In the News

After police review student’s April 13 arrest, outside expert Ireland will evaluate as well

Cambridge Day - Fri, 05/25/2018 - 14:34
A former chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has been hired by the city to conduct an independent review of the Police Department’s own internal review associated with the April 13 arrest of a 21-year-old Harvard student.
Categories: In the News

Turning up the heat on thermoelectrics

MIT News - Fri, 05/25/2018 - 14:01

Imagine being able to power your car partly from the heat that its engine gives off. Or what if you could get a portion of your home’s electricity from the heat that a power plant emits? Such energy-efficient scenarios may one day be possible with improvements in thermoelectric materials — which spontaneously produce electricity when one side of the material is heated.

Over the last 60 years or so, scientists have studied a number of materials to characterize their thermoelectric potential, or the efficiency with which they convert heat to power. But to date, most of these materials have yielded efficiencies that are too low for any widespread practical use.

MIT physicists have now found a way to significantly boost thermoelectricity’s potential, with a theoretical method that they report today in Science Advances. The material they model with this method is five times more efficient, and could potentially generate twice the amount of energy, as the best thermoelectric materials that exist today.

“If everything works out to our wildest dreams, then suddenly, a lot of things that right now are too inefficient to do will become more efficient,” says lead author Brian Skinner, a postdoc in MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics. “You might see in people’s cars little thermoelectric recoverers that take that waste heat your car engine is putting off, and use it to recharge the battery. Or these devices may be put around power plants so that heat that was formerly wasted by your nuclear reactor or coal power plant now gets recovered and put into the electric grid.”

Skinner’s co-author on the paper is Liang Fu, the Sarah W. Biedenharn Career Development Associate Professor of Physics at MIT.

Finding holes in a theory

A material’s ability to produce energy from heat is based on the behavior of its electrons in the presence of a temperature difference. When one side of a thermoelectric material is heated, it can energize electrons to leap away from the hot side and accumulate on the cold side. The resulting buildup of electrons can create a measurable voltage.

Materials that have so far been explored have generated very little thermoelectric power, in part because electrons are relatively difficult to thermally energize. In most materials, electrons exist in specific bands, or energy ranges. Each band is separated by a gap — a small range of energies in which electrons cannot exist. Energizing electrons enough to cross a band gap and physically migrate across a material has been extremely challenging.

Skinner and Fu decided to look at the thermoelectric potential of a family of materials known as topological semimetals. In contrast to most other solid materials such as semiconductors and insulators, topological semimetals are unique in that they have zero band gaps — an energy configuration that enables electrons to easily jump to higher energy bands when heated.

Scientists had assumed that topological semimetals, a relatively new type of material that is largely synthesized in the lab, would not generate much thermoelectric power. When the material is heated on one side, electrons are energized, and do accumulate on the other end. But as these negatively charged electrons jump to higher energy bands, they leave behind what’s known as “holes” — particles of positive charge that also pile up on the material’s cold side, canceling out the electrons’ effect and producing very little energy in the end.

But the team wasn’t quite ready to discount this material. In an unrelated bit of research, Skinner had noticed a curious effect in semiconductors that are exposed to a strong magnetic field. Under such conditions, the magnetic field can affect the motion of electrons, bending their trajectory. Skinner and Fu wondered: What kind of effect might a magnetic field have in topological semimetals?

They consulted the literature and found that a team from Princeton University, in attempting to fully characterize a type of topological material known as lead tin selenide, had also measured its thermoelectric properties under a magnetic field in 2013. Among their many observations of the material, the researchers had reported seeing an increase in thermoelectric generation, under a very high magnetic field of 35 tesla (most MRI machines, for comparison, operate around 2 to 3 tesla).

Skinner and Fu used properties of the material from the Princeton study to theoretically model the material’s thermoelectric performance under a range of temperature and magnetic field conditions.

“We eventually figured out that under a strong magnetic field, a funny thing happens, where you could make electrons and holes move in opposite directions,” Skinner says. “Electrons go toward the cold side, and holes toward the hot side. They work together and, in principle, you could get a bigger and bigger voltage out of the same material just by making the magnetic field stronger.”

Tesla power

In their theoretical modeling, the group calculated lead tin selenide’s ZT, or figure of merit, a quantity that tells you how close your material is to the theoretical limit for generating power from heat. The most efficient materials that have been reported so far have a ZT of about 2. Skinner and Fu found that, under a strong magnetic field of about 30 tesla, lead tin selenide can have a ZT of about 10 — five times more efficient than the best-performing thermoelectrics.

“It’s way off scale,” Skinner says. “When we first stumbled on this idea, it seemed a little too dramatic. It took a few days to convince myself that it all adds up.”

They calculate that a material with a ZT equal to 10, if heated at room temperature to about 500 kelvins, or 440 degrees Fahrenheit, under a 30-tesla magnetic field, should be able to turn 18 percent of that heat to electricity, compared to materials with a ZT equal to 2, which would only be able to convert 8 percent of that heat to energy.

The group acknowledges that, to achieve such high efficiencies, currently available topological semimetals would have to be heated under an extremely high magnetic field that could only be produced by a handful of facilities in the world. For these materials to be practical for use in power plants or automobiles, they should operate in the range of 1 to 2 tesla.

Fu says this should be doable if a topological semimetal were extremely clean, meaning that there are very few impurities in the material that would get in the way of electrons’ flow.

“To make materials very clean is very challenging, but people have dedicated a lot of effort to high-quality growth of these materials,” Fu says.

He adds that lead tin selenide, the material they focused on in their study, is not the cleanest topological semimetal that scientists have synthesized. In other words, there may be other, cleaner materials that may generate the same amount of thermal power with a much smaller magnetic field.

“We can see that this material is a good thermoelectric material, but there should be better ones,” Fu says. “One approach is to take the best [topological semimetal] we have now, and apply a magnetic field of 3 tesla. It may not increase efficiency by a factor of 2, but maybe 20 or 50 percent, which is already a pretty big advance.”

The team has filed a patent for their new thermolelectric approach and is collaborating with Princeton researchers to experimentally test the theory.

The research is supported by the Solid-State Solar Thermal Energy Conversion Center, an Energy Frontier Research Center of U.S. Department of Energy, and by Office of Basic Energy Sciences of U.S. Department of Energy.

Categories: In the News

Work of the future and the future of work for women in political science

MIT News - Fri, 05/25/2018 - 13:35

After a 30-year career focused on the economic institutions of wealthy democracies, Kathleen Thelen, the Ford Professor of Political Science, has recently begun carving out time from her globe-hopping schedule to pursue compelling opportunities closer to home.

“At a certain point in your career, you feel that part of what you want to do is give back,” says Thelen, who is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and holds a permanent appointment at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies and honorary degrees from three European universities.

As the 2017-18 president of the 12,000-member American Political Science Association (APSA), Thelen is spearheading an effort to understand and address the challenges to career advancement faced by women with doctorates in political science.

Thelen will also be a key player in MIT’s Task Force on the Work of the Future, an Institute-wide venture launched in February to explore the impacts of technology on jobs. “The task force will be putting the interaction of technology and society at the forefront,” she says. “This connects directly with my research to understand how new technologies and forms of work organization can be steered in ways that balance generating economic efficiencies with providing some level of social solidarity and equality.”

Striking a balance

Since graduate school at the University of California at Berkeley, Thelen has been concerned with the ways rich democracies strike such a balance. She is particularly preoccupied by whether wealthy nations act to cushion skilled and unskilled labor from economic shocks tied to recession or technological change.

Her approach to these topics involves comparing the economic institutions, markets, and policies of different nations. In one notable example, Thelen traced different systems of vocational education and training in the U.S., Britain, Germany, and Japan over 100 years. Her richly detailed analysis, which resulted in the award-winning book, “How Institutions Evolve” (2005), yielded some unexpected findings.

In Germany she discovered “a surprising continuity in core vocational training institutions despite convulsive ruptures in high politics,” she says. Through two world wars, a depression, and the advent of mass manufacturing, Germany committed to high level education and training for a large population not bound for college. These students, she says, “go on to high quality apprenticeships and high prestige jobs with Lufthansa, BMW, or Mercedes.”

In contrast, Thelen says, “the U.S. allowed the whole vocational training track to erode, and to become stigmatized.” During the 20th century, educational orthodoxy and related policy promoted the idea that only a college education yielded high paying employment. But not all students found college attainable, leaving many lacking well-paid work, especially as manufacturing and other industry jobs migrated overseas. Today, says Thelen, “Employers often have a hard time recruiting skilled labor and must look elsewhere.”

The new normal

One of Thelen’s current concerns is the issue of precarity — defined as exposure to social risks and financial insecurity. Precarity is the new normal for millions of employees in the new “gig economy,” as large, networked firms worldwide “abdicate any responsibility for contractual wages, hours, and benefits,” says Thelen. “People are in a position of self-provisioning.”

In a recent paper, Thelen investigates Uber and the impacts of its business model in the U.S., Germany, and Sweden, documenting the very different regulatory responses and outcomes across the three countries. Uber represents a model, she believes, that is swiftly becoming a defining feature of 21st century capitalism. 

She also takes aim at Amazon, “a hugely powerful company that is one of the worst employers in the U.S.,” she says. “For people who work at fulfillment centers, it is brutal and pretty precarious employment.”  

Amazon’s impact, like that of other largescale employers that rely heavily on atypical work contracts, tends to prove vastly more negative in the U.S. than in other wealthy democracies, adds Thelen. That’s because in America, benefits like health care, sick pay, vacation time, and retirement tend to be attached to employment, whereas other countries guarantee them as rights to citizens. And labor unions and organizing are deeply constrained by prevailing labor laws in this country compared to other democracies, so whether in home health care, public service, or the retail sector, workers receive lower pay and fewer benefits.

“The more I write about precarity, the more I’m drawn to thinking about policy and potential interventions,” says Thelen. As a member of MIT’s Future of Work taskforce, Thelen will be researching measures other nations deploy to reduce precarity for a “fluid army of contingent workers.” She will spotlight this issue in her keynote address this summer at the APSA annual conference.

Thelen is also using her APSA presidency to address a different kind of employment issue: “For the past 10 years close to 50 percent of all newly minted PhDs in political science were women, but you’d never know that looking at the websites of top political science departments and top journals in the field,” says Thelen. “This has motivated me to figure out what is going on.”

With the help of a National Science Foundation grant, she has launched an APSA task force to research “where the bottlenecks and chokepoints are, and ways to make sure women have the full range of career options open to them.” Just as a previous generation of women pioneered the way for her, Thelen hopes to serve the coming cohort — frequently in person. She mentors female political scientists at MIT and beyond, and opens her home to meetings to discuss ways to make MIT’s own department more attentive to potential obstacles to their career growth.

“I’ve had a lot of good breaks, and love my work,” says Thelen. “I want to do anything I can to help a younger generation make their way in the profession.”

Categories: In the News

Irving London, founding director of Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology, dies at 99

MIT News - Fri, 05/25/2018 - 13:25

Irving M. London, founding director of the Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology (HST) and an expert in the molecular regulation of hemoglobin synthesis, died on May 23 at age 99. 

The HST community had recently celebrated London’s life and accomplishments on the occasion of his approaching 100 birthday. London expressed great pleasure in the festivities, held on May 7.

London was born in Malden, Massachusetts, on July 24, 1918. He graduated from Harvard College with a bachelor of arts degree, summa cum laude, in 1939; he simultaneously earned a second bachelor’s degree from the Hebrew College in Roxbury, Massachusetts. London weighed attending law school versus medical school after graduation, eventually accepting an offer from Harvard Medical School (HMS). His tenure at HMS instilled in him a love of research that spanned the rest of his career.

After graduation, London accepted an internship at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. His training was interrupted by World War II, where he served as a captain in the Medical Corps. He was also part of a research effort that showed the efficacy of chloroquine as an anti-malarial drug. At the end of his military service, he was assigned to Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific to serve as the physician for the Congressional delegation to the atom bomb tests.

London returned to New York to resume his residency after the war. Following residency, he took up a research fellowship in the Department of Biochemistry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. He soon joined the faculty and embarked on a rich research, teaching, and clinical tenure at Columbia. In 1954, London became the founding chair of the Department of Medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. He served as professor and chair of the department, and directed medical services at the Bronx Municipal Hospital Center until 1970.

In 1968 London was invited to serve as a consultant to MIT and Harvard Medical School to assist in the planning of a new program joining the two institutions. He then devoted a sabbatical year to carrying out the initial program development, including garnering the support of the faculties of both MIT and HMS. In 1970, he accepted the directorship of this new entity, the Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology. HST represents London’s commitment to the integration of medical education and university education, and integration of interdisciplinary biomedical research, education and medical practice. London, who was professor of medicine at HMS and professor of biology at MIT, served as the director of HST until 1985.

London received numerous awards and honors over the years for his groundbreaking work explaining the molecular regulation of hemoglobin synthesis at the level of gene transcription and translation into protein. The honors include: a Welch Fellowship in Internal Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences from 1949-1952, the Theobald Smith Award in Medical Sciences of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1953, the Commonwealth Fund Fellowship at Institut Pasteur from 1962-1963, election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1963, charter membership in the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in 1970, and elected membership in the National Academy of Sciences in 1971. From 1982 to 2003, he served first on the board of directors and then on the Biosciences Advisory Committee of the pharmaceutical company Johnson and Johnson.

Looking back over his career, London derived great satisfaction from having played a key role in the founding of three institutions known for their contributions to medical research, practice, and education: Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, and HST. His passion for HST never abated. As late as fall 2017, he continued to teach and co-direct HST.140 (Molecular Medicine), a course that he developed with Paul Gallop in 1979. London was present for most of HST’s major events, including the HST Forum, HST dinner seminars, and HST graduation. There he shared his intellect, wit, and warmth with the students, faculty, alumni, and staff of HST.

London was preceded in death by his wife, Huguette. He is survived by his sons, Robb and David, as well as Robb’s children Jacob and Danielle.

London was looking forward to HST’s 50th anniversary in 2020. His pioneering work in creating a unique physician/scientist/engineer training program is his enduring legacy, and positions HST well for the next 50 years.

Categories: In the News

Plastic-lined water pipes raise health fears, prompting promise from the city manager

Cambridge Day - Fri, 05/25/2018 - 13:23
A long-simmering controversy over using plastic lining to repair aging water mains surfaced with an order saying the technology raised “significant health concerns” and asking for assurances it won’t be used in Cambridge without gathering “all relevant scientific information.”
Categories: In the News

Solutions to great chemical science challenges

MIT News - Fri, 05/25/2018 - 13:00

Professors Elizabeth M. Nolan and Jeremiah Johnson shared their efforts to address some of the greatest challenges currently faced by the chemical sciences at a recent Alumni and Friends reception hosted by the Department of Chemistry and the School of Science. Invited guests gathered in the Samberg Conference Center on May 16 for an evening of food, drink, and stimulating talks.

Employing metal withholding to inhibit microbial colonization

Nolan’s research addresses the chemistry and biology of human innate immunity and microbial pathogenesis. The lab employs toolkits of biological chemistry, inorganic chemistry, and microbiology to decipher the interplay between human host-defense molecules and microbes, and to evaluate new strategies for treating and preventing microbial infections. A significant portion of the research program is focused on metals and immunity.

Because transition metal ions are essential nutrients for all organisms, metal withholding is one strategy that the mammalian host employs to inhibit microbial colonization. At sites of infection, the host innate immune system deploys metal-sequestering proteins to capture inorganic nutrients (magnesium, iron, and zinc, for example) in the extracellular space and starve invading pathogens. This immune mechanism presents a fascinating problem in biological coordination chemistry and metal homeostasis with central importance to infectious disease. Nolan shared her findings on the effectiveness of human calprotectin (CP) in the metal-withholding innate immune response.

CP is produced by neutrophils and can constitute more than 40 percent of total cytoplasmic protein in these cells. Neutrophils are white blood cells that are recruited to sites of infection and contribute to innate immunity, and they release CP and many other antimicrobial biomolecules into the extracellular space. Following release from the neutrophil, CP chelates transition metal ions in the extracellular milieu, thereby starving bacteria of these nutrients. In addition to this accepted role in the host/pathogen interaction, CP is implicated in a variety of pathophysiological conditions that range from cardiovascular disease to cancer, and it is a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved biomarker for inflammatory conditions of the bowel. Thus, molecular and functional insights about CP also provide a foundation for conceptualizing and evaluating how CP participates in these facets of human disease.

Research conducted in Nolan’s lab has revealed many new aspects about how CP functions in metal homeostasis and host defense. She presented vignettes from her group’s fundamental research that highlighted advances towards elucidating the biological coordination chemistry of CP, deciphering how CP affects metal homeostasis in two microbial pathogens, and understanding the lifetime and fate of CP in the biological milieu.

“We discovered that CP uses Ca(II) ions to modulate its coordination chemistry, antimicrobial activity, and proteolytic stability,” Nolan explained. The group also deciphered how CP sequesters first-row transition metals, which included the evaluation of an unprecedented biological coordination motif.  

“Contrary to the accepted dogma, we discovered that CP is an iron-sequestering protein that blocks microbial acquisition of this essential nutrient,” Nolan said.

This paradigm-changing result adds another layer of complexity to the interplay between CP and transition metals in biological systems and affords a new model in which CP contributes to iron homeostasis. Subsequently, Nolan’s group has uncovered that CP also sequesters nickel, a metal nutrient important for the virulence of human pathogens that infect the gastrointestinal and urinary tracts. In total, this research program affords paradigms for discovering and elucidating new bioinorganic chemistry, advancing fundamental understanding of human innate immunity and microbial pathogenesis, and achieving new approaches to combating infectious disease. It highlights how fundamental chemistry can be used to open up new doors for exploring and understanding complex biological systems.

“I am fascinated by chemistry and biology and the natural world,” Nolan said. “I am inspired to use the chemistry toolkit to learn more, at the molecular level, about living systems, health, and disease. Studying the bioinorganic chemistry of the host/microbe interaction and infectious disease interfaces concepts and toolkits from many different disciplines and provides opportunities to contribute out-of-the-box ideas both for fundamental research and non-traditional ways to approach the prevention and treatment of infectious disease.”

New synthetic strategies for macromolecules

Just as natural-products chemists must often invent new reaction methodologies to access complex structures and their corresponding derivatives, Professor Jeremiah Johnson’s group seeks to develop new methodologies for the construction and modification of complex material libraries. Iterative library synthesis, function-based screening, and design optimization will ultimately yield basic knowledge, such as structure-function relationships for materials in specific applications, and new materials-based technologies that outperform current alternatives. Some examples of target material platforms and their associated applications are: novel, nanoscopic branched-arm star polymer architectures for in vivo drug delivery and supported catalysis; hybrid synthetic-natural hydrogels for correlation of the effects of network microstructure on cell response; and new types of semiconducting organometallic polymers and polymer films for sensing, supported catalysis, and energy conversion. 

“I am inspired by thinking creatively in the context of macromolecular synthesis, and then by seeing initial creations become reality via working with the awesome members of my group,” Johnson said. “Seeing our chemistry translate into commercial uses, such as helping patients, is the dream.”

Johnson presented his group’s efforts to develop a drug-agnostic materials platform that can enable the rapid improvement of therapeutic index for drugs with known targets and established efficacy but poor safety profiles.

“Accomplishing this goal would allow us to rescue drugs that are stalled in early clinical trials due to unmanageable side effects, or to utilize already approved drugs in new ways,” he explained.

One of the major challenges in chemical science is the development of methods and strategies for the controlled and scalable synthesis of large molecules, which are also known as macromolecules. Johnson’s research is driven by the desire to address this challenge and overcome it.

“We synthesize large abiotic molecules with improved structural control at the molecular level, which ultimately translates into new function at the macroscopic level,” he said.  “In addition, we focus a lot of our efforts on making these synthetic approaches scalable.”

Johnson’s presentation demonstrated a new synthetic strategy that can enable the kilo-scale synthesis of macromolecular prodrug scaffolds with tunable size and drug release kinetics. These materials can be employed to treat diseases ranging from cancer to liver fibrosis.

Celebrating basic science

Department head Timothy F. Jamison said the Department of Chemistry was pleased to co-host its third annual Alumni and Friends reception with the School of Science. As in years past, this event proved to be an excellent opportunity to showcase a sampling of the revolutionary work being conducted within the halls of the Department of Chemistry and, further still, the MIT campus as a whole.

“I cherish any opportunity I get to hear my colleagues present their research,” Jamison said in his closing remarks. “I am especially delighted that you were able to join us this evening to meet professors Nolan and Johnson and to learn about their spectacular scientific advances. Nolan and Johnson are representative of the extremely high caliber of research in the Department of Chemistry.”

Categories: In the News

Solutions to great chemical science challenges

MIT Events - Fri, 05/25/2018 - 13:00

Professors Elizabeth M. Nolan and Jeremiah Johnson shared their efforts to address some of the greatest challenges currently faced by the chemical sciences at a recent Alumni and Friends reception hosted by the Department of Chemistry and the School of Science. Invited guests gathered in the Samberg Conference Center on May 16 for an evening of food, drink, and stimulating talks.

Employing metal withholding to inhibit microbial colonization

Nolan’s research addresses the chemistry and biology of human innate immunity and microbial pathogenesis. The lab employs toolkits of biological chemistry, inorganic chemistry, and microbiology to decipher the interplay between human host-defense molecules and microbes, and to evaluate new strategies for treating and preventing microbial infections. A significant portion of the research program is focused on metals and immunity.

Because transition metal ions are essential nutrients for all organisms, metal withholding is one strategy that the mammalian host employs to inhibit microbial colonization. At sites of infection, the host innate immune system deploys metal-sequestering proteins to capture inorganic nutrients (magnesium, iron, and zinc, for example) in the extracellular space and starve invading pathogens. This immune mechanism presents a fascinating problem in biological coordination chemistry and metal homeostasis with central importance to infectious disease. Nolan shared her findings on the effectiveness of human calprotectin (CP) in the metal-withholding innate immune response.

CP is produced by neutrophils and can constitute more than 40 percent of total cytoplasmic protein in these cells. Neutrophils are white blood cells that are recruited to sites of infection and contribute to innate immunity, and they release CP and many other antimicrobial biomolecules into the extracellular space. Following release from the neutrophil, CP chelates transition metal ions in the extracellular milieu, thereby starving bacteria of these nutrients. In addition to this accepted role in the host/pathogen interaction, CP is implicated in a variety of pathophysiological conditions that range from cardiovascular disease to cancer, and it is a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved biomarker for inflammatory conditions of the bowel. Thus, molecular and functional insights about CP also provide a foundation for conceptualizing and evaluating how CP participates in these facets of human disease.

Research conducted in Nolan’s lab has revealed many new aspects about how CP functions in metal homeostasis and host defense. She presented vignettes from her group’s fundamental research that highlighted advances towards elucidating the biological coordination chemistry of CP, deciphering how CP affects metal homeostasis in two microbial pathogens, and understanding the lifetime and fate of CP in the biological milieu.

“We discovered that CP uses Ca(II) ions to modulate its coordination chemistry, antimicrobial activity, and proteolytic stability,” Nolan explained. The group also deciphered how CP sequesters first-row transition metals, which included the evaluation of an unprecedented biological coordination motif.  

“Contrary to the accepted dogma, we discovered that CP is an iron-sequestering protein that blocks microbial acquisition of this essential nutrient,” Nolan said.

This paradigm-changing result adds another layer of complexity to the interplay between CP and transition metals in biological systems and affords a new model in which CP contributes to iron homeostasis. Subsequently, Nolan’s group has uncovered that CP also sequesters nickel, a metal nutrient important for the virulence of human pathogens that infect the gastrointestinal and urinary tracts. In total, this research program affords paradigms for discovering and elucidating new bioinorganic chemistry, advancing fundamental understanding of human innate immunity and microbial pathogenesis, and achieving new approaches to combating infectious disease. It highlights how fundamental chemistry can be used to open up new doors for exploring and understanding complex biological systems.

“I am fascinated by chemistry and biology and the natural world,” Nolan said. “I am inspired to use the chemistry toolkit to learn more, at the molecular level, about living systems, health, and disease. Studying the bioinorganic chemistry of the host/microbe interaction and infectious disease interfaces concepts and toolkits from many different disciplines and provides opportunities to contribute out-of-the-box ideas both for fundamental research and non-traditional ways to approach the prevention and treatment of infectious disease.”

New synthetic strategies for macromolecules

Just as natural-products chemists must often invent new reaction methodologies to access complex structures and their corresponding derivatives, Professor Jeremiah Johnson’s group seeks to develop new methodologies for the construction and modification of complex material libraries. Iterative library synthesis, function-based screening, and design optimization will ultimately yield basic knowledge, such as structure-function relationships for materials in specific applications, and new materials-based technologies that outperform current alternatives. Some examples of target material platforms and their associated applications are: novel, nanoscopic branched-arm star polymer architectures for in vivo drug delivery and supported catalysis; hybrid synthetic-natural hydrogels for correlation of the effects of network microstructure on cell response; and new types of semiconducting organometallic polymers and polymer films for sensing, supported catalysis, and energy conversion. 

“I am inspired by thinking creatively in the context of macromolecular synthesis, and then by seeing initial creations become reality via working with the awesome members of my group,” Johnson said. “Seeing our chemistry translate into commercial uses, such as helping patients, is the dream.”

Johnson presented his group’s efforts to develop a drug-agnostic materials platform that can enable the rapid improvement of therapeutic index for drugs with known targets and established efficacy but poor safety profiles.

“Accomplishing this goal would allow us to rescue drugs that are stalled in early clinical trials due to unmanageable side effects, or to utilize already approved drugs in new ways,” he explained.

One of the major challenges in chemical science is the development of methods and strategies for the controlled and scalable synthesis of large molecules, which are also known as macromolecules. Johnson’s research is driven by the desire to address this challenge and overcome it.

“We synthesize large abiotic molecules with improved structural control at the molecular level, which ultimately translates into new function at the macroscopic level,” he said.  “In addition, we focus a lot of our efforts on making these synthetic approaches scalable.”

Johnson’s presentation demonstrated a new synthetic strategy that can enable the kilo-scale synthesis of macromolecular prodrug scaffolds with tunable size and drug release kinetics. These materials can be employed to treat diseases ranging from cancer to liver fibrosis.

Celebrating basic science

Department head Timothy F. Jamison said the Department of Chemistry was pleased to co-host its third annual Alumni and Friends reception with the School of Science. As in years past, this event proved to be an excellent opportunity to showcase a sampling of the revolutionary work being conducted within the halls of the Department of Chemistry and, further still, the MIT campus as a whole.

“I cherish any opportunity I get to hear my colleagues present their research,” Jamison said in his closing remarks. “I am especially delighted that you were able to join us this evening to meet professors Nolan and Johnson and to learn about their spectacular scientific advances. Nolan and Johnson are representative of the extremely high caliber of research in the Department of Chemistry.”

Categories: In the News

Police arrest suspect in gunfire incident ahead of Wednesday community meeting

Cambridge Day - Fri, 05/25/2018 - 12:38
Jean Griffin, 41, of Fields Corner in Dorchester, was arrested – and expected to be arraigned Friday – on charges including armed assault to murder, possession of a large-capacity firearm, carrying a loaded firearm without a license and malicious destruction of property.
Categories: In the News

J-WAFS awards over $1.3 million in fourth round of seed grant funding

MIT News - Fri, 05/25/2018 - 12:00

Today, the Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab (J-WAFS) at MIT announced the award of over $1.3 million in research funding through its seed grant program, now in its fourth year. These grants, which are available to the MIT community, are the cornerstone of MIT’s Institute-wide effort to catalyze solutions-oriented research in water and food systems that target the safety and resilience of the world’s vital resources. 

This year, seven new projects led by eleven faculty PIs across five MIT departments will be funded with two-year grants of up to $200,000, overhead free. The winning projects include a silk-based food safety sensor; research into climate vulnerability and resilience in agriculture using biological engineering as well as crop modeling and sensors; an archeological and materials engineering approach to understanding fertile tropical soils; and three different strategies for water purification and management.

The reach of the J-WAFS’s seed grants across the Institute is wide and reflects how faculty from all schools at MIT are invested in addressing the critical challenges that face our most essential global resources. This J-WAFS call for seed research proposals attracted 54 principal investigators, nearly twice the number that submitted proposals in 2017. What is more, 38 of these PIs were proposing to J-WAFS for the first time. “The J-WAFS seed grants continue to stimulate new thinking about how to address some of our most serious water and food problems, whether by new junior faculty at MIT or senior professors,” noted Renee Robins, executive director of J-WAFS.   

Faculty from six departments were funded under this year's awards, including the departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Materials Science and Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Mechanical Engineering. 

New approaches to ensure safe drinking water

The problem of arsenic contamination in water occurs throughout the globe, and is particularly extreme in South Asia, where over 100 million people in Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Cambodia, Pakistan, Vietnam, and Myanmar experience daily exposure to dangerous concentrations of arsenic that occurs naturally in groundwater. Yet the poorly understood behavior of arsenic in groundwater makes it challenging to identify safe sources of drinking water. Charlie Harvey, professor of civil and environmental engineering, has conducted extensive field research on  this issue. With J-WAFS funding, Harvey will consolidate data and develop models to identify and disseminate more effective groundwater management strategies that take into account how and where dangerous concentrations of arsenic exist.      

Julia Ortony, the Finmeccanica Career Development Assistant Professor of Engineering in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, will be taking a different approach to arsenic contamination. Her lab develops molecular nanomaterials for environmental contaminant remediation. A J-WAFS seed grant will support her development of a robust, high surface-area material made of small molecules that can be designed to sequester arsenic from drinking water. 

Boron is an essential micronutrient for both plants and animals, but becomes toxic at higher concentrations. However, due to its small molecular size and un-charged chemical structure, it is particularly difficult to remove with standard water purification technologies. Zachary P. Smith, the Joseph R. Mares Career Development Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, is taking advantage of advancements in molecular level synthesis of metal-organic framework (MOF) materials to open the door to a new generation of highly selective membranes for water purification and desalination that can remove boron. Leveraging techniques and expertise at the interface of inorganic chemistry, materials science, and chemical engineering, Smith aims to achieve technical breakthroughs in water purification with this J-WAFS funding.

Improving understanding of soil and climate impacts on agriculture for improved crop production

Climate change is bringing temperature and precipitation changes that will increasingly stress the crops our global food system depends on, and these changes will affect regions of the world differently. Breeding plants for increased resilience to stressors such as drought is one solution, but traditional breeding approaches can be extremely slow. In part, this slowness results from the complexity of plants’ response to environmental stress. David Des Marais, assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering, and Caroline Uhler, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science want to better understand this complexity in order to improve future practices to breed plants for stress tolerance. By combining Des Marais’ expertise in plant-environment interaction and sustainable agriculture with Uhler’s statistical approaches to studying networks, the team will develop new analytical tools to understand the structure and dynamics of the gene regulatory networks that plants use to perceive — and respond to — changes in the environment. 

Dara Entekhabi, the Bacardi and Stockholm Water Foundations Professor in the departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, is taking another approach to understanding the impacts of climate on agricultural production. The project, in collaboration with research scientist Sarah Fletcher from MIT’s Institute for Data, Systems, and Society, is focused on Sub-Saharan Africa. This region is experiencing very high population growth, and with its largely rain-fed agriculture is particularly vulnerable to anticipated temperature and precipitation changes brought about by climate change. The MIT research team is leading an academic-industry partnership that seeks to understand how crop production in the region responds to year-to-year variation in precipitation in order to assess the future of food security in Africa. They will collaborate with Radiant Earth, a startup that uses a geospatial imagery technology platform to capture and understand the impact of social challenges in the developing world, to develop a better understanding of the impact of climate on food security in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

A very different approach to improving agricultural productivity involves better understanding and managing soil fertility. In another innovative multidisciplinary project, three PIs whose expertise spans geoscience, archaeology, and materials engineering will collaborate to improve our understanding of extensive deposits of rich soils known as terra preta (“dark earth” in Portuguese) in the Amazon Basin that pre-Columbian societies created and cultivated between 500 and about 8,700 years ago. Many tropical soils are nutrient-poor and contain little organic carbon, but terra preta is so carbon-rich and fertile that it is still farmed (and destructively mined) today. Researchers are now attempting to reproduce terra preta as part of a strategy for sustainable tropical agriculture and carbon sequestration. A team consisting of Taylor Perron, associate professor in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, and Dorothy Hosler and Heather Lechtman, both professors of archaeology and ancient technology in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, aims to inform agricultural practices in tropical developing nations by investigating how the rivers of the Amazon region influenced terra preta formation.  

Using edible food safety sensors to reduce food waste and disease

While strategies to improve agricultural productivity are critical to global food security, minimizing food loss from farm to table is also considered to be necessary if we are to meet our future food needs. Cost-effective and easy-to-use methods of detecting food spoilage along the food supply chain can help. A. John Hart, associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Benedetto Marelli, the Paul M. Cook Career Development Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, have teamed up to find a solution. J-WAFS seed funding is supporting the development of a silk-based food safety sensor, visible to the naked eye, which can change color based on its interaction with common food pathogens. The sensor will take the form of printable inks that are stable under extreme temperatures and also edible. Their aim is to print on food packaging as well as directly on food in order to enable point-of-use detection of contamination and food spoilage for meat and dairy products.

With these seven newly funded projects, J-WAFS will have funded 30 total seed research projects since its founding in 2014. J-WAFS’ director John Lienhard states that “investing in research results in creative innovations in food and water that will enable a sustainable future.  Further, these seed grants have repeatedly been leveraged by their recipients to develop significant follow-on programs, that further multiply the impact.” 

2018 J-WAFS Seed Grant recipients and their projects:

"Novel systems biology tools for improving crop tolerance to abiotic stressors." PIs: David Des Marais, assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Caroline Uhler, the Henry L. and Grace Doherty Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Institute for Data, Systems and Society.

"Assessing Climate Vulnerability of West African Food Security using Remote Sensing." PIs: Dara Entekhabi, the Bacardi and Stockholm Water Foundations Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

"Printed Silk-Based Colorimetric Sensors for Food Spoilage Prevention and Supply Chain Authentication." PIs: A. John Hart, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Benedetto Marelli, the Paul M. Cook Career Development Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

"What controls Arsenic Contamination in South Asia? Making Sense of Two-Decades of Disjointed Data." PI: Charles Harvey, professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

"Supermolecular nanostructure gels for chelation of arsenic from drinking water." PI: Julia Ortony, the Finmeccanica Career Development Professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

"Anthropogenic Soils of the Amazon: Origins, Extent, and Implications for Sustainable Tropical Agriculture." PIs: J. Taylor Perron, associate professor of geology in the Department of Earth, Planetary and Atmospheric Sciences; Dorothy Hosler, professor of archaeology and ancient technology in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering; and Heather Lechtman, professor of archaeology and ancient technology in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. 

"Purifying Water from Boron Contamination with Highly Selective Metal-Organic Framework (MOF) Membranes." PI: Zachary Smith, the Joseph R. Mares Career Development Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering.

Categories: In the News

City Dance Party

City of Cambridge News and Alerts - Fri, 05/25/2018 - 10:45
Join us in front of Cambridge City Hall for the 2018 City Dance Party on Friday June 29, from 7:00 PM - 11:00 PM.
Categories: In the News

‘First Reformed’: The reverend is in torment in a ‘Taxi Driver’ for a newly tormented era

Cambridge Day - Thu, 05/24/2018 - 17:08
Paul Schrader’s latest, “First Reformed,” is something of a resurrection for the 71-year-old filmmaker, and an apt one; it revolves around a soul arguably more anguished than his Jesus Christ or Travis Bickle.
Categories: In the News

City Council agenda

Cambridge Civic Journal - Thu, 05/24/2018 - 17:00

May 21, 2018
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amended May 24

Agenda on City web site

Open Meeting Portal

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MIT alumni curate pavilions at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale

MIT News - Thu, 05/24/2018 - 16:50

Four years ago, a team of graduate students at MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning helped curator and associate professor of architecture Ana Miljacki research, plan, and mount the United States’ pavilion at the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale. The exhibition, titled “OfficeUS,” took a comprehensive look at America’s influence in the world over the past 100 years through its architectural work abroad.

This year, two of those students — now alumni — are returning to Venice as curators of their national pavilions for the 2018 Biennale, open to the public from May 26 to Nov. 25. “It is an unexpected honor and opportunity to co-curate the U.S. Pavilion at this year’s Biennale, at this point in my career,” says Ann Lui SMArchS ’15, an assistant professor at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago who was named co-curator of “Dimensions of Citizenship,” the exhibition that will represent the United States in Venice.

“The call for proposals for the U.S. Pavilion was issued shortly after the inauguration of a new administration that raised urgent and troubling questions, including ones about citizenship today. I felt that architecture needed to be part of that conversation. It was a longshot. But I believe our proposal spoke to this contemporary moment.”

The Biennale has long been a personal goal for Gabriel Kozlowski SM ’15, selected last November to co-curate the Brazil Pavilion. “The year I joined this school was also the year that Rem Koolhaas was curating the Biennale, so I came to MIT knowing that I wanted to get to Venice,” says Kozlowski. A native of Rio de Janiero, Brazil, he holds a master’s degree in urbanism and is currently a teaching fellow in the Department of Architecture and a research associate at the Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism.

“When I arrived at MIT, I discovered that a professor was curating the U.S. pavilion, offering a course where students would help develop the support materials for that exhibit,” he says. “I learned how to understand an exhibition as a means to elaborate on specific concepts and present them in innovative ways, and to how to plan and coordinate all the production involved in a large event like this without losing sight of the broader picture. Now, just four years later, I’m in the position Ana was in. And I hope to be able offer to my younger colleagues and collaborators what she once offered me.”

Both Lui and Kozlowski’s 2018 Biennale projects engage with global questions that extend far beyond traditional design and planning. Lui’s “Dimensions of Citizenship” will examine the concept of citizenship across a variety of scales, ranging from the cosmos to the human body. Each of its seven elements offers a detailed look into a global issue such as climate change, migration, sovereignty, or the future of the nation-state through a specific case study. “We intend to ask two questions,” says Lui. “What does it mean to be a citizen today? And what is the role of architecture to help research, understand, and render visible these questions of what it means to belong?”

Kozlowski’s project, titled “Muros de Ar” (Walls of Air), explores ways to visualize and understand walls — both concrete and conceptual — that have constructed the Brazilian territory and its society, in relation to the broader context. Moving from global scale to that of the architectural object, the pavilion will feature mappings of Brazil’s human and material flows (immigration/emigration patterns and the movement of commodities across the country), the relation between artificial and natural ecosystems, the implications of Brazil’s political borders, the geography of the country’s real estate market, and the physical limits within its cities. The exhibit promises to be austere; Kozlowski and his three co-curators have chosen to eschew the ubiquitous 3-D renderings, photos, videos, and animations, electing instead to articulate their vision exclusively in line drawings and maps.

Lui and Kozlowski’s project represent a sizeable shift in how architecture presents itself, both to the profession and to the world at large. Lui, who had Miljacki as her thesis advisor at MIT, believes that shift began in part in 2014 with “OfficeUS.” “Ana and her co-curators presented architecture in an unprecedented way, as a discipline of active research, both historical and in the production of the resident exhibitors,” says Lui, who along with her teaching job is co-founder of Future Firm, a Chicago-based architecture firm. “She and the team showed me — and everyone who saw the 2014 exhibit — that history is an ongoing act of construction. I learned that historical research can also be a practice, just like the practice of design.”

The selections of Lui and Kozlowski come as no surprise to their former mentor and current colleague. Yet she is reluctant to take any credit. “Perhaps the experience of working on a project as big in scale as our 2014 exhibit prepared them for their current roles,” says Miljacki, whose own research interest include architecture in Cold War Eastern Europe and the politics of contemporary architectural production. “But even then, they were incredibly competent colleagues, people I could turn to with a problem and know they would find a solution. And they were both great architectural thinkers, each in their own way. They’re just amazing.”

Categories: In the News

MIT alumni curate pavilions at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale

MIT Events - Thu, 05/24/2018 - 16:50

Four years ago, a team of graduate students at MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning helped curator and associate professor of architecture Ana Miljacki research, plan, and mount the United States’ pavilion at the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale. The exhibition, titled “OfficeUS,” took a comprehensive look at America’s influence in the world over the past 100 years through its architectural work abroad.

This year, two of those students — now alumni — are returning to Venice as curators of their national pavilions for the 2018 Biennale, open to the public from May 26 to Nov. 25. “It is an unexpected honor and opportunity to co-curate the U.S. Pavilion at this year’s Biennale, at this point in my career,” says Ann Lui SMArchS ’15, an assistant professor at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago who was named co-curator of “Dimensions of Citizenship,” the exhibition that will represent the United States in Venice.

“The call for proposals for the U.S. Pavilion was issued shortly after the inauguration of a new administration that raised urgent and troubling questions, including ones about citizenship today. I felt that architecture needed to be part of that conversation. It was a longshot. But I believe our proposal spoke to this contemporary moment.”

The Biennale has long been a personal goal for Gabriel Kozlowski SM ’15, selected last November to co-curate the Brazil Pavilion. “The year I joined this school was also the year that Rem Koolhaas was curating the Biennale, so I came to MIT knowing that I wanted to get to Venice,” says Kozlowski. A native of Rio de Janiero, Brazil, he holds a master’s degree in urbanism and is currently a teaching fellow in the Department of Architecture and a research associate at the Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism.

“When I arrived at MIT, I discovered that a professor was curating the U.S. pavilion, offering a course where students would help develop the support materials for that exhibit,” he says. “I learned how to understand an exhibition as a means to elaborate on specific concepts and present them in innovative ways, and to how to plan and coordinate all the production involved in a large event like this without losing sight of the broader picture. Now, just four years later, I’m in the position Ana was in. And I hope to be able offer to my younger colleagues and collaborators what she once offered me.”

Both Lui and Kozlowski’s 2018 Biennale projects engage with global questions that extend far beyond traditional design and planning. Lui’s “Dimensions of Citizenship” will examine the concept of citizenship across a variety of scales, ranging from the cosmos to the human body. Each of its seven elements offers a detailed look into a global issue such as climate change, migration, sovereignty, or the future of the nation-state through a specific case study. “We intend to ask two questions,” says Lui. “What does it mean to be a citizen today? And what is the role of architecture to help research, understand, and render visible these questions of what it means to belong?”

Kozlowski’s project, titled “Muros de Ar” (Walls of Air), explores ways to visualize and understand walls — both concrete and conceptual — that have constructed the Brazilian territory and its society, in relation to the broader context. Moving from global scale to that of the architectural object, the pavilion will feature mappings of Brazil’s human and material flows (immigration/emigration patterns and the movement of commodities across the country), the relation between artificial and natural ecosystems, the implications of Brazil’s political borders, the geography of the country’s real estate market, and the physical limits within its cities. The exhibit promises to be austere; Kozlowski and his three co-curators have chosen to eschew the ubiquitous 3-D renderings, photos, videos, and animations, electing instead to articulate their vision exclusively in line drawings and maps.

Lui and Kozlowski’s project represent a sizeable shift in how architecture presents itself, both to the profession and to the world at large. Lui, who had Miljacki as her thesis advisor at MIT, believes that shift began in part in 2014 with “OfficeUS.” “Ana and her co-curators presented architecture in an unprecedented way, as a discipline of active research, both historical and in the production of the resident exhibitors,” says Lui, who along with her teaching job is co-founder of Future Firm, a Chicago-based architecture firm. “She and the team showed me — and everyone who saw the 2014 exhibit — that history is an ongoing act of construction. I learned that historical research can also be a practice, just like the practice of design.”

The selections of Lui and Kozlowski come as no surprise to their former mentor and current colleague. Yet she is reluctant to take any credit. “Perhaps the experience of working on a project as big in scale as our 2014 exhibit prepared them for their current roles,” says Miljacki, whose own research interest include architecture in Cold War Eastern Europe and the politics of contemporary architectural production. “But even then, they were incredibly competent colleagues, people I could turn to with a problem and know they would find a solution. And they were both great architectural thinkers, each in their own way. They’re just amazing.”

Categories: In the News

Alert - Boston Calling May 25 - May 27

City of Cambridge News and Alerts - Thu, 05/24/2018 - 15:40
Expect minor impacts in Harvard Square area May 25 - May 27 due to Boston Calling event. Call or text Community Hotline with questions or concerns: 617-903-0157
Categories: In the News

Ingestible “bacteria on a chip” could help diagnose disease

MIT News - Thu, 05/24/2018 - 14:00

MIT researchers have built an ingestible sensor equipped with genetically engineered bacteria that can diagnose bleeding in the stomach or other gastrointestinal problems.

This “bacteria-on-a-chip” approach combines sensors made from living cells with ultra-low-power electronics that convert the bacterial response into a wireless signal that can be read by a smartphone.

“By combining engineered biological sensors together with low-power wireless electronics, we can detect biological signals in the body and in near real-time, enabling new diagnostic capabilities for human health applications,” says Timothy Lu, an MIT associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science and of biological engineering.

In the new study, appearing in the May 24 online edition of Science, the researchers created sensors that respond to heme, a component of blood, and showed that they work in pigs. They also designed sensors that can respond to a molecule that is a marker of inflammation.

Lu and Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of MIT’s School of Engineering and the Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, are the senior authors of the study. The lead authors are graduate student Mark Mimee and former MIT postdoc Phillip Nadeau.

Wireless communication

In the past decade, synthetic biologists have made great strides in engineering bacteria to respond to stimuli such as environmental pollutants or markers of disease. These bacteria can be designed to produce outputs such as light when they detect the target stimulus, but specialized lab equipment is usually required to measure this response.

To make these bacteria more useful for real-world applications, the MIT team decided to combine them with an electronic chip that could translate the bacterial response into a wireless signal.

“Our idea was to package bacterial cells inside a device,” Nadeau says. “The cells would be trapped and go along for the ride as the device passes through the stomach.”

For their initial demonstration, the researchers focused on bleeding in the GI tract. They engineered a probiotic strain of E. coli to express a genetic circuit that causes the bacteria to emit light when they encounter heme.

They placed the bacteria into four wells on their custom-designed sensor, covered by a semipermeable membrane that allows small molecules from the surrounding environment to diffuse through. Underneath each well is a phototransistor that can measure the amount of light produced by the bacterial cells and relay the information to a microprocessor that sends a wireless signal to a nearby computer or smartphone. The researchers also built an Android app that can be used to analyze the data.

The sensor, which is a cylinder about 1.5 inches long, requires about 13 microwatts of power. The researchers equipped the sensor with a 2.7-volt battery, which they estimate could power the device for about 1.5 months of continuous use. They say it could also be powered by a voltaic cell sustained by acidic fluids in the stomach, using technology that Nadeau and Chandrakasan have previously developed.

“The focus of this work is on system design and integration to combine the power of bacterial sensing with ultra-low-power circuits to realize important health sensing applications,” Chandrakasan says.

Diagnosing disease

The researchers tested the ingestible sensor in pigs and showed that it could correctly determine whether any blood was present in the stomach. They anticipate that this type of sensor could be either deployed for one-time use or designed to remain the digestive tract for several days or weeks, sending continuous signals.

Currently, if patients are suspected to be bleeding from a gastric ulcer, they have to undergo an endoscopy to diagnose the problem, which often requires the patient to be sedated.

“The goal with this sensor is that you would be able to circumvent an unnecessary procedure by just ingesting the capsule, and within a relatively short period of time you would know whether or not there was a bleeding event,” Mimee says.

To help move the technology toward patient use, the researchers plan to reduce the size of the sensor and to study how long the bacteria cells can survive in the digestive tract. They also hope to develop sensors for gastrointestinal conditions other than bleeding.

In the Science paper, the researchers adapted previously described sensors for two other molecules, which they have not yet tested in animals. One of the sensors detects a sulfur-containing ion called thiosulfate, which is linked to inflammation and could be used to monitor patients with Crohn’s disease or other inflammatory conditions. The other detects a bacterial signaling molecule called AHL, which can serve as a marker for gastrointestinal infections because different types of bacteria produce slightly different versions of the molecule.

“Most of the work we did in the paper was related to blood, but conceivably you could engineer bacteria to sense anything and produce light in response to that,” Mimee says. “Anyone who is trying to engineer bacteria to sense a molecule related to disease could slot it into one of those wells, and it would be ready to go.”

The researchers say the sensors could also be designed to carry multiple strains of bacteria, allowing them to diagnose a variety of conditions.

“Right now, we have four detection sites, but if you could extend it to 16 or 256, then you could have multiple different types of cells and be able to read them all out in parallel, enabling more high-throughput screening,” Nadeau says.

The research was funded by Texas Instruments, the Hong Kong Innovation and Technology Fund, the Office of Naval Research, the National Science Foundation, the Center for Microbiome Informatics and Therapeutics, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a Qualcomm Innovation Fellowship, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada. Chip fabrication was provided by the TSMC University Shuttle Program.

Categories: In the News

‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’: Lively origin tale, but young Lando beats the Han we’re dealt

Cambridge Day - Thu, 05/24/2018 - 13:39
“Solo,” the new “Star Wars Story,” is a fun galactic go, breezy and lithe with just the right amount of darkness. That said, it doesn’t do much to deepen the whole Star Wars mythos the way “Rogue One” so ingeniously did back in 2016.
Categories: In the News

MIT Quarter Century Club welcomes new members for 2018

MIT News - Thu, 05/24/2018 - 13:10

The MIT Quarter Century Club (QCC), comprised of faculty members and staff with 25 years of employment with the Institute, welcomed 83 new members this fiscal year. The new inductees were invited to attend an induction luncheon on March 12 at the Samberg Conference Center. This year’s class includes 68 inductees from the Cambridge campus, 14 from Lincoln Laboratory, and one from Haystack Observatory. In addition, the club recognized 22 members who mark their 50-year anniversary with MIT this fiscal year.

QCC President Yvonne L. Gittens, along with the club’s board of directors, hosted the event. Also welcoming inductees were fellow QCC member Eric D. Evans, director of MIT Lincoln Laboratory, and Lorraine A. Goffe, MIT vice president for human resources. The luncheon’s keynote speaker was Philip S. Khoury, associate provost and Ford International Professor of History.

In his remarks, Khoury talked about his own experience working at MIT since 1981, and how much he benefitted from mentors who guided him as he took on responsibilities for which he had not been trained — as dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences and associate provost. He noted that the 83 new inductees represent 2,075 years of accumulated work and wisdom — and enduring friendships. He also highlighted MIT’s uniqueness — the meritocracy of admissions at MIT and the commitment to enable any admitted student to afford an MIT education. He pointed out striking changes at MIT during the 25-year period that inductees have worked at the Institute, including demographic changes of the student body, in particular a marked increase in the number of women; the decline in support from the U.S. government and the increased need for private support; and MIT’s reputation, along with Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Stanford universities as one of the top institutes of higher education in the country and the world. Khoury went on to discuss a subject near and dear to his heart, MIT’s outstanding public art collection and architecture. In closing, Khoury underscored the value of diversity and inclusion to empower MIT to solve the world’s most challenging problems. He called on members of the MIT community to make efforts to understand those who are different to appreciate others better.   

Lorraine Goffe concluded the program by recognizing MIT’s distinction for its large number of long-serving faculty and staff, as long service has become increasingly uncommon in the greater workplace. Goffe stated that employees’ dedication to MIT can be attributed to a strong connection to MIT’s mission; opportunities for professional development (with the support of managers, mentors, and colleagues); and sustaining close work friendships. She commented that MIT is a vibrant institution due in large part to the richness of the MIT community. The commitment of long-serving employees is also a significant benefit to MIT, Goffe stated. She further conveyed, and closed by conveying the Institute’s appreciation to the new inductees — as well as the 50-year members — for their loyalty and contributions.

Following the induction, new member David Barber, senior emergency management specialist with the MIT Police, shared these thoughts about celebrating 25 years at MIT:  “When I first started at MIT, I heard about the Quarter Century Club and I thought that it was a great concept. At the time I had no idea that I would manage to have a career that would last that long. As time went by and I fell in love with the MIT community and my evolving work here, I began to hope that I would be able to join the QCC someday. Now that I have made the transition and have been at MIT for 25-plus years, I can say without a doubt that MIT is in my opinion the best organization, the greatest community, and the home of some of my fondest memories. I can’t imagine my life without MIT and I thank the Quarter Century Club for all the great work they do recognizing longevity in the workforce.”

New members who aspire to reach their 50-year milestone may look to Nancy Alusow, an administrative staff member in the Space and Technology Division at Lincoln Laboratory, for inspiration. “Looking back, I have gained 50 years of long-lasting knowledge; completed my engineering degrees through the tuition assistance plan; experienced the excitement at MIT Lincoln Labaoratory in Contracts, Kwajalein Marshall Islands, and Space and Technology, and I am still in awe of the diversified skills of the MIT community.”

The Quarter Century Club was formed by a union of two organizations: the Silver Club, founded in 1946, for female faculty and staff; and the Quarter Century Club, founded in 1950, by a group of men from among the hourly personnel. In 1970, membership of the QCC expanded to include faculty and all staff. Finally, in 1974, the clubs were merged into one Quarter Century Club to encompass the entire Institute community. Today, the club is comprised of 4,376 active and retired members; 195 members have served the Institute for more than 50 years.

The club awards a recognition gift to new inductees. Traditional gifts include an MIT rocker or chair, an MIT watch, and an MIT clock. This year, the QCC club added two new options: a glass bowl handcrafted by the MIT Glass Lab, and a brass door knocker in the shape of a beaver head created by the Merton C. Flemings Materials Processing Lab at MIT.

The club holds an annual summer gathering, the Silver Club tea, and a winter holiday party. A special resource available to retired QCC members is the William R. Dickson (1956) Quarter Century Club Retiree Fund. Established in 1998 to honor Bill Dickson when he retired as executive vice president of MIT, this fund provides financial subsidies for grants to retired QCC members who take classes in pursuit of educational, hobby, health, wellness, and fitness goals.

The Quarter Century Club office is located in MIT Building E19-711. Individuals may contact the club at 617-253-7914 or by email.

Categories: In the News