Jaden Smith attends 3.091, speaks with MIT department heads

3.091 professor: ‘He’s so smart, passionate, interested, and curious’

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Jaden Smith with MIT students after a one on one with Markus Buehler, the CEE department head.
Courtesy of Drew Fitzgerald
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Smith on a tour of a reactor and talking nuclear fusion with Professor Dennis Whyte, the head of DNSE.
Courtesy of Drew Fitzgerald
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Smith listens to Professor Grossman talk about micro-engineering.
Courtesy of Drew Fitzgerald

Jaden Smith, son of Will Smith, visited MIT last Monday.

The nineteen-year-old actor and rapper sat in on Professor Jeffrey Grossman’s 3.091 (Introduction to Solid State Chemistry) class, and met the heads of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), Plasma Science and Fusion Center, and MIT MakerSystem.

Drew FitzGerald, the creative director of CEE, coordinated Smith’s day-long visit. FitzGerald previously served as the Creative Director of Urban Music and Soundtracks at MCA Records of Universal Studios, and worked with Will Smith in that capacity.

“I’ve known [the Smiths] for about twenty years, and we’re very familial,” FitzGerald said in a phone interview with The Tech Monday. “As Jaden and Willow [Jaden’s younger sister] grew older, they started to have a lot of environmental questions about climate change and renewable energy. I became their appointed educator for those topics.”

FitzGerald developed a curriculum for the two, and collaborated with the Smiths to create JUST Water, a company that sells responsibly-sourced spring water in paper- and plant-based plastic bottling.

“Our goal was to put a socially and environmentally impactful product on the market,” FitzGerald said.

“[Smith] and I are exposed to a lot of cosmetic solutions, and we’d rather be closer to people who are actually creating plausible, real-world solutions. Those are people at MIT. They’re makers,” FitzGerald said.

At MIT, Smith and FitzGerald first sat in on Grossman’s lecture on the history of the electron. Smith had wanted to meet Grossman after watching a YouTube video of a lecture Grossman gave for an event honoring the late Professor John Wulff, according to FitzGerald.

Afterwards, the three talked for an hour about education and the role of science and technology in making the world a better place, Grossman told The Tech.

“He had a lot of great questions about renewable technologies and sustainability, and what the future could be. What’s being done to use the sun for lighting? What’s being done in water purification and in solar harvesting and storage?” Grossman said. “He’s so smart, passionate, interested, and curious.”

Smith and FitzGerald then spoke with Markus Buehler, the department head of CEE, and three CEE undergraduate students.

“Smith was interested to learn more about our work in Course 1, and I thought there really isn’t a better way to share what we’re doing than letting our students speak directly and share their passions,” Buehler said in an email to The Tech.

David Wu ’19 was one of the students who elaborated on his work and its impact to Smith.

“I talked about my work in the Megacity Logistics Lab last summer [and] the summer program I did freshman year, ONE-MA3 [Materials in Art, Archaeology, and Architecture],” Wu said in a phone interview with The Tech. “We analyzed archaeological sites, mosaics, and pottery in order to learn how to better sustain the future.”

Afterwards, Smith met with Professor Martin Culpepper, who is in charge of MIT’s Makersystem. Smith wanted to meet Culpepper after hearing him speak at an MIT Better World Event, a showcase to celebrate MIT and its current efforts to better the world, in Los Angeles in February 2017. “[Culpepper] blew everyone away with his energy and passion, so [Smith] wanted to meet him,” FitzGerald said.

Finally, Smith and FitzGerald spoke with Plasma Science and Fusion Director Dennis Whyte and toured the center. “I showed them the control room and the hardware of the Alcator C-Mod,” Whyte said in a phone interview with The Tech. The Alcator C-Mod is a compact, high magnetic field plasma device used for fusion research.

The three discussed the potential uses of fusion energy and current work on it. “[Smith] seemed interested in fusion being a carbon-free energy source that could be important in relieving poverty,” Whyte said.

This is not the first time Smith’s name has been linked with MIT: in a 2015 interview with GQ, Smith said he wanted to set up offices at MIT so he “can learn and bring in new technologies into the world.”