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Last Day of School 2018-19

Cambridge Public Schools - Mon, 06/17/2019 - 20:00
Categories: In the News

Health Alliance finds interim chief executive in Sayah, remaker of Cambridge Hospital ER

Cambridge Day - 48 min ago

Cambridge Health Alliance trustees on Tuesday named Dr. Assaad Sayah interim chief executive while the health care system seeks someone to replace retiring chief executive Patrick Wardell.

The post Health Alliance finds interim chief executive in Sayah, remaker of Cambridge Hospital ER appeared first on Cambridge Day.

Categories: In the News

This robot helps you lift objects — by looking at your biceps

MIT News - 1 hour 25 min ago

We humans are very good at collaboration. For instance, when two people work together to carry a heavy object like a table or a sofa, they tend to instinctively coordinate their motions, constantly recalibrating to make sure their hands are at the same height as the other person’s. Our natural ability to make these types of adjustments allows us to collaborate on tasks big and small.

But a computer or a robot still can’t follow a human’s lead with ease. We usually either explicitly program them using machine-speak, or train them to understand our words, à la virtual assistants like Siri or Alexa.

In contrast, researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) recently showed that a smoother robot-human collaboration is possible through a new system they developed, where machines help people lift objects by monitoring their muscle movements.

Dubbed RoboRaise, the system involves putting electromyography (EMG) sensors on a user’s biceps and triceps to monitor muscle activity. Its algorithms then continuously detect changes to the person’s arm level, as well as discrete up-and-down hand gestures the user might make for finer motor control.

The team used the system for a series of tasks involving picking up and assembling mock airplane components. In experiments, users worked on these tasks with the robot and were able to control it to within a few inches of the desired heights by lifting and then tensing their arm. It was more accurate when gestures were used, and the robot responded correctly to roughly 70 percent of all gestures.

Graduate student Joseph DelPreto says he could imagine people using RoboRaise to help in manufacturing and construction settings, or even as an assistant around the house.

“Our approach to lifting objects with a robot aims to be intuitive and similar to how you might lift something with another person — roughly copying each other's motions while inferring helpful adjustments,” says DelPreto, lead author on a new paper about the project with MIT Professor and CSAIL Director Daniela Rus. “The key insight is to use nonverbal cues that encode instructions for how to coordinate, for example to lift a little higher or lower. Using muscle signals to communicate almost makes the robot an extension of yourself that you can fluidly control.”

The project builds off the team’s existing system that allows users to instantly correct robot mistakes with brainwaves and hand gestures, now enabling continuous motion in a more collaborative way. “We aim to develop human-robot interaction where the robot adapts to the human, rather than the other way around. This way the robot becomes an intelligent tool for physical work,” says Rus.

EMG signals can be tricky to work with: They’re often very noisy, and it can be difficult to predict exactly how a limb is moving based on muscle activity. Even if you can estimate how a person is moving, how you want the robot itself to respond may be unclear.

RoboRaise gets around this by putting the human in control. The team’s system uses noninvasive, on-body sensors that detect the firing of neurons as you tense or relax muscles. Using wearables also gets around problems of occlusions or ambient noise, which can complicate tasks involving vision or speech.

RoboRaise’s algorithm then processes biceps activity to estimate how the person’s arm is moving so the robot can roughly mimic it, and the person can slightly tense or relax their arm to move the robot up or down. If a user needs the robot to move farther away from their own position or hold a pose for a while, they can just gesture up or down for finer control; a neural network detects these gestures at any time based on biceps and triceps activity.

A new user can start using the system very quickly, with minimal calibration. After putting on the sensors, they just need to tense and relax their arm a few times then lift a light weight to a few heights. The neural network that detects gestures is only trained on data from previous users.

The team tested the system with 10 users through a series of three lifting experiments: one where the robot didn’t move at all, another where the robot moved in response to their muscles but didn’t help lift the object, and a third where the robot and person lifted an object together.

When the person had feedback from the robot — when they could see it moving or when they were lifting something together — the achieved height was significantly more accurate compared to having no feedback.

The team also tested RoboRaise on assembly tasks, such as lifting a rubber sheet onto a base structure. It was able to successfully lift both rigid and flexible objects onto the bases. RoboRaise was implemented on the team’s Baxter humanoid robot, but the team says it could be adapted for any robotic platform.

In the future, the team hopes that adding more muscles or different types of sensors to the system will increase the degrees of freedom, with the ultimate goal of doing even more complex tasks. Cues like exertion or fatigue from muscle activity could also help robots provide more intuitive assistance. The team tested one version of the system that uses biceps and triceps levels to tell the robot how stiffly the person is holding their end of the object; together, the human and machine could fluidly drag an object around or rigidly pull it taut.

The team will present their work at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation this week in Montreal, Canada. The project was funded in part by The Boeing Company.

Categories: In the News

Youth Program Explores Voting Through Theater

Scout Cambridge - 2 hours 25 min ago

What kind of world do you want to live in? What do you think we—collectively, as a country—could do to get there? Do you think voting has any connection to that? These are some of the questions that the young people of Youth Underground, Central Square Theater’s program for people ages 13 to 25, asked […]

The post Youth Program Explores Voting Through Theater appeared first on Scout Cambridge.

Categories: In the News

Oversight due at Multicultural Arts Center; councillors call for investigation, probation

Cambridge Day - 6 hours 16 min ago

There will be far more scrutiny of the Multicultural Arts Center and its leadership in the coming year, and one city councillor called for a formal investigation as complaints emerged about a hostile environment in addition to too much focus on non-arts uses.

The post Oversight due at Multicultural Arts Center; councillors call for investigation, probation appeared first on Cambridge Day.

Categories: In the News

‘Booksmart’: Good girls realize benefits of bad in smart teen comedy that makes familiar new

Cambridge Day - 8 hours 20 min ago

“Booksmart” may push a few gags too far, but it’s pleasantly smart and silly from start to end, as much of a heart warmer as it is a tummy tickler, and not enough can be said about the stars’ palpable chemistry in making this comedy summa cum laude.

The post ‘Booksmart’: Good girls realize benefits of bad in smart teen comedy that makes familiar new appeared first on Cambridge Day.

Categories: In the News

Loyal Companion pet store signs the first lease in First Street Corridor retail, filling Petco void

Cambridge Day - 10 hours 58 min ago

The developer remaking First Street has signed a lease with a pet store to open in the spring – essentially replacing a Petco that closed in January 2018.

The post Loyal Companion pet store signs the first lease in First Street Corridor retail, filling Petco void appeared first on Cambridge Day.

Categories: In the News

3Q: The fact finders

MIT News - 11 hours 25 min ago

When publication such as U.S. News and World Report roll out their annual university rankings, typically with MIT among the top schools listed, some may wonder where the data they’re based on actually comes from.

The source of that information is MIT Instituational Research, which collects and compiles data on many facets of the Institute, or, as Director Lydia Snover puts it, on MIT’s “people, money, and space.” The Institutional Research (IR) website is a wonderland of data that tells the story of MIT’s evolution over recent decades. There are surveys of faculty, graduate students, undergraduates — and even undergraduates’ parents. Users can also take a deep dive into the demographics of different subsets of the MIT community and peruse financial figures on research expenditures, tuition, and more.

Public universities have been providing this kind of information for decades to state and federal agencies that fund them. It’s unusual for a private university such as MIT to have such a robust IR operation and to share so much of its data publicly, but Snover has long been a leader in the field of IR at the national, and even international, level. She was recently awarded the John Stecklein Distinguished Member Award from the Association for Institutional Research, for advancing the field of institutional research through extraordinary scholarship, leadership, and service.

MIT News caught up with Snover to talk about IR at MIT, her philosophy about transparency, and why she’s a fan of the Institute’s data warehouse.

Q: What are the main types of data that your office collects, and what are they used for?

A: We bring together data from lots of different operational areas at MIT — including human resources, the registrar, admissions, and facilities, to name just a few — to simplify it in some ways and create metrics that can be used by departments, labs, and centers to help them meet their goals.

We complete all information requests for university rankings, guidebooks, and various consortiums. We also administer surveys for organizations like the Consortium for Financing of Higher Education as well as some of our other peer institutions. The majority of surveys we administer are just for the MIT community, or subsets of it. We administer over 100 surveys a year. We support the accreditation process and assist when asked with grant applications.

We provide reports for department heads in preparation for meetings with the Corporation’s visiting committees. We’ll put together a 10-year profile that includes department-level trends in staffing, retention, enrollment, sponsored research expenditures, how graduate students are being funded, things like that. We can compare those numbers within MIT and for a subset of metrics with other peer institutions.

People like to talk about making data-driven decisions, but we prefer the term “data-informed.” We collect data that help MIT’s senior officers make decisions about what’s best for the Institute.

A lot of the data we collect are available on our website, including our survey data. We have philosophy that if we ask people to fill out a survey, they’re entitled to see the results!

Q: How has your mandate changed in the last 20 years, and what do you see in the office’s future?

A: Institutional Research was established in 1986 and initially we focused primarily on physical planning. Over the next 15 years we began administering surveys, responding on behalf of the Institute to external data requests, and providing briefing materials. In 2000 we moved to the Office of the Provost, and our portfolio has continued to evolve and grow, both in terms of the services we provide to MIT leadership and the greater MIT community, and our involvement in sharing data with other universities. The staff has evolved as well to include analysts, programmers, experts in survey design, data visualization, database design, statistics, and qualitative analysis. MIT IR has an extraordinarily gifted staff.

Nationally, large institutional research offices were needed mostly by public institutions to respond to state legislatures. Private universities and colleges have slowly built up their capacity, in large part to provide internal analysis. In 1988, MIT joined the Association of American Universities Data Exchange (AAUDE), a consortium which facilitates data sharing with other AAU universities on things like the composition of faculty at the department level. The number of private AAU universities participating in the AAU Data Exchange has gone from a handful in 1990 to all 27 since I and others began encouraging our colleagues to become active.

Before MIT became involved, members were mailing each other this information on paper — you’d have file cabinets of paper! — so MIT first volunteered to provide an FTP server to facilitate electronic exchange of data. Now the AAU Data Exchange has a data warehouse, which has made the whole system very efficient.

One area were we focus a lot of attention, through our surveys and other data collections, is on what happens to our graduates: What percentage are going into industry? What are the companies that are hiring them? It used to be that all universities cared about was how many students go to graduate school, but MIT sends a lot of graduates to industry.

One new project is working with professors Susan Hockfield, Sangeeta Bhatia, and Nancy Hopkins and the Boston Biotech working group on some interesting issues in gender representation in biotechnology, looking at company leadership, issuance of patents, and other areas. The goal is to be able to compare MIT to national averages and deliberate on how to make positive changes in the ecosystem. 

Q: MIT’s IR office is relatively big for a private university. Why is that?

A: The scope of work for MIT’s Institutional Research Office is unusual because we’re involved in many projects that are important to MIT but not typical for institutional research. For example, at MIT we work with MITx data and sponsored research trends. 

We’re very lucky and unusual because at MIT we have centralized data systems but local decision making. The fact that we have only one registrar, for example, and centralized accounting systems makes it much easier for my office to pull data together and analyze it.

I can’t emphasize enough how important the MIT data warehouse is — to everyone at MIT, not just to us. If you’re an analyst in an office like ours, you’d have to learn query languages for all the different databases. You would also spend a large proportion of your time compiling and cleaning data. But IS&T set up this system so that data could feed into one central warehouse, and you don’t need special programming skills to pull information out of it. The MIT data warehouse has been the envy of most of our peers.

MIT is the best place in the world to do institutional research because we have faculty who aren’t afraid of the data, even if they show there’s room for improvement. There’s an engineering mentality that permeates MIT. If we find we’re different from our peers in a way that we need to fix, then we identify that and fix it. You never think you’re the best because there’s always something to improve on.

Categories: In the News

Fabrics poised to become the new software

MIT News - Tue, 05/21/2019 - 23:59

In the summer of 2018, a team led by MIT researchers reported in the journal Nature that they had successfully embedded electronic devices into fibers that could be used in fabrics or composite products like clothing, airplane wings, or even wound dressings. The advance could allow fabrics or composites to sense their environment, communicate, store and convert energy, and more.

Research breakthroughs typically take years to make it into final products — if they reach that point at all. This particular research, however, is following a dramatically different path.

By the time the unique fiber advance was unveiled last summer, members of Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA), a not-for-profit near MIT, had already developed ways to increase the throughput and overall reliability of the process. And, staff at Inman Mills in South Carolina had established a method to weave the advanced fibers using a conventional, industrial manufacturing-scale loom to create fabrics that can use light to both broadcast and receive information.

Today, less than a year after the technology was first introduced to the world, around a quarter of a million semiconducting devices have been embedded in fibers using the patented technology, and companies like New Balance, VF, Bose, and 3M are seeking ways to use the technology in their products.

“AFFOA is helping cutting-edge basic research to reach market-ready scale at unprecedented velocity,” says Yoel Fink, CEO of AFFOA and a professor of materials science and electrical engineering at MIT. “Chip-containing fibers, which were just recently a university research project, are now being produced at an annual rate of half a million meters. This scale allows AFFOA to engage dozens of companies and accelerate product and process development across multiple markets simultaneously.”

Fink says that AFFOA’s work is unleashing a “Moore’s Law for fibers,” wherein the basic functions of fibers will grow exponentially in the coming years, allowing companies to develop value-added fabric and composite products and services. “Chip-containing fibers present a real prospect for fabrics to be the next frontier in computation and AI,” he says.

Sowing the seeds of fabric innovation

In 2015, MIT President L. Rafael Reif called for the formation of public-private partnerships he named “innovation orchards,” to reduce the time it takes new ideas to make an impact on society. Specifically, he wanted to make tangible innovations as easy to deploy and test as digital ones.

Later that year, AFFOA was formed by MIT and other key partners to accept Reif’s challenge and take advantage of recent breakthroughs in fiber materials and textile-manufacturing processes.

“The gap between where research ends and product begins is the so-called valley of death,” Fink says. “President Reif introduced the concept of orchards of innovation as a way for us, as a university, to organize these collaboration centers for technology to help bridge basic research to the market entry point.”

In 2016, AFFOA was selected by the federal government to serve as the new Revolutionary Fibers and Textiles Manufacturing Innovation Institute, receiving more than $75 million in government funding and nearly $250 million in private investments to support U.S. based, high-volume production of these new technologies.

Since then, speed has been paramount at AFFOA. As MIT and other research entities have advanced the field, AFFOA has helped facilitate pilot production of these sophisticated textiles and fabrics so companies can engage consumers with small batches of advanced fabric products, or prototypes, in a manner similar to how software companies roll out minimally viable products to quickly gather feedback from customers and consumers.

Fabrics at the speed of software

A key element in the success of software has been the ability to rapidly prototype and test products with the target customer. Tangible products, on the other hand, experience a much more difficult path to consumers, and fabrics are no exception. The reason for this is the absence of efficient prototyping mechansims at scale.

To allow fabric products to move faster to market, AFFOA has created a national prototyping network with dozens of domestic manufacturers and universities, allowing it to rapidly test advanced fabric products directly with customers.

The prototyping network is currently actively pursuing more than 30 projects, called MicroAwards, with industry and academia designed to incorporate the latest advances in fibers and textiles into mass manufacturing processes. Industry and academic participants are required to operate within short timeframes, typically 90 days or less and divided into two week sprints.

For instance, Teufelberger, a manufacturer of ropes located in Fall River, Massachusetts, is working with AFFOA on integrating advanced fibers into their braided ropes. The ropes can help climbers or divers communicate or store information on how the rope was used.

At the end of May, AFFOA will roll out at the Augmented Reality Expo a fabric augmented-reality experience that will allow conference attendees to connect with each other using AFFOA’s fabric LOOks system.

The fabric of entrepreneurship and education

AFFOA has also partnered with schools such as the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and the Greater Lawrence Technical School, where students are learning how to design and make an advanced chip-containing fibers, as well as other skills related to manufacturing advanced functional fabrics and the products that will emerge from them.

Additionally, over 30 entrepreneurs have been working on establishing startups around advanced fabrics as part of the advanced fabric entrepreneurship program managed by AFFOA in collaboration with the Venture Mentoring Service at MIT.

AFFOA is currently evaluating the prospects of raising an investment fund dedicated to funding startups in the advanced fabric sector.

For Fink, AFFOA’s work is about turning fabric, an ancient yet largely unchanged material, into a new platform for innovation.

“Fabrics occupy a very significant real estate, the surface of our bodies, and yet we’re not doing much with that real estate — it’s underdeveloped,” Fink says. “AFFOA is setting the stage for a fabric revolution by allowing these ancient forms to become high tech and deliver value-add services in the years ahead.”

Categories: In the News

Scratch Night 2019

Cambridge Public Schools - Tue, 05/21/2019 - 20:00
Categories: In the News

Police arrest 15-year-olds for May 13 gunshots, while new round of gunfire heard in The Port

Cambridge Day - Tue, 05/21/2019 - 18:18

Two suspects have been arrested in connection to a May 13 gunfire incident: 15-year-old boys from Boston and West Roxbury. But separately, possible gunshots were reported at Columbia Street and Bishop Allen Drive, in The Port neighborhood.

The post Police arrest 15-year-olds for May 13 gunshots, while new round of gunfire heard in The Port appeared first on Cambridge Day.

Categories: In the News

From micro to macro

MIT News - Tue, 05/21/2019 - 15:00

From the perspective of a chemical engineer, particulate gels are the stuff of modern life. These materials, in which small pieces of one kind of substance are suspended or distributed within another, can be found in such construction products as concrete, inks, and paints; foods like cheese, yogurt, and ice cream; and in a range of cosmetic- and health-related staples including shampoo, toothpaste, and vaccines. In sum, says James W. Swan, the Texaco-Mangelsdorf Career Development Professor in Chemical Engineering, "a massive variety of real-world, everyday things bear particles."

Many of these ubiquitous gels, creams, emulsions, and compounds evolved through "trial-and-error experimentation," says Swan. Engineering such materials often proves to be a prolonged and sometimes inefficient hit-or-miss process.

But now Swan and collaborators from other universities have devised a framework that will help guide the design of new materials involving such particulate compounds. An account of their research, which began in 2015, appears in the May 20 issue of Nature Communications. The experimental studies were conducted at the University of Delaware and the University of Michigan. Swan and MIT doctoral student Zsigmond Varga (now a process development engineer at ExxonMobil) were responsible for the computational side of the work.

Combining laboratory experiments and computational simulations, the team has analyzed the formation of networks of particles that determine the microstructure of a wide range of materials. This enables the researchers to predict the macroscopic mechanical properties conferred by these networks. Their new approach will make it possible to "seek out new materials or engineer systems better optimized for tasks in terms of properties or costs, for a lot of different technologies," says Swan.

The key is elasticity

Predicting the elasticity of materials — how soft or hard they will be — has proved a longstanding challenge in the area of chemical engineering that deals with particle networks. This property, called the elastic modulus, is central to designing new things. But, says Swan, "We have had no equations to make predictions, and these equations would be really helpful in creating new formulations."

To develop such useful mathematical models, though, the science required a platform of informative experimental data that could fill in "fundamental gaps in understanding how networks of particles are built, and where mechanical properties come from," explains Swan. So his colleagues set out to conduct these essential studies.

In order to investigate the formation and properties of particle networks, Swan's collaborators devised a set of nifty methods. They created particles that were effectively translucent except when illuminated by a special kind of fluorescent light. This permitted the researchers to image particle networks in real time under a microscope. They also fashioned the particles so they could be manipulated by laser tweezer — a device that can exert forces on small particles. With their novel tools, researchers could directly measure the force each particle exerted on another. "My colleagues could observe the particles' motion, how they stuck together, and gained insight into the nature of the particle network's elasticity," says Swan.

These very precise experimental techniques, says Swan, "made it possible for our lab to build simulations that quantitatively reproduced the experimental results." But Swan also faced challenges: The distribution of particles in a network has often seemed disordered to scientists — as if a distracted builder had laid bricks haphazardly in mortar. "It's as if there are no discernible patterns," says Swan. 

His lab's unique solution was to apply methods from graph theory, a field of mathematics often used to understand computer or social networks, to deconstruct and model the discrete elements and connections among particles in chemical networks.

By employing "the same tools useful for finding cliques in social networks — tightly connected groups loosely connected to each other — we are able to discriminate the bricks from the mortar in these particle networks, see how the particles are positioned relative to each other, and infer the strength or weakness — the elasticity — of the overall network."

From networks to new materials

Two scientists not involved in the studies behind the journal article find the work extremely promising.

"This task of discerning connections within a huge collection of particles has historically been extremely puzzling and challenging," says Thibaut Divoux, a research scientist with a joint appointment at MIT and France's National Center for Scientific Research. "The use of graph theory to identify clusters, verify experimental results, and to predict properties is really elegant, as well as groundbreaking," he says.

Randy H. Ewoldt SM '06, PhD '09, an associate professor of mechanical science and engineering at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, found "the agreement between simulation and experiment impressive." He believes the work of Swan and his collaborators "represents excellent progress toward the goal of predicting and engineering properties of these materials."

There might be myriad applications of this research to improve existing particle-based products and to formulate new ones, suggests Swan. Take the abundant substance of concrete. Since "we now know how changing different chemical or physical factors in these networks will affect properties," he says, concrete's particle network — comprised of aggregate rock and cement — could be engineered for enhanced strength while using less material.

There is potential as well for advancing grid-scale energy storage, where particle networks are deployed as electrodes for flow batteries capturing energy from wind or solar power; and for developing new pharmaceuticals such as protein-based solutions used in drug delivery.

And some scientists hungrily envision applications in food manufacturing: "Imagine designing yogurt, cheese, or other dairy colloidal products to determine the mouthfeel, so that the product crumbles or breaks just the way you want," says Divoux. "This work gives us an experimental key we can use to control the microstructure properties of a material to tweak its macrostructure."

Funding for the experimental portion of this research came from the International Fine Particle Research Institute, and funding for the computational work was made possible by the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund, and by a National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award.

Categories: In the News

MIT Policy Hackathon connects data-driven problem solvers

MIT Events - Tue, 05/21/2019 - 10:30

As the size, complexity, and interconnection of societal systems increase, these systems generate huge amounts of data that can lead to new insights. These data create an opportunity for policymakers aiming to address major societal challenges, provided they have the tools to understand the data and use them for better decision-making.

At a unique MIT event convened by MIT’s Technology and Policy Program (TPP), a part of the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS), interdisciplinary teams analyzed data sets and created policy proposals to real challenges submitted by academic groups and local government. The student-run MIT Policy Hackathon gathered data analysts, engineers, scientists, domain experts, and policy specialists to look for creative, data-driven solutions addressing major societal issues.

“One of the goals of the hackathon is to show others the power of using technology and policy together to craft solutions to important societal problems,” says Becca Browder, a Policy Hackathon organizer and student in TPP. “I think the event achieved that goal.”

The hackathon teams worked over 48 hours on one of five challenges in the areas of climate, health, artificial intelligence and ethics, urban planning, and the future of work. The hackathon ended in a proposal pitch session to a panel of judges from academia, government, and industry.

In the climate challenge, sponsored by the City of Boston, teams examined precipitation data to help the city prepare for increased flooding due to climate change.

“The city is taking climate change very seriously,” says Charlie Jewell, director of planning and sustainability for the Boston Water and Sewer Commission. After mentoring and judging the climate challenge, Jewell said there was a “good give-and-take” to be had from partnering with local universities. “The organizers and participants all did such an unbelievable job. I got some great ideas from participants for looking at our rainfall data in different ways. They also showed what kind of data they needed and how we could get it.”

Hackathon participant Minghao Qiu, a student at IDSS in the Social and Engineering Systems doctoral program, also found the opportunity to work directly with stakeholders useful. “The interaction with the challenge sponsor helped me think about how to better communicate my research findings with policymakers in the future,” says Qiu, whose team GAMMDRYL also included TPP alumnus Arthur Yip SM ’14. GAMMDRYL won the climate challenge with a proposal recommending the city team up with a citizen science initiative that crowdsources rainfall data.

“I learned that it is often useful to help decision-makers to understand their data better,” Qiu says.

The overall winner of the hackathon was a team called Dream ER, who worked on the health challenge. This challenge, sponsored by Harvard School of Public Health graduate student Ahmed Mahmoud Abdelfattah, asked for ways to optimize emergency rooms by studying patient traffic and outcome data.

“By using creative visualization techniques, they simulated how their policy suggestions can result in an overall improvement in service efficiency,” Abdelfattah says of the winning team’s proposal. “Their proposal was also quite generalizable, meaning that those same methods they used to examine the data and simulate changes can be applied to other hospitals and other care settings.”

For the AI and ethics challenge, sponsored by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, teams worked to develop a resource, such as a visualization tool, to help nontechnical policy advocates understand different definitions of "algorithmic fairness" — especially in the context of criminal justice risk-assessment tools. Participants had access to data shared by journalists who evaluated COMPAS, a widely-used recidivism risk scoring tool.

The urban planning challenge, sponsored by the City of Boston’s Department of Innovation and Technology, tasked participants with assessing the impact of AirBnB on neighborhood economies and Boston’s affordable housing crisis, using the city’s short-term rental data. The future of work challenge, posed by the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy (IDE), asked for a broad exploration of the potential for machine learning to automate tasks. Using a data set of work activities put together by researchers at MIT and Carnegie Mellon University, this challenge asked for policy proposals that help predict and prepare for the impact of machine learning automation on industries and workers.

This was the third MIT Policy Hackathon: an inaugural hackathon was held in spring 2018, and another was organized for Boston Hubweek in fall 2018. Students hope to make it a fixture of the program. “IDSS and TPP work on how policy and society interact with science and technology, and how we can use data to enhance policy,” Browder says. “These are also main goals of the hackathon, so there is strong strategic alignment between the event and the host organizations.”

TPP director Noelle Selin agrees. “TPP and IDSS are educating scientists, engineers, and leaders who can use the tools of data science as well as speak the language of policy,” says Selin, a professor in IDSS and Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences. “We need this type of interdisciplinary thinking to tackle the most pressing challenges facing society.”

Categories: In the News

MIT Policy Hackathon connects data-driven problem solvers

MIT News - Tue, 05/21/2019 - 10:30

As the size, complexity, and interconnection of societal systems increase, these systems generate huge amounts of data that can lead to new insights. These data create an opportunity for policymakers aiming to address major societal challenges, provided they have the tools to understand the data and use them for better decision-making.

At a unique MIT event convened by MIT’s Technology and Policy Program (TPP), a part of the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS), interdisciplinary teams analyzed data sets and created policy proposals to real challenges submitted by academic groups and local government. The student-run MIT Policy Hackathon gathered data analysts, engineers, scientists, domain experts, and policy specialists to look for creative, data-driven solutions addressing major societal issues.

“One of the goals of the hackathon is to show others the power of using technology and policy together to craft solutions to important societal problems,” says Becca Browder, a Policy Hackathon organizer and student in TPP. “I think the event achieved that goal.”

The hackathon teams worked over 48 hours on one of five challenges in the areas of climate, health, artificial intelligence and ethics, urban planning, and the future of work. The hackathon ended in a proposal pitch session to a panel of judges from academia, government, and industry.

In the climate challenge, sponsored by the City of Boston, teams examined precipitation data to help the city prepare for increased flooding due to climate change.

“The city is taking climate change very seriously,” says Charlie Jewell, director of planning and sustainability for the Boston Water and Sewer Commission. After mentoring and judging the climate challenge, Jewell said there was a “good give-and-take” to be had from partnering with local universities. “The organizers and participants all did such an unbelievable job. I got some great ideas from participants for looking at our rainfall data in different ways. They also showed what kind of data they needed and how we could get it.”

Hackathon participant Minghao Qiu, a student at IDSS in the Social and Engineering Systems doctoral program, also found the opportunity to work directly with stakeholders useful. “The interaction with the challenge sponsor helped me think about how to better communicate my research findings with policymakers in the future,” says Qiu, whose team GAMMDRYL also included TPP alumnus Arthur Yip SM ’14. GAMMDRYL won the climate challenge with a proposal recommending the city team up with a citizen science initiative that crowdsources rainfall data.

“I learned that it is often useful to help decision-makers to understand their data better,” Qiu says.

The overall winner of the hackathon was a team called Dream ER, who worked on the health challenge. This challenge, sponsored by Harvard School of Public Health graduate student Ahmed Mahmoud Abdelfattah, asked for ways to optimize emergency rooms by studying patient traffic and outcome data.

“By using creative visualization techniques, they simulated how their policy suggestions can result in an overall improvement in service efficiency,” Abdelfattah says of the winning team’s proposal. “Their proposal was also quite generalizable, meaning that those same methods they used to examine the data and simulate changes can be applied to other hospitals and other care settings.”

For the AI and ethics challenge, sponsored by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, teams worked to develop a resource, such as a visualization tool, to help nontechnical policy advocates understand different definitions of "algorithmic fairness" — especially in the context of criminal justice risk-assessment tools. Participants had access to data shared by journalists who evaluated COMPAS, a widely-used recidivism risk scoring tool.

The urban planning challenge, sponsored by the City of Boston’s Department of Innovation and Technology, tasked participants with assessing the impact of AirBnB on neighborhood economies and Boston’s affordable housing crisis, using the city’s short-term rental data. The future of work challenge, posed by the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy (IDE), asked for a broad exploration of the potential for machine learning to automate tasks. Using a data set of work activities put together by researchers at MIT and Carnegie Mellon University, this challenge asked for policy proposals that help predict and prepare for the impact of machine learning automation on industries and workers.

This was the third MIT Policy Hackathon: an inaugural hackathon was held in spring 2018, and another was organized for Boston Hubweek in fall 2018. Students hope to make it a fixture of the program. “IDSS and TPP work on how policy and society interact with science and technology, and how we can use data to enhance policy,” Browder says. “These are also main goals of the hackathon, so there is strong strategic alignment between the event and the host organizations.”

TPP director Noelle Selin agrees. “TPP and IDSS are educating scientists, engineers, and leaders who can use the tools of data science as well as speak the language of policy,” says Selin, a professor in IDSS and Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences. “We need this type of interdisciplinary thinking to tackle the most pressing challenges facing society.”

Categories: In the News

Mathematical technique quickly tunes next-generation lenses

MIT News - Tue, 05/21/2019 - 09:59

Most of us know optical lenses as curved, transparent pieces of plastic or glass, designed to focus light for microscopes, spectacles, cameras, and more. For the most part, a lens’ curved shape has not changed much since it was invented many centuries ago.

In the last decade, however, engineers have created flat, ultrathin materials called “metasurfaces” that can perform tricks of light far beyond what traditional curved lenses can do. Engineers etch individual features, hundreds of times smaller than the width of a single human hair, onto these metasurfaces to create patterns that enable the surface as a whole to scatter light very precisely. But the challenge is to know exactly what pattern is needed to produce a desired optical effect.

That’s where MIT mathematicians have come up with a solution. In a study published this week in Optics Express, a team reports a new computational technique that quickly determines the ideal makeup and arrangement of millions of individual, microscopic features on a metasurface, to generate a flat lens that manipulates light in a specified way.

Previous work attacked the problem by limiting the possible patterns to combinations of predetermined shapes, such as circular holes with different radii, but this approach only explores a tiny fraction of the patterns that can potentially be made.

The new technique is the first to efficiently design completely arbitrary patterns for large-scale optical metasurfaces, measuring about 1 square centimeter — a relatively vast area, considering each individual feature is no more than 20 nanometers wide. Steven Johnson, professor of mathematics at MIT, says the computational technique can quickly map out patterns for a range of desired optical effects.

“Say you want a lens that works well for several different colors, or you want to take light and instead of focusing it to a spot, make a beam or some sort of hologram or optical trap,” Johnson says. “You can tell us what you want to do, and this technique can come up with the pattern that you should make.”

Johnson’s co-authors on the paper are lead author Zin Lin, Raphaël Pestourie, and Victor Liu.

Pixel-by-pixel

A single metasurface is typically divided into tiny, nanometer-sized pixels. Each pixel can either be etched or left untouched. Those that are etched can be put together to form any number of different patterns.

To date, researchers have developed computer programs to search out any possible pixel pattern for small optical devices measuring tens of micrometers across. Such tiny, precise structures can be used to, for instance, trap and direct light in an ultrasmall laser. The programs that determine the exact patterns of these small devices do so by solving Maxwell’s equations — a set of fundamental equations that describe the scattering of light — based on every single pixel in a device, then tuning the pattern, pixel by pixel, until the structure produces the desired optical effect.

But Johnson says this pixel-by-pixel simulation task becomes nearly impossible for large-scale surfaces measuring millimeters or centimeters across. A computer would not only have to work with a much larger surface area, with orders of magnitude more pixels, but also would have to run multiple simulations of many possible pixel arrangements to eventually arrive at an optimal pattern.

“You have to simulate on a scale big enough to capture the whole structure, but small enough to capture fine details,” Johnson says. “The combination is really a huge computational problem if you attack it directly. If you threw the biggest supercomputer on Earth at it, and you had a lot of time, you could maybe simulate one of these patterns. But it would be a tour de force.”

From a randomly patterned metasurface, new technique quickly evolves an ideal pattern to produce a lens with desired optical effects. Credit: Zin Lin

An uphill search

Johnson’s team has now come up with a shortcut that efficiently simulates the desired pattern of pixels for large-scale metasurfaces. Instead of having to solve Maxwell’s equations for every single nanometer-sized pixel in a square centimeter of material, the researchers solved these equations for pixel “patches.”

The computer simulation they developed starts with a square centimeter of randomly etched, nanometer-sized pixels. They divided the surface into groups of pixels, or patches, and used Maxwell’s equations to predict how each patch scatters light. They then found a way to approximately “stitch” the patch solutions together, to determine how light scatters across the entire, randomly etched surface.

From this starting pattern, the researchers then adapted a mathematical technique known as topology optimization, to essentially tweak the pattern of each patch over many iterations, until the final, overall surface, or topology, scatters light in a preferred way.

Johnson likens the approach to attempting to find your way up a hill, blindfolded. To produce a desired optical effect, each pixel in a patch should have an optimal etched pattern that should be attained, that could be thought of metaphorically as a peak. Finding this peak, for every pixel in a patch, is considered a topology optimization problem.

“For each simulation, we’re finding which way to tweak each pixel,” Johnson says. “You then have a new structure which you can resimulate, and you keep doing this process, each time going uphill until you reach a peak, or optimized pattern.”

The team’s technique is able to identify an optimal pattern in just a few hours, compared with traditional pixel-by-pixel approaches which, if applied directly to large metasurfaces, would be virtually intractable.

Using their technique, the researchers quickly came up with optical patterns for several “metadevices,” or lenses with varying optical properties, including a solar concentrator that takes incoming light from any direction and focuses it to a single point, and an achromatic lens, which scatters light of different wavelengths, or colors, to the same point, with equal focus.

“If you have a lens in a camera, if it’s focused on you, it should be focused for all colors simultaneously,” Johnson says. “The red shouldn’t be in focus but the blue out of focus. So you have to come up with a pattern that scatters all the colors in the same way so they go into the same spot. And our technique is able to come up with a crazy pattern that does that.”

Going forward, the researchers are working with engineers, who can fabricate the intricate patterns that their technique maps out, to produce large metasurfaces, potentially for more precise cellphone lenses and other optical applications.

“These surfaces could be produced as sensors for cars that drive themselves, or augmented reality, where you need good optics,” Pestourie says. “This technique allows you to tackle much more challenging optical designs.”

This research was funded, in part, by the U. S. Army Research Office through the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies at MIT .

Categories: In the News

Councillors pass $678.4M municipal budget with three voices protesting education gaps

Cambridge Day - Tue, 05/21/2019 - 04:07

A $638.1 million municipal budget for the 2020 fiscal year was adopted Monday on a 7-2 vote, with a third councillor voting in favor but under “protest” – the sticking point for all three being the $202 million school budget.

The post Councillors pass $678.4M municipal budget with three voices protesting education gaps appeared first on Cambridge Day.

Categories: In the News

What’s New: Brand New Bites

Scout Cambridge - Mon, 05/20/2019 - 14:40

Harvard SquareVeggie Grill Over a year after California chain Veggie Grill announced an expansion to the East Coast, the restaurant’s website has finally listed a summer opening date for its Harvard Square location, Eater Boston reports. Veggie Grill, which claims to be the largest vegan chain in the U.S., will bring salads, bowls, and sandwiches […]

The post What’s New: Brand New Bites appeared first on Scout Cambridge.

Categories: In the News

Passing the Buck - May 20, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Cambridge Civic Journal - Mon, 05/20/2019 - 14:31

Move along people - nothing to see here. Well, maybe that hidden state flag. The FY2020 Budget is expected to be approved at this meeting after some fiddling and diddling over some late budget-related communications touching on who gets to be artistic at CMAC (Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center).

The pickings are slim this week:

Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, in response to requests for additional information made by the City Council Finance Committee during hearings on the Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) City Budget.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Finance Committee, for public hearings held on May 1, 2019 and May 7, 2019 relative to the General Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2020 and recommending adoption of the General Fund Budget in the amount of $638,060,155.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Finance Committee, for public hearing held on May 7, 2019 relative to the Water Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2020 and recommending adoption of the Water Fund Budget in the amount of $12,833,295.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Finance Committee, for public hearing held on May 7, 2019 relative to the Public Investment Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2020 and recommending adoption of the Public Investment Fund Budget in the amount of $26,796,725.

First, expect all sorts of mutual congratulatory statements - it's all part of the ritual and it happens every year. There may be some back and forth over the additional information, especially regarding CMAC, but after that expect all bucks to be passed.

Manager's Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-93, regarding Parcel C (Constellation Center) in Kendall Square.

It's hard to say whether there will be any push-back on this. Perhaps there will be some questions raised regarding the tax-exempt status of Parcel C for approximately 16 years during which the taxable value of all neighboring properties soared. It's likely now all just water under the bridge, but it does raise some questions.

Applications & Petitions #1. A re-filing of a zoning petition has been received from Joseph T. Maguire of Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc. transmitting a proposed revised amendment to the zoning ordinance by creating the Grand Junction Pathway Overlay District.

It's hard to say whether or not this proposal will fare better than the previous one given the increasingly hostile political context of the area when factoring in the controversies surrounding the nearby Eversource site and other proposals in East Cambridge. It should be possible for reasonable people to assess this proposal independent of these other matters.

Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councilor E. Denise Simmons, Co-Chair and Councillor Sumbul Siddiqui, Co-Chair of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on Mar 28, 2019 to discuss Affordable Housing Overlay District.

The juggernaut continues. It's remarkable just how comfortable some people have become with double standards.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Councillor Mallon, transmitting notes for the meeting of the Mayor's Arts Task Force held on May 9, 2019.

Most of the ideas floated seem all well and good, but I am a bit skeptical about the idea of having a "City-owned arts facility, akin to the EMF building." There is often a fundamental conflict between governmental control and artistic freedom, and the result can often be mediocrity. There is also the problem of political patronage in deciding which artists should be granted money, jobs, and status. This report suggests that "the Task Force could continue on and become an adjudicator based on an equity rubric." This Task Force was appointed by the Mayor, by the way.

There is one suggestion contained in the meeting notes that reflects something I have been emphasizing for several years: "The Baptist church as an arts and culture space". The truth is that there are quite a few older church buildings in the neighborhoods abutting Central Square that would benefit from partnering with various charitable uses, including arts-related functions. Indeed, I have to wonder whether the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority has considered such possibilities as it discusses rescuing the building at 99 Bishop Allen Drive in order to preseve affordable space for the various nonprofit entities now housed there. Dwindling congregations, deferred maintenance, and charitable activities strongly suggest possible mutual solutions. - Robert Winters

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Categories: In the News

MIT team places second in 2019 NASA BIG Idea Challenge

MIT News - Mon, 05/20/2019 - 13:00

An MIT student team took second place for its design of a multilevel greenhouse to be used on Mars in NASA’s 2019 Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge last month. 

Each year, NASA holds the BIG Idea competition in its search for innovative and futuristic ideas. This year’s challenge invited universities across the United States to submit designs for a sustainable, cost-effective, and efficient method of supplying food to astronauts during future crewed explorations of Mars. Dartmouth College was awarded first place in this year’s closely contested challenge.

“This was definitely a full-team success,” says team leader Eric Hinterman, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AeroAstro). The team had contributions from 10 undergraduates and graduate students from across MIT departments. Support and assistance were provided by four architects and designers in Italy. This project was completely voluntary; all 14 contributors share a similar passion for space exploration and enjoyed working on the challenge in their spare time.

The MIT team dubbed its design “BEAVER” (Biosphere Engineered Architecture for Viable Extraterrestrial Residence). “We designed our greenhouse to provide 100 percent of the food requirements for four active astronauts every day for two years,” explains Hinterman.

The ecologists and agriculture specialists on the MIT team identified eight types of crops to provide the calories, protein, carbohydrates, and oils and fats that astronauts would need; these included potatoes, rice, wheat, oats, and peanuts. The flexible menu suggested substitutes, depending on astronauts’ specific dietary requirements.

“Most space systems are metallic and very robotic,” Hinterman says. “It was fun working on something involving plants.”

Parameters provided by NASA — a power budget, dimensions necessary for transporting by rocket, the capacity to provide adequate sustenance — drove the shape and the overall design of the greenhouse.

Last October, the team held an initial brainstorming session and pitched project ideas. The iterative process continued until they reached their final design: a cylindrical growing space 11.2 meters in diameter and 13.4 meters tall after deployment.

An innovative design

The greenhouse would be packaged inside a rocket bound for Mars and, after landing, a waiting robot would move it to its site. Programmed with folding mechanisms, it would then expand horizontally and vertically and begin forming an ice shield around its exterior to protect plants and humans from the intense radiation on the Martian surface.

Two years later, when Earth and Mars orbits were again in optimal alignment for launching and landing, a crew would arrive on Mars, where they would complete the greenhouse setup and begin growing crops. “About every two years, the crew would leave and a new crew of four would arrive and continue to use the greenhouse,” explains Hinterman.

To maximize space, BEAVER employs a large spiral that moves around a central core within the cylinder. Seedlings are planted at the top and flow down the spiral as they grow. By the time they reach the bottom, the plants are ready for harvesting, and the crew enters at the ground floor to reap the potatoes and peanuts and grains. The planting trays are then moved to the top of the spiral, and the process begins again.

“A lot of engineering went into the spiral,” says Hinterman. “Most of it is done without any moving parts or mechanical systems, which makes it ideal for space applications. You don’t want a lot of moving parts or things that can break.”

The human factor

“One of the big issues with sending humans into space is that they will be confined to seeing the same people every day for a couple of years,” Hinterman explains. “They’ll be living in an enclosed environment with very little personal space.”

The greenhouse provides a pleasant area to ensure astronauts’ psychological well-being. On the top floor, just above the spiral, a windowed “mental relaxation area” overlooks the greenery. The ice shield admits natural light, and the crew can lounge on couches and enjoy the view of the Mars landscape. And rather than running pipes from the water tank at the top level down to the crops, Hinterman and his team designed a cascading waterfall at the area’s periphery, further adding to the ambiance.

Sophomore Sheila Baber, an Earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences (EAPS) major and the team’s ecology lead, was eager to take part in the project. “My grandmother used to farm in the mountains in Korea, and I remember going there and picking the crops,” she says. “Coming to MIT, I felt like I was distanced from my roots. I am interested in life sciences and physics and all things space, and this gave me the opportunity to combine all those.”

Her work on BEAVER led to Baber’s award of one of five NASA internships at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia this summer. She expects to continue exploration of the greenhouse project and its applications on Earth, such as in urban settings where space for growing food is constrained.

“Some of the agricultural decisions that we made about hydroponics and aquaponics could potentially be used in environments on Earth to raise food,” she says.

“The MIT team was great to work with,” says Hinterman. “They were very enthusiastic and hardworking, and we came up with a great design as a result.”

In addition to Baber and Hinterman, team members included Siranush Babakhanova (Physics), Joe Kusters (AeroAstro), Hans Nowak (Leaders for Global Operations), Tajana Schneiderman (EAPS), Sam Seaman (Architecture), Tommy Smith (System Design and Management), Natasha Stamler (Mechanical Engineering and Urban Studies and Planning), and Zhuchang Zhan (EAPS). Assistance was provided by Italian designers and architects Jana Lukic, Fabio Maffia, Aldo Moccia, and Samuele Sciarretta. The team’s advisors were Jeff Hoffman, Sara Seager, Matt Silver, Vladimir Aerapetian, Valentina Sumini, and George Lordos.

The BIG Idea Challenge is sponsored by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Game Changing Development program and managed by the National Institute of Aerospace.

Categories: In the News