Newsletter April, 2014


MIT Materials News that Matters

April 2014
Materials Processing Center at MIT MIT Dome
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Faculty Highlight: Jeff Gore 
Championing biophysics research, MIT faculty member Jeff Gore brings together interdisciplinary team, explores population dynamics in yeast and honeybees. 
Jeff Gore outside 400 Technology Square, Cambridge
Jeff Gore outside 400 Technology Square.


Jeff Gore, Latham Family Career Development Assistant Professor of Physics  led the recent opening of the Physics of Living Systems group at MIT in mid-April and explores the dynamics of population growth and colony collapse in yeast.

In a recently published paper, Gore and co-authors, including former Pappalardo Postdoctoral Fellow Kirill Korolev, suggest lessons from their population dynamics work can be applied to cancer growth by thinking of cancer as an endangered species.

Gore and Lei Dai, a graduate student in the Gore Lab at MIT are collaborating with researchers at Penn State University on honeybee hives, applying the analytical tools honed on their yeast  research. 

Other work in progress in the Gore lab focuses on cellular decision making, which analyzes the behavior of cells that can switch states, for example, concentrating on eating alternative sugar sources.

Read more.

Honeybees Show Tipping Points
MIT graduate student Lei Dai working with Pennsylvania researchers to apply population dynamics to hive collapse problem.

Parasites, lack of food, cold snaps, pesticides, and poor management all can stress honeybee colonies, making it difficult to pin their collapse on a single source. However, in controlled field tests, honeybee colonies show evidence of Allee effects and tipping points that are early 

Bees cluster on the hand of Bernardo Niño, senior research technologist in Grozinger Lab at Penn State. Photo courtesy of Bernardo Niño.

warning indicators of collapse, MIT physics graduate student Lei Dai says.

 Lei Dai studies cooperative                populations including bees and yeast.

"We are seeing a global decline of honeybees and this is a serious problem because they are important for pollination of plants and crops, so people are trying to understand the dynamics of honeybee colonies," Dai says.

Dai's honeybee research is in collaboration with Christina Grozinger, Professor of Entomology and Director of the Center for Pollinator Research, and her beekeeping technician, Bernardo Niño, at Penn State. Field studies took place from spring through fall 2013, and the researchers are working on a paper to report their results. Dai helped to design the experiment.  Read more.


At the Interface of Physics and Biology
Relocation brings together materials scientist, theoretical and experimental physicists as Physics of Living Systems group at MIT. 
e Physics of Living Systems group at MIT includes, from left, Alfredo Alexander-Katz, materials science, Jeff Gore, experimental physics, and Jeremy England, theoretical physics. Another theoretical physicist, Nikta Fakhri, will join the group later this year.
The Physics of Living Systems group at MIT includes, from left, Alfredo Alexander-Katz, materials science, Jeff Gore, experimental physics, and Jeremy England, theoretical physics. Another theoretical physicist will join the group later this year.

A common set of ideas and approaches brought together a trio of MIT professors and their research teams to form the Physics of Living Systems group, which opened a new lab and offices mid-April at 400 Technology Square, sixth floor.


"The goal is that once we're all together like this that we can collaborate in various ways.  A major limiting factor for many of us is just that we have not been physically located next to other groups that are interested in related ideas,"  Latham Family Career Development Assistant Professor of Physics Jeff Gore says. 

 "The students in all the various groups are going to have the opportunity to interact with each other a lot more, and I think having a peer group and a critical mass of a community of people with common or related research interests is really important to intellectual development for the students," Assistant Professor of Physics Jeremy England says. 

Read more.

Yeast Studies Suggest Alternative Cancer Approach  

Biophysicist Jeff Gore and collaborators urge applying lessons from yeast colony collapse to tumor growth.


Cover Image, Copyright, Lara Crow, Nature Publishing Group. 
The Perspective piece, "Turning ecology and evolution against cancer," co-authored by MIT biophysicist Jeff Gore, is featured on the cover of Nature Reviews Cancer, May 24, 2014, edition. Cover image by Lara Crow, Copyright Nature Publishing Group.

Yeast populations exposed to a sudden environmental shock can be driven to extinction, MIT researchers have shown. Could lessons learned from investigation of ecological and evolutionary population dynamics of microorganisms apply to human cancer cells? That might just be the case, researchers from MIT, Boston University and Sloan Kettering Memorial Cancer Center in New York argue in a Perspective published online Thursday, April 17, 2014, by Nature Reviews Cancer and appearing in the May 2014 print edition.


In the new paper, co-authors Kirill Korolev, Assistant Professor of Physics at BU, Joao B. Xavier, Computational Biologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, in New York, and Jeff Gore, Latham Family Career Development Assistant Professor of Physics at MIT, suggest evidence from natural population extinctions, as well as theoretical and empirical studies, point to new ways of guiding drug delivery by identifying the threshold size for cancer cells to form a tumor.


"By thinking about cancer cells as an endangered species, cancer vulnerabilities become more apparent," the authors say in their abstract. 

Read more.

Fourteen Summer Scholars Accepted
Undergraduates from across U.S., Puerto Rico look forward gaining MIT laboratory research experience.
Kevin Romero is one of 14 summer research interns selected.
Kevin Romero was chosen as one of 14 summer research interns.

The Materials Processing Center and the Center for Materials Science and Engineering have selected 14 undergraduates as Summer Research Interns through the National Science Foundation's Research Experiences for Undergraduates (NSF-REU) program.  


They were chosen from among 256 applications in a highly competitive process.

Rahul Kini, a Yale University junior in chemical engineering, looks forward to conducting research this summer alongside MIT faculty and graduate student mentors but also is eager to engage with the city of Boston this summer. "The possibilities are endless," he says. 

Upcoming Events


MIT Polymer Science Seminar , Prof. Darrin Pochan, Univ. of Delaware, May 7, 2014, 3:30pm, Rm. 66-110

Polymer Science Seminar Prof. Marc A. Hillmyer, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, May 14, 2014, 3:30 pm, 66-110.  

Annual Pappalardo Fellowships in Physics Symposium , May 16, 2 pm, MIT 4-349.


MIT Commencement, 

June 6, 2014


MPC/CMSE Summer Scholars, June 8, 2014 - August 9, 2014

Materials Day Symposium and Poster Session will be on October 21, 2014 


2014 MRS Fall Meeting & Exhibit,  Nov. 30-Dec. 5, 2014,  Boston, Mass.  

Quick Links

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New Building Will be a Hub for Nanoscale Research
"MIT.nano," to be built in the heart of campus, will house advanced clean room, imaging, and prototyping facilities.
Image courtesy of Wilson Architects
MIT.nano and the courtyard looking northeast from Building 4. Image courtesy of Wilson Architects
Starting in 2018, researchers from across MIT will be able to take advantage of comprehensive facilities for nanoscale research in a new building to be constructed at the very heart of the Cambridge campus.The 200,000-square-foot building, called "MIT.nano," will house state-of-the-art cleanroom, imaging, and prototyping facilities supporting research with nanoscale materials and processes - in fields including energy, health, life sciences, quantum sciences, electronics, and manufacturing. An estimated 2,000 MIT researchers may ultimately make use of the building, says electrical engineering professor Vladimir Bulović, faculty lead on the MIT.nano project and associate dean for innovation in the School of Engineering.  Read more.
Excitons Observed in Action for the First Time
Technique developed at MIT reveals the motion of energy-carrying quasiparticles in solid material.  

Diagram of an exciton within a tetracene crystal. MIT photo
Diagram of an exciton within a tetracene crystal, which shows the line across which data was collected. That data, plotted below as a function of both position (horizontal axis) and time (vertical axis) provides the most detailed information ever obtained on how excitons move through the material. Illustration courtesy of the researchers. 

David L. Chandler

MIT News Office

A quasiparticle called an exciton - responsible for the transfer of energy within devices such as solar cells, LEDs, and semiconductor circuits - has been understood theoretically for decades. But exciton movement within materials has never been directly observed. 


Now scientists at MIT and the City University of New York have achieved that feat, imaging excitons' motions directly. 

This could enable research leading to significant advances in electronics, they say, as well as a better understanding of natural energy-transfer processes, such as photosynthesis.


Read more.

Ocean Microbes Display Remarkable Genetic Diversity
One species, a few drops of seawater, hundreds of coexisting subpopulations.
Image, Carly Sanker, MIT

MIT scientists discovered an amazing amount of diversity among a population of marine microbes living in a few drops of water. This artist's rendering depicts the shared genomic "backbone" of subpopulations for the marine microbe Prochlorococcus. Image: Carly Sanker/MIT

Denise Brehm
Civil and Environmental Engineering

The smallest, most abundant marine microbe, Prochlorococcus, is a photosynthetic bacteria species essential to the marine ecosystem. An estimated billion billion billion of the single-cell creatures live in the oceans, forming the base of the marine food chain and occupying a range of ecological niches based on temperature, light and chemical preferences, and interactions with other species. But the full extent and characteristics of diversity within this single species remains a puzzle.To probe this question, scientists in MIT's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) recently performed a cell-by-cell genomic analysis on a wild population of Prochlorococcus living in a milliliter - less than a quarter teaspoon - of ocean water, and found hundreds of distinct genetic subpopulations.Read more.
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