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The Lead

Harnessing error-prone chips

October 30, 2014 7:40 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

As transistors get smaller, they also grow less reliable. Increasing their operating voltage can help, but that means a corresponding increase in power consumption. 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.

Projecting a robot’s intentions

October 29, 2014 1:27 pm | by Jennifer Chu, MIT | Videos | Comments

Inside Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Building 41, a small, Roomba-like robot is trying...

Shifting to higher octane

October 28, 2014 7:57 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

If the majority of light-duty vehicles in the U.S. ran on higher-octane gasoline, the automotive...

Microscopic “walkers” find their way across cell surfaces

October 23, 2014 8:14 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Nature has developed a wide variety of methods for guiding particular cells, enzymes and...

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Getting the salt out

October 21, 2014 7:54 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

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 Massachusetts Institute of Technology and in Saudi Arabia say they have found an economical solution for removing the salt from this water.

Superconducting circuits, simplified

October 17, 2014 7:49 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Computer chips with superconducting circuits 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 Internet sites. Superconducting chips also promise greater processing power: Superconducting circuits that use so-called Josephson junctions have been clocked at 770 GHz, or 500 times the speed of the chip in the iPhone 6.

Big step in battling bladder disease

October 16, 2014 7:46 am | by Rob Matheson, MIT News Office | News | Comments

The millions of people worldwide who suffer from the painful bladder disease known as interstitial cystitis (IC) may soon have a better, long-term treatment option, thanks to a controlled-release, implantable device invented by Massachusetts Institute of Technology Prof. Michael Cima and other researchers. The device is a pretzel-shaped silicone tube that could be inserted into the bladder, slowly releasing lidocaine over two weeks.

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Mars One (and done?)

October 14, 2014 7:43 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

In 2012, the Mars One project, led by a Dutch nonprofit, announced plans to establish the first human colony on the Red Planet by 2025. The mission would initially send four astronauts on a one-way trip to Mars, where they would spend the rest of their lives building the first permanent human settlement.

Solid nanoparticles can deform like a liquid

October 13, 2014 8:24 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

A surprising phenomenon has been found in metal nanoparticles: They appear, from the outside, to be liquid droplets, wobbling and readily changing shape, while their interiors retain a perfectly stable crystal configuration. The research team behind the finding says the work could have important implications for the design of components in nanotechnology, such as metal contacts for molecular electronic circuits.

Autism as a disorder of prediction

October 10, 2014 11:13 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Autism is characterized by many different symptoms: difficulty interacting with others, repetitive behaviors and hypersensitivity to sound and other stimuli. Massachusetts Institute of Technology neuroscientists have put forth a new hypothesis that accounts for these behaviors and may provide a neurological foundation for many of the disparate features of the disorder.

Nanoparticles get a magnetic handle

October 9, 2014 10:50 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

A long-sought goal of creating particles that can emit a colorful fluorescent glow in a biological environment, and that could be precisely manipulated into position within living cells, has been achieved by a team of researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and several other institutions. The new technology could make it possible to track the position of the nanoparticles as they move within the body or inside a cell.

Researchers detect brightest pulsar ever recorded

October 9, 2014 8:09 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Astronomers have detected a pulsating dead star that appears to be burning with the energy of 10 million suns, making it the brightest pulsar ever detected. The pulsar—a rotating, magnetized neutron star—was found in the galaxy Messier 82 (M82), a relatively close galactic neighbor that’s 12 million light-years from Earth.

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Getting metabolism right

October 8, 2014 7:59 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Metabolic networks are mathematical models of every possible sequence of chemical reactions available to an organ or organism, and they’re used to design microbes for manufacturing processes or to study disease. Based on both genetic analysis and empirical study, they can take years to assemble. Unfortunately, a new analytic tool suggests that many of those models may be wrong.

Unconventional photoconduction in an atomically thin semiconductor

October 7, 2014 3:36 pm | by David L. Chandler, MIT | News | Comments

It’s a well-known phenomenon in electronics: Shining light on a semiconductor, such as the silicon used in computer chips and solar cells, will make it more conductive. But now researchers have discovered that in a special semiconductor, light can have the opposite effect, making the material less conductive instead. This new mechanism of photoconduction could lead to next-generation excitonic devices.

Droplets made to order

October 7, 2014 9:33 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT | News | Comments

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have developed a new way of creating surfaces on which droplets of any desired shape can spontaneously form. They say this approach could lead to new biomedical assay devices and light-emitting diode display screens, among other applications. The new work represents the first time that scientists can control the shape of the contact area of the droplets.

Fast, cheap nanomanufacturing

October 6, 2014 9:19 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT | News | Comments

Arrays of tiny conical tips that eject ionized materials are being made at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The technology, which harnesses electrostatic forces, has a range of promising applications, such as spinning out nanofibers for use in “smart” textiles or propulsion systems for fist-sized “nanosatellites.” The latest prototype array that generates 10 times the ion current per emitter that previous arrays did.

Untangling how cables coil

October 6, 2014 7:57 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

The world’s fiber-optic network spans more than 550,000 miles of undersea cable that transmits Email, Websites and other packets of data between continents, all at the speed of light. A rip or tangle in any part of this network can significantly slow telecommunications around the world. Now, engineers have developed a method that predicts the pattern of coils and tangles that a cable may form when deployed onto a rigid surface.

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Untangling how cables coil

October 3, 2014 10:48 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

A rip or tangle in any part of world’s 550,000-mile fiber-optic network can significantly slow telecommunications around the world. Now engineers have developed a method that predicts the pattern of coils and tangles that a cable may form when deployed onto a rigid surface. The research combined laboratory experiments with custom-designed cables, computer-graphics technology used to animate hair in movies, and theoretical analyses.

Drug delivery capsule may replace injections

October 1, 2014 8:22 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

Given a choice, most patients would prefer to take a drug orally instead of getting an injection. Unfortunately, many drugs, can’t be given as a pill because they get broken down in the stomach before they can be absorbed. To help overcome that obstacle, researchers have devised a novel drug capsule coated with tiny needles that can inject drugs directly into the lining of the stomach after swallowed.

High-speed drug screen

September 30, 2014 7:37 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineers have devised a way to rapidly test hundreds of different drug-delivery vehicles in living animals, making it easier to discover promising new ways to deliver a class of drugs called biologics, which includes antibodies, peptides, RNA and DNA, to human patients.

Biologists find early sign of cancer

September 29, 2014 11:10 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Years before they show any other signs of disease, pancreatic cancer patients have very high levels of certain amino acids in their bloodstream, according to a new study. This finding, which suggests that muscle tissue is broken down in the disease’s earliest stages, could offer new insights into developing early diagnostics for pancreatic cancer, which kills about 40,000 Americans every year.

How to make a “perfect” solar absorber

September 29, 2014 8:08 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

The key to creating a material that would be ideal for converting solar energy to heat is tuning the material’s spectrum of absorption just right: It should absorb virtually all wavelengths of light that reach Earth’s surface from the sun—but not much of the rest of the spectrum, since that would increase the energy that is reradiated by the material, and thus lost to the conversion process.

Hard facts lead to “green” concrete

September 26, 2014 7:53 am | by Mike Williams, Rice Univ. | News | Comments

Concrete can be better and more environmentally friendly by paying attention to its atomic structure, according to researchers at Rice Univ., the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Marseille Univ. The international team of scientists has created computational models to help concrete manufacturers fine-tune mixes for general applications.

Underwater robot for port security

September 26, 2014 7:42 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers unveiled an oval-shaped submersible robot, a little smaller than a football, with a flattened panel on one side that 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.

Chemists recruit anthrax to deliver cancer drugs

September 25, 2014 7:49 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Bacillus anthracis bacteria have very efficient machinery for injecting toxic proteins into cells, leading to the potentially deadly infection known as anthrax. A team of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers has now hijacked that delivery system for a different purpose: administering cancer drugs.

New formulation leads to improved liquid battery

September 23, 2014 2:07 pm | by David L. Chandler, MIT | News | Comments

Donald Sadoway and his colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have already started a company to produce electrical-grid-scale liquid batteries, whose layers of molten material automatically separate due to their differing densities. But a newly developed formula substitutes different metals for the molten layers. The new formula allows the battery to work at a much lower temperature.

Battling superbugs

September 23, 2014 9:13 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT | News | Comments

Each year, new strains of bacteria emerge that resist even the most powerful antibiotics, but scientists have discovered very few new classes of antibiotics in the past decade. Engineers have now turned a powerful new weapon on these superbugs. Using a gene-editing system that can disable any target gene, they have shown that they can selectively kill bacteria carrying harmful genes that confer antibiotic resistance or cause disease.

Fingertip sensor gives robot dexterity

September 19, 2014 7:42 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Northeastern Univ. 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 at MIT, and first described in 2009.

Shrink-wrapping spacesuits

September 18, 2014 7:32 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

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, muscle-like 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.

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