Category Archives: Student accomplishments

April 25, 2016

Grad students develop method for early detection of Leukemia

A unique pitch competition hosted by the MIT Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research on Friday awarded a team of researchers $300,000 to further develop — and potentially commercialize — a diagnostic platform that promises to catch leukemic cells in blood tests at very early stages of the disease. The “Shark Tank”-style competition, dubbed “Mission: Possible,” called upon Koch Institute researchers to develop innovations that aid in the prevention and early detection of cancer, for a shot at a one-year $300,000 research grant. Teams of professors, students, and postdocs submitted ideas in January.

Winning team IllumiRNA pitched an idea for a diagnostic platform that profiles individual cells in blood tests, to identify single leukemic cells among a sea of normal cells — like finding a needle in a haystack. “Ultimately, cancer is a disease of single cells gone awry, so we have to meet it at a single-cell level,” said team member Salil Garg, a postdoc in the lab of Institute Professor Phillip Sharp, who was also part of the team.

The other IllumiRNA team members were: Andrew Bader, a PhD student in the Langer and Anderson labs; Anthony Chiu, a PhD student in the Sharp lab; Courtney JnBaptiste, a PhD student in the Sharp lab; Vikash Chauhan, a postdoc in the Langer and Sharp labs and Suman Bose, a postdoc fellow in the labs of David H. Koch (1962) Institute Professor Robert Langer and chemical engineering professor Dan Anderson, who were both part of the team.

April 22, 2016

Katzschmann helps make first-ever 3-D printed solid and liquid robots

One reason we don’t yet have robot personal assistants buzzing around doing our chores is because making them is hard. Assembling robots by hand is time-consuming, while automation — robots building other robots — is not yet fine-tuned enough to make robots that can do complex tasks. But if humans and robots can’t do the trick, what about 3-D printers? In a new paper, researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory(CSAIL) present the first-ever technique for 3-D printing robots that involves printing solid and liquid materials at the same time.

The paper, which was recently accepted to this summer’s IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), was co-written by MIT postdoc Robert MacCurdy and PhD candidate Robert Katzschmann, as well as Harvard University undergraduate Youbin Kim. Read more at MIT News…

April 19, 2016

Grad students honored with Lemelson-MIT prize

The prize of up to $15,000 apiece honors undergraduate and graduate students’ inventions in health care, transportation, food and agriculture, and consumer devices. The competition awarded a total of $90,000 to the makers of seven inventions. Inventors from 77 universities entered the competition, and MIT students placed in all but one category.

MIT PhD candidate, Achuta Kadambi, invented two camera systems that won in the “Use It!” category for inventions to improve consumer devices. His first invention uses inexpensive optics paired with complex algorithms to track light as it moves through space. PhD candidate Dan Dorsch invented an automatic transmission that shifts gears using two electric motors instead of the traditional clutch- optimal for high-performance hybrid vehicles. Read more at the Boston Globe…

March 15, 2016

Sydney Do: Getting Real on Mars

NASA wants you to know that it’s only a matter of months before you can wake up in a Martian habitat, grab some breakfast, jump into your spacesuit, and head out for a stroll across the Red Planet’s surface. Granted, the experience will be virtual, but it promises be the most realistic vision of human Mars habitation that a team comprising NASA engineers, a digital media developer, and MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics doctoral candidate Sydney Do can generate.

“Mars 2030” is a multiplatform virtual reality (VR) product that features a Mars surface expedition based on actual NASA concepts. To create as authentic an experience as possible, VR developer FUSION partnered with NASA in creating the narrative, user interface, and 3-D assets. Read more.

March 10, 2016

Graduate Student Gallery Talks at MIT List Center‏, Mar. 11 & 24 Apr. 1 & 7

The MIT List Visual Arts Center invites you to enjoy a season of Graduate Student Gallery Talks presented in conjunction with the exhibition Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige: I Must First Apologize…  Join us for one (or more!) to get a fresh perspective on the exhibition through the lens of grad students’ research, experiences, and interests:

March 11 at 12:30 PM: Christianna Bonin (RSVP)
March 24 at 6 PM: 
Sarah Rifky (RSVP)
April 1 at 12:30 PM: 
Abdullah Almaatouq (RSVP)
April 7 at 6 PM: 
Amah Edoh (RSVP)

For more events + programs at the List, visit our website

February 26, 2016

Nushelle de Silva named Queen’s Young Leader

Nushelle de Silva, first-year PhD student at MIT in History, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture and Art was named a Queen’s Young Leader for Sri Lanka. The Queen’s Young Leader Award recognizes and celebrates exceptional people aged 18-29 from across the Commonwealth, who are taking the lead in their communities and using their skills to transform lives. Winners of this prestigious Award will receive a unique package of training, mentoring and networking, including a one-week residential programme in the UK during which they will collect their Award from Her Majesty The Queen. With this support, Award winners will be expected to continue and develop the amazing work they are already doing in their communities. If you are from a Commonwealth nation and have been contributing to the progress of that nation in any capacity, consider applying for the award.

February 10, 2016

Lu: Switchable material could enable new memory chips

Two MIT researchers have developed a thin-film material whose phase and electrical properties can be switched between metallic and semiconducting simply by applying a small voltage. The material then stays in its new configuration until switched back by another voltage. The discovery could pave the way for a new kind of “nonvolatile” computer memory chip that retains information when the power is switched off, and for energy conversion and catalytic applications.

The findings, reported in the journal Nano Letters in a paper by MIT materials science graduate student Qiyang Lu and associate professor Bilge Yildiz, involve a thin-film material called a strontium cobaltite, or SrCoOx. Usually, Yildiz says, the structural phase of a material is controlled by its composition, temperature, and pressure. “Here for the first time,” she says, “we demonstrate that electrical bias can induce a phase transition in the material. And in fact we achieved this by changing the oxygen content in SrCoOx.” Read more

February 9, 2016

Feast: Watch your tone

Customer service calls can be frustrating for consumers and agents alike. But MIT spinout Cogito believes it can use behavioral analytics to make those experiences less onerous. Cogito has developed voice-analytics software for call centers — refined through years of research that focused on human behavior — that tracks, in real-time, voice patterns of customers and agents, and offers feedback to make the conversations more productive. By doing so, Cogito also aims to make millions of call center workers happier and more productive. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 5 million of 146 million workers in the U.S. are employed in call centers. That’s roughly one out of every 25 Americans.

Cogito recently secured funding in November to develop technology for customer-service applications. The company also continues its history of using the technology to monitor mental health. In December, Cogito partnered with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to detect signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms in returning soldiers. For this and other mental-health applications, the company created a mobile app to passively monitor smartphone sensors to detect behavioral information from voice recordings and texting, while prompting participants to fill out surveys about their mental health. Analyzing this data can reveal behavioral patterns, such as withdrawal or lethargy, that assessed indicated a user’s mental health. If symptoms are detected, “we will develop feedback mechanisms so that organizations, that care for [these] populations, and individuals and care teams that care for [these] populations can get ahead of risks,” says co-founder and CEO Joshua Feast, MBA ’07. Read more

February 8, 2016

Cho: Your car’s secret weapon against winter?

Most of the advantages of electric cars are about efficiency. But in the winter, it’s the very inefficiency of your petrol-powered engine block that keeps your keister from freezing, since waste heat from the combustion process is what makes it through your heating system. On a January morning, your electric vehicle has to divert battery-stored energy through heating elements to keep you warm, and that’s power that isn’t driving the wheels. By some estimates, keeping your EV toasty warm can cut its range by 30 percent.

But some scientists are figuring solution to this problem. A trio at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which includes graduate student Eugene Cho, has developed a thin, transparent film that can store solar energy when the sun is shining, and release it as heat on command. That means that you can use this afternoon’s sunshine to defrost tomorrow morning’s windscreen. Read more

February 5, 2016

Rosenzweig: Insights on citizen participation in authoritarian countries

Nigeria is one of just three countries where polio remains endemic, in part because many families there don’t comply with government vaccination programs. In a quest to find out why, Leah Rosenzweig, an MIT Political Science doctoral candidate, undertook a research project, expecting to find that distrust of government was the root cause. But Rosenzweig was surprised to discover a very different explanation. “Using qualitative and quantitative data, my coauthors and I found that distrust of government was not a significant variable,” she explains. “Most people actually know that the polio vaccination is good for them. But when the state and international organizations arrive at citizens’ doorsteps to vaccinate kids, citizens realize it’s a rare opportunity for them to bargain with the state. In this way they can make their voices heard about basic health care, malaria drugs, and other public services that they really need. We think this bargaining motive explains a lot of the non-compliance.”

In other words, declining a vaccination turned out to be a form of political participation — a way for communities to convey their opinions and desires to their leaders. “The question of participation is very interesting,” says Rosenzweig. “We often think of political participation very narrowly — voting, campaigning, basically electoral behavior. But in some contexts, particularly in the developing world, participation is often practiced outside of electoral cycles and systems, especially in authoritarian and transitional countries.” Read more

February 4, 2016

Dalca: A million photos of the Boston skyline

Five years ago, MIT graduate student Adrian Dalca had an apartment with a nice view, a camera, and an idea: What if I took some photos of the skyline? So he did. Many, many times. Dalca has accrued more than one million photos of the Boston skyline and the Charles River, all taken from his 22nd floor apartment in Cambridge with GoPros and SLR cameras, sometimes by hand, sometimes after he set the cameras up to take photos continually throughout the day. He has dubbed the photo series The Boston Timescapes Project.

What’s a guy to do with a million photos of the same view? To start, Dalca put together time-lapse videos that animate both short-term happenings (like a cool thunderstorm) and longer ones (like the breakdown of the ice on the Charles last spring.) Dalca’s cameras have also snapped still shots of big events, such as fireworks on the river, the smoke cloud from a forest fire in Blue Hills, and a double rainbow. “If there’s an event that you can point to, it’s likely I have a shot of it,” Dalca said. Read more

February 3, 2016

Simaiakis: Cutting down runway queues

Most frequent fliers are familiar with long lines at airports: at the check-in counter, the departure gate, and in boarding a booked flight. But even after passengers are buckled in, the waiting may continue — when a plane leaves the gate, only to sit on the tarmac, joining a long queue of flights awaiting takeoff. Such runway congestion can keep a plane idling for an hour or more, burning unnecessary fuel. Now engineers at MIT have developed a queuing model that predicts how long a plane will wait before takeoff, given weather conditions, runway traffic, and incoming and outgoing flight schedules. The model may help air traffic controllers direct departures more efficiently, minimizing runway congestion.

Hamsa Balakrishnan, an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics and engineering systems and an affiliate of the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society at MIT, says that in tests at various U.S. airports, the model encouraged controllers to hold flights back during certain times of day, leading to significant fuel savings. “In our field tests, we showed that there were some periods of time when you could decrease your taxi time by 20 percent by holding aircraft back,” Balakrishnan says. “Each gate-held aircraft saves 16 to 20 gallons of fuel, because it’s not idling. And that adds up.” Balakrishnan and former graduate student Ioannis Simaiakis have published their results in the journal Transportation Science. The team is working on airports across the country to further test the model. Read more

February 2, 2016

Zimanyi, Chen, and Kang: One enzyme maintains a cell’s pool of DNA building blocks

Cell survival depends on having a plentiful and balanced pool of the four chemical building blocks that make up DNA — the deoxyribonucleosides deoxyadenosine, deoxyguanosine, deoxycytidine, and thymidine, often abbreviated as A, G, C, and T. However, if too many of these components pile up, or if their usual ratio is disrupted, that can be deadly for the cell. A new study from MIT chemists sheds light on a longstanding puzzle: how a single enzyme known as ribonucleotide reductase (RNR) generates all four of these building blocks and maintains the correct balance among them. The paper’s lead author is former MIT graduate student Christina Zimanyi. Other authors are graduate students Percival Yang-Ting Chen and Gyunghoon Kang, and former graduate student Michael Funk.

Unlike RNR, most enzymes specialize in converting just one type of molecule to another, says Catherine Drennan, a professor of chemistry and biology at MIT. “Ribonucleotide reductase is very unusual. I’ve been fascinated with this question of how it actually works and how this enzyme’s active site can be molded into four different shapes.” Drennan and colleagues report in the journal eLife that RNR’s interactions with its downstream products via a special effector site causes the enzyme to change its shape, determining which of the four DNA building blocks it will generate. While many other enzymes are controlled by effectors, this type of regulation usually turns enzyme activity up or down. “I can’t think of any other examples of effector binding changing what the substrate is. This is just very unusual,” Drennan says. Read more

January 27, 2016

Kim and Choi: Harnessing the energy of small bending motions

For many applications such as biomedical, mechanical, or environmental monitoring devices, harnessing the energy of small motions could provide a small but virtually unlimited power supply. While a number of approaches have been attempted, researchers at MIT have now developed a completely new method based on electrochemical principles, which could be capable of harvesting energy from a broader range of natural motions and activities, including walking. The new system, based on the slight bending of a sandwich of metal and polymer sheets, is described in the journal Nature Communications, in a paper by MIT professor Ju Li, graduate students Sangtae Kim and Soon Ju Choi, and four others.

Most previously designed devices for harnessing small motions have been based on the triboelectric effect (essentially friction, like rubbing a balloon against a wool sweater) or piezoelectrics (crystals that produce a small voltage when bent or compressed). These work well for high-frequency sources of motion such as those produced by the vibrations of machinery. But for typical human-scale motions such as walking or exercising, such systems have limits. Read more

January 20, 2016

Student-built instrument headed to asteroid and back

Who can say they’ve been to an asteroid and back? In 2023, more than 50 MIT students (including several graduate students) may claim this feat, at least through the activities of a small, shoebox-sized instrument named REXIS (Regolith X-ray Imaging Spectrometer). The instrument, which was designed and built by students from MIT and Harvard University, will be one of five instruments flying aboard NASA’s OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer), the first U.S. mission to retrieve and return an asteroid sample to Earth. This week, NASA announced that REXIS was successfully integrated onboard the spacecraft, bringing the mission one step closer to its scheduled launch next September.

Once in orbit, OSIRIS-REx will set course for Bennu, a small, near-Earth asteroid that may harbor material from the early solar system. The spacecraft is expected to reach Bennu sometime in 2018, when it will survey the space rock for the next year and take a small, 60-gram sample of surface soil before heading back to Earth by 2023. During the spacecraft’s survey phase, REXIS will observe the interaction of solar X-rays with the asteroid’s soil, or regolith, to determine the types of elements present on Bennu’s surface. Read more

January 18, 2016

Chhabra featured in Forbes 30 under 30

Arnav Chhabra, a PhD candidate at Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology (HST), has been featured in this year’s issue of Forbes 30 under 30. At the age of 24, Chhabra has already accumulated an impressive track record of research accomplishments. He published his first paper while still in high school, and his current thesis work is focused on constructing a “liver on a chip”, a proposed replacement for animal livers currently used in disease research. Read more

January 15, 2016

Sun and Orcutt: Building optoelectronic microprocessors

Using only processes found in existing microchip fabrication facilities, researchers at MIT, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Colorado have produced a working optoelectronic microprocessor, which computes electronically but uses light to move information. Two of the first four co-authors of the work are MIT graduate students Chen Sun and Jason Orcutt, who has since joined IBM’s T. J. Watson Research Center.

Optical communication could dramatically reduce chips’ power consumption, which is not only desirable in its own right but essential to maintaining the steady increases in computing power that we’ve come to expect. Demonstrating that optical chips can be built with no alteration to existing semiconductor manufacturing processes should make optical communication more attractive to the computer industry. But it also makes an already daunting engineering challenge even more difficult. Read more

January 11, 2016

Mayo: MIT team tackles the future of transportation

A team of MIT engineers, led by MIT graduate student John Mayo, is developing what they hope will be a key part of the future of transportation. “Hyperloop has the ability to have a good impact on the environment, the speed of transportation and just advance physical transportation in general,” said Mayo, who is the project manager of MIT’s Hyperloop design team. “That’s why we go to school, that’s what we do is help improve, and do challenges and solve problems.”

The Hyperloop would be a system of near-vacuum tubes that sends levitating pods from one place to another at 760 miles per hour. That means passengers or cargo could make the trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles in half an hour. The Hyperloop is designed to run on solar power, and be an alternative to driving or flying short distances. Although it is far from something ripped out of an optimistic science fiction movie, designing the Hyperloop is hardly simple. Read more

January 6, 2016

Twenty-five from MIT named to 2016 Forbes 30 Under 30 lists

According to Forbes magazine, their fifth annual 30 Under 30 lists showcase “America’s most important young entrepreneurs, creative leaders and brightest stars” who are less than than 30 years old. Some 600 selections covering 20 categories were whittled down from an initial screening of more than 15,000 nominations. Twenty-five MIT students, researchers, and alumni made the 2016 lists. Read more

December 7, 2015

aquafresco washing machine

3 Grad students invent washing machine that recycles its own water

Earlier this year, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology hosted the inaugural MIT Water Innovation Prize, inviting attendees from around the world to pitch their water-conservation device or business to a panel of judges for a chance to win grants totaling $30,000. One of three big winners for the night was a new washing-machine filter that seeks to recycle 95 percent of laundry wastewater. AquaFresco was created by the MIT doctoral candidates Sasha Huang, Alina Rwei, and Chris Lai, who study materials science and engineering. When a sustainability competition opened up in their department, the trio made the prototype for what would become AquaFresco. In the process, they became de facto experts on the water consumption associated with laundry.  Read more

November 25, 2015

Kaspar: Automatically converting 2-D video to 3-D

Alexandre Kaspar, an MIT graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science joined Professor Matusik, an associate professor at MIT in EECS and others, in exploiting the graphics-rendering software that powers sports video games. They have developed a system that automatically converts 2-D video of soccer games into 3-D. The converted video can be played back over any 3-D device — a commercial 3-D TV, Google’s new Cardboard system, which turns smartphones into 3-D displays, or special-purpose displays such as Oculus Rift. The researchers presented the new system last week at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Multimedia conference.

November 17, 2015

mit csail bylinskii eye research visualizations

Bylinskii: Eye-tracking research makes better visualizations

Spend 10 minutes on social media, and you’ll learn that people love infographics. But why, exactly, do we gravitate towards articles with titles like “24 Diagrams to Help You Eat Healthier” and “All You Need To Know About Beer In One Chart”? Do they actually serve their purpose of not only being memorable, but actually helping us comprehend and retain information?Researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and Harvard University are on the case.

In a new study that analyzes people’s eye-movements and text responses as they look at charts, graphs, and infographics, researchers have been able to determine which aspects of visualizations make them memorable, understandable, and informative — and reveal how to make sure your own graphics really pop.

Presenting a paper last week at the proceedings for the IEEE Information Visualization Conference (InfoViz) in Chicago, the team members say that their findings can provide better design principles for communications in industries such as marketing, business, and education, as well as teach us more about how human memory, attention, and comprehension work.

“By integrating multiple methods, including eye-tracking, text recall, and memory tests, we were able to develop what is, to our knowledge, the largest and most comprehensive user study to date on visualizations,” says CSAIL PhD student Zoya Bylinskii, first-author on the paper alongside Michelle Borkin, a former doctoral student at Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) who is now an assistant professor at Northeastern University. Read more

November 6, 2015

abe weintraub dna

Weintraub: Mapping the 3-D structure of DNA

For graduate student Abe Weintraub, the magic and intrigue of DNA is all in the packaging. Imagine trying to fit 24 miles of string into a tennis ball, the PhD student in biology says: That is, in essence, what it’s like inside every cell nucleus in the human body, each of which contains about 2 meters’ worth of DNA strands. But, as Weintraub is finding, this packaging sometimes goes awry, which may be the basis for disease.

Although the genetic code that resides in DNA has traditionally been thought of as linear, Weintraub is contributing to a body of knowledge about its 3-D organization. Two genes that may exist far apart when a strand is stretched out straight could actually be right next to each other when the strand is folded inside a cell nucleus — and the same applies to regulatory elements, which tell genes to turn on or off.

Looking at DNA as a 3-D phenomenon may yield insights about how certain genes get turned on or off, and thus how cells differentiate — in other words, DNA’s 3-D structure might actually be what’s behind one cell becoming a skin cell, while another becomes a lung cell. Weintraub has now been part of the lab of Richard Young, a professor of biology, for one and a half years; his research began in figuring out how DNA gets folded up the way it does, and has more recently shifted to the consequences of improper folding.  Read more

October 28, 2015

Rigol: Making banking more effective for the poor

Graduate student Natalia Rigol has followed an unusual path to MIT: Her childhood in Cuba was tainted by poverty, and then her entire family received hard-to-come-by visas, enabling her to live out her elementary and middle school years in Russia and the Czech Republic — but with little understanding of the local languages.

When she was 13, Rigol’s family settled in the United States, where she finally had access to a middle-class life and a more stable education. Now, she is finishing up her PhD in economics, focusing on the use of finance to help poor individuals break the cycle of poverty.

“I often feel that I’m the product of extraordinary circumstances,” Rigol says. “But you shouldn’t have to be extremely fortunate, like I have been, just to live a decent life.”

Through field research in India, Rigol is hoping to devise alternative ways to deliver financing to poverty-stricken communities. For someone who’s still relatively young, she’s been at it for a while: Her work in this discipline—which she classifies primarily as “development work,”  and secondarily as economics—has been ongoing since 2007, when she was an undergraduate at Harvard University. Read more.

October 8, 2015

African wax-print cloth

Edoh: Intricacies of African print cloth, Oct. 8

MIT PhD candidate Amah Edoh will present the intricacies—historical, political, cultural, and technical—of African print cloth, October 8 at 4 pm in Bldg. 2-105. In this talk, Amah Edoh traces the trajectory of wax cloth (also known as “African print cloth”) from Holland to Togo to elucidate how African-ness is being imagined and produced visually and materially in the present historical moment.

Edoh’s research interests focus on the interplay of place and expertise in the politics of knowledge production, with a particular emphasis on Africa and material culture. She was a 2004 Fulbright Scholar to Zambia and holds a Masters in Population and International Health from the Harvard School of Public Health. Edoh is currently a PhD candidate in MIT’s Program in History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology and Society.

MIT Global Studies and Languages

October 7, 2015

madmec solar cells

Al-Obeidi: “Glasswings” coating for solar cells wins MADMEC

Biomimicry—known as “innovation inspired by nature”—has led to the invention of bullet trains, vaccines, adhesives, and light bulbs, among other things. Now, add to that list the winning invention of last night’s MADMEC competition: Influenced by the anti-reflective wings of the glasswing butterfly, an MIT team created a low-cost coating for solar cells that mitigates reflection, allowing the cells to absorb nearly all light to boost efficiency.

For that invention, the two-student team, aptly named Glasswings, took home the grand prize of $10,000 from the ninth annual MADMEC contest, organized each year by MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE) and sponsored this year by Saint Gobain, BP, and Dow Chemical.

With the prize money, Glasswings plans to continue research and development and, potentially, launch a company to commercialize the invention, team member Ahmed Al-Obeidi, a graduate student in DMSE, told MIT News after the competition.  Read more

October 5, 2015

Machine Learning

Zhang and Frogner: More-flexible machine learning

At the Annual Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems in December, MIT researchers will present a new way of doing machine learning that enables semantically related concepts to reinforce each other. So, for instance, an object-recognition algorithm would learn to weigh the co-occurrence of the classifications “dog” and “Chihuahua” more heavily than it would the co-occurrence of “dog” and “cat.” In experiments, the researchers found that a machine-learning algorithm that used their training strategy did a better job of predicting the tags that human users applied to images on the Flickr website than it did when it used a conventional training strategy.

“When you have a lot of possible categories, the conventional way of dealing with it is that, when you want to learn a model for each one of those categories, you use only data associated with that category,” says Chiyuan Zhang, an MIT graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science and one of the new paper’s lead authors. “It’s treating all other categories equally unfavorably. Because there are actually semantic similarities between those categories, we develop a way of making use of that semantic similarity to sort of borrow data from close categories to train the model.” Zhang is joined on the paper by his thesis advisor, Tomaso Poggio, the Eugene McDermott Professor in the Brain Sciences and Human Behavior, and by his fellow first author Charlie Frogner, also a graduate student in Poggio’s group. Hossein Mobahi, a postdoc in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and Mauricio Araya-Polo, a researcher with Shell Oil, round out the paper’s co-authors.

September 30, 2015

tekuma artwork to airbnb

3 Grad Students Bring Art to Airbnb

What do technology and art have in common? Thanks to three MIT grad students, it’s Tekuma, a platform that connects artists and Airbnb hosts.

Although those two demographics seem like a strange pair, their venture makes so much sense. Tekuma’s goal is to create pop-up art galleries in apartment spaces around the world. It gives artists, who don’t always have the best luck making it big, the chance to display their work—and make some money off of it. At the same time, Airbnb hosts can boost their rental appeal, giving their guests a dynamic aesthetic experience. And don’t forget the travelers, who then have a unique stay.

Tekuma’s three co-founders, Marwan Aboudib, Kun Qian, and Tengjia Liu, met during their first semester of their Master of Architecture program at MIT. They were all a part of the same studio project, and that’s where the roots of Tekuma first sprouted.

After pouring sweat and tears into the project, the class ended and the three had a feeling of let-down. “We worked so hard all semester and pulled all-nighters. There was so much excitement to get our 15 minutes of fame when we’d present our finished project,” said Aboudib. “But then the day of, no one showed up except for the judges.”  Read more

September 25, 2015

misti mexico conoces

MIT-Mexico Program alumni launch careers

“In just the past year I have published a book with the housing commission of the Mexican Senate and presented at international urbanism conferences,” says MIT alumna Jody Pollock. “I am not sure I would have been able to have such an impact if I had stayed in the US.” Pollock, who received her Master’s in City Planning in 2013, traveled to Mexico two years ago for a three-month internship and stayed for a career.

As a graduate student at MIT, Pollock interned with Mexico’s federal police through the MIT-Mexico Program, one of the 20 country programs that comprises the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI). In Mexico City, Pollock researched forced internal displacement and, she says, “proposed public policy recommendations in order to address the problem.”

After her internship, Pollock connected with another MIT program that set her up with a position at a housing organization. Pollock is now the senior program manager at Fundación IDEA, a Mexican public policy think tank. “The opportunities for professional development in Mexico are huge,” Pollock says, “and it seems like a very dynamic place to be right now.” She doesn’t attribute her move to Mexico City solely to work, however: “I decided to stay in Mexico because I loved it. I have found a great community of friends here,” Pollock shares.  Read more

September 24, 2015

botla bhatia online shopping analytics

Botla & Bhatia: More personalized online shopping

All activity on your social media accounts contributes to your “social graph,” which maps your interconnected online relationships, likes, preferred activities, and affinity for certain brands, among other things.

Now MIT spinout Infinite Analytics is leveraging these social graphs, and other sources of data, for very precise recommendation software that better predicts customers’ buying preferences. Consumers get a more personalized online-buying experience, while e-commerce businesses see more profit, the startup says.

The neat trick behind the software — packaged as a plug-in for websites — is breaking down various “data silos,” isolated data that cannot easily be integrated with other data. Basically, the software merges disparate social media, personal, and product information to rapidly build a user profile and match that user with the right product. The algorithm also follows users’ changing tastes.

Think of the software as a digital salesman, says Chief Technology Officer Purushotham Botla SM ’13, who co-founded Infinite Analytics and co-developed the software with Akash Bhatia MBA ’12. A real-world salesperson will ask consumers questions about their background, financial limits, and preferences to find an affordable and relevant product. “In the online world, we try to do that by looking at all these different data sources,” Botla says.  Read more

September 23, 2015

Horelik Finding 911 callers

Horelik: Finding 911 callers instantly

The nation’s 911 dispatch centers aren’t really equipped for the mobile world.

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), around 70 percent of 911 calls today are made via mobile phones. Yet when fielding such calls, dispatchers rely on landline-based systems that sometimes fail to pinpoint a mobile caller’s location quickly — or at all — during time-sensitive emergencies. Experts have estimated that 60 percent of 911 calls come through with inaccurate or no location data.

Now RapidSOS, a startup with MIT roots, is gearing up to release a one-touch 911 app that automatically sends location and preset medical data from a smartphone to dispatch centers, with aims of drastically reducing the time it takes first responders to get to a scene.

In that way, RapidSOS acts as a fast “data pipeline” for 911, says Chief Technology Officer Nick Horelik PhD ’15, who co-founded the company and co-developed the app with Michael Martin of Harvard Business School.

This is important, Horelik adds, as smartphone location data are increasingly becoming extremely precise. “Location services will [soon] get down to inches instead of feet,” Horelik says. “We’re providing the pipeline to get that data to dispatchers.” Read more

September 22, 2015

MSRP Alum: Prof. Asegun Henry at S3TEC Seminar at MIT

Asegun Henry, assistant professor of heat transfer, combustion, and energy systems, at Georgia Tech, and an alumni of the ODGE’s MIT Summer Research Program (MSRP), presented at a recent S3TEC Seminar at MIT about his work in heat transfer, particularly regarding phonon gas models. You can watch his talk here and find out more on his work on his faculty website.

September 21, 2015

mit inspired startups

Innovation in the Built Environment: Sep. 21 panel on MIT-inspired startups

Technology startups are well known for disrupting and re-imagining the way we shop, share photos, and hail cabs, but what about the built environment? Taking place on Monday, September 21, at 12:30 pm in Long Lounge, 7-429, this panel features four speakers, all MIT alumni, from recent startup ventures that address key issues in building technology in new ways, from an innovative wearable device that adjusts thermal comfort to a community-driven web platform for urban planning discourse. The discussion with include insights from the panelists on both the details of their technological innovations and their experiences in founding and joining startup companies.  The panel will be moderated by Les Norford:

  • Jaime Gagne is the Principal Building Scientist at KGS Buildings, where she manages and develops KGS’s library of fault detection diagnostics for HVAC systems.
  • Sam Shames is co-founder of embr labs, where he is currently Head of Product.
  • David Quinn is a co-founder of coUrbanize, a startup that helps cities and real-estate developers communicate with residents.
  • David Warsinger is co-founder of Coolify, a national-award-winning startup providing cold storage to the developing world.

For more information on this panel, visit this site.

September 18, 2015

SMART students autonomous golf carts

Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) students: autonomous golf carts

At the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in September, members of the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) and their colleagues will describe an experiment conducted over six days at a large public garden in Singapore, in which self-driving golf carts ferried 500 tourists around winding paths trafficked by pedestrians, bicyclists, and the occasional monitor lizard.

“We would like to use robot cars to make transportation available to everyone,” says Daniela Rus, the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a senior author on the conference paper. “The idea is, if you need a ride, you make a booking, maybe using your smartphone or maybe on the Internet, and the car just comes.”

SMART is a collaboration between MIT and the National Research Foundation of Singapore. With lead researchers drawn from both MIT and several Singaporean universities — chiefly the National University of Singapore and the Singapore University of Technology and Design — the program offers four-year graduate fellowships that cover tuition for students at the affiliated schools, as well as undergraduate and postdoctoral research fellowships.

Joining Rus on the paper are Emilio Frazzoli, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT; Marcelo Ang, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the National University of Singapore; and 16 SMART students, postdocs, and staff members, from both the U.S. and Asia.  Read more.

September 17, 2015

Lee learning spoken language

Lee: Learning spoken language

Knowing a language’s phonemes can make it much easier for automated systems to learn to interpret speech. In the 2015 volume of Transactions of the Association for Computational Linguistics, MIT researchers describe a new machine-learning system that, like several systems before it, can learn to distinguish spoken words. But unlike its predecessors, it can also learn to distinguish lower-level phonetic units, such as syllables and phonemes.

Unlike the machine-learning systems that led to, say, the speech recognition algorithms on today’s smartphones, the MIT researchers’ system is unsupervised, which means it acts directly on raw speech files: It doesn’t depend on the laborious hand-annotation of its training data by human experts. So it could prove much easier to extend to new sets of training data and new languages.

The system could offer some insights into human speech acquisition. “When children learn a language, they don’t learn how to write first,” says Chia-ying Lee, who completed her PhD in computer science and engineering at MIT last year and is first author on the paper. “They just learn the language directly from speech. By looking at patterns, they can figure out the structures of language. That’s pretty much what our paper tries to do.”

Lee is joined on the paper by her former thesis advisor, Jim Glass, a senior research scientist at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and head of the Spoken Language Systems Group, and Timothy O’Donnell, a postdoc in the MIT Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences.  Read more

September 15, 2015

carolyn coyle nuclear science and engineering

Coyle: Awarded for work in nuclear thermal hydraulics

MIT Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering (NSE) graduate student Carolyn Coyle was a winner of the NURETH-16 (American Nuclear Society International Topical Meeting on Nuclear Reactor Thermal Hydraulics) Young Professional Award and was one of eight winners of the Best Paper Award for her paper entitled “Synthesis of CRUD and its Effects On Pool and Subcooled Flow Boiling.”

Coyle’s work with Professor Jacopo Buongiorno, Tom McKrell, and Bren Phillips focuses on the effects of Chalk River unidentified deposits (CRUD) on critical heat flux (CHF) and heat transfer coefficient (HTC). CRUD is a naturally occurring porous, hydrophilic layer that forms on fuel rods during reactor operation. CRUD deposits can have large effects on CHF and HTC. Coyle investigated these effects by preparing synthetic CRUD on indium tin oxide-sapphire heaters. Information about the heater surface temperature, nucleation site density, bubble departure diameter, and bubble departure frequency was monitored and collected in the pool and flow boiling facilities in MIT’s Reactor Hydraulics Laboratory.  Read more.

September 14, 2015

grama mit spinout milk

Grama: MIT spinout’s milk-chillers reduce spoilage in rural India

India is the world’s leading milk producer, with many of its people relying on milk as a primary source of income. Indian dairies buy milk from local farmers at village collection centers, and then sell the milk or use it to make dairy products.

But with rural India’s limited electric grid, often available for only several hours daily, keeping milk fresh — it must be refrigerated within a few hours of milking — becomes very difficult. Many dairies use expensive diesel generators for refrigeration, or risk high percentages of spoiled product: Of the roughly 130 million tons of milk produced by India each year, millions of tons go to waste or reach the market as low-quality dairy products that pose safety threats. All this also reduces the income of Indian farmers

Now MIT startup Promethean Power is bringing India milk-chillers that quickly drop the temperature of milk to reduce bacterial growth, even without electricity. Powering the chillers is a novel thermal battery that stores thermal energy when the grid’s available, and releases the energy without need of electricity. So far, Promethean has installed about 100 chillers for top dairies around India.

“Milk for many Indian farmers is literally like liquid cash,” says Promethean co-founder and chief technology officer Sorin Grama SM ’06. “An entire family may live off the money they make from milk. Each of our systems allows 20 to 30 farming families to generate a steady income by selling a portion of their milk to dairy processors.”  Read more.

September 11, 2015

First new cache coherence mechanism in 30 years

Yu: First new cache-coherence mechanism in 30 years

In a modern, multicore chip, every core—or processor—has its own small memory cache, where it stores frequently used data. But the chip also has a larger, shared cache, which all the cores can access. If one core tries to update data in the shared cache, other cores working on the same data need to know. So the shared cache keeps a directory of which cores have copies of which data. That directory takes up a significant chunk of memory. Envisioned chips will need a more efficient way of maintaining cache coherence.

At the International Conference on Parallel Architectures and Compilation Techniques in October, MIT researchers will unveil the first fundamentally new approach to cache coherence in more than three decades. Whereas with existing techniques, the directory’s memory allotment increases in direct proportion to the number of cores, with the new approach, it increases according to the logarithm of the number of cores.

“Directories guarantee that when a write happens, no stale copies of the data exist,” says Xiangyao Yu, an MIT graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science and first author on the new paper. “After this write happens, no read to the previous version should happen. So this write is ordered after all the previous reads in physical-time order.” Read more.

September 8, 2015

Visual cortex in blind children

Richardson: Brain function in blind children

In 2011, MIT neuroscientist Rebecca Saxe and colleagues reported that in blind adults, brain regions normally dedicated to vision processing instead participate in language tasks such as speech and comprehension. Now, in a study of blind children, Saxe’s lab has found that this transformation occurs very early in life, before the age of 4.

The study, appearing in the Journal of Neuroscience, suggests that the brains of young children are highly plastic, meaning that regions usually specialized for one task can adapt to new and very different roles. The findings also help to define the extent to which this type of remodeling is possible.

“In some circumstances, patches of cortex appear to take on other roles than the ones that they most typically have,” says Saxe, a professor of cognitive neuroscience and an associate member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research. “One question that arises from that is, ‘What is the range of possible differences between what a cortical region typically does and what it could possibly do?’”

The paper’s lead author is Marina Bedny, a former MIT postdoc who is now an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University. MIT graduate student Hilary Richardson is also an author of the paper. Read more.  Illustration: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT

September 4, 2015

metallic gels

Holten-Andersen, Chen, Li, and Grindy: New luminescent materials

Researchers at MIT have developed a family of materials that can emit light of precisely controlled colors — even pure white light — and whose output can be tuned to respond to a wide variety of external conditions. The materials could find a variety of uses in detecting chemical and biological compounds, or mechanical and thermal conditions.

The material, a metallic polymer gel made using rare-earth elements, is described in a paper in the Journal of the American Chemical Society by assistant professor of materials science and engineering Niels Holten-Andersen, postdoc Pangkuan Chen, and graduate students Qiaochu Li and Scott Grindy.

The material, a light-emitting lanthanide metallogel, can be chemically tuned to emit light in response to chemical, mechanical, or thermal stimuli — potentially providing a visible output to indicate the presence of a particular substance or condition. Read more.

September 3, 2015

Comparative Media Studies Grad Student, Ainsley Sutherland

Sutherland: Virtual reality and empathy

Virtual reality has seen renewed interest in recent years, and has been hailed by journalists and practitioners as an “empathy machine’. This characterization is informal and assumes that feelings of presence and a first-person perspective alone will drive empathic feeling. Ainsley Sutherland recognized that a critical method for analyzing how virtual reality work engages with the concept of empathy (specifically defined as “inner imitation for the purpose of gaining knowledge of another”) was needed.

Sutherland’s thesis reviews the intellectual history of empathy (prior to the diversification of the term in social psychology to refer to a host of social behaviors) to derive a theoretical foundation to staged empathy A staged empathy framework foregrounds process and reflexivity, innate aspects of empathizing, and introduces an externalized and performed model for empathizing that is facilitated by virtual reality. To construct this framework, a variety of contemporary virtual reality works are studied which suggest the emergence of specific techniques that are referred to in this thesis as “intentional looking” and “direct address”. Applying theories of affordances and revealed phantasms from environmental philosophy and cultural computing to these techniques, staged empathy provides a framework for the analysis of virtual reality work that is sensitive to the new potentials of the medium as well as the limitations of empathy. Read more.

September 2, 2015

GSC secretary Eva Golos and GSC treasurer Janille Maragh

McLellan, Golos, Maragh: Hacking for Solve

The first-ever hackathon for Solve has laid solid groundwork for some promising ideas and for more “Solve-a-thons” to come.

Over two days recently at MIT, members of the Institute’s community teamed up to work on this challenge: Design a wearable device to significantly improve targeted health care to a majority of the world’s population.

The Graduate Student Council, which organized and hosted the event, focused on the Cure pillar of Solve. “We tried to pull together expertise from all five schools at MIT in one event,” said GSC president Michael McClellan. “So, science people can think about sensors and what’s feasible to measure, engineers can help design what a device could look like and what pieces could go into it, while people from design, urban planning, and architecture can work on schematics and designs. As well, those from humanities and social sciences can contribute ideas on how the device could be targeted for certain populations, locations, or issues, and business students can work on the finances, marketing, and distribution aspects of the proposal.” Read more. Photo by GSC (Left to Right: GSC secretary Eva Golos, and GSC treasurer Janille Maragh, two of the Solve-a-thon organizers)

September 1, 2015


Chen: Observing invisible vibrations

For Justin Chen, a PhD student in the MIT Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), there is more to observe in the built environment than meets the eye. So much more, in fact, that he has designed his entire academic attention CEE to center on structural health monitoring. “Everyday, people drive on bridges, enter buildings, obtain water through infrastructure, and so on,” Chen says.

“The central question my collaborators and I are trying to answer is: How do we keep infrastructure operational, even when it’s battered by the elements?” Although most would describe buildings as completely static, Chen says his work reveals structural movement the naked eye alone cannot perceive. Using a computer vision technique called motion magnification, Chen and his colleagues successfully catch imperceptibly tiny vibrations in structures. Read more of this article and a small interview with Chen at MIT News

August 20, 2015


NSE’s Boyd and Dykhuis win 2015 Innovations in Fuel Cycle Research Awards

Graduate students William Boyd and Andrew Dykhuis of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering (NSE) have earned 2015 Innovations in Fuel Cycle Research Awards, which are sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fuel Cycle Technologies.

Boyd, a PhD student, has been awarded a first-place prize in the category of nuclear science and engineering. His award-winning research paper, “The OpenMOC Method of Characteristics Neutral Particle Transport Code,” was published in the Annals of Nuclear Energy last June.

Dykhuis, a PhD student and research assistant in NSE, has been awarded a second-place prize in the category of advanced fuels. His award-winning research paper, “HOGNOSE: A New Model for Corrosion in PWRs,” was presented at the American Nuclear Society Annual Meeting this June. Read the full article at MIT News

August 19, 2015

Mitali Thakor-Policing sex trafficking in the digital age

As MIT graduate student Mitali Thakor speaks about her research in a Cambridge coffee shop, an AMBER Alert from Abington, Massachusetts, lights up her iPhone, interrupting her midsentence as she describes her studies of anti-trafficking efforts in the digital age. Continue reading on MIT News.

August 13, 2015


Adib, Kabelac: President Obama invites MIT entrepreneurs to give demo at the White House

Researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) were part of a select group of entrepreneurs that gave President Obama an in-person demo about their innovation — a device that uses radio waves to detect, predict, and prevent falls among the elderly. The live-streamed visit was part of the White House’s first annual Demo Day, which is aimed at fostering greater diversity in technology entrepreneurship.

Professor Dina Katabi and CSAIL graduate students Fadel Adib and Zachary Kabelac presented “Emerald,” a system that can monitor breathing, heart rate, and changes in gait and body elevation with such precision that it may soon be able to predict declines in health and increased risk of falling. Read the full article at MIT News

July 27, 2015


Yang, Wang: The Cybersecurity Factory

Stolen credit card numbers. Stolen passwords. The personal information of about 4 million federal workers hacked. We know all too well that computers are dreadfully insecure. And all too often, the people who could do the most to help make them more secure are stuck in academia with little connection to the real world.

That’s the argument, at least, of computer scientist Jean Yang, a PhD student at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, where she works on a privacy-centric programming language called Jeeves. She says she’s seen an amazing amount of security research come out of her lab in areas ranging from new encryption techniques to vulnerability detection systems. The problem is that little of this work ever finds its way into the real world. And it’s not just MIT. Researchers from around the world publish new work almost daily. So she and her friend and fellow PhD student Frank Wang, a member of the student-led venture capital firm Rough Draft Ventures, started The Cybersecurity Factory to encourage academics who research computer security to start companies to commercialize their work. Follow the full article at WIRED. Photo by American Advisors Group

July 24, 2015

Hack Healthcare

Colucci: How Do You Hack Healthcare? Use Design Thinking

MIT doesn’t have a medical school, so it might seem unusual that so many alumni and researchers are making a real-world impact in healthcare and medicine. But those two fields are rapidly evolving, and the need for MIT’s mindset of technology-focused solutions has never been greater.

“MIT is kind of like Switzerland—it’s neutral ground,” says Lina Colucci, a PhD candidate in the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology Program. “You can’t get a medical degree from MIT, but it’s filled with designers, developers, and engineers. And everyone in the medical community wants to work with all of these brilliant people.”

Colucci is a co-director of MIT Hacking Medicine, a student-run group that bring together innovative thinkers to rethink and solve healthcare’s most pervasive problems.

“Hacking is such a core part of the MIT culture,” says co-director Priya Garg ’15. “And we wanted to bring that mentality to healthcare. Our methodology is to disrupt the silos that are prevalent in healthcare by applying MIT’s hacking ethos to create innovations.” Read the full article at Slice of MIT

July 21, 2015


Earle: NASA’s New Horizons mission and first images of Pluto

Tuesday July 11 will go down as a huge day in the history of NASA. After traveling 3 billion miles over the course of nearly a decade, the spacecraft called New Horizons reached its target, passing close by the dwarf planet, Pluto. Members of the New Horizons science team, including MIT Professor Richard Binzel, graduate student Alissa Earle (MIT), and Cristina Dalle Ore (SETI Institute), react to seeing the spacecraft’s last and sharpest image of Pluto before closest approach later in the day. It was also a big day for MIT Professor Richard Binzel, who spent almost 35 years trying to get a mission to Pluto. For the past 15 of those years, he’s worked to make it possible for New Horizons to collect immense amounts of data from the ninth planet from the sun. He spent the day observing and celebrating at mission headquarters at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. Follow this radio news item at Radio Boston WBUR.

July 20, 2015


Chamberlain’s Tata Center team wins $100,000 Vodafone grant for mobile health technology

On June 10th-11th in Washington, D.C. the Vodafone Americas Foundation announced the winners of its 7th-annual Wireless Innovation Project, which supports “a spectrum of high potential mobile and wireless technology solutions.” Taking home a $100,000 grant were Research Scientist Rich Fletcher and graduate student Daniel Chamberlain, of the MIT Tata Center and D-Lab, for their promising work in developing “a mobile stethoscope and decision-support mobile application to provide critical diagnostic assistance to untrained health workers in developing countries.”

Chuck Pol, president of Vodafone Americas, said: “The 2015 winners represent the brightest of a new generation of problem solvers for critical global community needs, and we’re proud to recognize their cutting-edge visions.” Fletcher and Chamberlain’s smartphone software listens to a patient’s lung sounds, such as wheezing, crackling, and air flow, and helps make a diagnosis. While a simple stethoscope is used by doctors around the world for this purpose, the mobile technology component can help health workers without formal training, who are often the only medical resource available to rural and low-income residents of developing countries. Read the full story at Tata Center