ENDLESS FRONTIER:
INNOVATIONS IN SCIENCE & ENGINEERING

June 2010

Health

'Tatoo' May Help Diabetics Track Their Blood Sugar
People with type 1 diabetes must prick their fingers several times a day to test their blood sugar level. Though the pain is minor, the chore interferes with daily life.

"They never really escape it," says Paul Barone, a postdoctoral researchers in MIT's Department of Chemical Engineering. Barone and professor Michael Strano are working on a new type of blood glucose monitor that could not only eliminate the need for finger pricks but also offer more accurate readings. Read more >>

More Precise Food-Allergy Diagnoses
About 30 percent of Americans believe they have food allergies. However, the actual number is far smaller, closer to 5 percent, according to a recent study commissioned by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). That's due in large part to the unreliability of the skin test that doctors commonly use to test for food allergies.

MIT chemical engineer Christopher Love believes he has a better way to diagnose such allergies. His new technology, described in the June 7 issue of the journal Lab on a Chip, can analyze individual immune cells taken from patients, allowing for precise measurement of the cells' response to allergens such as milk and peanuts. Read more >>

Now Hear This
About 36 million Americans suffer from some type of hearing loss. However, only one in five who could benefit from a hearing aid actually wears one, according to the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders. MIT engineers believe that number could be boosted if there were a better way to fit hearing aids to the wearers' ears.

Getting useful sound amplification from a hearing aid depends on a tight fit between hearing aid and ear canal, but the current method of modeling patients' ears is messy and not always accurate, potentially leading to a device that fits poorly and offers little benefit. Read more >>

How the Brain Recognizes Objects
Researchers at MIT's McGovern Institute for Brain Research have developed a new mathematical model to describe how the human brain visually identifies objects. The model accurately predicts human performance on certain visual-perception tasks, which suggest that it's a good indication of what actually happens in the brain, and it could also help improve computer object-recognition systems.

The model was designed to reflect neurological evidence that in the primate brain, object identification - deciding what an object is- and object location - deciding where it is - are handled separately. "Although what and where are processed in two separate parts of the brain, they are integrated during perception to analyze the image," says Sharat Chikkerur, lead author on a paper appearing this week in the journal Vision Research, which describes the work. "The model that we have tries to explain how this information is integrated. Read more >>

Physics

New Project Aims For Fusion Ignition
Russia and Italy have entered into an agreement to build a new fusion reactor outside Moscow that could become the first such reactor to achieve ignition, the point where a fusion reaction becomes self-sustaining instead of requiring a constant input of energy. The design for the reactor, called Ignitor, originated with MIT physics professor Bruno Coppi, who will be the project's principal investigator.

The concept for the new reactor builds on decades of experience with MIT's Alcator fusion research program, also initiated by Coppi, which in its present version (called Alcator C-Mod) has the highest magnetic field and highest magnetic field and highest magnetic field and highest plasma pressure (two of the most important measures of performance in magnetic fusion) of any fusion reactor, and is the largest university-based fusion reactor in the world. Read more >>