In the News

Bank branch taking over Brattle Street spot once Harvard Square’s American Apparel

Cambridge Day - 2 hours 3 min ago
First Republic will be taking over the former American Apparel space at 47 Brattle St., empty since the end of March after the controversial clothing company suffered bankruptcies and shuttered stores nationwide.
Categories: In the News

Kit Cummins awarded the American Chemical Society Pauling Medal

MIT News - 7 hours 25 min ago

Department of Chemistry Professor Christopher (Kit) Cummins has been honored with the 2017 Linus Pauling Medal, in recognition of his unparalleled synthetic and mechanistic studies of early-transition metal complexes, including reaction discovery and exploratory methods of development to improve nitrogen and phosphorous utilization. Cummins, the Henry Dreyfus Professor of Chemistry, will be presented with the Pauling Medal at an award symposium this fall at Portland State University in Oregon.

"I was introduced to Pauling's hugely influential book 'The Nature of the Chemical Bond' as an undergraduate student at Cornell, where I had the incredible honor to meet Linus when he visited to reprise his Baker lectures from a half century earlier, out of which the book had grown," Cummins says. "It is like a dream come true for me to be selected to receive an award named for the human being who gave us so many of chemistry's central concepts. I will dedicate my award lecture to my fantastic students, past and present, for having embarked with me on a rich and still unfolding voyage of scientific discovery."

The Pauling Medal is sponsored jointly by the Portland, Puget Sound, and Oregon sections of the American Chemical Society. It is presented annually in recognition of outstanding achievement in chemistry in the spirit of, and in honor of, Linus Pauling, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1954 and the Nobel Prize for peace in 1962. Cummins joins several current members of the Department of Chemistry in being named a Linus Pauling Medal awardee, including Tim Swager (2016), Stephen Buchwald (2014), and Stephen Lippard (2009), as well as former department members Alexander Rich (1995) and John Waugh (1984).

Researchers in the Cummins Group are developing new methods of inorganic synthesis to address a variety of interesting questions. The activation of small molecules by transition-metal systems is a featured area, with ongoing work in the areas of synthetic nitrogen fixation, carbon dioxide reduction, and while phosphorus utilization. They are developing thermally activated molecular precursors to reactive small molecules or transient intermediates such as diphosphorus and phosphaethyne, molecules of astrophysical importance. Studies on supramolecular anion receptor host-guest chemistry inform their work on dioxygen electron transfer processes, which are germane to solar energy storage and approaches to improved metal-air battery technology. In addition, Cummins Group researchers work to develop new starting materials in phosphate chemistry, including acid forms that provide a starting point for synthesizing new phosphate-based materials with applications in next-generation battery technologies and catalysis. Experimental studies are supplemented with quantum chemical investigations for analysis of chemical bonding, reaction mechanisms, and property predictions.

Categories: In the News

A new way of extracting copper

MIT News - 7 hours 40 min ago

MIT researchers have identified the proper temperature and chemical mixture to selectively separate pure copper and other metallic trace elements from sulfur-based minerals using molten electrolysis. This one-step, environmentally friendly process simplifies metal production and eliminates the toxic byproducts such as sulfur dioxide.

Postdoc Sulata K. Sahu and PhD student Brian J. Chmielowiec ’12 decomposed sulfur-rich minerals into pure sulfur and extracted three different metals at very high purity: copper, molybdenum, and rhenium. They also quantified the amount of energy needed to run the extraction process.

An electrolysis cell is a closed circuit, like a battery, but instead of producing electrical energy, it consumes electrical energy to break apart compounds into their elements, for example, splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen. Such electrolytic processes are the primary method of aluminum production and are used as the final step to remove impurities in copper production. Contrary to aluminum, however, there are no direct electrolytic decomposition processes for copper-containing sulfide minerals to produce liquid copper.

The MIT researchers found a promising method of forming liquid copper metal and sulfur gas in their cell from an electrolyte composed of barium sulfide, lanthanum sulfide, and copper sulfide, which yields greater than 99.9 percent pure copper. This purity is equivalent to the best current copper production methods. Their results are published in an Electrochimica Acta paper with senior author Antoine Allanore, assistant professor of metallurgy.

One-step process

“It is a one-step process, directly just decompose the sulfide to copper and sulfur. Other previous methods are multiple steps,” Sahu explains. “By adopting this process, we are aiming to reduce the cost.”

Copper is in increasing demand for use in electric vehicles, solar energy, consumer electronics and other energy efficiency targets. Most current copper extraction processes burn sulfide minerals in air, which produces sulfur dioxide, a harmful air pollutant that has to be captured and reprocessed, but the new method produces elemental sulfur, which can be safely reused, for example, in fertilizers. The researchers also used electrolysis to produce rhenium and molybdenum, which are often found in copper sulfides at very small levels.

The new work builds on a 2016 Journal of The Electrochemical Society paper offering proof of electrolytic extraction of copper authored by Samira Sokhanvaran, Sang-Kwon Lee, Guillaume Lambotte, and Allanore. They showed that addition of barium sulfide to a copper sulfide melt suppressed copper sulfide’s electrical conductivity enough to extract a small amount of pure copper from the high-temperature electrochemical cell operating at 1,105 degrees Celsius (2,021 Fahrenheit). Sokhanvaran is now a research scientist at Natural Resources Canada-Canmet Mining; Lee is a senior researcher at Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute; and Lambotte is now a senior research engineer at Boston Electrometallurgical Corp.

“This paper was the first one to show that you can use a mixture where presumably electronic conductivity dominates conduction, but there is not actually 100 percent. There is a tiny fraction that is ionic, which is good enough to make copper,” Allanore explains.

“The new paper shows that we can go further than that and almost make it fully ionic, that is reduce the share of electronic conductivity and therefore increase the efficiency to make metal,” Allanore says.

These sulfide minerals are compounds where the metal and the sulfur elements share electrons. In their molten state, copper ions are missing one electron, giving them a positive charge, while sulfur ions are carrying two extra electrons, giving them a negative charge. The desired reaction in an electrolysis cell is to form elemental atoms, by adding electrons to metals such as copper, and taking away electrons from sulfur. This happens when extra electrons are introduced to the system by the applied voltage. The metal ions are reacting at the cathode, a negatively charged electrode, where they gain electrons in a process called reduction; meanwhile, the negatively charged sulfur ions are reacting at the anode, a positively charged electrode, where they give up electrons in a process called oxidation.

In a cell that used only copper sulfide, for example, because of its high electronic conductivity, the extra electrons would simply flow through the electrolyte without interacting with the individual ions of copper and sulfur at the electrodes and no separation would occur. The Allanore Group researchers successfully identified other sulfide compounds that, when added to copper sulfide, change the behavior of the melt so that the ions, rather than electrons, become the primary charge carriers through the system and thus enable the desired chemical reactions. Technically speaking, the additives raise the bandgap of the copper sulfide so it is no longer electronically conductive, Chmielowiec explains. The fraction of the electrons engaging in the oxidation and reduction reactions, measured as a percentage of the total current, that is the total electron flow in the cell, is called its faradaic efficiency.

Doubling efficiency

The new work doubles the efficiency for electrolytic extraction of copper reported in the first paper, which was 28 percent with an electrolyte where only barium sulfide added to the copper sulfide, to 59 percent in the second paper with both lanthanum sulfide and barium sulfide added to the copper sulfide.

“Demonstrating that we can perform faradaic reactions in a liquid metal sulfide is novel and can open the door to study many different systems,” Chmielowiec says. “It works for more than just copper. We were able to make rhenium, and we were able to make molybdenum.” Rhenium and molybdenum are industrially important metals finding use in jet airplane engines, for example. The Allanore laboratory also used molten electrolysis to produce zinc, tin and silver, but lead, nickel and other metals are possible, he suggests.

The amount of energy required to run the separation process in an electrolysis cell is proportional to the faradaic efficiency and the cell voltage. For water, which was one of the first compounds to be separated by electrolysis, the minimum cell voltage, or decomposition energy, is 1.23 volts. Sahu and Chmielowiec identified the cell voltages in their cell as 0.06 volts for rhenium sulfide, 0.33 volts for molybdenum sulfide, and 0.45 volts for copper sulfide. “For most of our reactions, we apply 0.5 or 0.6 volts, so that the three sulfides are together reduced to metallic, rhenium, molybdenum and copper,” Sahu explains. At the cell operating temperature and at an applied potential of 0.5 to 0.6 volts, the system prefers to decompose those metals because the energy required to decompose both lanthanum sulfide — about 1.7 volts — and barium sulfide — about 1.9 volts — is comparatively much higher. Separate experiments also proved the ability to selectively reduce rhenium or molybdenum without reducing copper, based on their differing decomposition energies.

Industrial potential

Important strategic and commodity metals including, copper, zinc, lead, rhenium, and molybdenum are typically found in sulfide ores and less commonly in oxide-based ores, as is the case for aluminum. “What’s typically done is you burn those in air to remove the sulfur, but by doing that you make SO2 [sulfur dioxide], and nobody is allowed to release that directly to air, so they have to capture it somehow. There are a lot of capital costs associated with capturing SO2 and converting it to sulfuric acid,” Chmielowiec explains. 

The closest industrial process to the electrolytic copper extraction they hope to see is aluminum production by an electrolytic process known as Hall-Héroult process, which produces a pool of molten aluminum metal that can be continuously tapped. “The ideal is to run a continuous process,” Chmielowiec says. “So, in our case, you would maintain a constant level of liquid copper and then periodically tap that out of the electrolysis cell. A lot of engineering has gone into that for the aluminum industry, so we would hopefully piggyback off of that.”

Sahu and Chmielowiec conducted their experiments at 1,227 C, about 150 degrees Celsius above the melting point of copper. It is the temperature commonly used in industry for copper extraction.

Further improvements

Aluminum electrolysis systems run at 95 percent faradaic efficiency, so there is room for improvement from the researchers’ reported 59 percent efficiency. To improve their cell efficiency, Sahu says, they may need to modify the cell design to recover a larger amount of liquid copper. The electrolyte can also be further tuned, adding sulfides other than barium sulfide and lanthanum sulfide. “There is no one single solution that will let us do that. It will be an optimization to move it up to larger scale,” Chmielowiec says. That work continues.

Sahu, 34, received her PhD in chemistry from the University of Madras, in India. Chmielowiec, 27, a second-year doctoral student and a Salapatas Fellow in materials science and engineering, received his BS in chemical engineering at MIT in 2012 and an MS in chemical engineering from Caltech in 2014.

The work fits into the Allanore Group’s work on high-temperature molten materials, including recent breakthroughs in developing new formulas to predict semiconductivity in molten compounds and demonstrating a molten thermoelectric cell to produce electricity from industrial waste heat. The Allanore Group is seeking a patent on certain aspects of the extraction process.

Novel and significant work

“Using intelligent design of the process chemistry, these researchers have developed a very novel route for producing copper,” says Rohan Akolkar, the F. Alex Nason Associate Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Case Western Reserve University, who was not involved in this work. “The researchers have engineered a process that has many of the key ingredients — it's a cleaner, scalable, and simpler one-step process for producing copper from sulfide ore.”

“Technologically, the authors appreciate the need to make the process more efficient while preserving the intrinsic purity of the copper produced,” says Akolkar, who visited the Allanore lab late last year. “If the technology is developed further and its techno-economics look favorable, then it may provide a potential pathway for simpler and cleaner production of copper metal, which is important to many applications.” Akolkar notes that “the quality of this work is excellent. The Allanore research group at MIT is at the forefront when it comes to advancing molten salt electrolysis research.”

University of Rochester professor ofchemical engineering Jacob Jorné says, “Current extraction processes involve multiple steps and require high capital investment, thus costly improvements are prohibited. Direct electrolysis of the metal sulfide ores is also advantageous as it eliminates the formation of sulfur dioxide, an acid rain pollutant. “

“The electrochemistry and thermodynamics in molten salts are quite different than in aqueous [water-based] systems and the research of Allanore and his group demonstrates that a lot of good chemistry has been ignored in the past due to our slavish devotion to water,” Jorné suggests. “Direct electrolysis of metal ores opens the way to a metallurgical renaissance where new discoveries and processes can be implemented and can modernize the aging extraction industry and improve its energy efficiency. The new approach can be applied to other metals of high strategic importance such as the rare earth metals.”

This work was supported by Norco Conservation and the Office of Naval Research.

Categories: In the News

Scientists produce dialysis membrane made from graphene

MIT News - 7 hours 50 min ago

Dialysis, in the most general sense, is the process by which molecules filter out of one solution, by diffusing through a membrane, into a more dilute solution. Outside of hemodialysis, which removes waste from blood, scientists use dialysis to purify drugs, remove residue from chemical solutions, and isolate molecules for medical diagnosis, typically by allowing the materials to pass through a porous membrane.

Today’s commercial dialysis membranes separate molecules slowly, in part due to their makeup: They are relatively thick, and the pores that tunnel through such dense membranes do so in winding paths, making it difficult for target molecules to quickly pass through.

Now MIT engineers have fabricated a functional dialysis membrane from a sheet of graphene — a single layer of carbon atoms, linked end to end in hexagonal configuration like that of chicken wire. The graphene membrane, about the size of a fingernail, is less than 1 nanometer thick. (The thinnest existing memranes are about 20 nanometers thick.) The team’s membrane is able to filter out nanometer-sized molecules from aqueous solutions up to 10 times faster than state-of-the-art membranes, with the graphene itself being up to 100 times faster.

While graphene has largely been explored for applications in electronics, Piran Kidambi, a postdoc in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, says the team’s findings demonstrate that graphene may improve membrane technology, particularly for lab-scale separation processes and potentially for hemodialysis.

“Because graphene is so thin, diffusion across it will be extremely fast,” Kidambi says. “A molecule doesn’t have to do this tedious job of going through all these tortuous pores in a thick membrane before exiting the other side. Moving graphene into this regime of biological separation is very exciting.”

Kidambi is a lead author of a study reporting the technology, published today in Advanced Materials. Six co-authors are from MIT, including Rohit Karnik, associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Jing Kong, associate professor of electrical engineering.

Plugging graphene

To make the graphene membrane, the researchers first used a common technique called chemical vapor deposition to grow graphene on copper foil. They then carefully etched away the copper and transferred the graphene to a supporting sheet of polycarbonate, studded throughout with pores large enough to let through any molecules that have passed through the graphene. The polycarbonate acts as a scaffold, keeping the ultrathin graphene from curling up on itself.

The researchers looked to turn graphene into a molecularly selective sieve, letting through only molecules of a certain size. To do so, they created tiny pores in the material by exposing the structure to oxygen plasma, a process by which oxygen, pumped into a plasma chamber, can etch away at materials.

“By tuning the oxygen plasma conditions, we can control the density and size of pores we make, in the areas where the graphene is pristine,” Kidambi says. “What happens is, an oxygen radical comes to a carbon atom [in graphene] and rapidly reacts, and they both fly out as carbon dioxide.”

What is left is a tiny hole in the graphene, where a carbon atom once sat. Kidambi and his colleagues found that the longer graphene is exposed to oxygen plasma, the larger and more dense the pores will be. Relatively short exposure times, of about 45 to 60 seconds, generate very small pores.

Desirable defects

The researchers tested multiple graphene membranes with pores of varying sizes and distributions, placing each membrane in the middle of a diffusion chamber. They filled the chamber’s feed side with a solution containing various mixtures of molecules of different sizes, ranging from potassium chloride (0.66 nanometers wide) to vitamin B12 (1 to 1.5 nanometers) and lysozyme (4 nanometers), a protein found in egg white. The other side of the chamber was filled with a dilute solution.

The team then measured the flow of molecules as they diffused through each graphene membrane.

Membranes with very small pores let through potassium chloride but not larger molecules such as L-tryptophan, which measures only 0.2 nanometers wider. Membranes with larger pores let through correspondingly larger molecules.

The team carried out similar experiments with commercial dialysis membranes and found that, in comparison, the graphene membranes performed with higher “permeance,” filtering out the desired molecules up to 10 times faster.

Kidambi points out that the polycarbonate support is etched with pores that only take up 10 percent of its surface area, which limits the amount of desired molecules that ultimately pass through both layers.

“Only 10 percent of the membrane’s area is accessible, but even with that 10 percent, we’re able to do better than state-of-the-art,” Kidambi says.

To make the graphene membrane even better, the team plans to improve the polycarbonate support by etching more pores into the material to increase the membrane’s overall permeance. They are also working to further scale up the dimensions of the membrane, which currently measures 1 square centimeter. Further tuning the oxygen plasma process to create tailored pores will also improve a membrane’s performance — something that Kidambi points out would have vastly different consequences for graphene in electronics applications.

“What’s exciting is, what’s not great for the electronics field is actually perfect in this [membrane dialysis] field,” Kidambi says. “In electronics, you want to minimize defects. Here you want to make defects of the right size. It goes to show the end use of the technology dictates what you want in the technology. That’s the key.”

This research was supported, in part, by the U.S. Department of Energy and a Lindemann Trust Fellowship.

Categories: In the News

Two MIT documentaries win New England Emmy Awards

MIT News - 9 hours 40 min ago

On June 24, Boston-area journalists, videographers, and producers filled the halls of the Marriott Boston Copley Place for the 40th annual New England Emmy Awards. Staff from MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering (MechE) and MIT Video Productions (MVP) occupied two full tables at the black-tie affair. By the end of the night, two golden statues joined them as both groups were awarded Emmys.

MechE’s multimedia specialist John Freidah was honored with a New England Emmy in the Health/Science Program/Special category for the film “Water is Life,” which chronicles PhD student Natasha Wright and Professor Amos Winter as they travel to India gathering research on how to design a low-cost desalination system for use in developing areas. The film was also recently honored with a 2017 National Edward R. Murrow Award — one of the most prestigious awards in journalism — as well as a 2017 Circle of Excellence Award from the The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).

Meanwhile, MVP’s Lawrence Gallagher, Joseph McMaster, and Jean Dunoyer received a New England Emmy in the Education/Schools category for their film “A Bold Move,” which recounts MIT’s relocation from Boston’s Back Bay to a swath of undeveloped land on the banks of the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The film is the first in a four-part series that commemorate MIT’s 100th year in Cambridge.

"Water Is Life"

As the camera pans over an aerial shot of a lake in India, a flock of white birds majestically flies by. Capturing this moment in the opening shot of “Water is Life” required a lot of patience and a little help from a new friend. Unable to bring a drone into India, the film’s producer, editor, and cinematographer, John Freidah, had to come up with another plan. During a conversation on a flight from Delhi to Hyderabad, Freidah befriended a passenger in his row. He mentioned his search for a drone operator to get the perfect birds-eye-view shot of India’s landscape. As luck would have it, the day before departing India, Freidah received an email from his new friend saying he new someone with a drone that he could use to film sweeping aerial shots.

Planning for “Water is Life” began months before Freidah flew to India, however. Interested in highlighting the important work done in Professor Amos Winter’s Global Engineering and Research (GEAR) Lab, Freidah and his colleagues in the media team at MechE honed in on the research PhD student and Tata Fellow Natasha Wright was conducting on designing an affordable desalination system for use in rural India. With the generous support of Robert Stoner, deputy director of the MIT Energy Initiative and director of the Tata Center for Technology and Design, plans were arranged to film Winter and Wright in India.

“India is a beautiful and amazing country, which is rich in imagery. I felt lucky to film there,” Freidah says. “We were fortunate to have the aid of stakeholders — Jain Engineering and Tata Projects — who facilitated our visits to the local villages where they were struggling with clean drinking water.”

Visiting these villages and talking to end-users who would benefit from and potentially use a desalination system was a crucial component of Winter and Wright’s research. Capturing the daily challenges these villagers face on film brought another level of exposure to the work being done by GEAR and the Tata Center.

“Having John travel to India enabled us to tell the story of our research in much greater depth than we could on campus,” says Winter. By capturing the many angles of Winter and Wright’s story, “Water Is Life” aims to show people first-hand what a problem access to clean water is on a global scale, and how essential it is to support new research and technologies that hope to solve it.

“I really wanted to give the viewer a first-person experience — through the visuals,” Freidah explains. “I wanted it to be a visual journey, as if they were there — with sound and imagery — from honking horns on the street and rickshaws going by.”

"A Bold Move"

It’s hard to imagine a time when the banks of the Charles River in Cambridge weren’t adorned with MIT’s Great Dome, inter-connected buildings, and stately columns. MIT President Richard Cockburn Maclaurin’s aspiration to move the Institute from its overcrowded classrooms in Boston’s Back Bay to a plot of vacant land across the river in 1916 did more than shape the landscape around Kendall Square; it redefined MIT’s presence as a global pioneer in science and technology research. To celebrate the 1916 move to Cambridge, the program A Century in Cambridge was launched last year.

Well before the centennial fireworks exploded over Killian Court, Larry Gallagher, director of MVP, was approached by the Century in Cambridge Steering Committee. MVP was asked to produce a series of documentaries that explored MIT’s move to Cambridge in 1916 and other key aspects of the MIT experience that have helped shape MIT into what it is today. The first of this series, “A Bold Move,” chronicles the design and construction of MIT’s new campus, the whimsical celebrations commemorating the move, and the tragic and untimely passing of the man who orchestrated the entire process — President Maclaurin.

Capturing this period in MIT’s history required extensive research and the participation of faculty, staff, and historians well versed in the move to Cambridge. “We are deeply indebted to the faculty, staff, alumni, and members of the Cambridge community who so generously gave their time end expertise,” says producer and director Joe McMaster. “Without their insights, the film wouldn’t have successfully portrayed this moment in MIT’s history.”

In addition to interviewing those with extensive knowledge of the 2016 move, the MVP team had to dig deep into MIT’s robust archives. Thousands of photos from The MIT Museum, The Institute Archives, the Cambridge Historical Commission, and other sources were analyzed by McMaster and a team of research assistants. “I was amazed to see how thoroughly documented MIT’s history is in photographs — particularly everything to do with the move to Cambridge,” McMaster adds. “The whole affair seemed to be carried out with such a wonderful mixture of seriousness and whimsy, and I hoped the film would capture that feeling.”

Editor and co-producer Jean Dunoyer was tasked with weaving together the footage and photographs in a way that reflected this mixture of the silly and sacred. The imagery and footage was set to period music, to give viewers a feel for that particular era in history. In one of the concluding scenes, this period music is brought to life once more by MIT a capella group The Chorallaries. The group performs a haunting rendition of “Mother Tech,” a piece originally performed at the conclusion of the celebrations in 1916.

The entire Century in Cambridge documentary series was produced over the course of 18 months, with assistance from the Century in Cambridge Steering Committee and the generous support of Jane and Neil Papparlardo '64. The scope of “A Bold Move” required a massive collaboration across all of MVP. “This is indeed a huge collaborative effort for MVP,” says Gallagher. “Projects of this scope benefit from the contributions of the entire team, and for their work and talents to be recognized by their peers in the video production community with an Emmy is a great source of pride.” 

Categories: In the News

Colorful Cambridge Boutique Shine to Close Next Month

Scout Cambridge - 10 hours 34 min ago

Prospect Street’s going to be a little less bright come July, when the quirky, eclectic gift shop Shine closes its doors. After three years just...

The post Colorful Cambridge Boutique Shine to Close Next Month appeared first on Scout Cambridge.

Categories: In the News

MIT space hotel wins NASA graduate design competition

MIT News - 12 hours 10 min ago

An interdisciplinary team of MIT graduate students representing five departments across the Institute was recently honored at NASA's Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts-Academic Linkage Design Competition Forum. The challenge involved designing a commercially enabled habitable module for use in low Earth orbit that would be extensible for future use as a Mars transit vehicle. The team’s design won first place in the competition’s graduate division.

The MIT project — the Managed, Reconfigurable, In-space Nodal Assembly (MARINA) — was designed as a commercially owned and operated space station, featuring a luxury hotel as the primary anchor tenant and NASA as a temporary co-anchor tenant for 10 years. NASA’s estimated recurring costs, $360 million per year, represent an order of magnitude reduction from the current costs of maintaining and operating the International Space Station. Potential savings are approximately 16 percent of NASA’s overall budget — or around $3 billion per year.

MARINA team lead Matthew Moraguez, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and a member of Professor Olivier L. de Weck’s Strategic Engineering Research Group (SERG), explained that MARINA’s key engineering innovations include extensions to the International Docking System Standard (IDSS) interface; modular architecture of the backbone of MARINA’s node modules; and a distribution of subsystem functions throughout the node modules.

“Modularized service racks connect any point on MARINA to any other point via the extended IDSS interface. This enables companies of all sizes to provide products and services in space to other companies, based on terms determined by the open market,” Moraguez said. “Together these decisions provide scalability, reliability, and efficient technology development benefits to MARINA and NASA.”

MARINA’s design also enables modules to be reused to create an interplanetary Mars transit vehicle that can enter Mars’ orbit, refuel from locally produced methane fuel, and return to Earth.

MARINA and SERG team member George Lordos MBA '00 is currently a graduate fellow in the MIT System Design and Management (SDM) Program, which is offered jointly by the MIT School of Engineering and the MIT Sloan School of Management. Lordos pointed out that MARINA’s engineering design innovations are critical enablers of its commercial viability, which rests on MARINA’s ability to give rise to a value-adding, competitive marketplace in low Earth orbit.

“Just like a yacht marina, MARINA can provide all essential services, including safe harbor, reliable power, clean water and air, and efficient logistics and maintenance,” said Lordos, who will enter the MIT aeronautics and astronautics doctoral program this fall. “This will facilitate design simplicity and savings in construction and operating costs of customer-owned modules. It will also incent customers to lease space inside and outside MARINA’s node modules and make MARINA a self-funded entity that is attractive to investors.”

Valentina Sumini, a postdoc at MIT, contributed to the architectural concept being used for MARINA and its space hotel, along with MARINA faculty advisor Assistant Professor Caitlin Mueller of MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning and Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

“MARINA’s flagship anchor tenant, a luxury Earth-facing eight-room space hotel complete with bar, restaurant, and gym, will make orbital space holidays a reality,” said Sumini.

Other revenue-generating features include rental of serviced berths on external International Docking Adapter ports for customer-owned modules and rental of interior modularized rack space to smaller companies that provide contracted services to station occupants. These secondary activities may involve satellite repair, in-space fabrication, food production, and funded research.

Additional members of the MARINA team include: MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics graduate students and SERG members Alejandro Trujillo, Samuel Wald, and Johannes Norheim; MIT Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering undergraduate Zoe Lallas; MIT School of Architecture and Planning graduate students Alpha Arsano and Anran Li; and MIT Integrated Design and Management Program graduate students Meghan Maupin and John Stillman.

Categories: In the News

School of Science professors granted tenure

MIT News - 13 hours 5 min ago

The School of Science has announced that seven of its faculty members have been granted tenure by MIT.

This year’s newly-tenured professors are:

Mircea Dincă, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry, addresses research challenges related to the storage and consumption of energy and global environmental concerns through the synthesis and characterization of new inorganic and organic materials. His work has applications in heterogeneous catalysis, energy conversion and storage, chemical sensing, gas separation, and water-based technologies including adsorption heat pumps and water production and purification. By designing and synthesizing new materials, Dincă aims to learn more about fundamental processes such as electron and ion transport through ordered solids, the reactivity and electrochemistry of low-coordinate metal ions in porous crystals, the effects of conformational changes on the electronic properties of molecules, and the behavior of materials at the interface with solid-state devices.

Dincă earned a BS in chemistry at Princeton University and a PhD in inorganic chemistry at the University of California at Berkeley. Following a postdoc appointment at MIT in the Department of Chemistry, he joined its faculty in 2010. Among Dincă’s awards and honors are an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship, a Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award, and the Alan T. Waterman Award

Liang Fu, the Lawrence C. (1944) and Sarah W. Biedenharn Career Development Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics, is interested in novel topological phases of matter and their experimental realizations. He works on the theory of topological insulators and topological superconductors, with a focus on predicting and proposing their material realizations and experimental signatures. He is also interested in potential applications of topological materials, ranging from tunable electronics and spintronics, to quantum computation.

Fu obtained a BS in physics from the University of Science and Technology of China and a PhD in physics from the University of Pennsylvania. Following an appointment as a Junior Fellow at Harvard University, he joined the MIT faculty in 2012. Fu is the recipient of a Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering and the New Horizons in Physics Prize.

Jeff Gore, associate professor in the Department of Physics, uses experimentally-tractable microcosms such as bacterial communities to explore the physics of complex living systems, examining how interactions between individuals drives the evolution and ecology of communities. Gore’s primary areas of research include the behavior of populations near tipping points that lead to collapse, the evolution of cooperative behaviors within a species or community, and the determining factors for multi-species diversity within a community.

Gore received a BS in physics, mathematics, economics, and electrical engineering from MIT and a PhD in physics from the University of California at Berkeley. He returned to MIT as a Pappalardo Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Physics and subsequently joined the faculty in 2010. Gore’s awards and honors include an Allen Distinguished Investigator Award, an NIH Director's New Innovator Award, and a National Science Foundtion CAREER Award.

Jeremiah Johnson, the Firmenich Career Development Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry, designs macromolecules and their syntheses to address problems in chemistry, medicine, biology, energy, and polymer physics. Johnson works with a range of materials and applications, including nano-scale, brush-arm star polymer architectures for in vivo drug delivery, imaging, and self-assembly; hydrogels for the analysis of how molecular network defects impact mechanics; and polymers for surface functionalization and energy storage.

Johnson completed a BS in biomedical engineering and chemistry at Washington University in St. Louis and a PhD in chemistry at Columbia University. Following an appointment as a Beckman Institute Postdoctoral Scholar at the Caltech, Johnson joined the MIT faculty in 2011. Johnson is the recipient of several awards including an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship and a 3M Non-Tenured Faculty Award.

Brad Pentelute, the Pfizer-Laubach Career Development Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry, modifies naturally occurring proteins to enhance their therapeutic properties for human medicine, focusing on the use of cysteine arylation to generate abiotic macromolecular proteins, the precision delivery of biomolecules into cells, and the development of fast flow platforms to rapidly produce polypeptides.

Pentelute earned a BS in chemistry and a BA in psychology at the University of Southern California, followed by a PhD in organic chemistry at the University of Chicago. After a postdoc fellowship at Harvard Medical School, Pentelute joined the MIT faculty in 2011. His awards and honors include an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship, a Novartis Early Career Award, and an Amgen Young Investigator Award.

Jesse Thaler, associate professor of physics, is a theoretical particle physicist whose research focus is the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) experiment at CERN. Thaler aims to maximize the discovery potential of the LHC by applying theoretical insights from quantum field theory. He is particularly interested in novel methods to test the properties of dark matter at the LHC and beyond, as well as the theoretical structures and experimental signatures of supersymmetry. Thaler also develops new methods to characterize jets, which are collimated sprays of particles that are copiously produced at the LHC. These techniques exploit the substructure of jets to enhance the search for new physics as well as to illuminate the structure of the standard model itself.

Thaler received his PhD in physics from Harvard University and his BS in mathematics and physics from Brown University. After a fellowship at the Miller Institute for Basic Research in Science at the University of California at Berkeley, he joined the MIT faculty in the Department of Physics in 2010. His awards and honors include an Early Career Research Award from the U.S. Department of Energy, a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from the White House, an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship, and an MIT Harold E. Edgerton Faculty Achievement Award.

Matthew Vander Heiden is the Eisen and Chang Career Development Associate Professor in the Department of Biology. His laboratory is studying how mammalian cell metabolism is adapted to support function, with a particular focus on the role metabolism plays in cancer. He uses mouse models to study how changes in metabolism impact all aspects of cancer progression with a goal of finding novel ways to exploit altered metabolism to help patients.

Vander Heiden earned a BS, an MD, and a PhD from the University of Chicago, and completed his clinical training in internal medicine and medical oncology at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. After postdoctoral research at Harvard Medical School, Vander Heiden joined the faculty of the MIT Department of Biology and the Koch Institute in 2010. Among Vander Heiden’s awards and honors include a Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award for Medical Sciences, a Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovation Award, a Stand Up To Cancer Innovative Research Grant, and being named a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Faculty Scholar.

Categories: In the News

Santos wants to move from liberal airwaves to progressive policies in council chambers

Cambridge Day - 22 hours 56 min ago
Political radio talk-show host Jeffrey Santos says he has the connections and experience to collaborate with the state and neighboring city governments to improve public infrastructure and services – and will prove it as a city councillor.
Categories: In the News

How J-PAL thinks globally and acts locally

MIT News - 23 hours 50 min ago

It is a huge question in development economics: If a program yields good results in one country, will it work in another? Does a vaccination policy in India translate to Africa? Does a teen-pregnancy prevention program in Kenya work in Rwanda?

And: Why or why not?

Leaders of MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), one of world’s foremost centers for antipoverty research, have developed their own formal framework for thinking about this vexing question, over the last several years. Now, in a new article, two J-PAL directors have unveiled the lab’s approach.

“At J-PAL, we spend a lot of time talking with policymakers and giving advice, but we’d never really written [this] down in a systematic way,” says Rachel Glennerster, the executive director of J-PAL and a co-author of the new article. “This is a framework that can be used by other people who want to do this kind of work.”

Co-author Mary Ann Bates, the deputy executive director of J-PAL North America, says the new paper is a response to years of queries: “One of the most frequent questions that we get at J-PAL is a version of, ‘So a program worked in one place. Is it likely to work in my context?’”

The J-PAL method of operation, it turns out, is less about replicating bottom-line results of programs down to the last decimal point than it is about understanding the mechanisms that make programs successful.

“If you completely replicated a program, you wouldn’t expect to have identical results in a different place,” Glennerster says.

But if the general conditions that make a program work in one place hold elsewhere, then a J-PAL-style antipoverty program can get traction more widely.   

The paper, “The Generalizability Puzzle,” appears in the summer 2017 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, and sets out four basic steps that the lab’s researchers use when thinking about replicating or scaling up an antipoverty program in a new setting.

Four easy pieces

Founded in 2003 by MIT economists Esther Duflo, Abhijit Banerjee, and Sendhil Mullainathan (who is now at Harvard University), J-PAL has become the most high-profile academic enterprise of its kind. The lab incorporates a broad network of scholars dedicated to field experiments — randomized controlled trials, or RCTs — evaluating the effectiveness of antipoverty programs.

J-PAL works extensively with governments, NGOs, and international development groups to implement and evaulate programs. In the past, J-PAL experiments have demonstrated new methods of improving anything from vaccination rates, to school attendance, to safe water use. Glennerster helped establish Deworm the World, based on J-PAL research, a nonprofit that provides deworming pills to 150 million children a year.

And as Glennerster notes, “There is huge interest in the policy world in trying to better use the results of research.” Here, then, are the four steps J-PAL recommends when considering if an antipoverty program would translate to a new setting:

Step one: What are the components of the theory behind the program?

In India, a local J-PAL program providing a small incentive to parents — a couple of pounds of lentils — led to a massive increase in child immunizations, from 6 percent to 39 percent. The theory behind the program rests on a few assumptions: that parents are not inherently opposed to immunizing their children; that people respond to modest incentives; that people will procrastinate on important tasks; and that in some parts of India, lentils are a good incentive mechanism.

To think about how well a program would translate to another location, break down the larger action into these kinds of smaller components, and see if the program would still be viable, even in parallel form, the authors advise.

“If you use lentils to incentive people to get immunized, you wouldn’t get much of an effect in Boston,” Glennerster observes. “They are a very desirable thing in this bit of India where we were working, though.”

Step two: Does that theory apply to local conditions?

In Kenya, one J-PAL experiment produced a successful program to prevent teenage pregnancies by informing adolescent girls about the risks of contracting HIV from older men — 28 percent of whom had HIV in the district where the original intervention took place. This turned out to be a considerable deterrent for the girls who participated in education programs about their own risks.

J-PAL researchers subsequently considered trying out the program in Rwanda, too. But then they conducted surveys and discovered something quite different about the local conditions. Female students estimated that over 20 percent of Rwandan men in their 20s were HIV-positive, whereas only 1.7 percent actually are. As a result, the J-PAL researchers recommended against replicating the program in Rwanda. Because the students were dramatically over-estimating local HIV rates, highlighting the actual rates in an information campaign might have led to an increase in risky behavior.

“That’s not just a matter of sitting and scratching our heads, wondering,” Bates says. “That was targeted information that could be gathered that got right at the heart of the question of whether this intervention would be likely to work in a new context.”

And as Bates emphasizes, it was not necessary to replicate the entire experiment to make an assessment about the program’s adaptability. 

Step three: How strong is the evidence that the desired behavioral change will occur?

Consider again programs trying to get people to invest time and money in preventive medicine, whether through vaccinations, additional visits to medical clinics, or other means. Researchers have gathered evidence that people in many countries ignore preventative health care,  making this a good issue to tackle globally.

“People’s unwillingness to pay much for preventative health is something you find all around the world,” Glennerster says. “People are surprisingly unwilling to invest in preventative health, and small barriers can prevent them from taking up otherwise good options.”

Moreover, Glennerster emphasizes, the evidence for this does not have to be derived from RCTs performed by groups such as J-PAL. The weightier the evidence of a generalized problem, the more likely it is that some variation of a program will apply in new settings.

Step four: What is the evidence that the implementation process can be carried out well?

This last point requires very solid on-the-gound knowledge about the locale where an antipoverty program may be carried out: Are there functional institutions that can do the nuts-and-bolts program work?

“Even if a program may be based on a well-validated view of human behavior, you’ve got to know about the local context, about people’s ability to deliver it,” Glennerster says. “And that’s going to be very specific. Is the government or NGO good at implementing things?”

Don’t just replicate

Through all these points, at least one larger theme emerges: People are people, wherever they may live, and human nature is fairly consistent around the globe. Thus, as Bates and Glennerster write in the paper, “underlying human behaviors are more likely to generalize than specific programs.”

That means researchers and antipoverty leaders should think carefully about the core behavioral mechanisms within programs, and about how to adapt existing programs to novel settings. People need water and want good education, from continent to continent; the best way to deliver clean water and quality education may differ.

Bates and Glennerster say they have received a generally positive reception when presenting the J-PAL framework — Glennerster has presented it at the World Bank, among other places — and they hope the new article will gain traction in the community of antipoverty leaders.

“It’s not that nobody’s thought of this before,” Glennerster says. “I think what people have found useful is us providing a clear step-by-step process. It just gives people a clearer framework.”

Categories: In the News

District Planning Update

Cambridge Public Schools - Tue, 06/27/2017 - 20:00
Categories: In the News

City Council gets MIT Volpe zoning petition, debates procedure with no apparent effect

Cambridge Day - Tue, 06/27/2017 - 13:49
MIT’s proposal to zone the 14-acre Volpe parcel in Kendall Square passed a procedural milestone Monday when the City Council was expected to forward the zoning petition for further hearings. Kind of, anyway.
Categories: In the News

Play Labs announces first class of VR/AR/playful startups and demo session

MIT Events - Tue, 06/27/2017 - 11:40

Play Labs @ MIT, a summer accelerator hosted at the MIT Game Lab, has announced the first batch of startups that have been admitted to the program. This first cohort will meet from June to August, and a demonstration session will take place on Aug. 15 at 6 p.m. at MIT in Room 10-250.

The overall focus of the accelerator is on startups that employ “playful tech” in a variety of industries. The first batch of startups was selected with a concentration on virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), as well as online gaming and esports.

The first batch consists of startups spanning a wide breadth of categories, including: VR pets and games (2 startups); VR business applications (2 startups); AR/mixed reality applications and tools (2 startups); VR/VRWeb/360 development tech (3 startups); esports (2 startups); machine vision and deep learning (2 startups); and online games (2 startups).

“We are excited at the quality and breadth of startups that we have in our first batch,” says Rizwan Virk, executive director of Play Labs @ MIT. “Being on campus at MIT gave us access to many innovative entrepreneurs and technologies, and while we had many applicants, the startups we selected in this first class represent the best applications of playful technology. I’m personally inspired to help the next group of MIT startups go on to great success.”

“The inaugural class began with teams of creative, passionate and determined people,” says Tuff Yen, president of Seraph Group and partner at Play Labs @ MIT. “This is history in the making.”

The startups in the first cohort include:

  • Coresights, which provides evidence-based training to improve wellness and enhance resilience. The platform combines virtual and augmented reality technologies with clinical-grade wearables to make training engaging and capture real-time data.

  • Datavized, which brings another dimension to enterprise and big data with 3-D visualization. Combining the immersive power of virtual reality with the seamless delivery of the mobile web, the software enables cross platform collaboration and enhanced decision making.

  • Empathy Box: a company that aims at revolutionizing immersive storytelling. It is the first project by Empathy Box is Myth Machine, a first-person mystery-adventure set in the weird, magical world of tech startups.

  • Escape Labs, which uses innovative technology to create augmented reality and mixed reality (AR/MR) experiences for escape rooms, team-building exercises, and room-scale puzzles. The startup's goal is to transform the ordinary physical space into a high-quality 4-D experience using holographic content.

  • Esports One, a revolutionary esports company, comprised of esportspedia, one of the largest esports information resources in the world, and providing an advanced computer vision and real-time data analysis platform for esports

  • Hidden Switch, which is developing a digital card battler, Spellsource, whose new gameplay lets you connect with the biggest stars in esports. Based on research at the MIT Media Lab, its mission is to make everybody part of a great player's journey.

  • Minda Labs, which offers virtual reality diversity training to companies that are looking for fresh, research-driven approaches to improving company culture. The startup's game simulations help employees build empathy and communication skills through practice and feedback from peers.

  • RidgeLine, which creates RoVR, the first realistic VR dog simulator that allows players to give tummy rubs to, dress up, and take care of a virtual best canine friend.

  • SavvyStat, specializing in deep learning and predictive tools and dashboards for managing virtual economies and virtual goods.

  • Team Future, which creates Black Hat Cooperative, an award-winning stealth game that pits a player and an ally against robot agents that seek to remove the player from the system.

  • Total Respawn, which creates real-life shooter games for action sports arenas with augmented reality. The startup's product lineup aims to feature experiences from shooting one's way out of a zombie apocalypse to a military-themed "laser tag on steroids."

  • VRemedy, which creates new, empowering locomotion for VR. The MIT startup is focused on mitigating nausea through movement design and training sequences that are specialized to teach motion in the most comfortable manner. Providing development tools alongside a “VR motion acclimation” app will allow developers to provide new levels of immersion for users prone to motion sickness.

  • Wonda VR, which develops intuitive tools to turn 360-degree videos into engaging VR experiences. It provides a simple drag-and-drop interface and a one-click publishing solution that puts the power of experiential storytelling in the hands of every video creator.

The Play Labs @ MIT demo session will be open to investors, members of the MIT community, and the general public. In addition to the physical event, the session, beginning at 6 p.m. on Aug. 15, will be streamed live via playlabs.tv.

Play Labs is an incubator/accelerator at MIT that invests and mentors startups utilizing playful technology in a variety of industries. Play Labs is run by by Bayview Labs and its executive director, Rizwan Virk '92, a Silicon Valley angel investor, advisor, and mentor, in conjunction with the Seraph Group, a seed-stage venture capital investment firm founded by Tuff Yen.

Ludus, the MIT Center for Games, Learning, and Playful Media, coordinates the efforts of MIT labs and research groups exploring games and play with a community of member practitioners. Research groups include the MIT Game Lab; the Education Arcade; the Imagination, Computation, and Expression Laboratory; the Trope Tank; the Creative Communities Initiative; and the Open Documentary Lab.

Categories: In the News

Play Labs announces first class of VR/AR/playful startups and demo session

MIT News - Tue, 06/27/2017 - 11:40

Play Labs @ MIT, a summer accelerator hosted at the MIT Game Lab, has announced the first batch of startups that have been admitted to the program. This first cohort will meet from June to August, and a demonstration session will take place on Aug. 15 at 6 p.m. at MIT in Room 10-250.

The overall focus of the accelerator is on startups that employ “playful tech” in a variety of industries. The first batch of startups was selected with a concentration on virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), as well as online gaming and esports.

The first batch consists of startups spanning a wide breadth of categories, including: VR pets and games (2 startups); VR business applications (2 startups); AR/mixed reality applications and tools (2 startups); VR/VRWeb/360 development tech (3 startups); esports (2 startups); machine vision and deep learning (2 startups); and online games (2 startups).

“We are excited at the quality and breadth of startups that we have in our first batch,” says Rizwan Virk, executive director of Play Labs @ MIT. “Being on campus at MIT gave us access to many innovative entrepreneurs and technologies, and while we had many applicants, the startups we selected in this first class represent the best applications of playful technology. I’m personally inspired to help the next group of MIT startups go on to great success.”

“The inaugural class began with teams of creative, passionate and determined people,” says Tuff Yen, president of Seraph Group and partner at Play Labs @ MIT. “This is history in the making.”

The startups in the first cohort include:

  • Coresights, which provides evidence-based training to improve wellness and enhance resilience. The platform combines virtual and augmented reality technologies with clinical-grade wearables to make training engaging and capture real-time data.

  • Datavized, which brings another dimension to enterprise and big data with 3-D visualization. Combining the immersive power of virtual reality with the seamless delivery of the mobile web, the software enables cross platform collaboration and enhanced decision making.

  • Empathy Box: a company that aims at revolutionizing immersive storytelling. It is the first project by Empathy Box is Myth Machine, a first-person mystery-adventure set in the weird, magical world of tech startups.

  • Escape Labs, which uses innovative technology to create augmented reality and mixed reality (AR/MR) experiences for escape rooms, team-building exercises, and room-scale puzzles. The startup's goal is to transform the ordinary physical space into a high-quality 4-D experience using holographic content.

  • Esports One, a revolutionary esports company, comprised of esportspedia, one of the largest esports information resources in the world, and providing an advanced computer vision and real-time data analysis platform for esports

  • Hidden Switch, which is developing a digital card battler, Spellsource, whose new gameplay lets you connect with the biggest stars in esports. Based on research at the MIT Media Lab, its mission is to make everybody part of a great player's journey.

  • Minda Labs, which offers virtual reality diversity training to companies that are looking for fresh, research-driven approaches to improving company culture. The startup's game simulations help employees build empathy and communication skills through practice and feedback from peers.

  • RidgeLine, which creates RoVR, the first realistic VR dog simulator that allows players to give tummy rubs to, dress up, and take care of a virtual best canine friend.

  • SavvyStat, specializing in deep learning and predictive tools and dashboards for managing virtual economies and virtual goods.

  • Team Future, which creates Black Hat Cooperative, an award-winning stealth game that pits a player and an ally against robot agents that seek to remove the player from the system.

  • Total Respawn, which creates real-life shooter games for action sports arenas with augmented reality. The startup's product lineup aims to feature experiences from shooting one's way out of a zombie apocalypse to a military-themed "laser tag on steroids."

  • VRemedy, which creates new, empowering locomotion for VR. The MIT startup is focused on mitigating nausea through movement design and training sequences that are specialized to teach motion in the most comfortable manner. Providing development tools alongside a “VR motion acclimation” app will allow developers to provide new levels of immersion for users prone to motion sickness.

  • Wonda VR, which develops intuitive tools to turn 360-degree videos into engaging VR experiences. It provides a simple drag-and-drop interface and a one-click publishing solution that puts the power of experiential storytelling in the hands of every video creator.

The Play Labs @ MIT demo session will be open to investors, members of the MIT community, and the general public. In addition to the physical event, the session, beginning at 6 p.m. on Aug. 15, will be streamed live via playlabs.tv.

Play Labs is an incubator/accelerator at MIT that invests and mentors startups utilizing playful technology in a variety of industries. Play Labs is run by by Bayview Labs and its executive director, Rizwan Virk '92, a Silicon Valley angel investor, advisor, and mentor, in conjunction with the Seraph Group, a seed-stage venture capital investment firm founded by Tuff Yen.

Ludus, the MIT Center for Games, Learning, and Playful Media, coordinates the efforts of MIT labs and research groups exploring games and play with a community of member practitioners. Research groups include the MIT Game Lab; the Education Arcade; the Imagination, Computation, and Expression Laboratory; the Trope Tank; the Creative Communities Initiative; and the Open Documentary Lab.

Categories: In the News

Orphaned fawn eludes helpers Monday, hiding out at fenced-off Jerry’s Pond site

Cambridge Day - Tue, 06/27/2017 - 09:25
Animal Control officers will be out today looking for an orphaned fawn at Jerry’s Pond – and it’s crucial they’re the only ones out looking. Too much stress from feeling hunted, even by people just wanting to help, could kill the baby deer rather than helping it.
Categories: In the News

Okamoto, 19, adds council race to demands of Harvard classes, running two nonprofits

Cambridge Day - Tue, 06/27/2017 - 01:52
Although she’s only 19, Nadya Okamoto said, she’s prepared and qualified to run for City Council, exemplifying “a new generation of rising millennials and Gen Z who are passionate about taking action and passionate about things at the grassroots level.”
Categories: In the News

Computer system predicts products of chemical reactions

MIT News - Tue, 06/27/2017 - 00:00

When organic chemists identify a useful chemical compound — a new drug, for instance — it’s up to chemical engineers to determine how to mass-produce it.

There could be 100 different sequences of reactions that yield the same end product. But some of them use cheaper reagents and lower temperatures than others, and perhaps most importantly, some are much easier to run continuously, with technicians occasionally topping up reagents in different reaction chambers.

Historically, determining the most efficient and cost-effective way to produce a given molecule has been as much art as science. But MIT researchers are trying to put this process on a more secure empirical footing, with a computer system that’s trained on thousands of examples of experimental reactions and that learns to predict what a reaction’s major products will be.

The researchers’ work appears in the American Chemical Society’s journal Central Science. Like all machine-learning systems, theirs presents its results in terms of probabilities. In tests, the system was able to predict a reaction’s major product 72 percent of the time; 87 percent of the time, it ranked the major product among its three most likely results.

“There’s clearly a lot understood about reactions today,” says Klavs Jensen, the Warren K. Lewis Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT and one of four senior authors on the paper, “but it's a highly evolved, acquired skill to look at a molecule and decide how you’re going to synthesize it from starting materials.”

With the new work, Jensen says, “the vision is that you’ll be able to walk up to a system and say, ‘I want to make this molecule.’ The software will tell you the route you should make it from, and the machine will make it.”

With a 72 percent chance of identifying a reaction’s chief product, the system is not yet ready to anchor the type of completely automated chemical synthesis that Jensen envisions. But it could help chemical engineers more quickly converge on the best sequence of reactions — and possibly suggest sequences that they might not otherwise have investigated.

Jensen is joined on the paper by first author Connor Coley, a graduate student in chemical engineering; William Green, the Hoyt C. Hottel Professor of Chemical Engineering, who, with Jensen, co-advises Coley; Regina Barzilay, the Delta Electronics Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; and Tommi Jaakkola, the Thomas Siebel Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Acting locally

A single organic molecule can consist of dozens and even hundreds of atoms. But a reaction between two such molecules might involve only two or three atoms, which break their existing chemical bonds and form new ones. Thousands of reactions between hundreds of different reagents will often boil down to a single, shared reaction between the same pair of “reaction sites.”

A large organic molecule, however, might have multiple reaction sites, and when it meets another large organic molecule, only one of the several possible reactions between them will actually take place. This is what makes automatic reaction-prediction so tricky.

In the past, chemists have built computer models that characterize reactions in terms of interactions at reaction sites. But they frequently require the enumeration of exceptions, which have to be researched independently and coded by hand. The model might declare, for instance, that if molecule A has reaction site X, and molecule B has reaction site Y, then X and Y will react to form group Z — unless molecule A also has reaction sites P, Q, R, S, T, U, or V.

It’s not uncommon for a single model to require more than a dozen enumerated exceptions. And discovering these exceptions in the scientific literature and adding them to the models is a laborious task, which has limited the models’ utility.

One of the chief goals of the MIT researchers’ new system is to circumvent this arduous process. Coley and his co-authors began with 15,000 empirically observed reactions reported in U.S. patent filings. However, because the machine-learning system had to learn what reactions wouldn’t occur, as well as those that would, examples of successful reactions weren’t enough.

Negative examples

So for every pair of molecules in one of the listed reactions, Coley also generated a battery of additional possible products, based on the molecules’ reaction sites. He then fed descriptions of reactions, together with his artificially expanded lists of possible products, to an artificial intelligence system known as a neural network, which was tasked with ranking the possible products in order of likelihood.

From this training, the network essentially learned a hierarchy of reactions — which interactions at what reaction sites tend to take precedence over which others — without the laborious human annotation.

Other characteristics of a molecule can affect its reactivity. The atoms at a given reaction site may, for instance, have different charge distributions, depending on what other atoms are around them. And the physical shape of a molecule can render a reaction site difficult to access. So the MIT researchers’ model also includes numerical measures of both these features.

According to Richard Robinson, a chemical-technologies researcher at the drug company Novartis, the MIT researchers’ system “offers a different approach to machine learning within the field of targeted synthesis, which in the future could transform the practice of experimental design to targeted molecules.”

“Currently we rely heavily on our own retrosynthetic training, which is aligned with our own personal experiences and augmented with reaction-database search engines,” Robinson says. “This serves us well but often still results in a significant failure rate. Even highly experienced chemists are often surprised. If you were to add up all the cumulative synthesis failures as an industry, this would likely relate to a significant time and cost investment. What if we could improve our success rate?”

The MIT researchers, Robinson says, “have cleverly demonstrated a novel approach to achieve higher predictive reaction performance over conventional approaches. By augmenting the reported literature with negative reaction examples, the data set has more value.”

Categories: In the News

Q&A: Running a company in an era of “crazy technological progress”

MIT News - Tue, 06/27/2017 - 00:00

How do ongoing advances in technology affect business management? That’s the question the prolific writing duo of Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee pose in their new book, “Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing our Digital Future,” being published on June 27 by W.W. Norton. Brynjolfsson, the Schussel Family Professor of Management Science at the MIT Sloan School of Management and director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, and McAfee, co-director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy and a principal research scientist at MIT Sloan, also collaborated in 2014 on “The Second Machine Age,” another exploration of the changes digital innovation is bringing to the workplace. McAfee recently talked to MIT News about “Machine, Platform, Crowd.”

Q: What is your new book about?

A: “Machine, Platform, Crowd” is the answer to a question: How should I think differently about running my organization in this era of crazy technological progress? We need to rethink the balance between the work that we ask human minds to do in organizations, and the work we give to machines. We need to rethink whether you have a product orientation or a platform orientation. And we need to rethink the core of an organization, if there are literally these hundreds of millions of strangers out there across the internet who you can tap into.

Q: What’s different now compared to past moments of technological change?

A: Within the past five years, 10 years easily, at least two really fundamental things have happened. First of all, artifical intelligence started meeting its expectations and even exceeding them. We weren’t expecting that, and it’s pretty remarkable. The machines are much more capable. The second thing is, in the era of the smartphone, we have gone from a globe that was pretty disconnected, to having that same human population for the first time deeply interconnected through powerful devices, which are each about as powerful as all the computers collectively on campus when I was an undergraduate at MIT in the ’80s. Those are both legitimately new things.

Q: I know you’ve mentioned the rise of machines that can win at the game of Go as one instance of these advances. What are some of your favorite examples of machines, platforms, and crowds at work now?

A: Go is my favorite example of the power of machines, because it was so unanticipated that we would have a digital Go champion in 2016 or 2017. The insiders thought if that ever happened it would happen much, much farther out in the future.

In our section on products and platforms, we talk about companies like ClassPass, which is trying to build a purely digital platform; they don’t own any assets, but they’re trying to provide a virtual, very broad gym membership, or exercise membership [by offering rates for an array of memberships]. So they’re putting a platform over the industry of spinning, yoga, pilates, kickboxing, things like that. And if you had asked me just a little while ago for an industry that would not be greatly affected by the digital transformation, I might have said group exercise: You get in the gym with other people and sweat and have a workout. But after working on the book, I think that the exercise industry is going to be changed a lot by platforms.

Finally, we came across a very interesting company called Quantopia that is trying to be essentially a crowdsourced quantitative trading hedge fund. That may sound ludicrous, except, as the founder of the company has said, it is extremely unlikely that all the world’s top algorithmic traders are employed by the [relative] handful of companies that have dominated this industry. So to test that theory, they’ve been holding contests for algorithmic trading. It turns out, lo and behold, most of the people who win those contests are not insiders in the finance industry and have never even worked in finance. It tells me that if you can tap into the crowd and find the right brains, all over the world, and get them involved in what you’re doing, the results are potentially tremendous.

Q: What’s the reaction to these ideas when you give talks about them?

A: The reception to these ideas is all over the map. It goes from outright skepticism to something a little more subtle, which is, “This is great and interesting, but it doesn’t apply to me.” I’ve come across a lot of that.

Q: Do you get pushback about your interpretation of the pace of innovation itself?

A: Yeah, it’s super-interesting. Inside the academic community and among economists there is a huge debate about how much innovation we’re actually seeing. The skeptics say, “Where is the productivity growth, if there’s so much innovation going on?” Or they say, “We had amazing periods of innovation in the past. Are we sure this one measures up?” And those are important debates to have. But in every other community I try to be part of, and that includes investors, policymakers, entrepreneurs, and executives in mainstream incumbent companies, I don’t hear any of that debate, or very little. What I hear instead is: “There’s a lot coming at us, and we need to get on top of it and make it work for us.”

When people say there’s nothing new under the sun, I find that really valuable, because if all you do is talk to technologists, you just get caught up in the hype. It’s almost inevitable. So I really value those discussions. But when I talk to almost anybody else, it’s something close to a foregone conclusion that we’re living in this remarkable era, and I happen to believe that as well. Not only can we sequence the genome, we can edit it with precision. If that’s not a big deal, then I don’t [know what is]. We only mention CRISPR briefly in the book, but the period that we’re in is one to me of monumental progress and innovation.

Categories: In the News

Is the Pax Americana truly peaceful?

MIT News - Tue, 06/27/2017 - 00:00

As series of widely-publicized statistics compiled by scholars suggests, warfare and violence have declined dramatically over the last seven decades — constituting a period that historian John Gaddis once termed “the long peace.” Rarely, it seems, have most people been able to live lives of such normalcy. Who would argue with the state of affairs that has produced such results?

John Dower would, for one.

Dower is the Ford International Professor of History, Emeritus, and has won the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award as part of a career spent writing about topics such as the extreme brutality of World War II combat and the reconstruction of postwar Japan. Today, when he looks at matters of war and security, Dower is skeptical that we have made much progress since then.

“We’re in a perpetual cycle of violence in the name of preventing violence,” Dower says.

Now in Dower’s latest book, “The Violent American Century,” published this spring by Haymarket Books, he questions the foundation of the entire postwar order. As Dower sees it, there may be less warfare today, but our apparent U.S.-led calm is heavily based on a hyperactive militarism. And the vast superiority of American armed forces creates an inherent volatility, Dower thinks, because the U.S. expects to bend international affairs to its will, by virtue of sheer strength.

As such, Dower contends, the U.S. has mistakenly pursued an open-ended “war on terror,” supported too many proxy wars, and risked nuclear annihilation. Our postwar era of relative peace thus hinges in part on good fortune — in avoiding some accidental triggers of nuclear war, for instance — and may be more short-lived than some of us assume.

“The sense that we must always have a dominant military posture means we must always be pushing the frontiers of military technology,” Dower observes. “But that means we are always pushing the edge of greater and greater destructiveness.”

New kinds of war

Dower’s book is a reference to the famous phrase used by TIME magazine founder Henry Luce, who wrote in a 1941 anti-isolationism essay that we were living in “The American Century.”

Dower does acknowledge that, by the basic numbers — compiled by many scholars and research groups such as the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, at Uppsala University in Sweden — we have been safer over the last 70-plus years. On the other hand, Dower adds, the end of World War II would make almost any security regime seem tranquil by contrast. At least 50 million people were killed in World War II, by most estimates; The Correlates of War Project, an academic research inquiry, estimates that over 2 million battle deaths have occurred in almost every decade since then.

“If you go back to World War II, when anywhere between 50 million to 80 million people were killed, of course we're not killing those numbers [of people] now,” says Dower, who also suggests such estimates are inherently imprecise.

The core of Dower’s critique concerns three types of U.S. military activity: proxy wars, the “war on terror,” and the buildup of its nuclear arsenal. In each case, Dower contends, U.S. activity has not simply had deterrent effects; it has also escalated violence or, in the case of the nuclear arms race, the potential consequences of warfare.

In the case of the Cold War-era proxy wars the U.S. led or backed, Dower contends in the book that those campaigns led to “unrestrained devastation” and the “unleashing of massive brute force” that we may still downplay. As he points out, during the Vietnam War, between 1965 and 1973, the U.S. dropped about 40 times the tonnage of bombs on Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos than it dropped on Japan in World War II.

The U.S. decision to respond to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Dower thinks, led to a wide-ranging “war on terror” that constitutes a “new kind of war” that has proven to be hydra-headed and has underestimated the political and military resistance in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East.

“When we went into Iraq, with the ‘cakewalk’ rhetoric, with that came a real hubris and failure to look at human nature,” Dower says.

Meanwhile the development of nuclear arsenals, Dower observes, is potentially more lethal than anything else people have ever attempted. In the book, he notes both nuclear near-misses and the tendency of some military planners to regard nuclear weapons as “simply the high end of conventional weaponry” when they clearly are in a category by themselves.

“The nuclear arms race is terrifying,” Dower says. “It's a kind of terror, but built into that postwar system.”

All of this, Dower argues, should give people pause about an international edifice that rests so squarely on militarism. But, as he writes in the book, “The myth of exceptionalism still holds most Americans in its thrall.”

Personally pessimistic

To be sure, there are other perspectives on the post-World War II order that give more relative credit to the U.S., and especially its application of “soft power,” the web of diplomatic and economic relationships that help bind other countries in largely peaceful international relationships.

Still other scholarship emphasizes the role of the U.N., the European Union, NATO, and other oragnizations, in reducing intra-European warfare.

However, numerous prominent scholars find Dower’s new contribution to be valuable. Andrew Bacevich, a professor emeritus of international relations and history at Boston University and a leading commentator on American security strategy, calls Dower’s new book a “timely, compact, and utterly compelling exposé of the myriad contradictions besetting U.S. national security policy.”

Dower says his own experiences as a citizen have forged an intellectual habit of not giving his own country, however much he admires it in general, a free pass on security policy.

“I'm of the generation that was a young adult during the Vietnam war,” Dower explains. “The fire of those years burned a certain impression and way of thinking upon us, and that has influenced me in thinking about violence.”

That legacy, as well as the multitude of U.S. military engagements at the moment, Dower adds, leaves him skeptical that a new security paradigm will emerge any time soon.

“I’m very pessimistic at the moment,” Dower concludes.

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