Author Archive for Bina

Pitches and Posters: An Evening of Ideas

By guest author Vijay Shilpiekandula, Volunteer for MIT IDEAS

Lights, camera, action! The stage was set and the players – MIT teams, armed with posters showcasing their ideas — thrived in the spotlight. The MIT Stata Center saw a flurry of activity on April 30, 2012 as 37 teams led by MIT students pitched their projects to an expert panel of judges at the Poster and Judging session. This year’s teams spearheaded a wide array of projects involving product design, business innovation, and sustainability, all aimed to meet global community needs.

Grooming Innovators

Building the workhorse of innovation is more of marathon than a sprint. Long hours, late night discussions, and last minute debugging of models and plans were the norm. For some, it started from introductory meetings with others in the MIT and Greater Boston community, through multiple IDEAS Generator dinners organized over last fall and this spring. For others, it started from brainstorming with passion in their dorm rooms and department labs.

Over different phases of the competition, the teams wrote project proposals that went through multiple rounds of review and revision. Meanwhile, the teams made connections with the communities that would directly benefit from the team’s idea.

“It started as a small idea, [but it] grew organically,” said Kevin Kung, one of the participants whose team is composed of MIT graduate and undergraduate students, as well as volunteers, mentors, and community partners.

Passion Shows

“This is great evening… for the commitment you [students] show to the community,” said Professor Amy Smith, who had founded the MIT IDEAS Global Challenge 11 years ago and, more recently, the MIT D-Lab. She continued with advice on pitching to the expert panel of judges, a team of 40 formed from MIT administration, government, industry, and academic professionals from all over the world. “Tell [the judges] your idea,” Smith said, emphasizing the need for teams to voice their experience with their projects, how they toyed with the idea, what worked, what did not, and what lay ahead.

As judges and audiences came by to the posters, each team employed a variety of tools ranging from slideshows and prototypes to business models and lessons learnt from actual field trials in the communities they targeted.

“They [judges] asked me very intriguing questions,” said Srikanth Bolla, a student in MIT Sloan, who spent the last few months honing his team’s proposal, and more than a year laying the groundwork that helped his team tackle the judges’ questions. Along with Bolla’s team, which targeted education, training, and sustainability, the IDEAS teams this year came up with innovative solutions to challenges in fields such as water clean water, healthcare, mobile devices and communication, housing and transportation, disaster relief, finance and entrepreneurship, and agriculture and processing.

The Awards Ceremony: a shout out to Innovation and Public Service

We look forward to celebrating the investments that went into this year’s projects. On Thursday May 3, 6-9pm in the MIT Stata Center 32-123, the IDEAS Global Challenge will be announcing the winners and showcasing the student enthusiasm for the world at large. There will be a lecture by guest speaker Joi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab, and a special toast to the students!

Trash Into Art

This week, the Trash Into Art installation is on display in the MIT Stata Center, first floor.

The goal of Trash Into Art is to raise awareness around the value of waste materials such as cardboard, Styrofoam, plastics, metals, and other objects found in a garbage can. A crucial focus is the impact of waste on marginalized people and communities.

This exhibition features student artists who were challenged to collect pieces of waste for a week, and to create a thought-provoking project from materials that would otherwise be thrown away.

The installation is one component of the larger “Waste: Put it to Use” Yunus Challenge, presented by the MIT International Development Initiative in collaboration with MIT D-Lab and the IDEAS Global Challenge.

For more photos, click here.

‎2 DAYS until the next Initial Scope deadline!

All teams entering the IDEAS Global Challenge must submit at least one Initial Scope Statement.

This is the last chance to submit and get feedback from volunteers: March 2 by 11:59PM; details online at


Embrace and Me: A Follow-Up to ‘Notes “Product Development for the Other 90%”’

By guest author: Hamsika Chandrasekar

I read Bina’s Notes on “Product Development for the Other 90%” and felt a spark of interest when I came across her description of Embrace, a social enterprise that has developed an innovative, low-cost infant warmer to help keep low-birth-weight and premature infants warm. Thanks to the combined support of the MIT Public Service Center, Baker Foundation, and Kelly-Douglas Fund, I was able to spend the last month in India, working to launch Embrace’s infant warmer at the Shamlaji Tribal Hospital in Gujarat.

This hospital is located in the small village of Shamlaji, about two hours outside Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest city. It is managed by a husband and wife doctor team, Drs. Haren Joshi and Pratima Tolat, who ensure that the free treatment provided at Shamlaji Tribal Hospital is of high quality. Working with Embrace, I selected Shamlaji Tribal Hospital for my service project due to its focus on rural healthcare and its high numbers of low birth weight infants. When I arrived at the hospital, I found two packages, both marked ‘most urgent,’ waiting for me in the hospital office. I opened one quickly and happily held up its contents: the Embrace infant warmer. Looking back now, I still remember that sense of excitement and purpose I felt when I unwrapped the device. I couldn’t believe that after all the emails, the training sessions, the conference calls, and the planning, I was finally at Shamlaji Tribal Hospital, working with an organization I had heard about through a TedTalk and immediately loved.

My first day, unwrapping an Embrace infant warmer

I spent nearly three weeks in Gujarat, conversing with the doctors and nurses and showing them how to operate the infant warmer.

During my time there, nine infants benefited from the Embrace product, absorbing the warmer’s heat and gaining weight during their hospital stay. Together, the nurses and I monitored these babies and collected data on each infant. I was happy to see that the nurses quickly became comfortable with the Embrace product, taking it out whenever a newborn weighed between 1.5 kg and 2.5 kg, the recommended weight range for product use.

A (2.5 kg) infant sleeping peacefully in the Embrace infant warmer

The biggest challenge for me was the language barrier: I spoke no Gujarati and very little Hindi, the two most prominent languages in the region. I worked with the hospital staff via an interpreter, pausing at the end of each sentence and allowing her to translate what I had said. With her help, I also explored some of the other healthcare needs in the area, meeting with the head of Shamlaji Village and traveling out to the Himmatnagar Civil Hospital, to which many patients from Shamlaji Tribal Hospital are referred.

For me, this project served not only as an opportunity to perform hands-on service work but also as a reminder of the realities in impoverished regions and the challenges involved in the improvement of rural healthcare. For every baby born in Shamlaji Tribal Hospital, many more are born at home, never receiving proper care and often dying due to preventable reasons. Parents, desperate to have kids that survive past infancy, pay little attention to established family planning methods. Poor education makes it difficult for villagers to comprehend the dangers associated with at-home deliveries and improper antenatal care. Throughout my time in Gujarat, I was reminded of how much more I – and for that matter, anyone in the world – could do to help.

Hamsika Chandrasekar is currently a junior at MIT and a previous PSC expedition grant recipient. She is double majoring in Computational Biology (Course 6-7) and Neuroscience (Course 9), hopes to enroll in medical school following her undergraduate years, and ultimately wants to pursue a career in global health. 

This year’s teams on the field over IAP

Follow the Takachar team ( as they begin research in Nairobi on how improve the sustainability and security of cooking fuel.

Follow Diana Jue from Essmart ( as she tests ideas about technology dissemination.

Follow Greg Tao from ALCAS last year ( as he continues his project:

IAP Opportunities with IDEAS Global Challenge

Check out some helpful events happening over IAP (

Pahoehoe: Do-Gooders Behind the Desk – Thu Jan 19, 12-01:30pm, 1-135


Join us to hear from five MIT staff members who are making a difference in communities near and far. You’ll hear about a rowing program for cancer survivors, cell phone technology for detecting hearing loss in Brazil, athletes who are running to end cancer, and more.

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Answers to your Intellectual Property Questions

January 25 – 2:00pm – 3:30pm, 4-153

Starting a new company? Working on a new technology? Looking to learn more about intellectual property? Come join intellectual property attorney Peter Gordon, founder of Patent GC LLC, for an open question and answer session. RSVP to with IP in the subject

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Starting Up Your Startup
Thu Jan 26, 03-04:00pm, 3-270

Do you have a brilliant idea but no clue on how to take it to the next level? Our panel discussion of Start-Upswill have speakers at various stages in the Start-Up process from sloppy beginnings to smooth runnings. Preregistration requested through CareerBridge.

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(Public) Service Smorgasbord: Eats and Opportunities

Tuesday, January 31 – noon – 1:30pm, W20-491


What type of service do you want to do? Maybe you want to tutor high school students in Cambridge, be paid for public service work with a great organization whoneeds your help, work with a community partner somewhere else in the world, or develop a new solution to deliver impact. We’ll have an open conversation over a smorgasbord of food to share with you the best way to get started on public service or to try something new.

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Design to Scale – Developing Technologies for Global Impact

Thursday, February 2; 3:30 – 5:00pm, at MIT in building 56-114

Working to scale a technology designed for the bottom of the pyramid? Come join for the first of a series of events as we lay the foundation for what to consider when designing for global impact.  RSVP to

Sponsored by D-Lab, IDEAS Global Challenge, International Development Initiative, Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program, Public Service Center, SEID.

Notes from “Product Development for the Other 90%”

Recently, I listened in on a webinar called “Product Development for the Other 90%,” hosted by Engineering for Change. It featured the work of AIDG, which from 2004 to 2010 ran an R&D division with universities and engineering groups, to create products for the developing world. The webinar was presented by Peter Haas, the founder and executive director of AIDG.

With his experience in poverty issues, technology, and entrepreneurship, Peter pointed to 6 innovations that had successful design processes. I hope this helps teams currently working on humanitarian designs!

1. Humdinger wind energy

The designers were trying to make a product that was <$1. When designing for the other 90%, costs become extremely important.

The organization set up a remote monitoring system, which allowed people away from the community to continuously stay in touch and get data in the testing. They could Skype directly with the tower and ask voltage/weather conditions. This is a great model for how to get continuous feedback and communication from the environment that you’re designing for.

2. Embrace

Design That Matters created a Car-Parts Incubator (baby incubator, It was cheaper than the Western incubator, which usually costs $20,000. It seems like a good idea, but…

The folks at Embrace Incubator made one better. They asked, “What keeps the baby warm?” and took the design down to the core, creating a much cheaper final product: a baby blanket.

Peter suggests designers to strip off 90% of the materials, see what you can do.

The good thing about Embrace is that it is dedicated towards commercialization (large-scale, addresses local innovations). Furthermore, the press around Embrace is clear that this is a design in progress, making it clear that there is more work to be done.

Currently: Embrace partnered with GE and is supposedly in production now. This type of partnership necessary for medical devices (

3. Seimens protostove

Created in collaboration with a university professor who’d already been doing testing for 4-5 yrs, and who wanted to commercialize it at large scale. The protostove saw mixed success, and it faced challenges with distribution and production. For example, it needed many parts, and it might’ve been better to be mass produced in China and then distributed.

The good thing about the protostove is that it’s well-designed and beautiful. Peter suggests, “Don’t give people junk” just because they are in the emerging market. If you can design something beautiful, try to design something beautiful.

The look of your product does make a difference in sales.

4. D.light

The good things about D.light are that it adapted existing technologies, had short R&D cycles with clear goals, and brought things to market.

5. IDE Treadle pump

The great thing about the IDE Treadle pump is that it allows small farmers to invest and then make back their investment.

6. DME

This is the stove for Haitian market to reduce charcoal by 50%. It looks similar to the African jiko stove! But the jiko just hadn’t been introduced in Haiti, so the organization brought a near-similar product to Haiti. The cost of production was $7, and the stove sold at $9 (similar to costs in Africa).

The lesson learned is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Look at what’s already in existence.

Classes during IAP

As the semester is wrapping up, we’re looking forward to MIT’s IAP (Independent Activities Period). Here is a list of some classes that current team members might be interested in checking out! They’re organized by the following topics:

1. Computers/Mobile Devices, 2. Biotech, 3. Energy, 4. Presentation Skills, 5. Hands-on Building, and 6. Health.



Mobile Virtualization: Smartphones with Multiple Personalities
- Introduction to Virtualization & ARM CPU Virtualization
- Mobile Devices and Application-Level Virtualization
There is a historic shift occurring today, where smartphones and tablets are overtaking PCs as the dominant end user computing platforms. Another key technology, virtualization, has achieved a huge impact on the industry over the past decade in data centers and desktops. This course will present an introduction to the essentials of virtualization technology from the perspective of VMware’s Mobile Virtualization Platform (MVP) group.
The course will cover the systems and architecture concepts behind virtualization in general and techniques for core and device virtualization on mobile platforms. A focus will be given to the ARM architecture, the platform behind billions of embedded and mobile devices. We will focus on the wider solution space and explore tradeoffs when developing virtualization techniques, while providing concrete examples from the MVP hypervisor.

jQuery Mobile: The Easy Peasy Mobile Development Framework
Overview of jQuery Mobile development framework and how it can help UX professionals and developers quickly prototype mobile sites and apps. What are the tools and skills needed to get up and running? What are the pros and cons? I’ll share that information and a brief demo of a desktop web app created for mobile — and last, but not least, links to further reading, resources, and tips!

Kinected Experiences: Workshops and Competition
Kinect + Windows Phone + Windows 8 development via C# and HTML5. What else can you ask for?
Participate in one or more workshops to prepare yourselves for an IAP competition that challenges you to combine your technical skills and creativity to create the next best product or app, potentially leading to a startup, or some great PR.
These workshops can also be used as a stepping stone towards a few larger competitions with a focus on socially responsible themes, including: iCampus Student Prize, IDEAS Global Challenge or the Imagine Cup.
See also:



Biotech Business Information for Engineers and Scientists
It’s not Brain Surgery…it’s Market Research. This session will introduce scientists and engineers to information resources that cover biotechnology industries and markets. We will use realistic examples and hands-on exercises with key resources to demonstrate how to match your ideas and discoveries with the opportunities and realities of the marketplace.



Momentum (Formerly Second Summer)
This year students will work on designing Portable Windmills for Electricity Generation in Remote Areas.
This short course offers students an interdisciplinary perspective on solving some of the world’s biggest challenges to date. These issues span topics covered in a wide variety of fields, such as business, engineering and the social sciences. How will MIT develop the best technologies? Scientists must delve into the area of interest and understand the need of the people; they must assess environmental and social impacts; and they must ensure feasibility – scientifically and economically – so that the technology can be produced.

Introduction to Wind Energy
- Wind Energy 101 – An introduction to wind power technology
- Wind Energy 102 – An introduction to wind physics and resource assessment
About the speaker: Alex Kalmikov is a PhD candidate in Mechanical and Ocean Engineering at the MIT-WHOI Joint Program. He is the co-chair of the MIT Wind Energy Club and leads the MIT Wind Energy Projects in Action (WEPA) student team.

Energy Information: Industries and Statistics
Interested in researching or working in the field of energy? Want to find out how your energy project fits into the landscape of various industries? This session will give you the skills to research the business and statistical information on energy to find industry overviews, market research, news and data.

MIT Clean Energy Prize Founder’s Panel Discussion – From PhD to Clean Energy Venture
Are you a grad student with a clean energy technology that you think could be turned into a product? Are you passionate about clean energy and are wondering how you can maximize your impact? Want to know what it’s like to start a new cleantech venture? If any of these describe you, then come check out the Founder’s Panel Discussion sponsored by the MIT Clean Energy Prize. Several previous-MIT PhDs, now-clean energy entrepreneurs, will share with you their motivations behind their career choice, their challenges and successes in their journey from academia to entrepreneurship and answer questions you may have about taking an idea and building a successful business around it. While targeted towards current graduate students, this event is also open to undergraduate students with a passion for clean energy entrepreneurship.

Cool Shorts: Climate Change on Web Video
This class, cosponsored by Knight Science Journalism at MIT, focuses on the production of several short videos about climate change, meant for web distribution. The goal will be to explore, visualize or enliven topics around climate science with visual/dramatic originality, surprise, suspense or humor. Reaching a broad audience is the intent.

“Horses and Thunder” – Meeting the Energy Needs and Oil Exploration and Production in the Deepwaters
How will we meet our growing energy needs in the future, especially for transportation, which is heavily dependent on oil? More and more oil is discovered and produced offshore, in deeper and deeper water. How do we know where to drill and how do you actually drill for oil? What are some of the enormous engineering challenges in working at 5000’ of water and below? How do we produce it efficiently, bring it to shore safely, and then go beyond? What are some of the recent developments in science and engineering that will take us further?
This short course will focus on gaining a better understanding of exploring, drilling, and producing oil and gas in the deepwaters, including:
Energy needs & role of offshore oil
Exploration – the idea phase
Drilling – the discovery & development phase
Production – the extraction phase
Transportation – getting it to market
Recent science & engineering developments



Making the Most of Your Presentation
Strong oral presentation skills are a key to success for engineers, scientists, and other professionals, yet many speakers are at a loss to tackle the task. Systematic as they otherwise can be in their work, they go at it intuitively, sometimes haphazardly, with much good will but seldom good results. Based on Dr. Doumont’s book “Trees, maps, and theorems” about “effective communication for rational minds” this lecture proposes a systematic way to prepare and deliver presentations. Among others, it covers structure, slides, and delivery, as well as stage fright.

Road Signs: Finding Your Way in the Visual World
In most countries, road signs are graphical: rather than words, they use shape, color, and a variety of icons to convey meaning. Still, are they truly visual? Are they, for example, interpreted faster than word signs? Are they more intuitive, more accessible, more universal?
Through observation of road signs in their natural ecosystem around the world, this session explores basic concepts of visual communication, applicable to a wide array of graphical representations.

How to Speak
You can improve your speaking ability in critical situations by observing a few heuristic rules. Professor Winston’s collection of rules is presented along with examples of their application not only in lectures, but also in job talks, thesis defenses, and oral examinations.

MIT Can Talk: Workshop Series
Many great thinkers of the past, the so called “Renaissance Men”, excelled in both Engineering/Science and Exposition/Rhetoric/Oration. There is no reason why the MIT engineers and scientists of today, the creative men and women who will be the leaders of tomorrow, cannot do so as well. “MIT Can Talk” promotes campus-wide awareness of good oral communication skills. It consists of: (1) a series of independent workshop sessions on public speaking/oral communication, followed by (2) a speaking competition. The workshops are open to the MIT community, but the contest is open only to MIT undergraduates and MEng students.

Effective Speaking
Have you always wondered why some people seem at ease with public speaking? Have others told you to speak up because you speak too softly, or perhaps you are self-conscious because of your accent? Well, this class is for you! You will learn the proper techniques for projecting your voice and delivering a talk. (Prerequisite – must be an MIT Student, Faculty, Staff or Affiliate to attend class.)

Leveraging the Internet and Social Media for Marketing
Social Media, Mobile Technology, and the web have changed how we interact, consume content, and interact with companies. How can businesses, startups or individuals leverage these new technologies and their effect on consumers to drive business goals? In this series we will examine how to create Epic Content, use social media channels, and mobile technology to drive customer action and build your brand.

Competitive Presenting
Strong presentation skills are a valuable asset for engineers and scientists, yet there are few possibilities to practice presenting independent of the subject matter. Competitive presenting, e.g. Science Slams, offers a great way to practice presenting and to try out new ideas or styles.
The first session will consist of an introduction and discussion of how to structure, prepare and deliver a good and interesting presentation. Participants will also be given a topic on which to prepare a presentation. The second session will require the participants to deliver their 5-minute presentations with the rest of the group providing feedback.



Build Your Own Electric Guitar
Students in the class will build their own solid-body, bolt-on neck electric guitar or bass using a system of router templates that are easy to use and give high-quality results.

Build Your Own Loudspeakers
This is a hands-on introduction to the engineering and art of speaker design. How speakers work, the acoustics of enclosure design, baffle layout and crossover electronics will all be covered. We also examine the frequency response and distortion behavior of individual drivers and see how these are influenced by the design. Students will make enclosure parts as a team then assemble and finish their own pair of speakers.

Design for Manufacturing
“Design for Manufacturing” is a weeklong course that discusses the link between machine design and selection of manufacturing processes, with a focus on technologies available to MIT students. The course will examine strengths, limitations, and dimensional capabilities of processing techniques like machining, 2D processes (laser / waterjet), and 3d printing. The link between design and manufacturing will be discussed in terms of design manufacturability and the ability of a particular manufacturing process to meet component form, fit, and function. Best practices for engineering drawings will be presented so that design intent can be effectively communicated to machine shops. Advance registration is preferred; no enrollment limit.


Mobile Health in Developing Countries: Sana and OpenMRS
The interactive sessions will focus on the Sana Android client and our extensions to OpenMRS, a widely used open source medical records system. Sana is currently looking to expand and refine the available features we provide in both of areas.

MIT Media Lab – Health and Wellness Innovation 2012 – Come hack to save healthcare
The MIT Media Lab is proud to announce that the Health and Wellness Innovation event is back for its third year! Researchers, hackers, physicians, and industry experts, in one location, creating disruptive healthcare technologies today.
Join us for two weeks from January 17th – January 27th, 2012. Together we are going to build the next generation of technologies to engage and empower patients and save healthcare.

Amnesty International, OpenIDEO, and Brainstorming

By guest author: Shu Wang

On 11/3, I attended an Amnesty International + OpenIDEO Brainstorming Workshop, led by four members from the Boston IDEO office. Our challenge was to think of ways Amnesty International could help care for the supporters of unlawful detainees, such as their families, as well as ways to raise awareness about unlawful detainment among the general public. For those further interested in this issue, visit the OpenIDEO page here:

We broke off into teams of 7-8 people. My group consisted of an interesting array of people from the Sloan School, the MIT Media Lab, and the Harvard Kennedy School. Using IDEO brainstorming techniques, including mounds of Post-It notes and Sharpies, the group came up with over 60 ideas, some practical, like setting up a network between victims’ families so they could support each other, while others wilder, like detaining politicians so that they could understand what the experience feels like. Some of the winning ideas included setting up a peer lawyer service and creating an interactive map connected with social media, in order to show users the people in their networks that have ever been affected by illegal detainment.


While everyone has had experience with “brainstorming” in a group, I love how IDEO breaks down the process and separates it from the process of refining ideas. Internally or within a group, we often dismiss viable ideas because they are half-baked or sound crazy at first, but IDEO’s process minimizes this.

According to the IDEO folks, here are a few rules for a productive brainstorming session:

  1. Throw out tons and tons of ideas. Make them crazy and wild. Feed off of other people’s ideas.
  2. Make it visual. Diagrams and sketches are a great way to conceptualize your idea.
  3. No judging during the brainstorming phase. That’s for later when we refine the ideas.
  4. Stay on topic. Only one person should speak at a time while sharing ideas.

I hope that these tools will be useful to IDEAS Competition teams trying to come up with product or implementation ideas. It’s a lot of fun and great to see all the possibilities your team generates!


I’m so excited to be joining the MIT IDEAS Global Challenge team this year.

My name is Bina, and I graduated from MIT this past June in Course 5 (Chemistry). As an undergrad, I participated in global experiences through MISTI (Italy and France) and D-Lab (Tanzania), and I ran Komaza magazine.

In my role at MIT IDEAS Global Challenge, I’ll be organizing the Generator Dinner, working with our awesome volunteers, and managing and following up on previous projects.

I look forward to being inspired by the MIT community!