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The Lead

Thumbnail track pad

April 17, 2015 7:36 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

Researchers 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.

Patents forecast technological change

April 16, 2015 12:20 pm | by MIT News Office | News | Comments

How fast is online learning evolving? Are wind turbines a promising investment? And how long...

Shape-shifting molecule tricks viruses into mutating themselves to death

April 15, 2015 9:36 am | by Steve Koppes, Univ. of Chicago | News | Comments

A newly developed spectroscopy method is helping to clarify the poorly understood molecular...

Recruiting the entire immune system to attack cancer

April 14, 2015 11:30 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

The human immune system is poised to spring into action at the first sign of a foreign invader,...

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Taking aircraft manufacturing out of the oven

April 14, 2015 8:03 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Composite materials used in aircraft wings and fuselages are typically manufactured in large, industrial-sized ovens: Multiple polymer layers are blasted with temperatures up to 750 F, and solidified to form a solid, resilient material. Using this approach, considerable energy is required first to heat the oven, then the gas around it, and finally the actual composite.

Graphics in reverse

April 13, 2015 9:40 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Most recent advances in artificial intelligence are the result of machine learning, in which computers are turned loose on huge data sets to look for patterns. To make machine-learning applications easier to build, computer scientists have begun developing so-called probabilistic programming languages, which let researchers mix and match machine-learning techniques that have worked well in other contexts.

Biologists identify brain tumor weakness

April 9, 2015 7:31 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Biologists have discovered a vulnerability of brain cancer cells that could be exploited to develop more-effective drugs against brain tumors. The study found that a subset of glioblastoma tumor cells is dependent on a particular enzyme that breaks down the amino acid glycine. Without this enzyme, toxic metabolic byproducts build up inside the tumor cells, and they die.

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Emotionally inspired engineering: Emma Nelson tackles environmental issues with engineering

April 8, 2015 2:42 pm | by Julia Sklar, MIT | News | Comments

When MIT senior Emma Nelson was teaching engineering classes in China in 2013, a male student remarked of her as an instructor, “I thought we were supposed to meet engineers, not women.” As she stared out at the 100 college students before her, Nelson noticed there was just one female face looking back at her.

Tunneling across a tiny gap

April 7, 2015 11:07 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Conduction and thermal radiation are two ways in which heat is transferred from one object to another: Conduction is the process by which heat flows between objects in physical contact, such as a pot of tea on a hot stove, while thermal radiation describes heat flow across large distances, such as heat emitted by the sun. These two fundamental heat-transfer processes explain how energy moves across microscopic and macroscopic distances.

Better sensors for medical imaging, contraband detection

April 7, 2015 7:33 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have developed a new, ultrasensitive magnetic-field detector that is 1,000 times more energy-efficient than its predecessors. It could lead to miniaturized, battery-powered devices for medical and materials imaging, contraband detection and even geological exploration.

How a rare form a liver cancer arises

April 2, 2015 10:20 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

In the 1970s, epidemiologists found that workers in factories using vinyl chloride had unusually high rates of a rare form of liver cancer called angiosarcoma. Biologists later identified a mutation that appears to be associated with this cancer, which originates in cells of the blood vessels that feed the liver.

Diagnosis by keyboard

April 1, 2015 2:05 pm | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

Analyzing people’s keystrokes as they type on a computer keyboard can reveal a great deal of information about the state of their motor function, according to a new study. In the study, the researchers found that their algorithm for analyzing keystrokes could distinguish between typing done in the middle of the night, when sleep deprivation impairs motor skills, and typing performed when fully rested.

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Better traffic signals can cut greenhouse gas emissions

March 31, 2015 7:34 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Sitting in traffic during rush hour is not just frustrating for drivers; it also adds unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere. Now a study by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology could lead to better ways of programming a city’s stoplights to reduce delays, improve efficiency and reduce emissions.

Analysis sees many promising pathways for solar photovoltaic power

March 26, 2015 12:07 pm | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

In a broad new assessment of the status and prospects of solar photovoltaic technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers say that it is “one of the few renewable, low-carbon resources with both the scalability and the technological maturity to meet ever-growing global demand for electricity.”

Thousands of atoms entangled with a single photon

March 26, 2015 7:40 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Physicists from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Univ. of Belgrade have developed a new technique that can successfully entangle 3,000 atoms using only a single photon. The results represent the largest number of particles that have ever been mutually entangled experimentally.

New kind of “tandem” solar cell developed

March 25, 2015 7:41 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford Univ. have developed a new kind of solar cell that combines two different layers of sunlight-absorbing material in order to harvest a broader range of the sun’s energy. The development could lead to photovoltaic cells that are more efficient than those currently used in solar-power installations, the researchers say.

Satellite imagery can aid development projects

March 23, 2015 8:52 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Projects that target aid toward villages and rural areas in the developing world often face time-consuming challenges, even at the most basic level of figuring out where the most appropriate sites are for pilot programs or deployment of new systems such as solar-power for regions that have no access to electricity. Often, even the sizes and locations of villages are poorly mapped, so time-consuming field studies are needed.

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Prices of cancer drugs have soared since 1995

March 18, 2015 7:37 am | by Peter Dizikes, MIT News Office | News | Comments

The prices of leading cancer drugs have risen at rates far outstripping inflation over the last two decades, according to a new study co-authored by an Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist. But the exact reasons for the cost increases are unclear. Since 1995, a group of 58 leading cancer drugs has increased in price by 10% annually, even when adjusted for inflation and incremental health benefits, the study finds.

Second minor planet may possess Saturn-like rings

March 17, 2015 7:43 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

There are only five bodies in our solar system that are known to bear rings. The most obvious is the planet Saturn; to a lesser extent, rings of gas and dust also encircle Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune. The fifth member of this haloed group is Chariklo, one of a class of minor planets called centaurs: small, rocky bodies that possess qualities of both asteroids and comets.

Magnetic brain stimulation

March 13, 2015 7:54 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology 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.

Swine flu outbreak in India raises concern

March 11, 2015 12:54 pm | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Since December, an outbreak of swine flu in India has killed more than 1,200 people, and a new study suggests that the strain has acquired mutations that make it more dangerous than previously circulating strains of H1N1 influenza. The findings contradict previous reports from Indian health officials that the strain has not changed from the version of H1N1 that emerged in 2009 and has been circulating around the world ever since.

Electrospray thruster makes small satellites more capable

March 11, 2015 8:28 am | by Rob Matheson, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Small satellites are becoming increasingly popular tools for Earth-imaging, communications and other applications. But they have major control issues: Once in space, they can’t accurately point cameras or change orbit, and they usually crash and burn within a few months. What these satellites lack is a viable propulsion system.

Finger-mounted reading device for the blind

March 10, 2015 1:29 pm | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Researchers at the MIT Media Laboratory have built a prototype of a finger-mounted device with a built-in camera that converts written text into audio for visually impaired users.             

Detector sniffs out origins of methane

March 6, 2015 7:40 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

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.

Why isn’t the universe as bright as it should be?

March 4, 2015 4:50 pm | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

A handful of new stars are born each year in the Milky Way, while many more blink on across the universe. But astronomers have observed that galaxies should be churning out millions more stars, based on the amount of interstellar gas available. Now researchers have pieced together a theory describing how clusters of galaxies may regulate star formation.

Why seashells’ mineral forms differently in seawater

March 3, 2015 3:16 pm | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

For almost a century, scientists have been puzzled by a process that is crucial to much of the life in Earth’s oceans: Why does calcium carbonate, the tough material of seashells and corals, sometimes take the form of calcite, and at other times form a chemically identical form of the mineral, called aragonite, that is more soluble—and therefore more vulnerable to ocean acidification?

A clearer view of clouds

March 3, 2015 10:25 am | by Helen Knight, MIT News correspondent | News | Comments

Meteorologists sometimes struggle to accurately predict the weather here on Earth, but now we can find out how cloudy it is on planets outside our solar system, thanks to researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In a paper to be published, the researchers 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.

Nanodevice defeats drug resistance

March 3, 2015 7:30 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Chemotherapy often shrinks tumors at first, but as cancer cells become resistant to drug treatment, tumors can grow back. A new nanodevice developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers can help overcome that by first blocking the gene that confers drug resistance, then launching a new chemotherapy attack against the disarmed tumors.

Analysis shows ion slowdown in fuel cell material

March 2, 2015 11:01 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Dislocations in oxides such as cerium dioxide, a solid electrolyte for fuel cells, turn out to have a property that is the opposite of what researchers had expected, according to a new analysis. Researchers had thought that a certain kind of strain would speed the transport of oxygen ions through the material, potentially leading to the much faster diffusion that is necessary in high-performance solid-oxide fuel cells.

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