Category Archives: Student research

December 16, 2014


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


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


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


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

November 24, 2014


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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: 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


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


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


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


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


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.

August 12, 2014


Wu’s wrist-mounted device gives you two extra robotic fingers

Harry Asada, the Ford Professor of Engineering in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and graduate student Faye Wu recently presented a paper on a robot that enhances the grasping motion of the human hand at the Robotics: Science and Systems conference in Berkeley, Calif. The robot, which the researchers have dubbed “supernumerary robotic fingers,” consists of actuators linked together to exert forces as strong as those of human fingers during a grasping motion. The device, worn around one’s wrist, works essentially like two extra fingers adjacent to the pinky and thumb. A novel control algorithm enables it to move in sync with the wearer’s fingers to grasp objects of various shapes and sizes. Wearing the robot, a user could use one hand to, for instance, hold the base of a bottle while twisting off its cap. Learn more about Wu’s research at MIT News.

August 11, 2014


Perry and Ousterhout develop new system to reduce data-transmission delays

In August, grad students Jonathan Perry and Amy Ousterhout will be attending the annual conference of the ACM Special Interest Group on Data Communication. The MIT researcher team will present a new network-management system that, in experiments, reduced the average queue length of routers in a Facebook data center by 99.6 percent — virtually doing away with queues. When network traffic was heavy, the average latency — the delay between the request for an item of information and its arrival — shrank nearly as much, from 3.56 microseconds to 0.23 microseconds.

Like the Internet, most data centers use decentralized communication protocols: Each node in the network decides, based on its own limited observations, how rapidly to send data and which adjacent node to send it to. Decentralized protocols have the advantage of an ability to handle communication over large networks with little administrative oversight. Continue reading at MIT News.



August 8, 2014


Van Lehn and scientists explain how gold nanoparticles deliver drugs

A special class of tiny gold particles can easily slip through cell membranes, making them good candidates to deliver drugs directly to target cells. A new study from MIT materials scientists reveals that these nanoparticles enter cells by taking advantage of a route normally used in vesicle-vesicle fusion, a crucial process that allows signal transmission between neurons. In the July 21 issue of Nature Communications, the researchers describe in detail the mechanism by which these nanoparticles are able to fuse with a membrane. The findings suggest possible strategies for designing nanoparticles — made from gold or other materials — that could get into cells even more easily.

“We’ve identified a type of mechanism that might be more prevalent than is currently known,” says Reid Van Lehn, an MIT graduate student in materials science and engineering and one of the paper’s lead authors. “By identifying this pathway for the first time it also suggests not only how to engineer this particular class of nanoparticles, but that this pathway might be active in other systems as well.” Continue reading about the research at MIT News.

August 5, 2014


Preston gets a charge out of water droplets

Last year, MIT researchers discovered that when water droplets spontaneously jump away from superhydrophobic surfaces during condensation, they can gain electric charge in the process. The team consists of postdoc Nenad Milikov, associate professor of mechanical engineering, Evelyn Wang, former postdoc Ryan Enright, and MIT graduate Daniel Preston. Now, the researchers have demonstrated that this process can generate small amounts of electricity that might be used to power electronic devices. This approach could lead to devices to charge cellphones or other electronics using just the humidity in the air. As a side benefit, the system could also produce clean water. Learn more about the project on MIT News

August 1, 2014


Campbell develops algorithim for robot collaborative learning

Machine learning, in which computers learn new skills by looking for patterns in training data, is the basis of most recent advances in artificial intelligence, from voice-recognition systems to self-parking cars. It’s also the technique that autonomous robots typically use to build models of their environments.

“A single computer has a very difficult optimization problem to solve in order to learn a model from a single giant batch of data, and it can get stuck at bad solutions,” says Trevor Campbell, a graduate student in aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, who wrote the new paper with his advisor, Jonathan How, the Richard Cockburn Maclaurin Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics. “If smaller chunks of data are first processed by individual robots and then combined, the final model is less likely to get stuck at a bad solution.”

Continue reading about Campbell’s research on MIT News.

July 31, 2014


Colatat analyzes the rise in autism diagnosis

The headlines are as unavoidable as they are alarming. This year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 1 in 68 8-year-old children were diagnosed with some form of autism in 2010, up from 1 in 150 a decade before. No one knows exactly why that rate keeps rising. Researchers have delved into everything from mercury exposure to parental age. But Phech Colatat, who has just earned his PhD in economic sociology from MIT Sloan, thinks we’ve been looking for answers in the wrong places. Learn more about Colatat’s research on the MIT Sloan website.

July 30, 2014


Morton and Shah’s research show progress toward better cancer treatment and bone replacement

Personalized cancer treatments and better bone implants could grow from techniques demonstrated by graduate students Stephen W. Morton and Nisarg J. Shah, who are both working in chemical engineering professor Paula Hammond’s lab at MIT. Morton’s work focuses on developing drug-carrying nanoparticles to target hard-to-treat cancers — such as triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) — while Shah develops coatings that promote better adhesion for bone implants. Continue reading about Morton and Shah’s research on MIT NewsPictured are Shah (left) and Morton (right); photo by Denis Paiste. 

July 29, 2014


2014-15 Hugh Hampton Young Fellows named

Five new graduate students and one continuing recipient have been chosen to receive the prestigious Hugh Hampton Young Memorial Fund Fellowship in the 2014-15 academic year. This highly selective research fellowship at MIT is named for the pioneering medical researcher Hugh Hampton Young. Recipients are chosen for both academic achievement and exceptional strength of character, focusing heavily on the perceived potential of the candidate to positively impact humanity. Photo by Doris Ulmann.

Read more

July 28, 2014


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

May 16, 2014


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


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


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