January 2017


Photo: Melanie Gonick/MIT


Science & Tech

MIT researchers design one of the strongest, lightest materials known

A team of researchers at MIT has designed one of the strongest lightweight materials known, by compressing and fusing flakes of graphene, a two-dimensional form of carbon. The new material, a sponge-like configuration with a density of just 5 percent, can have a strength 10 times that of steel.  Learn more at http://news.mit.edu/2017/3-d-graphene-strongest-lightest-materials-0106

Better wisdom from crowds

The wisdom of crowds is not always perfect. But scholars at MIT’s Sloan Neuroeconomics Lab and their colleagues have found a way to make it better. Their method uses a technique the researchers call the “surprisingly popular” algorithm to better extract correct answers from large groups of people. As such, it could refine wisdom-of-crowds surveys, which are used in political and economic forecasting, as well as many other collective activities, from pricing artworks to grading scientific research proposals.

Learn more at http://news.mit.edu/2017/algorithm-better-wisdom-crowds-0125

Energy & Environment

Startup offers interactive “online booking” for industrial water

With oil and gas drilling, water is always on the move — and it’s pricey. For example, hydraulic fracturing (fracking), requires millions of gallons of fresh water to be shipped daily to drilling sites, and produces millions more gallons of wastewater that are sent to treatment facilities or disposal wells. However, its supply chain still relies heavily on word-of-mouth to conduct business.

Now, an MIT alum helps people in the oil and gas industry connect online to make finding, transporting, and recycling water more cost effective. His company, Sourcewater, also creates new uses for wastewater, conserving fresh water and reducing wastewater disposal.  Learn more at http://news.mit.edu/2017/startup-online-booking-industrial-water-reduce-environmental-impact-1205

Study tracks “memory” of soil moisture

The top 2 inches of topsoil on all of Earth’s landmasses contains an infinitesimal fraction of the planet’s water — less than one-thousandth of a percent. Yet because of its position at the interface between the land and the atmosphere, that tiny amount plays a crucial role in everything from agriculture to weather to the spread of disease. The behavior and dynamics of this reservoir of moisture have been very hard to quantify and analyze, until 2015, with the launch of a NASA satellite called SMAP (Soil Moisture Active Passive).

Designed to provide globally comprehensive and frequent measurements of the moisture in that top layer of soil, SMAP’s first year of observational data has now been analyzed and is providing some significant surprises that will help in the modeling of climate, forecasting of weather, and monitoring of agriculture around the world. Learn more at http://news.mit.edu/2017/smap-satellite-memory-soil-moisture-0116


New sensors can detect single protein molecules

For the first time, MIT engineers have designed sensors that can detect single protein molecules as they are secreted by cells or even a single cell. These sensors, which consist of chemically modified carbon nanotubes, could help scientists with any application that requires detecting very small amounts of protein, such as tracking viral infection, monitoring cells’ manufacturing of useful proteins, or revealing food contamination, the researchers say. Learn more at http://news.mit.edu/2017/new-sensors-detect-single-protein-molecules-0123