Tag: National Science Foundation (NSF)

Magma beneath tectonic collision zones is wetter than previously thought

A new study by geologists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), MIT, and elsewhere has found that colliding continental plates may draw down more water than previously thought. The results could help to explain the explosiveness of some volcanic eruptions, as well as the distribution of ore deposits such as copper, silver, and gold. […]

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Is it topological? A new materials database has the answer

What will it take to make our electronics smarter, faster, and more resilient? One idea is to build them from materials that are topological. Topology stems from a branch of mathematics that studies shapes that can be manipulated or deformed without losing certain core properties. A donut is a common example: If it were made […]

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MIT students and postdocs advocate for increased federal support of scientific research on Capitol Hill

Sixteen MIT students and postdocs recently traveled to Washington to advocate for federal funding of scientific research for the 2023 fiscal year. Congressional Visit Days (CVD) are an effort organized by the MIT Science Policy Initiative (SPI), a student group that works at the intersection of policy and research. On April 5-6, students met with […]

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Unpacking black-box models

Modern machine-learning models, such as neural networks, are often referred to as “black boxes” because they are so complex that even the researchers who design them can’t fully understand how they make predictions. To provide some insights, researchers use explanation methods that seek to describe individual model decisions. For example, they may highlight words in […]

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Astronomers discover a rare “black widow” binary, with the shortest orbit yet

The flashing of a nearby star has drawn MIT astronomers to a new and mysterious system 3,000 light years from Earth. The stellar oddity appears to be a new “black widow binary” — a rapidly spinning neutron star, or pulsar, that is circling and slowly consuming a smaller companion star, as its arachnid namesake does […]

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An easier way to teach robots new skills

With e-commerce orders pouring in, a warehouse robot picks mugs off a shelf and places them into boxes for shipping. Everything is humming along, until the warehouse processes a change and the robot must now grasp taller, narrower mugs that are stored upside down. Reprogramming that robot involves hand-labeling thousands of images that show it […]

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“Spring-loaded” system pops phosphorus into molecular rings

MIT chemists have devised a new chemical reaction that allows them to synthesize a phosphorus-containing ring, using a catalyst to add phosphorus to simple organic compounds called alkenes. Their reaction, which yields a ring containing two carbon atoms and one phosphorus atom, can be performed at normal temperature and pressure, and makes use of a […]

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Structures considered key to gene expression are surprisingly fleeting

In human chromosomes, DNA is coated by proteins to form an exceedingly long beaded string. This “string” is folded into numerous loops, which are believed to help cells control gene expression and facilitate DNA repair, among other functions. A new study from MIT suggests that these loops are very dynamic and shorter-lived than previously thought. […]

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Joystick-operated robot could help surgeons treat stroke remotely

MIT engineers have developed a telerobotic system to help surgeons quickly and remotely treat patients experiencing a stroke or aneurysm. With a modified joystick, surgeons in one hospital may control a robotic arm at another location to safely operate on a patient during a critical window of time that could save the patient’s life and […]

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Engineers enlist AI to help scale up advanced solar cell manufacturing

Perovskites are a family of materials that are currently the leading contender to potentially replace today’s silicon-based solar photovoltaics. They hold the promise of panels that are far thinner and lighter, that could be made with ultra-high throughput at room temperature instead of at hundreds of degrees, and that are cheaper and easier to transport […]

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Engineered bacteria could help protect “good” gut microbes from antibiotics

Antibiotics are life-saving drugs, but they can also harm the beneficial microbes that live in the human gut. Following antibiotic treatment, some patients are at risk of developing inflammation or opportunistic infections such as Clostridiodes difficile. Indiscriminate use of antibiotics on gut microbes can also contribute to the spread of resistance to the drugs. In […]

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New tool reveals how immune cells find their targets

The human body has millions of unique B and T cells that roam the body, looking for microbial invaders. These immune cells’ ability to recognize harmful microbes is critical to successfully fighting off infection. MIT biological engineers have now devised an experimental tool that allows them to precisely pick out interactions between a particular immune […]

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Study reveals the dynamics of human milk production

For the first time, MIT researchers have performed a large-scale, high-resolution study of the cells in breast milk, allowing them to track how these cells change over time in nursing mothers. By analyzing human breast milk produced between three days and nearly two years after childbirth, the researchers were able to identify a variety of […]

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System helps severely motor-impaired individuals type more quickly and accurately

In 1995, French fashion magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby suffered a seizure while driving a car, which left him with a condition known as locked-in syndrome, a neurological disease in which the patient is completely paralyzed and can only move muscles that control the eyes. Bauby, who had signed a book contract shortly before his accident, […]

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Solving the challenges of robotic pizza-making

Imagine a pizza maker working with a ball of dough. She might use a spatula to lift the dough onto a cutting board then use a rolling pin to flatten it into a circle. Easy, right? Not if this pizza maker is a robot. For a robot, working with a deformable object like dough is […]

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A better way to separate gases

Industrial processes for chemical separations, including natural gas purification and the production of oxygen and nitrogen for medical or industrial uses, are collectively responsible for about 15 percent of the world’s energy use. They also contribute a corresponding amount to the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Now, researchers at MIT and Stanford University have developed a […]

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Scientists develop the largest, most detailed model of the early universe to date

It all started around 13.8 billion years ago with a big, cosmological “bang” that brought the universe suddenly and spectacularly into existence. Shortly after, the infant universe cooled dramatically and went completely dark. Then, within a couple hundred million years after the Big Bang, the universe woke up, as gravity gathered matter into the first […]

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Study finds neurons that encode the outcomes of actions

When we make complex decisions, we have to take many factors into account. Some choices have a high payoff but carry potential risks; others are lower risk but may have a lower reward associated with them. A new study from MIT sheds light on the part of the brain that helps us make these types […]

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Microbes and minerals may have set off Earth’s oxygenation

For the first 2 billion years of Earth’s history, there was barely any oxygen in the air. While some microbes were photosynthesizing by the latter part of this period, oxygen had not yet accumulated at levels that would impact the global biosphere. But somewhere around 2.3 billion years ago, this stable, low-oxygen equilibrium shifted, and […]

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Computational modeling guides development of new materials

Metal-organic frameworks, a class of materials with porous molecular structures, have a variety of possible applications, such as capturing harmful gases and catalyzing chemical reactions. Made of metal atoms linked by organic molecules, they can be configured in hundreds of thousands of different ways. To help researchers sift through all of the possible metal-organic framework […]

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Study: Ice flow is more sensitive to stress than previously thought

The rate of glacier ice flow is more sensitive to stress than previously calculated, according to a new study by MIT researchers that upends a decades-old equation used to describe ice flow. Stress in this case refers to the forces acting on Antarctic glaciers, which are primarily influenced by gravity that drags the ice down […]

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How to help humans understand robots

Scientists who study human-robot interaction often focus on understanding human intentions from a robot’s perspective, so the robot learns to cooperate with people more effectively. But human-robot interaction is a two-way street, and the human also needs to learn how the robot behaves. Thanks to decades of cognitive science and educational psychology research, scientists have […]

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Study reveals chemical link between wildfire smoke and ozone depletion

The Australian wildfires in 2019 and 2020 were historic for how far and fast they spread, and for how long and powerfully they burned. All told, the devastating “Black Summer” fires blazed across more than 43 million acres of land, and extinguished or displaced nearly 3 billion animals. The fires also injected over 1 million […]

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Physicists observe an exotic “multiferroic” state in an atomically thin material

MIT physicists have discovered an exotic “multiferroic” state in a material that is as thin as a single layer of atoms. Their observation is the first to confirm that multiferroic properties can exist in a perfectly two-dimensional material. The findings, published today in Nature, pave the way for developing smaller, faster, and more efficient data-storage […]

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A security technique to fool would-be cyber attackers

Multiple programs running on the same computer may not be able to directly access each other’s hidden information, but because they share the same memory hardware, their secrets could be stolen by a malicious program through a “memory timing side-channel attack.” This malicious program notices delays when it tries to access a computer’s memory, because […]

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Singing in the brain

For the first time, MIT neuroscientists have identified a population of neurons in the human brain that lights up when we hear singing, but not other types of music. These neurons, found in the auditory cortex, appear to respond to the specific combination of voice and music, but not to either regular speech or instrumental […]

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Can machine-learning models overcome biased datasets?

Artificial intelligence systems may be able to complete tasks quickly, but that doesn’t mean they always do so fairly. If the datasets used to train machine-learning models contain biased data, it is likely the system could exhibit that same bias when it makes decisions in practice. For instance, if a dataset contains mostly images of […]

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Solar-powered system offers a route to inexpensive desalination

An estimated two-thirds of humanity is affected by shortages of water, and many such areas in the developing world also face a lack of dependable electricity. Widespread research efforts have thus focused on ways to desalinate seawater or brackish water using just solar heat. Many such efforts have run into problems with fouling of equipment […]

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MIT.nano receives grant to acquire focused ion beam scanning electron microscope

The VELION FIB-SEM, a next-generation dual-beam nanofabrication platform located in MIT.nano, will become a permanent part of the facility’s characterization capabilities, thanks in part to a Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) award from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). A team of MIT researchers led by James LeBeau, the John Chipman Associate Professor of Materials Science […]

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Study suggests words are needed to think about numbers

Among many of the Tsimane’ people, who live in a remote region of the Bolivian rainforest, numbers do not play an important role in their lives, and people living in this society vary widely in how high they can count. A new study from MIT and the University of California at Berkeley has found a […]

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Making RNA vaccines easier to swallow

Like most vaccines, RNA vaccines have to be injected, which can be an obstacle for people who fear needles. Now, a team of MIT researchers has developed a way to deliver RNA in a capsule that can be swallowed, which they hope could help make people more receptive to them. In addition to making vaccines […]

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