MIT students present their work to Apple CEO Tim Cook

Wednesday, June 21, 2017 - 2:30pm

By Alison F. Takemura

Two minutes. Maybe three. That’s all students had in which to deliver the juiciest highlights of their work to MIT commencement speaker and Apple CEO Tim Cook. But on the day before he would address 2017 graduates, Cook was whipping across campus to several meetings to soak in what makes MIT unique.

As the afternoon sun burnished Massachusetts Avenue, Cook walked into a conference room at MIT’s startup accelerator The Engine, where the students were waiting. Representing diverse programs across campus, the seven presenters somehow squeezed their accomplishments into the allotted time.

“So impressed by @MIT students & faculty who are finding new ways to tackle the world’s biggest challenges,” Cook said on Twitter. “Thanks for sharing your work!”


Apple CEO Tim Cook meets with students during a visit to MIT’s startup accelerator The Engine.  Photos by Dominick Reuter.



The presenters:

• Tony Tao, PhD candidate in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, He’s the head teaching assistant for the department’s aircraft-design capstone course, which tackles design problems as part of the MIT campus and Lincoln Laboratory joint research collaboration: Beaver Works.

• Illina Yang, rising junior in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. She co-created MakerLodge, an initiative to train all freshman to use the tools in maker spaces and grant them access to these spaces across campus.

• Alicia Chong Rodriguez, MS ’17 of the Integrated Design and Management Program. With a team, she designed medical devices in fabrics — including brassieres — for personalized monitoring and treatment of women with heart disease. Her company, Bloomer Tech, is supported by MIT’s Sandbox Innovation Fund Program and the Martin Trust Center delta v accelerator to support its mission to improve women’s health worldwide.

• Daniel Richman ’17, who just received his bachelor’s in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. As part of the year-long Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (SuperUROP), he worked on a more secure wireless communication protocol that transmits data over radio frequencies.

• Sade Nabahe ’17, who just received her bachelor’s in mechanical engineering. She co-founded the Okoa Project to develop motorcycle-detachable ambulance trailers and thereby providing a lifesaving means of patient transport in rural Tanzania. With funding from MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) and other groups, Nabahe and her team will do further field testing this fall.

• David Reshef, MD PhD ’17, a student in the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology program. He co-developed a machine learning approach to determine, between two variables, statistically significant correlations of any shape.

• Mariana Matus, graduate student in the Computational and Systems Biology program. She co-founded a startup called Biobot Labs to monitor the health of a city’s population by sampling its sewers for microbes, which can indicate infection, and traces of drugs, including opioids. After preparations this summer at the delta v accelerator, Matus and her team will plumb the subterranean, data “gold mines” of a handful of cities, including Boston and Ithaca, N.Y.

“The students did an amazing job presenting their research and startup ideas,” said Anantha Chandrakasan, the Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, department head, and board member of The Engine. Chandrakasan and veteran entrepreneur Katie Rae, The Engine’s president and CEO, hosted Cook for his visit.

“It was a wonderful opportunity to showcase their work and get feedback from an industry leader with a broad perspective,” Chandrakasan said.

Many of the students’ projects share one quality: they solve problems. That’s why they presented at The Engine, which provides workspace, tools, and mentorship for startups. Built by MIT, The Engine is open to all.

“We launched The Engine to create an environment where the world’s brightest innovators will find the support they need to develop the biggest and most transformative ideas, to positively impact society,” explained Israel Ruiz, MIT’s executive vice president and treasurer. “Our students are working to solve real-world problems, and these inspirational stories tell me we are on the right path.”

Find out more about The Engine at