ENDLESS FRONTIER:
INNOVATIONS IN SCIENCE & ENGINEERING

June 2016

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Image: mage: Gregory Szeto, Adelaide Tovar, Jeffrey Wyckoff, Irvine Laboratory/Koch Institute at MIT

Health/Convergence

Landmark New Report on Convergence Research to Transform Biomedicine
What if lost limbs could be regrown? Cancers detected early with blood or urine tests, instead of invasive biopsies? Drugs delivered via nanoparticles to specific tissues or even cells, minimizing unwanted side effects? While such breakthroughs may sound futuristic, scientists are already exploring these and other promising techniques.

The key to bringing these transformative advances to realization, the landmark new report, “Convergence: The Future of Health,” argues, will be strategic and sustained support for the merging of approaches and insights from historically distinct disciplines such as engineering, physics, computer science, chemistry, mathematics, and the life sciences. Presented at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington on June 24, the report was was co-chaired by Tyler Jacks, Director of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research; Susan Hockfield, President Emerita of MIT; and Phillip Sharp, MIT Institute Professor and Nobel laureate, and draws on insights from several dozen expert participants, as well as input from scientists and researchers across academia, industry, and government. Learn more at convergencerevolution.net and http://news.mit.edu/2016/strategy-convergence-research-transform-biomedicine-0623

Energy & Environment

Scientists Observe First Signs of Healing in the Antarctic Ozone Layer
Scientists at MIT and elsewhere have identified the “first fingerprints of healing” of the Antarctic ozone layer, published today in the journal Science. The team found that the September ozone hole has shrunk by more than 4 million square kilometers — about half the area of the contiguous United States — since 2000, when ozone depletion was at its peak. The team also showed for the first time that this recovery has slowed somewhat at times, due to the effects of volcanic eruptions from year to year. Overall, however, the ozone hole appears to be on a healing path. Learn more at http://news.mit.edu/2016/signs-healing-antarctic-ozone-layer-0630

Researchers Discover New Way to Turn Electricity into Light, Using Graphene
When an airplane begins to move faster than the speed of sound, it creates a shockwave that produces a well-known “boom” of sound. Now, researchers at MIT and elsewhere have discovered a similar process in a sheet of graphene, in which a flow of electric current can, under certain circumstances, exceed the speed of slowed-down light and produce a kind of optical “boom”: an intense, focused beam of light. This entirely new way of converting electricity into visible radiation is highly controllable, fast, and efficient, the researchers say, and could lead to a wide variety of new applications. Learn more at http://news.mit.edu/2016/new-way-turn-electricity-light-using-graphene-0613

New Solar Absorber Could Improve Efficiency of Solar Thermal Technology
A team of researchers at MIT and the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology has discovered a low-cost way to significantly increase the amount of solar energy that can be converted into heat, via a device called a solar absorber. This advance should help make sustainable technologies that rely on solar heat more efficient and affordable. Learn more at http://news.mit.edu/2016/solar-absorber-improve-efficiency-solar-thermal-technology-0614

Science & Tech

Why Do Women Leave Engineering?
Women who go to college intending to become engineers stay in the profession less often than men. Why is this? While multiple reasons have been offered in the past, a new study co-authored by an MIT sociologist develops a novel explanation: The negative group dynamics women tend to experience during team-based work projects makes the profession less appealing. More specifically, the study finds, women often feel marginalized, especially during internships, other summer work opportunities, or team-based educational activities. In those situations, gender dynamics seem to generate more opportunities for men to work on the most challenging problems, while women tend to be assigned routine tasks or simple managerial duties. As a result of these experiences, women who have high expectations for their profession — expecting to make a positive social impact as engineers — can become disillusioned with their career prospects. Learn more at http://news.mit.edu/2016/why-do-women-leave-engineering-0615

Parallel programming made easy
Computer chips have stopped getting faster. For the past 10 years, chips’ performance improvements have come from the addition of processing units known as cores. In theory, a program on a 64-core machine would be 64 times as fast as it would be on a single-core machine. But it rarely works out that way. Most computer programs are sequential, and splitting them up so that chunks of them can run in parallel causes all kinds of complications. Researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have introduced a new chip design they call Swarm, which should make parallel programs not only much more efficient but easier to write, too. Learn more at http://news.mit.edu/2016/parallel-programming-easy-0620