ENDLESS FRONTIER:
INNOVATIONS IN SCIENCE & ENGINEERING

December 2009

Energy

Liquid Battery Big Enough for the Electric Grid?
There's one major drawback to most proposed renewable-energy sources: their variability, the sun doesn't sine at night, the wind doesn't always blow, and tides, waves and currents fluctuate. That's why many researchers have been pursuing ways of storing the power generated by these sources so that it can be used when it's needed.

So far, those solutions have tended to be too expensive, limited to only certain areas, or difficult to scale up sufficiently to meet the demands. Many researchers are struggling to overcome these limitations, but MIT professor Donald Sadoway has come up with an innovative approach that has garnered significant interest- and some major funding. Read more >>

Turning Heat to Electricity
Borrowing In everything from computer processor chips to car engines to electric powerplants, the need to get rid of excess heat creates a major source of inefficiency. But new research points the way to a technology that might make it possible to harvest much of that wasted heat and turn it into usable electricity.

That kind of waste-energy harvesting might for example, lead to cellphones with double the talk time, laptop computers that can operate twice as long before needing to be plugged in, or power plant that put out more electricity for a given amount of fuel. Read more >>

Health Science

Nanoparticles for Gene Therapy Improve
MIT team's nanoparticles could become a safer alternative to gene therapy delivered by viruses. About five years ago, Professor Janet Sawicki at the Lankenau Institute in Pennsylvania read an article about nanoparticles developed by MIT's Robert Langer for gene therapy, the insertion of genes into living cells for treatment of disease. Sawicki was working on treating ovarian cancer by delivering through viruses-the gene for the diphtheria toxin, which kills tumor cells. Read more >>

Cancer Research Gets Physical
Cancer research has traditionally been the realm of biologist, and more recently, engineers. Now, physicist are getting in on the action.

MIT has been awarded a five-year grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to start a new Physical Science-Oncology Center. The funding, approximately $3.5 million per year, will support four cancer research projects led by MIT physical scientist. Read more >>

Environment

One Word: Bioplastics
Every year, more than 250 billion pounds of plastic are produced worldwide. Much of it ends up in the world's oceans, a fact that troubles MIT biology professor Anthony Sinskey.

"Plastic does not degrade in the ocean. It just gets ground up into tiny particles," he says. In the Pacific Ocean, a vast swath twice the size of Texas teems with tiny bits of oil-based plastic that can poison ocean life. Read more >>