Professor Martin Polz publishes research in Cell titled “A reverse ecology approach based on a biological definition of microbial populations”

August 16th, 20192019 News in Brief

Professor Martin Polz published a new research paper in Cell titled, “A reverse ecology approach based on a biological definition of microbial populations.” The researchers have developed a new method that allows for the identification of ecologically and medically relevant microbial population structure that can help pinpoint the genetic factors associated with environmental factors as well as human diseases. Read more on MIT News.

Professor Martin Polz published a new research paper in Cell titled, “A reverse ecology approach based on a biological definition of microbial populations.” The researchers have developed a new method that allows for the identification of ecologically and medically relevant microbial population structure that can help pinpoint the genetic factors associated with environmental factors as well as human diseases. Read more on MIT News.

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Professor Lydia Bourouiba presents TEDMED Talk about the fluid dynamics of airborne disease transmission

August 16th, 20192019 News in Brief

Associate Professor Lydia Bourouiba presented a TEDMED 2018 talk in front of a live audience. In the talk, now released, Professor Bourouiba distilled her recent work on fluid dynamics and respiratory disease transmission. Spanning the arch from the miasma theory of the Middle Ages to the era of Louis Pasteur and the static isolated drop model of William Wells from the 1930s, which still underlies our central notion of transmission, she outlined how a mechanistic, spatiotemporal understanding of the fundamental fluid dynamics and biophysics of transmission can instead provide the power to predict and control the spread of airborne infectious diseases. Read more here.

Associate Professor Lydia Bourouiba presented a TEDMED 2018 talk in front of a live audience. In the talk, now released, Professor Bourouiba distilled her recent work on fluid dynamics and respiratory disease transmission. Spanning the arch from the miasma theory of the Middle Ages to the era of Louis Pasteur and the static isolated drop model of William Wells from the 1930s, which still underlies our central notion of transmission, she outlined how a mechanistic, spatiotemporal understanding of the fundamental fluid dynamics and biophysics of transmission can instead provide the power to predict and control the spread of airborne infectious diseases. Read more here.

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ONE-MA3 – Day XXII: Walking Through Amazonian, Medieval, and Egyptian Histories and Culture

July 31st, 2019ONE-MA3 2019

By Sophia Mittman '22 “When you first start, and then you fail, that’s when it gets interesting, and you realize what you need to do next.” The wise words of Professor Masic resonated in our ears as we opened the kiln in the Nicola Restoration labs in Aramengo a day after we had synthesized our first attempts at Egyptian blue. Some groups had put their black, rust-colored, or grey powders into the kiln the previous evening. Now, after a night of firing, most of the pigments came out as a combination of blues, turquoises, and teal colors...a success! As for my group, our powder went into the kiln as a bright turquoise color, which gave us a false sense of confidence as we waited overnight. When our crucible came out of the furnace, what used to be that bright-turquoise color had melted down into a glob of some strange greyish silver material...definitely not Egyptian blue. After a test of Visible Induced Luminescence (VIL) in a dark room void of sunlight, we discovered for sure that the blue pigments emitted varying amounts of fluorescence, while my group’s pigment gave off barely any fluorescence. Afterward, we contemplated our synthesis procedure and hypothesized that perhaps we had included too much flux (sodium carbonate) or simply hadn’t added enough copper, which could make the final product bluer. Either way, if we go back to try our synthesis again back at MIT, we will know what to adjust in our experiment! Our Egyptian blue pigments [...]

By Sophia Mittman ’22

“When you first start, and then you fail, that’s when it gets interesting, and you realize what you need to do next.” The wise words of Professor Masic resonated in our ears as we opened the kiln in the Nicola Restoration labs in Aramengo a day after we had synthesized our first attempts at Egyptian blue. Some groups had put their black, rust-colored, or grey powders into the kiln the previous evening. Now, after a night of firing, most of the pigments came out as a combination of blues, turquoises, and teal colors…a success! As for my group, our powder went into the kiln as a bright turquoise color, which gave us a false sense of confidence as we waited overnight. When our crucible came out of the furnace, what used to be that bright-turquoise color had melted down into a glob of some strange greyish silver material…definitely not Egyptian blue. After a test of Visible Induced Luminescence (VIL) in a dark room void of sunlight, we discovered for sure that the blue pigments emitted varying amounts of fluorescence, while my group’s pigment gave off barely any fluorescence. Afterward, we contemplated our synthesis procedure and hypothesized that perhaps we had included too much flux (sodium carbonate) or simply hadn’t added enough copper, which could make the final product bluer. Either way, if we go back to try our synthesis again back at MIT, we will know what to adjust in our experiment!

Our Egyptian blue pigments after one night of firing in the furnace

            Midday, we explored other materials of cultural heritage from around the world through a few lectures taught by guest professors and graduate students. For instance, we learned about a sustainable, ancient type of Amazonian soil from MIT Professor Dorothy Hosler. Ideally, agriculture within areas of the Amazon rainforest shouldn’t thrive very well. But, interestingly, this specific type of soil which is known as “terra preta de índio” (Indian black earth) is carbon-rich and gives rise to a sustainable and efficient manner to raise crops. Still, researchers are not certain how or why this soil contains carbon in this way, which provides us with the opportunity to pursue this as a research project in the near future at MIT! We were also enlightened a little bit by the least-massive mass in the world: aerogels, which are now being used in the restoration of paintings and old buildings (fun fact: there is a display of a mass of aerogel at the MIT museum!). Entering into an area of cultural heritage combined with some fantasy, we got to explore another area of material science that we had not yet been exposed to: metals! At least, we were trained to handle the actual products of medieval metalsmithing in short sword-fighting drill sessions. We quickly caught on that medieval swords are not simply a scientific feat of ancient artistry when it comes to metals, but also that medieval sword fighting is an art-form itself!

Practicing our medieval sword fighting skills!

            Finally, we stepped back even further in time to exercise our skills in reading Egyptian hieroglyphics. The master who had taught us sword fighting guided us in this lesson, too.  Growing up, I always assumed that hieroglyphics represented exactly what each picture depicted. For me, my interpretation would have gone something like this: a bird standing next to three trees and a bowl then flies over a river and then runs into a snake. After this professional lesson, though, I realized that I was obviously mistaken. Actually, different combinations and repetitions of figures depict different sounds, words, or ideas. What I found most interesting about Egyptian hieroglyphics was that there are no vowels in the written language. The consonant sounds are there, but the vowels must be filled in, which gives many Egyptian words and names like “Tutankhamun” or “Hatshepsut” that particular and easily identifiable Egyptian sound. Afterward, we participated in a hands-on exploration of how the Egyptians created their hieroglyphs, starting with a layer of mud and hemp that they would have applied to the surface of sarcophagi. For us, we used small wooden frames already filled with a mixture of mud and hemp. Then, like the Egyptians, we smoothed a layer of gypsum (basically plaster) over the mud and after letting it dry, used feathers and other brushes to paint natural pigments over the surface in patterns of hieroglyphics and iconic images of Egyptian gods. Overall, it was a day full of scientific experimentation and exploration, walking through a live version of a history book, and getting to recreate activities that humans did thousands of years ago around the world in different ancient civilizations.

Learning how to create hieroglyphics the Egyptian way with natural pigments on top of gypsum

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ONE-MA3 – Day XXI: Art Restoration and Artificial Pigments in Aramengo

July 31st, 2019Uncategorized

By Sophia Mittman '22 After spending three days in Turin, we traveled a short ways away to the nearby village of Aramengo, which has a population of about 500 (comparable to the occupancy of the Maseeh dorm back at MIT). Set among rolling hills of greenery, this town is known for being isolated...in fact, in Italian, to say “andare a Aramengo” means “to go to the middle of nowhere.” Still, the restaurant-less village was charming, and every day we spent there was packed full of learning about pigments, architectural structures, sculpting materials, and more. First, we took a tour of Marco Nicola’s family restoration lab, which made our jaws drop the moment that we walked in. The first large room was massive; a giant table dominated the majority of the open floor area, covered with paintings in various stages of restoration, statues of different religious and cultural contexts, books on art conservation, and one enormous painting that rose up and towered from the far end of the table. Marco walked us through the small rooms of the lab, each being used for a particular step in the restoration process of paintings. One of the most fascinating rooms was the room designed for cleaning the old paintings; each painting in this stage had small white boxes displayed on their surfaces, each framing a section of canvas that had been cleaned differently. From the multiple rectangles on each painting, we could clearly see the different attempts of cleaning based on the varying [...]

By Sophia Mittman ’22

After spending three days in Turin, we traveled a short ways away to the nearby village of Aramengo, which has a population of about 500 (comparable to the occupancy of the Maseeh dorm back at MIT). Set among rolling hills of greenery, this town is known for being isolated…in fact, in Italian, to say “andare a Aramengo” means “to go to the middle of nowhere.” Still, the restaurant-less village was charming, and every day we spent there was packed full of learning about pigments, architectural structures, sculpting materials, and more. First, we took a tour of Marco Nicola’s family restoration lab, which made our jaws drop the moment that we walked in. The first large room was massive; a giant table dominated the majority of the open floor area, covered with paintings in various stages of restoration, statues of different religious and cultural contexts, books on art conservation, and one enormous painting that rose up and towered from the far end of the table. Marco walked us through the small rooms of the lab, each being used for a particular step in the restoration process of paintings. One of the most fascinating rooms was the room designed for cleaning the old paintings; each painting in this stage had small white boxes displayed on their surfaces, each framing a section of canvas that had been cleaned differently. From the multiple rectangles on each painting, we could clearly see the different attempts of cleaning based on the varying levels of hue brightness of the newly-cleaned pigments.

A view of the village of Aramengo and the surrounding hills from our window

            In the next building of the art restoration complex, we entered into a room that had one of its walls completely covered by a painting even larger than the one we had seen in the first building. On the table in the middle of the room was a smaller painting, one that made most of us stop in our tracks. Up until this point, all of the paintings that we have seen undergoing restoration have been in rather good condition—usually we’ll see restorers wearing magnifying headgear tidying up miniscule patches of the canvas with a tiny brush and a small set of paints. But, this painting laying on the table in front of us was unlike any painting we had encountered before. This one had been rummaged from an earthquake wreck. Because of that, the pigments were incredibly faded, and many of the painting’s details were barely visible anymore. Another huge portion of the canvas was completely ripped and the frame near those spots was utterly destroyed. I have never seen a historic painting in such devastating condition. Just looking at the painting, it was tempting to think that fixing anything from that horrible of a condition into a near-original state was hopeless. The project to restore it would cost around 10,000 euros. That’s when I realized that art restoration and cultural heritage conservation is not only a matter of fixing tiny details on old paintings or keeping artifacts from getting dusty; this field has its major challenges as well, like restoring artifacts that have undergone utter devastation like this one (I would include a picture of it here, but photos in the restoration labs are not allowed).

One of the many books regarding art restoration and conservation from the Nicola family

            Immediately after our introduction to the Nicola restoration labs, we were reminded of the lectures we had received about Egyptian blue a few days prior and launched into synthesizing the pigment ourselves in one of the laboratories. Each group was given different parameters for each batch of Egyptian blue: one group used pure copper, another group used artificial malachite as their copper source, the third group had to use barium instead of calcium in order to make Han blue, and my group was tasked with including flux (sodium carbonate) in our mix. We were given the chemical formula for Egyptian blue (cuprorivaite) and then had to rely on our rusty stoichiometry skills to figure out a recipe on our own. After all of our calculations on paper, we carefully measured our reactants and ground them into a fine powder using a mortar and pestle. Professor Masic helped us form our mixtures into small spheres with the addition of a slight amount of water, place all of our materials into clay crucibles, and then placed them into the furnace with the hope that the final products will not only be blue to the visible eye, but also will fluoresce in the infrared spectrum, determining whether or not we will have successfully made Egyptian blue. But, for the rest of the evening we played the waiting game while we enjoyed the Italian outdoors, and tomorrow we will check our cooked pigments to find out if we succeeded for sure!

Synthesizing our own version of Egyptian blue!

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How to see a total solar eclipse

July 31st, 2019Study Abroad

By Shannon Wing '22 Living in Santiago for the summer, I was approximately 6 hours away from a total solar eclipse viewing on this past July 2. I was the closest I had ever been to seeing a total solar eclipse and I knew that I had to find a way up to Vicuña to view it. Lucky enough, I found some like-minded adventurous people that were on the same mission. After some rough planning with my five new friends, we were already stuffing our camping gear into a rental sedan and were passing around a bag of pastries that we picked up from a street vendor. The best way to make friends is over shared experiences and shared food, so we were off to a great start. We had rented a manual car and only had one confident manual driver, so our first task: relearn (or for some, learn) how to drive a stick. We pulled over on a flat, abandoned road and took 2 gears off the clutch, but acquired 2 more confident drivers for the journey. We drove that night up to our campsite and decided to forego our tents and cowboy camp since the stars were so beautiful. Not every day you can fall asleep and wake up under the milky way! In the morning we packed up, on the road again early to tour a pisco factory. We had no reservations and didn’t know exactly where the pisco factories were, but we assumed driving towards [...]

By Shannon Wing ’22

Living in Santiago for the summer, I was approximately 6 hours away from a total solar eclipse viewing on this past July 2. I was the closest I had ever been to seeing a total solar eclipse and I knew that I had to find a way up to Vicuña to view it. Lucky enough, I found some like-minded adventurous people that were on the same mission. After some rough planning with my five new friends, we were already stuffing our camping gear into a rental sedan and were passing around a bag of pastries that we picked up from a street vendor. The best way to make friends is over shared experiences and shared food, so we were off to a great start.

We had rented a manual car and only had one confident manual driver, so our first task: relearn (or for some, learn) how to drive a stick. We pulled over on a flat, abandoned road and took 2 gears off the clutch, but acquired 2 more confident drivers for the journey. We drove that night up to our campsite and decided to forego our tents and cowboy camp since the stars were so beautiful. Not every day you can fall asleep and wake up under the milky way! In the morning we packed up, on the road again early to tour a pisco factory. We had no reservations and didn’t know exactly where the pisco factories were, but we assumed driving towards Valle de Pisco Elqui on the map was a good bet. When we arrived in the town, sure enough we were directed to a small, family owned pisco factory, only 5 minutes away from there. Pisco, typically made in Chile and Peru, is a brandy made from distilled and fermented grapes used in typical Chilean drinks such as a pisco sour or piscola (coke and pisco). As I learned from eating one of the grapes whole and immediately regretting it, the grapes they grow are not wine grapes, picture more of a potent tasting olive that is slightly sweet.

Quickly after our tour, we drove to a mountain with a good view of the west that we found on google maps to see the eclipse. Google maps regretted to inform us that it had a lot of cacti, but time was of the essence. We bushwhacked up the mountain and made it 30 minutes before the eclipse was going to start. Needless to say, we were feeling accomplished! However, we quickly met by a group of Chileans who were shaking their heads. They looked at us and said “you shouldn’t have come up that way” pointing to a road that came up the backside of the mountain. Needless to say, we took the road back down and it was much faster as well as less precarious, but possibly not as fun. There we were, 5 Americans and 5 Chileans waiting. Picture me with a ham and cheese sandwich in one hand, camera in the other, eclipse glasses on, dramatically staring off into the distance. I can confirm that the sun did disappear and form a ‘ring of fire’ like figure; it was pretty incredible. This was my first total eclipse and it sure makes you want to see another one. As the Stanford professor that we met on the way down said, “You just don’t have enough time to take it all in.” This was his fourth eclipse and counting.

The trip ended with a wild night of traffic. We all had work the next day and therefore left immediately at 8 that night. We didn’t arrive to Santiago until noon the next day. Some highlights of the trip back included eating fried Chilean sushi at 1am, sleeping on the side of the road, and having an hour-long group discussion on what the expected value of car groups would be if every car was assigned a random speed and drove in one line of traffic to infinity.

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ONE-MA3 – Day XXIII: Gypsum, Gypsum, Everywhere!

July 26th, 20192019 News in Brief

By Sophia Mittman '22 Over the course of the entire trip, we’ve heard all about gypsum. Gypsum this, gypsum that. When I first heard the word during the information sessions for ONE-MA^3, I was confused by the strange word that I had never heard before, and I assumed that it was some crazy scientific material that would take a while to understand. But, I was pleasantly surprised by its simplicity. We got our first big exposure to applications of gypsum when we visited La Venaria Reale (a royal palace) in Turin. In this case, the gypsum was used to create the stucco sculptures that ornately decorated the massive rooms and hallways that we wandered through. At that point, I understood that gypsum was basically plaster of Paris. But how one could get from the original form of gypsum to the actual white powdery stuff that you can buy at craft stores was beyond me. Today though, we got to take a field trip to the nearby town of Cocconato and saw first-hand how that process takes place, starting from the ground up...literally. Sophia Fang ‘22 taking a photo from the upper rim of the gypsum quarry In this small town among hills near Aramengo is a giant gypsum quarry, and after we dressed ourselves with bright, neon orange construction vests and helmets, we had the opportunity to explore the depths of the quarry ourselves. Everything was blindingly white in the sunlight: the powder-covered ground, the big boulders on the side [...]

By Sophia Mittman ’22

Over the course of the entire trip, we’ve heard all about gypsum. Gypsum this, gypsum that. When I first heard the word during the information sessions for ONE-MA^3, I was confused by the strange word that I had never heard before, and I assumed that it was some crazy scientific material that would take a while to understand. But, I was pleasantly surprised by its simplicity. We got our first big exposure to applications of gypsum when we visited La Venaria Reale (a royal palace) in Turin. In this case, the gypsum was used to create the stucco sculptures that ornately decorated the massive rooms and hallways that we wandered through. At that point, I understood that gypsum was basically plaster of Paris. But how one could get from the original form of gypsum to the actual white powdery stuff that you can buy at craft stores was beyond me. Today though, we got to take a field trip to the nearby town of Cocconato and saw first-hand how that process takes place, starting from the ground up…literally.

Sophia Fang ‘22 taking a photo from the upper rim of the gypsum quarry

In this small town among hills near Aramengo is a giant gypsum quarry, and after we dressed ourselves with bright, neon orange construction vests and helmets, we had the opportunity to explore the depths of the quarry ourselves. Everything was blindingly white in the sunlight: the powder-covered ground, the big boulders on the side of the tractor paths, and the entire gaping hole in the ground. Well, it was definitely more than just a big hole in the ground, spanning multiple football fields across its width, depth, and length. We started by walking around the rim of the quarry, marveling at the sheer expanse of gypsum all around us while the sounds of giant drills and clanking could be heard in the distance from a portion of the quarry higher up on the hill. Then, we ventured down to the bottom floor of the quarry, stopping for brief respites from the sun in the tunnels that had been carved out of the hills of gypsum.

Gypsum crystals imbedded into the quarry walls

During these stops, we were able to take a closer look at the gypsum stone in its natural form. From previous descriptions of gypsum being a stone, I had imagined that gypsum looked like a normal rock or something like that. But, it was fascinating to see for ourselves that gypsum is a crystal that forms into chevron-like patterns. On a smaller level, it is formed from thin sheets of transparent, brittle crystal, very similar to mica, which also forms into sheets but takes on a darker color than gypsum. When crushed, these transparent crystals turn into the white powder that covered the ground everywhere—a clue that led on that this crushed-up crystal would indeed eventually become plaster of Paris. As we stood on the lowest level of the quarry, staring up at the tunnels and walls of pure gypsum that towed all around us, we were surprised to learn that the workers at this quarry intend to dig twenty meters father down to dig up even more gypsum before expanding their excavation in a horizontal direction.

 Exploring the many forms of gypsum stone at the mini-museum in the Nicola home

After seeing where gypsum actually comes from, we returned to Aramengo and proceeded to try our hand in the next step of processing gypsum. We had brought three large hunks of gypsum from the quarry and took a hammer to each while taking turns until all that was left were small pebbles of gypsum, ranging in size from sandy granules to grapes. These were then placed into terracotta pots and put into Marco Nicola’s furnace to be fired overnight. Ideally, this would result in a dehydrated gypsum, and after being crushed into a powder, it would be ready to be mixed with water to form plaster, perfect for making stuccoes, fixing walls, or using as a surface to paint on. After spending most of the day learning about the geological science behind gypsum and its production, we dove into gastronomical and physical culture by making our own delicious pizzas and dancing late into the night. Within our group of MIT students and Professor Masic, we were all able to participate in traditional dances from around the world! For example, we learned popular dances from Jamaica, Africa, England, and even a fancy-footwork Balkan line-dance from Admir. Without a doubt, it was a night that we will all remember as a one filled with amazing food and charismatic company, having a blast together under the stars that sparkled over the Italian countryside all around us.

Making our own pizzas the Italian way! (Left: Carene Umubyeyi ’22, Right: Jade Arbuckle ‘22)

 

 

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