Deep waters spiral upward around Antarctica

Since Captain James Cook’s discovery in the 1770s that water encompassed the Earth’s southern latitudes, oceanographers have been studying the Southern Ocean, its physics, and how it interacts with global water circulation and the climate.

This year's hurricanes are a taste of the future

In a detailed talk about the history and the underlying physics of hurricanes and tropical cyclones, MIT Professor Kerry Emanuel yesterday explained why climate change will cause such storms to become much stronger and reach peak intensity further north, heightening their potential impacts on human lives in coming years.

Technique spots warning signs of extreme events

Many extreme events — from a rogue wave that rises up from calm waters, to an  instability inside a gas turbine, to the sudden extinction of a previously hardy wildlife species — seem to occur without warning. It’s often impossible to predict when such bursts of instability will strike, particularly in systems with a complex and ever-changing mix of players and pieces.

Bio-inspired approach to RNA delivery

By delivering strands of genetic material known as messenger RNA (mRNA) into cells, researchers can induce the cells to produce any protein encoded by the mRNA. This technique holds great potential for administering vaccines or treating diseases such as cancer, but achieving efficient delivery of mRNA has proven challenging.

How neural networks think

Artificial-intelligence research has been transformed by machine-learning systems called neural networks, which learn how to perform tasks by analyzing huge volumes of training data.During training, a neural net continually readjusts thousands of internal parameters until it can reliably perform some task, such as identifying objects in digital images or translating text from one language to another. But on their own, the final values of those parameters say very little about how the neural net does what it does.

Robotic system monitors specific neurons

Recording electrical signals from inside a neuron in the living brain can reveal a great deal of information about that neuron’s function and how it coordinates with other cells in the brain. However, performing this kind of recording is extremely difficult, so only a handful of neuroscience labs around the world do it.To make this technique more widely available, MIT engineers have now devised a way to automate the process, using a computer algorithm that analyzes microscope images and guides a robotic arm to the target cell.

New robot rolls with the rules of pedestrian conduct

Just as drivers observe the rules of the road, most pedestrians follow certain social codes when navigating a hallway or a crowded thoroughfare: Keep to the right, pass on the left, maintain a respectable berth, and be ready to weave or change course to avoid oncoming obstacles while keeping up a steady walking pace.Now engineers at MIT have designed an autonomous robot with “socially aware navigation,” that can keep pace with foot traffic while observing these general codes of pedestrian conduct.

Strength of global stratospheric circulation measured for first time

When commercial airplanes break through the clouds to reach cruising altitude, they have typically arrived in the stratosphere, the second layer of Earth’s atmosphere. The air up there is dry and clear, and much calmer than the turbulent atmosphere we experience on the ground.And yet, for all its seeming tranquility, the stratosphere can be a powerful conveyor belt, pulling air up from the Earth’s equatorial region and pushing it back down toward the poles in a continuously circulating pattern. The strength of this circulation can significantly impact the amount of water vapor, chemicals, and ozone transported around the planet.

Custom robots in a matter of minutes

Even as robots become increasingly common, they remain incredibly difficult to make. From designing and modeling to fabricating and testing, the process is slow and costly: Even one small change can mean days or weeks of rethinking and revising important hardware.But what if there were a way to let non-experts craft different robotic designs — in one sitting?Researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) are getting closer to doing exactly that. In a new paper, they present a system called “Interactive Robogami” that lets you design a robot in minutes, and then 3-D print and assemble it in as little as four hours. 

How cytoplasm ''feels'' to a cell's components

Under a microscope, a cell’s cytoplasm can resemble a tiny underwater version of New York’s Times Square: Thousands of proteins swarm through a cytoplasm’s watery environment, coming together and breaking apart like a cytoskeletal flash mob.Organelles such as mitochondria and lysosomes must traverse this crowded, ever-changing cytoplasmic space to deliver materials to various parts of a cell.Now engineers at MIT have found that these organelles and other intracellular components may experience the surrounding cytoplasm as very different environments as they travel. For instance, a cell’s nucleus may “feel” the cytoplasm as a fluid, honey-like material, while mitochondria may experience it more like toothpaste.