Volume 53, Number 9
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
S e r v i n g T h e M i T C o M M u n i T y
MIT analysis shows
how plans can cut
Researchers at MIT’s Center for
Energy and Environmental Policy
Research have produced a report concern-
ing key design issues of proposed “cap-
and-trade” programs that are under
consideration in the United States as a
way of curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
The first contribution of the three-part
study found that, based on an examination PHOTO / DONNA COVENEY
of the European Union’s system and of
similar U.S. programs for other emissions, Herman addresses Diversity Leadership Congress
such a program
Former Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman delivers the keynote address Nov. 18 at the Diversity Leadership Congress, which
can indeed be
aimed to promote a culture of diversity at MIT by bringing together academic, administrative and student leaders. For more
MIT helped effective in
coverage of the congress, please visit the MIT News Office web site at http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/.
organize a sions without
conference this having a signifi-
week that is cant economic
looking at ways
Equipping cells with tiny ‘backpacks’
and reducing confirms much
greenhouse of what has
Polymer patches could ferry
gases. from similar drugs, assist in cancer diagnosis
Read more U.S. systems for
on page 8. other emissions, Anne Trafton
namely, that News Office
systems can be MIT engineers have outfitted cells with tiny “back-
constructed, that markets emerge to facili- packs” that could allow them to deliver chemotherapy
tate trading, that emissions are reduced agents, diagnose tumors or become building blocks for
efficiently, and that the effects on affected tissue engineering.
industries are less than predicted,” said A. Michael Rubner, director of MIT’s Center for Materials
Denny Ellerman, the study’s lead author Science and Engineering and senior author of a paper on
and a senior lecturer in the MIT Sloan the work that appeared online in Nano Letters on Nov. 5,
School of Management. said he believes this is the first time anyone has attached
The study found that the most contro- such a synthetic patch to a cell.
versial aspect of the European program The polymer backpacks allow researchers to use cells
was how to allocate the permitted to ferry tiny cargoes and manipulate their movements
emissions levels to different producers. using magnetic fields. Since each patch covers only a small
Initial free allocation of allowances, they portion of the cell surface, it does not interfere with the
found, was the necessary price for gaining cell’s normal functions or prevent it from interacting with
political acceptance, as it has been in U.S. the external environment.
systems. Over time, the clearly established “The goal is to perturb the cell as little as possible,”
trend in the E.U. is to phase out the free said Robert Cohen, the St. Laurent Professor of Chemical
allocation of permits in favor of auction- Engineering at MIT and an author of the paper.
ing them. The researchers worked with B and T cells, two types of
The second part of the report looked immune cells that can home to various tissues in the body, IMAGE / AMERICAN CHEMICAL SOCIETY
at mechanisms that can be used to control including tumors, infection sites, and lymphoid tissues — a
trait that could be exploited to achieve targeted drug or vaccine MIT researchers have developed a technique to attach tiny
the costs that will be imposed on power
producers as a result of implementing a delivery. ‘backpacks’ to cells.
cap-and-trade system. Several alternatives “The idea is that we use cells as vectors to carry materials to
were analyzed, including such things as a tumors, infection sites or other tissue sites,” said Darrell Irvine, Another possible application is in tissue engineering. Patches
“safety valve,” banking and borrowing of an author of the paper and associate professor of materials could be designed that allow researchers to align cells in a
allowances, and renewable portfolio stan- science and engineering and biological engineering. certain pattern, eliminating the need for a tissue scaffold.
dards. Rather than a single best choice, Cellular backpacks carrying chemotherapy agents could target The polymer patch system consists of three layers, each with
the study found that different mechanisms tumor cells, while cells equipped with patches carrying imaging a different function, stacked onto a surface. The bottom layer
work best for addressing uncertainties agents could help identify tumors by binding to protein markers tethers the polymer to the surface, the middle layer contains the
uPlease see CARBON, PAGE 6 expressed by cancer cells. uPlease see BACKPACKS, PAGE 6
PEOPLE RESEARCH NEWS
Young scientists honored Singing in slow motion What should Obama do?
Ed Boyden and Sara Seager are named to Discover MIT researchers study of songbirds could help Renowned economists, including MIT’s Robert Solow,
magazine’s “Top 20 Under 40” list. to understand humans’ timing. give advice to President-elect Barack Obama.
PAGE 2 PAGE 4 PAGE 6
PAGE 2 November 19, 2008 u PEOPLE MIT Tech Talk
S M T
Two scientists named to
Discover’s ‘Top 20 Under 40’ list
Chomsky also cited for cited for her work on the study of extraso-
lar planets and models that have “helped
• Disintegration: Painting exhibition
by Roberto Marrone. Rotch Library lifetime achievement researchers make the first atmospheric
Gallery, Nov. 14-Nov. 24. The exhibi- measurements of a distant world.”
tion displays paintings and drawings by Discover magazine has named two MIT “What I really want to do is figure out
the Italian painter Roberto Marrone. researchers — Ed Boyden and Sara Seager which kinds of gases extraterrestrial life
Most works, based on abstract-figurative — among its top 20 scientists under 40. might produce,” Seager told Discover.
subjects, are the results of the reaction Boyden, the Benesse Career Develop- “These gases would accumulate in the
between colour and chemical material. ment Professor, an assistant professor in atmosphere and might be detectable from
the MIT Media Lab and professor in the Ed Sara afar.”
• Institute faculty meeting. 3:30-5 Department of Biological Engineering Seager, who joined MIT in 2007, was
p.m. in 10-250. See the agenda on page and Department of Brain and Cognitive also part of a team that co-discovered
7. Sciences, is currently working on devising the first detection of light emitted from
technologies for controlling the process- he hopes could help treat brain diseases an exoplanet and the first spectrum of an
• “Smart Start-ups.” Part of Global ing within specific neural circuit targets in including Parkinson’s. exoplanet.
Entrepreneurship Week @ MIT. 5-7 the brain. Boyden, 29, is also an alumnus “There are things that light can do that The “Top 20 Under 40” list appears in
p.m. in 1-390. Sherwin Greenblatt, of MIT, receiving his MEng and dual SBs purely electric stimulators can’t,” Boyden the magazine’s December issue. Institute
Director of the MIT Venture Mentor- in 1999. noted in the magazine. Professor emeritus Noam Chomsky was
ing Service, who started as Bose’s only Discover cited Boyden for his work Seager, 36, the Ellen Swallow Richards also cited in the same issue as a lifetime
employee and eventually became Bose’s on “engineering brain implants that can Associate Professor of Planetary Science achiever who has “redefined our under-
President, will describe how Bose stimulate … with light pulses,” which and an associate professor of physics, was standing of ourselves as humans.”
planned and executed its commercial
strategy and remained privately held by
bootstrapping its growth, and how your
venture might do so. MIT football coach Dwight Smith retires
• Science Policy and the Obama Thirty years after helping to relaunch football at Football Conference. In 2007, Smith received the Ron
administration. From 6-7 p.m. in MIT, Dwight Smith has decided to retire from coach- Burton Distinguished American Award for Lifetime
NE30, Broad Institute Auditorium. ing. The 1999 New England Football Conference Achievement sponsored by the Jack Grinold East-
School of Science Dean Marc Kastner Coach of the Year, Smith has been on the sidelines for ern Massachusetts Chapter of the National Football
will speak at an advice session to the every game in the modern history of Engineer football. Foundation.
Obama administration on science and Taking over the reins as head coach of the Tech club “So often in college sports, coaches use their current
the future of America. program in 1979 after a one-year stint as an assistant, job as a stepping stone to the next job,” noted Julie
Smith led the Engineers into its first varsity game on Soriero, director of athletics and head of DAPER. “In
• “Einstein’s Dreams.” 7:30-10 p.m. in Sept. 24, 1988. During Tech’s 30-year run on the grid- Dwight’s case, the long history of his career here at
the Central Square Theater (450 Massa- iron, Smith’s unit compiled a 102-159-1 mark. PHOTO / WES FORNERO
MIT speaks to his commitment to his team and this
chusetts Ave., Cambridge). This stage Persevering as the longtime commander of MIT institution; it is admirable. To wrap up this season with
adaptation of MIT Adjunct Professor football, Smith has picked up numerous awards and Dwight a number of unprecedented achievements and career
Alan Lightman’s novel portrays Einstein postseason accolades throughout his tenure. In 1983, Smith records is a fitting way to conclude his historic career.”
in 1905, a modest but brilliant patent Smith was named the New England College Football Smith, who will remain at MIT as a full-time profes-
clerk in a new marriage, struggling to Conference Coach of the Year after guiding the Engineers to a sor in physical education, enjoyed a tremendous season in 2008 as
make ends meet, while in the back of his 5-4 record. He was honored by the Eastern Collegiate Football the Engineers shattered a bevy of team records. MIT set single-
mind re-conceiving time. Conference for his contributions to the league at the conclusion of season records for points, total offense, rushing yards, touchdowns
the 1996 season, and was the ECFC Coach of the Year in 1997. In and first downs while junior DeRon Brown closed out the season
1999, Smith was named co-Coach of the Year in the New England as the NCAA Division III leading rusher.
Gordon L. Brownell, can be found at www.mit.edu/~glb.
Though Brownell’s life was largely consumed with
Manchuria. The rest of the Zarudny children later set out
to follow him east across Russia to flee the Soviet Union, a
professor emeritus, 86 scientific research, he was an avid world traveler and trip she chronicled in her book, “Russia and Beyond: One
reader. In his later years, he was involved in real estate Family’s Journey, 1908-1935.”
Nuclear Science and Engineering Professor Emeritus development in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. After arriving in California in 1931 and mastering
Gordon L. Brownell PhD ’50, a widely respected physicist In addition to his wife, Anna-Liisa (Pranni) Brownell, the English language, she was able to realize her dream
and innovator, died at his home Tuesday, Nov. 11, follow- he is survived by six children: Wendy L. Silverman of of gaining admission as a graduate student to MIT. She
ing a long illness. He was 86. Needham; Peter G. Brownell of Marlborough; David L. received her SM in mathematics in 1934, and although she
Brownell played a key role in developing positron Brownell of Medway; James K. Brownell of Waltham; had hoped to continue her education, the arrival of her
imaging and positron emission tomography. In the 1950s, Piia J. DiMeco of Wilmington; and Janne K. Kairento of four younger sisters in Boston led her to find work instead
together with neurosurgeon William H. Sweet of Massa- Beverly. He is also survived by a brother, Roscoe Brownell as a designer of steam turbines for General Electric.
chusetts General Hospital, he pioneered the use of the Jr., of Altoona, Pa., and seven grandchildren. In 1935, she married Harold Freeman, a fellow gradu-
technology to detect and locate brain tumors in human A funeral was held Saturday, Nov. 15, in the First ate student who went on to become a distinguished stat-
patients. In addition, Brownell developed boron neutron Church in Salem. In lieu of flowers, memorial contribu- istician in the MIT Department of Economics. In 1938,
capture therapy for treatment of brain tumors. tions may be made to The Gordon L. Brownell Scholar- Freeman returned to MIT, working as an applied math-
Born in Duncan, Okla., and raised in New York and ship Fund for the Advancement of Physics, c/o Salem Five ematician in the remarkable Wiener-Rosenblith electroen-
Pennsylvania, Brownell received his BSc from Bucknell Bank Acct. #773048947, 210 Essex St., Salem, MA 01970. cephalography project.
University and his PhD in physics from MIT. During For guest book and additional information please visit In the 1960s, with the growing interest in the Soviet
World War II, he served in the Navy Research Group to www.levesquefunerals.com. Union, Freeman introduced Russian language instruction
develop acoustic devices to detect deep-sea mines. to MIT by volunteering to teach the language. She later
Brownell established the Physics Research Laboratory Margaret Zarudny Freeman, touched led MIT’s “language lab” — one of the first of its kind.
at MGH in 1950 and served as the honorary physicist in After her retirement in 1978, Freeman was named an
the Department of Radiology at MGH until his death. many over long MIT career associate professor emeritus.
He was named professor at MIT in 1956 and served as a Margaret Zarudny Freeman SM ’34, who spent more Freeman leaves behind her sons, Arthur Freeman of
professor emeritus in the Department of Nuclear Science than four decades at MIT as a student and staff member, London and Edward Freeman of Los Angeles; two sisters,
and Engineering at MIT until his death. died Oct. 23, just weeks before her 100th birthday. Katerina Singleton of Providence and Zoya Chambers of
In 2002, Brownell’s contributions to science were Freeman was the oldest of five daughters and one son New York; numerous nieces, nephews, grandnieces and
rewarded with election to the Institute of Medicine. More in a St. Petersburg, Russia, family. In 1919, her father, an grandnephews; relatives in Russia; and a host of devoted
details on his achievements in imaging instrumentation engineer and steel factory director, went into self-exile in friends.
News Office Staff
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MIT Tech Talk u NEWS November 19, 2008 PAGE 3
Q&A with Jerry Grochow
In this interview, MIT Vice President for
Information Services and Technology Jerrold
saw an opportunity to tackle some of these have that meeting show up on their desk-
issues. About 8-10 percent of power use on top calendar as well. IS&T is exploring
S M T
“Jerry” Grochow shares his insights about the campus is related to computers. the best ways to provide integrated e-mail,
Institute’s changing computing infrastructure
and how it will benefit the community.
Displays use a lot of power, and IS&T
has published guidelines on how to reduce
calendaring and messaging, as well as posi-
tion ourselves for the future of “location-
Thursday, Nov. 20
power consumption. We’re also chang- aware” services. We are experimenting • Kick-Butt Great American Smoke-
Q. When you talk with members of ing our backup with Microsoft out Contest. 12:15 p.m. in E25-Atrium.
the community, what information tech- processes so that Exchange, with To mark this year’s Great American
nology (IT) services are they asking for? computers can other open-source Smokeout, MIT Medical is sponsoring
A. It depends on who you talk to: be in a very low and commercial a “Kick-Butt” contest. The participat-
Students want better capabilities in their power state and products, and ing teams have each built a deliberately
dormitories, more Athena clusters, higher- awaken automati- with outsourced over-engineered mechanical apparatus
speed networks. Faculty want advanced cally for backup. services to see that will perform the simple task of
computing facilities for research. Admin- We’ve brought what’s most flex- extinguishing a cigarette in an extremely
istrative staff may talk about applications in virtualization ible and effective indirect and convoluted fashion.
they use in their jobs — SAP, payroll and software that here at MIT.
student systems. allows better utili- We need to • Judicial Discretion Under the
In my conversations with members of zation of servers make sure that Federal Sentencing Guidelines: The
the community, I don’t just ask, “What IT in both IS&T’s while providing Impact of Changes in the Standard
services do you want?” but “What do you data centers and diverse capabili- of Review. Speaker: Joshua Fischman
do here at MIT?” An important part of my academic depart- ties, all members (Virginia School of Law). 4:30-6 p.m. in
job is to anticipate what the community ments. Before, of the community E53-482.
is going to ask for tomorrow. Overlaying you might have can talk and send
knowledge of IT trends with an under- had five comput- messages and • “The Carrot at the End of the
standing of what community members are ers running differ- schedule meetings Stick: Prizes as Incentives for Innova-
doing helps to define where we should be ent applications with each other. tion.” Part of Global Entrepreneurship
going. with each in use No matter how Week @ MIT. Speakers: Erika Wagner,
about 20 percent many options Executive Director of the MIT X Prize
Q. A lot of research today requires of the time; now people want, they lab; David Ritter, CTO of InnoCen-
collaboration across disciplines and you can have all of want them all to tive; Benjamin Mako Hill, open-source
between institutions. How is MIT’s IT those applications work together. programmer and advocate. 6-8 p.m. in
infrastructure addressing these needs? on one computer. 4-231.
A. IS&T has expanded MIT’s computer Virtualization PHOTO / RON HOFFMANN Q. How will
network to major interconnection points reduces the Vice President for Information Services and the uncertain Friday, Nov. 21
for many research institutions, includ- number of physi- Technology Jerry Grochow financial situa-
• Futures of Entertainment 3. All day
ing CalTech, Argonne National Labs and cal computers you tion affect IT at
Friday and Saturday in E51. Conver-
CERN in Geneva. We can provide virtual need which saves MIT?
gence culture has moved swiftly from
dedicated networks to individual research- on space and power. A. Much of MIT’s IT spending is paid
buzzword to industry logic. The creation
ers in a way that wasn’t possible until for from general Institute funds, and most
of transmedia storyworlds, understand-
recently. With the ability to communicate Q. What is IS&T working on now of the rest is from research funds. IS&T
ing how to appeal to migratory audi-
at 10 gigabits a second, a researcher can that will benefit the MIT community as is looking for ways to reduce costs by
ences, and the production of digital
now control an experiment halfway across a whole? deferring or slowing down projects, and by
extensions for traditional materials are
the world in near-real time. A. When you ask people what’s the most making changes in our basic operations.
becoming the bread and butter of work-
important application they use every day, Our goal is to serve the priority needs
ing in the media. Futures of Entertain-
Q. Computers use a lot of power. it’s e-mail, with calendars and messaging as of the Institute. This is a time when the
ment 3 once again brings together
Is IS&T finding ways to reduce the close seconds. Members of the community entire MIT community can be working to
key industry leaders who are shaping
energy footprint on campus? want to be able to use their smart phones improve and simplify ways in which we do
these new directions in our culture and
A. When President Hockfield to read their e-mail and schedule meetings. the business of MIT, including processes
academic scholars immersed in the inves-
announced the Energy Initiative, IS&T They want to push a single button and involving IT.
tigation the social, cultural, political,
economic, and technological implications
of the changes in our media landscape.
Awards&Honors Monday, Nov. 24
• STS Colloquium: “Technological
Leadership and American Hegemo-
ny.” Speaker: John Krige, Georgia Insti-
De Neufville wins Fulbright professor in the Department of Biology;
Chung Tin, a graduate student in the
IS&T wins computing tute of Technology. 4-6 p.m. in E51-095.
This talk will describe how the United
award; seven others Department of Mechanical Engineer- services newsletter award States used its technological advantage in
ing (MechE); Chen-rei Wan, a graduate
coming to MIT student in MechE; and Eric Weiss, a grad- Robyn Fizz and Lee Ridgway, of MIT two key strategic domains, nuclear power
and space, in an attempt to reconstruct
uate student in the Harvard-MIT Division Information Services and Technology, were
Richard L. de Neufville, a professor in recently honored by the ACM’s Special postwar Europe.
the Engineering Systems Division and the of Health Sciences and Technology.
Interest Group for University and College
Department of Civil and Environmen- Computing Services (ACM SIGUCCS) for
tal Engineering, was recently named a Graduate student their published newsletter, which is distrib- Friday, Nov. 28
Fulbright scholar. De Neufville is one of
approximately 1,000 faculty and staff from wins $10K prize uted across campus. The awards recognize
• Friday After Thanksgiving: Chain
outstanding web sites, publications and
the United States to be given the award, Garrett Marino, a graduate student in promotional materials produced by higher Reaction. 1-4 p.m. in W33, Rock-
which allows them to lecture and conduct the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and education computing centers. well Cage Gymnasium, 120 Vassar
research abroad. Planetary Sciences, was recently awarded St. Whether it’s the reaction induced
between one creative contraption and
In addition, seven foreign faculty and
staff have been awarded Fulbright scholar
the grand prize from the U.S. Depart-
ment of Energy’s inaugural Science and
MIT Sloan garners another equally crafty contrivance, or
awards to come to MIT. They are Patricia Energy Research Challenge (SERCh) at international award the joyful reactions sparked on the faces
of the spectators, the MIT Museum’s
Almeida de Carvalho, an assistant professor Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).
from the Technical University of Lisbon; Marino, who also interned at the ORNL The MIT Sloan School of Manage- Friday After Thanksgiving (F.A.T.)
Luca Iandoli, an associate professor from this year, won the SERCh national ment was named third-best business school Chain Reaction is a one-of-a-kind, got-
the University of Naples Federico II; poster competition and a $10,000 science in North America by EDUNIVERSAL, to-be-seen-to-be-believed engineering
Yasser Revez Omar, an assistant profes- scholarship. which ranked the top three schools in nine feat.
sor from the Technical University of different geographical regions.
Lisbon; Anthoula Revythiadou, an assistant Yoon named USA fellow MIT EHS Office recognized
professor from the University of Aegean;
J. Meejin Yoon, an associate profes-
Tuesday, Dec. 2
Benoit Roman, a research fellow from the
Polytechnical College in Paris; Carmel sor in the Department of Architecture, by City of Cambridge • 2008 MIT Robotics Conference. 8
Rotschild, a doctoral student from the was named a United States Artists fellow a.m.-5 p.m. in E51-Wong Auditorium.
At the fall annual awards and recog-
Israel Institute of Technology; and Xueli recently, which carries with it a $50,000 nition dinner for the Cambridge Fire
Wang, an associate professor from Tsin- prize to further her arts. Department, the MIT Environment,
ghua University. Health and Safety (EHS) Office, along
Math undergrads honored with the Harvard Department of EHS,
MIT researchers for excellence were recognized with a Certificate of
Appreciation. CFD Deputy Chief Gerald
receive American Heart Maria Monks, a junior in the Depart- Mahoney, while presenting the certificates,
Submit your events!
ment of Mathematics, has been chosen noted his department has “a relationship Log on to events.mit.edu to
Association grants to receive the Alice T. Schafer Prize for with both schools’ EH&S staffs that allows add your events to MIT’s online
The American Heart Association Undergraduate Women in Mathematics; us to call upon them not just for incidents calendar. Select events will be
announced that it has awarded new grants and Doris Dobi, a senior, will receive an on their respective campuses, but also to selected from the online calendar
to four MIT researchers, with each of their honorable mention. The award honors utilize their subject matter expertise at any to be published in Tech Talk each
awards effective July 1, 2008. The four undergraduate woman for excellence in time for any incident, 24 hours a day, seven Wednesday.
recipients are Jeroen Saeij, an assistant mathematics. days a week.”
PAGE 4 November 19, 2008 u RESEARCH MIT Tech Talk
Singing in MIT work with
could aid study
slow motion of humans’
a new class
Cathryn Delude of catalysts
A new class of exceptionally effec-
As anyone who watched the Olympics can appreciate, timing PHOTO / DONNA COVENEY tive chemical catalysts that promote
matters when it comes to complex, sequential actions. It can McGovern Institute Investigator Michale the powerful olefin metathesis reac-
make a difference between a perfect handspring and a fall, for Fee, right, and postdoctoral student Michael tion has been discovered by a team
instance. But what controls that timing? MIT scientists are Long. of Boston College and MIT scien-
closing in on the brain regions responsible, thanks to some tists, opening up a vast new scientific
technical advances and some help from songbirds. platform to researchers in medicine,
used this device to produce a small cooling effect localized to biology and materials.
“All our movements, from talking and walking to acrobatics precise parts of the brain.
or piano playing, are sequential behaviors,” explained Michale The new catalysts can be easily
“We suspected that cooling different brain regions involved prepared and possess unique features
Fee, an investigator in the McGovern Institute for Brain in singing might alter the song in different ways,” explained
Research at MIT and an associate professor in MIT’s Depart- never before utilized by chemists,
first author Michael Long, a postdoctoral researcher in the Fee according to findings from a team led
ment of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. “But we haven’t had the lab.
necessary tools to understand how timing is generated within by professors Amir Hoveyda of BC
Cooling the RA brain region had almost no effect on the and Richard Schrock of MIT. The
the brain.” bird’s song. But cooling HVC produced a dramatic effect. The
Now Fee and colleagues have reported in the Nov. 13 issue team’s findings were reported in the
song slowed in proportion to the degree of cooling, with the Nov. 16 online edition of the journal
of Nature a new method for altering the speed of brain activity. biggest temperature change (a 10 degrees Celsius reduction)
And using that technique, “we think we have found the clock Nature.
causing the song to stretch out by around 30 percent. Catalytic olefin metathesis trans-
that controls the timing of the bird’s song,” Fee said. Not only did the overall duration of the song increase, so did
The zebra finch’s song is widely studied as a model for forms simple molecules into complex
each individual syllable, so the overall rhythmic structure was ones. But a chief challenge has been
understanding how the brain produces complex behavior preserved without changing the sounds within the song. The
sequences. Each song lasts about one second, and contains developing catalysts to this organic
effect can be compared to a music box or piano roll. Rotating chemical reaction that are practi-
multiple syllables in a highly stereotypic sequence. the drum more slowly slows the tempo of the music
Two brain regions — the High Vocal Center cal and offer exceptional selectivity
without affecting individual notes. for a significantly broader range of
(HVC) and the robust nucleus of the arcopal- Following this analogy, HVC corresponds to
lium (RA) — are known to be important reactions.
the mechanism that turns the drum; cooling it Schrock, the Frederick G. Keyes
for singing, because deactivating either is equivalent to reducing the speed of rota-
region prevents song production. But Professor of Chemistry at MIT who
tion. RA, which receives timing infor- won the 2005 Nobel Prize in chem-
uncovering the clock mechanism required a mation from HVC, corresponds to the
more subtle method. istry, said the unprecedented level
read-out mechanism that translates the of control the new class of catalysts
Accordingly, Fee’s group devised a tech- sequence of bumps or holes into corre-
nique to slow down different parts of the provides will advance research across
sponding notes. multiple fields.
brain. They took advantage of the fact What intrigues Fee and colleagues
that all biological processes are “We expect this highly flexible
now is: How does HVC work to control palette of catalysts to be useful for a
influenced by temperature. Just as song timing? Their previous electrical
molasses run slower in Janu- wide variety of catalytic reactions that
recordings of individual HVC neurons are catalyzed by a high oxidation state
ary, neurons function more suggest it functions like a cascade of
slowly when they are alkylidene species, and to be able to
falling dominoes, with waves of activity design catalytic metathesis reactions
cooled down. propagating at a fixed speed through
The authors with a control that has rarely if ever
the neural circuitry — an idea they are been observed before,” Schrock said.
constructed a tiny now testing.
Peltier cooling The findings mark the latest
“We can also use this cooling tech- discovery from the long-standing
apparatus based nology to discover which brain regions
on a device simi- collaboration between the Hoveyda
control the timing of different complex and Schrock labs, work that has been
lar to those used behaviors in different animals, something
in portable supported by more than $3.5 million
that has been very difficult to assess until in funding from the National Insti-
electronic now,” Fee said. “We know that HVC is related
beverage tutes of Health for nearly a decade.
in some ways to [the] human cortex, so it could
coolers. be showing us a very general mechanism for repre-
Then they (Adapted from a news release issued by
senting the passage of time within the brain.” Boston College)
Early warning of dangerous asteroids and comets
Detectors developed at Group, in collabora-
tion with Tonry, who
project. “It is fair to say that Lincoln was,
and is, uniquely equipped in chip design,
Lincoln Laboratory deployed was then working at wafer processing, packaging, and testing to
MIT, developed the deliver such technology.”
in powerful telescope orthogonal-transfer The primary mission of Pan-STARRS
charge-coupled device is to detect Earth-approaching asteroids
Dorothy Ryan (OTCCD), a CCD and comets that could be dangerous to the
MIT Lincoln Laboratory Communications Office that can shift its pixels planet. When the system becomes fully
to cancel the effects of operational, the entire sky visible from
Silicon chips developed at MIT Lincoln random image motion. Hawaii (about three-quarters of the total
Laboratory are at the heart of a new survey Many consumer digital sky) will be photographed at least once a
telescope that will soon provide a more cameras use a moving week, and all images will be entered into
than fivefold improvement in scientists’ lens or chip mount to powerful computers at the Maui High
ability to detect asteroids and comets that provide camera-motion Performance Computer Center. Scientists
could someday pose a threat to the planet. compensation and thus reduce blur, but at the center will analyze the images for
The prototype telescope installed on the OTCCD does this electronically at the changes that could reveal a previously
Haleakala mountain, Maui, will begin pixel level and at much higher speeds. unknown asteroid. They will also combine
operation this December. It will feature The challenge presented by the Pan- data from several images to calculate the
the world’s largest and most advanced STARRS camera is its exceptionally wide orbits of asteroids, looking for indications
digital camera, using the Lincoln Labora- field of view. For wide fields of view, that an asteroid may be on a collision
tory silicon chips. This telescope is the first jitter in the stars begins to vary across the course with Earth.
John Tonry of the Institute for Astronomy
of four that will be housed together in one image, and an OTCCD with its single Pan-STARRS will also be used to
dome. The system, called Pan-STARRS holds an entire array of 60 chips; an
array of 60 OTAs will be installed in the
shift pattern for all the pixels begins to lose catalog 99 percent of stars in the north-
(for Panoramic Survey Telescope and its effectiveness. The solution for Pan- ern hemisphere that have ever been
Rapid Response System), is being devel- focal plane of each of the four cameras
STARRS, proposed by Tonry and devel- observed by visible light, including stars
oped at the University of Hawaii’s Institute in the Pan-STARRS facility. Inset, the
oped in collaboration with Lincoln Labo- from nearby galaxies. In addition, the
for Astronomy. Pan-STARRS 1 prototype in Maui.
ratory, was to make an array of 60 small, Pan-STARRS survey of the whole sky will
“This is a truly giant instrument,” said separate OTCCDs on a single silicon chip. present astronomers with the opportunity
University of Hawaii astronomer John fainter than those visible to the naked eye, This architecture enabled independent to discover, and monitor, planets around
Tonry, who led the team developing the is also unique in its ability to find moving shifts optimized for tracking the varied other stars, as well as rare explosive objects
new 1.4-gigapixel camera. “We get an or variable objects. image motion across a wide scene. in other galaxies.
image that is 38,000 by 38,000 pixels in Lincoln Laboratory’s charge-coupled “Not only was Lincoln the only place Detailed information about the Pan-
size, or about 200 times larger than you get device (CCD) technology is a key enabling where the OTCCD had been demon- STARRS design and its science applica-
in a high-end consumer digital camera.” technology for the telescope’s camera. strated, but the added features that tions can be found at http://pan-starrs.
Pan-STARRS, whose cameras cover an In the mid-1990s, Lincoln Laboratory Pan-STARRS needed made the design ifa.hawaii.edu/public/. The project was
area of sky six times the width of the full researchers Barry Burke and Dick Savoye much more complicated,” said Burke, who funded by the U.S. Air Force Research
moon and can detect stars 10 million times of the Advanced Imaging Technology has been working on the Pan-STARRS Laboratory.
MIT Tech Talk u RESEARCH November 19, 2008 PAGE 5
Untangling DNA regulation
Biologists theorize role for DNA to better understanding of development as well as certain
act as gene silencers.
“It suggests that this histone variant — along with
packaging in stem cell development It has been theorized that cancer cells may overexpress the Polycomb group proteins — may act as some kind
genes involved in early embryonic development, allow- of regulatory switch that mediates cell fate transitions,”
Anne Trafton ing them to proliferate unchecked and regress from adult Boyer said. “We hypothesize that they’re working togeth-
News Office tissue cells to a stem cell-like state. er, and that allows these genes to be silent yet poised for
Such regression could be partly mediated by changes activation in stem cells.”
MIT biologists have discovered that the organization in chromatin. This packaging is believed to help control In future studies, Boyer’s team plans to look at patterns
of DNA’s packing material plays a critical role in directing DNA transcription because the more tightly wound the of H2AZ distribution in cancerous cells.
stem cells to become different types of adult cells. chromatin is, the less accessible DNA is to be transcribed. Lead authors of the paper are Whitehead Institute
The work, published in the journal Cell on Nov. 14, The new study focused on a variant type of histone postdoctoral associates Menno Creyghton and Styliani
could also shed light on the possible role of DNA packag- known as H2AZ, which other researchers have recently Markoulaki. Other authors are Whitehead postdoctoral
ing in cancer development. identified as a protein of interest in cancer. associates Stuart Levine and Jacob Hanna; graduate
Led by Laurie Boyer, assistant professor of biology at While H2AZ is ubiquitously expressed in many cell student Michael Lodato; Ky Sha, a postdoctoral associ-
MIT, the researchers examined the role of chromatin — types including adult cells, it is essential for normal ate in biology; Richard Young, professor of biology; and
the structure that forms when DNA is wound around a embryonic development. The new research reveals why: Rudolf Jaenisch, professor of biology and member of the
core of proteins called histones. The variant histones are found near the promoter regions Whitehead Institute.
“We’re particularly interested in how chromatin struc- of a particular set of genes important for development. The research was funded by the Dutch Cancer Founda-
ture influences gene expression and ultimately cell fate,” The same genes are also regulated by a group of tion, the Helen Hay Whitney Foundation, the National
Boyer said. “We hope the studies we are doing can lead proteins known as Polycomb group (PcG) proteins, which Institutes of Health and Genzyme Corp.
Media Lab creates Center
for Future Storytelling
Teams up with Plymouth Rock leap in storytelling, empowering ordinary people
to connect in extraordinary ways.”
Studios to reinvent the movies “This is a great opportunity to draw on the
exceptional intelligence and innovation for which
The MIT Media Laboratory announced the Media Lab is known worldwide,” said David
Tuesday the creation of the Center for Future Kirkpatrick, chairman and executive managing
Storytelling, made possible through a seven-year, officer of Plymouth Rock Studios and former
$25 million commitment from Plymouth Rock president of Paramount’s Motion Picture Group.
Studios, a major motion picture and television “Plymouth Rock Studios was conceived as a
studio that is expected to open in 2010 in Plym- source for innovation and as a proving ground
outh, Mass. for new storytelling technologies. This collabo-
With the establishment of the center, whose ration will transform the movie-making model,
research program begins immediately, the Media and erase some of the technology barriers that
Lab and Plymouth Rock Studios will collabo- constrain the narrative form.”
rate to revolutionize how we tell our stories, The Center for Future Storytelling will
from major motion pictures to peer-to-peer be co-directed by three Media Lab principal
multimedia sharing. By applying leading-edge investigators: V. Michael Bove Jr., an expert in
technologies to make stories more interactive, object-based media and interactive television; LG
improvisational and social, researchers will seek Associate Professor Cynthia Breazeal, a leader
to transform audiences into active participants in the field of personal robots and human-robot
in the storytelling process, bridging the real and interaction; and Associate Professor Ramesh
virtual worlds, and allowing everyone to make Raskar, a pioneer in the development of new
their own unique stories with user-generated imaging, display and performance-capture
content on the Web. Research will also focus on technologies.
ways to revolutionize imaging and display tech- Research will range from on-set motion
nologies, including developing next-generation capture to accurately and unobtrusively merge
cameras and programmable studios, making human performers and digital character models;
movie production more versatile and economic. to next-generation synthetic performer technolo-
“Storytelling is at the very root of what makes gies, such as richly interactive, highly expres-
us uniquely human,” said Frank Moss, Media sive robotic or animated characters; to cameras
Lab director and holder of the Jerome Wiesner that will spawn entirely new visual art forms; to
Professorship of Media Arts and Sciences. “It is morphable movie studios, where one studio can
how we share our experiences, learn from our be turned into many through advanced visual
past, and imagine our future. But how we tell imaging techniques; to holographic TV. It will
our stories depends on another uniquely human draw on technologies pioneered at the Media
characteristic — our ability to invent and harness Lab, such as digital systems that understand
PHOTO / SAM OGDEN
technology. From the printing press to the Inter- people at an emotional level, or cameras capable
net, technology has given people new ways to tell of capturing the intent of the storyteller. From left to right, David Kirkpatrick, chairman of Plymouth
their stories, allowing them to reach new levels “We see this as an experiment in collaborative Rock Studios, Cynthia Breazeal, co-director of Media Lab’s
of creativity and personal fulfillment. The shared education, but also as a bold adventure in busi- Center for Future Storytelling, and Frank Moss, director of the
vision of the MIT Media Lab and Plymouth ness innovation that could have significance well MIT Media Lab, stand with Nexi, a mobile, dexterous social
Rock Studios allows us to take the next quantum beyond the motion picture industry,” Moss said. robot developed by Breazeal’s Personal Robots research group.
Under the (robotic) knife
Engineering students design Mechanical Engineering Harry Asada, who
teaches the course.
robots to remove tumors “Augmenting a surgeon’s skills and
expertise with superb precision and dexter-
Anne Trafton ity of robotic devices, we can expect highly
News Office reliable, minimally invasive surgical opera-
tions,” he says. “However, there are many
MIT students will take to the operating technical challenges to make the system
table next Monday, Nov. 24, to show off truly useful.”
their robotic engineering skills in the final The course emphasis is on learning to
presentations for Course 2.12 (Introduc- design a robot that can perform a specific
tion to Robotics). task and operate within a confined space,
Four teams of students have spent the says Harrison Chin, laboratory instructor
past seven weeks building robotic arms for the class.
and writing software that will allow them Past years’ course assignments include
to remotely make an incision in a silicone building search and rescue robots, and
“organ” and remove a jelly bean masquer- building robots for automated inspection
ading as a tumor. of Big Dig tunnels.
PHOTO / DONNA COVENEY
The final presentation will be held at 3 “We try to motivate it with a real world
Senior Paul Blascovich, left, watches a surgical robot operating while teaching p.m. Monday in Room 1-005. problem,” says Lael Odhner, one of the
assistant Lael Odhner plays with arm. Junior Tony McDonald, back, Junior Ian Rust, Surgery is a rapidly growing sector laboratory TAs for the class and a graduate
center, and instructor Harrison Chin also look on. of robotics business, says Professor of student in mechanical engineering.
PAGE 6 November 19, 2008 u NEWS MIT Tech Talk
Financial crisis could slow energy research
David Chandler expected to be flat next year as well. Meanwhile, forecasts said. “A lot of alternatives don’t look very attractive” when
News Office of demand for oil have already been knocked down by oil prices fall below about $80 a barrel, he said, and they
10 million barrels a day, he said, and even that may be an are currently below $60.
A panel of experts at an MIT Energy Initiative research overestimate. But even though the economy is shaky right now,
conference on Thursday, Nov. 13, tried to assess the likely It’s a difficult time for any company to invest in devel- McRae said, at the same time, “there are enormous sets
impact of the ongoing financial crisis on energy issues, and oping new energy supplies, because of opportunity” for profitable
found no simple answers as to what can be expected. But of these long lead times. How can ventures in the energy sector. Busi-
they suggested that falling oil prices and the uncertainties
in financial markets could slow the development of new
energy technologies and supplies.
anyone predict “what the economy
is going to require in five years?”
As a result, he said, “we could see a
hiatus in investing in new supplies.”
This is a situation where the
nesses would do well to “focus on
energy costs” and ways of reduc-
ing them. Many of the models
they currently use to analyze their
David Hobbs, vice president of Cambridge Energy
Research Associates, said that the investment cycle for But that could lead to a new cycle. financial sector has experienced energy use patterns, he said, are
energy development is on such a long time scale that there “Underinvestment and low prices a shock that has spilled over into quite old and need to be updated.
is a significant lag in responding to changing circumstances. lead to another spike in prices,” he The genesis of the crisis, said
Right now there are major new sources of supply about said. the real economy. John Reed, retired chairman of
to come online in oil, natural gas and coal, just at a time Gregory McRae, a professor of Citigroup, had nothing to do with
when demand is falling, along with prices, because of the chemical engineering at MIT, said John Reed the “real economy,” but rather was
troubled economic situation. that one of the more subtle impacts Retired Citigroup chairman confined to the narrower world
For example, an armada of new liquefied natural gas of the economic crisis is on the of the financial sector. “This is a
tankers is about to come into service, bringing to market a way energy companies themselves situation where the financial sector
huge quantity of gas for which “the demand doesn’t exist,” are valued. Even the definition of such things as “proven has experienced a shock that has spilled over into the
he said, largely because high prices have led to an influx reserves” of oil, coal or natural gas can be affected. Proven real economy,” he said. “There was nothing in the real
of new alternative sources. And there is a similar disparity reserves mean those that “under present economic condi- economy that had to do with this.”
between demand and new sources of supply for coal, he tions are recoverable at a reasonable price.” But if oil But, Reed said, while people tend to see the money
said. prices continue to plummet, that changes the equation being spent on a federal “bailout” of financial institutions
People had predicted that coal would never rise above a significantly. as being money lost, in fact, “the government is going to
price of $30 a ton, but it is now $200 or more. As a result, Falling oil prices have other effects as well, for make a lot of money on this,” he said, because it was “able
instead of rising, demand this year has been flat and is example,“whether the alternatives become viable,” McRae to pick up assets on good terms.”
analysis shows how
can cut greenhouse
Continued from Page 1
associated with long-term, short-term and
The report’s third section examined
the relationship between state and federal
regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.
With no federal policy now in place, many
states are moving forward with their own
initiatives, which range from commitments
to reduce greenhouse gases to a regional,
multistate cap-and-trade program slated to
begin in 2009.
While federal legislation is expected in
the next few years, it is unclear how it will
define the relationship between a federal
cap-and-trade program and other state or
regional initiatives. The report analyzes
the economic and environmental impacts
of the range of possible interactions
between the federal program and state or
regional programs. PHOTO / YING SHI
Differences in the abatement costs
among states can create economic inef- If you build it ...
ficiencies that make achievement of the Earlier this month, MIT student volunteers helped build a home for a family in need in Bedford, Mass. Several of the MIT
climate goal more costly than it need students took a break from hammering and sawing to explain their role in the project, which can be seen in an audio
be. This inefficiency can be avoided by slideshow available on the News Office web site at web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2008/habitat-1112.html.
either federal preemption of duplica-
tive state programs, the authors found,
or by a “carve out” of more demanding
state programs from the federal cap with MIT helps launch interactive
In addition to Ellerman, the research
was co-authored by Mort D. Webster,
BACKPACKS: Cells could ferry drugs video education project in Jordan
Continued from Page 1
Two MIT professors traveled to Jordan this
assistant professor of engineering systems month to help kick off a new initiative called
in the Engineering Systems Division; payload, and the top layer serves as a “hook” that catches and binds cells. Blended Learning Open Source Science or
John Parsons, senior lecturer at the Sloan Once the layers are set up, cells enter the system and flow across the surface, Math Studies (BLOSSOMS), a joint inter-
School and Executive Director of the getting stuck on the polymer hooks. The patch is then detached from the national collaboration of educators from the
Center for Energy and Environmental surface by simply lowering the temperature, and the cells float away, with back- United States, Jordan and Pakistan.
Policy Research (CEEPR); Henry D. packs attached. Richard Larson, director of the Center for
Jacoby, professor of management at the “The rest of the cell is untouched and able to interact with the environ- Engineering Systems Fundamentals and the
Sloan School and Co-Director, Joint ment,” said Albert Swiston, lead author of the paper and a graduate student in Mitsui Professor of Engineering Systems and
Program on the Science and Policy of materials science and engineering. Civil and Environmental Engineering, and
Global Change; and Meghan McGuin- The researchers found that T cells with backpacks were able to perform Walter Lewin, professor of physics, traveled
ness, who was a researcher in the CEEPR. their normal functions, including migrating across a surface, just as they would to meet counterparts in Jordan — including
The study was funded by the Doris Duke without anything attached. educators from Jordan University, the Jordan
Charitable Foundation. By loading the backpacks with magnetic nanoparticles, the researchers can University of Science and Technology and the
control the cells’ movement with a magnetic field. Jordan Educational Initiative — who will help
Because the polymer synthesis and assembly takes place before the patches run the BLOSSOMS program.
are attached to cells, there is plenty of opportunity to tweak the process to BLOSSOMS aims to develop a large,
improve the polymers’ effectiveness and ensure they won’t be toxic to cells, the free repository of science and math interac-
researchers say. tive video modules for high school students
No Tech Talk on Nov. 26 Other authors of the paper are Soong Ho Um, a postdoctoral associate in the created by gifted volunteer teachers from
Departments of Materials Science and Engineering and Biological Engineer- around the world, seeded initially by MIT
Because of Thanksgiving, there ing, and Connie Cheng, a recent Harvard graduate. faculty members and partnering educators
will be no Tech Talk next week. For The research was funded by the National Science Foundation Materials in Jordan and Pakistan. The project seeks
updated coverage of MIT news, Research Science and Engineering Center and an NSF Graduate Research to develop deeper and richer skills in high
please see our web site at http://web. Fellowship. school students, to enhance their critical-
mit.edu/newsoffice. thinking skills and to motivate them to pursue
careers in science, math or engineering.
MIT Tech Talk u NEWS November 19, 2008 PAGE 7
Economics for Obama News in brief
Open enrollment closes on Nov. 21
Don’t forget that any benefits changes for 2009 must be made by the
Open Enrollment deadline, which is at 4 p.m. on Nov. 21. All benefits-
eligible faculty and staff are eligible to enroll or make changes to their
medical and dental coverage, enroll in flexible spending accounts, and
review all benefits at MIT up until this deadline.
To enroll in your 2009 benefits, visit http://web.mit.edu/sapwebss/
Global Entrepreneurship Week running this week
More than two dozen MIT departments and student organizations
are combining efforts to help celebrate Global Entrepreneurship Week,
which started on Nov. 17 and runs until Nov. 23.
The week, spearheaded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Founda-
tion, is the first-ever international celebration of enterprising behavior
PHOTO / DONNA COVENEY
as a way to engage young people in entrepreneurship — something that
already happens quite naturally across the MIT community. With differ-
Institute Professor emeritus and Nobel Prize winner Robert Solow, right, and Harvard University ent events that spotlight networking, entrepreneurial success stories,
professor N. Gregory Mankiw PhD ’84, left, took part in a panel discussion Thursday, Nov. 13, MIT alumni entrepreneurs and more, Global Entrepreneurship Week
examining economic policies for President-elect Barack Obama. Mitsui Professor of Economics at MIT will bring together members of MIT’s community to celebrate
James Poterba, middle, chaired the panel. the unique entrepreneurial energy created by students, faculty, staff and
Solow, Mankiw see promising have “Cambridge connections” — either with
MIT or Harvard.
For full details and a calendar of events and activities, please go to the
Global Entrepreneurship at MIT web site at http://enterpriseforum.mit.
future, short-term problems But he also said “the long-term budget edu/eweek.html.
looks pretty dire,” and that seeing Obama put
Patrick Gillooly together a long-term budget “is going to be
Mankiw agreed with some policies that Legatum Center announces IAP Seed Grants
Two renowned economists agreed Thurs- Obama has expressed support for in the past, Are you an aspiring entrepreneur who is interested in the role of the
day, Nov. 13, that America is facing several including fully auctioned cap-and-trade carbon private sector in the developing world? Have an idea for a business that
major challenges with economic implications programs. He was “most skeptical,” however, you think can make a difference?
— including health care costs, climate change on certain international trade proposals, Applications are now being accepted for a seed grant from the Lega-
and the credit crunch — but differed on how including one to renegotiate the North Ameri- tum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship at MIT and turn
President-elect Barack Obama should handle can Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and on these ideas into reality.
those crises efficiently. limiting the import of sugar-based ethanol MIT undergraduate and graduate students are invited to apply for up
MIT Institute Professor emeritus Robert from Brazil. to $2,000 in funding to support projects investigating the development of
Solow and Harvard economist N. Gregory “My view is that all those views are wrong, for-profit businesses in low-income countries during the 2008-2009 IAP
Mankiw spoke in front of a packed Wang Audi- and my thought is that the economists advising session. Grants are distributed through a competitive selection process
torium on the topic of “Economic policies for him think they are wrong. The question is, in that takes into account the viability and impact of each project proposal.
the next U.S. president,” a forum co-sponsored what direction will he head?” Mankiw said. Seed grant applications must be submitted online by 1 p.m. on Nov. 21.
by the Department of Economics and the The U.S. also needs to move away from an For complete seed grant application instructions, and to learn more
Undergraduate Economics Association. economy where many top earners come from about the Legatum Center, please visit our web site at http://legatum.
Solow expressed excitement for the new the financial sector, as it is leading to more mit.edu/grant.
administration (“I voted for Obama and I inequality, Mankiw said.
didn’t hesitate for a second”) while also noting “A lot of these high incomes come in the
the troubles that may lie ahead (“I don’t expect
miracles of economic policy from the Obama
financial services industry, and I think that
needs to stop,” he said. “Economic growth that
Blood drive at MIT through Friday
administration”). But, he noted, policymaking is primarily finance based is unsatisfactory.” MIT’s American Red Cross Team and Network is conducting a blood
is about more than one person. While taking steps in the short term may pay drive though the rest of this week in La Sala de Puerto Rico on the
“The two-party system goes against off now, Solow said it would be unwise to think second floor of the MIT Student Center.
economic miracles,” Solow said. that results would be immediate. Remaining dates and times for the blood drive are:
Despite a freezing of “plain-vanilla lending” “Whatever happens now, the federal deficit
— commercial and generally safe lending — is going to be close to a trillion dollars.” Today — noon to 6 p.m.
there is no reason to be completely doom-and- A brief question and answer session follow- Thursday, Nov. 20 — noon to 6 p.m.
gloom, he said. “The productive capacity of the ing the forum brought forth the question of Friday, Nov. 21 — noon to 6 p.m.
economy is still there.” General Motors and whether the government
“The first order of business ought to be to should bail it out as it did for Wall Street’s For more information or to make an appointment, visit http://web.mit.
do something about fending off the recession,” financial firms. edu/blood-drive/www/.
he said. “Anything that is done along that line “When do you stop? Once you get through
will have to be done through fiscal policy.” the auto industry there will be other industries
Solow also credited the steps already made [asking for money] as well,” Solow said, point- Faculty meeting today
by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke ing out a bigger problem that is “not about A regular meeting of the faculty will take place today at 3:30 p.m. in
PhD ’79, comparing him to Captain Kirk from GM, but about fixing a nonsensical system that Room 10-250 . The agenda includes:
Star Trek. “He has loaned where no man has fixes health care to employment.” • A proposal to revise the general institute requirements;
loaned before.” Mankiw suggested offering money, but only • An update on underrepresented minority faculty and graduate
Mankiw said he had “a lot of respect for if there was private investment to back it up. student recruitment and retention;
what is going on in the Obama administra- “There’s no point putting public money • An update from the Initiative on Faculty Race and Diversity.
tion,” especially since the president-elect has into a company that no private investor deems
surrounded himself with several advisors who viable,” he said.
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PAGE 8 November 19, 2008 u ENVIRONMENT MIT Tech Talk
The 9th International
Conference on A quicker, easier way sions, and others are expected to follow suit, some of the luster
has come off coal. Amid the uncertainty, no one wants to be
the “first mover” on building a new coal plant incorporating
to make coal cleaner carbon capture and storage (CCS). Depending on the type of
plant, carbon capture alone can increase the initial capital cost
by 30 to 60 percent and decrease plant efficiency so that the
cost per kilowatt-hour rises. That high cost would reduce a
(GHGT-9), organized by Nancy Stauffer
MIT Energy Initiative plant’s economic competitiveness, meaning it might be called
MIT in collaboration Construction of new coal-fired power plants in the United
on to run on a limited basis, or not at all. Plus, CCS hasn’t
been proved at full scale, so no one knows exactly what to
with the IEA States is in danger of coming to a standstill, partly due to the expect.
high cost of the requirement — whether existing or anticipated In Herzog’s view, the call for full carbon capture is “a policy
Greenhouse Gas R&D — to capture all emissions of carbon dioxide, an important of inaction, a policy that won’t move forward either new coal
Programme (IEA GHG), greenhouse gas. But an MIT analysis suggests an intermedi-
ate step that could get construction moving again, allowing
plants or the CCS technology.” Partial capture could be a
viable intermediate step.
with sponsorship from the nation to fend off growing electricity shortages using The push for full capture (defined as 90 percent of total
our most-abundant, least-expensive fuel while also reducing plant emissions) is in part economic: Everyone assumed that
the U.S. Department emissions. 90 percent capture would — due to economies of scale — yield
Instead of capturing all of its CO2 emissions, plants could the lowest cost per ton of CO2 removed. Anything less than 90
of Energy, is taking capture a significant fraction of those emissions with less costly percent would mean a higher per-ton cost.
place this week in changes in plant design and operation, the MIT analysis shows.
“Our approach — ‘partial capture’ — can get CO2 emis-
To investigate that assumption, Hildebrand and Herzog
modeled the technological changes and costs involved in
Washington, D.C. It sions from coal-burning plants down to emissions levels capturing fractions ranging from zero to 90 percent. The
of natural-gas power plants,” said Ashleigh Hildebrand, a model takes into account technological breakpoints. For
features several MIT graduate student in chemical engineering and the Technology example, carbon capture is achieved by a series of devices
papers on greenhouse and Policy Program. “Policies such as California’s Emissions
Performance Standards could be met by coal plants using
that absorb CO2, release it and compress it. Full capture may
require two or more parallel series.
gas control and partial capture rather than having to rely solely on natural gas, The model confirms that the cost per ton of CO2 removed
which is increasingly imported and subject to high and volatile declines as the number of captured tons increases. Not surpris-
reduction. prices.” ingly, when the second series is added, cost per ton goes up,
Hildebrand will present her findings on Nov. 18 at the but it then quickly levels off. Cost per ton is thus roughly the
9th International Conference on Greenhouse Gas Control same at, say, 60 percent capture as it is at 90 percent capture.
Technologies in Washington, D.C. Her co-author is Howard J. Since there are no economies of scale to be gained by going
Herzog, principal research engineer at the MIT Energy Initia- to 90 percent, companies can remove less — and significantly
tive and chair of the conference organizing committee. reduce their initial capital investment as well as the drop in
The United States is facing a pressing need for more power efficiency once the plant is running.
plants that run essentially all the time. Renewable sources The researchers conclude that as a near-term measure,
aren’t suited to the task, nuclear plants can’t be built quickly partial capture looks promising. New coal plants with lower
enough, and expanded reliance on natural gas raises price and CO2 emissions would generate much-needed electricity while
energy-security concerns. Coal, which now supplies more than also demonstrating carbon capture and providing a setting for
half of all U.S. electricity, seems the best option. testing CO2 storage — steps that will accelerate the large-scale
But as several states have started to regulate CO2 emis- deployment of full capture in the future.
PHOTO / RAMYA SANKAR
MIT’s Ashleigh Hildebrand and Howard
Herzog are working toward a more
ecofriendly option for coal power plants.
Burying the According to the 2007 MIT study, “The
Future of Coal,” and other sources, capturing
CO2 at coal-burning power plants and storing it
The MIT model predicts how much a plume
of CO2 will migrate from its injection well and
the path it is likely to take due to underground
greenhouse gas in deep geological basins will mitigate its negative
effects on the atmosphere.
However, injecting too much CO2 could
slopes and groundwater flow.
“A lot of people have done studies at small
scales,” Szulczewski said. “If we’re going to offset
New tool could aid safe create or enlarge underground faults that may
become conduits for CO2 to travel back up to the
emissions, however, we’re going to inject a lot of
CO2 into the subsurface. This requires thinking
underground storage of CO2 atmosphere, said Ruben Juanes, assistant profes- at the basin scale.”
sor of civil and environmental engineering (CEE) “Despite the fact that our model applies at the
Deborah Halber and one of the authors of the work. “Our model basin scale, it is very simple. Using only pen and
Civil and Environmental Engineering is a simple, effective way to calculate how much paper, you take geological parameters such as
CO2 a basin can store safely. It is the first to look porosity, temperature and pressure to calculate
To prevent global warming, researchers and at large scales and take into account the effects of storage capacity,” Szulczewski said. “Other meth-
policymakers are exploring a variety of options flow dynamics on the stored CO2,” he said. ods suffer from major shortcomings of accuracy,
to significantly cut the amount of carbon diox- Already Juanes and co-author CEE graduate complexity or scale.”
ide that reaches the atmosphere. One possible student Michael L. Szulczewski have applied their Juanes studies a phenomenon called capillary
approach involves capturing greenhouse gases model to the Fox Hills Sandstone in the Powder trapping, through which CO2, liquefied by the
such as carbon dioxide at the source — an electric River basin straddling Montana and Wyoming. pressure of the Earth, is trapped as small blobs in
power plant, for example — and then injecting They found that the formation would hold the briny water (picture bubbles of oil in vinegar).
them underground. around 5 gigatons of CO2 — more than half of The CO2 dispersed throughout the basin’s struc-
While theoretically promising, the technique all the CO2 emitted by the United States each tural pores eventually dissolves and reacts with
has never been tested in a full-scale industrial year. reservoir rocks to precipitate out into harmless
operation. But now MIT engineers have come A geological basin is a large underground bowl carbonate minerals.
up with a new software tool to determine how between 100 and 1,000 kilometers wide and 5,000 CO2 has been sequestered in small pilot
much CO2 can be sequestered safely in geologi- kilometers deep that has filled over millennia projects in Norway, Algeria and elsewhere. In
cal formations. with layers of sand, fine-grained clays and other 2004, 1,600 tons of CO2 were injected into high-
The work will be reported Nov. 18 at the 9th sediments that are eventually consolidated into permeability brine-bearing sandstone of the Frio
International Conference on Greenhouse Gas porous rock. Some of the layers contain brine formation 1,500 meters beneath the Gulf coast of
Control Technologies (GHGT-9), to be held and are called deep saline aquifers. CO2 would be Texas. Current proposals call for injecting billions
Nov. 16-20 in Washington, D.C. injected into the aquifers through wells. of tons within the continental United States.