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Don Rosenfield

Donald Rosenfield, a longtime leader of MIT LGO, dies at 70

With deep sadness, the LGO community mourns its founding program director, Don Rosenfield. He leaves a legacy of over 1,200 LGO alumni and countless colleagues, students, and friends who were touched and inspired by him.
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Department of Mechanical Engineering announces new leadership team

Pierre Lermusiaux, LGO thesis advisor and professor of mechanical engineering and ocean science and engineering will join on the MechE department’s leadership team. Prof Lermusiaux will serve as associate department head for operations.

Evelyn Wang, the Gail E. Kendall Professor, who began her role as head of MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering (MechE) on July 1, has announced that Pierre Lermusiaux, professor of mechanical engineering and ocean science and engineering, and Rohit Karnik, associate professor of mechanical engineering, will join her on the department’s leadership team. Lermusiaux will serve as associate department head for operations and Karnik will be the associate department head for education.

“I am delighted to welcome Pierre and Rohit to the department’s leadership team,” says Wang. “They have both made substantial contributions to the department and are well-suited to ensure that it continues to thrive.”

Pierre Lermusiaux, associate department head for operations

Pierre Lermusiaux has been instrumental in developing MechE’s strategic plan over the past several years. In 2015, with Evelyn Wang, he was co-chair of the mechanical engineering strategic planning committee. They were responsible for interviewing individuals across the MechE community, determining priority “grand challenge” research areas, investigating new educational models, and developing mechanisms to enhance community and departmental operations. The resulting strategic plan will inform the future of MechE for years to come.

“Pierre is an asset to our department,” adds Wang. “I look forward to working with him to lead our department toward new research frontiers and cutting-edge discoveries.”

Lermusiaux joined MIT as associate professor in 2007 after serving as a research associate at Harvard University, where he also received his PhD. He is an internationally recognized thought leader at the intersection of ocean modeling and observing. He has developed new uncertainty quantification and data assimilation methods. His research has improved real-time data-driven ocean modeling and has had important implications for marine industries, fisheries, energy, security, and our understanding of human impact on the ocean’s health.

Lermusiaux’s talent as an educator has been recognized with the Ruth and Joel Spira Award for Teaching Excellence. He has been the chair of the graduate admissions committee since 2014. He has served on many MechE and institute committees and is also active in MIT-Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program committees.

“Working for the department, from our graduate admission to the strategic planning with Evelyn, has been a pleasure,” says Lermusiaux. “I am thrilled to be continuing such contributions as associate department head for research and operations. I look forward to developing and implementing strategies and initiatives that help our department grow and thrive.”

Lermusiaux succeeds Evelyn Wang, who previously served as associate department head for operations under the former department head Gang Chen.

Rohit Karnik, associate department head for education

Over the past two years, Rohit Karnik has taken an active role in shaping the educational experience at MechE. As the undergraduate officer, he has overseen the operations of the department’s undergraduate office and chaired the undergraduate programs committee. This position has afforded Karnik the opportunity to evaluate and refine the department’s course offerings each year and work closely with undergraduate students to provide the best education.

“Rohit is a model citizen and has provided dedicated service to our department,” says Wang. “I look forward to working with him to create new education initiatives and continue to provide a world-class education for our students.”

Prior to joining MIT as a postdoc in 2006, Karnik received his PhD from the University of California at Berkeley. In 2006, he joined the faculty as an assistant professor of mechanical engineering. He is recognized as a leader in the field of micro-and-nanofluidics and has made a number of seminal contributions in the fundamental understanding of nanoscale fluid transport. He has been recognized by an National Science Foundation CAREER Award and a Department of Energy Early Career Award.

Karnik’s dedication to his students have been recognized by the Keenan Award for Innovation in Education and the Ruth and Joel Spira Award for Teaching Excellence. He has also served on the graduate admissions committee and various faculty search committees.

“It is a tremendous honor and responsibility to take this position in the top mechanical engineering department in the world,” says Karnik. “I will strive to ensure that we maintain excellence in mechanical engineering education and adapt to the changing times to offer strong and comprehensive degree programs and the best possible experience for our students.”

Karnik succeeds Professor John Brisson who previously served as associate department head for education.

August 3, 2018 | More

Boeing will be Kendall Square Initiative’s first major tenant

Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace company, and LGO Partner Company has announced they will be part MIT’s Kendall Square Initiative. The company has agreed to lease approximately 100,000 square feet at MIT’s building to be developed at 314 Main St., in the heart of Kendall Square in Cambridge.

MIT’s Kendall Square Initiative, includes six sites slated for housing, retail, research and development, office, academic, and open space uses. The building at 314 Main St. (“Site 5” on the map above) is located between the MBTA Red Line station and the Kendall Hotel. Boeing is expected to occupy its new space by the end of 2020.

“Our focus on advancing the Kendall Square innovation ecosystem includes a deep and historic understanding of what we call the ‘power of proximity’ to address pressing global challenges,” MIT Executive Vice President and Treasurer Israel Ruiz says. “MIT’s president, L. Rafael Reif, has made clear his objective of reducing the time it takes to move ideas from the classroom and lab out to the market. The power of proximity is a dynamic that propels this concept forward: Just as pharmaceutical, biotech, and tech sector scientists in Kendall Square work closely with their nearby MIT colleagues, Boeing and MIT researchers will be able to strengthen their collaborative ties to further chart the course of the aerospace industry.”

Boeing was founded in 1916 — the same year that MIT moved to Cambridge — and marked its recent centennial in a spirit similar to the Institute’s 100-year celebration in 2016, with special events, community activities, and commemorations. That period also represents a century-long research relationship between Boeing and MIT that has helped to advance the global aerospace industry.

Some of Boeing’s founding leaders, as well as engineers, executives, Boeing Technical Fellows, and student interns, are MIT alumni.

Earlier this year, Boeing announced that it will serve as the lead donor for MIT’s $18 million project to replace its 80-year-old Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel. This pledge will help to create, at MIT, the world’s most advanced academic wind tunnel.

In 2017, Boeing acquired MIT spinout Aurora Flight Sciences, which develops advanced aerospace platforms and autonomous systems. Its primary research and development center is located at 90 Broadway in Kendall Square. In the new facility at 314 Main St., Boeing will establish the Aerospace and Autonomy Center, which will focus on advancing enabling technologies for autonomous aircraft.

“Boeing is leading the development of new autonomous vehicles and future transportation systems that will bring flight closer to home,” says Greg Hyslop, Boeing chief technology officer. “By investing in this new research facility, we are creating a hub where our engineers can collaborate with other Boeing engineers and research partners around the world and leverage the Cambridge innovation ecosystem.”

“It’s fitting that Boeing will join the Kendall/MIT innovation family,” MIT Provost Martin Schmidt says. “Our research interests have been intertwined for over 100 years, and we’ve worked together to advance world-changing aerospace technologies and systems. MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics is the oldest program of its kind in the United States, and excels at its mission of developing new air transportation concepts, autonomous systems, and small satellites through an intensive focus on cutting-edge education and research. Boeing’s presence will create an unprecedented opportunity for new synergies in this industry.”

The current appearance of the 314 Main St. site belies its future active presence in Kendall Square. The building’s foundation and basement level — which will house loading infrastructure, storage and mechanical space, and bicycle parking — is currently in construction. Adjacent to those functions is an underground parking garage, a network of newly placed utilities, and water and sewer infrastructure. Vertical construction of the building should begin in September.

August 3, 2018 | More

Reliable energy for all

Prosper Nyovanie (LGO ’19) discusses his passion for using engineering and technology to solve global problems.

 

During high school, Prosper Nyovanie had to alter his daily and nightly schedules to accommodate the frequent power outages that swept cities across Zimbabwe.

“[Power] would go almost every day — it was almost predictable,” Nyovanie recalls. “I’d come back from school at 5 p.m., have dinner, then just go to sleep because the electricity wouldn’t be there. And then I’d wake up at 2 a.m. and start studying … because by then you’d usually have electricity.”

At the time, Nyovanie knew he wanted to study engineering, and upon coming to MIT as an undergraduate, he majored in mechanical engineering. He discovered a new area of interest, however, when he took 15.031J (Energy Decisions, Markets, and Policies), which introduced him to questions of how energy is produced, distributed, and consumed. He went on to minor in energy studies.

Now as a graduate student and fellow in MIT’s Leaders for Global Operations (LGO) program, Nyovanie is on a mission to learn the management skills and engineering knowledge he needs to power off-grid communities around the world through his startup, Voya Sol. The company develops solar electric systems that can be scaled to users’ needs.

Determination and quick thinking

Nyovanie was originally drawn to MIT for its learning-by-doing engineering focus. “I thought engineering was a great way to take all these cool scientific discoveries and technologies and apply them to global problems,” he says. “One of the things that excited me a lot about MIT was the hands-on approach to solving problems. I was super excited about UROP [the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program]. That program made MIT stick out from all the other universities.”

As a mechanical engineering major, Nyovanie took part in a UROP for 2.5 years in the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productivity with Professor Martin Culpepper. But his experience in 15.031J made him realize his interests were broader than just research, and included the intersection of technology and business.

“One big thing that I liked about the class was that it introduced this other complexity that I hadn’t paid that much attention to before, because when you’re in the engineering side, you’re really focused on making technology, using science to come up with awesome inventions,” Nyovanie says. “But there are considerations that you need to think about when you’re implementing [such inventions]. You need to think about markets, how policies are structured.”

The class inspired Nyovanie to become a fellow in the LGO program, where he will earn an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management and a master’s in mechanical engineering. He is also a fellow of the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship at MIT.

When Nyovanie prepared for his fellowship interview while at home in Zimbabwe, he faced another electricity interruption: A transformer blew and would take time to repair, leaving him without power before his interview.

“I had to act quickly,” Nyovanie says. “I went and bought a petrol generator just for the interview. … The generator provided power for my laptop and for the Wi-Fi.” He recalls being surrounded by multiple solar lanterns that provided enough light for the video interview.

While Nyovanie’s determination in high school and quick thinking before graduate school enabled him to work around power supply issues, he realizes that luxury doesn’t extend to all those facing similar situations.

“I had enough money to actually go buy a petrol generator. Some of these communities in off-grid areas don’t have the resources they need to be able to get power,” Nyovanie says.

Scaling perspectives

Before co-founding Voya Sol with Stanford University graduate student Caroline Jo, Nyovanie worked at SunEdison, a renewable energy company, for three years. During most of that time, Nyovanie worked as a process engineer and analyst through the Renewable Energy Leadership Development Rotational Program. As part of the program, Nyovanie rotated between different roles at the company around the world.

During his last rotation, Nyovanie worked as a project engineer and oversaw the development of rural minigrids in Tanzania. “That’s where I got firsthand exposure to working with people who don’t have access to electricity and working to develop a solution for them,” Nyovanie says. When SunEdison went bankrupt, Nyovanie wanted to stay involved in developing electricity solutions for off-grid communities. So, he stayed in talks with rural electricity providers in Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Nigeria before eventually founding Voya Sol with Jo.

Voya Sol develops scalable solar home systems which are different than existing solar home system technologies. “A lot of them are fixed,” Nyovanie says. “So if you buy one, and need an additional light, then you have to go buy another whole new system. … The scalable system would take away some of that risk and allow the customer to build their own system so that they buy a system that fits their budget.” By giving users the opportunity to scale up or scale down their wattage to meet their energy needs, Nyovanie hopes that the solar electric systems will help power off-grid communities across the world.

Nyovanie and his co-founder are currently both full-time graduate students in dual degree programs. But to them, graduate school didn’t necessarily mean an interruption to their company’s operations; it meant new opportunities for learning, mentorship, and team building. Over this past spring break, Nyovanie and Jo traveled to Zimbabwe to perform prototype testing for their solar electric system, and they plan to conduct a second trip soon.

“We’re looking into ways we can aggregate people’s energy demands,” Nyovanie says. “Interconnected systems can bring in additional savings for customers.” In the future, Nyovanie hopes to expand the distribution of scalable solar electric systems through Voya Sol to off-grid communities worldwide. Voya Sol’s ultimate vision is to enable off-grid communities to build their own electricity grids, by allowing individual customers to not only scale their own systems, but also interconnect their systems with their neighbors’. “In other words, Voya Sol’s goal is to enable a completely build-your-own, bottom-up electricity grid,” Nyovanie says.

Supportive communities

During his time as a graduate student at MIT, Nyovanie has found friendship and support among his fellow students.

“The best thing about being at MIT is that people are working on all these cool, different things that they’re passionate about,” Nyovanie says. “I think there’s a lot of clarity that you can get just by going outside of your circle and talking to people.”

Back home in Zimbabwe, Nyovanie’s family cheers him on.

“Even though [my parents] never went to college, they were very supportive and encouraged me to push myself, to do better, and to do well in school, and to apply to the best programs that I could find,” Nyovanie says.

June 12, 2018 | More

LGO Best Thesis 2018 for Predictive Modeling Project at Massachusetts General Hospital

After the official MIT commencement ceremonies, Thomas Roemer, LGO’s executive director, announced the best thesis winner at LGO’s annual post-graduation celebration. This year’s winner was Jonathan Zanger, who developed a predictive model using machine learning at Massachusetts General Hospital. “The thesis describes breakthrough work at MGH that leverages machine learning and deep clinical knowledge to develop a decision support tool to predict discharges from the hospital in the next 24-48 hours and enable a fundamentally new and more effective discharge process,” said MIT Sloan School of Management Professor Retsef Levi, one of Zanger’s thesis advisors and the LGO management faculty co-director.

Applying MIT knowledge in the real world

Best Thesis 2018
Jonathan Zanger won the 2018 LGO best thesis award for his work using machine learning to develop a predictive model for better patient care at MGH

Zanger, who received his MBA and an SM in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, conducted his six-month LGO internship project at MGH that sought to enable a more proactive process of managing the hospital’s bed capacity by identifying which surgical inpatients are likely to be discharged from the hospital in the next 24 to 48 hours. To do this, Zanger grouped patients by their surgery type, and worked to define and formalize milestones on the pathway to a post-operative recovery by defining barriers that may postpone patients’ discharge. Finally, he used a deep learning algorithm which uses over 900 features and is trained on 3000 types of surgeries and 20,000 surgical discharges. LGO thesis advisor Retsef Levi stated that “in my view, this thesis work represents a league of its own in terms of technical depth, creativity and potential impact.” Zanger was able to have true prediction for 97% of patients discharged within 48 hours. This helps to limit overcrowding and operational disruptions and anticipate capacity crises.

A group of faculty, alumni and staff review the theses each year to determine the winner. Thomas Sanderson (LGO ’14), LGO alumni and thesis reviewer stated that Zanger’s thesis showed  “tremendous extensibility and smart solution architecture decisions to make future work easy. Obvious and strong overlap of engineering, business, and industry.  This is potentially revolutionary work; this research advances the current state of the art well beyond anything currently available for large hospital bed management with obvious and immediate impact on healthcare costs and patient outcomes. The theory alone is hugely noteworthy but the fact that the work was also piloted during the thesis period is even more impressive. LGO has done a lot of great work at MGH but this is potentially the widest reaching and most important.”

Zanger, who earned his undergraduate degree Physics, Computer Science and Mathematics from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, will return to Israel after graduation and resume service as an Israeli Defense Forces officer.

June 11, 2018 | More

A graphene roll-out

LGO thesis advisor and MIT Mechanical Engineering Professor John Hart, lead a team to develop a continuous manufacturing process that produces long strips of high-quality graphene.

The team’s results are the first demonstration of an industrial, scalable method for manufacturing high-quality graphene that is tailored for use in membranes that filter a variety of molecules, including salts, larger ions, proteins, or nanoparticles. Such membranes should be useful for desalination, biological separation, and other applications.

“For several years, researchers have thought of graphene as a potential route to ultrathin membranes,” says John Hart, associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productivity at MIT. “We believe this is the first study that has tailored the manufacturing of graphene toward membrane applications, which require the graphene to be seamless, cover the substrate fully, and be of high quality.”

Hart is the senior author on the paper, which appears online in the journal Applied Materials and Interfaces. The study includes first author Piran Kidambi, a former MIT postdoc who is now an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University; MIT graduate students Dhanushkodi Mariappan and Nicholas Dee; Sui Zhang of the National University of Singapore; Andrey Vyatskikh, a former student at the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology who is now at Caltech; and Rohit Karnik, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT.

Growing graphene

For many researchers, graphene is ideal for use in filtration membranes. A single sheet of graphene resembles atomically thin chicken wire and is composed of carbon atoms joined in a pattern that makes the material extremely tough and impervious to even the smallest atom, helium.

Researchers, including Karnik’s group, have developed techniques to fabricate graphene membranes and precisely riddle them with tiny holes, or nanopores, the size of which can be tailored to filter out specific molecules. For the most part, scientists synthesize graphene through a process called chemical vapor deposition, in which they first heat a sample of copper foil and then deposit onto it a combination of carbon and other gases.

Graphene-based membranes have mostly been made in small batches in the laboratory, where researchers can carefully control the material’s growth conditions. However, Hart and his colleagues believe that if graphene membranes are ever to be used commercially they will have to be produced in large quantities, at high rates, and with reliable performance.

“We know that for industrialization, it would need to be a continuous process,” Hart says. “You would never be able to make enough by making just pieces. And membranes that are used commercially need to be fairly big ­— some so big that you would have to send a poster-wide sheet of foil into a furnace to make a membrane.”

A factory roll-out

The researchers set out to build an end-to-end, start-to-finish manufacturing process to make membrane-quality graphene.

The team’s setup combines a roll-to-roll approach — a common industrial approach for continuous processing of thin foils — with the common graphene-fabrication technique of chemical vapor deposition, to manufacture high-quality graphene in large quantities and at a high rate. The system consists of two spools, connected by a conveyor belt that runs through a small furnace. The first spool unfurls a long strip of copper foil, less than 1 centimeter wide. When it enters the furnace, the foil is fed through first one tube and then another, in a “split-zone” design.

While the foil rolls through the first tube, it heats up to a certain ideal temperature, at which point it is ready to roll through the second tube, where the scientists pump in a specified ratio of methane and hydrogen gas, which are deposited onto the heated foil to produce graphene.

Graphene starts forming in little islands, and then those islands grow together to form a continuous sheet,” Hart says. “By the time it’s out of the oven, the graphene should be fully covering the foil in one layer, kind of like a continuous bed of pizza.”

As the graphene exits the furnace, it’s rolled onto the second spool. The researchers found that they were able to feed the foil continuously through the system, producing high-quality graphene at a rate of 5 centimers per minute. Their longest run lasted almost four hours, during which they produced about 10 meters of continuous graphene.

“If this were in a factory, it would be running 24-7,” Hart says. “You would have big spools of foil feeding through, like a printing press.”

Flexible design

Once the researchers produced graphene using their roll-to-roll method, they unwound the foil from the second spool and cut small samples out. They cast the samples with a polymer mesh, or support, using a method developed by scientists at Harvard University, and subsequently etched away the underlying copper.

“If you don’t support graphene adequately, it will just curl up on itself,” Kidambi says. “So you etch copper out from underneath and have graphene directly supported by a porous polymer — which is basically a membrane.”

The polymer covering contains holes that are larger than graphene’s pores, which Hart says act as microscopic “drumheads,” keeping the graphene sturdy and its tiny pores open.

The researchers performed diffusion tests with the graphene membranes, flowing a solution of water, salts, and other molecules across each membrane. They found that overall, the membranes were able to withstand the flow while filtering out molecules. Their performance was comparable to graphene membranes made using conventional, small-batch approaches.

The team also ran the process at different speeds, with different ratios of methane and hydrogen gas, and characterized the quality of the resulting graphene after each run. They drew up plots to show the relationship between graphene’s quality and the speed and gas ratios of the manufacturing process. Kidambi says that if other designers can build similar setups, they can use the team’s plots to identify the settings they would need to produce a certain quality of graphene.

“The system gives you a great degree of flexibility in terms of what you’d like to tune graphene for, all the way from electronic to membrane applications,” Kidambi says.

Looking forward, Hart says he would like to find ways to include polymer casting and other steps that currently are performed by hand, in the roll-to-roll system.

“In the end-to-end process, we would need to integrate more operations into the manufacturing line,” Hart says. “For now, we’ve demonstrated that this process can be scaled up, and we hope this increases confidence and interest in graphene-based membrane technologies, and provides a pathway to commercialization.”

May 18, 2018 | More

This MIT program will purchase carbon offsets for student travel

Lead by Yakov Berenshteyn, (LGO ’19) a new Jetset Offset program will reduce the environmental impact of student travel by purchasing carbon offsets.

In one week about 100 MIT Sloan students will fly around the world to study regional economies, immerse themselves in different cultures, and produce more than 300 metric tons [PDF] of carbon dioxide.

Thanks to the necessary air travel for study tours, those students are producing the same emissions in two weeks as 1,600 average American car commuters would in that same timeframe, said Yakov Berenshteyn, LGO ’19.

While Berenshteyn doesn’t want to do away with student travel at MIT Sloan, he is hoping to lessen the impact on the environment, with the help of his Jetset Offset program.

The pilot involves purchasing carbon offsets for the three MBA and one Master of Finance study tours for spring break 2018.

Carbon offsets are vetted projects that help capture or avoid carbon emissions. These projects can include reforestation and building renewable energy sources. The reductions might not have an immediate impact on emissions, Berenshteyn said, but they are “still the primary best practice for us to use.”

“This is raising awareness of, and starting to account for, our environmental impacts from student travel,” Berenshteyn said. “You don’t get much choice in the efficiency of the airplane that you board.”

The idea for the offset came in October, when Berenshteyn was helping to plan the January Leaders for Global Operations Domestic Plant Trek. Berenshteyn at the time realized for the two weeks of the trip, the roughly 50 students and staff would be logging a total of 400,000 air miles.

Berenshteyn spent months researching an answer for counterbalancing the burned jet fuel. He also got input from MIT Sloan professor John Sterman. Berenshteyn said he looked at other options, like funding more local projects such as solar panel installation, but the calculations were too small scale to make much of a difference.

Universities around the world are applying carbon offsets and carbon-neutral practices in some form to their operations. Berenshteyn said Duke University has something similar to the air travel and carbon offsets that he proposes for MIT Sloan.

The Leaders for Global Operations program purchased 67 metric tons of offsets through Gold Standard for the January student trek, and those offsets are going to reforestation efforts in Panama.

In the case of the four upcoming study trips, MIT Sloan’s student life office is picking up the tab.

“My colleague Paul Buckley (associate director of student life) had an idea for something like this close to a decade ago, when he first arrived in student life, and noted the extent to which our students travel during their time at Sloan,” said Katie Ferrari, associate director of student life. “So this was an especially meaningful partnership for us. Yakov’s idea is exactly the kind of student initiative we love to support. He is practicing principled, innovative leadership with an eye toward improving the world.”

Ferrari said the support for the pilot this semester is a stake in the ground for incorporating carbon offset purchases into future student-organized travel — which is what Berenshteyn said was his hope for launching the pilot.

“It should be at Sloan, if a student is planning a trip, they have their checklist of insurance, emergency numbers, and carbon offsets,” he said.

March 21, 2018 | More

A machine-learning approach to inventory-constrained dynamic pricing

LGO thesis advisor and MIT Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor David Simchi-Levi lead a team on a new study showing how a model-based algorithm known as Thompson sampling can be used for revenue management.

In 1933, William R. Thompson published an article on a Bayesian model-based algorithm that would ultimately become known as Thompson sampling. This heuristic was largely ignored by the academic community until recently, when it became the subject of intense study, thanks in part to internet companies that successfully implemented it for online ad display.

Thompson sampling chooses actions for addressing the exploration-exploitation in the multiarmed bandit problem to maximize performance and continually learn, acquiring new information to improve future performance.

In a new study, “Online Network Revenue Management Using Thompson Sampling,” MIT Professor David Simchi-Levi and his team have now demonstrated that Thompson sampling can be used for a revenue management problem, where demand function is unknown.

Incorporating inventory constraints

A main challenge to adopting Thompson sampling for revenue management is that the original method does not incorporate inventory constraints. However, the authors show that Thompson sampling can be naturally combined with a classical linear program formulation to include inventory constraints.

The result is a dynamic pricing algorithm that incorporates domain knowledge and has strong theoretical performance guarantees as well as promising numerical performance results.

Interestingly, the authors demonstrate that Thompson sampling achieves poor performance when it does not take into account domain knowledge.

Simchi-Levi says, “It is exciting to demonstrate that Thomson sampling can be adapted to combine a classical linear program formulation, to include inventory constraints, and to see that this method can be applied to general revenue management problems in the business-to-consumer and business-to-business environments.”

Industry application improves revenue

The proposed dynamic pricing algorithm is highly flexible and is applicable in a range of industries, from airlines and internet advertising all the way to online retailing.

The new study, which has just been accepted by the journal Operations Research, is part of a larger research project by Simchi-Levi that combines machine learning and stochastic optimization to improve revenue, margins, and market share.

Algorithms developed in this research stream have been implemented at companies such as Groupon, a daily market maker, Rue La La, a U.S. online flash sales retailer, B2W Digital, a large online retailer in Latin America, and at a large brewing company, where Simchi-Levi and his team optimized the company’s promotion and pricing in various retail channels.


March 19, 2018 | More

A revolutionary model to optimize promotion pricing

William F. Pounds Professor of Management and LGO thesis advisor Georgia Perakis recently authored a Huffington Post article about using a scientific, data-driven approach to determine optimal promotion pricing.
Grocery stores run price promotions all the time. You see them when a particular brand of spaghetti sauce is $1 off or your favorite coffee is buy one get one free. Promotions are used for a variety of reasons from increasing traffic in stores to boosting sales of a particular brand. They are responsible for a lot of revenue, as a 2009 A.C. Nielsen study found that 42.8% of grocery store sales in the U.S. are made during promotions. This raises an important question: How much money does a retailer leave on the table by using current pricing practices as opposed to a more scientific, data-driven approach in order to determine optimal promotional prices?

The promotion planning tools currently available in the industry are mostly manual and based on “what-if” scenarios. In other words, supermarkets tend to use intuition and habit to decide when, how deep, and how often to promote products. Yet promotion pricing is very complicated. Product managers have to solve problems like whether or not to promote an item in a particular week, whether or not to promote two items together, and how to order upcoming discounts ― not to mention incorporating seasonality issues in their decision-making process.

There are plenty of people in the industry with years of experience who are good at this, but their brains are not computers. They can’t process the massive amounts of data available to determine optimal pricing. As a result, lots of money is left on the table.

To revolutionize the field of promotion pricing, my team of PhD students from the Operations Research Center at MIT, our collaborators from Oracle, and I sought to build a model based on several goals. It had to be simple and realistic. It had to be easy to estimate directly from the data, but also computationally easy and scalable. In addition, it had to lead to interesting and valuable results for retailers in practice.

Read the full post at The Huffington Post.

Georgia Perakis is the William F. Pounds Professor of Management and a Professor of Operations Research and Operations Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

March 16, 2018 | More

JDA Software collaborates with MIT to advance research in intelligent supply chains

David Simchi-Levi, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and LGO thesis advisor is leading a multiyear collaboration with JDA Software.

MIT will work with JDA, leveraging their business domain expertise and client base, to advance research in intelligent supply chains.

The collaboration aims to improve supply chain performance and customer experiences by leveraging data, computational power, and machine learning.

Professor of civil and environmental engineering David Simchi-Levi says, “I am very pleased JDA has entered into a multiyear research collaboration with MIT, and I look forward to working with the JDA Lab and teams. The collaboration will support our students and advance research in machine learning, optimization and consumer behavior modeling. “

This collaboration with JDA brings real world challenges, opportunities, and data, and will help to further the advancement of MIT’s world-class research in supply chain and retail analytics.

The MIT and JDA research teams will create real-world use cases to expand predictive demand, intelligent execution, and smart supply chain and retail planning that will yield a unique business strategy. These use cases will explore new data science algorithms that combine natural language processing, predictive behavior, and prescriptive optimization by taking into account past behaviors, and predicting and changing future behaviors.

“It is more critical than ever to infuse innovation into every aspect of the supply chain, as edge technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) are essential to digitally transforming supply chains. This collaboration allows us to tap into the extraordinary mindshare at MIT to accelerate the research into more intelligent and cognitive capabilities moving forward,” says Desikan Madhavanur, executive vice president and chief development officer at JDA.

“We are excited to be working on the future of supply chain with MIT to double down on researching enhanced, innovative, and value-driven supply chain solutions,” Madhavanur says.

The multiyear collaboration will support students on the research teams and the development of knowledge and education.

Simchi-Levi will speak at JDA’s annual customer conference, JDA FOCUS 2018, in Orlando, May 6-9, 2018.

March 16, 2018 | More

Making appliances and energy grids more efficient

Professor of electrical engineering and frequent LGO thesis advisor James Kirtley Jr., is working on a new design for fans that offers high efficiency at an affordable cost, which could have a huge impact for developing countries.

The ceiling fan is one of the most widely used mechanical appliances in the world. It is also, in many cases, one of the least efficient.

In India, ceiling fans have been used for centuries to get relief from the hot, humid climate. Hand-operated fans called punkahs can be traced as far back as 500 BC and were fixtures of life under the British Raj in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today’s ceiling fans run on electricity and are more ubiquitous than ever. The Indian Fan Manufacturers’ Association reported producing 40 million units in 2014 alone, and the number of fans in use nationwide is estimated in the hundreds of millions, perhaps as many as half a billion.

James Kirtley Jr., a professor of electrical engineering at MIT, has been investigating the efficiency of small motors like those found in ceiling fans for more than 30 years.

“A typical ceiling fan in India draws about 80 watts of electricity, and it does less than 10 watts of work on the air,” he says. “That gives you an efficiency of just 12.5 percent.”

Low-efficiency fans pose a variety of energy problems. Consumers don’t get good value for the electricity they buy from the grid, and energy utilities have to deal with the power losses and grid instability that result from low-quality appliances.

But there’s a reason these low-efficiency fans, driven by single-phase induction motors, are so popular: They’re inexpensive. “The best fans on the market in India — those that move a reasonable amount of air and have a low input power — are actually quite costly,” Kirtley says. The high price puts them out of reach for most of India’s population.

Now Kirtley, with support from the Tata Center for Technology and Design, is working on a single-phase motor design that offers high efficiency at an affordable cost. He says the potential impact is huge.

“If every fan in India saved just 2 watts of electricity, that would be the equivalent of a nuclear power plant’s generation capacity,” he says. “If we could make these fans substantially more efficient than they are, operating off of DC electricity, you could imagine extending the use of ceiling fans into rural areas where they could provide a benefit to the quality of life.”

Mohammad Qasim, a graduate student in Kirtley’s research group and a fellow in the Tata Center, says the benefits could reach multiple stakeholders. “Having more efficient appliances means a lower electricity bill for the consumer and fewer power losses on the utility’s side,” he says.

Choosing the right motor

“The idea is to try and hit that high-efficiency mark at a cost that is only a little more than that of existing low-efficiency fans,” Kirtley says. “We imagine a fan that might have an input power of 15 watts and an efficiency of 75 percent.”

To accomplish that, Kirtley and Qasim are exploring two approaches: creating an improved version of the conventional induction motor, or switching to a brushless DC motor, which may be more expensive but can deliver superior efficiency.

In either case, they plan to use power electronics — devices that control and optimize the flow of electricity through the motor — to improve the power quality and grid compatibility of the fan. Power electronics can also be used to convert AC electricity from the grid into DC, opening up the possibility of using DC motors in ceiling fans.

Brushless DC motors, which are the younger technology, use permanent magnets to establish a magnetic field that creates torque between the motor’s two main components, the rotor and stator. “You can think of it almost like a dog chasing his tail,” Kirtley says. “If I establish the magnetic field in some direction, the magnet turns to align itself in that direction. As I rotate the magnetic field, the magnet moves to align, and that keeps the rotor spinning.”

Induction motors, on the other hand, use no magnets but instead create a rotating magnetic field by flowing current through the stator coils. Because they use AC electricity, they are directly grid compatible, but their efficiency and stability can be improved by using power electronics to optimize the speed of the motor.

International collaboration

In determining which path to take, induction or brushless DC motor, Kirtley and Qasim are leaning on the expertise of Vivek Agarwal, a professor of electrical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IITB). Agarwal is a specialist in power electronics.

“The collaboration with Professor Agarwal’s group is so important,” Kirtley says. “They can give us a good idea of what the two different power electronics packages will cost. You would typically think of the brushless motor package as the more expensive option, but it may or may not be.”

Outside of the lab, on-the-ground detective work is key. When Qasim visited India in January 2017, he hit the streets of Mumbai with one of the graduate students from Agarwal’s lab. Together, they visited people across the ceiling fan industry, from manufacturers to repairmen in street-side shops.

“This visit was a big motivation for us,” says Qasim, noting that they were able to glean insights that will help them design a more robust and durable motor. “We want to understand the major maintenance issues that cause these motors to break down so that we can avoid common sources of failure. It was important to make the effort to talk to local people who had real experience repairing these motors.”

Usha International, an appliance manufacturer based in New Delhi, has been a key advisor in the early stages of the project and helped identify ceiling fans as a critical focus area. Engineers at Usha agree with Kirtley’s assessment that there is an unmet need for high-efficiency motors at relatively low cost, and Qasim says the Usha team shared what they had learned from designing their own high-efficiency fans.

Now, Kirtley and Qasim are engaged in the daunting task of envisioning how an ideal motor might look.

“This is a very challenging problem, to design a motor that is both efficient and inexpensive,” Kirtley says. “There’s still a question of which type of motor is going to be the best one to pursue. If we can get a good understanding of what exactly the machine ought to do, we can proceed to do a good machine design.”

Qasim has built a test facility in Kirtley’s laboratory at MIT, which he is using to characterize a variety of existing fans. His experimental data, combined with his fieldwork in India, should provide a set of design requirements for the improved motor. From there, he and Kirtley will work with the IITB researchers to pair the machine with an appropriate power electronics package.

In reducing the power demands of the standard ceiling fan by as much as 65 watts, they hope to have a far-reaching, positive effect on India’s energy system. But that’s only the start. Ultimately, they believe efficient, affordable motors can be applied to a number of common appliances, potentially saving gigawatts of electricity in a country that is working hard to expand reliable energy access for what will soon be the world’s largest population.

This article appeared in the Autumn 2017 issue of Energy Futures, the magazine of the MIT Energy Initiative.


March 2, 2018 | More

Sloan

This tool is pushing people to take action on climate change

This tool is pushing people to take action on climate change

The global temperature is rising and an international agreement is needed to avoid irreversible damage to the planet.

You’ve got two hours to find a solution.

That’s the mission in the role-play simulation World Climate, and according to new research from MIT Sloan professor John Sterman, it might also be the key to understanding and encouraging environmental change.

In World Climate, participants take on the role of delegates to the UN climate change summits, and negotiate face-to-face with other participants to reach a climate change agreement. Sterman said the negotiators seek to limit global warming to no more than the 2 degrees Celsius — 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit — limit affirmed at the Paris climate summit, while also taking their economic and political situations into account. Participants get immediate feedback on their proposed agreements by using the Climate Rapid Overview and Decision Support (C-ROADS) simulator.

October 16, 2018 | More

10 MIT alumnae named to Inc.’s Female Founders 100

10 MIT alumnae named to Inc.’s Female Founders 100

Shape-shifting furniture. Rocket launchers. A blind audition hiring app.

The ideas from the minds of female founders run the gamut of purpose and scope, which is why the entrepreneurs behind those concepts made the recent Inc. 100 female founders list. The publication wrote that it chose the businesswomen because of their work in the last year, and because their “smarts are rattling industries far and wide.”

October 16, 2018 | More

GO-Lab Puerto Rico

GO-Lab Puerto Rico

It has been one year since Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc in Puerto Rico, with 155 mph winds devastating the power infrastructure, shutting down roads, and, damaging an already fragile economy with total losses estimated at $91B.  More tragically, nearly 3,000 people lost their lives.  Recovery continues, but it is, by no means, complete. Six months after the storm slogged across the island, I had the opportunity to spend a week there, traveling with a group of eleven MIT Sloan EMBA students and award-winning filmmaker Bill Carter.  They were there as part of their GO-Lab class, working on two projects addressing the value and viability of integrating reliable microgrid systems to improve resiliency and reliability in the delivery of power for the Puerto Rican people and economy.  One team focused on the architecture, the other on regulation.  Both are critical to finding a sustainable solution.  Their conclusions included: • microgrids are viable, … Read More »

The post GO-Lab Puerto Rico – Stuart Krusell appeared first on MIT Sloan Experts.

September 24, 2018 | More

Tesla needs to put a seat belt on Elon Musk

Tesla needs to put a seat belt on Elon Musk – Chester Spatt

The past few months have been turbulent for Tesla CEO Elon Musk. From publicly accusing a Thai rescue diver of being a pedophile (without evidence) and conducting a radio interview while smoking marijuana to insulting equity analysts on one earnings call and threatening to take Tesla private — then reversing those statements, triggering a SEC and a criminal investigation — Musk has engaged in some reckless behavior. Then there are production problems with Tesla not being able to deliver cars on time. A big question is whether Musk should step down. While investor confidence in Musk has taken a big hit, he is a visionary leader and there would likely be great disappointment if he left the company. What Musk does need is a lot more checks and balances by his management team. Investors would like Musk to have more self-control and act more like other legendary leaders, such as the late Steve Jobs of Apple and Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos. For … Read More »

The post Tesla needs to put a seat belt on Elon Musk – Chester Spatt appeared first on MIT Sloan Experts.

September 20, 2018 | More

credit card offers

What an MIT professor learned analyzing 1 million credit card offers

Shopping for a new credit card? Speaking on MIT Sloan’s “Data Made to Matter” podcast, MIT Sloan finance professor Antoinette Schoar has some advice: Read the fine print, or at least the Schumer box. And double-check that your financial adviser is looking out for your well-being.

Why investing in analytic infrastructure is important to your work
“Intellectually and from a science perspective, I’ve always been really interested in understanding how people’s psychology and behavior influence all the decisions and choices they make, and it’s very exciting in economics and finance nowadays that we’re trying to model the human decisions much more realistically and much more holistically than ever before. And the big data that we have now that gives us so many dimensions of what people do also allows us to do that.

“Right now there’s a huge rat race going on that all financial service companies, and companies in general, are now really trying to catch up in building internal teams, in building this analytic capability, to mine the data and to compete on all these dimensions.

“I think on the one hand it actually means that products will be more and more tailored to our needs, which is a good thing, right?”

Data that matters
“What we seemed to find in our study is that the [credit card] offers that are offered to less educated people rely in their pricing much more on these additional fees. Late fees, over limit fees, maybe default APRs that switch on once you’ve had a default. While people that are more educated, their cards seem to rely much more on the quite straightforward features, like they are paying an annual fee, and they’re paying an interest rate, but they are relying much less on these late fees and over limit fees.

“We did differentiate or compare financial advisers who are what is called fiduciary standard advisers, so they are abiding by a fiduciary standards rule that means they have to put their client’s interest first. And we compared those to advisers who are actually just brokers. And brokers in the U.S. only have to abide by a rule that forces them to not defraud the customer, but that’s a very low bar if you think about it, right? And so we actually found that the fiduciary standard advisers were giving better advice than the brokers.”

What should you focus on in the future?
“The more companies can model our behavioral biases, the more they can use them in extracting rents from us or catching us in moments when we’re inattentive or when we are not necessarily focused enough on choosing the right credit card, the right mortgage, or any of these products.”

August 24, 2018 | More

lunch can unite your company

This is how lunch can unite your company

Christine Marcus, SF ’12, spent her career in government. The former deputy chief financial officer for the U.S. Department of Energy was accustomed to food as fuel. At MIT, she realized that food was actually big business. Alchemista, where Marcus is co-founder and CEO, manages daily meal perks for companies such as Draft Kings and Cengage. It’s a win-win: Colleagues connect over unique lunches from indie restaurants, and mom-and-pop spots such as Cornish Pasty in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood and Oasis Brazilian Steakhouse in Medford, a Boston suburb, enjoy new catering revenue.

“We specialize in things you might not typically see at an office lunch,” she said.

What’s the business case for better lunches? 
Most offices have some kind of “culture experience’” title, but that person always has many responsibilities. It might not be their focus, especially as a company grows. We serve clients buffet-style. It’s not a boxed lunch. People break bread together versus have a meal delivered. It’s a huge difference. Sales guys can talk with engineers; marketing people can talk with customer success people. It’s a pain point, senior folks say, as companies grow. It’s more difficult to maintain a startup vibe and have everyone feel like a family when it’s 150 people. People don’t know names any more. It starts to feel like a different company. They hire us to help them maintain that startup vibe. 

Why did you start Alchemista while at MIT Sloan?
At Sloan, we were in class all day, from 8 to 5, and had catered meals. The food was generic, uninspiring. I think I put on 10 pounds in the first months, gaining weight on food that wasn’t that good. One of my classmates, Sal Lupoli, was in the restaurant industry [Sal’s Pizza, and formerly of Salvatore’s] and had noticed the same thing. We started talking about the need to connect mom-and-pop restaurants that made great meals to the corporate, institutional side. It’s hard to access that market if you’re not a big catering company, if you’re not Aramark. That was the inspiration: to get better food to people who order frequently.

How did MIT support your idea?
In 2011, we started reaching out to students to beta test. We made $50,000 by accident in school and realized that there’s a big market. Through research and class projects, I realized that this is a massive industry, and there’s a desire by restaurants to get lucrative catering [jobs]. We formally launched in 2012. We bootstrapped at the beginning. Then I raised under $1 million in venture capital and was able to hire a few employees. Sal is now on the board, and we do about 30,000 meals a month.

August 24, 2018 | More

HOME | NEWSROOM | ARTICLES This pad-free wireless charger can power multiple devices at once

This pad-free wireless charger can power multiple devices at once

magine charging your phone, tablet, and wearable device, at the same time, in any direction from the same power source.

Pi is working to make that a reality.

“Pi is unique in the power space because we are working on multi-device, orientation agnostic, wireless power,” said CEO and co-founder John MacDonald, MBA ’15. “We can charge multiple devices from the same power source — up to four at a time — without requiring precise positioning on a pad, but still being compatible with existing, safe standards.”

Pi’s charging technology can sense a device’s low battery and adjust its magnetic field based on where the device is positioned, rather than requiring the user to place the device on a specific pad or station.

“Our first product applies this to phones and small consumer devices in the United States, but we’re going to bring it to a variety of applications around the world over the next five years,” he added.

Pi’s roots extend back to early 2014, when MacDonald and his future Pi co-founder and chief technology officer, Lixin Shi, PhD ’15, enrolled in MIT Sloan’s New Enterprises course.

The two men were part of a team that pitched a wireless power project during a class competition. While they didn’t win the faculty judges’ favor, they did earn an audience choice award — giving the students the confidence to explore building a commercial wireless charger.

In the summer of 2015, the team decided to try for a first round of funding. By the fall of that year, Pi had officially launched.

August 3, 2018 | More

New ideas are getting harder to find — and more expensive

New ideas are getting harder to find — and more expensive

It’s an age of astonishing technological progress — but are we starting to have a harder time coming up with new ideas?

Yes, argues a group of MIT Sloan and Stanford University researchers, who found in a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in March that the productivity of scientific research is falling sharply across the board.

That, they argue, is because researchers are putting in more and more effort to sustain the same — or even a slightly lower — pace of idea generation as we experienced half a century ago.

“Just to sustain the constant growth in GDP per person, the U.S. must double the amount of research effort put into searching for a new idea every 13 years to offset the increased difficulty in finding new ideas,” write MIT Sloan professor of applied economics John Van Reenen, Stanford University professors Nicholas Bloom and Charles I. Jones, and Stanford doctoral candidate Michael Webb.

Moore’s Law — the observed doubling of the number of transistors packed onto new computer central processing units every two years — stands as a prime example. The doubling effect represents a growth rate of 35 percent each year, and that growth is driven only by ever-more-extensive research, the authors write.

“Many commentators note that Moore’s Law is not a law of nature, but instead results from intense research effort: Doubling the transistor density is often viewed as a goal or target for research programs,” they write.

They continue: “The constant exponential growth implied by Moore’s Law has been achieved only by a massive increase in the amount of resources devoted to pushing the frontier forward.”

In fact, research efforts toward semiconductor improvement have risen by a factor of 18 since the early 1970s, the study found, while productivity has fallen by the same factor. Taken together, that means it’s about 18 times harder today to push Moore’s Law forward than it was half a century ago, the authors write.

August 3, 2018 | More

How do online bots shift opinions?

How do online bots shift opinions?

How do you win an election? You can spend money. You can canvass neighborhoods. You can take meals at small-town diners, crisscross the country by bus, parade your charismatic family before the cameras.

But don’t forget the Twitter bots.

“If you’re smart about putting bots in a network in particular places, you can pretty easily manipulate people’s opinions,” said Tauhid Zaman, associate professor of operations management at MIT Sloan. “And whether an election or something else, this can help you achieve the outcomes that you want.” In a new working paper coauthored with MIT Operations Research Center graduate student David Scott Hunter, Zaman outlines how to optimize shifts in ideology using bots in a social network.

They begin with the assumption that, though people update their opinions as they receive new information, this process dampens over time; opinions harden. “You’ll listen to me less and less if you already have a lot of information, and something new won’t likely change your opinion,” Zaman said.

Working from this foundation, Zaman and Hunter built a model of opinion dynamics in social networks and dropped in a handful of bots whose opinions were preset and immutable (so-called “stubborn agents”). They developed an algorithm to identify targets for the bots to influence. These were generally people who didn’t already have firm opinions on a particular issue and who could reach many other people. Once these targets were identified, the bots could go to work, pushing their message on the targets.

One way to measure the effectiveness of this process would be to observe how the average opinion in the network changed as a result of the bots. Overall, were people more inclined to align themselves with the bots after a set period? But for Zaman and Hunter, a more interesting consideration was the specific number of individuals whose opinions shifted over a set threshold. “This is an important measure because once you get over this threshold, maybe then you go and do something like buy a product, watch a movie, or join a protest,” Zaman said. “Or maybe you go vote.”

It turns out the structure of the underlying network has a big impact on how effective bots can be. Zaman found that on polarized networks, a few bots are able to shift a disproportionate number of people over a threshold. This is important because many modern social networks have such a polarized structure, with most people only maintaining friends with people of similar ideologies. This is even more relevant given the ongoing discussion of foreign meddling in U.S. elections, and the upcoming 2018 mid-term elections. Because of how polarized the U.S. has become in recent years, the democratic process is highly vulnerable to this type of cyberattack, Zaman said. “When it comes to bots in a polarized network, a little bit goes a long way.”

This is the third in a three-part series examining new work about Twitter, influence, and bots by MIT Sloan associate professor Tauhid Zaman. Read ‘Solving Twitter’s follow-back problem‘ and ‘A new method for rooting out social media bots.’

August 3, 2018 | More

Here’s how ‘question bursts’ make better brainstorms

Here’s how ‘question bursts’ make better brainstorms

It’s among the largest of projects that Ling Xiang, a director of product management at Oracle, has encountered: helping to lead an organizational change that is part of the company’s transformation from a software developer into a cloud-based service provider.

The transition will require bucking old ways of thinking to adopt new ones. But Xiang expects such a drastic shift won’t come without some measure of resistance, and figuring out how to overcome it will require that she, too, explore new leadership methods and avenues of thought to ensure everyone comes on board.

June 15, 2018 | More

Engineering

Potential arthritis treatment prevents cartilage breakdown Injectable material made of nanoscale particles can deliver arthritis drugs throughout cartilage

Potential arthritis treatment prevents cartilage breakdown

Osteoarthritis, a disease that causes severe joint pain, affects more than 20 million people in the United States. Some drug treatments can help alleviate the pain, but there are no treatments that can reverse or slow the cartilage breakdown associated with the disease.

In an advance that could improve the treatment options available for osteoarthritis, MIT engineers have designed a new material that can administer drugs directly to the cartilage. The material can penetrate deep into the cartilage, delivering drugs that could potentially heal damaged tissue.

“This is a way to get directly to the cells that are experiencing the damage, and introduce different kinds of therapeutics that might change their behavior,” says Paula Hammond, head of MIT’s Department of Chemical Engineering, a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, and the senior author of the study.

In a study in rats, the researchers showed that delivering an experimental drug called insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) with this new material prevented cartilage breakdown much more effectively than injecting the drug into the joint on its own.

Brett Geiger, an MIT graduate student, is the lead author of the paper, which appears in the Nov. 28 issue of Science Translational Medicine. Other authors are Sheryl Wang, an MIT graduate student, Robert Padera, an associate professor of pathology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Alan Grodzinsky, an MIT professor of biological engineering.

Better delivery

Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease that can be caused by a traumatic injury such as tearing a ligament; it can also result from gradual wearing down of cartilage as people age. A smooth connective tissue that protects the joints, cartilage is produced by cells called chondrocytes but is not easily replaced once it is damaged.

Previous studies have shown that IGF-1 can help regenerate cartilage in animals. However, many osteoarthritis drugs that showed promise in animal studies have not performed well in clinical trials.

The MIT team suspected that this was because the drugs were cleared from the joint before they could reach the deep layer of chondrocytes that they were intended to target. To overcome that, they set out to design a material that could penetrate all the way through the cartilage.

The sphere-shaped molecule they came up with contains many branched structures called dendrimers that branch from a central core. The molecule has a positive charge at the tip of each of its branches, which helps it bind to the negatively charged cartilage. Some of those charges can be replaced with a short flexible, water-loving polymer, known as PEG, that can swing around on the surface and partially cover the positive charge. Molecules of IGF-1 are also attached to the surface.

When these particles are injected into a joint, they coat the surface of the cartilage and then begin diffusing through it. This is easier for them to do than it is for free IGF-1 because the spheres’ positive charges allow them to bind to cartilage and prevent them from being washed away. The charged molecules do not adhere permanently, however. Thanks to the flexible PEG chains on the surface that cover and uncover charge as they move, the molecules can briefly detach from cartilage, enabling them to move deeper into the tissue.

“We found an optimal charge range so that the material can both bind the tissue and unbind for further diffusion, and not be so strong that it just gets stuck at the surface,” Geiger says.

Once the particles reach the chondrocytes, the IGF-1 molecules bind to receptors on the cell surfaces and stimulate the cells to start producing proteoglycans, the building blocks of cartilage and other connective tissues. The IGF-1 also promotes cell growth and prevents cell death.

Joint repair

When the researchers injected the particles into the knee joints of rats, they found that the material had a half-life of about four days, which is 10 times longer than IGF-1 injected on its own. The drug concentration in the joints remained high enough to have a therapeutic effect for about 30 days. If this holds true for humans, patients could benefit greatly from joint injections — which can only be given monthly or biweekly — the researchers say.

In the animal studies, the researchers found that cartilage in injured joints treated with the nanoparticle-drug combination was far less damaged than cartilage in untreated joints or joints treated with IGF-1 alone. The joints also showed reductions in joint inflammation and bone spur formation.

“This is an important proof-of-concept that builds on the recent advances in the identification of anabolic growth factors with clinical promise (such as IGF-1), with promising disease-modifying results in a clinically relevant model. Delivery of growth factors using nanoparticles in a manner that sustains and improves treatments for osteoarthritis is a significant step for nanomedicines,” says Kannan Rangaramanujam, a professor of ophthalmology and co-director of the Center for Nanomedicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, who was not involved in the research.

Cartilage in rat joints is about 100 microns thick, but the researchers also showed that their particles could penetrate chunks of cartilage up to 1 millimeter — the thickness of cartilage in a human joint.

“That is a very hard thing to do. Drugs typically will get cleared before they are able to move through much of the cartilage,” Geiger says. “When you start to think about translating this technology from studies in rats to larger animals and someday humans, the ability of this technology to succeed depends on its ability to work in thicker cartilage.”

The researchers began developing this material as a way to treat osteoarthritis that arises after traumatic injury, but they believe it could also be adapted to treat age-related osteoarthritis. They now plan to explore the possibility of delivering different types of drugs, such as other growth factors, drugs that block inflammatory cytokines, and nucleic acids such as DNA and RNA.

The research was funded by the Department of Defense Congressionally Funded Medical Research Program and a National Science Foundation fellowship.

November 28, 2018 | More

A new way to provide cooling without power Device developed at MIT could provide refrigeration for off-grid locations.

A new way to provide cooling without power

MIT researchers have devised a new way of providing cooling on a hot sunny day, using inexpensive materials and requiring no fossil fuel-generated power. The passive system, which could be used to supplement other cooling systems to preserve food and medications in hot, off-grid locations, is essentially a high-tech version of a parasol.

The system allows emission of heat at mid-infrared range of light that can pass straight out through the atmosphere and radiate into the cold of outer space, punching right through the gases that act like a greenhouse. To prevent heating in the direct sunlight, a small strip of metal suspended above the device blocks the sun’s direct rays.

The new system is described this week in the journal Nature Communications in a paper by research scientist Bikram Bhatia, graduate student Arny Leroy, professor of mechanical engineering and department head Evelyn Wang, professor of physics Marin Soljačić, and six others at MIT.

In theory, the system they designed could provide cooling of as much as 20 degrees Celsius (36 degrees Fahrenheit) below the ambient temperature in a location like Boston, the researchers say. So far, in their initial proof-of-concept testing, they have achieved a cooling of 6 C (about 11 F). For applications that require even more cooling, the remainder could be achieved through conventional refrigeration systems or thermoelectric cooling.

Other groups have attempted to design passive cooling systems that radiate heat in the form of mid-infrared wavelengths of light, but these systems have been based on complex engineered photonic devices that can be expensive to make and not readily available for widespread use, the researchers say. The devices are complex because they are designed to reflect all wavelengths of sunlight almost perfectly, and only to emit radiation in the mid-infrared range, for the most part. That combination of selective reflectivity and emissivity requires a multilayer material where the thicknesses of the layers are controlled to nanometer precision.

But it turns out that similar selectivity can be achieved by simply blocking the direct sunlight with a narrow strip placed at just the right angle to cover the sun’s path across the sky, requiring no active tracking by the device. Then, a simple device built from a combination of inexpensive plastic film, polished aluminum, white paint, and insulation can allow for the necessary emission of heat through mid-infrared radiation, which is how most natural objects cool off, while preventing the device from being heated by the direct sunlight. In fact, simple radiative cooling systems have been used since ancient times to achieve nighttime cooling; the problem was that such systems didn’t work in the daytime because the heating effect of the sunlight was at least 10 times stronger than the maximum achievable cooling effect.

But the sun’s heating rays travel in straight lines and are easily blocked — as we experience, for example, by stepping into the shadow of a tree on a hot day. By shading the device by essentially putting an umbrella over it, and supplementing that with insulation around the device to protect it from the ambient air temperature, the researchers made passive cooling more viable.

“We built the setup and did outdoors experiments on an MIT rooftop,” Bhatia says. “It was done using very simple materials” and clearly showed the effectiveness of the system.

“It’s kind of deceptively simple,” Wang says. “By having a separate shade and an emitter to the atmosphere — two separate components that can be relatively low-cost — the system doesn’t require a special ability to emit and absorb selectively. We’re using angular selectivity to allow blocking the direct sun, as we continue to emit the heat-carrying wavelengths to the sky.”

This project “inspired us to rethink about the usage of ‘shade,’” says Yichen Shen, a research affiliate and co-author of the paper. “In the past, people have only been thinking about using it to reduce heating. But now, we know if the shade is used smartly together with some supportive light filtering, it can actually be used to cool the object down,” he says.

One limiting factor for the system is humidity in the atmosphere, Leroy says, which can block some of the infrared emission through the air. In a place like Boston, close to the ocean and relatively humid, this constrains the total amount of cooling that can be achieved, limiting it to about 20 degrees Celsius. But in drier environments, such as the southwestern U.S. or many desert or arid environments around the world, the maximum achievable cooling could actually be much greater, he points out, potentially as much as 40 C (72 F).

While most research on radiative cooling has focused on larger systems that might be applied to cooling entire rooms or buildings, this approach is more localized, Wang says: “This would be useful for refrigeration applications, such as food storage or vaccines.” Indeed, protecting vaccines and other medicines from spoilage in hot, tropical conditions has been a major ongoing challenge that this technology could be well-positioned to address.

Even if the system wasn’t sufficient to bring down the temperature all the way to needed levels, “it could at least reduce the loads” on the electrical refrigeration systems, to provide just the final bit of cooling, Wang says.

The system might also be useful for some kinds of concentrated photovoltaic systems, where mirrors are used to focus sunlight on a solar cell to increase its efficiency. But such systems can easily overheat and generally require active thermal management with fluids and pumps. Instead, the backside of such concentrating systems could be fitted with the mid-infrared emissive surfaces used in the passive cooling system, and could control the heating without any active intervention.

As they continue to work on improving the system, the biggest challenge is finding ways to improve the insulation of the device, to prevent it from heating up too much from the surrounding air, while not blocking its ability to radiate heat. “The main challenge is finding insulating material that would be infrared-transparent,” Leroy says.

The team has applied for patents on the invention and hope that it can begin to find real-world applications quite rapidly.

The team included Lin Zhao, Melissa Gianello, Duanhui Li, Tian Gu, and Juejun Hu, all at MIT. The work was supported as part of the Solid-State Solar Thermal Energy Conversion (S3TEC) Center, an Energy Frontier Research Center of the U.S. Department of Energy.

November 28, 2018 | More

Giving early-career women in mechanical engineering the tools to succeed in academia

Giving early-career women in mechanical engineering the tools to succeed in academia

For two days in late October, 34 of the brightest minds in mechanical engineering convened on MIT’s campus. They all come from different backgrounds — one person studies human-robot interaction at Stanford University while another conducts research in thermal equipment design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. But they all have one thing in common: They are all female graduate students and postdocs considering a career in academia.

These women attended the inaugural Rising Stars in Mechanical Engineering Workshop hosted by MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. The program, which is modeled after the successful Rising Stars Workshops in biomedical engineering, physics, civil and environmental engineering, and electrical engineering and computer science, aims to prepare women for the challenges associated with a career in academia. Topics covered ranged from leadership skill, to establishing a lab as a junior faculty member, and communicating their research vision.

“Our goal throughout the workshop was for them to develop professional skills as they envision a career in academia,” said workshop co-chair Evelyn Wang, the Gail E. Kendall Professor and department head for mechanical engineering. “Providing these talented young women with more mentorship and career skills can help pave the way for gender parity in mechanical engineering departments around the world.”

Wang kicked off the workshop by welcoming the researchers, who had been selected for the workshop based on their many achievements. She then introduced Deborah Burstein, a researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center who also works for the MIT IMPACT Program. IMPACT helps researchers better articulate their work and identify ways they can make a lasting impact in their fields.

“Many of the participants commented that they wish they had learned the skills discussed in the IMPACT sessions in graduate school as it would have made their grant proposals much more effective,” said Theresa Werth, the program manager for Rising Stars in Mechanical Engineering.

The first day concluded with a series of panels where faculty from MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering reflected on their own experience as early career researchers. The first panel focused on the journey from student life to faculty life. When asked about the most important thing to do in the first year of a faculty job, Amos Winter, associate professor of mechanical engineering, extolled the virtues of patience.

“It’s helpful to recognize that there is a gestation period for a new faculty member. It takes a few years to get up and running, and that’s okay,” he said.

In a second panel, faculty discussed the various choices and serendipitous events that have altered their career paths. Yang Shao-Horn, the W.M. Keck Professor of Energy, emphasized the importance of reflection when deciding what projects to focus on.

“When we look forward we don’t know the risks or benefits, it’s only when we reflect that we can see clearly,” Yang said. “It’s a journey about knowing yourself.”

Akanksha Menon, a postdoc at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, found hearing personal stories from young faculty useful. “Just to know that they were in our same shoes and felt the same insecurities or faced the same challenges – that’s been really great,” said Menon.

The second day of the workshop focused on the most pressing question on the minds of most PhD students and postdocs: how to get a job. A team from HFP Consulting introduced participants to the leadership and management skills needed to build a successful career in research.

The final lecture was given by Maria Yang, MIT associate professor of mechanical engineering and workshop co-chair.

“We assembled a truly inspiring group of young women,” said Yang. “They were incredibly engaged and enthusiastic throughout the workshop. By the end of the two days, they had even more confidence than when they first walked in.”

The women said they left the event with more than confidence and career building skills, they were now a part of a new community. For Kelilah Wolkowicz, a postdoc at Harvard University who recently completed her PhD at Penn State where she focused on wheelchair design, the comradery she felt with her fellow attendees was a highlight of the workshop.

“As you bounce from one university to another, it can be hard to establish a community of peers,” Wolkowicz explains. “This workshop has really helped with that because we’ve been able to meet so many women in our field who will be following similar career trajectories.”

In the coming years, Rising Stars workshops will be hosted by mechanical engineering departments at both Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley.

November 2, 2018 | More

Office of Sustainability names 2018 grant winners

Office of Sustainability names 2018 grant winners

This October, the MIT Office of Sustainability (MITOS) announced the winners of the 2018 Campus Sustainability Incubator Fund grants. With the Incubator Fund, MITOS supports research that utilizes MIT’s campus and its facilities as a test bed for new, sustainable solutions.

Now in its second year of awards, the Incubator Fund is supporting two new projects: Professor Jessika Trancik, in the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society, and Professor Douglas Hart, in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.  The Trancik team seeks to study on-site renewable energy storage systems and the Hart team will be engaging in a two-semester class to prototype carbon-neutral cooling systems. In both cases, the research will be managed in collaboration with operational staff within the Department of Facilities and the Central Utilities Plant (CUP).

The Incubator Fund was established in summer 2017 thanks to a donation from Malcolm Strandberg to support projects that bring students, faculty, and staff together to apply sustainability research and innovation on campus.

“The MIT campus provides a unique opportunity for researchers to work with staff and students to prove the feasibility of sustainable solutions on the individual and campus scale, with an eye on how they can be scaled up to cities and beyond,” says Julie Newman, director of MITOS and convener of the fund’s Advisory Committee. “It has been exciting to watch the first cohort’s progress, and we are thrilled to support these two projects this year.”

Calm, cool, and carbon-neutral

This year, undergraduate students taking 2.013 (Engineering Systems Design) and 2.014 (Engineering Systems Development) with Hart have been tasked with creating a high efficiency, carbon-neutral cooling system that can be tested directly with MIT’s existing infrastructure.

The challenge is imminent: As climate change continues to increase average temperatures particularly in highly populated parts of the globe, systems for cooling buildings will be necessary for human health. But in the case of current technologies, those cooling systems feed heat and carbon back into the environment and exacerbate the problem.

As a first step, the classes will design carbon-neutral cooling systems that could be integrated into MIT’s buildings. To ensure their design will be compatible with campus facilities, the class is working directly with staff at the MIT Central Utilities Plant (CUP), the on-campus power plant. Given the plant’s convenient location to campus, engineers from the CUP can visit the class to work with students on a regular basis.

“2.013 and 2.014 immerse students in a real-world design environment in which they are accountable to a sponsor, where their work has significant impact, and success or failure means more than a grade,” says Hart. “Working closely with the staff of CUP inherently raises the level of professionalism in the class while providing students with knowledgeable mentors that can guide them through the transition from student to professional engineer.”

The fall semester will be spent in design, and in the spring, students will develop their carbon-neutral solutions. Finally, a smaller group of students may stay on for the summer to test and apply the project on campus.

“Working with researchers and students is refreshing,” says Seth Kinderman, plant engineering manager at CUP. “Typically, we support the campus and students by making steam, electricity, and chilled water. Other times, we can support students and research directly.”

Saving (energy) for a rainy day

A look at Boston’s weather forecast reveals the necessity of Trancik’s research. Solar energy is not available all the time, and this can be a challenge for renewable energy installations in regions like the Northeast where overcast skies and precipitation happen frequently and can last for days.

One potential solution is to improve upon energy storage systems, but there are still limited data available about such systems, and much of what has been collected are proprietary. Trancik’s team plans to work with MIT Facilities to explore the installation of lithium-ion batteries.

“We are trying to understand how to optimize energy storage systems used in conjunction with sources of renewable energy,” says Micah Ziegler, a postdoc in the Trancik Lab. “The opportunity to collaborate with the MIT Department of Facilities to collect relevant data will be invaluable for our research and for the design and operation of these energy systems.”

Once the batteries are in place, the researchers can test different strategies for redistributing the electricity they store. Innovations may come from facilities management, electrical engineering, or chemical engineering of the battery systems. And the data they gather could identify, for example, which strategies are most effective for reducing emissions or optimizing energy efficiency.

As the first project of its kind to plan to make the data available through the Sustainability DataPool, Trancik’s work will be a lasting contribution to energy storage system technology.

From 2017 seed funds, projects continue to grow

Work continues on the diverse projects that were awarded the inaugural Campus Sustainability Incubator Fund grants last year. This October, the team led by Professor Kripa Varanasi from the Department of Mechanical Engineering installed an electrified, water-catching dome structure over the steam plumes of MIT’s CUP, which could drastically reduce the water lost as steam.

Another project, initially led by Lisa Anderson in the Department of Chemical Engineering, and now overseen by MIT Research Scientist Jeremy Gregory, found last year that MIT orders three million lab gloves annually, and as of right now, it’s not clear where they are all going once they are used. That’s the next question, which this research team will begin tackling this year by conducting waste assessments in laboratories.

Meanwhile, Randy Kirchain in the Materials Research Laboratory has been leading an incubator project to support sustainable building design on campus. Kirchain’s team has been developing quantitative tools that factor sustainability into the design process while also consulting designers, to ensure the tool’s usefulness.

November 2, 2018 | More

Fleets of drones could aid searches for lost hikers

Fleets of drones could aid searches for lost hikers

Finding lost hikers in forests can be a difficult and lengthy process, as helicopters and drones can’t get a glimpse through the thick tree canopy. Recently, it’s been proposed that autonomous drones, which can bob and weave through trees, could aid these searches. But the GPS signals used to guide the aircraft can be unreliable or nonexistent in forest environments.

In a paper being presented at the International Symposium on Experimental Robotics conference next week, MIT researchers describe an autonomous system for a fleet of drones to collaboratively search under dense forest canopies. The drones use only onboard computation and wireless communication — no GPS required.

Each autonomous quadrotor drone is equipped with laser-range finders for position estimation, localization, and path planning. As the drone flies around, it creates an individual 3-D map of the terrain. Algorithms help it recognize unexplored and already-searched spots, so it knows when it’s fully mapped an area. An off-board ground station fuses individual maps from multiple drones into a global 3-D map that can be monitored by human rescuers.

In a real-world implementation, though not in the current system, the drones would come equipped with object detection to identify a missing hiker. When located, the drone would tag the hiker’s location on the global map. Humans could then use this information to plan a rescue mission.

“Essentially, we’re replacing humans with a fleet of drones to make the search part of the search-and-rescue process more efficient,” says first author Yulun Tian, a graduate student in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AeroAstro).

The researchers tested multiple drones in simulations of randomly generated forests, and tested two drones in a forested area within NASA’s Langley Research Center. In both experiments, each drone mapped a roughly 20-square-meter area in about two to five minutes and collaboratively fused their maps together in real-time. The drones also performed well across several metrics, including overall speed and time to complete the mission, detection of forest features, and accurate merging of maps.

Co-authors on the paper are: Katherine Liu, a PhD student in MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and AeroAstro; Kyel Ok, a PhD student in CSAIL and the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; Loc Tran and Danette Allen of the NASA Langley Research Center; Nicholas Roy, an AeroAstro professor and CSAIL researcher; and Jonathan P. How, the Richard Cockburn Maclaurin Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Exploring and mapping

On each drone, the researchers mounted a LIDAR system, which creates a 2-D scan of the surrounding obstacles by shooting laser beams and measuring the reflected pulses. This can be used to detect trees; however, to drones, individual trees appear remarkably similar. If a drone can’t recognize a given tree, it can’t determine if it’s already explored an area.

The researchers programmed their drones to instead identify multiple trees’ orientations, which is far more distinctive. With this method, when the LIDAR signal returns a cluster of trees, an algorithm calculates the angles and distances between trees to identify that cluster. “Drones can use that as a unique signature to tell if they’ve visited this area before or if it’s a new area,” Tian says.

This feature-detection technique helps the ground station accurately merge maps. The drones generally explore an area in loops, producing scans as they go. The ground station continuously monitors the scans. When two drones loop around to the same cluster of trees, the ground station merges the maps by calculating the relative transformation between the drones, and then fusing the individual maps to maintain consistent orientations.

“Calculating that relative transformation tells you how you should align the two maps so it corresponds to exactly how the forest looks,” Tian says.

In the ground station, robotic navigation software called “simultaneous localization and mapping” (SLAM) — which both maps an unknown area and keeps track of an agent inside the area — uses the LIDAR input to localize and capture the position of the drones. This helps it fuse the maps accurately.

The end result is a map with 3-D terrain features. Trees appear as blocks of colored shades of blue to green, depending on height. Unexplored areas are dark but turn gray as they’re mapped by a drone. On-board path-planning software tells a drone to always explore these dark unexplored areas as it flies around. Producing a 3-D map is more reliable than simply attaching a camera to a drone and monitoring the video feed, Tian says. Transmitting video to a central station, for instance, requires a lot of bandwidth that may not be available in forested areas.

More efficient searching

A key innovation is a novel search strategy that let the drones more efficiently explore an area. According to a more traditional approach, a drone would always search the closest possible unknown area. However, that could be in any number of directions from the drone’s current position. The drone usually flies a short distance, and then stops to select a new direction.

“That doesn’t respect dynamics of drone [movement],” Tian says. “It has to stop and turn, so that means it’s very inefficient in terms of time and energy, and you can’t really pick up speed.”

Instead, the researchers’ drones explore the closest possible area, while considering their current direction. They believe this can help the drones maintain a more consistent velocity. This strategy — where the drone tends to travel in a spiral pattern — covers a search area much faster. “In search and rescue missions, time is very important,” Tian says.

In the paper, the researchers compared their new search strategy with a traditional method. Compared to that baseline, the researchers’ strategy helped the drones cover significantly more area, several minutes faster and with higher average speeds.

One limitation for practical use is that the drones still must communicate with an off-board ground station for map merging. In their outdoor experiment, the researchers had to set up a wireless router that connected each drone and the ground station. In the future, they hope to design the drones to communicate wirelessly when approaching one another, fuse their maps, and then cut communication when they separate. The ground station, in that case, would only be used to monitor the updated global map.

November 2, 2018 | More

Youssef Marzouk and Nicolas Hadjiconstantinou to direct the Center for Computational Engineering

Youssef Marzouk and Nicolas Hadjiconstantinou to direct the Center for Computational Engineering

Youssef Marzouk and Nicolas Hadjiconstantinou have been named co-directors of MIT’s Center for Computational Engineering (CCE), effective immediately, Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of the School of Engineering, has announced.

“This is an exciting time for computation at MIT, and I’m delighted they have agreed to serve in this important role,” Chadarkasan says. “The CCE has become a hub for some of the most advanced thinking on the science and engineering of computation. Professor Marzouk and Professor Hadjiconstantinou’s deep connections to this community and its pioneering educational programs will make them important partners in our plans for the future.”

An associate professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Marzouk is also the director of MIT’s Aerospace Computational Design Laboratory and has served as co-director of graduate educational programs for the CCE. He is also a core member of the Statistics and Data Science Center in MIT’s Institute for Data, Systems, and Society. His research focuses on uncertainty quantification, inverse problems, statistical inference, and large-scale Bayesian computation for complex physical systems, and on using these approaches to address modeling challenges in energy conversion and environmental applications.

Marzouk received his BS, MS, and PhD degrees in mechanical engineering at the Institute, and spent several years at Sandia National Laboratories before joining the faculty in 2009. He is a recipient of the Hertz Foundation doctoral thesis prize, the Sandia Laboratories Truman Fellowship, the U.S. Department of Energy Early Career Research Award, and the Junior Bose Award for Teaching Excellence from the MIT School of Engineering.

Hadjiconstantinou is a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and co-director for the CCE’s Computation for Design and Optimization program, as well as its computational science and engineering PhD program. His research interests include kinetic transport for small-scale fluid flow and solid-state heat transfer applications, molecular and stochastic simulation of nanoscale transport phenomena, and molecular and multiscale simulation method development. His research group uses theoretical molecular mechanics approaches, as well as molecular simulation techniques, to develop better understanding, as well as reliable models of nanoscale transport.

Hadjiconstantinou received a BA and MA in engineering from the University of Cambridge, and MS’s in both mechanical engineering and physics from MIT, where he also earned his PhD in mechanical engineering. He is a former Lawrence Livermore Fellow and was awarded the Gustus L. Larson Award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

The Center for Computational Engineering was launched in 2008 and serves as a focal point for research and education in computational science and engineering at MIT. The center has its roots in the Computation for Design and Optimization (CDO) master’s degree program, which first started in 2005. CDO was incorporated into CCE when it was established, and in 2013 the center established a PhD program in computational science and engineering.

The center now comprises faculty and research partners from across the Institute. Its work focuses on advancing computational methodologies for scientific discovery and technological innovation across a spectrum of societally important application areas.

The CCE’s education programs are, by construction, interdisciplinary. Students in the center’s doctoral program, for example, satisfy departmental requirements with participating partner departments (currently Aeronautics and Astronautics, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Nuclear Science and Engineering, and Mathematics), but with enhancements that reflect an emphasis on computational engineering. This with-departments curricular structure is already serving as a model for other interdisciplinary doctoral programs at MIT, such as the PhD program in statistics administered within IDSS.

Marzouk and Hadjiconstantinou replace Anthony Patera, the Ford Foundation Professor of Engineering in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Karen Willcox, a former MIT professor of aeronautics and astronautics.

October 31, 2018 | More

Cryptographic protocol enables greater collaboration in drug discovery

Cryptographic protocol enables greater collaboration in drug discovery

MIT researchers have developed a cryptographic system that could help neural networks identify promising drug candidates in massive pharmacological datasets, while keeping the data private. Secure computation done at such a massive scale could enable broad pooling of sensitive pharmacological data for predictive drug discovery.

Datasets of drug-target interactions (DTI), which show whether candidate compounds act on target proteins, are critical in helping researchers develop new medications. Models can be trained to crunch datasets of known DTIs and then, using that information, find novel drug candidates.

In recent years, pharmaceutical firms, universities, and other entities have become open to pooling pharmacological data into larger databases that can greatly improve training of these models. Due to intellectual property matters and other privacy concerns, however, these datasets remain limited in scope. Cryptography methods to secure the data are so computationally intensive they don’t scale well to datasets beyond, say, tens of thousands of DTIs, which is relatively small.

In a paper published today in Science, researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) describe a neural network securely trained and tested on a dataset of more than a million DTIs. The network leverages modern cryptographic tools and optimization techniques to keep the input data private, while running quickly and efficiently at scale.

The team’s experiments show the network performs faster and more accurately than existing approaches; it can process massive datasets in days, whereas other cryptographic frameworks would take months. Moreover, the network identified several novel interactions, including one between the leukemia drug imatinib and an enzyme ErbB4 — mutations of which have been associated with cancer — which could have clinical significance.

“People realize they need to pool their data to greatly accelerate the drug discovery process and enable us, together, to make scientific advances in solving important human diseases, such as cancer or diabetes. But they don’t have good ways of doing it,” says corresponding author Bonnie Berger, the Simons Professor of Mathematics and a principal investigator at CSAIL. “With this work, we provide a way for these entities to efficiently pool and analyze their data at a very large scale.”

Joining Berger on the paper are co-first authors Brian Hie and Hyunghoon Cho, both graduate students in electrical engineering and computer science and researchers in CSAIL’s Computation and Biology group.

“Secret sharing” data

The new paper builds on previous work by the researchers in protecting patient confidentiality in genomic studies, which find links between particular genetic variants and incidence of disease. That genomic data could potentially reveal personal information, so patients can be reluctant to enroll in the studies. In that work, Berger, Cho, and a former Stanford University PhD student developed a protocol based on a cryptography framework called “secret sharing,” which securely and efficiently analyzes datasets of a million genomes. In contrast, existing proposals could handle only a few thousand genomes.

Secret sharing is used in multiparty computation, where sensitive data is divided into separate “shares” among multiple servers. Throughout computation, each party will always have only its share of the data, which appears fully random. Collectively, however, the servers can still communicate and perform useful operations on the underlying private data. At the end of the computation, when a result is needed, the parties combine their shares to reveal the result.

“We used our previous work as a basis to apply secret sharing to the problem of pharmacological collaboration, but it didn’t work right off the shelf,” Berger says.

A key innovation was reducing the computation needed in training and testing. Existing predictive drug-discovery models represent the chemical and protein structures of DTIs as graphs or matrices. These approaches, however, scale quadratically, or squared, with the number of DTIs in the dataset. Basically, processing these representations becomes extremely computationally intensive as the size of the dataset grows. “While that may be fine for working with the raw data, if you try that in secure computation, it’s infeasible,” Hie says.

The researchers instead trained a neural network that relies on linear calculations, which scale far more efficiently with the data. “We absolutely needed scalability, because we’re trying to provide a way to pool data together [into] much larger datasets,” Cho says.

The researchers trained a neural network on the STITCH dataset, which has 1.5 million DTIs, making it the largest publicly available dataset of its kind. In training, the network encodes each drug compound and protein structure as a simple vector representation. This essentially condenses the complicated structures as 1s and 0s that a computer can easily process. From those vectors, the network then learns the patterns of interactions and noninteractions. Fed new pairs of compounds and protein structures, the network then predicts if they’ll interact.

The network also has an architecture optimized for efficiency and security. Each layer of a neural network requires some activation function that determines how to send the information to the next layer. In their network, the researchers used an efficient activation function called a rectified linear unit (ReLU). This function requires only a single, secure numerical comparison of an interaction to determine whether to send (1) or not send (0) the data to the next layer, while also never revealing anything about the actual data. This operation can be more efficient in secure computation compared to more complex functions, so it reduces computational burden while ensuring data privacy.

“The reason that’s important is we want to do this within the secret sharing framework … and we don’t want to ramp up the computational overhead,” Berger says. In the end, “no parameters of the model are revealed and all input data — the drugs, targets, and interactions — are kept private.”

Finding interactions

The researchers pitted their network against several state-of-the-art, plaintext (unencrypted) models on a portion of known DTIs from DrugBank, a popular dataset containing about 2,000 DTIs. In addition to keeping the data private, the researchers’ network outperformed all of the models in prediction accuracy. Only two baseline models could reasonably scale to the STITCH dataset, and the researchers’ model achieved nearly double the accuracy of those models.

The researchers also tested drug-target pairs with no listed interactions in STITCH, and found several clinically established drug interactions that weren’t listed in the database but should be. In the paper, the researchers list the top strongest predictions, including: droloxifene and an estrogen receptor, which reached phase III clinical trials as a treatment for breast cancer; and seocalcitol and a vitamin D receptor to treat other cancers. Cho and Hie independently validated the highest-scoring novel interactions via contract research organizations.

Next, the researchers are working with partners to establish their collaborative pipeline in a real-world setting. “We are interested in putting together an environment for secure computation, so we can run our secure protocol with real data,” Cho says.

October 18, 2018 | More

Four from MIT named American Physical Society Fellows for 2018

Four from MIT named American Physical Society Fellows for 2018

Four members of the MIT community have been elected as fellows of the American Physical Society for 2018. The distinct honor is bestowed on less than 0.5 percent of the society’s membership each year.

APS Fellowship recognizes members that have completed exceptional physics research, identified innovative applications of physics to science and technology, or furthered physics education. Nominated by their peers, the four were selected based on their outstanding contributions to the field.

Lisa Barsotti is a principal research scientist at the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research and a member of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) team. Barsotti was nominated by the Division of Gravitational Physics for her “extraordinary leadership in commissioning the advanced LIGO detectors, improving their sensitivity through implementation of squeezed light, and enhancing the operation of the gravitational wave detector network through joint run planning between LIGO and Virgo.”

Martin Bazant is the E. G. Roos (1944) Professor of Chemical Engineering and a professor of mathematics. Nominated by the Division of Fluid Dynamics, Bazant was cited for “seminal contributions to electrokinetics and electrochemical physics, and their links to fluid dynamics, notably theories of diffuse-charge dynamics, induced-charge electro-osmosis, and electrochemical phase separation.”

Pablo Jarillo-Herrero is the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics. Jarillo-Herrero was nominated by the Division of Condensed Matter Physics and selected based on his “seminal contributions to quantum electronic transport and optoelectronics in van der Waals materials and heterostructures.”

Richard Lanza is a senior research scientist in the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering. Nominated by the Forum on Physics and Society, Lanza was cited for his “innovative application of physics and the development of new technologies to allow detection of explosives and weapon-usable nuclear materials, which has greatly benefited national and international security.”

October 17, 2018 | More

MIT reshapes itself to shape the future

MIT reshapes itself to shape the future

MIT today announced a new $1 billion commitment to address the global opportunities and challenges presented by the prevalence of computing and the rise of artificial intelligence (AI). The initiative marks the single largest investment in computing and AI by an American academic institution, and will help position the United States to lead the world in preparing for the rapid evolution of computing and AI.

At the heart of this endeavor will be the new MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing, made possible by a $350 million foundational gift from Mr. Schwarzman, the chairman, CEO and co-founder of Blackstone, a leading global asset manager.

Headquartered in a signature new building on MIT’s campus, the new MIT Schwarzman College of Computing will be an interdisciplinary hub for work in computer science, AI, data science, and related fields. The College will:

  • reorient MIT to bring the power of computing and AI to all fields of study at MIT, allowing the future of computing and AI to be shaped by insights from all other disciplines;
  • create 50 new faculty positions that will be located both within the College and jointly with other departments across MIT — nearly doubling MIT’s academic capability in computing and AI;
  • give MIT’s five schools a shared structure for collaborative education, research, and innovation in computing and AI;
  • educate students in every discipline to responsibly use and develop AI and computing technologies to help make a better world; and
  • transform education and research in public policy and ethical considerations relevant to computing and AI.

With the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing’s founding, MIT seeks to strengthen its position as a key international player in the responsible and ethical evolution of technologies that are poised to fundamentally transform society. Amid a rapidly evolving geopolitical environment that is constantly being reshaped by technology, the College will have significant impact on our nation’s competitiveness and security.

“As computing reshapes our world, MIT intends to help make sure it does so for the good of all,” says MIT President L. Rafael Reif. “In keeping with the scope of this challenge, we are reshaping MIT. The MIT Schwarzman College of Computing will constitute both a global center for computing research and education, and an intellectual foundry for powerful new AI tools. Just as important, the College will equip students and researchers in any discipline to use computing and AI to advance their disciplines and vice-versa, as well as to think critically about the human impact of their work. With uncommon insight and generosity, Mr. Schwarzman is enabling a bold agenda that will lead to a better world. I am deeply grateful for his commitment to our shared vision.”

Stephen A. Schwarzman is chairman, CEO and co-founder of Blackstone, one of the world’s leading investment firms, with approximately $440 billion in assets under management. Mr. Schwarzman is an active philanthropist with a history of supporting education, culture, and the arts, among other things. Whether in business or philanthropy, he has dedicated himself to tackling global-scale problems, with transformative and paradigm-shifting solutions.

This year, he gave $5 million to Harvard Business School to support the development of case studies and other programming that explore the implications of AI on industries and business. In 2015, Mr. Schwarzman donated $150 million to Yale University to establish the Schwarzman Center, a first-of-its-kind campus center in Yale’s historic Commons building. In 2013, he founded a highly selective international scholarship program, Schwarzman Scholars, at Tsinghua University in Beijing to educate future global leaders about China. At $578 million raised to date, the program is modeled on the Rhodes Scholarship and is the single largest philanthropic effort in China’s history coming largely from international donors.

“There is no more important opportunity or challenge facing our nation than to responsibly harness the power of artificial intelligence so that we remain competitive globally and achieve breakthroughs that will improve our entire society,” Mr. Schwarzman says. “We face fundamental questions about how to ensure that technological advancements benefit all — especially those most vulnerable to the radical changes AI will inevitably bring to the nature of the workforce. MIT’s initiative will help America solve these challenges and continue to lead on computing and AI throughout the 21st century and beyond.”

“As one of the world leaders in technological innovation, MIT has the right expertise and the right values to serve as the ‘true north’ of AI in pursuit of the answers we urgently need,” Mr. Schwarzman adds. “With the ability to bring together the best minds in AI research, development, and ethics, higher education is uniquely situated to be the incubator for solving these challenges in ways the private and public sectors cannot. Our hope is that this ambitious initiative serves as a clarion call to our government that massive financial investment in AI is necessary to ensure that America has a leading voice in shaping the future of these powerful and transformative technologies.”

New college, structure, building, and faculty

The MIT Schwarzman College of Computing represents the most significant structural change to MIT since the early 1950s, which saw the establishment of schools for management and for the humanities and social sciences:

  • The College is slated to open in Sept. 2019, with construction of a new building for the College scheduled to be completed in 2022.
  • Fifty new faculty positions will be created: 25 to be appointed to advance computing in the College, and 25 to be appointed jointly in the College and departments across MIT.
  • A new deanship will be established for the College.

Today’s news follows a period of consultation of the MIT faculty led by President Reif, Provost Martin Schmidt, and Dean of the School of Engineering Anantha Chandrakasan. The chair of the faculty, Professor Susan Silbey, also participated in these consultations. Reif and Schmidt have also received letters of support for the College from academic leadership across MIT.

“Because the journey we embark on today will be Institute-wide, we needed input from across MIT in order to establish the right vision,” Schmidt says. “Our planning benefited greatly from the imagination of many members of our community — and we will seek a great deal more input over the next year. By design, the College will not be a silo: It will be connective tissue for the whole Institute.”

“I see exciting possibilities in this new structure,” says Melissa Nobles, dean of the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. “Faculty in a range of departments have a great deal to gain from new kinds of algorithmic tools — and a great deal of insight to offer their makers. Faculty in every school at MIT will be able to shape the work of the College.”

At its meeting on Oct. 5, the MIT Corporation — MIT’s board of trustees — endorsed the establishment of the College.

Corporation Chair Robert Millard says, “The new College positions MIT to lead in this important area, for the benefit of the United States and the world at large. In making this historic gift, Mr. Schwarzman has not only joined a select group of MIT’s most generous supporters, he has also helped give shape to a vision that will propel MIT into the future. We are all deeply grateful.”

Empowering the pursuit of MIT’s mission

The MIT Schwarzman College of Computing will aspire to excellence in MIT’s three main areas of work: education, research, and innovation:

  • The College will teach students the foundations of computing broadly and provide integrated curricula designed to satisfy the high level of interest in majors that cross computer science with other disciplines, and in learning how machine learning and data science can be applied to a variety of fields.
  • It will seek to enable advances along the full spectrum of research — from fundamental, curiosity-driven inquiry to research on market-ready applications, in a wide range of MIT departments, labs, centers, and initiatives.

“As MIT’s partner in shaping the future of AI, IBM is excited by this new initiative,” says Ginni Rometty IBM chairman, president, and CEO. “The establishment of the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing is an unprecedented investment in the promise of this technology. It will build powerfully on the pioneering research taking place through the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab. Together, we will continue to unlock the massive potential of AI and explore its ethical and economic impacts on society.”

Sparking thought around policy and ethics

The MIT Schwarzman College of Computing will seek to be not only a center of advances in computing, but also a place for teaching and research on relevant policy and ethics to better ensure that the groundbreaking technologies of the future are responsibly implemented in support of the greater good. To advance these priorities, the College will:

  • develop new curricula that will connect computer science and AI with other disciplines;
  • host forums to engage national leaders from business, government, academia, and journalism to examine the anticipated outcomes of advances in AI and machine learning, and to shape policies around the ethics of AI;
  • encourage scientists, engineers, and social scientists to collaborate on analysis of emerging technology, and on research that will serve industry, policymakers, and the broader research community; and
  • offer selective undergraduate research opportunities, graduate fellowships in ethics and AI, a seed-grant program for faculty, and a fellowship program to attract distinguished individuals from other universities, government, industry, and journalism.

“Computing is no longer the domain of the experts alone. It’s everywhere, and it needs to be understood and mastered by almost everyone. In that context, for a host of reasons, society is uneasy about technology — and at MIT, that’s a signal we must take very seriously,” President Reif says. “Technological advancements must go hand in hand with the development of ethical guidelines that anticipate the risks of such enormously powerful innovations. This is why we must make sure that the leaders we graduate offer the world not only technological wizardry but also human wisdom — the cultural, ethical, and historical consciousness to use technology for the common good.”

“The College’s attention to ethics matters enormously to me, because we will never realize the full potential of these advancements unless they are guided by a shared understanding of their moral implications for society,” Mr. Schwarzman says. “Advances in computing — and in AI in particular — have increasing power to alter the fabric of society. But left unchecked, these technologies could ultimately hurt more people than they help. We need to do everything we can to ensure all Americans can share in AI’s development. Universities are best positioned for fostering an environment in which everyone can embrace — not fear — the transformations ahead.”

In its pursuit of ethical questions, the College will bring together researchers in a wide range of MIT departments, labs, centers, and initiatives, such as the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab; the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society; the Operations Research Center; the Quest for Intelligence, and beyond.

“There is no doubt that artificial intelligence and automation will impact every facet of society. As we look to the future, we must utilize these important technologies to shape our world for the better and harness their power as a force for social good,” says Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. “I believe that MIT’s groundbreaking initiative, particularly its commitment to address policy and ethics alongside technological advancements, will play a crucial role in ensuring that AI is developed responsibly and used to make our world more just.”

Building on history and breadth

The MIT Schwarzman College of Computing will build on MIT’s legacy of excellence in computation and the study of intelligence. In the 1950s, MIT Professor Marvin Minsky and others created the very idea of artificial intelligence:

  • Today, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) is by far the largest academic department at MIT. Forty percent of MIT’s most recent graduating class chose it, or a combination of it and another discipline, as their major. Its faculty boasts 10 of the 67 winners of the Turing Award, computing’s highest honor.
  • The largest laboratory at MIT is the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, which was established in 2003 but has its roots in two pioneering MIT labs: the Artificial Intelligence Lab, established in 1959 to conduct pioneering research across a range of applications, and the Laboratory for Computer Science, established in 1963 to pursue a Department of Defense project for the development of a computer system accessible to a large number of people.
  • The College’s network function will rely on academic excellence across MIT. Outside of computer science and AI, the Institute hosts a high number of top-ranked departments, ready to be empowered by advances in these digital fields. U.S. News and World Report cites MIT as No. 1 in six graduate engineering specialties — and No. 1 in 17 disciplines and specialties outside of engineering, too, from biological sciences to economics.

“A bold move to reshape the frontiers of computing is what you would expect from MIT,” says Eric Schmidt, former executive chairman of Alphabet and a visiting innovation fellow at MIT. “I’m especially excited about the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, however, because it has such an obviously human agenda.” Schmidt also serves on the advisory boards of the MIT Quest for Intelligence and the MIT Work of the Future Task Force.

“We count many MIT graduates among our team at Apple, and have long admired how the school and its alumni approach technology with humanity in mind. MIT’s decision to focus on computing and AI across the entire institution shows tremendous foresight that will drive students and the world toward a better future,” says Apple CEO Tim Cook.

The path forward

On top of Mr. Schwarzman’s gift, MIT has raised an additional $300 million in support, totaling $650 million of the $1 billion required for the College. Further fundraising is being actively pursued by MIT’s senior administration.

Provost Schmidt has formed a committee to search for the College’s inaugural dean. He will also host forums in the coming days that will allow members of the MIT community to ask questions and offer suggestions about the College. The provost will work closely with the chair of the faculty and the dean of the School of Engineering to define the process for standing up the College.

“I am truly excited by the work ahead,” Schmidt says. “The MIT community will give shape and energy to the College we launch today.”

October 15, 2018 | More

Fabrics are the future

Fabrics are the future

Yoel Fink stands under an unassuming LED ceiling lamp wearing what appears to be just an ordinary baseball cap. “Do you hear it?” he asks. Semiconductor technology within the fibers of the hat is converting the audio encoded in light pulses to electrical pulses, he explains, and those pulses are then converted to sound. “This is one of the first examples of an advanced fabric. It looks like an ordinary hat but it’s really a sophisticated optical communication system.”

Fink and his team are shaping a new destiny for fabrics. Clothing as a communications system: A hat that picks up light transmissions and converts them to sound can hold life-saving potential. “Think about pedestrian safety and self-driving cars. Tremendous investments are going into cars. How about the pedestrians? Do we as pedestrians or bikers get to know if the car has detected us?” Fink asks. “With fabric optical communications your baseball cap can not only alert a car to your presence but importantly let you know if the car detected you. Fabrics for the self-driving future.”

This is just one example, Fink says, of how the next generation of fabrics could change how we think about all of them. An MIT professor of materials science and electrical engineering and CEO of Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA), a $300 million institute on the edge of campus, Fink is eager to share his enthusiasm for fabrics with the MIT community. “While all of this originated in basic science and engineering, we are focusing our efforts on transition to manufacturing and product,” he says. “We would not be here today if not for MIT’s focus on the importance of transitioning technology to the marketplace.”

Fink is a high-energy ideas person. He walks quickly and talks even faster during a tour of the AFFOA facility. He and his staff lean toward the same casual clothing – t-shirts and jeans (his are typically black, “the fastest way to lose two pounds” he quips), and there is a pronounced clarity of purpose as he darts through the building, highlighting the rapid prototyping space and describing AFFOA’s national advanced fabric prototyping network and the dozens of fabric ventures it’s helping to get started.

The overarching plan is to increase the value of fabrics to society, transforming them from something you buy-use-throw away to a platform for experiences and services such as communications and design-on-demand. Transforming fabrics requires new types of fiber technologies that encompass communications, energy storage, color change, physiological monitoring, and more. “We are proposing a ‘Moore’s Law’ analog for fibers,” Fink says. Just as the capabilities of microchips have grown exponentially over the last several decades, the capabilities of fibers are about to take off.

To enable a transformation of this magnitude one needs partners, AFFOA has assembled 130 organizations into a national advanced fabric prototyping network. Many from industry are involved in dozens of projects aimed at getting “Moore’s law fibers” into their products and processes. To rapidly engage industry and academia AFFOA has launched an innovative MicroAward program that is 12 weeks in duration and involves rapid iterations between AFFOA and a member seeking to address challenges in getting advanced fibers into fabrics and product. “At AFFOA our year is 90 days long. We call it shot-clock innovation,” says Fink.

These new “advanced fabrics” incorporate high-speed semiconductor devices, including light-emitting diodes and diode photodetectors, into soft fabric materials. “A lot of groups in the world today talk about ‘smart fabrics’ but in fact end up just inserting conductive materials into fabrics,” Fink says. “Metals on their own cannot do very complex operations. You can’t compute with a piece of metal,” Fink says. “To get sophisticated functionality into anything, you better involve the basic ingredient of modern technology – a semiconductor, which is what we are focusing on. We like to think about fabrics as the new software, capturing the opportunities to create new experiences and services through fabrics much in the same way that software has done over the past decade. For that we need not only technology but importantly entrepreneurs and investors to achieve that transformation and industry to make the product and help inform consumer preferences.”

Fink traces the root of his success to MIT’s meritocratic culture, it’s entrepreneurial spirit, the presence of mentors, and embrace of game-changing ideas. As an MIT student, Fink developed the confidence to ask a group of professors a question that led him to the basis for the discovery of a new type of mirror that has since been commercialized and used to treat hundreds and thousands of patients as part of a life-saving medical device. It also laid the groundwork for the creation of AFFOA. “I think there is a lot of respect for students built into the system at MIT. People realize that ideas come from different directions and from all levels, that student sitting in front of you may eventually discover a cure for a disease, discover a fundamental law or form a great company so you are always listening. I found my calling at MIT and that led to where I am today,” he says.

October 12, 2018 | More