In the News

Our hairy insides

MIT News - 58 min 2 sec ago

Our bodies are lined on the inside with soft, microscopic carpets of hair, from the grassy extensions on our tastebuds, to fuzzy beds of microvilli in our stomachs, to superfine protein strands throughout our blood vessels. These hairy projections, anchored to soft surfaces, bend and twist with the currents of the fluids they’re immersed in.

Now engineers at MIT have found a way to predict how such tiny, soft beds of hair will bend in response to fluid flow. Through experiments and mathematical modeling, they found that, not surprisingly, stiff hairs tend to stay upright in a fluid flow, while more elastic, drooping hairs yield easily to a current.

There is, however, a sweet spot in which hairs, bent at just the right angle, with an elasticity neither too soft nor rigid, can affect the fluid flowing through them. The researchers found that such angled hairs straighten when fluid is flowing against them. In this configuration, the hairs can slow a fluid flow, like a temporarily raised grate.   

The results, published this week in the journal Nature Physics, may help illuminate the role of hairy surfaces in the body. For instance, the researchers posit that angled hairs in blood vessels and the intestines may bend to protect surrounding tissues from excess fluid flows.

The findings may also help engineers design new microfluidic devices such as hydraulic valves and diodes — small chips that direct the flow of fluid through various channels, via patterns of tiny, angled hairs.

“At very small scales, it’s very hard to design things with functionalities that you can switch,” says Anette (Peko) Hosoi, the Neil and Jane Pappalardo Professor of Mechanical Engineering and associate dean of the School of Engineering. “These angled hairs can be used to make a fluid diode that switches from high resistance to low when fluid flows in one direction versus another.”

Hosoi is a co-author on the paper, along with lead author and MIT postdoc José Alvarado, former graduate student Jean Comtet, and Emmanuel de Langre, a professor in the Department of Mechanics at École Polytechnique.

From cat fur to hairbrushes

“There’s been a lot of work done at the large scale, studying fluids like wind flowing past a field of grass or wheat, and how bending or changing the shape of an object affects impedance, or fluid flow,” Alvarado says. “But there’s been very little work at small scales that can be applicable to biological hairs.” 

To investigate the behavior of very small hairs in response to flowing fluid, the team fabricated soft beds of hair by laser-cutting tiny holes in sheets of acrylic, then filled the holes with liquid polymer. Once solidified, the researchers removed the polymer hair beds from the acrylic molds.

In this way, the team fabricated multiple beds of hair, each about the size of a small Post-it note. For each bed, the researchers altered the density, angle, and elasticity of the hairs.

“The densest ones are comparable to short-hair cat fur, and the lowest are something like metal hairbrushes,” Alvarado says.

The team then studied the way hairs responded to flowing fluid, by placing each bed in a rheometer — an instrument consisting of one cylinder within another. Scientists typically fill the space between cylinders with a liquid, then rotate the inner cylinder and measure the torque generated when the liquid drags the outer cylinder along. Scientists can then use this measured torque to calculate the liquid’s viscosity.

For their experiments, Alvarado and Hosoi lined the rheometer’s inner cylinder with each hair bed and filled the space between cylinders with a viscous, honey-like oil. The team then measured the torque generated, as well as how fast the inner cylinder was spinning. From these measurements, the team calculated the impedance, or resistance to flow, created by the hairs.

“What is surprising is what happened with angled hairs,” Alvarado says. “We saw a difference in impedance depending on if fluid was flowing with or against the grain. Basically, hairs were changing shape, and changing the flow around them.”

“Interesting physics”

To study this further, the team, led by Comtet, developed a mathematical model to characterize the behavior of soft hair beds in the presence of a flowing fluid. The researchers worked out a formula that takes into account variables such as the velocity of a fluid and the dimensions of the hair, to calculate rescaled velocity — a parameter that describes the velocity of a fluid versus the elasticity of an object within that fluid.

They found that if the rescaled velocity is too low, hairs are relatively resistant to flow and bend only slightly in response. If the rescaled velocity is too high, hairs are easily bent or deformed in fluid flow. But right in between, as Alvarado says, “interesting physics start to happen.”

In this regime, a hair with a certain angle or elasticity exhibits an “asymmetric drag response” and will only straighten out if the fluid is flowing against the grain, slowing the fluid down. A fluid flowing from almost any other direction will leave the angled hairs — and the fluid’s velocity — unperturbed.

This new model, Alvarado says, can help engineers design microfluidic devices, lined with angled hairs, that passively direct the flow of fluids across a chip.

Hosoi says that microfluidic devices such as hydraulic diodes are one essential piece to developing complex hydraulic systems that can ultimately do real work.

“Computers and cellphones were made possible because of the invention of cheap, solid-state, small-scale electronics,” Hosoi says. “On hydraulic systems, we have not seen that kind of revolution because all the components are complex in themselves. If you can make small, cheap fluid pumps, diodes, valves, and resistors, then you should be able to unleash the same complexity we see in electronic systems, in hydraulic systems. Now the solid-state hydraulic diode’s been figured out.”

This research is supported, in part, by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the U.S. Army Research Office.

Categories: In the News

The week in music, from a rare chanteuse to raucous Sickert & Army of Broken Toys

Cambridge Day - 9 hours 7 min ago
Dori Cameron at P.A.’s Lounge; Heather Mae at Atwood’s Tavern; Vista at Out of the Blue Art Gallery Too; The Wolff Sisters at The Lizard Lounge; Bobby Floyd and Lydia “LovelySinger” Harrell at Lilypad; and Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys at The Sinclair.
Categories: In the News

Using machine learning to improve patient care

MIT News - 11 hours 58 min ago

Doctors are often deluged by signals from charts, test results, and other metrics to keep track of. It can be difficult to integrate and monitor all of these data for multiple patients while making real-time treatment decisions, especially when data is documented inconsistently across hospitals.

In a new pair of papers, researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) explore ways for computers to help doctors make better medical decisions.

One team created a machine-learning approach called “ICU Intervene” that takes large amounts of intensive-care-unit (ICU) data, from vitals and labs to notes and demographics, to determine what kinds of treatments are needed for different symptoms. The system uses “deep learning” to make real-time predictions, learning from past ICU cases to make suggestions for critical care, while also explaining the reasoning behind these decisions.

“The system could potentially be an aid for doctors in the ICU, which is a high-stress, high-demand environment,” says PhD student Harini Suresh, lead author on the paper about ICU Intervene. “The goal is to leverage data from medical records to improve health care and predict actionable interventions.”

Another team developed an approach called “EHR Model Transfer” that can facilitate the application of predictive models on an electronic health record (EHR) system, despite being trained on data from a different EHR system. Specifically, using this approach the team showed that predictive models for mortality and prolonged length of stay can be trained on one EHR system and used to make predictions in another.

ICU Intervene was co-developed by Suresh, undergraduate student Nathan Hunt, postdoc Alistair Johnson, researcher Leo Anthony Celi, MIT Professor Peter Szolovits, and PhD student Marzyeh Ghassemi. It was presented this month at the Machine Learning for Healthcare Conference in Boston.

EHR Model Transfer was co-developed by lead authors Jen Gong and Tristan Naumann, both PhD students at CSAIL, as well as Szolovits and John Guttag, who is the Dugald C. Jackson Professor in Electrical Engineering. It was presented at the ACM’s Special Interest Group on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining in Halifax, Canada.

Both models were trained using data from the critical care database MIMIC, which includes de-identified data from roughly 40,000 critical care patients and was developed by the MIT Lab for Computational Physiology.

ICU Intervene

Integrated ICU data is vital to automating the process of predicting patients’ health outcomes.

“Much of the previous work in clinical decision-making has focused on outcomes such as mortality (likelihood of death), while this work predicts actionable treatments,” Suresh says. “In addition, the system is able to use a single model to predict many outcomes.”

ICU Intervene focuses on hourly prediction of five different interventions that cover a wide variety of critical care needs, such as breathing assistance, improving cardiovascular function, lowering blood pressure, and fluid therapy.

At each hour, the system extracts values from the data that represent vital signs, as well as clinical notes and other data points. All of the data are represented with values that indicate how far off a patient is from the average (to then evaluate further treatment).

Importantly, ICU Intervene can make predictions far into the future. For example, the model can predict whether a patient will need a ventilator six hours later rather than just 30 minutes or an hour later. The team also focused on providing reasoning for the model’s predictions, giving physicians more insight.

“Deep neural-network-based predictive models in medicine are often criticized for their black-box nature,” says Nigam Shah, an associate professor of medicine at Stanford University who was not involved in the paper. “However, these authors predict the start and end of medical interventions with high accuracy, and are able to demonstrate interpretability for the predictions they make.”

The team found that the system outperformed previous work in predicting interventions, and was especially good at predicting the need for vasopressors, a medication that tightens blood vessels and raises blood pressure.

In the future, the researchers will be trying to improve ICU Intervene to be able to give more individualized care and provide more advanced reasoning for decisions, such as why one patient might be able to taper off steroids, or why another might need a procedure like an endoscopy.

EHR Model Transfer

Another important consideration for leveraging ICU data is how it’s stored and what happens when that storage method gets changed. Existing machine-learning models need data to be encoded in a consistent way, so the fact that hospitals often change their EHR systems can create major problems for data analysis and prediction.

That’s where EHR Model Transfer comes in. The approach works across different versions of EHR platforms, using natural language processing to identify clinical concepts that are encoded differently across systems and then mapping them to a common set of clinical concepts (such as “blood pressure” and “heart rate”).

For example, a patient in one EHR platform could be switching hospitals and would need their data transferred to a different type of platform. EHR Model Transfer aims to ensure that the model could still predict aspects of that patient’s ICU visit, such as their likelihood of a prolonged stay or even of dying in the unit.

“Machine-learning models in health care often suffer from low external validity, and poor portability across sites,” says Shah. “The authors devise a nifty strategy for using prior knowledge in medical ontologies to derive a shared representation across two sites that allows models trained at one site to perform well at another site. I am excited to see such creative use of codified medical knowledge in improving portability of predictive models.”

With EHR Model Transfer, the team tested their model’s ability to predict two outcomes: mortality and the need for a prolonged stay. They trained it on one EHR platform and then tested its predictions on a different platform. EHR Model Transfer was found to outperform baseline approaches and demonstrated better transfer of predictive models across EHR versions compared to using EHR-specific events alone.

In the future, the EHR Model Transfer team plans to evaluate the system on data and EHR systems from other hospitals and care settings.

Both papers were supported, in part, by the Intel Science and Technology Center for Big Data and the National Library of Medicine. The paper detailing EHR Model Transfer was additionally supported by the National Science Foundation and Quanta Computer, Inc.

Categories: In the News

Court orders halt to Vail Court demolition, apparently catching officials by surprise

Cambridge Day - Fri, 08/18/2017 - 18:32
The city has been blocked – at least temporarily – from tearing down Vail Court, two boarded-up, rat-infested buildings empty for more than a decade near Central Square. Work was to have begun Monday.
Categories: In the News

High school teachers become students for a week to learn about radar systems

MIT News - Fri, 08/18/2017 - 17:10

From July 9 to 22, the Lincoln Laboratory Radar Introduction for Student Engineers (LLRISE) summer program provided 18 high school students from across the country with a project-based course on radar fundamentals. For the first time since LLRISE’s inception, two high school physics teachers participated in the first week of the program. The teachers, both of whom were from Michigan, took part in all aspects of the curriculum along with the students; they attended lectures on the basics of radar systems, assembled radar systems that could perform range-Doppler imaging, learned about computer-aided design and 3-D printing, and went on tours of Lincoln Laboratory's facilities.

The teachers were interested in evaluating how the radar workshops could be incorporated into their own physics classes. They were particularly excited about integrating the radar lessons into labs and projects and supplementing conceptual lectures with hands-on building activities.

“We already have the theory, but it’ll be great for students to know how the radar is applied and how to build it. And it’s great to not just be able to talk about the Doppler effect, but to also have examples of how it affects the real world and how it all ties together,” said Scott Brunner, who has been teaching physics for 10 years and currently teaches 11th- and 12th-grade physics at University Liggett School in Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan. He plans to implement lessons about the construction and use of radar into the electricity and magnetism class at his school. With so much material to cover in the school year, he said, the radar lessons will likely be part of the after-school curriculum.

The teachers said one of the things that made their learning experience at LLRISE so productive was the Lincoln Laboratory staff instructors. “I’ve been impressed by the instructors — how real they are, how approachable they are. These are some of the smartest people in their fields, but they don’t dumb anything down for the students,” said Gary Campbell, a physics teacher of 20 years at Rochester High School in Rochester, Michigan.

The students certainly were able to keep up with the material and asked advanced questions, Brunner said. As they spent the week together, the teachers and students developed a friendly relationship based on mutual learning. They ate lunch together every day, and the teachers helped students through difficult problems. In return, the teachers said they often gained insight into alternative ways of learning from the students.

“It was great having teachers in the classroom,” said Chiamaka Agbasi-Porter, one of the developers of LLRISE. “This year, there was a different dynamic in the classroom when teachers were present, as compared to previous years without teachers. The teachers were able to help explain some concepts to students who found the material a little challenging. It was great to see the teachers enthusiastically building their radar and thinking about how to incorporate the LLRISE curriculum into their schools.”

While Campbell and Brunner were eager to bring back new material to their classrooms, they expressed regret about having to part with the students and the LLRISE program so soon. “I’m actually disappointed to be leaving,” said Brunner at the end of the week, saying he wished he could have seen how the students’ radar projects turned out. But both teachers said they enjoyed being the first teachers to collaborate with LLRISE and are looking forward to providing feedback about their experience to help the program next year.

For the future, the LLRISE organizers are developing online classes consisting of lectures and instructions for building small radar systems. Both students and teachers can access these lessons from home. In addition, local teachers will have the opportunity to meet with Lincoln Laboratory staff mentors throughout the school year. The mentors will provide the teachers with guidance for introducing the radar curriculum into their classrooms. 

“We want LLRISE for Teachers to be meaningful and effective for all teachers, and we want to provide a framework for long-term integration of new technology,” said Agbasi-Porter. “With Lincoln Laboratory mentors present, we can empower teachers to teach a really focused topic such as radar.”

Categories: In the News

Martinez pitches Oldtime Baseball Game, uses mound to benefit charitable causes

Cambridge Day - Fri, 08/18/2017 - 16:43
Since its founding in 1994, the annual Oldtime Baseball Game has grown – now it requires street closures and traffic warnings, and it draws sports legends such as Pedro Martinez who want to take part in the fun and help its charitable causes.
Categories: In the News

‘Logan Lucky’: Soderbergh brings back effortless cool in fresh take on heist flick

Cambridge Day - Fri, 08/18/2017 - 13:41
It’s only been four years, but feels much longer, since director Steven Soderbergh last treated filmgoing audiences to one of his quirky, deconstructive gems. His latest taps into the skin of some of fare such as “Ocean’s Eleven” while farming fresh territory.
Categories: In the News

Taking The Engine for a test drive

MIT News - Fri, 08/18/2017 - 13:20

Innovators, investors, and entrepreneurs worldwide are waiting on news of the first companies chosen to be part of The Engine. Founded by MIT, The Engine is a combination of long-term investment, resources, and services for founders working on “tough tech” that prioritizes high-impact solutions to big problems over early profits. This summer a group of MIT students got a taste of what it’s like to be inside The Engine’s space in Central Square, near the MIT campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They may not be members of The Engine’s first cohort of startups, but they still had a chance to warm up the space, so to speak, for those chosen.

The students came from MIT Sandbox, an innovation program for students, to take up residence at The Engine for the summer. Daily, the space at 501 Massachusetts Avenue is abuzz with ideas. As the startup Tactile, Charlene Xia and five other recent graduates in mechanical engineering aim to revolutionize Braille technology. As Rigrade, aeronautics and astronautics graduate student Andrew Kennedy and his colleagues aim to develop a robotic system for scaffold construction. As Lightmatter, postdoc Yinchen Shen and his team hope to accelerate artificial intelligence innovation with light-based processing.

“It is exciting to be here. It promotes this productivity in yourself,” says Xia on a weekday morning at The Engine headquarters, which spans three floors and includes conference rooms, makerspaces, high-tech machinery, and labs. “It feels like a community,” agrees Kennedy. Shen adds: “Venture capitalists like to meet with us here. Everyone is curious about The Engine.”

Shaking down the systems

“We decided it would be a shame to have an empty building in Central Square as we’re ramping up,” says Reed Sturtevant, a general partner at The Engine and previously an early-stage investor at Boston-based Project 11. “We thought: How can we contribute to the community? Plus, the building is just refinished so they are helping us shake down the systems, if you will.”

While set in motion by MIT, The Engine is an independent, for-profit public benefit corporation. Equipped with a $150 million investment fund, which includes $25 million from MIT, The Engine is currently “digging in to find teams we can help have a real impact in the world,” says Sturtevant. The Engine’s first round of investments, which will typically range from $250,000 to $1 million at the outset, will be announced in the fall.

“We want to make it easier and faster to take tough tech ideas and bring them to market,” says Sturtevant. The Engine has aligned investors, board, and investment advisory committee members, including business leaders, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and MIT, around that mission.  “We will absolutely invest in companies that come from a range of places: universities, industry, or even out of someone's garage. We’re definitely happy to talk to folks,” Sturtevant says.

Making it real

As people speculate on the identity of the companies that will attract The Engine investment, the Sandbox teams in residence offer limited clues. They do not necessarily reflect the mission of The Engine, Sturtevant says, although many do. “We didn’t pick and choose the Sandbox teams. We’re not treating this as, ‘Hey, we might invest in these companies.’ It’s more of a mentorship relationship. We like the energy the teams bring.”

On a recent afternoon, Carlos Araque, technical director at The Engine, was reviewing the ways to program a computerized lathe, a high-end piece of machinery in one of the makerspaces. Listening intently, Xia memorized the various directions. She will soon use the machine to prototype Tactile, the first portable real-time text-to-Braille converter.

“First, we’ll use the 3-D printer,” said Xia, waving a hand toward that machine. “When we get the look right, we’ll use the lathe to make it.” Her team works downstairs in the co-working space, generates ideas, and comes upstairs to try them out, she said. “All the stuff we’ve been talking about making can actually get prototyped now!”

Araque listens with a smile. He joined The Engine to maintain its internal prototyping and lab capabilities, and provide startups with guidance around technology transfer and product development. “We’ve created a place for teams to try out their ideas,” he said.

The Sandbox teams get his attention for the summer. Within the next year, however, Araque expects to be working closely with the first 15 to 30 companies selected by The Engine. “We’d like to think The Engine is really about companies that are being born. The companies we want to be disruptive and big and influential in the future will be born right here. So we have to push them from all sides, and provide the resources they need from all sides.”

Like MIT, The Engine seeks to advance knowledge and empower innovators, according to Kennedy, a graduate student in the MIT Space Systems Labs. “The Engine wants to help you grow,” he said. “It's not like it's off limits because you have something that involves a lot of hardware and manual work and will take some time. It’s a welcoming space where you’ll find a lot of ideas flowing.”

Categories: In the News

Lindsey Backman awarded Gilliam Fellowship

MIT News - Fri, 08/18/2017 - 12:30

Graduate student Lindsey Backman has been selected by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to be one of 39 Gilliam Fellows for 2017.

Gilliam Fellowships for Advanced Study are awarded to exceptional doctoral students who have the potential to be leaders in their fields and who desire to advance diversity and inclusion in the sciences. Gilliam Fellows are supported for up to three years of dissertation research.

As a Gilliam Fellow, Backman will be able to meet and network with other Gilliam Fellows and professors at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), connecting with a diverse community of graduate students who share a passion for solving important questions in science and promoting inclusion within STEM fields. This group of students, who are expected go on to become the next generation of influential scientists, will offer one another an invaluable support network throughout their years of graduate school.

As an alumnus of HHMI’s External Research Opportunities Program (EXROP), which supported her as an undergrad when she spent 10 weeks of the summer of 2014 working in Professor Catherine Drennan’s lab, Backman can already attest to the benefits of HHMI’s supportive programs for students.

“It was during my HHMI EXROP experience that I fell in love with structural biology and also gained the confidence I needed to know I could be successful as a graduate student at MIT,” she says. “I am thus extremely grateful for HHMI’s continued support for me as a scientist, now in the next stage of my career, as a graduate student.”

Backman traces the catalytic moments that formed her interest in chemistry — and science in general — back to her years as a high school student in Tampa, Florida.

“My high school chemistry and biology teachers presented these subjects in such engaging ways, focusing on how each topic applied to our entire lives, and I became especially fascinated by how all forms of life are governed by biochemical reactions and interactions occurring at the molecular level,” she recalls.

Backman went on to pursue her interest in biochemistry at the University of Florida, where she became involved with research as an undergraduate student and received her bachelor's degree in chemistry (with a minor in classical studies).

Today, she is a PhD candidate working in the Drennan Lab, where she explores the enzymatic mechanisms of members of the glycyl radical enzyme family, primarily through protein crystallography.

“My research focuses on the structural and biochemical characterization of several new gut microbial glycyl radical enzymes (GREs), unearthing hidden chemical reactions that potentially play critical roles in human health,” she explains. “Learning more about these enzymes will not only add to the field’s knowledge of these critical enzymes, many of which could be promising antibiotic targets, but will also expand our basic understanding of the biochemical reactions that govern bacterial-host interactions in the gut microbiome.”

She was drawn to this area of study due to a fascination with the ability of enzymes to elegantly perform difficult chemical reactions.

“As a chemist, I’m not only interested in the scope of the reactions that enzymes can perform, but also how they are able to accomplish these transformations,” she says. “One of the most valuable approaches to asking such questions about mechanism is to obtain a structure of the enzyme. The prospect of getting a glimpse into the active site of enzyme, and making hypotheses about its mechanism of action based on what you see, was just incredibly satisfying to me, leading me to pursue this field [at MIT].”

After completing her PhD at MIT, Backman plans to pursue a postdoctoral academic position. Beyond that, her goal for the future is to combine her passions for research, teaching, and mentorship by becoming a professor herself.

Categories: In the News

Gene Brown, professor emeritus of biology, dies at 91

MIT News - Fri, 08/18/2017 - 11:55

Gene M. Brown, MIT professor emeritus of biology, former department head, and former dean of the School of Science, passed away on Aug. 4 at the age of 91.

“He was really the heart and soul of the department for a very long time, devoted to undergraduates and to teaching,” says MIT Professor Lisa Steiner. Steiner, an expert in the evolution and development of the immune system, was hosted by Brown during her recruitment visit to MIT and became the first female faculty member hired in the Department of Biology. “The idea of the department without him is quite shocking.”

A pioneer in the field of intermediary metabolism, Brown’s research career focused on how living systems carry out chemical reactions in order to survive. He trained himself in enzymology after arriving at MIT, and he and his students and postdocs focused primarily on the enzymatic synthesis of several B vitamins, including thiamine, folic acid, riboflavin, and coenzyme A. He is best known for his work on the biosynthesis of folic acid and related compounds both in microorganisms and in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, publishing over 100 research papers in his career.

“Gene was a wonderful research advisor and teacher,” says Linda Spremulli, professor emerita of chemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who was a graduate student with Brown from 1969 to 1973. “He transformed my life, instilling in me a love for the beauty of metabolic pathways with their complex mechanisms.”

Growing up in rural Missouri and Idaho, Brown was the first member of his family to finish high school, and the only person in his graduating class to attend college. After a year as a college student in Idaho, Brown enlisted in the Army Air Forces, where he taught defensive measures against chemical warfare. After his term in the Army Air Forces, he returned to college at Colorado A & M College, where he majored in chemistry, graduating in 1949. He completed his graduate work at the University of Wisconsin in 1953 under the direction of Esmond Snell, isolating and characterizing the enzymatic synthesis of pantetheine, an analog of vitamin B5, and an intermediary in the production of coenzyme A.

Brown continued working with Snell as a postdoc at the University of Texas until he was recruited by Professor Jack Buchanan to join the newly forming biochemistry division of the MIT Department of Biology in 1954. Brown served as executive officer of the department from 1967 to 1972; as associate department head under Professor Boris Magasanik from 1972 to 1977; as department head from 1977 to 1985; and as dean of the School of Science from 1985 to 1991. While serving as dean of science, Brown closed his research program. He officially retired from MIT in 1996, but continued teaching until 2014.

Brown’s deepest passion was teaching. “As dean, he would leave meetings with the president of MIT to go teach,” recalls Professor Tom RajBhandary, who co-taught 7.05 (Introductory Biochemistry) with Brown for over 20 years. He was legendary for teaching intermediary metabolism without any notes, filling the boards of Room 10-250 with detailed pathways in meticulous handwriting. Brown got his first taste of teaching in high school, when his math and chemistry teachers would routinely call him to the board to explain the material. He was the first person in the Department of Biology to give open book and open note examinations, promoting the view that students should not have to memorize, but rather should be assessed for their ability to think and to solve problems. He was involved in teaching 7.05 for 60 years.

“I loved teaching with Gene and will miss him,” says Professor Matthew vander Heiden, who currently teaches 7.05. “The privilege to see how he taught the class has had a tremendous impact on my own approach to teaching. I think he would be pleased to know that the unique insights he provided continue to be passed on each spring, and will continue to be passed on as long as I am involved in the course.”

Teaching undergraduates was a value that extended throughout his career. As dean of science, he made it clear that the quality of teaching would be an important consideration for tenure decisions. He also co-chaired the committee that instituted the undergraduate communications requirement aimed at improving skills in both written and oral communications. The Department of Biology gives two teaching awards in his honor: The Gene Brown Prize, funded by Brown himself, recognizes teaching excellence among undergraduates; and the Gene Brown-Merck Teaching Award, funded by Merck and by Brown’s former graduate students and postdocs, recognizes teaching excellence among graduate students.

During Brown’s administrative tenure in biology, the MIT Center for Cancer Research (the predecessor of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research) and the Whitehead Institute were established with Department of Biology faculty leadership (Professor Salvador Luria for the Center for Cancer Research in 1974, and Professor David Baltimore for the Whitehead Institute in 1982).

A longtime resident of Concord, Massachusetts, Brown is survived by his children, James, Lindsey, and Holly, and his four grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife, Shirley, and a brother, James. 

Gifts in Brown’s name may be made to the Gene M. Brown Memorial Fund, fund No. 3839399. Donations in his memory will support undergraduates and undergraduate education in the MIT Department of Biology. For more information, contact Rebecca Chamberlain at 617-253-4729 or rchambe@mit.edu.

Categories: In the News

Industrial “edge cities” have helped China grow

MIT News - Thu, 08/17/2017 - 23:59

China’s massive investment in industrial parks has paid economic dividends while reshaping the urban areas where they are located, according to a newly published study co-authored by an MIT expert on urban economics.

The study finds the creation of industrial parks does not just add to growth within the areas designated for manufacturing; it significantly increases economic production and consumption of many kinds for more than a mile in all directions from the boundaries of industrial parks.

Indeed, as the research shows, productivity, wages, employment, home sales, and retail activities all increased, even beyond the boundaries of the planned industrial parks. This carryover was striking enough that the study’s researchers say the industrial parks created “edge cities,” places that generate their own hubs of diverse economic activity and residential life.  

“This kind of place-based policy can produce significant gains,” says Siqi Zheng, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP) and Center for Real Estate (CRE), and co-author of a new paper detailing the findings.

The results speak to questions about the value of place-based industrial policy, while also providing valuable new data about economic spillover effects — the extent to which the presence of industries creates additional economic activity.

Indeed, as the new paper states, the typical industrial park “creates a spatially concentrated increase in local market potential as well-paid workers who seek nearby housing and retail opportunities.” For this reason, the researchers conclude, “The new parks lead to sharp improvements in worker quality of life.” Notably, the presence of significant new home construction around these “edge cities” reduces commute times, among other benefits.

The paper, “The birth of edge cities in China: Measuring the effects of industrial parks policy,” appears in the Journal of Urban Economics. The authors are Zheng, who is the Samuel Tak Lee Associate Professor of Real Estate Development and Entrepreneurship in DUSP; Weizeng Sun of the Institute for Economic and Social Research at Jinan University in China; Jianfeng Wu of the School of Economics and China Center for Economic Studies at Fudan University in China; and Matthew E. Kahn, a professor of economics at the University of Southern California.

The study examines the effects of 110 industrial parks near eight cities in China: Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Tianjin, Dalian, Wuhan, Xi’an, and Chengdu. That encompasses almost 10 percent of all industrial parks in the country. The researchers drew on several kinds of economic data to conduct the study, including plant-level data from the National Bureau of Statistics of China, and extensive data on local consumption. Most of the parks were built over the last quarter-century, and the study focuses on effects during the period from 1998 to 2007.

While building the industrial parks themselves clearly jump-started a considerable amount of economic activity, the spillover to the surrounding areas was also notable in multiple respects.

The researchers measured the areas two kilometers (1.2 miles) outside the industrial park zones and found that on average, in these neighboring places, employment increased 41 percent, total factor productivity increased 8 percent, and wages increased 3 percent.  

“We found a multiplier effect,” Zheng says.

To be sure, that was not a universal outcome for all 110 industrial parks in the study. The researchers found that for about 70 percent of the industrial parks they examined, there was also an increase throughout the surrounding area in productivity, or, the ability of firms to create goods efficiently. 

As the research showed, those increases have a lot to do with human capital investment: A 10 percentage-point increase in the number of industrial park workers with college degrees corresponds to a 26 percent increase in the total factor productivity of incumbent firms located near the parks. The underlying reason, it seems, has to do with the synergies at work in the successful industrial park areas. In places where the industries in the newly created parks had clearly defined connections with existing firms — such as a relationship between a supplier and manufacturer — more positive outcomes resulted.

But in places lacking these kinds of synergies, the industrial parks did not fare so well.

“One size does not fit all,” Zheng observes, noting the “heterogeneous effects” of the Chinese industrial parks in the study.

As the researchers note, the question of how broadly the results could inform policy around the globe remains open. The study’s results on spillover effects provide data that could be relevant to a wide range of economic conditions. In essence, industrial parks, among other things, solve what Zheng terms “a land assembly problem and a cross-firm coordination problem” and let firms “cluster together in a timely fashion” outside cities.

“Apparently, China’s unique political system grants city mayors with powers that far exceed their Western counterparts,” Zheng says. “They can easily convert agricultural land at the edge of cities into urban use, and allocate a large parcel of land to build an industrial park and engage in land assembly in a very efficient way. On the downside, if city leaders made a wrong decision, it would cause resource misallocation.”

The study was conducted with backing from the University of California at Los Angeles Ziman Center for Real Estate, the National Science Foundation of China, and Fudan University.

Categories: In the News

Court ruling: Lights must stay off atop Zinc, but apartment owners can ask board anew

Cambridge Day - Thu, 08/17/2017 - 16:35
The rooftop uplighting at the Zinc luxury apartment building that brought neighbor complaints in 2015 must stay off, a judge said in a decision dated Monday.
Categories: In the News

Five things to do this weekend: Aug. 18-20

Cambridge Day - Thu, 08/17/2017 - 15:36
Poetry Heat Wave! The 2017 Boston Poetry Marathon; Thorpe Street Block Party; Ignite! A Global Street Food & Fire Festival; “Doctor Strange” screening; and Summer Sundays at the Harvard Semitic Museum.
Categories: In the News

Featured video: Getting into MIT

MIT News - Thu, 08/17/2017 - 13:30

Not even Drew Houston '05, founder of Dropbox, was sure he’d get in to MIT. But that didn’t stop him, or thousands of other students and alumni, from applying. The gamble paid off: Houston got to tear up all his other college applications because he was accepted into his dream school.

In this video, alumni recount the process of getting into MIT: their applications, their worries and fears during the waiting period, and finally, those five magic words: “You’ve been accepted to MIT.” No matter how long the odds, the decision to take that chance changed their lives.

The MIT freshman application for the prospective Class of 2022 is now available via MIT Admissions. Take a chance to be a part of an innovative community helping to solve the world’s greatest challenges.

Submitted by: Katherine Igoe/MIT Alumni Association | Video by: Brielle Domings/MIT Alumni Association | 2 min, 58 sec

Categories: In the News

Demo day showcases serious innovation in “playful” tech

MIT News - Thu, 08/17/2017 - 12:30

As “playful” technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) become increasingly prevalent in the gaming world — and the real world — MIT continues to find ways to support innovation and entrepreneurship in those areas.

In January, the MIT Game Lab, along with Bayview Labs and the Seraph Group, announced the launch of Play Labs, a new summer accelerator specifically for playful technologies. The first cohort of 13 startups was selected in June.

Tuesday night, at the inaugural Play Labs demo event, those startups presented to the public the products they’ve developed in the accelerator. Afterward, the crowd was treated to live demonstrations of the technologies.

VR-focused startups presented prototypes for virtual pets, nausea-reducing games, novel social and strategy games, and even advanced corporate and fitness training applications. Other startups incorporated AR features into popular activities, such as escape games and paintballing. Still others brought new social features, advanced computer vision, and real-time data analysis to eSports, which is competitive online gaming complete with spectators and betting.

In his opening remarks, video game entrepreneur Rizwan Virk ’92, executive director and co-founder of Play Labs and Bayview, discussed the inspiration for and importance of launching an accelerator focused entirely on playful technologies.

Video games have been critical to the advancement of computer science, he said. Artificial intelligence traces its roots to computers designed to play chess, chat bots have origins in text adventure games, and virtual reality was inspired by first-person shooters. “Most technologies we use have some root in games,” he said to the crowd gathered in Room 10-250.

But Play Labs was also inspired, in part, by personal experience. Struggling to fund his first startup, Brainstorm, Virk had to buy computers to test his software and return them within 30 days for a full refund. “We wanted to give this new generation of startups a way to jump across these problems,” he said.

Each startup that entered Play Labs in June received an initial investment of $20,000, “so they didn’t have to buy and return their own computers,” Virk joked. The startups also received weekly mentorship from experienced playful tech entrepreneurs from MIT and elsewhere. Now that they’ve graduated, the startups are eligible for $80,000 in additional funding from the accelerator and its partners.

During the demo event, each startup delivered a brief presentation of their technology to a crowd of investors, MIT community members, and the general public. An online stream also aired on the West Coast and in China, two major areas for investment. Startups were seeking seed capital of a few hundred thousand to about a million dollars.

But the real fun started after the pitches, when the large crowd tested out the prototypes outside the lecture hall, in the lobby under the MIT dome, and outside of Building 10.

Surrounded by eager testers was RidgeLine Labs, creator of RoVR, a VR dog simulator that lets users care for a virtual canine in an ever-expanding virtual world. During the pitches, co-founder Henry Zhou, a Tufts University student, presented a video of the simulation, where the user found a cute, friendly pup in a box in a park, then went through various scenarios of feeding, bathing, walking, training, and playing with the dog. In the lobby, excited attendees donned the VR headset and handsets to scoop up the dog and pet it in their arms.

The idea was conceived after Zhou noticed the abundance of pet videos posted on social media — and “because my mom never let me have a dog growing up,” Zhou told MIT News. RoVR can be used by people who may not have access to real pets, he said.

Before entering Play Labs, RidgeLine’s virtual dog was “a lot uglier,” Zhou said. Among other things, the accelerator provided much-needed capital to hire employees to refine the animation.

Now, the simulation is on Kickstarter, has a much larger network of investors and industry experts, and is ready to launch. “The marketing, the fundraising, the pitching skills that we gained from Play Labs were huge. Now I feel truly prepared to take the product from prototype to release,” Zhou said.

Another MIT spinout invented a VR game that incorporated a solution to a major VR issue: nausea. VRemedy Labs is developing an intensity “dial,” based on MIT research, that mitigates queasiness caused by VR games. Features such as light, movement, speed, and acceleration contribute to nausea. Games generally offer only either a comfort setting, with features minimized, or an exciting setting, with features at full intensity. The startup’s dial, however, lets players choose between 100 different, slightly modified levels of intensity.

“When you turn the dial up, features change accordingly to what feels most comfortable,” co-founder Eric LaCava, a senior in electrical engineering and computer science told MIT News. “Someone playing at 55 is playing a very similar game to someone playing at 100, but the attacks on their body are lessened.”

At the event, the startup demonstrated its first superhero game, I Hate Heroes, which it’s been developing for only a month and a half. LaCava said Play Labs provided the first-time entrepreneurs, among other things, valuable mentorship in launching their startup. “We needed the guidance a lot more than we needed the money,” LaCava said. “They really walked us through what it’s like to do this for the first time … and how to get into this market without falling prey to some of the things startups usually do.” The startup is now in talks with Sony and other companies as potential partners.

The AR-based startups updated two very popular types of hobbies: escape rooms, where players are locked in a room and must solve puzzles to exit, and action sports, such as paintball and airsoft. Escape Labs is developing holographic content — such as portals, creatures, and interactive puzzles — that players can interact with in physical escape rooms. A growing industry, there are now 1,900 escape room locations in the United States alone.

Total Respawn, which had a long line at its booth outside Building 10, creates real-life AR first-person shooter games for action sports arenas. In his pitch, co-founder Mark Belmarsh showed a video of the startup’s first game, where a player uses a real paintball or airsoft gun to shoot zombies. The technology allows for video game graphics in physical arenas, tracking hits digitally, and sharing content online, much like an eSport. The startup has two locations signed on for this fall.

“Anything capable of happening in a video game is capable of recreating in augmented reality [for the arena], so helicopters flying around, explosions, you name it,” Belmarsh said. Moreover, this will “transform traditional action sports today from niche hobbies with cult following into a competitive sport with mass market appeal.”

Of course, it wasn’t all games. Some startups developed their technologies for reasons other than gaming. Coresights, for instance, combines virtual and augmented reality technologies with biometric wearables to improve corporate and wellness training. Similarly, Minda Labs developed a VR application for diversity training in simulated scenarios to build empathy and communication skills. And Datavized creates unique VR 3-D visualizations of data that aim to thoroughly immerse people in information to improve decision making.

Other teams were:

Esports One: developing advanced computer vision and real-time data analysis platform for eSports to help players get immediate information for betting.

Hidden Switch: an MIT Media Lab spinout developing a feature that lets eSports community members connect with some of the biggest eSports stars.

Empathy Box: developing a first-person, mystery-adventure game set in a magical world of tech startups.

SavvyStat: developing deep learning and predictive tools for managing virtual economies and virtual goods in games.

Team Future: created Black Hat Cooperative, an award-winning stealth game that pits a player and an ally against robot agents trying to remove players from the game.

Wonda VR: developing intuitive tools to turn 360-degree videos into engaging VR experiences with a drag-and-drop interface and one-click publishing.

Categories: In the News

Demo day showcases serious innovation in “playful” tech

MIT Events - Thu, 08/17/2017 - 12:30

As “playful” technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) become increasingly prevalent in the gaming world — and the real world — MIT continues to find ways to support innovation and entrepreneurship in those areas.

In January, the MIT Game Lab, along with Bayview Labs and the Seraph Group, announced the launch of Play Labs, a new summer accelerator specifically for playful technologies. The first cohort of 13 startups was selected in June.

Tuesday night, at the inaugural Play Labs demo event, those startups presented to the public the products they’ve developed in the accelerator. Afterward, the crowd was treated to live demonstrations of the technologies.

VR-focused startups presented prototypes for virtual pets, nausea-reducing games, novel social and strategy games, and even advanced corporate and fitness training applications. Other startups incorporated AR features into popular activities, such as escape games and paintballing. Still others brought new social features, advanced computer vision, and real-time data analysis to eSports, which is competitive online gaming complete with spectators and betting.

In his opening remarks, video game entrepreneur Rizwan Virk ’92, executive director and co-founder of Play Labs and Bayview, discussed the inspiration for and importance of launching an accelerator focused entirely on playful technologies.

Video games have been critical to the advancement of computer science, he said. Artificial intelligence traces its roots to computers designed to play chess, chat bots have origins in text adventure games, and virtual reality was inspired by first-person shooters. “Most technologies we use have some root in games,” he said to the crowd gathered in Room 10-250.

But Play Labs was also inspired, in part, by personal experience. Struggling to fund his first startup, Brainstorm, Virk had to buy computers to test his software and return them within 30 days for a full refund. “We wanted to give this new generation of startups a way to jump across these problems,” he said.

Each startup that entered Play Labs in June received an initial investment of $20,000, “so they didn’t have to buy and return their own computers,” Virk joked. The startups also received weekly mentorship from experienced playful tech entrepreneurs from MIT and elsewhere. Now that they’ve graduated, the startups are eligible for $80,000 in additional funding from the accelerator and its partners.

During the demo event, each startup delivered a brief presentation of their technology to a crowd of investors, MIT community members, and the general public. An online stream also aired on the West Coast and in China, two major areas for investment. Startups were seeking seed capital of a few hundred thousand to about a million dollars.

But the real fun started after the pitches, when the large crowd tested out the prototypes outside the lecture hall, in the lobby under the MIT dome, and outside of Building 10.

Surrounded by eager testers was RidgeLine Labs, creator of RoVR, a VR dog simulator that lets users care for a virtual canine in an ever-expanding virtual world. During the pitches, co-founder Henry Zhou, a Tufts University student, presented a video of the simulation, where the user found a cute, friendly pup in a box in a park, then went through various scenarios of feeding, bathing, walking, training, and playing with the dog. In the lobby, excited attendees donned the VR headset and handsets to scoop up the dog and pet it in their arms.

The idea was conceived after Zhou noticed the abundance of pet videos posted on social media — and “because my mom never let me have a dog growing up,” Zhou told MIT News. RoVR can be used by people who may not have access to real pets, he said.

Before entering Play Labs, RidgeLine’s virtual dog was “a lot uglier,” Zhou said. Among other things, the accelerator provided much-needed capital to hire employees to refine the animation.

Now, the simulation is on Kickstarter, has a much larger network of investors and industry experts, and is ready to launch. “The marketing, the fundraising, the pitching skills that we gained from Play Labs were huge. Now I feel truly prepared to take the product from prototype to release,” Zhou said.

Another MIT spinout invented a VR game that incorporated a solution to a major VR issue: nausea. VRemedy Labs is developing an intensity “dial,” based on MIT research, that mitigates queasiness caused by VR games. Features such as light, movement, speed, and acceleration contribute to nausea. Games generally offer only either a comfort setting, with features minimized, or an exciting setting, with features at full intensity. The startup’s dial, however, lets players choose between 100 different, slightly modified levels of intensity.

“When you turn the dial up, features change accordingly to what feels most comfortable,” co-founder Eric LaCava, a senior in electrical engineering and computer science told MIT News. “Someone playing at 55 is playing a very similar game to someone playing at 100, but the attacks on their body are lessened.”

At the event, the startup demonstrated its first superhero game, I Hate Heroes, which it’s been developing for only a month and a half. LaCava said Play Labs provided the first-time entrepreneurs, among other things, valuable mentorship in launching their startup. “We needed the guidance a lot more than we needed the money,” LaCava said. “They really walked us through what it’s like to do this for the first time … and how to get into this market without falling prey to some of the things startups usually do.” The startup is now in talks with Sony and other companies as potential partners.

The AR-based startups updated two very popular types of hobbies: escape rooms, where players are locked in a room and must solve puzzles to exit, and action sports, such as paintball and airsoft. Escape Labs is developing holographic content — such as portals, creatures, and interactive puzzles — that players can interact with in physical escape rooms. A growing industry, there are now 1,900 escape room locations in the United States alone.

Total Respawn, which had a long line at its booth outside Building 10, creates real-life AR first-person shooter games for action sports arenas. In his pitch, co-founder Mark Belmarsh showed a video of the startup’s first game, where a player uses a real paintball or airsoft gun to shoot zombies. The technology allows for video game graphics in physical arenas, tracking hits digitally, and sharing content online, much like an eSport. The startup has two locations signed on for this fall.

“Anything capable of happening in a video game is capable of recreating in augmented reality [for the arena], so helicopters flying around, explosions, you name it,” Belmarsh said. Moreover, this will “transform traditional action sports today from niche hobbies with cult following into a competitive sport with mass market appeal.”

Of course, it wasn’t all games. Some startups developed their technologies for reasons other than gaming. Coresights, for instance, combines virtual and augmented reality technologies with biometric wearables to improve corporate and wellness training. Similarly, Minda Labs developed a VR application for diversity training in simulated scenarios to build empathy and communication skills. And Datavized creates unique VR 3-D visualizations of data that aim to thoroughly immerse people in information to improve decision making.

Other teams were:

Esports One: developing advanced computer vision and real-time data analysis platform for eSports to help players get immediate information for betting.

Hidden Switch: an MIT Media Lab spinout developing a feature that lets eSports community members connect with some of the biggest eSports stars.

Empathy Box: developing a first-person, mystery-adventure game set in a magical world of tech startups.

SavvyStat: developing deep learning and predictive tools for managing virtual economies and virtual goods in games.

Team Future: created Black Hat Cooperative, an award-winning stealth game that pits a player and an ally against robot agents trying to remove players from the game.

Wonda VR: developing intuitive tools to turn 360-degree videos into engaging VR experiences with a drag-and-drop interface and one-click publishing.

Categories: In the News

How we recall the past

MIT News - Thu, 08/17/2017 - 11:59

When we have a new experience, the memory of that event is stored in a neural circuit that connects several parts of the hippocampus and other brain structures. Each cluster of neurons may store different aspects of the memory, such as the location where the event occurred or the emotions associated with it.

Neuroscientists who study memory have long believed that when we recall these memories, our brains turn on the same hippocampal circuit that was activated when the memory was originally formed. However, MIT neuroscientists have now shown, for the first time, that recalling a memory requires a “detour” circuit that branches off from the original memory circuit.

“This study addresses one of the most fundamental questions in brain research — namely how episodic memories are formed and retrieved — and provides evidence for an unexpected answer: differential circuits for retrieval and formation,” says Susumu Tonegawa, the Picower Professor of Biology and Neuroscience, the director of the RIKEN-MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, and the study’s senior author.

This distinct recall circuit has never been seen before in a vertebrate animal, although a study published last year found a similar recall circuit in the worm Caenorhabditis elegans.

Dheeraj Roy, a recent MIT PhD recipient, and research scientist Takashi Kitamura are the lead authors of the paper, which appears in the Aug. 17 online edition of Cell. Other MIT authors are postdocs Teruhiro Okuyama and Sachie Ogawa, and graduate student Chen Sun. Yuichi Obata and Atsushi Yoshiki of the RIKEN Brain Science Institute are also authors of the paper.

Parts unknown

The hippocampus is divided into several regions with different memory-related functions — most of which have been well-explored, but a small area called the subiculum has been little-studied. Tonegawa’s lab set out to investigate this region using mice that were genetically engineered so that their subiculum neurons could be turned on or off using light.

The researchers used this approach to control memory cells during a fear-conditioning event — that is, a mild electric shock delivered when the mouse is in a particular chamber.

Previous research has shown that encoding these memories involves cells in a part of the hippocampus called CA1, which then relays information to another brain structure called the entorhinal cortex. In each location, small subsets of neurons are activated, forming memory traces known as engrams.

“It’s been thought that the circuits which are involved in forming engrams are the same as the circuits involved in the re-activation of these cells that occurs during the recall process,” Tonegawa says.

However, scientists had previously identified anatomical connections that detour from CA1 through the subiculum, which then connects to the entorhinal cortex. The function of this circuit, and of the subiculum in general, was unknown.

In one group of mice, the MIT team inhibited neurons of the subiculum as the mice underwent fear conditioning, which had no effect on their ability to later recall the experience. However, in another group, they inhibited subiculum neurons after fear conditioning had occurred, when the mice were placed back in the original chamber. These mice did not show the usual fear response, demonstrating that their ability to recall the memory was impaired.

This provides evidence that the detour circuit involving the subiculum is necessary for memory recall but not for memory formation. Other experiments revealed that the direct circuit from CA1 to the entorhinal cortex is not necessary for memory recall, but is required for memory formation.

“Initially, we did not expect the outcome would come out this way,” Tonegawa says. “We just planned to explore what the function of the subiculum could be.”

“This paper is a tour de force of advanced neuroscience techniques, with an intriguing core result showing the existence and importance of different pathways for formation and retrieval of hippocampus-dependent memories,” says Karl Deisseroth, a professor of bioengineering and psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, who was not involved in the study.

Editing memories

Why would the hippocampus need two distinct circuits for memory formation and recall? The researchers found evidence for two possible explanations. One is that interactions of the two circuits make it easier to edit or update memories. As the recall circuit is activated, simultaneous activation of the memory formation circuit allows new information to be added.

“We think that having these circuits in parallel helps the animal first recall the memory, and when needed, encode new information,” Roy says. “It’s very common when you remember a previous experience, if there’s something new to add, to incorporate the new information into the existing memory.”

Another possible function of the detour circuit is to help stimulate longer-term stress responses. The researchers found that the subiculum connects to a pair of structures in the hypothalamus known as the mammillary bodies, which stimulates the release of stress hormones called corticosteroids. That takes place at least an hour after the fearful memory is recalled.

While the researchers identified the two-circuit system in experiments involving memories with an emotional component (both positive and negative), the system is likely involved in any kind of episodic memory, the researchers say.

The findings also suggest an intriguing possibility related to Alzheimer’s disease, according to the researchers. Last year, Roy and others in Tonegawa’s lab found that mice with a version of early-stage Alzheimer’s disease have trouble recalling memories but are still able to form new memories. The new study suggests that this subiculum circuit may be affected in Alzheimer’s disease, although the researchers have not studied this.

The research was funded by the RIKEN Brain Science Institute, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the JPB Foundation.

Categories: In the News

Investigating space weather effects of the 2017 solar eclipse

MIT News - Thu, 08/17/2017 - 10:40

On Aug. 21, a solar eclipse will occur over the United States. Hotels throughout the 70-mile-wide path of totality from Oregon to South Carolina have been completely booked by amateur astronomers and excited skywatchers. Even outside the path of totality, a partial solar eclipse will take place across the entire continental U.S. Scientists at MIT are taking advantage of this rare event to study its effects on weather in the near-Earth space around our planet, a place directly affected by our nearest star — the sun.

MIT’s Haystack Observatory is one of several institutions whose ground-based eclipse research has been funded by NASA. A team led by Haystack Assistant Director Phil Erickson will investigate the effects of the eclipse on the Earth’s ionosphere, using the National Science Foundation-supported Millstone Hill incoherent scatter radar facility in Westford, Massachusetts, together with an extensive network of ground-based GPS receivers, National Science Foundation Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, and NASA's TIMED satellite mission.

Scientists at Haystack will also monitor supplementary GPS signal collection sites within the path of totality to augment existing receivers during the eclipse. These additional GPS receiver sites will collect data at a special, advanced rate before, during, and after the eclipse. Data will be added to a worldwide observation set gathered from the network of GPS and other navigational satellite systems that surround the Earth, providing valuable information on the atmospheric changes that occur during the eclipse.

“The most exciting thing about the eclipse for scientists is that we’ll be able to monitor this event in incredible detail, using a combination of high-precision satellite networks all along the path of totality,” says Anthea Coster, Haystack Observatory assistant director. “The specially equipped receivers we’re placing across the continent will enable us to gather data of unprecedented quality.”

Haystack researchers will study the eclipse’s effects on the ionosphere, the charged part of the Earth’s upper atmosphere that is created daily by solar radiation on the upper neutral atmosphere. Essential communications and navigational satellite systems are located above the ionosphere, and geomagnetic storms have the potential to disrupt these systems as well as our electrical power grids. By studying the effects of the eclipse on the ionosphere, we can learn more about the atmospheric response to solar flares and other space weather events.

During the eclipse the sun will, in effect, turn off and back on very quickly, potentially causing waves called traveling ionospheric disturbances (TIDs). Both hemispheres are affected by such ionospheric events, due to electrical coupling across hemispheres. Research during this eclipse will involve much more precise and better distributed ground-based monitoring tools than ever before, in combination with GPS and other satellite overflights.

Haystack will livestream changes in the ionosphere as seen by the Millstone Hill radar data on the day of the eclipse, along with a live optical feed of the sun’s disk from MIT Wallace Observatory. Haystack and Wallace are also co-hosting an eclipse-watching event in Westford. The event is currently at maximum capacity, but Cambridge-based eclipse watchers can participate in the on-campus event hosted by the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences or other local viewing events.

Please note: Eye protection is essential for all eclipse viewers, as well as for your camera lens. Never look directly at the sun during the eclipse, and remind children of the danger! If you are using your own solar glasses, be sure to first consult the American Astronomical Society list of reputable vendors of solar viewing products.

Categories: In the News

Study: For food-waste recycling, policy is key

MIT News - Thu, 08/17/2017 - 00:00

Food scraps. Okay, those aren’t the first words that come to mind when you think about the environment. But 22 percent of the municipal solid waste dropped into landfills or incincerators in the U.S. is, in fact, food that could be put to better use through composting and soil enrichment.

Moreover, food-scrap recycling programs, while still relatively uncommon, are having a growth moment in the U.S.; they’ve roughly doubled in size since 2010. Now, a national study by MIT researchers provides one of the first in-depth looks at the characteristics of places that have adopted food recycling, revealing several new facts in the process.

For instance: The places deploying food-scrap recycling programs are located throughout the country, not just in well-off coastal areas with popular environmental movements.

“You don’t have to be Seattle to have really good waste management,” says Lily Baum Pollans PhD ’17, a recent doctoral graduate of MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning and corresponding author of the new paper outlining the study’s results.

Significantly, cities with food-scrap recycling often have “pay as you throw” garbage collection policies (PAYT), which typically charge residents for exceeding a certain volume of trash. These programs make people more active participants in waste collection by having them limit and sort garbage. Thus, adopting PAYT paves the way for food-scrap recycling.

“Having a ‘pay as you throw’ policy seems to make everything else easier,” says Jonathan S. Krones PhD ’16, a visiting scholar in the MIT Department of Materials Science and Engineering and a graduate of MIT’s Institute for Data, Systems, and Society.

The paper, “Patterns in municipal food scrap programming in mid-sized U.S. cities,” has been published online in the journal Resources, Conservation, and Recycling, where it will also appear in print. The research brings together multiple disciplines; the authors are Pollans, Krones, and Professor Eran Ben-Joseph, who is head of MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning.

Food for thought

Food-scrap recycling has multiple benefits. Food scraps can be used for composting, which enriches soil and reduces emissions of methane (a potent greenhouse gas) from landfills. It also significantly reduces the volume of landfill needed in a given area. And recycling food can save cities and towns money by lowering the needed frequency of trash collection.

“If you remove food from your waste stream, you no longer have to remove garbage so often,” Krones says.

About one-third of all trash in the U.S. is recycled, a level that has held steady in the U.S. in recent years. But since 2010, the food-scrap recycling rate has increased from 2.7 percent to 5.1 percent, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Still, there is clearly room for greater adoption of the practice.

“The food system is notoriously wasteful at all levels,” the authors write in the paper.

To understand that system better, the researchers in 2015 conducted a survey of 115 mid-sized U.S. cities with populations greater than 100,000 but less than 1 million. Places of that size almost always direct their own waste and recycling policies (which in some smaller municipalities are handled at the county level).

In all, 46 of the 115 cities have active food-scrap recycling programs of various forms, including educational programs, low-cost home composting bins, drop-off facilities, and curbside collection of food. By studying those cities, the researchers identified key characteristics of places that have adopted food recycling — which can then inform other cities and towns about the viability of the practice.

For instance, food-scrap recycling occurs in areas not strongly associated with recycling programs in general: Over 35 percent of the cities surveyed spanning a large portion of the South have some form of food-scrap diversion program (including education and outreach efforts), along with six out of 10 cities in a large portion of the Midwest.

“This doesn’t have to be a specialty boutique program,” says Pollans, who is now an assistant professor of urban policy and planning at Hunter College.

Indeed, the researchers discovered that multiple economic and social factors, including income levels, seem to have negligible correlation with a place’s tendency to adopt food-scrap recycling. It is not as if wealthier, prosperous enclaves of people recycle food as a feel-good initiative.

“Really, these socioeconomic characteristics aren’t relevant,” Krones says.

Instead, a notable factor that predicts adoption of food-scrap recycling, other things being equal, is the existence of PAYT trash collection. This strongly suggests that such programs get residents in the habit of actively managing their trash disposal in response to financial incentives — and, as such, makes it seem less burdensome to separate food from other kinds of trash.

“This finding should make economists happy,” Krones quips.

And as the researchers write in the paper, this suggests that “investing first in PAYT would mean that future diversion [meaning recycling] programs are more likely to be successful,” because they will be part of a “holistic policy vision” for trash.

Another form of infrastructure

As the researchers readily acknowledge, the long-term success of these food-scrap recycling programs — and not just their adoption — is an important consideration in need of further study. To that end, they are currently working on studies that look in more detail at the local political factors that lead to the adoption of food-scrap recycling, and at the bottom-line effectiveness of the programs themselves.

Still, as Ben-Joseph notes, it is important to give waste disposal the same empirical attention that other, higher-profile elements of trash, recycling, and infrastructure receive.

“Most people don’t think of solid waste as part of our infrastructure systems,” Ben-Joseph says. “There is an interest in water, sewer, electricity … but solid waste is a diffused structure which is hard to decipher. With this study we tried to understand and map what is taking place in over 100 cities across the country.”

Moreover, Pollans contends, “It is important to ask what the capacity of cities is in creating environmental transformations, given the lack of policy initiatives at higher levels of government.”

Funding for the research was provided by the Environmental Solutions Initiative at MIT, a multidisciplinary program that advances research and education on issues of the environment and sustainability.

The research project was initiated under the direction of the late professor Judith Layzer of MIT, whose influential work often examined the dynamics of environmental politics.

Categories: In the News

Police hire a second licensed social worker, with experience in Juvenile Court in Boston

Cambridge Day - Wed, 08/16/2017 - 16:59
The Cambridge Police Department has hired its second licensed social worker: Elana Klein, a resident of the city who was a court clinician for seven years at the Dorchester Juvenile Court in Boston.
Categories: In the News