ENDLESS FRONTIER:
INNOVATIONS IN SCIENCE & ENGINEERING

May 2019

 

Image: MIT Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science

Health/Convergence

Nanoparticles take a fantastic, magnetic voyage

MIT engineers have designed tiny robots that can help drug-delivery nanoparticles push their way out of the bloodstream and into a tumor or another disease site. Like crafts in “Fantastic Voyage” — a 1960s science fiction film in which a submarine crew shrinks in size and roams a body to repair damaged cells — the robots swim through the bloodstream, creating a current that drags nanoparticles along with them. The magnetic microrobots, inspired by bacterial propulsion, could help to overcome one of the biggest obstacles to delivering drugs with nanoparticles: getting the particles to exit blood vessels and accumulate in the right place. Learn more here http://news.mit.edu/2019/nanoparticles-magnetic-robots-0426

Sensor-packed glove learns signatures of the human grasp

Wearing a sensor-packed glove while handling a variety of objects, MIT researchers have compiled a massive dataset that enables an AI system to recognize objects through touch alone. The information could be leveraged to help robots identify and manipulate objects, and may aid in prosthetics design. Learn more here http://news.mit.edu/2019/sensor-glove-human-grasp-robotics-0529

Painting a fuller picture of how antibiotics act

Most antibiotics work by interfering with critical functions such as DNA replication or construction of the bacterial cell wall. However, these mechanisms represent only part of the full picture of how antibiotics act. In a new study of antibiotic action, MIT researchers developed a new machine-learning approach to discover an additional mechanism that helps some antibiotics kill bacteria. This secondary mechanism involves activating the bacterial metabolism of nucleotides that the cells need to replicate their DNA.  Learn more here http://news.mit.edu/2019/how-antibiotics-kill-bacteria-0509

Working out makes hydrogels perform more like muscle

Human skeletal muscles have a unique combination of properties that materials researchers seek for their own creations. They’re strong, soft, full of water, and resistant to fatigue. A new study by MIT researchers has found one way to give synthetic hydrogels this total package of characteristics: putting them through a vigorous workout. The scientists mechanically trained the hydrogels by stretching them in a water bath, and just as with skeletal muscles, the reps at the “gym” paid off. The training aligned nanofibers inside the hydrogels to produce a strong, soft, and hydrated material that resists breakdown or fatigue over thousands of repetitive movements. In the future, the materials might be used in implants such as “heart valves, cartilage replacements, and spinal disks, as well as in engineering applications such as soft robots.” Learn more here http://news.mit.edu/2019/strong-hydrogels-biomaterials-0422

Science/Tech

New polymer films conduct heat instead of trapping it

Polymers are usually the go-to material for thermal insulation. Think of a silicone oven mitt, or a Styrofoam coffee cup, both manufactured from polymer materials that are excellent at trapping heat. MIT engineers have now flipped the picture of the standard polymer insulator, by fabricating thin polymer films that conduct heat — an ability normally associated with metals. In experiments, they found the films, thinner than plastic wrap, conduct heat better than ceramics and many metals, including steel. The team’s discovery may spur the development of polymer insulators as lightweight, flexible, and corrosion-resistant alternatives to traditional metal heat conductors, for applications in laptops and cellphones, to cooling elements in cars and refrigerators. Learn more here http://news.mit.edu/2019/metal-like-polymer-films-conduct-heat-0430