ENDLESS FRONTIER:
INNOVATIONS IN SCIENCE & ENGINEERING

August 2019

Image: Courtesy of Optimus Ride

Science/Tech

Optimus Ride’s autonomous system makes self-driving vehicles a reality

Some of the biggest companies in the world are spending billions in the race to develop self-driving vehicles that can go anywhere. Meanwhile, Optimus Ride, a startup out of MIT, is already helping people get around by taking a different approach. The company’s autonomous vehicles only drive in areas it comprehensively maps, or geofences. Self-driving vehicles can safely move through these areas at about 25 miles per hour with today’s technology. Partnering with developers, the Optimus team is currently focused on deploying its vehicles in communities with residential and commercial buildings, retirement communities, corporate and university campuses, airports, resorts, and smart cities. Learn more here http://news.mit.edu/2019/optimus-ride-self-driving-0809

Energy & Environment

New type of electrolyte could enhance supercapacitor performance

Supercapacitors, electrical devices that store and release energy, need a layer of electrolyte — an electrically conductive material that can be solid, liquid, or somewhere in between. Now, researchers at MIT and several other institutions have developed a novel class of liquids that may open up new possibilities for improving the efficiency and stability of such devices while reducing their flammability. Learn more here http://news.mit.edu/2019/new-electrolyte-supercapacitor-0812

A battery-free sensor for underwater exploration

To investigate the vastly unexplored oceans covering most our planet, researchers aim to build a submerged network of interconnected sensors that send data to the surface — an underwater “internet of things.” But how to supply constant power to scores of sensors designed to stay for long durations in the ocean’s deep? MIT researchers have an answer: a battery-free underwater communication system that uses near-zero power to transmit sensor data. The system could be used to monitor sea temperatures to study climate change and track marine life over long periods — and even sample waters on distant planets. Learn more here http://news.mit.edu/2019/battery-free-sensor-underwater-exploration-0820

Health/Convergence

Model predicts cognitive decline due to Alzheimer’s, up to two years out

A new model developed at MIT can help predict if patients at risk for Alzheimer’s disease will experience clinically significant cognitive decline due to the disease, by predicting their cognition test scores up to two years in the future. The model could be used to improve the selection of candidate drugs and participant cohorts for clinical trials, which have been notoriously unsuccessful thus far. It would also let patients know they may experience rapid cognitive decline in the coming months and years, so they and their loved ones can prepare. Learn more here http://news.mit.edu/2019/model-predicts-alzheimers-decline-0802

Using CRISPR to program gels with new functions

The CRISPR genome-editing system is best-known for its potential to correct disease-causing mutations and add new genes into living cells. Now, a team from MIT and Harvard University has deployed CRISPR for a completely different purpose: creating novel materials, such as gels, that can change their properties when they encounter specific DNA sequences. The researchers showed they could use CRISPR to control electronic circuits and microfluidic devices, and to release drugs, proteins, or living cells from gels. Such materials could be used to create diagnostic devices for diseases such as Ebola, or to deliver treatments for diseases such as irritable bowel disease.

Learn more here http://news.mit.edu/2019/crispr-edit-materials-gels-0822

Physicists design an experiment to pin down the origin of the elements

Nearly all of the oxygen in our universe is forged in the bellies of massive stars like our sun. As these stars contract and burn, they set off thermonuclear reactions within their cores, where nuclei of carbon and helium can collide and fuse in a rare though essential nuclear reaction that generates much of the oxygen in the universe. The rate of this oxygen-generating reaction has been incredibly tricky to pin down. But if researchers can get a good enough estimate of what’s known as the “radiative capture reaction rate,” they can begin to work out the answers to fundamental questions, such as the ratio of carbon to oxygen in the universe. An accurate rate might also help them determine whether an exploding star will settle into the form of a black hole or a neutron star. Now physicists at MIT’s Laboratory for Nuclear Science (LNS) have come up with an experimental design that could help to nail down the rate of this oxygen-generating reaction. Learn more here http://news.mit.edu/2019/experiment-oxygen-universe-0820