Bose grants fund research at the frontier of discovery

Eight MIT faculty members have been awarded one of the Institute’s most respected honors: the Professor Amar G. Bose Research Grant, which supports work that is unorthodox, and potentially world-changing. The topics of the grants range from nanoscale textiles that purify drinking water, to revolutionary new approaches in catalysis, high-speed logic, and drug delivery.

The awards are named for the late Amar G. Bose ’51, SM ’52, ScD ’56, a longtime MIT faculty member and the founder of the Bose Corporation. The Bose Research Fellows for 2018 are Dirk Englund, Laura L. Kiessling, Leonid S. Levitov, Nuno F. Loureiro, Elizabeth M. Nolan, Julia Ortony, Katharina Ribbeck, and Yuriy Román. Each of this year’s grants reflects the innovative thinking, intellectually adventurous spirit, curiosity, and enthusiasm that characterize the Bose grant program. They also embody the value and practice of interdisciplinary collaboration at MIT, which drives discovery and expands the intellectual horizons of individual researchers, their colleagues, and their students. 

Functional textiles for water purification

With the support of a Bose research grant, Julia Ortony, the Finmeccanica Career Development Professor of Engineering, hopes to create simple, yet powerful, nanoscale solutions to the problem of arsenic-contaminated drinking water, a threat to the health and lives of millions in Bangladesh and other parts of South Asia. 

“In our lab, we design small molecules that spontaneously self-assemble in water,” says Ortony. Their goal is to match the mechanical properties of each nanostructure with particular applications. Arsenic removal requires “very high surface area to remove trace amounts of toxins, and very robust structures so that we have very little molecular exchange.”

Current methods for removing arsenic are bulky, costly, and hard to maintain. A fabric made of nanoscale fibers would provide the surface area necessary to remove arsenic and could be functionalized with a chemical to grab arsenic ions. It would be simple to distribute and use, and could even be recharged. “We could easily modify this material remove lead or other metals,” she adds.

One inspiration behind Ortony’s proposal is a solution devised for guinea worm disease, a parasitic illness spread through drinking water. This disease was eradiated with an astoundingly simple solution: filtering drinking water through nylon fabric. Though contaminants like arsenic and lead are much more complicated to remove, Ortony believes a simple, cost-effective method utilizing nanoscale fabrics is within reach. 

The Bose grant has allowed her to think more expansively about her research, created exciting opportunities for her students, and enabled her to pursue a project that engages multiple disciplines, including some that are completely new to her. “You learn a lot that way. You can bring very different ideas together, and I think that’s how a lot of discoveries and inventions are made,” she says.

Learn about the other projects from the story on the MIT News Office.

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