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Space weather’s effects on satellites

September 18, 2013 7:31 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Is your cable television on the fritz? One explanation, scientists suspect, may be the weather. The weather in space, that is. Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers are investigating the effects of space weather on geostationary satellites, which provide much of the world’s access to cable television, Internet services and global communications.

New materials improve oxygen catalysis

September 17, 2013 7:40 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Researchers have found a new family of materials that provides the best-ever performance in a reaction called oxygen evolution, a key requirement for energy storage and delivery systems. The materials, called double perovskites, are a variant of a mineral that exists in abundance in the Earth’s crust. Their remarkable ability to promote oxygen evolution in a water-splitting reaction is detailed in a paper appearing in Nature Communications.

Graphene could yield cheaper optical chips

September 16, 2013 7:41 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Graphene is the new wonder material: Flexible, lightweight and incredibly conductive electrically, it’s also the strongest material known to man. In Nature Photonics, researchers describe a promising new application of graphene in photodetectors that would convert optical signals to electrical signals in integrated optoelectronic computer chips.

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New center to better understand human intelligence, build smarter machines

September 11, 2013 10:44 am | News | Comments

Siri and Watson may seem brainy in certain situations, but to build truly smart, world-changing machines, researchers must understand how human intelligence emerges from brain activity. To help encourage progress in this field, the National Science Foundation (NSF) recently awarded $25 million to establish a Center for Brains, Minds and Machines at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Solar cell manufacturing costs: Innovation could level the field

September 6, 2013 10:38 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

It’s widely believed that China is the world’s dominant manufacturer of solar panels because of its low labor costs and strong government support. But a new study by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory shows that other factors are actually more significant, suggesting that the U.S. could once again become cost-competitive in photovoltaic manufacturing.

Inflatable antennae could give CubeSats greater reach

September 6, 2013 7:53 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

The future of satellite technology is getting small. CubeSats, and other small satellites, are making space exploration cheaper and more accessible. But with such small packages come big limitations: namely, a satellite’s communication range. Now researchers have developed a design that may significantly increase the communication range of small satellites.

Terramechanics research aims to keep Mars rovers rolling

September 5, 2013 11:34 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

In May 2009, the Mars rover Spirit cracked through a crusty layer of Martian topsoil, sinking into softer underlying sand. The unexpected sand trap permanently mired the vehicle. The mission mishap may have been prevented by a better understanding of terramechanics, which describes the interaction between vehicles and deformable terrain.

Researchers solve 30-year-old puzzle in chemistry

September 4, 2013 1:58 pm | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

In all the centuries that humans have studied chemical reactions, just 36 basic types of reactions have been found. Now, thanks to the work of researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Univ. of Minnesota, a 37th type of reaction can be added to the list. The newly explained reaction is an important part of atmospheric reactions that lead to the formation of climate-affecting aerosols.

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An easier way to control genes

September 4, 2013 7:50 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have shown that they can turn genes on or off inside yeast and human cells by controlling when DNA is copied into messenger RNA; an advance that could allow scientists to better understand the function of those genes. The technique could also make it easier to engineer cells that can monitor their environment, produce a drug or detect disease.

How to get fresh water out of thin air

September 3, 2013 8:19 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

In some of this planet’s driest regions, where rainfall is rare or even nonexistent, a few specialized plants and insects have devised ingenious strategies to provide themselves with the water necessary for life: They pull it right out of the air, from fog that drifts in from warm oceans nearby. Now researchers are seeking to mimic that trick on a much larger scale, potentially supplying significant quantities of clean, potable water.

Taking Advantage of Big Data

August 29, 2013 12:23 pm | Award Winners

Structured Knowledge Space (SKS), developed by MIT Lincoln Laboratory, is an end-to-end software system developed to answer a question that has frustrated national security decision makers: “How do we take advantage of the enormous amounts of information communicated daily through a wide variety of reporting venues?”

Detecting Explosives Remotely

August 29, 2013 12:06 pm | Award Winners

In current practice, explosives screening is conducted manually, visually, by swabbing, and through x-ray inspections. These non-covert approaches can be time-consuming, and they are often unable to cover all individuals and objects in large public. MIT Lincoln Laboratory has developed a promising new technology that remotely detects trace explosives material from significant standoff distances (100 m).

How quickly can a bacterium grow?

August 27, 2013 8:02 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

All living things must obey the laws of physics, including the second law of thermodynamics. Highly ordered cells and organisms appear to contradict this principle, but they actually do conform because they generate heat that increases the universe’s overall entropy. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicist mathematically modeled the replication of E. coli bacteria and found that the process is nearly as efficient as possible.

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The gold standard for cell penetration

August 23, 2013 7:40 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Cells are very good at protecting their precious contents. As a result, it’s very difficult to penetrate their membrane walls without damaging or destroying the cell. One effective way of doing so, discovered in 2008, is to use nanoparticles of pure gold, coated with a thin layer of a special polymer. But nobody knew exactly why this combination worked so well, or how it made it through the cell wall, until now.

Brain circuit can tune anxiety

August 22, 2013 7:27 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Anxiety disorders affect 40 million American adults in a given year. Currently available treatments, such as antianxiety drugs, are not always effective and have unwanted side effects. To develop better treatments, a more specific understanding of the brain circuits that produce anxiety is necessary. Researchers have now discovered a communication pathway between the amygdala and the ventral hippocampus that appears to control anxiety.

From the lab to the dentist office

August 21, 2013 7:34 am | by Rob Matheson, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Traditionally, dentists have made dental impressions by having patients bite down on a moldable silicone material. Such impressions, however, can be uncomfortable and inaccurate. In the early 2000s, a group of researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Univ. began working to commercialize a novel handheld scanner that could digitally capture 3-D images of the inside of a patient’s mouth.

Detecting early-stage malarial infection

August 20, 2013 7:33 am | by Elizabeth Dougherty, Microsystems Technology Laboratories | News | Comments

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found a way to detect early-stage malarial infection of blood cells by measuring changes in the infected cells’ electrical properties. The team has built an experimental microfluidic device that takes a drop of blood and streams it across an electrode that measures a signal differentiating infected cells from uninfected cells. 

Waking up to a new year

August 19, 2013 8:38 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

In the time it takes you to complete a single workday, or get a full night’s sleep, a small fireball of a planet 700 light-years away has already completed an entire year. Researchers have discovered an Earth-sized exoplanet named Kepler 78b that whips around its host star in a mere 8.5 hours, one of the shortest orbital periods ever detected.

Rechargeable flow battery enables cheaper, large-scale energy storage

August 19, 2013 7:38 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have engineered a new rechargeable flow battery that doesn’t rely on expensive membranes to generate and store electricity. The device, they say, may one day enable cheaper, large-scale energy storage. The palm-sized prototype generates three times as much power per square centimeter as other membraneless systems.

Encryption is less secure than we thought

August 14, 2013 7:30 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

For 65 years, most information-theoretic analyses of cryptographic systems have made a mathematical assumption that turns out to be wrong. A team of researchers has shown that, as a consequence, the wireless card readers used in many keyless-entry systems may not be as secure as previously thought.

A worm’s-eye view of immunity

August 13, 2013 7:37 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

In 1998, scientists published the first complete genome of a multicellular organism—the worm Caenorhabditis elegans. At the same time, new technologies were emerging to help researchers manipulate genes and learn more about their functions.

Eye contact

August 8, 2013 7:30 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

The human brain has 100 billion neurons, connected to each other in networks that allow us to interpret the world around us, plan for the future and control our actions and movements. Massachusetts Institute of Technology neuroscientist Sebastian Seung wants to map those networks, creating a wiring diagram of the brain that could help scientists learn how we each become our unique selves.

Reliable communication, unreliable networks

August 6, 2013 4:12 pm | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Now that the Internet’s basic protocols are more than 30 years old, network scientists are increasingly turning their attention to ad hoc networks where unsolved problems still abound. Most theoretical analyses of ad hoc networks have assumed that the communications links within the network are stable. But that often isn’t the case with real-world wireless devices.

New microchip sorts white blood cells from whole blood

August 6, 2013 7:35 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Early in 2012, a team of scientists reported the development of a postage stamp-sized microchip capable of sorting cells through a technique, known as cell rolling, that mimics a natural mechanism in the body. The device successfully separated leukemia cells from cell cultures, but could not extract cells directly from blood. Now the group has developed a new microchip that can quickly separate white blood cells from samples of whole blood.

Research reveals how the brain keeps eyes on the prize

August 5, 2013 10:15 am | by McGovern Institute for Brain Research | News | Comments

“Are we there yet?” As anyone who has traveled with young children knows, maintaining focus on distant goals can be a challenge. A new study from Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggests how the brain achieves this task, and indicates that the neurotransmitter dopamine may signal the value of long-term rewards.

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