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Research and Teaching Output of the MIT Community

MIT Research in the News

A cheap, fast test for the Zika virus

Researchers at MIT and other universities have developed a cheap, fast test to diagnose the Zika virus, which is spread by infected mosquitoes and is particularly dangerous to pregnant women. The test involves sensors embedded in paper that can detect a particular genetic sequence found in Zika. If the sequence is present in a person’s blood, urine, or saliva, the paper changes color within hours. "We have a system that could be widely distributed and used in the field with low cost and very few resources," said lead researcher James Collins, the Termeer Professor of Medical Engineering and Science in MIT’s Department of Biological Engineering and Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES), in a story by MIT News. Other MIT researchers involved include Lee Gehrke, the Hermann L.F. von Helmholtz Professor in IMES.

Why Only Us? New book co-written by Noam Chomsky explores the evolution of language

Alfred Russel Wallace, a naturalist and co-discoverer of evolution by natural selection, once said he was confused about language because humans didn’t need it. People, he said, could get by with a brain the size of an ape. So why do we have it? Linguist Noam Chomsky and computer scientist Robert Berwick explore this puzzle in their new book, Why Only Us: Language and Evolution, published this month by the MIT Press. The book looks at what language is, how and where it arose, and what purpose it may have played — why is it a useful trait?

MIT Libraries launch gravitational wave resource guide

On September 14, 2015, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) measured gravitational waves from the merger of two black holes, kicking off a new era of gravitational-wave astronomy. This was the first direct measurement of gravitational waves — ripples in space-time that Albert Einstein predicted 100 years ago in his general theory of relativity. Linked below is an annotated collection of technical reports, peer-reviewed articles, conference papers, and theses freely available in the DSpace@MIT repository that describe work done at MIT in this field, from the earliest science to post-detection research.

Dean Ortiz to leave MIT, start new university

MIT’s dean for graduate education is leaving the Institute to start a new nonprofit university focused on projects over lectures and large, open labs over classrooms. Christine Ortiz, who is also a professor of materials science and engineering, told the Chronicle of Higher Education this week that she’s eager to reshape what a university can be by focusing on modern needs and using today’s technology."We’ll have a core that’s project-based learning, but where students can have a really deep, integrative longer-term project rather than shorter projects. And then all of the knowledge acquisition would be moved virtually," she said in the interview.

Innovators over 70

MIT Technology Review has long celebrated innovators under 35 in an annual issue. This year, in addition to the young honorees, the magazine features Seven over 70. “Older people are, of course, just as capable of new thinking as the young,” writes editor Jason Pontin. Two of the seven innovators are MIT Institute Professors emeriti: philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson, and nuclear engineer Sidney Yip. Having authored hundreds of papers, Yip continues to publish. A recent article he co-wrote offers a new approach to making strong concrete that produces fewer carbon emissions than current methods.

Study shows new cheating method in online courses

Researchers at MIT and Harvard have discovered a new way to cheat in massive open online courses that “holds the potential to render the MOOC certificate valueless as an academic credential.” With colleagues, Isaac Chuang, a professor of electrical engineering and physics and MIT’s senior associate dean of digital learning, analyzed data from nearly two million course participants in 115 MOOCs from Harvard and MIT. They found that certificate earners in 69 courses used a cheating strategy that involves making multiple profiles, allowing users to acquire course certification in less than an hour. The researchers describe so-called CAMEO cheating (copying answers using multiple existences online) and outline some prevention strategies in a working paper published on arXiv last week.

Comedian Ansari gets insights from MIT

While researching his book about romance in the digital era, the actor and comedian Aziz Ansari “applied rigor and seriousness” to the subject: With sociologist Eric Klinenberg, Ansari conducted focus groups, set up a discussion forum, and consulted academic studies. One of the experts he interviewed is MIT anthropologist Natasha Dow Schull, who in 2012 published a book on gambling in the digital era and the allure of slot machines. Writes Ansari, “Schull drew an analogy between slot machines and texting, since both generate the expectation of a quick reply. ‘When you’re texting with someone you’re attracted to, someone you don’t really know yet, it’s like playing a slot machine: There’s a lot of uncertainty, anticipation, and anxiety. Your whole system is primed to receive a message back.'”

Tackling diversity in philosophy

There has long been a push to increase diversity in the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and math. And for good reason: women and minorities have been underrepresented in these areas for decades. But there are gaps in other disciplines. According to MIT philosophy professor Sally Haslanger, as recently as five years ago less than 30 percent of PhD graduates in philosophy were women. This was lower than the number of women doctorates in math, chemistry, and economics. And the percentage is worse for racial and ethnic minorities.

“The overall philosophical profession, just like society at large, is still very much dominated by straight, white, cisgendered [not transgender], able-bodied, middle-class men,” said Matthias Jenny, a philosophy graduate student at MIT.

Jenny, along with two other grad students, has partnered with the University of Massachusetts-Boston to run a weeklong program in August at MIT called Philosophy in an Inclusive Key (PIKSI-Boston). The goal is to encourage undergraduates from underrepresented groups to consider an academic career in philosophy. Haslanger has helped the students with funding and other support.

MIT places 6th in DARPA robot finals

Researchers from MIT placed sixth out of two dozen teams in the international DARPA Robotics Challenge finals last week. Humanoid challengers in the Defense Department’s “robot Olympics” had to complete eight tasks related to helping people in disaster zones, including walking on rubble, climbing stairs and ladders, driving alone, and using tools. The winners, a team from Daejeon, Korea, took home $2 million.

“This is, without a doubt, the most ambitious project that any of us have ever undertaken,” said Russ Tedrake, an associate professor in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab who led MIT’s team. “From perception to motion-planning to manipulation, the breadth and depth of challenges have forced us to think creatively, program nimbly — and sleep sporadically.”

DARPA launched the robotics challenge in response to the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011.