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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 the three chief components of optical circuits—light emitters, modulators and detectors—emitters are the toughest to build. One promising light source for optical chips is molybdenum disulfide (MoS2), which has excellent optical properties when deposited as a single, atom-thick layer.

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 and texture of their skin within seconds to blend into their surroundings. Engineers have long struggled to duplicate this in synthetic materials. Now a team of researchers has come closer than ever to achieving that goal, creating a flexible material that can change its color or fluorescence and its texture at the same time.

Bound for robotic glory

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

The fastest land animal on Earth, the cheetah, is able to accelerate to 60 mph in just a few seconds. As it ramps up to top speed, a cheetah pumps its legs in tandem, bounding until it reaches a full gallop. Now, researchers have developed an algorithm for bounding that they’ve successfully implemented in a fully functional robotic cheetah.

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.

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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