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The Lead

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.

Toward optical chips

September 17, 2014 9:42 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Chips that use light, rather than electricity, to move data would consume much less power. Of...

How to hide like an octopus

September 17, 2014 7:33 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Cephalopods are among nature’s most skillful camouflage artists, able to change both the color...

Bound for robotic glory

September 16, 2014 7:56 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

The...

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Fluid mechanics suggests alternative to quantum orthodoxy

September 15, 2014 7:46 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

The central mystery of quantum mechanics is that small chunks of matter sometimes seem to behave like particles, sometimes like waves. For most of the past century, the prevailing explanation of this conundrum has been what’s called the “Copenhagen interpretation”—which holds that, in some sense, a single particle really is a wave, smeared out across the universe, that collapses into a determinate location only when observed.

Fluid mechanics suggests alternative to quantum orthodoxy

September 12, 2014 1:48 pm | by Larry Hardesty, MIT | News | Comments

The central mystery of quantum mechanics is that small chunks of matter sometimes seem to behave like particles, sometimes like waves. The traditional view holds that a single particle really is a wave that collapses only when observed. But John Bush, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, believes that another explanation, the pilot-wave theory, deserves a second look.

Physicists find new way to push electrons around

September 12, 2014 7:49 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

When moving through a conductive material in an electric field, electrons tend to follow the path of least resistance—which runs in the direction of that field. But now physicists have found an unexpectedly different behavior under very specialized conditions—one that might lead to new types of transistors and electronic circuits that could prove highly energy efficient.

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Seismic gap may be filled by an earthquake near Istanbul

September 11, 2014 7:56 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

When a segment of a major fault line goes quiet, it can mean one of two things: The “seismic gap” may simply be inactive, or the segment may be a source of potential earthquakes, quietly building tension over decades until an inevitable seismic release. Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Turkey have found evidence for both types of behavior on different segments of the North Anatolian Fault.

Where to grab space debris

September 10, 2014 10:10 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Objects in space tend to spin—and spin in a way that’s totally different from the way they spin on earth. Understanding how objects are spinning, where their centers of mass are, and how their mass is distributed is crucial to any number of actual or potential space missions, from cleaning up debris in the geosynchronous orbit favored by communications satellites to landing a demolition crew on a comet.

Sun-powered desalination for villages in India

September 8, 2014 7:51 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Around the world, there’s more salty groundwater than fresh, drinkable groundwater. For example, 60% of India is underlain by salty water. Now an analysis by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers shows that a different desalination technology called electrodialysis, powered by solar panels, could provide enough clean, palatable drinking water to supply the needs of a typical village.

Should scientists handle retractions differently?

September 5, 2014 7:33 am | by Peter Dizikes, MIT News Office | News | Comments

It’s one of the highest-profile cases of scientific fraud in memory: In 2005, South Korean researcher Woo-Suk Hwang and colleagues made international news by claiming that they had produced embryonic stem cells from a cloned human embryo using nuclear transfer. But within a year, the work had been debunked, soon followed by findings of fraud. South Korea put a moratorium on stem cell research funding.

A new way to diagnose malaria

September 2, 2014 7:38 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Over the past several decades, malaria diagnosis has changed very little. After taking a blood sample from a patient, a technician smears the blood across a glass slide, stains it with a special dye and looks under a microscope for the Plasmodium parasite, which causes the disease. This approach gives an accurate count of how many parasites are in the blood, but is not ideal because there is potential for human error.

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Neuroscientists reverse memories’ emotional associations

August 28, 2014 8:27 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Most memories have some kind of emotion associated with them. A new study from Massachusetts Institute of Technology neuroscientists reveals the brain circuit that controls how memories become linked with positive or negative emotions. Furthermore, the researchers found that they could reverse the emotional association of specific memories by manipulating brain cells with optogenetics.

Snowfall in a warmer world

August 27, 2014 2:26 pm | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

If ever there were a silver lining to global warming, it might be the prospect of milder winters. After all, it stands to reason that a warmer climate would generate less snow. But a new Massachusetts Institute of Technology study suggests that you shouldn’t put your shovels away just yet.

Sorting cells with sound waves

August 26, 2014 7:36 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

Researchers have devised a new way to separate cells by exposing them to sound waves as they flow through a tiny channel. Their device, about the size of a dime, could be used to detect the extremely rare tumor cells that circulate in cancer patients’ blood, helping doctors predict whether a tumor is going to spread.

Aircraft Sense and Avoid

August 25, 2014 3:08 pm | Award Winners

MIT Lincoln Laboratory’s Airborne Sense and Avoid (ABSAA) Radar Panel is a stepped-notch antenna array that marks a substantial advance in the fabrication of wide-bandwidth radar systems for use aboard unmanned aerial systems (UAS). The panel provides high performance by incorporating multifunction radio-frequency integrated circuits using a commercially available, high-volume silicon germanium (SiGe) 0.13-μm foundry process.

Study: Cutting emissions pays for itself

August 25, 2014 7:44 am | by Audrey Resutek, MIT | News | Comments

Lower rates of asthma and other health problems are frequently cited as benefits of policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions from sources like power plants and vehicles, because these policies also lead to reductions in other harmful types of air pollution. But just how large are the health benefits of cleaner air in comparison to the costs of reducing carbon emissions?

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Delivery by drone

August 21, 2014 9:16 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

In the near future, the package that you ordered online may be deposited at your doorstep by a drone: Last December, online retailer Amazon announced plans to explore drone-based delivery, suggesting that fleets of flying robots might serve as autonomous messengers that shuttle packages to customers within 30 mins of an order.

Unlocking the potential of simulation software

August 21, 2014 7:44 am | by Rob Matheson, MIT News Office | News | Comments

With a method known as finite element analysis (FEA), engineers can generate 3-D digital models of large structures to simulate how they’ll fare under stress, vibrations, heat and other real-world conditions. Used for mapping out large-scale structures, these simulations require intensive computation done by powerful computers over many hours, costing engineering firms much time and money.

The power of salt

August 20, 2014 7:46 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Where the river meets the sea, there is the potential to harness a significant amount of renewable energy, according to a team of mechanical engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The researchers evaluated an emerging method of power generation called pressure retarded osmosis (PRO), in which two streams of different salinity are mixed to produce energy.

Lasercom Facilitates Space Data

August 19, 2014 11:24 am | Award Winners

Despite major advances in radio frequency (RF) systems, users will soon require higher data rates than radio can achieve. The use of optical frequencies, on the other hand, has the potential to achieve perhaps 100 or even 1,000 times the data rates of the best RF systems because of its huge unregulated spectrum and shorter wavelengths. Several so-called near-Earth lasercom systems have been demonstrated, but they have not scaled to practical use. MIT Lincoln Laboratory’s Lunar Laser Communication System (LLCS) combines several technologies to permit high-data-rate lasercom between distant platforms.

Driver’s Ed for Self-driving Vehicles

August 19, 2014 11:19 am | Award Winners

Self-driving vehicles may soon become commonplace on our roads as rapidly advancing sensing technologies converge with the prospect of better passenger safety and traffic efficiency. Through companies such as Google have made great strides in this area of research, current autonomous ground vehicles lack some capabilities, including the inability to sense vehicle position in adverse conditions. Localizing Ground Penetrating Radar (LGPR), introduced by MIT Lincoln Laboratory, can provide this capability using a new class of ground-penetrating radar technology to map underground features that are inherently stable over time.

RF Switching, No Sticking

August 19, 2014 11:17 am | Award Winners

In demand for portable applications because of their light weight and compact size, traditional microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) technologies suffer from a major problem: sticking. This is caused by the charged dielectric, which also suffers from deformation failure and contact welding. A new design engineered by MIT Lincoln Laboratory and implemented in a fabrication setting by Innovative Micro Technology solves these problems by allowing the electrode assembly to “curve”.

Range-independent Radar

August 19, 2014 11:15 am | Award Winners

The space environment directly above the Earth is crowded with orbiting objects and debris. Accurate, fast imaging is necessary to protect assets operating within this debris zone, namely the International Space Station, low-Earth orbit satellites and other science missions. The Haystack Ultrawideband Satellite Imaging Radar (HUSIR) constructed by MIT Lincoln Laboratory was engineered for this task.

Our connection to content

August 19, 2014 9:34 am | by Rob Matheson, MIT News Office | News | Comments

It’s often said that humans are wired to connect: The neural wiring that helps us read the emotions and actions of other people may be a foundation for human empathy. But for the past eight years, MIT Media Lab spinout Innerscope Research has been using neuroscience technologies that gauge subconscious emotions by monitoring brain and body activity to show just how powerfully we also connect to media and marketing communications.

Engineering new bone growth

August 19, 2014 7:56 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Massachusetts Institute of Technology chemical engineers have devised a new implantable tissue scaffold coated with bone growth factors that are released slowly over a few weeks. When applied to bone injuries or defects, this coated scaffold induces the body to rapidly form new bone that looks and behaves just like the original tissue.

Recycling old batteries into solar cells

August 18, 2014 7:38 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

This could be a classic win-win solution: A system proposed by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology recycles materials from discarded car batteries—a potential source of lead pollution—into new, long-lasting solar panels that provide emissions-free power. The system is based on a recent development in solar cells that makes use of a compound called perovskite.

Visual control of big data

August 15, 2014 7:55 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

In the age of big data, visualization tools are vital. With a single glance at a graphic display, a human being can recognize patterns that a computer might fail to find even after hours of analysis. But what if there are aberrations in the patterns? Or what if there’s just a suggestion of a visual pattern that’s not distinct enough to justify any strong inferences? Or what if the pattern is clear, but not what was to be expected?

Finding a piece of the proton-spin puzzle

August 14, 2014 8:11 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

What causes a proton to spin? This fundamental question has been a longstanding mystery in particle physics, although it was once thought that the answer would be fairly straightforward: The spin of a proton’s three subatomic particles, called quarks, would simply add up to produce its total spin.

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