Even in a crowded room full of background noise, the human ear is remarkably adept at tuning in to a single voice—a feat that has proved remarkably difficult for computers to match. A new analysis of the underlying mechanisms, conducted by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has provided insights that could ultimately lead to better machine hearing, and perhaps to better hearing aids as well.
Consider the nearest water surface: a half-full glass on your desk, a puddle outside your window or a lake across town. All of these surfaces represent liquid-vapor interfaces, where liquid meets air. Molecules of water vapor constantly collide with these liquid surfaces: Some make it through the surface and condense, while others simply bounce off.
Plants have many valuable functions: They provide food and fuel, release the oxygen that we breathe and add beauty to our surroundings. Now, a team of Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers wants to make plants even more useful by augmenting them with nanomaterials that could enhance their energy production and give them completely new functions, such as monitoring environmental pollutants.
A computer-aided design tool has been used by researchers at Virginia Tech and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create genetic languages to guide the design of biological systems. Known as GenoCAD, the open-source software was developed to help synthetic biologists capture biological rules to engineer organisms that produce useful products or health-care solutions from inexpensive, renewable materials.
Soft robots have become a sufficiently popular research topic that they now have their own journal, Soft Robotics. In the first issue of that journal, Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers report the first self-contained autonomous soft robot capable of rapid body motion: a “fish” that can execute an escape maneuver, convulsing its body to change direction in just a fraction of a second, or almost as quickly as a real fish can.
About 90% of cancer deaths are caused by tumors that have spread from their original locations. This process, known as metastasis, requires cancer cells to break loose from their neighbors and from the supportive scaffold that gives tissues their structure. Cancer biologists have now discovered that certain proteins in this structure, known as the extracellular matrix, help cancer cells make their escape.
Despite their potential to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and fuel consumption, electric and hybrid cars and trucks struggled for years to find a solid customer base. Much of the reason came down to cost and convenience: Electric car batteries are expensive, and charging them requires plug-in infrastructure that’s still sparse in the U.S.
A team of Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers has used a novel material that’s just a few atoms thick to create devices that can harness or emit light. This proof-of-concept could lead to ultra-thin, lightweight and flexible photovoltaic cells, light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and other optoelectronic devices, they say.
Future lunar missions may be fueled by gas stations in space, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineers: A spacecraft might dock at a propellant depot, somewhere between the Earth and the moon, and pick up extra rocket fuel before making its way to the lunar surface.
The Earth’s magnetic field, or magnetosphere, stretches from the planet’s core out into space, where it meets the solar wind, a stream of charged particles emitted by the sun. For the most part, the magnetosphere acts as a shield to protect the Earth from this high-energy solar activity. But when this field comes into contact with the sun’s magnetic field, powerful electrical currents from the sun can stream into Earth’s atmosphere.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology chemists have devised a way to trap carbon dioxide and transform it into useful organic compounds, using a simple metal complex. More work is needed to understand and optimize the reaction, but one day this approach could offer an easy and inexpensive way to recapture some of the carbon dioxide emitted by vehicles and power plants.
If you’ve run out of drinking water during a lakeside camping trip, there’s a simple solution: Break off a branch from the nearest pine tree, peel away the bark and slowly pour lake water through the stick. The improvised filter should trap any bacteria, producing fresh, uncontaminated water. In fact, a team has discovered that this low-tech filtration system can produce up to 4 L of drinking water a day.
Researchers have devised a way of making tiny holes of controllable size in sheets of graphene, a development that could lead to ultra-thin filters for improved desalination or water purification. The team of researchers succeeded in creating subnanoscale pores in a sheet of the one-atom-thick material, which is one of the strongest materials known.
In a surprising new finding, researchers have discovered that bacterial movement is impeded in flowing water, enhancing the likelihood that the microbes will attach to surfaces. The new work could have implications for the study of marine ecosystems, and for our understanding of how infections take hold in medical devices.
In a recently published paper, researchers proposed an experiment that may close the last major loophole of Bell’s inequality, a 50-year-old theorem that, if violated by experiments, would mean that our universe is based not on the textbook laws of classical physics, but on the less-tangible probabilities of quantum mechanics. Such a quantum view would allow for seemingly counterintuitive phenomena such as entanglement.
Computer chips keep getting faster because transistors keep getting smaller. But the chips themselves are as big as ever, so data moving around the chip, and between chips and main memory, has to travel just as far. As transistors get faster, the cost of moving data becomes, proportionally, a more severe limitation. So far, chip designers have circumvented that limitation through the use of “caches”.
Many vaccines consist of a killed or disabled version of a virus. However, for certain diseases, this type of vaccine is ineffective, or just too risky. An alternative, safer approach is a vaccine made of small fragments of proteins produced by a disease-causing virus or bacterium. This has worked for some diseases, but in many cases these vaccines don’t provoke a strong enough response. Until now.
The heroes and villains in animated films tend to be on opposite ends of the moral spectrum. But they’re often similar in their hair, which is usually extremely rigid or straight and swings to and fro. It’s rare to see an animated character with bouncy, curly hair, since computer animators don’t have a simple mathematical means for describing it. That is, until now.
Researchers have formed the first high-definition picture of the Cas9 complex, a key part of the CRISPR-Cas system used by scientists as a genome-editing tool to silence genes and probe the biology of cells. Their findingsare expected to help researchers refine and further engineer the tool to accelerate genomic research and bring the technology closer to use in the treatment of human genetic disease.
Writing a program to control a single autonomous robot navigating an uncertain environment with an erratic communication link is hard enough; write one for multiple robots that may or may not have to work in tandem, depending on the task, is even harder. As a consequence, engineers designing control programs for multiagent systems have restricted themselves to special cases. Until now.
The largest mass extinction in the history of animal life occurred some 252 million years ago, wiping out more than 96% of marine species and 70% of life on land. Multiple theories have aimed to explain the cause of what’s now known as the end-Permian extinction. But pinpointing the cause of the extinction requires better measurements of how long the extinction period lasted.
Inspired by tiny particles that carry cholesterol through the body, Massachusetts Institute of Technology chemical engineers have designed nanoparticles that can deliver snippets of genetic material that turn off disease-causing genes. This approach, known as RNA interference, holds great promise for treating cancer and other diseases. However, delivering enough RNA to treat the diseased tissue has proven difficult.
Scientists have thought that the first stars in the universe burst with tremendous energy, spewing out the first heavy elements, such as carbon, iron, and oxygen. But according to new research from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, not all of these first stars may have been forceful exploders.
Optogenetics allows scientists to control neurons’ electrical activity with light by engineering them to express light-sensitive proteins, called opsins. Most opsins respond to light in the blue-green range. Now, a team has discovered an opsin that is sensitive to red light, which allows researchers to independently control the activity of two populations of neurons at once, enabling much more complex studies of brain function.
Topological insulators have been of great interest to physicists in recent years because of unusual properties that may provide insights into quantum physics. But most analysis of such materials has had to rely on highly simplified models. Now, a team of researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology has performed a more detailed analysis that hints at the existence of six new kinds of topological insulators.