Bourouiba featured in Fall 2016 MIT Spectrum, Data and Health

November 8th, 2016News

Professor Lydia Bourouiba was featured in the Fall 2016 edition of MIT Spectrum, Data and Health. Along with appearing on Spotlight and the inside-cover of the publication, Professor Bourouiba was featured in the article "Leading with Data" for her research on the spread of infectious disease through sneezes and coughs. Read more about Professor Bourouiba’s research here and here.

Professor Lydia Bourouiba was featured in the Fall 2016 edition of MIT Spectrum, Data and Health. Along with appearing on Spotlight and the inside-cover of the publication, Professor Bourouiba was featured in the article “Leading with Data” for her research on the spread of infectious disease through sneezes and coughs. Read more about Professor Bourouiba’s research here and here.

+ More

Buyukozturk and Sun use vibrations to sense internal building damage

November 8th, 2016News

Professor Oral Buyukozturk and postdoc Hao Sun teamed up with professor Nafi Toksöz and postdoc Aurélien Mordret, both of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), to create a computational model that utilizes ambient vibrations to indicate the stability of a building.  To test their model, the researchers placed 36 accelerometers that record vibrations and movements on several floors of MIT’s Green Building. These accelerometers combined with a complex, data-filled, computer simulation of the Green Building, allow the researchers to determine intrinsic properties of the building and survey the building for damage. Read more on MIT News.

Professor Oral Buyukozturk and postdoc Hao Sun teamed up with professor Nafi Toksöz and postdoc Aurélien Mordret, both of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), to create a computational model that utilizes ambient vibrations to indicate the stability of a building.  To test their model, the researchers placed 36 accelerometers that record vibrations and movements on several floors of MIT’s Green Building. These accelerometers combined with a complex, data-filled, computer simulation of the Green Building, allow the researchers to determine intrinsic properties of the building and survey the building for damage. Read more on MIT News.

+ More

Isaacman-VanWertz receives Sheldon K. Friedlander Award

November 8th, 2016News

Postdoctoral fellow Gabriel Isaacman-VanWertz is the recipient of the 2016 Sheldon K. Friedlander Award from the American Association of Aerosol Research (AAAR). The award honors an individual who has earned a doctoral degree for an outstanding dissertation in any discipline related to the physical, biomedical or engineering sciences in the field of aerosol science and technology. In his doctoral thesis, Isaacman-VanWertz focused on understanding complex mixtures of organic compounds in the atmosphere by developing and applying new techniques to measure atmospheric composition with improved chemical characterization and time resolution. Read more on the AAAR website.

Postdoctoral fellow Gabriel Isaacman-VanWertz is the recipient of the 2016 Sheldon K. Friedlander Award from the American Association of Aerosol Research (AAAR). The award honors an individual who has earned a doctoral degree for an outstanding dissertation in any discipline related to the physical, biomedical or engineering sciences in the field of aerosol science and technology. In his doctoral thesis, Isaacman-VanWertz focused on understanding complex mixtures of organic compounds in the atmosphere by developing and applying new techniques to measure atmospheric composition with improved chemical characterization and time resolution. Read more on the AAAR website.

+ More

Microscale marine interactions may shape critical carbon cycles

June 30th, 20162016 News Releases, Archive

New research finds interactions between microorganisms and marine particles may have significant effects on oceanic carbon cycling. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering  In 1930, the deep-sea explorer William Beebe became the first to observe “marine snow,” an ever-present undersea shower of flocculent organic particles composed of dead phytoplankton, zooplankton fecal pellets, and other nutrient-rich detritus. Globally, marine organic particles transport billions of tons of carbon each year from the surface to the deep ocean. The “valves” controlling this carbon flux are none other than microscopic collectives of marine microorganisms, which assemble on and collectively degrade sinking organic particles. However, how marine microorganisms self-assemble into communities on particles, and how these dynamics shape particle degradation, remains unclear. Microscale microbial community successions A new study, published recently in Nature Communications and led by MIT graduate student Manoshi S. Datta and MIT Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) Professor Otto X. Cordero, in collaboration with professors Martin Polz from CEE and Jeff Gore from the MIT Department of Physics, sheds new light on this area. Traditionally, it has been difficult to characterize community assembly processes and their drivers on wild marine particles, since these particles can vary widely in age, size, and chemical composition. Therefore, the team used an alternative, “semi-wild” approach, in which they immersed synthetic, chemically defined particles in natural coastal seawater. This approach allowed the team to track the process of community assembly on particles with unprecedented spatiotemporal resolution. The research shows that microorganisms in the ocean self-assemble into communities on [...]

Fluorescence microscopy reveals the surface of a single synthetic particle colonized by wild marine microorganisms

New research finds interactions between microorganisms and marine particles may have significant effects on oceanic carbon cycling.

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering 

In 1930, the deep-sea explorer William Beebe became the first to observe “marine snow,” an ever-present undersea shower of flocculent organic particles composed of dead phytoplankton, zooplankton fecal pellets, and other nutrient-rich detritus. Globally, marine organic particles transport billions of tons of carbon each year from the surface to the deep ocean. The “valves” controlling this carbon flux are none other than microscopic collectives of marine microorganisms, which assemble on and collectively degrade sinking organic particles. However, how marine microorganisms self-assemble into communities on particles, and how these dynamics shape particle degradation, remains unclear.

Microscale microbial community successions

A new study, published recently in Nature Communications and led by MIT graduate student Manoshi S. Datta and MIT Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) Professor Otto X. Cordero, in collaboration with professors Martin Polz from CEE and Jeff Gore from the MIT Department of Physics, sheds new light on this area.

Traditionally, it has been difficult to characterize community assembly processes and their drivers on wild marine particles, since these particles can vary widely in age, size, and chemical composition. Therefore, the team used an alternative, “semi-wild” approach, in which they immersed synthetic, chemically defined particles in natural coastal seawater. This approach allowed the team to track the process of community assembly on particles with unprecedented spatiotemporal resolution.

The research shows that microorganisms in the ocean self-assemble into communities on particles through rapid sequential turnover: Certain bacterial taxa attach to and colonize particles, but leave in a matter of hours, only to be replaced by new bacterial taxa. This colonization sequence was surprisingly reproducible and followed a characteristic ecological pattern known as a “primary succession.” At early stages of succession, “pioneers” — bacterial taxa that were adapted to seek out and degrade organic particles — dominated particle-associated communities. However, pioneers paved the way for “secondary consumers,” bacterial taxa that were unable to degrade particles, but could exploit metabolic byproducts from pioneers in order to grow. Interestingly, such primary successions have long been observed in temperate forests. This new study shows that similar ecological dynamics occur within marine microbial communities, but on much shorter temporal (hours) and spatial (microns) scales.

From microscopic dynamics to macroscopic consequences

“Our results suggest that the existing theory of successions that has been developed for plants and animals may be applicable to complex natural microbial communities,” says Cordero, the lead senior author on this work. “This could provide a basis for linking microbial community structure to their population dynamics and activity.”

Furthermore, the research suggests that, through ecological successions, microbial communities on marine particles undergo a major transition, shifting from a collective metabolism dictated by particle nutrients to one determined by the metabolic byproducts of the pioneers. As a result, it is possible that particle-associated communities in the ocean are largely composed of bacteria that cannot degrade the particle, but instead rely on interactions with pioneers in order to survive. “We think these interactions between microbes — where the majority exploits the effort of the pioneer minority — may end up having major effects on carbon turnover in the ocean,” says Cordero, adding that such interactions could shift the balance between organic matter degradation and biomass build-up by microbes in the ocean.

“Microbial ecologists have long asked how microbial communities develop and change over time and if these community dynamics have implications for the way that ecosystems ultimately function,” says Scott Ferrenberg of the United States GS Canyonlands Research Station, who was not involved in the research. “These questions remain at the frontier of microbial ecology. This study is noteworthy for its approach to understanding community development over time and for teasing apart the feeding strategies in these diminutive, yet highly important marine microbes.”

“Our ability to measure microbial communities is just now reaching the point where we can begin to understand interactions among microbes in complex natural environments and the consequences of those interactions at ecosystem scales,” says Senior Research Scientist Stephen Lindemann at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, who also did not take part in the study. “This data importantly suggests that close interactions with particle-degrading microbes sustains a high diversity of secondary consumers in marine particle-associated communities. Ultimately, all microbial politics is local, too, and the sheer amount of marine snow means local microbial interactions within these communities may drive carbon cycling at whole-ocean scales.”

+ More

Educating the Displaced

September 26th, 2016News

When I was a refugee, education gave me hope. As a professor, I want to return the favor. When I was a teenager in 1992 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, war broke out and changed everything. Our community was devastated and our lives were in danger, so my family and I relocated to a refugee camp in Croatia. It was hard leaving everything behind and eking out an existence day to day. But the most difficult thing was feeling I was different and did not belong in this new world. I remember talking with pride to a grocer in a nearby city about how I had earned top grades in my hometown. He gave me a long look, then told me dismissively that I would be considered only average in this community and should not set my expectations too high. I can still feel how those words stung me. When fall arrived, my mother took me into the city to look for a high school to attend. At the first school we found—a technical high school—the administrator told us the law prevented refugees from enrolling in public school. My mother broke down in tears. This good man then relented, allowing me to attend as a nonmatriculating student. I chose to study chemistry, because my hometown had an oil refinery and I thought, “Someday I will return and get a job there.” I studied very hard, and the following spring, I entered and won the city’s top chemistry competition. I practically floated [...]

When I was a refugee, education gave me hope. As a professor, I want to return the favor.

When I was a teenager in 1992 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, war broke out and changed everything. Our community was devastated and our lives were in danger, so my family and I relocated to a refugee camp in Croatia. It was hard leaving everything behind and eking out an existence day to day. But the most difficult thing was feeling I was different and did not belong in this new world.

I remember talking with pride to a grocer in a nearby city about how I had earned top grades in my hometown. He gave me a long look, then told me dismissively that I would be considered only average in this community and should not set my expectations too high. I can still feel how those words stung me.

ed-p1

When fall arrived, my mother took me into the city to look for a high school to attend. At the first school we found—a technical high school—the administrator told us the law prevented refugees from enrolling in public school. My mother broke down in tears. This good man then relented, allowing me to attend as a nonmatriculating student. I chose to study chemistry, because my hometown had an oil refinery and I thought, “Someday I will return and get a job there.”

I studied very hard, and the following spring, I entered and won the city’s top chemistry competition. I practically floated up to the stage to accept my award.

Later, I brought a newspaper article reporting the award to the grocer to show him what I had accomplished. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that feeling of validation set me on my life’s course.

The next year, my family moved to Germany. I stayed behind, with the support of friends and Italian volunteers we met in camp, to continue my studies. After completing school, I eventually was approved to receive a diploma, which opened more doors for higher education through generous sponsors who saw my potential.

ed-p2

Admir Masic and his little sister, Anisa, with Italian volunteers in front of their barracks at the refugee camp in Urinj, Croatia, in 1993. The Italians were departing for Italy after distributing humanitarian aid. Anisa is now an architect in Germany.

ed-p3

Children at the refugee camp in Urinj, Croatia, in 1993 take part in educational and entertainment activities organized by Italian volunteers in the camp.

I became fascinated with using chemistry and physics to uncover hidden secrets of nature and ancient societies to create new, more sustainable materials. A decade ago, I cofounded Adamantio, an Italian company devoted to preserving valuable ancient treasures. While leading Adamantio, I earned my doctorate in physical chemistry at the University of Turin, where I developed diagnostic tools to assess the properties of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient manuscripts. After moving to Germany and working on biological materials at the Max Planck Institute, I was offered a job to develop new surgical tools at a renowned European hospital. But my heart was pushing me toward teaching.

Today, I can hardly believe I am an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at MIT. This summer I took 10 MIT undergraduates to Rome, Pompeii, and Turin, Italy, for two weeks to study ancient ruins for engineering insights. Our interdisciplinary research—which combined Course 1 with materials, archeology, and architecture—provided critical on-location experience that will help the students with classroom and lab work in a new class I’m teaching this fall.

ed-p4

MIT students do field work at the Privernum archeological site, which was part of a Roman colony founded in the late second century BC. They went to the site in Priverno, Italy, in June 2016 with Admir Masic, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, as part of the new Course 1 summer fieldwork program on Materials in Art, Archeology, and Architecture. The program, known as ONE-MA3, let them explore ancient technologies directly in the field to inform their work in Masic’s fall class on heritage science and technology, which will cover conservation strategies as well as designing durable and environmentally responsible building materials.

ed-p5

MIT undergrads and Admir Masic (front row, right) and civil and environmental engineering professor Oral Buyukozturk (front row, left) pause during field work at the Privernum archeological site in Priverno, Italy, in June 2016. They were later joined by Professor John Ochsendorf.

MIT students do field work at the Privernum archeological site, which was part of a Roman colony founded in the late second century BC. They went to the site in Priverno, Italy, in June 2016 with Admir Masic, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, as part of the new Course 1 summer fieldwork program on Materials in Art, Archeology, and Architecture. The program, known as ONE-MA3, let them explore ancient technologies directly in the field to inform their work in Masic’s fall class on heritage science and technology, which will cover conservation strategies as well as designing durable and environmentally responsible building materials.

I feel very fortunate, but never far from my mind are the other refugees—past and present—who did not receive a helping hand. To support displaced youth, I’ve been working with the MIT Solve CoLab community to solicit ideas for improving learning in refugee camps through a Solve challenge. In addition to helping refugees prove their knowledge and skills to authorities who question their abilities and potential, we ultimately hope to provide customized online education for them, drawing on many of MIT’s strengths.

I know firsthand that a good education is the ticket to a better life. My years living as a refugee also made me realize that knowledge is something no one can ever take from me. My life could have gone in any direction, but with a little help from generous people and a belief in myself, I was able to persevere and flourish.

If I can help students find new ways of seeing things while fulfilling their dreams, then I will know my life has meaning. It’s important to give all students—regardless of background—opportunities to learn and apply their talents to build a better world.

Admir Masic is the Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Career Development Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering.

+ More

From engineer to urban planner

September 25th, 2016News

Billy Ndengeyingoma’s time at MIT has been marked by transitions. He has moved from one continent to another, from an undergraduate program to a master’s, and from a civil engineering specialty to urban planning. Yet no matter what is happening in his life, he has learned to always make time for self-reflection. This practice has helped him discover a great deal about himself, and has pushed him to think deeply about the impact he wants to have on the world.   Navigating dual cultures Ndengeyingoma, who grew up in Kigali, Rwanda, always thought he might go to the United States for college. (His brother and sister both completed master’s degrees in Atlanta.) After overhearing a conversation with a family friend whose son had attended MIT, he decided to apply. Ndengeyingoma’s first introduction to MIT was through International Orientation, where he and the other international students learned about U.S. culture. For Ndengeyingoma, the transition process ended up being easier than he expected. “People have their different ways of adapting,” says Ndengeyingoma. “And mine was approaching all the people from the international community and trying to figure things out together, like how to catch a train, and all these very basic things, but also reaching out to the American students, who were very open, to talk about the culture and the way things work here.” Ndengeyingoma ended up with a unique opportunity to reflect on his undergraduate years and his experience navigating two different cultures when he was asked to participate in [...]

Billy Ndengeyingoma’s time at MIT has been marked by transitions. He has moved from one continent to another, from an undergraduate program to a master’s, and from a civil engineering specialty to urban planning.

Yet no matter what is happening in his life, he has learned to always make time for self-reflection. This practice has helped him discover a great deal about himself, and has pushed him to think deeply about the impact he wants to have on the world.

 

Navigating dual cultures

Ndengeyingoma, who grew up in Kigali, Rwanda, always thought he might go to the United States for college. (His brother and sister both completed master’s degrees in Atlanta.) After overhearing a conversation with a family friend whose son had attended MIT, he decided to apply.

Ndengeyingoma’s first introduction to MIT was through International Orientation, where he and the other international students learned about U.S. culture. For Ndengeyingoma, the transition process ended up being easier than he expected.

“People have their different ways of adapting,” says Ndengeyingoma. “And mine was approaching all the people from the international community and trying to figure things out together, like how to catch a train, and all these very basic things, but also reaching out to the American students, who were very open, to talk about the culture and the way things work here.”

Ndengeyingoma ended up with a unique opportunity to reflect on his undergraduate years and his experience navigating two different cultures when he was asked to participate in a documentary, “One Day I Too Go Fly,” produced by Arthur Musah ’04, MEng ’05 (who was also an international student).

The documentary, which will be released in 2017, follows Ndengeyingoma and three of his African classmates throughout their undergraduate years. Musah even took a trip to each student’s home country. For Ndengeyingoma, the film provided a much-needed opportunity to slow down and take the time to digest everything that was happening to him.

“In hindsight it was a great experience to be part of because it forced me to be reflective and introspective about my own experience, and about how these cultural negotiations and all of the different forces that affected me are changing my worldview,” says Ndengeyingoma. “And how my own ego and person have changed and are evolving throughout the years.”

 

A path to urban planning

Academically, Ndengeyingoma’s undergraduate years at MIT were a time of figuring out what exactly he wanted to do. After deciding to major in civil engineering, he began dabbling in materials science.

As part of MIT’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), Ndengeyingoma spent a semester working in the Laboratory for Atomistic and Molecular Mechanics, led by McAfee Professor of Engineering Markus Buehler, where he used computer simulations to see how graphene is deformed by water.

Ndengeyingoma also spent a summer in France, through the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI), working with a different category of emerging materials: silica aerogels.

“They’re very, very light materials, and they’re extremely porous,” says Ndengeyingoma, who worked on adapting a general equation that describes how porous materials absorb fluids, to the irregular porosity of silica aerogels.

However, the biggest shift in Ndengeyingoma’s academic interests happened right before his senior year, during an internship with an architecture firm called MASS Design Group.

Ndengeyingoma spent the summer analyzing the affordable housing market in Kigali, focusing on parameters such as land, infrastructure, construction, building materials, and architecture.

The experience was Ndengeyingoma’s first exposure to urban planning and helped him see how well-designed housing can empower people and improve their lives.

“Housing has a huge value in securing people’s right to a city and making sure that they feel dignified by living where they live and that their housing has a clear connection to their already established social networks, and also to the broader city itself,” explains Ndengeyingoma.

Ndengeyingoma realized that as an urban planner he would be able to incorporate a strong sense of social responsibility into his work, and that fall he applied to MIT’s master’s program in city planning, in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning.

 

The power of housing design

When Ndengeyingoma returned home to Kigali the summer after completing his undergraduate degree, he decided to start considering his city through the lens of urban planning.

“I realized that I hadn’t made enough critical observations of my own city and my own living environment,” he says. “And I thought a great medium to do that and start to explore my own city was through photography.”

Ndengeyingoma focused on Nyamirambo, a neighborhood of small stores that lack the usual storefront display windows and instead are painted with colorful images that highlight the products they sell or the services they offer.

“It’s just a rainbow of colors and it’s really lively,” says Ndengeyingoma.

Back at MIT, Ndengeyingoma held a photo exhibition for students and faculty, which was the start of his involvement in an organization called UrbanAfrica. The group also organizes big events and invites interesting speakers to campus in an effort to engage students and faculty, and elevate the discussion about urbanism on the African continent.

Now a year into his master’s degree, Ndengeyingoma has continued to focus on housing development in Africa through his research with the Resilient Cities Housing Initiative. Ndengeyingoma spent the last year assessing how successfully an informal housing settlement in Cape Town, South Africa was upgraded according to four main criteria for resilience: improving the economic livelihood of the residents, shielding the residents from environmental stresses and risks, providing tools to empower residents with self-governance, and offering secure land tenure.

“We had this year-long process of mainly looking at the literature but also making our own assumptions and understandings of how that process happened and how it could have happened better, and how resilience plays into all of it,” says Ndengeyingoma.

This past summer, Ndengeyingoma returned once again to Kigali, where he had his first exposure to the public sector when he co-conducted a workshop on the role of design in affordable housing, aimed at the Rwandan Housing Authority.

Ndengeyingoma then spent two months working with a nonprofit architecture firm called General Architecture Collaborative, where he went door to door gathering housing data in rural areas.

“When you’re behind your computer, reading papers, it’s really great to think about problems theoretically,” he says. “But when you go on the ground and you visit people’s houses, and you ask them about their own aspirations, that makes a huge difference in the way you both perceive the problem and [seek] an inclusive solution for them.”

The dual experiences helped Ndengeyingoma realize that he would like to work in the public sector, not only because of the ethical responsibility he feels but because there is so much space for innovative solutions.

For Ndengeyingoma, working in Kigali has been especially meaningful because of what his city and his country has gone through over the past decades. Ndengeyingoma is too young to remember the Rwandan genocide — instead, he has watched his country go through a significant rebuilding phase in the years since. After completing his degree, Ndengeyingoma plans on returning to Rwanda, where he can put his urban planning skills to use shaping the continuing development of his country.

“I had the chance to be in my city, be in a safe city that wasn’t always that way, and I acknowledge the sacrifices that a lot of people had to make to ensure my own right to live in my city in a free environment,” says Ndengeyingoma. “I want to arm myself with the academic and professional tools to ensure people’s right to stay in their city and have adequate housing in a space that they feel safe and proud to be in.”

+ More