Research at MIT

The soul of MIT is research. For more than 150 years, the Institute has married teaching with engineering and scientific studies—and produced an unending stream of advancements, many of them world changing. Examples of some of MIT’s historical achievements follow:

  • 1930s—Pioneering high-speed photography
  • 1940s—Engineering practical microwave radar
  • 1950s—Building the magnetic core memory that made digital computers possible
  • 1960s—Developing the inertial guidance systems for the Apollo space program
  • 1970s—Inventing the first workable public key cryptographic system
  • 1980s—Discovering the smallest known, most abundant photosynthetic bacteria in the ocean
  • 1990s—Using new genetic and multiple-cell monitoring technologies to demonstrate how animals form memory about new environments
  • 2000s—Creating a new type of matter, a gas of atoms that shows high-temperature superfluidity

This stream of discovery continues. Here are just a few accomplishments from this decade:

  • 2010—Designing computer techniques that automatically decipher ancient languages
  • 2011—Building a new radar technology system that can see through walls up to 60 feet away
  • 2012—Demonstrating experimentally the existence of a fundamentally new magnetic state called a quantum spin liquid
  • 2013—Developing a new steelmaking process that produces no emissions other than pure oxygen
  • 2014—Designing a new paper strip diagnostic test to rapidly diagnose Ebola and other viral hemorrhagic fevers
  • 2015—Designing a bandage that incorporates temperature sensors, LED lights, and tiny drug-delivering reservoirs that can release medicine in response to skin temperature changes and light up if medicine is running low
  • 2016—Making the first direct detection of gravitational waves reaching the Earth (in collaboration with Caltech and others around the world), confirming Albert Einstein’s prediction from 100 years ago
  • 2017—Adapting a CRISPR protein that targets RNA, rather than DNA, for use as a rapid, inexpensive, highly sensitive diagnostic tool with the potential to transfer research and global public health
  • 2018—Developing with scientists from Brigham and Women’s Hospital a way to power and communicate with devices implanted within the human body. The implants are the size of a grain of rice, have no batteries, and are powered by radio frequency waves.
  • 2019—Capturing the first direct image of a black hole as part of an international team of over 200 scientists

Undergraduates can plunge directly into this world of exploration through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, which offers students a chance to collaborate on cutting-edge research as junior colleagues of Institute faculty.

During the academic year, approximately 3,820 researchers (including some 1,530 postdoctoral scholars and 475 visiting faculty and scientists) work with MIT faculty and students. Approximately 2,660 graduate students are primarily supported as research assistants and 680 are appointed as teaching assistants; 1,720 are supported on fellowships. Postdoctoral scholars pursue a program of research and training under the direction of an MIT faculty member.

Distribution of Postdoctoral Scholars, by School/Area, October 2019
School/Area Number of postdocs %
School of Engineering 522 34%
School of Science 445 29%
Vice President for Research area 400 26%
School of Architecture and Planning 56 4%
Provost and other areas 54 4%
Sloan School of Management 26 2%
School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences 26 2%
Total 1,530 100%

As an institution, MIT encourages interdisciplinary research across department and school boundaries while focusing on tackling great societal challenges. More interdisciplinary teams are found off-campus in nearby Lexington, Massachusetts, at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, a federally funded research and development center focused on national security.