Airline passenger says he wanted to slap man who refused to switch seats so he could sit by his wife

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A man who was unable to book two airline seats next to each other so he could sit next to his wife became frustrated after a fellow passenger refused to swap seats.

Jay Kloss and his wife, Zoe, were separated in the business class section of their Virgin Australia airlines flight after they were unable to book two seats next to each other. Jay was in the aisle while Zoe was seated by the window in the same row but on opposite sides of the plane. 

There were eight seats in business class and no middle seats.


Jay posted a video to TikTok detailing the incident and asked his followers if he was in the wrong to request that the other passenger switch seats.

"I wanted to slap him," he said.

He explained that when he booked the flight, the other aisle and window seats were both taken. Jay assumed he would be able to swap seats with a passenger since that person would end up with the same seat on the other side of the plane.

"No matter what, me and Zoe are sitting together … WRONG," Jay said.


As the couple boarded the plane, Jay said he politely asked the man in the aisle seat, "Hey bro, would you mind moving so I can sit with my missus? It’s her birthday."

"And he just looks at me and doesn't respond," Jay continued. "Then he's like, ‘No. I won’t. But I'll sit here,'" referring to Zoe's window seat.

However, Jay explained, Zoe always sits near a window to avoid nausea.

"So, he'll make us sit on either side of the aisle, just for no reason. It's the same seat," Jay said. "So anyway, I'm like, ‘Bro, really? You sure you can’t swap seats with us?' And he just doesn't respond to me."

Zoe then sat in her seat by the window next to the man and asked him if there was a problem and if it were possible to switch seats since it was her birthday and she wanted to sit with her husband.


"Nah, no problem. Just not moving," the man allegedly told her.

Jay then asked his followers, "Am I missing something? Can somebody explain to me what the hell is going on here? It's the same seat, just on a different side of the aisle."

But the couple did end up sitting next to each other, as the person sitting in the window seat next to Jay offered to switch with Zoe.

The comments on the video overwhelmingly pushed back on the idea that the man should have switched seats with Jay. 


Many users said the couple should have booked the seats they wished to sit in and that there should not have been an assumption that the man would give up his seat to accommodate them, even if it was Zoe's birthday.

Source: Airline passenger says he wanted to slap man who refused to switch seats so he could sit by his wife

MIT-Takeda Program heads into fourth year with crop of 10 new projects

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In 2020, the School of Engineering and Takeda Pharmaceutical Company launched the MIT-Takeda Program, which aims to leverage the experience of both entities to solve problems at the intersection of health care, medicine, and artificial intelligence. Since the program began, teams have devised mechanisms to reduce manufacturing time for certain pharmaceutical products, submitted a patent application, and streamlined literature reviews enough to save eight months of time and cost.  

Now, the program is headed into its fourth year, supporting 10 teams in its second round of projects. Projects selected for the program span the entirety of the biopharmaceutical industry, from drug development to commercial and manufacturing.

“The research projects in the second round of funding have the potential to lead to transformative breakthroughs in health care,” says Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of the School of Engineering and co-chair of the MIT-Takeda Program. “These cross-disciplinary teams are working to improve the lives and outcomes of patients everywhere.”

The program was formed to merge Takeda’s expertise in the biopharmaceutical industry with MIT’s deep experience at the vanguard of artificial intelligence and machine learning (ML) research.  

“The objective of the program is to take the expertise from MIT, at the edge of innovation in the AI space, and to combine that with the problems and the challenges that we see in drug research and development,” says Simon Davies, the executive director of the MIT-Takeda Program and Takeda’s global head of statistical and quantitative sciences. The beauty of this collaboration, Davies adds, is that it allowed Takeda to take important problems and data to MIT researchers, whose advanced modeling or methodology could help solve them.

In Round 1 of the program, one project led by scientists and engineers at MIT and Takeda researched speech-related biomarkers for frontotemporal dementia. They used machine learning and AI to find potential signs of disease based on a patient’s speech alone.

Previously, identifying these biomarkers would have required more invasive procedures, like magnetic resonance imaging. Speech, on the other hand, is cheap and easy to collect. In the first two years of their research, the team, which included Jim Glass, a senior research scientist in MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and Brian Tracey, director, statistics at Takeda, was able to show that there is a potential voice signal for people with frontotemporal dementia.

“That is very important to us because before we run any trial, we need to figure out how we can actually measure the disease in the population that we are targeting” says Marco Vilela, an associate director of statistics-quantitative sciences at Takeda working on the project. “We would like to not only differentiate subjects that have the disease from people that don't have the disease, but also track the disease progression based purely on the voice of the individuals.”

The group is now broadening the scope of its research and building on its work in the first round of the program to enter Round 2, which features a crop of 10 new projects and two continuing projects. In Round 2, the biomarker group’s biomarker research will expand speech analysis to a wider variety of diseases, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. Vilela and Glass, are leading the team in its second round.

Those involved in the program, like Glass and Vilela, say the collaboration has been a mutually beneficial one. Takeda, a global pharmaceutical company based in Japan with labs in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has access to data and scientists who specialize in numerous diseases, patient diagnoses, and treatment. MIT brings aboard world-class scientists and engineers studying AI and ML across a diverse range of fields.

Faculty from all across MIT, including the departments of Biology, Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Chemical Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering, as well as the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, and MIT Sloan School of Management, work on the program’s research projects. The program puts those researchers — and their skill sets — on the same team, working toward a shared objective to help patients.  

“This is the best kind of collaboration, is to actually have researchers on both sides working actively together on a common problem, common dataset, common models,” says Glass. “I tend to think that the more people that are thinking about the problem, the better.”

Although speech is relatively simple data to gather, large, analyzable datasets are not always easy to find. Takeda assisted Glass’s project during Round 1 of the program by offering researchers access to a wider range of datasets than they would have otherwise been able to obtain.

“Our work with Takeda has definitely given us more access than we would have if we were just trying to find health-related datasets that are publicly available. There aren’t a lot of them,” says R’mani Symon Haulcy, an MIT PhD candidate in electrical engineering and computer science and a Takeda Fellow who is working on the project.

Meanwhile, MIT researchers helped Takeda by providing the expertise to develop advanced modeling tools for big, complex data.

“The business problem that we had requires some really sophisticated and advanced modeling techniques that within Takeda we didn't necessarily have the expertise to build,” says Davies. “MIT and the program has brought that to the table, to allow us to develop algorithmic approaches to complex problems.”

Ultimately, the program, Davies says, has been educational on both sides — providing participants at Takeda with knowledge of how much AI can accomplish in the industry and offering MIT researchers insight into how industry develops and commercializes new drugs, as well as how academic research can translate to very real problems related to human health.

“Meaningful progress of AI and ML in biopharmaceutical applications has been relatively slow. But I think the MIT-Takeda Program has really shown that we and the industry can be successful in the space and in optimizing the likelihood of success of bringing medicines to patients faster and doing it more efficiently,” says Davies. “We're just at the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we can all do using AI and ML more broadly. I think that's a super-exciting place for us to be … to really drive this to be a much more organic part of what we do each and every day across the industry for patients to benefit.”

Source: MIT-Takeda Program heads into fourth year with crop of 10 new projects

School of Science presents 2023 Infinite Expansion Awards

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The MIT School of Science has announced seven postdocs and research scientists as recipients of the 2023 Infinite Expansion Award. Nominated by their peers and mentors, the awardees are recognized not only for their exceptional science, but for mentoring and advising junior colleagues, supporting educational programs, working with the MIT Postdoctoral Association, or contributing some other way to the Institute.

The 2023 Infinite Expansion award winners in the School of Science are:

  • Kyle Jenks, a postdoc in the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, nominated by professor and Picower Institute investigator Mriganka Sur;
  • Matheus Victor, a postdoc in the Picower Institute, nominated by professor and Picower Institute director Li-Huei Tsai.

A monetary award is granted to recipients, and a celebratory reception will be held for the winners this spring with family, friends, nominators, and recipients of the Infinite Expansion Award.

Source: School of Science presents 2023 Infinite Expansion Awards

Jupneet Singh: Finding purpose through service

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As a first-year U.S. Air Force cadet in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), Jupneet Singh never imagined she would rise to the rank of wing commander by the end of her MIT career. She approached her first year as a trial period without many expectations, but the close-knit community and inspiring leadership compelled her to continue in the program.  

As commander, Singh is the highest-ranked cadet in Detachment 365, which includes students from MIT, Harvard University, Wellesley College, and Tufts University. The detachment was recently named best large detachment in the nation by Air Force ROTC. She oversees everything that happens and is the direct contact between the officer and cadet divisions.

Her decision to enroll in ROTC “really came down to believing in the values that the U.S. stands for, specifically freedom of religion,” says Singh, who is Sikh. “My parents were in India in 1984 during the Sikh Massacre, and hearing them talk about it is obviously very painful. Here in the U.S. that’s something that, in principle, doesn’t happen, and that makes me proud to serve.”

While Singh was growing up in Southern California, her family instilled in her the value of service to one’s community and often volunteered at Sikh Gurdwara community kitchens and religious retreats. Her mother would often mention how lucky they were to be able to give back, right in their backyard.

“I felt a lot of support from my community when I was growing up, and I want to make sure that other kids feel that same support and can also succeed and flourish,” says Singh, who has founded two organizations that do just that. “I feel a great connection to my community, and I always want to find a way to give back.”

Singh is a senior majoring in chemistry with a minor in history. In her research at MIT she has examined the biochemistry of human innate immunity and microbial pathogenesis through research on natural products at the Nolan Lab, and investigated fatty liver disease with computational biology at the Shalek Lab.

Following graduation, she will pursue a master’s degree focused on policy at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar — the first-ever scholar from the Air Force ROTC program. Then, she’ll commission as a second lieutenant in the Air Force and attend medical school with the goal of becoming a trauma surgeon. Looking ahead in her career, Singh wants to blend health and policy and continue to support grassroots efforts in addition to higher-level policy changes.

“Advocating for health and health care is the foundation for closing inequities in other aspects of life,” says Singh. “If someone isn’t able to access proper health care when they need it, then they can’t focus on education, income, or anything else. It’s also really important to me that whatever policy or programs I support are being looked at from a local, grassroots level. If a lot of changes are enacted but you don’t refer to the communities who are actually affected by them, they cannot be as effective.”

Making a lasting impact

In high school, Singh started the program Tennis for Tots. A longtime tennis player herself, she wanted to increase access to the sport that generally has a high cost to entry. By partnering with her high school’s tennis team, Tennis for Tots was able to provide rackets, balls, and a weekly clinic free of charge for underserved youth across multiple school districts.

Following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Singh found herself spending an unplanned year at home, where she saw an opportunity to start another program that built upon the mission of Tennis for Tots. She worked with the Ventura County Family Justice Center to start Pathways to Promise, a program that provides support to children affected by domestic violence to help them achieve their goals. Pathways offers educational and vocational support through field trips, keynote speakers, and college-bound workshops.

“At big public schools, there may not be the one-on-one attention needed to give these kids motivation or expand their horizons,” says Singh. “This program was something that I was passionate about because while Tennis for Tots was improving the physical wellbeing of kids, Pathways was mental wellbeing, educational wellbeing, and giving social support. The other part that is important is the continuous nature of it. Every month we have this programming instead of just seeing them once a year.”

Singh followed up her work with Pathways to Promise by collaborating on and publishing a research paper as first author, examining domestic violence trends in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Though she doesn’t plan to return to her hometown in the near future, both Tennis for Tots and Pathways to Promise continue to expand and provide much needed resources to her community, and she returns periodically to stay involved.

Finding moments to be creative

Though the next few years of Singh’s life seem highly prescribed, she’s keeping an open mind to new opportunities.

“I like having a clear path, but within the next few years I’m going to keep creating spaces to take initiative,” says Singh.

The MIT Mock Trial team has kept her creative juices flowing at MIT, and another way Singh flexes her creative muscles is by playing the harmonium, an Indian instrument similar to an organ. Her grandmother was a harmonium teacher, and Singh has been playing and performing in Sikh temples since she was 2 years old.

Singh is also looking forward to her service in the Air Force and the opportunities she’ll have as a physician-leader.

“Being a doctor in the Air Force is so different from being a doctor in the civilian world, in terms of the people you serve and the opportunities you get to implement initiatives and programs so early in your career,” says Singh. “My dream would be to be the Surgeon General. The Air Force fits really well into that path of being able to serve as a doctor and also be a leader.”

Source: Jupneet Singh: Finding purpose through service

A more sustainable way to generate phosphorus

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Phosphorus is an essential ingredient in thousands of products, including herbicides, lithium-ion batteries, and even soft drinks. Most of this phosphorus comes from an energy-intensive process that contributes significantly to global carbon emissions.

In an effort to reduce that carbon footprint, MIT chemists have devised an alternative way to generate white phosphorus, a critical intermediate in the manufacture of those phosphorus-containing products. Their approach, which uses electricity to speed up a key chemical reaction, could reduce the carbon emissions of the process by half or even more, the researchers say.

“White phosphorus is currently an indispensable intermediate, and our process dramatically reduces the carbon footprint of converting phosphate to white phosphorus,” says Yogesh Surendranath, an associate professor of chemistry at MIT and the senior author of the study.

The new process reduces the carbon footprint of white phosphorus production in two ways: It reduces the temperatures required for the reaction, and it generates significantly less carbon dioxide as a waste product.

Recent MIT graduate Jonathan “Jo” Melville PhD ’21 and MIT graduate student Andrew Licini are the lead authors of the paper, which appears today in ACS Central Science.

Purifying phosphorus

When phosphorus is mined out of the ground, it is in the form of phosphate, a mineral whose basic unit comprises one atom of phosphorus bound to four oxygen atoms. About 95 percent of this phosphate ore is used to make fertilizer. The remaining phosphate ore is processed separately into white phosphorus, a molecule composed of four phosphorus atoms bound to each other. White phosphorus is then fed into a variety of chemical processes that are used to manufacture many different products, such as lithium battery electrolytes and semiconductor dopants.

Converting those mined phosphates into white phosphorus accounts for a substantial fraction of the carbon footprint of the entire phosphorus industry, Surendranath says. The most energy-intensive part of the process is breaking the bonds between phosphorus and oxygen, which are very stable.

Using the traditional “thermal process,” those bonds are broken by heating carbon coke and phosphate rock to a temperature of 1,500 degrees Celsius. In this process, the carbon serves to strip away the oxygen atoms from phosphorus, leading to the eventual generation of CO2 as a byproduct. In addition, sustaining those temperatures requires a great deal of energy, adding to the carbon footprint of the process.

“That process hasn’t changed substantially since its inception over a century ago. Our goal was to figure out how we could develop a process that would substantially lower the carbon footprint of this process,” Surendranath says. “The idea was to combine it with renewable electricity and drive that conversion of phosphate to white phosphorus with electrons rather than using carbon.”

To do that, the researchers had to come up with an alternative way to weaken the strong phosphorus-oxygen bonds found in phosphates. They achieved this by controlling the environment in which the reaction occurs. The researchers found that the reaction could be promoted using a dehydrated form of phosphoric acid, which contains long chains of phosphate salts held together by bonds called phosphoryl anhydrides. These bonds help to weaken the phosphorus-oxygen bonds.

When the researchers run an electric current through these salts, electrons break the weakened bonds, allowing the phosphorus atoms to break free and bind to each other to form white phosphorus. At the temperatures needed for this system (about 800 C), phosphorus exists as a gas, so it can bubble out of the solution and be collected in an external chamber.


The electrode that the researchers used for this demonstration relies on carbon as a source of electrons, so the process generates some carbon dioxide as a byproduct. However, they are now working on swapping that electrode out for one that would use phosphate itself as the electron source, which would further reduce the carbon footprint by cleanly separating phosphate into phosphorus and oxygen.

With the process reported in this paper, the researchers have reduced the overall carbon footprint for generating white phosphorus by about 50 percent. With future modifications, they hope to bring the carbon emissions down to nearly zero, in part by using renewable energy such as solar or wind power to drive the electric current required.

If the researchers succeed in scaling up their process and making it widely available, it could allow industrial users to generate white phosphorus on site instead of having it shipped from the few places in the world where it is currently manufactured. That would cut down on the risks of transporting white phosphorus, which is an explosive material.

“We’re excited about the prospect of doing on-site generation of this intermediate, so you don’t have to do the transportation and distribution,” Surendranath says. “If you could decentralize this production, the end user could make it on site and use it in an integrated fashion.”

In order to do this study, the researchers had to develop new tools for controlling the electrolytes (such as salts and acids) present in the environment, and for measuring how those electrolytes affect the reaction. Now, they plan to use the same approach to try to develop lower-carbon processes for isolating other industrially important elements, such as silicon and iron.

“This work falls within our broader interests in decarbonizing these legacy industrial processes that have a huge carbon footprint,” Surendranath says. “The basic science that leads us there is understanding how you can tailor the electrolytes to foster these processes.”

The research was funded by the Université Mohammed VI Polytechnique–MIT Research Program, a fellowship from the MIT Tata Center for Technology and Design, and a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship.

Source: A more sustainable way to generate phosphorus

Making nanoparticle building blocks for new materials

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Some researchers are driven by the quest to improve a specific product, like a battery or a semiconductor. Others are motivated by tackling questions faced by a given industry. Rob Macfarlane, MIT’s Paul M. Cook Associate Professor in Materials Science and Engineering, is driven by a more fundamental desire.

“I like to make things,” Macfarlane says. “I want to make materials that can be functional and useful, and I want to do so by figuring out the basic principles that go into making new structures at many different size ranges.”

He adds, “For a lot of industries or types of engineering, materials synthesis is treated as a solved problem — making a new device is about using the materials we already have, in new ways. In our lab’s research efforts, we often have to educate people that the reason we can’t do X, Y, or Z right now is because we don’t have the materials needed to enable those technological advances. In many cases, we simply don’t know how to make them yet. This is the goal of our research: Our lab is about enabling the materials needed to develop new technologies, rather than focusing on just the end products.”

By uncovering design principles for nanocomposites, which are materials made from mixtures of polymers and nanoparticles, Macfarlane’s career has gradually evolved from designing specks of novel materials to building functional objects you can hold in your hand. Eventually, he believes his research will lead to new ways of making products with fine-tuned and predetermined combinations of desired electrical, mechanical, optical, and magnetic properties.

Along the way Macfarlane, who earned tenure last year, has also committed himself to mentoring students. He’s taught three undergraduate chemistry courses at MIT, including his current course, 3.010 (Synthesis and Design of Materials), which introduces sophomores to the fundamental concepts necessary for designing and making their own new structures in the future. He also recently redesigned a course in which he teaches graduate students how to be educators by learning how to do things like write a syllabus, communicate with and mentor students, and design homework assignments.

Ultimately, Macfarlane believes mentoring the next generation of researchers is as important as publishing papers.

“I’m fortunate. I’ve been successful, and I have the opportunity to pursue research I’m passionate about,” he says. “Now I view a major component of my job as enabling my students to be successful. The real product and output of what I do here is not just the science and tech advancements and patents, it’s the students that go on to industry or academia or wherever else they choose, and then change the world in their own ways.”

From nanometers to millimeters

Macfarlane was born and raised on a small farm in Palmer, Alaska, a suburban community about 45 minutes north of Anchorage. When he was in high school, the town announced budget cuts that would force the school to scale back a number of classes. In response, Macfarlane’s mother, a former school teacher, encouraged him to enroll in the science education classes that would be offered to students a year older than him, so he wouldn’t miss the chance to take them.

“She knew education was paramount, so she said ‘We're going to get you into these last classes before they get watered down,’” Macfarlane recalls.

Macfarlane didn’t know any of the students in his new classes, but he had a passionate chemistry teacher that helped him discover a love for the subject. As a result, when he decided to attend Willamette University in Oregon as an undergraduate, he immediately declared himself a chemistry major (which he later adjusted to biochemistry).

Macfarlane attended Yale University for his master’s degree and initially began a PhD there before moving to Northwestern University, where a PhD student’s seminar set Macfarlane on a path he’d follow for the rest of his career.

“[The PhD student] was doing exactly what I was interested in,” says Macfarlane, who asked the student’s PhD advisor, Professor Chad Mirkin, to be his advisor as well. “I was very fortunate when I joined Mirkin’s lab, because the project I worked on had been initiated by a sixth-year grad student and a postdoc that published a big paper and then immediately left. So, there was this wide-open field nobody was working on. It was like being given a blank canvas with a thousand different things to do.”

The work revolved around a precise way to bind particles together using synthetic DNA strands that act like Velcro.

Researchers have known for decades that certain materials exhibit unique properties when assembled at the scale of 1 to 100 nanometers. It was also believed that building things out of those precisely organized assemblies could give objects unique properties. The problem was finding a way to get the particles to bind in a predictable way.

With the DNA-based approach, Macfarlane had a starting point.

“[The researchers] had said, ‘Okay, we’ve shown we can make a thing, but can we make all the things with DNA?’” Macfarlane says. “My PhD thesis was about developing design rules so that if you use a specific set of building blocks, you get a known set of nanostructures as a result. Those rules allowed us to make hundreds of different crystal structures with different sizes, compositions, shapes, lattice structures, etc.”

After completing his PhD, Macfarlane knew he wanted to go into academia, but his biggest priority had nothing to do with work.

“I wanted to go somewhere warm,” Macfarlane says. “I had lived in Alaska for 18 years. I did a PhD in Chicago for six years. I just wanted to go somewhere warm for a while.”

Macfarlane ended up at Caltech in Pasadena, California, working in the labs of Harry Atwater and Nobel laureate Bob Grubbs. Researchers in those labs were studying self-assembly using a new type of polymer, which Macfarlane says required a “completely different” skillset compared to his PhD work.

In 2015, after two years of learning to build materials using polymers and soaking up the sun, Macfarlane plunged back into the cold and joined MIT’s faculty. In Cambridge, Macfarlane has focused on merging the assembly techniques he’s developed for both polymers, DNA, and inorganic nanoparticles to make new materials at larger scales.

That work led Macfarlane and a group of researchers to create a new type of self-assembling building blocks that his lab has dubbed “nanocomposite tectons” (NCTs). NCTs use polymers and molecules that can mimic the ability of DNA to direct the self-organization of nanoscale objects, but with far more scalablility — meaning these materials could be used to build macroscopic objects that can a person can hold in their hand.

“[The objects] had controlled composition at the polymer and nanoparticle level; they had controlled grain sizes and microstructural features; and they had a controlled macroscopic three-dimensional form; and that’s never been done before,” Macfarlane says. “It opened up a huge number of possibilities by saying all those properties that people have been studying for decades on these nanoparticles and their assemblies, now we can actually make them into something functional and useful.”

A world of possibilities

As Macfarlane continues working to make NCTs more scalable, he’s excited about a number of potential applications.

One involves programming objects to transfer energy in specific ways. In the case of mechanical energy, if you hit the object with a hammer or it were involved in a car crash, the resulting energy could dissipate in a way that protects what’s on the other side. In the case of photons or electrons, you could design a precise path for the energy or ions to travel through, which could improve the efficiency of energy storage, computing, and transportation components.

The truth is that such precise design of materials has too many potential applications to count.

Working on such fundamental problems excites Macfarlane, and the possibilities coming from his work will only grow as his team continues to make advances.

“In the end, NCTs open up many new possibilities for materials design, but what might be especially industrially relevant is not so much the NCTs themselves, but what we’ve learned along the way,” Macfarlane says. “We’ve learned how to develop new syntheses and processing methods, so one of the things I’m most excited about is making materials with these methods that have compositions that were previously inaccessible.”

Source: Making nanoparticle building blocks for new materials

Nine from MIT named 2023 Sloan Research Fellows

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Nine members of the MIT faculty are among 126 early-career researchers honored across seven fields with 2023 Sloan Research Fellowships by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Representing the departments of Aeronautics and Astronautics, ChemistryEconomicsElectrical Engineering and Computer Science, Materials Science and Engineering, Mathematics, and Physics, the honorees will each receive a two-year, $75,000 fellowship to advance their research.

Including this year’s recipients, a total of 318 MIT faculty have received Sloan Research Fellowships since the first fellowships were awarded in 1955.

Luca Carlone is the Leonardo Career Development Associate Professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and a principal investigator in the MIT Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems (LIDS). He is the director of the MIT SPARK Labwhich works at the cutting edge of robotics and autonomous systems research. Carlone researches human-level perception and world understanding on mobile robotics platforms (drones, self-driving vehicles, ground robots) operating in the real world. His research includes nonlinear estimation and probabilistic inference, numerical and distributed optimization, and geometric computer vision applied to sensing, perception, and decision-making in single and multi-robot systems. Carlone was recently selected to the editorial board of the International Journal of Robotics as a senior editor and named an associate fellow class of 2023 in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Rafael Gómez-Bombarelli is the Jeffrey Cheah Career Development Chair in Engineering in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and an investigator in the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab. His research pairs computational design with machine learning to accelerate the discovery of new materials. Using theoretical and experimental data, Gómez-Bombarelli and his research lab colleagues relate the composition and structure of molecules and solids to their performance and identify candidates for practical applications. They have used the approach to design new forms of zeolites, for example — a class of porous minerals used in industrial applications — for specific, climate-change-focused applications, such as cleaning up exhaust from vehicles. Other applications include therapeutic peptides, electrolytes for batteries, inorganic oxides for sustainable catalysis, carbon-capture materials, and sustainable polymers.

Jeremy Hahn ’13 is the Rockwell International Career Development Assistant Professor of Mathematics. His research is in algebraic topology and homotopy theory. With collaborators, he has done work in equivariant chromatic homotopy theory, the classification of high-dimensional manifolds, and the redshift conjectures in algebraic K-theory. He hopes to better understand the behavior of new invariants of ring spectra, such as syntomic and prismatic cohomology.

Song Han, an electrical engineeering and computer science (EECS) associate professor and an investigator in the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab, proposed the “Deep Compression” technique that’s widely used for efficient artificial intelligence computing, and “Efficient Inference Engine” that first brought weight sparsity to modern AI chips, which influenced NVIDIA’s Ampere GPU. He introduced the TinyML research that brings deep learning to internet-of-things devices, enabling learning on the edge. His work on hardware-aware neural architecture search (once-for-all network) enables users to design, optimize, shrink, and deploy AI models to resource-constrained hardware devices. Han received best paper awards at ICLR and FPGA, faculty awards from Amazon, SONY, Facebook, NVIDIA, and Samsung, NSF CAREER Award, “35 Innovators Under 35” by MIT Technology Review, and “AIs 10 to Watch: The Future of AI” award by IEEE. 

Erin Kara is the Class of 1958 Career Development Assistant Professor of Physics and a member of the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. An observational astrophysicist who is working to understand the physics behind how black holes grow and affect their environments, she also works to develop new and future space missions. Kara is a NASA participating scientist of the XRISM Observatory, to launch later this year, and is the deputy principal investigator of the AXIS Probe Mission Concept.  

Jonathan Ragan-Kelley SM ’07, PhD’14 is the Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Assistant Professor in EECS and an investigator in the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab. He is affiliated with the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), where his research focuses on computer graphics, compilers, domain-specific languages, and high-performance systems. While completing his PhD at MIT in 2014 under the supervision of professors Frédo Durand and Saman Amarasingh, Ragan-Kelley was instrumental in developing the language and compiler Halide, “a language for fast, portable computation on images and tensors” that has become the “industry standard for computational photography and image processing.” Fast and efficient, Halide was created to make writing high-performance image processing code on modern machines more seamless. His earlier work on the language Lightspeed has been an instrumental tool in producing films, and for those efforts he was a finalist for a technical Academy Award.

Ronald Fernando Garcia Ruiz, an assistant professor in physics and a researcher with the Laboratory for Nuclear Science’s Hadronic Physics Group, focuses on the development of laser spectroscopy techniques to investigate the properties of subatomic particles using atoms and molecules made up of short-lived radioactive nuclei. His experimental work provides unique information about the fundamental forces of nature, the properties of nuclear matter at the limits of existence, and the search for new physics beyond the Standard Model of particle physics.​

Tobias Salz, the Castle Krob Career Development Assistant Professor of Economics, works in the field of empirical industrial organization. His main research interests are decentralized markets, platforms, and intermediaries. A recent area of focus of his research agenda are transportation markets. In a separate line of research, he studies the economic and regulatory implications of the emerging abundance of consumer data and advances in artificial intelligence that are enabled by these data.

Alison Wendlandt, the Green Career Development Assistant Professor of Chemistry, focuses on the development of selective, catalytic reactions using the tools of organic and organometallic synthesis and physical organic chemistry. Mechanistic study plays a central role in the development of these new transformations. Her projects involve the design of new catalysts and catalytic transformations, the identification of important applications for selective catalytic processes, and the elucidation of new mechanistic principles to expand powerful existing catalytic reaction manifolds.

"Sloan Research Fellows are shining examples of innovative and impactful research,” says Adam F. Falk, president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “We are thrilled to support their groundbreaking work and we look forward to following their continued success."

Many young researchers awarded the prestigious Sloan Research Fellowship have gone on to become prominent figures in science: 56 fellows have received a Nobel Prize in their respective field, 17 have won the Fields Medal in mathematics, and 22 have won the John Bates Clark Medal in economics, including every winner since 2007.

Source: Nine from MIT named 2023 Sloan Research Fellows

Improving the speed and safety of airport security screening

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For decades, airports around the nation have employed sensitive canine noses to detect concealed explosives. While this four-legged fleet has been effective and efficient, researchers have yet to build a mechanical method that can mimic their abilities.

Sasha Wrobel and Ta-Hsuan Ong are leading a team of researchers from MIT Lincoln Laboratory’s Biological and Chemical Technologies Group to try to find a way. The team’s research builds on the laboratory’s ongoing work to create and use a mass spectrometer to help train bomb-sniffing dogs, a project that is supported by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) Detection Canine Program. Wrobel and Ong are using the spectrometer to measure explosive vapors in order to understand the requirements for creating an operational explosive detection system. This system would work in tandem with the canine fleet to improve current airport security systems.

The DHS S&T is also sponsoring this work through the Next-Generation Explosives Trace Detection (NextGen ETD) program, which was launched to stay ahead of the evolving landscape of explosive development from adversaries both within and outside of the country.

Vapor footprints

Airports have two layers of carry-on baggage screening. One is when passengers place their belongings on a conveyor belt that passes through an X-ray machine. Another is when a bag gets pushed to the side and a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent opens the bag to check the contents and uses a swab on the bag to search for explosive residues. In some cases, canines also play a role in security screening as a complement to swabbing.

While the swabs detect explosive residues through contact and chemical analysis, canines detect them by sniffing for vapor signatures. The air is full of particles and gases, such as water, acetone from plants and trees, and even ethanol from hand sanitizer. Explosives also leave their mark in the air. Non-contact detection that uses these vapor signatures has the potential to be much quicker than swabs. Wrobel, Ong, and the team are searching to understand the technology specifications needed to do this by collecting signature data with the spectrometer.

"The mass spectrometer samples the air around an item and then ionizes the vapors given off by the sample," Wrobel says. "Depending on how these chemicals ionize, we can identify the chemical vapors by analyzing the mass, charge, and fragmentation patterns reported in mass spectra data."

So far, the research team has conducted three phases of tests. The tests were conducted at the University of Rhode Island’s explosives test range, which is part of Northeastern University’s Awareness and Localization of Explosives-Related Threats (ALERT) program, a multi-university DHS Center of Excellence. At the range, the team used the mass spectrometer to measure the air around nearly 100 different explosive samples concealed in various packaging configurations.

They collected several thousand measurements to understand how the different sample configurations influence the vapor signatures of concealed explosives. The team also plans to use these data to evaluate how data processing algorithms impact instrument and detection performance.

The end goal is to use the data that the team collected to build a list of requirements for developing an operational instrument. The DHS can use this list to decide how to proceed in contacting industry partners to develop the necessary technology and in coordinating their efforts with similar ones in Europe, led by the European Civil Aviation Conference. While there is much more work to do before the team can fully understand what it might take to build a non-contact detection system, they are hopeful.

"Developing and improving methods for explosives detection would streamline passenger experience and safety during airport security screening, while also supporting technology to remain resilient against new and evolving security threats," Wrobel says.

Detecting from all angles

The vapor detection research is just one example of the laboratory’s involvement in the NextGen ETD program. The Biological and Chemical Technologies Group is also involved in a project to create more effective swabs for security checkpoints and is exploring whether infrared lasers could be used to detect explosive particles on luggage.

"The core technology is called longwave infrared imaging," says Bill Barney, who leads the infrared laser program. "It uses a laser that is scanned over a surface, and the scattered laser light has a spectrum to it. Some of the wavelengths of light in that spectrum are absorbed by explosives, which means the spectrum contains a fingerprint of the explosive that we can detect."

However, the infrared method is complicated by clutter and false alarms. Some materials absorb the light in a similar way to explosives, so there is a need to be able to differentiate them. Barney and his team have turned to machine learning to solve this problem, which is better at unraveling complex data and making connections between data points that humans may not see.

"Last year, we were very successful in detecting low levels of explosives on our test samples, which is promising," says Barney. "But there's a lot of engineering and science left to do before you would be able to get this kind of system working in an airport."

Rod Kunz, who is an associate leader of the Biological and Chemical Technologies Group, says that Lincoln Laboratory’s involvement in the NextGen ETD program fills an important niche.

"The main performers on this program are industry — companies that sell things to the TSA to use in airports," Kunz says. "Our role is to try to understand if other technologies would work for airport needs, if there are other advanced concepts that should be sent to industry for them to respond to, or if there are directions that industry just doesn't think are worth pursuing that the laboratory could be trying instead. We are trying to plug in the gaps that industry and the normal procurement processes are unable to do."

Source: Improving the speed and safety of airport security screening

How to pull carbon dioxide out of seawater

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As carbon dioxide continues to build up in the Earth’s atmosphere, research teams around the world have spent years seeking ways to remove the gas efficiently from the air. Meanwhile, the world’s number one “sink” for carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is the ocean, which soaks up some 30 to 40 percent of all of the gas produced by human activities.

Recently, the possibility of removing carbon dioxide directly from ocean water has emerged as another promising possibility for mitigating CO2 emissions, one that could potentially someday even lead to overall net negative emissions. But, like air capture systems, the idea has not yet led to any widespread use, though there are a few companies attempting to enter this area.

Now, a team of researchers at MIT says they may have found the key to a truly efficient and inexpensive removal mechanism. The findings were reported this week in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, in a paper by MIT professors T. Alan Hatton and Kripa Varanasi, postdoc Seoni Kim, and graduate students Michael Nitzsche, Simon Rufer, and Jack Lake.

The existing methods for removing carbon dioxide from seawater apply a voltage across a stack of membranes to acidify a feed stream by water splitting. This converts bicarbonates in the water to molecules of CO2, which can then be removed under vacuum. Hatton, who is the Ralph Landau Professor of Chemical Engineering, notes that the membranes are expensive, and chemicals are required to drive the overall electrode reactions at either end of the stack, adding further to the expense and complexity of the processes. “We wanted to avoid the need for introducing chemicals to the anode and cathode half cells and to avoid the use of membranes if at all possible,” he says.

The team came up with a reversible process consisting of membrane-free electrochemical cells. Reactive electrodes are used to release protons to the seawater fed to the cells, driving the release of the dissolved carbon dioxide from the water. The process is cyclic: It first acidifies the water to convert dissolved inorganic bicarbonates to molecular carbon dioxide, which is collected as a gas under vacuum. Then, the water is fed to a second set of cells with a reversed voltage, to recover the protons and turn the acidic water back to alkaline before releasing it back to the sea. Periodically, the roles of the two cells are reversed once one set of electrodes is depleted of protons (during acidification) and the other has been regenerated during alkalization.

This removal of carbon dioxide and reinjection of alkaline water could slowly start to reverse, at least locally, the acidification of the oceans that has been caused by carbon dioxide buildup, which in turn has threatened coral reefs and shellfish, says Varanasi, a professor of mechanical engineering. The reinjection of alkaline water could be done through dispersed outlets or far offshore to avoid a local spike of alkalinity that could disrupt ecosystems, they say.

“We’re not going to be able to treat the entire planet’s emissions,” Varanasi says. But the reinjection might be done in some cases in places such as fish farms, which tend to acidify the water, so this could be a way of helping to counter that effect.

Once the carbon dioxide is removed from the water, it still needs to be disposed of, as with other carbon removal processes. For example, it can be buried in deep geologic formations under the sea floor, or it can be chemically converted into a compound like ethanol, which can be used as a transportation fuel, or into other specialty chemicals. “You can certainly consider using the captured CO2 as a feedstock for chemicals or materials production, but you’re not going to be able to use all of it as a feedstock,” says Hatton. “You’ll run out of markets for all the products you produce, so no matter what, a significant amount of the captured CO2 will need to be buried underground.”

Initially at least, the idea would be to couple such systems with existing or planned infrastructure that already processes seawater, such as desalination plants. “This system is scalable so that we could integrate it potentially into existing processes that are already processing ocean water or in contact with ocean water,” Varanasi says. There, the carbon dioxide removal could be a simple add-on to existing processes, which already return vast amounts of water to the sea, and it would not require consumables like chemical additives or membranes.

“With desalination plants, you’re already pumping all the water, so why not co-locate there?” Varanasi says. “A bunch of capital costs associated with the way you move the water, and the permitting, all that could already be taken care of.”

The system could also be implemented by ships that would process water as they travel, in order to help mitigate the significant contribution of ship traffic to overall emissions. There are already international mandates to lower shipping’s emissions, and “this could help shipping companies offset some of their emissions, and turn ships into ocean scrubbers,” Varanasi says.

The system could also be implemented at locations such as offshore drilling platforms, or at aquaculture farms. Eventually, it could lead to a deployment of free-standing carbon removal plants distributed globally.

The process could be more efficient than air-capture systems, Hatton says, because the concentration of carbon dioxide in seawater is more than 100 times greater than it is in air. In direct air-capture systems it is first necessary to capture and concentrate the gas before recovering it. “The oceans are large carbon sinks, however, so the capture step has already kind of been done for you,” he says. “There’s no capture step, only release.” That means the volumes of material that need to be handled are much smaller, potentially simplifying the whole process and reducing the footprint requirements.

The research is continuing, with one goal being to find an alternative to the present step that requires a vacuum to remove the separated carbon dioxide from the water. Another need is to identify operating strategies to prevent precipitation of minerals that can foul the electrodes in the alkalinization cell, an inherent issue that reduces the overall efficiency in all reported approaches. Hatton notes that significant progress has been made on these issues, but that it is still too early to report on them. The team expects that the system could be ready for a practical demonstration project within about two years.

“The carbon dioxide problem is the defining problem of our life, of our existence,” Varanasi says. “So clearly, we need all the help we can get.”

The work was supported by ARPA-E.

Source: How to pull carbon dioxide out of seawater

German Lufthansa IT outage strands thousands of passengers; all systems back up: reports

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Hundreds of flights were either canceled or delayed on Wednesday, leaving thousands stranded after the airline Lufthansa experienced an IT failure, according to reports.

Reuters reported that more than 200 flights were canceled in Frankfurt, Germany, which serves a hub for the German-based airline. Frankfurt is also one of Europe’s biggest airports.

"As of this morning, the airlines of the Lufthansa Group are affected by an IT outage, caused by construction work in the Frankfurt Region," the airline tweeted. "Unfortunately, this has led to flight delays and cancelations."


The airline told passengers that as it prepares for fallout from an upcoming strike this Friday, they check their flight status to keep up to date on last-minute changes.

"We understand the difficulty this situation causes and hope to be able to provide you assistance as soon as possible," Lufthansa tweeted.

The IT systems later said all systems were back up and running and that they expect flights to return to normal by Thursday.


The airline reportedly blamed the fiasco on engineering that was conducted on a railway line extension by a third-party on Tuesday night.

When the work was being done, a drill allegedly cut through a Deutsche Telekom fiber optic cable bundle.

As a result, Lufthansa’s passenger check-in and boarding systems crashed, and air traffic controllers were told to suspend inbound flights.

Song with hundreds of flights being canceled, over 100 were delayed.

Frankfurt was not the only airport to experience repercussions. In fact, Charles De Gaulle in Paris reported two flights were canceled and two others were turned around.

Source: German Lufthansa IT outage strands thousands of passengers; all systems back up: reports

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