Posts tagged with "MIT"

Bloomberg: California and Massachusetts are the most innovative U.S. states

June 25, 2020

For the second consecutive year, California and Massachusetts have taken the first and second spots, respectively, in Bloomberg’s annual State Innovation Index.

According to a report by The Boston Globe, the ranking is based on six equally weighted metrics: research and development intensity, productivity, clusters of companies in technology, STEM jobs, residents with degrees in science and engineering, and patent activity.

California and Massachusetts’ success dates back more than 150 years ago with the creation of land-grant universities under the Morrill Act, according to New York University Stern School of Business economist Paul Romer.

The Morrill Land Grand Act of 1862 helped boost higher education in America by granting states public land. That land could be sold and the proceeds earned could be used to establish colleges. Massachusetts Institute of Technology was among the earliest recipients of the act, which served as the basis for many other institutions, including the University of California and Washington State University.

These schools “and their counterparts in every state created a new type of university—distinguished by a practical focus on problem solving that the world had never seen,” Romer, co-recipient of the 2018 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, said in a telephone interview with The Boston Globe.. “The success of California and Massachusetts is a sign of the high level of investment that those states have made in their university and research systems.”

California ranked number-one in the Bloomberg index for patent activity and second for both technology-company density and concentration of science- and engineering-degree holders. Its state university system and pre-eminence in research—along with private Stanford University—have been influential in building Silicon Valley headquarters for established tech companies and budding startups.

Last year, entrepreneurs there received more than $67 billion in venture-capital funding, according to data from PitchBook. That’s more than three times New York, the second-highest state for deal flow.

According to a joint report from PwC and CB Insights, the top five highest-valued private U.S. tech companies are all California-based: JUUL Labs, Stripe, Airbnb, SpaceX and Palantir Technologies.

In addition, among U.S. companies that went public last year, the five reaping the highest year-to-date returns also are in California: Zoom Video Communications, IT-service provider Fastly and life-science specialty businesses Vir Biotechnology, Livongo Health and IDEAYA Biosciences.

Second place Massachusetts took the crown for tech-company density. General Electric, Raytheon, Thermo Fisher Scientific and Biogen are headquartered in the Northeastern state. Prior to the pandemic, Boston-based Toast—a restaurant-management platform— was a venture-capital favorite. The startup raised $400 million at a $4.9 billion valuation in February.

Rounding out the top five are number three, Washington State; number four, Connecticut; and Oregon, which jumped two spots to number five.

Research contact: @BostonGlobe

Corporate America races to respond to a crisis that routs the usual 9-5 routine

March 11, 2020

Employers are implementing contingency plans—from dividing teams across locations, to limiting visitors, to allowing employees to telecommute—as the spread of the novel coronavirus is starting to topple basic expectations about the safety and sustainability of office-based work, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The moves, designed to minimize disruption to businesses while protecting workers, range from advising colleagues to stand at least six feet apart, to requiring that people register their personal travel plans with their employers. While some companies have done emergency planning, the virus’s breadth and speed are posing challenges still hard to anticipate, executives said.

On Monday, the Journal notes, Bank of America began splitting up some employees on its Equities and Fixed-Income teams between New York and Connecticut—creating redundancies, so that if an employee gets sick and a whole team has to self-quarantine, a backup team can keep functioning in its place. More than 100 employees will work from Connecticut, while the majority will remain in New York.

Microsoft has instructed thousands of its workers in Seattle and the Bay Area area to work from home if they are able, and recommended that employees still needed in open office spaces stay six feet away from others. The company also asked its staff to try to limit prolonged interaction with other people.

Apple CEO Tim Cook sent a company email, encouraging staff in California and areas around the world with a high concentration of infections to work from home if possible over the coming week. The note represented an escalation in the company’s caution to staff. It last week had encouraged its 25,000 workers across Silicon Valley to work from home.

Meanwhile, the news outlet reports, Harvard informed students this week that they should not return from Spring Break; all classes will be held online. In addition, several colleges, including Texas A&M and MIT, have started asking employees and students to register their personal travel plans, so that administrators can keep track as coronavirus spreads—and MIT says, “Classes with more than 150 students will begin meeting virtually [this week]…; numerous MIT events have been postponed or modified.”

Stripe a San Francisco-area financial-technology company, has switched to videoconferencing for job interviews in place of on-site meetings. Becton Dickinson ,a medical-supplies company based in New Jersey, told employees to limit client meetings off-site.

Facebook, which on Thursday recommended that thousands of its employees in the San Francisco-area start working from home, is further encouraging people to stay away from the campus by canceling shuttle-bus operations for the coming week.

San Francisco-based cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase last week asked several types of workers—including people with compromised immune systems, those who are “at risk because of age,” or people for whom getting sick would be especially problematic—to start working from home, according to Philip Martin, the company’s chief information security officer. He estimates that 200 out of 1,000 employees globally fell into groups that Coinbase asked to work remotely, including single parents and pregnant employees. The company on Friday suggested all employees begin working from home if they can starting this week.

However, The Wall Street Journal notes, working from home doesn’t work for swaths of the employee universe, from food-service and hotel staffers to nurses. Nearly four in 10 workers in the United States (or 37%) say it isn’t possible at all for them to do their job by working from home for a period of several weeks, according to a new Wall Street Journal/SurveyMonkey poll.

Companies say they are looking to federal and local authorities for guidance, but they are also closely watching how their peers respond, often not wanting to be first to implement a drastic protocol, said Lars Schmidt, the founder of Amplify, an HR consulting and executive-search firm.

“There’s a bit of a cascading impact,” he said. “Companies are holding out to see what others are doing.”

Research contact: @WSJ

Researchers say there is evidence that aliens ‘stink’

January 7, 2020

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have found that the presence of a molecule that is considered to be among the most noxious-smelling and poisonous on Earth may indicate that alien life is in residence.

Phosphine is among the most putrid and toxic gases on Earth, and is found in some of the foulest of places—among them, penguin dung heaps, the depths of swamps and bogs, and even in the bowels of some badgers and fish. Most aerobic, oxygen-breathing life forms on the planet avoid phosphine—often referred to as “swamp gas”—like the plague.

Now, MIT researchers have found that phosphine is produced by another, less abundant life form: anaerobic organisms, such as bacteria and microbes, which don’t require oxygen to thrive. The team found that phosphine cannot be produced in any other way except by these extreme, oxygen-averse organisms, making the gas what is known as “a pure biosignature”— a sign of life (at least of a certain kind).

In a paper recently published in the journal, Astrobiology, the MIT team reports that—if phosphine were produced in quantities similar to methane on Earth—the gas would generate a signature pattern of light in a planet’s atmosphere. This pattern would be clear enough to detect from as far as 16 light years away by a telescope such as NASA’s planned James Webb Space Telescope.

The clincher: If phosphine were detected from a rocky planet, it would be an unmistakable sign of extraterrestrial life.

“Here on Earth, oxygen is a really impressive sign of life,” says lead author Clara Sousa-Silva, a research scientist in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. “But other things besides life make oxygen too. It’s important to consider stranger molecules that might not be made as often, but if you do find them on another planet, there’s only one explanation.”

Sousa-Silva and her colleagues are assembling a database of fingerprints for molecules that could be potential biosignatures. The team has amassed more than 16,000 candidates, including phosphine.

She says that, aside from establishing phosphine as a viable biosignature in the search for extraterrestrial life, the group’s results provide a pipeline, or process for researchers to follow, in characterizing any other of the other 16,000 biosignature candidates.

“I think the community needs to invest in filtering these candidates down into some kind of priority,” she says. “Even if some of these molecules are really dim beacons, if we can determine that only life can send out that signal, then I feel like that is a goldmine.

Research contact: @MIT