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At The HUB, a celebration of art, technology, and innovation

MIT News - 1 hour 18 min ago

The central hub of Boston’s 2017 HUBweek celebration last week was a remarkable sight: a sprawling village of over 80 shipping containers transformed into a brightly painted celebration of art, technology, and innovation, bustling with people exploring the towering crates.

Perhaps no container better celebrated the intersection of art and technology than the MIT — For a Better World exhibit, where visitors could watch colorful murals come to life with augmented reality and talk to student researchers about technology ranging from a rubbery robot that identifies leaky pipes, to an ankle exoskeleton that gives walkers a boost.

The exhibit embodied the MIT Campaign for a Better World, which has a simple goal: to use the vision and talent of people at MIT to take on urgent global challenges.

“The idea that MIT is working to make a better world is something that we want to get out to the greater community beyond MIT,” explains Barbara Malec, MIT’s creative director of Resource Development and one of the masterminds behind the display. “I think the more people know about and experience MIT, the more broadly we can continue our tradition of delivering new knowledge and solutions to the world.”

HUBweek is a celebration of creativity across Greater Boston, which took place Oct. 10 to 15. MIT is one of the co-founders of HUBweek, along with Harvard University, The Boston Globe and Massachusetts General Hospital. A new feature of this year’s festivities was The HUB, a central gathering space in Boston’s City Hall Plaza, centered around a temporary village of shipping containers, art exhibits, and geodesic domes showcasing the region’s inventiveness.

For their exhibit, Malec and senior designer Eric Keezer drew inspiration from The Borderline Mural Project, where 25 MIT-affiliated artists covered 200 feet of the tunnels under the campus with murals that can be experienced in augmented reality (AR). Pearl Lee, a senior in biological engineering who was one of the artists, took on the challenge of recruiting student artists for seven 6 foot by 6 foot murals at MIT’s HUBweek exhibit. Lee put out a call for artists in late August and worked diligently with the selected students to help them design and create their murals in just a few short weeks.  

“It's all to promote the theme of MIT making a better world, so it was each artist's interpretation of that,” Lee says. “We wanted to bring together science and art, so we thought it was a really good idea to showcase that, hey look, we can be artistic, but also of course because we're nerds, we can add this [augmented reality] component and make it come to life.”

The murals were dazzling, hung on the walls of a simple, white shipping container to create what felt like an outdoor art gallery. As people continuously wandered through on Thursday afternoon, they couldn’t help but pull out their phones, download the Artvive app, and watch on their screens as animations were revealed within the murals.

At one end of the AR-enhanced exhibit, a violin splashed with cells started to play, the bow (overlaid with C15H20O6, the chemical formula for rosin) drawing back and forth across vibrating fluorescent strings. Next to it, black line drawings of women in science on a white canvas burst into color, with deep purple, yellow, and blue hues. In the most data-driven mural, rainbow swirls representing particles moving on winds around Earth were set in motion, rotating in clockwise and counterclockwise circles. And then there was a little girl on a kite flying through space on a journey of exploration and discovery as a beaver in a space suit drifted by.

While the murals were an artistic interpretation of MIT — For a Better World, the demos in front of the container offered concrete examples of how MIT researchers are tackling big problems.

One was Robot Daisy, a soft, rubbery robot that looks like an oversized badminton birdie. The bot, which is designed to move through municipal water pipes, detects leaks when suction created by escaping water tugs on its sensor-laden wings. The idea is to identify leaks at an early stage: Currently water systems lose 20 percent of their water to leaks, and most of the leaks are not found until they are big enough to do damage to nearby streets, homes, and businesses. PhD candidate You Wu, master’s candidate Tyler Okamoto, and senior Elizabeth Mittmann, from the Mechatronics Research Lab in the Department of Mechancial Engineering, were on site Thursday talking to people about the device and encouraging them to pick it up and play with it.   

“We got a lot of traffic here, all Boston locals,” Wu told MIT News. “And every time I mention, ‘have you seen a water main break?’ They're like ‘yup,’ and they care about this.”

“There's all different types of people here, and I felt like I could make a connection with all of them,” Okamoto added.  

Pipeguard Robotics, the team behind Robot Daisy, also took home the grand prize at Saturday’s Demo Day pitch competition.

Matt Weber, a student in the Harvard-MIT Program in Health Science and Technology,  arrived Thursday wearing robotic ankle exoskeletons, or “exoboots,” which he said attracted some strange looks on the subway. The battery-powered device reduces calf strain during walking, using motors and electronics. “With every step you take, it gives you a little kick to get into the next step,” he told a group that gathered to ask questions.  

Weber, who works with MIT Professor Hugh Herr, says the device was initially developed for the military, but the researchers are now turning their attention to other uses, such as for people who have weakened calves due to stroke or muscular dystrophy, or people who walk long distances for work.

In contrast to the visual feast of the MIT — For a Better World exhibit, the MIT Media Lab’s City Symphonies exhibit offered an auditory treat. Passersby couldn’t help but pause at the black-curtained opening of the simple, gray container and step through the curtains. First, they were drawn in by a bold, unusual symphonic music. Next, they were entranced by two large high-definition displays playing vibrant scenes from nature and city settings.

The exhibit, one of the few with a sound component, represents the City Symphony projects headed by Professor Tod Machover at the MIT Media Lab. In each City Symphony, technologies developed by Machover and his Opera of the Future Group allow anyone to contribute audio, video, original compositions using Hyperscore software, voices, and more, and to help shape the feel and story of each “symphony” through a new kind of collective creativity. Machover then weaves these materials into a piece of music that’s performed by the major orchestra in that city. So far, Machover and his team have created City Symphonies for cities around the world, including Toronto, Edinburgh, Perth, and Detroit, and a large project is currently underway in Philadelphia.

“I think that's one of the really neat things about it, is that it brings together a group of people who otherwise wouldn't meet each other but are connected through music and careful listening,” explains Charles Holbrow, a PhD candidate at the Media Lab who spoke with visitors at the exhibit. “We have been asked by HUBweek to create a City Symphony right here in Boston, so right now we're kind of asking the question, we want to do this in Boston — how are we going to do it? That's why we're here. We want to meet people who live in greater Boston and ask them, OK, what does Boston sound like to you?”

Categories: In the News

At The HUB, a celebration of art, technology, and innovation

MIT Events - 1 hour 18 min ago

The central hub of Boston’s 2017 HUBweek celebration last week was a remarkable sight: a sprawling village of over 80 shipping containers transformed into a brightly painted celebration of art, technology, and innovation, bustling with people exploring the towering crates.

Perhaps no container better celebrated the intersection of art and technology than the MIT — For a Better World exhibit, where visitors could watch colorful murals come to life with augmented reality and talk to student researchers about technology ranging from a rubbery robot that identifies leaky pipes, to an ankle exoskeleton that gives walkers a boost.

The exhibit embodied the MIT Campaign for a Better World, which has a simple goal: to use the vision and talent of people at MIT to take on urgent global challenges.

“The idea that MIT is working to make a better world is something that we want to get out to the greater community beyond MIT,” explains Barbara Malec, MIT’s creative director of Resource Development and one of the masterminds behind the display. “I think the more people know about and experience MIT, the more broadly we can continue our tradition of delivering new knowledge and solutions to the world.”

HUBweek is a celebration of creativity across Greater Boston, which took place Oct. 10 to 15. MIT is one of the co-founders of HUBweek, along with Harvard University, The Boston Globe and Massachusetts General Hospital. A new feature of this year’s festivities was The HUB, a central gathering space in Boston’s City Hall Plaza, centered around a temporary village of shipping containers, art exhibits, and geodesic domes showcasing the region’s inventiveness.

For their exhibit, Malec and senior designer Eric Keezer drew inspiration from The Borderline Mural Project, where 25 MIT-affiliated artists covered 200 feet of the tunnels under the campus with murals that can be experienced in augmented reality (AR). Pearl Lee, a senior in biological engineering who was one of the artists, took on the challenge of recruiting student artists for seven 6 foot by 6 foot murals at MIT’s HUBweek exhibit. Lee put out a call for artists in late August and worked diligently with the selected students to help them design and create their murals in just a few short weeks.  

“It's all to promote the theme of MIT making a better world, so it was each artist's interpretation of that,” Lee says. “We wanted to bring together science and art, so we thought it was a really good idea to showcase that, hey look, we can be artistic, but also of course because we're nerds, we can add this [augmented reality] component and make it come to life.”

The murals were dazzling, hung on the walls of a simple, white shipping container to create what felt like an outdoor art gallery. As people continuously wandered through on Thursday afternoon, they couldn’t help but pull out their phones, download the Artvive app, and watch on their screens as animations were revealed within the murals.

At one end of the AR-enhanced exhibit, a violin splashed with cells started to play, the bow (overlaid with C15H20O6, the chemical formula for rosin) drawing back and forth across vibrating fluorescent strings. Next to it, black line drawings of women in science on a white canvas burst into color, with deep purple, yellow, and blue hues. In the most data-driven mural, rainbow swirls representing particles moving on winds around Earth were set in motion, rotating in clockwise and counterclockwise circles. And then there was a little girl on a kite flying through space on a journey of exploration and discovery as a beaver in a space suit drifted by.

While the murals were an artistic interpretation of MIT — For a Better World, the demos in front of the container offered concrete examples of how MIT researchers are tackling big problems.

One was Robot Daisy, a soft, rubbery robot that looks like an oversized badminton birdie. The bot, which is designed to move through municipal water pipes, detects leaks when suction created by escaping water tugs on its sensor-laden wings. The idea is to identify leaks at an early stage: Currently water systems lose 20 percent of their water to leaks, and most of the leaks are not found until they are big enough to do damage to nearby streets, homes, and businesses. PhD candidate You Wu, master’s candidate Tyler Okamoto, and senior Elizabeth Mittmann, from the Mechatronics Research Lab in the Department of Mechancial Engineering, were on site Thursday talking to people about the device and encouraging them to pick it up and play with it.   

“We got a lot of traffic here, all Boston locals,” Wu told MIT News. “And every time I mention, ‘have you seen a water main break?’ They're like ‘yup,’ and they care about this.”

“There's all different types of people here, and I felt like I could make a connection with all of them,” Okamoto added.  

Pipeguard Robotics, the team behind Robot Daisy, also took home the grand prize at Saturday’s Demo Day pitch competition.

Matt Weber, a student in the Harvard-MIT Program in Health Science and Technology,  arrived Thursday wearing robotic ankle exoskeletons, or “exoboots,” which he said attracted some strange looks on the subway. The battery-powered device reduces calf strain during walking, using motors and electronics. “With every step you take, it gives you a little kick to get into the next step,” he told a group that gathered to ask questions.  

Weber, who works with MIT Professor Hugh Herr, says the device was initially developed for the military, but the researchers are now turning their attention to other uses, such as for people who have weakened calves due to stroke or muscular dystrophy, or people who walk long distances for work.

In contrast to the visual feast of the MIT — For a Better World exhibit, the MIT Media Lab’s City Symphonies exhibit offered an auditory treat. Passersby couldn’t help but pause at the black-curtained opening of the simple, gray container and step through the curtains. First, they were drawn in by a bold, unusual symphonic music. Next, they were entranced by two large high-definition displays playing vibrant scenes from nature and city settings.

The exhibit, one of the few with a sound component, represents the City Symphony projects headed by Professor Tod Machover at the MIT Media Lab. In each City Symphony, technologies developed by Machover and his Opera of the Future Group allow anyone to contribute audio, video, original compositions using Hyperscore software, voices, and more, and to help shape the feel and story of each “symphony” through a new kind of collective creativity. Machover then weaves these materials into a piece of music that’s performed by the major orchestra in that city. So far, Machover and his team have created City Symphonies for cities around the world, including Toronto, Edinburgh, Perth, and Detroit, and a large project is currently underway in Philadelphia.

“I think that's one of the really neat things about it, is that it brings together a group of people who otherwise wouldn't meet each other but are connected through music and careful listening,” explains Charles Holbrow, a PhD candidate at the Media Lab who spoke with visitors at the exhibit. “We have been asked by HUBweek to create a City Symphony right here in Boston, so right now we're kind of asking the question, we want to do this in Boston — how are we going to do it? That's why we're here. We want to meet people who live in greater Boston and ask them, OK, what does Boston sound like to you?”

Categories: In the News

Bridging the science-policy divide

MIT News - Tue, 10/17/2017 - 23:59

In the eighth grade, in response to being asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, Talia Weiss critically examined her aspirations and gathered them into one succinct statement: “I wanted to be a writer, dancer, and an astrophysicist,” she recalls. Weiss, now an MIT senior majoring in physics, can comfortably say she’s stuck to her goals, save for a little variation.

During her time at MIT, Weiss’ diverse interests — in physics, political science, and theater — have ultimately converged; she is now on mission to help close the gap between scientific and political thinkers, including scientists and policymakers in government.

Before arriving at MIT, where her interest in political science developed, Weiss spent her teenage years pursuing a passion for physics. “I found diaries from 7th grade where I asked a whole stream of questions about the universe and the ‘edge of the universe’ and its expansion,” she says.

She also looked for answers, spending time on Wikipedia researching black holes, the physical world, and the nature of the universe. Her curiosity led her to spend her high school summers at Northwestern University, where she conduced astrophysics research for three years on an anomalous type of galaxy.

“The fact that my research project was so fun was further indication that I should keep pursuing physics for a while,” she says.

Theoretically assertive

Indeed, she continued with physics at MIT even before her freshman classes began. At PhysPOP, a freshman preorientation program run by physics undergraduate students, Weiss attended a talk by David Kaiser, the Germeshausen Professor of the History of Science and professor of physics.

Though freshmen didn’t usually pursue theoretical physics research projects through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) until they had taken a few classes, Weiss was determined to get involved immediately in the research Kaiser described. “Not only was his research exciting, but he was so personable and so passionate and so able to explain the material that I was taken by it. I went up and asked him for a UROP right afterward,” she says.

She likens her experiences as a freshman undertaking a UROP in quantum mechanics to drinking from the firehose, a common expression used to describe academics and activities at MIT. Luckily, as she puts it, she had support from her research advisors including Kaiser and Joseph Formaggio, an associate professor of physics, as well as from the graduate students and postdocs in her lab.

With 18 months of quantum mechanics and particle physics research under her belt by junior year, Weiss enrolled in Junior Lab, a two-semester experimental physics sequence in which students recreate historical physics experiments each month. At the end of the optional second course in the sequence, students design an experimental apparatus to test a topic of their choice. Weiss and her partner focused in on parity, which refers to a transformation that flips the right- or left-handedness of a coordinate system in quantum mechanics.

“We were working on putting together an experiment that had originally been conducted in the late ’50s, including by someone who is a professor emeritus at MIT,” says Weiss, referring to nuclear physicist Lee Grodzins.

When Grodzins heard Weiss and her partner were recreating his experiment, he visited them at the Junior Lab. “When he heard we were recreating his study, he was so enthusiastic that he graciously visited to assist us with our theoretical and experimental questions,” she says. “That’s a very MIT-like experience — one you can’t find in many other places.”

While visiting the students in the lab, Grodzin also recounted tales of his career. “He also would tell us about what it was like being at Brookhaven [National Laboratory] during the Cold War era. It sounded like a really exciting time to be doing physics,” Weiss says.

Performing on and off stage

Though her research community remains her “home base,” Weiss has also been active in MIT’s theater scene and its Jewish community, through MIT Hillel.

From Dramashop, to the Musical Theater Guild, to the Shakespeare Ensemble, “I’ve been engaged with almost all the different theater communities at some point,” she says.

After Rabbi Gavriel Goldfeder, the senior Jewish educator at MIT Hillel, reached out to students for ideas that could lead to Jewish engagement in the arts on campus, Weiss proposed a Jewish theater discussion group.

“Since junior year, I haven’t been acting in plays anymore, but I have been able to combine my connection with the theater community with my connection with the Jewish community, because I now have developed and led a Jewish theater discussion group through the Hillel,” she says, “We meet a few times throughout the semester and read a play or an excerpt from a play that deals with issues related to Jewish history, identity, politics, issues of assimilation — a whole range of topics.”

She curates the selection of plays and excerpts herself. Because some of the students involved in the discussion group have theater backgrounds, they sometimes act out the excerpts. For Weiss, leading the discussion group is “a fun way for me to get to be engaged in two communities at once.”

Politically aware

In her junior year, Weiss enrolled in Course 17.30 (Making Public Policy), a class in the political science department. “I just remember, I was always so excited to go to a 9:30 a.m. class, to an unusual extent, and to talk with [Professor Andrea Campbell] after class, and to do all of the assignments and to write the papers. That was definitely telling for me.”

“Political science was so totally engaging for me right away,” says Weiss. So much so, that Weiss decided to minor in it.

The summer before her senior year, Weiss interned at the MIT Washington Office. She reported on Congressional hearings by day and helped analyze how science impacted federal policymaking. The experience gave her a firsthand account of the divide between the scientific and political worlds, which she now hopes to address in the future.

“Scientific thinkers aren’t necessarily expected to consider moral and ideological and political questions in detail, and the same is true the other way around,” she says.

Weiss is optimistic that her experiences conducting research, leading discussions, and interacting with policymakers have given her the background necessary to tackle the issues she identified in Washington. She hopes to continue studying policy and political science after MIT, and wants to actively address the current disconnect between scientists and policymakers in her future work.

“I think that this cultural divide has to be addressed by not only by building relationships between policymakers and scientists, but also from the ground up, educating in a way that enables people to understand those who think differently than them,” she says.

Categories: In the News

Alert - Fresh Pond Parkway Traffic Advisory

City of Cambridge News and Alerts - Tue, 10/17/2017 - 16:39
Guardrail repair work will lead to traffic detours between 9p-5a along Fresh Pond Parkway between Huron Avenue and Brattle Street 10/17-10/19.
Categories: In the News

Ritu Raman named L’Oréal Women in Science Fellow 

MIT News - Tue, 10/17/2017 - 15:30

Ritu Raman, a postdoc in the Langer Lab at MIT, has been honored as one of five recipients of the 2017 L’Oréal USA For Women in Science Fellowship.

The L’Oréal USA For Women in Science Fellowship recognizes female scientists at a critical stage in their careers and supports them with $60,000 grants to advance their postdoctoral research. The announcement was made on Oct.10 in conjunction with Ada Lovelace Day — an annual event aimed at raising the profile of women in STEM. The fellows were chosen based on their intellectual merit, research potential, scientific excellence, and their commitment to supporting women and girls in science.

As part of the honor, the recently-selected fellows have the freedom to apply their grants to enhance their postdoctoral research in any way they see fit. Raman plans to use the award to conduct pioneering research and collaborate with other scientists, engineers, and clinicians across the country. Other fellows will use their fellowship to hire female mentees, build coding programs, fund educational campaigns, and more.

In November, the fellows will travel to Washington to join the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Science and Technology Policy fellows on Capitol Hill for an informal gathering on science policy and careers. They will also visit the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) for a roundtable discussion on the barriers and opportunities for women in science with the NAS Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine.

Emphasis on education

While growing up in different places across the globe — including India, Kenya, and the U.S. — Raman witnessed firsthand the disadvantages her talented colleagues in each of these regions faced when it came to gaining adequate opportunities and resources to pursue careers in STEM fields.

“I went to school with classmates who were excelling beyond everyone else in STEM subjects, yet didn’t have the resources or the opportunities to pursue a career in these fields,” Raman recalls. “It’s frustrating; we have so many problems [in science and engineering] to solve and we can’t miss out on anyone who can offer their talents.”

Raman says that these early life experiences inspired her to become a staunch advocate for STEM education and outreach, and to focus on empowering women and underrepresented minorities to pursue degrees in STEM fields.

She has been actively involved with various outreach endeavors, including the University of Illinois chapter of the Graduate Society of Women Engineers, which she helped found and grow during her time as a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Raman currently serves on the Women in Academia Committee for the national chapter of the Society of Women Engineers, and confers with other postdocs, young faculty members, and others across the country about the advancement of women in engineering and technology.

She is also a volunteer for the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research’s Public Outreach Program, through which she speaks with middle and high school students about life in the lab. This spring, Raman worked with fellow Koch Institute researchers to design and build a cancer research-themed mini-golf course for the Cambridge Science Festival — which aims to engage people of all ages in STEM learning through multifaceted, multicultural events.

But Raman’s interest in making science and technology accessible to diverse audiences is not just extracurricular. During her time at the University of Illinois, she helped to design and lead a course that focused on teaching students the process of ethically designing, building, evaluating, and optimizing bio-hybrid robots targeted at a variety of applications, and she has carried this experience with her to MIT as well.

Bio-hybrid design

In the lab of Institute Professor Robert Langer at MIT's Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, Raman focuses on developing adaptive materials for long-term sensing and drug delivery in some of the most challenging environments in the body. She is currently working with fellow Langer Lab researchers to create a long-lasting capsule that can safely and effectively deliver drugs to the stomach. She also collaborates with researchers in the Cima and Graybiel labs to build implantable devices for drug delivery to the brain.

Raman says her decision to join the Langer Lab, the largest biomedical engineering lab in the world, was based largely on her passion for bio-hybrid design, which involves developing systems that are half biological and half synthetic.

“A lot of labs today do not have the experience to build both biological and synthetic materials,” she says. “That’s why I came to the Langer Lab and MIT — to learn how to design and build new synthetic materials so I can one day start a bio-hybrid design-based lab.”

Sharing her knowledge with others remains a central tenet of Raman’s endeavors, however. Recently, she guided students through designing an implantable pump that can deliver drugs to the brain, helping to diagnose and treat brain disorders, specifically anxiety and depression.

With bio-hybrid design still a relatively new approach, Raman plans to one day apply her experience in STEM education to develop curriculum in this area, including teaching others how to build with adaptive materials and guiding students to explore the ethics of building with biology. She also hopes to empower future scientists and engineers to effectively write about science policy to advocate for more government support.

“My goal is to teach the next generation of inventors to build with biological and synthetic materials in synchrony,” Raman says. “I appreciate that L’Oréal recognized not only women who are pursuing research in science and engineering, but those who have dedicated a lot of time to STEM outreach and education.”

Categories: In the News

Digital Diploma debuts at MIT

MIT News - Tue, 10/17/2017 - 15:10

In 1868, the fledgling Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Boylston Street awarded its first diplomas to 14 graduates. Since then, it has issued paper credentials to more than 207,000 undergraduate and graduate students in much the same way.

But this summer, as part of a pilot program, a cohort of 111 graduates became the first to have the option to receive their diplomas on their smartphones via an app, in addition to the traditional format. The pilot resulted from a partnership between the MIT Registrar’s Office and Learning Machine, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based software development company.

The app is called Blockcerts Wallet, and it enables students to quickly and easily get a verifiable, tamper-proof version of their diploma that they can share with employers, schools, family, and friends. To ensure the security of the diploma, the pilot utilizes the same blockchain technology that powers the digital currency Bitcoin. It also integrates with MIT’s identity provider, Touchstone. And while digital credentials aren’t new — some schools and businesses are already touting their use of them — the MIT pilot is groundbreaking because it gives students autonomy over their own records.

“From the beginning, one of our primary motivations has been to empower students to be the curators of their own credentials,” says Registrar and Senior Associate Dean Mary Callahan. “This pilot makes it possible for them to have ownership of their records and be able to share them in a secure way, with whomever they choose.”

The Institute is among the first universities to make the leap, says Chris Jagers, co-founder and CEO of Learning Machine.

“MIT has issued official records in a format that can exist even if the institution goes away, even if we go away as a vendor,” Jagers says. “People can own and use their official records, which is a fundamental shift.”

Ideas collide

When Callahan first read about the blockchain a few years ago, she was immediately intrigued. It seemed to provide permanence, convenience, and a level of security worthy of the student record, and she wondered: Could the Registrar’s Office use the technology to issue digital records, like a diploma? She decided to look into the possibility.

As it turned out, MIT’s experimentation with blockchain technology was already well underway. In 2015, Philipp Schmidt, the director of learning innovation at the MIT Media Lab, had begun issuing internal, non-academic digital certificates to his team. Schmidt had realized that, despite the rise of decentralized, informal online learning opportunities, there was no digital way to track and manage these accomplishments. He says he became interested in finding a “more modular credentialing environment, where you would get some kind of recognition for lots of things you did throughout your life.”

Soon, Learning Machine and Schmidt’s team at the Media Lab discovered they had a mutual interest in developing secure official records and began to collaborate. Throughout 2016, using Schmidt’s team’s prototypes, they developed an open-source toolkit called Blockcerts, which any developer or school can use to issue and verify blockchain-based educational credentials.

When Callahan and Jagers connected last fall, it became clear that a partnership on a small pilot would be an ideal way to put Blockcerts to the test. “Mary was very up-to-date and had been introduced to concepts of cryptography, so she and her office were really excited to try out this technology,” says Jagers.

Callahan says that, for the Registrar's Office, “it was the perfect confluence: technology developed at MIT and a vendor who was aware of MIT’s culture as a community that values learning, at a time when a comprehensive record of lifelong learning was an evolving need.”

Harnessing the power of the blockchain

That technology draws on the Bitcoin blockchain, an open, global ledger that records transactions on a distributed database. Each transaction — known as a block — is encrypted, timestamped, and then added to the previous block on the chain, creating a timeline. A transaction cannot be modified once it is recorded, because any change in one block would require the alteration of all subsequent blocks, and because the information is distributed across a decentralized, worldwide network of computers.

The software Learning Machine developed uses the Bitcoin blockchain, but it’s not the only blockchain around. Jagers says that recently there has been a proliferation of new types of blockchains, but that Bitcoin remains the gold standard for Learning Machine’s purposes because it prioritizes security over other qualities like speed, cost, or ease of use. “We believe it’s still the right choice for official records that need to last a lifetime and work anywhere in the world,” he says.

Learning Machine also recognized early on that there was a missing link in the system, despite the potential of blockchain technology to make official, recipient-owned credentials a reality. In order for the information to be encrypted, the user also needs to obtain a public and private key — a set of unique numerical identifiers that represent them.

“It’s a huge roadblock to tell students to go generate public-private key pairs for the Bitcoin blockchain,” Jagers says. “Nobody has any idea what you’re talking about.”

Blockcerts Wallet solves that problem. After the student downloads the app, it generates the public-private key pair and sends the public key to MIT, where it is written into the digital record. Next, a one-way hash (a string of numbers that can be used for verification later) is added to the blockchain. The diploma information itself doesn’t go onto the blockchain, just the timestamped transaction indicating that MIT created the digital record. Finally, MIT emails the digital diploma (a JavaScript Object Notation file, or JSON) with the student’s public key inscribed into it. Because the mobile app on the student’s phone has their unique private key, the student can prove ownership of the diploma.

The pilot begins

This year, the Registrar’s Office contacted 85 master of finance and 26 master of science in media arts and sciences June graduates to let them know their secure digital diplomas were available via the Blockcerts Wallet app.

For students, the benefits go beyond mere novelty. They can share their diplomas almost immediately with whomever they please, free of charge, without involving an intermediary. This is particularly important for students who need to prove to an employer or another university that they have an MIT diploma. And thanks to the blockchain, the third party can easily verify that the diploma is legitimate without having to contact the Registrar’s Office. Using a portal, employers or schools can paste a link or upload a student’s digital diploma file and receive a verification immediately. The portal essentially uses the blockchain as a notary, locating the transaction ID (which identifies when the digital record was added to the blockchain), verifying the keys, and confirming that nothing has been altered since the record was added.

Callahan is pleased with the outcome of the pilot so far.

“Our goals were to build our own knowledge and confidence, while utilizing student feedback,” she says. “We believe this adds great value to higher education.” In fact, Callahan has already received inquiries about the pilot from a number of universities around the world and from colleagues in the European Commission.

The promise of transformative technology

Both Callahan and Jagers agree that the blockchain technology has enormous potential.

“We’ve just begun to scratch the surface of where this will lead. It’s really an exciting time,” Callahan says.

One possible application is creating stackable certificates on the blockchain, which would enable an individual to link credentials from different institutions — for example, an undergraduate degree from one university, a graduate degree from another, and a professional certification. Jagers says he believes it will soon be possible to embed links or IDs of other pre-existing digital records into a new meta-record.

“It’s not just about solving a problem,” he adds. “It really is transformative. And it could be as big as the web, because it affects every sector. It’s not just academic records. It’s being able to passively know that digital things are true. That creates a whole new reality across every sector.”

The Registrar’s Office has expanded the digital diploma pilot to include a cohort of students who graduated in September. Over the long term, Callahan hopes to explore the possibility of offering digital records for other learning credentials MIT students may obtain from programs such as MIT Professional Education, the Kaufman Teaching Certificate Program, and the Bernard M. Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program.

Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz calls the new ability for MIT to issue robust and portable credentials “exciting, and necessary, to keep up with the demands of our on-campus students and learners around the world.”

“It’s also gratifying to see how innovation happens everywhere here, especially in places where you might not expect it like our Registrar’s Office,” Waitz says. “I applaud their creative experimentation and see their approach as a model and source of inspiration for others to push academic boundaries.”

Categories: In the News

How we determine who’s to blame

MIT News - Tue, 10/17/2017 - 11:59

How do people assign a cause to events they witness? Some philosophers have suggested that people determine responsibility for a particular outcome by imagining what would have happened if a suspected cause had not intervened.

This kind of reasoning, known as counterfactual simulation, is believed to occur in many situations. For example, soccer referees deciding whether a player should be credited with an “own goal” — a goal accidentally scored for the opposing team — must try to determine what would have happened had the player not touched the ball.

This process can be conscious, as in the soccer example, or unconscious, so that we are not even aware we are doing it. Using technology that tracks eye movements, cognitive scientists at MIT have now obtained the first direct evidence that people unconsciously use counterfactual simulation to imagine how a situation could have played out differently.

“This is the first time that we or anybody have been able to see those simulations happening online, to count how many a person is making, and show the correlation between those simulations and their judgments,” says Josh Tenenbaum, a professor in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, a member of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and the senior author of the new study.

Tobias Gerstenberg, a postdoc at MIT who will be joining Stanford’s Psychology Department as an assistant professor next year, is the lead author of the paper, which appears in the Oct. 17 issue of Psychological Science. Other authors of the paper are MIT postdoc Matthew Peterson, Stanford University Associate Professor Noah Goodman, and University College London Professor David Lagnado.

Follow the ball

Until now, studies of counterfactual simulation could only use reports from people describing how they made judgments about responsibility, which offered only indirect evidence of how their minds were working.

Gerstenberg, Tenenbaum, and their colleagues set out to find more direct evidence by tracking people’s eye movements as they watched two billiard balls collide. The researchers created 18 videos showing different possible outcomes of the collisions. In some cases, the collision knocked one of the balls through a gate; in others, it prevented the ball from doing so.

Before watching the videos, some participants were told that they would be asked to rate how strongly they agreed with statements related to ball A’s effect on ball B, such as, “Ball A caused ball B to go through the gate.” Other participants were asked simply what the outcome of the collision was. 

As the subjects watched the videos, the researchers were able to track their eye movements using an infrared light that reflects off the pupil and reveals where the eye is looking. This allowed the researchers, for the first time, to gain a window into how the mind imagines possible outcomes that did not occur.

“What’s really cool about eye tracking is it lets you see things that you’re not consciously aware of,” Tenenbaum says. “When psychologists and philosophers have proposed the idea of counterfactual simulation, they haven’t necessarily meant that you do this consciously. It’s something going on behind the surface, and eye tracking is able to reveal that.”

The researchers found that when participants were asked questions about ball A’s effect on the path of ball B, their eyes followed the course that ball B would have taken had ball A not interfered. Furthermore, the more uncertainty there was as to whether ball A had an effect on the outcome, the more often participants looked toward ball B’s imaginary trajectory.

“It’s in the close cases where you see the most counterfactual looks. They’re using those looks to resolve the uncertainty,” Tenenbaum says.

Participants who were asked only what the actual outcome had been did not perform the same eye movements along ball B’s alternative pathway.

“The idea that causality is based on counterfactual thinking is an idea that has been around for a long time, but direct evidence is largely lacking,” says Phillip Wolff, an associate professor of psychology at Emory University, who was not involved in the research. “This study offers more direct evidence for that view.”

In this video, two participants' eye-movements are tracked while they watch a video clip. The blue dot indicates where each participant is looking on the screen. The participant on the left was asked to judge whether they thought that ball B went through the middle of the gate. Participants asked this question mostly looked at the balls and tried to predict where ball B would go. The participant on the right was asked to judge whether ball A caused ball B to go through the gate. Participants asked this question tried to simulate where ball B would have gone if ball A hadn't been present in the scene. (Image: Tobias Gerstenberg)

How people think

The researchers are now using this approach to study more complex situations in which people use counterfactual simulation to make judgments of causality.

“We think this process of counterfactual simulation is really pervasive,” Gerstenberg says. “In many cases it may not be supported by eye movements, because there are many kinds of abstract counterfactual thinking that we just do in our mind. But the billiard-ball collisions lead to a particular kind of counterfactual simulation where we can see it.”

One example the researchers are studying is the following: Imagine ball C is headed for the gate, while balls A and B each head toward C. Either one could knock C off course, but A gets there first. Is B off the hook, or should it still bear some responsibility for the outcome?

“Part of what we are trying to do with this work is get a little bit more clarity on how people deal with these complex cases. In an ideal world, the work we’re doing can inform the notions of causality that are used in the law,” Gerstenberg says. “There is quite a bit of interaction between computer science, psychology, and legal science. We’re all in the same game of trying to understand how people think about causation.”

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation through MIT’s Center for Brains, Minds and Machines, and by the Office of Naval Research.

Categories: In the News

Deshpande Center and Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab announce fall 2017 research grants

MIT News - Tue, 10/17/2017 - 11:10

The MIT Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation announced today the award of $768,000 in grants to 17 MIT research teams currently working on early-stage technologies. The Deshpande Center also manages the J-WAFS Solutions program for the Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab, which awarded $675,000 in project funding to five teams. This year’s projects span a wide range of areas, including drug delivery, energy, 3-D printing, medical device, displays, and data communications.

The Deshpande Center was established in 2002 through a gift from Desh and Jaishree Deshpande. Since its inception, the center has provided over $17,000,000 in grants to more than 143 MIT research projects. It serves as a catalyst for innovation and entrepreneurship by supporting leading-edge research and bridging the gap between the laboratory and marketplace. Thirty-four projects have spun out of the center as independent startups, having collectively raised over $700 million in outside financing.

Funded through a research partnership with Community Jameel (the social enterprise arm of Abdul Latif Jameel Enterprises) and administered in partnership with the MIT Deshpande Center, the J-WAFS Solutions program aims to help MIT faculty and students commercialize breakthrough technologies and inventions by transforming ideas into products and spinoff companies that have a transformational effect on water and food systems worldwide. The program supports projects that bring tangible economic and societal benefits to the communities where they are deployed.

“Projects funded by the Deshpande Center and J-WAFS have enormous potential to make an impact on our quality of life,” says Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of the School of Engineering and the Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “The support these programs give to move basic research to commercially viable technologies is critically important to the impact these ideas will have in the world.”

2017 Deshpande Center grant recipients:

  • "Structured Nucleic Acid Nanoparticle Therapeutic Delivery Platform" — Mark Bathe, Darrell Irvine, and Feng Zhang with Remi Veneziano and Matthew Stone

Targeted, efficient delivery of nucleic acid therapeutics is one of the largest current bottlenecks to the treatment of human diseases. This project will translate structured nucleic acid nanoparticles to the clinic by offering full synthetic control over the chemical composition of the delivery vehicle, homogeneous and reproducible composition, and variable vector conjugation for targeting therapeutic nucleic acid and small molecule payloads to diverse cells and tissues. 

  • "Solid-State Color Pixel for E-Paper Displays" — Geoff Beach with Mantao Huang

E-paper consumes minimal power and is more comfortable to read than light-emitting displays. However, existing technologies use fluid-based cells with relatively slow update speed and large cell size, which limits the pixel density and display resolution. This project will develop a technology for a simple color pixel structure that will ease fabrication and lower power consumption and cost, while delivering high resolution and compatibility with flexible substrates.  

  • "Active Structural Batteries" (renewal from 2016) — Angela Belcher with Alan Ransil

Currently 60-90% of the weight of the battery package in an electric car or an unmanned aerial vehicle is inactive and  does not contribute to energy storage. This project is developing a structural approach to build vehicle components from materials that do contribute to energy storage, which will enable electrical vehicles with longer battery lifetimes.

  • "Efficient Drug Discovery Screening" (renewal from 2016) — Paul Blainey with Anthony Kulesa and Jared Kehe

In the United States, antibiotic-resistant infections cause more than 23,000 deaths and $20-35 billion in direct health care costs. Modern biology suggests that combinations of drugs are more effective than a single antibiotic, however, screening all combinations is an intractable challenge. This project plans to bring combinatorial discovery within reach by lowering costs and increasing throughput more than sixfold over the current state-of-the-art. 

  • "Convection Enhanced Electrochemical Energy Storage" (renewal from 2016) — Fikile Brushett with Thomas Carney

Modern enclosed rechargeable batteries are generally limited in performance because inactive components occupy a majority of the battery weight and volume, leading to lower energy densities and higher costs. This project aims to develop a new energy storage concept — a convection-enhanced rechargeable battery that overcomes the diffusive transport losses, leading to higher energy density, lower cost, and safer operation.  

  • "Local Drug Delivery for Facilitating Expedited Urinary Stone Passage" — Michael Cima with Christopher Lee and Brian Eisner

Approximately 12 percent of men and 5 percent of women will experience at least one symptomatic urinary stone by age 70. Stones when lodged in the ureter result in extreme pain, nausea, vomiting, emergency room visits, missed work, and, for some, surgery to remove stones that fail to pass. Over 3.1 million workdays are lost and $5.3 billion in cost is incurred treating stones in the U.S., annually. This project will develop a locally delivered, outpatient-based therapy offering expedited stone passage. 

  • "Non-Invasive Hydration Sensor for Elderly Care" — Luca Daniel and Martha Gray with Ian Butterworth 

Particularly in older people, dehydration is the spark that can initiate dire clinical consequences, including falls, kidney failure, and increased infections. These could be prevented by oral rehydration, but presently, individuals and caregivers often don’t know they are dehydrated until it is too late. This project is developing a new sensor that can provide actionable information about hydration status.

  • "Bedside Testing of Coagulation Function and Biomarkers" (renewal from 2016) — James Fox with Galit Frydman

Many diseases disrupt the balance in our blood coagulation system and result in life-threatening bleeding and clotting events. While there have been many new anticoagulant drugs, the lack of timely testing for these new drugs is a crucial limiting factor. This project is developing rapid, bedside blood diagnostics and drug monitoring capabilities to be read in under 10 minutes. 

  • "Non-invasive White Cell Count Prototype" (renewal from 2016) — Martha Gray with Carlos Castro-Gonzalez

Several chemotherapy regimens yield better survival when administered with higher frequency and dose. However, because chemotherapy administration can only be given when there is an adequate white blood cell count (to confer the ability to fight infection) the typical treatment is conservatively set at a lower frequency and dose. This project is to develop a noninvasive white blood cell test that enables much more frequent measurement, thereby enabling physicians to personalize chemotherapy planning and improve the efficacy and safety of the overall treatment.

  • "Micro fabricated Polymer Biomaterials for Enhancing 3-D Tissue Culture Platforms" — Linda Griffith and Paula Hammond with Marianna Sofman

There is growing interest to develop more physiologically relevant 3-D tissue culture systems for improved disease modeling as well as long-term drug toxicity screening. This project will develop polymer microparticles with customizable biophysical and biochemical properties that can be designed to accommodate cells’ culture needs.  

  • "Digital 3-D Printing of Microparticles" — John Hart with Justin Beroz and Ulrich Muecke 

On-demand production, especially for complex and high value parts, would be valuable to many industries. Additive manufacturing processes broadly aim to enable this; however, state-of-the-art methods cannot achieve the dimensional resolution and surface finish required for many precision applications. This project will develop a new direct-write printing technology, to enable high resolution multi-material deposition, at speeds comparable to inkjet printing. 

  • "Engineered Protein Treatments for Hair Repair and Long-Lasting Color Retention" — Bradley Olsen with Sieun Kim and Lavinia Popescou 

Repeated washing, drying, straightening, and dyeing of hair breaks the protective cuticle and damages the hair. Treatment with lipids protects the hair surface and makes it easier to comb, but is easily removed by shampooing. Olsen’s lab is poised to develop novel polymer-based technology that binds to the hair, providing persistent bioactives that protect the cuticle and repair damage on a wide range of hair types.

  • "Low-cost Spectroscopy Solutions for Raman Sensing and Beyond" — Rajeev Ram with Atabaki Amir

The cost and size of high-performance spectroscopy instruments often limits their application. This project leverages recent advances in photonic integration and in image sensors to reconstruct optical spectra. Together, these technologies will build systems that have 100 times greater sensitivity at comparable spectral resolution, and one-tenth the cost of materials. 

  • "Mucin-inspired Agents to Manage Infections" (renewal from 2016) — Katharina Ribbeck with Kelsey Wheeler and Bradley Turner

The global rise of antibiotic resistance presents a clear danger and urges the development of innovative approaches to treat and prevent infections. This mucin-inspired project will enable healthy microbe diversity by developing a synthetic microbe-taming barrier to microbial infections. 

  • "Engineered Binding Proteins as Replacements for Antibodies in Immunoassays: — Hadley Sikes with Eric Miller and Ki Joo Sung

Protein biomarkers can be used to indicate illness and injury in humans and in organisms that are consumed as food. Assay development is limited by the availability of high-quality binding molecules, typically antibodies, with appropriate specificity for their target. This project plans to replace antibodies in diagnostic tests with engineered binders for faster development timelines and improved performance. 

  • "Optically Transparent Thermally Insulating Retrofits for Single-pane Windows: — Evelyn Wang, Gang Chen, and Xuanhe Zhao with Elise Strobach and Bikram Bhatia

Single-pane windows are the most energy inefficient component of our buildings, accounting for about $12 billion annually due to high heat losses. While newer installations often include energy efficient multi-pane windows, single-panes are being phased out at a rate of only 2 percent per year because of high replacement cost. This project will develop retrofits with the thermal performance of air-filled double-pane glazing and transparency as good as glass, with minimal weight addition and, nominal installed cost. 

  • "Digital Tools for In-Field Data Collection" (renewal from 2016) — Chris Zegras with Daniel Heriberto Palencia Arreola

New digital tools will provide an easy-to-deploy, easy-to-manage, low-cost, cloud-based, field data gathering system, leveraging smartphone technology. The platform takes the complexity out of the design of digitally based data collection, enabling users to quickly set up projects that allow an unlimited number of mobile devices to upload information to the cloud. 

Fall 2017 J-WAFS Solutions grant recipients:

  • "Developing Intelligent Selective Electrodialysis for 21st Century Agriculture" — John Lienhard with Kishor Nayar and Amit Kumar

This project seeks  to improve agricultural practices and crop yield, especially for hydroponic growers. The team is developing a system called Intelligent Selective Electrodialysis (ISED) to reduce water salinity. ISED selectively removes  ions  harmful to crops and retains those that are beneficial, an improvement over existing reverse osmosis desalination processes. 

  • "Reducing Runoff and Environmental Impact of Agricultural Sprays" — Kripa Varanasi with Maher Damak

This project is developing novel spray formulations to improve the application of agricultural pesticides. These new formulations enable the pesticide  drops to adhere better to leaf and fruit surfaces without bouncing or rolling off, thereby decreasing the volume of pesticide application and limiting  pollution of soils, surface water, and groundwater.  

  • "Field-scale Quality Assurance in India’s Dairy Industry" — Sanjay Sarma with Pranay Jain

Milk procurement in India’s dairy industry is complicated, uncontrolled, and vulnerable to tampering. The safety and quality of milk products are difficult to manage. To ensure real-time control across the dairy industry supply chain — from farmers  to collection centers  to processing plants, this project will develop a handheld device that can inexpensively test the quality of milk by measuring milk fat and protein.   

  • "Development of Low-Cost Water Filter Using Sapwood Xylem" (renewal from 2016) — Rohit Karnik with Megha Hedge, Kendra Leith, Luda Wang, Malavika Chauhan and Krithika Ramchander 

This project explores a novel approach to address the largely unmet need for providing safe and affordable drinking water to low-income groups by developing low-cost water filters that use the natural filtration capabilities of xylem tissue in wood. The project will validate filtration performance in the lab and in the field, while also assessing the usability, desirability, and affordability of low-cost filters and devising a strategy for local manufacture and commercialization. Filtration devices developed from this material could be low-cost household water filters in developing countries or could be distributed by relief agencies anywhere in the world in emergencies. 

  • "Rapid Detection of Pathogenic Bacteria" (renewal from 2016) — Tim Swager and Alex Klibanov with Myles Herbert, Kent Harvey and Qifan Zhang

Foodborne illnesses can lead to human suffering, expensive medical treatments, lawsuits, government sanctions, product recalls, tarnished corporate reputations, and sometimes even death. This project will develop an inexpensive biosensor able to rapidly detect multiple types of pathogenic bacteria in food and water to prevent widespread infection. 

Categories: In the News

Grand Junction path, grad student housing lead MIT’s Volpe community benefits offer

Cambridge Day - Tue, 10/17/2017 - 02:13
There’s a lot on the table as city councillors gather for a final review of MIT’s proposed remake of the federal Volpe center in Kendall Square, with a sweetened list of community benefits that lists 950 new grad student beds – depending who's doing the math.
Categories: In the News

A new way to harness wasted methane

MIT News - Tue, 10/17/2017 - 00:00

Methane gas, a vast natural resource, is often disposed of through burning, but new research by scientists at MIT could make it easier to capture this gas for use as fuel or a chemical feedstock.

Many oil wells burn off methane — the largest component of natural gas — in a process called flaring, which currently wastes 150 billion cubic meters of the gas each year and generates a staggering 400 million tons of carbon dioxide, making this process a significant contributor to global warming. Letting the gas escape unburned would lead to even greater environmental harm, however, because methane is an even more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide is.

Why is all this methane being wasted, when at the same time natural gas is touted as an important “bridge” fuel as the world steers away from fossil fuels, and is the centerpiece of the so-called shale-gas revolution? The answer, as the saying goes in the real estate business, is simple: location, location, location.

The wells where methane is flared away are primarily being exploited for their petroleum; the methane is simply a byproduct. In places where it is convenient to do so, methane is captured and used to generate electrical power or produce chemicals. However, special equipment is needed to cool and pressurize methane gas, and special pressurized containers or pipelines are needed to transport it. In many places, such as offshore oil platforms or remote oil fields far from the needed infrastructure, that’s just not economically viable.

But now, MIT chemistry professor Yogesh Surendranath and three colleagues have found a way to use electricity, which could potentially come from renewable sources, to convert methane into derivatives of methanol, a liquid that can be made into automotive fuel or used as a precursor to a variety of chemical products. This new method may allow for lower-cost methane conversion at remote sites. The findings, described in the journal ACS Central Science, could pave the way to making use of a significant methane supply that is otherwise totally wasted.

“This finding opens the doors for a new paradigm of methane conversion chemistry,” says Jillian Dempsey, an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of North Carolina, who was not involved in this work.

Existing industrial processes for converting methane to liquid intermediate chemical forms requires very high operating temperatures and large, capital-intensive equipment. Instead, the researchers have developed a low-temperature electrochemical process that would continuously replenish a catalyst material that can rapidly carry out the conversion. This technology could potentially lead to “a relatively low-cost, on-site addition to existing wellhead operations,” says Surendranath, who is the Paul M. Cook Career Development Assistant Professor in MIT’s Department of Chemistry.

The electricity to power such systems could come from wind turbines or solar panels close to the site, he says. This electrochemical process, he says, could provide a way to do the methane conversion — a process also known as functionalizing — “remotely, where a lot of the ‘stranded’ methane reserves are.”

Already, he says, “methane is playing a key role as a transition fuel.” But the amount of this valuable fuel that is now just flared away, he says, “is pretty staggering.” That vast amount of wasted natural gas can even be seen in satellite images of the Earth at night, in areas such as the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota that light up as brightly as big metropolitan areas due to flaring. Based on World Bank estimates, global flaring of methane wastes an amount equivalent to approximately one-fifth of U.S. natural gas consumption.

When that gas gets flared off rather than directly released, Surendranath says, “you’re reducing the environmental harm, but you’re also wasting the energy.” Finding a way to do methane conversion at sufficiently low cost to make it practical for remote sites “has been a grand challenge in chemistry for decades,” he says. What makes methane conversion so tough is that the carbon-hydrogen bonds in the methane molecule resist being broken, and at the same time there’s a risk of overdoing the reaction and ending up with a runaway process that destroys the desired end-product.

Catalysts that could do the job have been studied for many years, but they typically require harsh chemical agents that limit the speed of the reaction, he says. The key new advance was adding an electrical driving force that could be tuned precisely to generate more potent catalysts with very high reaction rates. “Since we’re using electricity to drive the process, this opens up new opportunities for making the process more rapid, selective, and portable than existing methods,” Surendranath says. And in addition, “we can access catalysts that no one has observed before, because we’re generating them in a new way.”

The result of the reaction is a pair of liquid chemicals, methyl bisulfate and methanesulfonic acid, which can be further processed to make liquid methanol, a valuable chemical intermediate to fuels, plastics, and pharmaceuticals. The additional processing steps needed to make methanol remain very challenging and must be perfected before this technology can be implemented on an industrial scale. The researchers are actively refining their method to tackle these technological hurdles.

 “This work really stands out because it not only reports a new system for selective catalytic functionalization of methane to methanol precursors, but it includes detailed insight into how the system is able to carry out this selective chemistry. The mechanistic information will be instrumental in translating this exciting discovery into an industrial technology,” Dempsey says.

The research team included postdoc Matthew O’Reilly and doctoral students Rebecca Soyoung Kim and Seokjoon Oh, all in MIT’s Department of Chemistry. The work was supported by the Italian energy company Eni S.p.A. through the MIT Energy Initiative.

Categories: In the News

Using artificial intelligence to improve early breast cancer detection

MIT News - Mon, 10/16/2017 - 23:59

Every year 40,000 women die from breast cancer in the U.S. alone. When cancers are found early, they can often be cured. Mammograms are the best test available, but they’re still imperfect and often result in false positive results that can lead to unnecessary biopsies and surgeries.

One common cause of false positives are so-called “high-risk” lesions that appear suspicious on mammograms and have abnormal cells when tested by needle biopsy. In this case, the patient typically undergoes surgery to have the lesion removed; however, the lesions turn out to be benign at surgery 90 percent of the time. This means that every year thousands of women go through painful, expensive, scar-inducing surgeries that weren’t even necessary.

How, then, can unnecessary surgeries be eliminated while still maintaining the important role of mammography in cancer detection? Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Massachusetts General Hospital, and Harvard Medical School believe that the answer is to turn to artificial intelligence (AI).

As a first project to apply AI to improving detection and diagnosis, the teams collaborated to develop an AI system that uses machine learning to predict if a high-risk lesion identified on needle biopsy after a mammogram will upgrade to cancer at surgery.

When tested on 335 high-risk lesions, the model correctly diagnosed 97 percent of the breast cancers as malignant and reduced the number of benign surgeries by more than 30 percent compared to existing approaches.

“Because diagnostic tools are so inexact, there is an understandable tendency for doctors to over-screen for breast cancer,” says Regina Barzilay, MIT’s Delta Electronics Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a breast cancer survivor herself. “When there’s this much uncertainty in data, machine learning is exactly the tool that we need to improve detection and prevent over-treatment.”

Trained on information about more than 600 existing high-risk lesions, the model looks for patterns among many different data elements that include demographics, family history, past biopsies, and pathology reports.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to apply machine learning to the task of distinguishing high-risk lesions that need surgery from those that don’t,” says collaborator Constance Lehman, professor at Harvard Medical School and chief of the Breast Imaging Division at MGH’s Department of Radiology. “We believe this could support women to make more informed decisions about their treatment, and that we could provide more targeted approaches to health care in general.”

A recent MacArthur “genius grant” recipient, Barzilay is a co-author of a new journal article describing the results, co-written with Lehman and Manisha Bahl of MGH, as well as CSAIL graduate students Nicholas Locascio, Adam Yedidia, and Lili Yu. The article was published today in the medical journal Radiology.

How it works

When a mammogram detects a suspicious lesion, a needle biopsy is performed to determine if it is cancer. Roughly 70 percent of the lesions are benign, 20 percent are malignant, and 10 percent are high-risk lesions.

Doctors manage high-risk lesions in different ways. Some do surgery in all cases, while others perform surgery only for lesions that have higher cancer rates, such as “atypical ductal hyperplasia” (ADH) or a “lobular carcinoma in situ” (LCIS).

The first approach requires that the patient undergo a painful, time-consuming, and expensive surgery that is usually unnecessary; the second approach is imprecise and could result in missing cancers in high-risk lesions other than ADH and LCIS.

“The vast majority of patients with high-risk lesions do not have cancer, and we’re trying to find the few that do,” says Bahl, a fellow doctor at MGH’s Department of Radiology. “In a scenario like this there’s always a risk that when you try to increase the number of cancers you can identify, you’ll also increase the number of false positives you find.”

Using a method known as a “random-forest classifier,” the team's model resulted in fewer unnecessary surgeries compared to the strategy of always doing surgery, while also being able to diagnose more cancerous lesions than the strategy of only doing surgery on traditional “high-risk lesions.” (Specifically, the new model diagnosed 97 percent of cancers compared to 79 percent.)

“This work highlights an example of using cutting-edge machine learning technology to avoid unnecessary surgery,” says Marc Kohli, director of clinical informatics in the Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging at the University of California at San Francisco. “This is the first step toward the medical community embracing machine learning as a way to identify patterns and trends that are otherwise invisible to humans.”

Lehman says that MGH radiologists will begin incorporating the model into their clinical practice over the next year.

“In the past we might have recommended that all high-risk lesions be surgically excised,” Lehman says. “But now, if the model determines that the lesion has a very low chance of being cancerous in a specific patient, we can have a more informed discussion with our patient about her options. It may be reasonable for some patients to have their lesions followed with imaging rather than surgically excised.”

The team says that they are still working to further hone the model.

“In future work we hope to incorporate the actual images from the mammograms and images of the pathology slides, as well as more extensive patient information from medical records,” says Bahl.

Moving forward, the model could also easily be tweaked to be applied to other kinds of cancer and even other diseases entirely.

“A model like this will work anytime you have lots of different factors that correlate with a specific outcome,” says Barzilay. “It hopefully will enable us to start to go beyond a one-size-fits-all approach to medical diagnosis.”

Categories: In the News

ShotSpotter: Case study for why Cambridge requires surveillance oversight ordinance

Cambridge Day - Mon, 10/16/2017 - 22:51
Adopting an ordinance that requires City Council review of surveillance technology empowers our elected representatives to make choices, rather than police under pressure. We take it on ourselves to hold those officials accountable come election time.
Categories: In the News

Meet Your Scout’s Honored Winners: Arts, Entertainment, and Media

Scout Cambridge - Mon, 10/16/2017 - 20:06

MOVIE THEATER: KENDALL SQUARE CINEMA Catching a quirky independent flick or avant-garde foreign film at Kendall Square Cinema got even better earlier this year when...

The post Meet Your Scout’s Honored Winners: Arts, Entertainment, and Media appeared first on Scout Cambridge.

Categories: In the News

Furnishing Hope Finds a New Home

Scout Cambridge - Mon, 10/16/2017 - 19:32

Furnishing Hope, a nonprofit that works with recently housed families to make sure they have the essential furniture for their homes, is moving into Harvard...

The post Furnishing Hope Finds a New Home appeared first on Scout Cambridge.

Categories: In the News

Police conducting search for home invader reported with gun, knife in Cambridgeport

Cambridge Day - Mon, 10/16/2017 - 16:06
A reported home invasion brought police to Andrew Street today, where officers conducted a protective sweep. Officers continue to search the surrounding Cambridgeport area, police said Monday afternoon.
Categories: In the News

Mapathon seeks to direct humanitarian aid for Puerto Rico

MIT News - Mon, 10/16/2017 - 15:20

Hurricane Maria caused catastrophic damage across Puerto Rico when it made landfall on Sept. 20. As the second hurricane to hit the island in a two-week period, the powerful storm devastated the territory’s already-strained infrastructure and left behind a humanitarian crisis affecting the entire island.

The lack of power and water across the majority of Puerto Rico has been widely reported. A group of volunteers from across the Boston area recently gathered at MIT to address another shortage that is complicating relief efforts: accurate maps.

Galvanized by news coverage of an effort at Columbia University, 45 volunteers recently gathered in MIT’s Dewey Library for a “mapathon.” Drawn from MIT, Harvard University, Maptime Boston, and the wider Boston/Cambridge community, the diverse group shared a common goal: to contribute skills in geographic information systems (GIS) to help develop a thorough map of the island’s structures.

Assessing the damage to critical infrastructure is a complicated challenge because many of the locations most impacted by Hurricane Maria are absent from maps, according to Lily Bui, a doctoral student in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, and one of the event’s co-organizers. This lack of accurate data about the built environment of the area translates into slower and less effective aid reaching those who need it the most.

As a result, the American Red Cross in Puerto Rico urgently requested maps of pre-disaster buildings to provide a better operating picture of island. Having a map with structures, classification of structures, and density of buildings, enables aid workers to make decisions about where to concentrate the delivery of relief and aid efforts on the ground, says Bui, who was joined as a co-host by fellow graduate student Chaewon Ahn, GIS instructor Eric Huntley, and Daniel Sheehan, a senior GIS specialist in the MIT Libraries.

Utilizing the OpenStreetMap platform, the leadership of the event were able to quickly teach volunteers — many of whom had no previous mapping experience — how to trace and tag structures to create maps of pre-disaster Puerto Rico. Working in grids, volunteers referenced a variety of satellite imagery databases as a blue print for their OpenStreetMap. The end result is an evolving, community-sourced map with professional-level detail, made for a fraction of the cost.   

“We were elated to find we could take skills we’ve developed at MIT and create meaningful change for the people affected by the storm in Puerto Rico,” says Bui. “It’s also been uplifting to see how participants are taking the skills they learned from us, spreading them inside their networks, and hosting mapathons of their own. It is aid going virial.”

To find out more about the maps or to contribute to the ongoing work, visit: tasks.hotosm.org/project/3684

Categories: In the News

Mapathon seeks to direct humanitarian aid for Puerto Rico

MIT Events - Mon, 10/16/2017 - 15:20

Hurricane Maria caused catastrophic damage across Puerto Rico when it made landfall on Sept. 20. As the second hurricane to hit the island in a two-week period, the powerful storm devastated the territory’s already-strained infrastructure and left behind a humanitarian crisis affecting the entire island.

The lack of power and water across the majority of Puerto Rico has been widely reported. A group of volunteers from across the Boston area recently gathered at MIT to address another shortage that is complicating relief efforts: accurate maps.

Galvanized by news coverage of an effort at Columbia University, 45 volunteers recently gathered in MIT’s Dewey Library for a “mapathon.” Drawn from MIT, Harvard University, Maptime Boston, and the wider Boston/Cambridge community, the diverse group shared a common goal: to contribute skills in geographic information systems (GIS) to help develop a thorough map of the island’s structures.

Assessing the damage to critical infrastructure is a complicated challenge because many of the locations most impacted by Hurricane Maria are absent from maps, according to Lily Bui, a doctoral student in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, and one of the event’s co-organizers. This lack of accurate data about the built environment of the area translates into slower and less effective aid reaching those who need it the most.

As a result, the American Red Cross in Puerto Rico urgently requested maps of pre-disaster buildings to provide a better operating picture of island. Having a map with structures, classification of structures, and density of buildings, enables aid workers to make decisions about where to concentrate the delivery of relief and aid efforts on the ground, says Bui, who was joined as a co-host by fellow graduate student Chaewon Ahn, GIS instructor Eric Huntley, and Daniel Sheehan, a senior GIS specialist in the MIT Libraries.

Utilizing the OpenStreetMap platform, the leadership of the event were able to quickly teach volunteers — many of whom had no previous mapping experience — how to trace and tag structures to create maps of pre-disaster Puerto Rico. Working in grids, volunteers referenced a variety of satellite imagery databases as a blue print for their OpenStreetMap. The end result is an evolving, community-sourced map with professional-level detail, made for a fraction of the cost.   

“We were elated to find we could take skills we’ve developed at MIT and create meaningful change for the people affected by the storm in Puerto Rico,” says Bui. “It’s also been uplifting to see how participants are taking the skills they learned from us, spreading them inside their networks, and hosting mapathons of their own. It is aid going virial.”

To find out more about the maps or to contribute to the ongoing work, visit: tasks.hotosm.org/project/3684

Categories: In the News

Notable Items on the Oct 16, 2017 City Council Agenda

Cambridge Civic Journal - Mon, 10/16/2017 - 14:19

The posted agenda is relatively light, but there may be more to come from MIT on the Volpe Petition which must be ordained no later than Oct 31. The items I found at least a bit interesting were:

Manager's Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-78, regarding a Police Substation in Central Square.

It seems pretty clear that the Police Commissioner understands the need for police presence in Central Square. The issue is whether this is best accomplished with a fixed structure (whether it be a storefront or a stand-alone structure) or a more mobile presence. We should see a more detailed plan within the next several months.

Manager's Agenda #18. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-80, regarding a report on the Eastern Cambridge Kendall Square Open Space Planning Study.

Just some good information about what's underway regarding open space. If, in addition, plans for the Volpe Center parcel proceed as proposed, the whole Kendall Square area will one day be dramatically improved and better connected. Better sooner than later.

Manager's Agenda #21. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the City Council’s draft Guiding Principles and Goals developed with the assistance of Big Sky Blue Consulting over the course of three public goal setting meetings held during this term.

I have to admit that I don't put a whole lot of stock in these goal-setting processes, but it is interesting to see what the Council comes up with as a snapshot of current sentiments. The devil is usually in the details, and goal statements are generally light on the details.

Unfinished Business #7. An amendment to the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge by adding a new Section 13.90 to Article 13.000 and amend the Zoning Map to add new PUD-7 District. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Oct 16, 2017. Planning Board hearings held July 25, 2017 and Sept 12, 2017. Petition expires Oct 31, 2017.

There have been some indications that MIT may come forward at this meeting with some commitments and timelines - possibly including greater details on its current and future plans for greater on-campus housing options for graduate students and other affiliates. The expiration date of this zoning petition is October 31 and and there are just two more regular Council meetings before then (Oct 23 and Oct 30) [corrected]. An additional Ordinance Committee meeting on this topic has been scheduled for Tues, Oct 17 at 2:30pm.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Community Development Department, the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department, the Department of Public Works, and the Arts Council regarding the feasibility of implementing neighborways on certain streets in Cambridge, propose two streets to pilot as neighborways, and create a process by which a group of residents can request that their street be considered as future neighborways.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

This sounds interesting, but a few specific illustrations would be helpful. Just think how things might have played out if Cambridge Street residents and businesses were allowed to participate in a process like this instead of the "take it or leave it" approach the City took in reconfiguring that street with no real public process.

Order #8. The City Manager is requested to consult with relevant City staff to propose immediate and forward-looking measures to improve and prioritize conservation of Cambridge’s tree canopy before the Urban Forest Master Plan is in place.   Councillor Devereux

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a report from Councillor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Health and Environment Committee for a public hearing held on Sept 26, 2017 to follow up on Policy Order #2 of June 20, 2016 to discuss the City’s Tree Protection Ordinance and possible ways to improve this ordinance to protect the tree canopy while protecting individual property rights.

We all love trees, right? One assumption that seems to run through this report is that tree removal on a neighboring property is something neighbors necessary oppose, but there are cases where a resident may actually want a neighboring property owner to remove a tree. I happen to be one of those residents. If neighbors mutually agree that a tree should be removed would any of the proposed ordinances stand in the way of this? - Robert Winters

Comments?

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Categories: In the News

City Council Candidate Profiles, Group 4 of 5

Scout Cambridge - Mon, 10/16/2017 - 13:47

This year, 26 candidates are running for Cambridge’s nine City Council seats. Scout is putting together profiles on every candidate running for City Council so...

The post City Council Candidate Profiles, Group 4 of 5 appeared first on Scout Cambridge.

Categories: In the News

Good Housekeeping honors rocket scientist Tiera Guinn '17

MIT News - Mon, 10/16/2017 - 13:00

An MIT alumna has won a Good Housekeeping Awesome Women Award, which honors women who are, magazine says, “redefining race, fighting poverty, reinventing fashion, literally saving lives, and more.” Tiera Guinn ’17, a design engineer at Boeing who is building a spacecraft to put humans on Mars, is one of 10 honorees.

“Some kids dream of being princesses, but Tiera Guinn wanted to build rockets,” Guinn's profile in the magazine states. “In June 2016, she realized that dream when Boeing hired her to design and analyze the hardware for the largest NASA rocket ever created — one that’s meant to take humans to Mars — before her recent graduation from MIT.”

Guinn told the magazine that it is “humbling to be a part of this moment in history.”

The article cites Guinn's passion for space exploration and her advocacy for diversity in STEM, which dates back to her time at MIT where she majored in aeronautics and astronautics. As co-chair of MIT’s Black Women’s Alliance, she introduced astronaut Yvonne Cagle at an MIT community-wide talk, “Women in Space,” in May 2015.

The Good Housekeeping award is not the first time Guinn has been recognized for her work. Already this year, she’s been featured in Essence magazine, the The Huffington Post, and USA Todaywhere she has shared her hopes for the future of STEM education and the story of how she first fell in love with math at the grocery store.

In a February story, Huffington Post Black Voices said Guinn “will soon be graduating from MIT with a 5.0 GPA and is clearly on a path to success. She said she’d advise young girls looking to follow in her footsteps to expect obstacles throughout their journey.”

“You have to look forward to your dream and you can’t let anybody get in the way of it,” Guinn is quoted as saying. “No matter how tough it may be, no matter how many tears you might cry, you have to keep pushing. And you have to understand that nothing comes easy. Keeping your eyes on the prize, you can succeed.”

Categories: In the News