Who are you?

Question: Who are you?

Vest: I’m Charles Vest. I’m currently the President of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, and I’m President Emeritus of MIT. I grew up in Morgantown, West Virginia, at that time a small college town. It was actually an extraordinary time and place to grow up. I had many wonderful dimensions to my life which was in the late ‘40s and through the ‘50s into the very early ‘60s in the sense that my father was actually a mathematics professors, and that I was living in pretty typical small town America and going to public schools with kids who grew up on the farm or who were doctors’ children. I was in about ninth grade at the time that the schools in West Virginia were integrated – a little bit before the Brown decision. And so it had real great economic and motivational diversity, social diversity – sort of the great combination small school, beautiful physical area, and yet having the advantages of being in an academic family. Both of my parents, not surprisingly, were terrifically influential on me. My father was a very precise mathematician, and also a truly extraordinary classroom teacher of a rather formal type. When I went to West Virginia University as an undergraduate I actually took two courses to my father. And he in the classroom, unlike at home, was such a disciplined kind of teacher that my fellow students actually didn’t find this odd. They never gave me a hard time. It was the only class I ever took that I didn’t ask a question all day. My mother was what would, at that period of history, been a fairly typical housewife. She was very intelligent. She was extremely well-read. Looking backward I sometimes have said that she didn’t grow up in the later era because I think she could have actually been a fine scholar or teacher herself. She was particularly interested in history, and a lot of our summer vacations and so forth were trooping around the old battlefields and cemeteries up and down the east coast, particularly in the South. So this kind of combination of a wonderful, warm home and two very influential parents. I also had a few people as I went on. There was a professor at West Virginia University named Bob Schloniger who really was the person who convinced me I should become a mechanical engineer when I had been planning to probably be either a physicist or an electrical engineer. And I always think back. You know in the ’40s and ‘50s it was a big thing in this country to always take aptitude tests to figure out what you should be, and engineer or scientist never really went very far up the scale. I usually was told I should be a psychologist or a journalist or a historian. So I think all these influences kind of came together. And after following a rather straightforward engineering education career, I later moved off into administration. I think maybe some of those other influences and maybe latent interests and talents helped out. Recorded on: 12/5/07

 

Coming up from typical small-town America.

Meet the Bajau sea nomads — they can reportedly hold their breath for 13 minutes

The Bajau people's nomadic lifestyle has given them remarkable adaptions, enabling them to stay underwater for unbelievable periods of time. Their lifestyle, however, is quickly disappearing.

Wikimedia Commons
Culture & Religion
  • The Bajau people travel in small flotillas throughout the Phillipines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, hunting fish underwater for food.
  • Over the years, practicing this lifestyle has given the Bajau unique adaptations to swimming underwater. Many find it straightforward to dive up to 13 minutes 200 feet below the surface of the ocean.
  • Unfortunately, many disparate factors are erasing the traditional Bajau way of life.
Keep reading Show less

'Upstreamism': Your zip code affects your health as much as genetics

Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."

Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
  • Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
  • Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists create a "lifelike" material that has metabolism and can self-reproduce

An innovation may lead to lifelike evolving machines.

Shogo Hamada/Cornell University
Surprising Science
  • Scientists at Cornell University devise a material with 3 key traits of life.
  • The goal for the researchers is not to create life but lifelike machines.
  • The researchers were able to program metabolism into the material's DNA.
Keep reading Show less