An MIT Alumni Association Publication

Five MIT alumni were named in Physics World’s Top 10 Breakthroughs of 2018, awarded to scientific and engineering discoveries that have displayed significant knowledge and understanding, have played an important role in scientific progress, and have led to the development of real-world applications.

The list includes MIT physics professor Pablo Jarillo-Herrero, who was awarded the Breakthrough of the Year honor for his leadership role in the discovery that graphene sheets can act as an insulator or a superconductor. 

Read more below about the MIT alumni honored by Physics World. Learn more about Jarillo-Herrero and other MIT community members whose research made news in 2018.

Judd Bowman PhD ’07, PhD ’07, an associate professor at Arizona State University, and Alan Rogers SM ’64, PhD ’67, a scientist at MIT’s Haystack Observatory, were part of a team that used a radio telescope to detect colder-than-expected hydrogen gas that existed just 180 million years after the Big Bang.

Rennan Barkana PhD ’97, a professor at Tel Aviv University, was cited for calculating that Bowman’s and Rogers’ discovery could be the first direct observation of a nongravitational interaction between dark matter and conventional matter.

“The discovery provides insight into the formation of the first stars via their interaction with the surrounding hydrogen gas and its absorption of cosmic background radiation,” according to MIT News.

Eric Ford ’92, a professor at the University of Washington Medical Center, was part of a multi-institutional group recognized for creating a low-cost method for implementing intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT), a high-precision form of radiation therapy for cancer.

According to Physics World, “While IMRT is available in essentially all radiotherapy clinics in high-income countries, it is largely absent in vast regions of low- and middle-income countries. To address this shortfall, Ford and colleagues proposed replacing complex multileaf collimators with a cost-effective “ring of compensators made from lightweight plastic molds filled with attenuating beads such as tungsten beads.”

Steve Barrett ’05 and colleagues at MIT were honored for demonstrating the first flight of a propeller-free plane that is powered not by a combustion engine but by charged ions generated by wire electrodes that can run off a battery.

“MIT’s Electric Aircraft Initiative, which Barrett coordinates, is focusing on technologies that, in the long-term, could result in planes with near-silent propulsion, and low or no emission,” according to MIT News.

Find out more details about the recognized MIT alumni and their research, and view all 10 breakthroughs, at Physics World.

Photo Caption via MIT News: Artist's rendering of the universe's first, massive, blue stars in gaseous filaments, with the cosmic microwave background (CMB) at the edges. Using radio observations of the distant universe, Bowman, Rogers, and others discovered the influence of such early stars on primordial gas and inferred the stars' presence from dimming of the CMB, a result of the gaseous filaments absorbing the stars' UV light. Image: N.R.Fuller/National Science Foundation