Five Alumni Cited in Tech Review’s Breakthrough Technologies

by Jay London on May 11, 2017 · 0 comments

in Alumni Life, In the News, Media, Research

A solar energy device built by MIT alumni was named a breakthrough technology of 2017. Image: MIT Technology Review

MIT Technology Review’s annual list of the top 10 breakthrough technologies recognizes the year’s biggest research discoveries that are affecting the economy, improving medicine, or influencing our culture. This year’s roll includes self-driving trucks, solar cells, and preventing harmful botnets.

An annual list since 2002, MIT alumni have always had a strong presence. At least one alum has been featured in the past five years and at least five MIT alumni were cited in the 2017 list.

Learn more about the five MIT alumni and their breakthrough technologies below. Then head over to Tech Review to scan the full list.

Hot Solar Cells: By converting heat to focused beams of light, a new solar device could create cheap and continuous power.

David Bierman SM ’14; Ivan Celanovic ScD ’96; Marin Soljacic ’96; Evelyn Wang ’00

“A team of MIT scientists has built a solar energy device that uses inventive engineering and advances in materials science to capture far more of the sun’s energy. The trick is to first turn sunlight into heat and then convert it back into light, but now focused within the spectrum that solar cells can use. While various researchers have been working for years on so-called solar thermophotovoltaics, the MIT device is the first one to absorb more energy than its photovoltaic cell alone, demonstrating that the approach could dramatically increase efficiency.”

Reinforcement Learning: By experimenting, computers are figuring out how to do things that no programmer could teach them.

Emma Brunskill PhD ’09

“Reinforcement learning is being applied in a growing number of areas, says Emma Brunskill, an assistant professor at Stanford University who specializes in the approach. But she says it is well suited to automate driving because it enables “good sequences of decisions.” Progress would proceed much more slowly if programmers had to encode all such decisions into cars in advance.”

View Tech Review’s full list of top 10 breakthroughs then let us know if there are any alumni we missed. Are there any other MIT alumni who merit a spot on the 2017 list? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.


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