MIT Physicists Have Constructed a Bizarre Form of ‘Molecular’ Light With 3 Photons

Photons shouldn’t do this.

Five years ago, physicists from Harvard and MIT achieved a world first by forcing a pair of photons to interact with one another in ways that shouldn’t seem possible.

What do you do when you’ve achieved such a lofty goal? You try to add a third photon, of course.

With all eyes on light as the future of computing, researchers are keen to discover new ways to manipulate photons.

By most accounts, the massless particles that make up the electromagnetic spectrum don’t have a whole lot to do with one another.

We often smash atoms together in giant accelerators and search for new physics in the resulting carnage.

The same can’t be said for photons. You can cross even the strongest of laser beams without risking so much as a gentle bump between two light particles.

For years physicists theorised there were conditions where this rule could be bent, and in 2013 they finally saw it in action.

“What we have done is create a special type of medium in which photons interact with each other so strongly that they begin to act as though they have mass, and they bind together to form molecules,” Harvard physicist Mikhail Lukin said at the time.

To do this, they passed a weak laser consisting of a few photons through a cloud of rubidium atoms chilled to near standstill.

Moving from atom to atom the light hands over some of its energy. Yet a strange thing happens when a nearby photon tries to do the same thing.

It’s called a Rydberg blockade – effectively, neighbouring particles can’t be excited to the same degree.

So as one photon buzzes an atom, a nearby photon with the same properties can’t cause another atom to share the same level of excitement. So it sticks around, briefly forming an atom-light hybrid called a polariton.

As a result, there’s a pushing and pulling of polaritons as the photons slowly make their way through the rubidium cloud. On exiting out the other side, they end up stuck together.

The same team of physicists has now used the same setup to determine if this special partnership could also be a triad, by throwing a third photon into the mix.

“For example, you can combine oxygen molecules to form O2 and O3 (ozone), but not O4, and for some molecules you can’t form even a three-particle molecule,” says the study’s senior author, Vladan Vuletic from MIT.

“So it was an open question: Can you add more photons to a molecule to make bigger and bigger things?”

Sure enough, out popped clusters of photons in twos and threes, showing it was indeed possible. And sticking together these pairs and triplets of photons into a kind of “molecule” could have many useful applications.

Scientists have been busy in recent years controlling light’s speed in a vacuum, twisting it into new configurations, and contorting it to have strange properties.

All of this lays the groundwork for technologies that no longer use clunky old electrons to do the grunt work of computers, but photons that can be entangled, encoded, and sent long distances at high speeds packed with more information.

So what’s next for the team? Will we be seeing photon quads? Vuletic is open minded.

“With repulsion of photons, can they be such that they form a regular pattern, like a crystal of light? Or will something else happen? It’s very uncharted territory.”

This Might Be The Strongest And Lightest Material on Earth

10 times stronger than steel, with only 5 percent of its density.

For years, researchers have known that carbon, when arranged in a certain way, can be very strong.

Case in point: graphene. Graphene, which was heretofore, the strongest material known to man, is made from an extremely thin sheet of carbon atoms arranged in two dimensions.

But there’s one drawback: while notable for its thinness and unique electrical properties, it’s very difficult to create useful, three-dimensional materials out of graphene.

In January last year, a team of MIT researchers discovered that taking small flakes of graphene and fusing them following a mesh-like structure not only retains the material’s strength, but the graphene also remains porous.

Based on experiments conducted on 3D printed models, researchers have determined that this material, with its distinct geometry, is actually stronger than graphene – making it 10 times stronger than steel, with only 5 percent of its density.

The discovery of a material that is extremely strong but exceptionally lightweight will have numerous applications.

As MIT reports:

“The new findings show that the crucial aspect of the new 3-D forms has more to do with their unusual geometrical configuration than with the material itself, which suggests that similar strong, lightweight materials could be made from a variety of materials by creating similar geometric features.”

Below you can see a simulation results of compression (top left and i) and tensile (bottom left and ii) tests on 3D graphene:

“You could either use the real graphene material or use the geometry we discovered with other materials, like polymers or metals,” said Markus Buehler, head of MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), and the McAfee Professor of Engineering.

“You can replace the material itself with anything. The geometry is the dominant factor. It’s something that has the potential to transfer to many things.”

Construction may prove to be easier, given that the material used will now be significantly lighter. Because of its porous nature, it may also be applied to filtration systems.

This research, said Huajian Gao, a professor of engineering at Brown University, who was not involved in this work, “shows a promising direction of bringing the strength of 2D materials and the power of material architecture design together”.

5 Topics That Are “Forbidden” to Science.

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The recent changes in Washington do not seem to bode well for fact-driven, scientific points of view on many issues. But there are already a number of sensitive areas of science where important research is stalling due to outside pressures or serious questions asked by the scientists themselves.

A yearly conference organized by the MIT Media Lab tackles “forbidden research”, the science that is constrained by ethical, cultural and institutional restrictions. The purpose of the conference is to give scientists a forum to consider these ideas and questions and to discuss the viability and necessity of studying topics like the rights of AI and machines, genetic engineering, climate change and others.

Edward Snowden, who appeared remotely at the 2016 conference, summarized its “theme” as “law is no substitute for conscience.“ Pointing to his work against pervasive digital surveillance, he reiterated that “the legality of a thing is quite distinct from the morality of it.”

The major “forbidden” topics discussed at the conference were, unsurprisingly, wrought with political implications –

1. Messing with Nature

How much should we mess with nature? We now have an opportunity to potentially greatly advance our abilities and eradicate diseases with genetic engineering. But how much interference with the way nature designed us is ok? Who should decide how much is ok? 

It is possible to use “gene” drives” to gene-edit an entire species, like, for instance, to get rid of mosquitoes. Not many would miss the pesky insects, but spreading the modified genetic traits throughout their population could have unintended consequences, not to mention the effect on the food chain.

Still, these concerns do not necessarily outweigh the possibility that gene-editing them could be extremely beneficial to us. The questions of how gene-editing can be safely incorporated into our lives will continue to persist as technology keeps improving.

 “Some things are forbidden and arguably shouldn’t be, but other things perhaps we need some more barriers,” says Kevin Esvelt, a synthetic biologist with the Media Lab.

2. Engineering the Climate

One way to help address climate change is via solar engineering. This involves releasing sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere to reflect some of the sunlight away from Earth. Doing this could tamp down rising temperatures, possibly bringing them back to pre-industrial levels. 

This approach is certainly open to significant challenges. Atmospheric testing is necessary to see whether doing this could damage the ozone layer while adding more pollutants to the atmosphere. Yet, it’s something that to could work and address global warming. Without a serious discussion, which starts by agreeing that global warming is a real issue, we are just doing nothing while the problem potentially grows worse and worse.

“We have collectively decided we prefer ignorance. We need a serious, open, no-nonsense international research program, and we don’t have one. That is political cowardice,” said Harvard professor David Keith.

3. Robot Ethics

As robotic technology continues to advance by leaps and bounds, the questions of where the lines between the robots and humans will be drawn abound. For example, there is potential to protect children from sexual deviance by creating sex robots for pedophiles. This kind of research is nearly impossible, however, due to the ethical and legal restrictions in the field.

“I want to know [if] we can use robots therapeutically to help,” said robot ethicist Kate Darling from MIT’a Media Lab. “We have no idea if we can, and we can’t research it because of the huge social stigma.”

MIT Media Lab's "Forbidden Research" conference 2016. Credit: MIT Media Lab, Youtube.

MIT Media Lab’s “Forbidden Research” conference 2016. 

4. Secure Communication Technology 

It’s a real challenge to create communication tech that is not being spied on by somebody, from corporations to the government. This was stressed by Edward Snowden and hacker and engineer Andrew Huang, who appeared at the conference.

Snowden elaborated on the distinction between the moral and legal in these examples:

“Our investigation regards countering what we’re calling lawful abuses of digital surveillance. Lawful abuse, right, what is that, doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Seems like it might be a contradiction in terms. (…) But if you think about it for just a moment it might seem to be a little bit more clear. After all, the legality of a thing is quite distinct from the morality of it. Segregation, slavery, genocides, these have all been perpetuated under frameworks that said they were lawful, as long as you abided by the regulations that were sort of managing those activities,” said Snowden.

5. Universal Access to Science

Should all publicly-funded research be available to everyone on Earth? This was the inspiration for SciHub, a Russian science that featured 55 million scientific papers for free. Many of them were pirated and pulled from behind paywalls.

Kazakh student Alexandra Elbakyan, who created the site, said at the conference that she can’t travel to the U.S. or Europe because she might be arrested. On the other hand, because the site has been resilient and not taken down, she thinks “the only thing now is to make it legal”.

The question of whether there is a moral imperative to spread scientific knowledge is tempered by political and business realities. But if science finds the verifiable truth, is there not an inherent obligation for it to be available for all?

You can see the full 2016 “Forbidden Research” conference here.


Google’s AI Learns How To Code Machine Learning Software


Google ai machine learning software

Short Bytes: A team of researchers at Google Brain AI research group has created an AI system that has designed its own machine learning software. The software that came up with these designs used the power of 800 GPUs. Interestingly, in tests, the software designed by the AI system surpassed the benchmark of the software designed by humans. 

Just in case you were worrying that the exponential progress in the field of robotics will kill many production jobs, here’s another story along the similar lines. The Google Brain artificial intelligence research group has created a new machine learning system that can design machine-learning software.

Surprisingly, when the software was compared with the ones written by humans, it surpassed their results.

According to MIT Tech Review, Jeff Dean, the leader of Google Brain research group, such efforts can increase the pace of the implementation of the machine-learning software in various fields of economy. It should be noted that companies pay a premium salary to the machine learning experts–a class of experts that are in short supply.

In their experiment, the researchers challenged their software to create machine learning systems. They say that such systems are currently “learning to learn.” They could also reduce the need for vast amounts of data used by machine learning software to give good results.

Using their software, the Google Brain team created learning systems for different kinds of related problems. The system showed an ability to generalize and picks new tasks. To do so, the researchers used 800 high-powered GPUs.

So, did you find this recent development in the field of artificial intelligence interesting? Don’t forget to share your views.



MIT Freezes Water At Boiling Point

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This photo shows a glaciologist removing a core of ice to study the chemical make-up of its body dating back to 1840, in Law Dome Camp, Antartica, 1993. The 2016 MIT study in question happened at a nano-scale – so it’ll be a while (or never) before they c

Quick, what temperature does water boil or freeze at? You probably know this like the back of your hand, 100 and 0 degrees Celsius or 212 and 32 Fahrenheit. Well, now we can freeze water above the boiling point. If you feel like your head’s about to explode with that image, don’t worry. We’ll explain.

It is known to anybody who is familiar with the laws of pressure, or who has tried to cook in the mountains, that the boiling and freezing points of water change when the water is exposed to differing pressures. Normally this effect is small, and only has causes differences of a few degrees. Researchers at MIT found that if water is placed inside a tiny enough space, a space only slightly larger than the water molecules themselves, then the freezing point can be raised to above its boiling point. This is done by means of carbon nanotubes, small straw-shaped structures that are the workhorse of nanotech.

The team of researchers published their findings in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, and include Michael Strano, Kumar Agrawal, Steven Shimizu, Lee Drahushuk, and Daniel Kilcoyne among other partners and assistants. Dr. Strano is especially excited by the results, and remarks on how unexpected they are:

The effect is much greater than anyone had anticipated,” he says. The effects were also in an unexpected direction; the researchers had anticipated that the freezing point would go down.

But, what use could this possibly have, other than just being a curiosity? More than you might suppose. Because of the high freezing point, the technology could be used to make ice wires, taking advantage of the extremely high conductivity of water and the stability of the ice at room temperature. Dr. Strano mentioned that application specifically, “This gives us very stable water wires, at room temperature.”  Nanotechnology is a new field, with many possible applications, ranging from computers, to medicine of all kinds, and even to facial care.

There is still a great deal about this process that remains unknown. Chief among them is how the water even gets into the tubes; the researches set the water in place for this experiment, but carbon nanotubes are considered to be water repellent, and the entry of the water in the tubes is difficult to explain logistically. Dr. Strano also notes that the word “ice” is too precise to use to describe the water in the tubes. While it is solid, it may not have the crystalline structure of ice at the molecular level.

What brave new world do we live in, where water can freeze above 100 degrees? One where nanotech is king? Or is nanotech past its prime already? This discovery is new, and further research is needed, but what is certain is that exciting developments await.

MIT Confirms the Ozone Hole is Healing


Scientists from MIT confirm that the hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica has shrunken by about 4 million square kilometers. This proves that the worldwide boycott of CFCs is yielding positive results, seen almost 30 years after the Montreal Protocol of 1987.


The Montreal Protocol of 1987 called upon the world to control the production and use of ozone-depleting substances (ODS) in order to protect the ozone layer—which is our very own protection from high levels of ultraviolet rays from the sun.

Nearly 30 years after the whole world joined forces to address the threat brought about by the thinning ozone layer, scientists at MIT confirm that the hole over Antarctica is starting to heal.

“We can now be confident that the things we’ve done have put the planet on a path to heal,” said MIT lead researcher Susan Solomon, who also happens to be the first to distinguish the conditions of temperature and sunlight under which chlorine could eat away at the ozone layer, back in 1986.

They found evidence that the September ozone hole has shrunken by over 4 million square kilometers since. The world’s efforts to reverse the damage are showing promising results, and that is despite some setbacks caused by sulfur dioxide from volcanic eruptions.

In 2015, the hole reached a record size, which had scientists puzzled. This paper analyzed and made sense of the factors that contributed to that incident.

“Why I like this paper so much is, nature threw us a curveball in 2015,” says Ross Salawitch, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Maryland. “People thought we set a record for the depth of the ozone hole in October 2015. The Solomon paper explains it was due to a specific volcanic eruption. So without this paper, if all we had was the data, we would be scratching our heads — what was going on in 2015?”

The team measured “fingerprints” and found a substantial decline in atmospheric chlorine from chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which are ozone-depleting substances emitted through old dry cleaning methods, refrigerators, and aerosols.

Aerosol sprays contain CFCs.
Aerosol sprays contain CFCs.

“It showed we can actually see a chemical fingerprint, which is sensitive to the levels of chlorine, finally emerging as a sign of recovery,” said one of the researchers, Diane Ivy.


“This is a reminder that when the world gets together, we really can solve environmental problems,” Solomon said. “I think we should all congratulate ourselves on a job well done.”

The hole is estimated to be completely and permanently closed by 2050, provided the world keeps progress steady.


MIT is sending robots into sewers to predict disease outbreaks


Below our feet, sewers hold a world of microbial information. That’s what MIT researchers are mining through, thanks to a pair of sewage sampling robots named (rather appropriately) Mario and Luigi.

For the last year, researchers have been sending the two robots into the underbellies of Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts to study how diseases can spread through city populations. The project is a three-year-long effort in urban epidemiology, as well as  an attempt to learn more about the things people put into their bodies.

In July 2015, the team launched the robots as a part of Underworlds , a project of MIT’sSenseable City Lab and Alm Lab .  The robots are hauled through manholes and fitted with GPS devices that tell the researchers where they are as they make their journeys. They spend an hour or two inside a sewer at a time, vacuuming up samples as they drift around.

The researchers are making sure the data from those samples is local and traceable. That way, scientists can study what a specific neighborhood or block’s health looks like, and even pinpoint what their diets look like.

Luigi-MIT-underworldsLuigi is a slimmer, faster, and cheaper version of the Mario sewer bot. 

“We aimed to ensure that toilet water was no more than 10 minutes journey from its origin and our sample point,” Eric Alm, the project’s chief investigator, tells Tech Insider in an email. That’s opposed to, say, sampling sewage at a treatment plant, where it’s much more difficult to determine where everything came from.

“We find that the sewage looks much closer to stool and urine samples collected directly from individuals,” Alm says.

From the samples, researchers can detect viruses, bacterial pathogens, and biochemical markers from drugs (both illegal and illegal).

The researchers hope they’ll be able to use the data to inform policymakers on public health issues, like potential disease outbreaks.

Though waterborne diseases are less prevalent now than they once were — typhoid and cholera both had devastating international pandemics in the 19th and 20th centuries — they still ravage cities with poor water sanitation. Typhoid fever is still prevalent in India; according to a study published in The Lancet, the disease affects 493.5 people out of every 100,000 annually — that’s nearly 6.18 million cases in the country every year.

The researchers can also find out whether a certain part of the city has a drug problem, or measure the effects of food-related legislation, Professor Carlo Ratti, the project head, told Quartz. For instance, if a city imposes a tax or ban on certain foods (like New York’s failed ban on large sugary drinks), the team could observe how people change their diets in response.

DSC_0031_smallCourtesy MIT Underworlds

And while MIT’s researchers aren’t yet sending the robots into the world’s most contaminated sewer systems, the data and findings they hope to submit to local lawmakers could serve as a justification for expanding the program to other cities. They’re already planning to use the robots in Kuwait in 2017 as part of their partnership with the MIT-Kuwait Center for Natural Resources and the Environment.

“Funding will come directly from the stakeholders that benefit from the data: companies, governmental and non-governmental organizations,” Ratti tells Tech Insider.

As the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Now we can say the same for sewage.

MIT’s Teaching AI How to Help Stop Cyberattacks.


MIT develops algorithm that removes unwanted reflections from photos

If you’ve ever taken a photo from behind a window, you know you’re just as likely to get a good shot of yourself reflected in the glass as you are of what’s on the other side. Researchers from MIT have developed a process that could one day extract your reflection from such pictures, leaving only the intended subject on the other side of the glass.

This process actually relies upon the most severe sort of reflections as those are easier to pick out. Specifically, anything taken through double pane glass or very thick glass tends to have two overlapping reflections, one from the inner surface and one from the outer one. If you only have one reflection, it’s a very computationally complex problem for an algorithm to figure out what’s a reflection and what isn’t. With two identical offset images that are reflections, suddenly the computer has a point of reference.

The system created by the MIT team relies on finding the edges of the reflection by looking for a repeating offset pattern. The image is split into 8×8 blocks of pixels and calculates the correlation between the pixels. When the parts of the image comprising the reflection have been identified, the computer can then selectively tune the levels to make the reflection less pronounced. You can see an example of the results in the image above. It’s far from perfect, but this is just the first iteration of the technology.

This process currently requires the offset of the double reflection to be rather large to ensure the algorithm can recognize them as distinct shapes, but things might improve in the future. The team sees possible applications for this technology in consumer imaging technologies. Your phone might just know how to reduce reflections when you snap a photo through the window. These algorithms could also be of use in improving computer vision. Despite all the research that has gone into it, computers are still pretty bad at making sense of an image.

A College Education Can Now Be Found On The Internet for Free

The wealth of knowledge once reserved for the Ivy League Elite is now being released for free on the internet, power to the people! In the beginning information traveled slow, knowledge was confined to a few buildings around the globe that are guarded by high entry fees and standardized test scores. The number of individuals who could gain access to information was kept to a short acceptance list while many were given an Access Denied. But then like a swift kick in the face, the internet came along and changed everything! From media to commerce, the education system is no exception to the tornado that is the world wide web. Where once higher education was reserved for those who could pay the toll, the internet, in all its divinity has endowed us with a free higher education experience for all those who have a connection to the great and powerful Wi-Fi. Here are just a few amazing online institutes that offer free college courses for the good people of planet earth, enjoy and never stop learning! Khan Academy Khan Academy wants to help you learn almost anything for free! Their mission is to provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere. All of their resources are completely free forever, regardless of whether you’re a student, teacher, home-schooler, principal, adult returning to the classroom after 20 years, or a friendly alien just trying to get a leg up in earthly biology. EdX EdX is a non-profit created by founding partners Harvard and MIT. Bringing the best of higher education to students around the world, EdX offers MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course) and interactive online classes in subjects including law, history, science, engineering, business, social sciences, computer science, public health, and artificial intelligence (AI). Coursera Coursera is an education company that partners with the top universities and organizations in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free. Their technology enables their partners to teach millions of students around the world rather than just hundreds. “We envision a future where everyone has access to a world-class education that has so far been available to a select few. We aim to empower people with education that will improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in.” MIT OpenCourseWare “The idea is simple: to publish all of our course materials online and make them widely available to everyone.” -Dick K.P. Yue, Professor, MIT School of Engineering MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) is a web-based publication of virtually all MIT course content. OCW is open and available to the world and is a permanent MIT activity. Now the wealth of knowledge from one of the most prestigious technology schools in the world, is now available at your finger tips, without the massive tuition prices and near perfect SAT scores. ALISON ALISON is a two million-strong, global online learning community, filled with free, high-quality resources to help you develop essential, certified workplace skills. “Our mission at ALISON is simple: to enable you, wherever you are in the world, to learn and get certified new skills – at your own pace – using our free, interactive, multimedia.” There are over 500 free courses for you to choose from at ALISON. Every course is standards-based and certified, which means bragging rights with family and friends, an edge in your first job or new job, and inspiration to be all you can be. originates from Denmark, out of Ventus Publishing, established in 1988. Ever since it was founded, the company has focused on publishing education related books for business professionals and students. In 2005 the company made a strategic leap and became the first book publishing company in the world to focus 100% on free eBooks. Ever since, the company has been aiming to set new standards in the world of modern publishing based on the readers’ needs. Open Yale Courses Open Yale Courses (OYC) provides lectures and other materials from selected Yale College courses to the public free of charge via the Internet. The courses span the full range of liberal arts disciplines, including humanities, social sciences, and physical and biological sciences. It is important to note that for now, the majority of these places like do not offer college credit nor a degree, but it brings up a very interesting question. In the pursuit of knowledge is a degree really the only thing that matters? If you learn a skill or trade is proof by action not enough, or does the piece of paper need to be acquired. There are many people in possession of high degrees because they are good at going to school but are still quite incompetent. Too much emphasis is put on the degree and not enough on actual skills,talents and knowledge. I don’t know about you, but if i learned how to build a Zero-Point Energy Fuel System from MIT, I’m gonna build that Zero-point Energy Fuel System. It is the experience and knowledge you learn along the way, not the piece of paper at the end of the gift shop that says “you where here” that matters. Let your actions speak louder than a degree.

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