ENDLESS FRONTIER:
INNOVATIONS IN SCIENCE & ENGINEERING

June 2017

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Health/Convergence

 

A noninvasive method for deep brain stimulation

Delivering an electrical current to a part of the brain involved in movement control has proven successful in treating many Parkinson’s patients. This approach, known as deep brain stimulation, requires implanting electrodes in the brain — a complex procedure that carries some risk. Now, MIT researchers, with investigators at the IT’IS Foundation and BIDMC, have invented a way to stimulate regions deep within the brain using electrodes placed on the scalp. This approach could make deep brain stimulation noninvasive, less risky, less expensive, and more accessible to patients. Learn more here.

New tool offers snapshots of neuron activity

Many cognitive processes, such as decision-making, take place within seconds or minutes. Neuroscientists have longed to capture neuron activity during such tasks, but that dream has remained elusive — until now. A team of MIT and Stanford University researchers has developed a way to label neurons when they become active, essentially providing a snapshot of their activity at a moment in time. Learn more here.

How cells combat chromosome imbalance

Most living cells have a defined number of chromosomes: Human cells, for example, have 23 pairs. As cells divide, they can make errors leading to a gain or loss of chromosomes, potentially harmful. MIT biologists have now identified a mechanism that the immune system uses to eliminate these genetically imbalanced cells from the body. The findings raise the possibility of harnessing this system to kill cancer cells, which nearly always have too many or too few chromosomes.  Learn more here.

New technique makes brain scans better

People who suffer a stroke often undergo a brain scan at the hospital, which allows doctors to determine the location and extent of the damage. Researchers who study the effects of strokes would love to be able to analyze these images, but the resolution is often poor. To help scientists access the wealth of data from these scans, a team of MIT researchers has helped devise a way to boost their quality, so they can be used for large-scale studies of how strokes affect different people and how they respond to treatment. Learn more here.

Science & Tech

 

Origami anything

In a 1999 paper, Erik Demaine — now an MIT professor of electrical engineering and computer science, but then an 18-year-old PhD student in Canada — described an algorithm that could determine how to fold a piece of paper into any conceivable 3-D shape. It was a milestone work in the field of computational origami, but the algorithm didn’t yield very practical folding patterns. Demaine and Tomohiro Tachi of the University of Tokyo recently announced the completion of the quest that began with that 1999 paper: a universal algorithm for folding origami shapes that guarantees a minimum number of seams. Learn more here.

Batteries that “drink” seawater could power long-range underwater vehicles

The long range of airborne drones helps them perform critical tasks in the skies. Now MIT spinout Open Water Power aims to greatly improve the range of unpiloted underwater vehicles, helping them better perform in a range of applications under the sea. They’ve developed a novel aluminum-water power system that’s safer and more durable, and that gives UUVs a tenfold increase in range over traditional lithium-ion batteries used for the same applications, opening them to a wide range of uses. Learn more here.

Microfluidics for the masses

A new MIT-designed open-source website might well be the Pinterest of microfluidics. The site, Metafluidics.org, is a free repository of designs for lab-on-a-chip devices, submitted by all sorts of inventors, including trained scientists and engineers, hobbyists, students, and amateur makers. The site also serves as a social platform for the microfluidics community. Learn more here.

Using chip memory more efficiently

For decades, computer chips have increased efficiency by using “caches,” small, local memory banks that store frequently used data and cut down on time- and energy-consuming communication with off-chip memory. Today’s chips generally have three or even four different levels of cache, each of which is more capacious but slower than the last. The sizes of the caches represent a compromise between the needs of different kinds of programs, but it’s rare that they’re exactly suited to any one program. Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have designed a system that reallocates cache access on the fly, to create new “cache hierarchies” tailored to the needs of particular programs. Learn more here.