MIT News - Chemical engineering 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 10:01:46 -0400 Mathematical model could lead to better treatment for diabetes A new model can predict which types of glucose-responsive insulin will work in humans and animals. Mon, 09 Mar 2020 10:01:46 -0400 Anne Trafton | MIT News Office <p>One promising new strategy to treat diabetes is to give patients insulin that circulates in their bloodstream, staying dormant until activated by rising blood sugar levels. However, no glucose-responsive insulins (GRIs) have been approved for human use, and the only candidate that entered the clinical trial stage was discontinued after it failed to show effectiveness in humans.</p> <p>MIT researchers have now developed a mathematical model that can predict the behavior of different kinds of GRIs in both humans and in rodents. They believe this model could be used to design GRIs that are more likely to be effective in humans, and to avoid drug designs less likely to succeed in costly clinical trials.</p> <p>“There are GRIs that will fail in humans but will show success in animals, and our models can predict this,” says Michael Strano, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT. “In theory, for the animal system that diabetes researchers typically employ, we can immediately predict how the results will translate to humans.”</p> <p>Strano is the senior author of the study, which appears today in the journal <em>Diabetes</em>. MIT graduate student Jing Fan Yang is the lead author of the paper. Other MIT authors include postdoc Xun Gong and graduate student Naveed Bakh. Michael Weiss, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Indiana University School of Medicine, and Kelley Carr, Nelson Phillips, Faramarz Ismail-Beigi of Case Western Reserve University are also authors of the paper.</p> <p><strong>Optimal design</strong></p> <p>Patients with diabetes typically have to measure their blood sugar throughout the day and inject themselves with insulin when their blood sugar gets too high. As a potential alternative, many diabetes researchers are now working to develop glucose-responsive insulin, which could be injected just once a day and would spring into action whenever blood sugar levels rise.</p> <p>Scientists have used a variety of strategies to design such drugs. For instance, insulin might be carried by a polymer particle that dissolves when glucose is present, releasing the drug. Or, insulin could be modified with molecules that can bind to glucose and trigger insulin activation. In this paper, the MIT team focused on a GRI that is coated with molecules called PBA, which can bind to glucose and activate the insulin.</p> <p>The new study builds on a <a href="">mathematical model</a> that Strano’s lab first developed in 2017. The model is essentially a set of equations that describes how glucose and insulin behave in different compartments of the human body, such as blood vessels, muscle, and fatty tissue. This model can predict how a given GRI will affect blood sugar in different parts of the body, based on chemical features such as how tightly it binds to glucose and how rapidly the insulin is activated.</p> <p>“For any glucose-responsive insulin, we can turn it into mathematical equations, and then we can insert that into our model and make very clear predictions about how it will perform in humans,” Strano says.</p> <p>Although this model offered helpful guidance in developing GRIs, the researchers realized that it would be much more useful if it could also work on data from tests in animals. They decided to adapt the model so that it could predict how rodents, whose endocrine and metabolic responses are very different from those of humans, would respond to GRIs.</p> <p>“A lot of experimental work is done in rodents, but it’s known that there are lots of imperfections with using rodents. Some are now quite wittily referring to this situation as ‘lost in [clinical] translation,’” Yang says.</p> <p>“This paper is pioneering in that we’ve taken our model of the human endocrine system and we’ve linked it to an animal model,” adds Strano.</p> <p>To achieve that, the researchers determined the most important differences between humans and rodents in how they process glucose and insulin, which allowed them to adapt the model to interpret data from rodents.&nbsp;</p> <p>Using these two variants of the model, the researchers were able to predict the GRI features that would be needed for the PBA-modified GRI to work well in humans and rodents. They found that about 13 percent of the possible GRIs would work well in both rodents and humans, while 14 percent were predicted to work in humans but not rodents, and 12 percent would work in rodents but not humans.</p> <p>“We used our model to test every point in the range of potential candidates,” Gong says. “There exists an optimal design, and we found where that optimal design overlaps between humans and rodents.”</p> <p><strong>Analyzing failure</strong></p> <p>This model can also be adapted to predict the behavior of other types of GRIs. To demonstrate that, the researchers created equations that represent the chemical features of a glucose-responsive insulin that Merck tested from 2014 to 2016, which ultimately did not succeed in patients. They now plan to test whether their model would have predicted the drug’s failure.</p> <p>“That trial was based on a lot of promising animal data, but when it got to humans it failed. The question is whether this failure could have been prevented,” Strano says. “We’ve already turned it into a mathematical representation and now our tool can try to figure out why it failed.”</p> <p>Strano’s lab is also collaborating with Weiss to design and test new GRIs based on the results from the model. Doing this type of modeling during the drug development stage could help to reduce the number of animal experiments needed to test many possible variants of a proposed GRI.</p> <p>This kind of model, which the researchers are making available to anyone who wants to use it, could also be applied to other medicines designed to respond to conditions within a patient’s body.</p> <p>“You can envision new kinds of medicines, one day, that will go in the body and modulate their potency as needed based on the real-time patient response,” Strano says. “If we get GRIs to work, this could be a model for the pharmaceutical industry, where a drug is delivered and its potency is constantly modulated in response to some therapeutic endpoint, such as levels of cholesterol or fibrinogen.”</p> <p>The research was funded by JDRF.</p> A new model of glucose-responsive insulin, developed by MIT researchers, could lead to better treatment for diabetes and could eliminate the need for regular manual glucose-level testing.Research, Chemical engineering, School of Engineering, Health sciences and technology, Diabetes, Medicine 2020 MacVicar Faculty Fellows named Anikeeva, Fuller, Tisdale, and White receive MIT&#039;s highest honor in undergraduate teaching. Mon, 09 Mar 2020 00:00:00 -0400 Alison Trachy | Registrar’s Office <p><em>This article has been updated to reflect the cancellation of the 2020 MacVicar Day symposium.</em></p> <p>The Office of the Vice Chancellor and the Registrar’s Office have announced this year’s Margaret MacVicar Faculty Fellows: materials science and engineering Professor Polina Anikeeva, literature Professor Mary Fuller, chemical engineering Professor William Tisdale, and electrical engineering and computer science Professor Jacob White.</p> <p>Role models both in and out of the classroom, the new fellows have tirelessly sought to improve themselves, their students, and the Institute writ large. They have reimagined curricula, crossed disciplines, and pushed the boundaries of what education can be. They join a matchless academy of scholars committed to exceptional instruction and innovation.</p> <p>For nearly three decades, the <a href="">MacVicar Faculty Fellows Program</a> has been recognizing exemplary undergraduate teaching and advising around the Institute. The program was&nbsp;named after Margaret MacVicar, the first dean for undergraduate education and founder of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). Nominations are made by departments and include letters of support from colleagues, students, and alumni. Fellows are appointed to 10-year terms in which they receive $10,000 per year of discretionary funds.</p> <p>This year’s MacVicar Day symposium — which had been scheduled for this Friday, March 13 — has been canceled after <a href="" target="_self">new MIT policies on events</a> were set in response to the 2019 novel coronavirus.</p> <p><strong>Polina Anikeeva</strong></p> <p>“I’m speechless,” Polina Anikeeva, associate professor of materials science and engineering and brain and cognitive sciences, says of becoming a MacVicar Fellow. “In my opinion, this is the greatest honor one could have at MIT.”</p> <p>Anikeeva received her PhD from MIT in 2009 and became a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering two years later. She attended St. Petersburg State Polytechnic University for her undergraduate education. Through her research — which combines materials science, electronics, and neurobiology — she works to better understand and treat brain disorders.</p> <p>Anikeeva’s colleague Christopher Schuh says, “Her ability and willingness to work with students however and whenever they need help, her engaging classroom persona, and her creative solutions to real-time challenges all culminate in one of MIT’s most talented and beloved undergraduate professors.”</p> <p>As an instructor, advisor, and <a href="">marathon runner</a>, Anikeeva has learned the importance of finding balance. Her colleague Lionel Kimerling reflects on this delicate equilibrium: “As a teacher, Professor Anikeeva is among the elite who instruct, inspire, and nurture at the same time. It is a difficult task to demand rigor with a gentle mentoring hand.”</p> <p>Students call her classes “incredibly hard” but fun and exciting at the same time. She is “the consummate scientist, splitting her time evenly between honing her craft, sharing knowledge with students and colleagues, and mentoring aspiring researchers,” wrote one.</p> <p>Her passion for her work and her devotion to her students are evident in the nomination letters. One student recounted their first conversation: “We spoke for 15 minutes, and after talking to her about her research and materials science, I had never been so viscerally excited about anything.” This same student described the guidance and support Anikeeva provided her throughout her time at MIT. After working with Anikeeva to apply what she learned in the classroom to a real-world problem, this student recalled, “I honestly felt like an engineer and a scientist for the first time ever. I have never felt so fulfilled and capable. And I realize that’s what I want for the rest of my life — to feel the highs and lows of discovery.”</p> <p>Anikeeva champions her students in faculty and committee meetings as well. She is a “reliable advocate for student issues,” says Caroline Ross, associate department head and professor in DMSE. “Professor Anikeeva is always engaged with students, committed to student well-being, and passionate about education.”</p> <p>“Undergraduate teaching has always been a crucial part of my MIT career and life,” Anikeeva reflects. “I derive my enthusiasm and energy from the incredibly talented MIT students — every year they surprise me with their ability to rise to ever-expanding intellectual challenges. Watching them grow as scientists, engineers, and — most importantly — people is like nothing else.”</p> <p><strong>Mary Fuller</strong></p> <p>Experimentation is synonymous with education at MIT and it is a crucial part of literature Professor Mary Fuller’s classes. As her colleague Arthur Bahr notes, “Mary’s habit of starting with a discrete practical challenge can yield insights into much broader questions.”</p> <p>Fuller attended Dartmouth College as an undergraduate, then received both her MA and PhD in English and American literature from The Johns Hopkins University. She began teaching at MIT in 1989. From 2013 to 2019, Fuller was head of the Literature Section. Her successor in the role, Shankar Raman, says that her nominators “found [themselves] repeatedly surprised by the different ways Mary has pushed the limits of her teaching here, going beyond her own comfort zones to experiment with new texts and techniques.”</p> <p>“Probably the most significant thing I’ve learned in 30 years of teaching here is how to ask more and better questions,” says Fuller. As part of a series of discussions on ethics and computing, she has explored the possibilities of <a href="">artificial intelligence</a> from a literary perspective. She is also developing a tool for the edX platform called PoetryViz, which would allow MIT students and students around the world to practice close reading through poetry annotation in an entirely new way.</p> <p>“We all innovate in our teaching. Every year. But, some of us innovate more than others,” Krishna Rajagopal, dean for digital learning, observes. “In addition to being an outstanding innovator, Mary is one of those colleagues who weaves the fabric of undergraduate education across the Institute.”</p> <p>Lessons learned in Fuller’s class also underline the importance of a well-rounded education. As one alumna reflected, “Mary’s teaching carried a compassion and ethic which enabled non-humanities students to appreciate literature as a diverse, valuable, and rewarding resource for personal and social reflection.”</p> <p>Professor Fuller, another student remarked, has created “an environment where learning is not merely the digestion of rote knowledge, but instead the broad-based exploration of ideas and the works connected to them.”</p> <p>“Her imagination is capacious, her knowledge is deep, and students trust her — so that they follow her eagerly into new and exploratory territory,” says Professor of Literature Stephen Tapscott.</p> <p>Fuller praises her students’ willingness to take that journey with her, saying, “None of my classes are required, and none are technical, so I feel that students have already shown a kind of intellectual generosity by putting themselves in the room to do the work.”</p> <p>For students, the hard work is worth it. Mary Fuller, one nominator declared, is exactly “the type of deeply impactful professor that I attended MIT hoping to learn from.”</p> <p><strong>William Tisdale</strong></p> <p>William Tisdale is the ARCO Career Development Professor of chemical engineering and, according to his colleagues, a “true star” in the department.</p> <p>A member of the faculty since 2012, he received his undergraduate degree from the University of Delaware and his PhD from the University of Minnesota. After a year as a postdoc at MIT, Tisdale became an assistant professor. His <a href="">research interests</a> include nanotechnology and energy transport.</p> <p>Tisdale’s colleague Kristala Prather calls him a “curriculum fixer.” During an internal review of Course 10 subjects, the department discovered that 10.213 (Chemical and Biological Engineering) was the least popular subject in the major and needed to be revised. After carefully evaluating the coursework, and despite having never taught 10.213 himself, Tisdale envisioned a novel way of teaching it. With his suggestions, the class went from being “despised” to loved, with subject evaluations improving by 70 percent from one spring to the next. “I knew Will could make a difference, but I had no idea he could make that big of a difference in just one year,” remarks Prather. One student nominator even went so far as to call 10.213, as taught by Tisdale, “one of my best experiences at MIT.”</p> <p>Always patient, kind, and adaptable, Tisdale’s willingness to tackle difficult problems is reflected in his teaching. “While the class would occasionally start to mutiny when faced with a particularly confusing section, Prof. Tisdale would take our groans on with excitement,” wrote one student. “His attitude made us feel like we could all get through the class together.” Regardless of how they performed on a test, wrote another, Tisdale “clearly sent the message that we all always have so much more to learn, but that first and foremost he respected you as a person.”</p> <p>“I don’t think I could teach the way I teach at many other universities,” Tisdale says. “MIT students show up on the first day of class with an innate desire to understand the world around them; all I have to do is pull back the curtain!”</p> <p>“Professor Tisdale remains the best teacher, mentor, and role model that I have encountered,” one student remarked. “He has truly changed the course of my life.”</p> <p>“I am extremely thankful to be at a university that values undergraduate education so highly,” Tisdale says. “Those of us who devote ourselves to undergraduate teaching and mentoring do so out of a strong sense of responsibility to the students as well as a genuine love of learning. There are few things more validating than being rewarded for doing something that already brings you joy.”</p> <p><strong>Jacob White</strong></p> <p>Jacob White is the Cecil H. Green Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) and chair of the Committee on Curricula. After completing his undergraduate degree at MIT, he received a master’s degree and doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley. He has been a member of the Course 6 faculty since 1987.</p> <p>Colleagues and students alike observed White’s dedication not just to teaching, but to improving teaching throughout the Institute. As Luca Daniel and Asu Ozdaglar of the EECS department noted in their nomination letter, “Jacob completely understands that the most efficient way to make his passion and ideas for undergraduate education have a real lasting impact is to ‘teach it to the teachers!’”</p> <p>One student wrote that White “has spent significant time and effort educating the lab assistants” of 6.302 (Feedback System Design). As one of these teaching assistants confirmed, White’s “enthusiastic spirit” inspired them to spend hours discussing how to best teach the subject. “Many people might think this is not how they want to spend their Thursday nights,” the student wrote. “I can speak for myself and the other TAs when I say that it was an incredibly fun and educational experience.”</p> <p>His work to improve instruction has even expanded to other departments. A colleague describes White’s efforts to revamp 8.02 (Physics II) as “Herculean.” Working with a group of students and postdocs to develop experiments for this subject, “he seemed to be everywhere at once … while simultaneously teaching his own class.” Iterations took place over a year and a half, after which White trained the subject’s TAs as well. Hundreds of students are benefitting from these improved experiments.</p> <p>White is, according to Daniel and Ozdaglar, “a colleague who sincerely, genuinely, and enormously cares about our undergraduate students and their education, not just in our EECS department, but also in our entire MIT home.”</p> <p>When he’s not fine-tuning pedagogy or conducting teacher training, he is personally supporting his students. A visiting student described White’s attention: “He would regularly meet with us in groups of two to make sure we were learning. In a class of about 80 students in a huge lecture hall, it really felt like he cared for each of us.”</p> <p>And his zeal has rubbed off: “He made me feel like being excited about the material was the most important thing,” one student wrote.</p> <p>The significance of such a spark is not lost on White. "As an MIT freshman in the late 1970s, I joined an undergraduate research program being pioneered by Professor Margaret MacVicar," he says. "It was Professor MacVicar and UROP that put me on the academic's path of looking for interesting problems with instructive solutions. It is a path I have walked for decades, with extraordinary colleagues and incredible students. So, being selected as a MacVicar Fellow? No honor could mean more to me."</p> The 2020 MacVicar Faculty Fellows are: (clockwise from top left) Polina Anikeeva, Jacob White, William Tisdale, and Mary Fuller.Photos (clockwise from top left): Lillie Paquette, Sampson Wilcox, Webb Chappell, Jon SachsOffice of the Vice Chancellor, MacVicar fellows, Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), Materials Science and Engineering, Literature, EdX, Electrical engineering and computer science (EECS), School of Engineering, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Faculty, Awards, honors and fellowships, Education, teaching, academics, Mentoring, Undergraduate, Chemical engineering 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 Decarbonizing the making of consumer products Researchers are devising new methods of synthesizing chemicals used in goods from clothing, detergents, and antifreeze to pharmaceuticals and plastics. Wed, 05 Feb 2020 13:40:01 -0500 Nancy W. Stauffer | MIT Energy Initiative <p>Most efforts to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions have focused on the transportation and residential sectors. Little attention has been paid to industrial manufacturing, even though it consumes more energy than either of those sectors and emits high levels of CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;in the process.</p> <p>To help address that situation, Assistant Professor&nbsp;<a href="">Karthish Manthiram</a>, postdoc Kyoungsuk Jin, graduate students Joseph H. Maalouf and Minju Chung, and their colleagues, all of the MIT Department of Chemical Engineering, have been devising new methods of synthesizing epoxides, a group of chemicals used in the manufacture of consumer goods ranging from polyester clothing, detergents, and antifreeze to pharmaceuticals and plastics.</p> <p>“We don’t think about the embedded energy and carbon dioxide footprint of a plastic bottle we’re using or the clothing we’re putting on,” says Manthiram. “But epoxides are everywhere!”</p> <p>As solar and wind and storage technologies mature, it’s time to address what Manthiram calls the “hidden energy and carbon footprints of materials made from epoxides.” And the key, he argues, may be to perform epoxide synthesis using electricity from renewable sources along with specially designed catalysts and an unlikely starting material: water.</p> <p><strong>The challenge</strong></p> <p>Epoxides can be made from a variety of carbon-containing compounds known generically as olefins. But regardless of the olefin used, the conversion process generally produces high levels of CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;or has other serious drawbacks.</p> <p>To illustrate the problem, Manthiram describes processes now used to manufacture ethylene oxide, an epoxide used in making detergents, thickeners, solvents, plastics, and other consumer goods. Demand for ethylene oxide is so high that it has the fifth-largest CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;footprint of any chemical made today.</p> <p>The top panel of Figure 1 in the slideshow above illustrates one common synthesis process. The recipe is simple: Combine ethylene molecules and oxygen molecules, subject the mixture to high temperatures and pressures, and separate out the ethylene oxide that forms.</p> <p>However, those ethylene oxide molecules are accompanied by molecules of CO<sub>2</sub> — a problem, given the volume of ethylene oxide produced nationwide. In addition, the high temperatures and pressures required are generally produced by burning fossil fuels. And the conditions are so extreme that the reaction must take place in a massive pressure vessel. The capital investment required is high, so epoxides are generally produced in a central location and then transported long distances to the point of consumption.</p> <p>Another widely synthesized epoxide is propylene oxide, which is used in making a variety of products, including perfumes, plasticizers, detergents, and polyurethanes. In this case, the olefin — propylene — is combined with&nbsp;tert-butyl hydroperoxide, as illustrated in the bottom panel of Figure 1. An oxygen atom moves from the&nbsp;tert-butyl hydroperoxide molecule to the propylene to form the desired propylene oxide. The reaction conditions are somewhat less harsh than in ethylene oxide synthesis, but a side product must be dealt with. And while no CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;is created, the&nbsp;tert-butyl hydroperoxide is highly reactive, flammable, and toxic, so it must be handled with extreme care.</p> <p>In short, current methods of epoxide synthesis produce CO<sub>2</sub>, involve dangerous chemicals, require huge pressure vessels, or call for fossil fuel combustion. Manthiram and his team believed there must be a better way.</p> <p><strong>A new approach</strong></p> <p>The goal in epoxide synthesis is straightforward: Simply transfer an oxygen atom from a source molecule onto an olefin molecule. Manthiram and his lab came up with an idea: Could water be used as a sustainable and benign source of the needed oxygen atoms? The concept was counterintuitive. “Organic chemists would say that it shouldn’t be possible because water and olefins don’t react with one another,” he says. “But what if we use electricity to liberate the oxygen atoms in water? Electrochemistry causes interesting things to happen — and it’s at the heart of what our group does.”</p> <p>Using electricity to split water into oxygen and hydrogen is a standard practice called electrolysis. Usually, the goal of water electrolysis is to produce hydrogen gas for certain industrial applications or for use as a fuel. The oxygen is simply vented to the atmosphere.</p> <p>To Manthiram, that practice seemed wasteful. Why not do something useful with the oxygen? Making an epoxide seemed the perfect opportunity — and the benefits could be significant. Generating two valuable products instead of one would bring down the high cost of water electrolysis. Indeed, it might become a cheaper, carbon-free alternative to today’s usual practice of producing hydrogen from natural gas. The electricity needed for the process could be generated from renewable sources such as solar and wind. There wouldn’t be any hazardous reactants or undesirable byproducts involved. And there would be no need for massive, costly, and accident-prone pressure vessels. As a result, epoxides could be made at small-scale, modular facilities close to the place they’re going to be used — no need to transport, distribute, or store the chemicals produced.</p> <p><strong>Will the reaction work?</strong></p> <p>However, there was a chance that the proposed process might not work. During electrolysis, the oxygen atoms quickly pair up to form oxygen gas. The proposed process — illustrated in Figure 2 in the slideshow above<strong> </strong>— would require that some of the oxygen atoms move onto the olefin before they combine with one another.</p> <p>To investigate the feasibility of the process, Manthiram’s group performed a fundamental analysis to find out whether the reaction is thermodynamically favorable. Does the energy of the overall system shift to a lower state by making the move? In other words, is the product more stable than the reactants were?</p> <p>They started with a thermodynamic analysis of the proposed reaction at various combinations of temperature and pressure — the standard variables used in hydrocarbon processing. As an example, they again used ethylene oxide. The results, shown in Figure 3 in the slideshow above, were not encouraging. As the uniform blue in the left-hand figure shows, even at elevated temperatures and pressures, the conversion of ethylene and water to ethylene oxide plus hydrogen doesn’t happen — just as a chemist’s intuition would predict.</p> <p>But their proposal was to use voltage rather than pressure to drive the chemical reaction. As the right-hand figure in Figure 3 shows, with that change, the outcome of the analysis looked more promising. Conversion of ethylene to ethylene oxide occurs at around 0.8 volts. So the process is viable at voltages below that of an everyday AA battery and at essentially room temperature.</p> <p>While a thermodynamic analysis can show that a reaction is possible, it doesn’t reveal how quickly it will occur, and reactions must be fast to be cost-effective. So the researchers needed to design a catalyst — a material that would speed up the reaction without getting consumed.</p> <p>Designing catalysts for specific electrochemical reactions is a focus of Manthiram’s group. For this reaction, they decided to start with manganese oxide, a material known to catalyze the water-splitting reaction. And to increase the catalyst’s effectiveness, they fabricated it into nanoparticles — a particle size that would maximize the surface area on which reactions can take place.</p> <p>Figure 4 in the slideshow above shows the special electrochemical cell they designed. Like all such cells, it has two electrodes — in this case, an anode where oxygen is transferred to make an olefin into an epoxide, and a cathode where hydrogen gas forms. The anode is made of carbon paper decorated with the nanoparticles of manganese oxide (shown in yellow). The cathode is made of platinum. Between the anode and the cathode is an electrolyte that ferries electrically charged ions between them. In this case, the electrolyte is a mixture of a solvent, water (the oxygen source), and the olefin.</p> <p>The magnified views in Figure 4 show what happens at the two electrodes. The right-hand view shows the olefin and water (H<sub>2</sub>O) molecules arriving at the anode surface. Encouraged by the catalyst, the water molecules break apart, sending two electrons (negatively charged particles, e<sup>–</sup>) into the anode and releasing two protons (positively charged hydrogen ions, H<sup>+</sup>) into the electrolyte. The leftover oxygen atom (O) joins the olefin molecule on the surface of the electrode, forming the desired epoxide molecule.</p> <p>The two liberated electrons travel through the anode and around the external circuit (shown in red), where they pass through a power source — ideally, fueled by a renewable source such as wind or solar—and gain extra energy. When the two energized electrons reach the cathode, they join the two protons arriving in the electrolyte and — as shown in the left-hand magnified view — they form hydrogen gas (H<sub>2</sub>), which exits the top of the cell.</p> <p><strong>Experimental results</strong></p> <p>Experiments with that setup have been encouraging. Thus far, the work has involved an olefin called cyclooctene, a well-known molecule that’s been widely used by people studying oxidation reactions. “Ethylene and the like are structurally more important and need to be solved, but we’re developing a foundation on a well-known molecule just to get us started,” says Manthiram.</p> <p>Results have already allayed a major concern. In one test, the researchers applied 3.8 volts across their mixture at room temperature, and, after four hours, about half of the cyclooctene had converted into its epoxide counterpart, cyclooctene oxide. “So that result confirms that we can split water to make hydrogen and oxygen and then intercept the oxygen atoms so they move onto the olefin and convert it into an epoxide,” says Manthiram.</p> <p>But how efficiently does the conversion happen? If this reaction is perfectly efficient, one oxygen atom will move onto an olefin for every two electrons that go into the anode. Thus, one epoxide molecule will form for each hydrogen molecule that forms. Using special equipment, the researchers counted the number of epoxide molecules formed for each pair of electrons passing through the external circuit to form hydrogen.</p> <p>That analysis showed that their conversion efficiency was 30 percent of the maximum theoretical efficiency. “That’s because the electrons are also doing other reactions — maybe making oxygen, for instance, or oxidizing some of the solvent,” says Manthiram. “But for us, 30 percent is a remarkable number for a new reaction that was previously unknown. For that to be the first step, we’re very happy about it.”</p> <p>Manthiram recognizes that the efficiency might need to be twice as high, or even higher, for the process to be commercially viable. “Techno-economics will ultimately guide where that number needs to be,” he says. “But I would say that the heart of our discoveries so far is the realization that there is a catalyst that can make this happen. That’s what has opened up everything that we’ve explored since the initial discovery.”</p> <p><strong>Encouraging results and future challenges</strong></p> <p>Manthiram is cautious not to overstate the potential implications of the work. “We know what the outcome is,” he says. “We put olefin in, and we get epoxide out.” But to optimize the conversion efficiency they need to know at a molecular level all the steps involved in that conversion. For example, does the electron transfer first by itself, or does it move with a proton at the same time? How does the catalyst bind the oxygen atom? And how does the oxygen atom transfer to the olefin on the surface of the catalyst?</p> <p>According to Manthiram, he and his group have hypothesized a reaction sequence, and several analytical techniques have provided a “handful of observables” that support it. But he admits that there is much more theoretical and experimental work to do to develop and validate a detailed mechanism that they can use to guide the optimization process. And then there are practical considerations, such as how to extract the epoxides from the electrochemical cell and how to scale up production.</p> <p>Manthiram believes that this work on epoxides is just “the tip of the iceberg” for his group. There are many other chemicals they might be able to make using voltage and specially designed catalysts. And while some attempts may not work, with each one they’ll learn more about how voltages and electrons and surfaces influence the outcome.</p> <p>He and his team predict that the face of the chemical industry will change dramatically in the years to come. The need to reduce CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;emissions and energy use is already pushing research on chemical manufacturing toward using electricity from renewable sources. And that electricity will increasingly be made at distributed sites. “If we have solar panels and wind turbines everywhere, why not do chemical synthesis close to where the power is generated, and make commercial products close to the communities that need them?” says Manthiram. The result will be a distributed, electrified, and decarbonized chemical industry — and a dramatic reduction in both energy use and CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;emissions.</p> <p>This research was supported by MIT’s Department of Chemical Engineering and by National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships.</p> <p><em>This article appears in the&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Autumn 2019&nbsp;</a>issue of&nbsp;</em><a href="" target="_blank">Energy Futures</a>, <em>the magazine of the MIT Energy Initiative.&nbsp;</em></p> Assistant Professor Karthish Manthiram (center), postdoc Kyoungsuk Jin (right), graduate student Joseph Maalouf (left), and their colleagues are working to help decarbonize the chemical industry by finding ways to drive critical chemical reactions using electricity from renewable sources. Photo: Stuart Darsch MIT Energy Initiative, Chemical engineering, Research, Energy, Emissions, Manufacturing, School of Engineering, Industry, Carbon At halfway point, SuperUROP scholars share their research results In a lively poster session, more than 100 undergraduates discuss their yearlong research projects on everything from machine learning to political geography. Wed, 29 Jan 2020 14:25:01 -0500 Kathryn O'Neill | Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science <p>MIT undergraduates are rolling up their sleeves to address major problems in the world, conducting research on topics ranging from nursing care to money laundering to the spread of misinformation about climate change — work highlighted at the most recent SuperUROP Showcase.</p> <p>The event, which took place on the Charles M. Vest Student Street in the Stata Center in December 2019, marked the halfway point in the Advanced Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (better known as “SuperUROP”). The yearlong program gives MIT students firsthand experience in conducting research with close faculty mentorship. Many participants receive scholar titles recognizing the program’s industry sponsors, individual donors, and other contributors.</p> <p>This year, 102 students participated in SuperUROP, with many of their projects focused on applying computer science technologies, such as machine learning, to challenges in fields ranging from robotics to health care. Almost all presented posters of their work at the December showcase, explaining research to fellow students, faculty members, alumni, sponsors, and other guests.</p> <p>“Every year, this program gets more and more impressive,” says Anantha P. Chandrakasan, dean of the School of Engineering and Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “What’s especially noteworthy is the incredible breadth of projects and how articulate students are in talking about their work. Their presentation skills seem pretty remarkable.”</p> <p>SuperUROP, administered by the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), includes a two-term course, 6.UAR (Undergraduate Advanced Research), designed to teach students research skills, including how to design an experiment and communicate results.</p> <p>“What’s different about SuperUROP [compared to other research opportunities offered to undergraduates] is the companion class that guides you through the necessary writing and speaking,” says Anis Ehsani, a senior majoring in EECS and mathematics, whose project centered on the geometry of drawing political districts. “If I want to pursue a research career, it’s nice to have those skills,” adds Ehsani, an MIT EECS/Nutanix SuperUROP scholar.</p> <p><strong>Beyond the lab and classroom</strong></p> <p>Participants present their work at showcases in the fall and spring, and they are expected to produce prototypes or publication-worthy results by the end of the year.</p> <p>“All these presentations help keep us on track with our projects,” says Weitung Chen, an EECS junior whose project focuses on automating excavation for mining applications. He explains that the inspiration for his SuperUROP work was a real-world problem he faced when trying to build a startup in automated food preparation. Scooping tofu, it turns out, is surprisingly difficult to automate. At the showcase, Chen — an MIT EECS/Angle SuperUROP scholar — explained that he is trying to create a simulation than can be used to train machines to scoop materials autonomously. “I feel really accomplished having this poster and presentation,” he said.</p> <p>Launched by EECS in 2012, SuperUROP has expanded across the Institute over the past several years.</p> <p>Adam Berinsky, the Mitsui Professor of Political Science, is working with SuperUROP students for the first time this year, an experience he’s enjoying. “What’s really cool is being able to give undergraduates firsthand experience in real research,” he says. He’s been able to tap students for the computer science skills he needs for his work, while providing them with a deep dive into the social sciences.</p> <p>Madeline Abrahams, an MIT/Tang Family FinTech SuperUROP scholar, says she especially appreciates the program’s flexibility: “I could explore my interdisciplinary interests,” she says. A computer science and engineering major who is also passionate about political science, Abrahams is working with Berinsky to investigate the spread of misinformation related to climate change via algorithmic aggregation platforms.</p> <p>Nicholas Bonaker also enjoyed the freedom of pursuing his SuperUROP project. “I’ve been able to take the research in the direction I want,” says Bonaker, a junior in EECS, who has developed a new algorithm he hopes will improve an assistive technology developed by his advisor, EECS Associate Professor Tamara Broderick.</p> <p><strong>Exploring new directions in health care</strong></p> <p>Bonaker said he particularly values the health-care focus of his project, which centers on creating better communications software for people living with severe motor impairments. “It feels like I’m doing something that can help people — using things I learned in class,” says Bonaker. He is among this year’s MIT EECS/CS+HASS SuperUROP scholars, whose projects combine computer science with the humanities, arts, or social sciences. &nbsp;</p> <p>Many of this year’s SuperUROP students are working on health-care applications. For example, Fatima Gunter-Rahman, a junior in EECS and biology, is examining Alzheimer’s data, and Sabrina Liu, an EECS junior and MIT EECS/Takeda SUperUROP scholar, is investigating noninvasive ways to monitor the heartrates of dental patients. Justin Lim, a senior math major, is using data analytics to try to determine the optimal treatment for chronic diseases like diabetes. “I like the feeling that my work would have real-world impact,” says Lim, an MIT EECS/Hewlett Foundation SuperUROP scholar. “It’s been very satisfying.”</p> <p>Dhamanpreet Kaur, a junior majoring in math and computer science and molecular biology, is using machine learning to determine the characteristics of patients who are readmitted to hospitals following their discharge to skilled nursing facilities. The work aims to predict who might benefit most from expensive telehealth systems that enable clinicians to monitor patients remotely. The project has given Kaur the chance to work with a multidisciplinary team of professors and doctors. “I find that aspect fascinating,” says Kaur, also an MIT EECS/Takeda SuperUROP scholar.</p> <p>As attendees bustled through the two-hour December showcase, some of the most enthusiastic visitors were industry sponsors, including Larry Bair ’84, SM ’86, a director at Advanced Micro Devices. “I’m always amazed at what undergraduates are doing,” he says, noting that his company has been sponsoring SuperUROPs for the last few years.</p> <p>“It’s always interesting to see what’s going on at MIT,” says Tom O’Dwyer, an MIT research affiliate and the former director of technology at Analog Devices, another industry sponsor. O’Dwyer notes that supporting SuperUROP can help companies with recruitment. “The whole high-tech business runs on smart people,” he says. “SuperUROPs can lead to internships and employment.”</p> <p>SuperUROP also exposes students to the work of academia, which can underscore a key difference between classwork and research: Research results are unpredictable.</p> <p>Junior math major Lior Hirschfeld, for example, compared the effectiveness of different machine learning methods used to test molecules for potential in drug development. “None of them performed exceptionally well,” he says.</p> <p>That might appear to be a poor result, but Hirschfeld notes that it’s important information for those who are using and trusting those tests today. “It shows you may not always know where you are going when you start a project,” says Hirschfeld, also an MIT EECS/Takeda SuperUROP scholar.</p> <p>EECS senior Kenneth Acquah had a similar experience with his SuperUROP project, which focuses on finding a technological way to combat money laundering with Bitcoin. “We’ve tried a bunch of things but mostly found out what doesn’t work,” he says.</p> <p>Still, Acquah says, he values the SuperUROP experience, including the chance to work in MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). "I get a lot more supervision, more one-on-one time with my mentor," the MIT/EECS Tang Family FinTech SuperUROP scholar says. "And working in CSAIL has given me access to state-of-the-art materials."</p> Madeline Abrahams, an EECS senior and MIT/Tang Family FinTech SuperUROP scholar, presents her work investigating the spread of misinformation related to climate change via algorithmic aggregation platforms at the SuperUROP Showcase. Photo: Gretchen ErtlElectrical engineering and computer science (EECS), School of Engineering, SuperUROP, Political science, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Aeronautical and astronautical engineering, Chemical engineering, Civil and environmental engineering, Urban studies and planning, School of Architecture and Planning, Students, Research, Undergraduate, Classes and programs, Special events and guest speakers Powering the planet Fikile Brushett and his team are designing electrochemical technology to secure the planet’s energy future. Wed, 29 Jan 2020 09:00:00 -0500 Zain Humayun | School of Engineering <p>Before Fikile Brushett wanted to be an engineer, he wanted to be a soccer player. Today, however, Brushett is the Cecil and Ida Green Career Development Associate Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering. Building 66 might not look much like a soccer field, but Brushett says the sport taught him a fundamental lesson that has proved invaluable in his scientific endeavors.<br /> <br /> “The teams that are successful are the teams that work together,” Brushett says.</p> <p>That philosophy inspires the Brushett Research Group, which draws on disciplines as diverse as organic chemistry and economics to create new electrochemical processes and devices.</p> <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p>As the world moves toward cleaner and sustainable sources of energy, one of the major challenges is converting efficiently between electrical and chemical energy. This is the challenge undertaken by Brushett and his colleagues, who are trying to push the frontiers of electrochemical technology.</p> <p>Brushett’s research focuses on ways to improve redox flow batteries, which are potentially low-cost alternatives to conventional batteries and a viable way of storing energy from renewable sources like wind and the sun. His group also explores means to recycle carbon dioxide — a greenhouse gas — into fuels and useful chemicals, and to extract energy from biomass.</p> <p>In his work, Brushett is helping to transform every stage of the energy pipeline: from unlocking the potential of solar and wind energy to replacing combustion engines with fuel cells, and even enabling greener industrial processes.</p> <p>“A lot of times, electrochemical technologies work in some areas, but we'd like them to work much more broadly than we've asked them to do beforehand,” Brushett says. “A lot of that is now driving the need for new innovation in the area, and that's where we come in.”</p> Fikile Brushett is the Cecil and Ida Green Career Development Associate Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering.Photo: Lillie Paquette/School of EngineeringSchool of Engineering, Chemical engineering, Energy, Energy storage, Climate change, Batteries, Profile, Faculty, Sustainability, Chemistry, electronics Accelerating the pace of engineering The 2019-20 School of Engineering MathWorks Fellows are using MATLAB and Simulink to advance discovery and innovation across disciplines. Tue, 28 Jan 2020 17:00:01 -0500 Lori LoTurco | School of Engineering <p>Founded in 1984 by Jack Little ’78 and Cleve Moler, MathWorks was built on the premise of providing engineers and scientists with more powerful and productive computation environments. In 1985, the company sold its very first order&nbsp;— 10 copies of its first product, MATLAB — to MIT.</p> <p>Decades later, engineers across MIT and around the world consistently rely on MathWorks products to accelerate the pace of discovery, innovation, and development in automotive, aerospace, electronics, biotech-pharmaceutical, and other industries.&nbsp;MathWorks’ products and support have had a significant impact on <em>MITx,</em> OpenCourseWare, and MIT’s digital learning efforts across campus, including the Department of Mathematics, one of the School of Engineering’s closest collaborators in the use of digital learning tools and educational technologies.</p> <p>“We have a strong belief in the importance of engineers and scientists,” says Little. “They act to increase human knowledge and profoundly improve our standard of living. We create products like MATLAB and Simulink to help them do their best work.”</p> <p>As the language of technical computing, MATLAB is a programming environment for algorithm development, data analysis, visualization, and numeric computation. It is used extensively by faculty, students, and researchers across MIT and by over 4 million users in industry, government, and academia in 185 countries.</p> <p>Simulink is a block diagram environment for simulation and model-based design of multidomain and embedded engineering systems, including automatic code generation, verification, and validation. It is used heavily in automotive, aerospace, and other applications that design complex real-time systems.</p> <p>This past summer, MathWorks celebrated 35 years of accelerating the pace of engineering and science. Shortly following this milestone, MathWorks awarded 11 engineering fellowships to graduate students within the School of Engineering who are active users of MATLAB or Simulink. The fellows are using the programs to advance discovery and innovation across disciplines.</p> <p>“PhD fellowships are an investment in the world’s long-term future, and there are few investments more valuable than that,” says Little.</p> <p>The 2019-20 MathWorks fellows are:</p> <p><a href="">Pasquale Antonante</a> is a PhD student in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He uses MATLAB and Simulink to build tools that make robots more accurate.</p> <p><a href="">Alireza Fallah</a> is a PhD student in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. He uses Matlab and Symbolic Math Toolbox to develop better machine-learning algorithms.</p> <p><a href="">James Gabbard</a> is a SM/PhD student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. He uses MATLAB to model fluids and materials.</p> <p><a href="">Nicolas Meirhaeghe</a><strong> </strong>is a PhD student in medical engineering and medical physics in the Bioastronautics Training Program at Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. He uses MATLAB to visualize activity in the brain and understand how it is related to an individual’s behavior.</p> <p><a href="">Caroline Nielsen</a> is a PhD student in the Department of Chemical Engineering. She uses MATLAB to implement and test new applications of non-smooth analysis. She also intends to use MATLAB to in the next phase of her research, developing methods to simultaneously optimize for minimal resource use and operating costs.</p> <p><a href="">Bauyrzhan Primkulov</a><strong> </strong>is a PhD student in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He uses MATLAB to build computational models and explore how fluids interact in porous materials.</p> <p><a href="">Kate Reidy</a><strong> </strong>is a PhD student in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. She studies how 2D materials — only a single atom thick — can be combined with 3D materials, and uses MATLAB to analyze the properties of different materials.</p> <p><a href="">Isabelle Su</a><strong> </strong>is a PhD student in civil and environmental engineering. She builds computational models with MATLAB to understand the mechanical properties of spider webs.</p> <p><a href="">Joy Zeng</a><strong> </strong>is a PhD student in chemical engineering. Her research is focused on the electrochemical transformation of carbon dioxide to fuels and commodity chemicals. She uses MATLAB to model chemical reactions.</p> <p><a href="">Benjamin "Jiahong" Zhang</a><strong> </strong>is a PhD student in computational science and engineering. He uses MATLAB to prototype new methods for rare event simulation, finding new methods by leveraging mathematical principles used in proofs and re-purposing them for computation.</p> <p><a href="">Paul Zhang</a><strong> </strong>is a PhD student in electrical engineering and computer science. He uses MATLAB to develop algorithms with applications in meshing — the use of simple shapes to study complex ones.</p> <p>For MathWorks, fostering engineering education is a priority, so when deciding where to focus philanthropic support, MIT — its very first customer — was an obvious choice.</p> <p>“We are so humbled by MathWorks' generosity, and their continued support of our engineering students through these fellowships,” says Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of the School of Engineering. “Our relationship with MathWorks is one that we revere — they have developed products that foster research and advancement across many disciplines, and through their support our students launch discoveries and innovation that align with MathWorks’ mission.”</p> MathWorks fellows with Anantha Chandrakasan (back row, center), dean of the MIT School of Engineering. Not pictured: Fellows Pasquale Antonante, Alireza Fallah, and Kate Reidy.Photo: David DegnerSchool of Engineering, MITx, OpenCourseWare, Mathematics, Electrical engineering and computer science (EECS), Mechanical engineering, Chemical engineering, Civil and environmental engineering, Awards, honors and fellowships, Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology, Alumni/ae, Startups, Aeronautical and astronautical engineering, DMSE, Computer science and technology, School of Science Reasons to go outside A MindHandHeart Innovation Fund project spearheaded by staff member Angelique Scarpa is bringing elements of nature to MIT. Tue, 21 Jan 2020 12:30:01 -0500 Maisie O’Brien | MindHandHeart <p>Angelique Scarpa, an administrative assistant in the Department of Chemical Engineering, adores birds of prey. An avid bird watcher and nature enthusiast, she is awed by soaring hawks, hooting owls, and majestic eagles.</p> <p>Over the past year, Scarpa has been working to share her passion for the natural world with members of her department. She received funding from the <a href="">MindHandHeart Innovation Fund</a> to launch her “Reasons to Go Outside” project.</p> <p>Consisting of a website and event series, her project arose out of a grant writing class she took at the Harvard Extension School. “We were required to draft a fake proposal as part of the course,” Scarpa recalls. “The idea to bring a nature-themed, community-building project to the chemical engineering department was already on my mind, so I decided to make it happen for real. I looked into what grant programs were available for MIT staff and stumbled upon the MindHandHeart Innovation Fund, which was a great find.”</p> <p>The first part of her project consisted of a website mapping out the green spaces in and around MIT as well as those located a short distance away, accessible by public transportation (<a href=""></a>). Scarpa added maps and video directions for several sites, including the Kendall Roof Garden, the Charles River paths, and Fresh Pond Reservoir. The site also features bird watching tips, book recommendations, and other nature-themed resources.</p> <p>Brian Smith, the environmental health and safety coordinator in the Department of Chemical Engineering, provided feedback to Scarpa as her site was coming together. “I think Angelique’s site will inspire people to go outside,” Smith says. “It’s visually engaging and particularly useful for students who are not familiar with the area and are looking for ways to be in nature and get out of the MIT bubble.”</p> <p>In fall 2018, Scarpa hosted a nature presentation for members of the chemical engineering department, featuring a teacher naturalist from <a href="">Drumlin Farm</a> and a host of animals, including a great horned owl, red-tailed hawk, and striped skunk. This fall, she organized two nature journaling workshops with illustrator and naturalist Clare Walker Leslie.</p> <p>Chun Man Chow, a PhD student in chemical engineering, attended the workshops and reflected on them, saying “Nature journaling offers me the chance to take a break from my typical work day. I can pause and observe the world around me with all of my senses. Even amidst our industrial-looking MIT buildings, there is quite a bit of wildlife. Since the events, I started nature journaling on my own, and it’s been really rewarding.”</p> <p>“Looking around and seeing people enjoying themselves at these events was so fulfilling,” says Scarpa. “I think being drawn to nature is part of our human biological makeup. Being outside and being in tune with the rhythms of nature can help bring people back in touch with their minds, bodies, and hearts.”</p> <p>Considering what advice she would give to others considering implementing community-building projects in their departments, Scarpa says: “Absolutely go for it! Working with MindHandHeart and my colleagues in my department to launch this initiative has been a wonderful experience.”</p> <p>This semester, she is hoping to gather interested students, faculty, and staff for brief nature journaling sessions on MIT’s campus. “Time spent in nature has vastly improved my mood, outlook, and life overall,” says Scarpa. “I look forward to sharing the wealth of what I’ve learned from time spent outside.”</p> <p>MIT staff, faculty, students, and students’ spouses can apply to the <a href="">MindHandHeart Innovation Fund</a> to realize their ideas to make MIT a more welcoming, inclusive, and healthy place. The next funding cycle opens March 1-31.</p> Angelique Scarpa, an administrative assistant in the Department of Chemical Engineering, is encouraging MIT community members to spend time in nature.Photo: Maisie O'BrienMindHandHeart, Chemical engineering, Community, Mental health, Special events and guest speakers, Cambridge, Boston and region, Staff, Classes and programs Ingestible medical devices can be broken down with light New light-sensitive material could eliminate some of the endoscopic procedures needed to remove gastrointestinal devices. Fri, 17 Jan 2020 13:59:59 -0500 Anne Trafton | MIT News Office <p>A variety of medical devices can be inserted into the gastrointestinal tract to treat, diagnose, or monitor GI disorders. Many of these have to be removed by endoscopic surgery once their job is done. However, MIT engineers have now come up with a way to trigger such devices to break down inside the body when they are exposed to light from an ingestible LED.</p> <p>The new approach is based on a light-sensitive hydrogel that the researchers designed. Incorporating this material into medical devices could avoid many endoscopic procedures and would give doctors a faster and easier way to remove devices when they are no longer needed or are not functioning properly, the researchers say.</p> <p>“We are developing a set of systems that can reside in the gastrointestinal tract, and as part of that, we’re looking to develop different ways in which we can trigger the disassembly of devices in the GI tract without the requirement for a major procedure,” says Giovanni Traverso, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, a gastroenterologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the senior author of the study.</p> <p>In a study in pigs, the researchers showed that devices made with this light-sensitive hydrogel can be triggered to break down after being exposed to blue or ultraviolet light from a small LED.</p> <p>Ritu Raman, a postdoc at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, is the lead author of <a href="" target="_blank">the paper</a>, which appears today in <em>Science Advances</em>. Other authors of the paper are former technical associates Tiffany Hua, Jianlin Zhou, Tina Esfandiary, and Vance Soares; technical associates Declan Gwynne, Joy Collins, and Siddartha Tamang; graduate student Simo Pajovic; Division of Comparative Medicine veterinarian Alison Hayward; and David H. Koch Institute Professor Robert Langer.</p> <p><strong>Controlled breakdown</strong></p> <p>Over the past several years, Traverso and Langer have developed many ingestible devices designed to remain in the GI tract for extended periods of time. They have also worked on a variety of strategies to control the breakdown of such devices, including methods based on changes in pH or temperature, or exposure to certain chemicals.</p> <p>“Given our interests in developing systems that can reside for prolonged periods in the gastrointestinal tract, we continue to investigate a range of approaches to facilitate the removal of these systems in the setting of adverse reaction or when they are no longer needed,” Traverso says. “We’re really looking at different triggers and how they perform, and whether we can apply them to different settings.”</p> <p>In this study, the researchers explored a light-based trigger, which they believed could offer some advantages over their earlier approaches. One potential advantage is that light can act at a distance and doesn’t need to come into direct contact with the material being broken down. Also, light normally does not penetrate the GI tract, so there is no chance of accidental triggering.&nbsp;</p> <p>To create the new material, Raman designed a light-sensitive hydrogel based on a material developed in the lab of Kristi Anseth, a former Langer lab postdoc who is now a professor of chemical and biological engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder. This polymer gel includes a chemical bond that is broken when exposed to a wavelength of light between 405 and 365 nanometers (blue to ultraviolet).</p> <p>Raman decided that instead of making a material composed exclusively of that light-sensitive polymer, she would use it to link together stronger components such as polyacrylamide. This makes the overall material more durable but still allows it to break apart or weaken when exposed to the right wavelength of light. She also constructed the material as a “double network,” in which one polymer network surrounds another.</p> <p>“You’re forming one polymer network and then forming another polymer network around it, so it’s really entangled. That makes it very tough and stretchy,” Raman says.</p> <p>The material’s properties can be tuned by varying the composition of the gel. When the light-sensitive linker makes up a higher percentage of the material, it breaks down faster in response to light but is also mechanically weaker. The researchers can also control how long it takes to break down the material by using different wavelengths of light. Blue light works more slowly but poses less risk to cells that are sensitive to damage from ultraviolet light.</p> <p><strong>Deflated by light</strong></p> <p>The gel and its breakdown products are biocompatible, and the gel can be easily molded into a variety of shapes. In this study, the researchers used it to demonstrate two possible applications: a seal for a bariatric balloon and an esophageal stent. Standard bariatric balloons, which are sometimes used to help treat obesity, are inflated in a patient’s stomach and filled with saline. After about six months, the balloon is removed by endoscopic surgery.</p> <p>In contrast, the bariatric balloon that the MIT team designed can be deflated by exposing the seal to a tiny LED light, which would in principle be swallowed and then pass out of the body. Their balloon is made of latex and filled with sodium polyacrylate, which absorbs water. In this study, the researchers tested the balloons in pigs and found that the balloons swelled up as soon as they were placed in the stomach. When a small, ingestible LED emitting blue light was placed in the stomach for about six hours, the balloons slowly deflated. With a higher-power light, the material broke down within 30 minutes.</p> <p>The researchers also molded the light-sensitive gel into an esophageal stent. Such stents are sometimes used to help treat esophageal cancer or other disorders that cause a narrowing of the esophagus. A light-triggerable version could be broken down and passed through the digestive tract when no longer needed.</p> <p>In addition to those two applications, this approach could be used to create other kinds of degradable devices, such as vehicles for delivering drugs to the gastrointestinal tract, according to the researchers.</p> <p>“This study is a proof of concept that we can create this kind of material, and now we’re thinking about what are the best applications for it,” Traverso says.</p> <p>The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Bill &amp; Melinda Gates Foundation, the Koch Institute Support (core) Grant from the National Cancer Institute, and an AAAS L’Oréal USA for Women in Science Fellowship.</p> MIT engineers demonstrated a bariatric balloon that can be inflated in the stomach and then degraded by shining light on the seal, which is made of a novel light-sensitive polymer.Image: Ritu RamanResearch, Medicine, Mechanical engineering, Chemical engineering, Koch Institute, School of Engineering, National Institutes of Health (NIH), Health sciences and technology MindHandHeart announces a record 21 new Innovation Fund winners The 10th round of MindHandHeart Innovation Fund projects is bringing diversity, equity, and inclusion, wellness, and community-building programming to campus. Wed, 15 Jan 2020 10:30:01 -0500 Maisie O’Brien | MindHandHeart <p>A meditative nature retreat, healthy cooking projects, and several initiatives advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion are coming to MIT courtesy of the <a href="">MindHandHeart Innovation Fund</a>. Sponsored by the <a href="">Office of the Chancellor</a>, the MindHandHeart Innovation Fund offers grants of up to $10,000 to advance ideas that make MIT a more welcoming, inclusive, and healthy place.</p> <p>This cycle, MindHandHeart (MHH) awarded $51,534 to 21 projects selected from 45 applications. Seventy-six percent of awarded projects are spearheaded by students and 24 percent are driven by staff members.</p> <p>Applications were reviewed by Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart, MHH’s Faculty Chair Roz Picard, members of MindHandHeart’s volunteer coalition comprising MIT students, faculty, and staff members as well as representatives from Active Minds, the Undergraduate Association Wellness Committee, the Undergraduate Association Innovation Committee, and the Graduate Student Council.</p> <p>“It’s wonderful to see community members using their many talents to launch projects that bring more ‘heart’ to MIT,” says Barnhart. “From the development of proposals to the review process to the implementation of projects, the Innovation Fund is truly a community-building effort.”</p> <p>Nine projects aim to build community and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion at MIT.</p> <p>The “Graduate Student Council Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (GSC-DEI) Fellows Program + gradCommunity Dialogues Series” seeks to make MIT a more equitable, inclusive, and engaging place through peer-to-peer dialogues.</p> <p>One of the project’s founders, graduate student Bianca Lepe, describes the project, saying “The GSC DEI Graduate Fellows and subsequent gradCommunity Dialogues will give students the space to have thoughtful conversations across social and cultural differences. Students will gain a better understanding of how to identify inequities, engage in challenging discussions about inequities, and lower the barrier to engage comfortably in these conversations in their classrooms and research groups. We hope that this will help transform MIT’s climate by giving individuals a space to learn and empathize.”</p> <p>Another graduate student-led project, “Spill the Tea” is a monthly program connecting graduate students of color and their allies around tea for open-ended conversation, connection to MIT resources, and a sense of belonging. The goal of the “Aunties and Uncles Freshman Mentorship Program” is to strengthen the support network for first-year students in the MIT African Students Association. “Noches de Cultura” is bringing a series of events showcasing Latin American arts and culture to campus to foster spaces of community and engagement.</p> <p>Organized by the Communications Forum, “Sexual Harassment Culture at MIT” is a moderated panel exploring how harassment affects the MIT community, the experiences of survivors, and what institutional change looks like. The student-driven “MIT Women in Econ Lunch” project is a series of lunches designed to support women in the Department of Economics.</p> <p>“Queer Film and Crafting Nights” is a monthly event series bringing together LGBTQ+ individuals and allies within the Department of Biology. The “VISTA Holiday Celebration” outlines a plan to bring international visiting students and graduate students together to mark the holiday season and reduce potential isolation.</p> <p>“There’s a SPXCE for Everyone” is a campaign to host events in areas that are traditionally not seen as being inclusive of certain marginalized identity groups. “There’s a SPXCE for Everyone” organizer and Assistant Director of Intercultural Engagement for LBGTQ+ Services Lauryn McNair describes the project, saying “The takeover campaign is to extend the inclusive environment for students to be their authentic selves while experiencing events off campus in spaces that are traditionally populated by dominant identities. The MHH Innovation Fund allows SPXCE to take students to see a classical music performance at Symphony Hall with other students in their communities, to 'take over' the space, and to learn more about how diversity and inclusion is shaping Symphony Hall performances.”</p> <p>A number of newly funded projects promote wellness and self-care.</p> <p>Spearheaded by Graduate Resident Advisor in MacGregor House Kaitlyn Gee, “Discovering and Personalizing Self-Care: A Series of Workshops for MIT Students” encourages undergraduate residents of MacGregor to develop self-care practices through events focused on painting, nature, and food. “Natural Inspiration,” led by Integrated Design and Management student Western Bonime, is a nature retreat where participants will meditate, take mindful walks, and admire the natural world.</p> <p>Spearheaded by Buddhist Chaplain Tenzin Priyadarshi, the “Gratitude Project” motivates MIT community members to pause, reflect, and cultivate gratitude. “Mindful MIT” is an initiative to distribute 120 mindfulness journals to Sloan students, along with materials advertising campus support resources. “IDSS Presents: Intelligence Demands Super Relaxation” is a student-led project to add de-stressing tools and furniture to Institute for Data, Systems, and Society common spaces.&nbsp;</p> <p>Led by Hindu Chaplain Sadananda Dasa, “Handling Negativity” consists of a series of workshops where participants will learn techniques from ancient Vedic texts to confront negativity and cultivate positive thoughts.</p> <p>Four projects are designed to build community and promote healthy eating. “EZhealth” is a student-led group hosting cooking classes in independent living groups. “ChopStirHack” is a student-led food magazine, building off the success of their <a href="">cookbook</a>. “Recipes from Home” is a cookbook project that seeks to share cultural and culinary traditions within the Department of Urban Studies and Planning’s 2020 Master in City Planning graduating class. Lastly, the “Cambridge Culinary Cooking Class” brings students and faculty members in the Department of Chemical Engineering together for an interactive cooking class.</p> <p>Other projects include the “Graduate Student Book Exchange,” an event where students can connect over their favorite books, and “Save TFP: Grand Care Package Event,” a large-scale event where undergraduates will make care packages for their friends during Random Acts of Kindness Week in March.</p> <p>MHH has supported <a href="">138 Innovation Fund projects</a> to date, 17 of which are now self-sustaining.</p> <p>The next <a href="" target="_blank">MindHandHeart Innovation Fund</a> cycle opens March 1-31. MIT staff, faculty, students, and students’ spouses with ideas to make MIT a more welcoming, inclusive, and healthy place are encouraged to apply.</p> Fall 2019 MindHandHeart Innovation Fund granteesPhoto: Maisie O'BrienMindHandHeart, Biology, Economics, Urban studies and planning, Chemical engineering, Community, Mental health, Student life, Chancellor, MIT Medical, Grants, Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning (LGBTQ), Campus services, Diversity and inclusion Bose grants for 2019 reward bold ideas across disciplines Three innovative research projects in literature, plant epigenetics, and chemical engineering will be supported by Professor Amar G. Bose Research Grants. Mon, 23 Dec 2019 14:40:11 -0500 MIT Resource Development <p>Now in their seventh year, the Professor Amar G. Bose Research Grants support visionary projects that represent intellectual curiosity and a pioneering spirit. Three MIT faculty members have each been awarded one of these prestigious awards for 2019 to pursue diverse questions in the humanities, biology, and engineering.</p> <p>At a ceremony hosted by MIT President L. Rafael Reif on Nov. 25 and attended by past awardees, Provost Martin Schmidt, the Ray and Maria Stata Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, formally announced this year’s Amar G. Bose Research Fellows: Sandy Alexandre, Mary Gehring, and Kristala L.J. Prather.</p> <p>The fellowships are named&nbsp;for&nbsp;the late Amar G. Bose ’51, SM ’52, ScD ’56, a longtime MIT faculty member and the founder of the Bose Corporation. Speaking at the event, President Reif expressed appreciation for the Bose Fellowships, which enable highly creative and unusual research in areas that can be hard to fund through traditional means. “We are tremendously grateful to the Bose family for providing the support that allows bold and curious thinkers at MIT to dream big, challenge themselves, and explore.”</p> <p>Judith Bose, widow of Amar’s son, Vanu ’87, SM ’94, PhD ’99, congratulated the fellows on behalf of the Bose family. “We talk a lot at this event about the power of a great innovative idea, but I think it was a personal mission of Dr. Bose to nurture the ability, in each individual that he met along the way, to follow through — not just to have the great idea but the agency that comes with being able to pursue your idea, follow it through, and actually see where it leads,” Bose said. “And Vanu was the same way. That care that was epitomized by Dr. Bose not just in the idea itself, but in the personal investment, agency, and nurturing necessary to bring the idea to life — that care is a large part of what makes true change in the world."</p> <p><strong>The relationship between literature and engineering</strong></p> <p>Many technological innovations have resulted from the influence of literature, one of the most notable being the World Wide Web. According to many sources, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the web’s inventor, found inspiration from a short story by Arthur C. Clarke titled “Dial F for Frankenstein.” Science fiction has presaged a number of real-life technological innovations, including&nbsp;the defibrillator, noted in Mary Shelley’s "Frankenstein;" the submarine, described in Jules Verne’s "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea;" and earbuds, described in Ray Bradbury’s "Fahrenheit 451." But the data about literature’s influence on STEM innovations are spotty, and these one-to-one relationships are not always clear-cut.</p> <p>Sandy Alexandre, associate professor of literature, intends to change that by creating a large-scale database of the imaginary inventions found in literature. Alexandre’s project will enact the step-by-step mechanics of STEM innovation via one of its oft-unsung sources: literature. “To deny or sever the ties that bind STEM and literature is to suggest — rather disingenuously — that the ideas for many of the STEM devices that we know and love miraculously just came out of nowhere or from an elsewhere where literature isn’t considered relevant or at all,” she says.</p> <p>During the first phase of her work, Alexandre will collaborate with students to enter into the database the imaginary inventions as they are described verbatim in a selection of books and other texts that fall under the category of speculative fiction—a category that includes but is not limited to the subgenres of fantasy, Afrofuturism, and science fiction. This first phase will, of course, require that students carefully read these texts in general, but also read for these imaginary inventions more specifically. Additionally, students with drawing skills will be tasked with interpreting the descriptions by illustrating them as two-dimensional images.</p> <p>From this vast inventory of innovations, Alexandre, in consultation with students involved in the project, will decide on a short list of inventions that meet five criteria: they must be feasible, ethical, worthwhile, useful, and necessary. This vetting process, which constitutes the second phase of the project, is guided by a very important question: what can creating and thinking with a vast database of speculative fiction’s imaginary inventions teach us about what kinds of ideas we should (and shouldn’t) attempt to make into a reality? For the third and final phase, Alexandre will convene a team to build a real-life prototype of one of the imaginary inventions. She envisions this prototype being placed on exhibit at the MIT Museum.</p> <p>The Bose research grant, Alexandre says, will allow her to take this project from a thought experiment to lab experiment. “This project aims to ensure that literature no longer play an overlooked role in STEM innovations. Therefore, the STEM innovation, which will be the culminating prototype of this research project, will cite a work of literature as the main source of information used in its invention.”</p> <p><strong>Nature’s role in chemical production</strong></p> <p>Kristala L.J. Prather ’94, the Arthur D. Little Professor of Chemical Engineering, has been focused on using biological systems for chemical production during the 15 years she’s been at the Institute. Biology as a medium for chemical synthesis has been successfully exploited to commercially produce molecules for uses that range from food to pharmaceuticals — ethanol is a good example. However, there is a range of other molecules with which scientists have been trying to work, but they have faced challenges around an insufficient amount of material being produced and a lack of defined steps needed to make a specific compound.</p> <p>Prather’s research is rooted in the fact that there are a number of naturally (and unnaturally) occurring chemical compounds in the environment, and cells have evolved to be able to consume them. These cells have evolved or developed a protein that will sense a compound’s presence — a biosensor — and in response will make other proteins that help the cells utilize that compound for its benefit.</p> <p>“We know biology can do this,” Prather says, “so if we can put together a sufficiently diverse set of microorganisms, can we just let nature make these regulatory molecules for anything that we want to be able to sense or detect?” Her hypothesis is that if her team exposes cells to a new compound for a long enough period of time, the cells will evolve the ability to either utilize that carbon source or develop an ability to respond to it. If Prather and her team can then identify the protein that’s now recognizing what that new compound is, they can isolate it and use it to improve the production of that compound in other systems. “The idea is to let nature evolve specificity for particular molecules that we’re interested in,” she adds.</p> <p>Prather’s lab has been working with biosensors for some time, but her team has been limited to sensors that are already well characterized and that were readily available. She’s interested in how they can get access to a wider range of what she knows nature has available through the incremental exposure of new compounds to a more comprehensive subset of microorganisms.</p> <p>“To accelerate the transformation of the chemical industry, we must find a way to create better biological catalysts and to create new tools when the existing ones are insufficient,” Prather says. “I am grateful to the Bose Fellowship Committee for allowing me to explore this novel idea.”</p> <p>Prather’s findings as a result of this project hold the possibility of broad impacts in the field of metabolic engineering, including the development of microbial systems that can be engineered to enhance degradation of both toxic and nontoxic waste.</p> <p><strong>Adopting orphan crops to adapt to climate change</strong></p> <p>In the context of increased environmental pressure and competing land uses, meeting global food security needs is a pressing challenge. Although yield gains in staple grains such as rice, wheat, and corn have been high over the last 50 years, these have been accompanied by a homogenization of the global food supply; only 50 crops provide 90% of global food needs.</p> <p>However, there are at least 3,000 plants that can be grown and consumed by humans, and many of these species thrive in marginal soils, at high temperatures, and with little rainfall. These “orphan” crops are important food sources for farmers in less developed countries but have been the subject of little research.</p> <p>Mary Gehring, associate professor of biology at MIT, seeks to bring orphan crops into the molecular age through epigenetic engineering. She is working to promote hybridization, increase genetic diversity, and reveal desired traits for two orphan seed crops: an oilseed crop, <em>Camelina sativa </em>(false flax), and a high-protein legume, <em>Cajanus cajan </em>(pigeon pea).</p> <p><em>C. sativa, </em>which produces seeds with potential for uses in food and biofuel applications, can grow on land with low rainfall, requires minimal fertilizer inputs, and is resistant to several common plant pathogens. Until the mid-20th century, <em>C. sativa </em>was widely grown in Europe but was supplanted by canola, with a resulting loss of genetic diversity. Gehring proposes to recover this genetic diversity by creating and characterizing hybrids between <em>C. sativa </em>and wild relatives that have increased genetic diversity.</p> <p>“To find the best cultivars of orphan crops that will withstand ever increasing environmental insults requires a deeper understanding of the diversity present within these species. We need to expand the plants we rely on for our food supply if we want to continue to thrive in the future,” says Gehring. “Studying orphan crops represents a significant step in that direction. The Bose grant will allow my lab to focus on this historically neglected but vitally important field.”</p> Left to right: MIT Provost Martin Schmidt and President L. Rafael Reif stand with 2019 Bose Fellows Kristala Prather, Mary Gehring, and Sandy Alexandre, along with Judy Bose and Ursula Bose.Photo: Rose LincolnAwards, honors and fellowships, Grants, Faculty, Literature, Technology and society, Chemical engineering, Drug development, Chemistry, Biology, Microbes, Agriculture, Climate change, School of Science, School of Engineering, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Alumni/ae A new way to remove contaminants from nuclear wastewater Method concentrates radionuclides in a small portion of a nuclear plant’s wastewater, allowing the rest to be recycled. Thu, 19 Dec 2019 09:23:05 -0500 David L. Chandler | MIT News Office <p>Nuclear power continues to expand globally, propelled, in part, by the fact that it produces few greenhouse gas emissions while providing steady power output. But along with that expansion comes an increased need for dealing with the large volumes of water used for cooling these plants, which becomes contaminated with radioactive isotopes that require special long-term disposal.</p> <p>Now, a method developed at MIT provides a way of substantially reducing the volume of contaminated water that needs to be disposed of, instead concentrating the contaminants and allowing the rest of the water to be recycled through the plant’s cooling system. The proposed system is described in the journal <em>Environmental Science and Technology</em>, in a paper by graduate student Mohammad Alkhadra, professor of chemical engineering Martin Bazant, and three others.</p> <p>The method makes use of a process called shock electrodialysis, which uses an electric field to generate a deionization shockwave in the water. The shockwave pushes the electrically charged particles, or ions, to one side of a tube filled with charged porous material, so that concentrated stream of contaminants can be separated out from the rest of the water. The group discovered that two radionuclide contaminants — isotopes of cobalt and cesium — can be selectively removed from water that also contains boric acid and lithium. After the water stream is cleansed of its cobalt and cesium contaminants, it can be reused in the reactor.</p> <p>The shock electrodialysis process was initially developed by Bazant and his co-workers as a general method of removing salt from water, as demonstrated in their <a href="">first scalable prototype</a> four years ago. Now, the team has focused on this more specific application, which could help improve the economics and environmental impact of working nuclear power plants. In ongoing research, they are also continuing to develop a system for removing other contaminants, including lead, from drinking water.</p> <p>Not only is the new system inexpensive and scalable to large sizes, but in principle it also can deal with a wide range of contaminants, Bazant says. “It’s a single device that can perform a whole range of separations for any specific application,” he says.</p> <p>In their earlier desalination work, the researchers used measurements of the water’s electrical conductivity to determine how much salt was removed. In the years since then, the team has developed other methods for detecting and quantifying the details of what’s in the concentrated radioactive waste and the cleaned water.</p> <p>“We carefully measure the composition of all the stuff going in and out,” says Bazant, who is the E.G. Roos Professor of Chemical Engineering as well as a professor of mathematics. “This really opened up a new direction for our research.” They began to focus on separation processes that would be useful for health reasons or that would result in concentrating material that has high value, either for reuse or to offset disposal costs.</p> <p>The method they developed works for sea water desalination, but it is a relatively energy-intensive process for that application. The energy cost is dramatically lower when the method is used for ion-selective separations from dilute streams such as nuclear plant cooling water. For this application, which also requires expensive disposal, the method makes economic sense, he says. It also hits both of the team’s targets: dealing with high-value materials and helping to safeguard health. The scale of the application is also significant — a single large nuclear plant can circulate about 10 million cubic meters of water per year through its cooling system, Alkhadra says.</p> <p>For their tests of the system, the researchers used simulated nuclear wastewater based on a recipe provided by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which sponsored the research and is a major builder of nuclear plants. In the team’s tests, after a three-stage separation process, they were able to remove 99.5 percent of the cobalt radionuclides in the water while retaining about 43 percent of the water in cleaned-up form so that it could be reused. As much as two-thirds of the water can be reused if the cleanup level is cut back to 98.3 percent of the contaminants removed, the team found.</p> <p>While the overall method has many potential applications, the nuclear wastewater separation, is “one of the first problems we think we can solve [with this method] that no other solution exists for,” Bazant says. No other practical, continuous, economic method has been found for separating out the radioactive isotopes of cobalt and cesium, the two major contaminants of nuclear wastewater, he adds.</p> <p>While the method could be used for routine cleanup, it could also make a big difference in dealing with more extreme cases, such as the millions of gallons of contaminated water at the damaged Fukushima Daichi power plant in Japan, where the accumulation of that contaminated water has threatened to overpower the containment systems designed to prevent it from leaking out into the adjacent Pacific. While the new system has so far only been tested at much smaller scales, Bazant says that such large-scale decontamination systems based on this method might be possible “within a few years.”</p> <p>The research team also included MIT postdocs Kameron Conforti and Tao Gao and graduate student Huanhuan Tian.</p> A small-scale device, seen here, was used in the lab to demonstrate the effectiveness of the new shockwave-based system for removing radioactive contaminants from the cooling water in nuclear powerplants.Image courtesy of the researchers Research, School of Engineering, Chemical engineering, Energy, Water, Desalination, Mathematics, Nuclear science and engineering Storing medical information below the skin’s surface Specialized dye, delivered along with a vaccine, could enable “on-patient” storage of vaccination history. Wed, 18 Dec 2019 13:59:59 -0500 Anne Trafton | MIT News Office <p>Every year, a lack of vaccination leads to about 1.5 million preventable deaths, primarily in developing nations. One factor that makes vaccination campaigns in those nations more difficult is that there is little infrastructure for storing medical records, so there’s often no easy way to determine who needs a particular vaccine.</p> <p>MIT researchers have now developed a novel way to record a patient’s vaccination history: storing the data in a pattern of dye, invisible to the naked eye, that is delivered under the skin at the same time as the vaccine.</p> <p>“In areas where paper vaccination cards are often lost or do not exist at all, and electronic databases are unheard of, this technology could enable the rapid and anonymous detection of patient vaccination history to ensure that every child is vaccinated,” says Kevin McHugh, a former MIT postdoc who is now an assistant professor of bioengineering at Rice University.</p> <p>The researchers showed that their new dye, which consists of nanocrystals called quantum dots, can remain for at least five years under the skin, where it emits near-infrared light that can be detected by a specially equipped smartphone.</p> <p>McHugh and former visiting scientist Lihong Jing are the lead authors of <a href="" target="_blank">the study</a>, which appears today in <em>Science Translational Medicine</em>. Ana Jaklenec, a research scientist at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, and Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT, are the senior authors of the paper.</p> <p><strong>An invisible record</strong></p> <p>Several years ago, the MIT team set out to devise a method for recording vaccination information in a way that doesn’t require a centralized database or other infrastructure. Many vaccines, such as the vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), require multiple doses spaced out at certain intervals; without accurate records, children may not receive all of the necessary doses.</p> <p>“In order to be protected against most pathogens, one needs multiple vaccinations,” Jaklenec says. “In some areas in the developing world, it can be very challenging to do this, as there is a lack of data about who has been vaccinated and whether they need additional shots or not.”</p> <p>To create an “on-patient,” decentralized medical record, the researchers developed a new type of copper-based quantum dots, which emit light in the near-infrared spectrum. The dots are only about 4 nanometers in diameter, but they are encapsulated in biocompatible microparticles that form spheres about 20 microns in diameter. This encapsulation allows the dye to remain in place, under the skin, after being injected.</p> <p>The researchers designed their dye to be delivered by a microneedle patch rather than a traditional syringe and needle. Such patches are now being developed to deliver vaccines for measles, rubella, and other diseases, and the researchers showed that their dye could be easily incorporated into these patches.</p> <p>The microneedles used in this study are made from a mixture of dissolvable sugar and a polymer called PVA, as well as the quantum-dot dye and the vaccine. When the patch is applied to the skin, the microneedles, which are 1.5 millimeters long, partially dissolve, releasing their payload within about two minutes.</p> <p>By selectively loading microparticles into microneedles, the patches deliver a pattern in the skin that is invisible to the naked eye but can be scanned with a smartphone that has the infrared filter removed. The patch can be customized to imprint different patterns that correspond to the type of vaccine delivered.</p> <p>“It’s possible someday that this ‘invisible’ approach could create new possibilities for data storage, biosensing, and vaccine applications that could improve how medical care is provided, particularly in the developing world,” Langer says.</p> <p><strong>Effective immunization</strong></p> <p>Tests using human cadaver skin showed that the quantum-dot patterns could be detected by smartphone cameras after up to five years of simulated sun exposure.</p> <p>The researchers also tested this vaccination strategy in rats, using microneedle patches that delivered the quantum dots along with a polio vaccine. They found that those rats generated an immune response similar to the response of rats that received a traditional injected polio vaccine.</p> <p>“This study confirmed that incorporating the vaccine with the dye in the microneedle patches did not affect the efficacy of the vaccine or our ability to detect the dye,” Jaklenec says.</p> <p>The researchers now plan to survey health care workers in developing nations in Africa to get input on the best way to implement this type of vaccination record keeping. They are also working on expanding the amount of data that can be encoded in a single pattern, allowing them to include information such as the date of vaccine administration and the lot number of the vaccine batch.</p> <p>The researchers believe the quantum dots are safe to use in this way because they are encapsulated in a biocompatible polymer, but they plan to do further safety studies before testing them in patients.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Storage, access, and control of medical records is an important topic with many possible approaches,” says Mark Prausnitz, chair of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Georgia Tech, who was not involved in the research. “This study presents a novel approach where the medical record is stored and controlled by the patient within the patient’s skin in a minimally invasive and elegant way.”</p> <p>The research was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Koch Institute Support (core) Grant from the National Cancer Institute. Other authors of the paper include Sean Severt, Mache Cruz, Morteza Sarmadi, Hapuarachchige Surangi Jayawardena, Collin Perkinson, Fridrik Larusson, Sviatlana Rose, Stephanie Tomasic, Tyler Graf, Stephany Tzeng, James Sugarman, Daniel Vlasic, Matthew Peters, Nels Peterson, Lowell Wood, Wen Tang, Jihyeon Yeom, Joe Collins, Philip Welkhoff, Ari Karchin, Megan Tse, Mingyuan Gao, and Moungi Bawendi.</p> MIT engineers have developed a way to store medical information under the skin, using a quantum dot dye that is delivered, along with a vaccine, by a microneedle patch. The dye, which is invisible to the naked eye, can be read later using a specially adapted smartphone.Image: Second Bay StudiosResearch, Chemical engineering, Vaccines, Koch Institute, School of Engineering, Health science and technology, Medicine, Developing countries, Quantum Dots Monthly birth control pill could replace daily doses Long-lasting capsule can remain in the stomach and release contraceptive drugs over several weeks. Wed, 04 Dec 2019 13:59:59 -0500 Anne Trafton | MIT News Office <p>Oral contraceptives are one of the most popular forms of birth control: In the United States, about 12 percent of women between 15 and 49 use them. However, their effectiveness depends on being taken every day, and it is estimated that about 9 percent of women taking birth control pills become pregnant each year.</p> <p>MIT researchers are now developing an oral contraceptive that only has to be taken once a month, which could reduce unintended pregnancies that result from forgetting to take a daily dose. This kind of monthly contraceptive could have a significant impact on the health of women and their families, especially in the developing world, the researchers say.</p> <p>“We are hopeful that this work — the first example ever of a month-long pill or capsule to our knowledge — will someday lead to potentially new modalities and options for women’s health as well as other indications,” says Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT.</p> <p>The new contraceptive is contained within a gelatin-coated capsule and can carry three weeks’ worth of a contraceptive drug. This capsule remains in the stomach after being swallowed and gradually releases the drug. Tests in pigs showed that this kind of drug release can achieve the same concentration of the drug in the bloodstream as taking a daily dose.</p> <p>Langer and Giovanni Traverso, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at MIT and a gastroenterologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, are the senior authors of <a href="" target="_blank">the study</a>, which appears today in <em>Science Translational Medicine</em>. Ameya Kirtane, a senior postdoc at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, and Tiffany Hua, a former technical associate at MIT, are the lead authors of the paper.</p> <p><strong>Long-term delivery</strong></p> <p>The new contraceptive pill is based on star-shaped drug delivery systems that the MIT team previously developed, which can remain in the digestive tract for days or weeks after being swallowed. The delivery systems are placed in gelatin capsules that dissolve once they reach the stomach, allowing the folded arms of the star to expand and slowly release their payload.</p> <p>In their earlier studies, the researchers loaded the capsules with drugs to <a href="">treat malaria</a>, as well as <a href="">HIV drugs</a>, which currently have to be taken every day. Much of this work has been funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which urged the team to adapt the capsule to deliver long-lasting contraceptive drugs. Previous research has suggested that people are better at remembering to take medicine when they have to take it only weekly or monthly, instead of daily.</p> <p>To make their new contraceptive pill last for three to four weeks, the researchers had to incorporate stronger materials than those used in the earlier versions, which could survive in the harsh environment of the stomach for up to two weeks. The researchers tested materials by soaking them in simulated gastric fluid, which is very acidic, and found that two types of polyurethane worked best for the arms and the central core of the star.</p> <p>The researchers loaded the contraceptive drug levonorgestrel into the arms of the device and found that by changing the concentrations of the polymers that they mix with the drug, they can control the rate at which it is released. Once the capsule reaches the stomach it expands and becomes lodged in place.</p> <p>In a study of pigs, the researchers found that the capsules could release the drug at a fairly constant rate for up to four weeks. The concentration of the drug found in the pigs’ bloodstream was similar to the amount that would be present after ingesting daily levonorgestrel tablets. However, the capsules maintained these drug levels for nearly a month, while the tablets last for only a day.</p> <p>For use in humans, the capsule would be designed to break down after three or four weeks and exit the body through the digestive tract. The researchers are working on several possible ways to trigger the arms to break off, including through changes in pH, changes in temperature, or exposure to certain chemicals.</p> <p>“Lack of access to contraceptives is a global health issue that contributes to unnecessary maternal and newborn deaths every year,” says Kimberly Scarsi, an associate professor of pharmacy practice and science at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, who was not involved in the research. “A once-monthly oral contraceptive would provide a discreet, noninvasive birth control option that could significantly improve medication adherence to give women more control over their health and family planning decisions.”</p> <p><strong>Health impact</strong></p> <p>Lyndra Therapeutics, a company founded by Langer, Traverso, and others, recently received a $13 million grant from the Gates Foundation to further develop the monthly contraceptive pill so that it can be tested in humans.</p> <p>“Through the development of these technologies, we aim to transform people’s experience with taking medications by making it easier, with more infrequent dosing in the first once-a-month, orally delivered drug system. We’re very committed to getting these technologies to people over the coming years,” says Traverso, who said he anticipates human tests may be possible within three to five years.</p> <p>Improved contraception not only has health benefits, but also makes it easier for women to go to school and financially support themselves and their families. However, according to the World Health Organization, 214 million women of reproductive age in developing countries who want to avoid pregnancy are not using a modern contraceptive method, such as birth control pills.</p> <p>“Coming up with a monthly version of a contraceptive drug could have a tremendous impact on global health,” Kirtane says. “The impact that oral contraceptives can have on human health and gender equality cannot be overstated.”</p> <p>The researchers also believe that such a pill could be appealing for women who would prefer a long-lasting oral contraceptive over other long-term contraceptives such as intrauterine devices.</p> <p>“Even with all these long-acting devices available, there’s a certain population who prefers to take medications orally rather than have something implanted,” Kirtane says. “For those patients, something like this would be extremely helpful.”</p> <p>The research was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Other MIT authors of the study are Alison Hayward, Aniket Wahane, Aaron Lopes, Taylor Bensel, Sierra Brooks, Declan Gwynne, Jacob Wainer, Joy Collins, and Siid Tamang. Ambika Bajpayee of Northeastern University and Frank Stanczyk and Lihong Ma of the University of Southern California are also authors of the paper.</p> MIT engineers have designed a capsule that unfolds in the stomach after being swallowed, and can gradually deliver one month’s worth of a contraceptive drug. Pictured here is the preclinical version tested in a new MIT study.Image: Tiffany HuaResearch, Drug delivery, Chemical engineering, Mechanical engineering, Koch Institute, Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES), School of Engineering, Health, Medicine, Developing countries, Women, Drug development A new way to control microbial metabolism Chemical engineers program bacteria to switch between different metabolic pathways, boosting their yield of desirable products. Mon, 02 Dec 2019 14:59:59 -0500 Anne Trafton | MIT News Office <p>Microbes can be engineered to produce a variety of useful compounds, including plastics, biofuels, and pharmaceuticals. However, in many cases, these products compete with the metabolic pathways that the cells need to fuel themselves and grow.</p> <p>To help optimize cells’ ability to produce desired compounds but also maintain their own growth, MIT chemical engineers have devised a way to induce bacteria to switch between different metabolic pathways at different times. These switches are programmed into the cells and are triggered by changes in population density, with no need for human intervention.</p> <p>“What we’re hoping is that this would allow more precise regulation of metabolism, to allow us to get higher productivity, but in a way where we minimize the number of interventions,” says Kristala Prather, the Arthur D. Little Professor of Chemical Engineering and the senior author of the study.</p> <p>This kind of switching allowed the researchers to boost the microbial yields of two different products by up to tenfold.</p> <p>MIT graduate student Christina Dinh is the lead author of <a href="" target="_blank">the paper</a>, which appears in the <em>Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</em> this week.</p> <p><strong>Double switch</strong></p> <p>To make microbes synthesize useful compounds that they don’t normally produce, engineers insert genes for enzymes involved in the metabolic pathway — a chain of reactions that generate a specific product. This approach is now used to produce many complex products, such as pharmaceuticals and biofuels.</p> <p>In some cases, intermediates produced during these reactions are also part of metabolic pathways that already exist in the cells. When cells divert these intermediates out of the engineered pathway, it lowers the overall yield of the end product.</p> <p>Using a concept called dynamic metabolic engineering, Prather has previously built switches that help cells maintain the balance between their own metabolic needs and the pathway that produces the desired product. Her idea was to program the cells to autonomously switch between pathways, without the need for any intervention by the person operating the fermenter where the reactions take place.</p> <p>In a <a href="" target="_blank">study published in 2017,</a> Prather’s lab used this approach to program <em>E. coli</em> to produce glucaric acid, a precursor to products such as nylons and detergents. The researchers’ strategy was based on quorum sensing, a phenomenon that bacterial cells normally use to communicate with each other. Each species of bacteria secretes particular molecules that help them sense nearby microbes and influence each other’s behavior.</p> <p>The MIT team engineered their <em>E. coli</em> cells to secrete a quorum sensing molecule called AHL. When AHL concentrations reach a certain level, the cells shut off an enzyme that diverts a glucaric acid precursor into one of the cells’ own metabolic pathways. This allows the cells to grow and divide normally until the population is large enough to start producing large quantities of the desired product.</p> <p>“That paper was the first to demonstrate that we could do autonomous control,” Prather says. “We could start the cultures going, and the cells would then sense when the time was right to make a change.”</p> <p>In the new <em>PNAS</em> paper, Prather and Dinh set out to engineer multiple switching points into their cells, giving them a greater degree of control over the production process. To achieve that, they used two quorum sensing systems from two different species of bacteria. They incorporated these systems into <em>E. coli</em> that were engineered to produce a compound called naringenin, a flavonoid that is naturally found in citrus fruits and has a variety of beneficial health effects.</p> <p>Using these quorum sensing systems, the researchers engineered two switching points into the cells. One switch was designed to prevent bacteria from diverting a naringenin precursor called malonyl-CoA into the cells’ own metabolic pathways. At the other switching point, the researchers delayed production of an enzyme in their engineered pathway, to avoid accumulating a precursor that normally inhibits the naringenin pathway if too much of the precursor accumulates.</p> <p>“Since we took components from two different quorum sensing systems, and the regulator proteins are unique between the two systems, we can shift the switching time of each of the circuits independently,” Dinh says.</p> <p>The researchers created hundreds of <em>E. coli</em> variants that perform these two switches at different population densities, allowing them to identify which one was the most productive. The best-performing strain showed a tenfold increase in naringenin yield over strains that didn’t have these control switches built in.</p> <p>“The paper addresses an important problem in the area of regulating metabolic pathways to balance cellular growth versus the production of chemicals,” says Radhakrishnan Mahadevan, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Toronto, who was not involved in the research. “Previously, the circuits primarily focused on turning off genes related to growth, whereas in this contribution they provide the flexibility to downregulate and upregulate specific genes in response to a trigger.&nbsp; This advance should provide more flexible control of metabolic pathways and will be valuable to optimize bioprocesses to improve their economic viability.”</p> <p><strong>More complex pathways</strong></p> <p>The researchers also demonstrated that the multiple-switch approach could be used to double <em>E. coli</em> production of salicylic acid, a building block of many drugs. This process could also help improve yields for any other type of product where the cells have to balance between using intermediates for product formation or their own growth, Prather says. The researchers have not yet demonstrated that their method works on an industrial scale, but they are working on expanding the approach to more complex pathways and hope to test it at a larger scale in the future.</p> <p>“We think it certainly has broader applicability,” Prather says. “The process is very robust because it doesn’t require someone to be present at a particular point in time to add something or make any sort of adjustment to the process, but rather allows the cells to be keeping track internally of when it’s time to make a shift.”</p> <p>The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.</p> MIT chemical engineers have incorporated two switching points into metabolic pathways of E. coli, which can help boost the microbes’ production of useful compounds.Image courtesy of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, edited by MIT NewsResearch, Chemical engineering, School of Engineering, National Science Foundation (NSF), Bacteria, Microbes, Biological engineering, Synthetic biology School of Engineering third quarter 2019 awards Faculty members recognized for excellence via a diverse array of honors, grants, and prizes over the last quarter. Wed, 27 Nov 2019 11:35:01 -0500 School of Engineering <p>Members of the MIT engineering faculty receive many awards in recognition of their scholarship, service, and overall excellence. Every quarter, the School of Engineering publicly recognizes their achievements by highlighting the honors, prizes, and medals won by faculty working in our academic departments, labs, and centers.</p> <p>Richard Braatz, of the Department of Chemical Engineering, won the <a href="">AIChE 2019 Separations Division Innovation Award</a> on Oct. 1.</p> <p>Michael Carbin, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, <a href="">won the Best Paper Award</a> at the International Conference on Learning Representations on May 8. He also <a href="">won the Distinguished Paper Award</a> at the International Conference on Functional Programming on Aug. 20.</p> <p>Vincent W. S. Chan, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, was elected <a href="">2020-21 president of the IEEE Communication Society</a> on Sept. 5.</p> <p>Victor Chernozhukov, of the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society, was <a href="">named a fellow of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics</a> on May 15.</p> <p>Michael Cima, of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, won the&nbsp;<a href="">W. David Kingery Award</a> from the American Ceramic Society on Oct. 16.</p> <p>James Collins, of the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, won the <a href="">2020 Max Delbrück Prize in Biological Physics</a> from the American Physical Society on Sept. 26.</p> <p>Areg Danagoulian, of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering, won the <a href="">2019 Radiation Science and Technology Award</a> from the American Nuclear Society on Nov. 17.</p> <p>Peter Dedon and Eric Alm, of the Department of Biological Engineering, won the <a href="">NIH Director’s Transformative Research Award</a> on Oct. 1.</p> <p>Esther Duflo, of the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society, won the <a href="">Nobel Prize for economics</a> on Oct. 14.</p> <p>Ruonan Han, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, was <a href="">named the 2020-22 Distinguished Lecturer</a> by the IEEE Microwave Theory and Technique Society on Sept. 11.</p> <p>James M. LeBeau, of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, won the <a href="">Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers</a> on July 2.</p> <p>Nancy Lynch, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, was <a href="">given a doctor honoris causa</a> (honorary doctorate) from the Sorbonne University on Sept. 11.</p> <p>Karthish Manthiram, of the Department of Chemical Engineering, won the <a href="">2019 NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award</a> on Nov. 15.</p> <p>Devavrat Shah, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science,&nbsp;won the <a href="">ACM Sigmetrics Test of Time Paper Award</a> on July 22.</p> <p>Suvrit Sra, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, won the <a href=";HistoricalAwards=false">NSF CAREER Award</a> on July 24.</p> <p>Anne White, of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering,&nbsp;was named a <a href="">fellow of the American Physical Society</a> on Nov. 17.</p> <p>Cathy Wu, of the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society, won the <a href="">Best PhD Dissertation Award first prize</a> from the IEEE Intelligent Transportation Systems Society on Nov. 12.</p> Photo: Lillie Paquette/School of EngineeringSchool of Engineering, Chemical engineering, Electrical engineering and computer science (EECS), Materials Science and Engineering, Institute for Data, Systems, and Society, Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES), Nuclear science and engineering, Biological engineering, Awards, honors and fellowships, Faculty Clear, conductive coating could protect advanced solar cells, touch screens New material should be relatively easy to produce at an industrial scale, researchers say. Fri, 22 Nov 2019 13:59:59 -0500 David L. Chandler | MIT News Office <p>MIT researchers have improved on a transparent, conductive coating material, producing a tenfold gain in its electrical conductivity. When incorporated into a type of high-efficiency solar cell, the material increased the cell’s efficiency and stability.</p> <p>The new findings are reported today in the journal <em>Science Advances</em>, in a paper by MIT postdoc Meysam Heydari Gharahcheshmeh, professors Karen Gleason and Jing Kong, and three others.</p> <p>“The goal is to find a material that is electrically conductive as well as transparent,” Gleason explains, which would be “useful in a range of applications, including touch screens and solar cells.” The material most widely used today for such purposes is known as ITO, for indium titanium oxide, but that material is quite brittle and can crack after a period of use, she says.</p> <p>Gleason and her co-researchers improved a flexible version of a transparent, conductive material two years ago and published their findings, but this material still fell well short of matching ITO’s combination of high optical transparency and electrical conductivity. The new, more ordered material, she says, is more than 10 times better than the previous version.</p> <p>The combined transparency and conductivity is measured in units of Siemens per centimeter. ITO ranges from 6,000 to 10,000, and though nobody expected a new material to match those numbers, the goal of the research was to find a material that could reach at least a value of 35. The earlier publication exceeded that by demonstrating a value of 50, and the new material has leapfrogged that result, now clocking in at 3,000; the team is still working on fine-tuning the process to raise that further.</p> <p>The high-performing flexible material, an organic polymer known as PEDOT, is deposited in an ultrathin layer just a few nanometers thick, using a process called oxidative chemical vapor deposition (oCVD). This process results in a layer where the structure of the tiny crystals that form the polymer are all perfectly aligned horizontally, giving the material its high conductivity. Additionally, the oCVD method can decrease the stacking distance between polymer chains within the crystallites, which also enhances electrical conductivity.</p> <p>To demonstrate the material’s potential usefulness, the team incorporated a layer of the highly aligned PEDOT into a perovskite-based solar cell. Such cells are considered a very promising alternative to silicon because of their high efficiency and ease of manufacture, but their lack of durability has been a major drawback. With the new oCVD aligned PEDOT, the perovskite’s efficiency improved and its stability doubled.</p> <p>In the initial tests, the oCVD layer was applied to substrates that were 6 inches in diameter, but the process could be applied directly to a large-scale, roll-to-roll industrial scale manufacturing process, Heydari Gharahcheshmeh says. “It’s now easy to adapt for industrial scale-up,” he says. That’s facilitated by the fact that the coating can be processed at 140 degrees Celsius — a much lower temperature than alternative materials require.</p> <p>The oCVD PEDOT is a mild, single-step process, enabling direct deposition onto plastic substrates, as desired for flexible solar cells and displays. In contrast, the aggressive growth conditions of many other transparent conductive materials require an initial deposition on a different, more robust substrate, followed by complex processes to lift off the layer and transfer it to plastic.</p> <p>Because the material is made by a dry vapor deposition process, the thin layers produced can follow even the finest contours of a surface, coating them all evenly, which could be useful in some applications. For example, it could be coated onto fabric and cover each fiber but still allow the fabric to breathe.</p> <p>The team still needs to demonstrate the system at larger scales and prove its stability over longer periods and under different conditions, so the research is ongoing. But “there’s no technical barrier to moving this forward. It’s really just a matter of who will invest to take it to market,” Gleason says.</p> <p>The research team included MIT postdocs Mohammad Mahdi Tavakoli and Maxwell Robinson, and research affiliate Edward Gleason. The work was supported by Eni S.p.A. under the Eni-MIT Alliance Solar Frontiers Program.</p> Illustration shows the apparatus used to create a thin layer of a transparent, electrically conductive material, to protect solar cells or other devices. The chemicals used to produce the layer, shown in tubes at left, are introduced into a vacuum chamber where they deposit a layer on a substrate material at top of the chamber. Illustration courtesy of the authors, edited by MIT NewsResearch, School of Engineering, Mechanical engineering, Chemical engineering, Polymers, optoelectronics, Solar, Renewable energy, Materials Science and Engineering, Nanoscience and nanotechnology, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs) Technique identifies T cells primed for certain allergies or infections Researchers develop a method to isolate and sequence the RNA of T cells that react to a specific target. Tue, 19 Nov 2019 12:53:43 -0500 Anne Trafton | MIT News Office <p>When your immune system is exposed to a vaccine, an allergen, or an infectious microbe, subsets of T cells that can recognize a foreign intruder leap into action. Some of these T cells are primed to kill infected cells, while others serve as memory cells that circulate throughout the body, keeping watch in case the invader reappears.</p> <p>MIT researchers have now devised a way to identify T cells that share a particular target, as part of a process called high-throughput single-cell RNA sequencing. This kind of profiling can reveal the unique functions of those T cells by determining which genes they turn on at a given time. In a new study, the researchers used this technique to identify T cells that produce the inflammation seen in patients with peanut allergies.</p> <p>In work that is now underway, the researchers are using this method to study how patients’ T cells respond to oral immunotherapy for peanut allergies, which could help them determine whether the therapy will work for a particular patient. Such studies could also help guide researchers in developing and testing new treatments.</p> <p>“Food allergies affect about 5 percent of the population, and there’s not really a clear clinical intervention other than avoidance, which can cause a lot of stress for families and for the patients themselves,” says J. Christopher Love, the Raymond A. and Helen E. St. Laurent Professor of Chemical Engineering and a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. “Understanding the underlying biology of what drives these reactions is still a really critical question.”</p> <p>Love and Alex K. Shalek, who is the Pfizer-Laubach Career Development Associate Professor at MIT, an associate professor of chemistry, a core member of MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES), and an extramural member of the Koch Institute, are the senior authors of <a href="" target="_blank">the study</a>, which appears today in <em>Nature Immunology</em>. The lead authors of the paper are graduate student Ang Andy Tu and former postdoc Todd Gierahn.</p> <p><strong>Extracting information</strong></p> <p>The researchers’ new method builds on their previous work developing techniques for rapidly performing single-cell RNA sequencing on large populations of cells. By sequencing messenger RNA, scientists can discover which genes are being expressed at a given time, giving them insight into individual cells’ functions.</p> <p>Performing RNA sequencing on immune cells, such as T cells, is of great interest because T cells have so many different roles in the immune response. However, previous sequencing studies could not identify populations of T cells that respond to a particular target, or antigen, which is determined by the sequence of the T cell receptor (TCR). That’s because single-cell RNA sequencing usually tags and sequences only one end of each RNA molecule, and most of the variation in T cell receptor genes is found at the opposite end of the molecule, which doesn’t get sequenced.&nbsp;</p> <p>“For a long time, people have been describing T cells and their transcriptome with this method, but without information about what kind of T cell receptor the cells actually have,” Tu says. “When this project started, we were thinking about how we could try to recover that information from these libraries in a way that doesn’t obscure the single-cell resolution of these datasets, and doesn’t require us to dramatically change our sequencing workflow and platform.”</p> <p>In a single T cell, RNA that encodes T cell receptors makes up less than 1 percent of the cell’s total RNA, so the MIT team came up with a way to amplify those specific RNA molecules and then pull them out of the total sample so that they could be fully sequenced. Each RNA molecule is tagged with a barcode to reveal which cell it came from, so the researchers could match up the T cells’ targets with their patterns of RNA expression. This allows them to determine which genes are active in populations of T cells that target specific antigens.</p> <p>“To put the function of T cells into context, you have to understand what it is they’re trying to recognize,” Shalek says. “This method lets you take existing single-cell RNA sequencing libraries and pull out relevant sequences you might want to characterize. At its core, the approach is a straightforward strategy for extracting some of the information that’s hidden inside of genome-wide expression profiling data.”</p> <p>Another advantage of this technique is that it doesn’t require expensive chemicals, relies on equipment that many labs already have, and can be applied to many previously processed samples, the researchers say.</p> <p><strong>Analyzing allergies</strong></p> <p>In the <em>Nature Immunology</em> paper, the researchers demonstrated that they could use this technique to pick out mouse T cells that were active against human papilloma virus, after the mice had been vaccinated against the virus. They found that even though all of these T cells reacted to the virus, the cells had different TCRs and appeared to be in different stages of development — some were very activated for killing infected cells, while others were focused on growing and dividing.</p> <p>The researchers then analyzed T cells taken from four patients with peanut allergies. After exposing the cells to peanut allergens, they were able to identify T cells that were active against those allergens. They also showed which subsets of T cells were the most active, and found some that were producing the inflammatory cytokines that are usually associated with allergic reactions.</p> <p>“We can now start to stratify the data to reveal what are the most important cells, which we were not able to identify before with RNA sequencing alone,” Tu says.</p> <p>Love’s lab is now working with researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital to use this technique to track the immune responses of people undergoing oral immunotherapy for peanut allergies — a technique that involves consuming small amounts of the allergen, allowing the immune system to build up tolerance to it.</p> <p>In clinical trials, this technique has been shown to work in some but not all patients. The MIT/MGH team hopes that their study will help identify factors that could be used to predict which patients will respond best to the treatment.</p> <p>“One would certainly like to have a better sense of whether an intervention is going to be successful or not, as early as possible,” Love says.</p> <p>This strategy could also be used to help develop and monitor immunotherapy treatments for cancer, such as CAR-T cell therapy, which involves programming a patient’s own T cells to target a tumor. Shalek’s lab is also actively applying this technique with collaborators at the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard to identify T cells that are involved in fighting infections such as HIV and tuberculosis.</p> <p>“This looks like a very useful method that will help expand the growing applications for TCR sequencing in studies on disease pathogenesis, and in the development of new diagnostics and therapeutics,” says Paul Thomas, an immunologist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital who was not involved in the research. “The datasets generated for the manuscript demonstrate the utility of the approach and are in themselves useful contributions.”</p> <p>The research was funded by the Koch Institute Support (core) Grant from the National Institutes of Health, the Koch Institute Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center Bridge Project, the Food Allergy Science Initiative at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, a Searle Scholar Award, a Sloan Research Fellowship in Chemistry, the Pew-Stewart Scholars program, and the National Institutes of Health.</p> MIT researchers have developed a method to isolate T cells that bind to different targets and then sequence their RNA.Image: SciStories LLCResearch, Immunology, Chemical engineering, Chemistry, Koch Institute, Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES), School of Science, School of Engineering, Medicine, Health sciences and technology, RNA, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Microparticles could help fight malnutrition New strategy for encapsulating nutrients makes it easier to fortify foods with iron and vitamin A. Wed, 13 Nov 2019 13:59:59 -0500 Anne Trafton | MIT News Office <p>About 2 billion people around the world suffer from deficiencies of key micronutrients such as iron and vitamin A. Two million children die from these deficiencies every year, and people who don’t get enough of these nutrients can develop blindness, anemia, and cognitive impairments.</p> <p>MIT researchers have now developed a new way to fortify staple foods with these micronutrients by encapsulating them in a biocompatible polymer that prevents the nutrients from being degraded during storage or cooking. In a small clinical trial, they showed that women who ate bread fortified with encapsulated iron were able to absorb iron from the food.</p> <p>“We are really excited that our team has been able to develop this unique nutrient-delivery system that has the potential to help billions of people in the developing world, and taken it all the way from inception to human clinical trials,” says Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT and a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.</p> <p>The researchers now hope to run clinical trials in developing nations where micronutrient deficiencies are common.</p> <p>Langer and Ana Jaklenec, a research scientist at the Koch Institute, are the senior authors of <a href="" target="_blank">the study</a>, which appears today in <em>Science Translational Medicine</em>. The paper’s lead authors are former MIT postdocs Aaron Anselmo and Xian Xu, and ETH Zurich graduate student Simone Buerkli.</p> <p><strong>Protecting nutrients</strong></p> <p>Lack of vitamin A is the world’s leading cause of preventable blindness, and it can also impair immunity, making children more susceptible to diseases such as measles. Iron deficiency can lead to anemia and also impairs cognitive development in children, contributing to a “cycle of poverty,” Jaklenec says.</p> <p>“These children don’t do well in school because of their poor health, and when they grow up, they may have difficulties finding a job, so their kids are also living in poverty and often without access to education,” she says.</p> <p>The MIT team, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, set out to develop new technology that could help with efforts to fortify foods with essential micronutrients. Fortification has proven successful in the past with iodized salt, for example, and offers a way to incorporate nutrients in a way that doesn’t require people to change their eating habits.</p> <p>“What’s been shown to be effective for food fortification is staple foods, something that’s in the household and people use every day,” Jaklenec says. “Everyone eats salt or flour, so you don’t need to change anything in their everyday practices.”</p> <p>However, simply adding vitamin A or iron to foods doesn’t work well. Vitamin A is very sensitive to heat and can be degraded during cooking, and iron can bind to other molecules in food, giving the food a metallic taste. To overcome that, the MIT team set out to find a way to encapsulate micronutrients in a material that would protect them from being broken down or interacting with other molecules, and then release them after being consumed.</p> <p>The researchers tested about 50 different polymers and settled on one known as BMC. This polymer is currently used in dietary supplements, and in the United States it is classified as “generally regarded as safe.”</p> <p>Using this polymer, the researchers showed that they could encapsulate 11 different micronutrients, including zinc, vitamin B2, niacin, biotin, and vitamin C, as well as iron and vitamin A. They also demonstrated that they could encapsulate combinations of up to four of the micronutrients together.</p> <p>Tests in the lab showed that the encapsulated micronutrients were unharmed after being boiled for two hours. The encapsulation also protected nutrients from ultraviolet light and from oxidizing chemicals, such as polyphenols, found in fruits and vegetables. When the particles were exposed to very acidic conditions (pH 1.5, typical of the pH in the stomach), the polymer become soluble and the micronutrients were released.</p> <p>In tests in mice, the researchers showed that particles broke down in the stomach, as expected, and the cargo traveled to the small intestine, where it can be absorbed.</p> <p><strong>Iron boost</strong></p> <p>After the successful animal tests, the researchers decided to test the encapsulated micronutrients in human subjects. The trial was led by Michael Zimmerman, a professor of health sciences and technology at ETH Zurich who studies nutrition and food fortification.</p> <p>In their first trial, the researchers incorporated encapsulated iron sulfate into maize porridge, a corn-derived product common in developing world, and mixed the maize with a vegetable sauce. In that initial study, they found that people who ate the fortified maize — female university students in Switzerland, most of whom were anemic — did not absorb as much iron as the researchers hoped they would. The amount of iron absorbed was a little less than half of what was absorbed by subjects who consumed iron sulfate that was not encapsulated.</p> <p>After that, the researchers decided to reformulate the particles and found that if they boosted the percentage of iron sulfate in the particles from 3 percent to about 18 percent, they could achieve iron absorption rates very similar to the percentage for unencapsulated iron sulfate. In that second trial, also conducted at ETH, they mixed the encapsulated iron into flour and then used it to bake bread.</p> <p>“Reformulation of the microparticles was possible because our platform was tunable and amenable to large-scale manufacturing approaches,” Anselmo says. “This allowed us to improve our formulation based on the feedback from the first trial.”</p> <p>The next step, Jaklenec says, is to try a similar study in a country where many people experience micronutrient deficiencies. The researchers are now working on gaining regulatory approval from the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives. They are also working on identifying other foods that would be useful to fortify, and on scaling up their manufacturing process so they can produce large quantities of the powdered micronutrients.</p> <p>Other authors of the paper are Yingying Zeng, Wen Tang, Kevin McHugh, Adam Behrens, Evan Rosenberg, Aranda Duan, James Sugarman, Jia Zhuang, Joe Collins, Xueguang Lu, Tyler Graf, Stephany Tzeng, Sviatlana Rose, Sarah Acolatse, Thanh Nguyen, Xiao Le, Ana Sofia Guerra, Lisa Freed, Shelley Weinstock, Christopher Sears, Boris Nikolic, Lowell Wood, Philip Welkhoff, James Oxley, and Diego Moretti.</p> MIT engineers have developed a way to encapsulate nutrients in a biocompatible polymer, making it easier to use them to fortify foods.Image: Second Bay StudiosResearch, Chemical engineering, Food, Developing countries, Poverty, Koch Institute, School of Engineering SMART discovers nondisruptive way to characterize the surface of nanoparticles New method overcomes limitations of existing chemical procedures and may accelerate nanoengineering of materials. Tue, 12 Nov 2019 11:25:01 -0500 Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology <p>Researchers from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) have made a discovery that allows scientists to "look" at the surface density of dispersed nanoparticles. This technique enables researchers to understand the properties of nanoparticles without disturbing them, at a much lower cost and far more quickly than with existing methods.</p> <p>The new process is explained in a <a href="">paper</a> entitled “Measuring the Accessible Surface Area within the Nanoparticle Corona using Molecular Probe Adsorption,” published in the academic journal <em>Nano Letters.</em> It was led by Michael Strano, co-lead principal investigator of the Disruptive and Sustainable Technologies for Agricultural Precision (DiSTAP) research group at SMART and the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor at MIT, and MIT graduate student Minkyung Park. DiSTAP is a part of SMART, MIT’s research enterprise in Singapore, and develops new technologies to enable Singapore, a city-state which is dependent upon imported food and produce, to improve its agriculture yield to reduce external dependencies.</p> <p>The molecular probe adsorption (MPA) method is based on a noninvasive adsorption of a fluorescent probe on the surface of colloidal nanoparticles in an aqueous phase. Researchers are able to calculate the surface coverage of dispersants on the nanoparticle surface — which are used to make it stable at room temperature — by the physical interaction between the probe and nanoparticle surface.</p> <p>“We can now characterize the surface of the nanoparticle through its adsorption of the fluorescent probe. This allows us to understand the surface of the nanoparticle without damaging it, which is, unfortunately, the case with chemical processes widely used today,” says Park. “This new method also uses machines that are readily available in labs today, opening up a new, easy method for the scientific community to develop nanoparticles that can help revolutionize different sectors and disciplines.”</p> <p>The MPA method is also able to characterize a nanoparticle within minutes compared to several hours that the best chemical methods require today. Because it uses only fluorescent light, it is also substantially cheaper.&nbsp;</p> <p>DiSTAP has started to use this method for nanoparticle sensors in plants and nanocarriers for delivery of molecular cargo into plants.</p> <p>“We are already using the new MPA method within DiSTAP to aid us in creating sensors and nanocarriers for plants,” says Strano. “It has enabled us to discover and optimize more sensitive sensors and understand the surface chemistry, which in turn allows for greater precision when monitoring plants. With higher-quality data and insight into plant biochemistry, we can ultimately provide optimal nutrient levels or beneficial hormones for healthier plants and higher yields.”</p> Schematic illustration of probe adsorption influenced by an attractive interaction within the coronaSingapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART), Nanoscience and nanotechnology, Agriculture, Imaging, Chemical engineering, School of Engineering, Research Nanoparticle orientation offers a way to enhance drug delivery Coating particles with “right-handed” molecules could help them penetrate cancer cells more easily. Tue, 05 Nov 2019 05:59:59 -0500 Anne Trafton | MIT News Office <p>MIT engineers have shown that they can enhance the performance of drug-delivery nanoparticles by controlling a trait of chemical structures known as chirality — the “handedness” of the structure.</p> <p>Many biological molecules can come in either right-handed or left-handed forms, which are identical in composition but are mirror images of each other.</p> <p>The MIT team found that coating nanoparticles with the right-handed form of the amino acid cysteine helped the particles to avoid being destroyed by enzymes in the body. It also helped them to enter cells more efficiently. This finding could help researchers to design more effective carriers for drugs to treat cancer and other diseases, says Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT and a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.</p> <p>“We are very excited about this paper because controlling chirality offers new possibilities for drug delivery and hence new medical treatments,” says Langer, who is one of the senior authors of the paper.</p> <p>Ana Jaklenec, a research scientist at the Koch Institute, is also a senior author of <a href="" target="_blank">the paper</a>, which appears in <em>Advanced Materials </em>on Nov. 4. The paper’s lead author is MIT postdoc Jihyeon Yeom. Other authors of the paper are former MIT postdocs Pedro Guimaraes and Kevin McHugh, MIT postdoc Quanyin Hu, and Koch Institute research affiliate Michael Mitchell. Hyo Min Ahn, BoKyeong Jung, and Chae-Ok Yun of Hanyang University in Seoul, South Korea, are also authors of the paper.</p> <p><strong>Chiral interactions</strong></p> <p>Many biologically important molecules have evolved to exist exclusively in either right-handed (“D”) or left-handed (“L”) versions, also called enantiomers. For example, naturally occurring amino acids are always “L” enantiomers, while DNA and glucose are usually “D.”</p> <p>“Chirality is ubiquitous in nature, imparting uniqueness and specificity to the biological and chemical properties of materials,” Yeom says. “For example, molecules formed with the same composition taste sweet or bitter and smell differently depending on their chirality, and one enantiomer is inactive or even toxic while the other enantiomer can serve an important biological function.”</p> <p>The MIT team hypothesized that it might be possible to take advantage of chiral interactions to improve the performance of drug-delivery nanoparticles. To test that idea, they created “supraparticles” consisting of clusters of 2-nanometer cobalt oxide particles whose chirality was provided by either the “D” or “L” version of cysteine on the surfaces.</p> <p>By flowing these particles along a channel lined with cancer cells, including myeloma and breast cancer cells, the researchers could test how well each type of particle was absorbed by the cells. They found that particles coated with “D” cysteine were absorbed more efficiently, which they believe is because they are able to interact more strongly with cholesterol and other lipids found in the cell membrane, which also have the “D” orientation.</p> <p>The researchers also believed that the “D” version of cysteine might help nanoparticles avoid being broken down by enzymes in the body, which are made of “L” amino acids. This could allow the particles to circulate in the body for longer periods of time, making it easier for them to reach their intended destinations.</p> <p>In a study of mice, the researchers found that “D”-coated particles did stay in the bloodstream longer, suggesting that they were able to successfully evade enzymes that destroyed the “L”-coated particles. About two hours after injection, the number of “D” particles in circulation was much greater than the number of “L” particles, and it remained higher over the 24 hours of the experiment.</p> <p>“This is a first step in looking at how chirality can potentially aid these particles in reaching cancer cells and increasing circulation time.&nbsp;The next step is to see if we could actually make a difference in cancer treatment,” Jaklenec says.</p> <p><strong>Modified particles</strong></p> <p>The researchers now plan to test this approach with other types of drug-delivery particles. In one project, they are investigating whether coating gold particles with “D” amino acids will improve their ability to deliver cancer drugs in mice. In another, they are using this approach to modify adenoviruses, which some of their collaborators are developing as a potential new way to treat cancer.</p> <p>“In this study, we showed that the ‘D’ chirality allows for longer circulation time and increased uptake by cancer cells. The next step would be to determine if drug-loaded chiral particles give enhanced or prolonged efficacy compared to free drug,” Jaklenec says. “This is potentially translatable to essentially any nanoparticle.”</p> <p>The research was funded by the Koch Institute’s Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine, the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development of Brazil, the Estudar Foundation, a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award, a Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award at the Scientific Interface, an National Institutes of Health Director’s New Innovator Award, the American Cancer Society, an AACR-Bayer Innovation and Discovery Grant, and the National Research Foundation of Korea.</p> MIT engineers created clusters of nanoparticles that are coated with “right-handed” molecules of the amino acid cysteine.Image: Jihyeon YeomResearch, Drug delivery, Nanoscience and nanotechnology, Chemical engineering, Koch Institute, Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES), School of Engineering, National Institutes of Health (NIH) MIT engineers develop a new way to remove carbon dioxide from air The process could work on the gas at any concentrations, from power plant emissions to open air. Thu, 24 Oct 2019 23:59:59 -0400 David Chandler | MIT News Office <p>A new way of removing carbon dioxide from a stream of air could provide a significant tool in the battle against climate change. The new system can work on the gas at virtually any concentration level, even down to the roughly 400 parts per million currently found in the atmosphere.</p> <p>Most methods of removing carbon dioxide from a stream of gas require higher concentrations, such as those found in the flue emissions from fossil fuel-based power plants. A few variations have been developed that can work with the low concentrations found in air, but the new method is significantly less energy-intensive and expensive, the researchers say.</p> <p>The technique, based on passing air through a stack of charged electrochemical plates, is described in a new paper in the journal <em>Energy and Environmental Science</em>, by MIT postdoc Sahag Voskian, who developed the work during his PhD, and T. Alan Hatton, the Ralph Landau Professor of Chemical Engineering.</p> <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p>The device is essentially a large, specialized battery that absorbs carbon dioxide from the air (or other gas stream) passing over its electrodes as it is being charged up, and then releases the gas as it is being discharged. In operation, the device would simply alternate between charging and discharging, with fresh air or feed gas being blown through the system during the charging cycle, and then the pure, concentrated carbon dioxide being blown out during the discharging.</p> <p>As the battery charges, an electrochemical reaction takes place at the surface of each of a stack of electrodes. These are coated with a compound called polyanthraquinone, which is composited with carbon nanotubes. The electrodes have a natural affinity for carbon dioxide and readily react with its molecules in the airstream or feed gas, even when it is present at very low concentrations. The reverse reaction takes place when the battery is discharged — during which the device can provide part of the power needed for the whole system — and in the process ejects a stream of pure carbon dioxide. The whole system operates at room temperature and normal air pressure.</p> <p>“The greatest advantage of this technology over most other carbon capture or carbon absorbing technologies is the binary nature of the adsorbent’s affinity to carbon dioxide,” explains Voskian. In other words, the electrode material, by its nature, “has either a high affinity or no affinity whatsoever,” depending on the battery’s state of charging or discharging. Other reactions used for carbon capture require intermediate chemical processing steps or the input of significant energy such as heat, or pressure differences.</p> <p>“This binary affinity allows capture of carbon dioxide from any concentration, including 400 parts per million, and allows its release into any carrier stream, including 100 percent CO<sub>2</sub>,” Voskian says. That is, as any gas flows through the stack of these flat electrochemical cells, during the release step the captured carbon dioxide will be carried along with it. For example, if the desired end-product is pure carbon dioxide to be used in the carbonation of beverages, then a stream of the pure gas can be blown through the plates. The captured gas is then released from the plates and joins the stream.</p> <p>In some soft-drink bottling plants, fossil fuel is burned to generate the carbon dioxide needed to give the drinks their fizz. Similarly, some farmers burn natural gas to produce carbon dioxide to feed their plants in greenhouses. The new system could eliminate that need for fossil fuels in these applications, and in the process actually be taking the greenhouse gas right out of the air, Voskian says. Alternatively, the pure carbon dioxide stream could be compressed and injected underground for long-term disposal, or even made into fuel through a series of chemical and electrochemical processes.</p> <p>The process this system uses for capturing and releasing carbon dioxide “is revolutionary” he says. “All of this is at ambient conditions — there’s no need for thermal, pressure, or chemical input. It’s just these very thin sheets, with both surfaces active, that can be stacked in a box and connected to a source of electricity.”</p> <p>“In my laboratories, we have been striving to develop new technologies to tackle a range of environmental issues that avoid the need for thermal energy sources, changes in system pressure, or addition of chemicals to complete the separation and release cycles,” Hatton says. “This carbon dioxide capture technology is a clear demonstration of the power of electrochemical approaches that require only small swings in voltage to drive the separations.”​</p> <p>In a working plant — for example, in a power plant where exhaust gas is being produced continuously — two sets of such stacks of the electrochemical cells could be set up side by side to operate in parallel, with flue gas being directed first at one set for carbon capture, then diverted to the second set while the first set goes into its discharge cycle. By alternating back and forth, the system could always be both capturing and discharging the gas. In the lab, the team has proven the system can withstand at least 7,000 charging-discharging cycles, with a 30 percent loss in efficiency over that time. The researchers estimate that they can readily improve that to 20,000 to 50,000 cycles.</p> <p>The electrodes themselves can be manufactured by standard chemical processing methods. While today this is done in a laboratory setting, it can be adapted so that ultimately they could be made in large quantities through a roll-to-roll manufacturing process similar to a newspaper printing press, Voskian says. “We have developed very cost-effective techniques,” he says, estimating that it could be produced for something like tens of dollars per square meter of electrode.</p> <p>Compared to other existing carbon capture technologies, this system is quite energy efficient, using about one gigajoule of energy per ton of carbon dioxide captured, consistently. Other existing methods have energy consumption which vary between 1 to 10 gigajoules per ton, depending on the inlet carbon dioxide concentration, Voskian says.</p> <p>The researchers have set up a company called Verdox to commercialize the process, and hope to develop a pilot-scale plant within the next few years, he says. And the system is very easy to scale up, he says: “If you want more capacity, you just need to make more electrodes.”</p> <p>This work was supported by an MIT Energy Initiative Seed Fund grant and by Eni S.p.A.</p> In this diagram of the new system, air entering from top right passes to one of two chambers (the gray rectangular structures) containing battery electrodes that attract the carbon dioxide. Then the airflow is switched to the other chamber, while the accumulated carbon dioxide in the first chamber is flushed into a separate storage tank (at right). These alternating flows allow for continuous operation of the two-step process.Image courtesy of the researchersResearch, Chemical engineering, School of Engineering, Emissions, Carbon nanotubes, Nanoscience and nanotechnology, Climate change, Carbon dioxide, Sustainability, Carbon, Greenhouse gases New capsule can orally deliver drugs that usually have to be injected Coated pill carries microneedles that deliver insulin and other drugs to the lining of the small intestine. Mon, 07 Oct 2019 11:09:12 -0400 Anne Trafton | MIT News Office <p>Many drugs, especially those made of proteins, cannot be taken orally because they are broken down in the gastrointestinal tract before they can take effect. One example is insulin, which patients with diabetes have to inject daily or even more frequently.</p> <p>In hopes of coming up with an alternative to those injections, MIT engineers, working with scientists from Novo Nordisk, have designed a new drug capsule that can carry insulin or other protein drugs and protect them from the harsh environment of the gastrointestinal tract. When the capsule reaches the small intestine, it breaks down to reveal dissolvable microneedles that attach to the intestinal wall and release drug for uptake into the bloodstream.</p> <p>“We are really pleased with the latest results of the new oral delivery device our lab members have developed with our collaborators, and we look forward to hopefully seeing it help people with diabetes and others in the future,” says Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT and a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.</p> <p>In tests in pigs, the researchers showed that this capsule could load a comparable amount of insulin to that of an injection, enabling fast uptake into the bloodstream after the microneedles were released.</p> <p>Langer and Giovanni Traverso, an assistant professor in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and a gastroenterologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, are the senior authors of the study, which appears today in <em>Nature Medicine</em>. The lead authors of the paper are recent MIT PhD recipient Alex Abramson and former MIT postdoc Ester Caffarel-Salvador.</p> <p><strong>Microneedle delivery</strong></p> <p>Langer and Traverso have previously developed several novel strategies for oral delivery of drugs that usually have to be injected. Those efforts include a <a href="">pill coated with many tiny needles</a>, as well as <a href="">star-shaped structures</a> that unfold and can remain in the stomach from days to weeks while releasing drugs.</p> <p>“A lot of this work is motivated by the recognition that both patients and health care providers prefer the oral route of administration over the injectable one,” Traverso says.</p> <p>Earlier this year, they developed a <a href="">blueberry-sized capsule</a> containing a small needle made of compressed insulin. Upon reaching the stomach, the needle injects the drug into the stomach lining. In the new study, the researchers set out to develop a capsule that could inject its contents into the wall of the small intestine.</p> <p>Most drugs are absorbed through the small intestine, Traverso says, in part because of its extremely large surface area --- 250 square meters, or about the size of a tennis court. Also, Traverso noted that pain receptors are lacking in this part of the body, potentially enabling pain-free micro-injections in the small intestine for delivery of drugs like insulin.</p> <p>To allow their capsule to reach the small intestine and perform these micro-injections, the researchers coated it with a polymer that can survive the acidic environment of the stomach, which has a pH of 1.5 to 3.5. When the capsule reaches the small intestine, the higher pH (around 6) triggers it to break open, and three folded arms inside the capsule spring open.</p> <p>Each arm contains patches of 1-millimeter-long microneedles that can carry insulin or other drugs. When the arms unfold open, the force of their release allows the tiny microneedles to just penetrate the topmost layer of the small intestine tissue. After insertion, the needles dissolve and release the drug.</p> <p>“We performed numerous safety tests on animal and human tissue to ensure that the penetration event allowed for drug delivery without causing a full thickness perforation or any other serious adverse events,” Abramson says.</p> <p>To reduce the risk of blockage in the intestine, the researchers designed the arms so that they would break apart after the microneedle patches are applied.</p> <p>The new capsule represents an important step toward achieving oral delivery of protein drugs, which has been very difficult to do, says David Putnam, a professor of biomedical engineering and chemical and biomolecular engineering at Cornell University.<br /> &nbsp;<br /> “It’s a compelling paper,” says Putnam, who was not involved in the study. “Delivering proteins is the holy grail of drug delivery. People have been trying to do it for decades.”</p> <p><strong>Insulin demonstration</strong></p> <p>In tests in pigs, the researchers showed that the 30-millimeter-long capsules could deliver doses of insulin effectively and generate an immediate blood-glucose-lowering response. They also showed that no blockages formed in the intestine and the arms were excreted safely after applying the microneedle patches.</p> <p>“We designed the arms such that they maintained sufficient strength to deliver the insulin microneedles to the small intestine wall, while still dissolving within several hours to prevent obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract,” Caffarel-Salvador says.</p> <p>Although the researchers used insulin to demonstrate the new system, they believe it could also be used to deliver other protein drugs such as hormones, enzymes, or antibodies, as well as RNA-based drugs.</p> <p>“We can deliver insulin, but we see applications for many other therapeutics and possibly vaccines,” Traverso says. “We’re working very closely with our collaborators to identify the next steps and applications where we can have the greatest impact.”</p> <p>The research was funded by Novo Nordisk and the National Institutes of Health. Other authors of the paper include Vance Soares, Daniel Minahan, Ryan Yu Tian, Xiaoya Lu, David Dellal, Yuan Gao, Soyoung Kim, Jacob Wainer, Joy Collins, Siddartha Tamang, Alison Hayward, Tadayuki Yoshitake, Hsiang-Chieh Lee, James Fujimoto, Johannes Fels, Morten Revsgaard Frederiksen, Ulrik Rahbek, and Niclas Roxhed.</p> X-ray images at top left show the drug-delivery capsule in the intestine, before and after the arms expand. At right, the arms are unfolded to reveal the microneedles.Image courtesy of the researchersResearch, Drug delivery, Health, Medicine, Chemical engineering, Mechanical engineering, Koch Institute, School of Engineering, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Strong mentorship through great decision-making Gabriella Carolini, Paula Hammond, and David Trumper honored as Committed to Caring graduate student mentors. Thu, 03 Oct 2019 15:40:01 -0400 Courtney Lesoon | Office of Graduate Education <p>Faculty mentors Gabriella Carolini, Paula Hammond, and David Trumper are known for guiding students through the trenches of graduate school — one decision at a time. &nbsp;</p> <p>Students encounter various obstacles in graduate school, many of which are unexpected. Selecting a research project may become an all-consuming task. Starting a family in graduate school may be both the best and the most-daunting decision.</p> <p>In addition to helping graduate students make choices, caring faculty mentors demonstrate support for the decisions graduate students make on their own and affirm that no obstacle is insurmountable. Through such acts of validation, these professors help to cultivate graduate students as productive and confident researchers.</p> <p>For this reason, among others, Carolini, Hammond, and Trumper have been honored as Committed to Caring (C2C).</p> <p><strong>Gabriella Carolini: making extraordinary the norm</strong></p> <p>One student extols Gabriella Carolini as “the single most-defining influence in my MIT experience to date.” This sentiment is far from an outlier.</p> <p>Associate professor in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP), Carolini’s research focuses on the planning, implementation, and administration of infrastructure systems in vulnerable urban and peri-urban communities. Her work, largely based in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, examines how financing, project partnering practices, and project evaluations impact distributive justice in urban development, particularly with regard to water and sanitation services as well as community health.</p> <p>Carolini builds community in the DUSP International Development Group by sharing her own experiences with her students, and in doing so “fosters a friendly and inclusive work environment” (a C2C mentoring guidepost).</p> <p>One nominator remarks that Carolini’s “candor in sharing her experiences as a tenure-track female academic” has helped inform the student’s own career decisions. Another nomination describes Carolini as honest about the ups and downs of academia, including the tenure process, the management of research projects and publications, and family-work life balances.</p> <p>When an international graduate student and his wife were expecting a baby, Carolini — pregnant herself at the time — went out of her way to demonstrate her concern and personally provide support for them. Her actions made them feel like they “had a community to rely on at MIT.” This was especially appreciated in light of the current political climate, in which many international students have felt destabilized and socially isolated.</p> <p>In considering general obstacles for her students, Carolini explains that “choice” is perhaps their toughest hurdle. “Making a decision about what specific questions or issues to commit to is a perennially difficult challenge our students face. They are talented and able — so we understand why. But we all still have to choose to move forward.”</p> <p>Faculty members, Carolini says, need to help students find and commit to their research and professional practice aspirations. It helps when faculty members demonstrate excitement about students’ work and help them to develop a plan towards achievement. To Carolini, this means recognizing both the strengths and weaknesses of a project, and addressing the latter “without losing sight of the value of their work.”</p> <p><strong>Paula Hammond: individual and departmental advancement</strong></p> <p>Paula Hammond excels at actively listening to her students, helping her students move successfully through their programs, and improving departmental systems to encourage diversity and inclusion.</p> <p>Hammond is head of the Department of Chemical Engineering and the David H. Koch (1962) Professor in Engineering at MIT. The Hammond Research Group&nbsp;at the MIT Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research focuses on the self-assembly of polymeric nanomaterials, including the use of electrostatics and other complementary interactions to generate multifunctional materials with highly controlled architecture.</p> <p>Her work has a number of electro-optical, electro-mechanical, and biological applications. In cancer research, for example, the Hammond lab works on the generation of polymer-based films and nanoparticles for drug delivery.</p> <p>Whether students are struggling with qualifying exams or unproductive data, Hammond assures her students that their obstacles can be overcome. “I let them know that there is a path to a PhD here and we’re going to find it.” This sets students at ease, and alleviates much of the stress. Hammond says that all these challenges are “part of the journey, and everyone experiences them — we just need to get out on the other side of it.”</p> <p>Hammond provides channels for students to express their difficulties (a C2C mentoring guidepost). She says that during a recent departmental retreat, “we learned that there is a gendered experience for women in our department.” As department head, Hammond has set out to learn how this climate can shift into “one in which women feel equally recognized and equally able as soon as they walk in the door.”</p> <p>According to C2C nominators, Hammond makes every effort to empower students from diverse backgrounds. This is perhaps best illustrated by her ongoing commitment to the MIT Summer Research Program (MSRP). By welcoming MSRP interns into her lab, Hammond gives her own graduate students valuable experiences mentoring potential future labmates.</p> <p>“I feel a responsibility as a woman, and as an underrepresented minority to be visible to others,” Hammond says. “I want to say, ‘There are people who look like you and have similar backgrounds to you doing this work.’”</p> <p><strong>David Trumper: champion of balance</strong></p> <p>David Trumper is a reliable guide for his students, who say that he invariably “encourages us to do what we are passionate about and supports us in any way he can.”</p> <p>As professor of mechanical engineering, Trumper’s research investigates the design of precision mechatronic systems, magnetic levitation for nanometer-scale motion control, and novel actuation and sensing devices. As director of the Precision Motion Control Laboratory, Trumper works with his group to conduct research in the design of electromechanical systems for precise positioning applications, such as semiconductor photolithography, high-speed machine tools, and scanned probe microscopy.</p> <p>According to his students, Trumper takes the time to sit down and listen, not just as a professor or advisor, but also as a friend. One nominator wrote, “we talked about the loss of my dad, about the presidential election, about life in general, and about life at MIT. It was the most encouraging and helpful experience that I have ever had with an MIT professor.”</p> <p>In addition to promoting a healthy work/life balance (a C2C mentoring guidepost), Trumper’s students say he constantly stresses balance of every kind, for example “between creative thinking and precise detailing, between analysis and learning from prototyping, and between going fast and slowing down.”</p> <p>Trumper demonstrates to his students that balance is important, and ultimately more effective for everyone. He encourages his students to make time for creative efforts and physical activities. Trumper&nbsp;leads by example, spending&nbsp;time photographing, hiking, and rock climbing. “I also encourage my students to be more broadly educated by reading books that have nothing to do with their technical field,” he relays. “Reading for pleasure should be a lifelong habit.”</p> <p>Along with balance comes perspective, and Trumper is always offering a positive outlook. One student recalls that after making a careless calculation, his experiment failed. Trumper “did not criticize me once about the mistake, and instead, he simply said: ‘Now you will never forget this, which is great’.”</p> <p><strong>More on Committed to Caring </strong></p> <p>The Committed to Caring (C2C) program is an initiative of the Office of Graduate Education and contributes to its mission of making graduate education at MIT “empowering, exciting, holistic, and transformative.”</p> <p>C2C invites&nbsp;graduate students from across MIT’s campus to nominate professors whom they believe to be outstanding mentors. Selection criteria for the honor include the scope and reach of advisor impact on the experience of graduate students, excellence in scholarship, and demonstrated commitment to diversity and inclusion.</p> <p>By recognizing the human element of graduate education, C2C seeks&nbsp;to encourage excellent advising and mentorship across MIT’s campus.&nbsp;</p> Left to right: MIT professors Gabriella Carolini, Paula Hammond, and David TrumperPhotos: Joseph LeeUrban studies and planning, Chemical engineering, School of Engineering, Koch Institute, Mechanical engineering, Mentoring, Awards, honors and fellowships, Faculty, School of Architecture and Planning, Graduate, postdoctoral Tracing the origins of air pollutants in India MIT researchers employ low-cost sensors to detect and track the origins of air pollutants in India. Mon, 30 Sep 2019 15:50:01 -0400 Fatima Husain | Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering <p>At any moment in Delhi, India, a resident might start their car, releasing exhaust that floats into the atmosphere. In northwest India, a farmer might set fire to his field after the wheat harvest to clear it quickly, releasing smoke that’ll be carried by the wind. A small family might burn wood to light their stove, releasing soot into the sky. Delhi, a city which boasts a population of over 28 million residents, bustles with activity at all hours of the day and night. And as it grows — so does its pollution.&nbsp;</p> <p>The pollution, which sometimes manifests as thick smog, respiratory illness, and disease, is the focus of many who hope to identify and eliminate its sources. But to do that accurately, the pollution must be tracked by research-grade air quality monitors that measure pollutants including particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, and more, which can cost upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars.&nbsp;</p> <p>Low-cost sensors, which have recently begun to be commercialized, offer scientists, policymakers, and the public the opportunity to detect pollution without high overhead costs — but not without some tradeoffs. Jesse Kroll, a professor in the MIT departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Chemical Engineering, researches the instruments and methods used to conduct atmospheric chemistry research. “In terms of nearly every measurement metric — precision, accuracy, sensitivity, interferences, drift, and so on — the low-cost sensors fall far short of what research-grade equipment can deliver,” he says. “This is a major limitation, but it usually isn’t made clear by the sensor manufacturers.”&nbsp;</p> <p>As a result, Kroll says, the use of low-cost sensors to detect pollution remains poorly characterized. But the sensors’ lower cost, lower energy consumption, and smaller sizes incentivize their adoption, so their use has expanded significantly over the past few years in countries such as China and India. “The use of these instruments is really outpacing our efforts to understand what their data actually mean,” Kroll says.</p> <p>The challenge to clarify and expand the capabilities of low-cost sensors in pollution detection inspired&nbsp;<a href="">a recently published study</a>&nbsp;led by Kroll and graduate student David Hagan that compared the performance of low-cost sensors with research-grade equipment in Delhi — and found a new capability of the devices.&nbsp;</p> <p>On the India Institute of Technology’s Delhi campus, research-grade instrumentation already sampled the air from the fourth floor of a building in Hauz Khaz, set up and maintained by Kroll and Hagan’s collaborators,&nbsp;<a href="">Josh Apte</a> and&nbsp;<a href="">Lea Hildebrandt</a>&nbsp;of the University of Texas at Austin. “We jumped at the opportunity to be able to co-locate our instruments with theirs to prove how well ours could work,” Hagan says. But it wasn’t easy: In Delhi, he says, the particulate matter levels were so high that their sensors would initially foul easily, and the sensors risked overheating on hot days. “Designing around that is a fun engineering challenge,” Hagan says.&nbsp;</p> <p>After overcoming those challenges, the low-cost sensors and research-grade monitors ran simultaneously over a six-week period in winter 2018, sampling the air from the fourth-floor balcony of a laboratory. After analyzing the data captured, the researchers found that the low-cost sensors, which measured both gases and particles, not only captured big-picture air quality and pollutant levels, but also could be used to infer the sources of pollutants, even those that the sensors cannot detect directly.</p> <p>By applying a type of multivariate analysis called non-negative matrix factorization, the researchers were able to identify, disentangle, and infer the sources that contributed to the total signal detected by the low-cost sensors, and compare those results to the more detailed measurements collected by the research-grade monitors.&nbsp;</p> <p>That analysis revealed that the total signal comprised of a combustion factor as well as two other factors, and was characterized by the particles measured from the air. The combustion particles, which constitute a large fraction of the total particulate matter, are too small to be detected by the sensors themselves, but sensor measurements of other co-emitted pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, allowed them to be inferred nonetheless.&nbsp;</p> <p>“These low-cost sensors can be used for more than just making routine measurements, and can actually be used to identify sources of pollution that can lead of&nbsp;a better understanding of what we breathe,” Hagan says.</p> <p>Even further, the data collected by the low-cost sensors captured enough information about ambient Delhi pollution that the researchers could distinguish between primary sources of pollution, or directly-emitted particles, and secondary sources, those particles formed via chemical reactions after emission in the atmosphere.&nbsp;</p> <p>Those types of information could make it easier to understand how air quality varies around the world. “One of the strengths of low-cost sensors is that they can provide information about air quality and pollution sources in places that are under-studied — and many of these places, such as cities in the developing world, tend to have some of the worst pollution in the world,” Kroll says.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Using these low-cost sensors, we can really understand the spatial and temporal heterogeneity of air pollution and human exposure,” Hagan says. “That is much more relevant to how people actually live their lives.”&nbsp;</p> <p>The results have already inspired future studies. “This is a crucial first step in improving urban air quality,” Kroll says. “We’d like to see if we can extend it to other environments and other types of pollution as well. This includes not only other polluted cities, but also relatively clean ones, such as Boston.”&nbsp;</p> <p>This research was supported by the Tata Center for Technology and Design at MIT.</p> Graduate student Sidhant Pai repairs low-cost air quality sensors near Connaught Place in Central Delhi.Photo: David Hagan Civil and environmental engineering, Chemical engineering, School of Engineering, Emissions, Environment, India, Research, Tata Center Delivery system can make RNA vaccines more powerful Vaccines packaged in novel nanoparticles could offer a new way to fight cancer and infectious diseases. Mon, 30 Sep 2019 11:00:00 -0400 Anne Trafton | MIT News Office <p>Vaccines made from RNA hold great potential as a way to treat cancer or prevent a variety of infectious diseases. Many biotech companies are now working on such vaccines, and a few have gone into clinical trials.</p> <p>One of the challenges to creating RNA vaccines is making sure that the RNA gets into the right immune cells and produces enough of the encoded protein. Additionally, the vaccine must stimulate a strong enough response that the immune system can wipe out the relevant bacteria, viruses, or cancer cells when they are subsequently encountered.</p> <p>MIT chemical engineers have now developed a new series of lipid nanoparticles to deliver such vaccines. They showed that the particles trigger efficient production of the protein encoded by the RNA, and they also behave like an “adjuvant,” further boosting the vaccine effectiveness. In a study of mice, they used this RNA vaccine to successfully inhibit the growth of melanoma tumors.</p> <p>“One of the key discoveries of this paper is that you can build RNA delivery lipids that can also activate the immune system in important ways,” says Daniel Anderson, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Chemical Engineering and a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and Institute for Medical Engineering and Science.</p> <p>Anderson is the senior author of the <a href="" target="_blank">study</a>, which appears in the Sept. 30 issue of <em>Nature Biotechnology</em>. The lead authors of the study are former postdocs Lei Miao and Linxian Li and former research associate Yuxuan Huang. Other MIT authors include Derfogail Delcassian, Jasdave Chahal, Jinsong Han, Yunhua Shi, Kaitlyn Sadtler, Wenting Gao, Jiaqi Lin, Joshua C. Doloff, and Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT and a member of the Koch Institute.</p> <p><strong>Vaccine boost</strong></p> <p>Most traditional vaccines are made from proteins produced by infectious microbes, or from weakened forms of the microbes themselves. In recent years, scientists have explored the idea of making vaccines using DNA that encodes microbial proteins. However, these vaccines, which have not been approved for use in humans, have so far failed to produce strong enough immune responses.</p> <p>RNA is an attractive alternative to DNA in vaccines because unlike DNA, which has to reach the cell nucleus to become functional, RNA can be translated into protein as soon as it gets into the cell cytoplasm. It can also be adapted to target many different diseases.</p> <p>“Another advantage of these vaccines is that we can quickly change the target disease,” he says. “We can make vaccines to different diseases very quickly just by tinkering with the RNA sequence.”&nbsp;</p> <p>For an RNA vaccine to be effective, it needs to enter a type of immune cell called an antigen-presenting cell. These cells then produce the protein encoded by the vaccine and display it on their surfaces, attracting and activating T cells and other immune cells.</p> <p>Anderson’s lab has previously developed lipid nanoparticles for delivering RNA and DNA for a <a href="">variety of applications</a>. These lipid particles form tiny droplets that protect RNA molecules and carry them to their destinations. The researchers’ usual approach is to generate libraries of hundreds or thousands of candidate particles with varying chemical features, then screen them for the ones that work the best.</p> <p>“In one day, we can synthesize over 1,000 lipid materials with multiple different structures,” Miao says. “Once we had that very large library, we could screen the molecules and see which type of structures help RNA get delivered to the antigen-presenting cells.”</p> <p>They discovered that nanoparticles with a certain chemical feature — a cyclic structure at one end of the particle — are able to turn on an immune signaling pathway called stimulator of interferon genes (STING). Once this pathway is activated, the cells produce interferon and other cytokines that provoke T cells to leap into action.</p> <p><strong>“Broad applications”</strong></p> <p>The researchers tested the particles in two different mouse models of melanoma. First, they used mice with tumors engineered to produce ovalbumin, a protein found in egg whites. The researchers designed an RNA vaccine to target ovalbumin, which is not normally found in tumors, and showed that the vaccine stopped tumor growth and significantly prolonged survival.</p> <p>Then, the researchers created a vaccine that targets a protein naturally produced by melanoma tumors, known as Trp2. This vaccine also stimulated a strong immune response that slowed tumor growth and improved survival rates in the mice.</p> <p>Anderson says he plans to pursue further development of RNA cancer vaccines as well as vaccines that target infectious diseases such as HIV, malaria, or Ebola.</p> <p>“We think there could be broad applications for this,” he says. “A particularly exciting area to think about is diseases where there are currently no vaccines.”</p> <p>The research was funded by Translate Bio and JDRF.</p> MIT chemical engineers have developed a new series of lipid nanoparticles to deliver RNA vaccines.Research, Chemical engineering, Cancer, Koch Institute, Institute of Medical Engineering and Science (IMES), School of Engineering, Disease, RNA, Vaccines, Ebola Photovoltaic-powered sensors for the “internet of things” RFID-based devices work in indoor and outdoor lighting conditions, and communicate at greater distances. Fri, 27 Sep 2019 00:00:00 -0400 Rob Matheson | MIT News Office <p>By 2025, experts estimate the number of “internet of things” devices — including sensors that gather real-time data about infrastructure and the environment —&nbsp;could rise to 75 billion worldwide. As it stands, however, those sensors require batteries that must be replaced frequently, which can be problematic for long-term monitoring. &nbsp;</p> <p>MIT researchers have designed photovoltaic-powered sensors that could potentially transmit data for years before they need to be replaced. To do so, they mounted thin-film perovskite cells — known for their potential low cost, flexibility, and relative ease of fabrication — as energy-harvesters on inexpensive radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags.</p> <p>The cells could power the sensors in both bright sunlight and dimmer indoor conditions. Moreover, the team found the solar power actually gives the sensors a major power boost that enables greater data-transmission distances and the ability to integrate multiple sensors onto a single RFID tag.</p> <p>“In the future, there could be billions of sensors all around us. With that scale, you’ll need a lot of batteries that you’ll have to recharge constantly. But what if you could self-power them using the ambient light? You could deploy them and forget them for months or years at a time,” says Sai Nithin Kantareddy, a PhD student in the MIT Auto-ID Laboratory. “This work is basically building enhanced RFID tags using energy harvesters for a range of applications.”</p> <p>In a pair of papers published in the journals <em>Advanced Functional Materials </em>and <em>IEEE Sensors, </em>MIT Auto-ID Laboratory and MIT Photovoltaics Research Laboratory researchers describe using the sensors to continuously monitor indoor and outdoor temperatures over several days. The sensors transmitted data continuously at distances five times greater than traditional RFID tags —&nbsp;with no batteries required. Longer data-transmission ranges mean, among other things, that one reader can be used to collect data from multiple sensors simultaneously.</p> <p>Depending on certain factors in their environment, such as moisture and heat, the sensors can be left inside or outside for months or, potentially, years at a time before they degrade enough to require replacement. That can be valuable for any application requiring long-term sensing, indoors and outdoors, including tracking cargo in supply chains, monitoring soil, and monitoring the energy used by equipment in buildings and homes.</p> <p>Joining Kantareddy on the papers are: Department of Mechanical Engineering (MechE) postdoc Ian Mathews, researcher Shijing Sun, chemical engineering student Mariya Layurova, researcher Janak Thapa, researcher Ian Marius Peters, and Georgia Tech Professor Juan-Pablo Correa-Baena, who are all members of the Photovoltaics Research Laboratory; Rahul Bhattacharyya, a researcher in the AutoID Lab; Tonio Buonassisi, a professor in MechE; and Sanjay E. Sarma, the Fred Fort Flowers and Daniel Fort Flowers Professor of Mechanical Engineering.</p> <p><strong>Combining two low-cost technologies</strong></p> <p>In recent attempts to create self-powered sensors, other researchers have used solar cells as energy sources for internet of things (IoT) devices. But those are basically shrunken-down versions of traditional solar cells — not perovskite. The traditional cells can be efficient, long-lasting, and powerful under certain conditions “but are really infeasible for ubiquitous IoT sensors,” Kantareddy says.</p> <p>Traditional solar cells, for instance, are bulky and expensive to manufacture, plus they are inflexible and cannot be made transparent, which can be useful for temperature-monitoring sensors placed on windows and car windshields. They’re also really only designed to efficiently harvest energy from powerful sunlight, not low indoor light.</p> <p>Perovskite cells, on the other hand, can be printed using easy roll-to-roll manufacturing techniques for a few cents each; made thin, flexible, and transparent; and tuned to harvest energy from any kind of indoor and outdoor lighting.</p> <p>The idea, then, was combining a low-cost power source with low-cost RFID tags, which are battery-free stickers used to monitor billions of products worldwide. The stickers are equipped with tiny, ultra-high-frequency antennas that each cost around three to five cents to make.</p> <p>RFID tags rely on a communication technique called “backscatter,” that transmits data by reflecting modulated wireless signals off the tag and back to a reader. A wireless device called a reader —&nbsp;basically similar to a Wi-Fi router — pings the tag, which powers up and backscatters a unique signal containing information about the product it’s stuck to.</p> <p>Traditionally, the tags&nbsp;harvest a little of the radio-frequency energy sent by the reader to power up a little chip inside that stores data, and uses the remaining energy to modulate the returning signal. But that amounts to only a few microwatts of power, which limits their communication range to less than a meter.</p> <p>The researchers’ sensor consists of an RFID tag built on a plastic substrate. Directly connected to an integrated circuit on the tag is an array of perovskite solar cells. As with traditional systems, a reader sweeps the room, and each tag responds. But instead of using energy from the reader, it draws harvested energy from the perovskite cell to power up its circuit and send data by backscattering RF signals.</p> <p><strong>Efficiency at scale</strong></p> <p>The key innovations are in the customized cells. They’re fabricated in layers, with perovskite material sandwiched between an electrode, cathode, and special electron-transport layer materials. This achieved about 10 percent efficiency, which is fairly high for still-experimental perovskite cells. This layering structure also enabled the researchers to tune each cell for its optimal “bandgap,” which is an electron-moving property that dictates a cell’s performance in different lighting conditions. They then combined the cells into modules of four cells.</p> <p>In the <em>Advanced Functional Materials </em>paper, the modules generated 4.3 volts of electricity under one sun illumination, which is a standard measurement for how much voltage solar cells produce under sunlight. That’s enough to power up a circuit — about 1.5 volts —&nbsp;and send data around 5 meters every few seconds. The modules had similar performances in indoor lighting. The <em>IEEE Sensors</em> paper primarily demonstrated wide‐bandgap perovskite cells for indoor applications that achieved between 18.5 percent and 21. 4 percent efficiencies under indoor fluorescent lighting, depending on how much voltage they generate. Essentially, about 45 minutes of any light source will power the sensors indoors and outdoors for about three hours. &nbsp;</p> <p>The researchers found a novel way to fix major drawbacks of RFID-based sensors, which are said to hold promise for reducing the energy needs for wireless devices and sensors, says Francesco Amato, a researcher at the Information and Perception Technologies Institute at the Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies in Italy. “Although similar solutions have been proposed in the past, the use of perovskite photovoltaic cells to power up the RFID IC is interesting because of the smaller footprint, the low production costs, and the potential of roll-to-roll manufacturing on flexible substrates of the cells,” he says. “Nevertheless, to exploit this idea and further impact the IoT, more work needs to be done (by manufacturers) in developing RFID [circuits] with sensing features. … [Also], as mentioned by the authors, to become completely environmentally friendly, the perovskite cells need to become lead-free.”</p> <p>The RFID circuit was prototyped to only monitor temperature. Next, the researchers aim to scale up and add more environmental-monitoring sensors to the mix, such as humidity, pressure, vibration, and pollution. Deployed at scale, the sensors could especially aid in long-term data-collection indoors to help build, say, algorithms that help make smart buildings more energy efficient.</p> <p>“The perovskite materials we use have incredible potential as effective indoor-light harvesters. Our next step is to integrate these same technologies using printed electronics methods, potentially enabling extremely low-cost manufacturing of wireless sensors," Mathews says.</p> MIT researchers have designed low-cost, photovoltaic-powered sensors on RFID tags that work in sunlight and dimmer indoor lighting, and can transmit data for years before needing replacement.Image courtesy of the researchers, edited by MIT NewsResearch, Computer science and technology, Sensors, Wireless, Photovoltaics, Solar, Chemical engineering, Mechanical engineering, internet of things, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), School of Engineering Machine learning you can dance to MIT grad student startup Samply uses algorithms to help music producers find the perfect sound. Wed, 18 Sep 2019 13:50:01 -0400 Office of the Vice Chancellor <p>Rhythmic flashes from a computer screen illuminate a dark room as sounds fill the air. The snare drum sample comes out crisp and clean by itself, but turns muddy in the mix, no matter how the levels are set. Welcome to the world of modern music-making — and its discontents.</p> <p>Today’s digital music producers face a common dilemma: how to mesh samples that may sound great on their own but do not necessarily fit into a song like they originally imagined. One solution is to find and audit dozens of different samples, a tedious process that can take time to finesse.</p> <p>“There’s a lot of manual searching to get the right musical result, which can be distracting and time-consuming,” says Justin Swaney, a PhD student in the MIT Department of Chemical Engineering, a music producer, and co-creator of a new tool that uses machine learning to help producers find just the perfect sound.</p> <p>Called Samply, Swaney’s visual sample-library explorer combines music and machine learning into a new technology for producers. The top winner at the MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing Machine Learning Across Disciplines Challenge at the Hello World celebration last winter, the tool uses a convolutional neural network to analyze audio waveforms.</p> <p>“Samply organizes samples based on their sonic characteristics,” explains Swaney. “The result is an interactive plot where similar sounds are closer together and different sounds are farther apart. Samply allows multiple sample libraries to be visualized simultaneously, shortening the lag between imagining a sound in your head and finding it.”</p> <p>For Swaney, the development of Samply drew on both his research expertise and personal life. Before coming to MIT, he had produced albums with indie musicians including Eric Schirtzinger, a drummer and co-creator of the tool. The two recorded drums in a basement and tried to improvise with cheap hardware and hacks — like hanging rugs from the ceiling to dampen reverberation. “The constraints made us get creative,” says Schirtzinger, who is now a computer science major at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.</p> <p>That creativity was further honed after Swaney completed 6.862 (Applied Machine Learning). He saw an opportunity to rekindle his music production hobby by applying what he had learned from the project-based course, devising a way to automate the search for the right samples when producing a new song.</p> <p>“I figured the computer could listen to samples much faster than I could,” he says. Beyond the clever use of machine learning, the real magic of Samply is that conceptually, it is founded on a deep understanding of what it takes to make music. “We aren’t just AI enthusiasts applying machine learning to music,” says Schirtzinger. “We are musicians who want better tools for making music.”</p> <p>It turns out that at MIT, they aren’t the only ones with a song in their hearts. While presenting Samply at the Schwarzman College of Computing exposition last winter, dozens of faculty, staff, and students gathered around Swaney’s poster and live demonstration to exchange ideas. Some had years of experience producing music with professional software, while others simply appreciated the visualizations and sounds in the demo.</p> <p>Spurred by the interest in Samply at the exposition, Swaney and Shirtzinger are in the process of turning their project into a startup company. As a first step, the two reached out to the Technology Licensing Office (TLO) for advice, which referred them to the Venture Mentoring Service (VMS).</p> <p>Samply joined VMS in April and was paired with two MIT-affiliated mentors and entrepreneurs, Stephen Bayle and John Stempeck. After pitching Samply to his mentors, Swaney received sage advice on a crafting a business plan and sales strategy, and then began making connections with others interested in music technology as a business.</p> <p>Samply has since been accepted into the ELEVATE accelerator, sponsored by the local digital marketing firm HubSpot, and Swaney is applying for seed funding through the MIT Sandbox Innovation Fund.</p> <p>“Starting a company as a student can be daunting, but the MIT community gives us confidence,” he says. “If we can’t do it at MIT, then where can we?”</p> <p>In fact, the time and attention he has spent on Samply has had an “almost paradoxical” benefit to his academic life as a graduate student. “I was spending all of my time in the lab,” he says. “When I took a step back to make Samply, I could see the forest from the trees in my research.”</p> <p>Swaney found that focusing on his love of music served as an “emotional outlet,” helping to mitigate intellectual burnout. Although Samply may have taken him away from the lab bench, it has also ended up informing his research. The original idea of visualizing samples, he says, stemmed from “my work on single-cell analysis.” Applying the method to the tool clarified his thinking in the biological realm, leading to a new method to produce better&nbsp;clustering, or a way to better sort, recognize, and visualize groups of cells. “It was a bit like a&nbsp;musical&nbsp;theme and variation, but&nbsp;with&nbsp;my research,” Swaney says.</p> <p>As for Samply, there will be a free beta version of the app launching in September, and a Kickstarter campaign is due in the coming year to fuel future developments.</p> <p>“We want to&nbsp;get Samply&nbsp;into the hands of more producers&nbsp;and content creators&nbsp;so that we can&nbsp;establish a&nbsp;feedback loop&nbsp;that guides&nbsp;our priorities,” he says. “Our technology may&nbsp;also&nbsp;have&nbsp;applications in live&nbsp;music performance, instrumentation, and in film and videography. We are excited to&nbsp;explore those possibilities.”</p> Chemical engineering graduate student Justin Swaney is applying machine learning to music production. “There’s a lot of manual searching to get the right musical result, which can be distracting and time-consuming,” says the co-creator of a new tool to help producers find just the perfect sound.Photo: Lillie PaquetteVice Chancellor, Chemical engineering, Venture Mentoring Service, School of Engineering, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Machine learning, Startups, MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, Technology and society, Students, Undergraduate, Music Notation system allows scientists to communicate polymers more easily BigSMILES language allows computers and researchers to convey stochastic configurations more clearly. Wed, 18 Sep 2019 12:50:01 -0400 Melanie Miller Kaufman | Chemical engineering <p>Having a compact, yet robust, structurally-based identifier or representation system for molecular structures is a key enabling factor for efficient sharing and dissemination of results within the research community. Such systems also lay down the essential foundations for machine learning and other data-driven research. While substantial advances have been made for small molecules, the polymer community has struggled in coming up with an efficient representation system.</p> <p>For small molecules, the basic premise is that each distinct chemical species corresponds to a well-defined chemical structure. This does not hold for polymers. Polymers are intrinsically stochastic molecules that are often ensembles with a distribution of chemical structures. This difficulty limits the applicability of all deterministic representations developed for small molecules. In a paper published Sept. 12 in <em>ACS Central Science</em>, researchers at MIT, Duke University, and Northwestern University report a new representation system that is capable of handling the stochastic nature of polymers, called BigSMILES.</p> <p>“BigSMILES addresses a significant challenge in the digital representation of polymers,” explains Connor Coley PhD ’19, co-author of the paper. “Polymers are almost always ensembles of multiple chemical structures, generated through stochastic processes, so we can't use the same strategies for writing down their structures as for small molecules.”</p> <p>Co-authors are Coley; associate professor of chemical engineering Bradley D. Olsen at MIT; Warren K. Lewis Professor of Chemical Engineering Klavs F. Jensen at MIT; assistant professor of chemistry Julia A. Kalow at Northwestern University; associate professor of chemistry Jeremiah A. Johnson at MIT; William T. Miller Professor of Chemistry Stephen L. Craig at Duke University; graduate student Eliot Woods at Northwestern University; graduate student Zi Wang at Duke University; graduate student Wencong Wang at MIT; graduate student Haley K. Beech at MIT; visiting researcher Hidenobu Mochigase at MIT; and graduate student Tzyy-Shyang Lin at MIT.</p> <p>There are several line notations to communicate molecular structure, with simplified molecular-input line-entry system (SMILES) being the most popular. SMILES is generally considered the most human-readable variant, with by far the widest software support. In practice, SMILES provides a simple set of representations that are suitable as labels for chemical data and as a memory-compact identifier for data exchange between researchers. As a text-based system, SMILES is also a natural fit to many text-based machine learning algorithms. These characteristics have made SMILES a perfect tool for translating chemistry knowledge into a machine-friendly form, and it has been successfully applied for small molecule property prediction and computer-aided synthesis planning.</p> <p>Polymers, however, have resisted description by this and other structural languages. This is because most structural languages such as SMILES have been designed to describe molecules or chemical fragments that are well-defined atomistic graphs. Since polymers are stochastic molecules, they do not have unique SMILES representations. This lack of a unified naming or identifier convention for polymer materials is one of the major hurdles slowing down the development of the polymer informatics field. While pioneering efforts on polymer informatics, such as the Polymer Genome Project, have demonstrated the usefulness of SMILES extensions in polymer informatics, the fast development of new chemistry and the rapid development of materials informatics and data-driven research make the need for a universally applicable naming convention for polymers important.</p> <p>“Machine learning presents an enormous opportunity to accelerate chemical development and discovery,” says Lin He, acting deputy division director for the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Chemistry. “This expanded tool to label structures, specifically devised to address the unique challenges inherent to polymers, greatly enhances the searchability of chemical structural data, and brings us one step closer to harnessing the data revolution.”</p> <p>The researchers have created a new structurally-based construct as an addition to the highly successful SMILES representation that can treat the random nature of polymer materials. Since polymers are high molar mass molecules, this construct is named BigSMILES. In BigSMILES, polymeric fragments are represented by a list of repeating units enclosed by curly brackets. The chemical structures of the repeating units are encoded using normal SMILES syntax, but with additional bonding descriptors that specify how different repeating units are connected to form polymers. This simple design of syntax would enable the encoding of macromolecules over a wide range of different chemistries, including homopolymer, random copolymers and block copolymers, and a variety of molecular connectivity, ranging from linear polymers to ring polymers to even branched polymers. As in SMILES, BigSMILES representations are compact, self-contained text strings.</p> <p>“Standardizing the digital representation of polymeric structures with BigSMILES will encourage the sharing and aggregation of polymer data, improving model quality over time and reinforcing the benefits of its use,” says Jason Clark, the materials lead in Open Innovation for Renewable Chemicals and Materials at Braskem, who was not associated with the research. “BigSMILES is a significant contribution to the field in that it addresses the need for a flexible system to represent complex polymer structures digitally.”<br /> &nbsp;<br /> Clark adds, “The challenges faced by the plastics industry in the context of the circular economy begins with the source of raw materials and continues all the way through end-of-life management. Addressing these challenges requires the innovative design of polymer-based materials, which has traditionally suffered from lengthy development cycles. Advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning have shown promise to accelerate the development cycle for applications utilizing metal alloys and small organic molecules, motivating the plastics industry to seek a parallel approach.” BigSMILES digital representations facilitate the evaluation of structure-performance relationships by application of data science methods, he says, ultimately accelerating the convergence to the polymer structures or compositions that will help enable the circular economy.</p> <p>“A multitude of complicated polymer structures can be constructed through the composition of three new basic operators and original SMILES symbols,” says Olsen, “Entire fields of chemistry, materials science, and engineering, including polymer science, biomaterials, materials chemistry, and much of biochemistry, are based upon macromolecules which have stochastic structures. This can basically be thought of as a new language for how to write the structure of large molecules.”</p> <p>“One of the things I’m excited about is how the data entry might eventually be tied directly to the synthetic methods used to make a particular polymer,” says Craig, “Because of that, there is an opportunity to actually capture and process more information about the molecules than is typically available from standard characterizations. If this can be done, it will enable all sorts of discoveries.”</p> <p>This work was funded by the NSF through the Center for the Chemistry of Molecularly Optimized Networks, an NSF Center for Chemical Innovation.</p> In BigSMILES, polymeric fragments are represented by a list of repeating units enclosed by curly brackets. The chemical structures of the repeating units are encoded using normal SMILES syntax, but with additional bonding descriptors that specify how different repeating units are connected to form polymers. This simple design of syntax would enable the encoding of macromolecules over a wide range of chemistries.Image: Tzyy-Shyang LinChemical engineering, Chemistry, School of Science, School of Engineering, Machine learning, Polymers, Artificial intelligence, Materials Science and Engineering J-WAFS announces 2019 Solutions Grants supporting agriculture and clean water Projects address access to clean water in Nepal via wearable E. coli test kits, improving the resilience of commercial citrus groves, and more. Tue, 17 Sep 2019 12:00:01 -0400 Andi Sutton | Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab <p>The development of new technologies often starts with funded university research. Venture capital firms are eager to back well-tested products or services that are ready to enter the startup phase. However, funding that bridges the gap between these two stages can be hard to come by. The Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food System Lab (J-WAFS) at MIT aims to fill this gap with their J-WAFS Solutions grant program. This program provides critical funding to students and faculty at MIT who have promising bench-scale technologies that can be applied to water and food systems challenges, but are not yet market-ready. By supporting the essential steps in any startup journey — customer discovery, market testing, prototyping, design, and more — as well as mentorship from industry experts throughout the life of the grant, this grant program helps to speed the development of new products and services that have the potential to increase the safety, resilience, and accessibility of the world’s water and food supplies.</p> <p>J-WAFS Solutions grants provide one year of financial support to MIT principal investigators with promising early-stage technologies, as well as mentorship from industry experts and experienced entrepreneurs throughout the grant. With additional networking and guidance provided by MIT’s Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation, project teams are supported as they advance their technologies toward commercialization. Since the start of the program in 2015, J-WAFS Solutions grants have already been instrumental in the launch of two MIT startups — <a href="">Via Separations</a> and <a href="">Xibus Systems</a> — as well as an open-source technology to support clean water access for the rural and urban poor in India.</p> <p>John H. Lienhard V, director of J-WAFS and Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Water and Mechanical Engineering at MIT, describes the role of the J-WAFS Solutions program this way: “The combined effects of unsustainable human consumption patterns and the climate crisis threaten the world’s water and food supplies. These challenges are already present, and the risks were made plain in several recent, high-profile international news reports. Innovation in the water and food sectors can certainly help, and it is urgently needed. Through the J-WAFS Solutions program, we seek to identify nascent technologies with the greatest potential to transform local or even global food and water systems, and then to speed their transfer to market. We aim to leverage MIT’s entrepreneurial spirit to ensure that the water and food needs of our global human community can be met sustainably, now and far into the future.”</p> <p>Two projects funded by the J-WAFS Solutions program in 2019 are applying this entrepreneurial approach to sensors that support clean water and resilience in the agriculture industry. Three projects, all in the agriculture sector and funded by previous grants, are continuing this year, which together comprise a portfolio of exciting MIT technologies that are helping to resolve water and food challenges across the world.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Simplifying water quality testing in Nepal and beyond </strong></p> <p>In 2018, the J-WAFS Solutions program supported a collaboration between the MIT-Nepal Initiative, led by professor of history Jeffrey Ravel, MIT D-Lab lecturer Susan Murcott, and the Nepalese non-governmental organization <a href="">Environment and Public Health Organization</a> (ENPHO). The project sought to refine the design of a wearable water test kit developed by Susan Murcott that provided simple, accessible ways to test the presence of <em>E. coli</em> in drinking water, even in the most remote settings. In that first year of J-WAFS funding, the research team worked with their Nepali partners, ENPHO, and their social business partner in Nepal, EcoConcern, to finalize the design of their product, called the ECC Vial, which, with the materials that they’ve now sourced, can be sold for less than $1 in Nepal — a significantly lower price than any other water-testing product on the market.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>This technology is urgently needed by communities in Nepal, where many drinking water supplies are contaminated by <em>E. coli.</em> Standard testing practices are expensive, require significant laboratory infrastructure, or are just plain inaccessible to the many people exposed to unsafe drinking water. In fact, children under the age of 5 are the most vulnerable, and more than 40,000 children in Nepal alone die every year as a result of drinking contaminated water. The ECC Vial is intended to be the next-generation easy-to-use, portable, low-cost method for <em>E. coli</em> detection in water samples. It is particularly designed for simplicity and is appropriate for use in remote and low-resource settings.</p> <p>The 2019 renewal grant for the project “<a href="">Manufacturing and Marketing EC-Kits in Nepal</a>” will support the team in working with the same Nepali partners to optimize the manufacturing process for the ECC Vials and refine the marketing strategy in order to ensure that the technology that is sold to customers is reliable and that the business model for local purveyors is viable now and into the future. Once the product enters the market this year, the team plans to begin distribution in Bangladesh, and will assess market opportunities in India, Pakistan, Peru, and Ghana, where there is a comparable need for a simple and affordable and <em>E.coli</em> indicator testing product for use by government agencies, private water vendors, bottled water firms, international nonprofit organizations and low-income populations without access to safe water. Based on consumer demand in Nepal and beyond, this solution has the potential to reach more than 3 million people during just its first two years on the market.</p> <p><strong>Supporting the resilience of the citrus industry </strong></p> <p>Citrus plants are very high-value crops and nutrient-dense foods. They are an important part of diets for people in developing countries with micronutrient deficiencies, as well as for people in developed economies who suffer from obesity and diet-related chronic diseases. Citrus fruits have become staples across seasons, cultures, and geographies, yet the large-scale citrus farms in the United States that support much of our domestic citrus consumption are challenged by citrus greening disease. Also known as Huanglongbing (HLB), it is an uncurable disease caused by bacteria transmitted by a small insect, the Asian citrus psyllid. The bacterial infection causes trees to wither and fruit to develop an unpleasantly bitter taste, rendering the tree’s fruit inedible. If left undetected, HLB can very quickly spread throughout large citrus groves. Since there is no treatment, infected trees must be removed to prevent further spreading. The disease poses an immediate threat to the $3.3 billion-per-year worldwide citrus industry. One of the reasons HLB is so troubling is that there doesn’t yet exist an accessible and affordable early-detection strategy. Once the observable symptoms of the disease have shown up in one part of a citrus grove, it is likely many more trees are already infected.</p> <p>Taking on this challenge is a research team at MIT led by Karen Gleason, the Alexander and I. Michael Kasser (1960) Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering. A 2019 J-WAFS Solutions grant for the project&nbsp;“<a href="">Early detection of Huanglongbing (HLB) Citrus Greening Disease</a>” is supporting the development of a new technology for early detection of HLB infection in citrus trees. The team’s strategy is to deploy a series of low-cost, high-sensitivity sensors that can be used on-site, and which are attuned to volatile organic compounds emitted by citrus trees that change in concentration during early-stage HLB infection when trees do not yet exhibit visible symptoms. Using the data gathered via these sensors, an algorithm developed by the team provides a high-accuracy prediction system for the presence of the disease so that farmers and farm managers can make informed decisions about tree removal in order to protect the remaining trees in their citrus groves. Their aim is to detect HLB disease in months, rather than the years it now takes for the infection to be found.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Currently funded J-WAFS Solutions technologies seeking to revolutionize agriculture practices</strong></p> <p>Three other J-WAFS Solutions projects are continuing through the 2019-20 academic year. From a tractor-pulled reactor unit that can turn agricultural wastes on rural farms into nutrient-rich fertilizer, to a polymer-based additive for agriculture sprays that dramatically reduces runoff <a href=";utm_campaign=9c18c2c8af-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_07_11_01_27_COPY_02&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_eb3c6d9c51-9c18c2c8af-66414689&amp;mc_cid=9c18c2c8af&amp;mc_eid=1b49a6835d">recently featured by the BBC</a>, to an affordable soil sensor that aims to make precision farming strategies available to smallholder farmers in India, these J-WAFS-funded projects are each aiming to transform the sustainability of small- and large-scale farming practices.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The J-WAFS Solutions program is implemented in collaboration with <a href="">Community Jameel</a> — the global philanthropic organization founded by MIT alumnus Mohammed Jameel — and is administered by J-WAFS in partnership with the <a href="">MIT Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation</a>.</p> <p>Fady Jameel, president, international of Community Jameel, says: “Access to clean water, and better management of water resources, can boost countries’ economic growth and can contribute greatly to poverty reduction. We always aim through J-WAFS to support the development and deployment of technologies, policies, and programs which will contribute to help humankind adapt to a rapidly changing planet and combat worldwide water scarcity and food supply.”</p> Left: A water sample undergoing testing using the J-WAFS-funded water quality test kit soon to be deployed throughout Nepal. Right: Citrus trees infected with citrus greening disease are highly contagious and can wipe out whole orange groves. A J-WAFS-funded sensor could help farmers detect the disease much earlier. Image: Murcott/Ravel research teamDeshpande Center, Food, Water, Agriculture, Climate change, Sustainability, Global Warming, Environment, Developing countries, Chemical engineering, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Grants, Funding, School of Engineering, History, J-WAFS IBM gives artificial intelligence computing at MIT a lift Nearly $12 million machine will let MIT researchers run more ambitious AI models. Mon, 26 Aug 2019 16:55:01 -0400 Kim Martineau | MIT Quest for Intelligence <p>IBM designed Summit, the fastest supercomputer on Earth, to run the calculation-intensive models that power modern artificial intelligence (AI). Now MIT is about to get a slice.&nbsp;</p> <p>IBM pledged earlier this year to donate an $11.6 million computer cluster to MIT modeled after the architecture of Summit, the supercomputer it built at Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy. The donated cluster is expected to come online this fall when the&nbsp;<a href="">MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing</a>&nbsp;opens its doors, allowing researchers to run more elaborate AI models to tackle a range of problems, from developing a better hearing aid to designing a longer-lived lithium-ion battery.&nbsp;</p> <p>“We’re excited to see a range of AI projects at MIT get a computing boost, and we can’t wait to see what magic awaits,” says&nbsp;<a href="">John E. Kelly III</a>, executive vice president of IBM, who announced the gift in February at MIT’s&nbsp;<a href="">launch celebration</a>&nbsp;of the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>IBM has named the cluster <a href="" target="_blank">Satori</a>, a Zen Buddhism term for “sudden enlightenment.” Physically the size of a shipping container,&nbsp;Satori is intellectually closer to a Ferrari, capable of zipping through 2 quadrillion calculations per second. That’s the&nbsp;equivalent of each person on Earth performing more than&nbsp;10 million multiplication problems each second for an entire year, making Satori nimble enough to&nbsp;join the middle ranks of the world’s&nbsp;<a href="">500 fastest</a>&nbsp;computers.</p> <p>Rapid progress in AI has fueled a relentless demand for computing power to train more elaborate models on ever-larger datasets. At the same time, federal funding for academic computing facilities has been on a three-decade decline.&nbsp;<a href="">Christopher Hill</a>, director of MIT’s Research Computing Project, puts the current demand at MIT at five times&nbsp;what the Institute can offer.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“IBM’s gift couldn’t come at a better time,” says&nbsp;<a href="">Maria Zuber</a>, a geophysics professor and MIT’s vice president of research. “The opening of the new college will only increase demand for computing power. Satori will go a long way in helping to ease the crunch.”</p> <p>The computing gap was immediately apparent to&nbsp;<a href="">John Cohn</a>, chief scientist at the&nbsp;<a href="">MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab</a>, when the lab opened last year. “The cloud alone wasn’t giving us all that we needed for challenging AI training tasks,” he says. “The expense and long run times made us ask, could we bring more compute power here, to MIT?”</p> <p>It’s a mission Satori was built to fill, with IBM Power9 processors, a fast internal network, a large memory, and 256 graphics processing units (GPUs). Designed to rapidly process video-game images, graphics processors have become the workhorse for modern AI applications. Satori, like Summit, has been configured to wring as much power from each GPU as possible.</p> <p>IBM’s gift follows a history of collaborations with MIT that have paved the way for computing breakthroughs. In 1956, IBM helped launch the MIT Computation Center with the donation of an IBM 704, the first mass-produced computer to handle complex math. Nearly three decades later, IBM helped fund&nbsp;<a href="">Project Athena</a>, an initiative that brought networked computing to campus. Together, these initiatives spawned time-share operating systems, foundational programming languages, instant messaging, and the network-security protocol, Kerberos, among other technologies.&nbsp;</p> <p>More recently, IBM&nbsp;<a href="">agreed to invest</a>&nbsp;$240 million over 10 years to establish the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab, a founding sponsor of MIT’s&nbsp;<a href="">Quest for Intelligence</a>. In addition to filling the computing gap at MIT, Satori will be configured to allow researchers to exchange data with all major commercial cloud providers, as well as prepare their code to run on IBM’s Summit supercomputer.</p> <p><a href="">Josh McDermott</a>, an associate professor at MIT’s&nbsp;<a href="">Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences</a>, is currently using Summit to develop a better hearing aid, but before he and his students could run their models, they spent countless hours getting the code ready. In the future, Satori will expedite the process, he says, and in the longer term, make more ambitious projects possible.</p> <p>“We’re currently building computer systems to model one sensory system but we’d like to be able to build models that can see, hear and touch,” he says. “That requires a much bigger scale.”</p> <p><a href="">Richard Braatz</a>, the Edwin R. Gilliland Professor at MIT’s&nbsp;<a href="">Department of Chemical Engineering</a>, is using AI to improve&nbsp;lithium-ion battery technologies. He and his colleagues recently developed a machine learning algorithm to predict a battery’s lifespan from past charging cycles, and now, they’re developing multiscale simulations to test new materials and designs for extending battery life<strong>.&nbsp;</strong>With a boost from a computer like Satori, the simulations could capture key physical and chemical processes that accelerate discovery. “With better predictions, we can bring new ideas to market faster,” he says.&nbsp;</p> <p>Satori will be housed at a silk mill-turned data center, the&nbsp;<a href="">Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center</a> (MGHPCC) in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and connect to MIT via dedicated, high-speed fiber optic cables.&nbsp;At 150 kilowatts, Satori will consume as much energy as a mid-sized building at MIT, but its carbon footprint will be nearly fully offset by the use of hydro and nuclear power at the Holyoke facility.&nbsp;Equipped with&nbsp;energy-efficient cooling, lighting, and power distribution, the MGHPCC was the first academic data center to receive&nbsp;LEED-platinum status, the highest green-building award, in 2011.</p> <p>“Siting Satori at Holyoke minimizes its carbon emissions and environmental impact without compromising its scientific impact,” says John Goodhue, executive director of the MGHPCC.</p> <p>Visit the <a href="">Satori website</a> for more information.</p> An $11.6 million artificial intelligence computing cluster donated by IBM to MIT will come online this fall at the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center (MGHPCC) in Holyoke, Massachusetts.Photo: Helen Hill/MGHPCCQuest for Intelligence, MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab, Brain and cognitive sciences, Chemical engineering, School of Science, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Electrical engineering and computer science (EECS), School of Engineering, Artificial intelligence, Algorithms, Computer modeling, Computer science and technology, Machine learning, Supercomputing, MIT Schwarzman College of Computing David H. Koch, prominent supporter of cancer research at MIT, dies at 79 Alumnus supported pioneering biomedical center, among many Institute causes and activities. Fri, 23 Aug 2019 09:30:19 -0400 MIT News Office <p>David H. Koch ’62, SM ’63, one of the most important benefactors in MIT’s modern history, has died. He was 79 years old.</p> <p>Koch’s willingness to back significant initiatives at the Institute was exemplified by his foundational gift establishing the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, a pioneering facility that brings research scientists and engineers together to advance the frontiers of cancer medicine. The Koch Institute has become a centerpiece of MIT’s pursuit of biomedical innovation and the useful application of knowledge to global health.</p> <p>Koch had wide-ranging interests concerning the life of the Institute, however, and in addition to cancer research, he supported many other causes and activities at MIT, including chemical engineering, childcare for employees, and athletics. At any given moment around MIT, beneficiaries of Koch’s gifts included faculty with endowed professorships, students with fellowships he supported — and toddlers in the childcare center he helped found.</p> <p>“David Koch had a brilliant instinct for opportunities where the lever of his philanthropy could make a transformative difference,” says MIT President L. Rafael Reif. “As one example, his gift to launch the Koch Institute dramatically advanced a new strategy in which engineers and scientists push the frontiers of cancer research by working side by side. At the same time, he saw that the David H. Koch Childcare Center could play an indispensable role in helping young faculty, staff, postdocs, and graduate students manage the balance of family and career. We are grateful for his longstanding devotion to the Institute. Very few graduates have left such a broad and indelible mark on the life of MIT.”</p> <p>The Koch Institute, dedicated in 2011, was backed by a $100 million gift Koch made to MIT in October 2007, allowing for a new state-of-the-art facility at MIT and an innovative, interdisciplinary approach to the fight against cancer. The Koch Institute houses a wide array of world-leading scientists: Five current and former faculty have been awarded the Nobel Prize, and nine current and former faculty have been awarded the National Medals of Science or Technology and Innovation. All told, Koch has given MIT $134 million to support cancer research and facilities.</p> <p>“From my very first days as MIT’s president, David Koch became a friend, collaborator, supporter, and enthusiast,” says President Emerita Susan Hockfield, who led MIT from 2004 to 2012. “He already had a long history of generosity to MIT, but his commitment to accelerating progress against cancer gave particular force to MIT’s efforts to reimagine our own cancer research. David was one of this nation’s most generous donors to cancer research, and his engagement with many of the leading cancer research centers gave him an amazingly sophisticated understanding of the frontier of cancer biology and therapy.”</p> <p>The Koch Institute emphasizes five main areas of research: the development of nanotechnology-based cancer treatments; new devices for cancer detection and monitoring; research about the molecular and cellular processes of metastasis; the advancement of personalized medicine, by studying cancer pathways and resistance to drugs; and research about how the immune system can fight cancer.</p> <p>“This is a new approach to cancer research with the potential to uncover breakthroughs in therapies and diagnostics,” Koch <a href="">said in 2007</a>. “Conquering cancer will require multidisciplined initiatives and MIT is positioned to enable that collaboration. As a cancer survivor, I feel especially fortunate to be able to help advance this effort.”</p> <p>President Emerita Hockfield, whose tenure included the period when David H. Koch made his initial gift funding the Koch Institute, as well as its opening, lauded Koch’s visionary support of the project.</p> <p>“David provided resources, of course, but also wisdom and strategy to keep the project on time and on budget,” Hockfield says. “He took personal interest in the people and projects at what became the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.”</p> <p>Koch’s embrace of an interdisciplinary center for fighting cancer advanced and enhanced MIT’s capabilities in this arena, notes Tyler Jacks, the David H. Koch Professor of Biology at MIT, and director of the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.</p> <p>“As an MIT-trained engineer, David immediately saw the value in bringing together the great strengths in engineering on our campus with our cancer science efforts in order to solve the most challenging problems in cancer,” Jacks says. “As a cancer survivor, he has been deeply committed to supporting innovative approaches to improve outcomes for patients. David chose to invest in MIT because he believed that we were uniquely positioned to change the course of cancer, and his generosity has enabled us to do that.”</p> <p>Jacks added that MIT benefitted from Koch’s high level of interest in the the research projects he backed.</p> <p>“From the earliest days of planning the Koch Institute, David dug into the details,” Jacks says. “He was always inquisitive and really enjoyed asking probing questions, whether about the HVAC system in the building or the intricacies of nanotechnology-based cancer therapy. David was a huge supporter of what we do and rightly proud of what we have created in the Koch Institute. And we are extremely grateful for his support.”</p> <p>In addition to the named chair Jacks holds, Koch endowed other professorships that bear his name, held by MIT faculty in the fields of biology, biological engineering, chemical engineering, and materials science and engineering.</p> <p>David H. Koch was born in Wichita, Kansas, on May 3, 1940. He graduated from Deerfield Academy, a prep school in Massachusetts, and received his bachelor’s degree and master’s degree from MIT in chemical engineering, the Institute’s Course 10. He joined Koch Industries, the firm founded by his father, in 1970, and became president of a division of the company, Koch Engineering, in 1979. He served as executive vice president of Koch Industries until publicly announcing his retirement, due to his health, in June 2018.</p> <p>Koch was also a Life Member Emeritus of the MIT Corporation. He first became a Member of the Corporation in 1988, and was elected a Life Member in 1998.</p> <p>Beyond cancer research, Koch was also a significant supporter of MIT’s programs in chemical engineering. In the 1980s, Koch made a significant gift to sustain the School of Chemical Engineering Practice at MIT, whose roots go back to 1916. Now known as the David H. Koch School of Chemical Engineering Practice, this is a unique program for graduate students combining coursework with internships, to enhance both academic and professional development.</p> <p>“David Koch was a model philanthropist who funded initiatives across a swath of cultural, scientific, and medical institutions,” says Robert Millard, chair of the MIT Corporation. “His generosity has benefited humanity broadly — from the arts to cancer research to science. MIT is deeply thankful for his many contributions to our community.”</p> <p>In a different vein, Koch served as lead donor for the David H. Koch Childcare Center at MIT, which opened in 2013 and almost doubled the childcare capacity on campus. Situated on Vassar Street on the west side of the MIT campus, the center provides high-quality support for MIT faculty, postdocs, graduate students, and staff who are raising young families, often while pursuing intensive research careers.</p> <p>Koch decided to give $20 million for the facility after serving on the Biology Visiting Committee at MIT — one of many such groups that advise the Institute — and recognizing the need for more extensive childcare facilities in order to help attract and retain talented personnel on campus. Along with Koch, Charles W. Johnson ’55 and Jennifer C. Johnson also helped fund the facility.</p> <p>A less well-known but vital aspect of Koch’s relationship with MIT was his enduring support for the Institute’s basketball team. Koch was a standout basketball player as an undergraduate, and captained the MIT team during the 1961-62 season, his senior year; he played alongside his brother Bill on MIT’s varsity team. David Koch’s attachment to the program continued throughout his life.</p> <p>Indeed, Koch not only followed the team, and attended team banquets, but endowed the position of coach for the men’s basketball team, a role that has been filled since the 1995-96 season by Larry Anderson. During that time, MIT has had a superb run of success, which includes making the NCAA Division III Final Four in 2012.</p> <p>“My heart goes out the entire Koch family," says Anderson. “I know that David had lots of love and interests – we were lucky enough that MIT Basketball was one of them. He was proud to wear the MIT Cardinal red and silver gray as captain of the team. He was the record-holder for 47 years for the most points scored in a single game with 41, and his support meant so much to the MIT Basketball family.”</p> <p>“David’s generous philanthropy allowed us to do many impossible things at MIT, but I have valued equally his curiosity, interest, engagement, and enthusiasm,” Hockfield says.&nbsp;“Coming from an MIT family, David Koch was truly a son of MIT who made the Institute a better place, for its students and faculty, and for the lives they change through their work.” &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;</p> David Koch during a visit to MIT on Oct. 4 2013 to dedicate the Koch Childcare Center on Vassar StreetPhoto: Dominick ReuterObituaries, Administration, Chemical engineering, School of Engineering, Department of Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation (DAPER), Giving, Alumni/ae, President L. Rafael Reif New type of electrolyte could enhance supercapacitor performance Novel class of “ionic liquids” may store more energy than conventional electrolytes — with less risk of catching fire. Mon, 12 Aug 2019 11:00:00 -0400 David L. Chandler | MIT News Office <p>Supercapacitors, electrical devices that store and release energy, need a layer of electrolyte — an electrically conductive material that can be solid, liquid, or somewhere in between. Now, researchers at MIT and several other institutions have developed a novel class of liquids that may open up new possibilities for improving the efficiency and stability of such devices while reducing their flammability.</p> <p>“This proof-of-concept work represents a new paradigm for electrochemical energy storage,” the researchers say in their paper describing the finding, which appears today in the journal <em>Nature Materials</em>.</p> <p>For decades, researchers have been aware of a class of materials known as ionic liquids — essentially, liquid salts — but this team has now added to these liquids a compound that is similar to a surfactant, like those used to disperse oil spills. With the addition of this material, the ionic liquids “have very new and strange properties,” including becoming highly viscous, says MIT postdoc Xianwen Mao PhD ’14, the lead author of the paper.</p> <p>“It’s hard to imagine that this viscous liquid could be used for energy storage,” Mao says, “but what we find is that once we raise the temperature, it can store more energy, and more than many other electrolytes.”</p> <p>That’s not entirely surprising, he says, since with other ionic liquids, as temperature increases, “the viscosity decreases and the energy-storage capacity increases.” But in this case, although the viscosity stays higher than that of other known electrolytes, the capacity increases very quickly with increasing temperature. That ends up giving the material an overall energy density — a measure of its ability to store electricity in a given volume — that exceeds those of many conventional electrolytes, and with greater stability and safety.</p> <p>The key to its effectiveness is the way the molecules within the liquid automatically line themselves up, ending up in a layered configuration on the metal electrode surface. The molecules, which have a kind of tail on one end, line up with the heads facing outward toward the electrode or away from it, and the tails all cluster in the middle, forming a kind of sandwich. This is described as a self-assembled nanostructure.</p> <p>“The reason why it’s behaving so differently” from conventional electrolytes is because of the way the molecules intrinsically assemble themselves into an ordered, layered structure where they come in contact with another material, such as the electrode inside a supercapacitor, says T. Alan Hatton, a professor of chemical engineering at MIT and the paper’s senior author. “It forms a very interesting, sandwich-like, double-layer structure.”</p> <p>This highly ordered structure helps to prevent a phenomenon called “overscreening” that can occur with other ionic liquids, in which the first layer of ions (electrically charged atoms or molecules) that collect on an electrode surface contains more ions than there are corresponding charges on the surface. This can cause a more scattered distribution of ions, or a thicker ion multilayer, and thus a loss of efficiency in energy storage; “whereas with our case, because of the way everything is structured, charges are concentrated within the surface layer,” Hatton says.</p> <p>The new class of materials, which the researchers call SAILs, for surface-active ionic liquids, could have a variety of applications for high-temperature energy storage, for example for use in hot environments such as in oil drilling or in chemical plants, according to Mao. “Our electrolyte is very safe at high temperatures, and even performs better,” he says. In contrast, some electrolytes used in lithium-ion batteries are quite flammable.</p> <p>The material could&nbsp;help to improve performance of supercapacitors, Mao says. Such devices can be used to store electrical charge and are sometimes used to supplement battery systems in electric vehicles to provide an extra boost of power. Using the new material instead of a conventional electrolyte in a supercapacitor could increase its energy density&nbsp;by a factor of four or five, Mao says. Using the new electrolyte, future supercapacitors may even be able to store more energy than batteries, he says, potentially even replacing batteries in applications such as electric vehicles, personal electronics, or grid-level energy storage facilities.</p> <p>The material could also be useful for a variety of emerging separation processes, Mao says. “A lot of newly developed separation processes require electrical control,” in various chemical processing and refining applications and in carbon dioxide capture, for example, as well as resource recovery from waste streams. These ionic liquids, being highly conductive, could be well-suited to many such applications, he says.</p> <p>The material they initially developed is just an example of a variety of possible SAIL compounds. “The possibilities are almost unlimited,” Mao says. The team will continue to work on different variations and on optimizing its parameters for particular uses. “It might take a few months or years,” he says, “but working on a new class of materials is very exciting to do. There are many possibilities for further optimization.”</p> <p>The research team included Paul Brown, Yinying Ren, Agilio Padua, and Margarida Costa Gomes at MIT; Ctirad Cervinka at École Normale Supérieure de Lyon, in France; Gavin Hazell and Julian Eastoe at the University of Bristol, in the U.K.; Hua Li and Rob Atkin at the University of Western Australia; and Isabelle Grillo at the Institut Max-von-Laue-Paul-Langevin in Grenoble, France. The researchers dedicate their paper to the memory of Grillo, who recently passed away.</p> <p>“It is a very exciting result that&nbsp;surface-active&nbsp;ionic liquids (SAILs) with amphiphilic structures can self-assemble on electrode surfaces and enhance&nbsp;charge storage performance at electrified surfaces,” says Yi Cui, a professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford University, who was not associated with this research. “The authors have studied and understood the mechanism. The work here might have a great impact on the design of high energy density supercapacitors, and could also help improve battery performance,” he says.</p> <p>Nicholas Abbott, the Tisch University Professor at Cornell University, who also was not involved in this work, says “The paper describes a very clever advance in interfacial charge storage, elegantly demonstrating how knowledge of molecular self-assembly at interfaces can be leveraged to address a contemporary technological challenge.”</p> <p>The work was supported by the MIT Energy Initiative, an MIT Skoltech fellowship, and the Czech Science Foundation.</p> Large anions with long tails (blue) in ionic liquids can make them self-assemble into sandwich-like bilayer structures on electrode surfaces. Ionic liquids with such structures have much improved energy storage capabilities.Image: Xianwen Mao, MITResearch, Chemical engineering, School of Engineering, Energy storage, Renewable energy, Batteries, MIT Energy Initiative Guided by AI, robotic platform automates molecule manufacture New system could free bench chemists from time-consuming tasks, may help inspire new molecules. Thu, 08 Aug 2019 14:04:00 -0400 Becky Ham | MIT News correspondent <p>Guided by artificial intelligence and powered by a robotic platform, a system developed by MIT researchers moves a step closer to automating the production of small molecules that could be used in medicine, solar energy, and polymer chemistry.</p> <p>The system, described in the August 8 issue of <em>Science</em>, could free up bench chemists from a variety of routine and time-consuming tasks, and may suggest possibilities for how to make new molecular compounds, according to the study co-leaders Klavs F. Jensen, the Warren K. Lewis Professor of Chemical Engineering, and Timothy F. Jamison, the Robert R. Taylor Professor of Chemistry and associate provost at MIT.</p> <p>The technology “has the promise to help people cut out all the tedious parts of molecule building,” including looking up potential reaction pathways and building the components of a molecular assembly line each time a new molecule is produced, says Jensen.</p> <p>“And as a chemist, it may give you inspirations for new reactions that you hadn’t thought about before,” he adds.</p> <p>Other MIT authors on the <em>Science</em> paper include Connor W. Coley, Dale A. Thomas III, Justin A. M. Lummiss, Jonathan N. Jaworski, Christopher P. Breen, Victor Schultz, Travis Hart, Joshua S. Fishman, Luke Rogers, Hanyu Gao, Robert W. Hicklin, Pieter P. Plehiers, Joshua Byington, John S. Piotti, William H. Green, and A. John Hart.</p> <p><strong>From inspiration to recipe to finished product</strong></p> <p>The new system combines three main steps. First, software guided by artificial intelligence suggests a route for synthesizing a molecule, then expert chemists review this route and refine it into a chemical “recipe,” and finally the recipe is sent to a robotic platform that automatically assembles the hardware and performs the reactions that build the molecule.</p> <p>Coley and his colleagues have been working for more than three years to develop the open-source software suite that suggests and prioritizes possible synthesis routes. At the heart of the software are several neural network models, which the researchers trained on millions of previously published chemical reactions drawn from the Reaxys and U.S. Patent and Trademark Office databases. The software uses these data to identify the reaction transformations and conditions that it believes will be suitable for building a new compound.</p> <p>“It helps makes high-level decisions about what kinds of intermediates and starting materials to use, and then slightly more detailed analyses about what conditions you might want to use and if those reactions are likely to be successful,” says Coley.</p> <p>“One of the primary motivations behind the design of the software is that it doesn’t just give you suggestions for molecules we know about or reactions we know about,” he notes. “It can generalize to new molecules that have never been made.”</p> <p>Chemists then review the suggested synthesis routes produced by the software to build a more complete recipe for the target molecule. The chemists sometimes need to perform lab experiments or tinker with reagent concentrations and reaction temperatures, among other changes.</p> <p>“They take some of the inspiration from the AI and convert that into an executable recipe file, largely because the chemical literature at present does not have enough information to move directly from inspiration to execution on an automated system,” Jamison says.</p> <p>The final recipe is then loaded on to a platform where a robotic arm assembles modular reactors, separators, and other processing units into a continuous flow path, connecting pumps and lines that bring in the molecular ingredients.</p> <p>“You load the recipe — that’s what controls the robotic platform — you load the reagents on, and press go, and that allows you to generate the molecule of interest,” says Thomas. “And then when it’s completed, it flushes the system and you can load the next set of reagents and recipe, and allow it to run.”</p> <p>Unlike the continuous flow system the researchers <a href="">presented last year</a>, which had to be manually configured after each synthesis, the new system is entirely configured by the robotic platform.</p> <p>“This gives us the ability to sequence one molecule after another, as well as generate a library of molecules on the system, autonomously,” says Jensen.</p> <p>The design for the platform, which is about two cubic meters in size — slightly smaller than a standard chemical fume hood — resembles a telephone switchboard and operator system that moves connections between the modules on the platform.</p> <p>“The robotic arm is what allowed us to manipulate the fluidic paths, which reduced the number of process modules and fluidic complexity of the system, and by reducing the fluidic complexity we can increase the molecular complexity,” says Thomas. “That allowed us to add additional reaction steps and expand the set of reactions that could be completed on the system within a relatively small footprint.”</p> <p><strong>Toward full automation</strong></p> <p>The researchers tested the full system by creating 15 different medicinal small molecules of different synthesis complexity, with processes taking anywhere between two hours for the simplest creations to about 68 hours for manufacturing multiple compounds.</p> <p>The team synthesized a variety of compounds: aspirin and the antibiotic secnidazole in back-to-back processes; the painkiller lidocaine and the antianxiety drug diazepam in back-to-back processes using a common feedstock of reagents; the blood thinner warfarin and the Parkinson’s disease drug safinamide, to show how the software could design compounds with similar molecular components but differing 3-D structures; and a family of five ACE inhibitor drugs and a family of four nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.</p> <p>“I’m particularly proud of the diversity of the chemistry and the kinds of different chemical reactions,” says Jamison, who said the system handled about 30 different reactions compared to about 12 different reactions in the previous continuous flow system.</p> <p>“We are really trying to close the gap between idea generation from these programs and what it takes to actually run a synthesis,” says Coley. “We hope that next-generation systems will increase further the fraction of time and effort that scientists can focus their efforts on creativity and design.”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The research was supported, in part, by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Make-It program.</p> Guided by artificial intelligence and powered by a robotic platform, a system developed by MIT researchers moves a step closer to automating the production of small molecules.Images: Connor Coley, Felice Frankel Research, Chemistry, Chemical engineering, School of Science, School of Engineering, Drug development, Artificial intelligence, Pharmaceuticals, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Study furthers radically new view of gene control Along the genome, proteins form liquid-like droplets that appear to boost the expression of particular genes. Thu, 08 Aug 2019 10:59:59 -0400 Anne Trafton | MIT News Office <p>In recent years, MIT scientists have developed a new model for how key genes are controlled that suggests the cellular machinery that transcribes DNA into RNA forms specialized droplets called condensates. These droplets occur only at certain sites on the genome, helping to determine which genes are expressed in different types of cells.</p> <p>In a new study that supports that model, researchers at MIT and the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research have discovered physical interactions between proteins and with DNA that help explain why these droplets, which stimulate the transcription of nearby genes, tend to cluster along specific stretches of DNA known as super enhancers. These enhancer regions do not encode proteins but instead regulate other genes.</p> <p>“This study provides a fundamentally important new approach to deciphering how the ‘dark matter’ in our genome functions in gene control,” says Richard Young, an MIT professor of biology and member of the Whitehead Institute.</p> <p>Young is one of the senior authors of the paper, along with Phillip Sharp, an MIT Institute Professor and member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research; and Arup K. Chakraborty, the Robert T. Haslam Professor in Chemical Engineering, a professor of physics and chemistry, and a member of MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science and the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT, and Harvard.</p> <p>Graduate student Krishna Shrinivas and postdoc Benjamin Sabari are the lead authors of the paper, which appears in <em>Molecular Cell </em>on Aug. 8.</p> <p><strong>“A biochemical factory”</strong></p> <p>Every cell in an organism has an identical genome, but cells such as neurons or heart cells express different subsets of those genes, allowing them to carry out their specialized functions. Previous research has shown that many of these genes are located near super enhancers, which bind to proteins called transcription factors that stimulate the copying of nearby genes into RNA.</p> <p>About three years ago, Sharp, Young, and Chakraborty joined forces to try to model the interactions that occur at enhancers. In a 2017 <em>Cell</em> paper, based on computational studies, they hypothesized that in these regions, transcription factors form droplets called phase-separated condensates. Similar to droplets of oil suspended in salad dressing, these condensates are collections of molecules that form distinct cellular compartments but have no membrane separating them from the rest of the cell.</p> <p>In a 2018 <em>Science</em> paper, the researchers showed that these <a href="">dynamic droplets</a> do form at super enhancer locations. Made of clusters of transcription factors and other molecules, these droplets attract enzymes such as RNA polymerases that are needed to copy DNA into messenger RNA, keeping gene transcription active at specific sites.</p> <p>“We had demonstrated that the transcription machinery forms liquid-like droplets at certain regulatory regions on our genome, however we didn't fully understand how or why&nbsp;these dewdrops of biological molecules only seemed to condense around specific points on our genome,” Shrinivas says.</p> <p>As one possible explanation for that site specificity, the research team hypothesized that weak interactions between intrinsically disordered regions of transcription factors and other transcriptional molecules, along with specific interactions between transcription factors and particular DNA elements, might determine whether a condensate forms at a particular stretch of DNA. Biologists have traditionally focused on “lock-and-key” style interactions between rigidly structured protein segments to explain most cellular processes, but more recent evidence suggests that weak interactions between floppy protein regions also play an important role in cell activities.</p> <p>In this study, computational modeling and experimentation revealed that the cumulative force of these weak interactions conspire together with transcription factor-DNA interactions to determine whether a condensate of transcription factors will form at a particular site on the genome. Different cell types produce different transcription factors, which bind to different enhancers. When many transcription factors cluster around the same enhancers, weak interactions between the proteins are more likely to occur. Once a critical threshold concentration is reached, condensates form.</p> <p>“Creating these local high concentrations within the crowded environment of the cell enables the right material to be in the right place at the right time to carry out the multiple steps required to activate a gene,” Sabari says. “Our current study begins to tease apart how certain regions of the genome are capable of pulling off this trick.”</p> <p>These droplets form on a timescale of seconds to minutes, and they blink in and out of existence depending on a cell’s needs.</p> <p>“It’s an on-demand biochemical factory that cells can form and dissolve, as and when they need it,” Chakraborty says. “When certain signals happen at the right locus on a gene, the condensates form, which concentrates all of the transcription molecules. Transcription happens, and when the cells are done with that task, they get rid of them.”</p> <p>“A functional condensate has to be more than the sum of its parts, and how the protein and DNA components work together is something we don't fully understand,” says Rohit Pappu, director of the Center for Science and&nbsp;Engineering of Living Systems at Washington University, who was not involved in the research. “This work gets us on the road to thinking about the interplay among protein-protein, protein-DNA, and possibly DNA-DNA interactions as determinants of the outputs of condensates.”</p> <p><strong>A new view</strong></p> <p>Weak cooperative interactions between proteins may also play an important role in evolution, the researchers proposed in a 2018 <em>Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</em> paper. The sequences of intrinsically disordered regions of transcription factors need to change only a little to evolve new types of specific functionality. In contrast, evolving new specific functions via “lock-and-key” interactions requires much more significant changes.</p> <p>“If you think about how biological systems have evolved, they have been able to respond to different conditions without creating new genes. We don’t have any more genes that a fruit fly, yet we’re much more complex in many of our functions,” Sharp says. “The incremental expanding and contracting of these intrinsically disordered domains could explain a large part of how that evolution happens.”</p> <p>Similar condensates appear to play a variety of other roles in biological systems, offering a new way to look at how the interior of a cell is organized. Instead of floating through the cytoplasm and randomly bumping into other molecules, proteins involved in processes such as relaying molecular signals may transiently form droplets that help them interact with the right partners.</p> <p>“This is a very exciting turn in the field of cell biology,” Sharp says. “It is a whole new way of looking at biological systems that is richer and more meaningful.”</p> <p>Some of the MIT researchers, led by Young, have&nbsp;helped form&nbsp;a company called <a href="">Dewpoint Therapeutics</a> to develop potential treatments for&nbsp;a wide variety of diseases&nbsp;by&nbsp;exploiting&nbsp;cellular condensates. There is emerging evidence that cancer cells use condensates to control sets of genes that promote cancer, and condensates have also been linked to neurodegenerative disorders such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Huntington’s disease.</p> <p>The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Koch Institute Support (core) Grant from the National Cancer Institute.</p> MIT researchers have developed a new model of gene control, in which the cellular machinery that transcribes DNA into RNA forms specialized droplets called condensates.Image: Steven H. LeeResearch, Chemical engineering, Biology, DNA, Genetics, Cancer, Evolution, Koch Institute, Whitehead Institute, Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES), School of Engineering, School of Science, National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institutes of Health (NIH) Marcus Karel, food science pioneer and professor emeritus of chemical engineering, dies at 91 A giant in the field of food science and engineering, Karel developed important innovations in food packaging as well as food systems for long-term space travel. Fri, 02 Aug 2019 16:10:01 -0400 Melanie Miller Kaufman | Department of Chemical Engineering <p>Marcus “Marc” G. Karel PhD ’60, professor emeritus of chemical engineering, died on July 25 at age 91. A member of the MIT community since 1951, Karel inspired a generation of food scientists and engineers through his work in food technology and controlled release of active ingredients in food and pharmaceuticals.</p> <p>Karel was born in Lvov, Poland (now Lviv, Ukraine) to Cila and David Karel, who ran a small chain of women’s clothing stores in the town. After war arrived in Poland in 1939, the family business was lost, relatives were scattered and disappeared, and the Karels spent the last 22 months of the war in hiding. After the war, Karel and his family eventually emigrated to the United States, where they settled in Newton, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston. Karel completed his bachelor’s degree at Boston University in 1955 and earned his doctorate in 1960 at MIT.</p> <p>Before Karel started his graduate studies at MIT, he was invited by the head of the former Department of Food Technology to manage the Packaging Laboratory. Here he began his interest in the external and internal factors that influence food stability. In 1961, he was appointed professor of food engineering at MIT in the former Department of Nutrition and Food Science (Course 20), eventually becoming deputy head of the department. When Course 20 (then called Applied Biological Sciences) was disbanded in 1988, Karel was invited to join the Department of Chemical Engineering. After retiring from MIT in 1989, he became the State of New Jersey Professor at Rutgers University from 1989 to 1996, and from 1996 to 2007 he consulted for various government and industrial organizations.</p> <p>During his academic career at MIT and Rutgers, Karel supervised over 120 graduate students and postdocs. Most of them are now leaders in food engineering. Several of his trainees from industry are now vice presidents of research and development at several companies. Along with his engineering accomplishments, Karel was known for his ability to build and manage successful teams, nurture talent, and create a family environment among researchers.</p> <p>Karel was a pioneer in several areas, including oxidative reactions in food, drying of biological materials, and the preservation and packaging and stabilization of low-moisture foods. His fundamental work on oxidation of lipids and stabilization led to important improvements in food packaging. Also, when NASA needed expertise to design food and food systems for long-term space travel, it was Karel’s work that formed the platform for many of the enabling developments of the U.S. space program. MIT Professor Emeritus Charles Cooney relates, “When the solution to an important problem required improved analytical techniques, he pioneered the development of the techniques. When the solution required deeper insight into the physical chemistry of foods, he formulated the theoretical framework for the solution. When the solution required identification of new materials and new processes, he was on the front line with innovative technologies. No one has had the impact on the field of food science and engineering as Marc.”</p> <p>Karel earned many recognitions for his work, including a Life Achievement Award from the International Association for Engineering and Food, election to the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering, the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT)’s Nicholas Appert Medal (the highest honor in food technology), election to the Food Engineering Hall of Fame, several honorary doctorates, and the one of which he was most proud: the first William V. Cruess Award for Excellence in Teaching from the IFT. The first edition of his co-authored book, "The Physical Principles of Food Preservation," is considered by many to be the "bible" of the field of food stability.</p> <p>Karel is survived by his wife of almost 61 years, Carolyn Frances (Weeks) Karel; son Steven Karel and daughters Karen Karel and Debra Karel Nardone; grandchildren Amanda Nardone, Kristen Nardone, Emma Griffith, and Bennet Karel; sister Rena Carmel, niece Julia Carmel, and great-nephew David Carmel; Leslie Griffith (mother of Emma and Ben); nephew James Weeks Jr., and niece Sharon Weeks Mancini.</p> <p>Funeral arrangements were private. A celebration of Karel’s life will take place later this year. Memorial contributions may be made to the American Red Cross.</p> MIT Professor Emeritus Marcus KarelChemical engineering, School of Engineering, Obituaries, Faculty, Food, Pharmaceuticals Finding novel materials for practical devices MIT researchers use a new machine learning technique to rapidly evaluate new transition metal compounds to identify those that can perform specialized functions. Thu, 01 Aug 2019 12:55:01 -0400 Nancy W. Stauffer | MIT Energy Initiative <div> <p>In recent years, machine learning has been proving a valuable tool for identifying new materials with properties optimized for specific applications. Working with large, well-defined data sets, computers learn to perform an analytical task to generate a correct answer and then use the same technique on an unknown data set.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>While that approach has guided the development of valuable new materials, they’ve primarily been organic compounds, notes&nbsp;<a class="Hyperlink SCXW206095923 BCX0" href="" rel="noreferrer" style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; user-select: text; -webkit-user-drag: none; -webkit-tap-highlight-color: transparent; text-decoration-line: none; color: inherit;" target="_blank">Heather Kulik</a>&nbsp;PhD ’09, an assistant professor of chemical engineering. Kulik focuses instead on inorganic compounds — in particular, those based on transition metals, a family of elements (including iron and copper) that have unique and useful properties. In those compounds — known as transition metal complexes — the metal atom occurs at the center with chemically bound arms, or ligands, made of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, or oxygen atoms radiating outward.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>Transition metal complexes already play important roles in areas ranging from energy storage to catalysis for manufacturing fine chemicals — for example, for pharmaceuticals. But Kulik thinks that machine learning could further expand their use. Indeed, her group has been working not only to apply machine learning to inorganics — a novel and challenging undertaking — but also to use the technique to explore new territory. “We were interested in understanding how far we could push our models to do discovery — to make predictions on compounds that haven’t been seen before,” says Kulik.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p><strong>Sensors and computers&nbsp;</strong></p> </div> <div> <p>For the past four years, Kulik and Jon Paul Janet, a graduate student in chemical engineering, have been focusing on transition metal complexes with “spin” — a quantum mechanical property of electrons. Usually, electrons occur in pairs, one with spin up and the other with spin down, so they cancel each other out and there’s no net spin. But in a transition metal, electrons can be unpaired, and the resulting net spin is the property that makes inorganic complexes of interest, says Kulik. “Tailoring how unpaired the electrons are gives us a unique knob for tailoring properties.”&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>A given complex has a preferred spin state. But add some energy — say, from light or heat — and it can flip to the other state. In the process, it can exhibit changes in macroscale properties such as size or color. When the energy needed to cause the flip — called the spin-splitting energy — is near zero, the complex is a good candidate for use as a sensor, or perhaps as a fundamental component in a quantum computer.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>Chemists know of many metal-ligand combinations with spin-splitting energies near zero, making them potential “spin-crossover” (SCO) complexes for such practical applications. But the full set of possibilities is vast. The spin-splitting energy of a transition metal complex is determined by what ligands are combined with a given metal, and there are almost endless ligands from which to choose. The challenge is to find novel combinations with the desired property to become SCOs — without resorting to millions of trial-and-error tests in a lab.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p><strong>Translating molecules into numbers&nbsp;</strong></p> </div> <div> <p>The standard way to analyze the electronic structure of molecules is using a computational modeling method called density functional theory, or DFT. The results of a DFT calculation are fairly accurate — especially for organic systems — but performing a calculation for a single compound can take hours, or even days. In contrast, a machine learning tool called an artificial neural network (ANN) can be trained to perform the same analysis and then do it in just seconds. As a result, ANNs are much more practical for looking for possible SCOs in the huge space of feasible complexes.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>Because an ANN requires a numerical input to operate, the researchers’ first challenge was to find a way to represent a given transition metal complex as a series of numbers, each describing a selected property. There are rules for defining representations for organic molecules, where the physical structure of a molecule tells a lot about its properties and behavior. But when the researchers followed those rules for transition metal complexes, it didn’t work. “The metal-organic bond is very tricky to get right,” says Kulik. “There are unique properties of the bonding that are more variable. There are many more ways the electrons can choose to form a bond.”&nbsp;So&nbsp;the researchers needed to make up new rules for defining a representation that would be predictive in inorganic chemistry.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>Using machine learning, they explored various ways of representing a transition metal complex for analyzing spin-splitting energy. The results were best when the representation gave the most emphasis to the properties of the metal center and the metal-ligand connection and less emphasis to the properties of ligands farther out. Interestingly, their studies showed that representations that gave more equal emphasis overall worked best when the goal was to predict other properties, such as the ligand-metal bond length or the tendency to accept electrons.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p><strong>Testing the ANN</strong>&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>As a test of their approach, Kulik and Janet — assisted by Lydia Chan, a summer intern from Troy High School in Fullerton, California — defined a set of transition metal complexes based on four transition metals — chromium, manganese, iron, and cobalt — in two oxidation states with 16 ligands (each molecule can have up to two). By combining those building blocks, they created a “search space” of 5,600 complexes — some of them familiar and well-studied, and some of them totally unknown.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>In previous work, the researchers had trained an ANN on thousands of compounds that were well-known in transition metal chemistry. To test the trained ANN’s ability to explore a new chemical space to find compounds with the targeted properties, they tried applying it to the pool of 5,600 complexes, 113 of which it had seen in the previous study.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>The result was the plot labeled "Figure 1" in the slideshow above, which sorts the complexes onto a surface as determined by the ANN. The white regions indicate complexes with spin-splitting energies within 5 kilo-calories per mole of zero, meaning that they are potentially good SCO candidates. The red and blue regions represent complexes with spin-splitting energies too large to be useful. The green diamonds that appear in the inset show complexes that have iron centers and similar ligands — in other words, related compounds whose spin-crossover energies should be similar. Their appearance in the same region of the plot is evidence of the good correspondence between the researchers’ representation and key properties of the complex.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>But there’s one catch: Not all of the spin-splitting predictions are accurate. If a complex is very different from those on which the network was trained, the ANN analysis may not be reliable — a standard problem when applying machine learning models to discovery in materials science or chemistry, notes Kulik. Using an approach that looked successful in their previous work, the researchers compared the numeric representations for the training and test complexes and ruled out all the test complexes where the difference was too great.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p><strong>Focusing on the best options&nbsp;</strong></p> </div> <div> <p>Performing the ANN analysis of all 5,600 complexes took just an hour. But in the real world, the number of complexes to be explored could be thousands of times larger — and any promising candidates would require a full DFT calculation. The researchers therefore needed a method of evaluating a big data set to identify any unacceptable candidates even before the ANN analysis. To that end, they developed a genetic algorithm — an approach inspired by natural selection — to score individual complexes and discard those deemed to be unfit.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>To prescreen a data set, the genetic algorithm first randomly selects 20 samples from the full set of complexes. It then assigns a “fitness” score to each sample based on three measures. First, is its spin-crossover energy low enough for it to be a good SCO? To find out, the neural network evaluates each of the 20 complexes. Second, is the complex too far away from the training data? If so, the spin-crossover energy from the ANN may be inaccurate. And finally, is the complex too close to the training data? If so, the researchers have already run a DFT calculation on a similar molecule, so the candidate is not of interest in the quest for new options.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>Based on its three-part evaluation of the first 20 candidates, the genetic algorithm throws out unfit options and saves the fittest for the next round. To ensure the diversity of the saved compounds, the algorithm calls for some of them to mutate a bit. One complex may be assigned a new, randomly selected ligand, or two promising complexes may swap ligands. After all, if a complex looks good, then something very similar could be even better — and the goal here is to find novel candidates. The genetic algorithm then adds some new, randomly chosen complexes to fill out the second group of 20 and performs its next analysis. By repeating this&nbsp;process&nbsp;a total of 21 times, it produces 21 generations of options. It thus proceeds through the search space, allowing the fittest candidates to survive and reproduce, and the unfit to die out.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>Performing the 21-generation analysis on the full 5,600-complex data set required just over five minutes on a standard desktop computer, and it yielded 372 leads with a good combination of high diversity and acceptable confidence. The researchers then used DFT to examine 56 complexes randomly chosen from among those leads, and the results confirmed that two-thirds of them could be good SCOs.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>While a success rate of two-thirds may not sound great, the researchers make two points. First, their definition of what might make a good SCO was very restrictive: For a complex to survive, its spin-splitting energy had to be extremely small. And second, given a space of 5,600 complexes and nothing to go on, how many DFT analyses would be required to find 37 leads? As Janet notes, “It doesn’t matter how many we evaluated with the neural network because it’s so cheap. It’s the DFT calculations that take time.”&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>Best of all, using their approach enabled the researchers to find some unconventional SCO candidates that wouldn’t have been thought of based on what’s been studied in the past. “There are rules that people have — heuristics in their heads — for how they would build a spin-crossover complex,” says Kulik. “We showed that you can find unexpected combinations of metals and ligands that aren’t normally studied but can be promising as spin-crossover candidates.”&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p><strong>Sharing the new tools&nbsp;</strong></p> </div> <div> <p>To support the worldwide search for new materials, the researchers have incorporated the genetic algorithm and ANN into "<a class="Hyperlink SCXW206095923 BCX0" href="" rel="noreferrer" style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; user-select: text; -webkit-user-drag: none; -webkit-tap-highlight-color: transparent; text-decoration-line: none; color: inherit;" target="_blank">molSimplify,"</a> the group’s online, open-source software toolkit that anyone can download and use to build and simulate transition metal complexes. To help potential users, the site provides tutorials that demonstrate how to use key features of the open-source software codes. Development of&nbsp;molSimplify&nbsp;began with funding from the MIT Energy Initiative in 2014, and all the students in Kulik’s group have contributed to it since then.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>The researchers continue to improve their neural network for investigating potential SCOs and to post updated versions of&nbsp;molSimplify. Meanwhile, others in Kulik’s lab are developing tools that can identify promising compounds for other applications. For example, one important area of focus is catalyst design. Graduate student in chemistry Aditya&nbsp;Nandy is focusing on finding a better catalyst for converting methane gas to an easier-to-handle liquid fuel such as methanol — a particularly challenging problem. “Now we have an outside molecule coming in, and our complex — the catalyst — has to act on that molecule to perform a chemical transformation that takes place in a whole series of steps,” says&nbsp;Nandy. “Machine learning will be super-useful in figuring out the important design parameters for a transition metal complex that will make each step in that process energetically favorable.”&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>This research was supported by the U.S. Department of the Navy’s Office of Naval Research, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, and the MIT Energy Initiative&nbsp;<a class="Hyperlink SCXW206095923 BCX0" href="" rel="noreferrer" style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; user-select: text; -webkit-user-drag: none; -webkit-tap-highlight-color: transparent; text-decoration-line: none; color: inherit;" target="_blank">Seed Fund Program</a>. Jon Paul Janet was supported in part by an MIT-Singapore University of Technology and Design Graduate Fellowship. Heather Kulik has received a National Science CAREER Award (2019) and an Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award (2018), among others.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p><em>This article appears in the&nbsp;<a class="Hyperlink SCXW206095923 BCX0" href="" rel="noreferrer" style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; user-select: text; -webkit-user-drag: none; -webkit-tap-highlight-color: transparent; text-decoration-line: none; color: inherit;" target="_blank">Spring 2019</a><a href="">&nbsp;</a>issue of&nbsp;</em>Energy Futures<em>, the magazine of the MIT Energy Initiative.&nbsp;</em></p> </div> Assistant Professor Heather Kulik (center) and graduate student Jon Paul Janet (right) are using neural networks coupled with genetic algorithms to examine huge databases of transition metal compounds for potential use in practical devices. Using the same technique, graduate student Aditya Nandy (left) is designing better catalysts for methane conversion reactions.Photo: Stuart DarschMachine learning, Metals, Chemical engineering, MIT Energy Initiative, Research, School of Engineering, Artificial intelligence School of Engineering second quarter 2019 awards Faculty members recognized for excellence via a diverse array of honors, grants, and prizes over the past quarter. Tue, 30 Jul 2019 13:40:01 -0400 School of Engineering <p>Members of the MIT engineering faculty receive many&nbsp;awards in recognition of their scholarship, service, and overall excellence. Every quarter, the School of Engineering publicly recognizes&nbsp;their achievements by highlighting the&nbsp;honors, prizes, and medals won by faculty working in their academic departments, labs, and centers.</p> <p>Antione Allanore, of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, won the <a href="">Elsevier Atlas Award</a> on May 15; he also won <a href="">third place for best conference proceedings manuscript</a> at the TMS Annual Meeting and Exhibition on March 14.</p> <p>Dimitri Antoniadis, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, was elected to the <a href="">American Academy of Arts and Sciences</a> on April 18.</p> <p>Martin Bazant, of the Department of Chemical Engineering, was named a <a href="">fellow of the American Physical Society</a> on Oct. 17, 2018.</p> <p>Sangeeta Bhatia, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, was awarded an honorary degree of doctor of science from the University of London on July 4; she was also awarded the <a href="">Othmer Gold Medal</a> from the Science History Institute on March 8.</p> <p>Richard Braatz, of the Department of Chemical Engineering, was <a href="">elected to the&nbsp;National Academy of Engineering&nbsp;</a>on Feb. 11.</p> <p>Tamara Broderick, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, won the <a href="">Notable Paper Award</a> at the International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Statistics on April 18.</p> <p>Fikile Brushett, of the Department of Chemical Engineering, won the <a href="">Electrochemical Society’s 2019 Supraniam Srinivasan Young Investigator Award</a> on Oct. 9, 2018; he was also named to the annual <a href="">Talented Twelve</a> list by <em>Chemical Engineering News</em> on Aug. 22, 2017.</p> <p>Vincent W.S. Chan, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, received the <a href="">Best Paper Award</a> at the IEEE International Conference on Communications on May 10.</p> <p>Arup Chakraborty, of the Department of Chemical Engineering, won a <a href="">Guggenheim Fellowship</a> on March 4, 2018.</p> <p>Anantha Chandrakasan, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, was elected to <a href="">American Academy of Arts and Science</a>s on April 18.</p> <p>Kwanghun Chung, of the Department of Chemical Engineering, was awarded a <a href="">Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers</a> on July 10.</p> <p>Constantinos Daskalakis, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, won the <a href="">Grace Murray Hopper Award for Outstanding Computer Scientist</a> from the Association of Computing Machinery on May 8.</p> <p>Jesús del Alamo, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, was named a <a href="">Fellow of the Materials Research Society</a> on May 2.</p> <p>Elazer R. Edelman, of the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, won the Excellence in Mentoring Award from the <a href="">Corrigan Minehan Heart Center</a> at Massachusetts General Hospital on June 18.</p> <p>Karen K. Gleason, of the Department of Chemical Engineering, was honored with the <a href="">John M. Prausnitz Institute AIChE Lecturer&nbsp;Award</a> by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers on April 3.</p> <p>Bill Green, of the Department of Chemical Engineering, won the <a href="">R.H. Wilhelm Award in Chemical Reaction Engineering</a> from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers on July 19.</p> <p>Paula Hammond, of the Department of Chemical Engineering, was honored with the <a href="">Margaret H. Rousseau Pioneer Award for Lifetime Achievement by a Woman Chemical Engineer</a> from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers on June 1; she also received the <a href="">American Chemical Society Award in Applied Polymer Science</a> on Jan. 8, 2018.</p> <p>Ruonan Han, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, won the <a href="">Outstanding Researcher Award </a>from Intel Corporation on April 1.</p> <p>Song Han, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, was named to the annual list of <a href="">Innovators Under 35</a> by MIT Technology Review on June 25.</p> <p>Klavs Jensen, of the Department of Chemical Engineering, was honored with the <a href="">John M. Prausnitz Institute AIChE Lecturer&nbsp;Award</a> by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers on Aug. 21, 2018; he also recognized with the <a href="">Corning International Prize for Outstanding Work in Continuous Flow Reactors</a> on May 1, 2018.</p> <p>David R. Karger, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, was <a href="">elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences</a> on April 18.</p> <p>Dina Katabi, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, was <a href="">named a Great Immigrant by the Carnegie Corporation of New York</a> on June 27.</p> <p>Manolis Kellis, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, was honored as a speaker by the <a href="">Mendel Lectures Committee</a> on May 2.</p> <p>Jeehwan Kim, of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, awarded the <a href="">Young Faculty Award</a> from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on May 28.</p> <p>Heather Kulik, of the Department of Chemical Engineering, was awarded a&nbsp;<a href=";HistoricalAwards=false">CAREER award from the National Science Foundation</a> on Feb. 7; she won the <a href="">Journal of Physical Chemistry and PHYS Division Lectureship Award</a> from the <em>Journal of Physical Chemistry</em> and the Physical Chemistry Division of the American Chemical Society on July 1; she was honored with the <a href="">Marion Milligan Mason Award</a> Oct. 26, 2018; she earned the <a href="">DARPA Young Faculty Award</a> on June 20, 2018; she also won the <a href="">Young Investigator Award from the Office of Naval Research</a> on Feb. 21, 2018.</p> <p>Robert Langer, of the Department of Chemical Engineering, won the <a href="">Dreyfus Prize for Chemistry in Support of Human Health</a> from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation on May 14; he also was named on the <a href="">2018 Medicine Maker’s Power List</a> on May 8, 2018; he was also named <a href="">U.S. Science Envoy</a> on June 18, 2018.</p> <p>John Lienhard, of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, recevied the <a href="">Edward F. Obert Award</a> from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers on May 28.</p> <p>Nancy Lynch, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, won <a href="">TDCP Outstanding Technical Achievement Award</a> from the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers on April 18.</p> <p>Karthish Manthiram, of the Department of Chemical Engineering, received a <a href="">Petroleum Research Fund</a> grant from the American Chemical Society on June 28.</p> <p>Benedetto Marelli, of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, won a <a href="">Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers</a> on July 10.</p> <p>Robert T. Morris, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, was <a href="">elected to the National Academy of Engineering</a> on Feb. 11.</p> <p>Heidi Nepf, of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, won the <a href=";all_recipients=1">Hunter Rouse Hydraulic Engineering Award</a> from the American Society of Civil Engineers on May 20.</p> <p>Dava Newman, of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, was named <a href="">co-chair of the Committee on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space</a> by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on April 8.</p> <p>Kristala Prather, of the Department of Chemical Engineering, was elected <a href="">fellow of American Association for the Advancement of Science</a> on Nov. 27, 2018.</p> <p>Ellen Roche, of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, won the <a href="">Child Health Research Award</a> from the Charles H. Hood Foundation on June 13; she was also awarded a <a href=";HistoricalAwards=false">CAREER award from the National Science Foundation</a> on Feb. 20.</p> <p>Yuriy Román, of the Department of Chemical Engineering, received the&nbsp;<a href="">Early Career in Catalysis Award</a> from the American Chemical Society Catalysis Science and Technology Division on Feb. 28; he also received the&nbsp;<a href="">Rutherford Aris Award</a>&nbsp;from the North American Symposium on Chemical Reaction Engineering on March 10.</p> <p>Julian Shun, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, awarded a <a href="">CAREER award from the National Science Foundation</a> on Feb. 26.</p> <p>Hadley Sikes, of the Department of Chemical Engineering, was honored with the <a href="">Best of BIOT</a> award from the ACS Division of Biochemical Technology on Sept. 9, 2018.</p> <p>Zachary Smith, of the Department of Chemical Engineering, was awarded the <a href="">Doctoral New Investigator Grant</a> from the American Chemical Society, on May 22.</p> <p>Michael Strano, of the Department of Chemical Engineering, won the <a href="">Andreas Acrivos Award for Professional Progress in Chemical Engineering</a> from American Institute of Chemical Engineers&nbsp;on July 1.</p> <p>Greg Stephanopoulos, of the Department of Chemical Engineering, was honored with the <a href="">Gaden Award for Biotechnology and Bioengineering</a> on March 31.</p> <p>Harry Tuller, of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, received the <a href="">Thomas Egleston Medal for Distinguished Engineering Achievement</a> from Columbia University on May 3.</p> <p>Caroline Uhler, of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, won the <a href="">Simons Investigator Award in the Mathematical Model of Living Systems</a> from Simmons Foundation on June 19.</p> Jaume Plensa sculpture, "The Alchemist" on MIT's campusPhoto: Lillie Paquette/School of EngineeringSchool of Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), Chemical engineering, Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES), Mechanical engineering, Civil and environmental engineering, Awards, honors and fellowships, DMSE, Aeronautical and astronautical engineering, Faculty MIT “Russian Doll” tech lands $7.9M international award to fight brain tumors Researchers from MIT&#039;s Koch Institute will work with teams in the UK and Europe to use nanoparticles to carry multiple drug therapies to treat glioblastoma. Fri, 26 Jul 2019 13:30:01 -0400 Koch Institute <p>Cancer Research UK awarded $7.9 million to MIT researchers as part of an international team to identify combinations of drugs that could effectively tackle glioblastoma — the most aggressive and deadly type of brain tumor. The team will then use tiny “Russian doll-like” particles — a technology developed at MIT — to deliver those combinations to brain tumors.</p> <p>The MIT team, based at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, includes Paula Hammond, the David H. Koch Professor of Engineering and head of the Department of Chemical Engineering; Michael Yaffe, the David H. Koch Professor of Science and director of the MIT Center for Precision Cancer Medicine; and Forest White, the Ned C. and Janet Bemis Rice Professor of Biological Engineering.</p> <p>Brain tumors represent one of the hardest types of cancer to treat. There are just a few drugs approved to treat glioblastoma, but none of them are curative. Just last year, around 24,200 people in the United States were diagnosed with brain tumors, with around 17,500 deaths from brain tumors in the same year. Patients diagnosed with disease have a median life expectancy of less than 15 months.</p> <p>Treating glioblastoma is challenging in part because, like many other cancers, it can quickly develop resistance to cancer drugs. Some drug combinations deliver a powerful one-two punch that can overcome cancer cells’ ability to adapt to treatment.</p> <p>The international team aims to find potential drug combinations and targets using high-throughput small molecules and CRISPRi-based screens, mass spectrometry proteomic analysis, and computational modeling platforms for systems pharmacology developed at MIT for predicting the development and reversal of drug resistance in glioblastomas. The team will then test the effectiveness of newly-identified drug combinations in cell and mouse models, including two promising combinations already identified by researchers at the Koch Institute and the University of Edinburgh.</p> <p>Drugs that have already been approved, as well as experimental drugs that have passed initial safety testing in people, will be prioritized. Because of this, if an effective drug combination is found, the team won’t have to navigate the initial regulatory hurdles needed to get them into clinical testing, which could help get promising treatments to patients faster.</p> <p>But glioblastoma presents an additional obstacle to treatment: Even if the researchers find potential new treatments, the drugs must cross the blood-brain barrier, a structure that keeps a tight check on anything trying to get into the brain, drugs included. The team will deploy nanoparticles developed by Hammond at MIT to ferry new drug treatments across this barrier. The nanoparticles — one-thousandth the width of a human hair — are coated in a protein called transferrin, which helps them cross the blood-brain barrier.</p> <p>Not only are the nanoparticles able to access hard-to-reach areas of the brain, they have also been designed to carry multiple cancer drugs at once by holding them inside layers, similarly to the way Russian dolls fit inside one another.</p> <p>To make the nanoparticles even more effective, they will carry signals on their surface so that they are preferentially taken up by brain tumor cells. This means that healthy cells should be left untouched, which will minimize the side effects of treatment.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Early research</a> by the Hammond and Yaffe labs has already shown that nanoparticles loaded with two different drugs were able to shrink glioblastomas in mice.</p> <p>“Glioblastoma is particularly challenging because we want to get highly effective but toxic drug combinations safely across the blood-brain barrier, but also want our nanoparticles to avoid healthy brain cells and only target the cancer cells," Hammond says. "We are very excited about this alliance between the MIT Koch Institute and our colleagues at Edinburgh and Oxford to address these critical challenges.”</p> <p>The MIT group and their collaborators in the UK are one of three international teams to have been given Cancer Research UK Brain Tumor Awards — in partnership with The Brain Tumour Charity — receiving $7.9 million of funding. The awards are designed to accelerate the pace of brain tumor research. Altogether, teams were awarded a total of $23 million.</p> <p>“The Cancer Research UK Brain Tumor Award provides us with a unique opportunity to unite perspectives in biology and engineering to create better options for patients with glioblastoma,” says Yaffe. “Each member of this international team brings a deep well of expertise— in the biology of brain tumors, signaling proteomics, high-throughput screening, drug combinations and systems pharmacology, and drug delivery technologies — that will be vital to overcoming the challenges of developing effective therapies for glioblastoma.”</p> <p><em>This article has been updated to reflect additional specificity regarding the project and its collaborators.</em></p> Cancer cells targeted with nanoparticles built in the Hammond laboratoryImage: Stephen Morton, Kevin Shopsowitz, Peter DeMuthKoch Institute, Chemical engineering, School of Engineering, Biological engineering, Faculty, Cancer, Medicine, Funding, Nanoscience and nanotechnology, Drug development, Pharmaceuticals MIT and Fashion Institute of Technology join forces to create innovative textiles Advanced functional fabrics workshop, held jointly with AFFOA and industrial partner New Balance, develops concepts for biodegradable footwear, active textiles. Wed, 17 Jul 2019 09:00:02 -0400 Materials Research Laboratory <p>If you knew that hundreds of millions of running shoes are <a href="">disposed of in landfills</a> each year, would you prefer a high-performance athletic shoe that is biodegradable? Would being able to monitor your fitness in real time and help you avoid injury while you are running appeal to you? If so, look no further than the collaboration between MIT and the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT).&nbsp;</p> <p>For the second consecutive year, students from each institution teamed up for two weeks in late June to create product concepts exploring the use of advanced fibers and technology. The workshops were held collaboratively with Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (<a href="">AFFOA</a>), a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based national nonprofit whose goal is to enable a manufacturing-based transformation of traditional fibers, yarns, and textiles into highly sophisticated, integrated, and networked devices and systems.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Humans have made use of natural fibers for millennia. They are essential as tools, clothing and shelter,” says <a href="">Gregory C. Rutledge</a>, lead principal investigator for MIT in AFFOA and the Lammot du Pont Professor in Chemical Engineering. “Today, new fiber-based solutions can have a significant and timely impact on the challenges facing our world.”&nbsp;</p> <p>The students had the opportunity this year to respond to a project challenge posed by footwear and apparel manufacturer New Balance, a member of the AFFOA network. Students spent their first week in Cambridge learning new technologies at MIT and the second at FIT, a college of the State University of New York, in New York City working on projects and prototypes. On the last day of the workshop, the teams presented their final projects at the headquarters of Lafayette 148 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, with New Balance Creative Manager of Computational Design Onur Yuce Gun in attendance.</p> <p>Team<em> </em>Natural Futurism presented a concept to develop a biodegradable lifestyle shoe using natural material alternatives, including bacterial cellulose and mycelium, and advanced fiber concepts to avoid use of chemical dyes. The result was a shoe that is both sustainable and aesthetic. Team members included: Giulia de Garay (FIT, Textile Development and Marketing), Rebecca Grekin ’19 (Chemical Engineering), rising senior Kedi Hu (Chemical Engineering/Architecture), Nga Yi "Amy" Lam (FIT, Textile Development and Marketing), Daniella Koller (FIT, Fashion Design), and Stephanie Stickle (FIT, Textile Surface Design).</p> <p>Team CoMIT to Safety Before ProFIT<em> </em>explored the various ways that runners get hurt, sometimes from acute injuries but more often from overuse. Their solution was to incorporate intuitive textiles, as well as tech elements such as a silent alarm and LED display, into athletic clothing and shoes for entry-level, competitive, and expert runners. The goal is to help runners at all levels to eliminate distraction, know their physical limits, and be able to call for help. Team members included Rachel Cheang (FIT, Fashion Design/Knitwear), Jonathan Mateer (FIT, Accessories Design), Caroline Liu ’19 (Materials Science and Engineering), and Xin Wen ’19 (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science).</p> <p>"It is critical for design students to work in a team environment engaging in the latest technologies. This interaction will support the invention of products that will define our future," comments <a href="">Joanne Arbuckle</a>, deputy to the president for industry partnerships and collaborative programs at FIT.</p> <p>The specific content of this workshop was co-designed by MIT postdocs Katia Zolotovsky of the Department of Biological Engineering and Mehmet Kanik of the Research Laboratory of Electronics, with assistant professor of fashion design Andy Liu from FIT, to teach the fundamentals of fiber fabrication, 3-D printing with light, sensing, and biosensing. Participating MIT faculty included Yoel Fink, who is CEO of AFFOA and professor of materials science and electrical engineering; Polina Anikeeva, who is associate professor in the departments of Materials Science and Engineering and Brain and Cognitive Sciences; and Nicholas Xuanlai Fang, professor of mechanical engineering. Participating FIT faculty were Preeti Arya, assistant professor, Textile Development and Marketing; Patrice George, associate professor, Textile Development and Marketing; Suzanne Goetz, associate professor, Textile Surface Design; Tom Scott, Fashion Design; David Ulan, adjunct assistant professor, Accessories Design; and Gregg Woodcock, adjunct instructor, Accessories Design. &nbsp;</p> <p>To facilitate the intersection of design and engineering for products made of advanced functional fibers, yarns, and textiles, a brand-new workforce must be created and inspired by future opportunities. “The purpose of the program is to bring together undergraduate students from different backgrounds, and provide them with a cross-disciplinary, project-oriented experience that gets them thinking about what can be done with these new materials,” Rutledge adds.&nbsp;</p> <p>The goal of MIT, FIT, AFFOA, and industrial partner New Balance is to accelerate innovation in high-tech, U.S.-based manufacturing involving fibers and textiles, and potentially to create a whole new industry based on breakthroughs in fiber technology and manufacturing. AFFOA, a Manufacturing Innovation Institute founded in 2016, is a public-private partnership between industry, academia, and both state and federal governments.</p> <p>“Collaboration and teamwork are DNA-level attributes of the New Balance workplace,” says Chris Wawrousek, senior creative design lead in the NB Innovation Studio. “We were very excited to participate in the program from a multitude of perspectives. The program allowed us to see some of the emerging research in the field of technical textiles. In some cases, these technologies are still very nascent, but give us a window into future developments.” &nbsp;</p> <p>“The diverse pairing and short time period also remind us of the energy captured in an academic crash course, and just how much teams can do in a condensed period of time,” Wawrousek adds. “Finally, it’s a great chance to connect with this future generation of designers and engineers, hopefully giving them an exciting window into the work of our brand.”</p> <p>By building upon their different points of view from design and science, the teams demonstrated what is possible when creative individuals from each area act and think as one. “When designers and engineers come together and open their minds to creating new technologies that ultimately will impact the world, we can imagine exciting new multi-material fibers that open up a new spectrum of applications in various markets, from clothing to medical and beyond,” says Yuly Fuentes, MIT Materials Research Laboratory project manager for fiber technologies.&nbsp;</p> Summer 2019 MIT and FIT AFFOA Workshop in Advanced Functional Fabrics participantsPhoto: Garrett SouzaMaterials Research Laboratory, Materials Science and Engineering, Mechanical engineering, Design, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, School of Engineering, Collaboration, Classes and programs, Technology and society, DMSE, Chemical engineering, Students, Architecture, School of Architecture and Planning, Arts Caring for her community PhD candidate and co-founder of Graduate Women in Chemical Engineering Lisa Volpatti works to support her fellow graduate students. Tue, 09 Jul 2019 23:59:59 -0400 Daysia Tolentino | MIT News correspondent <p>Lisa Volpatti loves helping people. She also loves a challenge. That’s part of the reason why she’s working to improve insulin therapies for diabetic patients.</p> <p>A PhD student in chemical engineering, Volpatti is researching avenues for a self-regulating insulin treatment that people with diabetes could take once a day. The insulin would be released from an implanted reservoir when a person’s blood sugar levels are high. Manual insulin administration doesn’t always mimic the function of a healthy pancreas, and it’s a burden for patients to give themselves regular injections. Volpatti hopes a self-regulating insulin system could help keep patients’ blood sugar at therapeutic levels for longer periods of time.</p> <p>One in 11 people across the globe have diabetes, and so the potential reach of Volpatti’s research is massive.</p> <p>“I get really excited about working on something that could potentially help so many people across the globe and give them a higher quality of life,” she says. “And it’s a really challenging problem, so that’s also exciting from a scientific standpoint.”</p> <p><strong>Dispelling imposter syndrome</strong></p> <p>Before coming to MIT, Volpatti studied chemical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. During her senior year, she applied to the graduate program in MIT’s Department of Chemical Engineering (ChemE). She didn’t get in, but that didn’t dissuade her from trying a second time. After going abroad and earning a master’s degree in chemistry from Cambridge University, Volpatti applied to MIT again and was accepted.</p> <p>“I was really embarrassed to share that with people because I felt like I didn’t really belong. But now, I think that I’ve had a lot of success here, and I’m more willing to share that with people who are also struggling with imposter syndrome, or who think that they can’t do it, or that if they get a rejection it’s the end. It’s never the end,” Volpatti says.</p> <p>At Cambridge University, her research involved looking at amyloid fibrils, proteins that are typically associated with neurodegenerative disorders, and investigating possible uses for them in biotechnology, specifically in drug delivery. As a fifth-year doctoral student at MIT, working in the labs of Daniel Anderson and Robert Langer, Volpatti continues to work with drug-delivery applications, now for insulin therapies.</p> <p><strong>Caring for her community</strong></p> <p>Volpatti’s passion for helping others is reflected in her community service at the Institute, especially in the department where she makes her academic home.</p> <p>“It’s always been my goal, broadly, to help people. Since I was really excited about chemistry, I thought medicine would be a great place to do that. Throughout my undergrad and grad careers, I try to be involved in other things [in addition to academics] so I can give back, because I also have gotten a lot of help,” explains Volpatti.</p> <p>She is the co-founder of the Institute’s Graduate Women in Chemical Engineering group that provides support for female graduate students in the department. The group is relatively new — it was established last fall — and Volpatti is excited to see where the initiative will go. When the Department of Chemical Engineering received a <a href="">2019 Change-maker award</a> for this effort, they asked Volpatti to accept the award on the department’s behalf. She also recently received a <a href="">2019 PKG award</a>.</p> <p>“I’ve had a lot of really important mentors that have helped me make my decisions, so I try to be a mentor for other people as well,” she says.</p> <p>Volpatti is also a fellow in the ChemE Communication Lab, where she helps students and postdocs with their communication needs. From dissertation help to resume workshopping, Volpatti tries to help her peers effectively translate their work outside of the department.</p> <p>She is also active in Resources for Easing Friction and Stress (REFS), a confidential peer-to-peer counseling service that serves as a mental health resource for graduate students. In addition to being a peer counselor, Volpatti and her colleagues organize stress-reducing activities such as free ice cream events and mindfulness workshops.</p> <p><strong>“Anyone can learn”</strong></p> <p>Volpatti and her colleagues haven’t created the perfect self-regulating insulin system quite yet, but they have made good progress. For example, they have made headway in the kinetics of insulin release. In mouse models, they have minimized the lag in the self-regulating insulin’s response to high glucose levels.</p> <p>She will finish her degree in December, and will pursue a postdoc in immunology, specifically in cancer immunotherapy, which involves similar materials and delivery principles as her work with insulin, but with a focus on the immune system.</p> <p>To take a break from her research, Volpatti loves taking runs down to the esplanade along the Charles River. She also enjoys hiking and camping, and staying in touch with her family. She video-chats with her sister and niece on a daily basis, often showing them her experiments in the lab.</p> <p>Something that not many people know about Volpatti is that she is an adept juggler — a skill she acquired with her signature determination and persistence.</p> <p>“One summer I just practiced with a friend who knew how and finally figured it out. I now believe that anyone can learn how to juggle,” she says. “You think ‘no I can’t, I’m not coordinated enough’ but you can. Anyone can learn.”</p> Lisa VolpattiImage: Bryce VickmarkStudents, Graduate, postdoctoral, Chemical engineering, School of Engineering, Profile, Diversity and inclusion, Women in STEM, Women, Community, Drug delivery Seven MIT educators honored for digital learning innovation Educators recognized for improving classroom instruction and student engagement through innovative uses of digital technology. Tue, 02 Jul 2019 13:30:00 -0400 Kelly McSweeney | MIT Open Learning <p>Seven MIT educators have received awards this year for their significant digital learning innovations and their contributions to teaching and learning at MIT and around the world.</p> <p>Polina Anikeeva, Martin Bazant, and Jessica Sandland shared the third annual <em>MITx</em> Prize for Teaching and Learning in MOOCs —&nbsp;an award given to educators who have developed massive open online courses (MOOCs) that share the best of MIT knowledge and perspectives with learners around the world. Additionally, John Belcher, Amy Carleton, Jared Curhan, and Erik Demaine received Teaching with Digital Technology Awards, nominated by MIT students for their innovative use of digital technology to improve their teaching at MIT.</p> <p><strong>The <em>MITx</em> Prize for Teaching and Learning in MOOCs</strong></p> <p>This year’s <em>MITx </em>prize winners were honored at an MIT Open Learning event in May. Professor Polina Anikeeva of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and Digital Learning Lab Scientist Jessica Sandland received the award for teaching 3.024x (Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Properties of Materials). The course was praised for not only its global impact, but also for the way in which it enhanced the residential experience. Increased flexibility from integrating the online content allowed for the addition of design reviews, which give MIT students firsthand experience working on complicated engineering problems.</p> <p>3.024x is fast-paced and challenging. To bring some levity to the subject, the instructors designed problem sets around a series of superhero-themed comic strips that integrated the science and engineering concepts that students learned in class.</p> <p>Martin Bazant, of the departments of Chemical Engineering and Mathematics, received the <em>MITx </em>prize for his course, 10.50.1x (Analysis of Transport Phenomena Mathematical Methods). Most problems in the course involve long calculations, which can be tricky to demonstrate online.</p> <p>To solve this challenge, Bazant broke up problems into smaller parts that included tips and tutorials to help learners solve the problem while maintaining the rigorous intellectual challenge. Course participants included a diverse group of college students, industry professionals, and faculty from other universities in many science and engineering disciplines across the globe.</p> <p><strong>Teaching with Digital Technology Awards</strong></p> <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p>Co-sponsored by MIT Open Learning and the Office of the Vice Chancellor, the Teaching with Digital Technology Awards are student-nominated awards for faculty and instructors who have improved teaching and learning at MIT with digital technology. MIT students nominated 117 faculty and instructors for this award this year, more than in any previous year. The winners were celebrated at an awards luncheon in early June. John Belcher, Erik Demaine, and Jared Curhan attended the awards luncheon, and — in the spirit of an award reception for digital innovation — Amy Carleton joined the event virtually, through video chat.</p> <p>John Belcher was honored for his physics courses on electricity and magnetism. Students appreciated the way that Belcher incorporated videos with his lectures to help provide a physical representation of an abstract subject. He created the animated videos to show visualizations of fundamental physics concepts such as energy transfer and magnetic fields. Students remarked that the videos helped them learn about everything from solar flares and the solar cycle to the fundamentally relativistic nature of electromagnetism.</p> <p>Erik Demaine of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab received the award for his course 6.892 (Fun with Hardness Proofs). The course flipped the traditional classroom model. Instead of lecturing in person, all lectures were posted online and problems were done in class. This allowed the students to spend class time working together on collaborative problem solving through an online application that Demaine created, called Coauthor.</p> <p>Jared Curhan received the award for his negotiation courses at the MIT Sloan School of Management, including 15.672 (Negotiation Analysis), which he designed for students across the Institute. Curhan used digital technology to provide feedback while students practiced their negotiating skills in class. A platform called iDecisionGames helped simulate negotiation exercises between students, and after each exercise it provided data about how each participant performed, both objectively and subjectively.</p> <p>Amy Carleton received the award for her course on science writing and new media. During the course, students learned how to write about scientific and technical topics for a general audience. They put their skills to work by writing Wikipedia articles, where they used advanced editing techniques and wrote mathematical expressions in LaTEX. They also used Google Docs during class to edit articles in small groups, and developed PowerPoint presentations where they learned to incorporate sound and graphics to emphasize their ideas.</p> <p>Both awards celebrate instructors who are using technology in innovative ways to help teach challenging courses to both traditional students and online learners.</p> <p>“At MIT, there is no shortage of digital learning innovation, and this year’s winners reflect the Institute’s strong commitment to transforming teaching and learning at MIT and around the globe,” says MIT Professor Krishna Rajagopal, dean for digital learning. “They have set new standards for online and blended learning.”</p> Dean of Digital Learning Krishna Rajagopal (center) with winners of the MITx Prize for Teaching and Learning in MOOCs, Jessica Sandland (left) and Martin Bazant. Not pictured: Polina Anikeeva, who also received the MITx Prize, and John Belcher, Amy Carleton, Jared Curhan, and Erik Demaine, who received Teaching with Digital Technology Awards.Photo: MIT Open LearningMITx, Office of Open Learning, Materials Science and Engineering, Chemical engineering, Mathematics, School of Engineering, School of Science, Office of the Vice Chancellor, Physics, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Sloan School of Management, online learning, Massive open online courses (MOOCs), OpenCourseWare, Classes and programs, Technology and society, Education, teaching, academics, Awards, honors and fellowships MIT Energy Initiative awards seven Seed Fund grants for early-stage energy research Annual MITEI awards support research on methane conversion, efficient energy provision, plastics recycling, and more. Mon, 01 Jul 2019 13:05:01 -0400 MIT Energy Initiative <p>The MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) recently awarded seven grants totaling approximately $1 million through its <a href="" target="_blank">Seed Fund Program</a>, which supports early-stage innovative energy research at MIT through an annual competitive process.</p> <p>“Supporting basic research has always been a core component of MITEI’s mission to transform and decarbonize global energy systems,” says MITEI Director <a href="" target="_blank">Robert C. Armstrong</a>, the Chevron Professor of Chemical Engineering. “This year’s funded projects highlight just a few examples of the many ways that people working across the energy field are researching vital topics to create a better world.”</p> <p>The newly awarded projects will address topics such as developing efficient strategies for recycling plastics, improving the stability of high-energy metal-halogen flow batteries, and increasing the potential efficiency of silicon solar cells to accelerate the adoption of photovoltaics. Awardees include established energy faculty members and others who are new to the energy field, from disciplines including applied economics, chemical engineering, biology, and other areas.</p> <p><strong>Demand-response policies and incentives for energy efficiency adoption</strong></p> <p>Most of today’s energy growth is occurring in developing countries. Assistant Professor <a href="" target="_blank">Namrata Kala</a> and Professor <a href="" target="_blank">Christopher Knittel</a>, both of whom focus on applied economics at the MIT Sloan School of Management, will use their grant to examine key policy levers for meeting electricity demand and renewable energy growth without jeopardizing system reliability in the developing world.</p> <p>Kala and Knittel plan to design and run a randomized control trial in New Delhi, India, in collaboration with a large Indian power company. “We will estimate the willingness of firms to enroll in services that reduce peak consumption, and also promote energy efficiency,” says Kala, the W. Maurice Young (1961) Career Development Professor of Management. “Estimating the costs and benefits of such services, and their allocation across customers and electricity providers, can inform policies that promote energy efficiency in a cost-effective manner.”</p> <p><strong>Efficient conversion of methane to methanol&nbsp; </strong></p> <p>Methane, the primary component of natural gas, has become an increasingly important part of the global energy portfolio. However, the chemical inertness of methane and the lack of efficient methods to convert this gaseous carbon feedstock into liquid fuels has significantly limited its application. <a href="">Yang Shao-Horn</a>,&nbsp;the W.M. Keck Professor of Energy in the departments of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering, seeks to address this problem using her seed fund grant. Shao-Horn and Shuai Yuan, a postdoc in the Research Laboratory of Electronics, will focus on achieving efficient, cost-effective gas-to-liquid conversion using metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) as electrocatalysts.</p> <p>Current methane activation and conversion processes are usually accomplished by costly and energy-intensive steam reforming at elevated temperature and high pressure. Shao-Horn and Yuan’s goal is to design efficient MOF-based electrocatalysts that will permit the methane-to-methanol conversion process to proceed at ambient temperature and pressure.</p> <p>“If successful, this electrochemical gas-to-liquid concept could lead to a modular, efficient, and cost-effective solution that can be deployed in both large-scale industrial plants and remotely located oil fields to increase the utility of geographically isolated gas reserves,” says Shao-Horn.</p> <p><strong>Using&nbsp;machine learning to solve the “zeolite conundrum”</strong><br /> <br /> The energy field is replete with opportunities for machine learning to expedite progress toward a variety of innovative energy solutions. <a href="">Rafael Gómez-Bombarelli</a>, the Toyota Assistant Professor in Materials Processing in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, received a grant for a project that will combine machine learning and simulation to accelerate the discovery cycle of zeolites.<br /> &nbsp;<br /> Zeolites are materials with wide-ranging industrial applications as catalysts and molecular sieves because of their high stability and selective nanopores that can confine small molecules. Despite decades of abundant research, only 248 zeolite frameworks have been realized out of the millions of possible structures that have been proposed using computers — the so-called zeolite conundrum.<br /> &nbsp;<br /> The problem, notes Gómez-Bombarelli, is that discovery of these new frameworks has relied mostly on trial-and-error in the lab — an approach that is both slow and labor-intensive.<br /> &nbsp;<br /> In his seed grant work, Gómez-Bombarelli and his team will be using theory to speed up that process. “Using machine learning and first-principles simulations, we’ll design small molecules to dock on specific pores and direct the formation of targeted structures,” says Gómez-Bombarelli. “This computational approach will drive new synthetic outcomes in zeolites faster.”</p> <p><strong>Effective recycling of plastics</strong></p> <p>Professor <a href="">Anthony Sinskey</a> of the Department of Biology, Professor <a href="">Gregory Stephanopoulos</a> of the Department of Chemical Engineering,&nbsp;and graduate student Linda Zhong of biology have joined forces to address the environmental and economic problems posed by polyethylene terephthalate (PET). One of the most synthesized plastics, PET exhibits an extremely low degradation rate and its production is highly dependent on petroleum feedstocks.</p> <p>“Due to the huge negative impacts of PET products, efficient recycling strategies need to be designed to decrease economic loss and adverse environmental impacts associated with single-use practices,” says Sinskey.</p> <p>“PET is essentially an organic polymer of terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol, both of which can be metabolized by bacteria as energy and nutrients. These capacities exist in nature, though not together,” says Zhong. “Our goal is to engineer these metabolic pathways into<em> E. coli</em> to allow the bacterium to grow on PET. Using genetic engineering, we will introduce the PET-degrading enzymes into <em>E. coli </em>and ultimately transfer them into bioremediation organisms.”</p> <p>The long-term goal of the project is to prototype a bioprocess for closed-loop PET recycling, which will decrease the volume of discarded PET products as well as the consumption of petroleum and energy for PET synthesis.</p> <p>The researchers’ primary motivation in pursuing this project echoes MITEI’s overarching goal for the seed fund program: to push the boundaries of research and innovation to solve global energy and climate challenges. Zhong says, “We see a dire need for this research because our world is inundated in plastic trash. We’re only attempting to solve a tiny piece of the global problem, but we must try when much of what we hold dear depends on it.”</p> <p>The MITEI Seed Fund Program has awarded new grants each year since it was established in 2008. Funding for the grants comes chiefly from MITEI’s founding and sustaining members, supplemented by gifts from generous donors. To date, MITEI has supported 177 projects with grants totaling approximately $23.6 million.</p> <p>Recipients of MITEI Seed Fund grants for 2019 are:</p> <ul> <li>"Development and prototyping of stable, safe, metal‐halogen flow batteries with high energy and power densities"<strong>&nbsp;</strong>—&nbsp;Martin Bazant of the departments of Chemical Engineering and Mathematics and T. Alan Hatton of the Department of Chemical Engineering;<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li>"Silicon solar cells sensitized by exciton fission" —&nbsp;Marc Baldo of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science;<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li>"Automatic design of structure‐directing agents for novel realizable zeolites" —&nbsp;Rafael Gómez‐Bombarelli of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering;<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li>"Demand response, energy efficiency, and firm decisions" —&nbsp;Namrata Kala and Christopher Knittel of the Sloan School of Management;<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li>"Direct conversion of methane to methanol by MOF‐based electrocatalysts"<strong>&nbsp;</strong>—&nbsp;Yang Shao‐Horn of the departments of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering;<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li>"Biodegradation of plastics for efficient recycling and bioremediation" —&nbsp;Anthony Sinskey of the Department of Biology and&nbsp;Gregory Stephanopoulos of the Department of Chemical Engineering; and<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li>"Asymmetric chemical doping for photocatalytic CO2 reduction" —&nbsp;Michael Strano of the Department of Chemical Engineering.</li> </ul> One of the most synthesized plastics, PET — found in plastic bottles — exhibits an extremely low degradation rate and its production is highly dependent on petroleum feedstocks. New research on the biodegradation of plastics will be funded by a MIT Energy Initiative Seed Fund. Photo: seefromthesky/UnsplashMIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), Sloan School of Management, Mechanical engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, School of Engineering, Research Laboratory of Electronics, Biology, Chemical engineering, School of Science, Mathematics, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), Funding, Grants, Faculty, Campaign for a Better World Confining cell-killing treatments to tumors Attaching a Velcro-like molecule may prevent immune proteins called cytokines from leaking out of cancerous tissue after injection. Wed, 26 Jun 2019 13:59:59 -0400 Helen Knight | MIT News correspondent <p>Cytokines, small proteins released by immune cells to communicate with each other, have for some time been investigated as a potential cancer treatment.</p> <p>However, despite their known potency and potential for use alongside other immunotherapies, cytokines have yet to be successfully developed into an effective cancer therapy.</p> <p>That is because the proteins are highly toxic to both healthy tissue and tumors alike, making them unsuitable for use in treatments administered to the entire body.</p> <p>Injecting the cytokine treatment directly into the tumor itself could provide a method of confining its benefits to the tumor and sparing healthy tissue, but previous attempts to do this have resulted in the proteins leaking out of the cancerous tissue and into the body’s circulation within minutes.</p> <p>Now researchers at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT have developed a technique to prevent cytokines escaping once they have been injected into the tumor, by adding a Velcro-like protein that attaches itself to the tissue.</p> <p>In this way the researchers, led by Dane Wittrup, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor in Chemical Engineering and Biological Engineering and a member of the Koch Institute, hope to limit the harm caused to healthy tissue, while prolonging the treatment’s ability to attack the tumor.</p> <p>To develop their technique, which they describe in a paper published today in the journal <em>Science Translational Medicine</em>, the researchers first investigated the different proteins found in tumors, to find one that could be used as a target for the cytokine treatment. They chose collagen, which is expressed abundantly in solid tumors.</p> <p>They then undertook an extensive literature search to find proteins that bind effectively to collagen. They discovered a collagen-binding protein called lumican, which they then attached to the cytokines.</p> <p>“When we inject (a collagen-anchoring cytokine treatment) intratumorally, we don’t have to worry about collagen found elsewhere in the body; we just have to make sure we have a protein that binds to collagen very tightly,” says lead author Noor Momin, a graduate student in the Wittrup Lab at MIT.</p> <p>To test the treatment, the researchers used two cytokines known to stimulate and expand immune cell responses. The cytokines, interleukin-2 (IL-2) and interleukin-12 (IL-12), are also known to combine well with other immunotherapies.</p> <p>Although IL-2 already has FDA approval, its severe side-effects have so far prevented its clinical use. Meanwhile IL-12 therapies have not yet reached phase 3 clinical trials due to their severe toxicity.</p> <p>The researchers tested the treatment by injecting the two different cytokines into tumors in mice. To make the test more challenging, they chose a type of melanoma that contains relatively low amounts of collagen, compared to other tumor types.</p> <p>They then compared the effects of administering the cytokines alone and of injecting cytokines attached to the collagen-binding lumican.</p> <p>“In addition, all of the cytokine therapies were given alongside a form of systemic therapy, such as a tumor-targeting antibody, a vaccine, a checkpoint blockade, or chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cell therapy, as we wanted to show the potential of combining cytokines with many different immunotherapy modalities,” Momin says.</p> <p>They found that when any of the treatments were administered individually, the mice did not survive. Combining the treatments improved survival rates slightly, but when the cytokine was administered with the lumican to bind to the collagen, the researchers found that over 90 percent of the mice survived with some combinations.</p> <p>“So we were able to show that these combinations are synergistic, they work really well together, and that cytokines attached to lumican really helped reap the full benefits of the combination,” Momin says.</p> <p>What’s more, attaching the lumican eliminated the problem of toxicity associated with cytokine treatments alone.</p> <p>The paper attempts to address a major obstacle in the oncology field, that of how to target potent therapeutics to the tumor microenvironment to enable their local action, according to Shannon Turley, a staff scientist and specialist in cancer immunology at Genentech, who was not involved in the research.</p> <p>“This is important because many of the most promising cancer drugs can have unwanted side effects in tissues beyond the tumor,” Turley says. “The team’s approach relies on two principles that together make for a novel approach: injection of the drug directly into the tumor site, and engineering of the drug to contain a ‘Velcro’ that attaches the drug to the tumor to keep it from leaking into circulation and acting all over the body.”</p> <p>The researchers now plan to carry out further work to improve the technique, and to explore other treatments that could benefit from being combined with collagen-binding lumican, Momin says.</p> <p>Ultimately, they hope the work will encourage other researchers to consider the use of collagen binding for cancer treatments, Momin says.</p> <p>“We’re hoping the paper seeds the idea that collagen anchoring could be really advantageous for a lot of different therapies across all solid tumors.”</p> A new technique prevents cell-killing proteins called cytokines from escaping once they have been injected into a tumor.Image: MIT NewsResearch, Cancer, Koch Institute, Biological engineering, Chemical engineering, School of Engineering, Medicine A better way to encapsulate islet cells for diabetes treatment Crystallized drug prevents immune system rejection of transplanted pancreatic islet cells. Mon, 24 Jun 2019 11:00:00 -0400 Anne Trafton | MIT News Office <p>When medical devices are implanted in the body, the immune system often attacks them, producing scar tissue around the device. This buildup of tissue, known as fibrosis, can interfere with the device’s function.</p> <p>MIT researchers have now come up with a novel way to prevent fibrosis from occurring, by incorporating a crystallized immunosuppressant drug into devices. After implantation, the drug is slowly secreted to dampen the immune response in the area immediately surrounding the device.</p> <p>“We developed a crystallized drug formulation that can target the key players involved in the implant rejection, suppressing them locally and allowing the device to function for more than a year,” says Shady Farah, an MIT and Boston Children’s Hospital postdoc and co-first author of the study, who is soon starting a new position as an assistant professor of the Wolfson Faculty of Chemical Engineering and the Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.</p> <p>The researchers showed that these crystals could dramatically improve the performance of encapsulated islet cells, which they are developing as a possible treatment for patients with type 1 diabetes. Such crystals could also be applied to a variety of other implantable medical devices, such as pacemakers, stents, or sensors.</p> <p>Former MIT postdoc Joshua Doloff, now an assistant professor of Biomedical and Materials Science Engineering and member of the Translational Tissue Engineering Center at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, is also a lead author of the paper, which appears in the June 24 issue of <em>Nature Materials</em>. Daniel Anderson, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Chemical Engineering and a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES), is the senior author of the paper.</p> <p><strong>Crystalline drug </strong></p> <p>Anderson’s lab is one of many research groups working on ways to <a href="">encapsulate islet cells</a> and transplant them into diabetic patients, in hopes that such cells could replace the patients’ nonfunctioning pancreatic cells and eliminate the need for daily insulin injections.</p> <p>Fibrosis is a major obstacle to this approach, because scar tissue can block the islet cells’ access to the oxygen and nutrients. In a <a href="">2017 study</a>, Anderson and his colleagues showed that systemic administration of a drug that blocks cell receptors for a protein called CSF-1 can prevent fibrosis by suppressing the immune response to implanted devices. This drug targets immune cells called macrophages, which are the primary cells responsible for initiating the inflammation that leads to fibrosis.</p> <p>“That work was focused on identifying next-generation drug targets, namely which cell and cytokine players were essential for fibrotic response,” says Doloff, who was the lead author on that study, which also involved Farah. He adds, “After knowing what we had to target to block fibrosis, and screening drug candidates needed to do so, we still had to find a sophisticated way of achieving local delivery and release for as long as possible.”</p> <p>In the new study, the researchers set out to find a way to load the drug directly into an implantable device, to avoid giving patients drugs that would suppress their entire immune system.</p> <p>“If you have a small device implanted in your body, you don’t want to have your whole body exposed to drugs that are affecting the immune system, and that’s why we’ve been interested in creating ways to release drugs from the device itself,” Anderson says.</p> <p>To achieve that, the researchers decided to try crystallizing the drugs and then incorporating them into the device. This allows the drug molecules to be very tightly packed, allowing the drug-releasing device to be miniaturized. Another advantage is that crystals take a long time to dissolve, allowing for long-term drug delivery. Not every drug can be easily crystallized, but the researchers found that the CSF-1 receptor inhibitor they were using can form crystals and that they could control the size and shape of the crystals, which determines how long it takes for the drug to break down once in the body.</p> <p>“We showed that the drugs released very slowly and in a controlled fashion,” says Farah. “We took those crystals and put them in different types of devices and showed that with the help of those crystals, we can allow the medical device to be protected for a long time, allowing the device to keep functioning.”</p> <p><strong>Encapsulated islet cells</strong></p> <p>To test whether these drug crystalline formulations could boost the effectiveness of encapsulated islet cells, the researchers incorporated the drug crystals into 0.5-millimeter-diameter spheres of alginate, which they used to encapsulate the cells. When these spheres were transplanted into the abdomen or under the skin of diabetic mice, they remained fibrosis-free for more than a year. During this time, the mice did not need any insulin injections, as the islet cells were able to control their blood sugar levels just as the pancreas normally would.</p> <p>“In the past three-plus years, our team has published seven papers in Nature journals — this being the seventh — elucidating the mechanisms of biocompatibility,” says Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT and an author of the paper. “These include an understanding of the key cells and receptors involved, optimal implant geometries and physical locations in the body, and now, in this paper, specific molecules that can confer biocompatibility. Taken together, we hope these papers will open the door to a new generation of biomedical implants to treat diabetes and other diseases.”</p> <p>The researchers believe that it should be possible to create crystals that last longer than those they studied in these experiments, by altering the structure and composition of the drug crystals. Such formulations could also be used to prevent fibrosis of other types of implantable devices. In this study, the researchers showed that crystalline drug could be incorporated into PDMS, a polymer frequently used for medical devices, and could also be used to coat components of a glucose sensor and an electrical muscle stimulation device, which include materials such as plastic and metal.</p> <p>“It wasn’t just useful for our islet cell therapy, but could also be useful to help get a number of different devices to work long-term,” Anderson says.</p> <p>The research was funded by JDRF, the National Institutes of Health, the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust Foundation, and the Tayebati Family Foundation.</p> <p>Other authors of the paper include MIT Principal Research Scientist Peter Muller; MIT grad students Atieh Sadraei and Malia McAvoy; MIT research affiliate Hye Jung Han; former MIT postdoc Katy Olafson; MIT technical associate Keval Vyas; former MIT grad student Hok Hei Tam; MIT postdoc Piotr Kowalski; former MIT undergraduates Marissa Griffin and Ashley Meng; Jennifer Hollister-Locke and Gordon Weir of the Joslin Diabetes Center; Adam Graham of Harvard University; James McGarrigle and Jose Oberholzer of the University of Illinois at Chicago; and Dale Greiner of the University of Massachusetts Medical School.</p> MIT engineers have devised a way to incorporate crystallized immunosuppressant drugs into devices carrying encapsulated islet cells, which could allow them to be implanted as a long-term treatment for diabetes.Image: Shady FarahResearch, Chemical engineering, Koch Institute, Institute of Medical Engineering and Science (IMES), School of Engineering, National Institutes of Health (NIH), Health sciences and technology, Diabetes, Medicine “Nanoemulsion” gels offer new way to deliver drugs through the skin Novel materials made with FDA-approved components could deliver large payloads of active ingredients. Fri, 21 Jun 2019 09:17:39 -0400 Anne Trafton | MIT News Office <p>MIT chemical engineers have devised a new way to create very tiny droplets of one liquid suspended within another liquid, known as nanoemulsions. Such emulsions are similar to the mixture that forms when you shake an oil-and-vinegar salad dressing, but with much smaller droplets. Their tiny size allows them to remain stable for relatively long periods of time.</p> <p>The researchers also found a way to easily convert the liquid nanoemulsions to a gel when they reach body temperature (37 degrees Celsius), which could be useful for developing materials that can deliver medication when rubbed on the skin or injected into the body.</p> <p>“The pharmaceutical industry is hugely interested in nanoemulsions as a way of delivering small molecule therapeutics. That could be topically, through ingestion, or by spraying into the nose, because once you start getting into the size range of hundreds of nanometers you can permeate much more effectively into the skin,” says Patrick Doyle, the Robert T. Haslam Professor of Chemical Engineering and the senior author of the study.</p> <p>In their new study, which appears in the June 21 issue of <em>Nature Communications</em>, the researchers created nanoemulsions that were stable for more than a year. To demonstrate the emulsions’ potential usefulness for delivering drugs, the researchers showed that they could incorporate ibuprofen into the droplets.</p> <p>Seyed Meysam Hashemnejad, a former MIT postdoc, is the first author of the study. Other authors include former postdoc Abu Zayed Badruddoza, L’Oréal senior scientist Brady Zarket, and former MIT summer research intern Carlos Ricardo Castaneda.</p> <p><strong>Energy reduction</strong></p> <p>One of the easiest ways to create an emulsion is to add energy — by shaking your salad dressing, for example, or using a homogenizer to break down fat globules in milk. The more energy that goes in, the smaller the droplets, and the more stable they are.</p> <p>Nanoemulsions, which contain droplets with a diameter 200 nanometers or smaller, are desirable not only because they are more stable, but they also have a higher ratio of surface area to volume, which allows them to carry larger payloads of active ingredients such as drugs or sunscreens.</p> <p>Over the past few years, Doyle’s lab has been working on lower-energy strategies for making nanoemulsions, which could make the process easier to adapt for large-scale industrial manufacturing.</p> <p>Detergent-like chemicals called surfactants can speed up the formation of emulsions, but many of the surfactants that have previously been used for creating nanoemulsions are not FDA-approved for use in humans. Doyle and his students chose two surfactants that are uncharged, which makes them less likely to irritate the skin, and are already FDA-approved as food or cosmetic additives. They also added a small amount of polyethylene glycol (PEG), a biocompatible polymer used for drug delivery that helps the solution to form even smaller droplets, down to about 50 nanometers in diameter.</p> <p>“With this approach, you don’t have to put in much energy at all,” Doyle says. “In fact, a slow stirring bar almost spontaneously creates these super small emulsions.”</p> <p>Active ingredients can be mixed into the oil phase before the emulsion is formed, so they end up loaded into the droplets of the emulsion.</p> <p>Once they had developed a low-energy way to create nanoemulsions, using nontoxic ingredients, the researchers added a step that would allow the emulsions to be easily converted to gels when they reach body temperature. They achieved this by incorporating heat-sensitive polymers called poloxamers, or Pluronics, which are already FDA-approved and used in some drugs and cosmetics.</p> <p>Pluronics contain three “blocks” of polymers: The outer two regions are hydrophilic, while the middle region is slightly hydrophobic. At room temperature, these molecules dissolve in water but do not interact much with the droplets that form the emulsion. However, when heated, the hydrophobic regions attach to the droplets, forcing them to pack together more tightly and creating a jelly-like solid. This process happens within seconds of heating the emulsion to the necessary temperature.</p> <p><img alt="" src="/sites/" style="width: 500px; height: 283px;" /></p> <p><em><span style="font-size:10px;">MIT chemical engineers have devised a way to convert liquid nanoemulsions into solid gels. These gels (red) form almost instantaneously when drops of the liquid emulsion enter warm water.</span></em></p> <p><strong>Tunable properties</strong></p> <p>The researchers found that they could tune the properties of the gels, including the temperature at which the material becomes a gel, by changing the size of the emulsion droplets and the concentration and structure of the Pluronics that they added to the emulsion. They can also alter traits such as elasticity and yield stress, which is a measure of how much force is needed to spread the gel.</p> <p>Doyle is now exploring ways to incorporate a variety of active pharmaceutical ingredients into this type of gel. Such products could be useful for delivering topical medications to help heal burns or other types of injuries, or could be injected to form a “drug depot” that would solidify inside the body and release drugs over an extended period of time. These droplets could also be made small enough that they could be used in nasal sprays for delivering inhalable drugs, Doyle says.</p> <p>For cosmetic applications, this approach could be used to create moisturizers or other products that are more shelf-stable and feel smoother on the skin.</p> <p>The research was funded by L’Oréal.</p> MIT chemical engineers have devised a way to convert liquid nanoemulsions into solid gels. These gels (red) form almost instantaneously when drops of the liquid emulsion enter warm water.Image: Courtesy of the researchersResearch, Chemical engineering, School of Engineering, Chemistry, Drug delivery, Pharmaceuticals, Medicine, Nanoscience and nanotechnology QS ranks MIT the world’s No. 1 university for 2019-20 Ranked at the top for the eighth straight year, the Institute also places first in 11 of 48 disciplines. Tue, 18 Jun 2019 20:01:00 -0400 MIT News Office <p>MIT has again been named the world’s top university by the QS World University Rankings, which were announced today. This is the eighth year in a row MIT has received this distinction.</p> <p>The full 2019-20 rankings — published by Quacquarelli Symonds, an organization specializing in education and study abroad — can be found at <a href=""></a>. The QS rankings were based on academic reputation, employer reputation, citations per faculty, student-to-faculty ratio, proportion of international faculty, and proportion of international students. MIT earned a perfect overall score of 100.</p> <p>MIT was also ranked the world’s top university in <a href="">11 of 48 disciplines ranked by QS</a>, as announced in February of this year.</p> <p>MIT received a No. 1 ranking in the following QS subject areas: 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 six subject areas: Accounting and Finance; Architecture/Built Environment; Biological Sciences; Earth and Marine Sciences; Economics and Econometrics; and Environmental Sciences.</p> Image: Christopher HartingRankings, Architecture, Chemical engineering, Chemistry, Civil and environmental engineering, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), Economics, Linguistics, Materials Science and Engineering, DMSE, Mechanical engineering, Aeronautical and astronautical engineering, Physics, Business and management, Accounting, Finance, Arts, Design, Mathematics, EAPS, School of Architecture and Planning, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, School of Science, School of Engineering, Sloan School of Management Spotlight on engineering staff The School of Engineering gives its 2019 Infinite Mile Awards for exceptional service and support. Wed, 12 Jun 2019 10:55:01 -0400 School of Engineering <p>The School of Engineering hosted its 19th annual Infinite Mile Awards ceremony on May 22 to recognize and reward members of the school’s administrative, support, service, and research staff whose work is of the highest caliber. The awards support the Institute’s and the School of Engineering’s objectives for excellence.</p> <p>Nominations are made by department heads and laboratory directors, and the awards are presented to individuals and teams who stand out due to their high level of commitment, energy, and enthusiasm. Since their inception in 2001, the Infinite Mile Awards have been presented to nearly 250 staff members.&nbsp;</p> <p>For the quality of their contributions, the individuals who earned the Infinite Mile Award for Excellence were:</p> <ul> <li>Priyanka Chaudhuri from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering;</li> <li>Sharece Corner from the Department of Chemical Engineering;</li> <li>Eileen Demarkles from the Department of Chemical Engineering;</li> <li>Reimi Hicks from the Office of Engineering Outreach Programs;</li> <li>Magdalena Rieb from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering; and</li> <li>Faika Weche from the Office of Engineering Outreach Programs.</li> </ul> <p>In addition to the Infinite Mile Awards, the School of Engineering presented an Ellen J. Mandigo Award for Outstanding Service. Established in 2009, the award recognizes staff who have demonstrated, over an extended period of time, the qualities Ellen J. Mandigo valued and possessed during her long career at MIT: intelligence, skill, hard work, and dedication to the Institute. This award is made possible by a bequest from Mandigo, a member of the MIT engineering community for nearly five decades.</p> <p>The 2019 recipient was Angelita Mireles from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.</p> Left to right: Priyanka Chaudhuri, Magdalena Rieb, Angelita Mireles, Faika Weche, Anantha Chandrakasan, Reimi Hicks, Sharece Corner, and Eileen DemarklesPhoto: Lillie Paquette/School of EngineeringSchool of Engineering, Chemical engineering, Office of Engineering Outreach Program (OEOP), Awards, honors and fellowships, Staff, DMSE Getting the oil out of water New technique makes it possible to image the fouling of membranes in 3-D, could lead to better antifouling materials. Sun, 09 Jun 2019 23:59:59 -0400 David L. Chandler | MIT News Office <p>Oil and water are famously reluctant to mix fully together. But separating them completely — for example, when cleaning up an oil spill or purifying water contaminated through fracking — is a devilishly hard and inefficient process that frequently relies on membranes that tend to get clogged up, or “fouled.”</p> <p>A new imaging technique developed at MIT could provide a tool for developing better membrane materials that can resist or prevent fouling. The new work is described in the journal <em>Applied Materials and Interfaces</em>, in a paper by MIT graduate students Yi-Min Lin and Chen Song and professor of chemical engineering Gregory Rutledge.</p> <p>Cleaning up oily wastewater is necessary in many industries, including petroleum refining, food processing, and metal finishing, and the untreated waste can be damaging to aquatic ecosystems. Methods of removing oily contaminants vary, depending on the relative amounts of oil and water and the sizes of the oil droplets. When the oil is emulsified, the most efficient cleanup method is the use of membranes that filter out the tiny oil droplets, but these membranes quickly get fouled by the droplets and require time-consuming cleaning.</p> <p>But the fouling process is very hard to observe, making it difficult to assess the relative advantages of different materials and architectures for the membranes themselves. The new technique developed by the MIT team could make such evaluations much easier to carry out, the researchers say.</p> <p>These filtration membranes “tend to be very hard to look inside of,” Rutledge says. “There’s a lot of effort to develop new types of membranes, but when they get put in service, you want to see how they interact with the contaminated water, and they don’t lend themselves to easy examination. They are usually designed to pack in as much membrane area as possible, and being able to look inside is very hard.”</p> <p>The solution they developed uses confocal laser scanning microscopy, a technique in which two lasers are scanned across the material, and at the point where the two beams cross, a material marked with a fluorescent dye will glow. In their approach, the team introduced two fluorescent dyes, one to mark the oily material in the fluid, the other to mark the fibers in the filtration membrane. The technique allows the material to be scanned not only across the area of the membrane, but also into the depth of the material, layer by layer, to build up a full 3-D image of the way the oil droplets are dispersed in the membrane, which in this case is composed of an array of microscopic fibers.</p> <p><img alt="" src="/sites/" style="width: 500px; height: 500px;" /></p> <p>The basic method has been used in biological research, to observe cells and proteins within a sample, Rutledge explains, but it has not been applied much to studying membrane materials, and never with both the oil and the fibers labelled. In this case, the researchers are observing droplets that range in size from about 10 to 20 microns (millionths of a meter), down to a few hundred nanometers (billionths of a meter).</p> <p>Until now, he says, “methods for imaging pore spaces in membranes were pretty crude.” For the most part, the pore characteristics were inferred by measuring flow rates and pressure changes through the material, giving no direct information about how the oily material actually builds up in the pores. With the new process, he says, “now you can actually measure the geometry, and build a three-dimensional model and characterize the material in some detail. So what’s new now is that we can really look at how separation takes place in these membranes.”</p> <p>By doing so, and by testing the effects using different materials and different arrangements of the fibers, “this should give us a better understanding of what fouling really is,” Rutledge says.</p> <p>The team has already demonstrated that the interaction between the oil and the membrane can be very different depending on the material used. In some cases the oil forms tiny droplets that gradually coalesce to form larger drops, while in other cases the oil spreads out in a layer along the fibers, a process called wetting. “The hope is that with a better understanding of the mechanism of fouling, people will be able to spend more time on the techniques that are more likely to succeed” in limiting that fouling, Rutledge says.</p> <p>The new observational method has clear applications for engineers trying to design better filtration systems, he says, but it also can be used for research on the basic science of how mixed fluids interact. “Now we can begin to think about some fundamental science on the interaction between two-phase liquid flows and porous media,” he says. “Now, you can develop some detailed models” of the process.</p> <p>And the detailed information about how different structures or chemistries perform could make it easier to engineer specific kinds of membranes for different applications, depending on the types of contaminants to be removed, the typical sizes of the droplets in these contaminants, and so on. “In designing membranes, it’s not a one-size-fits-all,” he says. “Potentially you can have different types of membranes for different effluents.”</p> <p>The method could also be used to observe the separation of different kinds of mixtures, such as solid particles in a liquid, or a reverse situation where the oil is dominant and the membrane is used to filter out water droplets, such as in a fuel filtration system, Rutledge says.</p> <p>“When I read his paper in depth, I was impressed by Greg’s way of using 3-D imaging to understand the complex fouling process in membranes used for oil-water emulsions,” says William J. Koros, the Roberto C. Goizueta Chair for Excellence in Chemical Engineering and GRA Eminent Scholar in Membranes at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who was not involved in this research.</p> <p>The research was supported, in part, by the cooperative agreement between the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi and MIT.</p> Image taken using the MIT researchers' system shows the fibers of the filter membrane in red, and the oily droplets accumulating on it in green. The colors results from fluorescent dyes added to the materials.Image courtesy of the researchersResearch, Chemical engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, School of Engineering, Nanoscience and nanotechnology Helping to foster lifelong learning and bonding at MIT A growing number of MIT alumni have taken part in knowledge enhancement programs through MIT Professional Education, as both students and facilitators. Thu, 06 Jun 2019 10:30:01 -0400 MIT Professional Education <p>It’s no secret that MIT’s reputation as a world-class leader in breakthrough education is a major draw for prospective students. Perhaps less well-known is the fact that many graduates return to the MIT community to serve as members of the faculty or staff, or to engage in ongoing learning, to fill in gaps as technology advances and careers grow.</p> <p>In research labs and classrooms across the MIT campus — which is quickly developing into one of the most technologically influential square miles on the planet — dozens of alumni are now leading programs and research aimed at helping to train the next generation of innovators and leaders. A number of alumni are also taking part in knowledge enhancement programs offered through <a href="" target="_blank">MIT Professional Education</a>, as students and facilitators. While each has followed a different path, all share an MIT connection that is second-to-none.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>The boomerang effect</strong></p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Gergely "Greg" Sirokman</a>’s first exposure to MIT was in 8th grade, when he attended the Splash program, an annual event where 7th and 8th grade students get to take a variety of STEM-related classes taught by MIT students and community members. Years later, he came back to the Cambridge campus to earn his PhD in inorganic chemistry. Today, Sirokman PhD '07 is a full-time professor at Wentworth Institute of Technology, but his learning experience at MIT continues.</p> <p>“Wentworth offers a very generous education reimbursement package, which means they fund a significant amount of classwork. I decided to take advantage of those benefits and enroll in MIT Professional Education courses,” Sirokman says.</p> <p>Sirokman is among the 84 Institute alumni who have taken advantage of the MIT Professional Education Short Programs over the past five years to actively seek out learning and grow as a member of the MIT community. Since 2007, he has completed a total of seven summer courses, including courses on biofuels, solar energy, and carbon sequestration.<br /> <br /> “These courses allowed me to acquire skills and knowledge I didn’t possess yet as a graduate of MIT, and helped fill holes in my education profile,” Sirokman says. “I immediately turned back around and applied the things I learned to the work I was doing at Wentworth.”<br /> <br /> Today, Sirokman runs a biodiesel lab at Wentworth and is ramping up a project aimed at mitigating the impending energy crisis. The goal is to produce biodiesel fuel from the waste vegetable oil that comes out of the campus cafeteria, and use it to run the fleet of campus vehicles.<br /> <br /> “My mission is to make renewable energy more accessible and train students to have a better understanding and appreciation for renewable energy. Those two things are things I can do better because of the professional education courses I took at MIT,” he says.<br /> <br /> Sirokman shares this piece of advice for the Class of 2019: “The accelerated growth of the technological universe is like a run-away train. Actively seek out learning opportunities to keep up with what is happening in science, technology and engineering. Otherwise, you will get left behind.”</p> <p><strong>Familiar faces carry on MIT’s mission</strong></p> <p>Another reason alumni feel compelled to return to campus is their desire to carry on MIT’s mission to advance knowledge and effect positive change. That was the case for <a href="" target="_blank">Kristala Prather</a> '94, the Arthur D. Little Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT.</p> <p>“Everyone at MIT is looking to do something special and have an impact by solving some of the world’s biggest challenges,” she says.<br /> <br /> Prather first arrived on campus in 1990, back when there was no internet to share real-time updates on research and network with colleagues. After earning her bachelor of science degree, she went on to earn her PhD at the University of California at Berkley. She subsequently worked at Merck Research Labs for several years, and then decided to return home to her alma mater.<br /> <br /> “I realized what I liked best about my job in industry had to do with mentoring young scientists and training them to be independent researchers,” she says.<br /> <br /> Prather returned as an assistant professor in 2004. Today, her research efforts are centered on the design and assembly of recombinant microorganisms for the production of small molecules, with additional efforts in novel bioprocess design approaches. She also directs an MIT Professional Education course on Fermentation Technology inherited from mentor, Professor Daniel Wang.<br /> &nbsp;<br /> “One of the impacts I found I can make is to provide professionals with more of a foundation to help them understand the theory behind the work they are doing in industry,” Prather says.<br /> <br /> Her advice to the Class of 2019 is to stay connected to MIT: “MIT is such a strong community," she says. "When I first graduated, I didn’t have a sufficient appreciation for just how many opportunities there are to engage with that community – from MIT Professional Education to seminars and symposiums to the Industrial Liason Program. Graduates should think about what brought them to here to begin with, then ask if there’s a way to remain involved, so they can continue to learn and be at the forefront.”</p> <p><strong>Online avenues to lifelong learning</strong></p> <p>Technology has made the world a smaller place and as a result, it is now even easier for alumni to stay connected to campus — even when they live far away. Take Sarah Moran '95 as an example. She graduated from MIT with a BS in mathematics, and now lives in China, where she serves as head of innovation and product at Fidelity Investments.</p> <p>She recently enrolled in MIT Professional Education Digital Plus Programs so that she could learn more about innovation and leadership from seasoned professionals who could help support her transition to a new role at Fidelity.</p> <p>“I had been working in quality assurance for the majority of my career and was looking for a new challenge,” she says. “Engaging in the online learning programs helped open my eyes to other viewpoints and helped position me for long-term success.” Moran says she is not only taking classes for herself, but also to share the experience with colleagues and meet new friends virtually around the world.</p> <p>“We’re proud so many accomplished alums return home to MIT to refuel their knowledge, or to serve as members of faculty in our programs, sharing their research-based knowledge with fellow alums and industry professionals worldwide,” says Bhaskar Pant, executive director at MIT Professional Education.&nbsp;“MIT is after all, a family: an enduring community dedicated to sharing knowledge and giving back for the betterment of humankind.”</p> Left to right: MIT alumni Gergely "Greg" Sirokman PhD '07, Kristala Prather '94, and Sarah Moran '95 Alumni/ae, MIT Professional Education, Mathematics, Chemistry, Chemical engineering, School of Engineering, Classes and programs