Category Archives: Student research

July 23, 2015

SavingCostBigData

Jun, Liu, Xu: Cutting cost and power consumption for big data

Random-access memory, or RAM, is where computers like to store the data they’re working on. A processor can retrieve data from RAM tens of thousands of times more rapidly than it can from the computer’s disk drive. But in the age of big data, data sets are often much too large to fit in a single computer’s RAM. Sequencing data describing a single large genome could take up the RAM of somewhere between 40 and 100 typical computers.

Flash memory — the type of memory used by most portable devices — could provide an alternative to conventional RAM for big-data applications. It’s about a tenth as expensive, and it consumes about a tenth as much power. The problem is that it’s also a tenth as fast. But at the International Symposium on Computer Architecture in June, MIT researchers presented a new system that, for several common big-data applications, should make servers using flash memory as efficient as those using conventional RAM, while preserving their power and cost savings.

Joining Arvind on the new paper are Sang Woo Jun and Ming Liu, MIT graduate students in computer science and engineering and joint first authors; their fellow grad student Shuotao Xu; Sungjin Lee, a postdoc in Arvind’s group; Myron King and Jamey Hicks, who did their PhDs with Arvind and were researchers at Quanta Computer when the new system was developed; and one of their colleagues from Quanta, John Ankcorn — who is also an MIT alumnus. Read the full article at MIT NEWS

July 22, 2015

PhysicsNanoFluids

Pahlavan: Why do puddles stop spreading?

When you spill a bit of water onto a tabletop, the puddle spreads — and then stops, leaving a well-defined area of water with a sharp boundary. There’s just one problem: The formulas scientists use to describe such a fluid flow say that the water should just keep spreading endlessly. Everyone knows that’s not the case — but why?

This mystery has now been solved by researchers at MIT — and while this phenomenon might seem trivial, the finding’s ramifications could be significant: Understanding such flowing fluids is essential for processes from the lubrication of gears and machinery to the potential sequestration of carbon dioxide emissions in porous underground formations.The new findings are reported in the journal Physical Review Letters in a paper by Ruben Juanes, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, graduate student Amir Pahlavan, research associate Luis Cueto-Felgueroso, and mechanical engineering professor Gareth McKinley.

“The classic thin-film model describes the spreading of a liquid film, but it doesn’t predict it stopping,” Pahlavan says. It turns out that the problem is one of scale, he says: It’s only at the molecular level that the forces responsible for stopping the flow begin to show up. And even though these forces are minuscule, their effect changes how the liquid behaves in a way that is obvious at a much larger scale. “Within a macroscopic view of this problem, there’s nothing that stops the puddle from spreading. There’s something missing here,” Pahlavan says. Read the full article at MIT NEWS

July 21, 2015

FirstImagePloto

Earle: NASA’s New Horizons mission and first images of Pluto

Tuesday July 11 will go down as a huge day in the history of NASA. After traveling 3 billion miles over the course of nearly a decade, the spacecraft called New Horizons reached its target, passing close by the dwarf planet, Pluto. Members of the New Horizons science team, including MIT Professor Richard Binzel, graduate student Alissa Earle (MIT), and Cristina Dalle Ore (SETI Institute), react to seeing the spacecraft’s last and sharpest image of Pluto before closest approach later in the day. It was also a big day for MIT Professor Richard Binzel, who spent almost 35 years trying to get a mission to Pluto. For the past 15 of those years, he’s worked to make it possible for New Horizons to collect immense amounts of data from the ninth planet from the sun. He spent the day observing and celebrating at mission headquarters at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. Follow this radio news item at Radio Boston WBUR.

July 16, 2015

WomenNetworkReferralBias

Abraham: Networking groups come up short on referrals for women

“It’s not what you know, but who you know” says the old adage, but new research shows when it comes to business referrals, gender can matter a great deal. Mabel Abraham, PhD ’15, spent two years reviewing years of records from a referral-generating organization where entrepreneurs share contacts, pitch their services, and win new business. Her findings help explain the disproportionate results achieved by women in social networks, notably the disparity in receiving referrals from colleagues.

When it came to referring colleagues to others—friends, family and clients—women came up short in being connected to new business. Abraham found the gap is largely driven by male-dominated fields, where women received fewer referrals than men in the same field. Abraham calls this “anticipatory third-party bias” to explain when group members “expect that a client, friend, or family member has a preference for men over women, they disproportionately give referrals to male rather than female network group members.” Follow the full article on this research at the MIT Sloan Newsroom

July 15, 2015

TripChuhuahuanDesert

DESERT LIFE: Field Studies of Art + Nature in the Southwest

The ART+BIO Collaborative, a Cambridge, MA non-profit, is offering DESERT LIFE: Field Studies of Art+Nature in the Southwest this August 3-9, providing a great travel opportunity that will bring together a unique group of Biologists and Artists to explore the desert borderlands of Texas and New Mexico. The program is designed for students, artists, scientists, professionals and people generally interested in nature, art, and biology. Register today! DESERT LIFE is a hands-on, immersive, and project-based program that integrates biology and art in the field. We camp at various sites in west Texas and southwest New Mexico. The program provides an immersive experience of the diverse environments of the Chihuahuan Desert, such as white sand dunes, black lava rocks, mountain caves, and riparian habitats.

See photos and get more information, and help spread the word about this unique summer course to anyone who may be interested. Please email sdowdynava@artbiocollaborative.com if you have questions. Photo: Swallowtail Garden Seeds

July 15, 2015

EnergyBoostResearch

Mirvakili: Research shows tiny wires could provide a big energy boost

Wearable electronic devices for health and fitness monitoring are a rapidly growing area of consumer electronics; one of their biggest limitations is the capacity of their tiny batteries to deliver enough power to transmit data. Now, researchers at MIT and in Canada have found a promising new approach to delivering the short but intense bursts of power needed by such small devices. The key is a new approach to making supercapacitors — devices that can store and release electrical power in such bursts, which are needed for brief transmissions of data from wearable devices such as heart-rate monitors, computers, or smartphones, the researchers say. They may also be useful for other applications where high power is needed in small volumes, such as autonomous microrobots.

The new approach uses yarns, made from nanowires of the element niobium, as the electrodes in tiny supercapacitors (which are essentially pairs of electrically conducting fibers with an insulator between). The concept is described in a paper in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces by MIT professor of mechanical engineering Ian W. Hunter, doctoral student Seyed M. Mirvakili, and three others at the University of British Columbia. Read the full article on MIT News

July 14, 2015

TaylorSimonPump

Taylor and Simon: Pushing the limits of pump design for small farmers in India

The Ganges River basin of eastern India is some of the most fertile farmland in the world. With shallow groundwater and rich soil, the area is instrumental in India’s agricultural ecosystem. However, all is not well for the roughly 480 million people who rely on the basin for their livelihood. “Eastern India is one of the lowest agricultural productivity areas in the country, and it should be much higher, because it has excellent water resources,” says Katherine Taylor, graduate student in mechanical engineering and a fellow at the Tata Center for Technology and Design, part of the MIT Energy Initiative.

Taylor is part of an MIT team developing a solar-powered pump designed to the specifications of small-acreage farmers in eastern India, many of whom currently use costly, inefficient diesel pumps to irrigate their crops, or have no pumping capacity at all. The project grew out of the MIT course 2.760 (Global Engineering), where Taylor met Kevin Simon, another Tata Fellow and a graduate student in systems engineering, and Marcos Esparza, a senior in mechanical engineering. Led by Assistant Professor Amos Winter, “we explored pump design, and a good idea emerged. In true Tata Center spirit, we ran with it.” At a time when Indian agriculture is edging toward crisis, Taylor, Simon, and Esparza believe their pump can contribute to higher yields and greater profits for these small farmers. Read the full article at MIT News

July 12, 2015

CameraRecordsSoundSilentFootage

Davis: The camera that can reconstruct sound from another room

Researchers at MIT CSAIL have been experimenting with a technique that can reconstruct sound from silent video recordings. Using powerful high-speed cameras and software it is possible to rebuild sound from objects in a different room. “I think what’s really different about this technology is that it provides you with a way to image this information,” says graduate student Abe Davis. Follow the coverage of this research in a video by BBC News. Photo by KEIK Bureau

July 10, 2015

DissertationDefense

The Completion Agenda: Revising Your Dissertation

If you had to pick a cliché that best describes completing a dissertation, “it ain’t over till it’s over” would work well. So far in this series we have discussed finishing a submittable draft and successfully defending the dissertation. But as every doctoral candidate knows, no matter how well the defense goes you are very likely not quite free and clear yet.

In my case, while I waited outside the meeting room, my committee discussed my dissertation for either 10 minutes or two hours; I honestly can’t recall through the fog of tension and time. I do remember encountering a friend in the hallway to whom I described my situation. She asked, “What’s the best possible outcome?” I had no doubt: “Ideally, they pass me without asking for any revisions.” She arched an eyebrow and asked in Spock-like tones: “Has that happened with any dissertation defense, ever?”

Obviously, every field is different, with varying requirements for the dissertation. Based on the many hundreds of conversations I have had with Ph.D. students in all sorts of disciplines, I have put together a to-do list that may help you successfully make the revisions sought by your committee. Read the full article at The Chronicle of Higher Education. Photo by Graham Holliday

July 9, 2015

PreventingDropOuts

Boyer: Helping students stick with MOOCs

MOOCs — massive open online courses — grant huge numbers of people access to world-class educational resources, but they also suffer high rates of attrition. To some degree, that’s inevitable: Many people who enroll in MOOCs may have no interest in doing homework, but simply plan to listen to video lectures in their spare time. Others, however, may begin courses with the firm intention of completing them but get derailed by life’s other demands. Identifying those people before they drop out and providing them with extra help could make their MOOC participation much more productive.

The problem is that you don’t know who’s actually dropped out — or, in MOOC parlance, “stopped out” — until the MOOC has been completed. One missed deadline does not a stopout make; but after the second or third missed deadline, it may be too late for an intervention to do any good. Last week, at the International Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Education, Kalyan Veeramachaneni, a research scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory who conducted the study together with Sebastien Boyer, a graduate student in MIT’s Technology and Policy Program showed that a dropout-prediction model trained on data from one offering of a course can help predict which students will stop out of the next offering. The prediction remains fairly accurate even if the organization of the course changes, so that the data collected during one offering doesn’t exactly match the data collected during the next. Read the full article on this technology at the MIT News Room

July 7, 2015

SolarPoweredChipsSensors

El-Damak: Toward tiny, solar-powered sensors

Last week, at the Symposia on VLSI Technology and Circuits, MIT researchers presented a new power converter chip that can harvest more than 80 percent of the energy trickling into it, even at the extremely low power levels characteristic of tiny solar cells. Previous ultralow-power converters that used the same approach had efficiencies of only 40 or 50 percent.

Moreover, the researchers’ chip achieves those efficiency improvements while assuming additional responsibilities. Where most of its ultralow-power predecessors could use a solar cell to either charge a battery or directly power a device, this new chip can do both, and it can power the device directly from the battery. All of those operations also share a single inductor — the chip’s main electrical component — which saves on circuit board space but increases the circuit complexity even further. Nonetheless, the chip’s power consumption remains low.

“We still want to have battery-charging capability, and we still want to provide a regulated output voltage,” says Dina Reda El-Damak, an MIT graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science and first author on the new paper. “We need to regulate the input to extract the maximum power, and we really want to do all these tasks with inductor sharing and see which operational mode is the best. And we want to do it without compromising the performance, at very limited input power levels — 10 nanowatts to 1 microwatt — for the Internet of things.” Read the full article at MIT News

July 6, 2015

GoodMemoriesAntidepress

Ramirez artificially recalls happier memories to reverse depression

MIT neuroscientists have shown that they can cure the symptoms of depression in mice by artificially reactivating happy memories that were formed before the onset of depression. The findings, described in the June 18 issue of Nature, offer a possible explanation for the success of psychotherapies in which depression patients are encouraged to recall pleasant experiences. They also suggest new ways to treat depression by manipulating the brain cells where memories are stored. The researchers believe this kind of targeted approach could have fewer side effects than most existing antidepressant drugs, which bathe the entire brain.

“Once you identify specific sites in the memory circuit which are not functioning well, or whose boosting will bring a beneficial consequence, there is a possibility of inventing new medical technology where the improvement will be targeted to the specific part of the circuit, rather than administering a drug and letting that drug function everywhere in the brain,” says Susumu Tonegawa, the Picower Professor of Biology and Neuroscience, director of the RIKEN-MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, and senior author of the paper.

Although this type of intervention is not yet possible in humans, “This type of analysis gives information as to where to target specific disorders,” Tonegawa adds. Graduate student Steve Ramirez is the paper’s lead author. Read the full story on MIT News.

June 23, 2015

MRI Conflict Resolution

Landau-Wells: MRIs for a More Peaceful World

An MRI scanner is an unusual tool for resolving war and conflict, but an MIT collaboration now underway is deploying MRIs as an instrument for peace. The goal of the collaboration—among the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Lab; the Department of Political Science; and Beyond Conflict, an international nongovernmental organization dedicated to global challenges to peace and reconciliation—is to use knowledge of neuroscience to develop innovative, more effective conflict-resolution strategies. Already the groups are putting into practice what they are learning in instances of extreme prejudice against Roma populations in Hungary, and between Israelis and Palestinians. Marika Landau-Wells, a PhD student in political science and in MIT’s Comparative Politics and Security Studies Program that focuses on war and conflict, is helping to bridge conflict resolution, neuroscience, and political science. Read the full article on this research at MIT Spectrum. Photo: Len Rubenstein

June 15, 2015

discover art app

Gonzalez and Andrew’s Artbot engineers the discovery of art

Is it possible to engineer the discovery of art? In 2013, two graduate students in MIT’s School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS) set out to answer that question, and today, thanks to their work as research assistants — there’s an app for that! Artbot, developed by Desi Gonzalez and Liam Andrew in the HyperStudio research group of Comparative Media Studies/Writing (CMS/W), is a mobile website app that mines both user preferences and event tags to provide serendipitous connections to the local art scene.

“We’re trying to make Boston one museum,” Gonzalez says. “We were really interested in unearthing hidden gems, things you didn’t realize you’d like. Hopefully, users will fall through the rabbit hole of connection.” Read the full article at MIT News.

June 11, 2015

HHYoungFellows

Hugh Hampton Young Fellowship celebrates 50 years

Named for the pioneering medical researcher, the Hugh Hampton Young Fellowship is one of the Office of the Dean for Graduate Education’s (ODGE) most prestigious awards. A famed urologist, Young was not only an innovator in medical science, his curiosity and intellectual drive also stirred him in other endeavors such as civic enhancement, the arts, and the burgeoning field of aviation. Established in 1965 through an anonymous donor, roughly 150 students have benefited from this award over the last 50 years.

The committee has selected seven new recipients as the 2015-16 fellowship cohort: John Arroyo, Or Gadish, Steven Keating, Georgia Lagoudas, William Li, Mitali Thakor and Iris Zielski. They will join a legacy of exceptional individuals, and will hopefully go on to make positive impacts on society in the tradition of Young himself. (Accomplishments of former Hugh Hampton Young Fellowship recipients can be seen on the ODGE website.) Learn more about the new fellows are at MIT News.

June 3, 2015

Lawrence Cheuk

Cheuk builds new fermion microscope

Fermions are the building blocks of matter, interacting in a multitude of permutations to give rise to the elements of the periodic table. Without fermions, the physical world would not exist. Examples of fermions are electrons, protons, neutrons, quarks, and atoms consisting of an odd number of these elementary particles. But atoms are extremely sensitive to light: When a single photon hits an atom, it can knock the particle out of place — an effect that has made imaging individual fermionic atoms devilishly hard. Now a team of MIT physicists, led by physics professor Martin Zwierlein and grad student Lawrence Cheuk, has built a microscope that is able to see up to 1,000 individual fermionic atoms. The researchers devised a laser-based technique to trap and freeze fermions in place, and image the particles simultaneously. Read the full article at MIT News. Photo: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT

 

June 3, 2015

Tech Poster Reunion

Tech Reunions Graduate Poster Session Jun. 6

Want to present your research in poster format and network with MIT alumni? The GSC and MIT Alumni Association are sponsoring a networking lunch and poster session for graduate students and alumni during Tech Reunions on June 6, 2015 from 12 – 2pm in Maseeh Hall. Presenters can network with alumni, gain feedback on their research, and will receive free lunch and a $10 Amazon.com gift card for participating. Space is limited. Sign up today. Presenters are eligible to attend Toast to Tech, our festive late-night party with live music and hosted bar. Contact Greg Batcheler (gpbatch@mit.edu) Photo by Justin Knight

May 28, 2015

D. Roy Memory Recovery

Roy researches ways memories lost to amnesia may be recalled by light

“Memories that have been ‘lost’ as a result of amnesia can be recalled by activating brain cells with light. In a paper published in the journal Science, researchers at MIT reveal that they were able to reactivate memories that could not otherwise be retrieved, using a technology known as optogenetics.”

Yes! Does this mean we can reclaim our long-forgotten halcyon childhood days with a bit of a laser boost to the right neurons? Um, no, not today. But it’s still fascinating. The study explores the difference between how a memory is stored — in a group of brain cells called an engram — and how it is retrieved. It quotes Nobel Laureate Susumu Tonegawa, who leads the group that did the work, on the evolving concept of what a memory is, in our brains:

“We are proposing a new concept, in which there is an engram cell ensemble pathway, or circuit, for each memory,” he says. “This circuit encompasses multiple brain areas and the engram cell ensembles in these areas are connected specifically for a particular memory.”

WBUR’s Rachel Paiste spoke with Dheeraj Roy, a grad student in Tonegawa’s MIT lab who worked on the research. Read their conversation at 90.9 wbur. 3-D reconstruction of mouse neurons (Zeiss Microscopy)

May 26, 2015

MIT-emotional-circuits

Namburi identifies neurons associating emotions with memories

Eating a slice of chocolate cake or spending time with a friend usually stimulates positive feelings, while getting in a car accident or anticipating a difficult exam is more likely to generate a fearful or anxious response. An almond-shaped brain structure called the amygdala is believed to be responsible for assigning these emotional reactions. Neuroscientists from MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory have now identified two populations of neurons in the amygdala that process positive and negative emotions. These neurons then relay the information to other brain regions that initiate the appropriate behavioral response.

The findings could also help scientists to better understand how mental illnesses such as depression arise, she says. Many psychiatric symptoms may reflect impairments in emotional processing. For example, people who are depressed do not find positive experiences rewarding, and people who suffer from addiction are not deterred by the negative outcomes of their behavior. Graduate student Praneeth Namburi and postdoc Anna Beyeler are the paper’s lead authors. Continue reading on MIT News.

May 18, 2015

MIT-Motion-Mag-A1_0

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

download

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

MIT-Exploding-Beetles-01

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

MIT-BetterImmuno-01

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

MIT-Thumbnail-Trackpad-03

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

sensorrr

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

MIT-Brain-Particles-01_0

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

MIT-Methane-Source-01

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

MIT-Cloudy-Exo-01

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.