A demonstration by NASA and MIT engineers last fall showed, for first time, that a data communication technology exists that can provide space dwellers with the connectivity we all enjoy here on Earth. Next month, the team will present the first comprehensive overview of the performance of their laser-based communication uplink between the moon and Earth, which beat the previous record transmission speed last fall by a factor of 4,800.
Melanin—and specifically, the form called eumelanin—is the primary pigment that gives humans the coloring of their skin, hair and eyes. It protects the body from the hazards of ultraviolet and other radiation that can damage cells and lead to skin cancer, but the exact reason why the compound is so effective at blocking such a broad spectrum of sunlight has remained something of a mystery.
Vast amounts of excess heat are generated by industrial processes and by electric power plants; researchers around the world have spent decades seeking ways to harness some of this wasted energy. Most such efforts have focused on thermoelectric devices, solid-state materials that can produce electricity from a temperature gradient, but the efficiency of such devices is limited by the availability of materials.
Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Univ. of Vienna have created an imaging system that reveals neural activity throughout the brains of living animals. This technique, the first that can generate 3-D movies of entire brains at the millisecond timescale, could help scientists discover how neuronal networks process sensory information and generate behavior.
A material called sodium manganese dioxide has shown promise for use in electrodes in rechargeable batteries. Now a team of researchers has produced the first detailed visualization—down to the level of individual atoms—of exactly how the material behaves during charging and discharging, in the process elucidating an exotic molecular state that may help in understanding superconductivity.
Over the past three years, researchers in the Camera Culture group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab have steadily refined a design for a glasses-free, multi-perspective, 3-D video screen, which they hope could provide a cheaper, more practical alternative to holographic video in the short term.
For Altaeros Energies, a startup launched out of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the sky’s the limit when it comes to wind power. Founded by alumni Ben Glass and Adam Rein, Altaeros has developed the world’s first commercial airborne wind turbine, which uses a helium-filled shell to float as high as a skyscraper and capture the stronger, steadier winds available at that altitude.
In 2003, when the human genome had been sequenced, many people expected a welter of new therapies to follow, as biologists identified the genes associated with particular diseases. But the process that translates genes into proteins turned out to be much more involved than anticipated. Other elements also regulate protein production, complicating the relationship between an organism’s genetic blueprint and its physical characteristics.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have devised a novel cancer treatment that destroys tumor cells by first disarming their defenses, then hitting them with a lethal dose of DNA damage. In studies with mice, the research team showed that this one-two punch, which relies on a nanoparticle that carries two drugs and releases them at different times, dramatically shrinks lung and breast tumors.
When sunlight shines on today’s solar cells, much of the incoming energy is given off as waste heat rather than electrical current. In a few materials, however, extra energy produces extra electrons—behavior that could significantly increase solar-cell efficiency. A team has now identified the mechanism by which that phenomenon happens, yielding new design guidelines for using those special materials to make high-efficiency solar cells.
Terahertz imaging, which is already familiar from airport security checkpoints, has a number of other promising applications. Like sonar or radar, terahertz imaging produces an image by comparing measurements across an array of sensors. Those arrays have to be very dense, since the distance between sensors is proportional to wavelength.
Launched in 2013, the national BRAIN Initiative aims to revolutionize our understanding of cognition by mapping the activity of every neuron in the human brain, revealing how brain circuits interact to create memories, learn new skills and interpret the world around us. Before that can happen, neuroscientists need new tools that will let them probe the brain more deeply and in greater detail.
Out on the edge of the universe, 75,000 light-years from us, a galaxy known as Segue 1 has some unusual properties: It’s the faintest galaxy ever detected. It’s very small, containing only about 1,000 stars. And it has a rare chemical composition, with vanishingly small amounts of metallic elements present.
Materials that can be used for thermoelectric devices have been known for decades. But, until now, there has been no good explanation for why just a few materials work well for these applications, while most others do not. Now researchers say they have finally found a theoretical explanation for the differences, which could lead to the discovery of new, improved thermoelectric materials.
Researchers around the world have been working to harness the unusual properties of graphene, a 2-D sheet of carbon atoms. But graphene lacks one important characteristic that would make it even more useful: a property called a bandgap, which is essential for making devices such as computer chips and solar cells.
Starting in 2018, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology will have access to a new building dedicated to nanoscale research at the heart of the Cambridge campus. The 200,000-ft2 building, called “MIT.nano,” will be built at the heart of the Cambridge campus and will house cleanroom, imaging and prototyping facilites. An estimated 2,000 MIT researchers may ultimately make use of the building.
In formulating policies to address greenhouse gas emissions, or evaluating the potential impact of different energy technologies on global climate change, one of the thorniest issues is how to account for the very distinctive characteristics of various different gases. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, as well as a significant byproduct of using natural gas. But a direct comparison between methane and carbon dioxide is complicated.
The smallest, most abundant marine microbe, Prochlorococcus, is a photosynthetic bacteria species essential to the marine ecosystem. An estimated billion upon billion of the single-cell creatures live in the oceans, forming the base of the marine food chain and occupying a range of ecological niches based on temperature, light and chemical preferences, and interactions with other species.
Our DNA is under constant attack from many sources. Fortunately, cells have several major DNA repair systems that can fix this damage, which may lead to diseases if not mended. A team of researchers has developed a test that can rapidly assess several DNA repair systems, which could help determine individuals’ risk of developing cancer and help doctors predict how a given patient will respond to chemotherapy drugs.
Unlike healthy cells, cancer cells thrive when deprived of oxygen. Tumors in low-oxygen environments tend to be more resistant to therapy and spread more aggressively to other parts of the body. Measuring tumors’ oxygen levels could help doctors make decisions about treatments, but there’s currently no way to make such measurements. However, a new sensor developed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology could change that.
These days, Hugh Herr, an assoc. prof. of media arts and sciences at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, gets about 100 emails daily from people across the world interested in his bionic limbs. Messages pour in from amputees seeking prostheses and from media outlets pursuing interviews. Then there are students looking to join Herr’s research group.
When an earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant complex in 2011, neither the quake nor the inundation caused the ensuing contamination. Rather, it was the aftereffects—specifically, the lack of cooling for the reactor cores, due to a shutdown of all power at the station—that caused most of the harm. A new design for nuclear plants built on floating platforms could help avoid such consequences in the future.
A quasiparticle called an exciton has been understood theoretically for decades. But exciton movement within materials has never been directly observed. Now scientists have achieved that feat, imaging excitons’ motions directly. This could enable research leading to significant advances in electronics, they say, as well as a better understanding of natural energy-transfer processes, such as photosynthesis.
Since the discovery of the Antarctic ozone hole, scientists, policymakers and the public have wondered whether we might someday see a similarly extreme depletion of ozone over the Arctic. But a new Massachusetts Institute of Technology study finds some cause for optimism: Ozone levels in the Arctic haven’t yet sunk to the extreme lows seen in Antarctica, because international efforts to limit ozone-depleting chemicals have been successful.
Delivering chemotherapy drugs in nanoparticle form could help reduce side effects by targeting the drugs directly to the tumors. In recent years, scientists have developed nanoparticles that deliver one or two chemotherapy drugs, but it has been difficult to design particles that can carry any more than that in a precise ratio. Now Massachusetts Institute of Technology chemists have devised a new way to build such nanoparticles.