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Monorail Will Expand Creative Potential

A. Arif Husain

Column by A. Arif Husain
Opinion Editor

What MIT needs is a monorail. A really fast one like they have at Disney World, with roundtrip service from Tang Hall to the Sloan School. It should have convenient stops at locations throughout east and west campus, and it should run 24 hours.

We might call it the Charles River Express, or Cambridge Cyclotrain, or perhaps SafeRail. If the MBTA has a management stake in it, we might settle on the Institute-appropriate Gray Line. Regardless, this matter should be looked into without delay.

It's about time that we start applying some of our world-famous engineering prowess to work right here where we can appreciate it. Before I came here, I envisioned MIT like Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, where all of the pioneering developments made here would also be in place here. I think maybe it was too many episodes of The Jetsons, but I always took fancy with the technically nifty, in addition to the technically sound.

Perhaps the one common element that unites our nerdly masses is the intrigue of good quality toy - a crafty piece of design that uses complexity to appear simple.

As children, many of us spent more time toying with our toys than playing with them. Toy makers often have really dull ideas for what might be an entertaining game, but more often than not their design and construction is fairly clever. When I was about seven, Ihad a nice collection of hand-held wind-up games that kept me busy for hours once I found a Phillips-head screw driver and a pair of pliers. It's this basic curiosity that is the soil in which every engineer grows his technical expertise.

The Media Lab, despite its negative criticism, actually has the right idea. Here you have a few hundred bright engineering minds with nearly unlimited resources, doing nothing more than playing around with potential concepts that could have a positive impact on our society. Ultimately, Fourier transforms and finite-element analyses prove useful only as brushes for the technical artist. But this line of thinking tends not to leave the bathroom-tiled walls of the Media Lab cube.

Engineering is about taking knowledge of the physical world and using it to develop, create, modify, and produce items to better our living. But why wait until we take jobs elsewhere? Most of us will be here for a few years, and it wouldn't hurt us to make a small investment in our stays.

So why, then, with several odd-thousand engineering types on this campus, is it so technically deplete? Every now and then somebody sets up one curious contraption or another in the Infinite Corridor, but for the most part the basic layout of this campus is completely devoid of any noticeable engineering merit. All across campus, everything from elevators to window shades are old fashioned and often barely functional. This has always struck me as odd. Here MIT has in its clutches a huge resource which it never seems to tap. I want to see students involved in the engineering of this campus. Who better?

I'm not suggesting that sophomores in electrical engineering should be called in to rewire the lights in 10-250 if they burn out, but it wouldn't be a stretch to assign such students a project to design a more effective control system for its chalkboards. By linking the rigorous technical work of classes with our engineers' original creative instincts, both education and quality of life will take a turn for the better.

Which brings me back back to the monorail concept. A project of that scale would provide plenty of opportunity for students in every engineering department. Electrical, civil, and mechanical engineers to design the track and the stations; and aerospace, ocean, and environmental engineers to take test rides. For the next few years we could have input from the world's best crop of future engineers who would incorporate their learning into a self-serving project.

We are all more mature than we were as 7-year-olds. But that's no reason to smother the innovative spirit that brought us here. So let's get to work on a monorail. It's the best approach to coping with MIT's expansive linear campus, and it's a really great toy.