December 2017


Image: MIT

Science & Tech

Engineers create plants that glow
Imagine that instead of switching on a lamp when it gets dark, you could read by the light of a glowing plant on your desk. MIT engineers have taken a critical first step toward making that vision a reality. By embedding specialized nanoparticles into the leaves of a watercress plant, they induced it to give off dim light for nearly four hours. They believe that, with further optimization, such plants will one day be bright enough to illuminate a workspace. This technology could also be used to provide low-intensity indoor lighting, or to transform trees into self-powered streetlights, the researchers say.  Learn more here.

MIT Engineers 3-D print a “living tattoo”
Engineers from MIT have devised a 3-D printing technique that uses a new kind of ink made from genetically programmed living cells. When mixed with a slurry of hydrogel and nutrients, these can be printed to form three-dimensional, interactive structures and devices. The team demonstrated its technique by printing a “living tattoo” — a thin, transparent patch patterned with live bacteria cells in the shape of a tree, with each branch lined with cells sensitive to a different chemical or molecular compound. When the patch was adhered to skin exposed to the same compounds, corresponding regions of the tree lit up in response.

The technique can be used to fabricate “active” materials for wearable sensors and interactive displays, or patterned with live cells engineered to sense environmental chemicals and pollutants, or, changes in pH and temperature. Learn more here.

Inventing the “Google” for predictive analytics
Companies often employ number-crunching data scientists to gather insights. Analyzing the data to answer one or two queries, however, can take weeks or even months. Now MIT spinout Endor has developed a predictive-analytics platform that identifies patterns of previous behavior among data and uses social physics models to predict future behavior. It lets anyone, tech-savvy or not, upload raw data and input any business question into an interface — similar to using an online search engine — and receive accurate answers in just 15 minutes. Learn more here.


Device makes power conversion more efficient
Power electronics, which do things like modify voltages or convert between direct and alternating current, are everywhere. They’re in the power bricks we use to charge our portable devices; they’re in the battery packs of electric cars; and they’re in the power grid itself, where they mediate between high-voltage transmission lines and the lower voltages of household electrical sockets. But the process of power conversion is intrinsically inefficient: A power converter will never output quite as much power as it takes in. But recently, power converters made from gallium nitride have begun to reach the market, boasting higher efficiencies and smaller sizes than conventional, silicon-based power converters. A new design from MIT researchers and their partners could dramatically cut energy waste in electric vehicles, data centers, and the power grid. Learn more here.


Boosting the antibiotic arsenal
MIT researchers have discovered a way to make bacteria more vulnerable to a class of antibiotics known as quinolones, which include ciprofloxacin and are often used to treat infections. The new strategy overcomes a key limitation of these drugs, which is that they often fail against infections that feature a very high density of bacteria. These include many chronic, difficult-to-treat infections, such as Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, often found in the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients, and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Learn more here.