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Collecting just the right data

July 25, 2014 7:56 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Much artificial intelligence research addresses the problem of making predictions based on large data sets. An obvious example is the recommendation engines at retail sites like Amazon and Netflix. But some types of data are harder to collect than online click histories. And in other applications there may just not be enough time to crunch all the available data.

Study: Forward osmosis desalination not energy efficient

July 24, 2014 7:37 am | by Alissa Mallinson | MIT Dept. of Mechanical Engineering | News | Comments

In a recent study published in the Journal of Membrane Science, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology team reported that, contrary to popular support, forward osmosis desalination of seawater is significantly less energy efficient, compared to reverse osmosis. In forward osmosis, water is drawn from the seawater into a concentrated salt solution, known as a draw solution.

First direct-diode laser bright enough to cut, weld metal

July 23, 2014 9:43 am | by Rob Matheson, MIT News Office | News | Comments

MIT Lincoln Laboratory spinout TeraDiode is commercializing a multi-kilowatt diode laser system that’s bright enough to cut and weld through a half-inch of steel, and at greater efficiencies than today’s industrial lasers. The new system is based on a wavelength beam-combining laser diode design that won an R&D 100 Award in 2012. It combines multiple beams into a single output ray, allowing for a power boost without efficiency loss.

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Building up bamboo

July 23, 2014 7:46 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

Bamboo construction has traditionally been rather straightforward: Entire stalks are used to create latticed edifices, or woven in strips to form wall-sized screens. The effect can be stunning, and also practical in parts of the world where bamboo thrives. But there are limitations to building with bamboo.

More than glitter

July 21, 2014 10:35 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

A special class of tiny gold particles can easily slip through cell membranes, making them good candidates to deliver drugs directly to target cells. A new study from Massachusetts Institute of Technology materials scientists reveals that these nanoparticles enter cells by taking advantage of a route normally used in vesicle-vesicle fusion, a crucial process that allows signal transmission between neurons. 

Steam from the sun

July 21, 2014 7:55 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

A new material structure developed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology generates steam by soaking up the sun. The structure—a layer of graphite flakes and an underlying carbon foam—is a porous, insulating material structure that floats on water. When sunlight hits the structure’s surface, it creates a hotspot in the graphite, drawing water up through the material’s pores, where it evaporates as steam.

Getting a grip on robotic grasp

July 18, 2014 7:40 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

Twisting a screwdriver, removing a bottle cap and peeling a banana are just a few simple tasks that are tricky to pull off single handedly. Now a new wrist-mounted robot can provide a helping hand—or rather, fingers. Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a robot that enhances the grasping motion of the human hand.

No-wait data centers

July 17, 2014 7:56 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Big Websites usually maintain their own “data centers,” banks of tens or even hundreds of thousands of servers, all passing data back and forth to field users’ requests. Like any big, decentralized network, data centers are prone to congestion: Packets of data arriving at the same router at the same time are put in a queue, and if the queues get too long, packets can be delayed.

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Getting a charge out of water droplets

July 15, 2014 7:53 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Last year, Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers discovered that when water droplets spontaneously jump away from superhydrophobic surfaces during condensation, they can gain electric charge in the process. Now, the same team has demonstrated that this process can generate small amounts of electricity that might be used to power electronic devices.

Phase-changing material could allow robots to switch between hard and soft states

July 14, 2014 7:35 am | by Helen Knight, MIT News correspondent | Videos | Comments

In the movie “Terminator 2,” the shape-shifting T-1000 robot morphs into a liquid state to squeeze through tight spaces or to repair itself when harmed. Now a phase-changing material built from wax and foam, and capable of switching between hard and soft states, could allow even low-cost robots to perform the same feat.

Drones could provide perfect lighting for photography

July 11, 2014 11:48 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT | News | Comments

Lighting is crucial to the art of photography, but they are cumbersome and difficult to use properly. Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cornell Univ. aim to change that by providing photographers with squadrons of small, light-equipped autonomous robots that automatically assume the positions necessary to produce lighting effects specified through a simple, intuitive, camera-mounted interface.

Bacteria: A day in the life

July 11, 2014 7:50 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

We are all creatures of habit, and a new study finds ocean bacteria are no exception. In a paper published in Science, researchers report that microbes in the open ocean follow predictable patterns of biological activity, such as eating, breathing and growing. Certain species are early risers, exhibiting genetic signs of respiration, metabolism and protein synthesis in the morning hours, while others rouse to action later in the day.

Own your own data

July 10, 2014 7:28 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Cell phone metadata has been in the news quite a bit lately, but the National Security Agency isn’t the only organization that collects information about people’s online behavior. Newly downloaded cell phone apps routinely ask to access your location information, your address book or other apps, and of course, Websites like Amazon or Netflix track your browsing history in the interest of making personalized recommendations.

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Separating finely mixed oil and water

July 1, 2014 11:51 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Whenever there is a major spill of oil into water, the two tend to mix into a suspension of tiny droplets, called an emulsion, that is extremely hard to separate and can cause severe damage to ecosystems. A new membrane developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers can separate even these highly mixed fine oil-spill residues.

New light-sensitive protein enables simpler, more powerful optogenetics

June 30, 2014 9:14 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT | News | Comments

Optogenetics relies on light-sensitive proteins that can suppress or stimulate electrical signals within cells. This technique requires a light source to be implanted in the brain, where it can reach the cells to be controlled. Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineers have now developed the first light-sensitive molecule that enables neurons to be silenced noninvasively, using a light source outside the skull.

Did Neanderthals eat their vegetables?

June 27, 2014 7:37 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

The popular conception of the Neanderthal as a club-wielding carnivore is, well, rather primitive, according to a new study conducted at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Instead, our prehistoric cousin may have had a more varied diet that, while heavy on meat, also included plant tissues, such as tubers and nuts.

Collaborative learning for robots

June 25, 2014 7:54 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Machine learning, in which computers learn new skills by looking for patterns in training data, is the basis of most recent advances in artificial intelligence, from voice-recognition systems to self-parking cars. It’s also the technique that autonomous robots typically use to build models of their environments. That type of model-building gets complicated, however, in cases in which clusters of robots work as teams.

New particle-sorting method breaks speed records

June 24, 2014 8:52 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

Researchers compare the processing of biological fluid samples with searching for a needle in a haystack—only in this case, the haystack could be diagnostic samples, and the needle might be tumor cells present in just ppm concentrations. Now, a new way of processing these samples could make such detections possible in real time.

Morphable surfaces could cut air resistance

June 24, 2014 7:56 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

There’s a story about how the modern golf ball, with its dimpled surface, came to be: In the mid-1800s, it’s said, new golf balls were smooth, but became dimpled over time as impacts left permanent dents. Smooth new balls were typically used for tournament play, but in one match, a player ran short, had to use an old, dented one, and realized that he could drive this dimpled ball much further than a smooth one.

Researchers unveil experimental 36-core chip

June 23, 2014 7:38 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

The more cores a computer chip has, the bigger the problem of communication between cores becomes. For years, Li-Shiuan Peh, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has argued that the massively multicore chips of the future will need to resemble little Internets, where each core has an associated router, and data travels between cores in packets of fixed size.

Researchers develop new ultra-light, ultra-stiff 3-D printed materials

June 19, 2014 4:11 pm | by Kenneth Ma, LLNL | News | Comments

Imagine a material with the same weight and density as aerogel—a material so light it's called “frozen smoke”—but with 10,000 times more stiffness. This material could have a profound impact on the aerospace and automotive industries as well as other applications where lightweight, high-stiffness and high-strength materials are needed.

How a new approach to funding Alzheimer’s research could pay off

June 19, 2014 10:46 am | by Peter Dizikes, MIT News Office | News | Comments

More than 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, the affliction that erodes memory and other mental capacities, but no drugs targeting the disease have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration since 2003. Now a paper by an Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor suggests that a revamped way of financing Alzheimer’s research could spur the development of useful new drugs for the illness.

A new way to detect leaks in pipes

June 19, 2014 8:09 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Explosions caused by leaking gas pipes have frequently made headlines in recent years. But while the problem of old and failing pipes has garnered much attention, methods for addressing such failing infrastructure have lagged far behind. Typically, leaks are found using aboveground acoustic sensors. But these systems are very slow, and can miss small leaks altogether. Now researchers have devised a robotic system that can detect leaks.

How cormorants emerge dry after deep dives

June 16, 2014 7:46 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Feathers have long been recognized as a classic example of efficient water-shedding—as in the well-known expression “like water off a duck’s back.” A combination of modeling and laboratory tests has now determined how both chemistry—the preening oil that birds use—and the microstructure of feathers, with their barbs and barbules, allow birds to stay dry even after emerging from amazingly deep dives.

Synchronized brain waves enable rapid learning

June 13, 2014 7:22 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

The human mind can rapidly absorb and analyze new information as it flits from thought to thought. These quickly changing brain states may be encoded by synchronization of brain waves across different brain regions. Researchers found that as monkeys learn to categorize different patterns of dots, two brain areas involved in learning synchronize their brain waves to form new communication circuits.

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