Tech Review Top Stories
By asking that simple question for more than five decades, Institute Professor Millie Dresselhaus has pioneered nanoscience, launched a new field of energy research, and helped women find their place at MIT.
Mildred Dresselhaus was summoned to the Oval Office last May for what was to have been a five-minute audience with the president. But after Obama congratulated her and a fellow physicist for winning the Enrico Fermi prize, which is awarded for outstanding contributions to energy science, they got talking about global warming and the importance of basic science. Before they knew it, a half-hour had sped by. "He let his whole schedule go to pot," she says. In September, she traveled to Oslo to dine with Norway’s King Harald and receive the $1 million Kavli Prize in nanoscience.
The designers of the Pebble watch realized that a mobile phone is more useful if you don’t have to take it out of your pocket.
Eric Migicovsky didn’t really want a “wearable computer.” When he first conceived of what would become the Pebble smart watch five years ago, as an industrial-design student at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, he just wanted a way to use his smartphone without crashing his bicycle. “I thought of creating a watch that could grab information from my phone,” the 26-year-old Canadian says. “I ended up building a prototype in my dorm room.”
Thirty-four million people in the world are infected with HIV. Only eight million have access to life-saving drugs, and there’s no effective vaccine. Researchers at the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT, and Harvard won’t rest until they find one.
On a May afternoon in 2008, Bruce Walker and Terry Ragon ‘71 paid a recruiting visit to MIT. Walker is a Harvard Medical School physician who has studied HIV for three decades; Ragon, the founder and CEO of a software company called InterSystems, was about to bankroll a new $100 million research institute to develop HIV vaccines, with Walker at its head.
Linguists think human language melds birdsong, animal communication
"The sounds uttered by birds offer in several respects the nearest analogy to language," Charles Darwin wrote in The Descent of Man (1871). Now MIT researchers say Darwin was on the right path: the balance of evidence suggests that human language draws on both the elaborate songs of birds and the more utilitarian expression seen in other animals. "It’s this adventitious combination that triggered human language," says linguistics professor Shigeru Miyagawa, coauthor of the team’s paper in Frontiers in Psychology.
Goldwasser and Micali revolutionized cryptography
On June 15, EECS professor Shafi Goldwasser and engineering professor Silvio Micali will receive the A. M. Turing Award for their pioneering work in cryptography and complexity theory. The two developed new mechanisms for encrypting and securing information, which are widely applicable today in communication protocols, Internet transactions, and cloud computing. They also made fundamental advances in the theory of computational complexity, which focuses on classifying computational problems according to their inherent difficulty.
New ceramics can take a beating and still shed water
Durable surfaces that can shed water could be useful in a variety of areas, including energy, water, transportation, construction, and medicine. The condensation of water is a crucial part of many industrial processes; most electric power plants and desalination plants, for example, have condensers.
New technique for solving “graph Laplacians” makes it easier to tackle a wide array of practical problems
In computer science, a huge range of problems can be represented as "graphs"—mathematical abstractions consisting of nodes, depicted as circles, connected by edges, depicted as line segments. The nodes can represent almost anything—routers in a communication network, airline flights, movie titles.
Some cancer cell mutations can slow or halt tumor growth
A typical cancer cell has hundreds of mutated genes, but only a handful, known as drivers, are responsible for cancerous traits such as uncontrolled growth. Biologists have largely ignored the other mutations, believing they had little or no impact on cancer progression.
The professor who tapped into a doomsday scenario to teach advanced space systems engineering
Paul Sandorff ’39 did not look like a harbinger of doom. A wiry Lockheed Martin employee with short-cropped hair and an affinity for meteoroids, he had been teaching at the Institute for nearly 15 years in February 1967, when he asked his students to prevent the world from being destroyed on June 14, 1968.
Does Upstart turn investing into a popularity contest?
In my years reporting on startups, I’ve often encountered stories of venture capitalists who’ve invested in a person, rather than a person’s idea. Hustle, an entrepreneurial spirit, a solid education, resolve, sheer likeability–often, these are qualities that seem to matter as much to investors as anything else.
Nest adds “energy services” with utilities to shift heavy air conditioning loads and tune home efficiency.
“Demand response” is not something most people outside the utility industry know about, never mind pay much attention to. Then again, most people didn’t give much thought to thermostats before Nest Labs made one.
To make real progress in cleaning the air, we need better technology.
As people around the world celebrate Earth Day and call attention to the need to take care of natural resources, it’s not a bad time to note that the use of coal–one of the dirtiest fuels–is going up around the world in spite of the growth of renewable energy and in spite of efforts by environmentalists to decrease its use (see “The Enduring Technology of Coal” and “Renewables Can’t Keep Up with the Growth in Coal Use Worldwide”). That’s because coal is a cheap and abundant source of power that’s been key to a surge in prosperity in the last few decades.
The first flood of photos taken using Google’s wearable computer are underwhelming.
If you want to know what people with early access to Google’s wearable computer Glass are doing, take a look at the public feed on Google+, the company’s social network. Photos and videos taken with the device, most of them unexciting, are flooding the service under the tag #throughglass. A couple of Google+ users even complained about the sudden rush of activity last week, calling it “spam.”
Everyone who uses e-mail sometimes wonders how well the transmitted information is protected from prying eyes. Indeed, a message to be transferred travels a long way between different computers and mobile devices before it reaches a recipient; the intentions of these devices’ owners are unknown. Besides, each device in the chain can run malware that stores transmitted messages. Another problem is that a mail recipient may not always use the information received in the way it is meant to be used.
A startup called Catabasis is developing drugs that hit diseases at multiple targets.
Sometimes a whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The startup Catabasis Pharmaceuticals is hoping that will hold true for the multifunctional drugs it’s developing.