Ask adults what number is halfway between 1 and 9, and most will say 5. But pose the same question to small children and they're likely to answer 3. Cognitive scientists theorize that that's because it's actually more natural for humans to think logarithmically than linearly. A new information-theoretical model of human sensory perception and memory sheds light on these peculiarities of the nervous system.
Carbon nanotubes offer a powerful new way to detect harmful gases in the environment. However, the methods typically used to build carbon nanotube sensors are hazardous and not suited for large-scale production. A new fabrication method created by chemists may overcome that obstacle.
Exactly what goes inside advanced lithium-air batteries as they charge and discharge has always been impossible to observe directly. Now, a new technique developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers promises to change that, allowing study of this electrochemical activity as it happens.
The natural decay of organic carbon contributes more than 90% of the yearly carbon dioxide released into Earth's atmosphere and oceans. Understanding the rate at which leaves decay can help scientists predict this global flux of carbon dioxide. But a single leaf may undergo different rates of decay depending on a number of variables. Researchers have just built a mathematical model that incorporates these variables, and have discovered a commonality within the diversity of leaf decay.
Diving into a pool from a few feet up allows you to enter the water smoothly and painlessly, but jumping from a bridge can lead to a fatal impact. The water is the same in each case, so why is the effect of hitting its surface so different? This seemingly basic question is at the heart of complex research by a team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology that studied how materials react to stresses, including impacts. The findings could help explain phenomena as varied as the breakdown of concrete under sudden stress and the effects of corrosion on various metal surfaces.
The point of no return: In astronomy, it's known as a black hole. Black holes that can be billions of times more massive than our sun may reside at the heart of most galaxies. Such supermassive black holes are so powerful that activity at their boundaries can ripple throughout their host galaxies. Now, an international team, has, for the first time, measured the radius of a black hole at the center of a distant galaxy.
If you throw a ball underwater, you'll find that the smaller it is, the faster it moves: A larger cross-section greatly increases the water's resistance. Now, a team of researchers has figured out a way to use this basic principle, on a microscopic scale, to carry out biomedical tests that could eventually lead to fast, compact, and versatile medical testing devices.
A prototype sensor array built by Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineers can be worn on the chest and automatically maps the wearer’s environment, recognizing movement between floors. The prototype system is envisioned as a tool to help emergency responders coordinate disaster response.
In the first half of the 20th century, the ability to observe changes unfolding at a scale of microseconds—millionths of a second—was considered a remarkable achievement. Nowadays, microsecond-resolution imagery is almost ho-hum, and research has passed through nanoseconds, picoseconds, and, now, femtoseconds. One basic technological innovation made it possible to observe changes at such tiny timescales and it was crucial for understanding certain phenomena in basic physics.
Topological insulators are exotic materials, discovered just a few years ago, that hold great promise for new kinds of electronic devices. The unusual behavior of electrons within them has been very difficult to study, but new techniques developed by a team of researchers could help unlock the mysteries of exactly how electrons move and react in these materials, opening up new possibilities for harnessing them.
Global warming is expected to intensify extreme precipitation, but the rate at which it does so in the tropics has remained unclear. Now, a new study has given an estimate based on model simulations and observations: With every 1 C rise in temperature, the study finds, tropical regions will see 10% heavier rainfall extremes, with possible impacts for flooding in populous regions.
In recent years, researchers working to enhance transdermal drug delivery have focused on low-frequency ultrasound, because the high-frequency waves don’t have enough energy. However, these systems usually produce abrasions in the treated area. In a new study, engineers have combined high and low frequencies to enhance the permeability of skin to drugs, making transdermal drug delivery more efficient.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have developed a new technique for magnetically separating oil and water that could be used to clean up oil spills. They believe that, with their technique, the oil could be recovered for use, offsetting much of the cleanup cost.
A new, Massachusetts Institute of Technology-developed analytical method identifies the precise binding sites of transcription factors—proteins that regulate the production of other proteins—with 10 times the accuracy of its predecessors.
Competition is a strong driving force of evolution for organisms of all sizes: Those individuals best equipped to obtain resources adapt and reproduce, while others may fall by the wayside. Many organisms also form cooperative social structures that allow resources to be defended and shared within a population. But surprisingly, even microbes, which are thought to thrive only when able to win the battle for resources against those nearest to them, have a somewhat sophisticated social structure that relies on cooperation, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists.
Only about 1% of the human genome contains gene regions that code for proteins, raising the question of what the rest of the DNA is doing. Scientists have now begun to discover the answer: About 80% of the genome is biochemically active, and likely involved in regulating the expression of nearby genes, according to a study from a large international team of researchers.
Disorders such as schizophrenia can originate in certain regions of the brain and then spread out to affect connected areas. Identifying these regions of the brain, and how they affect the other areas they communicate with, would allow drug companies to develop better treatments and could ultimately help doctors make a diagnosis. But interpreting the vast amount of data produced by brain scans to identify these connecting regions has so far proved impossible, until now.
Most major Websites maintain huge databases. Almost any transaction on a shopping site, travel site, or social networking site require multiple database queries, which can slow response time. Now, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a system that automatically streamlines Websites' database access patterns, making the sites up to three times as fast.
Elementary particle have a property called "spin" that can be thought of as rotation around their axes. In work reported this week in Physical Review Letters , Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicists have imposed a stringent set of traffic rules on atomic particles in a gas: Those spinning clockwise can move in only one direction, while those spinning counterclockwise can move only in the other direction.
Many robotic designs take nature as their muse: sticking to walls like geckos, swimming through water like tuna, sprinting across terrain like cheetahs. Such designs borrow properties from nature, using engineered materials and hardware to mimic animals' behavior. Now, scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania are taking more than inspiration from nature—they're taking ingredients.
To control the 3D shape of engineered tissue, researchers grow cells on tiny, sponge-like scaffolds. These devices can be implanted into patients or used in the laboratory to study tissue responses to potential drugs. A team of researchers has now added a new element to tissue scaffolds: electronic sensors. These sensors could be used to monitor electrical activity in the tissue surrounding the scaffold, control drug release, or screen drug candidates for their effects on the beating of heart tissue.
Most metals are made of crystals. In many cases the material is made of tiny crystals packed closely together, rather than one large crystal. Indeed, for many purposes, making the crystals as small as possible provides significant advantages in performance, but such materials are often unstable. Now, Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have found a way to avoid that problem.
Graphene has been heralded for its strength and other novel characteristics, but one property in particular—its 2D nature—suggests that graphene its just the start of a wave of new 2D materials. The latest one, molybdenum disulfide, was first described just a year ago by researchers in Switzerland. In that year, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which struggled unsuccessfully to build circuits from graphene, succeeded in making a variety of electronic components from molybdenum disulfide. They say the material could help usher in radically new products.
A humble soil bacterium called Ralstonia eutropha has a natural tendency, whenever it is stressed, to stop growing and put all its energy into making complex carbon compounds. Now scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have taught this microbe a new trick: They've tinkered with its genes to persuade it to make fuel—specifically, a kind of alcohol called isobutanol that can be directly substituted for, or blended with, gasoline.
Films made of semiconductor nanocrystals are seen as a promising new material for a wide range of applications. The size of a semiconductor nanocrystal determines its electrical and optical properties. But it's hard to control the placement of nanocrystals on a surface in order to make structurally uniform films. Now, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology say they have found ways of making defect-free patterns of nanocrystal films where the shape and position of the films are controlled with nanoscale resolution.