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    Scientists discover slimy microbes that may help keep coral reefs healthy

    Corals have evolved over millennia to live, and even thrive, in waters with few nutrients. In healthy reefs, the water is often exceptionally clear, mainly because corals have found ways to make optimal use of the few resources around them. Any change to these conditions can throw a coral’s health off balance.
    Now, researchers at MIT and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), in collaboration with oceanographers and marine biologists in Cuba, have identified microbes living within the slimy biofilms of some coral species that may help protect the coral against certain nutrient imbalances.
    The team found these microbes can take up and “scrub out” nitrogen from a coral’s surroundings. At low concentrations, nitrogen can be an essential nutrient for corals, providing energy for them to grow. But an overabundance of nitrogen, for instance from the leaching of nitrogen-rich fertilizers into the ocean, can trigger mats of algae to bloom. The algae can outcompete coral for resources, leaving the reefs stressed and bleached of color.
    By taking up excess nitrogen, the newly identified microbes may prevent algal competition, thereby serving as tiny protectors of the coral they inhabit. While corals around the world are experiencing widespread stress and bleaching from global warming, it seems that some species have found ways to protect themselves from other, nitrogen-related sources of stress.
    “One of the aspects of finding these organisms in association with corals is, there’s a natural way that corals are able to combat anthropogenic influence, at least in terms of nitrogen availability, and that’s a very good thing,” says Andrew Babbin, the Doherty Assistant Professor in Ocean Utilization in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. “This could be a very natural way that reefs can protect themselves, at least to some extent.”
    Babbin and his colleagues, including MIT graduate students Diana Dumit, Tyler Tamasi, Laura Weber, and Sarah Schwartz, have reported their findings in the ISME Journal.
    Dead zone analogues
    Babbin’s group studies how marine communities in the ocean cycle nitrogen, a key element for life. Nitrogen in the ocean can take various forms, such as ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. Babbin has been especially interested in studying how nitrogen cycles, or is taken up, in anoxic environments — low-oxygen regions of the ocean, also known as “dead zones,” where fish are rarely found and microbial life can thrive.
    “Locations without enough oxygen for fish are where bacteria start doing something different, which is exciting to us,” Babbin says. “For instance, they can start to consume nitrate, which has then an impact on how productive a specific part of the water can be.”
    Dead zones are not the only anoxic regions of the ocean where bacteria exhibit nitrogen-feasting behavior. Low-oxygen environments can be found at smaller scales, such as within biofilms, the microbe-rich slime that covers marine surfaces from shipwrecked hulls to coral reefs.
    “We have biofilms inside us that allow different anaerobic processes to happen,” Babbin notes. “The same is true of corals, which can generate a ton of mucus, which acts as this retardation barrier for oxygen.”
    Despite the fact that corals are close to the surface and within reach of oxygen, Babbin wondered whether coral slime would serve to promote “anoxic pockets,” or concentrated regions of low oxygen, where nitrate-consuming bacteria might thrive.
    He broached the idea to WHOI marine microbiologist Amy Apprill, and in 2017, the researchers set off with a science team on a cruise to Cuba, where Apprill had planned a study of corals in the protected national park, Jardines de la Reina, or Gardens of the Queen.
    “This protected area is one of the last refuges for healthy Caribbean corals,” Babbin says. “Our hope was to study one of these less impacted areas to get a baseline for what kind of nitrogen cycle dynamics are associated with the corals themselves, which would allow us to understand what an anthropogenic perturbation would do to that system.”
    Swabbing for scrubbers
    In exploring the reefs, the scientists took small samples from coral species that were abundant in the area. Onboard the ship, they incubated each coral specimen in its own seawater, along with a tracer of nitrogen — a slightly heavier version of the molecules found naturally in seawater.
    They brought the samples back to Cambridge and analyzed them with a mass spectrometer to measure how the balance of nitrogen molecules changed over time. Depending on the type of molecule that was consumed or produced in the sample, the researchers could estimate the rate at which nitrogen was reduced and essentially denitrified, or increased through other metabolic processes.
    In almost every coral sample, they observed rates of denitrification were higher than most other processes; something on the coral itself was likely taking up the molecule.
    The researchers swabbed the surface of each coral and grew the slimy specimens on Petri dishes, which they examined for specific bacteria that are known to metabolize nitrogen. This analysis revealed multiple nitrogen-scrubbing bacteria, which lived in most coral samples.
    “Our results would imply that these organisms, living in association with the corals, have a way to clean up the very local environment,” Babbin says. “There are some coral species, like this brain coral Diploria, that exhibit extremely rapid nitrogen cycling and happen to be quite hardy, even through an anthropogenic change, whereas Acropora, which is in rough shape throughout the Caribbean, exhibits very little nitrogen cycling. ”
    Whether nitrogen-scrubbing microbes directly contribute to a coral’s health is still unclear. The team’s results are the first evidence of such a connection. Going forward, Babbin plans to explore other parts of the ocean, such as the tropical Pacific, to see whether similar microbes exist on other corals, and to what extent the bacteria help to preserve their hosts. His guess is that their role is similar to the microbes in our own systems.
    “The more we look at the human microbiome, the more we realize the organisms that are living in association with us do drive our health,” Babbin says. “The exact same thing is true of coral reefs. It’s the coral microbiome that defines the health of the coral system. And what we’re trying to do is reveal just what metabolisms are part of this microbial network within the coral system.”
    This research was supported, in part, by MIT Sea Grant, the Simons Foundation, the MIT Montrym, Ferry, and mTerra funds, and by Bruce Heflinger ’69, SM ’71, PhD ’80. More

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    Rock magnetism uncrumples the Himalayas’ complex collision zone

    With some of the world’s tallest peaks, Asia’s “the abode of snow” region is a magnet for thrill seekers, worshipers, and scientists alike. The imposing 1,400-mile Himalayan mountain range that separates the plains of the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan Plateau is the scene of an epic continent-continent collision that took place millions of years ago and changed the Earth, affecting its climate and weather patterns. The question of how the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates collided, and the mountains came into existence, is one that scientists are still unfolding. Now, new research published in PNAS and led by MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) confirms that it’s more complicated than previously thought.
    “The Himalayas are the textbook example of a continent-continent collision and an excellent laboratory for studying mountain-building events and tectonics,” says EAPS graduate student Craig Martin, the paper’s lead author.
    The story begins around 135 million years ago, when the Neotethys Ocean separated the tectonic plates of India and Eurasia by 4,000 miles. The common view of geologists is that the Neotethys Ocean plate began subducting into Earth’s mantle under Eurasia, on its southern border, pulling India north and the tectonic plates above it together to ultimately form the Himalayas in a single collision event around 55-50 million years ago. However, geologic evidence suggested that the high rate of subduction observed didn’t seem to quite fit this hypothesis, and model reconstructions place the continental plates thousands of kilometers apart at the time of this inferred collision. To account for the time delay and subduction strength required, MIT’s Oliver Jagoutz, associate professor of geology, and Leigh “Wiki” Royden, the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Geology and Geophysics, proposed that because of the high speed, orientation, and location of the final continental collision, there needed to be another oceanic plate and subduction zone in the middle of the ocean, called the Kshiroda plate and the Trans-Tethyan subduction zone (TTSZ), which ran east to west. Additionally, EAPS geologists and others postulated that an arc of volcanic islands, like the Marianas, existed in between the two, called the Kohistan-Ladakh arc. Located near the equator, they took the brunt of the force from India before being squished between the two continental crusts.
    Tiny magnets point the way
    This chain of events, its timing and geological configuration, was speculation based on models and some geological evidence until EAPS researchers tested it — but first, they needed rocks. Along with professor of planetary sciences Ben Weiss of the MIT Paleomagnetism Laboratory, Martin, Jagoutz, Royden, and their colleagues visited northwest India’s Ladakh region, bordering the Eurasian plate. Over multiple excursions, the team, which included EAPS undergraduate Jade Fischer for one trip, scrambled over outcrops and drilled rock cores, slightly larger than the size of a cork. As they pulled them out, the geologists and paleomagnetism experts marked the samples’ orientation in the rock layer and its location in order to determine when and where on Earth the rock was formed. The team was looking for evidence showing whether a volcano, which was active around 66-61 million years ago, was part of a volcanic island chain in the ocean south of Eurasia, or part of the Eurasian continent. This would also help determine the plausibility of a double subduction zone scenario. 
    Back in the lab, the MIT researchers used rock dating and paleomagnetism to understand this ancient  geologic car crash. They leveraged the fact that, as lava cools and rock forms, it captures a signature of the Earth’s magnetic field, which runs north-south toward Earth’s magnetic poles. If rock forms near the equator, the magnetization (electron) spins in its iron-bearing minerals, like magnetite and hematite, will be oriented parallel to the ground. As you move further away from the equator, the rock’s magnetization will tip into the Earth; however subsequent heating and remagnetization can print over the original signature.
    After checking for this, and correcting for the tilt of the bedrock at the site, Martin and his colleagues were able to pinpoint the latitude at which the rocks were created. Uranium-lead dating of the samples’ zircon minerals provided the other piece of the puzzle to constrain the timing of formation. If there was a single collision, these rocks would have formed at a latitude somewhere around 20 degrees north, above the equator, near Eurasia; if the islands existed, they would have originated near the equator.
    “It’s cool that we can reconstruct the deep-time atlas of the world using the tiny magnets preserved in rocks,” says Martin.
    A two-part system
    With their time and latitudinal measurements and models, the MIT researchers found the evidence they were looking for — the presence of an island chain and double subduction system. From 80 to likely 55-50 million years ago, the Neotethys Ocean was subducted in two locations: along the Eurasian plate’s southern edge (the Kshiroda plate sank) and the mid-ocean TTSZ, just south of the Kshiroda plate and near the equator. Together, these events closed the ocean, and the tectonic activity worked with erosion and weathering to sequester and draw down carbon, until the Paleocene Epoch (66-23.03 million years ago). “The presence of two subduction zones and the timing of their destruction at low latitudes explains the cooling global climate in the Cenozoic (66 million years ago to present day),” says Martin.
    Most importantly: “Our results mean that instead of India colliding directly with Eurasia to form the Himalayas, India first collided with a volcanic island chain (similar to the Mariana Islands today), and then with Eurasia up to 10 million years later than is generally accepted,” says Martin. This is because Kohistan-Ladakh arc and India collision slowed the India-Eurasia convergence rate, which kept decreasing until 45-40 million years ago when the final collision occurred. “This finding is contrary to the long-held view that the India-Eurasia collision was a single-stage event that started at 55-60 million years ago,” says Martin. “Our results strongly support Oli and Wiki’s double subduction hypothesis explaining why India moved north so anomalously fast in the Cretaceous period.”
    Further, Martin, Jagoutz, Royden, and Weiss were able to determine the maximum extent of the Indian plate before it was forced under Eurasia. The convergence between India and Eurasia since 50-55 million years ago was around 2,800-3,600 kilometers. Much of this is explained by the subduction of the Kshiroda plate, which the MIT researchers estimated to be roughly 1,450 kilometers wide, at the time of the first collision with the island arc, 55-50 million years ago. After the first stage of collision between the island chain and India, the Kshiroda plate continued to disappear underneath Eurasia. Then, 15-10 million years later, as the two continents came together, the continental crust began shortening, folding, and thrusting rocks upward, the force of which caused observable changes to the composition and structure of the rocks. “Our results also directly constrain the size of the part of India ‘lost’ in the collision to less than 900 kilometers in the north-south direction, which is much less than the 2,000 kilometers previously required to explain the timing of collision.”
    The newly-gained insights into the mechanisms and geometry of such an archetypal mountain system have important implications for using the Himalayas to study continental collision, says Martin. Revising the number of subduction zones, the age of final collision, and the amount of continental crust involved in the formation of the Himalayas changes some key parameters required to accurately model the growth of mountain belts, the deformation of continental crust, and the relationships between plate tectonics and global climate.
    Martin hopes to take this further throughout the rest of his graduate studies by focusing in on the intensely deformed collision zone between the volcanic island chain and Eurasia. He hopes to understand the closure of the Kshiroda ocean and the geological structures produced during the continental collision.
    Not only is the finding impressive, but as Martin remarks, “I think it is cool to imagine idyllic tropical volcanic islands, with dinosaurs roaming around on them, having been sandwiched between two colliding tectonic plates and uplifted to form the roof of the world.”
    This study was funded, in part, by NSF Tectonics Program and MISTI-India. More

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    Portable device can quickly detect plant stress

    Researchers at the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) and Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory (TLL) have designed a portable optical sensor that can monitor whether a plant is under stress. The device offers farmers and plant scientists a new tool for early diagnosis and real-time monitoring of plant health in field conditions.
    Precision agriculture is an important strategy for tackling growing food insecurity through sustainable farming practices, but it requires new technologies for rapid diagnosis of plant stresses before the onset of visible symptoms and subsequent yield loss. SMART’s new portable Raman leaf-clip sensor is a useful tool in precision agriculture allowing early diagnosis of nitrogen deficiency in plants, which can be linked to premature leaf deterioration and loss of yield.
    In a paper titled “Portable Raman leaf-clip sensor for rapid detection of plant stress,” published in the journal Scientific Reports, the scientists explain how they designed, constructed, and tested the leaf clip that allows the optical sensor to probe the leaf chemistry and establish the stress state. The work was developed in the Disruptive and Sustainable Technologies for Agricultural Precision (DiSTAP) Interdisciplinary Research Group (IRG) within SMART, MIT’s research enterprise in Singapore.
    “Our findings showed that in vivo measurements using the portable leaf-clip Raman sensor under full-light growth conditions were consistent with measurements obtained with a benchtop Raman spectrometer on leaf sections under laboratory conditions,” says MIT professor of electrical engineering and computer science Rajeev Ram, co-lead author of the paper and principal investigator at DiSTAP. “We demonstrated that early diagnosis of nitrogen deficiency — a critical nutrient, and the most important component of fertilizers — in living plants is possible with the portable sensor.”
    While the study mainly looked at measuring nitrogen levels in plants, the device can also be used to detect levels of other plant stress phenotypes such as drought, heat and cold stress, saline stress, and light stress. The wide range of plant stressors that can be detected by these leaf-clip Raman probes and their simplicity and speed makes them ideal for field use by farmers to ensure crop health.
    “While we have focused on the early and specific diagnosis of nitrogen deficiency using the leaf-clip sensor, we were able to measure peaks from other metabolites that are also clearly observed in popular vegetables such as kailan, lettuce, choy sum, pak choi, and spinach,” says Chung Hao Huang, co-first author of the paper and a postdoc at TLL.
    The team believes their findings can aid farmers to maximize crop yield, while ensuring minimal negative impacts on the environment, including minimizing pollution of aquatic ecosystems by reducing nitrogen runoff and infiltration into the water table.
    “The sensor was demonstrated on multiple vegetable varieties and supports the effort to produce nutritious, low-cost vegetables as part of the Singapore 30-by-30 initiative,” says Professor Nam-Hai Chua, co-lead principal investigator at DiSTAP, deputy chair at TLL, and co-lead author of the study. “Extension of this work to a wider variety of crops may contribute globally to improved crop yields, greater climate resiliency, and mitigation of environmental pollution through reduced fertilizer use.”
    The portable Raman system was designed in collaboration with local company TechnoSpex. The leaf-clip Raman sensor consists of a 3D printed clip that is built around a fiber-based Raman probe assembly.
    Shilpi Gupta, postdoc at DiSTAP, was co-first author of the paper and Gajendra Pratap Singh, scientific director at DiSTAP, also co-authored the article. The research was carried out by SMART and supported by the National Research Foundation (NRF) Singapore under its Campus for Research Excellence And Technological Enterprise (CREATE) program.
    The DiSTAP program addresses deep problems in food production in Singapore and the world by developing a suite of impactful and novel analytical, genetic, and biosynthetic technologies. The goal is to fundamentally change how plant biosynthetic pathways are discovered, monitored, engineered and ultimately translated to meet the global demand for food and nutrients.
    Scientists from MIT, TLL, Nanyang Technological University, and National University of Singapore are collaboratively developing new tools for the continuous measurement of important plant metabolites and hormones for novel discovery and deeper understanding and control of plant biosynthetic pathways in ways not yet possible, especially in the context of green leafy vegetables; leveraging these new techniques to engineer plants with highly desirable properties for global food security, including high yield density production, drought and pathogen resistance, and biosynthesis of high-value commercial products; developing tools for producing hydrophobic food components in industry-relevant microbes; developing novel microbial and enzymatic technologies to produce volatile organic compounds that can protect and/or promote growth of leafy vegetables; and applying these technologies to improve urban farming.
    DiSTAP is led by MIT co-lead principal investigator Professor Michael Strano and Singapore co-lead principal investigator Professor Chua Nam Hai.
    SMART was established by MIT and the NRF in 2007. SMART is the first entity in CREATE developed by NRF. SMART serves as an intellectual and innovation hub for research interactions between MIT and Singapore, undertaking cutting-edge research projects in areas of interest to both. SMART currently comprises an Innovation Centre and five IRGs: Antimicrobial Resistance, Critical Analytics for Manufacturing Personalized-Medicine, DiSTAP, Future Urban Mobility, and Low Energy Electronic Systems. More

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    Aerosols from pollution, desert storms, and forest fires may intensify thunderstorms

    Observations of Earth’s atmosphere show that thunderstorms are often stronger in the presence of high concentrations of aerosols — airborne particles too small to see with the naked eye.
    For instance, lightning flashes are more frequent along shipping routes, where freighters emit particulates into the air, compared to the surrounding ocean. And the most intense thunderstorms in the tropics brew up over land, where aerosols are elevated by both natural sources and human activities.
    While scientists have observed a link between aerosols and thunderstorms for decades, the reason for this association is not well-understood.
    Now MIT scientists have discovered a new mechanism by which aerosols may intensify thunderstorms in tropical regions. Using idealized simulations of cloud dynamics, the researchers found that high concentrations of aerosols can enhance thunderstorm activity by increasing the humidity in the air surrounding clouds.
    This new mechanism between aerosols and clouds, which the team has dubbed the “humidity-entrainment” mechanism, could be incorporated into weather and climate models to help predict how a region’s thunderstorm activity might vary with changing aerosol levels.
    “It’s possible that, by cleaning up pollution, places might experience fewer storms,” says Tim Cronin, assistant professor of atmospheric science at MIT. “Overall, this provides a way that humans may have a footprint on the climate that we haven’t really appreciated much in the past.”
    Cronin and his co-author Tristan Abbott, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, have published their results today in the journal Science.
    Clouds in a box
    An aerosol is any collection of fine particles that is suspended in air. Aerosols are generated by anthropogenic processes, such as the burning of biomass, and combustion in ships, factories, and car tailpipes, as well as from natural phenomena such as volcanic eruptions, sea spray, and dust storms. In the atmosphere, aerosols can act as seeds for cloud formation. The suspended particles serve as airborne surfaces on which surrounding water vapor can condense to form individual droplets that hang together as a cloud. The droplets within the cloud can collide and merge to form bigger droplets that eventually fall out as rain.
    But when aerosols are highly concentrated, the many tiny particles form equally tiny cloud droplets that don’t easily merge. Exactly how these aerosol-laden clouds generate thunderstorms is an open question, although scientists have proposed several possibilities, which Cronin and Abbott decided to test in high-resolution simulations of clouds.
    For their simulations, they used an idealized model, which simulates the dynamics of clouds in a volume representing Earth’s atmosphere over a 128-kilometer-wide square of tropical ocean. The box is divided into a grid, and scientists can observe how parameters like relative humidity change in individual grid cells as they tune certain conditions in the model.
    In their case, the team ran simulations of clouds and represented the effects of increased aerosol concentrations by increasing the concentration of water droplets in clouds. They then suppressed the processes thought to drive two previously proposed mechanisms, to see if thunderstorms still increased when they turned up aerosol concentrations.
    When these processes were shut off, the simulation still generated more intense thunderstorms with higher aerosol concentrations.
    “That told us these two previously proposed ideas weren’t what were producing changes in convection in our simulations,” Abbott says.
    In other words, some other mechanism must be at work.

    Play video

    A simulation of one day of cloud formation in a region of low aerosol concentration. The colored surface represents the air temperature at the surface. Many of the clouds (in grey) are 10 to 15 kilometers tall, reaching at or above the cruising altitudes of most aircraft. These simulated clouds are similar in size to clouds that produce thunderstorms in the real-world tropics.

    Driving storms
    The team dug through the literature on cloud dynamics and found previous work that pointed to a relationship between cloud temperature and the humidity of the surrounding air. These studies showed that as clouds rise they mix with the clear air around them, evaporating some of their moisture and as a result cooling the clouds themselves.
    If the surrounding air is dry, it can soak up more of a cloud’s moisture and bring down its internal temperature, such that the cloud, laden with cold air, is slower to rise through the atmosphere. On the other hand, if the surrounding air is relatively humid, the cloud will be warmer as it evaporates and will rise more quickly, generating an updraft that could spin up into a thunderstorm.
    Cronin and Abbott wondered whether this mechanism might be at play in aerosols’ effect on thunderstorms. If a cloud contains many aerosol particles that suppress rain, it might be able to evaporate more water to the its surroundings. In turn, this could increase the humidity of the surrounding air, providing a more favorable environment for the formation of thunderstorms. This chain of events, therefore, could explain aerosols’ link to thunderstorm activity.
    They put their idea to the test using the same simulation of cloud dynamics, this time noting the temperature and relative humidity of each grid cell in and around clouds as they increased the aerosol concentration in the simulation. The concentrations they set ranged from low-aerosol conditions similar to remote regions over the ocean, to high-aerosol environments similar to relatively polluted air near urban areas. 
    They found that low-lying clouds with high aerosol concentrations were less likely to rain out. Instead, these clouds evaporated water to their surroundings, creating a humid layer of air that made it easier for air to rise quickly through the atmosphere as strong, storm-brewing updrafts.
    “After you’ve established this humid layer relatively low in the atmosphere, you have a bubble of warm and moist air that can act as a seed for a thunderstorm,” Abbott says. “That bubble will have an easier time ascending to altitudes of 10 to15 kilometers, which is the depth clouds need to grow to to act as thunderstorms.”
    This “humidity-entrainment” mechanism, in which aerosol-laden clouds mix with and change the humidity of the surrounding air, seems to be at least one explanation for how aerosols drive thunderstorm formation, particularly in tropical regions where the air in general is relatively humid.
    “We’ve provided a new mechanism that should give you a reason to predict stronger thunderstorms in parts of the world with lots of aerosols,” Abbott says.
    This research was supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation. More

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    MIT in the media: 2020 in review

    In 2020, with many aspects of our everyday lives turned upside-down, news and views from around the Institute continued to draw a great deal of media interest. Despite the challenges of this unusual and unprecedented year, the MIT community still found ways to grab headlines by breaking barriers, innovating, making discoveries, and taking a stand. Below are just some of the stories that captured the great work of MIT students, faculty, and staff in 2020.
    Opinion: Has the coronavirus finally taught us how to listen to science?After MIT and other area institutions acted swiftly to rearrange how we live and work in response to the coronavirus pandemic, President L. Rafael Reif wrote about how we might confront another big challenge: climate change. “If we can take the right lessons from the crisis, we will find ourselves better prepared to tackle the health of our fevered planet.” Full story via The Boston Globe
    MIT fast-tracking face shields to country’s busiest hospitals treating coronavirus
    Professor Martin Culpepper spoke with Cynthia McFadden of NBC News about his team’s work designing a new face shield that can be rapidly manufactured. “It’s the kind of ingenuity that MIT is known for,” says McFadden, noting that MIT “has long been on the front lines of solving America’s problems.”Full story via NBC News
    Meet MIT’s first Black female student body president
    Danielle Geathers, president of the MIT Undergraduate Association, joined Kelly Clarkson to discuss the goals of her presidency. She highlighted the Talented Ten Mentorship program she founded, which aims to help increase matriculation of Black women by pairing Black girls and women in high school with Black women at MIT.Full story via The Kelly Clarkson Show 
    Opinion: The 2020 election meltdown that didn’t happen
    Professor Charles Stewart III published numerous opinion pieces examining the administration of the 2020 presidential election. In The Wall Street Journal, Stewart wrote that “the U.S. should be thankful for the heroic — and successful — efforts of election administrators around the country.”Full story via The Wall Street Journal 
    Trump administration rescinds rules on foreign students studying online
    In response to a lawsuit filed by MIT and Harvard University, the Department of Homeland Security rescinded a new policy that would have prevented thousands of foreign students from studying in the U.S. “This case made abundantly clear that real lives are at stake in these matters, with the potential for real harm,” said MIT’s president.Full story via The Wall Street Journal 
    Related: “I’m the President of MIT. America needs foreign students” via The New York Times
    Karilyn Crockett appointed head of city’s new equity and inclusion office
    Karilyn Crockett, a lecturer in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, was named chief of equity for the City of Boston. “Do we have the will and the courage to dream new dreams for populations long denied what we actually deserve?” Crockett asked. “I believe we do.”Full story via The Boston Globe
    Lessons from a study of the digital economy
    Three years after answering an “intellectual call to arms” to examine the impact of technology on jobs, the MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future published its final set of recommendations. “In an extraordinarily comprehensive effort, they included labor market analysis, field studies and policy suggestions for changes in skills-training programs, the tax code, labor laws and minimum-wage rates,” wrote reporter Steve Lohr.Full story via The New York Times
    Astronomers find possible sign of life on Venus 
    In one of the most talked about discoveries this year, scientists at MIT and elsewhere reported that they have found phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus.Full story via CBS This Morning 
    Adapting to social media’s disruptions in “The Hype Machine”
    Professor Sinan Aral explored the benefits and downfalls posed by social media. “I’ve been researching social media for 20 years. I’ve seen its evolution and also the techno utopianism and dystopianism,” said Aral. “I thought it was appropriate to have a book that asks, ‘what can we do to really fix the social media morass we find ourselves in?’”Full story via NPR
    Compact nuclear fusion reactor is “very likely to work,” studies suggest
    In a series of peer reviewed papers, MIT researchers provided evidence that plans to develop a next-generation compact nuclear fusion reactor, known as SPARC, should be feasible.Full story via The New York Times 
    Community ingenuity in the face of Covid-19
    The coronavirus affected many aspects of Institute life, both directly for our community members, and indirectly, as a new challenge needing to be addressed worldwide. MIT students, staff, researchers, and other community members deftly answered the challenge.
    MIT out-MITs itself; builds full scale campus replica on Minecraft
    MIT community members recreated the MIT campus in Minecraft, providing an opportunity for students to enjoy MIT’s “intensely collaborate culture” from afar. “Being able to meet in a virtual space and have some kind of social interaction, even while being socially distant — it’s just really important to a lot of students,” explained first-year student Shayna Ahteck.Full story via Boston Magazine
    New York needed ventilators. So they developed one in a month.
    A team in New York, inspired by the open-source ventilator design from the MIT E-Vent group, developed a lower cost ventilator now in production. The “hurry-up engineering feat” relied on a network of MIT professors, students, and alumni.Full story via The New York Times
    A few MIT students produced one of the best hackathons on Covid-19
    A team of MIT students hosted the Africa Takes on Covid-19 virtual hackathon, which brought together participants from around the world to “create tech-driven solutions to address the most critical unmet needs caused by the Covid-19 outbreak across the continent.”Full story via True Africa 
    How MIT, Harvard are managing to keep COVID-19 numbers low
    Ian Waitz, vice chancellor for undergraduate and graduate education, and Suzanne Blake, director of MIT Emergency Management, discussed MIT’s work to mitigate Covid-19 transmission on campus this fall.Full story via Cambridge Chronicle
    A pandemic upended their communities, so these teen inventors built apps to make life easier
    When the MIT App Inventor team moved its hackathon online due to the coronavirus pandemic, it gave aspiring coders from all over the world an opportunity to enter the competition. “There was a sense of helplessness that was settling down. And a big theme in our workplace is empowerment,” said curriculum developer Selim Tezel. “We wanted to give them a context in which they could be creative and sort of get rid of that feeling of helplessness.”Full story via CNN
    In effort to fight Covid-19, MIT robot gets to work disinfecting The Greater Boston Food Bank
    A robotic system developed by CSAIL researchers in collaboration with Ava Robotics uses UV-C light to kill viruses and bacteria on surfaces and aerosols.Full story via TechCrunch
    Media moments for math
    The people of MIT were frequently recognized and profiled in the media, but one department in particular saw a number of stories that inspire: mathematics.
    From NFL to MIT: John Urschel looking to increase diversity in mathematicsGraduate student John Urschel, a trustee of the National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath), spoke with ESPN about his efforts aimed at empowering and encouraging more Black students to pursue careers in STEM fields.Full story via ESPN
    A math problem stumped experts for 50 years. This grad student solved it in days.
    Assistant Professor Lisa Piccirillo, who solved the Conway knot problem as a graduate student, reflected on what drew her to math.Full story via The Boston Globe Magazine
    Undergraduate math student pushes the frontier of graph theoryIn a profile of graduate student Ashwin Sah, Quanta Magazine reported that he “produced a body of work that senior mathematicians say is nearly unprecedented for a college student.”Full story via Quanta Magazine
    More of the latest MIT In the Media summaries, with links to the original reporting, are available at More