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Purification on the cheap

February 5, 2013 7:42 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Increased natural gas production is seen as a crucial step away from the greenhouse gas emissions of coal plants and toward U.S. energy independence. But natural gas wells have problems: Large volumes of deep water, often heavily laden with salts and minerals, flow out along with the gas. That so-called “produced water” must be disposed of, or cleaned. Now, a process developed by engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology could solve the problem and produce clean water at relatively low cost.

Researchers improve quantum dot performance

February 4, 2013 7:32 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Quantum dots—tiny particles that emit light in a dazzling array of glowing colors—have the potential for many applications, but have faced a series of hurdles to improved performance. But a Massachusetts Institute of Technology team says that it has succeeded in overcoming all these obstacles at once, while earlier efforts have only been able to tackle them one or a few at a time.

Toward practical compressed sensing

February 1, 2013 10:12 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers show how the vagaries of real-world circuitry affect the performance of a promising new technique in signal processing and imaging.

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Physicists find new order in quantum electronic material

February 1, 2013 8:36 am | News | Comments

Two Rutgers physics professors have proposed an explanation for a new type of order, or symmetry, in an exotic material made with uranium. When cooled to near absolute zero, the material’s electrons essentially act like electronic versions of polarized sunglasses. The new theory that explains this strange behavior may one day lead to enhanced computer displays and data storage systems and more powerful superconducting magnets for medical imaging and levitating high-speed trains.

Mapping the living cell

January 31, 2013 2:52 pm | News | Comments

To get a clear picture of what’s happening inside a cell, scientists need to know the locations of thousands of proteins and other molecules. Massachusetts Institute of Technology chemists have now developed a technique that can tag all of the proteins in a particular region of a cell, allowing them to more accurately map those proteins.

A safer way to vaccinate

January 28, 2013 7:43 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers describe a new type of vaccine-delivery film that holds promise for improving the effectiveness of DNA vaccines. If such vaccines could be successfully delivered to humans, they could overcome not only the safety risks of using viruses to vaccinate against diseases such as HIV, but they would also be more stable, making it possible to ship and store them at room temperature.

Storing data in individual molecules

January 23, 2013 3:41 pm | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

An experimental technology called molecular memory, which would store data in individual molecules, promises another 1,000-fold increase in storage density. But previous schemes for molecular memory have relied on physical systems cooled to near absolute zero. An international team of researchers describes a new molecular-memory scheme that works at around the freezing point of water—which in physics parlance counts as "room temperature."

Putting the squeeze on cells

January 23, 2013 7:39 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Living cells are surrounded by a membrane that tightly regulates what gets in and out of the cell. This barrier is necessary for cells to control their internal environment, but it makes it more difficult for scientists to deliver large molecules such as nanoparticles for imaging, or proteins that can reprogram them into pluripotent stem cells. Now, researchers have now found a safe and efficient way to get large molecules through the cell membrane, by squeezing the cells through a narrow constriction that opens up tiny, temporary holes in the membrane.

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Eavesdropping on the hidden lives of microbes

January 22, 2013 7:41 am | by Denise Brehm, Civil and Environmental Engineering | News | Comments

Microbiologists who study wild marine microbes, as opposed to the laboratory-grown variety, face enormous challenges in getting a clear picture of the daily activities of their subjects. But a team of scientists from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute recently figured out how to make the equivalent of a nature film, showing the simultaneous activities of many coexisting species in their native habitat over time.

Rare earth metals make water-repellent surfaces that last

January 21, 2013 8:01 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Water-shedding surfaces that are robust in harsh environments could have broad applications in many industries. Hydrophobic materials can greatly enhance the efficiency of this process. But these materials have one major problem: Most employ thin polymer coatings that degrade when heated, and can easily be destroyed by wear. Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have now come up with a new class of hydrophobic ceramics that can overcome these problems.

Multiple steps toward the “quantum singularity”

January 18, 2013 7:41 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

In early 2011, a pair of theoretical computer scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology proposed an optical experiment that would harness the weird laws of quantum mechanics to perform a computation impossible on conventional computers. The experiment involves generating individual photons—particles of light—and synchronizing their passage through a maze of optical components so that they reach a battery of photon detectors at the same time.

The high value of water

January 14, 2013 7:54 am | by Peter Dizikes, MIT News Office | News | Comments

If you're reading this, odds are you've already used running water in your home today. But you're in a minority: Globally, at least a billion people have no nearby source of water, while of the remaining six billion or so, only 42% have running water in their homes or a tap in the yard, according to the World Health Organization. Now a new field experiment shows just how much access to clean water matters to people.

How to treat heat like light

January 11, 2013 7:29 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher has developed a technique that provides a new way of manipulating heat, allowing it to be controlled much as light waves can be manipulated by lenses and mirrors. The approach relies on engineered materials consisting of nanostructured semiconductor alloy crystals.

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New material harvests energy from water vapor

January 10, 2013 2:50 pm | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineers have created a new polymer film that can generate electricity by drawing on a ubiquitous source: water vapor. The new material changes its shape after absorbing tiny amounts of evaporated water, allowing it to repeatedly curl up and down. Harnessing this continuous motion could drive robotic limbs or generate enough electricity to power micro- and nanoelectronic devices, such as environmental sensors.

Chips that can steer light

January 9, 2013 1:18 pm | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a 4,096-emitter array that fits on a single silicon chip. Chips that can steer beams of light could enable a wide range of applications, including cheaper, more efficient, and smaller laser rangefinders; medical-imaging devices that can be threaded through tiny blood vessels; and even holographic televisions that emit different information when seen from different viewing angles.

Stopping leaks the way blood does

January 8, 2013 2:00 pm | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

A team of Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers has analyzed the blood clotting process and found, for the first time, exactly how the different molecular components work together to block the flow of blood from a cut. Now, they are working on applying that knowledge to the development of synthetic materials that could be used to control different kinds of liquid flows, and could lead to a variety of new self-assembling materials.

Tiny tools help advance medical discoveries

January 8, 2013 7:48 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

To understand the progression of complex diseases such as cancer, scientists have had to tease out the interactions between cells at progressively finer scales—from the behavior of a single tumor cell in the body on down to the activity of that cell’s inner machinery. To foster such discoveries, mechanical engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology are designing tools to image and analyze cellular dynamics at the micro- and nanoscale.

Jumping droplets help heat transfer

January 4, 2013 7:30 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Many industrial plants depend on water vapor condensing on metal plates. The efficiency of such plants depends crucially on how easily droplets of water can form on these metal plates, or condensers, and how easily they fall away, leaving room for more droplets to form. The key to improving the efficiency of such plants is to increase the condensers’ heat-transfer coefficient. A team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology has done just that.

Editing the genome with high precision

January 3, 2013 2:21 pm | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Researchers have developed a new technique for precisely altering the genomes of living cells by adding or deleting genes. To create their new genome-editing technique, the researchers modified a set of bacterial proteins that normally defend against viral invaders.

Record-setting p-type transistor demonstrated

January 3, 2013 7:35 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Microsystems Technology Laboratories presented a p-type transistor with the highest "carrier mobility" yet measured. By that standard, the device is twice as fast as previous experimental p-type transistors and almost four times as fast as the best commercial p-type transistors.

Researchers develop acrobatic space rovers to explore moons, asteroids

January 2, 2013 7:48 am | News | Comments

Stanford University researchers, in collaboration with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have designed a robotic platform that could take space exploration to new heights. The mission proposed for the platform involves a mother spacecraft deploying one or several spiked, roughly spherical rovers to the Martian moon Phobos.

Improving the accuracy of cancer diagnoses

December 26, 2012 8:41 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Tiny calcium deposits can be a telltale sign of breast cancer. However, in the majority of cases these microcalcifications signal a benign condition. A new diagnostic procedure developed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Case Western Reserve University could help doctors more accurately distinguish between cancerous and noncancerous cases.

Flexible, light solar cells could provide new opportunities

December 26, 2012 8:29 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have produced a new kind of photovoltaic cell based on sheets of flexible graphene coated with a layer of nanowires. The approach could lead to low-cost, transparent, and flexible solar cells that could be deployed on windows, roofs, or other surfaces.

Cell phone data helps pinpoint source of traffic tie-ups

December 20, 2012 11:36 am | by Denise Brehm, Civil and Environmental Engineering | News | Comments

Researchers tracked traffic in Boston and San Francisco with cell tower and GPS data and analyzed bottlenecks. Their computer analysis suggested a possible strategy for relieving traffic tie-ups: Instead of asking all drivers to reduce their driving during commute hours, target those communities whose drivers contribute most to congestion.

Researchers discover a new kind of magnetism

December 20, 2012 7:39 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Following up on earlier theoretical predictions, Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have now demonstrated experimentally the existence of a fundamentally new kind of magnetic behavior, adding to the two previously known states of magnetism.

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