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MIT staff blogger Matt McGann '00

Theory of Actual Reality by Matt McGann '00

I’m back in Boston now with five Central Meetings under my belt: Long Island, Queens, Northern Virginia, Suburban Maryland, and Baltimore. Next up: the Pacific Northwest and Bay Area, starting Sunday.

I forced Ben to go to 3.091 (Intro Chemistry, solid state version) today, to see for himself an actual MIT class. As usual, Prof. Sadoway (former Chair of the Committee on Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid, by the way) played music for the five minutes before the official start of class at 11:05am. Today’s music was “Seasons of Love” from RENT, one of my all-time favorite musicals (not to mention a brief mention of MIT).

Soon after, we were wading knee-deep in orbital theory and photoelectron spectroscopy, and I was transported back to my days as an MIT freshmen: the excitement I felt learning real science. I had forgotten just how awesome chemistry is. And the best part was Sadoway was moving fast. Not lightning fast, but the kind of fast pace I had always hoped for in high school, where we weren’t dwelling on the derivation of equations but rather getting to the guts of the important stuff without dilly-dallying.

And also as usual, Sadoway ended class with real-world applications of the chemistry being taught. This was a classic MIT moment for several reasons. First, it was a challenge to improve the world: if we could more cheaply and efficiently produce magnesium, perhaps we could make safe yet lightweight cars that would be more fuel-efficient, hence being more envormentally friendly and decreasing importance of oil. But also, he put the challenge to the freshmen, the Class of 2008 to do something about it: this is a problem waiting to be solved, and I want one of you — yes, freshmen — to come work in my lab and get to the bottom of this. For those of you prospective member of the Classes of 2009, 2010 and beyond, I suspect that there will be more work to be done on this problem — and many, many other problems to be solved — so there’s plenty of opportunity available for you.

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