruler was developed by Mark Schattenburg, director of MIT's Space Nanotechnology Laboratory.

2005: MIT physicists, led by Nobel laureate Wolfgang Ketterle, become the first to create a new type of matter, a gas of atoms that shows high-temperature superfluidity.

teaching firsts

MIT has long believed that professional competence is best fostered by coupling teaching with research and by focusing attention on real-world problems. This hands-on learning approach has made MIT a consistent leader in the outside surveys of the best college programs in the nation.

MIT was the first university in the nation to have a curriculum in these fields: architecture (1865), electrical engineering (1882), sanitary engineering (1889), naval architecture and marine engineering (1895), aeronautical engineering (1914), meteorology (1928), nuclear physics (1935), and artificial intelligence (1960s).

More than 4,000 MIT alumni and alumnae are professors at colleges and universities around the world. MIT professors have written some of the best-selling textbooks of all time, such as Economics by Paul A. Samuelson. Following are notable milestones in teaching at MIT since the pivotal academic year of 1969.

1969: The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), the first of its kind, is launched. The program, which enables undergraduates to work directly with faculty members in professional research, subsequently is copied in many universities throughout the world. About 2,800 MIT undergraduates participate annually in UROP.

1970: The Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology is established to focus science and technology on human health needs and to train physicians with a strong base in engineering and science.

1971: MIT holds its first Independent Activities Period, a January program that emphasizes creativity and flexibility in teaching and learning. Over 600 activities are offered including design contests, laboratory projects, workshops, field trips, and courses in practical skills.

1975: MIT's Department of Materials Science and Engineering pioneers a multidisciplinary academic program that combines the study of metallurgy, ceramics and polymers.

1977: MIT organizes the Program in Science, Technology and Society to explore and teach courses on the social context and consequences of science and technology -- one of the first programs of its kind in the U.S.

1981: MIT launches Project Athena, a $70 million program to explore the use of computers in the educational process. Digital Equipment Corporation and IBM each contribute $25 million worth of computers.

1983 - 1990: The Athena Language Learning Project brings together language teachers and computer scientists to pioneer the development of interactive video to immerse students in the language, cities and character of other cultures. The work sets the standard for a new generation of language learning tools.

1984: The School of Architecture and Planning creates a program in real estate development, the first at the university level in the United States.

1984: MIT establishes the unique Media Laboratory, bringing together several pioneering educational programs in computer music, film, graphics, holography, lasers, photography, television and other media technologies.

1985: MIT, with a major grant from the National Science Foundation, establishes the Biotechnology Process Engineering Center to train professionals to develop basic concepts for commercial applications of modern biology.

1986: MIT initiates its Freshman Advisor Seminars, combining advising and mentoring with academic instruction designed to engage students in active weekly discussion and hands-on learning.

1988: Professor Arthur Steinberg starts the Integrated Studies Program (ISP), offering 40 freshmen per semester to engage in hands-on learning about how various technologies work and how different cultures react to the technologies. The program emphasizes strong oral and written communications.

1991: MIT establishes the MacVicar Faculty Fellows Program, named in honor of the late Professor Margaret A. MacVicar, to recognize outstanding contributions to teaching. Up to eight members of the faculty are selected annually to receive a special fund for ten years to develop new ways to enrich the undergraduate learning experience.

1992: MIT establishes the Laboratory for Advanced Technology in the Humanities to extend its pioneering work in computer/video-assisted language learning to other disciplines, starting with a multi-media archive for the study of the text and performance of Shakespeare's plays.

1993: In recognition of the increasing importance of molecular and cell biology, MIT becomes the first college in the nation to add biology to its required courses of physics, mathematics, chemistry and the humanities.

1995: MIT's Political Science Department establishes the Washington Summer Internship Program to provide undergraduates the opportunity to apply their scientific and technical training to public policy issues.

1997: MIT's System Design and Management Program (SDM) is the Institute's first graduate degree-granting program, offered through distance education by the School of Engineering and the Sloan School of Management. SDM's holistic "total enterprise" approach emhasizes system design and new product development. SDM also works closely with industry and other universities.

1998: The Freshman/Alumni Summer Internship Program starts with an interactive seminar in the spring of freshman year, preparing students for a summer internship at selected companies with an MIT alumni mentor. In the fall, the students write a paper about their experiences and make an oral presentation. The program is now in the Office of Career Services.

1998: MIT and Singapore's two leading research universities announced the creation of a new global model for long-distance engineering education and research. Described as the first truly global collaboration in graduate engineering education and research, this large-scale experiment may result in an "exportable model" for distance education.

1999: The University of Cambridge and MIT began a major new partnership: the Cambridge-MIT Institute. Its programs include undergraduate, graduate student and faculty exchanges; a program of integrated research; the adaptation to Britain of professional practice programs developed at MIT; and the creation of a national competitiveness network in Britain.

1999: MIT and Microsoft Corp. unveiled iCampus, an ambitious alliance to conduct research and create new technologies that will improve information technology-enabled teaching models and educational tools for university education.

1999: The National Science Foundation helped establish a new consortium called "PD21: the Education Consortium for Product Development Leadership in the 21st Century" to expand the SDM master's degree program at MIT to two other universities. In conjunction with SDM, MIT's Center for Innovation in Product Development (CIPD), with its partners at the University of Detroit Mercy (UDM) and the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), established a new master's degree in product development at all three institutions.

2001: In a move to radically alter technology-enhanced education at MIT and serve as a model for university dissemination of knowledge in the Internet age, MIT announces OpenCourseWare, an initiative to make the materials for nearly all its courses freely available on the web over the next ten years.

2001: TEAL -- Technology Enabled Active Learning -- is introduced as a new way to teach freshman physics, incorporating a highly collaborative, hands-on environment, with extensive use of networked laptops and desktop experiments.

2004: MIT launches its graduate program in Computational and Systems Biology, the first of its kind in the country. Students will tackle challenging problems in complex research at the interface of biology, engineering and computer science.

2005: MIT becomes the first university in the nation to fuse molecular and cellular bioscience with engineering to create a new biological engineering discipline for undergraduates.

Artificial skin developed in the laboratory of Ioannis V. Yannas. 1981 photo by Calvin Campbell


Phillip Sharp explains his Nobel-winning research at a press conference. 1993 photo by Donna Coveney


Professor Sallie Chisholm with photographs of the newly found species of plankton her team discovered. They later named it Prochlorococcus marinus. 1988 photo by Donna Coveney


Graduate students Michael Andrews and Marc-Oliver Mewes and Professor Wolfgang Ketterle gather around the machine they and their MIT collaborators used to demonstrate the first atom laser. 1997 photo by Donna Coveney

















































































MIT administrators cut a cake to mark the 30th anniversary of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). 2000 photo by Donna Coveney


The Flying Karamazov Brothers, demonstrate their juggling and comedy act in the Media Lab atrium. They collaborated with Professor Neil Gershenfeld and colleagues at the Media Lab to develop technology such as sonar tracking of the performers, programmable club displays and interactive computer vision and graphics. 2001 photo by Donna Coveney