How the brain pays attention

Picking out a face in the crowd is a complicated task: Your brain has to retrieve the memory of the face you’re seeking, then hold it in place while scanning the crowd, paying special attention to finding a match.

Engineers design ‘living materials’

Inspired by natural materials such as bone — a matrix of minerals and other substances, including living cells — MIT engineers have coaxed bacterial cells to produce biofilms that can incorporate nonliving materials, such as gold nanoparticles and quantum dots.

Video: MIT's soft robotic fish moves like the real thing

Soft robots — which don’t just have soft exteriors but are also powered by fluid flowing through flexible channels — have become a sufficiently popular research topic that they now have their own journal, Soft Robotics.

Plasma plumes help shield Earth from damaging solar storms

The Earth's magnetic field, or magnetosphere, stretches from the planet's core out into space, where it meets the solar wind, a stream of charged particles emitted by the sun. For the most part, the magnetosphere acts as a shield to protect the Earth from this high-energy solar activity.

Driving down fuel consumption with XL hybrids

Despite their potential to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and fuel consumption, electric and hybrid cars and trucks struggled for years to find a solid customer base. Much of the reason came down to cost and convenience: Electric car batteries are expensive, and charging them requires plug-in infrastructure that’s still sparse in the United States.

MIT builds self-completing programs

Since he was a graduate student, Armando Solar-Lezama, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, has been working on a programming language called Sketch, which allows programmers to simply omit some of the computational details of their code. Sketch then automatically fills in the gaps.

Rise of the compliant machines

Are we on the brink of a robotics revolution? That’s what numerous media outlets asked last December when Google acquired eight robotics companies that specialize in such innovations as manipulation, vision, and humanoid robots.

3-D scanning with your smartphone

Traditionally, 3-D scanning has required expensive laser scanner equipment, complicated software, and technological expertise.

Rogue asteroids may be the norm

To get an idea of how the early solar system may have formed, scientists often look to asteroids. These relics of rock and dust represent what today's planets may have been before they differentiated into bodies of core, mantle, and crust.

MIT's transparent display system could provide heads-up data

Transparent displays have a variety of potential applications — such as the ability to see navigation or dashboard information while looking through the windshield of a car or plane, or to project video onto a window or a pair of eyeglasses. A number of technologies have been developed for such displays, but all have limitations.

Water, water everywhere: But is there enough to drink?

The challenge of supplying clean, safe drinking water to an expanding world population comes down to money, MIT economist Franklin Fisher says: We are surrounded by water — it covers 71 percent of Earth’s surface — and industrial-scale desalination has operated successfully around the world for many years.

Even at MIT, it’s a challenge to get robots to act human

A team from MIT is taking on the DARPA Robotics Challenge and finding it is hard to take robots out of their typical industrial environments into the real world.

Inexpensive 'nano-camera' can operate at the speed of light

A $500 "nano-camera" that can operate at the speed of light has been developed by researchers in the MIT Media Lab. The three-dimensional camera, which was presented last week at Siggraph Asia in Hong Kong, could be used in medical imaging and collision-avoidance detectors for cars, and to improve the accuracy of motion tracking and gesture-recognition devices used in interactive gaming.

MIT researchers optimize robot vision

Object recognition is one of the most widely studied problems in computer vision. But a robot that manipulates objects in the world needs to do more than just recognize them; it also needs to understand their orientation. Is that mug right-side up or upside-down? And which direction is its handle facing?

Towards a world of flexible touchscreens

Electronic devices with touchscreens are ubiquitous, and one key piece of technology makes them possible: transparent conductors. However, the cost and the physical limitations of the material these conductors are usually made of are hampering progress toward flexible touchscreen devices.

MIT neuroscientists showcase ability to plant false memories

The phenomenon of false memory has been well-documented: In many court cases, defendants have been found guilty based on testimony from witnesses and victims who were sure of their recollections, but DNA evidence later overturned the conviction.

Low-power Wi-Fi signal tracks movement - behind walls

The comic-book hero Superman uses his X-ray vision to spot bad guys lurking behind walls and other objects. Now we could all have X-ray vision, thanks to researchers at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

Solar panels are getting thinner

Most efforts at improving solar cells have focused on increasing the efficiency of their energy conversion, or on lowering the cost of manufacturing. But now MIT researchers are opening another avenue for improvement, aiming to produce the thinnest and most lightweight solar panels possible.

Graphene-based systems could enable faster processing

Researchers at MIT have proposed a new system that combines ferroelectric materials — the kind often used for data storage — with graphene, a two-dimensional form of carbon known for its exceptional electronic and mechanical properties.

Synthetic bones printed in the lab

MiIT researchers have developed a way of printing synthetic bones using a 3D printer in combination with two synthetic polymers that combine to give the same fracture behavior as bones.