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Computers that teach by example

December 8, 2014 8:49 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Computers are good at identifying patterns in huge data sets. Humans, by contrast, are good at inferring patterns from just a few examples. In a recent paper, Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers present a new system that bridges these two ways of processing information, so that humans and computers can collaborate to make better decisions.

Small engine packs a punch

December 5, 2014 8:15 am | by Rob Matheson, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Noise, excessive vibration and relative inefficiency are drawbacks of the piston-based internal combustion engines (ICE) that power today’s lawn and garden equipment, such as leaf blowers and lawn trimmers. But now Massachusetts Institute of Technology startup LiquidPiston has developed a rotary ICE that it says is significantly smaller, lighter and quieter, as well as 20% more fuel-efficient than the ICEs used in small-engine devices.

Small volcanoes make a dent in global warming

December 3, 2014 11:04 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

New research shows that relatively small volcanic eruptions can increase aerosol particles in the atmosphere, temporarily mitigating the global warming caused by greenhouse gases. The impact of such smaller eruptions has been underestimated in climate models, the researchers say, and helps to account for a discrepancy between those models and the actual temperatures observed over the last 15 years.

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Computer model enables design of complex DNA shapes

December 3, 2014 8:31 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

Biological engineers have created a new computer model that allows them to design the most complex 3-D DNA shapes ever produced, including rings, bowls and geometric structures such as icosahedrons that resemble viral particles. This design program could allow researchers to build DNA scaffolds to anchor arrays of proteins and light-sensitive molecules called chromophores that mimic the photosynthetic proteins found in plant cells.

Losing air

December 2, 2014 8:01 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Today’s atmosphere likely bears little trace of its primordial self: Geochemical evidence suggests that Earth’s atmosphere may have been completely obliterated at least twice since its formation more than 4 billion years ago. However, it’s unclear what interplanetary forces could have driven such a dramatic loss.

Seeking answers from a mysterious parasite

December 1, 2014 9:48 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Toxoplasma gondii is a common parasite often spread by cats. Most people who are infected in Europe or North America show no symptoms at all, and only a few suffer from encephalitis or ocular toxoplasmosis, which can cause blindness. However, in South America, toxoplasmosis is associated with much more severe symptoms.

Plasma shield

December 1, 2014 7:43 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

High above Earth’s atmosphere, electrons whiz past at close to the speed of light. Such ultra-relativistic electrons, which make up the outer band of the Van Allen radiation belt, can streak around the planet in a mere five minutes, bombarding anything in their path. Exposure to such high-energy radiation can wreak havoc on satellite electronics, and pose serious health risks to astronauts.

Device could make large biological circuits practical

November 25, 2014 7:59 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Researchers have made great progress in recent years in the design and creation of biological circuits: systems that, like electronic circuits, can take a number of different inputs and deliver a particular kind of output. But while individual components of such biological circuits can have precise and predictable responses, those outcomes become less predictable as more such elements are combined.

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2-D quantum materials for nanoelectronics

November 21, 2014 9:10 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology say they have carried out a theoretical analysis showing that a family of 2-D materials exhibits exotic quantum properties that may enable a new type of nanoscale electronics. These materials are predicted to show a phenomenon called the quantum spin Hall (QSH) effect, and belong to a class of materials known as transition metal dichalcogenides, with layers a few atoms thick.

Running the color gamut

November 19, 2014 8:01 am | by Rob Matheson, MIT News Office | News | Comments

If LCD TVs get more colorful in the next few years, it will probably be thanks to QD Vision, a pioneer of quantum-dot television displays. Quantum dots are light-emitting semiconductor nanocrystals that can be tuned to emit all colors across the visible spectrum. By tuning these dots to red and green, and using a blue backlight to energize them, QD Vision has developed an optical component that can boost the color gamut for LCD televisions.

Two sensors in one

November 18, 2014 8:10 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Massachusetts Institute of Technology chemists have developed new nanoparticles that can simultaneously perform magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and fluorescent imaging in living animals. Such particles could help scientists to track specific molecules produced in the body, monitor a tumor’s environment, or determine whether drugs have successfully reached their targets.

Motion-induced quicksand

November 17, 2014 7:45 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

From a mechanical perspective, granular materials are stuck between a rock and a fluid place, with behavior resembling neither a solid nor a liquid. Think of sand through an hourglass: As grains funnel through, they appear to flow like water, but once deposited, they form a relatively stable mound, much like a solid.

Pulling together the early solar system

November 14, 2014 8:35 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

While astronomers have observed the protoplanetary disk evolution throughout our galaxy, the mechanism by which planetary disks evolve at such a rapid rate has eluded scientists for decades. Now researchers have provided the first experimental evidence that our solar system’s protoplanetary disk was shaped by an intense magnetic field that drove a massive amount of gas into the sun within just a few million years.

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Bacteria become genomic tape recorders

November 13, 2014 4:21 pm | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) engineers have transformed the genome of the bacterium E. coli into a long-term storage device for memory. They envision that this stable, erasable and easy-to-retrieve memory will be well suited for applications such as sensors for environmental and medical monitoring.

Atomic timekeeping, on the go

November 12, 2014 7:58 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

What time is it? The answer, no matter what your initial reference may be, will always trace back to the atomic clock. The international standard for time is set by atomic clocks—room-sized apparatuses that keep time by measuring the natural vibration of atoms in a vacuum. The frequency of atomic vibrations determines the length of one second.

The missing piece of the climate puzzle

November 11, 2014 7:49 am | by Genevieve Wanucha | Program in Atmospheres Oceans and Climate | MIT | News | Comments

In classrooms and everyday conversation, explanations of global warming hinge on the greenhouse gas effect. In short, climate depends on the balance between two different kinds of radiation: The Earth absorbs incoming visible light from the sun, called “shortwave radiation,” and emits infrared light, or “longwave radiation,” into space.

New model predicts how traffic will flow

November 7, 2014 10:01 am | by David Chandler, MIT | News | Comments

A reliable way of predicting the flow of traffic could be a great convenience for commuters, as well as a significant energy-saver. Now a team of researchers from MIT, the Univ. of Notre Dame, and elsewhere has devised what they say is an effective and relatively simple formula for making such predictions.

Wind energy reaches greater heights

November 6, 2014 3:14 pm | by Rob Matheson, MIT | News | Comments

Wind turbines across the globe are being made taller to capture more energy from the stronger winds that blow at greater heights. But it’s not easy, or sometimes even economically feasible, to build taller towers, with shipping constraints on tower diameters and the expense involved in construction.

Diagnostic exhalations

November 6, 2014 9:40 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT | News | Comments

Paramedics respond to a 911 call to find an elderly patient who’s having difficulty breathing. Anxious and disoriented, the patient has trouble remembering all the medications he’s taking, and with his shortness of breath, speaking is difficult. Is he suffering from acute emphysema or heart failure? Initiating the wrong treatment regimen will increase the patient’s risk of severe complications.

New way to make batteries safer

November 3, 2014 4:51 pm | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Every year, nearly 4,000 children go to emergency rooms after swallowing button batteries, the flat, round batteries that power toys, hearing aids, calculators and many other devices. Ingesting these batteries has severe consequences, including burns that permanently damage the esophagus, tears in the digestive tract and, in some cases, even death.

Outside-the-box thinker

November 3, 2014 7:42 am | by Julia, Sklar, MIT News Correspondent | News | Comments

When an aspiring mechanical engineer on a budget wants a top-of-the-line guitar, what does he do? He makes it himself, of course. At age 13, Nathan Spielberg—now a Massachusetts Institute of Technology senior—began building his first guitar, a process that consumed his attention for eight hours a day, every weekend, for 3 1/2 years.

Raising cryptography’s standards

October 31, 2014 8:07 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Most modern cryptographic schemes rely on computational complexity for their security. In principle, they can be cracked, but that would take a prohibitively long time, even with enormous computational resources. There is, however, another notion of security—information-theoretic security—which means that even an adversary with unbounded computational power could extract no useful information from an encrypted message.

Harnessing error-prone chips

October 30, 2014 7:40 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

As transistors get smaller, they also grow less reliable. Increasing their operating voltage can help, but that means a corresponding increase in power consumption. With information technology consuming a steadily growing fraction of the world’s energy supplies, some researchers and hardware manufacturers are exploring the possibility of simply letting chips botch the occasional computation.

Projecting a robot’s intentions

October 29, 2014 1:27 pm | by Jennifer Chu, MIT | Videos | Comments

Inside Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Building 41, a small, Roomba-like robot is trying to decided where to go. As the robot considers its options, its “thoughts” are projected on the ground in the form of different colored dots and lines. This new visualization system, called “measurable virtual reality”, combines projectors with motion-capture technology and animation software to project a robot’s intentions in real time.

Shifting to higher octane

October 28, 2014 7:57 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

If the majority of light-duty vehicles in the U.S. ran on higher-octane gasoline, the automotive industry as a whole would reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 35 million tons per year, saving up to $6 billion in fuel costs, according to a new analysis by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers.

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