Category Archives: Student research

July 28, 2014

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Heber helps protect marine ecosystems in the Coral Triangle

When Kelly Heber goes snorkeling in Bali, she’s not exactly vacationing. In a few minutes, she’ll be onboard a nearby boat, asking the captain if he’s seen any comeback in his fish stocks in recent years. She’ll ask how he decides if a coral reef is healthy enough to support daily visits from boatloads of tourists, and if littering and pollution pose threats.

As a PhD student in the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning working in the Science Impact Collaborative, Heber performs her environmental policy fieldwork in rural villages in Indonesia that are fringed by vibrant coral reefs. These reefs suffered during the period from the 1950s to the 1990s, when fishermen commonly exploded cyanide bombs in the water to kill and harvest all the fish in an area at once. Still in recovery, these “post-blast” coral reefs now attract thousands of tourists a year, generating the main source of income for village communities.

Learn more about Heber’s fieldwork on the Oceans at MIT website.

July 25, 2014

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Dimas 3-D prints materials that resist flaws and fractures

MIT graduate student Leon Dimas is no stranger to resilience: At 18, as a rising soccer star, the long-armed goalkeeper was a promising prospect who played for the youth academy of Rosenborg BK, a top-ranked Norwegian soccer club. He was set, it seemed, on a path that would allow him to pursue a professional career playing the game that was his first love. But when Dimas suffered nagging damage to a shoulder tendon, his professional prospects dimmed. Over the course of the next year, he made the decision to abandon professional soccer for good. “Once that dream broke, you wonder if you can get these kinds of feelings again,” Dimas says, “feelings of accomplishment and that someone believes in you.”

It’s fair to say that Dimas, now a doctoral student in MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, has bounced back. Fittingly, he is now working on creating new materials that have resilience of their own — by borrowing from the oldest blueprint around. Learn more about Leon Dimas’ research at MIT News.

July 24, 2014

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Llorens-Bonilla designs two extra robotic arms for you

Most of the robotic limbs you hear about are meant to replace arms and legs that have been lost to injury, but MIT is working on robotic limbs that are just meant to add on additional ones, giving people three or four arms so that they can get more done. Its researchers demonstrated the limbs — which they call supernumerary robotic arms — at a conference yesterday in China, and videos show that they’re already working to a basic extent. The current suit reportedly weighs just 10 pounds, but right now it seems to mainly be useful for holding light objects in place.

“Once we combine the most significant behavioral modes we are able to control the robot such that, from the wearer’s perspective, it behaves like an extension of his own body,” Baldin Llorens-Bonilla, an MIT researcher working on robotic limbs, tells IEEE Spectrum. Continue reading about his research on The Verge.

July 22, 2014

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Bamiduro and Adepetu are turning waste into energy, one community at a time

On a good day, residents in Lagos, Nigeria, get eight hours of electricity—far from enough for a rapidly growing city of 18 million. To address this shortfall, students from across MIT have teamed up to launch a waste-to-energy company that will provide Lagos residents with cheap, reliable electricity.

“Lagos has a severe waste problem, severe unemployment, and an environmental problem. Millions of people are running diesel generators on a daily basis,” said Adetayo “Tayo” Bamiduro, an MIT Sloan MBA ’15 student from Nigeria. The company the students founded, NovaGen Power Solutions, aims to supply biogas to apartment buildings while providing local jobs. “The impact is social, environmental, and economic,” Bamiduro said.

The brainchild of Adeyemi “Yemi” Adepetu, a student in MIT’s System Design and Management (SDM) program, NovaGen will collect organic waste from apartments and convert it into biogas to fuel generators. Continue reading the article here. Adepetu pictured at left. 

July 21, 2014

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De Montjoye helps you own your own data

Graduate student Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye is working on a new system that would allow individuals to pick and choose what data to share with websites and mobile apps. The example I like to use is personalized music,” says de Montjoye. “Pandora, for example, comes down to this thing that they call the music genome, which contains a summary of your musical tastes. To recommend a song, all you need is the last 10 songs you listened to — just to make sure you don’t keep recommending the same one again — and this music genome. You don’t need the list of all the songs you’ve been listening to.”

De Montjoye says “You share code; you don’t share data. Instead of you sending data to Pandora, for Pandora to define what your musical preferences are, it’s Pandora sending a piece of code to you for you to define your musical preferences and send it back to them.” Read more about de Montjoye’s new system at MIT News.

 

July 17, 2014

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Chong improves system for timing of urban lights to minimize commute times

A new optimization process developed by Carolina Osorio, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at MIT, and graduate student Linsen Chong can time traffic lights in large urban areas while accounting for the complex and diverse reactions of individual drivers. Their approach uses high-resolution traffic simulators that describe, in detail, the behavior of drivers in response to changes in travel conditions. In detailed simulations of Lausanne’s traffic, they found that the timings produced by their approach reduced the average travel time for commuters by 22 percent, compared with timings generated by commercial traffic-light timing software. Read more about Chong’s research at MIT News.

 

July 9, 2014

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Ramirez and researchers explore the cross-section of memory

Can you install a false memory in the brain? Researchers at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, including graduate student Steve Ramirez, have shown it’s possible in lab animals. First they locate where in the brain the memory is formed; then they use optogenetics to manipulate the memory neurons. One day such techniques could be used to help people with debilitating traumatic memories. Watch the video on Technology Review.

July 8, 2014

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NSE’s Lulu Li wins best poster award at CASL workshop

Lulu Li, a graduate student in nuclear science and engineering, has won the award for the best poster presented at the 2014 CASL Annual Education Workshop. Li’s poster described a new physics-based multigrid acceleration method implemented and tested in the OpenMOC framework. At MIT, Li works with professors Kord Smith and Benoit Forget in the Computational Reactor Physics Group (CRPG). CRPG focuses on computational physics methods for modeling and simulation of nuclear reactor cores, including reactor physics analysis methods, core loading design and optimization, and transient safety analysis. Continue reading this article on MIT NewsPhoto by Justin Knight.

July 7, 2014

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MIT’s Mobile Fab Lab participates in White House Maker Faire

MIT’s Mobile Fab Lab — a trailer containing digital fabrication, design, and manufacturing tools, along with an electronics workbench — was on hand Wednesday for the first-ever “White House Maker Faire,” hosted by President Obama and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) at the White House.

Obama stopped by the Mobile Fab Lab for a briefing on digital fabrication and the future of manufacturing with Neil Gershenfeld, director of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA); Nadya Peek, one of his graduate students, who is working on machines that make machines; and Makeda Stephenson, from Boston’s first fab lab. Visitors to the lab included John Holdren, assistant to the president for science and technology and director of the OSTP, and two physicists who serve in Congress: Reps. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) and Bill Foster (D-Ill.), who has introduced a House bill to charter a national network of fab labs based on CBA’s fab labs. 

Continue reading this article on MIT NewsPhoto by Pablo Martinez Monsivais; from left to right, President Barack Obama, Gershenfeld, Peek

July 3, 2014

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Daya and team unveil experimental 36-core chip

The more cores — or processing units — a computer chip has, the bigger the problem of communication between cores becomes. For years, Li-Shiuan Peh, the Singapore Research Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, has argued that the massively multicore chips of the future will need to resemble little Internets, where each core has an associated router, and data travels between cores in packets of fixed size. In a network-on-chip, each core is connected only to those immediately adjacent to it. “You can reach your neighbors really quickly,” says Bhavya Daya, an MIT graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science, and first author on the new paper. “You can also have multiple paths to your destination. So if you’re going way across, rather than having one congested path, you could have multiple ones.” Continue reading this article on MIT News.

June 18, 2014

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Chuang and Brown improve a new breed of solar cells

Solar-cell technology has advanced rapidly, as hundreds of groups around the world pursue more than two dozen approaches using different materials, technologies, and approaches to improve efficiency and reduce costs. Now a team at MIT has set a new record for the most efficient quantum-dot cells — a type of solar cell that is seen as especially promising because of its inherently low cost, versatility, and light weight.

While the overall efficiency of this cell is still low compared to other types — about 9 percent of the energy of sunlight is converted to electricity — the rate of improvement of this technology is one of the most rapid seen for a solar technology. The development is described in a paper, published in the journal Nature Materials, by MIT professors Moungi Bawendi and Vladimir Bulović and graduate students Chia-Hao Chuang and Patrick Brown.

The new process is an extension of work by Bawendi, the Lester Wolfe Professor of Chemistry, to produce quantum dots with precisely controllable characteristics — and as uniform thin coatings that can be applied to other materials. Learn more about Chuang and Brown’s on MIT News.

June 16, 2014

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Shih explains a new algorithm that can spruce your selfie

A new algorithm could transfer acclaimed photographers’ signature styles to cellphone photos. Celebrated portrait photographers like Richard Avedon, Diane Arbus, and Martin Schoeller made their reputations with distinctive visual styles that sometimes required the careful control of lighting possible only in the studio. Now MIT researchers, and their colleagues at Adobe Systems and the University of Virginia, have developed an algorithm that could allow you to transfer those distinctive styles to your own cellphone photos. They’ll present their findings in August at Siggraph, the premier graphics conference.

“Style transfer” is a thriving area of graphics research — and, with Instagram, the basis of at least one billion-dollar company. But standard style-transfer techniques tend not to work well with close-ups of faces, says YiChang Shih, an MIT graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science and lead author on the Siggraph paper. Continue reading on MIT News.

June 2, 2014

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Lewandowski receives MIT $100K prize for better malaria detector

Talk about resourcefulness: An MIT team that has leveraged two novelty items to more rapidly and accurately diagnose one of the world’s most deadly diseases — malaria — captured the grand prize at last night’s MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition.

“What if I told you I could save 1 million lives, every year, with just refrigerator magnets and a laser pointer?” John Lewandowski, a PhD student in mechanical engineering, posited during his winning pitch for Disease Diagnostics Group (DDG).

DDG’s device — called “RAM,” for Rapid Assessment of Malaria — uses these magnets to align, and lasers to illuminate, the iron-based crystals left behind by malarial parasites; this approach can determine infection level using a single drop of blood, in one minute, with 94 percent accuracy. This offers drastic improvement over traditional methods…

Continue reading on MIT News.

May 30, 2014

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Owens produces new algorithms to camouflage unsightly objects

If a bulky electrical box has to be placed at the edge of a public park, what’s the best way to conceal it so that it won’t detract from its surroundings? How about an air-conditioning condenser beside a historical building, or a portable toilet along a scenic trail?

At the conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition in June, researchers from MIT and several other institutions take a first stab at answering these types of questions, with a new algorithm that can analyze photos of a scene, taken from multiple perspectives, and produce a camouflage covering for an object placed within it.

According to Andrew Owens, an MIT graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science and lead author on the new paper, the problem of disguising objects in a scene is, to some degree, the inverse of the problem of object detection, a major area of research in computer vision.

Continue reading on MIT News.

May 29, 2014

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Yoon creates imaging system to monitor nervous systems

Researchers at MIT and the University of Vienna have created an imaging system that reveals neural activity throughout the brains of living animals. This technique, the first that can generate 3-D movies of entire brains at the millisecond timescale, could help scientists discover how neuronal networks process sensory information and generate behavior.

The team used the new system to simultaneously image the activity of every neuron in the worm Caenorhabditis elegans, as well as the entire brain of a zebrafish larva, offering a more complete picture of nervous system activity than has been previously possible. [...]

Boyden’s team developed the brain-mapping method with researchers in the lab of Alipasha Vaziri of the University of Vienna and the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology in Vienna. The paper’s lead authors are Young-Gyu Yoon, a graduate student at MIT, and Robert Prevedel, a postdoc at the University of Vienna.

Continue reading on MIT News.

May 28, 2014

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Hirsch brings new way to watch 3D without 3D glasses

Over the past three years, researchers in the Camera Culture group at the MIT Media Lab have steadily refined a design for a glasses-free, multiperspective, 3-D video screen, which they hope could provide a cheaper, more practical alternative to holographic video in the short term.

Now they’ve designed a projector that exploits the same technology, which they’ll unveil at this year’s Siggraph, the major conference in computer graphics. The projector can also improve the resolution and contrast of conventional video, which could make it an attractive transitional technology as content producers gradually learn to harness the potential of multiperspective 3-D. [...]

The MIT researchers — research scientist Gordon Wetzstein, graduate student Matthew Hirsch, and Ramesh Raskar, the NEC Career Development Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences and head of the Camera Culture group — built a prototype of their system using off-the-shelf components.

Continue reading on MIT News.

May 23, 2014

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Dahlman expands the power of RNA interference

RNA interference (RNAi), a technique that can turn off specific genes inside living cells, holds great potential for treating many diseases caused by malfunctioning genes. However, it has been difficult for scientists to find safe and effective ways to deliver gene-blocking RNA to the correct targets.

Up to this point, researchers have gotten the best results with RNAi targeted to diseases of the liver, in part because it is a natural destination for nanoparticles. But now, in a study appearing in the May 11 issue of Nature Nanotechnology, an MIT-led team reports achieving the most potent RNAi gene silencing to date in nonliver tissues.

“There’s been a growing amount of excitement about delivery to the liver in particular, but in order to achieve the broad potential of RNAi therapeutics, it’s important that we be able to reach other parts of the body as well,” says Daniel Anderson, the Samuel A. Goldblith Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering, a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, and one of the paper’s senior authors.

The paper’s other senior author is Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT and a member of the Koch Institute. Lead authors are MIT graduate student James Dahlman and Carmen Barnes of Alnylam Pharmaceuticals.

Read the article on MIT newsphoto courtesy Aude Thiriot/Harvard

May 20, 2014

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Morton researches better chemotherapy

MIT researchers have devised a novel cancer treatment that destroys tumor cells by first disarming their defenses, then hitting them with a lethal dose of DNA damage.

In studies with mice, the research team showed that this one-two punch, which relies on a nanoparticle that carries two drugs and releases them at different times, dramatically shrinks lung and breast tumors. The MIT team, led by Michael Yaffe, the David H. Koch Professor in Science, and Paula Hammond, the David H. Koch Professor in Engineering, describe the findings in the May 8 online edition of Science Signaling.

For this project, Hammond and her graduate student, Stephen Morton, devised dozens of candidate particles. The most effective were a type of particle called liposomes — spherical droplets surrounded by a fatty outer shell.

Read the article on MIT news.

May 19, 2014

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Deadline EXTENDED to May 30: Present in the Grad-Alumni poster session

Would you like to share your research with MIT alumni?  Do you want to meet successful graduate alumni and learn about their experiences after MIT?  Come to the Grad-Alumni poster session and present your research at MIT!  You will be able to practice your presentation skills in front of a general audience, network with alumni, and even find someone who can give further insights on your projects!  All presenters will get a $10 Starbucks/Amazon gift card as well as feedback from attending alumni.  Free appetizers and an open bar will be provided for all the presenters and attendees.  If you are interested, please register as a presenter online before Friday, May 30, 2014.  Have your poster ready on time and take the opportunity to present it on Saturday, June 7th, 2014.  For questions, email gsc-arc@mit.edu.

May 16, 2014

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Kushman develops computer system that automatically solves word problems

Researchers in MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, working with colleagues at the University of Washington, have developed a new computer system that can automatically solve the type of word problems common in introductory algebra classes.

In the near term, the work could lead to educational tools that identify errors in students’ reasoning or evaluate the difficulty of word problems. But it may also point toward systems that can solve more complicated problems in geometry, physics, and finance — problems whose solutions don’t appear in the back of the teacher’s edition of a textbook.

According to Nate Kushman, an MIT graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science and lead author on the new paper, the new work is in the field of “semantic parsing,” or translating natural language into a formal language such as arithmetic or formal logic. Most previous work on semantic parsing — including his own — has focused on individual sentences, Kushman says. “In these algebra problems, you have to build these things up from many different sentences,” he says. “The fact that you’re looking across multiple sentences to generate this semantic representation is really something new.”

Continue reading the article on MIT newsphoto courtesy Jose-Luis Olivares

May 15, 2014

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Lewandowski fights malaria with magnets

Even though malaria kills more than 600,000 people every year, it’s often difficult to tell who has got it. For a proper test, you need skilled health care workers and sensitive chemicals. Both are often difficult to obtain in hard-hit regions like sub-Saharan Africa.

Now John Lewandowski, a graduate student in mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, thinks he has the answer. He helped invent a battery-powered machine that uses magnets and lasers to identify malaria-infected blood, and cofounded a company, Disease Diagnostic Group (DDG), to develop it.

The small device, called the Rapid Assessment of Malaria (RAM), is portable and easy to use in the field; testers do not need specialized medical training. Each test can be done in about one minute, and cheaply — for about 25 cents. Importantly, it can also detect malarial infections in people who do not yet show symptoms of the disease.

Continue reading the article in The Boston GlobeAP photo

May 14, 2014

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Ge examines how tiny particles may pose big risk

Thousands of consumer products — including cosmetics, sunscreens, and clothing — contain nanoparticles added by manufacturers to improve texture, kill microbes, or enhance shelf life, among other purposes. However, several studies have shown that some of these engineered nanoparticles can be toxic to cells.

A new study from MIT and the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) suggests that certain nanoparticles can also harm DNA. This research was led by Bevin Engelward, a professor of biological engineering at MIT, and associate professor Philip Demokritou, director of HSPH’s Center for Nanotechnology and Nanotoxicology.

The researchers found that zinc oxide nanoparticles, often used in sunscreen to block ultraviolet rays, significantly damage DNA. Nanoscale silver, which has been added to toys, toothpaste, clothing, and other products for its antimicrobial properties, also produces substantial DNA damage, they found.

The research was funded by MIT’s Center for Environmental Health Sciences, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health. Other authors of the study are MIT graduate student Jing Ge, Harvard graduate student Joel Cohen, and Harvard postdoc Georgios Pyrgiotakis.

Read the article on MIT newsPhoto courtesy Christine Daniloff

May 9, 2014

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Margulies and Chaim look for fast way to measure DNA repair

Our DNA is under constant attack from many sources, including environmental pollutants, ultraviolet light, and radiation. Fortunately, cells have several major DNA repair systems that can fix this damage, which may lead to cancer and other diseases if not mended.

The effectiveness of these repair systems varies greatly from person to person; scientists believe that this variability may explain why some people get cancer while others exposed to similar DNA-damaging agents do not. A team of MIT researchers has now developed a test that can rapidly assess several of these repair systems, which could help determine individuals’ risk of developing cancer and help doctors predict how a given patient will respond to chemotherapy drugs.

The new test, described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of April 21, can analyze four types of DNA repair capacity simultaneously, in less than 24 hours. Previous tests have been able to evaluate only one system at a time.

Graduate students Carrie Margulies and Isaac Chaim; technical assistants Siobhan McRee and Patrizia Mazzucato; and research scientists Vincent Butty, Anwaar Ahmad, Ryan Abo, and Anthony Forget also contributed to the research, which was funded by the NIH and NIEHS.

Read the article on MIT newsphoto courtesy Aprotim Mazumder

May 9, 2014

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Learn about patents, inventions, IP, and more on May 9!

Come to this special seminar on the Dos and Don’ts of talking about your not-yet-patented research or invention on Friday, May 9th, 2014 from 1:00pm to 2:30pm in Singleton Auditorium (46-3002).  The speaker will be Christopher Noble from the MIT Technology Licensing Office.  He specializes in intellectual property terms of sponsored research, evaluation and patenting of MIT inventions, IP marketing, and negotiation of commercial licenses with startups and established companies.  Learn about when your idea has turned into an “invention,” who to talk to about it, and when.  Learn what belongs to you and what belongs to MIT, as well as how to patent your invention and who will pay for it.  Please register for this seminar.

May 8, 2014

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Liu tracks oxygen in the body

Measuring tumors’ oxygen levels could help doctors make decisions about treatments, but there’s currently no reliable, noninvasive way to make such measurements. However, a new sensor developed at MIT could change that: A research team led by professor Michael Cima has invented an injectable device that reveals oxygen levels over several weeks and can be read with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Using this kind of sensor, doctors may be able to better determine radiation doses and to monitor whether treatments are having the desired effect, according to the researchers, who describe the device in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of April 21.

“In cases where you are trying to make therapeutic decisions, you want to have some numbers that you can fall back on,” says Vincent Liu, a graduate student in Cima’s lab at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and lead author of the paper.

Continue reading the article on MIT news.

May 7, 2014

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Julian Straub orienteers robots

Suppose you’re trying to navigate an unfamiliar section of a big city, and you’re using a particular cluster of skyscrapers as a reference point. Traffic and one-way streets force you to take some odd turns, and for a while you lose sight of your landmarks. When they reappear, in order to use them for navigation, you have to be able to identify them as the same buildings you were tracking before — as well as your orientation relative to them.

That type of re-identification is second nature for humans, but it’s difficult for computers. At the IEEE Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition in June, MIT researchers will present a new algorithm that could make it much easier, by identifying the major orientations in 3-D scenes. The same algorithm could also simplify the problem of scene understanding, one of the central challenges in computer vision research.

Julian Straub, a graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, is lead author on the paper. He’s joined by his advisors, John Fisher, a senior research scientist in MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and John Leonard, a professor of mechanical and ocean engineering, as well as Oren Freifeld and Guy Rosman, both postdocs in Fisher’s Sensing, Learning, and Inference Group.

Read the article on MIT news.

May 6, 2014

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Liu designs nanoparticles that fight cancer three drugs at a time

Delivering chemotherapy drugs in nanoparticle form could help reduce side effects by targeting the drugs directly to the tumors. In recent years, scientists have developed nanoparticles that deliver one or two chemotherapy drugs, but it has been difficult to design particles that can carry any more than that in a precise ratio.

Now MIT chemists have devised a new way to build such nanoparticles, making it much easier to include three or more different drugs. In a paper published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the researchers showed that they could load their particles with three drugs commonly used to treat ovarian cancer.

Continue reading on MIT News.

May 5, 2014

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Bisso finds microparticles can prevent counterfeiting

Some 2 to 5 percent of all international trade involves counterfeit goods, according to a 2013 United Nations report. These illicit products — which include electronics, automotive and aircraft parts, pharmaceuticals, and food — can pose safety risks and cost governments and private companies hundreds of billions of dollars annually.

Many strategies have been developed to try to label legitimate products and prevent illegal trade — but these tags are often too easy to fake, are unreliable, or cost too much to implement, according to MIT researchers who have developed a new alternative. [...]

The paper’s lead authors are MIT postdoc Jiseok Lee and graduate student Paul Bisso. MIT graduate students Rathi Srinivas and Jae Jung Kim also contributed to the research.

Continue reading on MIT News.

April 29, 2014

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Li uncovers secrets of animal’s tough but clear armor

The shells of a sea creature, the mollusk Placuna placenta, are not only exceptionally tough, but also clear enough to read through. Now, researchers at MIT have analyzed these shells to determine exactly why they are so resistant to penetration and damage — even though they are 99 percent calcite, a weak, brittle mineral.

The shells’ unique properties emerge from a specialized nanostructure that allows optical clarity, as well as efficient energy dissipation and the ability to localize deformation, the researchers found. The results are published this week in the journal Nature Materials, in a paper co-authored by MIT graduate student Ling Li and Professor and Dean for Graduate Education Christine Ortiz. Continue reading on MIT News.

April 28, 2014

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Tap into lynda.com’s Monday Productivity Pointers

Looking for a few good tips – not on stocks or the races – but on ways to punch up your productivity? Then lynda.com has a series for you.

Monday Productivity Pointers features lynda staff author Jess Stratton, who shares insights about using your devices and software more effectively. Every Monday she’s back with tips on a new topic; most of these tutorials run from two to ten minutes. She also posts a blog entry on each of her weekly installments, so you can find out more about a topic up front.

Stratton’s episodes are all over the map in terms of content, from fixing browser annoyances to presenting from an iPad. Some focus on personal productivity, while others can be useful at work, home, or on the road.

See the IST website for more information.

April 23, 2014

Light Angles

Shen designs way to filter light by incoming angle

Light waves can be defined by three fundamental characteristics: their color (or wavelength), polarization, and direction. While it has long been possible to selectively filter light according to its color or polarization, selectivity based on the direction of propagation has remained elusive.

But now, for the first time, MIT researchers have produced a system that allows light of any color to pass through only if it is coming from one specific angle; the technique reflects all light coming from other directions. This new approach could ultimately lead to advances in solar photovoltaics, detectors for telescopes and microscopes, and privacy filters for display screens.

The work is described in a paper appearing this week in the journal Science, written by MIT graduate student Yichen Shen, professor of physics Marin Soljačić, and four others. “We are excited about this,” Soljačić says, “because it is a very fundamental building block in our ability to control light.” Continue reading on MIT News.

April 14, 2014

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Graduate engineers design ‘living materials’

Inspired by natural materials such as bone — a matrix of minerals and other substances, including living cells — MIT engineers have coaxed bacterial cells to produce biofilms that can incorporate nonliving materials, such as gold nanoparticles and quantum dots.

These “living materials” combine the advantages of live cells, which respond to their environment, produce complex biological molecules, and span multiple length scales, with the benefits of nonliving materials, which add functions such as conducting electricity or emitting light.

The new materials represent a simple demonstration of the power of this approach, which could one day be used to design more complex devices such as solar cells, self-healing materials, or diagnostic sensors, says Timothy Lu, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and biological engineering. Lu is the senior author of a paper describing the living functional materials in the March 23 issue of Nature Materials.

The paper’s lead author is Allen Chen, an MIT-Harvard MD-PhD student. Other authors are postdocs Zhengtao Deng, Amanda Billings, Urartu Seker, and Bijan Zakeri; recent MIT graduate Michelle Lu; and graduate student Robert Citorik.

Read the article on MIT news.

April 10, 2014

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SIAM & CCE Student Seminar: Topological Microfluidics TODAY

Come to the SIAM & CCE Student Seminar on Thursday, April 10th, 2014, at 4:00pm in MIT Room 4-237.  The topic for this seminar will be Topological Microfluidics: Exploring anisotropic fluids in microfluidic environment, with speaker Anupam Sengupta, Roman Stocker group, CEE.  Light refreshments will be served.

Liquid crystals (LCs) are complex anisotropic fluids, well-known for display applications. Their properties are in contrast to the isotropic fluids which we typically encounter in state-of- the-art microfluidic science and technology. This allows us to explore LCs as a suitable functional material for developing a microfluidic technology which harnesses the coupling interactions between the flow, the molecular orientation, and the ordering or topology of the system.

The MIT chapter of The Society for Applied and Industrial Mathematics (SIAM) is open to both undergraduate and graduate students who are interested in applied mathematics, computational science and mathematical applications in an engineering field.  Visit their website for more information.

April 8, 2014

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Explore HST research topics at the Forum on Apr. 10

Come to the 2014 HST Forum, an annual showcase of student research, to be held in the TMEC Atrium at Harvard Medical School on Thursday, April 10th, 2014, from 1:00pm to 6:30pm.  The Forum is a great opportunity to support HST students and the program as a whole, as well as discover current research projects. Take this opportunity to share ideas and connect with members of the HST community.  For more information and to RSVP, visit the website.

April 2, 2014

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Simon devises new way to synthesize drugs quickly

Small protein fragments, also called peptides, are promising as drugs because they can be designed for very specific functions inside living cells. Insulin and the HIV drug Fuzeon are some of the earliest successful examples, and peptide drugs are expected to become a $25 billion market by 2018.

However, a major bottleneck has prevented peptide drugs from reaching their full potential: Manufacturing the peptides takes several weeks, making it difficult to obtain large quantities, and to rapidly test their effectiveness.

That bottleneck may soon disappear: A team of MIT chemists and chemical engineers has designed a way to manufacture peptides in mere hours. [...] The lead author of the paper is Mark Simon, a graduate student in Pentelute’s lab. Other authors include Klavs Jensen, head of MIT’s Department of Chemical Engineering, and Andrea Adamo, a research associate in chemical engineering.

Read more on MIT News.

March 31, 2014

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Sellon finds nanopores in the ear that control selective hearing

Even in a crowded room full of background noise, the human ear is remarkably adept at tuning in to a single voice — a feat that has proved remarkably difficult for computers to match. A new analysis of the underlying mechanisms, conducted by researchers at MIT, has provided insights that could ultimately lead to better machine hearing, and perhaps to better hearing aids as well.

Our ears’ selectivity, it turns out, arises from evolution’s precise tuning of a tiny membrane, inside the inner ear, called the tectorial membrane. The viscosity of this membrane — its firmness, or lack thereof — depends on the size and distribution of tiny pores, just a few tens of nanometers wide. This, in turn, provides mechanical filtering that helps to sort out specific sounds.

The new findings are reported in the Biophysical Journal by a team led by MIT graduate student Jonathan Sellon. Continue reading on MIT News.

March 28, 2014

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Marchese builds soft robotic fish that moves like the real thing

Soft robots — which don’t just have soft exteriors but are also powered by fluid flowing through flexible channels — have become a sufficiently popular research topic that they now have their own journal, Soft Robotics. In the first issue of that journal, out this month, MIT researchers report the first self-contained autonomous soft robot capable of rapid body motion: a “fish” that can execute an escape maneuver, convulsing its body to change direction in just a fraction of a second, or almost as quickly as a real fish can.

The robotic fish was built by Andrew Marchese, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and lead author on the new paper, where he’s joined by postdoc Cagdas D. Onal and Daniela Rus, a professor of computer science and engineering, director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and one of the researchers who designed and built the fish. Each side of the fish’s tail is bored through with a long, tightly undulating channel. Carbon dioxide released from a canister in the fish’s abdomen causes the channel to inflate, bending the tail in the opposite direction.

“We’re excited about soft robots for a variety of reasons,” says Rus. “As robots penetrate the physical world and start interacting with people more and more, it’s much easier to make robots safe if their bodies are so wonderfully soft that there’s no danger if they whack you.”

Read the article on MIT news photo by M. Scott Brauer

March 24, 2014

dark_matter

Anderson covers new ground in search for dark matter

Scientists looking for dark matter face a serious challenge: No one knows what dark matter particles look like. So their search covers a wide range of possible traits — different masses, different probabilities of interacting with regular matter. Today, scientists on the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search experiment, or CDMS, announced that they have shifted the border of this search down to a dark-matter particle mass and rate of interaction that has never been probed.

The analysis, led by Adam Anderson, an MIT graduate student in physics, is the first dark matter result using a new sensor technology — developed, in part, at MIT — that shows much better rejection of background events than the previous generation of CDMS detectors. The work was presented today at the Symposium on Sources and Detection of Dark Matter and Dark Energy in the Universe, held at the University of California at Los Angeles.

“We’re pushing CDMS to as low mass as we can,” says Fermilab physicist Dan Bauer, the project manager for CDMS. “We’re proving the particle detector technology here.” Continue reading the article on MIT news.

March 19, 2014

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Baugher and Yang work on two-dimensional optoelectronics material

A team of MIT researchers has used a novel material that’s just a few atoms thick to create devices that can harness or emit light. This proof-of-concept could lead to ultrathin, lightweight, and flexible photovoltaic cells, light emitting diodes (LEDs), and other optoelectronic devices, they say.

Their report is one of three papers by different groups describing similar results with this material, published in the March 9 issue of Nature Nanotechnology. The MIT research was carried out by Pablo Jarillo-Herrero, the Mitsui Career Development Associate Professor of Physics, graduate students Britton Baugher and Yafang Yang, and postdoc Hugh Churchill. Read the rest of the article on MIT news.

March 17, 2014

Nell Putnam Farr, PhD student and her daughter

Putnam-Farr investigates more effective email marketing

Program marketers can increase participation rates by simply giving people a chance to say “yes” or “no” on email solicitations, MIT Sloan School of Management PhD candidate Nell Putnam-Farr, MBA ’10, has found.

Putnam-Farr teamed with Jason Riis, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School (now visiting the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania), on a study focusing on how a “yes” or “no” email response option affected participation rates in corporate wellness programs offered by RedBrick Health, a health engagement and behavior change technology company.

Continue reading on MIT Sloan Newsroom.

March 7, 2014

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Beane studies robotic systems equipped with AI

Long fascinated by artificial intelligence, MIT Sloan PhD candidate Matt Beane finally decided to pursue an academic career after reading about MIT professor Alex “Sandy” Pentland’s work using technology to evaluate human conversation. “I read this paper and thought, ‘The future is coming way faster than we expect,’” Beane said. “I applied to MIT Sloan because I was very motivated to see how people would react to getting sensitive personal feedback from technology.”

At the time, Beane was a senior consultant for Roger Schwarz & Associates working with top executives on culture change initiatives at large companies. Often, he found he could improve group dynamics simply by helping people to communicate more effectively. But he discovered that Pentland’s technology was able to accomplish much the same task—taking note, for example, when one person was dominating the conversation or interrupting others. What’s more, feedback from the device actually affected the way people behaved. “It immediately changed participation in groups,” Beane said. Pentland’s study made Beane realize that software might someday be doing his job.

Read the rest of the article on the MIT Sloan Newsroom website.

February 27, 2014

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Warren, Clark join in restarting of Alcator C-Mod tokamak

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) visited MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC) this week for the official restart of the Alcator C-Mod tokamak. The resumption of work by nearly 100 staff, faculty, and graduate students on the project follows recent congressional budget action, which reversed an earlier proposal by the Department of Energy (DOE) to shut down the C-Mod program.

“It’s not enough to fight [for funding] year to year,” Warren said. “Graduate students need to be able to come here and work, and know that they can start projects, and that the lab will still be open a year from now, three years from now, five years from now, as their work continues.”

Read the article on MIT news.

February 24, 2014

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Malaria Testing startup wins MIT $100K Accelerate Contest

Disease Diagnostic Group last night won the MIT $100K Accelerate Contest, netting a $10,000 prize. Bragging rights, photos with the big ceremonial check, and applause all pale in comparison to the promise of the company’s mission: developing an inexpensive, portable malaria testing device with the potential to save half a million lives, mostly of children, globally each year.

For Disease Diagnostic Group, founded by MIT mechanical engineering graduate student John Lewandowski, presenter Jonathan Edward, who is pursuing an MBA at Harvard Business School, said the resources provided by the Accelerate contest during MIT’s January Independent Activities Period proved invaluable. Malaria is highly treatable with early diagnosis, but expense and access to reliable tests are substantial barriers, Edward said. The team had proven the science of their rapid assessment of malaria device, but through the Accelerate program they developed a plan to make it sturdier, an important attribute for a pocket-sized device that will be carried in military packs into remote villages.

“We’ll be using the prize money to continue to build and refine improvements on the prototype,” Edward said. “Early models were broken in shipping, and [through Accelerate] we were able to access design assistance to make them much more robust. They’re going out with the military; they need to be able to withstand harsh treatment to be effective.”

Read the entire article here.

February 21, 2014

End Extinction

Burgess finds end-Permian extinction only took 60,000 years

Multiple theories have aimed to explain the cause of what’s now known as the end-Permian extinction, including an asteroid impact, massive volcanic eruptions, or a cataclysmic cascade of environmental events. But pinpointing the cause of the extinction requires better measurements of how long the extinction period lasted.

Now researchers at MIT have determined that the end-Permian extinction occurred over 60,000 years, give or take 48,000 years — practically instantaneous, from a geologic perspective. The new timescale is based on more precise dating techniques, and indicates that the most severe extinction in history may have happened more than 10 times faster than scientists had previously thought.

In addition to establishing the extinction’s duration, Sam Bowring, graduate student Seth Burgess, and a colleague from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology also found that, 10,000 years before the die-off, the oceans experienced a pulse of light carbon, which likely reflects a massive addition of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. This dramatic change may have led to widespread ocean acidification and increased sea temperatures by 10 degrees Celsius or more, killing the majority of sea life.

Continue reading on MIT News.

February 12, 2014

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Wittman shows network carriers receive more complaints than cheaper airlines

Consider the last time you dealt with an airline service mishap: a bag lost in transit, a flight delayed or canceled, or an overbooked plane. Are you more or less likely to make a formal complaint about service quality if you’re flying on a long-established “network” carrier or a newer, budget-friendly airline? According to a new MIT study, passengers of low-cost upstarts tend to complain less, even though the quality of service may be the same as more expensive airlines.

In a study published in the Journal of Air Transport Management, Michael Wittman, a graduate student in MIT’s International Center for Air Transportation, tallied airline-related complaints made to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) from 2002 to 2012. He found that regardless of the type of service failure, passengers complained up to 10 times more often about network carriers than low-cost carriers. Continue reading the article on MIT news.

February 11, 2014

MIT think tank

MIT Think Thank is recruiting

The MIT Think Tank is a new organization which builds interdisciplinary teams of MIT community members (ranging from undergrads to postdocs) to tackle real-world challenges in domains such as medicine, education, government, and the arts. They collaborate with professionals in society such as doctors and educators who experience these problems first hand. MIT Think Tank is currently recruiting! Applications and general information can be found on the MIT Think Tank website.

February 7, 2014

Sustainability

Apply for Martin Family Society of Fellows for Sustainability by Feb. 24

Each MIT faculty member is invited to nominate one outstanding student to become a member of the Martin Family Society of Fellows for Sustainability for 2014-2015. The student should presently be a second- or third-year graduate student pursuing doctoral research and should be a resident at MIT during the Fellowship period. Nominees should be working in, or interested in, an area of environment and sustainability as indicated by his/her clearly articulated statement of interest, subjects taken, and proposed research area. Nominations for Martin Fellowships for Sustainability are due February 24, 2014. See the MITEI nominations website and the attached PDF’s for additional information. Photo by photologue_np

February 4, 2014

Imperial Global Fellows Program 2013 - 2

Develop your professional skills in London! Info session TODAY

MIT and Imperial College London are jointly offering an intensive four-day Global Fellows Program for PhD students. Twenty PhD students from each school, Imperial and MIT, will have the opportunity to develop the professional skills required to launch and manage a successful research career. Program participants will engage in presentations, interactive work, and hands-on activities. Emphasis will be on creating and sustaining successful international research collaborations. The program will be held on June 8-14, 2014 in Wokingham, United Kingdom. Only PhD students are eligible and preference is given to students who have passed qualifying exams and have a few years remaining before completing their PhD program. The fellowship covers the cost of travel, the program, and some meals. Attend the Global Fellows Program information session on Tuesday, February 4, 3:00-4:00pm in 24-121. For further information, visit the website or contact globalphd@mit.edu. Submit your application here by Friday, February 14.

January 31, 2014

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Lenert improves performance of solar energy storage

A new approach to harvesting solar energy, developed by MIT researchers, could improve efficiency by using sunlight to heat a high-temperature material whose infrared radiation would then be collected by a conventional photovoltaic cell. This technique could also make it easier to store the energy for later use, the researchers say. In this case, adding the extra step improves performance, because it makes it possible to take advantage of wavelengths of light that ordinarily go to waste. The process is described in a paper published this week in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, written by graduate student Andrej Lenert, associate professor of mechanical engineering Evelyn Wang, physics professor Marin Soljačić, principal research scientist Ivan Celanović, and three others. Continue reading the article on MIT NewsPhoto by John Freidah.

January 29, 2014

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Hsu develops new transparent display system

Transparent displays have a variety of potential applications — such as the ability to see navigation or dashboard information while looking through the windshield of a car or plane, or to project video onto a window or a pair of eyeglasses. A number of technologies have been developed for such displays, but all have limitations. Now, researchers at MIT have come up with a new approach that can have significant advantages over existing systems, at least for certain kinds of applications: a wide viewing angle, simplicity of manufacture, and potentially low cost and scalability. The innovative system is described in a paper published this week in the journal Nature Communications, co-authored by MIT professors Marin Soljačić and John Joannopoulos, graduate student Chia Wei (Wade) Hsu, and four others. Continue reading the article on MIT News.

January 28, 2014

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Apply for Intel PhD Fellowship: internal deadline Feb. 3

The Intel PhD Fellowship is a one-time, external fellowship award for doctoral students performing research on:

  • Applications, programming, and new usage models
  • Computing leadership
  • Semiconductor innovation

The award consists of an educational stipend of $45K and a Research Total Industry Experience (TIE) grant of $5K. MIT can submit six general nominations to Intel. The Office of the Dean for Graduate Education (ODGE) will evaluate, select, and submit the nominations. Intel does not accept direct applications from students or faculty. Visit the website for more information about eligibility.

The internal MIT competition for the Intel PhD Fellowship will require an unofficial graduate transcript, C.V., research summary (500 words maximum), and a letter of recommendation (one page maximum) from current research advisor. Each department within MIT is requested to forward up to three general nominations as well as an unlimited number of applications from highly qualified students from underrepresented groups (e.g. African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians or other Pacific Islanders). Each department should send their nominations and accompanying application materials to ODGE Manager of Graduate Fellowships Scott Tirrell (stirrell@mit.edu) as single PDF files.

The deadline for the internal MIT competition is 5:00pm on Monday, February 3, 2014. ODGE will notify candidates of the status of their internal application by Friday, February 28. Nominated candidates will be able to complete their full application via the Intel website between March 3-April 4, 2014. Winners will be announced by Intel in May 2014. Contact Scott Tirrell at (617) 325-7021 or stirrell@mit.edu for any questions. Photo by infocux Technologies.

January 28, 2014

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“High Profile Publishing in Molecular Biology” Jan. 29

Learn more about current trends in the field of molecular biology, the role of the scientific journal editor, and best practices for getting published. The event titled “High Profile Publishing in Molecular Biology” will be held on Wednesday, January 29, 3:00-5:00pm in 69-181. It will feature a presentation by Helene Hodak and Marina Ostankovitch, the scientific editors of the Journal of Molecular Biology, followed by a panel discussion including MIT Professor Amy Keating. This event is sponsored by the Graduate Student Council and Elsevier. Photo by Libertas Academica.

January 24, 2014

Laser

Mailoa makes silicon devices sensitive to a broader range of infrared

Researchers have tried a variety of methods to develop detectors that are responsive to a broad range of infrared light — which could form imaging arrays for security systems, or solar cells that harness a broader range of sunlight’s energy — but these methods have all faced limitations. Now, a new system developed by researchers at five institutions, including MIT, could eliminate many of those limitations. The new approach is described in a paper published in the journal Nature Communications by MIT graduate student Jonathan Mailoa, associate professor of mechanical engineering Tonio Buonassisi, and 11 others. Continue reading this artcle on MIT News.

January 22, 2014

Max Flow

Lee and Sidford help quickly solve “max-flow” problem

Finding the most efficient way to transport items across a network like the U.S. highway system or the Internet is a problem that has taxed mathematicians and computer scientists for decades. To tackle the problem, researchers have traditionally used a maximum-flow algorithm, also known as “max flow,” in which a network is represented as a graph with a series of nodes, known as vertices, and connecting lines between them, called edges. In a paper to be presented at the ACM-SIAM Symposium on Discrete Algorithms in Portland, Ore., Kelner and his colleague Lorenzo Orecchia, an applied mathematics instructor, alongside graduate students Yin Tat Lee and Aaron Sidford, describe a new theoretical algorithm that can dramatically reduce the number of operations needed to solve the max-flow problem, making it possible to tackle even huge networks like the Internet or the human genome. Continue reading this article on Phys.org.

January 20, 2014

Nano weight scale

New device weighs at the attogram scale

MIT engineers have devised a way to measure the mass of particles with a resolution better than an attogram — one millionth of a trillionth of a gram. Weighing these tiny particles, including both synthetic nanoparticles and biological components of cells, could help researchers better understand their composition and function. “Now we can weigh small viruses, extracellular vesicles, and most of the engineered nanoparticles that are being used for nanomedicine,” says Selim Olcum, a postdoc in Manalis’ lab and one of the lead authors of a paper describing the system in this week’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Graduate student Nathan Cermak is also a lead author of the paper, and Manalis, a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, is the paper’s senior author. Researchers from the labs of MIT professors and Koch Institute members Angela Belcher and Sangeeta Bhatia also contributed to the study. Continue reading this article at MIT News.

January 20, 2014

transportation

“Transportation for Tomorrow” Showcase on Feb. 12

Join the MIT Transportation Club for the 4th edition of the MIT Transportation Showcase. The main objectives of the event is to showcase transportation research conducted at MIT and foster connections among the MIT transportation community, particularly between industry and academia. The Showcase is also an excellent avenue for students and faculty to get advice, feedback, and ideas for future research, as well as to connect with possible research collaborators. This year, the Showcase will feature a keynote seminar about tomorrow’s transportation systems. The Showcase will be held on Wednesday, February 12, 6pm-9pm at the MIT Museum. In addition to participating, you can present your research, submit your resume, and/or help as a volunteer. For more information, visit the website or contact transportation.showcase@mit.edu. Photo by Trey Ratcliff.

January 17, 2014

Battery Materials

Lee finds disordered materials make better batteries

Lithium batteries, with their exceptional ability to store power per a given weight, have been a major focus of research to enable use in everything from portable electronics to electric cars. Now researchers at MIT and Brookhaven National Laboratory have found a whole new avenue for such research: the use of disordered materials, which had generally been considered unsuitable for batteries. Certain kinds of disorder can provide a significant boost in cathode performance, the researchers have found through a combination of computer modeling and laboratory experiments. These surprising findings are reported this week in the journal Science, in a paper by MIT graduate student Jinhyuk Lee, professor of materials science and engineering Gerbrand Ceder, and four others. Continue reading this article on MIT News.

January 15, 2014

max-bandwidth

Ghaffari creates new approach to vertex connectivity

Computer scientists are constantly searching for ways to squeeze ever more bandwidth from communications networks. Now a new approach to understanding a basic concept in graph theory, known as “vertex connectivity,” could ultimately lead to communications protocols — the rules that govern how digital messages are exchanged — that coax as much bandwidth as possible from networks. Mohsen Ghaffari, a graduate student in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT, will present a new technique for addressing vertex-connectivity problems at the ACM-SIAM Symposium on Discrete Algorithms in Portland, Ore., in January. Read the whole story on MIT News.

January 10, 2014

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Kirmani creates 3-D images with only one photon per pixel

In this week’s issue of the journal Science, researchers from MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE) describe a new lidar-like system that can gauge depth when only a single photon is detected from each location. Since a conventional lidar system would require about 100 times as many photons to make depth estimates of similar accuracy under comparable conditions, the new system could yield substantial savings in energy and time — which are at a premium in autonomous vehicles trying to avoid collisions.

As Ahmed Kirmani, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and lead author on the new paper, explains, the very idea of forming an image with only a single photon detected at each pixel location is counterintuitive. “The way a camera senses images is through different numbers of detected photons at different pixels,” Kirmani says. “Darker regions would have fewer photons, and therefore accumulate less charge in the detector, while brighter regions would reflect more light and lead to more detected photons and more charge accumulation.”

In a conventional lidar system, the laser fires pulses of light toward a sequence of discrete positions, which collectively form a grid; each location in the grid corresponds to a pixel in the final image. The technique, known as raster scanning, is how old cathode-ray-tube televisions produced images, illuminating one phosphor dot on the screen at a time. Continue reading the article on MIT News.

January 6, 2014

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Donohoo balances the needs of energy, water, and climate

In deciding how best to meet the world’s growing needs for energy, the answers depend crucially on how the question is framed. Looking for the most cost-effective path provides one set of answers; including the need to curtail greenhouse-gas emissions gives a different picture. Adding the need to address looming shortages of fresh water, it turns out, leads to a very different set of choices.

That’s one conclusion of a new study led by Mort Webster, an associate professor of engineering systems at MIT, published in the journal Nature Climate Change. The study, he says, makes clear that it is crucial to examine these needs together before making decisions about investments in new energy infrastructure, where choices made today could continue to affect the water and energy landscape for decades to come.

In addition to Webster, the work was carried out by graduate student Pearl Donohoo and recent graduate Bryan Pelmintier, of the MIT Engineering Systems Division.  Continue reading the article on MIT News.

January 3, 2014

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Shilkrot melds personal style and technique with computerized control systems

It’s often easy to tell at a glance the difference between a mass-produced object and one that has been handcrafted: The handmade item is likely to have distinctive imperfections and clear signs of an individual’s technique and style.

Now, some researchers at MIT are finding ways to blur those distinctions, making it possible, for example, to sculpt items with those distinctive signs of handicraft, while controlling the outcome so that the object doesn’t stray too far from the desired form. They described their work at the recent Association for Computing Machinery Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology.

Amit Zoran, a postdoc at the MIT Media Lab who did much of this work as part of his doctoral thesis research, is the lead author of the reports. He says that, in an age of increasing standardization and mass-production, he has been “searching for this human quality, for ways to translate the long heritage of craft and creativity” into the digital age.

For example, in work with graduate student Roy Shilkrot, Zoran has designed a handheld carving tool that can be programmed with a desired three-dimensional shape. When the user begins to carve a block of material, anytime his motions would extend into the region of the desired final form, the device provides physical feedback that slows the motion. Continue reading the article on MIT News.

December 30, 2013

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Media Arts and Sciences grad students build $500 speed-of-light ‘nano-camera’

A $500 “nano-camera” that can operate at the speed of light has been developed by researchers in the MIT Media Lab.  The three-dimensional camera, which was presented last week at Siggraph Asia in Hong Kong, could be used in medical imaging and collision-avoidance detectors for cars, and to improve the accuracy of motion tracking and gesture-recognition devices used in interactive gaming.

The camera is based on “Time of Flight” technology like that used in Microsoft’s recently launched second-generation Kinect device, in which the location of objects is calculated by how long it takes a light signal to reflect off a surface and return to the sensor. However, unlike existing devices based on this technology, the new camera is not fooled by rain, fog, or even translucent objects, says co-author Achuta Kadambi, a graduate student at MIT.

“Using the current state of the art, such as the new Kinect, you cannot capture translucent objects in 3-D,” Kadambi says. “That is because the light that bounces off the transparent object and the background smear into one pixel on the camera. Using our technique you can generate 3-D models of translucent or near-transparent objects.”

Media Arts and Sciences graduate students Ayush Bhandari and Refael Whyte also worked on the nano-camera project.  Continue reading the article on MIT Newsphoto by Bryce Vickmark

December 27, 2013

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Kushman writes programs using ordinary language

In a pair of recent papers, researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have demonstrated that, for a few specific tasks, it’s possible to write computer programs using ordinary language rather than special-purpose programming languages.

The work may be of some help to programmers, and it could let nonprogrammers manipulate common types of files — like word-processing documents and spreadsheets — in ways that previously required familiarity with programming languages. But the researchers’ methods could also prove applicable to other programming tasks, expanding the range of contexts in which programmers can specify functions using ordinary language.

In work presented in June at the annual Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics, Barzilay and graduate student Nate Kushman used examples harvested from the Web to train a computer system to convert natural-language descriptions into so-called “regular expressions”: combinations of symbols that enable file searches that are far more flexible than the standard search functions available in desktop software.  Continue reading the article on MIT NewsPhoto by Christine Daniloff

December 23, 2013

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Hsu and Scott improve techniques for gene editing

Earlier this year, MIT researchers developed a way to easily and efficiently edit the genomes of living cells. Now, the researchers have discovered key factors that influence the accuracy of the system, an important step toward making it safer for potential use in humans, says Feng Zhang, leader of the research team.

With this technology, scientists can deliver or disrupt multiple genes at once, raising the possibility of treating human disease by targeting malfunctioning genes. To help with that process, Zhang’s team, led by graduate students Patrick Hsu and David Scott, has now created a computer model that can identify the best genetic sequences to target a given gene.

Continue reading the article on MIT News.

December 23, 2013

MIT_Museum,_Cambridge_MA

Volunteer & outreach at the MIT Museum Jan. 11

The MIT Museum is accepting applications for museum volunteers for Saturday, January 11th, 2014 at 9:00am.  This is an opportunity to connect your research to the public and to develop and run educational demonstrators for museum visitors.  Apply here.  For more information, contact andhong@mit.edu.

December 20, 2013

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Vondrick teaches computers to see — by learning to see like computers

Object-recognition systems — software that tries to identify objects in digital images — typically rely on machine learning. They comb through databases of previously labeled images and look for combinations of visual features that seem to correlate with particular objects. Then, when presented with a new image, they try to determine whether it contains one of the previously identified combinations of features.

Even the best object-recognition systems, however, succeed only around 30 or 40 percent of the time — and their failures can be totally mystifying. Researchers are divided in their explanations: Are the learning algorithms themselves to blame? Or are they being applied to the wrong types of features? Or — the “big-data” explanation — do the systems just need more training data?

Today, the feature set most widely used in object-detection research is called the histogram of oriented gradients, or HOG (hence the name of the MIT researchers’ system: HOGgles).

“This feature space, HOG, is very complex,” says Carl Vondrick, an MIT graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science and first author on the new paper. “A bunch of researchers sat down and tried to engineer, ‘What’s the best feature space we can have?’ It’s very high-dimensional. It’s almost impossible for a human to comprehend intuitively what’s going on. So what we’ve done is built a way to visualize this space.”

Read more on MIT News.

December 18, 2013

face

Nonato explores the Brazilian language of the Kĩsêdjê in the Amazon rainforest

Wandering through his university’s library in São Paulo one day in 2002, Rafael Nonato noticed a book titled “Language.” Curious, he pulled it off the shelf.

The book was written in 1921 by a linguist named Edward Sapir, who did work on Native American languages. “It’s this very interesting book; he discusses the possible relationships between language and culture. I thought, ‘Wow, this is really cool!’” Nonato says.

Then halfway through a computer engineering degree, Nonato found a linguistics program at the nearby State University of Campinas and began coursework there. Now, as a PhD student in linguistics at MIT, Nonato studies the indigenous Brazilian language Kĩsêdjê (keen-seh-jay), dividing his time between a Kĩsêdjê village on the outskirts of the Amazon rainforest and MIT, where he puzzles out the structure of the language.

Read more about Nonato on MIT News.

December 10, 2013

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Heubel’s research is advancing X-ray technology

X-rays transformed medicine a century ago by providing a noninvasive way to detect internal structures in the body. Still, they have limitations: X-rays cannot image the body’s soft tissues, except with the use of contrast-enhancing agents that must be swallowed or injected, and their resolution is limited. But a new approach developed by researchers at MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) could dramatically change that, enabling the most detailed images ever — including clear views of soft tissue without any need for contrast agents. The work was presented by MIT postdoc Shuo Cheng during the 13th International Workshop on Micro and Nanotechnology for Power Generation and Energy Conversion Applications (PowerMEMS 2013), which was held from December 3 to 6 in London.

The new technology “could make X-rays ubiquitous, because of its higher resolution, the fact that the dose would be smaller and the hardware smaller, cheaper, and more capable than current X-rays,” says Luis Velásquez-García, a principal research scientist at MIT’s Microsystems Technology Laboratories and senior author of the PowerMEMS paper. The research, which also included MIT postdoc Frances Hill and graduate student Eric Heubel, was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Read the article on MIT News.

December 4, 2013

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Wang is developing a system to warn programmers about compilers

Compilers are computer programs that translate high-level instructions written in human-readable languages like Java or C into low-level instructions that machines can execute. Most compilers also streamline the code they produce, modifying algorithms specified by programmers so that they’ll run more efficiently. Sometimes that means simply discarding lines of code that appear to serve no purpose. But as it turns out, compilers can be overaggressive, dispensing not only with functional code but also with code that actually performs vital security checks.

A classic example, explains Xi Wang, a graduate student in EECS and first author on the new paper, is the assumption that if a program attempts to store too large a number at a memory location reserved for an integer, the computer will lop off the bits that don’t fit. “In machines, integers have a limit,” Wang says. “Whenever you exceed that limit, the input value basically wraps around to a smaller value.”

Read the article on MIT News.

December 2, 2013

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Choi and Ulissi investigate the speed of molecules in nanotubes

Like a pea going through a straw, tiny molecules can pass through microscopic cylinders known as nanotubes. This could potentially be used to select molecules according to size — for example, to purify water by allowing water molecules to pass through while blocking salt or other substances.

Now, researchers at MIT, Seoul University in Korea and Ursinus College in Pennsylvania have found that such tubes are more selective than had been thought: Molecules of a precise size can zip through five times faster than those that are a bit smaller or larger. The new findings are published in the journal Nature Communications by MIT professor Michael Strano, graduate students Wonjoon Choi and Zachary Ulissi, and three others. Read the rest of the article on MIT News.