Stories tagged MIT

The Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT organized a flash mob, where MIT scientists, local students, and community members acted out the targeted delivery of therapeutics to a cancer cell using nano particles. Pretty cool.

See video

It's Friday, so let's get a new Science Friday video up. Science Friday
Science FridayCourtesy Science Friday
Today:
"Bubbles can do computations, says Stanford professor Manu Prakash. Just like electrons running through wires in your computer, Prakash and Neil Gershenfeld, of MIT, directed bubbles through tiny etched tubes and showed basic computations were possible. Because the presence of a bubble can influence the behavior of another bubble, Prakash was able to build "and," "or" and "not" gates. Bubbles are bigger and slower than electrons, but they can carry things--meaning you could create as you compute, Prakash says."
Dec
21
2011

A helpless astronaut is attacked by robospheres: Or not. But I don't believe for a second that Red, Blue, and Orange aren't thinking about it.
A helpless astronaut is attacked by robospheres: Or not. But I don't believe for a second that Red, Blue, and Orange aren't thinking about it.Courtesy NASA
History has shown us time and time again that careless exploration of backronyms can be a dangerous mistake. Think of Sir Isaac Newton, who had a mild stroke while constructing his theory of Green Round Apples Veer Inward To Dang. Or consider the vicious beating Roald Dahl received after founding his youth literacy and mentoring program, Real Everyday Adults Delivering Intelligence Not Gum. Constructing an acronym to fit an already decided upon word or phrase is a process fraught with the threat of physical harm (or, at the very least, mild embarrassment).

Thank goodness for the ironically straightforwardly acronymed NASA and MIT, who are braving the field of wild, retroactively applied acronyms so the rest of us don’t have to.

NASA’s and MIT’s current research in the field centers on its SPHERES project. SPHERES stands for “Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites.” Or perhaps it’s the other way around. For the time being, NASA is attempting to sneak up on the principles of causation by pretending that it was a coincidence.

In addition to stressing linguistic credibility to the extent that its breaking point may become clear, the SPHERES project has a physical component with secondary objectives. SPHERES is actually composed of three separate robots, each about the size and shape of a bowling ball (get it?! “SPHERES”?!) The robots will be taken to the International Space Station, where they’ll just kind of float around together.

Or, I guess, they won’t just be floating around. I mean, if you’re in space and not tied down, you’ll float around. But if you, like the SPHERES robots, have your own onboard power supply (AA batteries), navigation and propulsion system (CO2 jets), and computer system, you can do a lot more than just float. The SPHERES robots will practice flying around the ISS in tightly controlled formation with each other.

I suppose it doesn’t sound all that tricky—after all, dumb ol’ birds can fly in formation, and they’re dumb. But, then again, birds have evolved for millions of years to do that sort of thing, and being in space—where there really isn’t a true “up” or “down”—presents its own challenges. These simple little robots have to coordinate with each other and their surroundings perfectly to stay in formation. And once they (that is, the people that make and program the robots) get the hang of that, there are some pretty slick applications for objects in space that can automatically stay in perfect formation.

For one, it should make the processes of servicing, re-supplying, reconfiguring, and upgrading the ISS and other space systems easier, because these things all involve two or more extremely expensive floating objects that need to be oriented just right to get a job done and avoid smashing each other up while doing it.

Also, it turns out that a formation of itty-bitty satellites (sort of like the SPHERES spheres) can do some of the work of a much bigger, more expensive satellite. For example, instead of using a satellite telescope that relies on one huge mirror, a formation of lots of small satellites could gather bits of light that could be put together into an image. That way, if one small satellite was damaged, it wouldn’t wreck the whole project. Also, the formation of satellites could potentially be larger than a single mirror (or mirror array on one satellite).

And then there’s also the notion that each astronaut could have his or her own fleet of tiny floating robots. They could be used to feed and clean the astronauts, and, of course, fight for their amusement.*

Here’s a video of the a recent (recent-ish—it’s from 2009) test run of the spheres. Watch as they do what they do best:

And here’s MIT’s SPHERES website, where they delve more into the motivations of the SPHERES project (but not so much into the acronym issue.)

For more pictures of the spheres floating in the ISS, scroll to the bottom of this page.

*This paragraph contains no NASA endorsed ideas. It just seems to me like the obvious thing to do.

It's cliche, but the social enterprise, A Liter of Light, is really a bright idea.

A Liter of Light is a sustainable lighting project that uses the eco-friendly "Solar Bottle Bulb" and science to bring light into the homes of communities nationwide. The Solar Bottle Bulb is the brain child of Massachusetts Institute of Technology students and is basically a plastic bottle filled with water (and bleach to prevent algae growth) that's installed in a roof. Refracting (bending that amplifies) sunlight, a single Solar Bottle Bulb, can provide the equivalent of up to 55 watts of light. For comparison's sake, many standard incandescent light bulbs in your home are 60 watts.

For more information, you can watch a short video clip of the project in action below, or check out the project's website.

Sep
19
2010

Materials science

Materials scientists figure out ways to make things stronger, cheaper, or better. A favorite technique is nano-self-assembly. Just mix together the right ingredients and "presto", you get a wonder material. Another great development would be for the material to be self-repairing.

Self healing solar cells

MIT scientist, Michael Strano, and his team have created a material made up of seven different compounds including carbon nanotubes, phospholipids, and proteins. Under the right conditions they spontaneously assemble themselves into a light-harvesting structure that produces an electric current. The assembly breaks apart when a surfactant (think soapy solution) is added but reassemble when it is removed. These new self-healing solar cells are already about double the efficiency of today’s best solar cells but could potentially be many times more efficient.

Learn more about self-healing solar cells

Sep
05
2010

Wendy Schmidt oil cleanup X challenge

Cleaning up oil spills costs big money. BP says the Gulf cleanup cost is $8 Billion. Hoping that next time we can do it better, faster, and cheaper, Wendy Schmidt has offered $1.4 Million in prizes to inspire a new generation of innovative solutions.

A $1 Million Prize will be awarded to the team that demonstrates the ability to recover oil on the sea surface at the highest oil recovery rate (ORR) and the highest Recovery Efficiency (RE).

If you are interested click here for the competition rules.

MIT robotic seaswarm vehicles

MIT may have a jump on the competition with their Seaswarm project. Last week they showed off what looked like a solar powered treadmill that lapped up spilled oil. Using GPS and wireless communication, a swarm of these devices autonomously coordinate their movements.

"We envisioned something that would move as a rolling carpet along the water and seamlessly absorb a surface spill," said MIT researcher Assaf Biderman. "This led to the design of a novel marine vehicle -- a simple and lightweight conveyor belt that rolls on the surface of the ocean, adjusting to the waves." Computerworld

They estimate that 5000 of their robotic sea-swarm vehicles could clean up a Gulf sized spill in a month.
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May
30
2010

Allergic to peanuts?
Allergic to peanuts?Courtesy texnic

What is food allergy?

Food allergy is an abnormal response to a food triggered by the body’s immune system. Symptoms include itching, a rash, vomiting, difficult breathing, and lowered blood pressure.

While almost 30% of Americans think they have food allergies, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) found that

food allergy occurs in 6 to 8 percent of children 4 years of age or under, and in 3.7 percent of adults.

Better testing for food allergies needed

Diagnosing food allergies is described on the Mayo Clinic website. The procedures take time and money and, according to many, yield unreliable results.
"MIT chemical engineer Christopher Love believes he has a better way to diagnose such allergies. His new technology, described in the June 7 issue of the journal Lab on a Chip, can analyze individual immune cells taken from patients, allowing for precise measurement of the cells’ response to allergens such as milk and peanuts.

To perform the test, blood must be drawn from the patient, and white blood cells (which include T cells) are isolated from the sample.

The cells are exposed to a potential allergen and then placed into about 100,000 individual wells arranged in a lattice pattern on a soft rubber surface. Using a technique known as microengraving, the researchers make “prints” of the cytokines produced by each cell onto the surface of a glass slide. The amount of cytokine secreted by each individual cell can be precisely measured. MITnews

Dec
06
2009

Finding better ways for computers to see

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Building biologically-inspired vision systems

Living organisms are very good at making sense out of what they see. Designing machines that can recognize objects when seen from an angle or at various distances is challenging. Facial or gesture recognition is becoming common in our computing devices.

Reverse engineering the visual cortex

In an attempt to improve upon current state of the art visual systems, scientists are attempting to reverse engineer biological visual systems.

Huge advances have been recently made in visualizing the structure of our visual cortex (hardware) but the inner workings of the neuronal systems (software) remain a mystery. Mimicking natural selection, scientists are testing thousands of software algorithms at a time.

Using processors from game playing computers

Using graphical processors from game playing computers (such as those found in the PlayStation 3 and high-end NVIDIA graphics cards), scientists have discovered better visual modeling systems.

"The best of these models, drawn from thousands of candidates, outperformed a variety of state-of-the-art vision systems across a range of object and face recognition tasks."

"GPUs are a real game-changer for scientific computing. We made a powerful parallel computing system from cheap, readily available off-the-shelf components, delivering over hundred-fold speed-ups relative to conventional methods,"

Sources
PLoS Computational Biology published research paper
PhysOrg.com
Visual Neuroscience Group @ The Rowland Institute at Harvard

Sep
27
2009

Carbon nanotubes as energy storage
Carbon nanotubes as energy storageCourtesy ghutchis

Carbon nanotube springs may be better than batteries

What does a mousetrap have in common with a wind-up clock? A spring. A spring can provide energy to run a clock for days. A mouse trap spring can deliver a quick, deadly energy burst. Unlike batteries, energy stored in a spring can last hundreds of years and is usually not diminished by extreme cold or heat.

1000 times the energy density of a steel spring

MIT scientist, Carol Livermore, "did a combination of mathematical analysis and small-scale laboratory testing to determine the potential of carbon nanotubes to be used as springs for energy storage" MITnews.

Lots of basic research and engineering challenges remain

The nanospring concept is sound in theory and may even be patented. Working out the details to provide a working device using carbon-nano-tubes to store and re-deliver energy will require plenty of additional basic research, followed by engineering work.

Sources: