MIT News - School of Architecture + Planning MIT News is dedicated to communicating to the media and the public the news and achievements of the students, faculty, staff and the greater MIT community. en Mon, 09 Mar 2020 14:48:39 -0400 Events postponed or canceled as MIT responds to COVID-19 Changes follow new Institute policies on travel, events, and visitors; some large classes to move online. Mon, 09 Mar 2020 14:48:39 -0400 MIT News Office <p>MIT schools, departments, labs, centers, and offices have acted swiftly to postpone or cancel large events through May 15 in the wake of the Institute’s <a href="">announcement last week</a> of new policies&nbsp;regarding gatherings likely to attract 150 or more people.</p> <p>To safeguard against COVID-19, and the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus, many other MIT events have been modified both on campus and elsewhere, with increased opportunities offered for livestreaming.</p> <p>The guidelines put forth last week have also now been expanded to include some large classes: The Institute will move classes with more than 150 students online, starting this week.</p> <p><strong>Impacts on classes and student travel</strong></p> <p>Following consultation with senior academic leadership and experts within MIT Medical, the Institute has suspended in-person meetings of classes with more than 150 students, effective tomorrow, Tuesday, March 10. The approximately 20 classes impacted by the decision will continue to be offered in virtual form.</p> <p>“We are being guided by our medical professionals who are in close contact with state and national public health officials,” Ian Waitz, vice chancellor for undergraduate and graduate education, wrote today in a letter to deans and department heads. “They have advised us that while the risk to the community is low and there are no cases on campus as of now, we need to move quickly to help prevent the potential transmission of the disease and to be ready if and when it impacts our campus.”</p> <p>“Our approach is to be aggressive, but to move forward in stages,” Waitz added, “while keeping in mind that some individual faculty and departments may be moving faster than others, that the level of comfort with remote teaching varies, and that some classes may translate better than others to alternative formats.”</p> <p>As of now, midterm examinations will proceed as scheduled, but the plan for large courses is to run midterms in several rooms simultaneously so the number of students in each room remains well below 150. The Registrar’s Office is working on room scheduling strategies to best accommodate that approach.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Institute has also decided that all MIT-sponsored student domestic travel of more than 100 miles will have to go through the Institute’s high-risk travel waiver process.</p> <p><strong>Impacts on undergraduate and graduate admissions</strong></p> <p>As shared in President L. Rafael Reif’s <a href="">letter of last Thursday</a>, MIT’s new policy on events will apply to <a href="">Campus Preview Weekend</a>, ordinarily an on-campus gathering for students admitted to the incoming first-year undergraduate class. In the coming weeks, the Admissions Office will be connecting with admitted students, current students, and campus partners to discuss what to do instead of a conventional CPW. For more information, please see:&nbsp;<a href="" title=""></a></p> <p>The Admissions Office will not host any programming for K-12 students, including admitted students and their families, between now and May 15, regardless of the size of the event.&nbsp;All scheduled admissions sessions and tours have been canceled between now and May 15, and MIT Admissions is canceling all scheduled admissions officer travel to domestic and international events in that time window.&nbsp;</p> <p>Additionally, all graduate admissions visit days have been canceled, effective immediately.&nbsp;“Based upon reducing risk, we ask all departments to cancel all remaining graduate open houses and visit days, and to move to virtual formats,” Waitz says. “Many departments have already done this.”</p> <p>Despite the cancellation of these formal events, the MIT campus currently remains open for visits by prospective students. However, in keeping with suggested best practices for public health, visitors from countries that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds&nbsp;<a href="">have “widespread sustained (ongoing) transmission” of COVID-19</a> cannot visit campus until they have successfully completed 14 days of self-quarantine.</p> <p><strong>Impacts on major campus events</strong></p> <p>The <strong>MIT Excellence Awards and Collier Medal</strong> celebration, scheduled for this Thursday, March 12, has been postponed; a rescheduled date will be announced as soon as it is confirmed. The Excellence Awards and Collier Medal recognize&nbsp;the work of service, support, administrative, and sponsored research staff. The Excellence Awards acknowledge the extraordinary efforts made by members of the MIT community toward fulfilling the goals, values, and mission of the Institute. The Collier Medal is awarded to an individual or group exhibiting qualities such as a commitment to community service, kindness, selflessness, and generosity; it honors the memory of MIT Police Officer Sean Collier,&nbsp;who lost his life&nbsp;while protecting the MIT campus.&nbsp;<a href="" title="">A full list of this year’s honorees is available</a>.</p> <p>Career Advising and Professional Development is working on plans to change the format of the <strong>Spring Career Fair</strong>, previously scheduled for April 2, to a virtual career fair for a date to be announced in April. All other large-scale employer engagement events — such as career fairs, mixers, symposiums, and networking events — will also be canceled; adopt a virtual model; be postponed beyond May 15; or adopt other models that meet the new policies involving large events.&nbsp;</p> <p>MIT is postponing the remaining two <strong>Climate Action Symposia</strong>, “<a href="">MIT Climate Initiatives and the Role of Research Universities</a>” and “<a href="" title="">Summing Up: Why Is the World Waiting?</a>” — previously scheduled for April 2 and April 22, respectively. These symposia will be rescheduled; new dates will be announced on <a href="applewebdata://7840DF2E-F494-42B9-B4DA-510B4A5DE3D9/" title=""></a>.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Solve at MIT</strong> on May 12-14 will be virtual. In addition to a livestream on <a href="">this page</a>, Solve will continue to bring together its cross-sector community via interactive online workshops and more. Participants can also contribute&nbsp;<a href="">a solution</a>&nbsp;or&nbsp;<a href="">a donation</a>&nbsp;to the&nbsp;<a href="">Health Security and Pandemics Challenge</a>.</p> <p><strong>Impacts on athletics and intercollegiate athletics events</strong></p> <p>The Department of Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation (DAPER) is taking steps to safeguard student-athletes, staff, and community members who utilize DAPER facilities for club sports, intramurals, and recreation. Unless otherwise announced, MIT’s intercollegiate athletics events will continue as scheduled. However, visiting teams are asked to bring only student-athletes and essential team personnel to events at MIT. </p> <p>Additionally, DAPER has requested that only MIT students, faculty, and staff members attend upcoming home athletic events through May 15. All other spectators, including parents, are asked to watch events using&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">DAPER’s video streaming service</a>.</p> <p><strong>Other impacted events and activities</strong></p> <p>Discussions are ongoing about many additional events scheduled between now and May 15. The list below will be updated as more information becomes available. Among the affected events and activities announced so far:</p> <ul> <li>Use of the pillars in Lobby 7 for community discussion is suspended for the rest of the spring semester, to minimize close contact and sharing of writing implements.</li> <li><strong>SpaceTech 2020,</strong>&nbsp;scheduled for Wednesday, March 11, has been postponed until a later date. The all-day event, part of MIT Space Week, will highlight the future of space exploration by featuring lightning talks from current students; talks and panels from alumni; and an interactive guided tour along the Space Trail to visit Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AeroAstro) labs and ongoing research projects. Visit <a href=""></a> for the latest information.</li> <li><strong>MIT Getfit has</strong> canceled both of its midpoint events originally scheduled for Wednesday, March 11. Organizers are working to contact participants with more information.</li> <li>The March 13 lecture titled<strong> “Fateful Triangle: How China Shaped US-India Relations During the Cold War,” </strong>by Tanvi Madan of the Brookings Institution, has been postponed. More information is available at <a href="" target="_blank" title=""></a>.</li> <li><strong>To the Moon to Stay Hackathon</strong>, scheduled for Saturday, March 14, has been postponed until a later date. MIT AeroAstro and the MIT Media Lab’s Space Exploration Initiative are partnering to design and build an experiment to go to the moon on board Blue Origin’s inaugural lunar mission. The goal of the hackathon is to bring the MIT community together to think about lunar missions and habitation through a variety of challenges. To receive updates,&nbsp;<a href="">join their email list</a>&nbsp;or visit <a href=""></a>.</li> <li>The Koch Institute is limiting attendance at the&nbsp;<a href="">SCIENCE with/in/sight: 2020 Visions</a>&nbsp;event on March 17. This event is now for invited guests only.</li> <li>All <a href="">MIT Communications Forum</a> events have been postponed until the fall. This includes <a href="">Science Under Attack</a>, originally scheduled for March 19, and <a href="">David Thorburn’s presentation</a> as part of the William Corbett Poetry Series, originally scheduled for April 8.</li> <li>The <strong>MIT de Florez Award Competition</strong>,&nbsp;scheduled for April 15, will be conducted virtually. Additional information will be sent to the Mechanical Engineering community via email.&nbsp;</li> <li><strong>The Mechanical Engineering Graduate Student Gala</strong>,&nbsp;scheduled for April 19, has been canceled and will be rescheduled for the fall.</li> <li>The <strong>Mechanical Engineering Student Awards Banquet</strong>,&nbsp;scheduled for May 15, has been canceled. Awards will be announced virtually.</li> <li>The&nbsp;<a href="" title="">Office of Engineering Outreach Programs</a>&nbsp;(OEOP) has canceled its&nbsp;<a href="">SEED Academy program</a>&nbsp;through May 15. This includes the SEED Academy Spring Final Symposium on May 9. OEOP will continue to communicate with SEED Academy students and parents via email and through The Sprout newsletter to offer information on course, project, and engagement options.</li> <li><strong>The 2020 Brazil Conference at MIT and Harvard</strong>&nbsp;has been canceled. More information can&nbsp;be found at&nbsp;<a href=""></a>.</li> <li>The March 12 Starr Forum, titled <strong>“Russia’s Putin: From Silent Coup to Legal Dictatorship,”</strong> has been changed to a <a href="">live webcast</a>.</li> <li>The March 13 Myron Weiner Seminar on International Migration, titled <strong>“Future Aspirations Among Refugee Youth in Turkey Between Integration &amp; Mobility,”</strong> has been canceled.</li> <li>The MIT Sloan&nbsp;School of Management is&nbsp;canceling all international study tours and treks. Student conferences are either being cancelled or modified: The March 7 <strong><a href="">Robo-AI Exchange Conference</a></strong>, the March 13 <strong><a href="">New Space Age</a> Conference</strong>, and the April 2 <strong><a href="">Golub Center for Finance and Policy</a> discussion</strong> on equity market structure with the SEC are canceled. The March 13<strong> <a href="">ETA Summit</a></strong> and the April 17 <strong><a href="">Ops Sim Competition</a> </strong>are proceeding, with virtualization. The March 16 <strong><a href="">Entrepreneurship and Innovation Alumni gathering</a></strong> in San Franciso is also canceled.</li> <li>The 2020 MIT Scholarship and UROP Brunch that was scheduled for April 4 has been canceled.</li> <li>The MIT Campaign for a Better World event in Toronto, originally set for April 29, will be postponed.</li> <li>The Program in Science, Technology, and Society’s <strong>Morison Lecture and Prize in Science, Technology, and Society,</strong> originally scheduled for April 14, 2020, 4 p.m.; E51-Wong Auditorium,&nbsp;has been rescheduled for Oct. 1, 2020.</li> <li>The Women's and Gender Studies Program's <a href="">Women Take the Reel Series</a> film event,"<strong>Warrior Women</strong>,” scheduled for March 12 at 6:30 p.m., has been postponed until fall 2020.</li> <li>The <strong>MIT Graduate Alumni Gathering</strong>, scheduled for March 20–21 in Cambridge, has been postponed, with plans for rescheduling to a later date in 2021.</li> <li>The <strong>MIT Student Alumni Association’s Dinner</strong> with 12 Strangers event series, set to be held in Cambridge and Boston, has been cancelled for the spring semester.</li> </ul> <p><em>This article will be updated as more information on impacted events becomes available.</em></p> Community, Faculty, Staff, Students, Administration, MIT Medical, Health, Chancellor, School of Engineering, School of Science, Sloan School of Management, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, School of Architecture and Planning, Program in STS, Campaign for a Better World, Alumnai/ae The elephant in the server room Catherine D’Ignazio’s new book, “Data Feminism,” examines problems of bias and power that beset modern information. Mon, 09 Mar 2020 00:00:00 -0400 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p>Suppose you would like to know mortality rates for women during childbirth, by country, around the world. Where would you look? One option is the <a href="" target="_blank">WomanStats</a> Project, the website of an academic research effort investigating the links between the security and activities of nation-states, and the security of the women who live in them.</p> <p>The project, founded in 2001, meets a need by patching together data from around the world. Many countries are indifferent to collecting statistics about women’s lives. But even where countries try harder to gather data, there are clear challenges to arriving at useful numbers — whether it comes to women’s physical security, property rights, and government participation, among many other issues. &nbsp;</p> <p>For instance: In some countries, violations of women’s rights may be reported more regularly than in other places. That means a more responsive legal system may create the appearance of greater problems, when it provides relatively more support for women. The WomanStats Project notes many such complications.</p> <p>Thus the WomanStats Project offers some answers — for example, Australia, Canada, and much of Western Europe have low childbirth mortality rates — while also showing what the challenges are to taking numbers at face value. This, according to MIT professor Catherine D’Ignazio, makes the site unusual, and valuable.</p> <p>“The data never speak for themselves,” says D’Ignazio, referring to the general problem of finding reliable numbers about women’s lives. “There are always humans and institutions speaking for the data, and different people have their own agendas. The data are never innocent.”</p> <p>Now D’Ignazio, an assistant professor in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning, has taken a deeper look at this issue in a new book, co-authored with Lauren Klein, an associate professor of English and quantitative theory and methods at Emory University. In the book, “<a href="" target="_blank">Data Feminism</a>,” published this month by the MIT Press, the authors use the lens of intersectional feminism to scrutinize how data science reflects the social structures it emerges from.</p> <p>“Intersectional feminism examines unequal power,” write D’Ignazio and Klein, in the book’s introduction. “And in our contemporary world, data is power too. Because the power of data is wielded unjustly, it must be challenged and changed.”</p> <p><strong>The 4 percent problem</strong></p> <p>To see a clear case of power relations generating biased data, D’Ignazio and Klein note, consider research led by MIT’s own Joy Buolamwini, who as a graduate student in a class studying facial-recognition programs, observed that the software in question could not “see” her face. Buolamwini found that for the facial-recognition system in question, the software was based on a set of faces which were 78 percent male and 84 percent white; only 4 percent were female and dark-skinned, like herself.&nbsp;</p> <p>Subsequent media coverage of Buolamwini’s work, D’Ignazio and Klein write, contained “a hint of shock.” But the results were probably less surprising to those who are not white males, they think.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“If the past is racist, oppressive, sexist, and biased, and that’s your training data, that is what you are tuning for,” D’Ignazio says.</p> <p>Or consider another example, from tech giant Amazon, which tested an automated system that used AI to sort through promising CVs sent in by job applicants. One problem: Because a high percentage of company employees were men, the algorithm favored men’s names, other things being equal.&nbsp;</p> <p>“They thought this would help [the] process, but of course what it does is train the AI [system] to be biased toward women, because they themselves have not hired that many women,” D’Ignazio observes.</p> <p>To Amazon’s credit, it did recognize the problem. Moreover, D’Ignazio notes, this kind of issue is a problem that can be addressed. “Some of the technologies can be reformed with a more participatory process, or better training data. … If we agree that’s a good goal, one path forward is to adjust your training set and include more people of color, more women.”</p> <p><strong>“Who’s on the team? Who had the idea? Who’s benefiting?” </strong></p> <p>Still, the question of who participates in data science is, as the authors write, “the elephant in the server room.” As of 2011, only 26 percent of all undergraduates receiving computer science degrees in the U.S. were women. That is not only a low figure, but actually a decline from past levels: In 1985, 37 percent of computer science graduates were women, the highest mark on record.</p> <p>As a result of the lack of diversity in the field, D’Ignazio and Klein believe, many data projects are radically limited in their ability to see all facets of the complex social situations they purport to measure.&nbsp;</p> <p>“We want to try to tune people in to these kinds of power relationships and why they matter deeply,” D’Ignazio says. “Who’s on the team? Who had the idea? Who’s benefiting from the project? Who’s potentially harmed by the project?”</p> <p>In all, D’Ignazio and Klein outline seven principles of data feminism, from examining and challenging power, to rethinking binary systems and hierarchies, and embracing pluralism. (Those statistics about gender and computer science graduates are limited, they note, by only using the “male” and “female” categories, thus excluding people who identify in different terms.)</p> <p>People interested in data feminism, the authors state, should also “value multiple forms of knowledge,” including firsthand knowledge that may lead us to question seemingly official data. Also, they should always consider the context in which data are generated, and “make labor visible” when it comes to data science. This last principle, the researchers note, speaks to the problem that even when women and other excluded people contribute to data projects, they often receive less credit for their work.</p> <p>For all the book’s critique of existing systems, programs, and practices, D’Ignazio and Klein are also careful to include examples of positive, successful efforts, such as the WomanStats project, which has grown and thrived over two decades.</p> <p>“For people who are data people but are new to feminism, we want to provide them with a very accessible introduction, and give them concepts and tools they can use in their practice,” D’Ignazio says. “We’re not imagining that people already have feminism in their toolkit. On the other hand, we are trying to speak to folks who are very tuned in to feminism or social justice principles, and highlight for them the ways data science is both problematic, but can be marshalled in the service of justice.”</p> Catherine D’Ignazio is the co-author of a new book, “Data Feminism,” published by MIT Press in March 2020. Image: Diana Levine and MIT PressData, Women, Faculty, Research, Books and authors, MIT Press, Diversity and inclusion, Ethics, Technology and society, Artificial intelligence, Machine learning, Computer science and technology, Urban studies and planning, School of Architecture and Planning A mobile tool for global change Dimagi’s data-collection platform has helped improve health care for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Sun, 08 Mar 2020 23:59:59 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>Frontline health workers represent the lifeblood of many health care systems in low- and middle-income countries around the world. Often overworked and underpaid, these workers operate outside hospital settings to meet the community’s poorest people where they live and work, ensuring health care initiatives impact the families that need them most.</p> <p>The global growth in cell phone ownership has increased the potential for mobile solutions to help these workers, and perhaps no company has unlocked that potential with more success than the social enterprise Dimagi.</p> <p>Dimagi’s flagship product, CommCare, lets users with no coding experience build apps featuring things like registration forms, decision support, and multimedia that can be accessed offline by cell phones of all types. With the backing of nonprofit organizations and governments, those capabilities have been put into the pockets of frontline workers in the most remote, impoverished regions of the world, transforming the way they collect information and provide care for hundreds of millions of people across 80 countries.</p> <p>Multiple studies have documented CommCare’s transformative effect. Randomized control trials have shown it helped frontline workers improve child nutrition in India, increase the percentage of in-facility births in Tanzania, and reduce errors in screenings for cardiovascular diseases in South Africa. Other studies have shown CommCare helped increase the frequency of HIV tests for pregnant women in Nigeria and reduced infant and maternal mortality rates in Guatemala.</p> <p>Beyond health care, Dimagi’s mobile tools are also being used in education, agricultural, and financial initiatives around the world. For founders Jonathan Jackson ’03, SM ’05 and Vikram Kumar, the company’s impact has come one successful project at a time through a user-centered approach to creating the most empowering and scalable solutions possible.</p> <p>“Our motto at Dimagi is ‘impact, team, profit,’ in that order,” Jackson says. “It’s not just what’s the most impactful thing we could make in theory, it’s what’s the most impactful thing we could make in practice that will scale with the market.”</p> <p><strong>An idea scales</strong></p> <p>In 2002, Kumar was a graduate research assistant in MIT’s Media Lab and on his way to earning his MD in the MIT-Harvard Division of Health Sciences and Technology. Jackson was building a personal digital assistant for nurses in Zambia as part of his master’s work at MIT.</p> <p>The two students met through a teacher’s assistant in one of Jackon’s classes and immediately decided to start a venture together. They initially planned to use health informatics to improve public health but realized the developing world wasn’t quite ready for that approach.</p> <p>“As soon as we got into the sector we realized there’s no good data to begin with, so we had to build the underlying data management systems,” Jackson says. “We rapidly shifted the company from public health informatics to more of a global health software focus.”</p> <p>In early consulting projects around Africa and India, the founders built a drag-and-drop system for building forms that clinicians could use in hospitals, using the Nokia phones that were quickly becoming common.</p> <p>“The writing was on the wall for massive mobile adoption in general, with dumb phones, and then you could see smartphones were going to take off,” Jackson says. “But we always focused on building for the phone technology that users had today as opposed to the technology that might be available tomorrow, and I think that was one of the reasons we were so successful.”</p> <p>One of Dimagi’s early projects was working with partners to create a national medical record system for Zambia. The system is still in use today, and because Dimagi’s solutions have been open source from the beginning, the system has since been adopted by other countries around Africa.</p> <p>Around 2008, with SMS-based solutions and a case management app built out, Dimagi began focusing on helping frontline, or community, workers. Such workers have traditionally relied on paper-based data management systems in the field that offer little on-site guidance and require data entry into a central system later on.</p> <p>With health care workers in low- and middle-income countries, “you have a workforce with amazing potential, and they are often the only option for health care provision in rural settings,” Jackson says. “These workers are often not able to be trained sufficiently, not able to be paid well, and they’re often overburdened. We thought the inclusion of mobile phones and the value that could be delivered by community health care workers and frontline providers was a great synergy.”</p> <p>The pivot made Dimagi’s users more dispersed and numerous, but Jackson says his team never wavered in its philosophy of working closely with the people they are trying to help and learning from them as they design solutions.</p> <p>“We feel incredibly strongly about getting field experience and being humble,” Jackson says. “We have a methodology called ‘Design Under the Mango Tree’ based on how we did a lot of our early work with CommCare. We were out there with the users, getting feedback, staying up late and overnight so it looked how they recommended the next day. That experience, of seeing the frontline workers, them being able to tell us they want something different, going in and changing it, and then asking if they like the change, that was an adrenaline boost for us.”</p> <p><strong>Designing under the mango tree</strong></p> <p>Dimagi’s approach has led the company to a scale the founders never could have imagined when they first started out. It has also guided them as they’ve built out features.</p> <p>Today, Dimagi boasts that CommCare allows users to “collect data on everything, in any language.” The data can include text, images, GPS coordinates, barcodes, audio, and more. Customers designing a data collection app on CommCare can monitor field workers in real time and include notifications or progress updates. Incorporating multimedia components into the app, like pictures and video instructions, allows illiterate field workers and patients to interact with CommCare and gives credibility to the workers.</p> <p>Dimagi also offers extensive support services to go with some of its subscription options. The company of about 150 people includes experts specializing in programs around women’s health and empowerment, agriculture, financial literacy, and more.</p> <p>Some of Dimagi’s biggest customers are governments. India, for example, has equipped more than half a million workers with a CommCare solution to help with state childcare and nutrition services.</p> <p>Unfortunately, scale has not brought simplicity. In fact, Jackson says things have gotten as Dimagi has grown, noting the donor-centered social enterprise space is great at launching new projects, but not good at incentivizing mature companies to continue innovating in areas where they’re already deployed.</p> <p>That’s one of the reasons Dimagi restructured its company last year. Jackson says Dimagi is now divided into three parts: its software division, its professional services team, and what he calls the impact team, which has been instructed to break even while making as much impact as possible and not worrying about profit.</p> <p>“We’re built to make an impact,” Jackson says. “That’s why everyone works at this company. It’s why we’re here. A lot of that just requires going that extra mile for the end users and that’s something that is infused in our DNA as an organization.”</p> Dimagi offers users a way to design mobile tools like registration forms that can be used by frontline health care workers in the most remote, impoverished regions of the world, transforming care.Image: DimagiInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Health care, Poverty, Alumni/ae, Apps, Social entrepreneurship, MIT Media Lab, Agriculture, Development, Africa, Medicine, School of Architecture and Planning Historic migration patterns are written in Americans&#039; DNA Genetic, geographic, and demographic data from more than 30,000 Americans reveal more genetic diversity within ancestry groups than previously thought. Thu, 05 Mar 2020 14:11:03 -0500 Tom Ulrich | Broad Institute <p><em>The following press release was issued today by the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.</em></p> <p>Studies of DNA from ancient human fossils have helped scientists to trace human migration routes around the world thousands of years ago. But can modern DNA tell us anything about more recent movements, especially in an ancestrally diverse melting pot like the United States?</p> <p>To find out, researchers from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) analyzed data provided by more than 32,000 Americans as part of the National Geographic Society's Genographic Project. This project, launched in 2005, asked Americans to provide their DNA along with their geographic and demographic data, including birth records and family histories, to learn more about human migration.&nbsp;</p> <p>The research team found distinct genetic traces within many American populations that reflect the nation's complicated history of immigration, migration, and mixture.</p> <p>Writing in the <em><a href="" target="_blank">American Journal of Human Genetics</a></em>, the team also reported subtle but potentially important levels of diversity within certain groups, such as the Hispanic population.</p> <p>They also call on genetics researchers to increase the ancestral diversity of the participants in their studies so that their findings capture more of the genetic diversity in US populations. This will help ensure that precision medicine will benefit as many people as possible in the US.</p> <p>"Understanding the genetic structure of the US is important because it helps illuminate distinctions between populations that studies might not otherwise account for," said Alicia Martin, a geneticist in the Broad Institute's <a href="" target="_blank">Program in Medical and Population Genetics</a>, a research fellow in MGH's Analytical and Translational Genetics Unit, and co-senior author of the study with Carlo Ratti, director of MIT's Senseable City Lab. "If we want genetic technologies to benefit everyone, we need to rethink our current approach for genetic studies because at the moment, they typically miss a huge swath of American diversity."</p> <p>Martin, Ratti, and their colleagues, including study first author Chengzhen Dai of MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, partnered with the Genographic project because they wanted to understand the geographic patterns of genetic ancestry and admixture across the US over time, and learn how much people’s genetics across the US reflect historic demographic events.</p> <p>Some findings caught the researchers by surprise. For instance, their analysis revealed a striking diversity in the geographic origins of participants who identified as Hispanic or Latino. The genetic patterns of these participants indicated a complex mixture of European, African, and Native American ancestries that varied widely depending on where participants lived, whether they were in California, Texas or Florida, for example.</p> <p>Results like this, Martin noted, could hold implications for precision medicine as it becomes available to more and more Americans.</p> <p>"There are subtle genetic differences within ancestry groups that arise from their population history,” she said. “Those differences will be important but challenging to account for, especially as genetic testing is used by more diverse groups of patients than have been studied so far."</p> An analysis of genetic, geographic, and demographic data provided by more than 32,000 Americans found distinct genetic traces within many American populations that reflect the nation's complicated history of immigration, migration, and mixture.Image: Susanna M. Hamilton, Broad CommunicationsResearch, Broad Institute, Genetics, School of Engineering, School of Architecture and Planning, Urban studies and planning, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), DNA New approach to sustainable building takes shape in Boston A five-story mixed-use structure in Roxbury represents a new kind of net-zero-energy building, made from wood. Wed, 04 Mar 2020 23:59:59 -0500 David L. Chandler | MIT News Office <p>A new building about to take shape in Boston’s Roxbury area could, its designers hope, herald a new way of building residential structures in cities.</p> <p>Designed by architects from MIT and the design and construction firm Placetailor, the five-story building’s structure will be made from cross-laminated timber (CLT), which eliminates most of the greenhouse-gas emissions associated with standard building materials. It will be assembled on site mostly from factory-built subunits, and it will be so energy-efficient that its net carbon emissions will be essentially zero.</p> <p>Most attempts to quantify a building’s greenhouse gas contributions focus on the building’s operations, especially its heating and cooling systems. But the materials used in a building’s construction, especially steel and concrete, are also major sources of carbon emissions and need to be included in any realistic comparison of different types of construction.</p> <p>Wood construction has tended to be limited to single-family houses or smaller apartment buildings with just a few units, narrowing the impact that it can have in urban areas. But recent developments — involving the production of large-scale wood components, known as mass timber; the use of techniques such as cross-laminated timber; and changes in U.S. building codes — now make it possible to extend wood’s reach into much larger buildings, potentially up to 18 stories high.</p> <p>Several recent buildings in Europe have been pushing these limits, and now a few larger wooden buildings are beginning to take shape in the U.S. as well. The new project in Boston will be one of the largest such residential buildings in the U.S. to date, as well as one of the most innovative, thanks to its construction methods.</p> <p>Described as a Passive House Demonstration Project, the Boston building will consist of 14 residential units of various sizes, along with a ground-floor co-working space for the community. The building was designed by Generate Architecture and Technologies, a startup company out of MIT and Harvard University, headed by John Klein, in partnership with Placetailor, a design, development, and construction company that has specialized in building net-zero-energy and carbon-neutral buildings for more than a decade in the Boston area.</p> <p>Klein, who has been a principal investigator in MIT’s Department of Architecture and now serves as CEO of Generate, says that large buildings made from mass timber and assembled using the kit-of-parts approach he and his colleagues have been developing have a number of potential advantages over conventionally built structures of similar dimensions. For starters, even when factoring in the energy used in felling, transporting, assembling, and finishing the structural lumber pieces, the total carbon emissions produced would be less than half that of a comparable building made with conventional steel or concrete. Klein, along with collaborators from engineering firm BuroHappold Engineering and ecological market development firm Olifant, will be presenting a detailed analysis of these lifecycle emissions comparisons later this year at the annual Passive and Low Energy Architecture (<a href="">PLEA</a>) conference in A Coruña, Spain, whose theme this year is “planning post-carbon cities.”</p> <p>For that study, Klein and his co-authors modeled nine different versions of an eight-story mass-timber building, along with one steel and one concrete version of the building, all with the same overall scale and specifications. Their analysis showed that materials for the steel-based building produced the most greenhouse emissions; the concrete version produced 8 percent less than that; and one version of the mass-timber building produced 53 percent less.</p> <p>The first question people tend to ask about the idea of building tall structures out of wood is: What about fire? But Klein says this question has been thoroughly studied, and tests have shown that, in fact, a mass-timber building retains its structural strength longer than a comparable steel-framed building. That’s because the large timber elements, typically a foot thick or more, are made by gluing together several layers of conventional dimensioned lumber. These will char on the outside when exposed to fire, but the charred layer actually provides good insulation and protects the wood for an extended period. Steel buildings, by contrast, can collapse suddenly when the temperature of the fire approaches steel’s melting point and causes it to soften.</p> <p>The kit-based approach that Generate and Placetailor have developed, which the team calls Model-C, means that in designing a new building, it’s possible to use a series of preconfigured modules, assembled in different ways, to create a wide variety of structures of different sizes and for different uses, much like assembling a toy structure out of LEGO blocks. These subunits can be built in factories in a standardized process and then trucked to the site and bolted together. This process can reduce the impact of weather by keeping much of the fabrication process indoors in a controlled environment, while minimizing the construction time on site and thus reducing the construction’s impact on the neighborhood.</p> <p><img alt="" src="/sites/" style="width: 500px; height: 333px;" /></p> <p><em style="font-size: 10px;">Animation depicts the process of assembling the mass-timber building from a set of factory-built components. Courtesy of&nbsp;Generate Architecture and Technologies</em></p> <p>“It’s a way to rapidly deploy these kinds of projects through a standardized system,” Klein says. “It’s a way to build rapidly in cities, using an aesthetic that embraces offsite industrial construction.”</p> <p>Because the thick wood structural elements are naturally very good insulators, the Roxbury building’s energy needs for heating and cooling are reduced compared to conventional construction, Klein says. They also produce very good acoustic insulation for its occupants. In addition, the building is designed to have solar panels on its roof, which will help to offset the building’s energy use.</p> <p>The team won a wood innovation grant in 2018 from the U.S. Forest Service, to develop a mass-timber based system for midscale housing developments. The new Boston building will be the first demonstration project for the system they developed.</p> <p>“It’s really a system, not a one-off prototype,” Klein says. With the on-site assembly of factory-built modules, which includes fully assembled bathrooms with the plumbing in place, he says the basic structure of the building can be completed in only about one week per floor.</p> <p>“We're all aware of the need for an immediate transition to a zero-carbon economy, and the building sector is a prime target,” says Andres Bernal SM ’13, Placetailor’s director of architecture. “As a company that has delivered only zero-carbon buildings for over a decade, we're very excited to be working with CLT/mass timber as an option for scaling up our approach and sharing the kit-of-parts and lessons learned with the rest of the Boston community.”</p> <p>With U.S. building codes now allowing for mass timber buildings of up to 18 stories, Klein hopes that this building will mark the beginning of a new boom in wood-based or hybrid construction, which he says could help to provide a market for large-scale sustainable forestry, as well as for sustainable, net-zero energy housing.</p> <p>“We see it as very competitive with concrete and steel for buildings of between eight and 12 stories,” he says. Such buildings, he adds, are likely to have great appeal, especially to younger generations, because “sustainability is very important to them. This provides solutions for developers, that have a real market differentiation.”</p> <p>He adds that Boston has set a goal of building thousands of new units of housing, and also a goal of making the city carbon-neutral. “Here’s a solution that does both,” he says.</p> <p>The project team included&nbsp;Evan Smith and Colin Booth at Placetailor Development; in addition to Klein<strong>,</strong>&nbsp;Zlatan Sehovic, Chris Weaver, John Fechtel, Jaehun Woo, and Clarence Yi-Hsien Lee at Generate Design; Andres Bernal, Michelangelo LaTona, Travis Anderson, and Elizabeth Hauver at Placetailor Design<strong>; </strong>Laura Jolly and Evan Smith at Placetailor Construction<strong>; </strong>Paul Richardson and Wolf Mangelsdorf at Burohappold<strong>; </strong>Sonia Barrantes and Jacob Staub at Ripcord Engineering; and<strong> </strong>Brian Kuhn and Caitlin Gamache at Code Red.</p> Architect's rendering shows the new mass-timber residential building that will soon begin construction in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood.Images: Generate Architecture and TechnologiesResearch, Architecture, Building, Sustainability, Emissions, Cities, Energy, Greenhouse gases, Carbon, Startups, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), School of Architecture and Planning QS World University Rankings rates MIT No. 1 in 12 subjects for 2020 Institute ranks second in five subject areas. Tue, 03 Mar 2020 19:01:01 -0500 MIT News Office <p>MIT has been honored with 12 No. 1 subject rankings in the QS World University Rankings for 2020.</p> <p>The Institute received a No. 1 ranking in the following QS subject areas: Architecture/Built Environment; Chemistry; Computer Science and Information Systems; Chemical Engineering; Civil and Structural Engineering; Electrical and Electronic Engineering; Mechanical, Aeronautical and Manufacturing Engineering; Linguistics; Materials Science; Mathematics; Physics and Astronomy; and Statistics and Operational Research.</p> <p>MIT also placed second in five subject areas: Accounting and Finance; Biological Sciences; Earth and Marine Sciences; Economics and Econometrics; and Environmental Sciences.</p> <p>Quacquarelli Symonds Limited subject rankings, published annually, are designed to help prospective students find the leading schools in their field of interest. Rankings are based on research quality and accomplishments, academic reputation, and graduate employment.</p> <p>MIT has been ranked as the No. 1 university in the world by QS World University Rankings for eight straight years.</p> Afternoon light streams into MIT’s Lobby 7.Image: Jake BelcherRankings, Computer science and technology, Linguistics, Chemical engineering, Civil and environmental engineering, Mechanical engineering, Chemistry, Materials science, Mathematics, Physics, Economics, EAPS, Business and management, Accounting, Finance, DMSE, School of Engineering, School of Science, School of Architecture and Planning, Sloan School of Management, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), Architecture, Biology, Aeronautical and astronautical engineering Deblina Sarkar joins the MIT Media Lab faculty New research group aims to bridge the gap between nanotechnology and synthetic biology. Wed, 19 Feb 2020 12:45:01 -0500 MIT Media Lab <p>Engineer and physicist Deblina Sarkar has been appointed as an assistant professor and AT&amp;T Career Development Chair Professor in the Media Arts and Sciences program at the MIT Media Lab. Her research group, <a href="">Nano-Cybernetic Biotrek</a>, is a novel interdisciplinary effort, bringing together engineering, applied physics, and biology with two distinct goals: first, to develop disruptive technologies for ultra-low power nanoelectronic computation; and second, to merge such next-generation technologies with living matter to create new paradigms for life-machine symbiosis.&nbsp;</p> <p>Sarkar earned her PhD in nanoelectronics, and then made what she calls a “drastic decision” to shift from electrical engineering to neuroscience. “During the last year of my PhD I realized that I wanted to diversify — the brain was on my mind, as was physics.” She applied for postdocs and research positions all over the country, but couldn’t find a good fit until she learned about Ed Boyden’s Synthetic Neurobiology group. “Most said it would be too challenging. Ed’s response was unique. I told him my background was totally different to what he does, but that I wanted to learn and could bring fresh ideas. Ed wrote back in five minutes saying sure, let’s talk.”</p> <p>Postdoc work with Boyden followed, during which time Sarkar applied her knowledge of physics and engineering to develop technology that achieves super-resolution mapping of the brain’s building blocks using a conventional optical microscope with biomolecular retention, allowing users to decipher the nanoscale structure of biomolecules not otherwise accessible with existing technologies.&nbsp;</p> <p>“First as a graduate student, and then as a postdoc at MIT, Deblina demonstrated the fantastic ability to develop new technologies that confront major problems. She fuses together interdisciplinary thinking about biology, health, physics, and devices in a new way,” says Boyden. “I'm excited about her future work, which will boldly stitch together these disciplines to result in new technologies that change how living systems interface to machines.”</p> <p>The freedom to think in enterprising and unusual ways about fields with little historic overlap excited Sarkar, and contributed to her decision to continue her work at the Media Lab. Above all, she wanted her group’s mission to encompass a sense of adventure. And the name, Nano-Cybernetic Biotrek? She knows it’s a mouthful, but it was important to Sarkar that the name capture the spirit of what she’s trying to do.</p> <p>“If I had gone to a different department in a different school, my group would definitely have a more boring name,” she laughs. “Here, I felt I had ample room for creativity. If I break down the group name: nano, of course, because we are building nanoscale devices. Cybernetic, the case of my group, means to use technology to control either inanimate computing systems or biological systems or their hybrids. Bio stands for biology. Trek, because the goal of the group is to set foot into untraversed territories of science — it’s an adventure.”</p> <p>So, how does one conduct research in Nano-Cybernetic Biotrek? What does a project look like? Current research projects include <a href="">developing nanoelectronic transistors using meta-materials</a> to achieve extreme energy efficiency and computing performance; creating next-generation nanomachines that can effectively camouflage and trick the body into thinking that it is its own part, causing a paradigm shift in <a href="">life-machine synergism</a>; building <a href="">nanoantennae</a> that can non-invasively and remotely monitor and modulate biological systems; <a href="">nanoscale mapping</a> of bio-molecular building blocks of the brain; and ultra-sensitive electrical biosensors <a href="">for point-of-care applications</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>“The thing is, biology and nature, they have optimized certain things really well. In my postdoc research, I showed how the arrangement of biomolecules in the brain influences the way information is processed,” says Sarkar. “With biology, the difficulty is that it doesn’t provide us with the opportunity to build something from scratch. We’re limited by what nature has built already, which has been optimized for a certain function, which is not necessarily what we want. In contrast, the versatility of electronics is that they can be built from scratch to perform functions beyond the capabilities of biology. Our long-term goal is to achieve seamless integration of nanoelectronics into our biological systems to incorporate functionalities not otherwise enabled by biology — thus transcending existing biological limitations.”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The group starts each research project with feasibility studies, then performs more-rigorous calculations to create simulations to arrive at a robust design. Then the design is brought to nanofab to build the experimental infrastructure.</p> <p>Sarkar looks for students and researchers who are excited about contributing to the adventurous and interdisciplinary ethos of the group. “My students and postdocs all have very different backgrounds: materials science, electrical, mechanical, and biological engineering. The main thing I look for in my group members is, whatever research they did previously, they are strong in their fundamentals. I believe someone who has done extremely well in their own field can also come to a new field and contribute. None of my students are doing exactly what they did in their undergrad. They contribute their expertise to new types of projects. I believe that someone who is enthusiastic and passionate can excel in any field!”</p> Engineer and physicist Deblina Sarkar has been appointed as an assistant professor at the MIT Media Lab, where she will lead the Nano-Cybernetic Biotrek group.Photo Courtesy of the MIT Media Lab.Media Lab, Nanoscience and nanotechnology, Synthetic biology, Faculty, School of Architecture and Planning