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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.

A new way to harness waste heat

May 21, 2014 7:55 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

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.

Illuminating neuron activity in 3-D

May 19, 2014 10:34 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

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.

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Team visualizes complex electronic state

May 19, 2014 7:35 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

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.

Glasses-free 3-D projector

May 16, 2014 7:49 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

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.

High-flying turbine produces more power

May 15, 2014 7:40 am | by Rob Matheson, MIT News Office | News | Comments

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.

Genetic material hitchhiking in cells may shape physical traits

May 13, 2014 11:57 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

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.

Chemotherapy timing is key to success

May 8, 2014 4:00 pm | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

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.

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Getting more electricity out of solar cells

May 8, 2014 8:00 am | by Nancy W. Stauffer, MIT Energy Initiative | News | Comments

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 on the cheap

May 5, 2014 7:33 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

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.

Delving deep into the brain

May 2, 2014 8:03 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

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.

Dwarf fossil galaxy reveals new facts about early universe

May 1, 2014 8:04 am | by Peter Dizikes, MIT News Office | News | Comments

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.

Solving a mystery of thermoelectrics

April 30, 2014 10:16 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

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.

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New material for flat semiconductors

April 30, 2014 7:49 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

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.

New MIT building to be a hub for nanoscale research

April 29, 2014 11:27 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

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.

How to count methane emissions

April 28, 2014 7:29 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

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.

Ocean microbes display remarkable genetic diversity

April 25, 2014 7:46 am | by Denise Brehm, Civil and Environmental Engineering MIT | News | Comments

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.

Fast way to measure DNA repair

April 22, 2014 8:55 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

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.

Tracking oxygen in the body

April 22, 2014 7:34 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

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.

Bionic ankle “emulates nature”

April 17, 2014 7:41 am | by Rob Matheson, MIT News Office | News | Comments

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.

Floating nuclear plants could ride out tsunamis

April 16, 2014 11:08 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

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.

Excitons observed in action

April 16, 2014 7:52 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

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.

An Arctic ozone hole? Not quite

April 15, 2014 11:06 am | by Audrey Resutek, MIT | News | Comments

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.

Targeting cancer with a triple threat

April 15, 2014 7:38 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

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.

A molecular approach to solar power

April 14, 2014 7:38 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

It’s an obvious truism, but one that may soon be outdated: The problem with solar power is that sometimes the sun doesn’t shine. Now a team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Univ. has come up with an ingenious workaround: a material that can absorb the sun’s heat and store that energy in chemical form, ready to be released again on demand.

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