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The Lead

Cheetah robot lands the running jump

May 29, 2015 10:56 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

In a leap for robot development, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers who built a robotic cheetah have now trained it to see and jump over hurdles as it runs, making this the first four-legged robot to run and jump over obstacles autonomously. To get a running jump, the robot plans out its path, much like a human runner: As it detects an approaching obstacle, it estimates that object’s height and distance.

Researchers find “lost” memories

May 29, 2015 7:27 am | by Helen Knight, MIT News correspondent | News | Comments

Memories that have been “lost” as a result of amnesia can be recalled by activating brain cells...

Diagnosing cancer with help from bacteria

May 28, 2015 11:31 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Univ. of California at San Diego have...

Spinning a new version of silk

May 28, 2015 7:22 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

After years of research decoding the complex structure and production of spider silk,...

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Helping robots put it all together

May 27, 2015 9:28 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

Today’s industrial robots are remarkably efficient, as long as they’re in a controlled environment where everything is exactly where they expect it to be. But put them in an unfamiliar setting, where they have to think for themselves, and their efficiency plummets. And the difficulty of on-the-fly motion planning increases exponentially with the number of robots involved.

Advance in quantum error correction

May 26, 2015 7:25 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Quantum computers are largely theoretical devices that could perform some computations exponentially faster than conventional computers can. Crucial to most designs for quantum computers is quantum error correction, which helps preserve the fragile quantum states on which quantum computation depends.

Freshly squeezed vaccines

May 22, 2015 7:23 am | by Kevin Leonardi, Koch Institute | News | Comments

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have shown that they can use a microfluidic cell-squeezing device to introduce specific antigens inside the immune system’s B cells, providing a new approach to developing and implementing antigen-presenting cell vaccines.

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Gauging materials’ physical properties from video

May 21, 2015 10:42 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Last summer, MIT researchers published a paper describing an algorithm that can recover intelligible speech from the analysis of the minute vibrations of objects in video captured through soundproof glass. In June, researchers from the same groups will describe how the technique can be adapted to infer material properties of physical objects, such as stiffness and weight, from video.

How to make continuous rolls of graphene

May 21, 2015 7:30 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Graphene is a material with a host of potential applications, including in flexible light sources, solar panels that could be integrated into windows and membranes to desalinate and purify water. But all these possible uses face the same big hurdle: the need for a scalable and cost-effective method for continuous manufacturing of graphene films.

Taking control of light emission

May 20, 2015 7:31 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Researchers have found a way to couple the properties of different 2-D materials to provide an exceptional degree of control over light waves. They say this has the potential to lead to new kinds of light detection, thermal management systems and high-resolution imaging devices.

Designing better medical implants

May 19, 2015 7:51 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Biomedical devices that can be implanted in the body for drug delivery, tissue engineering or sensing can help improve treatment for many diseases. However, such devices are often susceptible to attack by the immune system, which can render them useless. A team of Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers has come up with a way to reduce that immune-system rejection.

3-D printed spider webs

May 15, 2015 9:00 am | by Kelsey Damrad, MIT | News | Comments

Scientists at MIT have developed a systematic approach to research its structure, blending computational modeling and mechanical analysis to 3D-print synthetic spider webs. These models offer insight into how spiders optimize their own webs.

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New target for anti-malaria drugs

May 14, 2015 9:06 am | by Helen Knight, MIT News correspondent | News | Comments

A new target for drug development in the fight against the deadly disease malaria has been discovered by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In a recently published paper, the researchers describe how they identified the drug target while studying the way in which the parasites Toxoplasma gondii, which causes toxoplasmosis, and Plasmodium, which causes malaria, access vital nutrients from their host cells.

Researchers build new fermion microscope

May 14, 2015 7:50 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

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. Because of their fermionic nature, electrons and nuclear matter are difficult to understand theoretically. 

Faster, smaller, more informative

May 12, 2015 7:37 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

A new technique invented at Massachusetts Institute of Technology can measure the relative positions of tiny particles as they flow through a fluidic channel, potentially offering an easy way to monitor the assembly of nanoparticles, or to study how mass is distributed within a cell. With further advancements, this technology has the potential to resolve the shape of objects in flow as small as viruses, the researchers say.

Removing reflections

May 11, 2015 7:58 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

It’s hard to take a photo through a window without picking up reflections of the objects behind you. To solve that problem, professional photographers sometimes wrap their camera lenses in dark cloths affixed to windows by tape or suction cups. But that’s not a terribly attractive option for a traveler using a point-and-shoot camera to capture the view from a hotel room or a seat in a train.

Plugging up leaky graphene

May 8, 2015 7:49 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

For faster, longer-lasting water filters, some scientists are looking to graphene to serve as ultra-thin membranes, filtering out contaminants to quickly purify high volumes of water. Graphene’s unique properties make it a potentially ideal membrane for water filtration or desalination. But there’s been one main drawback to its wider use.

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Electrons corralled using new quantum tool

May 7, 2015 3:22 pm | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Researchers have succeeded in creating a new “whispering gallery” effect for electrons in a sheet of graphene, making it possible to precisely control a region that reflects electrons within the material. They say the accomplishment could provide a basic building block for new kinds of electronic lenses, as well as quantum-based devices that combine electronics and optics.

Handing “cognitive” control to underwater robots

May 7, 2015 7:34 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

For the last decade, scientists have deployed increasingly capable underwater robots to map and monitor pockets of the ocean to track the health of fisheries, and survey marine habitats and species. In general, such robots are effective at carrying out low-level tasks, specifically assigned to them by human engineers, a tedious and time-consuming process for the engineers.

How some beetles produce a scalding defensive spray

May 1, 2015 9:36 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

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.

“Fingerprinting” chips to fight counterfeiting

May 1, 2015 7:37 am | by Rob Matheson, MIT News Office | News | Comments

It’s often said that no two human fingerprints are exactly alike. For that reason, police often use them as evidence to link suspects to crime scenes. The same goes for silicon chips: Manufacturing processes cause microscopic variations in chips that are unpredictable, permanent, and effectively impossible to clone.

Magnifying vibrations in bridges, buildings

April 23, 2015 9:40 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

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. 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.

Boiling down viscous flow

April 23, 2015 7:41 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Drizzling honey on toast can produce mesmerizing, meandering patterns, as the syrupy fluid ripples and coils in a sticky, golden thread. Dribbling paint on canvas can produce similarly serpentine loops and waves. The patterns created by such viscous fluids can be reproduced experimentally in a setup known as a “fluid mechanical sewing machine,” in which an overhead nozzle deposits a thick fluid onto a moving conveyor belt.

New tabletop detector “sees” single electrons

April 21, 2015 7:37 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicists have developed a new tabletop particle detector that is able to identify single electrons in a radioactive gas. As the gas decays and gives off electrons, the detector uses a magnet to trap them in a magnetic bottle. A radio antenna then picks up very weak signals emitted by the electrons, which can be used to map the electrons’ precise activity over several milliseconds.

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 before a cheap hoverboard makes it to market? Attempting to answer such questions requires knowing something about the rate at which a technology is improving. Now engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have devised a formula for estimating how fast a technology is advancing, based on information gleaned from relevant patents.

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 process by which an anti-HIV drug induces lethal mutations in the virus’ genetic material. The findings from the Univ. of Chicago and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology could bolster efforts to develop the next generation of anti-viral treatments.

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, 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, until now.

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.

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