Explosions caused by leaking gas pipes have frequently made headlines in recent years. But while the problem of old and failing pipes has garnered much attention, methods for addressing such failing infrastructure have lagged far behind. Typically, leaks are found using aboveground acoustic sensors. But these systems are very slow, and can miss small leaks altogether. Now researchers have devised a robotic system that can detect leaks.
Feathers have long been recognized as a classic example of efficient water-shedding—as in the well-known expression “like water off a duck’s back.” A combination of modeling and laboratory tests has now determined how both chemistry—the preening oil that birds use—and the microstructure of feathers, with their barbs and barbules, allow birds to stay dry even after emerging from amazingly deep dives.
The human mind can rapidly absorb and analyze new information as it flits from thought to thought. These quickly changing brain states may be encoded by synchronization of brain waves across different brain regions. Researchers found that as monkeys learn to categorize different patterns of dots, two brain areas involved in learning synchronize their brain waves to form new communication circuits.
About 11% of school-age children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with ADHD. While many eventually “outgrow” the disorder, some carry their difficulties into adulthood. In the first study to compare patterns of brain activity in adults who recovered from childhood ADHD and those who didn’t, neuroscientists have discovered key differences in a brain communication network that is active when the brain is at wakeful rest.
New observations by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have revealed the inner workings of a type of electrode widely used in lithium-ion batteries. The new findings explain the unexpectedly high power and long cycle life of such batteries, the researchers say.
The paleoclimate record for the last ice age tells of a cold Earth whose northern continents were covered by vast ice sheets. Chemical traces from plankton fossils in deep-sea sediments reveal rearranged ocean water masses, as well as extended sea ice coverage off Antarctica. Air bubbles in ice cores show that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was far below levels seen before the Industrial Revolution.
Against the backdrop of today’s burgeoning 3-D printing landscape, with an ever-increasing number of machines popping up, MIT Media Lab spinout Formlabs has carved out a precise niche. Combining a highly accurate (but usually expensive) light-based printing technique with engineering ingenuity, the Formlabs team invented a high-resolution 3-D laser printer, called the Form 1, that’s viewed as an affordable option for professional users.
Nanotubes have been the subject of intensive research, with potential uses ranging from solar cells to chemical sensors to reinforced composite materials. Most of the research has centered on carbon nanotubes, but other nanotubes’ properties appear to be similar. However, appearances can be deceiving, as researchers have found when examining one variant of nanotube made from boron nitride.
One of the reasons we don’t yet have self-driving cars and miniature helicopters delivering online purchases is that autonomous vehicles tend not to perform well under pressure. A system that can flawlessly parallel park at 5 mph may have trouble avoiding obstacles at 35 mph. Part of the problem is the time it takes to produce and interpret camera data.
At this year’s IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation, a research team introduced a new wrinkle on the idea of printable robots: bakable robots. In two new papers, the researchers demonstrate the promise of printable robotic components that, when heated, automatically fold into prescribed 3-D configurations.
An increasing number of cities around the world now include preparations for climate change in their basic urban planning; but only a small portion of them have been able to make such plans part of their economic development priorities, according to a unique global survey of cities. The Urban Climate Change Governance Survey underscores the extent to which city leaders recognize climate change as a major challenge.
Solar cell technology has advanced rapidly, as hundreds of groups around the world pursue more than two dozen approaches using different materials, technologies and approaches to improve efficiency and reduce costs. Now a team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology has set a new record for the most efficient quantum-dot cells.
Graphene’s promise as a material for new kinds of electronic devices, among other uses, has led researchers around the world to study the material in search of new applications. But one of the biggest limitations to wider use of the strong, lightweight, highly conductive material has been the hurdle of fabrication on an industrial scale.
A demonstration by NASA and MIT engineers last fall showed, for first time, that a data communication technology exists that can provide space dwellers with the connectivity we all enjoy here on Earth. Next month, the team will present the first comprehensive overview of the performance of their laser-based communication uplink between the moon and Earth, which beat the previous record transmission speed last fall by a factor of 4,800.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.