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Controlling contagion by restricting mobility

July 31, 2013 7:50 am | by Denise Brehm, Civil and Environmental Engineering | News | Comments

In an epidemic or a bioterrorist attack, the response of government officials could range from a drastic restriction of mobility to moderate travel restrictions in some areas or simple suggestions that people remain at home. Deciding to institute any measure would require officials to weigh the costs and benefits of action, but at present there’s little data to guide them. However, a new study comparing contagion rates may come in handy.

When fluid dynamics mimic quantum mechanics

July 29, 2013 2:33 pm | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

In an attempt to explain the wavelike behavior of quantum particles, the French physicist Louis de Broglie proposed what he called a “pilot wave” theory. Once abandoned as a concept, a real pilot-wave system has recently been discovered, allowing researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology to produce the fluidic analogue of a classic quantum experiment that offers a new perspective on wave-particle duality.

Researchers set the stage for “programmable matter” using nanocrystals

July 29, 2013 9:56 am | News | Comments

Nanoscientists who recently created beautiful, tiled patterns with flat nanocrystals faced a mystery: Why did crystals arrange themselves in an alternating, herringbone style, even though it wasn’t the simplest pattern? Help from computer simulations have given them a new tool for controlling how objects one-millionth the size of a grain of sand arrange themselves into useful materials.

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Improved nuclear fuel-rod cladding may prevent future Fukushimas

July 26, 2013 8:27 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

In the aftermath of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant shutdown. The greatest damage and release of radiation, may have been caused by explosions of hydrogen gas that built up inside some of the reactors. That hydrogen buildup was the result of hot steam's contact with overheated nuclear fuel rods covered by a cladding of zirconium alloy. A team of researchers is developing an alternative cladding.

New truths about false memories

July 26, 2013 7:59 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

The phenomenon of false memory has been well-documented: In many court cases, defendants have been found guilty based on testimony from witnesses and victims who were sure of their recollections, but DNA evidence later overturned the conviction. In a step toward understanding how these faulty memories arise, neuroscientists have shown that they can plant false memories in the brains of mice.

Study: Turbulence behavior of superfluids opposite that of ordinary fluids

July 25, 2013 6:49 pm | by Jennifer Chu, MIT | News | Comments

A superfluid, like liquid helium, moves like a completely frictionless liquid. Physicists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have applied a method called holographic duality to mathematically describe the complex behavior of superfluids—in particular, the turbulent flows within superfluids. Their approach, which generated a model similar to the behavior of cigarette smoke, involved translating the physics of black holes.

As good as gold

July 25, 2013 8:07 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Using gold nanoparticles, Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have devised a new way to turn blood clotting on and off. The particles, which are controlled by infrared laser light, could help doctors control blood clotting in patients undergoing surgery, or promote wound healing.

MIT Lincoln Lab wins two 2013 R&D 100 Awards

July 24, 2013 12:41 pm | News | Comments

Two technologies developed at MIT Lincoln Laboratory were among the 2013 choices for prestigious R&D 100 Awards. The Photoacoustic Sensing of Explosives system detects and discriminates trace amounts of explosives from significant standoff distances. The Structured Knowledge Space software and information system enables analysts to mine the vast store of intelligence reports available to government decision makers.

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Just hanging on: Why mussels are so good at it

July 23, 2013 12:37 pm | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Unlike barnacles, which cement themselves tightly to surfaces, mussels dangle more loosely from these surfaces, attached by a collection of fine filaments known as byssus threads. This approach lets the creatures drift further out into the water, where they can absorb nutrients. Despite the fragile appearance of these threads, they can withstand impact forces that are nine times greater than forces exerted by stretching in one direction.

Controlling genes with light

July 23, 2013 7:28 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Although human cells have an estimated 20,000 genes, only a fraction of those are turned on at any given time, depending on the cell’s needs. To find out what those genes are doing, researchers need tools that can manipulate their status on short timescales. That is now possible, thanks to a new technology that can rapidly start or halt the expression of any gene of interest simply by shining light on the cells.

Researchers put squeeze on cells to deliver

July 22, 2013 11:44 am | News | Comments

Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a rapid and highly efficient system for transferring large molecules, nanoparticles, and other agents into living cells, providing new avenues for disease research and treatment. The high throughput method treats up to 100,000 cells per second and uses controlled mechanical force that is non-toxic to cells.

Genome editing becomes more accurate

July 22, 2013 8:21 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Earlier this year, MIT researchers developed a way to edit the genomes of living cells. Now, the researchers have discovered key factors that influence the accuracy of the system. With this technology, scientists can deliver or disrupt multiple genes at once, raising the possibility of treating human disease by targeting malfunctioning genes. To help with that process, the team has now created a computer model.

New way to target an old foe: malaria

July 18, 2013 3:57 pm | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Although malaria has been eradicated in many countries, including the United States, it still infects more than 200 million people worldwide, killing nearly a million every year. In a major step toward reducing that number, a team led by MIT researchers has now developed a way to grow liver tissue that can support the liver stage of the life cycle of the two most common species of malaria.

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System automatically generates TCP congestion-control algorithms

July 18, 2013 3:30 pm | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

TCP, the transmission control protocol, is one of the core protocols governing the Internet: If counted as a computer program, it's the most widely used program in the world. One of its main roles is to prevent computer congestion. A new computer system, dubbed Remy, automatically generates TCP congestion-control algorithms that control network congestion at transmission rates two to three times as high as human-derived algorithms.

Explained: Hydrophobic and hydrophilic

July 18, 2013 8:51 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

People have observed the unusual behavior of water since ancient times, and many recent discoveries about water have been predicted more than one hundred years prior. But now technology is allowing us to harness those properties. Engineers are now designing practical materials that offer an affinity (hydrophilic) or repulsion to water (hydrophobic).

Newly discovered flux in the Earth may solve missing-mantle mystery

July 17, 2013 11:52 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

If the Earth arose from the collision of asteroids, as is widely thought, its composition should resemble that of meteoroids, which break off of asteroids. But the Earth’s mantle is missing an amount of lead found in meteorites whose composition has been analyzed following impact with the Earth. New research points to large reservoirs of material deep in the mantle that may help solve the mystery and explain Earth’s origins.

Finding the keys to boiling heat transfer

July 16, 2013 2:33 pm | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

A team of Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers has carried out the first systematic investigation of the factors that control boiling heat transfer from a surface to a liquid. This process is crucial to the efficiency of power plants and the cooling of high-power electronics, and could even lead to improvements in how vehicles travel through water.

Systems developed that convert ordinary language to code

July 11, 2013 7:45 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

In a pair of recent papers, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have demonstrated that, for a few specific tasks, it’s possible to write computer programs using ordinary language rather than special-purpose programming languages. The work may be of some help to programmers, and it could let non-programmers manipulate common types of files in ways that previously required familiarity with programming languages.

A new way to trap light

July 10, 2013 1:41 pm | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

There are several ways to “trap” a beam of light. But now researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have discovered a new method to trap light that could find a wide variety of applications. The new system, devised through computer modeling and then demonstrated experimentally, pits light waves against light waves.

DNA-sequencing chip survives space radiation

July 9, 2013 7:37 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

More than 3.5 billion years ago, meteors ricocheted around the solar system, passing material between Mars and Earth. This may have left bits of Earth on Mars, and vice versa, creating a shared genetic ancestry. Now, a team of researchers is building a DNA sequencer that he hopes will one day be sent to Mars, where it can analyze soil and ice samples for traces of DNA and other genetic material.

Researchers build an all-optical transistor

July 8, 2013 9:30 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Optical computing could pay dividends for both conventional and quantum computers. But optical computing requires photons to modify each other’s behavior, something they’re naturally averse to doing: Two photons that collide in a vacuum simply pass through each other. Researchers have recently described the experimental realization of an optical switch that's controlled by a single photon, allowing light to govern the transmission of light.

The geography of big ideas

July 8, 2013 7:49 am | by Peter Dizikes, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Scholars have long been interested in tracking “knowledge spillovers,” the way technical and intellectual advances spread among communities of researchers and innovators. And a significant body of work has shown that distance matters when it comes to the dissemination of knowledge: advances are more likely to be noted by those nearby to the advance’s origin.

Protecting data in the cloud

July 2, 2013 10:07 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Cloud computing could give home-computer users unprecedented processing power and let small companies launch sophisticated Web services without building massive server farms. But it also raises privacy concerns. Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers are developing a new type of secure hardware component, dubbed Ascend, that would disguise a server’s memory-access patterns.

Nanoparticles, made to order

July 2, 2013 8:03 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

A new coating technology developed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, combined with a novel nanoparticle-manufacturing technology developed at the Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, may offer scientists a way to quickly mass-produce tailored nanoparticles that are specially coated for specific applications, including medicines and electronics.

Pruning the power grid

July 1, 2013 8:08 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Each summer, power grids are pushed to their limits. A single failure in the system can cause power outages throughout a neighborhood or across towns. To help prevent smaller incidents from snowballing into massive power failures, researchers devised an algorithm that identifies the most dangerous pairs of failures among the millions possible in a power grid.

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