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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.

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.

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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.

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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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Inside the adult ADHD brain

June 11, 2014 8:49 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

About 11% of school-age children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with ADHD. While many eventually “outgrow” the disorder, some carry their difficulties into adulthood. In the first study to compare patterns of brain activity in adults who recovered from childhood ADHD and those who didn’t, neuroscientists have discovered key differences in a brain communication network that is active when the brain is at wakeful rest.

Seeing how a lithium-ion battery works

June 9, 2014 7:44 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

New observations by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have revealed the inner workings of a type of electrode widely used in lithium-ion batteries. The new findings explain the unexpectedly high power and long cycle life of such batteries, the researchers say.

Solving the puzzle of ice age climates

June 3, 2014 9:12 am | by Genevieve Wanucha, Oceans at MIT | News | Comments

The paleoclimate record for the last ice age tells of a cold Earth whose northern continents were covered by vast ice sheets. Chemical traces from plankton fossils in deep-sea sediments reveal rearranged ocean water masses, as well as extended sea ice coverage off Antarctica. Air bubbles in ice cores show that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was far below levels seen before the Industrial Revolution.

Affordable precision printing for pros

June 3, 2014 7:38 am | by Rob Matheson, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Against the backdrop of today’s burgeoning 3-D printing landscape, with an ever-increasing number of machines popping up, MIT Media Lab spinout Formlabs has carved out a precise niche. Combining a highly accurate (but usually expensive) light-based printing technique with engineering ingenuity, the Formlabs team invented a high-resolution 3-D laser printer, called the Form 1, that’s viewed as an affordable option for professional users.

Surprising nanotubes: Some slippery, some sticky

June 2, 2014 7:39 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Nanotubes have been the subject of intensive research, with potential uses ranging from solar cells to chemical sensors to reinforced composite materials. Most of the research has centered on carbon nanotubes, but other nanotubes’ properties appear to be similar. However, appearances can be deceiving, as researchers have found when examining one variant of nanotube made from boron nitride.

Think fast, robot

May 30, 2014 9:01 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

One of the reasons we don’t yet have self-driving cars and miniature helicopters delivering online purchases is that autonomous vehicles tend not to perform well under pressure. A system that can flawlessly parallel park at 5 mph may have trouble avoiding obstacles at 35 mph. Part of the problem is the time it takes to produce and interpret camera data.

Bake your own robot

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

At this year’s IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation, a research team introduced a new wrinkle on the idea of printable robots: bakable robots. In two new papers, the researchers demonstrate the promise of printable robotic components that, when heated, automatically fold into prescribed 3-D configurations.

Global survey: Climate change now a mainstream part of city planning

May 29, 2014 8:31 am | by Peter Dizikes, MIT News Office | News | Comments

An increasing number of cities around the world now include preparations for climate change in their basic urban planning; but only a small portion of them have been able to make such plans part of their economic development priorities, according to a unique global survey of cities. The Urban Climate Change Governance Survey underscores the extent to which city leaders recognize climate change as a major challenge.

Improving a new breed of solar cells

May 28, 2014 7:42 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Solar cell technology has advanced rapidly, as hundreds of groups around the world pursue more than two dozen approaches using different materials, technologies and approaches to improve efficiency and reduce costs. Now a team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology has set a new record for the most efficient quantum-dot cells.

A new way to make sheets of graphene

May 23, 2014 7:39 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Graphene’s promise as a material for new kinds of electronic devices, among other uses, has led researchers around the world to study the material in search of new applications. But one of the biggest limitations to wider use of the strong, lightweight, highly conductive material has been the hurdle of fabrication on an industrial scale.

First broadband wireless connection...to the Moon?

May 22, 2014 9:45 am | News | Comments

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.

Why eumelanin is a good absorber of light

May 22, 2014 7:39 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

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.

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