Category Archives: Student research

May 18, 2015

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Chen and Wadhwa develop way to visualize minute vibrations

To the naked eye, buildings and bridges appear fixed in place, unmoved by forces like wind and rain. But in fact, these large structures do experience imperceptibly small vibrations that, depending on their frequency, may indicate instability or structural damage. MIT researchers have now developed a technique to “see” vibrations that would otherwise be invisible to the naked eye, combining high-speed video with computer vision techniques.

Normally, high-speed video wouldn’t pick up such subtle vibrations from a building. To do this, the researchers employed a computer vision technique called “motion magnification” to break down high-speed frames into certain frequencies, essentially exaggerating tiny, subpixel motions. Buyukozturk has co-authored a paper, along with lead author and graduate student Justin Chen, which appears in the Journal of Sound and Vibration. The paper’s other co-authors are graduate student Neal Wadhwa and postdoc Young-Jin Cha, along with professors of computer science and engineering Fredo Durand and William Freeman. Continue reading on MIT News.

May 6, 2015

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Leonard finds links between brain anatomy, academic achievement, and family income

Many years of research have shown that for students from lower-income families, standardized test scores and other measures of academic success tend to lag behind those of wealthier students. A new study led by researchers at MIT, including grad student, Julia Leonard, and Harvard University offers another dimension to this so-called “achievement gap”: After imaging the brains of high- and low-income students, they found that the higher-income students had thicker brain cortex in areas associated with visual perception and knowledge accumulation. Furthermore, these differences also correlated with one measure of academic achievement — performance on standardized tests.

“Just as you would expect, there’s a real cost to not living in a supportive environment. We can see it not only in test scores, in educational attainment, but within the brains of these children,” says MIT’s John Gabrieli, the Grover M. Hermann Professor in Health Sciences and Technology, professor of brain and cognitive sciences, and one of the study’s authors. “To me, it’s a call to action. You want to boost the opportunities for those for whom it doesn’t come easily in their environment.” Continue reading at MIT News.

May 4, 2015

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Arndt solves mystery underlying beetle’s attack

Bombardier beetles, which exist on every continent except Antarctica, have a pretty easy life. Virtually no other animals prey on them, because of one particularly effective defense mechanism: When disturbed or attacked, the beetles produce an internal chemical explosion in their abdomen and then expel a jet of boiling, irritating liquid toward their attackers. Researchers had been baffled by the half-inch beetles’ ability to produce this noxious spray while avoiding any physical damage. But now that conundrum has been solved, thanks to research by a team at MIT, the University of Arizona, and Brookhaven National Laboratory. The findings are published this week in the journal Science by MIT graduate student Eric Arndt, professor of materials science and engineering Christine Ortiz, Wah-Keat Lee of Brookhaven National Laboratory, and Wendy Moore of the University of Arizona.

“Their defensive mechanism is highly effective,” Arndt says, making bombardier beetles “invulnerable to most vertebrates, and invertebrates” — except for a few very specialized predators that have developed countermeasures against the noxious spray. Continue reading on MIT News. Photo by Charles Hedgcock.

April 30, 2015

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Zhu, Opel, and Gai stimulate both sides of immune system to combat tumors

The human immune system is poised to spring into action at the first sign of a foreign invader, but it often fails to eliminate tumors that arise from the body’s own cells. Cancer biologists hope to harness that untapped power using an approach known as cancer immunotherapy. Orchestrating a successful immune attack against tumors has proven difficult so far, but a new study from MIT suggests that such therapies could be improved by simultaneously activating both arms of the immune system. Until now, most researchers have focused on one of two strategies: attacking tumors with antibodies, […] the innate immune system, or stimulating T cells, […] the adaptive immune system.

By combining these approaches, the MIT team was able to halt the growth of a very aggressive form of melanoma in mice. “An anti-tumor antibody can improve adoptive T-cell therapy to a surprising extent,” says Dane Wittrup, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor in Chemical Engineering at MIT. “These two different parts of the immune therapy are interdependent and synergistic.”  Wittrup, an associate director of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and also a faculty member in the Department of Biological Engineering, is the senior author of a paper describing the work this week in the journal Cancer Cell. Lead authors are graduate students Eric Zhu and Cary Opel and recent PhD recipient Shuning GaiContinue reading on MIT News.

April 22, 2015

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Kao and Dementyev create thumbnail track pad for devices

Researchers at the MIT Media Laboratory are developing a new wearable device that turns the user’s thumbnail into a miniature wireless track pad. They envision that the technology could let users control wireless devices when their hands are full — answering the phone while cooking, for instance. It could also augment other interfaces, allowing someone texting on a cellphone, say, to toggle between symbol sets without interrupting his or her typing. Finally, it could enable subtle communication in circumstances that require it, such as sending a quick text to a child while attending an important meeting. The researchers describe a prototype of the device, called NailO, in a paper they’re presenting next week at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Computer-Human Interaction conference in Seoul, South Korea.

According to Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao, an MIT graduate student in media arts and sciences and one of the new paper’s lead authors, the device was inspired by the colorful stickers that some women apply to their nails. “It’s a cosmetic product, popular in Asian countries,” says Kao, who is Taiwanese. “When I came here, I was looking for them, but I couldn’t find them, so I’d have my family mail them to me.”  To build their prototype, the researchers needed to find a way to pack capacitive sensors, a battery, and three separate chips — a microcontroller, a Bluetooth radio chip, and a capacitive-sensing chip — into a space no larger than a thumbnail. “The hardest part was probably the antenna design,” says Artem Dementyev, a graduate student in media arts and sciences and the paper’s other lead author. Continue reading on MIT News.

April 17, 2015

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Liu makes sensor to detect rotting meat

MIT chemists have devised an inexpensive, portable sensor that can detect gases emitted by rotting meat, allowing consumers to determine whether the meat in their grocery store or refrigerator is safe to eat. The sensor, which consists of chemically modified carbon nanotubes, could be deployed in “smart packaging” that would offer much more accurate safety information than the expiration date on the package, says Timothy Swager, the John D. MacArthur Professor of Chemistry at MIT.

It could also cut down on food waste, he adds. “People are constantly throwing things out that probably aren’t bad,” says Swager, who is the senior author of a paper describing the new sensor this week in the journal Angewandte Chemie. The paper’s lead author is graduate student Sophie Liu. Other authors are former lab technician Alexander Petty and postdoc Graham Sazama. Continue reading on MIT News.

April 2, 2015

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SOLAR Cities Community Biodigesters Apr. 6

Join Ph D. Thomas H. Culhane, National Geographic Explorer and Co-founder of SOLAR cities. SOLAR cities is an international non-profit educational organization that aims to provide an open-source virtual Hackspace for “Biogas Innoventors and Practitioners.” SOLAR cities also provides training for all those researching, developing and deploying sustainable solutions for flourishing societies. The event will take place on Monday, April 6th, at noon in 4-237. RSVP if you’re interested in attending or email trashiscash@mit.edu for more information.  Photo by IntelFreePress

March 23, 2015

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Chen and Christiansen create noninvasive method to locally stimulate brain

Researchers at MIT have developed a method to stimulate brain tissue using external magnetic fields and injected magnetic nanoparticles — a technique allowing direct stimulation of neurons, which could be an effective treatment for a variety of neurological diseases, without the need for implants or external connections. The research, conducted by Polina Anikeeva, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering, graduate student Ritchie Chen, and three others, has been published in the journal Science.

In addition to Anikeeva and Chen, the research team also included postdoc Gabriela Romero, graduate student Michael Christiansen, and undergraduate Alan Mohr. The work was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research, and the National Science Foundation. Continue reading on MIT News.

March 18, 2015

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Wang uses new device to detect and analyze methane formation

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, second only to carbon dioxide in its capacity to trap heat in Earth’s atmosphere for a long time. The gas can originate from lakes and swamps, natural-gas pipelines, deep-sea vents, and livestock. Understanding the sources of methane, and how the gas is formed, could give scientists a better understanding of its role in warming the planet. Now a research team led by scientists at MIT and including colleagues from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the University of Toronto, and elsewhere has developed an instrument that can rapidly and precisely analyze samples of environmental methane to determine how the gas was formed.

“We are interested in the question, ‘Where does methane come from?’” says Shuhei Ono, an assistant professor of geochemistry in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. “If we can partition how much is from cows, natural gas, and other sources, we can more reliably strategize what to do about global warming.” Ono and his colleagues, including first author and graduate student David Wang, publish their results this week in the journal Science. Continue reading on MIT News.

March 16, 2015

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Webber develops method for analyzing exoplanet clouds

In a paper to be published in the Astrophysical Journal, researchers in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) at MIT describe a technique that analyzes data from NASA’s Kepler space observatory to determine the types of clouds on planets that orbit other stars, known as exoplanets. The team, led by Kerri Cahoy, an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, has already used the method to determine the properties of clouds on the exoplanet Kepler-7b. The planet is known as a “hot Jupiter,” as temperatures in its atmosphere hover at around 1,700 kelvins.

Researchers have previously shown that by studying the variations in the amount of light coming from these star systems as a planet transits, or crosses in front or behind them, they can detect the presence of clouds in that planet’s atmosphere. That is because particles within the clouds will scatter different wavelengths of light. To find out if this data could be used to determine the composition of these clouds, the MIT researchers studied the light signal from Kepler-7b. They used models of the temperature and pressure of the planet’s atmosphere to determine how different types of clouds would form within it, says lead author Matthew Webber, a graduate student in Cahoy’s group at MIT. Continue reading on MIT News.

March 6, 2015

Radio Leakage

Paidimarri finds way to greatly reduce circuit power leakage

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the big theme was the “Internet of things” — the idea that everything in the human environment, from kitchen appliances to industrial equipment, could be equipped with sensors and processors that can exchange data, helping with maintenance and the coordination of tasks. Realizing that vision, however, requires transmitters that are powerful enough to broadcast to devices dozens of yards away but energy-efficient enough to last for months — or even to harvest energy from heat or mechanical vibrations.

“A key challenge is designing these circuits with extremely low standby power, because most of these devices are just sitting idling, waiting for some event to trigger a communication,” explains Anantha Chandrakasan, the Joseph F. and Nancy P. Keithley Professor in Electrical Engineering at MIT. “When it’s on, you want to be as efficient as possible, and when it’s off, you want to really cut off the off-state power, the leakage power.” Chandrakasan — along with Arun Paidimarri, an MIT graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science and first author on the paper, and Nathan Ickes, a research scientist in Chandrakasan’s lab — reduces the leakage by applying a negative charge to the gate when the transmitter is idle. That drives electrons away from the electrical leads, making the semiconductor a much better insulator.  Continue reading on MIT News.

February 27, 2015

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Borenstein makes chess more accessible to spectators

Graduate student Greg Borenstein spoke with BBC News about his efforts to turn chess into a spectator sport like American football or poker. His group in the Media Lab wants to make the game more accessible to the uninitiated, by presenting complex information on matches in a simple, visually appealing way and give an expert insight into the state of a game. “There’s really something magical about the ability to use computation and statistics to take that drama and that excitement and those brilliant moments an make them visible,” Borenstein explains. To watch Borenstein’s interview visit BBC News. Photo by maorix

February 25, 2015

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Kim coauthors paper on crowd sourced video annotation

Educational researchers have long held that presenting students with clear outlines of the material covered in lectures improves their retention. Recent studies indicate that the same is true of online how-to videos, and in a paper being presented at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing in March, researchers at MIT and Harvard University describe a new system that recruits viewers to create high-level conceptual outlines.

‘That addresses one of the fundamental problems with videos,’ says Juho Kim, an MIT graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science and one of the paper’s co-authors. “It’s really hard to find the exact spots that you want to watch. You end up scrubbing on the timeline carefully and looking at thumbnails. And with educational videos, especially, it’s really hard, because it’s not that visually dynamic. So we thought that having this semantic information about the video really helps. Continue reading on MIT News.

February 25, 2015

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Apply for Martin Family Society of Fellows for Sustainability by Feb. 28

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 2015-2016. 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 28, 2015. See the MITEI nominations website and the attached PDF’s for additional information. Photo by photologue_np

February 20, 2015

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Sanchez and Tsai designing quicker multicore chips

“Computer chips’ clocks have stopped getting faster. To keep delivering performance improvements, chipmakers are instead giving chips more processing units, or cores, which can execute computations in parallel. But the ways in which a chip carves up computations can make a big difference to performance. In a 2013 paper, Daniel Sanchez, the TIBCO Founders Assistant Professor in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and his student, Nathan Beckmann, described a system that cleverly distributes data around multicore chips’ memory banks, improving execution times by 18 percent on average while actually increasing energy efficiency.” Continue reading on MIT News.

February 4, 2015

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Mork on locking energy-transfer rates in quantum dots

MIT chemistry graduate student Jolene Mork examines rates of excitonic-energy transfer. Energy transfer in light-sensitive materials such as quantum dots is of interest for better solar cells, LEDs, and other devices. MIT chemistry graduate student A. Jolene Mork examines how fast energy transfers from one quantum dot to another, a phenomenon known as hopping. Mork is lead author of a Journal of Physical Chemistry paper that analyzed energy transfer in colloidal quantum dots. “It’s not looking at how far can an exciton go within a film; it is how fast does it transfer from one quantum dot to another,” she says. Mork is a fifth-year MIT graduate student in the lab of William A. Tisdale, the Charles and Hilda Roddey Career Development Professor in Chemical Engineering at MIT. Read on at MIT News. Photo by Denis Paiste.

January 30, 2015

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Weidman shows how to synthesize lead sulfide nanocrystals of uniform size

Lead sulfide nanocrystals suitable for solar cells have a nearly one-to-one ratio of lead to sulfur atoms, but MIT researchers discovered that to make uniformly sized quantum dots, a higher ratio of lead to sulfur precursors – 24 to 1 – is better. MIT chemical engineering graduate student Mark C. Weidman developed the synthetic recipe in the lab of William A. Tisdale, the Charles and Hilda Roddey Career Development Professor in Chemical Engineering at MIT, with colleagues Ferry Prins, Rachel S. Hoffman and 2013 Summer Scholar Megan Beck. Uniformity of size can promote long exciton diffusion lengths in lead sulfide (PbS) quantum-dot films, Weidman says.

Usually quantum dots are synthesized as a colloid, with particles suspended in a liquid. If the quantum dots are all of the same size, they can self-assemble into an ordered lattice. “If they are monodisperse enough, it’s the thermodynamically favored state,” Weidman explains. Read on at MIT News. Photo by Denis Paiste.

January 28, 2015

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Chen and Tillberg on enlarging brain samples for better imaging

Fei Chen and Paul Tillberg are lead authors of paper on enlarging brain tissue samples. Beginning with the invention of the first microscope in the late 1500s, scientists have been trying to peer into preserved cells and tissues with ever-greater magnification. The latest generation of so-called “super-resolution” microscopes can see inside cells with resolution better than 250 nanometers. A team of researchers from MIT has now taken a novel approach to gaining such high-resolution images: Instead of making their microscopes more powerful, they have discovered a method that enlarges tissue samples by embedding them in a polymer that swells when water is added. This allows specimens to be physically magnified, and then imaged at a much higher resolution. This technique, which uses inexpensive, commercially available chemicals and microscopes commonly found in research labs, should give many more scientists access to super-resolution imaging, the researchers say. Read on at MIT News.

January 27, 2015

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Wong’s vision system for household robots

For household robots ever to be practical, they’ll need to be able to recognize the objects they’re supposed to manipulate. But while object recognition is one of the most widely studied topics in artificial intelligence, even the best object detectors still fail much of the time.

Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory believe that household robots should take advantage of their mobility and their relatively static environments to make object recognition easier, by imaging objects from multiple perspectives before making judgments about their identity. Matching up the objects depicted in the different images, however, poses its own computational challenges.

In a paper appearing in a forthcoming issue of the International Journal of Robotics Research, the MIT researchers show that a system using an off-the-shelf algorithm to aggregate different perspectives can recognize four times as many objects as one that uses a single perspective, while reducing the number of misidentifications.

Read more at MIT News as PhD student and lead author on the new paper, Lawson Wong, talks about the project. Photo by John Boyd.

January 22, 2015

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Dura watches how cells interact

The immune system is a complex network of many different cells working together to defend against invaders. Successfully fighting off an infection depends on the interactions between these cells. A new device developed by MIT engineers offers a much more detailed picture of that cellular communication. Using this device, which captures pairs of cells and collects data on each as they interact with each other, the researchers have already learned more about how T cells — major players in the immune response — become activated during infection.

The device is based on microfluidic technology developed by Joel Voldman, an MIT professor of electrical engineering and computer science (EECS), in 2009. His team used that earlier version to fuse adult cells with embryonic stem cells, allowing the researchers to observe the genetic reprogramming that occurred in these hybrids. Read more at MIT News, as graduate student and lead author on the new paper, Burak Dura, talks about her research.

January 21, 2015

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MIT students represented in Forbes “30 under 30″

Forbes recently released its “30 under 30″ lists for 2015. For its fourth annual celebration, the publication has selected 600 movers, makers, and game changers in 20 fields — all under the age of 30. This year’s lists are populated with numerous MIT faculty, students, and alumni. Check out MIT News for a complete list of students honored, and see the MIT Alumni Association’s Slice of MIT for a complete list of alumni honorees.

January 16, 2015

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Najafi: Toward quantum chips

A team of researchers has built an array of light detectors sensitive enough to register the arrival of individual light particles, or photons, and mounted them on a silicon optical chip. Such arrays are crucial components of devices that use photons to perform quantum computations.

Single-photon detectors are notoriously temperamental: Of 100 deposited on a chip using standard manufacturing techniques, only a handful will generally work. In a paper appearing today in Nature Communications, the researchers at MIT and elsewhere describe a procedure for fabricating and testing the detectors separately and then transferring those that work to an optical chip built using standard manufacturing processes.

In addition to yielding much denser and larger arrays, the approach also increases the detectors’ sensitivity. In experiments, the researchers found that their detectors were up to 100 times more likely to accurately register the arrival of a single photon than those found in earlier arrays. Read on at MIT News as graduate student and first author on the new paper, Faraz Najafi, talks more about building the detectors.

January 13, 2015

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Andrea Ippolito: Hacking Healthcare

A few blocks from the main hall of the South by Southwest Interactive festival on a sunny March morning, a healthcare hackathon is in progress. Having attended more than a dozen such gatherings, Andrea Katherine Ippolito, a biomedical engineer by training, can rattle off a long list of companies spawned at one of MIT’s previous Hacking Medicine events—a list that includes Pillpack, Smart Scheduling, Podimetrics, RubiconMD, Twiage, Eagle Health Supplies, and HermesIQ. Ippolito is a PhD student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Hacking Medicine’s codirector for 2013–2014 (along with fellow MIT student Allison Yost), and now a Presidential Innovation Fellow working with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Read more about the hackathons at HealthLeaders Media.

January 8, 2015

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Graduate students power Scope website

Discover the emerging voices in science writing online at ScopeScope, the superb online publication of students in the MIT SHASS Graduate Program in Science Writing, publishes graduate student videocasts, news and feature articles, essays, book reviews, and radio podcasts. Students in the class of 2014-15 are: Rachel Becker, Christina Couch, Cara Giaimo, Michael Greshko, Anna Nowogrodzki, Sarah Schwartz, Joshua Sokol and Annie Tague. Their stories can be found here.

January 7, 2015

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Marchese on soft robotic fish

Watch as Andrew Marchese, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, helps to explain his soft robotic fish and why soft robotics have the potential to outperform hard robots in some tasks.

January 6, 2015

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Lee receives Materials Research Society Graduate Student Award

Jinhyuk Lee, Graduate Student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was recently awarded the Materials Research Society Graduate Student Award for a presentation on Materials Challenges for Energy Storage Across Multiple Scales at the MRS 2014 Fall Meeting in Boston. PhD candidate, Lee, won the gold award for his work on high-capacity disordered Li-excess cathodes for Li-ion batteries.

The MRS Graduate Student Awards are intended to honor and encourage graduate students whose academic achievements and current materials research display a high order of excellence and distinction. MRS seeks to recognize students of exceptional ability who show promise for future substantial achievement in materials research. Emphasis is placed on the quality of the student and his/her research ability. Read more on Lee’s research can be found on MIT News.

January 6, 2015

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Communicating science through film Jan. 14 & 15

Drawing on examples from her broad experience, join Dena Seidel at 12 pm in room 54-915 as she gives two talks on creatively using film to communicate science to broad audiences.

“Creative Ocean and Earth Science Filmmaking”
Using examples of her own award winning films, January 14, Seidel will speak about ways oceanographers and atmospheric scientists can collaborate with filmmakers to create engaging documentaries about their research for large audiences.

“Communicating Your Research to the Public Through Film”
Public understanding of the work scientists do is essential for continued research funding and attracting young people to STEM fields. On January 15, hear how filmmakers and researchers can work together to create narratives that engage the larger public in science learning.

December 30, 2014

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The Foundry at MIT

Within the Department of Materials Science and Engineering lives a place where students can come and put their materials knowledge into practice. The Foundry at MIT provides a space for students, like second year grad student, Zachery Cordero, faculty and staff to come innovate, create and get their hands dirty in the process. Photo by Stephen Scott Jenkins

December 29, 2014

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2015 Legatum Fellowship: Apply by Jan. 22

The Legatum Center seeks entrepreneurs who aspire to have a lasting and positive economic impact on low-income countries by developing their own entrepreneurial ideas and building their own local enterprises. The Fellowship is open to all incoming and current MIT graduate students, and students currently enrolled as sophomores and juniors at MIT.  The application deadline is January 22, 2015. For more information on the Legatum Fellowship and how to apply, please visit here. Email Kwadwo Poku at legatum-fellowship@mit.edu if you have questions.

December 23, 2014

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Eddy theorizes what really killed the dinosaurs

Sixty-six million years ago, an asteroid more than five miles wide smashed into the Earth at 70,000 miles per hour, instantly vaporizing upon impact. The strike obliterated most terrestrial life, including the dinosaurs, in a geological instant: Heavy dust blocked out the sun, setting off a cataclysmic chain of events from the bottom of the food chain to the top, killing off more than three-quarters of Earth’s species — or so the popular theory goes.

But now scientists at MIT and elsewhere have found evidence that a major volcanic eruption began just before the impact, possibly also playing a role in the extinction.

The team, including graduate student Michael Eddy, precisely dated rocks from the Deccan Traps — a region of west-central India that preserves remnants of one of the largest volcanic eruptions on Earth. Based on their analysis, the researchers determined that the eruption began 250,000 years before the asteroid strike and continued for 500,000 years after the giant impact, spewing a total of 1.5 million square kilometers of lava. The immense and long-lasting volcanism may have released dangerous levels of volatile chemicals into the air, poisoning the atmosphere and oceans. Read more at MIT News.

December 16, 2014

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Azzarelli on new wireless chemical sensors

MIT chemists have devised a new way to wirelessly detect hazardous gases and environmental pollutants, using a simple sensor that can be read by a smartphone. These inexpensive sensors could be widely deployed, making it easier to monitor public spaces or detect food spoilage in warehouses. Using this system, the researchers have demonstrated that they can detect gaseous ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, and cyclohexanone, among other gases.

“The beauty of these sensors is that they are really cheap. You put them up, they sit there, and then you come around and read them. There’s no wiring involved. There’s no power,” says Timothy Swager, the John D. MacArthur Professor of Chemistry at MIT. “You can get quite imaginative as to what you might want to do with a technology like this.”

Swager is the senior author of a paper describing the new sensors in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of Dec. 8. Chemistry graduate student Joseph Azzarelli is the paper’s lead author; other authors are postdoc Katherine Mirica and former MIT postdoc Jens Ravnsbaek. Continue reading on MIT News.

December 15, 2014

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Konermann devises technique to rapidly reveal gene function

Using a gene-editing system originally developed to delete specific genes, MIT researchers have now shown that they can reliably turn on any gene of their choosing in living cells. This new application for the CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing system should allow scientists to more easily determine the function of individual genes, according to Feng Zhang, the W.M. Keck Career Development Professor in Biomedical Engineering in MIT’s Departments of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and Biological Engineering, and a member of the Broad Institute and MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research.

This approach also enables rapid functional screens of the entire genome, allowing scientists to identify genes involved in particular diseases. In a study published in the Dec. 10 online edition of Nature, Zhang and colleagues identified several genes that help melanoma cells become resistant to a cancer drug. Silvana Konermann, a graduate student in Zhang’s lab, and Mark Brigham, a McGovern Institute postdoc, are the paper’s lead authors. Continue reading on MIT News.

December 12, 2014

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Kim designs system to teach humans pattern recognition

Computers are good at identifying patterns in huge data sets. Humans, by contrast, are good at inferring patterns from just a few examples. In a paper appearing at the Neural Information Processing Society’s conference next week, MIT researchers present a new system that bridges these two ways of processing information, so that humans and computers can collaborate to make better decisions.

The system learns to make judgments by crunching data but distills what it learns into simple examples. In experiments, human subjects using the system were more than 20 percent better at classification tasks than those using a similar system based on existing algorithms. In particular, Shah and her colleagues — her student Been Kim, whose PhD thesis is the basis of the new paper, and Cynthia Rudin, an associate professor of statistics at the MIT Sloan School of Management — were trying to augment a type of machine learning known as “unsupervised.” Continue reading on MIT News.

December 11, 2014

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Mishra is making large biological circuits practical

Researchers have made great progress in recent years in the design and creation of biological circuits — systems that, like electronic circuits, can take a number of different inputs and deliver a particular kind of output. But while individual components of such biological circuits can have precise and predictable responses, those outcomes become less predictable as more such elements are combined.

A team of researchers at MIT has now come up with a way of greatly reducing that unpredictability, introducing a device that could ultimately allow such circuits to behave nearly as predictably as their electronic counterparts. The findings are published this week in the journal Nature Biotechnology, in a paper by associate professor of mechanical engineering Domitilla Del Vecchio and professor of biological engineering Ron Weiss.

The lead author of the paper is Deepak Mishra, an MIT graduate student in biological engineering. Other authors include recent master’s students Phillip Rivera in mechanical engineering and Allen Lin in electrical engineering and computer science. Continue reading the article on MIT newsphoto by Brian Teague

November 25, 2014

caltech space challenge

Apply for the Caltech Space Challenge 2015 by Dec. 15

The Caltech Space Challenge 2015: Design the Next Human Spaceflight Mission will be from March 22-27, 2015 at Caltech in Pasadena, CA. Applications are due December 15, 2014. Design a human mission to extract resources from a redirected asteroid in lunar orbit! Thirty-two students, split into two teams, will be invited to Caltech to participate in a 5-day mission design competition supported by JPL scientists, Caltech faculty, and industry professionals.  Undergraduates and graduate students from universities around the world are encouraged to apply.  Expenses will be covered during the competition, and partial travel reimbursement will be provided. For more details, visit here. Please email questions to spacechallenge@caltech.edu.

November 24, 2014

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Bauer manipulates materials with voltage

A new way of switching the magnetic properties of a material using just a small applied voltage, developed by researchers at MIT and collaborators elsewhere, could signal the beginning of a new family of materials with a variety of switchable properties, the researchers say. The technique could ultimately be used to control properties other than magnetism, including reflectivity or thermal conductivity, they say. The first application of the new finding is likely to be a new kind of memory chip that requires no power to maintain data once it’s written, drastically lowering its overall power needs. This could be especially useful for mobile devices, where battery life is often a major limitation.

The findings were published this week in the journal Nature Materials by MIT doctoral student Uwe Bauer, associate professor Geoffrey Beach, and six other co-authors. Beach, the Class of ’58 Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, says the work is the culmination of Bauer’s PhD thesis research on voltage-programmable materials. The work could lead to a new kind of nonvolatile, ultralow-power memory chips, Beach says. Continue reading on MIT News.

November 20, 2014

Atomic-Clock

Kotru develops approach to small, stable atomic clocks

A group at MIT and Draper Laboratory has come up with a new approach to atomic timekeeping that may enable more stable and accurate portable atomic clocks, potentially the size of a Rubik’s cube. The group has outlined its approach in the journal Physical Review A. While chip-sized atomic clocks (CSACs) are commercially available, the researchers say these low-power devices — about the size of a matchbox — drift over time, and are less accurate than fountain clocks, the much larger atomic clocks that set the world’s standard. However, while fountain clocks are the most precise timekeepers, they can’t be made portable without losing stability.

“You could put one in a pickup truck or a trailer and drive it around with you, but I’m guessing it won’t deal very well with the bumps on the road,” says co-author Krish Kotru, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. “We have a path toward making a compact, robust clock that’s better than CSACs by a couple of orders of magnitude, and more stable over longer periods of time.” Continue reading on MIT News.

November 19, 2014

MIT-Andrea-Ippolito-01

Ippolito improving health care through macro-engineering

Andrea Ippolito, a second-year graduate student in the Engineering Systems Division, began her career at Boston Scientific after getting bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biomedical engineering from Cornell University. Back then, she worked on drug-coated medical devices and studied how they interfaced with the surrounding cells of a patient. She liked working on those systems, but also began fostering an interest in health care engineering on a more macroscopic scale: Rather than one device, one human, or one interface, Ippolito wanted to look at the entire health care ecosystem.

Ippolito’s initial research focused on the use of “telehealth” — treatment via video chat — and in particular on the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) within military health systems. The problem is that when members of the military return from deployment, they often do so in large numbers. As a result, the health care providers that administer PTSD screenings are overwhelmed with work. Telehealth treatment could make it easier to spread out workloads for overall better care and more predictable scheduling. It could also enable the standardization of certain health care best practices, a boon for a complex health care network like that of the U.S. military. Continue reading on MIT News.

November 18, 2014

Genomic-Tape-Recorder

Farzadfard turns E. Coli into long-term recording devices

MIT engineers have transformed the genome of the bacterium E. coli into a long-term storage device for memory. They envision that this stable, erasable, and easy-to-retrieve memory will be well suited for applications such as sensors for environmental and medical monitoring. The new strategy, described in the Nov. 13 issue of the journal Science, overcomes several limitations of existing methods for storing memory in bacterial genomes, says Lu, the paper’s senior author. Those methods require a large number of genetic regulatory elements, limiting the amount of information that can be stored.

The earlier efforts are also limited to digital memory, meaning that they can record only all-or-nothing memories, such as whether a particular event occurred. Lu and graduate student Fahim Farzadfard, the paper’s lead author, set out to create a system for storing analog memory, which can reveal how much exposure there was, or how long it lasted. To achieve that, they designed a “genomic tape recorder” that lets researchers write new information into any bacterial DNA sequence. Continue reading on MIT News.

November 17, 2014

MIT-Reliable-Unreliability

Misailovic devises energy efficient system with error prone chips

With information technology consuming a steadily growing fraction of the world’s energy supplies, some researchers and hardware manufacturers are exploring the possibility of simply letting chips botch the occasional computation. In many popular applications — video rendering, for instance — users probably wouldn’t notice the difference, and it could significantly improve energy efficiency.

At this year’s Object-Oriented Programming, Systems, Languages and Applications (OOPSLA) conference, researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory presented a new system that lets programmers identify sections of their code that can tolerate a little error. The system then determines which program instructions to assign to unreliable hardware components, to maximize energy savings while still meeting the programmers’ accuracy requirements. […]

“One of the observations from all of our previous research was that usually, the computations we analyzed spent most of their time on one or several functions that were really computationally intensive,” says Sasa Misailovic, a graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science and lead author on the new paper.

Continue reading on MIT News.

November 12, 2014

MIT-BeliefSpace-01

Omidshafiei and Agha-mohammadi visualize robot thoughts

In a darkened, hangar-like space inside MIT’s Building 41, a small, Roomba-like robot is trying to make up its mind. Standing in its path is an obstacle — a human pedestrian who’s pacing back and forth. As the robot considers its options, its “thoughts” are projected on the ground: A large pink dot appears to follow the pedestrian — a symbol of the robot’s perception of the pedestrian’s position in space. Lines, each representing a possible route for the robot to take, radiate across the room in meandering patterns and colors, with a green line signifying the optimal route. The lines and dots shift and adjust as the pedestrian and the robot move.

This new visualization system combines ceiling-mounted projectors with motion-capture technology and animation software to project a robot’s intentions in real time. The researchers have dubbed the system “measurable virtual reality (MVR) — a spin on conventional virtual reality that’s designed to visualize a robot’s “perceptions and understanding of the world,” says Ali-akbar Agha-mohammadi, a postdoc in MIT’s Aerospace Controls Lab. The system was developed by Shayegan Omidshafiei, a graduate student, and Agha-mohammadi. Read more on MIT News.

November 6, 2014

Hans_bio

Rinderknecht a finalist in Dance Your PhD

Rather than explain their scientific research through verbose papers and speech, creative Ph.D. students have all competed to win the 2014 Dance Your Ph.D. contest, leaving just 12 finalists to take home the trophy!  One of these finalists, graduate student Hans Rinderknecht, choreographed a dance based on his thesis, “Studies of non-hydrodynamic processes in Inertial Confinement Fusion implosions on OMEGA and the NIF.”  Check out his video here!  A panel of esteemed scientists, artists, and educators are judging the finalists now to choose the winners.  The winners—and audience favorite—will be announced on 3 November.

November 4, 2014

MIT-Jimmy-Gasore-02

Gasore builds African high-frequency climate observatory

All around the planet, high-frequency climate observatories are collecting atmospheric data around the clock as part of the Advanced Global Atmospheric Gases Experiment (AGAGE), a 35-year-old project to study emissions and climate change. But there’s one problem: Despite a network of observatories that covers much of the globe, AGAGE lacks data on Africa — the world’s second-largest continent. That’s something that Jimmy Gasore, along with other scientists, is trying to change. Gasore, a fourth-year graduate student in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences under Ronald G. Prinn, the TEPCO Professor of Atmospheric Science, is working with research scientist Katherine Potter to build the first high-frequency climate observatory in all of Africa. Continue reading on MIT News.

October 27, 2014

MIT-Cancer-tyler-jacks-lab_bv12_0

Papagiannakopoulos and Sanchez-Rivera model effects of cancer-linked genes

Sequencing the genomes of tumor cells has revealed thousands of genetic mutations linked with cancer. However, sifting through this deluge of information to figure out which of these mutations actually drive cancer growth has proven to be a tedious, time-consuming process. MIT researchers have now developed a new way to model the effects of these genetic mutations in mice. Their approach, based on the genome-editing technique known as CRISPR, is much faster than existing strategies, which require genetically engineering mice that carry the cancerous mutations. Led by Papagiannakopoulos [a postdoc at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research], graduate student Francisco Sanchez-Rivera, the paper’s other lead author, and Koch Institute director Tyler Jacks, the paper’s senior author, the team used CRISPR to accurately reproduce the effects of two well-known lung cancer genes. Continue reading on MIT News.

October 24, 2014

MIT-Superconducting-Circuits-01_0

McCaughan designs simpler superconducting circuit

Computer chips with superconducting circuits — circuits with zero electrical resistance — would be 50 to 100 times as energy-efficient as today’s chips, an attractive trait given the increasing power consumption of the massive data centers that power the Internet’s most popular sites. In the latest issue of the journal Nano Letters, MIT researchers present a new circuit design that could make simple superconducting devices much cheaper to manufacture. And while the circuits’ speed probably wouldn’t top that of today’s chips, they could solve the problem of reading out the results of calculations performed with Josephson junctions.

The MIT researchers — Adam McCaughan, a graduate student in electrical engineering, and his advisor, professor of electrical engineering and computer science Karl Berggren — call their device the nanocryotron, after the cryotron, an experimental computing circuit developed in the 1950s by MIT professor Dudley Buck. Continue reading on MIT News.

October 23, 2014

MIT-desalination_01

Weiner and Sun: cost-effective desalination for fracked well water

The boom in oil and gas produced through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is seen as a boon for meeting U.S. energy needs. But one byproduct of the process is millions of gallons of water that’s much saltier than seawater, after leaching salts from rocks deep below the surface. Now researchers at MIT and in Saudi Arabia say they have found an economical solution for removing the salt from this water. The new analysis appears this week in the journal Applied Energy, in a paper co-authored by MIT professor John Lienhard, postdoc Ronan McGovern, and four others. The research team also included graduate student Adam Weiner, graduate student Lige Sun, and undergraduate Chester Chambers at MIT, and Professor Syed Zubair at KFUP. Continue reading on MIT News.

October 16, 2014

neighborhood algorithim

Khosla, An, and Lim write deep-learning algorithm for neighborhoods

Human beings have a remarkable ability to make inferences based on their surroundings. Is this area safe? Where might I find a parking spot? Such decisions require us to look beyond our “visual scene” and weigh an exceedingly complex set of understandings and real-time judgments. This begs the question: Can we teach computers to “see” in the same way? And once we teach them, can they do it better than we can? The answers are “yes” and “sometimes,” according to research out of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). Researchers have developed an algorithm that can look at a pair of photos and outperform humans in determining things like which scene has a higher crime rate, or is closer to a McDonald’s restaurant. To create the algorithm, the team — which included PhD students Aditya Khosla, Byoungkwon An, and Joseph Lim, as well as CSAIL principal investigator Antonio Torralba — trained the computer on a set of 8 million Google images from eight major U.S. cities that were embedded with GPS data on crime rates and McDonald’s locations. They then used deep-learning techniques to help the program teach itself how different qualities of the photos correlate. Continue reading on MIT News.

October 15, 2014

underwater robot

Bhattacharyya designs underwater robot for port security

Last week, at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, MIT researchers unveiled an oval-shaped submersible robot, a little smaller than a football, with a flattened panel on one side that it can slide along an underwater surface to perform ultrasound scans. Originally designed to look for cracks in nuclear reactors’ water tanks, the robot could also inspect ships for the false hulls and propeller shafts that smugglers frequently use to hide contraband. “It’s very expensive for port security to use traditional robots for every small boat coming into the port,” says Sampriti Bhattacharyya, a graduate student in mechanical engineering, who designed the robot together with her advisor, Ford Professor of Engineering Harry Asada. “If this is cheap enough — if I can get this out for $600, say — why not just have 20 of them doing collaborative inspection? And if it breaks, it’s not a big deal. It’s very easy to make.” Continue reading on MIT News.

October 15, 2014

lindau

Attend the 2015 Lindau Meeting of Nobel Laureates: Deadline Oct. 20

The Office of the Dean for Graduate Education (ODGE) is accepting applications directly from students for the internal competition for nominations to the 2015 Lindau Meeting of Nobel Laureates and Students in Lindau, Germany (June 28 – July 3, 2015). This year’s meeting will focus on the fields of physics, physiology/medicine and chemistry or related fields. Please note that transportation, lodging and registration expenses of nominees selected by the Lindau committee will be arranged and paid for by the sponsoring agency (Mars, Inc.). Applicants must be a U.S. citizen, currently enrolled as a full-time graduate student, have completed by June 2015 at least two academic years of study toward a doctoral degree in physics, physiology or medicine, chemistry or related disciplines, but not planning a dissertation/thesis defense before December 31, 2015, and be an active researcher who is performing research funded by public or private sources. Preliminary Internal Applications should consist of a completed nomination form, a two-page personal resume of the nominee, a two page letter of reference from the nominee’s research advisor, an essay of no more than one page written by the nominee describing why participation in the Lindau meeting is important for the nominee’s graduate education, and an unofficial transcript. The internal MIT deadline is 5PM on Monday, October 20th. All submissions must be sent electronically to Scott Tirrell at stirrell@mit.edu.

October 9, 2014

howard hughes

MIT students win Howard Hughes Medical Institute Student Fellowships

Five new MIT international graduate students out of the ten nominated were selected to receive the Howard Hughes Medical Institute International Graduate Student Fellowship competition in 2014-2015. To date, this is the largest number of new recipients that we have had and brings our total number of current HHMI international fellows up to nine (also our largest total group). We also have four students continuing their support by this fellowship. Below are short biographies of these outstanding students. Read more

October 8, 2014

MADMEC

MADMEC: Design competition winners envision the future

School kids at soccer practice could use solar panels lying out in the field to charge their smartphones. A mix-in for concrete could keep buildings cooler longer, cutting the cost of air conditioning. A gel that dries to a crisp could soak up water and swell, transforming into a single-layer, mess-free base on which you can grow a garden indoors. These are the visions of a better world from emerging engineers tackled at MADMEC, the annual design competition hosted by the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT. After submitting proposals in the spring and developing their projects over the summer, graduate students Alina Rwei and Chris Lai led their team to first place; Alan Ransil and Wenhao Sun came in second place; Brent Keller, Ritchie Chen, and Yu-Sang Yang won third place. Graduate students Sangtae Kim, Soon Ju Choi, Wenbin Li, Anna Cheimets, and Olivia Hentz were also finalists. Continue reading on BetaBoston.

October 7, 2014

MIT-Underwater-Robot-01_0

Bhattacharyya’s sumbergeable surveillance robot

Last week, at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, MIT researchers unveiled an oval-shaped submersible robot, a little smaller than a football, with a flattened panel on one side [so] that it can slide along an underwater surface to perform ultrasound scans.

Originally designed to look for cracks in nuclear reactors’ water tanks, the robot could also inspect ships for the false hulls and propeller shafts that smugglers frequently use to hide contraband. Because of its small size and unique propulsion mechanism — which leaves no visible wake — the robots could, in theory, be concealed in clumps of algae or other camouflage. Fleets of them could swarm over ships at port without alerting smugglers and giving them the chance to jettison their cargo.

“It’s very expensive for port security to use traditional robots for every small boat coming into the port,” says Sampriti Bhattacharyya, a graduate student in mechanical engineering, who designed the robot together with her advisor, Ford Professor of Engineering Harry Asada. Continue reading on MIT News.

October 3, 2014

robot fingertip sensor

Li and Yuan help design robot fingertip sensor

Researchers at MIT and Northeastern University have equipped a robot with a novel tactile sensor that lets it grasp a USB cable draped freely over a hook and insert it into a USB port. The sensor is an adaptation of a technology called GelSight, which was developed by the lab of Edward Adelson, the John and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Vision Science at MIT, and first described in 2009. The new sensor is small enough to fit on a robot’s gripper and its processing algorithm is faster, so it can give the robot feedback in real time. The researchers presented their results at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems this week. The MIT team — which consists of Adelson; first author Rui Li, a PhD student; Wenzhen Yuan, a master’s student; and Mandayam Srinivasan, a senior research scientist in the Department of Mechanical Engineering — designed and built the sensor.

October 2, 2014

coil spacesuit

Obropta helps design shrink-wrapping spacesuits

For future astronauts, the process of suiting up may go something like this: Instead of climbing into a conventional, bulky, gas-pressurized suit, an astronaut may don a lightweight, stretchy garment, lined with tiny, musclelike coils. She would then plug in to a spacecraft’s power supply, triggering the coils to contract and essentially shrink-wrap the garment around her body. Now MIT researchers are one step closer to engineering such an active, “second-skin” spacesuit: Dava Newman, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics and engineering systems at MIT, and her colleagues have engineered active compression garments that incorporate small, springlike coils that contract in response to heat. The coil design was conceived by Bradley Holschuh, a postdoc in Newman’s lab. Holschuh and Newman, along with graduate student Edward Obropta, detail the design in the journal IEEE/ASME: Transactions on Mechatronics. Continue reading on MIT News.

September 29, 2014

CSAIL robot snake arm

Marchese and Katzschmann develop robot’s snake-like movement

Over the last few years, researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) have developed biologically inspired robots designed to fly like falcons, perch like pigeons, and swim like swordfish. The natural next step? Slithering like snakes. At this week’s IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, CSAIL researchers will present their work to develop a soft robotic arm, inspired by the design of octopus tentacles, that can snake through a pipelike environment without a human operator. In the case of CSAIL’s robot arm, the research team — which is led by doctoral candidate Andrew Marchese and also includes Rus and PhD student Robert Katzschmann — developed complex algorithms to determine the body curvature needed for the robot to make a diversity of different motions. Continue reading this article on MIT News.

September 26, 2014

Robot cheetah

Chuah helps build cheetah robot

Speed and agility are hallmarks of the cheetah: The big predator is the fastest land animal on Earth, able to accelerate to 60 mph in just a few seconds. As it ramps up to top speed, a cheetah pumps its legs in tandem, bounding until it reaches a full gallop. Now MIT researchers have developed an algorithm for bounding that they’ve successfully implemented in a robotic cheetah — a sleek, four-legged assemblage of gears, batteries, and electric motors that weighs about as much as its feline counterpart. The team recently took the robot for a test run on MIT’s Killian Court, where it bounded across the grass at a steady clip. Sangbae Kim, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, and his colleagues — research scientist Hae-Won Park and graduate student Meng Yee Chuah — will present details of the bounding algorithm this month at the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in Chicago. Continue reading on MIT News.

September 25, 2014

Google Drones

Bachrach and Bry help Google’s delivery drone project

Friends and colleagues were aware, at some level, that Nick Roy, a researcher in MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), had been using his sabbatical to take on some sort of robotics-related role at Google. But few people knew the full scope of his work until this past week, when Google X — the infamous idea incubator known for Google Glass, self-driving cars, and wireless hot-air balloons — unveiled a video introducing Project Wing, an ambitious delivery-drone initiative that Roy has overseen for the past two years. Project Wing lined up nicely with Roy’s work as head of CSAIL’s Robust Robotics Group, which focuses in part on sensing, planning, and controlling unmanned vehicles in environments without GPS. He even brought on board a handful of key MIT collaborators, including recent graduates Abraham Bachrach PhD ’13 and Adam Bry SM ’11, whose state-estimation algorithms have drastically improved unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) navigation in indoor spaces. Continue reading on MIT News.

September 24, 2014

Classroom Contest

Sivaraman designs networking contest

In the 21st century, design contests have emerged as a way to make rapid progress on tough computational problems. The million-dollar Netflix Prize, which sought to improve Netflix’s movie recommendation algorithm, is probably the most high-profile example. But similar, if lower-stakes, contests have addressed problems in computer vision, medical-data analysis, and weather prediction. In 2012, two PhD students in the lab of Hari Balakrishnan, the Fujitsu Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, hatched the idea of bringing that type of contest into the classroom. “It was a privilege to be able to work with 40 MIT students and to harvest their creativity,” says Anirudh Sivaraman, one of the graduate students who helped design the contest, and first author on the paper published last month. “You don’t get this kind of access to really smart people working on a problem in a focused manner elsewhere.” Continue reading this article on MIT News.

September 23, 2014

Matthew Gombolay

Gombolay’s study finds subjects prefer robot’s orders

If you’ve seen a sci-fi flick with autonomous robots in the last 40 years, you may be wary of giving robots any semblance of control. But new research coming out of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) suggests that letting robots have control over human tasks in manufacturing is not just more efficient — it’s actually preferred by workers. “In our research we were seeking to find that sweet spot for ensuring that the human workforce is both satisfied and productive,” says project lead Matthew Gombolay, a PhD student at CSAIL. “We discovered that the answer is to actually give machines more autonomy, if it helps people to work together more fluently with robot teammates.” Continue reading this article on MIT News.

September 22, 2014

Sun powered desalination

Wright and Winter work on sun-powered desalination

Around the world, there is more salty groundwater than fresh, drinkable groundwater. For example, 60 percent of India is underlain by salty water — and much of that area is not served by an electric grid that could run conventional reverse-osmosis desalination plants.
Now an analysis by MIT researchers shows that a different desalination technology called electrodialysis, powered by solar panels, could provide enough clean, palatable drinking water to supply the needs of a typical village. The study, by MIT graduate student Natasha Wright and Amos Winter, the Robert N. Noyce Career Development Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, appears in the journal Desalination. Continue reading this article on MIT News.

September 19, 2014

Maxime Cohen

Cohen’s research changes business practices

Maxime Cohen, a graduate student at the MIT Operations Research Center, could be doing just about anything now. Were he solely an altruist, Cohen might have pursued his charitable work full-time: In college, he started an organization to help French immigrants to Israel adjust to their new environment. He also worked with low-income families in Haifa, where the Technion is located, providing groceries and helping children with homework.
But instead, Cohen is at MIT, as a PhD candidate advised by Georgia Perakis, the William F. Pounds Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Operations research applies mathematics and engineering methods to problems typically tackled with traditional business techniques; Cohen is obsessed with using these tools to develop solutions that address industry and government concerns. Continue reading this article on MIT News.

September 18, 2014

Visual Control

Wu creates data-visualization tool

The Database Group at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory has released a data-visualization tool that lets users highlight aberrations and possible patterns in the graphical display; the tool then automatically determines which data sources are responsible for which. It could be, for instance, that just a couple of faulty sensors among dozens are corrupting a very regular pattern of readings, or that a few underperforming agents are dragging down a company’s sales figures, or that a clogged vent in a hospital is dramatically increasing a few patients’ risk of infection. For his thesis work, Eugene Wu, a graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science who developed DBWipes with Madden and adjunct professor Michael Stonebraker, designed a novel “provenance tracking” system for large data sets. Continue reading this article on MIT News.

September 17, 2014

35 under 35

Adib, Lee, Pereira, and He named in 35 Innovators Under 35

PhD student Fadel Adib and MIT alumni Jinha Lee, Maria Mines Pereira, and David He have all been named on MIT Technology Review’s 35 Innovators Under 35. All 35 of these people are doing exciting work that could shape their fields for decades, but they’re solving problems in remarkably different ways. We consider some of them to be primarily Inventors; they’re immersed in building new technologies. Others we call Visionaries, because they’re showing how technologies could be put to new or better uses. Humanitarians are using technology to expand opportunities or inform public policy. Pioneers are doing fundamental work that will spawn future innovations; such ­breakthroughs will be taken up by tomorrow’s Entrepreneurs, ­people who are building new tech businesses. Continue reading this article at MIT Technology Review.

September 16, 2014

Battery to Solar Cell

Chen proposes recycling old batteries into solar cells

A system proposed by researchers at MIT recycles materials from discarded car batteries — a potential source of lead pollution — into new, long-lasting solar panels that provide emissions-free power. The system is described in a paper in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, co-authored by professors Angela M. Belcher and Paula T. Hammond, graduate student Po-Yen Chen, and three others. It is based on a recent development in solar cells that makes use of a compound called perovskite — specifically, organolead halide perovskite — a technology that has rapidly progressed from initial experiments to a point where its efficiency is nearly competitive with that of other types of solar cells. Continue reading on MIT News.

September 11, 2014

MIt Maker Fairee

MIT Mini Maker Faire calling for Makers: Apply by Sep. 15!

MIT is hosting its first Mini Maker Faire, an event to celebrate all makers! The mission of Maker Faire is to inspire, inform, connect and entertain thousands of Makers and aspiring Makers of all ages and backgrounds through the public gathering of tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkers, hobbyists, science clubs, students, authors, and commercial exhibitors. Have something you want to share in the spirit of the greatest show (and tell) on earth? All projects are welcome, including academic/research projects and hobbies; applications are due by September 15. Want to get inspired? Check out the history of Maker Faire. The Mini Maker Faire will be on October 4, at the North Court and Stata Center. For more information and to sign to volunteer as a helper, visit the MIT Mini Maker Faire website. Sponsored in part by the Office of the Dean for Graduate Education.

September 4, 2014

Hairlike Structures

Zhu assembles array of dynamic magnetic microhairs

MIT engineers have fabricated a new elastic material coated with microscopic, hairlike structures that tilt in response to a magnetic field. Depending on the field’s orientation, the microhairs can tilt to form a path through which fluid can flow; the material can even direct water upward, against gravity. Each microhair, made of nickel, is about 70 microns high and 25 microns wide — about one-fourth the diameter of a human hair. The researchers fabricated an array of the microhairs onto an elastic, transparent layer of silicone. “You could coat this on your car windshield to manipulate rain or sunlight,” says Yangying Zhu, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. “So you could filter how much solar radiation you want coming in, and also shed raindrops. This is an opportunity for the future.” Read the full article on MIT News.

September 3, 2014

1-implantable-film-MIT_zpsd4738b40

Hsu: Long-lasting medication delivery

About one in four older adults suffers from chronic pain. Many of those people take medication, usually as pills. But this is not an ideal way of treating pain: Patients must take medicine frequently, and can suffer side effects, since the contents of pills spread through the bloodstream to the whole body. Now researchers at MIT have refined a technique that could enable pain medication and other drugs to be released directly to specific parts of the body — and in steady doses over a period of up to 14 months.  The method uses biodegradable, nanoscale “thin films” laden with drug molecules that are absorbed into the body in an incremental process. Professor Paula Hammond and Brian Hsu PdD ’14 have been instrumental in the development.” Continue reading at MIT News.

August 29, 2014

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Davis and Wadhwa: Algorithm to extract audio from visual information

Grad students Abe Davis (EECS) and Neal Wadhwa (18) and researchers at MIT, Microsoft, and Adobe have developed an algorithm that can reconstruct an audio signal by analyzing minute vibrations of objects depicted in video. In one set of experiments, they were able to recover intelligible speech from the vibrations of a potato-chip bag photographed from 15 feet away through soundproof glass.

In other experiments, they extracted useful audio signals from videos of aluminum foil, the surface of a glass of water, and even the leaves of a potted plant. The researchers will present their findings in a paper at this year’s Siggraph, the premier computer graphics conference. “When sound hits an object, it causes the object to vibrate,” says Abe Davis, a graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science at MIT and first author on the new paper. “The motion of this vibration creates a very subtle visual signal that’s usually invisible to the naked eye. People didn’t realize that this information was there.” Continue reading at MIT News. Photo by Tess Watson

August 19, 2014

data

Levine’s algorithm to collect targeted data

Much artificial-intelligence research addresses the problem of making predictions based on large data sets. An obvious example is the recommendation engines at retail sites like Amazon and Netflix. But some types of data are harder to collect than online click histories —information about geological formations thousands of feet underground, for instance. And in other applications — such as trying to predict the path of a storm — there may just not be enough time to crunch all the available data. Dan Levine, an MIT graduate student in aeronautics and astronautics, and his advisor, Jonathan How, the Richard Cockburn Maclaurin Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics, have developed a new technique that could help with both problems. Continue reading about his research on MIT News.

August 18, 2014

magnet

Liao’s new theory: magnets may act as wireless cooling agents

The magnets cluttering the face of your refrigerator may one day be used as cooling agents, according to a new theory formulated by MIT researchers.

The theory describes the motion of magnons — quasi-particles in magnets that are collective rotations of magnetic moments, or “spins.” In addition to the magnetic moments, magnons also conduct heat; from their equations, the MIT researchers found that when exposed to a magnetic field gradient, magnons may be driven to move from one end of a magnet to another, carrying heat with them and producing a cooling effect.

“You can pump heat from one side to the other, so you can essentially use a magnet as a refrigerator,” says Bolin Liao, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. “You can envision wireless cooling where you apply a magnetic field to a magnet one or two meters away to, say, cool your laptop.” Continue reading about his research on MIT News.