MIT News - Manufacturing MIT News is dedicated to communicating to the media and the public the news and achievements of the students, faculty, staff and the greater MIT community. en Tue, 22 Oct 2019 23:59:59 -0400 Scaling up a cleaner-burning alternative for cookstoves Mechanical engineering students in MIT D-Lab are working with collaborators in Uganda on a solution for the health hazards associated with wood-burning stoves. Tue, 22 Oct 2019 23:59:59 -0400 Mary Beth Gallagher | Department of Mechanical Engineering <p>For millions of people globally, cooking in their own homes can be detrimental to their health, and sometimes deadly. The World Health Organization estimates that 3.8 million people a year die as a result of the soot and smoke generated in traditional wood-burning cookstoves. Women and children in particular are at risk of pneumonia, stroke, lung cancer, or low birth weight.&nbsp;</p> <p>“All their life they’re exposed to this smoke,” says Betty Ikalany, founder and chief executive director of <a href="">Appropriate Energy Saving Technologies (AEST)</a>. “Ten thousand women die annually in Uganda because of inhaling smoke from cookstoves.”</p> <p>Ikalany is working to eliminate the health risks associated with cookstoves in Uganda. In 2012 she met Amy Smith, founding director of <a href="">MIT D-Lab</a>, who introduced her to D-Lab’s method of manufacturing briquettes that produce no soot and very little smoke. Ikalany saw an opportunity to use this technology in Uganda, and founded AEST that same year. She started assembling a team to produce and distribute the briquettes.</p> <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p>Made of charcoal dust, carbonized agricultural waste such as peanut shells and corn husks, and a cassava-water porridge, which acts as a binding agent, the briquettes are wet initially. To be usable in a cookstove, they must be completely dried. Ikalany’s team dries the briquettes on open-air racks.</p> <p>In ideal sunny conditions, it takes three days for the briquettes to dry. Inclement weather or humidity can substantially slow down the evaporation needed to dry the briquettes. When it rains, the briquettes are covered with tarps, completely halting the drying process.</p> <p>“The drying of the briquettes is the bottleneck of the whole process,” says Danielle Gleason, a senior studying mechanical engineering. “In order to scale up production and keep growing as a business, Betty and her team realized that they needed to improve the drying process.”</p> <p>Gleason was one of several students who were connected to Ikalany through MIT D-Lab courses. While taking the cross-listed MIT D-Lab class 2.651/EC.711 (Introduction to Energy in Global Development) as a sophomore, she worked on a project that sought to optimize the drying process in charcoal briquettes. That summer, she traveled to Uganda to meet with Ikalany’s team along with Daniel Sweeney, a research scientist at MIT D-Lab.</p> <p>“Drawing upon their strong theoretical foundation and experiences in the lab and the classroom, we want our students to go out into the field and make real things that have a lasting impact,” explains Maria Yang, professor of mechanical engineering and faculty academic director at MIT D-Lab.</p> <p>During her first trip to Uganda, Gleason focused on information gathering and identifying where there were pain points in the production process of the briquettes.</p> <p>“I went to Uganda not to present an incredibly complex solution, but simply to learn from our community partners, to share some ideas our team has been working on, and to work directly with those who will be impacted by our designs,” adds Gleason.</p> <p>Armed with a better understanding of AEST’s production process, Gleason continued to develop ideas for improving the drying process when she returned to MIT last fall. In MIT D-Lab 2.652/EC.712 (Applications of Energy in Global Development), she worked with a team of students on various designs for a new drying system.</p> <p>“We spent a whole semester figuring out how to improve this airflow and naturally convect the air,” Gleason explains. With sponges acting as stand-ins for the charcoal briquettes, Gleason and her team used heat lamps to replicate the heat and humidity in Uganda. They developed three different designs for tent-like structures that could facilitate drying at all times — even when raining. At the end of the semester, it was time to put these designs to the test.</p> <p>“You can prototype and test all you want, but until you visit the field and experience the real-world conditions and work with the people who will be using your designs, you never fully understand the problem,” adds Gleason.</p> <p>Last January, during MIT’s Independent Activity Period, Gleason returned to Uganda to test designs. She and her team found out that their original idea of having a slanted dryer didn’t work in real-world conditions. Outside of the controlled conditions in the lab, their dryers didn’t have enough air flow to speed up the drying process.</p> <p>They spent several weeks troubleshooting dryer designs with Ikalany and her team. The team ended up designing covered dryers that allowed the briquettes to dry in both sun and rain, increasing the overall throughput.</p> <p>“We believe that once we are able to scale up what we have learned from Danielle and her team we should be able to produce five times more a day,” says Ikalany. “Our production capacity will increase and the demand for customers will be met.”</p> <p>In addition to helping Ikalany scale up the production of the potentially life-saving briquettes, Gleason and her fellow students left Uganda with a broadened world view.</p> <p>“For most students, this is the first time they will visit these countries,” adds Yang. “Not only do we want to benefit our collaborators, we want our students to gain formative and enriching experiences.”</p> <p>Gleason left Uganda with a deeper appreciation of community. “Seeing how close the community Betty and her team are a part of really made me value the idea of community more,” she recalls.</p> <p>While other students will pick up where Gleason and her team left off in their work with Ikalany in the coming months, Gleason hopes to continue working on solutions in the developing world as she explores future career paths. “I really love looking at how people interact with the things they use, and I think there’s so much room for growth in user-interfacing in the developing world,” she says.</p> Senior Danielle Gleason (right) speaks with Goretti Ariago (center) and Salume Awiyo (left), employees of Appropriate Energy Saving Technologies, in Soroti, Uganda. Gleason has made two trips to Uganda to help streamline the production of charcoal briquettes which offer a low-smoke alternative for home cooking fuel.Photo: John Freidah Mechanical engineering, School of Engineering, D-Lab, Africa, Developing countries, Design, Manufacturing, Education, teaching and academics, Food, Health, Students, Women Giving robots a faster grasp An algorithm speeds up the planning process robots use to adjust their grip on objects, for picking and sorting, or tool use. Thu, 17 Oct 2019 09:39:41 -0400 Jennifer Chu | MIT News Office <p>If you’re at a desk with a pen or pencil handy, try this move: Grab the pen by one end with your thumb and index finger, and push the other end against the desk. Slide your fingers down the pen, then flip it upside down, without letting it drop. Not too hard, right?</p> <p>But for a robot — say, one that’s sorting through a bin of objects and attempting to get a good grasp on one of them — this is a computationally taxing maneuver. Before even attempting the move it must calculate a litany of properties and probabilities, such as the friction and geometry of the table, the pen, and its two fingers, and how various combinations of these properties interact mechanically, based on fundamental laws of physics.</p> <p>Now MIT engineers have found a way to significantly speed up the planning process required for a robot to adjust its grasp on an object by pushing that object against a stationary surface. Whereas traditional algorithms would require tens of minutes for planning out a sequence of motions, the new team’s approach shaves this preplanning process down to less than a second.</p> <p>Alberto Rodriguez, associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, says the speedier planning process will enable robots, particularly in industrial settings, to quickly figure out how to push against, slide along, or otherwise use features in their environments to reposition objects in their grasp. Such nimble manipulation is useful for any tasks that involve picking and sorting, and even intricate tool use.</p> <p>“This is a way to extend the dexterity of even simple robotic grippers, because at the end of the day, the environment is something every robot has around it,” Rodriguez says.</p> <p>The team’s results are published today in <em>The International Journal of Robotics Research</em>. Rodriguez’ co-authors are lead author Nikhil Chavan-Dafle, a graduate student in mechanical engineering, and Rachel Holladay, a graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science.</p> <p><strong>Physics in a cone</strong></p> <p>Rodriguez’ group works on enabling robots to leverage their environment to help them accomplish physical tasks, such as picking and sorting objects in a bin. &nbsp;</p> <p>Existing algorithms typically take hours to preplan a sequence of motions for a robotic gripper, mainly because, for every motion that it considers, the algorithm must first calculate whether that motion would satisfy a number of physical laws, such as Newton’s laws of motion and Coulomb’s law describing frictional forces between objects.</p> <p>“It’s a tedious computational process to integrate all those laws, to consider all possible motions the robot can do, and to choose a useful one among those,” Rodriguez says.</p> <p>He and his colleagues found a compact way to solve the physics of these manipulations, in advance of deciding how the robot’s hand should move. They did so by using “motion cones,” which are essentially visual, cone-shaped maps of friction.</p> <p>The inside of the cone depicts all the pushing motions that could be applied to an object in a specific location, while satisfying the fundamental laws of physics and enabling the robot to keep hold of the object. The space outside of the cone represents all the pushes that would in some way cause an object to slip out of the robot’s grasp.</p> <p>“Seemingly simple variations, such as how hard robot grasps the object, can significantly change how the object moves in the grasp when pushed,” Holladay explains. “Based on how hard you’re grasping, there will be a different motion. And that’s part of the physical reasoning that the algorithm handles.”</p> <p>The team’s algorithm calculates a motion cone for different possible configurations between a robotic gripper, an object that it is holding, and the environment against which it is pushing, in order to select and sequence different feasible pushes to reposition the object.</p> <p><img alt="" src="/sites/" style="width: 500px; height: 281px;" /></p> <p><em><span style="font-size:10px;">A new algorithm speeds up the planning process for robotic grippers.&nbsp;A robot in the lab is shown picking up a block letter, T, and pushing it against a nearby wall to re-angle it, before setting it back down in an upright position.</span></em></p> <p>“It’s a complicated process but still much faster than the traditional method — fast enough that planning an entire series of pushes takes half a second,” Holladay says.</p> <p><strong>Big plans</strong></p> <p>The researchers tested the new algorithm on a physical setup with a three-way interaction, in which a simple robotic gripper was holding a T-shaped block and pushing against a vertical bar. They used multiple starting configurations, with the robot gripping the block at a particular position and pushing it against the bar from a certain angle. For each starting configuration, the algorithm instantly generated the map of all the possible forces that the robot could apply and the position of the block that would result.</p> <p>“We did several thousand pushes to verify our model correctly predicts what happens in the real world,” Holladay says. “If we apply a push that’s inside the cone, the grasped object should remain under control. If it’s outside, the object should slip from the grasp.”</p> <p>The researchers found that the algorithm’s predictions reliably matched the physical outcome in the lab, planning out sequences of motions — such as reorienting the block against the bar before setting it down on a table in an upright position — in less than a second, compared with traditional algorithms that take over 500 seconds to plan out.</p> <p>“Because we have this compact representation of the mechanics of this three-way-interaction between robot, object, and their environment, we can now attack bigger planning problems,” Rodriguez says.</p> <p>The group is hoping to apply and extend its approach to enable a robotic gripper to handle different types of tools, for instance in a manufacturing setting.</p> <p>“Most factory robots that use tools have a specially designed hand, so instead of having the abiity to grasp a screwdriver and use it in a lot of different ways, they just make the hand a screwdriver,” Holladay says. “You can imagine that requires less dexterous planning, but it’s much more limiting. We’d like a robot to be able to use and pick lots of different things up.”</p> <p>This research was supported, in part, by Mathworks, the MIT-HKUST Alliance, and the National Science Foundation.</p> A new algorithm speeds up the planning process for robotic grippers to manipulate objects using the surrounding environment.Image courtesy of the researchersComputer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Algorithms, Manufacturing, Mechanical engineering, Research, Robots, Robotics, School of Engineering, National Science Foundation (NSF) SMART develops a way to commercially manufacture integrated silicon III-V chips New method from MIT’s research enterprise in Singapore paves the way for improved optoelectronic and 5G devices. Thu, 03 Oct 2019 15:15:01 -0400 Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology <p>The Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART), MIT’s research enterprise in Singapore, has announced the successful development of a commercially viable way to manufacture integrated silicon III-V chips with high-performance III-V devices inserted into their design.</p> <p>In most devices today, silicon-based CMOS chips are used for computing, but they are not efficient for illumination and communications, resulting in low efficiency and heat generation. This is why current 5G mobile devices on the market <a href="">get very hot upon use</a> and can shut down after a short time.</p> <p>This is where III-V semiconductors are valuable. III-V chips are made with compounds including elements in the third and fifth columns of the periodic table, such as gallium nitride (GaN) and indium gallium arsenide (InGaAs). Due to their unique properties, they are exceptionally well-suited for optoelectronics (such as LEDs) and communications (such as 5G wireless), boosting efficiency substantially.</p> <p>“By integrating III-V into silicon, we can build upon existing manufacturing capabilities and low-cost volume production techniques of silicon and include the unique optical and electronic functionality of III-V technology,” says Eugene Fitzgerald, CEO and director of SMART and the Merton C. Flemings-SMA Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT. “The new chips will be at the heart of future product innovation and power the next generation of communications devices, wearables, and displays.”</p> <p>Kenneth Lee, senior scientific director of the SMART Low Energy Electronic Systems (LEES) research program, adds: “Integrating III-V semiconductor devices with silicon in a commercially viable way is one of the most difficult challenges faced by the semiconductor industry, even though such integrated circuits have been desired for decades. Current methods are expensive and inefficient, which is delaying the availability of the chips the industry needs. With our new process, we can leverage existing capabilities to manufacture these new integrated silicon III-V chips cost-effectively and accelerate the development and adoption of new technologies that will power economies.”</p> <p>The new technology developed by SMART builds two layers of silicon and III-V devices on separate substrates and integrates them vertically together within a micron, which is 1/50th the diameter of a human hair. The process can use existing 200 micrometer manufacturing tools, which will allow semiconductor manufacturers in Singapore and around the world to make new use of their current equipment. Today, the cost of investing in a new manufacturing technology is in the range of tens of billions of dollars; the new integrated circuit platform is highly cost-effective, and will result in much lower-cost novel circuits and electronic systems.</p> <p>SMART is focusing on creating new chips for pixelated illumination/display and 5G markets, which has a combined potential market of over $100 billion. Other markets that SMART’s new integrated silicon III-V chips will disrupt include wearable mini-displays, virtual reality applications, and other imaging technologies.</p> <p>The patent portfolio has been exclusively licensed by New Silicon Corporation (NSC), a Singapore-based spinoff from SMART. NSC is the first fabless silicon integrated circuit company with proprietary materials, processes, devices, and design for monolithic integrated silicon III-V circuits.</p> <p>SMART’s new integrated Silicon III-V chips will be available next year and expected in products by 2021.</p> <p>SMART’s LEES Interdisciplinary Research Group is creating new integrated circuit technologies that result in increased functionality, lower power consumption, and higher performance for electronic systems. These integrated circuits of the future will impact applications in wireless communications, power electronics, LED lighting, and displays. LEES has a vertically-integrated research team possessing expertise in materials, devices, and circuits, comprising multiple individuals with professional experience within the semiconductor industry. This ensures that the research is targeted to meet the needs of the semiconductor industry both within Singapore and globally.</p> A LEES researcher reviews a 200 mm silicon III-V wafer.Photo: SMARTSingapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART), Research, Materials Science and Engineering, Computer science and technology, electronics, Wireless, optoelectronics, Manufacturing, DMSE An interdisciplinary approach to accelerating human-machine collaboration Professor’s startup brings millimeter-scale location tracking to factories, ports, and other industrial environments. Wed, 02 Oct 2019 00:00:01 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>David Mindell has spent his career defying traditional distinctions between disciplines. His work has explored the ways humans interact with machines, drive innovation, and maintain societal well-being as technology transforms our economy.</p> <p>And, Mindell says, he couldn’t have done it anywhere but MIT. He joined MIT’s faculty 23 years ago after completing his PhD in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society, and he currently holds a dual appointment in engineering and humanities as the Frances and David Dibner Professor of the History of Engineering and Manufacturing in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences and professor of aeronautics and astronautics.</p> <p>Mindell’s experience combining fields of study has shaped his ideas about the relationship between humans and machines. Those ideas are what led him to found Humatics — a startup named from the merger of “human” and “robotics.”</p> <p>Humatics is trying to change the way humans work alongside machines, by enabling location tracking and navigation indoors, underground, and in other areas where technologies like GPS are limited. It accomplishes this by using radio frequencies to track things at the millimeter scale — unlocking what Mindell calls microlocation technology.</p> <p>The company’s solution is already being used in places like shipping ports and factories, where humans work alongside cranes, industrial tools, automated guided vehicles (AGVs), and other machines. These businesses often lack consistent location data for their machines and are forced to adopt inflexible routes for their mobile robots.</p> <p>“One of the holy grails is to have humans and robots share the same space and collaborate, and we’re enabling mobile robots to work in human environments safely and on a large scale,” Mindell says. “Safety is a critical first form of collaboration, but beyond that, we’re just beginning to learn how to work [in settings] where robots and people are exquisitely aware of where they are.”</p> <p><strong>A company decades in the making</strong></p> <p>MIT has a long history of transcending research fields to improve our understanding of the world. Take, for example, Norbert Wiener, who served on MIT’s faculty in the Department of Mathematics between 1919 and his death in 1964.</p> <p>Wiener is credited with formalizing the field of cybernetics, which is an approach to understanding feedback systems he defined as “the scientific study of control and communication in the animal and the machine." Cybernetics can be applied to mechanical, biological, cognitive, and social systems, among others, and it sparked a frenzy of interdisciplinary study and scientific collaboration.</p> <p>In 2002, Mindell wrote a book exploring the history of cybernetics before Wiener and its emergence at the intersection of a range of disciplines during World War II. It is one of several books Mindell has written that deal with interdisciplinary responses to complex problems, particularly in extreme environments like lunar landings and the deep sea.</p> <p>The interdisciplinary perspective Mindell forged at MIT has helped him identify the limitations of technology that prevent machines and humans from working together seamlessly.</p> <p>One particular shortcoming that Mindell has thought about for years is the lack of precise location data in places like warehouses, subway systems, and shipping ports.</p> <p>“In five years, we’ll look back at 2019 and say, ‘I can’t believe we didn’t know where anything was,’” Mindell says. “We’ve got so much data floating around, but the link between the actual physical world we all inhabit and move around in and the digital world that’s exploding is really still very poor.”</p> <p>In 2014, Mindell partnered with Humatics co-founder Gary Cohen, who has worked as an intellectual property strategist for biotech companies in the Kendall Square area, to solve the problem.</p> <p>In the beginning of 2015, Mindell collaborated with Lincoln Laboratory alumnus and radar expert Greg Charvat; the two built a prototype navigation system and started the company two weeks later. Charvat became Humatics’ CTO and first employee.</p> <p>“It was clear there was about to be this huge flowering of robotics and autonomous systems and AI, and I thought the things we learned in extreme environments, notably under sea and in aviation, had an enormous amount of application to industrial environments,” Mindell says. “The company is about bringing insights from years of experience with remote and autonomous systems in extreme environments into transit, logistics, e-commerce, and manufacturing.”</p> <p><strong>Bringing microlocation to industry</strong></p> <p>Factories, ports, and other locations where GPS data is unworkable or insufficient adopt a variety of solutions to meet their tracking and navigation needs. But each workaround has its drawbacks.</p> <p>RFID and Bluetooth technologies, for instance, can track assets but have short ranges and are expensive to deploy across large areas.</p> <p>Cameras and sensing methods like LIDAR can be used to help machines see their environment, but they struggle with things like rain and different lighting conditions. Floor tape embedded with wires or magnets is also often used to guide machines through fixed routes, but it isn’t well-suited for today’s increasingly dynamic warehouses and production lines.</p> <p>Humatics has focused on making the capabilities of its microlocation location system as easy to leverage as possible. The location and tracking data it collects can be integrated into whatever warehouse management system or “internet of things” (IoT) platforms customers are already using.</p> <p>Its radio frequency beacons have a range of up to 500 meters and, when installed as part of a constellation, can pinpoint three dimensional locations to within 2 centimeters, creating a virtual grid of the surrounding environment.</p> <p>The beacons can be combined with an onboard navigation hub that helps mobile robots move around dynamic environments. Humatics’ system also gathers location data from multiple points at once, monitoring the speed of a forklift, helping a crane operator place a shipping crate, and guiding a robot around obstacles simultaneously.</p> <p>The data Humatics collects don’t just help customers improve their processes; they can also transform the way workers and machines share space and work together. Indeed, with a new chip just emerging from its labs, Mindell says Humatics is moving industries such as manufacturing and logistics into “the world of ubiquitous, millimeter-accurate positioning.”</p> <p>It’s all possible because of the company’s holistic approach to the age-old problem of human-machine interaction.</p> <p>“Humatics is an example of what can happen when we think about technology in a unique, broader context,” Mindell says. “It’s an example of what MIT can accomplish when it pays serious attention to these two ways [from humanities and engineering] of looking at the world.”</p> Humatics co-founder and CEO David Mindell at Humatics headquarters in Waltham, MA.Image: Allegra BovermanInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, human-robot interaction, Robotics, Robots, Manufacturing, Future of Manufacturing, Autonmous vehicles, Faculty, Program in STS, Aeronautical and astronautical engineering, School of Engineering, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences 3 Questions: Why sensing, why now, what next? Brian Anthony, co-leader of SENSE.nano, discusses sensing for augmented and virtual reality and for advanced manufacturing. Fri, 20 Sep 2019 13:00:01 -0400 MIT.nano <p><em>Sensors are everywhere today, from our homes and vehicles to medical devices, smart phones, and other useful tech. More and more, sensors help detect our interactions with the environment around us — and shape our understanding of the world.</em></p> <p><em>SENSE.nano&nbsp;is an MIT.nano Center of Excellence, with a focus on sensors, sensing systems, and sensing technologies.</em><em> The&nbsp;</em><a href=""><em>2019 SENSE.nano Symposium</em></a><em>, taking place on Sept. 30 at MIT</em><em>, will dive deep into the impact of sensors on two topics: sensing for augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) and sensing for advanced manufacturing.&nbsp;</em></p> <p><em>MIT Principal Research Scientist Brian W. Anthony</em><em> is the associate director of MIT.nano and faculty director of the Industry Immersion Program in Mechanical Engineering. He weighs in on&nbsp;</em><em>why sensing is ubiquitous and how advancements in sensing technologies are linked to the challenges and opportunities of big data.</em></p> <p><strong>Q:&nbsp;</strong>What do you see as the next frontier for sensing as it relates to augmented and virtual reality?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> Sensors are an enabling technology for AR/VR. When you slip on a VR headset and enter an immersive environment, sensors map your movements and gestures to create a convincing virtual experience.</p> <p>But sensors have a role beyond the headset. When we're interacting with the real world we're constrained by our own senses — seeing, hearing, touching, and feeling. But imagine sensors providing data within AR/VR to enhance your understanding of the physical environment, such as allowing you to see air currents, thermal gradients, or the electricity flowing through wires superimposed on top of the real physical structure. That's not something you could do any place else other than a virtual environment.</p> <p>Another example:&nbsp;<a href="">MIT.nano</a>&nbsp;is a massive generator of data. Could AR/VR provide a more intuitive and powerful way to study information coming from the metrology instruments in the basement, or the fabrication tools in the clean room? Could it allow you to look at data on a massive scale, instead of always having to look under a microscope or on a flat screen that's the size of your laptop? Sensors are also critical for haptics, which are interactions related to the sensation of touch. As I apply pressure to a device or pick up an object — real or virtual — can I receive physical feedback that conveys that state of interaction to me?</p> <p>You can’t be an engineer or a scientist without being involved with sensing instrumentation in some way. Recognizing the widespread presence of sensing on campus, SENSE.nano and MIT.nano — with MIT.nano’s new Immersion Lab providing the tools and facility — are trying to bring together researchers on both the hardware and software sides to explore the future of these technologies.</p> <p><strong>Q:&nbsp;</strong>Why is SENSE.nano focusing on sensing for advanced manufacturing?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> In this era of big data, we sometimes forget that data comes from someplace: sensors and instruments.&nbsp;As soon as the data industry as a whole has solved the big data challenges we have now with the data that's coming from current sensors — wearable physiological monitors, or from factories, or from your automobiles — it is going to be starved for new sensors with improved functionality.</p> <p>Coupled with that, there are a large number of manufacturing technologies — in the U.S. and worldwide — that are either coming to maturity or receiving a lot of investment. For example, researchers are looking at novel ways to make integrated photonics devices combining electronics and optics for on-chip sensors; exploring novel fiber manufacturing approaches to embed sensors into your clothing or composites; and developing flexible materials that mold to the body or to the shape of an automobile as the substrate for integrated circuits or as a sensor. These various manufacturing technologies enable us to think of new, innovative ways to create sensors that are lower in cost and more readily immersed into our environment.</p> <p><strong>Q:&nbsp;</strong>You’ve said that a factory is not just a place that produces products, but also a machine that produces information. What does that mean?</p> <p><strong>A: </strong>Today’s manufacturers have to approach a factory not just as a physical place, but also as a data center. Seeing physical operation and data as interconnected can improve quality, drive down costs, and increase the rate of production. And sensors and sensing systems are the tools to collect this data and improve the manufacturing process.</p> <p>Communications technologies now make it easy to transmit data from a machine to a central location. For example, we can apply sensing techniques to individual machines and then collect data across an entire factory so that information on how to debug one computer-controlled machine can be used to improve another in the same facility. Or, suppose I'm the producer of those machines and I've deployed them to any number of manufacturers. If I can get a little bit of information from each of my customers to optimize the machine’s operating performance, I can turn around and share improvements with all the companies who purchase my equipment. When information is shared amongst manufacturers, it helps all of them drive down their costs and improve quality.&nbsp;</p> Brian AnthonyMIT.nano, Nanoscience and nanotechnology, Sensors, Research, Manufacturing, Augmented and virtual reality, 3 Questions, Data, Analytics, Staff, Mechanical engineering, School of Engineering, Industry An immersive experience in industry Through the MechE Alliance’s Industry Immersion Program, graduate students get hands-on experience working on projects across a range of industries. Thu, 19 Sep 2019 13:00:01 -0400 Mary Beth Gallagher | Department of Mechanical Engineering <p>This summer, four mechanical engineering graduate students had the opportunity to gain hands-on experience working in industry. Through the recently launched <a href="">Industry Immersion Project Program (I2P)</a>, students were paired with a company and tasked with tackling a short-term project. Projects in this inaugural year for the program came from a diverse range of industries, including manufacturing, robotics, and aerospace engineering.</p> <p>A flagship program of the <a href="">MechE Alliance</a>, the I2P Program matches students with a company and project that best fits within their own academic experience at MIT. Projects are designed to be short term, lasting three to six months. Building upon programs such as the <a href="">Master of Engineering in Advanced Manufacturing</a> and Design and <a href="">Leaders for Global Operations</a>, which foster collaborations between students and the manufacturing industry, the I2P Program offers graduate students real-world experiences across industries.</p> <p>“For some students, this could be their first experience working in industry before graduating,” says Brian W. Anthony, program faculty director of the I2P Program. “Having that industry experience arms them with knowledge to help make career choices, may inform their further research, and provides skills they will utilize throughout their careers — whether they end up working in academia or industry.”</p> <p>Throughout the course of the projects, students are supported by both a supervisor at the company they’re working for and an academic supervisor from MIT’s mechanical engineering faculty. They also produce a report of their experience and receive academic credit for their industry projects and are enrolled in the class 2.992 (Professional Industry Immersion Project).</p> <p>“It’s been great hearing just how rich the experience has been from the students who participated this summer,” adds Theresa Werth, program manager for the MechE Alliance. “Not only have they spent the summer working on a project that’s relevant to their own research or thesis, they have honed some of the softer skills of professional development.”</p> <p>The four students participating in this year’s I2P Program have shared highlights and takeaways from their experiences:</p> <p><strong>Sara Nagelberg&nbsp;— 3M</strong></p> <p>A PhD candidate working with Associate Professor Mathias Kolle in the Bio-Inspired Photonic Engineering research group, Sara Nagelberg studies optical engineering. Through the I2P Program, this summer she worked at 3M on a project that seeks to automate surface finish analysis in manufacturing by understanding visual perception.</p> <p>While much of manufacturing involves automation, automating quality inspection for the surface finish on appliances or cars offers some technical challenges. The project Nagelberg worked on at 3M hopes to define what makes a surface "good," then develop algorithms so that a computer can determine whether a surface finish is good quality or flawed.</p> <p>“The long-term goal of the project is to automate surface-quality inspection,” Nagelberg explains. She and her team identified parameters that could be used to judge the visual appearance of surfaces — things like color, glossiness, shape, and texture.</p> <p>“By working on this project, I learned about a variety of instruments and metrics that can be used to quantify visual surface finish parameters,” she adds.</p> <p>In addition to gaining experience on an interdisciplinary team at 3M, Nagelberg learned about computer vision, machine learning, and how to relate human perception to measurable parameters.</p> <p><strong>Katie Hahm — Amazon Robotics</strong></p> <p>This summer was one of transition for Katie Hahm. Having graduated with her master’s degree in June, Hahm is now a PhD candidate working in the Device Realization Lab with program director Anthony. As a master’s student, Hahm previously worked with Professor Harry Asada on designing robotic limbs to help manufacturing workers maintain positions for extended periods of time.</p> <p>Through the I2P Program, Hahm worked on a project at Amazon Robotics to improve efficiencies in the robotic process. “Working on this project was a great academic experience,” says Hahm. “I gained insights into the many facets and complexities of robotics.”</p> <p>Hahm also received a ground truth in what it’s like to work at a company like Amazon. She visited a local fulfillment center to gain a deeper understanding of their operations and visited Seattle to attend a company conference. At the conference, she and her fellow interns met with company leadership and teams from other Amazon sectors.</p> <p>One of the biggest takeaways from her experience at Amazon, according to Hahm, was how to approach research projects moving forward. “I learned not only valuable information from working with other professionals, but also the skills and approaches to asking more effective questions for research-oriented work,” she adds.</p> <p><strong>Sai Nithin Reddy Kantareddy — Amazon Robotics</strong></p> <p>A junior PhD candidate, much of Sai Nithin Reddy Kantareddy’s work involves using radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to sense activity and gather data about the surrounding environment. These RFID tags can then be used to connect objects to the internet of things.</p> <p>“Going into this summer, I knew I wanted to work on something related to sensors because of my research interest in environmental sensing,” explains Kantareddy. Through the I2P Program, Kantareddy was assigned to a project about material identification and sensing in robotics at Amazon Robotics.</p> <p>“Material identification for robotic applications really aligns with my own research interests,” he adds. While at Amazon Robotics, he gained hands-on experience working with sensors, cameras, and robots. He also built machine learning models on experimental data.</p> <p>While his background isn’t in robotics research, Kantareddy quickly learned about how robots are designed and what some of the challenges are in field implementation and warehouse automation. In addition to this in-depth technical knowledge, he also gained firsthand experience working in a team setting.</p> <p>“I enjoyed being part of a very resourceful and talented R&amp;D team,” he recalls. &nbsp;“I hope to take back these real-world insights and technical learnings and put them to practice in my PhD work.”</p> <p><strong>Abhishek Patkar — Systems Technology Inc.</strong></p> <p>A sophomore master’s student, Abhishek Patkar works in the flight controls group the Active Adaptive Control Laboratory, led by in Senior Research Scientist Anuradha Annaswamy. Working at Systems Technology Inc. (STI) was a natural fit. Much of STI’s work focuses on aerospace engineering.</p> <p>For his internship, Patkar was matched with Aditya Kotikalpudi, a senior research engineer at STI and the principal investigator for NASA’s project entitled Performance Adaptive Aeroelastic Wing. “I primarily worked on system identification and model parameter update for an aeroelastic vehicle,” says Patkar.</p> <p>While his internship was based in Los Angeles, California, Patkar had the opportunity to visit the University of Minnesota and witness the actual process of flight testing. He worked with the real data taken from these flight tests. Patkar also used STI software to identify aeroelastic mode shapes and obtain transfer function estimates from control surfaces to measured quantities like center body pitch rate.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Through this internship, I was able to learn a lot about aircraft dynamics, aeroelasticity, and the process of performing system identification on an aircraft,” Patkar adds. He expects to use this knowledge back in the flight controls group in the Active Adaptive Control Laboratory.</p> MIT PhD candidates Katie Hahm (left) and Nithin Reddy (right) hiked Skyline Trail in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, this summer with a friend, Steven Viola. They both spent the summer interning at Amazon Robotics through the MechE Alliance's I2P Program and traveled to Amazon headquarters in Seattle. Photo: Madox SummermatterMechanical engineering, School of Engineering, Classes and programs, Manufacturing, Robotics, Aeronautical and astronautical engineering, STEM education, Industry, Students, Undergraduate, Graduate, postdoctoral", teaching, academics New approach suggests path to emissions-free cement MIT researchers find a way to eliminate carbon emissions from cement production — a major global source of greenhouse gases. Mon, 16 Sep 2019 14:59:59 -0400 David L. Chandler | MIT News Office <p>It’s well known that the production of cement — the world’s leading construction material — is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for about 8 percent of all such releases. If cement production were a country, it would be the world’s third-largest emitter.</p> <p>A team of researchers at MIT has come up with a new way of manufacturing the material that could eliminate these emissions altogether, and could even make some other useful products in the process.</p> <p>The findings are being reported today in the journal <em>PNAS</em> in <a href="" target="_blank">a paper</a> by Yet-Ming Chiang, the Kyocera Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT, with postdoc Leah Ellis, graduate student Andres Badel, and others.</p> <p>“About 1 kilogram of carbon dioxide is released for every kilogram of cement made today,” Chiang says. That adds up to 3 to 4 gigatons (billions of tons) of cement, and of carbon dioxide emissions, produced annually today, and that amount is projected to grow. The number of buildings worldwide is expected to double by 2060, which is equivalent to “building one new New York City every 30 days,” he says. And the commodity is now very cheap to produce: It costs only about 13 cents per kilogram, which he says makes it cheaper than bottled water.</p> <p>So it’s a real challenge to find ways of reducing the material’s carbon emissions without making it too expensive. Chiang and his team have spent the last year searching for alternative approaches, and hit on the idea of using an electrochemical process to replace the current fossil-fuel-dependent system.</p> <p>Ordinary Portland cement, the most widely used standard variety, is made by grinding up limestone and then cooking it with sand and clay at high heat, which is produced by burning coal. The process produces carbon dioxide in two different ways: from the burning of the coal, and from gases released from the limestone during the heating. Each of these produces roughly equal contributions to the total emissions. The new process would eliminate or drastically reduce both sources, Chiang says. Though they have demonstrated the basic electrochemical process in the lab, the process will require more work to scale up to industrial scale.</p> <p>First of all, the new approach could eliminate the use of fossil fuels for the heating process, substituting electricity generated from clean, renewable sources. “In many geographies renewable electricity is the lowest-cost electricity we have today, and its cost is still dropping,” Chiang says. In addition, the new process produces the same cement product. The team realized that trying to gain acceptance for a new type of cement — something that many research groups have pursued in different ways — would be an uphill battle, considering how widely used the material is around the world and how reluctant builders can be to try new, relatively untested materials.</p> <p>The new process centers on the use of an electrolyzer, something that many people have encountered as part of high school chemistry classes, where a battery is hooked up to two electrodes in a glass of water, producing bubbles of oxygen from one electrode and bubbles of hydrogen from the other as the electricity splits the water molecules into their constituent atoms. Importantly, the electrolyzer’s oxygen-evolving electrode produces acid, while the hydrogen-evolving electrode produces a base.</p> <p>In the new process, the pulverized limestone is dissolved in the acid at one electrode and high-purity carbon dioxide is released, while calcium hydroxide, generally known as lime, precipitates out as a solid at the other. The calcium hydroxide can then be processed in another step to produce the cement, which is mostly calcium silicate.</p> <p>The carbon dioxide, in the form of a pure, concentrated stream, can then be easily sequestered, harnessed to produce value-added products such as a liquid fuel to replace gasoline, or used for applications such as oil recovery or even in carbonated beverages and dry ice. The result is that no carbon dioxide is released to the environment from the entire process, Chiang says. By contrast, the carbon dioxide emitted from conventional cement plants is highly contaminated with nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide and other material that make it impractical to “scrub” to make the carbon dioxide usable.</p> <p>Calculations show that the hydrogen and oxygen also emitted in the process could be recombined, for example in a fuel cell, or burned to produce enough energy to fuel the whole rest of the process, Ellis says, producing nothing but water vapor.</p> <p><img alt="" src="/sites/" style="width: 500px; height: 348px;" /></p> <p><em><span style="font-size:10px;">In a demonstration of the basic chemical reactions used in the new process, electrolysis takes place in neutral water. Dyes show how acid (pink) and base (purple) are produced at the positive and negative electrodes. A variation of this process can be used to convert calcium carbonate (CaCO<sub>3</sub>) into calcium hydroxide (Ca(OH)<sub>2</sub>), which can then be used to make Portland cement without producing any greenhouse gas emissions. Cement production currently causes 8 percent of global carbon emissions.</span></em></p> <p>In their laboratory demonstration, the team carried out the key electrochemical steps required, producing lime from the calcium carbonate, but on a small scale. The process looks a bit like shaking a snow-globe, as it produces a flurry of suspended white particles inside the glass container as the lime precipitates out of the solution.</p> <p>While the technology is simple and could, in principle, be easily scaled up, a typical cement plant today produces about 700,000 tons of the material per year. “How do you penetrate an industry like that and get a foot in the door?” asks Ellis, the paper’s lead author. One approach, she says, is to try to replace just one part of the process at a time, rather than the whole system at once, and “in a stepwise fashion” gradually add other parts.</p> <p>The initial proposed system the team came up with is “not because we necessarily think we have the exact strategy” for the best possible approach, Chiang says, “but to get people in the electrochemical sector to start thinking more about this,” and come up with new ideas. “It’s an important first step, but not yet a fully developed solution.”</p> <p>The research was partly supported by the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology.</p> In a demonstration of the basic chemical reactions used in the new process, electrolysis takes place in neutral water. Dyes show how acid (pink) and base (purple) are produced at the positive and negative electrodes. A variation of this process can be used to convert calcium carbonate (CaCO3) into calcium hydroxide (Ca(OH)2), which can then be used to make Portland cement without producing any greenhouse gas emissions. Cement production currently causes 8 percent of global carbon emissions.Image: Felice FrankelCement, Research, School of Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, DMSE, Civil and environmental engineering, Energy, Emissions, Sustainability, Cities, Concrete, Climate change, Greenhouse gases, Manufacturing Objects can now change colors like a chameleon Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory team creates new reprogrammable ink that lets objects change colors using light. Tue, 10 Sep 2019 00:00:00 -0400 Rachel Gordon | CSAIL <p>The color-changing capabilities of chameleons have long bewildered willing observers. The philosopher Aristotle himself was long mystified by these adaptive creatures. But while humans can’t yet camouflage much beyond a green outfit to match grass, inanimate objects are another story.&nbsp;</p> <p>A team from MIT’s <a href="">Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory</a> (CSAIL) has brought us closer to this chameleon reality, by way of <a href="" target="_blank">a new system</a> that uses reprogrammable ink to let objects change colors when exposed to ultraviolet (UV) and visible light sources.&nbsp;</p> <p>Dubbed “PhotoChromeleon,” the system uses a mix of photochromic dyes that can be sprayed or painted onto the surface of any object to change its color — a fully reversible process that can be repeated infinitely.&nbsp;</p> <p>PhotoChromeleon can be used to customize anything from a phone case to a car, or shoes that need an update. The color remains, even when used in natural environments.</p> <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p>“This special type of dye could enable a whole myriad of customization options that could improve manufacturing efficiency and reduce overall waste,” says CSAIL postdoc Yuhua Jin, the lead author on a new paper about the project. “Users could personalize their belongings and appearance on a daily basis, without the need to buy the same object multiple times in different colors and styles.”</p> <p>PhotoChromeleon builds off of the team’s previous system, “<a href="">ColorMod</a>,” which uses a 3-D printer to fabricate items that can change their color. Frustrated by some of the limitations of this project, such as small color scheme and low-resolution results, the team decided to investigate potential updates.&nbsp;</p> <p>With ColorMod, each pixel on an object needed to be printed, so the resolution of each tiny little square was somewhat grainy. As far as colors, each pixel of the object could only have two states: transparent and its own color. So, a blue dye could only go from blue to transparent when activated, and a yellow dye could only show yellow.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>But with PhotoChromeleon’s ink, you can create anything from a zebra pattern to a sweeping landscape to multicolored fire flames, with a larger host of colors.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The team created the ink by mixing cyan, magenta, and yellow (CMY) photochromic dyes into a single sprayable solution, eliminating the need to painstakingly 3-D print individual pixels. By understanding how each dye interacts with different wavelengths, the team was able to control each color channel through activating and deactivating with the corresponding light sources.&nbsp;</p> <p>Specifically, they used three different lights with different wavelengths to eliminate each primary color separately. For example, if you use a blue light, it would mostly be absorbed by the yellow dye and be deactivated, and magenta and cyan would remain, resulting in blue. If you use a green light, magenta would mostly absorb it and be deactivated, and then both yellow and cyan would remain, resulting in green.</p> <p>After coating an object using the solution, the user simply places the object inside a box with a projector and UV light. The UV light saturates the colors from transparent to full saturation, and the projector desaturates the colors as needed. Once the light has activated the colors, the new pattern appears. But if you aren’t satisfied with the design, all you have to do is use the UV light to erase it, and you can start over.&nbsp;</p> <p>They also developed a user interface to automatically process designs and patterns that go onto desired items. The user can load up their blueprint, and the program generates the mapping onto the object before the light works its magic.&nbsp;</p> <p>The team tested the system on a car model, a phone case, a shoe, and a little (toy) chameleon. Depending on the shape and orientation of the object, the process took anywhere from 15 to 40 minutes, and the patterns all had high resolutions and could be successfully erased when desired.&nbsp;</p> <p>“By giving users the autonomy to individualize their items, countless resources could be preserved, and the opportunities to creatively change your favorite possessions are boundless,” says MIT Professor Stefanie Mueller.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>While PhotoChromeleon opens up a much larger color gamut, not all colors were represented in the photochromic dyes. For example, there was no great match for magenta or cyan, so the team had to estimate to the closest dye. They plan to expand on this by collaborating with material scientists to create improved dyes.&nbsp;</p> <p>“We believe incorporation of novel, multi-photochromic inks into traditional materials can add value to Ford products by reducing the cost and time required for fabricating automotive parts,” says Alper Kiziltas, technical specialist of sustainable and emerging materials at Ford Motor Co. (Ford has been working with MIT on the ColorMod 3-D technology through an alliance collaboration.) “This ink could reduce the number of steps required for producing a multicolor part, or improve the durability of the color from weathering or UV degradation. One day, we might even be able to personalize our vehicles on a whim.”</p> <p>Jin and Mueller co-authored the paper alongside CSAIL postdocs Isabel Qamar and Michael Wessely. MIT undergraduates Aradhana Adhikari and Katarina Bulovic also contributed, as well as former MIT postdoc Parinya Punpongsanon.</p> <p>Adhikari received the Morais and Rosenblum Best UROP Award for her contributions to the project.</p> <p>Ford Motor Co. provided financial support, and permission to publish was granted by the Ford Research and Innovation Center.</p> PhotoChromeleon, a reversible process for changing the color of objects developed at MIT, involves a mix of photochromic dyes that can be sprayed or painted onto the surface of any object.Image courtesy of the researchers.Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Electrical engineering and computer science (EECS), School of Engineering, 3-D printing, Computer science and technology, Manufacturing, Design, 3-D imaging, Research, Arts, Sustainability MIT report examines how to make technology work for society Task force calls for bold public and private action to harness technology for shared prosperity. Wed, 04 Sep 2019 08:59:59 -0400 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p>Automation is not likely to eliminate millions of jobs any time soon — but the U.S. still needs vastly improved policies if Americans are to build better careers and share prosperity as technological changes occur, according to a new MIT report about the workplace.</p> <p><a href="">The report</a>, which represents the initial findings of MIT’s Task Force on the Work of the Future, punctures some conventional wisdom and builds a nuanced picture of the evolution of technology and jobs, the subject of much fraught public discussion.</p> <p>The likelihood of robots, automation, and artificial intelligence (AI) wiping out huge sectors of the workforce in the near future is exaggerated, the task force concludes — but there is reason for concern about the impact of new technology on the labor market. In recent decades, technology has contributed to the polarization of employment, disproportionately helping high-skilled professionals while reducing opportunities for many other workers, and new technologies could exacerbate this trend.</p> <p>Moreover, the report emphasizes, at a time of historic income inequality, a critical challenge is not necessarily a lack of jobs, but the low quality of many jobs and the resulting lack of viable careers for many people, particularly workers without college degrees. With this in mind, the work of the future can be shaped beneficially by new policies, renewed support for labor, and reformed institutions, not just new technologies. Broadly, the task force concludes, capitalism in the U.S. must address the interests of workers as well as shareholders.</p> <p>“At MIT, we are inspired by the idea that technology can be a force for good. But if as a nation we want to make sure that today’s new technologies evolve in ways that help build a healthier, more equitable society, we need to move quickly to develop and implement strong, enlightened policy responses,” says MIT President L. Rafael Reif, who called for the creation of the Task Force on the Work of the Future in 2017.</p> <p>“Fortunately, the harsh societal consequences that concern us all are not inevitable,” Reif adds. “Technologies embody the values of those who make them, and the policies we build around them can profoundly shape their impact. Whether the outcome is inclusive or exclusive, fair or laissez-faire, is therefore up to all of us. I am deeply grateful to the task force members for their latest findings and their ongoing efforts to pave an upward path.”</p> <p>“There is a lot of alarmist rhetoric about how the robots are coming,” adds Elisabeth Beck Reynolds, executive director of the task force, as well as executive director of the MIT Industrial Performance Center. “MIT’s job is to cut through some of this hype and bring some perspective to this discussion.”</p> <p>Reynolds also calls the task force’s interest in new policy directions “classically American in its willingness to consider innovation and experimentation.”</p> <p><strong>Anxiety and inequality</strong></p> <p>The core of the task force consists of a group of MIT scholars. Its research has drawn upon new data, expert knowledge of many technology sectors, and a close analysis of both technology-centered firms and economic data spanning the postwar era.</p> <p>The report addresses several workplace complexities. Unemployment in the U.S. is low, yet workers have considerable anxiety, from multiple sources. One is technology: A 2018 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 65 to 90 percent of respondents in industrialized countries think computers and robots will take over many jobs done by humans, while less than a third think better-paying jobs will result from these technologies.</p> <p>Another concern for workers is income stagnation: Adjusted for inflation, 92 percent of Americans born in 1940 earned more money than their parents, but only about half of people born in 1980 can say that.</p> <p>“The persistent growth in the quantity of jobs has not been matched by an equivalent growth in job quality,” the task force report states.</p> <p>Applications of technology have fed inequality in recent decades. High-tech innovations have displaced “middle-skilled” workers who perform routine tasks, from office assistants to assembly-line workers, but these innovations have complemented the activities of many white-collar workers in medicine, science and engineering, finance, and other fields. Technology has also not displaced lower-skilled service workers, leading to a polarized workforce. Higher-skill and lower-skill jobs have grown, middle-skill jobs have shrunk, and increased earnings have been concentrated among white-collar workers.</p> <p>“Technological advances did deliver productivity growth over the last four decades,” the report states. “But productivity growth did not translate into shared prosperity.”</p> <p>Indeed, says David Autor, who is the Ford Professor of Economics at MIT, associate head of MIT’s Department of Economics, and a co-chair of the task force, “We think people are pessimistic because they’re on to something. Although there’s no shortage of jobs, the gains have been so unequally distributed that most people have not benefited much. If the next four decades of automation are going to look like the last four decades, people have reason to worry.”</p> <p><strong>Productive innovations versus “so-so technology”</strong></p> <p>A big question, then, is what the next decades of automation have in store. As the report explains, some technological innovations are broadly productive, while others are merely “so-so technologies” — a term coined by economists Daron Acemoglu of MIT and Pascual Restrepo of Boston University to describe technologies that replace workers without markedly improving services or increasing productivity.</p> <p>For instance, electricity and light bulbs were broadly productive, allowing the expansion of other types of work. But automated technology allowing for self-check-out at pharmacies or supermarkets merely replaces workers without notably increasing efficiency for the customer or productivity.</p> <p>“That’s a strong labor-displacing technology, but it has very modest productivity value,” Autor says of these automated systems. “That’s a ‘so-so technology.’ The digital era has had fabulous technologies for skill complementarity [for white-collar workers], but so-so technologies for everybody else. Not all innovations that raise productivity displace workers, and not all innovations that displace workers do much for productivity.”</p> <p>Several forces have contributed to this skew, according to the report. “Computers and the internet enabled a digitalization of work that made highly educated workers more productive and made less-educated workers easier to replace with machinery,” the authors write.</p> <p>Given the mixed record of the last four decades, does the advent of robotics and AI herald a brighter future, or a darker one? The task force suggests the answer depends on how humans shape that future. New and emerging technologies will raise aggregate economic output and boost wealth, and offer people the potential for higher living standards, better working conditions, greater economic security, and improved health and longevity. But whether society realizes this potential, the report notes, depends critically on the institutions that transform aggregate wealth into greater shared prosperity instead of rising inequality.</p> <p>One thing the task force does not foresee is a future where human expertise, judgment, and creativity are less essential than they are today. &nbsp;</p> <p>“Recent history shows that key advances in workplace robotics — those that radically increase productivity — depend on breakthroughs in work design that often take years or even decades to achieve,” the report states.</p> <p>As robots gain flexibility and situational adaptability, they will certainly take over a larger set of tasks in warehouses, hospitals, and retail stores — such as lifting, stocking, transporting, cleaning, as well as awkward physical tasks that require picking, harvesting, stooping, or crouching.</p> <p>The task force members believe such advances in robotics will displace relatively low-paid human tasks and boost the productivity of workers, whose attention will be freed to focus on higher-value-added work. The pace at which these tasks are delegated to machines will be hastened by slowing growth, tight labor markets, and the rapid aging of workforces in most industrialized countries, including the U.S.</p> <p>And while machine learning — image classification, real-time analytics, data forecasting, and more — has improved, it may just alter jobs, not eliminate them: Radiologists do much more than interpret X-rays, for instance. The task force also observes that developers of autonomous vehicles, another hot media topic, have been “ratcheting back” their timelines and ambitions over the last year.</p> <p>“The recent reset of expectations on driverless cars is a leading indicator for other types of AI-enabled systems as well,” says David A. Mindell, co-chair of the task force, professor of aeronautics and astronautics, and the Dibner Professor of the History of Engineering and Manufacturing at MIT. “These technologies hold great promise, but it takes time to understand the optimal combination of people and machines. And the timing of adoption is crucial for understanding the impact on workers.”</p> <p><strong>Policy proposals for the future</strong></p> <p>Still, if the worst-case scenario of a “job apocalypse” is unlikely, the continued deployment of so-so technologies could make the future of work worse for many people.</p> <p>If people are worried that technologies could limit opportunity, social mobility, and shared prosperity, the report states, “Economic history confirms that this sentiment is neither ill-informed nor misguided. There is ample reason for concern about whether technological advances will improve or erode employment and earnings prospects for the bulk of the workforce.”</p> <p>At the same time, the task force report finds reason for “tempered optimism,” asserting that better policies can significantly improve tomorrow’s work.</p> <p>“Technology is a human product,” Mindell says. “We shape technological change through our choices of investments, incentives, cultural values, and political objectives.”</p> <p>To this end, the task force focuses on a few key policy areas. One is renewed investment in postsecondary workforce education outside of the four-year college system — and not just in the STEM skills (science, technology, engineering, math) but reading, writing, and the “social skills” of teamwork and judgment.</p> <p>Community colleges are the biggest training providers in the country, with 12 million for-credit and non-credit students, and are a natural location for bolstering workforce education. A wide range of new models for gaining educational credentials is also emerging, the task force notes. The report also emphasizes the value of multiple types of on-the-job training programs for workers.</p> <p>However, the report cautions, investments in education may be necessary but not sufficient for workers: “Hoping that ‘if we skill them, jobs will come,’ is an inadequate foundation for constructing a more productive and economically secure labor market.”</p> <p>More broadly, therefore, the report argues that the interests of capital and labor need to be rebalanced. The U.S., it notes, “is unique among market economies in venerating pure shareholder capitalism,” even though workers and communities are business stakeholders too.</p> <p>“Within this paradigm [of pure shareholder capitalism], the personal, social, and public costs of layoffs and plant closings should not play a critical role in firm decision-making,” the report states.</p> <p>The task force recommends greater recognition of workers as stakeholders in corporate decision making. Redressing the decades-long erosion of worker bargaining power will require new institutions that bend the arc of innovation toward making workers more productive rather than less necessary. The report holds that the adversarial system of collective bargaining, enshrined in U.S. labor law adopted during the Great Depression, is overdue for reform.</p> <p>The U.S. tax code can be altered to help workers as well. Right now, it favors investments in capital rather than labor — for instance, capital depreciation can be written off, and R&amp;D investment receives a tax credit, whereas investments in workers produce no such equivalent benefits. The task force recommends new tax policy that would also incentivize investments in human capital, through training programs, for instance.</p> <p>Additionally, the task force recommends restoring support for R&amp;D to past levels and rebuilding U.S. leadership in the development of new AI-related technologies, “not merely to win but to lead innovation in directions that will benefit the nation: complementing workers, boosting productivity, and strengthening the economic foundation for shared prosperity.”</p> <p>Ultimately the task force’s goal is to encourage investment in technologies that improve productivity, and to ensure that workers share in the prosperity that could result.</p> <p>“There’s no question technological progress that raises productivity creates opportunity,” Autor says. “It expands the set of possibilities that you can realize. But it doesn’t guarantee that you will make good choices.”</p> <p>Reynolds adds: “The question for firms going forward is: How are they going to improve their productivity in ways that can lead to greater quality and efficiency, and aren’t just about cutting costs and bringing in marginally better technology?”</p> <p><strong>Further research and analyses</strong></p> <p>In addition to Reynolds, Autor, and Mindell, the central group within MIT’s Task Force on the Work of the Future consists of 18 MIT professors representing all five Institute schools. Additionally, the project has a 22-person advisory board drawn from the ranks of industry leaders, former government officials, and academia; a 14-person research board of scholars; and eight graduate students. The task force also counsulted with business executives, labor leaders, and community college leaders, among others.</p> <p>The task force follows other influential MIT projects such as the Commission on Industrial Productivity, an intensive multiyear study of U.S. industry in the 1980s. That effort resulted in the widely read book, “Made in America,” as well as the creation of MIT’s Industrial Performance Center.</p> <p>The current task force taps into MIT’s depth of knowledge across a full range of technologies, as well as its strengths in the social sciences.</p> <p>“MIT is engaged in developing frontier technology,” Reynolds says. “Not necessarily what will be introduced tomorrow, but five, 10, or 25 years from now. We do see what’s on the horizon, and our researchers want to bring realism and context to the public discourse.”</p> <p>The current report is an interim finding from the task force; the group plans to conduct additional research over the next year, and then will issue a final version of the report.</p> <p>“What we’re trying to do with this work,” Reynolds concludes, “is to provide a holistic perspective, which is not just about the labor market and not just about technology, but brings it all together, for a more rational and productive discussion in the public sphere.”</p> MIT’s Task Force on the Work of the Future has released a report that punctures some conventional wisdom and builds a nuanced picture of the evolution of technology and jobs.School of Engineering, School of Architecture and Planning, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, School of Science, Sloan School of Management, Jobs, Economics, Aeronautical and astronautical engineering, Urban studies and planning, Program in STS, Industrial Performance Center, employment, Artificial intelligence, Industry, President L. Rafael Reif, Policy, Machine learning, Faculty, Technology and society, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Poverty, Business and management, Manufacturing, Careers, STEM education, MIT Schwarzman College of Computing Ultrathin 3-D-printed films convert energy of one form into another Low-cost “piezoelectric” films produce voltage, could be used for flexible electronic components and more. Wed, 28 Aug 2019 12:12:03 -0400 Rob Matheson | MIT News Office <p>MIT researchers have developed a simple, low-cost method to 3-D print ultrathin films with high-performing “piezoelectric” properties, which could be used for components in flexible electronics or highly sensitive biosensors.</p> <p>Piezoelectric materials produce a voltage in response to physical strain, and they respond to a voltage by physically deforming. They’re commonly used for transducers, which convert energy of one form into another. Robotic actuators, for instance, use piezoelectric materials to move joints and parts in response to an electrical signal. And various sensors use the materials to convert changes in pressure, temperature, force, and other physical stimuli, into a measurable electrical signal.</p> <p>Researchers have been trying for years to develop piezoelectric ultrathin films that can be used as energy harvesters, sensitive pressure sensors for touch screens, and other components in flexible electronics. The films could also be used as tiny biosensors that are sensitive enough to detect the presence of molecules that are biomarkers for certain diseases and conditions.</p> <p>The material of choice for those applications is often a type of ceramic with a crystal structure that resonates at high frequencies due to its extreme thinness. (Higher frequencies basically translate to faster speeds and higher sensitivity.) But, with traditional fabrication techniques, creating ceramic ultrathin films is a complex and expensive process.</p> <p>In a paper recently published in the journal <em>Applied Materials and Interfaces</em>, the MIT researchers describe a way to 3-D print ceramic transducers about 100 nanometers thin by adapting an additive manufacturing technique for the process that builds objects layer by layer, at room temperature. The films can be printed in flexible substrates with no loss in performance, and can resonate at around 5 gigahertz, which is high enough for high-performance biosensors.</p> <p>“Making transducing components is at the heart of the technological revolution,” says Luis Fernando Velásquez-García, a researcher in the Microsystems Technology Laboratories (MTL) in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “Until now, it’s been thought 3-D-printed transducing materials will have poor performances. But we’ve developed an additive fabrication method for piezoelectric transducers at room temperature, and the materials oscillate at gigahertz-level frequencies, which is orders of magnitude higher than anything previously fabricated through 3-D printing.”</p> <p>Joining Velásquez-García on the paper is first author Brenda García-Farrera of MTL and the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education in Mexico.</p> <p><strong>Electrospraying nanoparticles</strong></p> <p>Ceramic piezoelectric thin films, made of aluminum nitride or zinc oxide, can be fabricated through physical vapor deposition and chemical vapor deposition. But those processes must be completed in sterile clean rooms, under high temperature and high vacuum conditions. That can be a time-consuming, expensive process.</p> <p>There are lower-cost 3-D-printed piezoelectric thin films available. But those are fabricated with polymers, which must be “poled”— meaning they must be given piezoelectric properties after they’re printed. Moreover, those materials usually end up tens of microns thick and thus can’t be made into ultrathin films capable of high-frequency actuation.</p> <p>The researchers’ system adapts an additive fabrication technique, called near-field electrohydrodynamic deposition (NFEHD), which uses high electric fields to eject a liquid jet through a nozzle to print an ultrathin film. Until now, the technique has not been used to print films with piezoelectric properties.</p> <p>The researchers’ liquid feedstock — raw material used in 3-D printing —&nbsp;contains zinc oxide nanoparticles mixed with some inert solvents, which forms into a piezoelectric material when printed onto a substrate and dried. The feedstock is fed through a hollow needle in a 3-D printer. As it prints, the researchers apply a specific bias voltage to the tip of the needle and control the flow rate, causing the meniscus — the curve seen at the top of a liquid —&nbsp;to form into a cone shape that ejects a fine jet from its tip.</p> <p>The jet is naturally inclined to break into droplets. But when the researchers bring the tip of the needle close to the substrate —&nbsp;about a millimeter —&nbsp;the jet doesn’t break apart. That process prints long, narrow lines on a substrate. They then overlap the lines and dry them at about 76 degrees Fahrenheit, hanging upside down.</p> <p>Printing the film precisely that way creates an ultrathin film of crystal structure with piezoelectric properties that resonates at about 5 gigahertz. “If anything of that process is missing, it doesn’t work,” Velásquez-García says.</p> <p>Using microscopy techniques, the team was able to prove that the films have a much stronger piezoelectric response — meaning the measurable signal it emits — than films made through traditional bulk fabrication methods. Those methods don’t really control the film’s piezoelectric axis direction, which determines the material’s response. “That was a little surprising,” Velásquez-García says. “In those bulk materials, they may have inefficiencies in the structure that affect performance. But when you can manipulate materials at the nanoscale, you get a stronger piezoelectric response.”</p> <p>“This very nice body of work demonstrates the feasibility of preparing functional piezoelectric films using 3-D printing techniques,” says Mark Allen, a professor specializing in microfabrication, nanotechnology, and microelectromechanical systems at the University of Pennsylvania. “Exploitation of this fabrication technique can lead to complex, three-dimensional, and low temperature fabrication of piezoelectric structures. I expect we will see new classes of microscale sensors, actuators, and resonators enabled by this exciting fabrication technology."</p> <p><strong>Low-cost sensors</strong></p> <p>Because the piezoelectric ultrathin films are 3-D printed and resonate at very high frequencies, they can be leveraged to fabricate low-cost, highly sensitive sensors. The researchers are currently working with colleagues in Monterrey Tec as part of a collaborative program in nanoscience and nanotechnology, to make piezoelectric biosensors to detect biomarkers for certain diseases and conditions.</p> <p>A resonating circuit is integrated into these biosensors, which makes the piezoelectric ultrathin film oscillate at a specific frequency, and the piezoelectric material can be functionalized to attract certain molecule biomarkers to its surface. When the molecules stick to the surface, it causes the piezoelectric material to slightly shift the frequency oscillations of the circuit. That small frequency shift can be measured and correlated to a certain amount of the molecule that piles up on its surface.</p> <p>The researchers are also developing a sensor to measure the decay of electrodes in fuel cells. That would function similarly to the biosensor, but the shifts in frequency would correlate to the degradation of a certain alloy in the electrodes. “We’re making sensors that can diagnose the health of fuel cells, to see if they need to be replaced,” Velásquez-García says. “If you assess the health of these systems in real time, you can make decisions about when to replace them, before something serious happens.”</p> MIT researchers have 3-D printed ultrathin ceramic films that convert energy from one form into another for flexible electronics and biosensors. Here, they’ve printed the piezoelectric films into a pattern spelling out “MIT.”Research, Microsystems Technology Laboratories, 3-D printing, Design, Manufacturing, Materials Science and Engineering, electronics, Disease, Health sciences and technology, Nanoscience and nanotechnology, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), School of Engineering Computer-aided knitting New research from the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory uses machine learning to customize clothing designs. Tue, 06 Aug 2019 11:35:52 -0400 Rachel Gordon | CSAIL <p>The oldest known knitting item dates back to Egypt in the Middle Ages, by way of a pair of <a href="" target="_blank">carefully handcrafted socks.</a> Although handmade clothes have occupied our closets for centuries, a recent influx of high-tech knitting machines have changed how we now create our favorite pieces.&nbsp;</p> <p>These systems, which have made anything from <a href="" target="_blank">Prada sweaters</a> to <a href="" target="_blank">Nike shirts</a>, are still far from seamless. Programming machines for designs can be a tedious and complicated ordeal: When you have to specify every single stitch, one mistake can throw off the entire garment.&nbsp;</p> <p>In a new pair of papers, researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have come up with a new approach to streamline the process: a new system and design tool for automating knitted garments.&nbsp;</p> <p>In one paper, a team created a system called “InverseKnit”, that translates photos of knitted patterns into instructions that are then used with machines to make clothing. An approach like this could let casual users create designs without a memory bank of coding knowledge, and even reconcile issues of efficiency and waste in manufacturing.&nbsp;</p> <p>“As far as machines and knitting go, this type of system could change accessibility for people looking to be the designers of their own items,'' says Alexandre Kaspar, CSAIL PhD student and lead author on a new paper about the system. “We want to let casual users get access to machines without needed programming expertise, so they can reap the benefits of customization by making use of machine learning for design and manufacturing.”&nbsp;</p> <p>In another paper, researchers came up with a computer-aided design tool for customizing knitted items. The tool lets non-experts use templates for adjusting patterns and shapes, like adding a triangular pattern to a beanie, or vertical stripes to a sock. You can image users making items customized to their own bodies, while also personalizing for preferred aesthetics.</p> <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p><strong>InverseKnit&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>Automation has already reshaped the fashion industry as we know it, with potential positive residuals of changing our manufacturing footprint as well.&nbsp;</p> <p>To get InverseKnit up and running, the team first created a dataset of knitting instructions, and the matching images of those patterns. They then trained their deep neural network on that data to interpret the 2-D knitting instructions from images.&nbsp;</p> <p>This might look something like giving the system a photo of a glove, and then letting the model produce a set of instructions, where the machine then follows those commands to output the design.&nbsp;</p> <p>When testing InverseKnit, the team found that it produced accurate instructions 94% of the time.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Current state-of-the-art computer vision techniques are data-hungry, and they need many examples to model the world effectively,” says Jim McCann, assistant professor in the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute. “With InverseKnit, the team collected an immense dataset of knit samples that, for the first time, enables modern computer vision techniques to be used to recognize and parse knitting patterns.”&nbsp;</p> <p>While the system currently works with a small sample size, the team hopes to expand the sample pool to employ InverseKnit on a larger scale. Currently, the team only used a specific type of acrylic yarn, but they hope to test different materials to make the system more flexible.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>A tool for knitting</strong></p> <p>While there’s been plenty of developments in the field — such as Carnegie Mellon’s automated knitting processes for <a href="">3-D meshes</a> — these methods can often be complex and ambiguous. The distortions inherent in 3-D shapes hamper how we understand the positions of the items, and this can be a burden on the designers.&nbsp;</p> <p>To address this design issue, Kaspar and his colleagues developed a tool called “CADKnit”, which uses 2-D images, CAD software, and photo editing techniques to let casual users customize templates for knitted designs.</p> <p>The tool lets users design both patterns and shapes in the same interface. With other software systems, you’d likely lose some work on either end when customizing both.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Whether it’s for the everyday user who wants to mimic a friend’s beanie hat, or a subset of the public who might benefit from using this tool in a manufacturing setting, we’re aiming to make the process more accessible for personal customization,'' says Kaspar.&nbsp;</p> <p>The team tested the usability of CADKnit by having non-expert users create patterns for their garments and adjust the size and shape. In post-test surveys, the users said they found it easy to manipulate and customize their socks or beanies, successfully fabricating multiple knitted samples. They noted that lace patterns were tricky to design correctly and would benefit from fast realistic simulation.</p> <p>However the system is only a first step towards full garment customization. The authors found that garments with complicated interfaces between different parts — such as sweaters — didn’t work well with the design tool. The trunk of sweaters and sleeves can be connected in various ways, and the software didn’t yet have a way of describing the whole design space for that.</p> <p>Furthermore, the current system can only use one yarn for a shape, but the team hopes to improve this by introducing a stack of yarn at each stitch. To enable work with more complex patterns and larger shapes, the researchers plan to use hierarchical data structures that don’t incorporate all stitches, just the necessary ones.</p> <p>“The impact of 3-D knitting has the potential to be even bigger than that of 3-D printing. Right now, design tools are holding the technology back, which is why this research is so important to the future,” says McCann.&nbsp;</p> <p>A paper on InverseKnit was presented by Kaspar alongside MIT postdocs Tae-Hyun Oh and Petr Kellnhofer, PhD student Liane Makatura, MIT undergraduate Jacqueline Aslarus, and MIT Professor Wojciech Matusik. It was presented at the International Conference on Machine Learning this past June in Long Beach, California.&nbsp;</p> <p>A paper on the design tool was led by Kaspar alongside Makatura and Matusik.</p> Researchers at MIT demonstrated gloves fabricated by a system for automating knitted garments. Image: MIT CSAILResearch, 3-D printing, 3-D, Additive manufacturing, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), Design, Manufacturing, Mechanical engineering, DMSE, Materials Science and Engineering, Software, Computer modeling, Computer science and technology, Arts, School of Engineering Software to empower workers on the factory floor Apps developed by MIT spinout Tulip help manufacturers augment employee production rather than automating it away. Wed, 31 Jul 2019 23:59:59 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>Manufacturers are constantly tweaking their processes to get rid of waste and improve productivity. As such, the software they use should be as nimble and responsive as the operations on their factory floors.</p> <p>Instead, much of the software in today’s factories is static. In many cases, it’s developed by an outside company to work in a broad range of factories, and implemented from the top down by executives who know software can help but don’t know how best to adopt it.</p> <p>That’s where MIT spinout Tulip comes in. The company has developed a customizable manufacturing app platform that connects people, machines, and sensors to help optimize processes on a shop floor. Tulip’s apps provide workers with interactive instructions, quality checks, and a way to easily communicate with managers if something is wrong.</p> <p>Managers, in turn, can make changes or additions to the apps in real-time and use Tulip’s analytics dashboard to pinpoint problems with machines and assembly processes.</p> <p>“With this notion of agile manufacturing [in which changes are constant], you need your software to match the philosophical process you’re using to improve your organization,” says Tulip co-founder and CTO Rony Kubat ’01, SM ’08, PhD ’12. “With our platform, we’re empowering the manufacturing engineers on the line to make changes themselves. That’s in contrast to the traditional way of making manufacturing software. It’s a bottom-up kind of thing.”</p> <p>Tulip, founded by Kubat and CEO Natan Linder SM ’11, PhD ’17, is currently working with multiple Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 companies operating in 13 different countries, including Bosch, Jabil, and Kohler. Tulip’s customers make everything from shoes to jewelry, medical devices, and consumer electronics.</p> <p>With the platform’s scalable design, Kubat says it can help factories of any size, as long as they employ people on the shop floor.</p> <p>In that way, Tulip’s tools are empowering workers in an industry that has historically trended toward automation. As the company continues building out its platform — including adding machine vision and machine learning capabilities — it hopes to continue encouraging manufacturers to see people as an indispensable resource.</p> <p><strong>A new approach to manufacturing software</strong></p> <p>In 2012, Kubat was pursuing his PhD in the MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces group when he met Linder, then a graduate student. During their research, several Media Lab member companies gave the founders tours of their factory floors and introduced them to some of the production challenges they were grappling with.</p> <p>“The Media Lab is such a special place,” Kubat says. “You have this contrast of an antidisciplinary mentality, where you’re putting faculty from completely different walks of life in the same building, giving it this creative wildness that is really invigorating, plus this grounding in the real world that comes from the member organizations that are part of the Media Lab.”</p> <p>During those factory tours, the founders noticed similar problems across industries.</p> <p>“The typical way manufacturing software is deployed is in these multiyear cycles,” Kubat says. “You sign a multimillion dollar contract that’s going to overhaul everything, and you get three years to deploy it all, and you get your screens in the end that everyone isn’t really happy with because they solve yesterday’s problems. We’re bringing a more modern approach to software development for manufacturing.”</p> <p>In 2014, just as Linder completed his PhD research, the founders decided to start Tulip. (Linder would later return to MIT to defend his thesis.) Relying on their personal savings for funding, they recruited a team of students from MIT’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program and began building a prototype for New Balance, a Media Lab member company that has factories in New England.</p> <p>“We worked really closely with the first customers to do super fast iterations to make these proofs of concept that we’d try to deploy as quickly as possible,” Kubat says. “That approach isn’t new from a software perspective — deploy fast and iterate — but it is new for the manufacturing software world.”</p> <p><strong>An engine for manufacturing</strong></p> <p>The app-based platform the founders eventually built out has little in common with the sweeping software implementations that traditionally upend factory operations for better or worse. Tulip’s apps can be installed in just one workstation then scaled up as needed.</p> <p>The apps can also be designed by managers with no coding experience, over the course of an afternoon. Typically they can use Tulip’s app templates, which can be customized for common tasks like guiding a worker through an assembly process or completing a checklist.</p> <p>Workers using the apps on the shop floor can submit comments on their interactive screens to do things like point out defects. Those comments are sent directly to the manager, who can make changes to the apps remotely.</p> <p>“It’s a data-driven opportunity to engage the operators on the line, to gain some ownership over the process,” Kubat says.</p> <p>The apps are integrated with machines and tools on the factory floor through Tulip’s router-like gateways. Those gateways also sync with sensors and cameras to give managers data from both humans and machines. All that information helps managers find bottlenecks and other factors holding back productivity.</p> <p>Workers, meanwhile, are given real-time feedback on their actions from the cameras, which are usually trained on the part as it’s being assembled or on the bins the workers are reaching into. If a worker assembles a part improperly, for example, Tulip’s camera can detect the mistake, and its app can alert the worker to the error, presenting instructions on fixing it.</p> <p><img alt="" src="/sites/" style="width: 500px; height: 281px;" /></p> <p><span style="font-size:10px;"><em>A demonstration of a worker assembling a part wrong, Tulip's sensors detecting the error, and then Tulip's app providing instructions for correcting the mistake.</em></span></p> <p>Such quality checks can be sprinkled throughout a production line. That’s a big upgrade over traditional methods for data collection in factories, which often include a stopwatch and a clipboard, the founders say.</p> <p>“That process is expensive,” Kubat says of traditional data collection methods. “It’s also biased, because when you’re being observed you might behave differently. It’s also a sampling of things, not the true picture. Our take is that all of that execution data should be something you get for free from a system that gives you additional value.”</p> <p>The data Tulip collects are channeled into its analytics dashboard, which can be used to make customized tables displaying certain metrics to managers and shop floor workers.</p> <p>In April, the company launched its first machine vision feature, which further helps workers minimize mistakes and improve productivity. Those objectives are in line with Tulip’s broader goal of empowering workers in factories rather than replacing them.</p> <p>“We’re helping companies launch products faster and improve efficiency,” Kubat says. “That means, because you can reduce the cost of making products with people, you push back the [pressure of] automation. You don’t need automation to give you quality at scale. This has the potential to really change the dynamics of how products are delivered to the public.”</p> MIT spinout Tulip offers customizable manufacturing apps (like the one on the screen) in addition to sensors, gateways, and analytics to improve human-based manufacturing processes.Image courtesy of TulipInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Media Lab, School of Architecture and Planning, Manufacturing, Jobs, Software, Alumni/ae A new way to make droplets bounce away Engineers design surfaces that send rain flying away, potentially preventing icing or soaking. Thu, 27 Jun 2019 00:00:01 -0400 David L. Chandler | MIT News Office <p>In many situations, engineers want to minimize the contact of droplets of water or other liquids with surfaces they fall onto. Whether the goal is keeping ice from building up on an airplane wing or a wind turbine blade, or preventing heat loss from a surface during rainfall, or preventing salt buildup on surfaces exposed to ocean spray, making droplets bounce away as fast as possible and minimizing the amount of contact with the surface can be key to keeping systems functioning properly.</p> <p>Now, a study by researchers at MIT demonstrates a new approach to minimizing the contact between droplets and surfaces. While previous attempts, including by members of the same team, have focused on minimizing the amount of time the droplet spends in contact with the surface, the new method instead focuses on the spatial extent of the contact, trying to minimize how far a droplet spreads out before bouncing away.</p> <p>The new findings are described in the journal <em>ACS Nano</em> in <a href="">a paper</a> by MIT graduate student Henri-Louis Girard, postdoc Dan Soto, and professor of mechanical engineering Kripa Varanasi. The key to the process, they explain, is creating a series of raised ring shapes on the material’s surface, which cause the falling droplet to splash upward in a bowl-shaped pattern instead of flowing out flat across the surface.</p> <p>The work is a followup on an <a href="">earlier project</a> by Varanasi and his team, in which they were able to reduce the contact time of droplets on a surface by creating raised ridges on the surface, which disrupted the spreading pattern of impacting droplets. But the new work takes this farther, achieving a much greater reduction in the combination of contact time and contact area of a droplet.</p> <p>In order to prevent icing on an airplane wing, for example, it is essential to get the droplets of impacting water to bounce away in less time than it takes for the water to freeze. The earlier ridged surface did succeed in reducing the contact time, but Varanasi says “since then, we found there’s another thing at play here,” which is how far the drop spreads out before rebounding and bouncing off. “Reducing the contact area of the impacting droplet should also have a dramatic impact on transfer properties of the interaction,” Varanasi says.</p> <p>The team initiated a series of experiments that demonstrated that raised rings of just the right size, covering the surface, would cause the water spreading out from an impacting droplet to splash upward instead, forming a bowl-shaped splash, and that the angle of that upward splash could be controlled by adjusting the height and profile of those rings. If the rings are too large or too small compared to the size of the droplets, the system becomes less effective or doesn’t work at all, but when the size is right, the effect is dramatic.</p> <p>It turns out that reducing the contact time alone is not sufficient to achieve the greatest reduction in contact; it’s the combination of the time and area of contact that’s critical. In a graph of the time of contact on one axis, and the area of contact on the other axis, what really matters is the total area under the curve — that is, the product of the time and the extent of contact. The area of the spreading was “was another axis that no one has touched” in previous research, Girard says. “When we started doing so, we saw a drastic reaction,” reducing the total time-and-area contact of the droplet by 90 percent. “The idea of reducing contact area by forming ‘waterbowls’ has far greater effect on reducing the overall interaction than by reducing contact time alone,” Varanasi says.</p> <p>As the droplet starts to spread out within the raised circle, as soon as it hits the circle’s edge it begins to deflect. “Its momentum is redirected upward,” Girard says, and although it ends up spreading outward about as far as it would have otherwise, it is no longer on the surface, and therefore not cooling the surface off, or leading to icing, or blocking the pores on a “waterproof” fabric.</p> <p><img alt="" src="/sites/" style="width: 500px; height: 181px;" /></p> <p><span style="font-size:10px;"><em>Credit: Henri-Louis Girard, Dan Soto, and Kripa Varanas</em></span></p> <p>The rings themselves can be made in different ways and from different materials, the researchers say — it’s just the size and spacing that matters. For some tests, they used rings 3-D printed on a substrate, and for others they used a surface with a pattern created through an etching process similar to that used in microchip manufacturing. Other rings were made through computer controlled milling of plastic.</p> <p>While higher-velocity droplet impacts generally can be more damaging to a surface, with this system the higher velocities actually improve the effectiveness of the redirection, clearing even more of the liquid than at slower speeds. That’s good news for practical applications, for example in dealing with rain, which has relatively high velocity, Girard says. “It actually works better the faster you go,” he says.</p> <p>In addition to keeping ice off airplane wings, the new system could have a wide variety of applications, the researchers say. For example, “waterproof” fabrics can become saturated and begin to leak when water fills up the spaces between the fibers, but when treated with the surface rings, fabrics kept their ability to shed water for longer, and performed better overall, Girard says. “There was a 50 percent improvement by using the ring structures,” he says.</p> <p>The research was supported by MIT’s Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation.</p> Droplets that land on a specially prepared surface with tiny ring-shaped patterns splash upward in a bowl shape, as seen in this photo, instead of spreading out over the surface, thus minimizing the water’s contact with the surface.Image: Henri-Louis Girard, Jim Bales, and Kripa VaranasiResearch, Nanoscience and nanotechnology, Mechanical engineering, Manufacturing, School of Engineering, Surface engineering, Department of Energy (DoE), Deshpande Center Building the tools of the next manufacturing revolution From industrializing 3-D printing to creating nanomaterials at scale, John Hart is reimagining the way things are made. Mon, 17 Jun 2019 23:59:59 -0400 Jonathan Mingle | MIT News correspondent <p>Over a century ago, a visitor to Henry Ford’s new assembly line in Highland Park, Michigan, could watch workers build automobiles from interchangeable parts, and witness a manufacturing revolution in progress.</p> <p>Today, someone who wants to glimpse the future of manufacturing should make a visit to John Hart’s lab. Through projects including next-generation 3-D printers, carbon nanotube fibers for use in electric motors and lightweight composites, and printing flexible materials for medical devices, Hart and his research group are developing technologies to reimagine the way things are made, from the nanoscale to the scale of the global economy.</p> <p>Hart, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT and the director of the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productivity and the Center for Additive and Digital Advanced Production Technologies, is an expert in 3-D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, which involves the computer-guided deposition of material layer by layer into precise three-dimensional shapes. (Conventional manufacturing usually entails making a part by removing material, for example through machining, or by forming the part using a mold tool.)</p> <p>Hart’s research includes the development of advanced materials — new types of polymers, nanocomposites, and metal alloys — and the development of novel machines and processes that use and shape materials, such as high-speed 3-D printing, roll-to-roll graphene growth, and manufacturing techniques for low-cost sensors and electronics.</p> <p>“In my lab, through our partnerships with industry and via the startup companies I’m involved in, we’re seeking to redefine manufacturing at scale and rethink how resources are committed to manufacturing throughout the product life cycle,” Hart says. “One major focus is creating new kinds of 3-D printers. These are printers that are 10 to 100 times faster, more accurate, and process both well-known materials and materials that have never been possible before.”</p> <p><strong>A focus on applications and scale</strong></p> <p>Hart grew up in the Detroit area — one of the country’s great manufacturing hubs since Henry Ford’s time &nbsp;— and studied mechanical engineering as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan. He spent summers interning for General Motors, and when he started in the master’s degree program in mechanical engineering at MIT, he thought he would eventually make his way back to the auto industry.</p> <p>Once he got to Cambridge, though, new horizons opened up. “Coming to MIT, I simply enjoyed the environment, the sense of challenge, learning, and open-mindedness,” he says.</p> <p>Hart’s work with his advisor, professor of mechanical engineering Alexander Slocum, sparked an interest in nanomaterials manufacturing. He decided to pursue a PhD investigating new ways to build carbon nanotubes, which are long molecules that are stronger than steel and more conductive than copper.</p> <p>When he returned to MIT in 2013 as a new faculty member, after several years as a professor at the University of Michigan, he started exploring another new frontier: 3-D printing.</p> <p>As the director of the newly formed MIT Center for Additive and Digital Advanced Production Technologies and the co-founder of two Boston-area 3-D printing startups — Desktop Metal and VulcanForms — Hart is advancing this frontier on multiple fronts, through education, entrepreneurship, and engagement with industry.</p> <p>Although the research projects in his lab span from the nanoscale to the macroscale, he has an eye trained on the bigger picture. Leveraging advances in computation, digitization, and automation, along with his own expertise with materials processing and machine design, Hart’s group sees the potential for 3-D printing to dramatically streamline and speed up global supply chains. The group is also pursuing a series of projects related to Hart’s longstanding interest in carbon nanotubes, exploring ways to form nanotubes into advanced wires, fibers, and structural composites.</p> <p>Hart sees this convergence of digitally driven manufacturing technologies as a means of overcoming the logistical hurdles of long lead times, complex supply chains, and steep capital requirements.</p> <p>And, he is motivated by finding new applications to benefit society at large. “That could be a better medical implant or sensor to measure the health of soil, a wire that is more conductive than copper, or a new business enabled by rapid access to 3-D printing in a dense city or a rural environment,” he says.</p> <p>“If you want to make a new medical device, or even an automotive part, think of the supply chain you have to figure out and manage. Every part requires a lot of detail, time and investment to design, validate, and eventually produce, whether it’s made locally or overseas. One reason 3-D printing is fundamentally different is that it allows designers and engineers to iterate more quickly, and to, in the near future, produce parts on demand in large quantities without fixed up-front investment.”</p> <p><strong>Shaping the future</strong></p> <p>To be sure, “It’s not that 3-D printing will replace all of manufacturing or even a tenth of it in the near future,” Hart says. “It is the cornerstone of a digital transformation in the way we go about designing, producing, and servicing products in a responsive, market-driven manner.”</p> <p>As these new technologies become more widely used, the resulting changes in industrial manufacturing processes could have profound implications for the workers of the future, and for their training and education. Hart is deeply engaged with those questions, too.</p> <p>“We also like to think at the system level, in terms of economic modeling of new manufacturing technologies including 3-D printing, and understanding how companies work and what transformations may be needed in product-development processes and in the skills of their employees,” he says.&nbsp;</p> <p>That research has been inspired by Hart’s involvement in MIT’s <a href="">Work of the Future</a> initiative, for which he’s assembled a team to examine how demands on workers across the product life cycle — from the designer to the engineer to the production worker — will be influenced by the rise of automation and digitization.</p> <p>Hart’s own workflow has become ever more diverse, in pace with the rapid developments in the field. But his teaching, research, and work with industry all go hand in hand, he says. “It’s all symbiotic. All these activities and interests feed to and from one another. We also have a prime responsibility to consider the sustainability of the manufacturing technologies that we develop, and the implications of more flexible manufacturing — both positive and negative — on the resource pressures of the planet.”</p> <p>In addition to his own experience as an entrepreneur — and becoming co-inventor of more than 50 pending and issued patents — Hart gains insights and energy from teaching industry professionals and students alike.</p> <p>He’s a recipient of the prestigious Ruth and Joel Spira Award for Distinguished Teaching at MIT, as well as the MIT Keenan Award for Innovation in Undergraduate Education, for his work teaching MIT’s flagship undergraduate manufacturing course 2.008 (Design and Manufacturing) and its equivalent as an open online course on edX. As the Department of Mechanical Engineering’s “Maker Czar,” he oversees the design and manufacturing shops used by hundreds of students, working with instructors and various department leaders to make sure facilities have state-of-the-art equipment and capabilities and that students become proficient with both established and emerging technologies.</p> <p>He also created and leads an online <em>MITxPro</em> <a href="">course</a> for professionals, “Additive Manufacturing for Innovative Design and Production,” which has enrolled over 2,500 participants from around the world who have sought to learn the fundamentals and applications of 3-D printing and apply this knowledge to their jobs.</p> <p>“The experience of teaching and developing courses for industry, both in person and digitally, has been incredibly helpful in shaping my perspective of how we at MIT can contribute to the future of manufacturing,” Hart says.</p> John HartImage: M. Scott BrauerFaculty, Profile, Mechanical engineering, School of Engineering, 3-D printing, Manufacturing Q&amp;A: David Hardt on teaching the principles of manufacturing From MEngM to MicroMasters, Professor David Hardt has devoted much of his career to reshaping how manufacturing is taught. Tue, 04 Jun 2019 11:40:01 -0400 Mary Beth O’Leary | Mechanical engineering <p><em>The past four decades have been transformative for manufacturing. An explosive growth of new technologies has revolutionized how products are made and distributed. In the 1980s, the steep rise in Japanese manufacturing reshaped the global market. Advances in the fields of automation, robotics, and factory systems have drastically altered the landscape of the traditional factory floor. David Hardt, the Ralph E. and Eloise F. Cross Professor in Manufacturing, has had a front-row seat to these radical changes.</em></p> <p><em>Hardt SM ’75, PhD ’78 joined the faculty in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering (MechE) in 1979 and later served as director of the MIT Laboratory for Manufacturing for nine years. A leading expert in manufacturing process control, Hardt pioneered new equipment and control techniques in fields such as gas metal arc welding, metal forming in the aerospace industry, and micro-fluidic device manufacture.</em></p> <p><em>Hardt was also involved with the initiation and management of the&nbsp; “Leaders for Manufacturing” (now LGO) program, a collaboration between the MIT Sloan School of Management and the School of Engineering, serving as engineering co-director for four years. From this and his MechE work, he noticed that MIT’s degree programs weren’t adequately preparing engineering students for careers in manufacturing. In 2010, he helped develop MIT’s master of engineering in advanced manufacturing and design (MEngM), a yearlong program that prepares graduate students to be engineering leaders in manufacturing.</em></p> <p><em>Last year, Hardt and colleagues like Sanja Sarma, vice president for open learning, took lessons from the MEngM degree and launched the MITx MicroMasters Program in Principles of Manufacturing, on online program about the fundamentals of manufacturing as developed in the MEngM.</em></p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>How did you decide to spend your career focusing on manufacturing?<br /> <br /> <strong>A:</strong> Well, when I got to MIT I was enamored with biomedical engineering. I studied muscle-force control during walking for my PhD. By the time I graduated, the market was oversaturated and no one was interested in hiring a biomedical engineer. So I took a postdoctoral role in manufacturing at MIT. I had studied control and dynamics in graduate school and started thinking of ways I could apply that to manufacturing. That’s when I took the theme of process control and ran with it. In the parlance of controls, I was expanding the control to include the whole manufacturing process — not just the machine itself.</p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>In the 40 years since you joined the faculty, what has been the biggest change you’ve seen in manufacturing?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> The level of sophistication has been one of the biggest changes. Manufacturing has become such a highly refined activity globally. Look at any modern manufacturing operation and it has to be one of the most complex technical systems there are on earth.</p> <p>It used to be that with enough labor, some skill, space, and time, you could make anything and make a profit. But the standards manufacturers are now held to are extremely high. You can’t make something with poor quality and high cost and get away with it anymore. Consumers’ expectations have really upped the ante.</p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>Rethinking how manufacturing is taught has been a theme throughout your career. How did the MEngM program initially come to fruition?<br /> <br /> <strong>A:</strong> I started collaborating more with colleagues from Sloan School of Management, as well as managers and operating engineers in industry. It gave me more of a ground truth in what was important in manufacturing. That opened my eyes and in some of the classes I was teaching, I shifted from a purely mechanical engineering approach to a broader, more pragmatic approach that took into account what was really happening in industry.</p> <p>When the [Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology] began in 1998, we knew we wanted to collaborate with researchers in Singapore on manufacturing. We developed a novel professional manufacturing degree program in Singapore. For five years, we ran it from a distance. It was a roaring success, so we realized that there was an opportunity to start a similar program right here at MIT, and launched the MEngM program. For our students, it’s like a capstone degree. Undergraduate manufacturing classes just scratch the surface — the MEngM really educates students in the theory and practice of manufacturing.</p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>How did you use the lessons you’ve learned from the MEngM program to shape the <em>MITx</em> MicroMasters Program in Principles of Manufacturing?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> There are four core classes in the MEngM program that we started calling the "principles of manufacturing." We realized that teaching those classes as a unit would provide great utility on their own. Someone working in industry who has a mechanical engineering background could take those classes and it would greatly enhance their ability to work in manufacturing and design. So, along with my colleagues Jung-Hoon Chun, Stephen Graves, Duane Boning, Stan Gershwin, Jose Pacheco, and John Liu, I worked with Professor Sanjay Sarma and the <em>MITx</em> team to put together eight online courses on manufacturing process control, manufacturing systems, management in engineering, and supply chains for manufacturing. The courses are taught by a seasoned team of faculty from MIT MechE, MIT Leaders for Global Operations Program, and Sloan School of Management.</p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>What are you hoping students will take away from the MicroMasters Program?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> Everybody knows that the biggest hurdle in manufacturing is the conversion from a groundbreaking idea to actual production. We hope that the program can help professionals across industry surmount that hurdle. Our first year of the program just launched in March 2018, and we have had students from all across the world at varying levels in their career. Our first MicroMasters credential should be awarded this fall, and we hope to admit some of them to the MEngM. I’m looking forward to hearing more from them about how they plan to implement the skills they learned through the program throughout their careers.</p> David Hardt teaches students in class 2.830 (Control of Manufacturing Processes).Photo: John FreidahMechanical engineering, School of Engineering, MITx, MicroMasters, Sloan School of Management, Leaders for Global Operations (LGO), Manufacturing, Faculty, online learning, education, teaching, Education, teaching, academics, Industry Fabrics poised to become the new software Basic research advance leads to production of more than 250,000 chips embedded within fibers in less than a year. Tue, 21 May 2019 23:59:59 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>In the summer of 2018, a team led by MIT researchers reported in the journal <em>Nature</em> that they had successfully embedded electronic devices into fibers that could be used in fabrics or composite products like clothing, airplane wings, or even wound dressings. The advance could allow fabrics or composites to sense their environment, communicate, store and convert energy, and more.</p> <p>Research breakthroughs typically take years to make it into final products — if they reach that point at all. This particular research, however, is following a dramatically different path.</p> <p>By the time the unique fiber advance was <a href="">unveiled</a> last summer, members of Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA), a not-for-profit near MIT, had already developed ways to increase the throughput and overall reliability of the process. And, staff at Inman Mills in South Carolina had established a method to weave the advanced fibers using a conventional, industrial manufacturing-scale loom to create fabrics that can use light to both broadcast and receive information.</p> <p>Today, less than a year after the technology was first introduced to the world, around a quarter of a million semiconducting devices have been embedded in fibers using the patented technology, and companies like New Balance, VF, Bose, and 3M are seeking ways to use the technology in their products.</p> <p>“AFFOA is helping cutting-edge basic research to reach market-ready scale at unprecedented velocity,” says Yoel Fink, CEO of AFFOA and a professor of materials science and electrical engineering at MIT. “Chip-containing fibers, which were just recently a university research project, are now being produced at an annual rate of half a million meters. This scale allows AFFOA to engage dozens of companies and accelerate product and process development across multiple markets simultaneously.”</p> <p>Fink says that AFFOA’s work is unleashing a “Moore’s Law for fibers,” wherein the basic functions of fibers will grow exponentially in the coming years, allowing companies to develop value-added fabric and composite products and services. “Chip-containing fibers present a real prospect for fabrics to be the next frontier in computation and AI,” he says.</p> <p><strong>Sowing the seeds of fabric innovation</strong></p> <p>In 2015, MIT President L. Rafael Reif <a href="">called for</a> the formation of public-private partnerships he named “innovation orchards,” to reduce the time it takes new ideas to make an impact on society. Specifically, he wanted to make tangible innovations as easy to deploy and test as digital ones.</p> <p>Later that year, AFFOA was formed by MIT and other key partners to accept Reif’s challenge and take advantage of recent breakthroughs in fiber materials and textile-manufacturing processes.</p> <p>“The gap between where research ends and product begins is the so-called valley of death,” Fink says. “President Reif introduced the concept of orchards of innovation as a way for us, as a university, to organize these collaboration centers for technology to help bridge basic research to the market entry point.”</p> <p>In 2016, <a href="">AFFOA was selected</a> by the federal government to serve as the new Revolutionary Fibers and Textiles Manufacturing Innovation Institute, receiving more than $75 million in government funding and nearly $250 million in private investments to support U.S. based, high-volume production of these new technologies.</p> <p>Since then, speed has been paramount at AFFOA. As MIT and other research entities have advanced the field, AFFOA has helped facilitate pilot production of these sophisticated textiles and fabrics so companies can engage consumers with small batches of advanced fabric products, or prototypes, in a manner similar to how software companies roll out minimally viable products to quickly gather feedback from customers and consumers.</p> <p><strong>Fabrics at the speed of software</strong></p> <p>A key element in the success of software has been the ability to rapidly prototype and test products with the target customer. Tangible products, on the other hand, experience a much more difficult path to consumers, and fabrics are no exception. The reason for this is the absence of efficient prototyping mechansims at scale.</p> <p>To allow fabric products to move faster to market, AFFOA has created a national prototyping network with dozens of domestic manufacturers and universities, allowing it to rapidly test advanced fabric products directly with customers.</p> <p>The prototyping network is currently actively pursuing more than 30 projects, called MicroAwards, with industry and academia designed to incorporate the latest advances in fibers and textiles into mass manufacturing processes. Industry and academic participants are required to operate within short timeframes, typically 90 days or less and divided into two week sprints.</p> <p>For instance, Teufelberger, a manufacturer of ropes located in Fall River, Massachusetts, is working with AFFOA on integrating advanced fibers into their braided ropes. The ropes can help climbers or divers communicate or store information on how the rope was used.</p> <p>At the end of May, AFFOA will roll out at the Augmented Reality Expo a fabric augmented-reality experience that will allow conference attendees to connect with each other using AFFOA’s fabric LOOks system.</p> <p><strong>The fabric of entrepreneurship and education</strong></p> <p>AFFOA has also partnered with schools such as the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and the Greater Lawrence Technical School, where students are learning how to design and make an advanced chip-containing fibers, as well as other skills related to manufacturing advanced functional fabrics and the products that will emerge from them.</p> <p>Additionally, over 30 entrepreneurs have been working on establishing startups around advanced fabrics as part of the advanced fabric entrepreneurship program managed by AFFOA in collaboration with the Venture Mentoring Service at MIT.</p> <p>AFFOA is currently evaluating the prospects of raising an investment fund dedicated to funding startups in the advanced fabric sector.</p> <p>For Fink, AFFOA’s work is about turning fabric, an ancient yet largely unchanged material, into a new platform for innovation.</p> <p>“Fabrics occupy a very significant real estate, the surface of our bodies, and yet we’re not doing much with that real estate — it’s underdeveloped,” Fink says. “AFFOA is setting the stage for a fabric revolution by allowing these ancient forms to become high tech and deliver value-add services in the years ahead.”</p> Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA) is connecting research in fibers, fabrics and textiles with industry players to create innovative manufacturing processes.Courtesy of AFFOACambridge, Boston and region, Industry, Technology and society, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Materials Science and Engineering, DMSE, School of Engineering, electronics, Research, Manufacturing, Collaboration, Government A new era in 3-D printing Mechanical engineering researchers are inventing game-changing technologies and developing a renaissance in 3-D printing. Thu, 16 May 2019 10:35:01 -0400 Mary Beth O'Leary | Department of Mechanical Engineering <p>In the mid-15th century, a new technology that would change the course of history was invented. Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press, with its movable type, promoted the dissemination of information and ideas that is widely recognized as a major contributing factor for the Renaissance.</p> <p>Over 500 years later, a new type of printing was invented in the labs of MIT. Emanuel Sachs, professor of mechanical engineering, invented a process known as binder jet printing. In binder jet printing, an inkjet printhead selectively drops a liquid binder material into a powder bed — creating a three-dimensional object layer by layer.</p> <p>Sachs coined a new name for this process: 3-D printing. “My father was a publisher and my mother was an editor,” explains Sachs. “Growing up, my father would take me to the printing presses where his books were made, which influenced my decision to name the process 3-D printing.”</p> <p>Sachs’ binder jet printing process was one of several technologies developed in the 1980s and '90s in the field now known as additive manufacturing, a term that has come to describe a wide variety of layer-based production technologies. Over the past three decades, there has been an explosion in additive manufacturing research. These technologies have the potential to transform the way countless products are designed and manufactured.<br /> <br /> One of the most immediate applications of 3-D printing has been the rapid prototyping of products. “It takes a long time to prototype using traditional manufacturing methods,” explains Sachs. 3-D printing has transformed this process, enabling rapid iteration and testing during the product development process.</p> <p>This flexibility has been a game-changer for designers. “You can now create dozens of designs in CAD, input them into a 3-D printer, and in a matter of hours you have all your prototypes,” adds Maria Yang, professor of mechanical engineering and director of MIT’s Ideation Laboratory. “It gives you a level of design exploration that simply wasn’t possible before.”</p> <p>Throughout MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, many faculty members have been finding new ways to incorporate 3-D printing across a vast array of research areas. Whether it’s printing metal parts for airplanes, printing objects on a nanoscale, or advancing drug discovery by printing complex biomaterial scaffolds, these researchers are testing the limits of 3-D printing technologies in ways that could have lasting impact across industries.</p> <p><strong>Improving speed, cost, and accuracy </strong></p> <p>There are several technological hurdles that have prevented additive manufacturing from having an impact on the level of Gutenberg’s printing press. A. John Hart, associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of MIT’s Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productivity, focuses much of his research on addressing those issues.</p> <p>“One of the most important barriers to making 3-D printing accessible to designers, engineers, and manufacturers across the product life cycle is the speed, cost, and quality of each process,” explains Hart.</p> <p>His research seeks to overcome these barriers, and to enable the next generation of 3-D printers that can be used in the factories of the future. For this to be accomplished, synergy among machine design, materials processing, and computation is required.</p> <p>To work toward achieving this synergy, Hart’s research group examined the processes involved in the most well-known style of 3-D printing: extrusion. In extrusion, plastic is melted and squeezed through a nozzle in a printhead.</p> <p>“We analyzed the process in terms of its fundamental limits — how the polymer could be heated and become molten, how much force is required to push the material through the nozzle, and the speed at which the printhead moves around,” adds Hart.</p> <p>With these new insights, Hart and his team designed a new printer that operated at speeds 10 times faster than existing printers. A gear that would have taken one to two hours to print could now be ready in five to 10 minutes. This drastic increase in speed is the result of a novel printhead design that Hart hopes will one day be commercialized for both desktop and industrial printers.</p> <p>While this new technology could improve our ability to print plastics quickly, printing metals requires a different approach. For metals, precise quality control is especially important for industrial use of 3-D printing. Metal 3-D printing has been used to create objects ranging from airplane fuel nozzles to hip implants, yet it is only just beginning to become mainstream. Items made using metal 3-D printing are particularly susceptible to cracks and flaws due to the large thermal gradients inherent in the process.</p> <p>To solve this problem, Hart is embedding quality control within the printers themselves. “We are building instrumentation and algorithms that monitor the printing process and detect if there are any mistakes — as small as a few micrometers — as the objects are being printed,” Hart explains.</p> <p>This monitoring is complemented by advanced simulations, including models that can predict how the powder used as the feedstock for printing is distributed and can also identify how to modify the printing process to account for variations.</p> <p>Hart’s group has been pioneering the use of new materials in 3-D printing. He has developed methods for printing with cellulose, the world’s most abundant polymer, as well as carbon nanotubes, nanomaterials that could be used in flexible electronics and low-cost radio frequency tags.</p> <p>When it comes to 3-D printing on a nanoscale, Hart’s colleague Nicholas Xuanlai Fang, professor of mechanical engineering, has been pushing the limits of how small these materials can be.</p> <p><strong>Printing nanomaterials using light</strong></p> <p>Inspired by the semiconductor and silicon chip industries, Fang has developed a 3-D printing technology that enables printing on a nanoscale. As a PhD student, Fang first got interested in 3-D printing while looking for a more efficient way to make the microsensors and micropumps used for drug delivery.</p> <p>“Before 3-D printing, you needed expensive facilities to make these microsensors,” explains Fang. “Back then, you’d send design layouts to a silicon manufacturer, then you’d wait four to six months before getting your chip back.” The process was so time-intensive it took one of his labmates four years to get eight small wafers.</p> <p>As advances in 3-D printing technologies made manufacturing processes for larger products cheaper and more efficient, Fang began to research how these technologies might be used on a much smaller scale.</p> <p>He turned to a 3-D printing process known as stereolithography. In stereolithography, light is sent through a lens and causes molecules to harden into three-dimensional polymers — a&nbsp; process known as photopolymerization.</p> <p>The size of objects that could be printed using stereolithography were limited by the wavelength of the light being sent through the optic lens — or the so-called diffraction limit — which is roughly 400 nanometers. Fang and his team were the first researchers to break this limit.</p> <p>“We essentially took the precision of optical technology and applied it to 3-D printing,” says Fang. The process, known as projection micro-stereolithography, transforms a beam of light into a series of wavy patterns. The wavy patterns are transferred through silver to produce fine lines as small as 40 nm, which is 10 times smaller than the diffraction limit and 100 times smaller than the width of a strand of hair.</p> <p>The ability to pattern features this small using 3-D printing holds countless applications. One use for the technology Fang has been researching is the creation of a small foam-like structure that could be used as a substrate for catalytic conversion in automotive engines. This structure could treat greenhouse gases on a molecular level in the moments after an engine starts.</p> <p>“When you first start your engine, it’s the most problematic for volatile organic components and toxic gases. If we were to heat up this catalytic convertor quickly, we could treat those gases more effectively,” he explains.</p> <p>Fang has also created a new class of 3-D printed metamaterials using projection micro-stereolithography. These materials are composed of complex structures and geometries. Unlike most solid materials, the metamaterials don’t expand with heat and don’t shrink with cold.</p> <p>“These metamaterials could be used in circuit boards to prevent overheating or in camera lenses to ensure there is no shrinkage that could cause a lens in a drone or UAV to lose focus,” says Fang.</p> <p>More recently, Fang has partnered with Linda Griffith, School of Engineering Teaching Innovation Professor of Biological and Mechanical Engineering, to apply projection micro-stereolithography to the field of bioengineering.</p> <p><strong>Growing human tissue with the help of 3-D printing</strong></p> <p>Human cells aren’t programmed to grow in a two-dimensional petri dish. While cells taken from a human host might multiply, once they become thick enough they essentially starve to death without a constant supply of blood. This has proved particularly problematic in the field of tissue engineering, where doctors and researchers are interested in growing tissue in a dish to use in organ transplants.</p> <p>For the cells to grow in a healthy way and organize into tissue in vitro, they need to be placed on a structure or ‘scaffold.’&nbsp; In the 1990s, Griffith, an expert in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, turned to a nascent technology to create these scaffolds — 3-D printing.</p> <p>“I knew that to replicate complex human physiology in vitro, we needed to make microstructures within the scaffolds to carry nutrients to cells and mimic the mechanical stresses present in the actual organ,” explains Griffith.</p> <p>She co-invented a 3-D printing process to make scaffolds from the same biodegradable material used in sutures. Tiny complex networks of channels with a branching architecture were printed within the structure of these scaffolds. Blood could travel through the channels, allowing cells to grow and eventually start to form tissue.&nbsp;</p> <p>Over the past two decades, this process has been used across various fields of medicine, including bone regeneration and growing cartilage in the shape of a human ear. While Griffith and her collaborators originally set out to regenerate a liver, much of their research has focused on how the liver interacts with drugs.</p> <p>“Once we successfully grew liver tissue, the next step was tackling the challenge of getting useful predicative drug development information from it,” adds Griffith.</p> <p>To develop more complex scaffolds that provide better predicative information, Griffith collaborated with Fang on applying his nano-3-D printing technologies to tissue engineering. Together, they have built a custom projection micro-stereolithography machine that can print high-resolution scaffolds known as liver mesophysiological systems (LMS). Micro-stereolithography printing allows the scaffolds that make up LMS to have channels as small as 40 microns wide. These small channels enable perfusion of the bioartificial organ at an elevated flow rate, which allows oxygen to diffuse throughout the densely packed cell mass.</p> <p>“By printing these microstructures in more minute detail, we are getting closer to a system that gives us accurate information about drug development problems like liver inflammation and drug toxicity, in addition to useful data about single-cell cancer metastasis,” says Griffith.</p> <p>Given the liver’s central role in processing and metabolizing drugs, the ability to mimic its function in a lab has the potential to revolutionize the field of drug discovery.</p> <p>Griffith’s team is also applying their projection micro-stereolithography technique to create scaffolds for growing induced pluripotent stem cells into human-like brain tissue. “By growing these stem cells in the 3-D printed scaffolds, we are hoping to be able to create the next generation of more mature brain organoids in order to study complex diseases like Alzheimer's,” explains Pierre Sphabmixay, a mechanical engineering PhD candidate in Griffith’s lab.</p> <p><strong>Partnering with Industry</strong></p> <p>For 3-D printing to make a lasting impact on how products are both designed and manufactured, researchers need to work closely with industry. To help bridge this gap, the MIT Center for Additive and Digital Advanced Production Technologies (APT) was launched in late 2018.</p> <p>“The idea was to intersect additive manufacturing research, industrial development, and education across disciplines all under the umbrella of MIT,” explains Hart, who founded and serves as director of APT. “We hope that APT will help accelerate the adoption of 3-D printing, and allow us to better focus our research toward true breakthroughs beyond what can be imagined today.”</p> <p>Since APT launched in November 2018, MIT and the twelve company founding members — that include companies such as ArcelorMittal, Autodesk, Bosch, Formlabs, General Motors, and the Volkswagen Group — have met both at a large tradeshow in Germany and on campus. Most recently, they convened at MIT for a workshop on scalable workforce training for additive manufacturing.</p> <p>“We’ve created a collaborative nexus for APT’s members to unite and solve common problems that are currently limiting the adoption of 3-D printing — and more broadly, new concepts in digitally-driven production — at a large scale,” adds Haden Quinlan, program manager of APT.&nbsp; Many also consider Boston the epicenter of 3-D printing innovation and entrepreneurship, thanks in part to several fast-growing local startups founded by MIT faculty and alumni.</p> <p>Efforts like APT, coupled with the groundbreaking work being done in the sphere of additive manufacturing at MIT, could reshape the relationship between research, design and manufacturing for new products across industries.</p> <p>Designers could quickly prototype and iterate the design of products. Safer, more accurate metal hinges could be printed for use in airplanes or cars. Metamaterials could be printed to form electronic chips that don’t overheat. Entire organs could be grown from donor cells on 3-D printed scaffolds. While these technologies may not spark the next Renaissance as the printing press did, they offer solutions to some of the biggest problems society faces in the 21st century.</p> Seok Kim, a postdoc in Professor Nicholas Fang’s lab, holds up a 3-D-printed porous substrate that could be used as a catalytic reactor to remove toxic gases in cars and power plants. Photo: John FreidahMechanical engineering, School of Engineering, Manufacturing, Supply chains, Biological engineering, Additive manufacturing, History of science, Nanoscience and nanotechnology, Carbon nanotubes New surface treatment could improve refrigeration efficiency A slippery surface for liquids with very low surface tension promotes droplet formation, facilitating heat transfer. Wed, 15 May 2019 10:59:59 -0400 David L. Chandler | MIT News Office <p>Unlike water, liquid refrigerants and other fluids that have a low surface tension tend to spread quickly into a sheet when they come into contact with a surface. But for many industrial processes it would be better if the fluids formed droplets, which could roll or fall off the surface and carry heat away with them.</p> <p>Now, researchers at MIT have made significant progress in promoting droplet formation and shedding in such fluids. This approach could lead to efficiency improvements in many large-scale industrial processes including refrigeration, thus saving energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.</p> <p>The new findings are described in the journal <em>Joule</em>, in a paper by recent graduate and postdoc&nbsp;Karim Khalil PhD '18, professor of mechanical engineering Kripa Varanasi, professor of chemical engineering and Associate Provost Karen Gleason, and four others.</p> <p>Over the years, Varanasi and his collaborators have made great progress in <a href="">improving the efficiency of condensation systems</a> that use water, such as the cooling systems used for fossil-fuel or nuclear power generation. But other kinds of fluids — such as those used in refrigeration systems, liquification, waste heat recovery, and distillation plants, or materials such as methane in oil and gas liquifaction plants — often have very low surface tension compared to water, meaning that it is very hard to get them to form droplets on a surface. Instead, they tend to spread out in a sheet, a property known as wetting.</p> <p>But when these sheets of liquid coat a surface, they provide an insulating layer that inhibits heat transfer, and easy heat transfer is crucial to making these processes work efficiently. “If it forms a film, it becomes a barrier to heat transfer,” Varanasi says. But that heat transfer is enhanced when the liquid quickly forms droplets, which then coalesce and grow and fall away under the force of gravity. Getting low-surface-tension liquids to form droplets and shed them easily has been a serious challenge.</p> <p>In condensing systems that use water, the overall efficiency of the process can be around 40 percent, but with low-surface-tension fluids, the efficiency can be limited to about 20 percent. Because these processes are so widespread in industry, even a tiny improvement in that efficiency could lead to dramatic savings in fuel, and therefore in greenhouse gas emissions, Varanasi says.</p> <p>By promoting droplet formation, he says, it’s possible to achieve a four- to eightfold improvement in heat transfer. Because the condensation is just one part of a complex cycle, that translates into an overall efficiency improvement of about 2 percent. That may not sound like much, but in these huge industrial processes even a fraction of a percent improvement is considered a major achievement with great potential impact. “In this field, you’re fighting for tenths of a percent,” Khalil says.</p> <p>Unlike the surface treatments Varanasi and his team have developed for other kinds of fluids, which rely on a liquid material held in place by a surface texture, in this case they were able to accomplish the fluid-repelling effect using a very thin solid coating — less than a micron thick (one millionth of a meter). That thinness is important, to ensure that the coating itself doesn’t contribute to blocking heat transfer, Khalil explains.</p> <p>The coating, made of a specially formulated polymer, is deposited on the surface using a process called initiated chemical vapor deposition (iCVD), in which the coating material is vaporized and grafts onto the surface to be treated, such as a metal pipe, to form a thin coating. This process was developed at MIT by Gleason and is now widely used.</p> <p>The authors optimized the iCVD process by tuning the grafting of coating molecules onto the surface, in order to minimize the pinning of condensing droplets and facilitate their easy shedding. The process could be carried out on location in industrial-scale equipment, and could be retrofitted into existing installations to provide a boost in efficiency. The process is “materials agnostic,” Khalil says, and can be applied on either flat surfaces or tubing made of stainless steel,&nbsp;titanium, or other metals commonly used in condensation heat-transfer processes that involve these low-surface-tension fluids. “Whatever materials are used in your facility's heat exchanger,&nbsp;it tends to be scalable with this process,” he adds.</p> <p><img alt="" src="/sites/" style="width: 500px; height: 281px;" /></p> <p><em><span style="font-size:10px;">Video shows the condensation of pentane, a low-surface-tension fluid. On the left, streaking of drops impair&nbsp;heat transfer, while pentane with the new coating, at right,&nbsp;shows high droplet formation and good heat transfer.</span></em></p> <p>The net result is that on these surfaces, condensing fluids like the hydrocarbons pentane or liquid methane, or alcohols like ethanol, will readily form small droplets that quickly fall off the surface, making room for more to form, and in the process shedding heat from the metal to the droplets that fall away.</p> <p>One area where such coatings could play a useful role, Varanasi says, is in organic Rankine cycle systems, which are widely used for generating power from waste heat in a variety of industrial processes. “These are inherently inefficient systems,” he says, “but this could make them more efficient.”</p> <p><img alt="" src="/sites/" /></p> <p><em><span style="font-size:10px;">The new coating is shown promoting condensation on a titanium surface, a material widely used in industrial heat exchangers.</span></em></p> <p>“This new approach to condensation is significant because it promotes drop formation (rather than film formation) even for low-surface-tension fluids, which significantly improves the heat transfer efficiency,” says Jonathan Boreyko, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech, who was not connected to this research. While the iCVD process itself is not new, he says, “showing here that it can be used even for the condensation of low-surface-tension fluids is of significant practical importance, as many real-life phase-change systems do not use water.”</p> <p>Saying the work is “of very high quality,” Boreyko adds that “simply showing for the first time that a thin, durable, and dry coating can promote the dropwise condensation of low-surface-tension fluids is very important for a wide variety of practical condenser systems.”</p> <p>The research was supported by the Shell-MIT Energy Initiative partnership. The team included former MIT graduate students Taylor Farnham&nbsp;and Adam Paxson, and former postdocs Dan Soto and Asli Ugur Katmis.</p> Specialized thin coatings developed by the MIT team cause even low-surface-tension fluids to readily form droplets on the surface of a pipe, as seen here, which improves the efficiency of heat transfer.Image courtesy of the researchersResearch, Nanoscience and nanotechnology, Mechanical engineering, Chemical engineering, Manufacturing, School of Engineering, Surface engineering, Department of Energy (DoE), MIT Energy Initiative Where design meets assembly for three MIT alumnae at Microsoft Mechanical engineering alumnae Jacklyn Herbst ’10, MEngM ’11, Isabella DiDio ’16, and Ann McInroy ’18 bring shared MIT experiences to the same Microsoft team. Mon, 13 May 2019 12:30:01 -0400 Mary Beth O'Leary | Department of Mechanical Engineering <p>Microsoft’s sprawling campus in Redmond, Washington, houses over 40,000 of its employees. It contains 125 buildings across 502 acres of land. Despite the vastness of its campus, three MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering alumnae found themselves not only in the same building, but working for the same team.</p> <p>“It’s great having a small part of the MechE community here,” says Ann McInroy ’18, who joined Microsoft as a Design for Assembly (DFA) mechanical engineer last August. “We have this shared experience and knowledge base.”</p> <p>McInroy joined fellow alumnae Jacklyn (Holmes) Herbst ’10, MEngM ’11 and Isabella DiDio ’16 as a member of the Design for Assembly Team. The DFA Team is a part of the overarching Design for Excellence (DFX) Team at Microsoft.</p> <p>The DFA Team helps facilitate a product’s journey from initial prototype through to mass production. “In the early stages of any product, our team works with the mechanical design team to optimize the parts so they are easy to assemble,” explains DiDio.</p> <p>Once the team has a working prototype of a design, they analyze the product to ensure it can be made at scale. Whether it’s a power button on Microsoft’s Surface Pro or a screw in the HoloLens headband, the team ensures every component of a product lends itself to manufacturability.</p> <p>“After the design is finished, we are in charge of outlining all of the steps for mass producing the product in the factory,” explains McInroy. “It’s a cool ‘in-between’ stage that not every company has.”</p> <p>While the three often work on different products or different phases of the development cycle, they bring their shared experiences studying mechanical engineering at MIT to help each other solve problems.</p> <p>“There’s a lot of cross-product problem solving on our team,” explains Herbst. “If Ann or Isabella are stuck on some part of the process they can come to the team for guidance. Having a strong MechE connection on the team definitely helps us when we are solving those problems.”</p> <p>Herbst was the first to join Microsoft’s DFA Team in January 2016. After earning her bachelor’s in mechanical engineering in 2010, she enrolled in the master of engineering in manufacturing (MEngM) degree. She worked with Brian Anthony, principal research scientist, on developing a new way of producing electrodes for Daktari Diagnostics.</p> <p>Herbst then moved on to Boeing for four years before joining Microsoft. During her time at Boeing, she worked on installation planning for commercial airplanes, as well as dimensional management. “At Boeing I was very specialized in what I did, but the work I do at Microsoft provides a much broader view of getting a product from design to mass production,” adds Herbst. One of Herbst’s first tasks was working on the Surface Book i7 model.</p> <p>Eight months after Herbst started at Microsoft, Isabella DiDio walked into her office. “On my first day, my manager brought me around to everyone’s office to introduce me,” recalls DiDio. “When he brought me to Jackie’s office he told me that Jackie also went to MIT and made us do a fist bump with our MIT class rings.”</p> <p>As an undergrad at MIT, DiDio was most impacted by class 2.008 (Design and Manufacturing II). Students in 2.008 are charged with designing a yo-yo and producing 50 copies. “That class really opened my eyes to manufacturing and the bigger picture of any consumer product,” says DiDio. The experience inspired her to pursue an internship on Microsoft’s manufacturing team.</p> <p>After graduating with her bachelor’s, DiDio joined Microsoft full time as a DFX engineer. One of her first projects was working on the Microsoft HoloLens, a holographic computer that users wear like sunglasses.</p> <p>“For the HoloLens I helped set the entire assembly flow, including the order all the parts are assembled in and instructions for operators at our contract manufacturer,” explains DiDio.</p> <p>About a year after starting at Microsoft, DiDio served as a peer mentor for a group of interns, one of whom was Ann McInroy.</p> <p>McInroy was inspired by classes like 2.72 (Elements of Mechanical Design), taught by Professor Marty Culpepper, to pursue a career in manufacturing. In the class, students design and construct a single prototype of a high-precision desktop manual lathe. “That class built my confidence as an engineer,” recalls McInroy. “It helped push me toward a career that incorporated some aspects of design and manufacturing.”&nbsp;</p> <p>While applying for internships, McInroy was drawn to the blend of design and manufacturing offered at Microsoft. As an intern, she worked on designing buttons that would lend themselves to manufacturability in the future.</p> <p>McInroy joined the DFA Team after graduating from MIT last summer. Being a part of a small tribe of MechE alumnae working on the same team is something the doesn’t take for granted.</p> <p>“I really appreciate having a cohort of women engineers that I belong to here at Microsoft,” McInroy adds.</p> <p>While the trio are at varying stages of their careers and have taken different paths to Redmond, they often draw upon their time at MIT.</p> <p>“We still talk about some of those MechE connections — we talk about our products in 2.009 or our yo-yos in 2.008,” adds Herbst. “That common bond helps us when we are working together.”</p> Left to right: Ann McInroy ’18, Isabella Didio ’16, and Jacklyn Herbst ’10, MEngM ’11 stand in front of a wall showing the history of Microsoft’s hardware since the 1980s in Building 88 of Microsoft’s campus located in Redmond, Washington.Photo: Rebekah WelchMechanical engineering, School of Engineering, Alumni/ae, Design, Manufacturing, Industry Robots shoot for the moon in MIT’s annual 2.007 competition Robotic sweepers, flappers, and telescoping arms face off for a shot at coveted engineering prize. Fri, 10 May 2019 16:35:30 -0400 Jennifer Chu | MIT News Office <p>In their historic lunar mission 50 years ago, Apollo 11 astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong collected and returned to Earth more than 48 pounds of lunar material, including 50 moon rocks that researchers have been analyzing intensely ever since. If they’d only had help from some MIT robots, the astronauts might have been able to bring back even more lunar loot.</p> <p>On Thursday evening, students of MIT’s popular class 2.007 (Design and Manufacturing I) proved that robots can be efficient, ingenious, and even highly entertaining moon-rock scavengers.</p> <p>Over four often nail-biting hours, 32 student finalists, winnowed from a roster of 165, competed head to machined head, in the course’s annual robot competition, held in the ice rink at MIT’s Johnson Athletic Center. This year’s theme, Moonshot, was an homage to the Apollo 11 moon landing, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.</p> <p>The course designers and machinists took the theme to heart, constructing two huge, identical game boards over which pairs of student-designed robots faced off. At the center of each board stood a replica of the Apollo 11 lunar module, or LEM, which served as the competition’s starting point. Ramps on either side of the LEM sloped down to a lunar-like surface, littered with “moon rocks” — stones of various sizes and shapes, which, for practical purposes, were of Earthly origin.</p> <p>The challenge called for students to maneuver their robots, which either moved autonomously or were remotely controlled, from the LEM’s starting point down to the “lunar” surface to collect as many moon rocks as possible, and return them up to the LEM, within two minutes. Robots gained more points by planting a small flag on a hillside, spinning a wheel to “charge” the LEM’s battery, and pulling a cord to jettison two weights — a particularly tricky task that, if accomplished, would trigger the LEM to “lift off,” to dramatic smoke and sound effects.</p> <p>“The competition name is very apropos of the challenge that the students face, because for many of them, making a robot by themselves for the first time is a moonshot,” says Amos Winter, course co-instructor and associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. Winter and Associate Professor Sangbae Kim served as the competition’s emcees, both suited up for the occasion in astronaut gear.</p> <p>The 2.007 competition is a yearly tradition that dates back to the 1970s, with the course’s first instructor, Woodie Flowers, the Pappalardo Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering, who developed 2.007 as one of the first hands-on, project-based undergraduate courses.</p> <p>Each year, at the start of the semester, students are given the same toolbox of parts, including gears, wheels, circuit boards, and microcontrollers. Through lectures and time — lots of time — in the lab, students learn to design and machine their own robot, to carry out that year’s competition challenges.</p> <p>This year’s challenge inspired a range of robotic strategies and designs, including a bot, aptly named Scissorlift, that stretched itself up via a scissoring mechanism to plant a flag, and a two-bot system named Lifties, comprising one robot that hoisted rocks up to a second robot via a telescoping arm.</p> <p>While most students hoped for a win, sophomore Jaeyoung Jung simply wanted to entertain. After requesting that the event’s overhead music be turned down, Jung, sporting a tuxedo, made some music of his own, playing a recorder that he had rigged to maneuver his robot. Each note he played was converted to electrical signals that were picked up by a computer, which in turn sent a corresponding command to the robot’s controller to spin a wheel and charge up the LEM.</p> <p>Though the competition’s first music-controlled robot didn’t make it through the first round, it was met with cheers from an often raucous crowd of family and friends, who were treated sporadically with a confetti of custom-designed foam astronauts fired from an air cannon.</p> <p>Among the enthusiastic crowd was Evelyn Wang, head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and her two young children, who were seeing the engineering spectacle for the first time. The competition brought back memories for Wang, who participated in 2.007 when she herself was an MIT undergraduate. That year, she recalls having to compete on a game board dubbed “Ballcano,” for a volcano-like structure that spit out balls, which robots had to catch and distribute at various locations across the game board.</p> <p>“It was the first time I learned how to design, build, machine, and work with different actuation mechanisms and motors and pneumatics,” says Wang, who proudly remembers taking home fourth place.</p> <p>As the night wore on, robots battled over who could scrabble up the most moon rocks, using a variety of designs, from grippers and grabbers to snowplow- and comb-like sweepers, and rotating flippers and flaps. Between each bout, course assistants quickly repositioned the moon rocks and swept the game board of any residual moon rock dust that could make a robot slip. To contend with this potential hazard, some students designed their bots with extra traction, lining their wheels with Velcro or, in the case of one bot named Sloth, rubber bands.</p> <p>Sophomore Jessica Xu, whose spiky, rock-snatching “Cactus-bot” made it all the way to the semifinals, says that 2.007’s hands-on experience has helped to steer her toward a mechanically-oriented career.</p> <p>“This is my first experience ever even thinking of building a robot,” Xu says. “I started the class googling, ‘What are mechanisms that robots even do?’ Because I wasn’t even sure what the possibilities were. I came into college wanting to do something that applies to health care. Now I’m hoping to concentrate in medical devices, applying the mechanical side. I’m excited to see what it could be.”</p> <p>In the end, it was a powerful, motor-heavy bot named Rocky that gobbled up rocks “like Cookie Monster,” as Winter reported to the crowd, that took home the prize. Rocky’s designer, sophomore Sam Ubellacker, says it could have been the bot’s drive train that made the difference. While most students included two motors in their drive trains, Ubellacker opted for four, in order to move twice as fast as his competitors — an 11th-hour decision that ultimately paid off.</p> <p>“I pretty much redesigned my entire robot the week before this competition, because I realized my other one wasn’t going to score any points,” says Ubellacker, who, as it happens, has kept up the family tradition — his brother Wyatt won first prize in 2011. “I’ve probably worked about 100 hours this week on this robot. I’m just glad that it worked out.”</p> <p>He credits his success, and all the know-how he’s gained throughout the semester, to all the experts behind 2.007.</p> <p>“I didn’t know much about machining going in,” Ubellacker says. “Interacting with the machinists and the staff will be my most memorable experiences. They’re all really cool people, and they shared all this knowledge with me. This was all really great.”</p> Sophomore Lydia Light, left, prepares her robot for competition, with MechE Associate Professor Amos Winter, right.Photo: Tony PulsoneContests and academic competitions, Classes and programs, Mechanical engineering, School of Engineering, Design, Manufacturing, Robots, Robotics, Special events and guest speakers, Students, Undergraduate Scaling solutions for the developing world In MIT D-Lab class 2.729 (Design for Scale), MIT students devise ways to manufacture products to reach as many people as possible. Sun, 05 May 2019 00:00:00 -0400 Mary Beth O’Leary | Department of Mechanical Engineering <p>In 2016, Tanzania passed a bill to cover medical expenses for expectant mothers. But pregnant women in rural parts of the country face a huge obstacle in getting the care they need: reliable transportation. Women in villages that can’t be reached by traditional ambulances have to resort to walking for hours to the nearest hospital, often while already in labor, putting their health and safety in danger.</p> <p>That same year, students and instructors in the MIT D-Lab class 2.729 (Design for Scale) collaborated with community partner Olive Branch for Children to develop a solution called the Okoa ambulance. “Okoa produces a trailer that can attach to any motorcycle, providing safe transportation from rural areas to hospitals,” explains Toria Yan, a senior studying mechanical engineering at MIT.</p> <p>Seven thousand miles away, Yan and her fellow students in 2.729 worked on optimizing the design of the Okoa ambulance to minimize production and shipping costs and increase manufacturability.</p> <p>Throughout the fall 2018 semester, Okoa was one of four real-world projects students in 2.729 worked on — others included a floating water pump for agricultural irrigation in Nepal, an air quality detector for kitchens in India, and a plastic toilet that provides safe sanitation in densely populated areas of Guatemala.</p> <p>“This class is unique because all the projects already have working prototypes,” explains Maria Yang, class co-instructor,&nbsp;professor of mechanical engineering, and D-Lab Faculty Director for Academics. “We are asking students to design a way to manufacture the product that’s more cost-efficient and effective.”</p> <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p>The idea for the class first came from staff and instructors in MIT D-Lab. “We were working with people who were trying to solve some of the biggest problems in the developing world, but we realized that just coming up with a proof-of-technology prototype wasn’t enough,” explains Harald Quintus-Bosz, lecturer at MIT D-Lab and chief technology officer at Cooper Perkins, Inc. “We have to scale the solution so it can reach as many people as possible.”</p> <p>Scaling solutions for problems in the developing world turned out to be a challenge MIT students were uniquely poised to tackle. The main goal of 2.729 is to teach MIT students who already have analytic engineering skills how to design for manufacturability, come up with assembly methods for products, design in the context of emerging economies, and understand entrepreneurship in the developing world.</p> <p>For Suji Balfe, a junior studying mechanical engineering, figuring out how to increase manufacturing output in developing countries resonated personally. “I was always interested in engineering for the developing world because my mom comes from a foreign country,” she says. “I thought Design for Scale provided an interesting perspective because you’re taking products that already exist in some form and making them more practical for a given audience.”</p> <p>Balfe’s team worked on a product developed by the company Sensen, which uses data loggers and sensors that provide information on air quality in kitchens and help researchers determine which cookstoves are safest.</p> <p>“The devices are all Bluetooth-connected, so researchers working in India can upload data to their phones and that is sent to Sensen via the cloud,” explains Danielle Gleason, also a junior mechanical engineering student. “Sensen then analyzes huge amounts of air quality data to help evaluate different cookstoves and cooking methods.”</p> <p>Both the Okoa and Sensen teams were tasked with finding ways to make each product easier to manufacture and use. But as far as the location where these devices are produced, the two teams took different approaches.</p> <p>“One of the first questions you have to answer when designing products for the developing world is where are you going to manufacture your device?” says Quintus-Bosz. Companies and startups have to determine whether to manufacture products globally or locally, which is partially a function of the impact objectives of the company.</p> <p>For Okoa, the team focused on local manufacturing in Tanzania to create ambulance trailers. Their challenge was to find ways to optimize the design so that large parts and subassemblies could be manufactured with capable suppliers within Tanzania and then shipped to rural areas where they would be assembled locally at distribution sites. The team did this by ensuring the trailers could be flat packed and stacked on top of one another. “We optimized the design and changed the geometry of the roof so everything could be quickly assembled on site in Tanzania,” adds Yan.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Sensen utilized manufacturing methods available in the United States — like thermoforming and injection molding — to redesign the enclosure for the device. “We were able to reduce costs and create a box that required minimal screws and attachments using an injection-molded bottom piece and a thermoformed top piece,” explains Gleason.</p> <p>From helping people in need of medical attention in Tanzania to improving air quality in kitchens around India, students walk away from the class with a deeper understanding of the unique challenges manufacturing in the developing world poses.</p> <p>“It’s clear that the students who take this class all want to make a social impact,” adds Yang. By learning how to scale solutions to increase manufacturability, that social impact can have a far greater reach in the developing world.</p> Students in the MIT D-Lab class 2.729.Image: Jiani ZengD-Lab, Classes and programs, Design, Mechanical engineering, School of Engineering, Developing countries, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Students, Africa, Manufacturing, Global Six suborbital research payloads from MIT fly to space and back Space Exploration Initiative research aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard experiment capsule crossed the Karman line for three minutes of sustained microgravity. Fri, 03 May 2019 14:50:40 -0400 Stephanie Strom | MIT Media Lab <p>Blast off! MIT made its latest foray into research in space on May 2 via six payloads from the Media Lab Space Exploration Initiative, tucked into Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable space vehicle that took off from a launchpad in West Texas.</p> <p>It was also the first time in the history of the Media Lab that in-house research projects were launched into space, for several minutes of sustained microgravity. The results of that research may have big implications for semiconductor manufacturing, art and telepresence, architecture and farming, among other things.</p> <p>“The projects we’re testing operate fundamentally different in Earth’s gravity compared to how they would operate in microgravity,” explained Ariel Ekblaw, the founder and lead of the Media Lab’s Space Exploration Initiative.</p> <p>Previously, the Media Lab sent projects into microgravity aboard the plane used by NASA to train astronauts, lovingly nicknamed “the vomit comet.” These parabolic flights provide repeated 15 to 30 second intervals of near weightlessness. The New Shepard experiment capsule will coast in microgravity for significantly longer and cross the Karman line (the formal boundary of “space”) in the process. While that may not seem like much time, it’s enough to get a lot accomplished.</p> <p>“The capsule where the research takes place arcs through space for three minutes, which gives us precious moments of sustained, high quality microgravity,” Ekblaw said. “This provides an opportunity to expand our experiments from prior parabolic flight protocols, and test entirely new research as well.”</p> <p>Depending on the results of the experiments done during New Shepard’s flight, some of the projects will undergo further, long-term research aboard the International Space Station, Ekblaw said.</p> <p>On this trip, she sent Tessellated Electromagnetic Space Structures for the Exploration of Reconfigurable, Adaptive Environments, otherwise known as TESSERAE, into space. The ultimate goal for these sensor-augmented hexagonal and pentagonal &nbsp;“tiles” is to autonomously self-assemble into space structures. These flexible, reconfigurable modules can then be used for habitat construction, in-space assembly of satellites, or even as infrastructure for parabolic mirrors. Ekblaw hopes TESSERAE will one day support in-orbit staging bases for human exploration of the surface of the moon or Mars, or enable low Earth orbit space tourism.</p> <p>An earlier prototype, flown on a parabolic flight in November 2017, validated the research concept mechanical structure, polarity arrangement of bonding magnets, and the self-assembly physical protocol. On the Blue Origin flight, Ekblaw is testing a new embedded sensor network in the tiles, as well as their communication architecture and guidance control aspects of their self-assembly capabilities. “We’re testing whether they’ll autonomously circulate, find correct neighbors, and bond together magnetically in microgravity for robust self-assembly,” Ekblaw said.</p> <p>Another experiment aboard New Shepard combined art with the test of a tool for future space exploration — traversing microgravity with augmented mobility. Living Distance, an artwork conceived by the Space Exploration Initiative’s art curator, Xin Liu, explores freedom of movement via a wisdom tooth — yes, you read that correctly!</p> <p>The tooth traveled to space carried by a robotic device named EBIFA and encased in a crystalline container. Once New Shepard entered space, the container burst open and EBIFA swung into action, shooting cords out with magnetic tips to latch onto a metal surface. The tooth then floated through space with minimal interference in the virtually zero-gravity environment.</p> <p>“In this journey, the tooth became a newborn entity in space, its crystalline, sculptural body and life supported by an electromechanical system,” Xin Liu wrote. “Each of its weightless movements was carefully calculated on paper and modeled in simulation software, as there can never be a true test like this on Earth.”</p> <p>The piece builds on a performance art work called Orbit Weaver that Liu performed last year during a parabolic flight, where she was physically tethered to a nylon cord that floated freely and attached to nearby surfaces. Orbit Weaver and Living Distance may offer insights to future human space explorers about how best to navigate weightlessness.</p> <p>A piece of charcoal also made the trip to space inside a chamber lined with drawing paper, part of a project designed by Ani Liu, a Media Lab alumna. In microgravity, the charcoal will chart its own course inside the chamber, marking the paper as it floats through an arc far above the Earth.</p> <p>When the chamber returns to the Media Lab, the charcoal will join forces with a KUKA robot that will mimic the charcoal’s trajectory during the three-ish minutes of coasting in microgravity. Together, the charcoal and the robot will become a museum exhibit that provides a demonstration of motion in microgravity to a broad audience and illustrates the Space Exploration Initiative’s aim to democratize access to space and invite the public to engage in space exploration.</p> <p>Harpreet Sareen, another Media Lab alum, tested how crystals form in microgravity, research that may eventually lead to manufacturing semiconductors in space.</p> <p>Semiconductors used in today’s technology require crystals with extremely high levels of purity and perfect shapes, but gravity interferes with crystal growth on Earth, resulting in faults, contact stresses, and other flaws. Sareen and his collaborator, Anna Garbier, created a nano-sized lab in a box a little smaller than a half-gallon milk carton. The electric current that kicked off growth of the crystals during the three minutes the New Shepard capsule was suborbital was triggered by onboard rocket commands from Blue Origin.</p> <p>The crystals will be evaluated for potential industrial applications, and they also have a future as an art installation: Floral Cosmonauts.</p> <p>And then there are the 40 or so bees (one might say “apionauts”) that made the trip into space on behalf of the Mediated Matter group at the Media Lab, which is interested in seeing the impact space travel has on a queen bee and her retinue. Two queen bees that were inseminated at a U.S. Department of Agriculture facility in Louisiana went to space, each with roughly 20 attendant bees whose job it was to feed her and help control her body temperature.</p> <p>The bees traveled via two small containers — metabolic support capsules — into which they previously built honeycomb structures. This unique design gives them a familiar environment for their trip. A modified GoPro camera, pointed into the specially designed container housing the bees, was fitted into the top of the case to film the insects and create a record of their behavior during flight.</p> <p>Everything inside the case was designed to make the journey as comfortable as possible for the bees, right down to a tiny golden heating pad that was to kick into action if the temperature dropped too low for a queen bee’s comfort.</p> <p>Researchers in the Mediated Matter group will study the behavior of the bees when they return to Earth and are reintroduced to a colony at the Media Lab. Will the queens lay their eggs? Will those eggs hatch? And can bees who’ve been to space continue making pollen and honey once they’ve returned to Earth? Those are among the many questions the team will be asking.</p> <p>“We currently have no robotic alternative to bees for pollination of many crops,” Ekblaw said. “If we want to grow crops on Mars, we may need to bring bees with us. Knowing if they can survive a mission, reintegrate into the hive, and thrive afterwards is critical.”</p> <p>As these projects show, the Space Exploration Initiative unites engineers, scientists, artists, and designers across a multifaceted research portfolio. The team looks forward to a regular launch cadence and progressing through microgravity research milestones — from parabolic flights, to further launch opportunities with Blue Origin, to the International Space Station and even lunar landings.</p> MIT Media Lab researchers (l-r) Xin Liu, Felix Kraemer, Ariel Ekblaw, Pete Dilworth, Rachel Smith, and Harpreet Sareen stand in front of the Blue Origin capsule holding their six payloads.Media Lab, Space, astronomy and planetary science, Research, Industry, School of Architecture and Planning, Arts, Materials Science and Engineering, Architecture, Agriculture, Manufacturing, Aeronautical and astronautical engineering How slippery surfaces allow sticky pastes and gels to slide Engineered surface treatment developed at MIT can reduce waste and improve efficiency in many processes. Mon, 22 Apr 2019 12:32:10 -0400 David L. Chandler | MIT News Office <p>An MIT research team that has already conquered the problem of getting ketchup out of its bottle has now tackled a new category of consumer and manufacturing woe: how to get much thicker materials to slide without sticking or deforming.</p> <p>The slippery coatings the team has developed, called liquid-impregnated surfaces, could have numerous advantages, including eliminating production waste that results from material that sticks to the insides of processing equipment. They might also improve the quality of products ranging from bread to pharmaceuticals, and even improve the efficiency of flow batteries, a rapidly developing technology that could help to foster renewable energy by providing inexpensive storage for generated electricity.</p> <p>These surfaces are based on principles initially developed to help foods, cosmetics, and other viscous liquids slide out of their containers,<a href=""> as devised</a> by Kripa Varanasi, a professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, along with former students Leonid Rapoport PhD ’18 and Brian Solomon PhD ’16. The new work is described today in the journal <em>ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces</em>.</p> <p>Like the earlier surfaces they developed, which led to the creation of a spinoff company called <a href="">LiquiGlide</a>, the new surfaces are based on a combination of a specially textured surface and a liquid lubricant that coats the surface and remains trapped in place through capillary action and other intermolecular forces associated with such interfaces. The new paper explains the fundamental design principles that can achieve almost 100 percent friction reduction for these gel-like fluids.</p> <p><strong>Needing a squeeze</strong></p> <p>Such materials, known as yield-stress fluids, including gels and pastes, are ubiquitous. They can be found in consumer products such as food, condiments, and cosmetics, and in products in the energy and pharmaceuticals industries. Unlike other fluids such as water and oils, these materials will not start to flow on their own, even when their container is turned upside down. Starting the flow requires an input of energy, such as squeezing the container.</p> <p>But that squeezing has its own effects. For example, bread-making machinery typically includes scrapers that constantly push the sticky dough away from the sides of its container, but that constant scraping can result in over-kneading and a denser loaf. A slippery container that requires no scraping could thus produce better-tasting bread, Varanasi says. By using this system, “beyond getting everything out of the container, you now add higher quality” of the resulting product.</p> <p>That may not be critical where bread is concerned, but it can have great impact on pharmaceuticals, he says. The use of mechanical scrapers to propel drug materials through mixing tanks and pipes can interfere with the effectiveness of the medicine, because the shear forces involved can damage the proteins and other active compounds in the drug.</p> <p>By using the new coatings, in some cases it’s possible to achieve a 100 percent reduction in the drag the material experiences — equivalent to “infinite slip,” Varanasi says.</p> <p>“Generally speaking surfaces are enablers,” says Rapoport. “Superhydrophobic surfaces, for example, enable water to roll easily, but not all fluids can roll. Our surfaces enable fluids to move by whichever way is more preferable for them — be it rolling or sliding. In addition we found that yield-stress fluids can move on our surfaces without shearing, essentially sliding like solid bodies. This is very important when you want to maintain the integrity of these materials when they are being processed.”</p> <p>Like the earlier version of slippery surfaces Varanasi and his collaborators created, the new process begins by making a surface that is textured at the nanoscale, either by etching a series of closely spaced pillars or walls on the surface, or mechanically grinding grooves or pits. The resulting texture is designed to have such tiny features that capillary action — the same process that allows trees to draw water up to their highest branches through tiny openings beneath the bark — can act to hold a liquid, such as a lubricating oil, in place on the surface. As a result, any material inside a container with this kind of lining essentially only comes in contact with the lubricating liquid, and slides right off instead of sticking to the solid container wall.</p> <p><img alt="" src="/sites/" style="width: 500px; height: 281px;" /></p> <p><em><span style="font-size:10px;">When a yield stress fluid, a gel-like material, flows in a simple glass tube it gets stuck to the walls and experiences shear stress. However, a tube coated with a slippery coating allows the fluid to move as a plug without shearing and without smearing on the tube. Courtesy of the researchers.</span></em></p> <p>The new work described in this paper details the principles the researchers came up with to enable the optimal selection of surface texturing, lubricating material, and manufacturing process for any specific application with its particular combination of materials.</p> <p><strong>Helping batteries to flow</strong></p> <p>Another important application for the new coatings is in a rapidly developing technology called flow batteries. In these batteries, solid electrodes are replaced by a slurry of tiny particles suspended in liquid, which has the advantage that the capacity of the battery can be increased at any time simply by adding bigger tanks. But the efficiency of such batteries can be limited by the flow rates.</p> <p>Using the new slippery coatings could significantly boost the overall efficiency of such batteries, and Varanasi worked with MIT professors Gareth McKinley and Yet-Ming Chiang on developing such a system led by Solomon and Xinwei Chen, a former postdoc in Chiang’s lab.</p> <p>These coatings could resolve a conundrum that flow battery designers have faced, because they needed to add carbon to the slurry material to improve its electrical conductivity, but the carbon also made the slurry much thicker and interfered with its movement, leading to “a flow battery that couldn’t flow,” Varanasi says.</p> <p>“Previously flow batteries had a trade-off in that as you add more carbon particles the slurry becomes more conductive, but it also becomes thicker and much more challenging to flow,” says Solomon. “Using slippery surfaces lets us have the best of both worlds by allowing flow of thick, yield-stress slurries.”</p> <p>The improved system allowed the use of a flow electrode formulation that resulted in a fourfold increase in capacity and an 86 percent savings in mechanical power, compared with the use of traditional surfaces. These results were <a href="">described recently</a> in the journal <em>ACS Applied Energy Materials</em>.</p> <p>“Apart from fabricating a flow battery device which incorporates the slippery surfaces, we also laid out design criteria for their electrochemical, chemical, and thermodynamic stability,” explains Solomon. “Engineering surfaces for a flow battery opens up an entirely new branch of applications that can help meet future energy storage demand.”</p> <p>The research was supported by the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, an Energy Research Hub funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, and by the Martin Family Society of Fellows for Sustainability.</p> A gel-like yield stress fluid, top, moves as a plug without shearing in a tube with the new surface coating. At bottom, the same fluid is seen shearing while it flows in an uncoated tube, where part of the fluid gets stuck to the tube while part of it continues to flow.Images courtesy of the researchersResearch, Nanoscience and nanotechnology, Mechanical engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, Manufacturing, School of Engineering, Surface engineering, Department of Energy (DoE) MIT-Lockheed Martin Seed Fund launches Collaboration between Lockheed Martin and MISTI will enable MIT faculty and students to collaborate, research, and intern in Israel, Germany, and beyond. Thu, 18 Apr 2019 11:30:01 -0400 MISTI <p>Lockheed Martin and MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) have announced the creation of the MIT-Lockheed Martin Seed Fund to promote early-stage collaborations between MIT faculty and researchers with universities and public research institutions in Israel. The seed fund will also take place in Germany, and additional countries will be considered after the pilot year of 2019.</p> <p>The MIT-Lockheed Martin Seed Fund, to be sponsored by Lockheed Martin with more than $150,000, includes two to four projects for Israel and two to four projects for Germany. MIT will administrate the fund within the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives&nbsp; program in the Center for International Studies. This funding may be used for travel, meeting, and workshop costs, inclusive of visits to Lockheed Martin and MIT facilities in the U.S. Furthermore, the seed fund includes one MIT program student internship in Israel as part of the MIT-Israel program and one MIT student internship in Germany as part of the MIT-Germany program.</p> <p>For the inaugural year, the seed fund will focus on proposals that fit within Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Manufacturing priorities to identify emerging innovative technologies around but not limited to:</p> <p>•&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; manufacturing process control;</p> <p>•&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; modeling of materials and processes;</p> <p>•&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; novel materials for extreme environments; and</p> <p>•&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; automation of the "Factory of the Future."</p> <p>This collaboration brings the ability to align projects around Lockheed Martin’s areas of technology interest and interface with top global universities under a structured program which may lead to sponsored research under a separate agreement. Collaborating faculty will have the opportunity move forward their joint projects as well as engage with Lockheed Martin facilities in the U.S. and Israel.</p> <p>The new Lockheed Martin-MISTI initiative joins the collaboration made in recent years with Israel’s Ministry of Education, Ministry of Science and Technology, and the Rashi Foundation to promote STEM-related programs from kindergarten throughout high school to higher education.</p> <p>Headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, Lockheed Martin is a global security and aerospace company that employs approximately 105,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration, and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products, and services.</p> <p>MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives creates applied international learning opportunities for MIT students that increase their ability to understand and address real-world problems and bolsters MIT’s research mission by promoting collaborations between MIT faculty members and their counterparts abroad. Since 2008, MISTI’s Global Seed Fund program has awarded $17.7 million to over 800 faculty projects. MISTI is housed within the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.</p> Left to right: David Dolev, assistant director of MISTI and managing director of MISTI’s programs in the Middle East; Deanna Rockefeller, Lockheed Martin Global Science and Technology Portfolio manager; and Joshua "Shiki" Shani, CEO of Lockheed Martin in Israel. Image: Sivan FaragMISTI, Center for International Studies, Collaboration, Funding, Classes and programs, International initiatives, Global, Industry, Materials Science and Engineering, Manufacturing, Israel, Europe, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences Shrinking the carbon footprint of a chemical in everyday objects New method for synthesizing the epoxides found in plastics, textiles, and pharmaceuticals could be powered by electricity. Tue, 09 Apr 2019 11:19:26 -0400 Anne Trafton | MIT News Office <p>The biggest source of global energy consumption is the industrial manufacturing of products such as plastics, iron, and steel. Not only does manufacturing these materials require huge amounts of energy, but many of the reactions also directly emit carbon dioxide as a byproduct.</p> <p>In an effort to help reduce this energy use and the related emissions, MIT chemical engineers have devised an alternative approach to synthesizing epoxides, a type of chemical that is used to manufacture diverse products, including plastics, pharmaceuticals, and textiles. Their new approach, which uses electricity to run the reaction, can be done at room temperature and atmospheric pressure while eliminating carbon dioxide as a byproduct.</p> <p>“What isn’t often realized is that industrial energy usage is far greater than transportation or residential usage. This is the elephant in the room, and there has been very little technical progress in terms of being able to reduce industrial energy consumption,” says Karthish Manthiram, an assistant professor chemical engineering and the senior author of the new study.</p> <p>The researchers have filed for a patent on their technique, and they are now working on improving the efficiency of the synthesis so that it could be adapted for large-scale, industrial use.</p> <p>MIT postdoc Kyoungsuk Jin is the lead author of the paper, which appears online &nbsp;April 9 in the <em>Journal of the American Chemical Society</em>. Other authors include graduate students Joseph Maalouf, Nikifar Lazouski, and Nathan Corbin, and postdoc Dengtao Yang.</p> <p><strong>Ubiquitous chemicals</strong></p> <p>Epoxides, whose key chemical feature is a three-member ring consisting of an oxygen atom bound to two carbon atoms, are used to manufacture products as varied as antifreeze, detergents, and polyester.</p> <p>“It’s impossible to go for even a short period of one’s life without touching or feeling or wearing something that has at some point in its history involved an epoxide. They’re ubiquitous,” Manthiram says. “They’re in so many different places, but we tend not to think about the embedded energy and carbon dioxide footprint.”</p> <p>Several epoxides are among the chemicals with the top carbon footprints. The production of one common epoxide, ethylene oxide, generates the fifth-largest carbon dioxide emissions of any chemical product.</p> <p>Manufacturing epoxides requires many chemical steps, and most of them are very energy-intensive. For example, the reaction used to attach an atom of oxygen to ethylene, producing ethylene oxide, must be done at nearly 300 degrees Celsius and under pressures 20 times greater than atmospheric pressure. Furthermore, most of the energy used to power this kind of manufacturing comes from fossil fuels.</p> <p>Adding to the carbon footprint, the reaction used to produce ethylene oxide also generates carbon dioxide as a side product, which is released into the atmosphere. Other epoxides are made using a more complicated approach involving hazardous peroxides, which can be explosive, and calcium hydroxide, which can cause skin irritation.</p> <p>To come up with a more sustainable approach, the MIT team took inspiration from a reaction known as water oxidation, which uses electricity to split water into oxygen, protons, and electrons. They decided to try performing the water oxidation and then attaching the oxygen atom to an organic compound called an olefin, which is a precursor to epoxides.</p> <p>This was a counterintuitive approach, Manthiram says, because olefins and water normally cannot react with each other. However, they can react with each other when an electric voltage is applied.</p> <p>To take advantage of this, the MIT team designed a reactor with an anode where water is broken down into oxygen, hydrogen ions (protons), and electrons. Manganese oxide nanoparticles act as a catalyst to help this reaction along, and to incorporate the oxygen into an olefin to make an epoxide. Protons and electrons flow to the cathode, where they are converted into hydrogen gas.</p> <p>Thermodynamically, this reaction only requires about 1 volt of electricity, less than the voltage of a standard AA battery. The reaction does not generate any carbon dioxide, and the researchers anticipate that they could further reduce the carbon footprint by using electricity from renewable sources such as solar or wind to power the epoxide conversion.</p> <p><strong>Scaling up</strong></p> <p>So far, the researchers have shown that they can use this process to create an epoxide called cyclooctene oxide, and they are now working on adapting it to other epoxides. They are also trying to make the conversion of olefins into epoxides more efficient — in this study, about 30 percent of the electrical current went into the conversion reaction, but they hope to double that.</p> <p>They estimate that their process, if scaled up, could produce ethylene oxide at a cost of $900 per ton, compared to $1,500 per ton using current methods. That cost could be lowered further as the process becomes more efficient. Another factor that could contribute to the economic viability of this approach is that it also generates hydrogen as a byproduct, which is valuable in its own right to power fuel cells.</p> <p>The researchers plan to continue developing the technology in hopes of eventually commercializing it for industrial use, and they are also working on using electricity to synthesize other kinds of chemicals.</p> <p>“There are many processes that have enormous carbon dioxide footprints, and decarbonization can be driven by electrification,” Manthiram says. “One can eliminate temperature, eliminate pressure, and use voltage instead.”</p> <p>The research was funded by MIT’s Department of Chemical Engineering and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.</p> MIT researchers used these manganese oxide nanoparticles to catalyze the breakdown of water and the subsequent incorporation of oxygen into useful compounds called epoxides. Courtesy of the researchers Research, Chemical engineering, Emissions, Sustainability, School of Engineering, National Science Foundation (NSF), Chemistry, Manufacturing Smoothing out the wrinkles in graphene Coating graphene with wax makes for a less contaminated surface during device manufacturing. Wed, 06 Mar 2019 15:25:53 -0500 Rob Matheson | MIT News Office <p>To protect graphene from performance-impairing wrinkles and contaminants that mar its surface during device fabrication, MIT researchers have turned to an everyday material: wax.</p> <p>Graphene is an atom-thin material that holds promise for making next-generation electronics. Researchers are exploring possibilities for using the exotic material in circuits for flexible electronics and quantum computers, and in a variety of other devices.</p> <p>But removing the fragile material from the substrate it’s grown on and transferring it to a new substrate is particularly challenging. Traditional methods encase the graphene in a polymer that protects against breakage but also introduces defects and particles onto graphene’s surface. These interrupt electrical flow and stifle performance.</p> <p>In a paper published in <em>Nature Communications</em>, the researchers describe a fabrication technique that applies a wax coating to a graphene sheet and heats it up. Heat causes the wax to expand, which smooths out the graphene to reduce wrinkles. Moreover, the coating can be washed away without leaving behind much residue.</p> <p>In experiments, the researchers’ wax-coated graphene performed four times better than graphene made with a traditional polymer-protecting layer. Performance, in this case, is measured in “electron mobility” — meaning how fast electrons move across a material’s surface — which is hindered by surface defects.</p> <p>“Like waxing a floor, you can do the same type of coating on top of large-area graphene and use it as layer to pick up the graphene from a metal growth substrate and transfer it to any desired substrate,” says first author Wei Sun Leong, a postdoc in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS). “This technology is very useful, because it solves two problems simultaneously: the wrinkles and polymer residues.”</p> <p>Co-first author Haozhe Wang, a PhD student in EECS, says using wax may sound like a natural solution, but it involved some thinking outside the box —&nbsp;or, more specifically, outside the laboratory: “As students, we restrict ourselves to sophisticated materials available in lab. Instead, in this work, we chose a material that commonly used in our daily life.”</p> <p>Joining Leong and Wang on the paper are: Jing Kong and Tomas Palacios, both EECS professors; Markus Buehler, professor and head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE); and six other graduate students, postdocs, and researchers from EECS, CEE, and the Department of Mechanical Engineering.</p> <p><strong>The “perfect” protector</strong></p> <p>To grow graphene over large areas, the 2-D material is typically grown on a commercial copper substrate. Then, it’s protected by a “sacrificial” polymer layer, typically polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA). The PMMA-coated graphene is placed in a vat of acidic solution until the copper is completely gone. The remaining PMMA-graphene is rinsed with water, then dried, and the PMMA layer is ultimately removed.</p> <p>Wrinkles occur when water gets trapped between the graphene and the destination substrate, which PMMA doesn’t prevent. Moreover, PMMA comprises complex chains of oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen atoms that form strong bonds with graphene atoms. This leaves behind particles on the surface when it’s removed.</p> <p>Researchers have tried modifying PMMA and other polymers to help reduce wrinkles and residue, but with minimal success. The MIT researchers instead searched for completely new materials — even once trying out commercial shrink wrap. “It was not that successful, but we did try,” Wang says, laughing.</p> <p>After combing through materials science literature, the researchers landed on paraffin, the common whitish, translucent wax used for candles, polishes, and waterproof coatings, among other applications.</p> <p>In simulations before testing, Buehler’s group, which studies the properties of materials, found no known reactions between paraffin and graphene. That’s due to paraffin’s very simple chemical structure. “Wax was so perfect for this sacrificial layer. It’s just simple carbon and hydrogen chains with low reactivity, compared to PMMA’s complex chemical structure that bonds to graphene,” Leong says.</p> <p><strong>Cleaner transfer</strong></p> <p>In their technique, the researchers first melted small pieces of the paraffin in an oven. Then, using a spin coater, a microfabrication machine that uses centrifugal force to uniformly spread material across a substrate, they dropped the paraffin solution onto a sheet of graphene grown on copper foil. This spread the paraffin into a protective layer, about 20 microns thick, across the graphene.</p> <p>The researchers transferred the paraffin-coated graphene into a solution that removes the copper foil. The coated graphene was then relocated to a traditional water vat, which was heated to about 40 degrees Celsius. They used a silicon destination substrate to scoop up the graphene from underneath and baked in an oven set to the same temperature.</p> <p>Because paraffin has a high thermal expansion coefficient, it expands quite a lot when heated. Under this heat increase, the paraffin expands and stretches the attached graphene underneath, effectively reducing wrinkles. Finally, the researchers used a different solution to wash away the paraffin, leaving a monolayer of graphene on the destination substrate.</p> <p>In their paper, the researchers show microscopic images of a small area of the paraffin-coated and PMMA-coated graphene. Paraffin-coated graphene is almost fully clear of debris, whereas the PMMA-coated graphene looks heavily damaged, like a scratched window.</p> <p>Because wax coating is already common in many manufacturing applications —&nbsp;such as applying a waterproof coating to a material — the researchers think their method could be readily adapted to real-world fabrication processes. Notably, the increase in temperature to melt the wax shouldn’t affect fabrication costs or efficiency, and the heating source could in the future be replaced with a light, the researchers say.</p> <p>Next, the researchers aim to further minimize the wrinkles and contaminants left on the graphene and scaling up the system to larger sheets of graphene. They’re also working on applying the transfer technique to the fabrication processes of other 2-D materials.</p> <p>“We will continue to grow the perfect large-area 2-D materials, so they come naturally without wrinkles,” Leong says.</p> The image on the right shows a graphene sheet coated with wax during the substrate-transfer step. This method drastically reduced wrinkles on the graphene’s surface compared to a traditional polymer coating (left).Courtesy of the researchersResearch, Computer science and technology, Graphene, Carbon, Nanoscience and nanotechnology, electronics, Materials Science and Engineering, Manufacturing, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), Civil and environmental engineering, Mechanical engineering, School of Engineering Technique streamlines fabrication of 2-D circuits Growing material directly onto substrates and recycling chip patterns should enable faster, simpler manufacturing. Mon, 04 Mar 2019 09:13:45 -0500 Rob Matheson | MIT News Office <p>Exotic 2-D materials hold great promise for creating atom-thin circuits that could power flexible electronics, optoelectronics, and other next-generation devices. But fabricating complex 2-D circuits requires multiple time-consuming, expensive steps.</p> <p>In a paper published in <em>PNAS</em>, researchers from MIT and elsewhere describe a technique that streamlines the fabrication process, by growing a 2-D material directly onto a patterned substrate and recycling the circuit patterns.</p> <p>The researchers carefully grow a single layer of molybdenum disulfide (MoS<sub>2</sub>), which is just three atoms thick, onto a growth substrate in a chosen pattern. This approach differs from traditional techniques that grow and etch away a material iteratively, over multiple layers. Those processes take a while and increase the chances of causing surface defects that may hinder the performance of the material.</p> <p>With the new method, using only water, the researchers can transfer the material from its growth substrate to its destination substrate so cleanly that the original patterned substrate can be reused as a “master-replica” type of mold — meaning a reusable template for manufacturing. In traditional fabrication, growth substrates get tossed after each material transfer, and the circuit must be patterned again on a new substrate to regrow more material. &nbsp;</p> <p>“When we scale up and make more complex electronic devices, people need to integrate numerous 2-D materials into more layers and specific shapes. If we follow traditional methods, step by step, it will be very time consuming and inefficient,” says the first author Yunfan Guo, a postdoc in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) and the Research Laboratory of Electronics. “Our method shows the potential to make the whole fabrication process simpler, lower cost, and more efficient.”</p> <p>In their work, the researchers fabricated arbitrary patterns and a working transistor made from MoS<sub>2</sub>, which is one of the thinnest known semiconductors. In their study, the researchers recycled the same patterned substrate four times without seeing signs of wear.</p> <p>Guo is joined on the paper by EECS professor Jing Kong;&nbsp;Professor Xi Ling of Boston University; EECS professor Tomas Palacios; Ju Li, an MIT professor of nuclear science and engineering and of materials science and engineering; Professor David Mullar of Cornell University; Professor Letian Dou of Purdue University; and by seven other MIT graduate students and postdocs; and two other co-authors from Cornell University and Purdue University.</p> <p><strong>Controlled growth</strong></p> <p>To design a pattern on a growth substrate, the researchers leveraged a technique that uses oxygen-based plasma to carve patterns into a substrate’s surface. Some version of this technique has been used experimentally before to grow 2-D material patterns. But the spatial resolution —&nbsp;meaning the size of precise structures that can be fabricated — is relatively poor (100 microns), and the electrical performance has been much lower than materials grown using other methods.</p> <p>To fix this, the researchers conducted in-depth studies into how MoS<sub>2</sub> atoms arrange themselves on a substrate surface and how certain chemical precursors can help control the material’s growth. In doing so, they were able to leverage the technique to grow a single layer of high-quality MoS<sub>2 </sub>within precise patterns.</p> <p>The researchers used traditional photolithography masks on a silicon oxide substrate, where the desired pattern lies within regions unexposed to light. Those regions are subsequently exposed to the oxygen-based plasma. The plasma etches away about 1-2 nanometers of the substrate in the pattern.</p> <p>This process also creates a higher surface energy and an enhanced affinity for water-loving (“hydrophilic”) molecules in these plasma-treated regions. The researchers then use an organic salt, called PTAS, that acts as a growth promoter for MoS<sub>2</sub>. The salt is attracted to the newly created hydrophilic etched regions. In addition, the researchers used sulfur, an essential precursor for MoS<sub>2</sub> growth, at a precise amount and temperature to regulate exactly how many of the material’s atoms will form on the substrate.</p> <p>When the researchers subsequently measured the MoS<sub>2 </sub>growth, they found it filled in about 0.7 nanometers of the etched pattern. That’s equivalent to exactly one layer of MoS<sub>2.</sub></p> <p><strong>Recycled patterns</strong></p> <p>Next, the researchers developed a method to recycle the patterned substrate. Traditionally, transferring 2-D materials from a growth substrate onto a destination substrate, such as a flexible surface, requires encasing the whole grown material in a polymer, chemically etching it, and separating it from its growth substrate. But this inevitably brings in contaminants to the material. When the material released, it also leaves behind residue, so the original substrates may not be reused.</p> <p>Due to the weak interaction between MoS<sub>2 </sub>and the growth substrate, however, the researchers found they could detach the MoS<sub>2 </sub>cleanly from the original substrate by submerging it in water. This process, called “delamination,” eliminates the need for using any supporting layer and produces a clean break with the material from the substrate.</p> <p>“That’s why we can recycle it,” Guo says. “After it’s transferred, because it is purely clean, our patterned substrate is recovered and we can use it for multiple growths.”</p> <p>The researchers’ innovations introduce far fewer surface defects that limit performance, as measured in electron mobility — how fast electrons move through a semiconductor.</p> <p>In their paper, the researchers fabricated a 2-D transistor, called a field-effect transistor. Results indicate the electron mobility and “on-off ratio” — how efficiently a transistor flicks between the 1 and 0 computational states — are comparable with the reported values of traditionally grown high-quality, high-performance materials.</p> <p>The field-effect transistor currently has a spatial resolution of about 2 microns, which is limited only by the laser the microfabrication instruments the researchers used. Next, the researchers hope to shrink the pattern size, and directly integrate complex circuits on 2-D materials using their fabrication technique.</p> MIT researchers have developed a technique to grow 2-D materials directly onto patterned substrates (shown here) and then recycle the patterns for faster, simpler chip manufacturing.Courtesy of the researchersResearch, Computer science and technology, Materials science, Nanoscience and nanotechnology, electronics, optoelectronics, Microchips, Manufacturing, Research Laboratory of Electronics, Nuclear science and engineering, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), School of Engineering Training technicians in developing technologies MIT leads AIM Photonics Academy’s development of a technician-training apprenticeship program. Fri, 15 Feb 2019 15:00:00 -0500 Julie Diop | Materials Research Laboratory <p>Headquartered at MIT, AIM Photonics Academy is embarking on an ambitious plan to develop a technician-training program in emerging technologies, attempting to answer the question of whether an institute known for educating world-leading scientists and engineers can play a role in helping train an outstanding&nbsp;technician workforce.</p> <p>AIM Academy is part of the American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics (<a href="" target="_blank">AIM Photonics</a>), focused on integrated photonics. The Office of Naval Research recently&nbsp;awarded a $1.8 million Manufacturing Engineering Education Program grant for AIM Academy to create a technician-certification program in collaboration with Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (<a href="">ARM</a>). AIM Photonics and ARM are two of 14 public-private manufacturing innovation institutes created as part of a federal program to revitalize American manufacturing, collectively known as Manufacturing USA.</p> <p>Until now, AIM Academy has focused on training master’s and PhD engineers, which is what companies said they needed, through summer and winter boot camps and online courses. Integrated photonics —&nbsp;putting light-based technology on computer chips —&nbsp;has diverse applications including LIDAR for&nbsp;driverless cars, sensors, data centers, and the internet of things.&nbsp;As the&nbsp;technology moves from the lab to production, companies will not only need&nbsp;highly trained PhDs to compete, they will also need a workforce of skilled technicians to fill their manufacturing lines.</p> <p>Lionel Kimerling,&nbsp;the&nbsp;Thomas Lord Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT, leads the AIM Academy program for AIM Photonics.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Integrated photonics has enormous potential,” said Kimerling. “AIM Academy is developing programs now that will train workers for the jobs that are coming.” Since the integrated photonics industry is emerging, Kimerling said that the technician-training program would prepare students for the manufacturing positions that are open now, as well as jobs in photonics that will emerge in the years to come.</p> <p>Both AIM Photonics and ARM have partnered with schools eager to roll out photonics-based certification programs.&nbsp;Pittsburgh-based&nbsp;ARM’s education and workforce development program will work with Westmoreland County Community College in Pennsylvania.&nbsp;As AIM Photonics’ education and workforce development program AIM Academy,&nbsp;will work with Stonehill College and Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts to develop a program specific to photonics technicians. Currently, both Stonehill and Bridgewater offer four-year degrees, but lack tracks for associate degrees or certification in the field.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The territory is new for both schools. Officials&nbsp;say they are responsible for preparing the future workforce, and are ready to attract a new kind of student and offer their current students access to a certification program that they believe will lead directly to jobs.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“This effort is part of a larger strategic priority to increase Bridgewater State’s ongoing expansion of educational opportunities and research in the areas of optics and photonics,” said&nbsp;Kristen Porter-Utley, dean of Bridgewater State University’s Bartlett College of Science and Mathematics.</p> <p>Said Stonehill physics Professor Guiru “Ruby”&nbsp; Gu:&nbsp;“We envision an innovative work-learn certificate program that brings together industry, higher education and government, and creates a hub for integrated photonics in southeastern Massachusetts.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Both Stonehill and Bridgewater officials say&nbsp;that the success of the certification programs begins with more hands-on lab work opportunities for students. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has committed $28 million in capital equipment grants to AIM Photonics through the <a href="">Massachusetts Manufacturing Innovation Initiative (M2I2)</a> projects, and has already funded LEAPs (Labs for Education and Application Prototypes) at MIT and Worcester Polytechnic Institute, which will share the facilities with Quinsigamond Community College.&nbsp;Those LEAPs will be open to students who go through the technician-training program.</p> <p>The 15-month certification program will end in student apprenticeships at local companies. &nbsp;</p> <p>“At MIT, we are interested in deploying new technologies. We also have contacts with the companies that will use these technologies,” said Kimerling. “Because of this, we can help train the future workforce.”</p> MIT Professor Lionel Kimerling, speaking at Stonehill College, leads the AIM Academy program for AIM Photonics.Photo: Rich MorganSchool of Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, Classes and programs, Collaboration, Education, teaching, academics, Manufacturing, Photonics MIT robot combines vision and touch to learn the game of Jenga Machine-learning approach could help robots assemble cellphones and other small parts in a manufacturing line. Wed, 30 Jan 2019 13:59:59 -0500 Jennifer Chu | MIT News Office <p>In the basement of MIT’s Building 3, a robot is carefully contemplating its next move. It gently pokes at a tower of blocks, looking for the best block to extract without toppling the tower, in a solitary, slow-moving, yet surprisingly agile game of Jenga.</p> <p>The robot, developed by MIT engineers, is equipped with a soft-pronged gripper, a force-sensing wrist cuff, and an external camera, all of which it uses to see and feel the tower and its individual blocks.</p> <p>As the robot carefully pushes against a block, a computer takes in visual and tactile feedback from its camera and cuff, and compares these measurements to moves that the robot previously made. It also considers the outcomes of those moves — specifically, whether a block, in a certain configuration and pushed with a certain amount of force, was successfully extracted or not. In real-time, the robot then “learns” whether to keep pushing or move to a new block, in order to keep the tower from falling.</p> <p>Details of the Jenga-playing robot are published today in the journal <em>Science Robotics</em>. Alberto Rodriguez, the Walter Henry Gale Career Development Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, says the robot demonstrates something that’s been tricky to attain in previous systems: the ability to quickly learn the best way to carry out a task, not just from visual cues, as it is commonly studied today, but also from tactile, physical interactions.</p> <p>“Unlike in more purely cognitive tasks or games such as chess or Go, playing the game of Jenga also requires mastery of physical skills such as probing, pushing, pulling, placing, and aligning pieces. It requires interactive perception and manipulation, where you have to go and touch the tower to learn how and when to move blocks,” Rodriguez says. “This is very difficult to simulate, so the robot has to learn in the real world, by interacting with the real Jenga tower. The key challenge is to learn from a relatively small number of experiments by exploiting common sense about objects and physics.”</p> <p>He says the tactile learning system the researchers have developed can be used in applications beyond Jenga, especially in tasks that need careful physical interaction, including separating recyclable objects from landfill trash and assembling consumer products.</p> <p>“In a cellphone assembly line, in almost every single step, the feeling of a snap-fit, or a threaded screw, is coming from force and touch rather than vision,” Rodriguez says. “Learning models for those actions is prime real-estate for this kind of technology.”</p> <p>The paper’s lead author is MIT graduate student Nima Fazeli. The team also includes Miquel Oller, Jiajun Wu, Zheng Wu, and Joshua Tenenbaum, professor of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT.</p> <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p><strong>Push and pull</strong></p> <p>In the game of Jenga — Swahili for “build” — 54 rectangular blocks are stacked in 18 layers of three blocks each, with the blocks in each layer oriented perpendicular to the blocks below. The aim of the game is to carefully extract a block and place it at the top of the tower, thus building a new level, without toppling the entire structure.</p> <p>To program a robot to play Jenga, traditional machine-learning schemes might require capturing everything that could possibly happen between a block, the robot, and the tower — an expensive computational task requiring data from thousands if not tens of thousands of block-extraction attempts.</p> <p>Instead, Rodriguez and his colleagues looked for a more data-efficient way for a robot to learn to play Jenga, inspired by human cognition and the way we ourselves might approach the game.</p> <p>The team customized an industry-standard ABB IRB 120 robotic arm, then set up a Jenga tower within the robot’s reach, and began a training period in which the robot first chose a random block and a location on the block against which to push. It then exerted a small amount of force in an attempt to push the block out of the tower.</p> <p>For each block attempt, a computer recorded the associated visual and force measurements, and labeled whether each attempt was a success.</p> <p>Rather than carry out tens of thousands of such attempts (which would involve reconstructing the tower almost as many times), the robot trained on just about 300, with attempts of similar measurements and outcomes grouped in clusters representing certain block behaviors. For instance, one cluster of data might represent attempts on a block that was hard to move, versus one that was easier to move, or that toppled the tower when moved. For each data cluster, the robot developed a simple model to predict a block’s behavior given its current visual and tactile measurements.</p> <p>Fazeli says this clustering technique dramatically increases the efficiency with which the robot can learn to play the game, and is inspired by the natural way in which humans cluster similar behavior: “The robot builds clusters and then learns models for each of these clusters, instead of learning a model that captures absolutely everything that could happen.”</p> <p><strong>Stacking up</strong></p> <p>The researchers tested their approach against other state-of-the-art machine learning algorithms, in a computer simulation of the game using the simulator MuJoCo. The lessons learned in the simulator informed the researchers of the way the robot would learn in the real world.</p> <p>“We provide to these algorithms the same information our system gets, to see how they learn to play Jenga at a similar level,” Oller says. “Compared with our approach, these algorithms need to explore orders of magnitude more towers to learn the game.”</p> <p>Curious as to how their machine-learning approach stacks up against actual human players, the team carried out a few informal trials with several volunteers.</p> <p>“We saw how many blocks a human was able to extract before the tower fell, and the difference was not that much,” Oller says.</p> <p>But there is still a way to go if the researchers want to competitively pit their robot against a human player. In addition to physical interactions, Jenga requires strategy, such as extracting just the right block that will make it difficult for an opponent to pull out the next block without toppling the tower.</p> <p>For now, the team is less interested in developing a robotic Jenga champion, and more focused on applying the robot’s new skills to other application domains.</p> <p>“There are many tasks that we do with our hands where the feeling of doing it ‘the right way’ comes in the language of forces and tactile cues,” Rodriguez says. “For tasks like these, a similar approach to ours could figure it out.”</p> <p>This research was supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation through the National Robotics Initiative.</p> The Jenga-playing robot demonstrates something that’s been tricky to attain in previous systems: the ability to quickly learn the best way to carry out a task, not just from visual cues, as it is commonly studied today, but also from tactile, physical interactions.Courtesy of the researchersAlgorithms, Artificial intelligence, Brain and cognitive sciences, Computer modeling, Manufacturing, Mechanical engineering, Research, Robots, Robotics, School of Engineering, Machine learning Tackling greenhouse gases Faculty in the Department of Mechanical Engineering are developing technologies that store, capture, convert, and minimize greenhouse gas emissions. Mon, 07 Jan 2019 12:05:01 -0500 Mary Beth O'Leary | Department of Mechanical Engineering <p>The images are ubiquitous: A&nbsp;coastal town decimated by another powerful hurricane, satellite images showing shrinking polar ice caps, a school of dead fish floating on the surface of warming waters, swaths of land burnt by an out-of-control wildfire. These dire portrayals share a common thread —&nbsp;they offer tangible evidence that climate change is affecting every corner of the globe.</p> <p>According to NASA, Earth’s surface temperature has risen 0.9 degrees&nbsp;Celsius since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Researchers agree that the rise in temperatures has one primary culprit: increased greenhouse gas emissions.</p> <p>Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane all trap heat in our atmosphere,&nbsp;making them directly responsible for climate change. The occurrence of these gases in our atmosphere has increased exponentially since the late 1800s due to growth in fossil fuels use across the energy, manufacturing, and transportation industries.</p> <p>A report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released on Oct. 8, 2018 warned that if the Earth’s temperature rises greater than 1.5&nbsp;C, the effects would be catastrophic. Entire ecosystems could be lost, sea levels would be higher, and extreme weather events would become even more common. According to the IPCC, avoiding this scenario “would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society,” including a 45 percent&nbsp;decrease in carbon dioxide&nbsp;levels by 2030.</p> <p>Researchers across MIT are working on a myriad of technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions across every industry. Many faculty are looking at sustainable energy. Associate Professor Tonio Buonassisi and his team in the Photovoltaic Research Lab hope to harness the power of the sun, while Professor Alexander Slocum has conducted research in making offshore wind turbines more efficient and economically viable.</p> <p>In addition to exploring sustainable forms of energy that do not require fossil fuels, a number of faculty members in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering are turning to technologies that store, capture, convert, and minimize greenhouse gas emissions using very different approaches.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Improving energy storage with ceramics</strong></p> <p>For renewable energy technologies like concentrated solar power (CSP) to make sense economically, storage is crucial. Since the sun isn’t always shining, solar energy needs to be somehow stored for later use. But CSP plants are currently limited by their steel-based infrastructure.</p> <p>“Improving energy storage is a critical issue that presents one of the biggest technological hurdles toward minimizing greenhouse gas emissions,” explains Asegun Henry, the Noyce Career Development Professor and associate professor of mechanical engineering.</p> <p>An expert in heat transfer, Henry has turned to an unlikely class of materials to help increase the efficiency of thermal storage: ceramics.</p> <p>Currently, CSP plants are limited by the temperature at which they can store heat. Thermal energy from the solar power is currently stored in liquid salt. This liquid salt can’t exceed a temperature of 565 C&nbsp;since the steel pipes they flow through will get corroded.</p> <p>“There has been a ubiquitous assumption that if you’re going to build anything with flowing liquid, the pipes and pumps have to be out of metal,” says Henry. “We essentially questioned that assumption.”</p> <p>Henry and his team, which recently moved from Georgia Tech, have developed a ceramic pump that allows liquid to flow at much higher temperatures. In January 2017, he was entered into the Guinness Book of World Record for the “highest operating temperature liquid pump.” The pump was able to circulate molten tin between 1,200&nbsp;C and 1,400&nbsp;C.</p> <p>“The pump now gives us the ability to make an all-ceramic infrastructure for CSP plants, allowing us to flow and control liquid metal,” Henry adds.</p> <p>Rather than use liquid salt, CSP plants can now store energy in metals, like molten tin, which have a higher temperature range and won’t corrode the carefully chosen ceramics. This opens up new avenues for energy storage and generation. “We are trying to turn up the temperature so hot that our ability to turn heat back into electricity gives us options,” Henry explains.</p> <p>One such option, would be to store electricity as glowing white hot heat like that of a light bulb filament. This heat can then be turned into electricity by converting the white glow using photovoltaics — creating a completely greenhouse gas free energy storage system.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“This system can’t work if the pipes are temperature limited and have a short lifetime,” adds Henry. “That’s where we come in, we now have the materials that can make things work at crazy high temperatures.”</p> <p>Henry’s record-breaking pump’s ability to minimize greenhouse gas emissions goes beyond altering the infrastructure of solar plants. He also hopes to use the pump to change the way hydrogen is produced.</p> <p>Hydrogen, which is used to make fertilizer, is created by reacting methane with water, producing carbon dioxide. Henry is researching an entirely new hydrogen production method which would involve heating tin hot enough to split methane directly and create hydrogen, without introducing other chemicals or making carbon dioxide. Rather than emit carbon dioxide, solid carbon particles would form and float on the surface of the liquid. This solid carbon is something that could then be sold for a number or purposes.</p> <p><strong>Converting pollutants into valuable materials </strong></p> <p>Capturing greenhouse gases and turning them into something useful is a goal shared by Betar Gallant, assistant professor of mechanical engineering.</p> <p>The Paris Agreement, which seeks to minimize greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale, stated that participating countries need to consider every greenhouse gas, even those emitted in small quantities. These include fluorinated gases like sulfur hexafluoride and nitrogen trifluoride. Many of these gases are used in semiconductor manufacturing and metallurgical processes like magnesium production.</p> <p>Fluorinated gases have up to 23,000 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide and have lifetimes in the thousands of years. “Once we emit these fluorinated gases, they are virtually indestructible,” says Gallant.</p> <p>With no current regulations on these gases, their release could have lasting impact on our ability to curtail global warming. After the ratification of the Paris Agreement, Gallant saw a window of opportunity to use her background in electrochemistry to capture and convert these harmful pollutants.</p> <p>“I’m looking at mechanisms and reactions to activate and convert harmful pollutants into either benign storable materials or something that can be recycled and used in a less harmful way,” she explains.</p> <p>Her first target: fluorinated gases. Using voltage and currents along with chemistry, she and her team looked into accessing a new reaction space. Gallant created two systems based on the reaction between these fluorinated gases and lithium. The result was a solid cathode that can be used in batteries.</p> <p>“We identified one reaction for each of those two fluorinated gases, but we will keep working on that to figure out how these reactions can be modified to handle industrial-scale capture and large volumes of materials,” she adds.</p> <p>Gallant recently used a similar approach for capturing and converting carbon dioxide emissions into carbon cathodes.<br /> <br /> “Our central question was: Can we find a way to get more value out of&nbsp;carbon dioxide by incorporating it into an energy storage device?” she says.</p> <p>In a recent study, Gallant first treated carbon dioxide in a liquid amine solution. This prompted a reaction that created a new ion-containing liquid phase, which fortuitously could also be used as an electrolyte. The electrolyte was then used to assemble a battery along with lithium metal and carbon. By discharging the electrolyte, the carbon dioxide could be converted into a solid carbonate while delivering a power output at about three volts.</p> <p>As the battery continuously discharges, it eats up&nbsp;all the carbon dioxide and constantly converts it into a solid carbonate that can be stored, removed, or even charged back to the liquid electrolyte for operation as a rechargeable battery. This process has the potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adding economic value by creating a new usable product.</p> <p>The next step for Gallant is taking the understandings of these reactions and actually designing a system that can be used in industry to capture and convert greenhouse gases.</p> <p>“Engineers in this field have the know-how to design more efficient devices that either capture or convert greenhouse gas emissions before they get released into the environment,” she adds. “We started by building the chemical and electrochemical technology first, but we’re really looking forward to pivoting next to the larger scale and seeing how to engineer these reactions into a practical device.”</p> <p><strong>Closing the carbon cycle </strong></p> <p>Designing systems that capture carbon dioxide and convert it back to something useful has been a driving force in Ahmed Ghoniem’s research over the past 15 years. “I have spent my entire career on the environmental impact of energy and power production,” says Ghoniem, the Ronald C. Crane Professor of Mechanical Engineering.<br /> <br /> In the 1980s and 1990s, the most pressing issue for researchers working in this sphere was creating technologies that minimized the emission of criteria pollutants like nitric oxides. These pollutants produced ozone, particular matter, and smog. Ghoniem worked on new combustion systems that significantly reduced the emission of these pollutants.</p> <p>Since the turn of the 21st century, his focus shifted from criteria pollutants, which were successfully curbed, to carbon dioxide emissions. The quickest solution would be to stop using fossil fuels. But Ghoniem acknowledges with 80 percent&nbsp;of energy production worldwide coming from fossil fuels, that’s not an option: “The big problem really is, how do we continue using fossil fuels without releasing so much carbon dioxide in the environment?”</p> <p>In recent years, he has worked on methods for capturing carbon dioxide from power plants for underground storage, and more recently for recycling some of the captured carbon dioxide into useful products, like fuels and chemicals. The end goal is to develop systems that efficiently and economically remove carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion while producing power.</p> <p>“My idea is to close the carbon cycle so you can convert carbon dioxide emitted during power production back into fuel and chemicals,” he explains. Solar and other carbon-free energy sources would power the reuse process, making it a closed loop system with no net emissions.</p> <p>In the first step, Ghoniem’s system separates oxygen from air, so fuel can burn in pure oxygen —&nbsp;a process known as oxy-combustion. When this is done, the plant emits pure carbon dioxide that can be captured for storage or reuse. To do this, Ghoniem says, “We’ve developed ceramic membranes, chemical looping reactors, and catalysts technology, that allow us to do this efficiently.”</p> <p>Using alternative sources of heat, such as solar energy, the reactor temperature is raised to just shy of 1,000&nbsp;C to drive the separation of oxygen. The membranes Ghoniem’s group are&nbsp; developing allow pure oxygen to pass through. The source of this oxygen is air in oxy-combustion applications.&nbsp; When recycled carbon dioxide is used instead of air, the process reduces carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide&nbsp;that can be used as fuel or to create new hydrocarbon fuels or chemicals, like ethanol which is mixed gasoline to fuel cars. Ghoniem’s team also found that if water&nbsp;is used instead of air, it is reduced to hydrogen, another clean fuel.</p> <p>The next step for Ghoniem’s team is scaling up the membrane reactors they’ve developed from something that is successful in the lab, to something that could be used in industry.</p> <p><strong>Manufacturing, human behavior, and the so-called “re-bound” effect</strong></p> <p>While Henry, Gallant, Ghoniem, and a number of other MIT researchers are developing capture and reuse technologies to minimize greenhouse gas emissions, Professor Timothy Gutowski is approaching climate change from a completely different angle: the economics of manufacturing.</p> <p>Gutowski understands manufacturing. He has worked on both the industry and academic side of manufacturing, was the director of MIT’s Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productivity for a decade, and currently leads the Environmentally Benign Manufacturing research group at MIT. His primary research focus is assessing the environmental impact of manufacturing.</p> <p>“If you analyze the global manufacturing sector, you see that the making of materials is globally bigger than making products in terms of energy usage and total carbon emitted, ” Gutowski says.</p> <p>As economies grow, the need for material increases, further contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. To assess the carbon footprint of a product from material production through to disposal, engineers have turned to life-cycle assessments (LCA). These LCAs suggest ways to boost efficiency and decrease environmental impact. But, according to Gutowski, the approach many engineers take in assessing a product’s life-cycle is flawed.</p> <p>“Many LCAs ignore real human behavior and the economics associated with increased efficiency,” Gutowski says.</p> <p>For example, LED light bulbs save a tremendous amount of energy and money compared to incandescent light bulbs. Rather than use these savings to conserve energy, many use these savings as a rationale to increase the number of light bulbs they use. Sports stadiums in particular capitalize on the cost savings offered by LED light bulbs to wrap entire fields in LED screens. In economics, this phenomenon is known as the "rebound effect."</p> <p>“When you improve efficiency, the engineer may imagine that the device will be used in the exact same way as before and resources will be conserved,” explains Gutowski. But this increase in efficiency often results in an increase in production.</p> <p>Another example of the rebound effect can be found in airplanes. Using composite materials to build aircrafts instead of using heavier aluminum can make airplanes lighter, thereby saving fuel. Rather than utilize this potential savings in fuel economy to minimize the impact on the environment, however, companies have many other options. They can use this potential weight savings to add other features to the airplane.&nbsp; These could include, increasing the number of seats, adding entertainment equipment, or carrying more fuel to increase the length of the journey. In the end, there are cases were the composites airplane actually weighs more than the original aluminum airplane.</p> <p>“Companies often don’t think ‘I’m going to save fuel'; they think about ways they can economically take advantage of increased efficiency,” Gutowski.</p> <p>Gutowski is working across disciplines and fields to develop a better understanding of how engineers can improve life cycle assessment by taking economics and human behavior into account.</p> <p>“The goal is to implement policies so engineers can continue to make improvements in efficiency, but these improvements actually result in a benefit to society and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” he explains.</p> <p><strong>A global problem</strong><br /> <br /> The diversity of approaches to tackling climate change is reflective of the size of the problem. No one technology is going to act as a panacea for minimizing greenhouse gas emissions and staying below the crucial 1.5&nbsp;C global temperature increase threshold outlined by the U.N.</p> <p>“Remember, global warming is a global problem,” says Ghoniem. “No one country can solve it by itself, we must do it together.”</p> <p>In September 2019, the U.N. Climate Summit will convene and challenge nations across the world to throw their political and economic weight behind solving climate change. On a smaller scale, MIT is doing its part to minimize its environmental impact.</p> <p>Last spring, Gutowski and Julie Newman, director of sustainability at MIT, co-taught a new class entitled 2.S999 (Solving for Carbon Neutrality at MIT). Teams of students proposed realistic scenarios for how MIT can achieve carbon neutrality. “The students were doing real work on finding ways MIT can keep our carbon down,” recalls Gutowski.</p> <p>Whether it’s a team of students in class 2.S999 or the upcoming U.N. Climate Summit, finding ways to minimize greenhouse gas emissions and curtail climate change is a global responsibility.</p> <p>“Unless we all agree to work on it, invest resources to develop and scale solutions, and collectively implement these solutions, we will have to live with the negative consequences,”&nbsp;Ghoniem says.</p> Associate Professor Asegun Henry is researching how to use superheated metals like molten tin to store heat from a concentrated solar power system, so it can be used to generate electricity as needed. Photo: Rob Felt/Georgia TechSchool of Engineering, Mechanical engineering, Carbon dioxide, Energy, Energy storage, Environment, Global Warming, Greenhouse gases, Manufacturing, Photovoltaics, Sustainability, Renewable energy, Faculty, Research Customizing computer-aided design System breaks down complex designs into easily modifiable shapes for custom manufacturing and 3-D printing. Wed, 02 Jan 2019 23:59:59 -0500 Rob Matheson | MIT News Office <p>MIT researchers have devised a technique that “reverse engineers” complex 3-D computer-aided design (CAD) models, making them far easier for users to customize for manufacturing and 3-D printing applications.</p> <p>Nearly all commercial products start as a CAD file, a 2-D or 3-D model with the product’s design specifications. One method that’s widely used to represent today’s 3-D models is constructive solid geometry (CSG), a technique where numerous basic shapes, or “primitives,” with a few adjustable parameters can be assembled in various ways to form a single object. When finalized, the compiled digital object is converted to a mesh of 3-D triangles that defines the object’s shape. These meshes are used as input for many applications, including 3-D printing and virtual simulation.</p> <p>Customizing that mesh, however, is no easy task. For example, adjusting the radius in one portion of the object requires individually tweaking the vertices and edges of each affected triangle. With complex models comprising thousands of triangles, customization becomes daunting and time consuming. Traditional techniques to convert triangle meshes back into shapes don’t scale well to complex models or work accurately on low-resolution, noisy files.</p> <p>In a paper presented at the recent AMC SIGGRAPH Asia conference, MIT researchers describe a system that applies a technique called “program synthesis” to break down CAD models into their primitive shapes, such as spheres and cuboids. Program synthesis automatically constructs computer programs based on a set of instructions.</p> <p>Essentially, to build CAD models, designers assemble individual shapes into a final object; the researchers’ method does the reverse, disassembling the CAD models into individual shapes that can be edited. As input, the system takes a 3-D triangle mesh and first determines the individual shapes that make it up. Program synthesis crawls through the shapes, trying to figure out how the shapes were put together and assembled into the final model. In doing so, it breaks down the mesh into a tree of nodes that represent the primitive shapes and other nodes detailing the steps for how those shapes fit together. The final shapes contain editable parameters for users to tweak that can be reuploaded to the mesh.</p> <p><strong>Foundational shapes</strong></p> <p>The researchers built a dataset of 50 3-D CAD models of varying complexity. In experiments, the researchers demonstrated their system could reverse engineer CAD files composed of up to 100 primitive shapes. Simpler models can be broken down in around a minute. While run times can be quick, the key advantage of the system is its ability to distill very complex models into simple, foundational shapes, the researchers say.</p> <p>“At a high level, the problem is reverse engineering a triangle mesh into a simple tree,” says Tao Du, a PhD student in the Computational Fabrication group of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). “Ideally, if you want to customize an object, it would be best to have access to the original shapes —&nbsp;what their dimensions are and how they’re combined. But once you combine everything into a triangle mesh, you have nothing but a list of triangles to work with, and that information is lost. Once we recover the metadata, it’s easier for other people to modify designs.”</p> <p>The process could be useful in manufacturing or when combined with 3-D printing software, Du says. This is especially important in the age of design sharing, where amateur 3-D-printer users upload 3-D-print models to websites for online communities to download and modify. Uploads are mostly triangle meshes, because meshes are far more universally accepted across platforms than the original CSG-based CAD files.&nbsp;</p> <p>“We have tons of mesh models, but comparatively few CAD files behind them,” Du says. “If users want to reproduce the design at home and customize it a little, then this technique could be useful.”</p> <p><strong>Trees and triangles</strong></p> <p>Program synthesis automatically finds candidate computer programs given a specific “grammar<em>,” </em>meaning the structure it must work within, such as trees, and mathematical specifications. Using those constraints, program synthesis works its way back and fills in the blanks to construct an algorithm that satisfies those specifications, given new input. The technique is used, for example, for simple components of software engineering.</p> <p>In the researchers’ work, the grammar is CSG, represented as trees. Each final node (with no branching nodes) represents a primitive shape with clearly defined parameters, and intermediate nodes represent basic ways the shapes converge and relate.</p> <p>The researchers developed a method that lets program synthesis scan an entire 3-D mesh and, essentially, think of each possible CSG tree it could create as a new candidate program.&nbsp;</p> <p>After the system receives an input mesh, a preprocessing step detects the possible locations, orientations, and parameters of all primitive shapes. This process creates a massive point cloud across the surface of the triangle mesh. A special “primitive-detection” algorithm infers from these points the dimensions for each primitive shape that makes up the mesh.</p> <p>The researchers then sample tons of points in the entire 3-D space and flag them as either inside or outside the mesh. This helps determine how the shapes converge or relate to one another. A simple example is a mesh consisting of two spheres, A and B, merged together<em>.</em> If one sampled point falls inside sphere A, one inside sphere B, and one at the intersection of the two (inside both A and B), it’s most likely a union of the two shapes.</p> <p>Given this information, along with the primitive dimensions, program synthesis could potentially create a CGS tree. But, 3-D meshes of even low complexity would require program synthesis to sample tens of thousands of points. This would create a massive search space that’s computationally impractical to handle. “Directly feeding all the samples will choke the program synthesizer,” Du says.</p> <p>To ensure the system worked efficiently, the researchers designed a sampling method that creates several small subsets of point samples across the 3-D space, which is much easier for program synthesis to compute. By sampling these subsets, it creates a new candidate “program,” or CGS tree, that could be considered correct. After numerous iterations — and using techniques to eliminate certain points and trees — the system lands on the correct CGS tree for each shape, with correct intermediate steps and final parameters. Any edited shapes are fed back into the mesh as the system computationally follows the intermediate steps back to the final object.</p> <p>“What's so exciting about the approach described in&nbsp;this&nbsp;paper is that it learns how to write a program more or less like one a human would have constructed,” says Jerry Talton, director of data and machine learning at the equity-management company Carta, who worked for years in the computer design and imaging space. “This type of program synthesis has made a few appearances in the literature over the years, but this application is particularly compelling, especially given the rise of 3-D printing and the $2.3 trillion U.S. manufacturing market.”</p> <p>Currently, the system only handles four primitive shapes — spheres, cylinders, cuboids, and tori (donut shapes). Next, the researchers aim to increase the complexity of CSG grammar to handle fare more shapes and more modifiers outside just Boolean operators.</p> MIT researchers have devised a technique that “reverse engineers” complex 3-D computer-aided design (CAD) models — breaking them down into the many individual shapes they’re made of — to make them far easier for users to customize for manufacturing and 3-D printing applications.Courtesy of the researchersResearch, Computer science and technology, Design, Manufacturing, 3-D printing, Software, Algorithms, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), School of Engineering To guide cancer therapy, device quickly tests drugs on tumor tissue Inexpensive 3-D-printed microfluidics device could be used to personalize cancer treatment. Wed, 12 Dec 2018 00:00:00 -0500 Rob Matheson | MIT News Office <p>MIT and Draper researchers have 3-D printed a novel microfluidic device that simulates cancer treatments on biopsied tumor tissue, so clinicians can better examine how individual patients will respond to different therapeutics —&nbsp;before administering a single dose.</p> <p>Testing cancer treatments today relies mostly on trial and error; patients may undergo multiple time-consuming and hard-to-tolerate therapies in pursuit of one that works. Recent innovations in pharmaceutical development involve growing artificial tumors to test drugs on specific cancer types. But these models take weeks to grow and don’t account for an individual patient’s biological makeup, which can affect treatment efficacy.</p> <p>The researchers’ device, which can be printed in about one hour, is a chip slightly larger than a quarter, with three cylindrical “chimneys” rising from the surface. These are ports used to input and drain fluids, as well as remove unwanted air bubbles. Biopsied tumor fragments are placed in a chamber connected to a network of channels that deliver fluids — containing, for instance, immunotherapy agents or immune cells —&nbsp;to the tissue. Clinicians can then use various imaging techniques to see how the tissue responds to the drugs.</p> <p>A key feature was using a new biocompatible resin — traditionally used for dental applications — that can support long-term survival of biopsied tissue. Although previous 3-D-printed microfluidics have held promise for drug testing, chemicals in their resin usually kill cells quickly. The researchers captured fluorescence microscopy images that show their device, called a tumor analysis platform (TAP), kept more than 90 percent of the tumor tissue alive for at least 72 hours, and potentially much longer.</p> <p>Because the 3-D printed device is easy and cheap to fabricate, it could be rapidly implemented into clinical settings, the researchers say. Doctors could, for instance, print out a multiplexed device that could support multiple tumor samples in parallel, to enable modeling of the interactions between tumor fragments and many different drugs, simultaneously, for a single patient.</p> <p>“People anywhere in the world could print our design. You can envision a future where your doctor will have a 3-D printer and can print out the devices as needed,” says Luis Fernando Velásquez-García, a researcher in the Microsystems Technology Laboratories and co-author on a paper describing the device, which appears in the December issue of the <em>Journal of Microelectromechanical Systems</em>. “If someone has cancer, you can take a bit of tissue in our device, and keep the tumor alive, to run multiple tests in parallel and figure out what would work best with the patient’s biological makeup. And then implement that treatment in the patient.”</p> <p>A promising application is testing immunotherapy, a new treatment method using certain drugs to rev up a patient’s immune system to help it fight cancer. (This year’s Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine was awarded to two immunotherapy researchers who designed drugs that block certain proteins from preventing the immune system from attacking cancer cells.) The researchers’ device could help doctors better identify treatments to which an individual is likely to respond.</p> <p>“Immunotherapy treatments have been specifically developed to target molecular markers found on the surface of cancer cells. This helps to ensure that the treatment elicits an attack on the cancer directly while limiting negative impacts on healthy tissue. However, every individual’s cancer expresses a unique array of surface molecules — as such, it can be difficult to predict who will respond to which treatment. Our device uses the actual tissue of the person, so is a perfect fit for immunotherapy,” says first author Ashley Beckwith SM ’18, a graduate researcher in Velásquez-García’s research group.</p> <p>Co-author on the paper is Jeffrey T. Borenstein, a researcher at Draper, where he leads its program in immuno-oncology. “A key challenge in cancer research has been the development of tumor microenvironments that simulate mechanisms of cancer progression and the tumor-killing effects of novel therapeutics,” Borenstein says. “Through this collaboration with Luis and the MTL, we are able to benefit from their great expertise in additive manufacturing technologies and materials science for extremely rapid design cycles in building and testing these systems.”</p> <p><strong>Supporting cells</strong></p> <p>Microfluidics devices are traditionally manufactured via micromolding, using a rubberlike material called polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS). This technique, however, was not suitable for creating the three-dimensional network of features — such as carefully sized fluid channels — that mimic cancer treatments on living cells. Instead, the researchers turned to 3-D printing to craft a fine-featured device “monolithically” — meaning printing an object all in one go, without the need to assemble separate parts.</p> <p>The heart of the device is its resin. After experimenting with numerous resins over several months, the researchers landed finally on Pro3dure GR-10, which is primarily used to make mouthguards that protect against teeth grinding. The material is nearly as transparent as glass, has barely any surface defects, and can be printed in very high resolution. And, importantly, as the researchers determined, it does not negatively impact cell survival.</p> <p>The team subjected the resin to a 96-hour cytotoxicity test, an assay that exposes cells to the printed material and measures how toxic that material is to the cells. After the 96 hours, the cells in the material were still kicking. “When you print some of these other resin materials, they emit chemicals that mess with cells and kill them. But this doesn’t do that,” Velasquez-Garcia says. “To the best of my knowledge, there’s no other printable material that comes close to this degree of inertness. It’s as if the material isn’t there.”</p> <p><strong>Setting traps</strong></p> <p>Two other key innovations on the device are the “bubble trap” and a “tumor trap.” Flowing fluids into such a device creates bubbles that can disrupt the experiment or burst, releasing air that destroys tumor tissue.</p> <p>To fix that, the researchers created a bubble trap, a stout “chimney” rising from the fluid channel into a threaded port through which air escapes. Fluid — including various media, fluorescent markers, or lymphocytes —&nbsp;gets injected into an inlet port adjacent to the trap. The fluid enters through the inlet port and flows past the trap, where any bubbles in the fluid rise up through the threaded port and out of the device. Fluid is then routed around a small U-turn into the tumor’s chamber, where it flows through and around the tumor fragment.</p> <p>This tumor-trapping chamber sits at the intersection of the larger inlet channel and four smaller outlet channels. Tumor fragments, less than 1 millimeter across, are injected into the inlet channel via the bubble trap, which helps remove bubbles introduced when loading. As fluid flows through the device from the inlet port, the tumor is guided downstream to the tumor trap, where the fragment gets caught. The fluid continues traveling along the outlet channels, which are too small for the tumor to fit inside, and drains out of the device. A continuous flow of fluids keeps the tumor fragment in place and constantly replenishes nutrients for the cells.</p> <p>“Because our device is 3-D printed, we were able to make the geometries we wanted, in the materials we wanted, to achieve the performance we wanted, instead of compromising between what was designed and what could be implemented —&nbsp;which typically happens when using standard microfabrication,” Velásquez-García says. He adds that 3-D printing may soon become the mainstream manufacturing technique for microfluidics and other microsystems that require complex designs.</p> <p>In this experiment, the researchers showed they could keep a tumor fragment alive and monitor the tissue viability in real-time with fluorescent markers that make the tissue glow. Next, the researchers aim to test how the tumor fragments respond to real therapeutics.</p> <p>“The traditional PDMS can’t make the structures you need for this in vitro environment that can keep tumor fragments alive for a considerable period of time,” says Roger Howe, a professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University, who was not involved in the research. “That you can now make very complex fluidic chambers that will allow more realistic environments for testing out various drugs on tumors quickly, and potentially in clinical settings, is a major contribution.”</p> <p>Howe also praised the researchers for doing the legwork in finding the right resin and design for others to build on. “They should be credited for putting that information out there … because [previously] there wasn’t the knowledge of whether you had the materials or printing technology to make this possible,” he says. Now “it’s a democratized technology.”</p> MIT researchers have 3-D printed a novel microfluidic device that simulates cancer treatments on biopsied tumor tissue — and keeps the tissue alive for days — so clinicians can better examine how individual patients will respond to different therapeutics.Courtesy of the researchers Research, Microfluidics, Cancer, 3-D printing, Design, Manufacturing, Microsystems Technology Laboratories, Medicine, Disease, Materials Science and Engineering, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), School of Engineering MIT Lincoln Laboratory wins 10 R&amp;D 100 Awards Technologies ranging from a hurricane-evacuation decision platform to algorithms that compare DNA samples honored as some of the world&#039;s best inventions of 2018. Fri, 30 Nov 2018 16:15:00 -0500 Kylie Foy | MIT Lincoln Laboratory <p>Ten technologies developed at MIT Lincoln Laboratory have been honored with 2018&nbsp;R&amp;D 100 Awards. The awards have been presented by <em>R&amp;D Magazine</em> annually since 1963 and&nbsp;recognize the 100 most significant inventions of the year.</p> <p>“The R&amp;D 100 Award is one of the top awards for recognizing new technology,”&nbsp;says&nbsp;Eric Evans, the director of Lincoln Laboratory.&nbsp;“Receiving 10 awards in one year is a great recognition of the quality and scale of Lincoln Laboratory work and all of the excellent technical and support staff involved.”</p> <p>A panel of independent experts selected the winning technologies from hundreds of nominations submitted from industry, government laboratories, and research institutions worldwide. The awards were presented during a banquet on Nov.&nbsp;16 in Orlando, Florida.</p> <p>Including this year's honors, Lincoln Laboratory has received 48 R&amp;D 100 Awards since 2010.</p> <p><strong>Algorithms and software for decision making</strong></p> <p>Three of the R&amp;D 100 Award winners are new algorithms or software platforms that help experts make decisions and gain insight from data quickly.</p> <p>Lincoln Laboratory worked with the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate to develop a modernized hurricane decision support platform. The resulting web-based HURREVAC-Extended (HVX) platform is helping emergency managers to make timely and accurate hurricane evacuation decisions. The platform integrates advanced analytics, such as a storm surge explorer tool and evacuation zone–based impact assessments, simulations, and timelines and reports onto a single user-interface. Used experimentally during last year's Harvey, Irma, and Maria crises, it became fully operational this 2018 hurricane season.</p> <p>In collaboration with the Office of Naval Research, Lincoln Laboratory developed the Collaborative Optimization via Apprenticeship Scheduling (COVAS) algorithm to perform real-time ship defense for the U.S. Navy. It uses artificial intelligence techniques to first learn from Naval officers as they demonstrate ship-defense tactics. From these demonstrations, COVAS reasons how to best allocate defenses and then provides real-time solutions for problems too large for a single human expert to manage. COVAS’s architecture has been applied to other challenging resource-management problems such as hospital logistics, triaging, and more.</p> <p>The laboratory's FastID and TachysSTR algorithms are the fastest known methods in the world for comparing DNA samples against large datasets of reference profiles. The algorithms encode single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and short tandem repeats (STRs) in a DNA sample to bits (for example, by assigning each major SNP allele a 0 value and a minor SNP allele a 1 value) and then use computer hardware instructions to compare the sample to reference profiles. While current techniques require large computing systems and can take hours, the FastID and TachysSTR algorithms can compare a sample profile against 20 million reference profiles in just over five seconds on a laptop.</p> <p><strong>Innovative processes and techniques</strong></p> <p>Three new processes or techniques to advance technology or to protect it were awarded R&amp;D 100 Awards.</p> <p>Lincoln Laboratory developed a breakthrough process for fabricating superconducting electronics. Superconducting electronics rely on precisely engineered microscopic switches called Josephson junctions (JJs). The process sets the world record for both the number and density of JJs in superconducting digital circuits. The circuits produced through this process are faster and more energy efficient than semiconductor-based technologies.</p> <p>The multi-rate differential phase shift keying (DPSK) technique developed at Lincoln Laboratory enables efficient free-space laser communications over a wide range of data rates by using a single easy-to-implement transmitter and receiver design. The multi-rate DPSK will be the optical communications technology base for NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration scheduled for launch in 2019.</p> <p>The laboratory invented a new technique called Dynamic Flow Isolation (DFI) to improve network security. The technique uses software-defined networking to minimize unnecessary connectivity between assets on enterprise networks. This connectivity is what cyber attackers often rely on to expand a small foothold to a full-scale attack. DFI enables and enforces policies that allow only minimal network-level connectivity for operations, thwarting an attacker’s attempts to move laterally.</p> <p><strong>New devices and systems</strong></p> <p>The R&amp;D 100 Awards recognized four devices or systems that are providing new or improved capabilities.</p> <p>The laboratory invented an optical fiber device, called a photonic lantern, that provides the ability to scale the power in, shape, and steer a laser beam in the presence of optical turbulence and disturbances. These abilities can benefit a wide range of laser applications. For example, scaling a beam's power improves the productivity of laser manufacturing processes by delivering energy to its target with higher efficiency. Beam shaping improves the laser's transmission through scattering media, like biological tissue, for applications in endoscopes and medical imaging.</p> <p>With funding from the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate, Lincoln Laboratory developed a wide-area video surveillance system called the Immersive Imaging System. It provides very high-resolution images and 360-degree coverage from a single vantage point, monitoring an area equivalent to that of seven football fields. Unlike other surveillance cameras that reduce their field of view when zooming in on a target, this imaging systems provides operators a high-resolution zoomed image while maintaining a big-picture view.</p> <p>In collaboration with the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development, and Engineering Center and Wyle Labs, Lincoln Laboratory built the Intelligent Power Distribution (IPD) device. The IPD forms the power distribution backbone of tactical microgrids. The device allows soldiers to interactively monitor power systems and coordinate energy resources and loads so that mission-critical systems are maintained.</p> <p>Lincoln Laboratory and the MIT Laboratory for Information and Decisions Systems teamed up to create Peregrine: Network Navigation. The novel system enables navigation in places where GPS is unavailable, particularly indoors. The system is powered by cooperative algorithms and for the first time demonstrates scalable, highly accurate, and efficient localization networks that are based on small, low-cost, and easily deployable devices.</p> The principal researchers of Lincoln Laboratory's 12 finalists for 2018 RandD 100 Awards pose with Lincoln Laboratory Director Eric Evans (far left). The principal researchers of the 10 winning technologies are holding their award plaques. Photo: Kylie FoyLincoln Laboratory, Awards, honors and fellowships, Algorithms, Computer science and technology, Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems (LIDS), electronics, Manufacturing, Disaster response Accelerating 3-D printing Researchers have designed a novel printhead that works with unprecedented speed and pioneered ways to melt and extrude renewable materials. Thu, 29 Nov 2018 12:55:00 -0500 Nancy W. Stauffer | MIT Energy Initiative <p>Imagine a world in which objects could be fabricated in minutes and customized to the task at hand. An inventor with an idea for a new product could develop a prototype for testing while on a coffee break. A company could mass-produce parts and products, even complex ones, without being tied down to part-specific tooling and machines that can’t be moved. A surgeon could get a bespoke replacement knee for a patient without leaving the operating theater. And a repair person could identify a faulty part and fabricate a new one on site — no need to go to a warehouse to get something out of inventory.</p> <p>Such a future could be made possible by 3-D printing, says&nbsp;<a href="">A. John Hart</a>, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productivity and the Mechanosynthesis Group at MIT.</p> <p>“3-D printing compels us to rethink how we develop, produce, and service products,” he says.</p> <p>A common method of 3-D printing, extrusion, starts with a polymer rod, or filament. The filament is heated, melted, and forced through a nozzle in a printhead. The printhead moves across a horizontal surface (the print bed) in a prescribed pattern, depositing one layer of polymer at a time. On each pass over the print bed, instructions tell the printhead exactly where material should and shouldn’t be extruded so that, in the end, the layers stack up to form the desired, freestanding 3-D object.</p> <p>“So rather than starting with a solid block and grinding material away, in 3-D printing — also called additive manufacturing — you start with nothing and build up your object one layer at a time,” Hart explains.</p> <p>Engineers have used 3-D printing as a tool for rapid prototyping since its invention some three decades ago, but in recent years its use has expanded. Hart credits that expansion to better 3-D printers, but also to the widespread adoption of computer-aided design, or CAD, and emerging software tools for 3-D shape optimization. Today’s designers can use CAD software to create a virtual 3-D model of their targeted product, and in the process they generate a digitized description of it.</p> <p>That description can feed into software that develops the instructions for controlling the path of the 3-D printer. As a result, designers no longer have to confine themselves to structures that can be made by machining or molding. “For instance, you can make an airplane seat with a complex internal structure that makes it light and saves fuel in flight,” notes Hart.</p> <p>Even though it has&nbsp;made great strides, 3-D printing is&nbsp;still a long way from what Hart envisions it can be. Two recent advances out of his lab may help accelerate the adoption of 3-D printing: A&nbsp;machine that can print hand-held objects far faster than today’s desktop 3-D printers can, and a process for using cellulose as an inexpensive, biorenewable replacement for the usual plastics.</p> <p><strong>Sources of the slowdown</strong></p> <p>To find out what slows down current 3-D printers, Hart teamed up with&nbsp;Jamison Go SM ’15, who now a mechanical engineer at Desktop Metal, and Adam Stevens SM ’15,&nbsp;a doctoral student in Hart’s lab, to examine&nbsp;several commercial, extrusion-based desktop models. They&nbsp;concluded that their so-called volumetric building rates were limited by three factors: how much force the printhead could apply as it pushed the material through the nozzle; how quickly it could transfer heat to the material to get it to melt and flow; and how fast the printer could move the printhead.</p> <p>Based on those findings, they designed a machine with special features that address all three limitations. In their novel design, a filament with a threaded surface goes into the top of the printhead between two rollers that keep it from twisting. It then enters the center of a rotating nut, which is turned by a motor-run belt and has internal threads that mesh with the external threads on the filament. As the nut turns, it pushes the filament down into a quartz chamber surrounded by gold foil (see Figure 1 in the slideshow above). There, a laser enters from the side and is reflected by the gold foil several times, each time passing through the center of the filament to preheat it. The softened filament then enters a hot metal block, which heats it further (by conduction) to a temperature above its melting point. As it descends, the molten material is further heated and narrowed and finally extruded through a nozzle onto the print bed.</p> <p>That design overcomes the limits on force and heating that slow current 3-D printers. In a standard printer, the filament is pushed by two small, rotating wheels. Add more force to speed things up, and the wheels lose traction and the filament stops moving. That’s not a problem with the new design. Matching the threads on the filament and the nut ensures maximum contact between the two. As a result, the system can transfer a high force to the filament without losing its grip.</p> <p>The standard printer also relies on thermal conduction between the moving filament and a heated block, and that process takes time. At a higher feed rate, the core may not completely melt, with two impacts: Pushing the material through the nozzle will be harder, and the extruded material may not adhere well to the previously deposited layer. Preheating the filament with a laser ensures that the filament is thoroughly melted by the time it reaches the nozzle.</p> <p>Tests showed that their novel printhead can deliver at least two and a half times more force to the filament than standard desktop models can, and it can achieve an extrusion rate that’s 14 times greater.</p> <p>Given such a high extrusion rate, the researchers needed to find a way to move the printhead fast enough to keep up. They designed a mechanism with a metal overhead suspension gantry that’s shaped like an “H” and has a continuous belt that travels around pulleys powered by two motors mounted on the stationary frame. The printhead sits atop a stage that’s connected to the belt and is carried quickly and smoothly through the prescribed positions within each plane.</p> <p>To test the new gantry, the researchers subjected it to a battery of tests. In one, they commanded it to execute a continuous back-and-forth motion between two positions at various speeds and checked the consistency of where it ended up. Based on those challenges, the researchers concluded that the gantry was sufficiently fast and accurate to do the job.</p> <p><strong>Fabricating test objects</strong></p> <p>To demonstrate their system, the team printed a series of test objects, including those shown in the slideshow above. Printing a pair of eyeglass frames took 3.6 minutes, a small spiral cup just over 6 minutes, and a helical bevel gear (a circular gear with angled teeth) about 10 minutes. Microscopic examination of the objects confirmed that the individual deposited layers were highly uniform at 0.2 mm thick, and tests of their mechanical properties confirmed that they were strong and robust.</p> <p>The complex shape of the bevel gear made it a particularly good test subject. The interior surface is tapered such that the open space is wider at the bottom than the top. The researchers have produced even more complex shapes with greater interior openings, and the machine successfully created the thin, solid legs that are initially needed to provide support and are removed after the piece solidifies.</p> <p>To better evaluate their printer, the researchers used it and several commercial desktop models to print the same object — a triangular prism 20 millimeters tall. For a comparable resolution (based on nozzle diameter and layer height), their printer achieved an average volumetric build rate up to 10 times higher than the desktop models. It even did three times better than an industrial-scale system that has a significantly larger printhead and motion system, and costs over $100,000.</p> <p>The researchers have been identifying and tackling issues introduced by the high-speed deposition conditions. For example, at high build rates, they found that their layers didn’t adhere well and the shapes sometimes became distorted. Directing a controlled flow of cooling air onto newly deposited material solved those problems. They also determined that they should be able to improve the coupling between the laser and the filament, getting even more efficient heating. The team is also improving the system’s accuracy by coordinating the extrusion rate and printhead speed, and implementing new control algorithms for the printer.</p> <p>The researchers aren’t ready to estimate the potential cost of their printer. Their prototype system costs about $15,000, two-thirds of which comes from the laser and motors. Thus, it’s unlikely to replace today’s personal desktop systems. But it should be cost-competitive with state-of-the-art professional systems while offering decreased operating costs from faster output.</p> <p><strong>Cellulosic feedstocks</strong></p> <p>Another critical component of Hart’s vision for 3-D printing is the ability to process materials that are abundant and environmentally friendly. Hart and Sebastian Pattinson, a former postdoc in mechanical engineering who is now a lecturer at the University of Cambridge in the U.K., demonstrated a technique using the world’s most abundant natural polymer: cellulose.</p> <p>Cellulose offers many advantages over current plastics-based feedstocks: It’s inexpensive, biorenewable, biodegradable, mechanically robust, and chemically versatile. In addition, it’s widely used in pharmaceuticals, packaging, clothing, and a variety of other products, many of which could be customized using 3-D printing.</p> <p>The problem is that past efforts to 3-D print cellulose have largely been unsuccessful. The abundant hydrogen bonding between the cellulose molecules — the thing that makes it strong in plants — makes it not conducive to 3-D printing. Heat up cellulose, and it decomposes before it becomes sufficiently flowable to extrude from the nozzle of a printhead.</p> <p>To solve that problem, Hart and Pattinson worked with cellulose acetate, a chemically treated form of cellulose that has fewer hydrogen bonds. They first dissolve the cellulose acetate in an acetone solvent to form a viscous feedstock, which flows easily through the printer nozzle at room temperature. As the mixture spreads across the print bed, the acetone solvent rapidly evaporates, leaving behind the cellulose acetate. Immersing the finished cellulose acetate object in sodium hydroxide removes the acetate and restores the cellulose with its full network of hydrogen bonds. (Figure 2 in the slideshow above shows the process.)</p> <p>Using that procedure, the researchers printed complex objects out of their cellulosic materials, and the mechanical properties of the parts were good. Indeed, after the sodium hydroxide treatment, their strength and stiffness — measured in any direction — were superior to those of parts made out of commonly used 3-D printing materials.</p> <p>Hart also notes that cellulose provides chemical versatility. “You can modify cellulose in different ways, for example, to increase its mechanical properties or to add color,” he says.</p> <p>One option the researchers explored was adding antimicrobial properties. They printed a series of disks, some from plain cellulose acetate and some with an antimicrobial dye added, and deposited a solution containing&nbsp;<em>E. coli</em>&nbsp;bacteria on each one. They then left some of the disks in the dark and exposed others to light from a fluorescent bulb like those used in laboratories and hospitals. Analysis of the bacteria surviving after 20 hours showed that the disks made with dye and exposed to the light had 95 percent&nbsp;fewer bacteria than the others. As a sample product, they printed&nbsp;surgical tweezers — an instrument that could be highly valuable in any surgical setting where ensuring sterility might be an issue.</p> <p>Hart thinks that the opportunities offered by their cellulose printing process could be of commercial interest. It uses a commodity product that’s widely available and less expensive than the typical extrusion filament material. It takes place at room temperature, so there’s no need for a costly heat source such as the laser used in the novel printhead described earlier. And as long as the acetone is captured and recycled, the process is environmentally friendly.</p> <p><strong>One more ingredient</strong></p> <p>Hart hopes that these and other developments coming out of his lab will help advance 3-D printing. But there’s another critical element that’s needed: a workforce knowledgeable in both the technical and business aspects of additive manufacturing.</p> <p>To that end, he teaches a graduate-level MIT class in additive manufacturing, which is proving highly popular; and in 2018, he launched an <a href="" target="_blank">online professional course</a> via MIT xPRO that enrolled nearly 1,200 people during its first run. He also offers a five-day, on-campus&nbsp;<a href="">MIT Short Program</a>&nbsp;that has attracted worldwide participants who want to learn about using additive manufacturing in their design and manufacturing operations.</p> <p>He is now leading MIT’s new&nbsp;<a href="">Center for Additive and Digital Advanced Production Technologies</a>, and plans are in the works for symposia at which its members will share their knowledge, ideas, and experiences. The enthusiastic response to these offerings suggests that Hart’s vision of 3-D printing and digitized design and production may at last be on its way to becoming a reality.</p> <p>The research was supported, in part, by Lockheed Martin Corporation. Sebastian Pattinson was supported by a National Science Foundation Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability postdoctoral fellowship.&nbsp;</p> <p><em>This article originally appeared in the&nbsp;<a href="">Autumn 2018</a>&nbsp;issue of </em>Energy Futures,<em> the magazine of the MIT Energy Initiative.</em></p> Associate Professor A. John Hart (right), doctoral student Adam Stevens SM ’15, and their colleagues have designed a 3-D printer that can deposit material 10 times faster than today’s desktop models can. The team has also developed a novel process for 3-D printing using cellulose, a widely available natural polymer.Photo: Stuart DarschSchool of Engineering, Mechanical engineering, MIT Energy Initiative, Research, Energy, 3-D printing, Materials Science and Engineering, Sustainability, Design, Manufacturing Reproducing paintings that make an impression CSAIL&#039;s new RePaint system aims to faithfully recreate your favorite paintings using deep learning and 3-D printing. Thu, 29 Nov 2018 00:00:00 -0500 Rachel Gordon | CSAIL <p>The empty frames hanging inside the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum serve as a tangible reminder of the world’s biggest unsolved art heist. While&nbsp;the original masterpieces may never be recovered, a team from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) might be able to help, with a new system aimed at designing reproductions of paintings.</p> <p>RePaint uses a combination of 3-D printing and deep learning to authentically recreate&nbsp;favorite paintings —&nbsp;regardless of different lighting conditions or placement. RePaint could be used to remake artwork for a&nbsp;home, protect originals from wear and tear in museums, or even help companies create prints and postcards of historical pieces.</p> <p>“If you just reproduce the color of a painting as it looks in the gallery, it might look different in your home,” says Changil Kim, one of the authors on a new paper about the system, which will be presented at ACM SIGGRAPH Asia in December. “Our system works under any lighting condition, which shows a far greater color reproduction capability than almost any other previous work.”</p> <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p>To test RePaint, the team reproduced a number of oil paintings created by an artist collaborator. The team found that RePaint was more than four times more accurate than state-of-the-art physical models at creating the exact color shades for different artworks.</p> <p>At this time the reproductions are only about the size of a business card, due to the time-costly nature of printing. In the future the team expects that more advanced, commercial 3-D printers could help with making larger paintings more efficiently.</p> <p>While 2-D printers are most commonly used for reproducing paintings, they have a fixed set of just four inks (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black). The researchers, however, found a better way to capture a fuller spectrum of Degas and Dali. They used a special technique they&nbsp;call&nbsp;“color-contoning,”&nbsp;which involves using a 3-D printer and 10 different transparent inks stacked in very thin layers, much like the wafers and chocolate in a Kit-Kat bar. They combined their method with a decades-old technique called half-toning, where an image is created by lots&nbsp;of little colored&nbsp;dots rather than continuous tones. Combining these, the team says, better captured the nuances of the colors.</p> <p>With a larger color scope to work with, the question of what inks to use for which paintings still remained. Instead of using more laborious physical approaches, the team trained a deep-learning model to predict the optimal stack of different inks. Once the system had a handle on that, they fed in images of paintings and used the model to determine what colors should be used in what particular areas for specific paintings.</p> <p>Despite the progress so far, the team says they have a few improvements to make before they can whip up a dazzling duplicate&nbsp;of “Starry Night.” For example, mechanical engineer Mike Foshey said they couldn’t completely reproduce certain colors like cobalt blue due to a limited ink library. In the future they plan to expand this library, as well as create a painting-specific algorithm for selecting inks, he says. They also can hope to achieve better detail to account for aspects like surface texture and reflection, so that they can achieve specific effects such as glossy and matte finishes.</p> <p>“The value of fine art has rapidly increased in recent years, so there’s an increased tendency for it to be locked up in warehouses away from the public eye,” says Foshey. “We’re building the technology to reverse this trend, and to create inexpensive and accurate reproductions that can be enjoyed by all.”</p> <p>Kim and Foshey worked on the system alongside lead author Liang Shi; MIT professor Wojciech Matusik;&nbsp;former MIT postdoc Vahid Babaei, now Group Leader at Max Planck Institute of Informatics; Princeton University computer science professor Szymon Rusinkiewicz;&nbsp;and former MIT postdoc Pitchaya Sitthi-Amorn, who is now a lecturer at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand.</p> <p>This work is supported in part by the National Science Foundation.</p> The RePaint system reproduces paintings by combining two approaches called color-contoning and halftoning, as well as a deep learning model focused on determining how to stack 10 different inks to recreate the specific shades of color.Image courtesy of the researchersSchool of Engineering, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Manufacturing, Design, 3-D printing, 3-D imaging, Computer science and technology, Machine learning, Artificial intelligence Explaining the plummeting cost of solar power Researchers uncover the factors that have caused photovoltaic module costs to drop by 99 percent. Tue, 20 Nov 2018 00:00:00 -0500 David L. Chandler | MIT News Office <p>The dramatic drop in the cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) modules, which has fallen by 99 percent over the last four decades, is often touted as a major success story for renewable energy technology. But one question has never been fully addressed: What exactly accounts for that stunning drop?</p> <p>A new analysis by MIT researchers has pinpointed what caused the savings, including the policies and technology changes that mattered most. For example, they found that government policy to help grow markets around the world played a critical role in reducing this technology’s costs. At the device level, the dominant factor was an increase in “conversion efficiency,” or the amount of power generated from a given amount of sunlight.</p> <p>The insights can help to inform future policies and evaluate whether similar improvements can be achieved in other technologies. The <a href="" target="_blank">findings are being reported today</a> in the journal<em> Energy Policy</em>, in a paper by MIT Associate Professor Jessika Trancik, postdoc Goksin Kavlak, and research scientist James McNerney.</p> <p>The team looked at the technology-level (“low-level”) factors that have affected cost by changing the modules and manufacturing process. Solar cell technology has improved greatly; for example, the cells have become much more efficient at converting sunlight to electricity. Factors like this, Trancik explains, fall in a category of low-level mechanisms that deal with the physical products themselves.</p> <p>The team also estimated the cost impacts of “high-level” mechanisms, including learning by doing, research and development, and economies of scale. Examples include the way improved production processes have cut the number of defective cells produced and thus improved yields, and the fact that much larger factories have led to significant economies of scale.</p> <p>The study, which covered the years 1980 to 2012 (during which module costs fell by 97 percent), found that there were six low-level factors that accounted for more than 10 percent each of the overall drop in costs, and four of those factors accounted for at least 15 percent each. The results point to “the importance of having many different ‘knobs’ to turn, to achieve a steady decline in cost,” Trancik says. The more different opportunities there are to reduce costs, the less likely it is that they will be exhausted quickly.</p> <p>The relative importance of the factors has changed over time, the study shows. In earlier years, research and development was the dominant cost-reducing high-level mechanism, through improvements to the devices themselves and to manufacturing methods. For about the last decade, however, the largest single high-level factor in the continuing cost decline has been economies of scale, as solar-cell and module manufacturing plants have become ever larger.</p> <p>“This raises the question of which factors can help continue the cost decline,” Trancik says. “What are the limits to the size of the plants?”</p> <p>In terms of government policy, Trancik says, policies that stimulated market growth accounted for about 60 percent of the overall cost decline, so “that played an important part in reducing costs.” Policies stimulating market growth globally included measures such as renewable portfolio standards, feed-in tariffs, and a variety of subsidies. Government-funded research and development in various nations accounted for roughly 30 percent — although public R&amp;D played a larger part in the earlier years, she says.</p> <p>This is important information, she adds, because “for a long time there has been a debate about whether these policies work — were they really driving technological improvement? Now, we can not only answer that question, we can say by how much.”</p> <p>This finding, which is based on modeling device-level mechanisms rather than purely correlational analysis, provides strong evidence of a “virtuous cycle” that can be created between technology innovation and policies to reduce emissions, Trancik says. As emissions policies are implemented, low-carbon technology markets grow, technologies improve, and the costs of future emissions reductions can decline. “This analysis helps us understand why this happens, and how strong the feedbacks can be.”</p> <p>Trancik and her co-workers plan to apply similar methodology to analyzing other technologies, such as nuclear power, as well as the other parts of solar installations — the so-called balance of systems, including the mounting structures and power controllers needed for the solar modules — which were not included in this study. “The method we developed can be used as a tool to assess costs of different technologies, both retrospectively and prospectively,” Kavlak says.</p> <p>“This opens up a different way of modeling technological change, from the device level all the way up to policy measures, and everything in between,” Trancik says. “We’re opening up the black box of technological innovation.”</p> <p>“Going forward, we can improve our intuition about what factors in general make technologies improve quickly.&nbsp;The application of this tool to solar PV is just the beginning of what we can do,” McNerney says.</p> <p>While the study focused on past performance, the factors it identified suggest that “it does look like there are opportunities for further cost improvements with this technology.” The findings also suggest that researchers should continue working on alternative technologies to crystalline silicon, which is the dominant form of solar photovoltaic technology today, but many other varieties are being actively explored with potentially higher efficiencies or lower materials costs.</p> <p>The study also highlights the importance of continuing the progress in improving the efficiency of the manufacturing systems, whose role in driving down costs has been important. “There are likely more gains to be had in this direction,” Trancik says.</p> <p>Gregory Nemet, a professor of public affairs at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, who was not involved in the study, says, “This work is important in that it identifies that the growth in demand for solar PV in the past 15 years was the most important driver of the astounding cost reductions over that period. Policies in Japan, Germany, Spain, California, and China drove the growth of the market and created opportunities for automation, scale, and learning by doing.”</p> <p>Nemet adds, “Their model is simple and general, which could make it useful for designing policies for other technologies that will be needed to address climate change and other energy-related problems.”</p> <p>The research was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy.</p> Photos show a solar installation from 1988 (left) and a present-day version. Though the basic underlying technology is the same, a variety of factors have contributed to a hundredfold decline in costs. Now, researchers have identified the relative importance of these different factors.IDSS, Research, Solar, Energy, Renewable energy, Alternative energy, Climate change, Technology and society, Economics, Policy, Department of Energy (DoE), School of Engineering, Manufacturing Analyzing the 2018 election: Insights from MIT scholars SHASS faculty members offer research-based perspectives with commentaries, plus a Music for the Midterms playlist, and an election book list. Tue, 30 Oct 2018 12:00:00 -0400 School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences <p><em>For the 2018 version of the <a href="">Election Insights</a> series,&nbsp;MIT humanities, arts, and social science faculty members are&nbsp;offering research-based perspectives on issues of importance to the country — ranging from the future of work to national security to civic discourse and the role that, as the Constitution states,&nbsp;"we, the people" have in the defense of democracy itself.</em></p> <p><em>In addition to&nbsp;commentaries, the series also includes "Music for the Midterms," a lively playlist created by our music faculty,&nbsp;and an annotated election book list consisting of&nbsp;nine works selected by MIT humanities scholars for their value&nbsp;illuminating&nbsp;this moment in American history.</em></p> <p><em>Please, remember to vote on&nbsp;or before Nov. 6.</em></p> <p><strong>Commentary: On civil society and the defense of democracy</strong><br /> <br /> "What is written in a constitution can take a nation only so far unless society is willing to act to protect it. Every constitutional design has its loopholes, and every age brings its new challenges, which even farsighted constitutional designers cannot anticipate. We have to keep reminding ourselves that the future of our much-cherished institutions depends not on others but on ourselves, and that we are all individually responsible for our institutions." <em>—Daron Acemoglu, the Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics</em>&nbsp; <a href="" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a><br /> <br /> <strong>Commentary:&nbsp;On partisan politics</strong><br /> <br /> "Partisan polarization is one of most important political developments of the past half-century. Of course, Democrats and Republicans have always taken divergent positions on issues ranging from slavery to internal improvements. Nevertheless, contemporary polarization differs from that of earlier eras, if only because the U.S. government directly shapes the lives of so many more people, in the U.S. and around the world." <em>—Devin Caughey, associate professor of political science</em>&nbsp; <a href="" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a><br /> <br /> <strong>Commentary:&nbsp;On media technology and immigration policy</strong><br /> <br /> "Widespread access to social media lowers the barrier for communities that have been marginalized by mass media and makes it easier for them to gain visibility and adherents. How might any of this affect the midterm elections? Here are three brief hypotheses, based on my ongoing research into the relationship between media technologies and social movements." <em>—Sasha Costanza-Chock, associate professor of civic media</em> <a href="" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a><br /> <br /> <strong>Commentary:&nbsp;On democracy and civic discourse</strong><br /> <br /> "Elections are helpful reminders (as if we needed any) that we do not all agree. Yet, we must somehow figure out how to get along despite our disagreements. In particular, we may wonder whether, and to what extent, we should tolerate views we disagree with. In some cases, a well-functioning discursive market — a public forum of diverse views — may require us to respond to certain views with 'discursive intolerance." <em>—Justin Khoo, associate professor of philosophy&nbsp; </em><a href="" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a><br /> <br /> <strong>Commentary:&nbsp;On female candidates of color</strong><br /> <br /> “A record number of women have filed as candidates this year, and a record number have won primaries in House and Senate races. Women of color make up one-third of the women candidates for the House, and three of four female gubernatorial nominees are women of color." <em>—Helen Elaine Lee, professor of writing</em>&nbsp; <a href="" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a><br /> <br /> <strong>Commentary:&nbsp;On social media and youth political engagement</strong><br /> <br /> "Although discussions about youth and new media tend to assume that something about the technology itself is responsible for political and social changes, in fact, the political possibilities associated with contemporary media are highly contingent upon societal power structures.” <em>—Jennifer Light, the Bern Dibner Professor of the History of Science and Technology</em>&nbsp; <a href="" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a><br /> <br /> <strong>Commentary:&nbsp;On the U.S.-</strong><strong>North Korea relationship</strong><br /> <br /> "The North Korean nuclear program is not something to be 'solved' — that window has closed — it is an issue to be managed. The good news is that the United States has a lot of experience managing the emergence of new nuclear weapons powers." <em>—Vipin Narang, associate professor of political science</em>&nbsp; <a href="" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a><br /> <br /> <strong>Commentary:&nbsp;On reducing gun violence</strong><br /> <br /> "America’s gun culture is a resilient fact of political life. Attempts to reverse the country’s appetite for firearms have largely failed, even as gun violence persists at an astonishing pace. Lately, however, a social movement to challenge gun culture has rocked politics for the first time in a generation." <em>—John Tirman, executive director and principal research scientist in the Center for International Studies</em>&nbsp; <a href="" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a><br /> <br /> <strong>Commentary:&nbsp;On American identity</strong><br /> <br /> "The stories and interpretations that different groups of Americans offer of economic changes, including the loss of manufacturing jobs and growing inequality, are central to how they understand their own social positions as well as the kinds of economic and political futures they can envision. Many Americans are now struggling for a way to understand and talk about these economic changes — changes that are also apparent in other wealthy countries but more extreme in the United States.” <em>—Christine Walley, professor of anthropology&nbsp;</em> <a href="" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a><br /> <br /> <strong>Playlist: Music for the Midterms</strong><br /> <br /> As America heads toward the 2018 midterm elections on Nov. 6, MIT Music faculty offer a wide-ranging playlist — from Verdi to Gershwin to Lin-Manuel Miranda — along with notes on why each work resonates with this election season. <a href="" target="_blank">Access the playlist &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Annotated election book list: Reading for the Midterms</strong><br /> <br /> As the 2018 midterms approach, MIT writers and scholars in the humanities offer a selection of nine books — along with notes on why each work is illuminating for this moment in American political history. <a href="" target="_blank">Browse the book list &gt;&gt;</a></p> The 2018 Election Insights series includes: Research-based commentaries by MIT experts on key issues for the country; a "Music for the Midterms" playlist; and an annotated election booklist.School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Anthropology, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Economics, International initiatives, Philosophy, Political science, Technology and society, Security studies and military, Books and authors, Manufacturing, Music, North Korea, Social media, Voting and elections Inside these fibers, droplets are on the move Fibers containing systems for mixing, separating, and testing fluids may open up new possibilities for medical screening. Mon, 29 Oct 2018 15:00:02 -0400 David L. Chandler | MIT News Office <p>Microfluidics devices are tiny systems with microscopic channels that can be used for chemical or biomedical testing and research. In a potentially game-changing advance, MIT researchers have now incorporated microfluidics systems into individual fibers, making it possible to process much larger volumes of fluid, in more complex ways. In a sense, the advance opens up a new “macro” era of microfluidics.</p> <p>Traditional microfluidics devices, developed and used extensively over the last couple of decades, are manufactured onto microchip-like structures and provide ways of mixing, separating, and testing fluids in microscopic volumes. Medical tests that only require a tiny droplet of blood, for example, often rely on microfluidics. But the diminutive scale of these devices also poses limitations; for example, they generally aren’t useful for procedures that need larger volumes of liquid to detect substances present in minute amounts.</p> <p>A team of MIT researchers found a way around that, by making microfluidic channels inside fibers. The fibers can be made as long as needed to accommodate larger throughput, and they offer great control and flexibility over the shapes and dimensions of the channels. The new concept is described in a paper appearing this week in the journal <em>Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</em>, written by MIT graduate student Rodger Yuan, professors Joel Voldman and Yoel Fink, and four others.</p> <p><strong>A multidisciplinary approach</strong></p> <p>The project came about as a result of a “speedstorming” event (an amalgam of brainstorming and speed dating, an idea initiated by Professor Jeffrey Grossman) that was instigated by Fink when he was director of MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics. The events are intended to help researchers develop new collaborative projects, by having pairs of students and postdocs brainstorm for six minutes at a time and come up with hundreds of ideas in an hour, which are ranked and evaluated by a panel. In this particular speedstorming session, students in electrical engineering worked with others in materials science and microsystems technology to develop a novel approach to cell sorting using a new class of multimaterial fibers.</p> <p>Yuan explains that, although microfluidic technology has been extensively developed and widely used for processing small amounts of liquid, it suffers from three inherent limitations related to the devices’ overall size, their channel profiles, and the difficulty of incorporating additional materials such as electrodes.</p> <p>Because they are typically made using chip-manufacturing methods, microfluidic devices are limited to the size of the silicon wafers used in such systems, which are no more than about 8 inches across. And the photolithography methods used to make such chips limit the shapes of the channels; they can only have square or rectangular cross sections. Finally, any additional materials, such as electrodes for sensing or manipulating the channels’ contents, must be individually placed in position in a separate process, severely limiting their complexity.</p> <p>“Silicon chip technology is really good at making rectangular profiles, but anything beyond that requires really specialized techniques,” says Yuan, who carried out the work as part of his doctoral research. “They can make triangles, but only with certain specific angles.” With the new fiber-based method he and his team developed, a variety of cross-sectional shapes for the channels can be implemented, including star, cross, or bowtie shapes that may be useful for particular applications, such as automatically sorting different types of cells in a biological sample.</p> <p>In addition, for conventional microfluidics, elements such as sensing or heating wires, or piezoelectric devices to induce vibrations in the sampled fluids, must be added at a later processing stage. But they can be completely integrated into the channels in the new fiber-based system.</p> <p><strong>A shrinking profile</strong></p> <p>Like other complex fiber systems developed over the years in the laboratory of co-author Yoel Fink, professor of materials science and engineering and head of the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (<a href="">AFFOA</a>) consortium, these fibers are made by starting with an oversized polymer cylinder called a preform. These preforms contain the exact shape and materials desired for the final fiber, but in much larger form — which makes them much easier to make in very precise configurations. Then, the preform is heated and loaded into a drop tower, where it is slowly pulled through a nozzle that constricts it to a narrow fiber that’s one-fortieth the diameter of the preform, while preserving all the internal shapes and arrangements.</p> <p>In the process, the material is also elongated by a factor of 1,600, so that a 100-millimeter-long (4-inch-long) preform, for example, becomes a fiber 160 meters long (about 525 feet), thus dramatically overcoming the length limitations inherent in present microfluidic devices. This can be crucial for some applications, such as detecting microscopic objects that exist in very small concentrations in the fluid — for example, a small number of cancerous cells among millions of normal cells.</p> <p>“Sometimes you need to process a lot of material because what you’re looking for is rare,” says Voldman, a professor of electrical engineering who specializes in biological microtechnology. That makes this new fiber-based microfluidics technology especially appropriate for such uses, he says, because “the fibers can be made arbitrarily long,” allowing more time for the liquid to remain inside the channel and interact with it.</p> <p>While traditional microfluidics devices can make long channels by looping back and forth on a small chip, the resulting twists and turns change the profile of the channel and affect the way the liquid flows, whereas in the fiber version these can be made as long as needed, with no changes in shape or direction, allowing uninterrupted flow, Yuan says.</p> <p>The system also allows electrical components such as conductive wires to be incorporated into the fiber. These can be used for example to manipulate cells, using a method called dielectrophoresis, in which cells are affected differently by an electric field produced between two conductive wires on the sides of the channel.</p> <p>With these conductive wires in the microchannel, one can control the voltage so the forces are “pushing and pulling on the cells, and you can do it at high flow rates,” Voldman says.</p> <p>As a demonstration, the team made a version of the long-channel fiber device designed to separate cells, sorting dead cells from living ones, and proved its efficiency in accomplishing this task. With further development, they expect to be able to perform more subtle discrimination between cell types, Yuan says.</p> <p>“For me this was a wonderful example of how proximity between research groups at an interdisciplinary lab like RLE leads to groundbreaking research, initiated and led by a graduate student. We the faculty were essentially dragged in by our students,” Fink says.</p> <p>The researchers emphasize that they do not see the new method as a substitute for present microfluidics, which work very well for many applications. “It’s not meant to replace; it’s meant to augment” present methods, Voldman says, allowing some new functions for particular uses that have not previously been possible.</p> <p>“Exemplifying the power of interdisciplinary collaboration, a new understanding arises here from unexpected combinations of manufacturing, materials science, biological flow physics, and microsystems design,” says Amy Herr, a professor of bioengineering at the University of California at Berkeley, who was not involved in this research. She adds that this work “adds important degrees of freedom — regarding geometry of fiber cross-section and material properties — to emerging fiber-based microfluidic design strategies.”</p> <p>The team included graduate student Jaemyon Lee, Hao Wei Su PhD ’16, and postdocs Etgar Levy and Tural Khudryev. The work was supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and the U.S. Army Research Office through the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies at MIT, and the Center for Materials Science and Engineering.</p> By integrating conductive wires along with microfluidic channels in long fibers, the researchers were able to demonstrate the ability to sort cells — in this case, separating living cells from dead ones, because the cells respond differently to an electric field. The live cells, shown in green, are pulled toward the outside edge of the channels, while the dead cells (red) are pulled toward the center, allowing them to be sent into separate channels.Illustrations courtesy of the researchers.Materials Science and Engineering, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), Research Laboratory of Electronics, School of Engineering, Research, Manufacturing, Technology and society, Nanoscience and nanotechnology, DMSE, Industry, Collaboration, Government, AFFOA, National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future announces advisory and research boards Leaders from industry, academia, labor, government, foundations, and other organizations, as well as leading scholars in related fields, will provide guidance. Wed, 24 Oct 2018 13:55:09 -0400 MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future <p>Launched earlier this year, the MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future brings together a diverse team of MIT faculty and researchers from throughout the Institute, all seeking to understand the relationship between technology and work and how to best prepare workers for the future. To support its efforts, the task force has assembled <a href="">two boards of experts</a> (listed below). The advisory board includes leaders from industry, academia, labor, government, foundations, and other organizations, who will provide feedback and guidance to the task force. In addition, a research board of leading scholars in related fields will help to refine research-related questions and directions.</p> <p>Leadership of the task force includes Elisabeth Reynolds, executive director of the MIT Industrial Performance Center (IPC) and lecturer in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning; David Autor, the Ford Professor of Economics and associate head of the MIT Department of Economics; and David Mindell, the Frances and David Dibner Professor of the History of Engineering and Manufacturing, and a professor of aeronautics and astronautics.</p> <p>“Our advisory and research boards are invaluable resources for us, helping to ensure that our work is relevant, effective, and is informed by what is happening in the world today — in firms, in schools, in cities,” says Reynolds. “The perspectives and collaboration of our board members are critical to the success of the task force and this initiative as a whole.”</p> <p>While several board members are leaders at companies such as Alphabet, Amazon, Ford Motor Company, IBM Corporation, PepsiCo, and Santander, others, including Jennifer Granholm, former governor of Michigan, bring experiences in policy and public service.</p> <p>“The MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future seeks to provide some critical understanding at a critical time,” says Jennifer Granholm, former governor of Michigan. “The realities of technological disruption and the outsourcing of some manufacturing jobs to other countries indicate a fundamental change in the economies of many states — and of the U.S. as a whole. We need to look toward real solutions and long-term strategies toward economic stability.”</p> <p>Some of the key research areas, or lenses through which the task force will look at the challenges and opportunities that artificial intelligence and robotics bring include: learning and skills, education and training institutions, how new technologies are being adopted in manufacturing and health care; the implications for mobility in cities of autonomous vehicles and ride sharing as well as comparative work in Germany, Scandinavia, China, and Africa. Task force members — as well as board members — bring expertise in a wide variety of fields, including engineering, economics, management, political science, and education innovation.</p> <p>In terms of education, the task force is looking at the important question of how to ensure that the workforce has access to the training and skills needed keep up with new technologies. Some solutions may include trainings offered within companies or online, or hybrid programs of onsite and online training, including at programs at community and technical colleges.</p> <p>Annette Parker, president of South Central College — a&nbsp;Minnesota State&nbsp;community and technical college with two campuses — has focused extensively on how to generate a skilled&nbsp;technical&nbsp;workforce, and has forged partnerships between&nbsp;community colleges and the automotive industry globally and&nbsp;manufacturers&nbsp;throughout Minnesota.&nbsp;</p> <p>“The U.S. workforce&nbsp;must keep up with the innovation&nbsp;in science, technology, engineering, and math for both engineering and technician careers"&nbsp;says Parker. "There is&nbsp;a&nbsp;critical&nbsp;need for skilled, mid-level workers. Determining how to best prepare and continue to train&nbsp;these employees&nbsp;throughout&nbsp;industry is a major challenge&nbsp;and one that will benefit from the work of this task force.”</p> <p>Advisory board member and MIT alumnus Jeff Wilke SM ’93, MBA ’93 is currently CEO of Amazon Worldwide Consumer.</p> <p>“The future of the workforce is one of the most important issues facing the global economy,” says Wilke. “The research of the task force, combined with insights from corporations, governments, and educational institutions, will help evolve our understanding of how new technologies impact the workforce of the future, and how to best respond.”</p> <p>The advisory board includes: Roger C. Altman, founder and senior chairman of Evercore; Ana Botin, executive chairman of the Santander Group; Charlie Braun, president of Custom Rubber Corp.; Eric Cantor, vice chairman of Moelis &amp; Company; Volkmar Denner, chairman of the board of management at Robert Bosch GmbH; William Clay Ford Jr., executive chairman of Ford Motor Company; Jennifer Granholm, former governor of Michigan; Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; David H. Long, chairman and CEO of Liberty Mutual Insurance; Karen Mills, senior fellow at Harvard Business School; Indra Nooyi, chairman and CEO of PepsiCo; Annette Parker, president of South Central College; David Rolf, founder and president emeritus of SEIU 775; Ginni M. Rometty, chairman and CEO of IBM Corporation; Juan Salgado, chancellor of City Colleges of Chicago; Eric E. Schmidt, technical advisor and member of the board of Alphabet, Inc.; David M. Siegel, co-chairman of Two Sigma; Elizabeth Shuler, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO; Robert Solow, professor emeritus of economics at MIT; Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation; Jeff Wilke, CEO of Amazon Worldwide Consumer; and Marjorie Yang, chairman of Esquel Group.</p> <p>The research board includes: William Bonvillian, MIT lecturer; Rodney Brooks, founder, chairman, and CTO of Rethink Robotics; Josh Cohen, professor of law at Stanford University; Virginia Dignum, professor of social and ethical artificial intelligence at Umeå University; Susan Helper, professor at Case Western Reserve University; Susan Houseman, vice president and director of research at the W.E. Upjohn Institute; John Irons, director of the future of work at the Ford Foundation; Martin Krzywdzinski, principal investigator at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center; Frank Levy, Rose Professor Emeritus at MIT; Fei-Fei Li, professor of computer science at Stanford University; Nichola J. Lowe, associate professor of city and regional planning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Joel Mokyr, professor of economics and history at Northwestern University; Michael Piore, professor emeritus of political economy at MIT; and Gill Pratt, executive technical advisor and CEO of Toyota.</p> Photo: Christopher HartingArtificial intelligence, Manufacturing, Machine learning, Jobs, Industry, Technology and society, Economics Startup uses 3-D printing to reinvent the production of metal parts With an MIT alumnus and four professors among its co-founders, Desktop Metal is pushing the boundaries of metal 3-D printing. Fri, 05 Oct 2018 00:59:59 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>It’s not hard to understand why some of the world’s largest corporations have made huge investments in metal 3-D printing recently. Manufacturing metal parts at scale currently requires companies to navigate complex global supply chains that take an unavoidable chunk out of the bottom line.</p> <p>However, the cost, complexity, and time associated with metal 3-D printing has ensured the technology’s mark on the multi-trillion-dollar manufacturing industry remains minimal.</p> <p>Desktop Metal is working to change that. Later this year, the company will begin shipping early versions of its Production System, a 3-D printer that can produce up to 100,000 metal parts at a cost and speed competitive with traditional manufacturing methods. The company’s first product, the Studio System, improved the safety, speed, and price point of 3-D printing prototypes and small batches of metal parts.</p> <p>“Metal manufacturing is one of the biggest drivers of manufacturing overall, and manufacturing drives the world,” says Desktop Metal co-founder A. John Hart, an associate professor at MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and the director of the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productivity. “3-D printing is an amazing technology in terms of its capabilities and how it reshapes the product life cycle, but we’re in such early stages that innovative processes are needed to open the floodgates.”</p> <p>In pursuit of that goal, the founding team, which includes four current MIT professors and an alumnus of the Sloan School of Management, has overseen a remarkable degree of innovation that’s led the company to file or be in the process of filing over 200 patents.</p> <p>That innovation may help explain why Desktop Metal has enjoyed an unprecedented trajectory since its founding in 2015. The <em>Boston Business Journal</em> <a href="" target="_blank">reports</a> that last summer it became the fastest company in U.S. history to reach a billion-dollar valuation, on its way to raising $277 million in venture capital.</p> <p>The centuries-old manufacturing industry may seem like a formidable target for such a young startup, but the investing arms of corporate behemoths such as Google, Ford, BMW, and GE have funded Desktop Metal in bets that the company can disrupt the industry at a scale never before seen in the 3-D printing world.</p> <p><strong>A golden opportunity</strong></p> <p>In 2012, Ric Fulop MBA ’06 was a general partner at North Bridge Venture Partners when he saw a business opportunity in the fact that current processes for 3-D printing metal were far too slow for mass production and far too expensive for prototyping. He spent the next three years looking for the right company to tackle those problems before deciding that he should start the company himself.</p> <p>Recognizing the enormous technical challenges ahead of him, Fulop decided to bring together a team of people who have spent their careers advancing fields related to 3-D printing, including materials science, machine design, automation, and software.</p> <p>The six people with whom he founded the company include Hart; Kyocera Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Yet-Ming Chiang; materials science and engineering Professor Christopher Schuh; and mechanical engineering Professor Ely Sachs, an early pioneer of 3-D printing who invented the widely used method of binder jet printing. The other co-founders are computer-aided-design software veteran Rick Chin, and Jonah Myerberg, who worked with Fulop at a previous company and currently serves as Desktop Metal’s chief technology officer.</p> <p>“We got together and said, ‘Let’s start inventing,’ and that was an amazing experience,” Hart recalls. “Desktop Metal didn’t spin out of IP from any of our labs. It was a team founded around an opportunity and a vision that then required rapid invention and innovation in the context of market need.”</p> <p>Among the team’s breakthroughs was a printing technique called bound metal deposition, which works by extruding metal powder mixed with a binding agent, in a similar fashion to the layer-by-layer process that’s common in plastic 3-D printing. The parts are then placed in a debinder, where a proprietary fluid dissolves the binding agent, before they are sintered and densified in a furnace.</p> <p>Bound metal deposition works with many of the same alloys as the metal injection molding (MIM) process that has been widely used in manufacturing since the 1980s, including stainless steel, copper, and titanium.</p> <p>“We turned metal 3-D printing into something office-friendly that you can put anywhere,” Fulop says. “You just plug it in and you can make metal parts.”</p> <p>The Studio System made 3-D printing practical for office prototyping and low-volume production. But in order for Desktop Metal to contend with the global manufacturing market, the company needed to further reinvent the printing process.</p> <p>The firm’s Production System leverages another proprietary technique called single pass jetting, a complex but outwardly smooth process in which a print head with powder spreading units on either side slides back and forth across a build area. With each pass, the printer deposits precise layers of metal powder before jetting a binding agent onto the powder. Each layer of powder is as thin as a human hair.</p> <p>According to the company, the system is the world’s fastest metal 3-D printer, 400 percent faster than the closest binder jet system and 100 times faster than today’s laser printers.&nbsp;</p> <p>“A big part of the inaccessibility up to this point has been the cost and speed of printing,” Hart says. “If you’ve ever watched a 3-D metal part being printed … some plants grow faster.”</p> <p><strong>A bright future</strong></p> <p>Fulop estimates that two dozen Production Systems will be shipped in 2019 as the company continues to scale. With orders rolling in, many of Desktop Metal’s customers are looking to purchase multiple systems to print at volumes much higher than 100,000 parts.</p> <p>Still, it remains unclear how much 3-D printing will be disrupting mainstream metal processing in the near future. Traditional manufacturing processes, like casting, do have their advantages for creating relatively simple parts at high volumes.</p> <p>“When people say that 3-D printing is going to be 20 or 40 percent of manufacturing in some number of decades, I think, ‘Probably not,’ and then, ‘It’s too early to tell,’” Hart acknowledges. “That said, it’s so early that I’m confident the additive manufacturing industry will grow 10- or 100-fold in the next five to 10 years or so.”</p> <p>Measuring the impact of metal 3-D printing using the sales volume of current machines and materials probably underestimates its true value. The unique capabilities of 3-D printing should uncover novel options for engineers and designers trying to make objects such as more efficient aircraft engines and lighter automotive structures.</p> <p>“3-D printing lets you transform complexity to simplicity,” Hart explains. “Consider how many products require the concurrent engineering and eventual assembly of many parts, and how the design constraints and logistics of manufacturing shape how we develop products. 3-D printing lets you consolidate assemblies into single parts, and design for optimal performance.&nbsp; Thinking only about the cost of 3-D printing ignores the incredible value unlocked by new designs, and by speed and flexibility on operations. When you think about those aspects hand in hand, you see the real breakthrough.”</p> Desktop Metal's Studio System is designed to make the production of metal parts an office-friendly experience.Courtesy of Desktop MetalMechanical engineering, School of Engineering, 3-D printing, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Faculty, Materials Science and Engineering, Additive manufacturing, Supply chains, Alumni/ae, Manufacturing, Business and management, DMSE, Startups Derek Straub: Shaping the future of additive manufacturing Lincoln Laboratory&#039;s 3-D printing lead has been named to Manufacturing Engineering magazine&#039;s 30 Under 30 list. Tue, 25 Sep 2018 13:30:00 -0400 Kylie Foy | Lincoln Laboratory <p>Scattered about Derek Straub's office —&nbsp;its walls only slightly muffling the screech of the surrounding machine shop —&nbsp;are intriguing artifacts:&nbsp;webbed metallic structures, twisted cylinders made of polymer, aluminum blocks whose cross sections reveal intricate architecture inside. They&nbsp;were built, layer by layer, in the MIT Lincoln Laboratory's additive manufacturing (AM) machines. They were also born of Straub's vision.</p> <p>Straub is the AM lead at Lincoln Laboratory. He's now being internationally recognized for his contributions to the additive manufacturing field. The magazine <em>Manufacturing Engineering, </em>a publication of SME (formally the Society of Manufacturing Engineers), has named Straub among the 30 individuals under the age of 30 who&nbsp;are leading the manufacturing industry into the future.</p> <p>"I feel honored, especially to be recognized alongside so many talented and varied people, CEOs, academic researchers, entrepreneurs," says Straub, who works in the Fabrication Engineering Group. "I think one thing that sets me apart is my exploratory mindset. I take&nbsp;calculated, engineering-based risks to push the edge of what's possible in AM and then, at the laboratory, we quickly apply what we've learned straight into our&nbsp;real-world defense applications."</p> <p>In his seven years at the laboratory, Straub has become the go-to expert for how to design, prototype, and build 3-D-printed parts that are used in systems as diverse as satellites, imaging systems, drones, and breath monitors. He earned a master's of engineering in manufacturing degree at MIT through the <a href="" target="_blank">Lincoln Scholars Program</a> in 2015.</p> <p>In the shop where he works, Straub points out the array of conventional subtractive machines, which cut or laser away material to produce a final form. In contrast to subtractive processes, AM, as its name suggests, is additive, layering material to build the final form. Straub explained that AM is especially useful for making complex parts, ones that require intricate geometry, curves, or voids that would be difficult or impossible to carve by using subtractive tools.</p> <p>"We can design complex parts that were previously unattainable, but are now actually achievable due to AM," he says. "It's here to stay, but it's not completely replacing subtractive machining; it's just another tool, a very important one."</p> <p>Part of his role as AM lead is to open up engineers' minds to AM designs and the functions they can enable. Last year, 39 percent of hardware programs at the laboratory used AM in some aspect. Straub expects this figure to grow to close to 100 percent in five years.</p> <p>One notable program was a high-energy laser system that was built with 115 additively manufactured parts, more than a quarter of the entire system's components. These parts helped keep the system lightweight and compact, two major program requirements, but also served functional purposes — for example, keeping the system cool and providing structural rigidity. The metal plates that house the system's fiber amplifier were built with flow channels inside, allowing cooling fluid to pass through tunnels following the curves of the hot laser fibers. This AM design would have otherwise been conventionally impossible to machine, Straub says.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Jim Ingraham, Straub's former group leader, nominated him for the 30 Under 30 award.</p> <p>"In my six years of working with Derek, I watched a highly creative and technically advanced engineer not only embrace and utilize additive manufacturing technologies but become a leader in the field, developing a variety of previously unattainable integrated multifunctional parts,"&nbsp;Ingraham says.</p> <p>While AM is more popularly known as "3-D printing" (a term coined by an MIT professor when machines first used inkjet heads to dispense adhesives to bind layers together), Straub prefers the term additive manufacturing because it is more encompassing of the various industrial techniques in use today.</p> <p>One technique is called selective laser melting (SLM). Through the window on the SLM machine, Straub points out a 10-by-10-inch metal base plate and next to it a bin of aluminum powder. It's deceivingly heavy. "Try lifting a scoop of stainless steel,"&nbsp;Straub says.</p> <p>In the manufacturing process, a bar pushes a dusting of powder onto the plate, a laser above the plate melts the powder in specific spots, and the melted metal cools and solidifies. Over and over through this dusting, melting, and cooling dance, the part is produced. The SLM machine is one of nine industrial AM machines that Straub oversees daily.</p> <p>In addition to supervising production, Straub is driving AM research at the laboratory. One area he's excited about is research in composites, like carbon fiber reinforced polymers. "Everyone agrees that composites are amazing, they're lighter, stronger, stiffer, and so on, but they're a nightmare to manufacture," he says.</p> <p>Straub wants to develop advanced AM processes to build composite materials that could be tailored to serve a part's function, for example, by being stiff in one area of the part but flexible in another. Multifunctional parts are also another focus; he envisions, and is already producing, AM structures that have several functions, such as ones embedded with electronics, RF antennas, or heat exchangers.</p> <p>Besides being functional, many of the parts Straub produces also happen to be beautiful.</p> <p>"Many of us engineers think rectilinearly; when we think about support, we think of trusses. But when we give our topology optimization software the constraints, it comes out with this," he says, holding out a small metal object. It's an optical mount, but the mount's supports look like metallic tree branches, crisscrossing and curving organically. "Sometimes nature has the best way figured out already."</p> <p>Nature plays a role in Straub's big picture vision for AM. Can we use what nature provides us to manufacture what we need on the spot? He thinks about NASA's mission to send humans to Mars. "We won't be able to send everything we need; we aren't sending steel," Straub says, "but could we use the actual sand, the soil, the minerals there to additively manufacture buildings and structures?" Similarly, he thinks about military convoys and the lives lost transporting materials to bases. "With AM, we can make thousands of parts with the same tool. &nbsp;It opens up the space to building on demand, on location," Straub says.</p> <p>While Straub is leading AM into the future, he's also sharing&nbsp;what he's learned with the next generation. At the <a href="">MIT Beaver Works Summer Institute</a> in August, Straub and his colleagues developed a new unit that taught kids to hack&nbsp;a 3-D printer to do something new with it. The boom of commercial 3-D printers has kids enthusiastic about and familiar with the technology. This enthusiasm will only help fuel what Straub sees as an inevitably growing industry.</p> <p>"AM is a game changer," he says. "It is greatly impacting the world and it's enabling new programs at Lincoln Laboratory. The only thing holding us back currently is our minds."</p> As the additive manufacturing lead at Lincoln Laboratory, Derek Straub works with technical staff to design 3-D-printed parts for various systems and technologies and oversees production on nine industrial machines. Photo: Nicole FandelMechanical engineering, Lincoln Laboratory, 3-D printing, Awards, honors and fellowships, Manufacturing, Profile, Staff, Alumni/ae, School of Engineering A new way to remove ice buildup without power or chemicals Passive solar-powered system could prevent freezing on airplanes, wind turbines, powerlines, and other surfaces. Fri, 31 Aug 2018 14:00:00 -0400 David L. Chandler | MIT News Office <p>From airplane wings to overhead powerlines to the giant blades of wind turbines, a buildup of ice can cause problems ranging from impaired performance all the way to catastrophic failure. But preventing that buildup usually requires energy-intensive heating systems or chemical sprays that are environmentally harmful. Now, MIT researchers have developed a completely passive, solar-powered way of combating ice buildup.</p> <p>The system is remarkably simple, based on a three-layered material that can be applied or even sprayed onto the surfaces to be treated. It collects solar radiation, converts it to heat, and spreads that heat around so that the melting is not just confined to the areas exposed directly to the sunlight. And, once applied, it requires no further action or power source. It can even do its de-icing work at night, using artificial lighting.</p> <p>The new system is described today in the journal <em>Science Advances</em>, in a paper by MIT associate professor of mechanical engineering Kripa Varanasi and postdocs Susmita Dash and Jolet de Ruiter.</p> <p>“Icing is a major problem for aircraft, for wind turbines, power lines, offshore oil platforms, and many other places,” Varanasi says. “The conventional ways of getting around it are de-icing sprays or by heating, but those have issues.”</p> <p><img alt="" src="/sites/" style="width: 595px; height: 335px;" /></p> <p><img alt="" src="/sites/" /></p> <p><img alt="" src="/sites/" style="width: 595px; height: 335px;" /></p> <p><strong>Inspired by the sun</strong></p> <p>The usual de-icing sprays for aircraft and other applications use ethylene glycol, a chemical that is environmentally unfriendly. Airlines don’t like to use active heating, both for cost and safety reasons. Varanasi and other researchers have investigated the use of superhydrophobic surfaces to prevent icing passively, but those coatings can be impaired by frost formation, which tends to fill the microscopic textures that give the surface its ice-shedding properties.</p> <p>As an alternate line of inquiry, Varanasi and his team considered the energy given off by the sun. They wanted to see, he says, whether “there is a way to capture that heat and use it in a passive approach.” They found that there was.</p> <p>It’s not necessary to produce enough heat to melt the bulk of the ice that forms, the team found. All that’s needed is for the boundary layer, right where the ice meets the surface, to melt enough to create a thin layer of water, which will make the surface slippery enough so any ice will just slide right off. This is what the team has achieved with the three-layered material they’ve developed.</p> <p><strong>Layer by layer</strong></p> <p>The top layer is an absorber, which traps incoming sunlight and converts it to heat. The material the team used is highly efficient, absorbing 95 percent of the incident sunlight, and losing only 3 percent to re-radiation, Varanasi says.</p> <p>In principle, that layer could in itself help to prevent frost formation, but with two limitations: It would only work in the areas directly in sunlight, and much of the heat would be lost back into the substrate material — the airplane wing or powerline, for example — and would not help with the de-icing.</p> <p>So, to compensate for the localization, the team added a spreader layer — a very thin layer of aluminum, just 400 micrometers thick, which is heated by the absorber layer above it and very efficiently spreads that heat out laterally to cover the entire surface. The material was selected to have “thermal response that is fast enough so that the heating takes place faster than the freezing,” Varanasi says.</p> <p>Finally, the bottom layer is simply foam insulation, to keep any of that heat from being wasted downward and keep it where it’s needed, at the surface.</p> <p>“In addition to passive de-icing, the photothermal trap&nbsp;stays at an elevated temperature, thus preventing ice build-up altogether,” Dash says.</p> <p>The three layers, all made of inexpensive commercially available material, are then bonded together, and can be bonded to the surface that needs to be protected. For some applications, the materials could instead be sprayed onto a surface, one layer at a time, the researchers say.</p> <p>The team carried out extensive tests, including real-world outdoor testing of the materials and detailed laboratory measurements, to prove the effectiveness of the system.</p> <p>“The use of photothermal absorbers is a smart idea and straightforward to implement,” says Manish Tiwari, a professor of nanoengineering at University College London, who was not associated with this research. “Scalability of these approaches and thinking about appropriate packaging, specific weight, etc., of the de-icing layer are important practical challenges going ahead, especially when it comes to the aerospace application. The paper also opens up intriguing possibilities around smart and flexible thermal packaging, and thermal metamaterials research to realize its full potential. Overall, an excellent step forward,” he says.</p> <p>The system could find even wider commercial uses, such as panels to prevent icing on roofs of homes, schools, and other buildings, Varanasi adds. The team is planning to continue work on the system, testing it for longevity and for optimal methods of application. But the basic system could essentially be applied almost immediately for some uses, especially stationary applications, he says.</p> <p>The research was supported by Alstom and the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research.</p> Research, Nanoscience and nanotechnology, Mechanical engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, Manufacturing, School of Engineering, Energy, Environment New approach makes sprayed droplets hit and stick to their targets Using a simple mesh screen may allow farmers to dramatically reduce the amount of pesticides they spray. Tue, 28 Aug 2018 11:00:00 -0400 David L. Chandler | MIT News Office <p>When spraying paint or coatings onto a surface, or fertilizers or pesticides onto crops, the size of the droplets makes a big difference. Bigger drops will drift less in the wind, allowing them to strike their intended targets more accurately, but smaller droplets are more likely to stick when they land instead of bouncing off.</p> <p>Now, a team of MIT researchers has found a way to balance those properties and get the best of both — sprays that don’t drift too far but provide tiny droplets to stick to the surface. The team accomplished this in a surprisingly simple way, by placing a fine mesh in between the spray and the intended target to break up droplets into ones that are only one-thousandth as big.</p> <p>The findings are reported today in the journal <em>Physical Review Fluids, </em>in a paper by MIT associate professor of mechanical engineering Kripa Varanasi, former postdoc Dan Soto, graduate student Henri-Louis Girard, and three others at MIT and at CNRS in Paris.</p> <p><img alt="" src="/sites/" style="width: 595px; height: 335px;" /></p> <p><em><span style="font-size:10px;">(Courtesy of the Varanasi Research Group)</span></em></p> <p><a href="">Other&nbsp;work</a> by Varanasi and his team had focused on ways to get the droplets to stick more effectively to the surfaces they strike rather than bouncing away. The new study focuses on the other end of the problem — how to get the droplets to reach the surface in the first place. Varanasi explains that typically less that 5 percent of sprayed liquids actually stick to their intended targets; of the 95 percent or more that gets wasted, about half is lost to drift and never even gets there, and the other half bounces away.</p> <p>Atomizers — devices that can spray liquids in the form of droplets so small that they remain suspended in air rather than settling out — are crucial parts of many industrial processes, including painting and coating, spraying fuel into engines or water into cooling towers, and printing with fine droplets of ink. The new advance developed by this team was to make the initial spray in the form of larger drops, which are much less affected by breezes and more likely to reach their targets, and then to create the much finer droplets just before they reach the surface, by placing a mesh screen in between.</p> <p>Though the process could apply to many different spraying applications, “the big motivation is agriculture,” Varanasi says. The runoff of pesticides that miss their target and fall on the ground can be a significant cause of pollution and a waste of the expensive chemicals. What’s more, the impact of finer droplets is less likely to damage or weaken certain plants.</p> <p>Farmers already cover some kinds of crops with fabric meshes, to protect against birds and insects devouring the plants, so the process is already familiar and widely used. Many kinds of mesh materials would work, the researchers say — what matters is the size of the openings in the mesh and the material’s thickness, parameters the team has precisely quantified through a series of lab experiments and mathematical analysis. For their experiments, the researchers primarily used a commonly available and inexpensive fine stainless steel mesh.</p> <p>The researchers propose that, after deploying the mesh over the crop, either directly supported by the plant stalks or supported on a framework, a farmer could simply use a conventional sprayer that produces larger drops, which would stay on course even in breezy conditions. Then, as the drops reach the plants, they would be broken up by the mesh into fine droplets, each about a tenth of a millimeter across, which would greatly increase their chances of sticking.</p> <p><img alt="" src="/sites/" style="width: 600px; height: 338px;" /></p> <p><em><span style="font-size:10px;">(Courtesy of the Varanasi Research Group)</span></em></p> <p>As an extra bonus, the presence of the mesh over the crops could also protect them from damage from rainstorms, by also breaking up the raindrops into smaller droplets that place less stress on the plant when they strike. Crop damage from storms, which can seriously reduce yields in some cases, may be reduced in the process, the researchers say. In addition, bigger drops cause more splashing, which can lead to a spread of pathogens.</p> <p>Besides being more efficient, the process may also reduce the problem of drift of pesticides, which sometimes blow from one farmer’s field to another, and even from one state to another, Varanasi says, and also sometimes end up in people’s homes. “People want to fix this. They’re looking for solutions.”</p> <p>The same principle could be applied to other uses, Girard points out, such as the spraying of water into cooling towers such as those used for electric power plants and many industrial or chemical plants. Using a mesh below the spray heads in such towers “can create finer droplets, which evaporate faster and provide better cooling,” he says. Cooling efficiency is related to the drop’s surface area, which is three orders of magnitude greater with the finer droplets, he says.</p> <p>In <a href="">recent work</a>, Varanasi and his team found a way to recover much of the water that gets lost to evaporation from such cooling towers, by using a different kind of mesh over the towers’ top. The new finding could be combined with that method, thus improving power plant efficiency on both the input and output sides.</p> <p>For painting and for applying other kinds of coatings, the finer the droplets are, the better they cover and adhere, Girard says, so the process could improve the quality and durability of the coatings.</p> <p>While most existing atomization methods rely on high pressure to force liquid through a narrow opening, which requires energy to create the pressure, this method is purely passive and mechanical, Girard says. “Here, we let the mesh do the atomization essentially for free.”</p> <p>James Bird, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Boston University, who was not involved in this research, says this work “demonstrates a clever, and seemingly practical, method to aerosolize and disperse droplets. Yet, what impressed me most in this study is the elegance by which the authors dissect and recombine the complex dynamics to develop a fundamental understanding that is more than the sum of its parts.”</p> <p>The team included Antoine Le Helloco, and Thomas Binder at MIT and David Quere at CNRS in Paris. The work was supported by the MIT-France program.</p> Photos illustrate how the tiny droplets produced by a mesh barrier prevent plants from being pummeled by the larger droplets from either rainfall or the spraying of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. The smaller droplets in the image at right have little effect on the plant, while the droplets at left batter its leaves heavily.Courtesy of the Varanasi Research GroupResearch, Nanoscience and nanotechnology, Mechanical engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, Manufacturing, School of Engineering, Energy, Environment, Agriculture Design tool reveals a product’s many possible performance tradeoffs Users can quickly visualize designs that optimize multiple parameters at once. Wed, 15 Aug 2018 10:00:00 -0400 Rob Matheson | MIT News Office <p>MIT researchers have developed a tool that makes it much easier and more efficient to explore the many compromises that come with designing new products.</p> <p>Designing any product — from complex car parts down to workaday objects such as wrenches and lamp stands — is a balancing act with conflicting performance tradeoffs. Making something lightweight, for instance, may compromise its durability.</p> <p>To navigate these tradeoffs, engineers use computer-aided design (CAD) programs to iteratively modify design parameters — say, height, length, and radius of a product — and simulate the results for performance objectives to meet specific needs, such as weight, balance, and durability.</p> <p>But these programs require users to modify designs and simulate the results for only one performance objective at a time. As products usually must meet multiple, conflicting performance objectives, this process becomes very time-consuming.</p> <p>In a paper presented at this week’s SIGGRAPH conference, researchers from the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) describe a visualization tool for CAD that, for the first time, lets users instead interactively explore all designs that best fit multiple, often-conflicting performance tradeoffs, in real time.</p> <p>The tool first calculates optimal designs for three performance objectives in a precomputation step. It then maps all those designs as color-coded patches on a triangular graph. Users can move a cursor in and around the patches to prioritize one performance objective or another. As the cursor moves, 3-D designs appear that are optimized for that exact spot on the graph.</p> <p>“Now you can explore the landscape of multiple performance compromises efficiently and interactively, which is something that didn’t exist before,” says Adriana Schulz, a CSAIL postdoc and first author on the paper.</p> <p>Co-authors on the paper are Harrison Wang, a graduate student in mechanical engineering; Eitan Grinspun, an associate professor of computer science at Columbia University; Justin Solomon, an assistant professor in electrical engineering and computer science; and Wojciech Matusik, an associate professor in electrical engineering and computer science.</p> <p>The new work builds off a tool, InstantCAD, <a href="">developed last year</a> by Schulz, Matusik, Grinspun, and other researchers. That tool let users interactively modify product designs and get real-time information on performance. The researchers estimated that tool could reduce the time of some steps in designing complex products to seconds or minutes, instead of hours.</p> <p>However, a user still had to explore all designs to find one that satisfied all performance tradeoffs, which was time-consuming. This new tool represents “an inverse,” Schulz says: “We’re directly editing the performance space and providing real-time feedback on the designs that give you the best performance. A product may have 100 design parameters … but we really only care about how it behaves in the physical world.”</p> <p>In the new paper, the researchers home in on a critical aspect of performance called the “Pareto front,” a set of designs optimized for all given performance objectives, where any design change that improves one objective worsens another objective. This front is usually represented in CAD and other software as a point cloud (dozens or hundreds of dots in a multidimensional graph), where each point is a separate design. For instance, one point may represent a wrench optimized for greater torque and less mass, while a nearby point will represent a design with slightly less torque, but more mass.</p> <p>Engineers laboriously modify designs in CAD to find these Pareto-optimized designs, using a fair amount of guesswork. Then they use the front’s visual representation as a guideline to find a product that meets a specific performance, considering the various compromises.</p> <p>The researchers’ tool, instead, rapidly finds the entire Pareto front and turns it into an interactive map. Inputted into the model is a product with design parameters, and information about how those parameters correspond to specific performance objectives.</p> <p>The model first quickly uncovers one design on the Pareto front. Then, it uses some approximation calculations to discover tiny variations in that design. After doing that a few times, it captures all designs on the Pareto front. Those designs are mapped as colored patches on a triangular graph, where each patch represents one Pareto-optimal design, surrounded by its slight variations. Each edge of the graph is labeled with a separate performance objective based on the input data.</p> <p>In their paper, the researchers tested their tool on various products, including a wrench, bike frame component, and brake hub, each with three or four design parameters, as well as a standing lamp with 21 design parameters.</p> <p>With the lamp, for example, all 21 parameters relate to the thickness of the lamp’s base, height and orientation of its stand, and length and orientation of three elbowed beams attached to the top that hold the light bulbs. The system generated designs and variations corresponding to more than 50 colored patches reflecting a combination of three performance objectives: focal distance, stability, and mass. Placing the cursor on a patch closer to, say, focal distance and stability generates a design with a taller, straighter stand and longer beams oriented for balance. Moving the cursor farther from focal distance and toward mass and stability generates a design with thicker base and a shorter stand and beams, tilted at different angles.</p> <p>Some designs change quite dramatically around the same region of performance tradeoffs and even within the same cluster. This is important from an engineer’s perspective, Schulz says. “You’re finding two designs that, even though they’re very different, they behave in similar ways,” she says. Engineers can use that information “to find designs that are actually better to meet specific use cases.”</p> <p>“This work is an important contribution to interactive design of functional real-world objects,” says Takeo Igarashi, a professor of computer science at the University of Tokyo, and an expert in graphic design. Existing computational design tools, Igarashi says, make it difficult for designers to explore design trade-offs. “The tools work as black box and allow no or limited user control,” he says. “This work explicitly addresses this not-yet-tackled important problem. … [It] builds on a solid technical foundation, and the ideas and techniques in this paper will influence the design of design tools in the future.”</p> <p>The work was supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Army Research Office, the Skoltech-MIT Next Generation Program, and the National Science Foundation.</p> CSAIL researchers have developed a visualization tool for CAD that, for the first time, lets users instead interactively explore all designs that best fit multiple, often-conflicting performance tradeoffs, in real time.Courtesy of the researchersResearch, Design, Manufacturing, Algorithms, Computer science and technology, Software, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), School of Engineering, National Science Foundation (NSF) Introducing the latest in textiles: Soft hardware Researchers incorporate optoelectronic diodes into fibers and weave them into washable fabrics. Wed, 08 Aug 2018 12:59:59 -0400 David L. Chandler | MIT News Office <p>The latest development in textiles and fibers is a kind of soft hardware that you can wear: cloth that has electronic devices built right into it.</p> <p>Researchers at MIT have now embedded high speed optoelectronic semiconductor devices, including light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and diode photodetectors, within fibers that were then woven at Inman Mills, in South Carolina, into soft, washable fabrics and made into communication systems. This marks the achievement of a long-sought goal of creating “smart” fabrics by incorporating semiconductor devices — the key ingredient of modern electronics — which until now was the missing piece for making fabrics with sophisticated functionality.</p> <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p>This discovery, the researchers &nbsp;say, could unleash a new “Moore’s Law” for fibers — in other words, a rapid progression in which the capabilities of fibers would grow rapidly and exponentially over time, just as the capabilities of microchips have grown over decades.</p> <p>The findings are described this week in the journal <em>Nature</em> in a paper by former MIT graduate student Michael Rein; his research advisor Yoel Fink, MIT professor of materials science and electrical engineering and CEO of AFFOA (Advanced Functional Fabrics of America); along with a team from MIT, AFFOA, Inman Mills, EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland, and Lincoln Laboratory.</p> <p><img alt="" src="/sites/" /></p> <p><span style="font-size:10px;"><em>A spool of fine, soft fiber made using the new process shows the embedded LEDs turning on and off to demonstrate their functionality. The team has used similar fibers to transmit music to detector fibers, which work even when underwater. (Courtesy of the researchers)</em></span></p> <p>Optical fibers have been traditionally produced by making a cylindrical object called a “preform,” which is essentially a scaled-up model of the fiber, then heating it. Softened material is then drawn or pulled downward under tension and the resulting fiber is collected on a spool.</p> <p>The key breakthrough for producing&nbsp; these new fibers was to add to the preform light-emitting semiconductor diodes the size of a grain of sand, and a pair of copper wires a fraction of a hair’s width. When heated in a furnace during the fiber-drawing process, the polymer preform partially liquified, forming a long fiber with the diodes lined up along its center and connected by the copper wires.</p> <p>In this case, the solid components were two types of electrical diodes made using standard microchip technology: light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and photosensing diodes. “Both the devices and the wires maintain their dimensions while everything shrinks around them” in the drawing process, Rein says. The resulting fibers were then woven into fabrics, which were laundered 10 times to demonstrate their practicality as possible material for clothing.</p> <p>“This approach adds a new insight into the process of making fibers,” says Rein, who was the paper’s lead author and developed the concept that led to the new process. “Instead of drawing the material all together in a liquid state, we mixed in devices in particulate form, together with thin metal wires.”</p> <p>One of the advantages of incorporating function into the fiber material itself is that the resulting &nbsp;fiber is inherently waterproof. To demonstrate this, the team placed some of the photodetecting fibers inside a fish tank. A lamp outside the aquarium transmitted music (appropriately, Handel’s “Water Music”) through the water to the fibers in the form of rapid optical signals. The fibers in the tank converted the light pulses — so rapid that the light appears steady to the naked eye — to electrical signals, which were then converted into music. The fibers survived in the water for weeks.</p> <p>Though the principle sounds simple, making it work consistently, and making sure that the fibers could be manufactured reliably and in quantity, has been a long and difficult process. Staff at the Advanced Functional Fabric of America Institute, led by Jason Cox and Chia-Chun Chung, developed the pathways to increasing yield, throughput, and overall reliability, making these fibers ready for transitioning to industry. At the same time, Marty Ellis from Inman Mills developed techniques for weaving these fibers into fabrics using a conventional industrial manufacturing-scale loom.</p> <p>“This paper describes a scalable path for incorporating semiconductor devices into fibers. We are anticipating the emergence of a ‘Moore’s law’ analog in fibers in the years ahead,” Fink says. “It is already allowing us to expand the fundamental capabilities of fabrics to encompass communications, lighting, physiological monitoring, and more. In the years ahead fabrics will deliver value-added services and will no longer just be selected for aesthetics and comfort.”</p> <p>He says that the first commercial products incorporating this technology will be reaching the marketplace as early as next year — an extraordinarily short progression from laboratory research to commercialization. Such rapid lab-to-market development was a key part of the reason for creating an academic-industry-government collaborative such as AFFOA in the first place, he says. These initial applications will be specialized products involving communications and safety. “It's going to be the first fabric communication system. We are right now in the process of transitioning the technology to domestic manufacturers and industry at an unprecendented speed and scale,” he says.</p> <p>In addition to commercial applications, Fink says the U.S. Department of Defense — one of AFFOA’s major supporters — “is exploring applications of these ideas to our women and men in uniform.”</p> <p>Beyond communications, the fibers could potentially have significant applications in the biomedical field, the researchers say. For example, devices using such fibers might be used to make a wristband that could measure pulse or blood oxygen levels, or be woven into a bandage to continuously monitor the healing&nbsp; process.</p> <p>The research was supported in part by the MIT Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) through the MRSEC Program of the National Science Foundation, by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and the U.S. Army Research Office through the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies. This work was also supported by the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering.</p> For the first time, the researchers from MIT and AFFOA have produced fibers with embedded electronics that are so flexible they can be woven into soft fabrics and made into wearable clothing.Courtesy of the researchersMaterials Science and Engineering, School of Engineering, Research, Manufacturing, Technology and society, nanoscience and nanotechology, DMSE, Industry, Collaboration, Government, internet of things On-chip optical filter processes wide range of light wavelengths Silicon-based system offers smaller, cheaper alternative to other “broadband” filters; could improve a variety of photonic devices. Wed, 01 Aug 2018 04:59:59 -0400 Rob Matheson' | MIT News Office <p>MIT researchers have designed an optical filter on a chip that can process optical signals from across an extremely wide spectrum of light at once, something never before available to integrated optics systems that process data using light. The technology may offer greater precision and flexibility for designing optical communication and sensor systems, studying photons and other particles through ultrafast techniques, and in other applications.</p> <p>Optical filters are used to separate one light source into two separate outputs: one reflects unwanted wavelengths — or colors — and the other transmits desired wavelengths. Instruments that require infrared radiation, for instance, will use optical filters to remove any visible light and get cleaner infrared signals.</p> <p>Existing optical filters, however, have tradeoffs and disadvantages. Discrete (off-chip) “broadband” filters, called dichroic filters, process wide portions of the light spectrum but are large, can be expensive, and require many layers of optical coatings that reflect certain wavelengths. Integrated filters can be produced in large quantities inexpensively, but they typically cover a very narrow band of the spectrum, so many must be combined to efficiently and selectively filter larger portions of the spectrum.</p> <p>Researchers from MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics have designed the first on-chip filter that, essentially, matches the broadband coverage and precision performance of the bulky filters but can be manufactured using traditional silicon-chip fabrication methods.</p> <p>“This new filter takes an extremely broad range of wavelengths within its bandwidth as input and efficiently separates it into two output signals, regardless of exactly how wide or at what wavelength the input is. That capability didn’t exist before in integrated optics,” says Emir Salih Magden, a former PhD student in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) and first author on a paper describing the filters published today in <em>Nature Communications</em>.</p> <p>Paper co-authors along with Magden, who is now an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Koç University in Turkey, are: Nanxi Li, a Harvard University graduate student; and, from MIT, graduate student Manan Raval; former graduate student Christopher V. Poulton; former postdoc Alfonso Ruocco; postdoc associate Neetesh Singh; former research scientist Diedrik Vermeulen; Erich Ippen, the Elihu Thomson Professor in EECS and the Department of Physics; Leslie Kolodziejski, a professor in EECS; and Michael Watts, an associate professor in EECS.</p> <p><strong>Dictating the flow of light</strong></p> <p>The MIT researchers designed a novel chip architecture that mimics dichroic filters in many ways. They created two sections of precisely sized and aligned (down to the nanometer) silicon waveguides that coax different wavelengths into different outputs.</p> <p>Waveguides have rectangular cross-sections typically made of a “core” of high-index material — meaning light travels slowly through it — surrounded by a lower-index material. When light encounters the higher- and lower-index materials, it tends to bounce toward the higher-index material. Thus, in the waveguide light becomes trapped in, and travels along, the core.</p> <p>The MIT researchers use waveguides to precisely guide the light input to the corresponding signal outputs. One section of the researchers’ filter contains an array of three waveguides, while the other section contains one waveguide that’s slightly wider than any of the three individual ones.</p> <p>In a device using the same material for all waveguides, light tends to travel along the widest waveguide. By tweaking the widths in the array of three waveguides and gaps between them, the researchers make them appear as a single wider waveguide, but only to light with longer wavelengths. Wavelengths are measured in nanometers, and adjusting these waveguide metrics creates a “cutoff,” meaning the precise nanometer of wavelength above which light will “see” the array of three waveguides as a single one.</p> <p>In the paper, for instance, the researchers created a single waveguide measuring 318 nanometers, and three separate waveguides measuring 250 nanometers each with gaps of 100 nanometers in between. This corresponded to a cutoff of around 1,540 nanometers, which is in the infrared region. When a light beam entered the filter, wavelengths measuring less than 1,540 nanometers could detect one wide waveguide on one side and three narrower waveguides on the other. Those wavelengths move along the wider waveguide. Wavelengths longer than 1,540 nanometers, however, can’t detect spaces between three separate waveguides. Instead, they detect a massive waveguide wider than the single waveguide, so move toward the three waveguides.</p> <p>“That these long wavelengths are unable to distinguish these gaps, and see them as a single waveguide, is half of the puzzle. The other half is designing efficient transitions for routing light through these waveguides toward the outputs,” Magden says.</p> <p>The design also allows for a very sharp roll-off, measured by how precisely a filter splits an input near the cutoff. If the roll-off is gradual, some desired transmission signal goes into the undesired output. Sharper roll-off produces a cleaner signal filtered with minimal loss. In measurements, the researchers found their filters offer about 10 to 70 times sharper roll-offs than other broadband filters.</p> <p>As a final component, the researchers provided guidelines for exact widths and gaps of the waveguides needed to achieve different cutoffs for different wavelengths. In that way, the filters are highly customizable to work at any wavelength range. “Once you choose what materials to use, you can determine the necessary waveguide dimensions and design a similar filter for your own platform,” Magden says.</p> <p><strong>Sharper tools</strong></p> <p>Many of these broadband filters can be implemented within one system to flexibly process signals from across the entire optical spectrum, including splitting and combing signals from multiple inputs into multiple outputs.</p> <p>This could pave the way for sharper “optical combs,” a relatively new invention consisting of uniformly spaced femtosecond (one quadrillionth of a second) pulses of light from across the visible light spectrum — with some spanning ultraviolet and infrared zones — resulting in thousands of individual lines of radio-frequency signals that resemble “teeth” of a comb. Broadband optical filters are critical in combining different parts of the comb, which reduces unwanted signal noise and produces very fine comb teeth at exact wavelengths.</p> <p>Because the speed of light is known and constant, the teeth of the comb can be used like a ruler to measure light emitted or reflected by objects for various purposes. A promising new application for the combs is powering “optical clocks” for GPS satellites that could potentially pinpoint a cellphone user’s location down to the centimeter or even help better detect gravitational waves. GPS works by tracking the time it takes a signal to travel from a satellite to the user’s phone. Other applications include high-precision spectroscopy, enabled by stable optical combs combining different portions of the optical spectrum into one beam, to study the optical signatures of atoms, ions, and other particles.</p> <p>In these applications and others, it’s helpful to have filters that cover broad, and vastly different, portions of the optical spectrum on one device.</p> <p>“Once we have really precise clocks with sharp optical and radio-frequency signals, you can get more accurate positioning and navigation, better receptor quality, and, with spectroscopy, get access to phenomena you couldn’t measure before,” Magden says.</p> <p>The new device could be useful, for instance, for sharper signals in fiber-to-the-home installations, which connect optical fiber from a central point directly to homes and buildings, says Wim Bogaerts, a professor of silicon photonics at Ghent University. “I like the concept, because it should be very flexible in terms of design,” he says. “It looks like an interesting combination of ‘dispersion engineering’ [a technique for controlling light based on wavelength] and an adiabatic coupler [a tool that splits light between waveguides] to make separation filter for high and low wavelengths.”</p> MIT researchers have designed an optical filter on a chip that can process optical signals from across an extremely wide spectrum of light at once, something never before available to integrated optics systems that process data using light.Image: E. Salih MagdenResearch, Photonics, Manufacturing, Nanoscience and nanotechnology, Research Laboratory of Electronics, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), Physics, School of Engineering, School of Science Let it rain! New coatings make natural fabrics waterproof MIT-developed process could offer nontoxic alternative to environmentally harmful chemicals. Fri, 29 Jun 2018 08:59:59 -0400 David L. Chandler | MIT News Office <p>Fabrics that resist water are essential for everything from rainwear to military tents, but conventional water-repellent coatings have been shown to persist in the environment and accumulate in our bodies, and so are likely to be phased out for safety reasons. That leaves a big gap to be filled if researchers can find safe substitutes.</p> <p>Now, a team at MIT has come up with a promising solution: a coating that not only adds water-repellency to natural fabrics such as cotton and silk, but is also more effective than the existing coatings. The new findings are described in the journal <em>Advanced Functional Materials</em>, in a paper by MIT professors Kripa Varanasi and Karen Gleason, former MIT postdoc Dan Soto, and two others.</p> <p>“The challenge has been driven by the environmental regulators” because of the phaseout of the existing waterproofing chemicals, Varanasi explains. But it turns out his team’s alternative actually outperforms the conventional materials.</p> <p>“Most fabrics that say ‘water-repellent’ are actually water-resistant,” says Varanasi, who is an associate professor of mechanical engineering. “If you’re standing out in the rain, eventually water will get through.” Ultimately, “the goal is to be repellent — to have the drops just bounce back.” The new coating comes closer to that goal, he says.</p> <p><img alt="" src="/sites/" /></p> <p><span style="font-size:10px;"><em>Comparison of droplets on a coated surface (left) and an untreated one (right). (Varanasi and Gleason research groups)</em></span></p> <p>Because of the way they accumulate in the environment and in body tissue, the EPA is in the process of revising regulations on the long-chain polymers that have been the industry standard for decades. “They’re everywhere, and they don’t degrade easily,” Varanasi says.</p> <p>The coatings currently used to make fabrics water repellent generally consist of long polymers with perfluorinated side-chains. The trouble is, shorter-chain polymers that have been studied do not have as much of a water-repelling (or <a href="">hydrophobic</a>) effect as the longer-chain versions. Another problem with existing coatings is that they are liquid-based, so the fabric has to be immersed in the liquid and then dried out. This tends to clog all the pores in the fabric, Varanasi says, so the fabrics no longer can breathe as they otherwise would. That requires a second manufacturing step in which air is blown through the fabric to reopen those pores, adding to the manufacturing cost and undoing some of the water protection.</p> <p>Research has shown that polymers with fewer than eight perfluorinated carbon groups do not persist and bioaccumulate nearly as much as those with eight or more — the ones most in use. What this MIT team did, Varanasi explains, is to combine two things: a shorter-chain polymer that, by itself, confers some hydrophobic properties and has been enhanced with some extra chemical processing; and a different coating process, called initiated chemical vapor deposition (iCVD), which was developed in recent years by co-author Karen Gleason and her co-workers. Gleason is the Alexander and I. Michael Kasser Professor of Chemical Engineering and associate provost at MIT. Credit for coming up with the best short-chain polymer and making it possible to deposit the polymer with iCVD, Varanasi says, goes primarily to Soto, who is the paper’s lead author.</p> <p>Using the iCVD coating process, which does not involve any liquids and can be done at low temperature, produces a very thin, uniform coating that follows the contours of the fibers and does not lead to any clogging of the pores, thus eliminating the need for the second processing stage to reopen the pores. Then, an additional step, a kind of sandblasting of the surface, can be added as an optional process to increase the water repellency even more. “The biggest challenge was finding the sweet spot where performance, durability, and iCVD compatibility could work together and deliver the best performance,” says Soto.</p> <p><img alt="" src="/sites/" /></p> <p><span style="font-size:10px;"><em>Testing of the coated surfaces shows that it gets a perfect score on a standard rain-repellancy test. The coatings are&nbsp;suited for substrates as diverse as fabrics, paper, and nanotextured silicon. (Varanasi and Gleason research groups)</em></span></p> <p>The process works on many different kinds of fabrics, Varanasi says, including cotton, nylon, and linen, and even on nonfabric materials such as paper, opening up a variety of potential applications. The system has been tested on different types of fabric, as well as on different weave patterns of those fabrics. “Many fabrics can benefit from this technology,” he says. “There’s a lot of potential here.”</p> <p>The coated fabrics have been subjected to a barrage of tests in the lab, including a standard rain test used by industry. The materials have been bombarded not only with water but with various other liquids including coffee, ketchup, sodium hydroxide, and various acids and bases — and have repelled all of them well.</p> <p>The coated materials have been subjected to repeated washings with no degradation of the coatings, and also have passed severe abrasion tests, with no damage to the coatings after 10,000 repetitions. Eventually, under severe abrasion, “the fiber will be damaged, but the coating won’t,” he says.</p> <p>The team, which also includes former postdoc Asli Ugur and Taylor Farnham ’14, SM ’16, plans to continue working on optimizing the chemical formula for the best possible water-repellency, and hopes to license the patent-pending technology to existing fabric and clothing companies. The work was supported by MIT's Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation.</p> Repellency of different liquids on polyester fabric coated with H1F7Ma-co-DVB: soy sauce (black drop), coffee (brown drop), HCl acid (top left transparent drop), NaOH (bottom right transparent drop) and water (remaining transparent drops).Image: Varanasi and Gleason research groupsResearch, Nanoscience and nanotechnology, Mechanical engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, DMSE, Manufacturing, School of Engineering, Environment, Pollution New system recovers fresh water from power plants Technology captures water evaporating from cooling towers; prototype to be installed on MIT’s Central Utility Plant. Fri, 08 Jun 2018 13:59:59 -0400 David L. Chandler | MIT News Office <p>A new system devised by MIT engineers could provide a low-cost source of drinking water for parched cities around the world while also cutting power plant operating costs.</p> <p>About 39 percent of all the fresh water withdrawn from rivers, lakes, and reservoirs in the U.S. is earmarked for the cooling needs of electric power plants that use fossil fuels or nuclear power, and much of that water ends up floating away in clouds of vapor. But the new MIT system could potentially save a substantial fraction of that lost water — and could even become a significant source of clean, safe drinking water for coastal cities where seawater is used to cool local power plants.</p> <p>The principle behind the new concept is deceptively simple: When air that’s rich in fog is zapped with a beam of electrically charged particles, known as ions, water droplets become electrically charged and thus can be drawn toward a mesh of wires, similar to a window screen, placed in their path. The droplets then collect on that mesh, drain down into a collecting pan, and can be reused in the power plant or sent to a city’s water supply system.</p> <p>The system, which is the basis for a startup company called Infinite Cooling that last month <a href="">won MIT’s $100K Entrepreneurship Competition</a>, is described in a paper published today in the journal <em>Science Advances</em>, co-authored by Maher Damak PhD ’18 and associate professor of mechanical engineering Kripa Varanasi. Damak and Varanasi are among the co-founders of the startup, and their research is supported in part by the Tata Center for Technology and Design.</p> <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p>Varanasi’s vision was to develop highly efficient water recovery systems by capturing water droplets from both natural fog and plumes of industrial cooling towers. The project began as part of Damak’s doctoral thesis, which aimed to improve the efficiency of fog-harvesting systems that are used in many water-scarce coastal regions as a source of potable water. Those systems, which generally consist of some kind of plastic or metal mesh hung vertically in the path of fogbanks that regularly roll in from the sea, are extremely inefficient, capturing only about 1 to 3 percent of the water droplets that pass through them. Varanasi and Damak wondered if there was a way to make the mesh catch more of the droplets — and found a very simple and effective way of doing so.</p> <p>The reason for the inefficiency of existing systems became apparent in the team’s detailed lab experiments: The problem is in the aerodynamics of the system. As a stream of air passes an obstacle, such as the wires in these mesh fog-catching screens, the airflow naturally deviates around the obstacle, much as air flowing around an airplane wing separates into streams that pass above and below the wing structure. These deviating airstreams carry droplets that were heading toward the wire off to the side, unless they were headed bang-on toward the wire’s center.</p> <p>The result is that the fraction of droplets captured is far lower than the fraction of the collection area occupied by the wires, because droplets are being swept aside from wires that lie in front of them. Just making the wires bigger or the spaces in the mesh smaller tends to be counterproductive because it hampers the overall airflow, resulting in a net decrease in collection.</p> <p>But when the incoming fog gets zapped first with an ion beam, the opposite effect happens. Not only do all of the droplets that are in the path of the wires land on them, even droplets that were aiming for the holes in the mesh get pulled toward the wires. This system can thus capture a much larger fraction of the droplets passing through. As such, it could dramatically improve the efficiency of fog-catching systems, and at a surprisingly low cost. The equipment is simple, and the amount of power required is minimal.</p> <p>Next, the team focused on capturing water from the plumes of power plant cooling towers. There, the stream of water vapor is much more concentrated than any naturally occurring fog, and that makes the system even more efficient. And since capturing evaporated water is in itself a distillation process, the water captured is pure, even if the cooling water is salty or contaminated. At this point, Karim Khalil, another graduate student from Varanasi’s lab joined the team.</p> <p>“It’s distilled water, which is of higher quality, that’s now just wasted,” says Varanasi. “That’s what we’re trying to capture.” The water could be piped to a city’s drinking water system, or used in processes that require pure water, such as in a power plant’s boilers, as opposed to being used in its cooling system where water quality doesn’t matter much.</p> <p>A typical 600-megawatt power plant, Varanasi says, could capture 150 million gallons of water a year, representing a value of millions of dollars. This represents about 20 to 30 percent of the water lost from cooling towers. With further refinements, the system may be able to capture even more of the output, he says.</p> <p>What’s more, since power plants are already in place along many arid coastlines, and many of them are cooled with seawater, this provides a very simple way to provide water desalination services at a tiny fraction of the cost of building a standalone desalination plant. Damak and Varanasi estimate that the installation cost of such a conversion would be about one-third that of a building a new desalination plant, and its operating costs would be about 1/50. The payback time for installing such a system would be about two years, Varanasi says, and it would have essentially no environmental footprint, adding nothing to that of the original plant.</p> <p>“This can be a great solution to address the global water crisis,” Varanasi says. “It could offset the need for about 70 percent of new desalination plant installations in the next decade.”</p> <p>In a series of dramatic proof-of-concept experiments, Damak, Khalil, and Varanasi demonstrated the concept by building a small lab version of a stack emitting a plume of water droplets, similar to those seen on actual power plant cooling towers, and placed their ion beam and mesh screen on it. In video of the experiment, a thick plume of fog droplets is seen rising from the device — and almost instantly disappears as soon as the system is switched on.</p> <p>The team is currently building a full-scale test version of their system to be placed on the cooling tower of MIT’s Central Utility Plant, a natural-gas cogeneration power plant that provides most of the campus’ electricity, heating, and cooling. The setup is expected to be in place by the end of the summer and will undergo testing in the fall. The tests will include trying different variations of the mesh and its supporting structure, Damak says.</p> <p>That should provide the needed evidence to enable power plant operators, who tend to be conservative in their technology choices, to adopt the system. Because power plants have decades-long operating lifetimes, their operators tend to “be very risk-averse” and want to know “has this been done somewhere else?” Varanasi says. The campus power plant tests will not only “de-risk” the technology, but will also help the MIT campus improve its water footprint, he says. “This can have a high impact on water use on campus.”</p> On the roof of the Central Utility Plant building, standing in front of one of the cooling towers, are (left to right): Seth Kinderman, Central Utility Plant engineering manager; Kripa Varanasi, associate professor of mechanical engineering; recent doctoral graduates Karim Khalil and Maher Damak; and Patrick Karalekas, plant engineer, Central Utilities Plant.Image: Melanie Gonick/MITResearch, Water, Nanoscience and nanotechnology, Mechanical engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, Manufacturing, Desalination, Nuclear power and reactors, School of Engineering, Energy, Environment, Sustainability, Facilities, Tata Center A graphene roll-out Scalable manufacturing process spools out strips of graphene for use in ultrathin membranes. Tue, 17 Apr 2018 23:59:59 -0400 Jennifer Chu | MIT News Office <p>MIT engineers have developed a continuous manufacturing process that produces long strips of high-quality graphene.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.”</p> <p>Hart is the senior author on the paper, which appears online in the journal <em>Applied Materials and Interfaces</em>. 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.</p> <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p><strong>Growing graphene</strong></p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.”</p> <p><strong>A factory roll-out</strong></p> <p>The researchers set out to build an end-to-end, start-to-finish manufacturing process to make membrane-quality graphene.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>“</strong>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.”</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.”</p> <p><strong>Flexible design</strong></p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.”</p> <p>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.&nbsp;</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.”</p> A new manufacturing process produces strips of graphene, at large scale, for use in membrane technologies and other applications.Image: Christine Daniloff, MITDesalination, Manufacturing, Materials Science and Engineering, Mechanical engineering, Carbon, Graphene, Research, School of Engineering AFFOA and VMS launch Advanced Fabrics Entrepreneurship Program Year-long program will give early-stage entrepreneurs a leg up in the functional fabrics industry. Fri, 13 Apr 2018 10:30:00 -0400 Rob Matheson | MIT News Office <p>Smart fabrics are poised to change what people expect from their clothing. Promising new fibers and textiles have been developed that can, for instance, connect to the internet, store and convert energy, regulate temperature, monitor health, and change color. And MIT is a leader of this revolution. <a name="_Hlk510535387"></a></p> <p>In April 2016, the Institute won a bid for $317 million — which consists of $75 million in federal funding and $242 million in nonfederal investments, including large contributions for MIT and the state of Massachusetts — and launched Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA). AFFOA is an independent nonprofit company designed to accelerate innovation of U.S.-manufactured smart fibers and textiles. In May 2017, a $2.2 million state grant <a href="">launched</a> the AFFOA-backed Defense Fabric Discovery Center at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory to serve warfighter functional fabric research and innovation. AFFOA has already released products embodying smart fabric technology, including progammable backpacks and caps.</p> <p>To further the Institute’s impact, AFFOA has now partnered with MIT Venture Mentoring Service (VMS) to foster a new program that aims to prepare the next generation of smart-fabrics entrepreneurs.</p> <p>The yearlong Advanced Fabrics Entrepreneurship Program (AFEP) combines AFFOA’s advanced prototyping resources and partnership network of more than 112 organizations with VMS’ mentoring expertise and educational services, to help early-stage entrepreneurs get commercial ventures off the ground. The program will include workshops, lectures, networking events, one-on-one mentoring, and other activities on and around campus.</p> <p>This week, AFEP launched its inaugural cohort of 24 entrepreneurial teams. The range of participants includes a local former commercial fisherman, members of the armed forces, established entrepreneurs and business owners, college students and researchers from across the nation — and even a team of local eighth-grade students.</p> <p>“Because initial applications and markets for smart fabrics and textiles have yet to be established, we are casting a wide net,” says Beth Kahn of the MIT Innovation Initiative, who is a key AFEP organizer.</p> <p>AFEP seeks to inject the nascent smart-fabrics industry with a broad palette of new ideas and an array of consumer applications. This infusion is especially important as consumer demand begins to outpace innovations in the field, says MIT Professor and AFFOA CEO Yoel Fink.</p> <p>“Consumers want fabrics to move at the speed of digital products. The apparel industry hasn’t kept up with that,” says Fink, a professor of materials science and electrical engineering and a principal investigator at MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE). “We’re creating a system that will spawn a whole bunch of startups around advanced fabrics. Big apparel companies, such as Nike and New Balance, which are partnered with AFFOA, can then see those as opportunities to invest in or to acquire.”</p> <p>AFFOA’s aim, Fink adds, is to “address the gap where university ends and companies begin. [AFEP] fits neatly into that gap, and I think it’s going to form a fantastic bridge.”</p> <p>Some of the projects include: printed stretchable batteries, by a team from the University of California at San Diego; a smart bra that can detect early signs of heart disease, by a team from the University of Pennsylvania, University of North Carolina, and MIT; a backpack that alerts users when it’s harmfully overweight, by a team from Swarthmore College and Northeastern University; a sensor-equipped fabric steering wheel that aims to reduce distracted driving, by a local former commercial fisherman; a collar for pet tracking, location, and monitoring, by the company Gloucester Innovation; undergarments for soldiers that detect trauma and activate a tourniquet, by a team affiliated with Harvard Business School, West Point, the National Energy Technology Laboratory, and the U.S. Army; and translucent athletic shoes, by students from Edward Devotion Elementary School in Brookline, Massachusetts.</p> <p>Participants are expected to travel to required workshops and other events held throughout the year. All AFEP participants must also agree to manufacture only in the United States, which is one of the key pillars of AFFOA’s mission.</p> <p><strong>Building commercial value</strong></p> <p>AFEP’s structure is based on the successful MIT <a href="">Translational Fellows Program (TFP)</a>, initiated at the RLE and supported by the VMS, RLE, and MIT Innovation Initiative. The program enrolls postdocs from all MIT schools to learn best practices in translating research from the lab to market. So far, 78 fellows have completed the programs, starting more than a dozen companies raising more than $50 million in additional funding.</p> <p>TFP postdoc projects have run the gamut, from blockchain technologies to <a href="">beer-brewing innovations</a> and <a href="">compact fusion generation</a>. AFEP is open to the broader community and targets ventures in advanced fabrics. The program will include exposure to technical expertise, prototyping, and manufacturing capabilities through AFFOA.</p> <p>Those activities will emphasize lessons learned, through VMS, TFP, and I-Corps: How to learn from customers, establish beachhead markets, build teams, engage with industry, identify technical and market risks, advance commercialization plans, and meet prospective investors. “At the core it’s about asking, ‘Who wants this and why?” Kahn says. “You may have [a technology] that’s cool, and that’s great, but what problem is it solving?”</p> <p>“If I want to incorporate new things into fabrics, what impact does that have on the whole value and supply chain? [Those types of] questions help entrepreneurs get a sense of value of their product in terms of dollars,” Kahn says.</p> <p><strong>Networking and advanced prototyping</strong></p> <p>The entrepreneurs will interact at <a href="">AFFOA’s state-of-the-art prototyping facility</a> in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which was funded, in part, by MIT and the state. Called the Fabric Discovery Center, the world’s first end-to-end prototyping facility comes with advanced computer-assisted design and fabrication tools to help accelerate new advanced fabric ideas from the concept to functional products.</p> <p>“We’re bringing these folks in who all have ideas, passions, some framework for a company and technology they want to apply to the real world. We’re exposing them to a wealth of technology,” Fink says. “When you take passionate entrepreneurs and connect them with advanced technologies, wonderful things happen.”</p> <p>Apart from the prototyping facilities, Kahn says, AFFOA will provide the entrepreneurs with a long list of industry connections to leverage for potential customers, partners, or investors — something that could otherwise be challenging in the incipient functional fabrics industry.</p> <p>“The expectation is entrepreneurs will tap that membership,” Kahn says. “This [program] is going to grease the skids for entrepreneurs, allowing access to something they usually wouldn’t have.”</p> <p>All AFEP entrepreneurs aren’t expected to launch startups, however, Kahn says. Participants could walk away with patents or licensing agreements, a solid business plan, or simply a detailed marketable idea. Just as long as they’re on the commercialization track, she says: “At the end of the day, we want the entrepreneurs to have a clear path and plan to get their product into practical use.”</p> The YenAra (in Twi, a local language in Ghana, meaning “our very own”) backpacks team, now in AFEP, is developing advanced, functional, yet stylish backpacks that encourage individuals to showcase their creativity through socially responsible ways. Pictured are two of the founders, Sedinam Worlanyo (left) and Bolutife Fakoya, both Swarthmore College alumni, presenting at Swarthmore SwatTank Annual Business and Innovation Competition. The third founder, Yaa Kyeremateng, is a behavioral neuroscience major at Northeastern University. Photo courtesy of Swarthmore CollegeInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Materials Science and Engineering, DMSE, Technology and society, Industry, Manufacturing, School of Engineering, Research Laboratory of Electronics, Collaboration, Innovation Initiative, Classes and programs, Lincoln Laboratory