August/September 2016


Image: Barmak Heshmat

Science & Tech

Judging a book through its cover
MIT researchers and their colleagues are designing an imaging system that can read closed books. In the latest issue of Nature Communications, the researchers describe a prototype of the system, which they tested on a stack of papers, each with one letter printed on it. The system was able to correctly identify the letters on the top nine sheets. The system could be used to analyze any materials organized in thin layers, such as coatings on machine parts or pharmaceuticals. Learn more at http://news.mit.edu/2016/computational-imaging-method-reads-closed-books-0909

3-D printed structures “remember” their shapes
Engineers from MIT and Singapore University of Technology and Design are using light to print three-dimensional structures that “remember” their original shapes. Even after being stretched, twisted, and bent at extreme angles, the structures sprang back to their original forms within seconds of being heated to a certain temperature “sweet spot.” For some structures, the researchers were able to print micron-scale features as small as the diameter of a human hair — dimensions that are at least one-tenth as big as what others have been able to achieve with printable shape-memory materials. The heat-responsive materials may aid in controlled drug delivery and solar panel tracking. Learn more at http://news.mit.edu/2016/3-d-printed-structures-remember-shapes-drug-delivery-solar-panel-0826


Needles that hit the right mark
More than 13 million pain-blocking epidural procedures are performed every year in the United States. Although epidurals are generally regarded as safe, there are complications in up to 10 percent of cases, in which the needles are inserted too far or placed in the wrong tissue. A team of researchers from MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital hopes to improve those numbers with a new sensor that can be embedded into an epidural needle, helping anesthesia doctors guide the needle to the correct location. Learn more at http://news.mit.edu/2016/sensor-needles-epidurals-medical-0812

When to get your head out of the game
Head injuries are a hot topic today in sports medicine, with numerous studies pointing to a high prevalence of sports-related concussions, both diagnosed and undiagnosed, among youth and professional athletes. Now an MIT-invented tool is aiding in detecting and diagnosing concussions, in real-time; a wearable sensor for athletes detects potential head injuries, gathers data on hard hits. Learn more at http://news.mit.edu/2016/startup-concussion-jolt-sensor-0811

A new eye on the middle ear
A new device developed by researchers at MIT and a physician at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center could greatly improve doctors’ ability to accurately diagnose ear infections. Unlike conventional otoscopes, which use visible light and can only see a few millimeters into the tissues of the ear, the new device instead uses shortwave infrared light, which can penetrate much deeper drastically reducing the estimated 2 million cases per year in the U.S. of incorrectly diagnosed ear infections--and resulting unnecessary antibiotics. Learn more at http://news.mit.edu/2016/shortwave-infrared-instrument-ear-infection-0822

Energy & Environment

Doubling battery power of consumer electronics
An MIT spinout is preparing to commercialize a novel rechargable lithium metal battery that offers double the energy capacity of the lithium ion batteries that power many of today’s consumer electronics. Founded in 2012, SolidEnergy Systems has developed an “anode-free” lithium metal battery with several material advances that make it just as safe and long-lasting as the lithium ion batteries currently used in smartphones, electric cars, wearables, drones, and other devices, but will last twice as long. Learn more at http://news.mit.edu/2016/lithium-metal-batteries-double-power-consumer-electronics-0817

MIT develops self-shading windows
A team of researchers at MIT has developed a new way of making windows that can switch from transparent to opaque, potentially saving energy by blocking sunlight on hot days and thus reducing air-conditioning costs. While other systems for causing glass to darken do exist, the new method offers significant advantages by combining rapid response times and low power needs. Once the glass is switched from clear to dark, or vice versa, the new system requires little to no power to maintain its new state; unlike other materials, it only needs electricity when it’s time to switch back again. Learn more at http://news.mit.edu/2016/self-shading-windows-0811