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Experiment could shed light on the mysteries of dark matter

October 28, 2013 7:41 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Dark matter, believed by physicists to outweigh all the normal matter in the universe by more than five to one, is by definition invisible. But certain features associated with dark matter might be detectable, according to some of the many competing theories describing this elusive matter. Now scientists have developed a tool that could test some of these predictions and thus prove, or disprove, one of the leading theories.

Producing light to mix it up with matter

October 25, 2013 7:36 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have succeeded in producing and measuring a coupling of photons and electrons on the surface of an unusual type of material called a topological insulator. This type of coupling had been predicted by theorists, but never observed.

One-two punch knocks out aggressive tumors

October 22, 2013 7:58 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

An aggressive form of breast cancer known as “triple negative” is very difficult to treat: Chemotherapy can shrink such tumors for a while, but in many patients they grow back and gain resistance to the original drugs. To overcome that resistance, chemical engineers have designed nanoparticles that carry the cancer drug doxorubicin, as well as short strands of RNA that can shut off one of the genes that cancer cells use to escape the drug.

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Automatic speaker tracking in audio recordings

October 21, 2013 8:23 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

A central topic in spoken-language-systems research is what’s called speaker diarization, or computationally determining how many speakers feature in a recording and which of them speaks when. Speaker diarization would be an essential function of any program that automatically annotated audio or video recordings.

Separating the good from the bad in bacteria

October 17, 2013 7:39 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have developed a new microfluidic device that could speed the monitoring of bacterial infections associated with cystic fibrosis and other diseases. The new microfluidic chip is etched with tiny channels, each resembling an elongated hourglass with a pinched midsection. Researchers injected bacteria through one end of each channel, and observed how cells travel from one end to the other.

Finding blood clots before they wreak havoc

October 16, 2013 7:53 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Life-threatening blood clots can form in anyone who sits on a plane for a long time, is confined to bed while recovering from surgery, or takes certain medications. There is no fast and easy way to diagnose these clots, which often remain undetected until they break free and cause a stroke or heart attack. However, new technology from Massachusetts Institute of Technology may soon change that.

A new role for “hunger hormone”

October 15, 2013 9:06 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

About a dozen years ago, scientists discovered that a hormone called ghrelin enhances appetite. Dubbed the “hunger hormone,” ghrelin was quickly targeted by drug companies seeking treatments for obesity—none of which have yet panned out. Neuroscientists have now discovered that ghrelin’s role goes far beyond controlling hunger.

Creating a permanent bacteria barrier

October 11, 2013 9:35 am | by Rob Matheson, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Any medical device implanted in the body attracts bacteria to its surface, causing infections and thrombosis that lead to many deaths annually. Devices can be coated with antibiotics and blood thinners, but these eventually dissolve, limiting their longevity and effectiveness. Now, Semprus BioSciences is developing a novel biomaterial for implanted medical devices that barricades these troublesome microbes from the device’s surface.

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Innovation in renewable-energy technologies is booming

October 11, 2013 8:16 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

The number of patents issued for renewable-energy technologies has risen sharply over the last decade, according to new research from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Santa Fe Institute. The study shows that investments in research and development, as well as in the growth of markets for these products, have helped to spur this dramatic growth in innovation.

Study: Ethanol not a major factor in reducing gas prices

October 10, 2013 7:31 am | by Peter Dizikes, MIT News Office | News | Comments

If you have stopped at a gas station recently, there is a good chance your auto has consumed fuel with ethanol blended into it. Yet the price of gasoline is not substantially affected by the volume of its ethanol content, according to a paper co-authored by an MIT economist. The study seeks to rebut the claim that widespread use of ethanol has reduced the wholesale cost of gasoline by $0.89 to $1.09 per gallon.

Cracked metal, heal thyself

October 9, 2013 8:00 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

It was a result so unexpected that Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers initially thought it must be a mistake: Under certain conditions, putting a cracked piece of metal under tension has the reverse effect, causing the crack to close and its edges to fuse together. The surprising finding could lead to self-healing materials that repair incipient damage before it has a chance to spread.

A clearer look at Martian clouds

October 8, 2013 8:30 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

At first glance, Mars’ clouds might be mistaken for those on Earth. Given what scientists know about the Red Planet’s atmosphere, these clouds likely consist of either carbon dioxide or water-based ice crystals. But it’s difficult to know the precise conditions that give rise to such clouds without sampling directly from a Martian cloud. Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have now done the next-best thing.

Better robot vision

October 7, 2013 7:46 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Object recognition is one of the most widely studied problems in computer vision. But a robot that manipulates objects in the world needs to do more than just recognize them; it also needs to understand their orientation. Is that mug right-side up or upside-down? And which direction is its handle facing? To improve robots’ ability to gauge object orientation, a team is exploiting a statistical construct called the Bingham distribution.

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New kind of microscope uses neutrons

October 4, 2013 8:06 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, working with partners at NASA, have developed a new concept for a microscope that would use neutrons instead of beams of light or electrons to create high-resolution images. Among other features, neutron-based instruments have the ability to probe inside metal objects to learn details of their internal structure.

Seeing through silicon

October 3, 2013 7:35 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Univ. of Texas at Arlington have developed a new type of microscopy that can image cells through a silicon wafer, allowing them to precisely measure the size and mechanical behavior of cells behind the wafer. The new technology, which relies on near-infrared light, could help scientists learn more about diseased or infected cells as they flow through silicon microfluidic devices.

Droplets get a charge out of jumping

October 2, 2013 7:53 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

In a completely unexpected finding, Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have discovered that tiny water droplets that form on a superhydrophobic surface, and then “jump” away from that surface, carry an electric charge. The finding could lead to more efficient power plants and a new way of drawing power from the atmosphere, they say.

Probing the surface of pyrite

October 1, 2013 8:04 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Pyrite, better known as “fool’s gold”, is a common, naturally occurring mineral. It holds promise as a high-tech material, but is also a byproduct of corrosion of steel in deep-sea oil and gas wells. Both its potential usefulness in devices and its role in corrosion are largely influenced by the fundamental electronic properties of its surface, which have remained relatively unexplored, until now.

Building disaster-relief phone apps on the fly

September 30, 2013 9:24 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and the Qatar Computing Research Institute have developed new tools that allow people with minimal programming skill to rapidly build cellphone applications that can help with disaster relief.

El Niño cycle has a big effect on a major greenhouse gas

September 27, 2013 7:34 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Scientists in Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Global Change Science have developed a highly detailed model that simulates levels of nitrous oxide emissions in different regions and ecosystems of the world. Based on local soil temperature and moisture content, some of the simulations were able to reproduce actual nitrous oxide measurements. From their simulations, the researchers discovered a surprising pattern.

Nanoparticle vaccine offers better protection

September 26, 2013 7:39 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Many viruses infect humans through mucosal surfaces. To help fight these viruses, scientists are working on vaccines that can establish a defense at mucosal surfaces. Vaccines can be delivered to the lungs via an aerosol spray, but are often cleared away before they can provoke an immune response. To overcome that, engineers have developed a new type of nanoparticle that protects the vaccine long enough to generate a strong immune response.

Achieving an innovation nation

September 25, 2013 7:42 am | by Peter Dizikes, MIT News Office | News | Comments

The U.S. economy retains myriad sources of innovative capacity; but not enough of the innovations occurring in America today reach the marketplace, according to a major two-year Massachusetts Institute of Technology study. The report found that potentially valuable innovations occur throughout the advanced manufacturing sector and in companies of all sizes, from multinational conglomerates to specialized “Main Street” firms.

Understanding a new kind of magnetism

September 23, 2013 7:37 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Using low-frequency laser pulses, a team of researchers has carried out the first measurements that reveal the detailed characteristics of a unique kind of magnetism found in a mineral called herbertsmithite. In this material, the magnetic elements constantly fluctuate, leading to an exotic state of fluid magnetism called a “quantum spin liquid.”

Microfluidic platform gives a clear look at a crucial step in cancer metastasis

September 20, 2013 1:31 pm | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Cancer cells metastasize in several stages—first by invading surrounding tissue, then by infiltrating and spreading via the circulatory system. Some circulating cells work their way out of the vascular network, eventually forming a secondary tumor. Now researchers have developed a microfluidic device that mimics the flow of cancer cells through a system of blood vessels. High-resolution time-lapse imaging captures the moment of metastasis.

Water-shedding surfaces can be made to last

September 20, 2013 7:38 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Steam condensation is key to the worldwide production of electricity and clean water: It is part of the power cycle that drives 85% of all electricity-generating plants and about half of all desalination plants globally. So anything that improves the efficiency of this process could have enormous impact on global energy use. Now, a team of researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology says they have found a way to do just that.

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.

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