April 2018


Image: Lorrie Lejeune/MIT

Science & Tech

Computer System Transcribes Words Users “Speak Silently”

MIT researchers have developed a computer interface that can transcribe words that the user verbalizes internally but does not actually speak aloud. The system consists of a wearable device and an associated computing system. Electrodes in the device pick up neuromuscular signals in the jaw and face that are triggered by internal verbalizations — saying words “in your head” — but are undetectable to the human eye. The signals are fed to a machine-learning system that has been trained to correlate particular signals with particular words. The device also includes a pair of bone-conduction headphones, which transmit vibrations through the bones of the face to the inner ear. Because they don’t obstruct the ear canal, the headphones enable the system to convey information to the user without interrupting conversation or otherwise interfering with the user’s auditory experience. The device is part of a complete silent-computing system that lets the user undetectably pose and receive answers to difficult computational problems. Read more at http://news.mit.edu/2018/computer-system-transcribes-words-users-speak-silently-0404

A Graphene Roll-Out

MIT engineers have developed a continuous manufacturing process that produces long strips of high-quality graphene. The team’s results are the first demonstration of an industrial, scalable method for manufacturing high-quality graphene that is tailored for use in membranes that filter a variety of molecules, including salts, larger ions, proteins, or nanoparticles. Such membranes should be useful for desalination, biological separation, and other applications. Read more at http://news.mit.edu/2018/manufacturing-graphene-rolls-ultrathin-membranes-0418


Fluorescent Dye Could Enable Sharper Biological Imaging

Fluorescence imaging is widely used for visualizing biological tissues such as the back of the eye. It is also commonly used to image blood vessels during reconstructive surgery, allowing surgeons to make sure the vessels are properly connected. For these procedures and others, researchers use a portion of the light spectrum known as the near-infrared (NIR). A dye that fluoresces at this wavelength is administered to the body or tissue and then imaged using a specialized camera. Light with wavelengths greater than 1,000 nanometers, known as short-wave infrared (SWIR), offers much clearer images, but there are no FDA-approved fluorescence dyes in this range.

But a team of researchers at MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital has now taken a major step toward making SWIR imaging widely available, demonstrating that an FDA-approved, commercially available dye now used for near-infrared imaging also works very well for short-wave infrared imaging. Imaging this dye could allow doctors and researchers to obtain much better images of blood vessels and other body tissues for diagnosis and research. Read more at https://news.mit.edu/2018/fluorescent-dye-could-enable-sharper-biological-imaging-0406

Energy & Environment

Brewing Up Earth’s Earliest Life

Around 4 billion years ago, Earth was an inhospitable place, devoid of oxygen, bursting with volcanic eruptions, and bombarded by asteroids, with no signs of life in even the simplest forms. But somewhere amid this chaotic period, the chemistry of the Earth turned in life’s favor, giving rise, however improbably, to the planet’s very first organisms. Now, planetary scientists from MIT and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics have identified key ingredients that were present in large concentrations right around the time when the first organisms appeared on Earth. Read more at http://news.mit.edu/2018/earths-first-biological-molecules-0409