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Making 'nanospinning' practical

November 20, 2012 8:03 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Nanofibers have a huge range of possible applications: scaffolds for bioengineered organs, ultrafine air and water filters, and lightweight Kevlar body armor, to name just a few. But so far, the expense of producing them has consigned them to a few high-end, niche applications. Now, a team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology has described a new system for spinning nanofibers that should offer significant productivity increases while reducing power consumption.

Injectable gels toughen up after entering the body

November 16, 2012 9:12 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Gels that can be injected into the body, carrying drugs or cells that regenerate damaged tissue, hold promise for treating many types of disease. However, these injectable gels don't always maintain their solid structure once inside the body. Massachusetts Institute of Technology chemical engineers have now designed an injectable gel that responds to the body's high temperature by forming a reinforcing network that makes the gel much more durable, allowing it to function over a longer period of time.

Controlling heat flow through a nanostructure

November 16, 2012 8:29 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Thermoelectric devices, which can harness temperature difference to produce electricity, might be made more efficient thanks to new research from Massachusetts Institute of Technology on heat propagation through structures called superlattices. The new findings show, unexpectedly, that heat can travel like waves, rather than particles, through these nanostructures.

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New metamaterial lens focuses radio waves

November 14, 2012 7:44 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have fabricated a 3D, lightweight metamaterial lens that focuses radio waves with extreme precision. The concave lens exhibits a property called negative refraction, bending electromagnetic waves in exactly the opposite sense from which a normal concave lens would work.

Jellyfish-inspired device could enable better patient monitoring

November 13, 2012 8:36 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Scientists have been working on microfluidic devices that can isolate circulating tumor cells, but most of these have two major limitations: It takes too long to process a sufficient amount of blood, and there is no good way to extract cancer cells for analysis after their capture. To help overcome these limitations, a research team has developed a microfluidic device inspired by the tentacles of jellyfish.

Fighting bacteria with mucus

November 9, 2012 9:28 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Slimy layers of bacterial growth, known as biofilms, pose a significant hazard in industrial and medical settings. Once established, biofilms are very difficult to remove, and a great deal of research has gone into figuring out how to prevent and eradicate them. Results from a recent study suggest a possible new source of protection against biofilm formation: polymers found in mucus.

Medical devices powered by the ear itself

November 8, 2012 7:58 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Deep in the inner ear of mammals is a natural battery—a chamber filled with ions that produces an electrical potential to drive neural signals. A team of researchers has, for the first time, demonstrated that this battery could power implantable electronic devices without impairing hearing.

Stronger than a speeding bullet

November 7, 2012 3:13 pm | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

New tests of nanostructured material developed by scientists at Rice University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology could lead to better armor against everything from gunfire to micrometeorites. The key, they found, was to use composites made of two or more materials whose stiffness and flexibility are structured in very specific ways—such as in alternating layers just a few nanometers thick.

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A step toward stronger polymers

November 6, 2012 8:56 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

A team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed, for the first time, a way to measure how many loops are present in a given polymer network, an advance they believe is the first step toward creating better materials that don't contain weak spots.

Paintballs may deflect an incoming asteroid

October 26, 2012 9:43 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

In the event that a giant asteroid is headed toward Earth, you'd better hope that it's blindingly white. A pale asteroid would reflect sunlight—and over time, this bouncing of photons off its surface could create enough of a force to push the asteroid off its course. How might one encourage such a deflection? The answer, according to a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate student: with a volley or two of space-launched paintballs.

Tiny pores in graphene could give rise to membranes

October 23, 2012 12:22 pm | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Much has been made of graphene’s exceptional qualities, particularly its phenomenal strength and impermeability. But the material may not be as impenetrable as scientists have thought. Recent analysis shows that the material bears intrinsic defects, or holes in its atom-sized armor. Experiments demonstrate small molecules like salts can pass easily through a graphene membrane’s tiny pores, while larger molecules were unable to penetrate.

A new glow for electron microscopy

October 22, 2012 10:06 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

The glowing green molecule known as green fluorescent protein (GFP) has revolutionized molecular biology. When GFP is attached to a particular protein inside a cell, scientists can easily identify and locate it using fluorescence microscopy. However, GFP can't be used with electron microscopy, which offers much higher resolution than fluorescence microscopy. Chemists have now designed a GFP equivalent for electron microscopy.

A better way to shed water

October 22, 2012 7:43 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Condensers are a crucial part of today's power generation systems: About 80% of all the world's power plants use them to turn steam back to water after it comes out of the turbines that turn generators. They are also a key element in desalination plants. Now, a new surface architecture designed by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology holds the promise of boosting the performance of such condensers.

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Calcium reveals connections between neurons

October 19, 2012 8:37 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

A team led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology neuroscientists has developed a way to monitor how brain cells coordinate with each other to control specific behaviors, such as initiating movement or detecting an odor. The researchers' new imaging technique, based on the detection of calcium ions in neurons, could help them map the brain circuits that perform such functions.

'Invisibility' could be a key to better electronics

October 12, 2012 8:35 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

A new approach, developed by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, that allows objects to become "invisible" has now been applied to an entirely different area: letting particles "hide" from passing electrons, which could lead to more efficient thermoelectric devices and new kinds of electronics.

Photonic gels are colorful sensors

October 10, 2012 11:14 am | News | Comments

Materials scientists at Rice University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have created very thin color-changing films that may serve as part of inexpensive sensors. The new work combines polymers into a unique, self-assembled metamaterial that, when exposed to ions in a solution or in the environment, changes color depending on the ions' ability to infiltrate the hydrophilic layers.

Applying information theory to linguistics

October 10, 2012 8:22 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

The majority of languages—roughly 85% of them—can be sorted into two categories: those in which the basic sentence form is subject-verb-object and those in which the basic sentence form is subject-object-verb. Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology believe that information theory—the discipline that gave us digital communication—can explain differences between human languages.

What number is halfway between 1 and 9? Is it 5—or 3?

October 9, 2012 9:41 am | News | Comments

Ask adults  what number is halfway between 1 and 9, and most will say 5. But pose the same question to small children and they're likely to answer 3. Cognitive scientists theorize that that's because it's actually more natural for humans to think logarithmically than linearly. A new information-theoretical model of human sensory perception and memory sheds light on these peculiarities of the nervous system.

Drawing a line, with carbon nanotubes

October 9, 2012 8:06 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Carbon nanotubes offer a powerful new way to detect harmful gases in the environment. However, the methods typically used to build carbon nanotube sensors are hazardous and not suited for large-scale production. A new fabrication method created by chemists may overcome that obstacle.

New technique reveals lithium in action

October 8, 2012 11:50 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT | News | Comments

Exactly what goes inside advanced lithium-air batteries as they charge and discharge has always been impossible to observe directly. Now, a new technique developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers promises to change that, allowing study of this electrochemical activity as it happens.

Team builds most complex synthetic biology circuit yet

October 8, 2012 7:39 am | News | Comments

A team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology has developed biological circuit components that don't interfere with one another, allowing them to produce the most complex synthetic circuit ever built. The circuit integrates four sensors for different molecules.

The mathematics of leaf decay

October 4, 2012 4:48 am | by Jennifer Chu | News | Comments

The natural decay of organic carbon contributes more than 90% of the yearly carbon dioxide released into Earth's atmosphere and oceans. Understanding the rate at which leaves decay can help scientists predict this global flux of carbon dioxide. But a single leaf may undergo different rates of decay depending on a number of variables. Researchers have just built a mathematical model that incorporates these variables, and have discovered a commonality within the diversity of leaf decay.

Probing the mysteries of cracks, stresses

September 28, 2012 6:28 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Diving into a pool from a few feet up allows you to enter the water smoothly and painlessly, but jumping from a bridge can lead to a fatal impact. The water is the same in each case, so why is the effect of hitting its surface so different? This seemingly basic question is at the heart of complex research by a team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology that studied how materials react to stresses, including impacts. The findings could help explain phenomena as varied as the breakdown of concrete under sudden stress and the effects of corrosion on various metal surfaces.

Measuring the universe's 'exit door'

September 27, 2012 12:06 pm | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

The point of no return: In astronomy, it's known as a black hole. Black holes that can be billions of times more massive than our sun may reside at the heart of most galaxies. Such supermassive black holes are so powerful that activity at their boundaries can ripple throughout their host galaxies. Now, an international team, has, for the first time, measured the radius of a black hole at the center of a distant galaxy.

Oscillating microscopic beads could be key to biolab on a chip

September 25, 2012 4:45 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

If you throw a ball underwater, you'll find that the smaller it is, the faster it moves: A larger cross-section greatly increases the water's resistance. Now, a team of researchers has figured out a way to use this basic principle, on a microscopic scale, to carry out biomedical tests that could eventually lead to fast, compact, and versatile medical testing devices.

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