MIT researchers working on aging, land mines and black holes have been in the news recently.
MIT work on aging in yeast cells received a great deal of media attention after a paper on the research -- which suggests researchers may one day be able to intervene in, and possibly inhibit, the aging process in certain human cells -- appeared in the December 26 issue of Cell. Professor Leonard Guarente of biology, who led the work, was interviewed for Good Morning America and other TV programs, as well as a variety of print publications.
"What we've found is a specific molecular mechanism that we think is the cause of aging in general," Professor Guarente told Robert Cooke of Newsday.
Bruce Stillman, director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, told Mr. Cooke, "It is certainly very interesting and provocative research on the cellular aging mechanism. If this mechanism is shown to be evolutionarily conserved, then I think it is a very importantdiscovery that has wide implications."
Professor Guarente collaborated with David Sinclair, a postdoctoral fellow in biology. A story on their work appeared in the January 7, 1998 Tech Talk.
A December 16 New York Times story on technologies for detecting and destroying land mines featured Dr. Kosta Tsipis, director of the Program in Science and Technology for International Security.
"We're at the beginning of a long, complex process, but at least we've started," Dr. Tsipis told the Times. "If we are fortunate, we will get 80 percent of these mines out of the ground in 20 to 25 years, but it's going to take an international effort and new technology."
A December 17 Tech Talk story further describes Dr. Tsipis's and Institute Professor Emeritus Philip Morrison's work toward demining.
MIT researchers have been key to two major stories about black holes. The last issue of this column (December 17, 1997) described press interest in Dr. Wei Cui and colleagues' work. Dr. Cui of the Center for Space Research (CSR) showed that space-time gets distorted near black holes (see Tech Talk, November 12, 1997).
More recently, CSR scientists Ronald Remillard and Edward Morgan with colleagues from Caltech and NASA reported another phenomenon. They observed that portions of matter spiraling into a black hole periodically escape a dark demise by erupting into jets traveling at nearly the speed of light (see Tech Talk, January 7, 1998, /newsoffice/tt/1998/jan07/blackhole.html).
A January 7 press conference on the work in Washington, DC, resulted in a slew of press stories. "The findings indicate that it is, after all, possible to escape the intense gravitational power of a black hole even after riding to within 40 miles or so of the brink," wrote the Washington Post's Kathy Sawyer.
"It's Old Faithful on a grand scale," reported Glennda Chui of the San Jose Mercury News, who also noted that "scientists are at a loss to explain why the eruptions are so regular, what powers them, or why they abruptly shut off for long periods of time."
"This remarkable change of moods is unlike anything we've ever seen," Dr. Remillard said in the Mercury News story. The Los Angeles Times also ran a story on the work.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 4, 1998.