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Little Brags of Big Ideas

Explore CMU's big ideas — a gallery of innovations and sparks of inspiration that have grown to shape the world. We don't just imagine the future, we create it.

First Computer That Could Think

In December 1955, professor Herbert Simon and business Ph.D. student Allen Newell made a breakthrough that would place them among the founders of artificial intelligence.

Their invention of a programming language for computers to model complex human problem-solving processes resulted in a "thinking machine," as they described it.

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Changing the Way the Cookie Crumbles

The first Girl Scout badge for negotiation, named Win-Win: How to Get What You Want started with Carnegie Mellon professor Linda Babcock. To earn the badge, girls learn why and how negotiation can be useful — and it goes beyond selling cookies.

Babcock has also co-authored two books on the subject: Women Don't Ask and Ask for It: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want.

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Air Andy: Wireless is Born

Started in 1994 to support Carnegie Mellon's wireless research, the "Wireless Andrew" network laid the foundation for today's Wi-Fi that allows computers and mobile devices to access the Internet anytime, anywhere — wirelessly.

Carnegie Institute of Technology alumnus and professor Alex Hills founded the university's wireless initiative that today covers the vast majority of the 145-acre Pittsburgh campus.

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Stages and Screens

Countless Carnegie Mellon alumni have shaped the world of entertainment, including College of Fine Arts graduates Ted Danson of Cheers; Steven Bochco of NYPD Blue; John Wells of ER; Paula Kauffman Wagner of Mission Impossible; Zachary Quinto of Star Trek; Tamara Tunie of Law & Order: SVU; and Cherry Jones of 24 and numerous stage productions.

The list doesn't end with arts alumni. Even an engineering alumnus — Emmy award-winner Bud Yorkin — made a mark on the entertainment world with All in the Family. Carnegie Mellon's prominence in the arts dates back to 1917, when it awarded the U.S.'s first undergraduate degree in drama.

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A Hand in the iPhone

Carnegie Mellon alumnus Freddy Anzures, a 1999 industrial design graduate, was one of the select few who helped design the iPhone, an industry-leading mobile computing device and an overnight cultural icon.

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We Have Style

Alumna Gela Nash-Taylor (right) started as an actress, but quickly found her passion in fashion.

With just $200 and endless ideas, Nash-Taylor and her partner, Pam Skaist-Levy (left), launched the world-renowned Juicy Couture fashion line. Now a multimillion-dollar lifestyle brand with nearly 100 retail stores, Juicy Couture has expanded into everything from apparel and accessories to fragrances.

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Polymer scientist and alumna Stephanie Kwolek made a discovery in 1965 that led to the Kevlar® fiber, which is used today in protective clothing for firefighters and bulletproof vests for soldiers and police officers.

This material has saved the lives of law enforcement officers for decades and is also used in 200 other products from bridge cables to tires.

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Search Us

Lycos®, the first large-scale Internet search engine, was developed in 1994 by computer science alumnus Michael Mauldin while working at Carnegie Mellon.

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A Start on Stage

Pippin gave composer/lyricist and alumnus Stephen Schwartz his first Tony nomination in 1973, but it was first written for Carnegie Mellon's "Scotch 'n' Soda" student theater.

Oscars, Grammys and Drama Desk Awards have followed for Schwartz's work on Godspell, Pocahontas, The Prince of Egypt and Wicked.

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Renew It

Carnegie Mellon — the largest retail purchaser of wind power in the U.S. in 2001 — prompted more than 30 other Pennsylvania colleges and universities to commit to using wind power for electricity.

In 2012, Carnegie Mellon purchased wind power to offset 100 percent of its electric consumption on the Pittsburgh campus.

CMU and the environment »
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First Smile in an Email

The Smiley :-) was created by Carnegie Mellon research professor Scott Fahlman on September 19, 1982.

This was the beginning of emoticons in email.

;-) :-( :-o

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Four Giants Under One Roof

When the Robert Mehrabian Collaborative Innovation Center (RMCIC) opened its doors on Carnegie Mellon's campus in 2005, it was the only building in the world where Google, Intel, Apple and a Microsoft-sponsored research lab lived under one roof.

Today, the RMCIC continues to facilitate meaningful partnerships between corporate research activities and Carnegie Mellon faculty and students on the Pittsburgh campus.

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One Word at a Time

Computer Science alumnus and professor Luis von Ahn and his colleagues are responsible for developing CAPTCHAs, those wavy, distorted words web users often need to decipher before completing a transaction. CAPTCHA stands for "completely automated public Turing tests to tell computers and humans apart." About 200 million CAPTCHAs are used each day, and they prevent many forms of computer crime.

Von Ahn's latest version, reCAPTCHAs, goes a step further, harnessing this puzzle-solving human effort to digitize smudged words from old books and newspapers.

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Cruise Controlled

In 1979, CMU established the nation's first Robotics Institute. Since then, professor and alumnus William "Red" Whittaker has been a robotics pioneer, founding the discipline of Field Robotics, developing unmanned vehicles to clean up the Three Mile Island nuclear accident site, and leading the Tartan Racing Team to victory in the $2 million Urban Challenge robotic autonomous vehicles race. Technologies like these can help make driving safer by preventing accidents.

Now Whittaker and his team have plans to land and operate a robot on the moon in pursuit of the $20 million Google Lunar X PRIZE.

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Scheduling Goes Digital

The first computer-generated master schedule in the history of U.S. Major League Baseball was produced in 2005 by Tepper School of Business professor Michael Trick.

Trick and his colleagues at the Sports Scheduling Group, a company he co-founded to tame the complex challenge of creating sports schedules that accommodate the teams, fans, facility operators and media, applied its computational models to develop master schedules for some of the most renowned collegiate athletic conferences in the country, including the Big Ten Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conference.

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Carnegie Mellon built the first green dormitory in the U.S. in 2003.

Renamed in 2008 as Stever House to honor H. Guyford Stever, the university's fifth president, it has a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver designation from the U.S. Green Building Council.

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Alice in Cyberland

Alice, a revolutionary way to teach computer programming by creating 3D animations, stories and video games, was developed by the research team of the late Randy Pausch, professor and computer science alumnus, who gained international acclaim for his "Last Lecture" and best-selling book.

Alice is used in about 15 percent of the United States' colleges and universities, and experts believe it is likely to reinvigorate computer science education from the middle school level through college.

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All Wired Up

Carnegie Mellon was the first university with a completely wired campus when it developed the Andrew computing network in the mid-1980s.

Andrew linked all computers and workstations and established Carnegie Mellon as a leader in the use of technology in education and research.

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Are You Looking at Me?

What if works of art could know we were looking at them?

CMU professor Golan Levin explores that kind of question with interactive artwork such as Opto-Isolator, a sculpture featuring a solitary mechanical blinking eye that responds to the gaze of visitors by looking its viewer directly in the eye, appearing to intently study its viewer's face, looking away coyly if it is stared at for too long, and blinking precisely one second after its visitor blinks.

Levin's work has been exhibited at numerous galleries, including the New Museum of Contemporary Art, the Neuberger Museum, and others.

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It's Easy Being Green

Professor Terry Collins, director of Carnegie Mellon's Institute for Green Science, invented TAML® catalysts that combine with hydrogen peroxide to destroy many hazardous chemicals that would otherwise contaminate water supplies for years.

These tetra-amido macrocyclic ligand catalysts also have vast potential to make industrial practices safer for the environment.

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Psychology. Technology. Carnegie Mellon. Success!

Pioneering Carnegie Mellon professor and cognitive psychology graduate Ken Koedinger used his research at the intersection of psychology and computer science to develop tutoring systems that are helping 500,000 students in 2,600 U.S. schools improve their math skills.

The Cognitive Tutor program is implemented by a university spin-off company, Carnegie Learning, Inc., and is offered throughout the U.S., from urban high schools to rural middle schools.

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Monetary Matters

Tepper School of Business professor Allan Meltzer, leading expert and consultant for the U.S. Congress, Treasury and Federal Reserve, as well as the World Bank and foreign governments, co-founded the influential Shadow Open Market Committee in the early 1970s to better inform the media, general public and policymakers about financial policy decisions.

His latest work, A History of the Federal Reserve, 1913–1986, sheds new light on U.S. monetary policy.

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We Got Game

Carnegie Mellon students and faculty created software that uses video game technology to train first responders such as firefighters, police officers and emergency medical personnel to handle biological attacks and chemical spills. The Fire Department of New York, which provided input for the development of the software, now uses it to train its cadets. This innovation is among many created at the Entertainment Technology Center (ETC).

The ETC also gave the U.S. its first Master of Entertainment Technology degree.

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The GigaPan Camera System is a robotic device that enables any digital camera to shoot breathtaking multibillion-pixel panoramic images. GigaPan was developed by professor Illah Nourbakhsh and Randy Sargent, a project scientist at Carnegie Mellon's Silicon Valley campus, in collaboration with scientists at NASA's Ames Research Center, and with support from Google. The potential applications are endless.

Photo © 2009 David Bergman
View David's GigaPan Photo »
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Worldwide Branding

The creativity percolating within Terry Heckler is on display every day for millions of people around the world.

Heckler, founder of Heckler Associates and a graduate of Carnegie Mellon's College of Fine Arts, has named hundreds of brands and created some of the most recognizable logos in the world, including Starbucks Coffee, Panera Bread, JanSport and New Balance, just to name a few.

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Walking on Water

Mechanical engineers at Carnegie Mellon have created robots that can walk on water.

The "bugs," two to six inches long and weighing a few grams, can shoot over water. Called STRIDE, for surface tension-based robotic insect dynamic explorer, the robots use the water's surface tension to amble on their spindly legs exactly like water striders. These robots can detect harmful toxins in water for both the environmental sector and the military.

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Building Business

Pioneering faculty at what is now the Tepper School of Business wrote one of the most influential business books of all time: A Behavioral Theory of the Firm. Professor Richard Cyert and professor James March developed theoretical building blocks that have become the foundation for current research in organizational studies in management, economics, political science and sociology.

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Not That We're Keeping Score

Carnegie Mellon current and former faculty, and alumni, are recognized often by their peers in many different areas. Watch CMU's Notable Alumni »

Take a look at our scorecard or view all of our awards.

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