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
  • 1957—Achieving the first chemical synthesis of penicillin
  • 1960s—Developing inertial guidance systems for the Apollo space program
  • 1960s—Developing the world's first biomedical prosthetic device
  • 1977—Inventing the first workable public key cryptographic system
  • 1986—Creating the first free-standing hologram
  • 1988—Discovering the smallest known, most abundant photosynthetic bacteria in the ocean
  • 1994—Developing a robot that can “learn” exercises from a physical therapist, guide a patient through them and, for the first time, record biomedical data on the patient’s condition and progress
  • 1996—Using new genetic and multiple-cell monitoring technologies to demonstrate how animals form memory about new environments
  • 2002—Creating the first acrobatic robotic bird—a small, highly agile helicopter for military use in mountain and urban combat
  • 2007—Genetically reprogramming skin cells to cure a mouse model of sickle-cell anemia
  • 2009—Finding a way to use RNA interference to silence multiple genes at once

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 the bandage of the future: a sticky, stretchy, gel-like material that can incorporate temperature sensors, LED lights and other electronics, as well as tiny drug-delivering reservoirs and channels that can release medicine in response to changes in skin temperature and be designed to 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 transform research and global public health

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 3,735 researchers (including some 1,505 postdoctoral scholars, 552 visiting faculty and scientists) work with MIT faculty and students. Approximately 2,600 graduate students are primarily supported as research assistants and 715 are appointed as teaching assistants; 1,700 are supported on fellowships.

Distribution of Postdoctoral Scholars, by School/Area

School of Science 31% or 466, Vice Presdient for Research area 26% or 388, Provost and other areas 4% or 55, School of Architecture and Planning 3% or 51, School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences 1% or 19, Sloan School of Management 1% or 18, School of Engineering 34% or 508.

As an institution, MIT encourages interdisciplinary research across department and school boundaries while focusing on tackling great challenges for society at large. 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.