by George J Elbaum
Along with other schools and universities, my alma mater Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) closed its campus in March at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it moved online those operations which could be conducted online, such as lectures, seminars, consultations, planning meetings, etc. My 8 ½ years studying at MIT were in Aeronautics & Astronautics and in Nuclear Engineering Departments from which I received my PhD in 1967. When I reconnected with MIT in 1999 to start “giving back” for having benefitted from its education, it was to support the Physics Department. My logic for this choice is questionable since after getting almost all A’s in high school, the shock of getting a 20 out of 100 on my first MIT Physics test was truly an “unforgettable” experience which started a hate-love relationship with Physics.
Thus for the last 20 years I’ve maintained close personal ties with the Physics Department, and a month ago Peter Fisher, the Head of the Department and a friend, asked whether I would give my talk at the weekly lunch which he hosts via Zoom for the Physics community of faculty, staff, and students. His reasoning was the same as for my March 20 talk to the staff of the American Technion Society: “It would be good for many in the Department to hear that others have faced adversity before.”
My talk to 45 faculty, staff and graduate students was organized by Peter Fisher, with Zoom and my PowerPoint ably managed by Ryan Higgins, Events and Development Assistant, and attendees included personnel from the Department, the School of Science, and the Administration. As the thumbnail photos of attendees started to appear on the screen before the talk, I was very pleased to see dear and familiar faces and exchange comments with Elizabeth Chadis, Nergis Mavalvala, Erin McGrath Tribble, Alan Guth, and Claude Canizares. During the Q&A Bolek Wyslouch’s question took me on a memory trip to my childhood in post-war Poland, and I was truly, deeply touched by Ibrahim Cisee’s response to my talk. Also attending were Dan Kleppner, Dave Pritchard, Bob Jaffe, Bruno Coppi and others.