Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Guihua Yu, a mechanical engineering assistant professor, stands in one of the two labs he works in daily with his students — specifically with hydrogels, which are networks of hydrophilic polymer chains.

Photo Credit: Sarah Montgomery | Daily Texan Staff

A mechanical engineering professor at the University was named to Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s list of “35 Innovators Under 35.”

Guihua Yu was recognized last week on the list, which works to advance society through novel technological creations and applications, according to the list’s website. The list has also named notable innovators in the past, such as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

“This is not only a great honor for the [research] group members but also a valuable recognition for the engineering scientific works at UT-Austin,” said Borui Liu, a graduate student who works in Yu’s research group in the Materials Science and Engineering program.

The work done in Yu’s lab relates to hydrogels, which are networks of hydrophilic polymer chains that are highly absorbent and possess a degree of natural flexibility — much like human tissue. According to Yu, hydrogels have been used as a mechanism in drug delivery and as scaffolds for tissue engineering in the past, but the utility of these materials has been limited.

“Due to the intrinsic insulating properties, hydrogels are rarely useful for electronics and energy-related applications,” Yu said. 

The recognition from MIT was prompted after Yu’s research group created a hydrogel with a new nanostructure design that can transmit and store electricity.

“We would like to witness our conductive hydrogels to be put into use in a variety of daily-life applications, such as lithium-ion battery and supercapacitor electrodes, biosensors and drug delivery devices,” Liu said.

This year’s edition of the list brought Yu’s research group and its work prominence in scientific literature, and a variety of large technology companies have been in contact about the future applications of conductive hydrogels. 

According to Yu, increased funding may come in light of the list’s recognition, as well as future research in the field of conductive hydrogels both at UT and elsewhere.

“Knowing the interesting applications we demonstrated will attract more researchers to push together and make more exciting discoveries,” Yu said.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — Authorities say a campus police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has died from injuries in a shooting on the campus outside Boston.

Cambridge police and the Middlesex District Attorney's office says the officer was responding to a report of a disturbance when he was shot multiple times. He later died at a hospital. His name was not immediately released.

State police spokesman Dave Procopio says the shooting took place about 10:30 p.m. outside an MIT building.

Procopio says authorities are searching for a suspect or suspects. There are no other victims.

About 11,000 people attend the prestigious school. The campus website said police were sweeping the campus and urged people to stay indoors.

In the first ever robot comedy show to come to SXSW, Heather Knight and her robot, Data, will be performing as a comedy team on March 9 and 10 (Photo courtesy of Heather Knight).

Heather Knight spent her college years building robots. An electrical engineer and robot scientist, Knight first became infatuated with robots while attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

“Robotics interests me because making robots that can successfully interact with people requires understanding ourselves,” Knight said. “In college, those robots had character and that’s been something I’ve been striving to make sure my machines have ever since.”

Over the years, Knight has become interested in social robots that interact with humans. Her goal has been to bridge the gap between humans and robots by allowing her machines to interact with humans in a new way. 

Knight has created a new form of comedy through her social and intelligent robot, Data. They’ve come to town to present the first robotic comedy team to ever perform at South By Southwest. 

“Data is a rising robot celebrity and performer,” Knight said. “As an electrical engineer by training, I like to give robots sensors to understand what’s happening with their interaction partners, which turns out to be especially useful for stand-up comedy.”

Being a social robot, Data is an autonomous being that interacts with humans by following rules. Knight said humor and comedic settings are ideal for a social robot to learn. 

“Humor is one of the most human attributes we have. When you are learning a new language, understanding why a joke is funny is often a good measure of your cultural fluency,” Knight said. “I wanted to put a robot onstage in a context where it could learn from the audience. Humor fit the bill as the audience has detectable and frequent reactions to short and long material, so it’s a perfect space for robots to learn.”

Economics sophomore Robert Leung said Knight’s exploration with Data and robot technology plays an important role in the future of science. 

“She is merging art and technology in order to understand how robots and humans can interact,” Leung said. “A robot with artificial intelligence that can create emotions among humans is very powerful. I think this is important for the future of society because technology is only going to get more advanced.”

As robotics is a rapidly growing field and an improving art, Knight said it requires a surplus of academic knowledge in diverse fields. 

“Technology makes us have superhuman capabilities and robotics is inherently interdisciplinary,” Knight said. “At minimum you have to know a little about mechanical engineering, design, programming and electronics, but anytime you want to make robots do anything, you have to learn about the application context. For me, that context has mainly been humanity.”

That a comedy show performed by a nonhuman object that can evoke laughter from a human audience is what fascinates people. 

“The whole psychology behind robots — the idea that we create something to stimulate thought, emotion, humanity — is really interesting to me,” psychology senior Ellie Fogleman said. “I’m not sure if there are other events like this, but I hope there are. It’s an area of study that I’m sure will continue to grow as technology advances.” 

Knight is performing with Data at two events during SXSW. During her first panel, “Comedy Tech,” Knight will attempt to show audiences the connection between humor and robotics and the way they present themselves together through social media platforms such as Reddit, Tumblr and others. 

Given that technology is constantly growing and comedy is such a relatable medium to reach out to people, Leung said Knight’s shows will be worth seeing. 

“I believe the nature of this robotic comedy event will be very different from the other events going on at SXSW Interactive,” Leung said. “Many technology companies will be showcasing the latest app or website, but I don’t think many will be showing off something tangible, like a robot, that can help create laughter among people in the audience. I’d definitely like to go.” 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology is hoping to legitimize and further transform online learning. The school finds itself at the forefront of the open educational resources movement. With its many online course notes, lecture videos and other educational materials, MIT recently launched another online learning initiative called MITx. The goal of MITx is to extend the reach of higher education and provide students with a means of earning credentials to supplement their studies.

Online courses have earned a reputation for being “lite” versions of their classroom counterparts and are therefore regarded as easier. It is a widely accepted fact, for instance, that if a student needs an easy A for a core class, he or she would do well to take it online. MIT hopes to change this culture.

MITx is not an easier version of MIT but instead carries the MIT pedigree to an online medium where non-residential learners will receive the best possible experience. MITx builds upon MIT’s decade old OpenCourseWare, which now includes nearly 2,100 courses.

The idea of MITx is to allow students to supplement their current coursework in a way that is both easy to scale and accessible. For example, an engineering student will be able to take the knowledge he or she learns in an electronics class and apply it to an online lab. MITx will be a free program. However, those who wish to get credit from MIT will need to take an exam that will cost money.

The ultimate goal of MITx and other online learning programs is to create high-quality, affordable, accessible education for future generations. The Internet revolution has allowed an online learning community to develop. Contributions from MIT and other institutions of higher education will spearhead the movement to create an online consortium. An improved online teaching environment modeled after MITx would bring many benefits to UT.

A bona fide, undiluted online program would extend UT’s global reach. Unlike traditional classes, online courses are unrestricted by physical parameters such as classroom size or student-to-professor ratio. Anyone with a computer and the motivation will be able to complete
UT coursework.

The creation of such an online program can be easily achieved by recording lectures and scanning lecture notes. These materials can be uploaded online for anyone to access.

UT could also improve online courses by making them more interactive. The University could retool its lectures and coursework to be responsive to students’ academic progress. For example, homework grading software could analyze a student’s missed questions and provide suggestions for improvement. An online course could also crowdsource the grading process. Qualified moderators could be certified to comment on students’ work in real time. This would further personalize the course and tailor it to the needs of the student.

A UTx-type program could also better prepare incoming freshman for the rigors of a university-level education. Rather than taking an AP test, a graduating high school senior could take a freshman class early to get a better understanding of what it takes to succeed at the undergraduate level.

Moreover, the interest generated by MITx and MIT’s OpenCourseWare shows that online programs present an opportunity to create revenue. Depending on their size and quality, future online programs at UT could help generate much-needed money.

In its current state, online education is seen as an inferior manifestation of a real course. However, if done well, online education could become the preferred medium for future generations of students.

Shi is an electrical and computer engineering junior.

The British Petroleum oil spill in April 2010 inspired a new partnership between UT and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create a set of guidelines that will allow scientists to avoid future crises.

The Energy Institute at UT, MIT’s Energy Initiative and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute formed the Research Center for Environmental Protection at Hydrocarbon Energy Production Frontiers, REEF. Several UT colleges and schools will be involved, including the Cockrell School of Engineering, School of Law, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, McCombs School of Business and Jackson School of Geosciences. The team hopes to outline a set of realistic rules and steps to avoid major human-caused disasters, representatives said.

Director of the Energy Institute, Raymond Orbach is taking on a personal role with MIT faculty making sure programs from both schools are complimentary. Legal and regulatory aspects, environmental concerns and the risk of human error will be the main factors in REEF’s assessments, Orbach said.

Tadeusz Patzek, Chairman of UT’s Department of Petroleum & Geosystems Engineering, is part of the advisory board of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement which deals with issues relating to the REEF proposal.

“If we decide to drill, and most governments including U.S. government are of the opinion that we should, we should do it in a way as to minimize or eliminate damage to the environment,” Patzek said.

An option for extracting natural gas and oil is the process of fracking, a fairly recent method used since the ‘90s. It was first used extensively in the Barnett Shale in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, said energy and earth resources graduate student, Jenifer Wehner.

“People in the oil and gas industry commonly say ‘fracking’ to describe just one part of the whole gas exploration and production process,” according to a May 13 article from The New York Times. “Purists would say it is not really even part of ‘drilling’ but actually the ‘completion’ phase.”

Shale is a porous rock and because of its properties it holds on to gas molecules, and although there is gas in the rock, there is no way to extract it easily.

“Part of the concern regarding hydraulic fracking is putting water with chemicals down into the ground,” Wehner said. A concern is that water will seep out of the well where the oil was drilled and get into ground water.

The UT-MIT partnership is looking at areas where it’s tough to extract resources. The Arctic has a huge amount of oil and gas which is why it’s the next frontier, Orbach said, even though it’s a very sensitive environmental area. Further areas to explore include Alaska, Canada, Russia and Norway.

“We need to work with energy companies to ensure their practices are consistent with what we find best. We will bring to the government, awareness of what we’re doing but the government will decide whether to use our results or not,” Orbach said. “What we hope is that they will find them so attractive that they will help them formulate policy.”

According to an article from the Houston Chronicle on July 17, 2011, the center could require commitments of up to $100 million over five years, coming from multiple sponsors.