Innovation Article

Knowledge at Wharton’s picture

By: Knowledge at Wharton

The future of work is hybrid. In the post-pandemic world, many companies will embrace the lessons learned from more than a year of telecommuting and not fully return to the office. Instead, Wharton management professor Martine Haas says, they will adopt a hybrid model with some combination of remote and in-person work.

“It’s going to be complicated to manage, but at the same time there are benefits that are probably pretty substantial,” she says. “Ideally, you’ll get some of the benefits of traditional co-located work, and you’ll also get some of the benefits, which we now know to be more substantial than we’d realized, of remote working.”

Multiple Authors
By: Eryn Brown, Knowable Magazine

This story was originally published by Knowable Magazine.

Last spring, things looked grim for Dora Herrera. Revenues at her family’s 45-year-old restaurant business, Yuca’s, had plummeted within a few short weeks as Covid-19 kept customers away from its two popular taco shacks in Los Angeles and Pasadena, California.

The drop was precipitous. By late April things reached “a point where we were like, if we don’t get more customers or cash, we’re going to close on Monday,” she recalls.

A federal loan arrived in early May 2020, providing enough money for eight weeks of payroll, she says. During the months that followed, additional loans and grants—and Yuca’s ability to adapt to pandemic restrictions—kept the business alive, though the stress remained.

“We always said, we’ll figure out how to pay that loan back later,” Herrera says. “It was, just stay alive. Just stay alive.”

John Toon’s picture

By: John Toon

Using X-ray tomography, a research team has observed the internal evolution of the materials inside solid-state lithium batteries as they were charged and discharged. Detailed 3D information from the research could help improve the reliability and performance of the batteries, which use solid materials to replace the flammable liquid electrolytes in existing lithium-ion batteries.

The operando synchrotron X-ray computed microtomography imaging revealed how the dynamic changes of electrode materials at lithium/solid-electrolyte interfaces determine the behavior of solid-state batteries. The researchers found that battery operation caused voids to form at the interface, which created a loss of contact that was the primary cause of failure in the cells.

Sharona Hoffman’s picture

By: Sharona Hoffman

Artificial intelligence holds great promise for improving human health by helping doctors make accurate diagnoses and treatment decisions. It can also lead to discrimination that can harm minorities, women, and economically disadvantaged people.

The question is, when healthcare algorithms discriminate, what recourse do people have?

A prominent example of this kind of discrimination is an algorithm used to refer chronically ill patients to programs that care for high-risk patients. A study in 2019 found that the algorithm favored whites over sicker African Americans in selecting patients for these beneficial services. This is because it used past medical expenditures as a proxy for medical needs.

Poverty and difficulty accessing healthcare often prevent African Americans from spending as much money on healthcare as others. The algorithm misinterpreted their low spending as indicating they were healthy, and deprived them of critically needed support.

Matt Fieldman’s picture

By: Matt Fieldman

What is America Works, and why is it important to the future of American manufacturing?

The American manufacturing industry is at a crossroads, facing growing competition from foreign countries while struggling to develop a skilled, dedicated workforce here at home. American manufacturers are desperately searching for more employees in general, and more skilled workers specifically. Before the pandemic, it was widely reported that there were 600,000 manufacturing openings unfilled nationwide. Further, according to a November 2018 study in MIT Technology Review, during the next 10 years, 4.6 million manufacturing jobs will be created, with 2.4 million going unfilled due to a lack of skills and interest.

Mark Esser’s picture

By: Mark Esser

Alot has changed at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) during the past 120 years. For one thing, we were known as the National Bureau of Standards for the first 87 years of our existence. Then, in 1988, we became the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), to reflect our agency’s expanding mission and a renewed emphasis on boosting the competitiveness of American industry.

But as much as things change, they also stay the same. While much of our early work has been baked into the American economy, NIST continues to be a world leader in advancing measurement science. We still provide many of our original services, though the techniques and technologies have evolved.

Multiple Authors
By: Tinglong Dai, Christopher Tang, Ho-Yin Mak

More than 50 million Americans have received at least one dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna Covid-19 vaccine. So far, Americans have been largely brand-agnostic, but that’s about to change as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine rolls out.

The vaccine been hailed as a game changer. It requires only a single dose rather than two doses spaced weeks apart, and it does not need freezer storage, making it a natural fit for hard-to-reach rural areas and underserved communities with limited access to healthcare and storage facilities.

Anne Trafton’s picture

By: Anne Trafton

Engineers at MIT and Imperial College London have developed a new way to generate tough, functional materials using a mixture of bacteria and yeast similar to the “kombucha mother” used to ferment tea.

Using this mixture, also called a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), the researchers were able to produce cellulose embedded with enzymes that can perform a variety of functions, such as sensing environmental pollutants. They also showed that they could incorporate yeast directly into the material, creating “living materials” that could be used to purify water or to make “smart” packaging materials that can detect damage.

“We foresee a future where diverse materials could be grown at home or in local production facilities, using biology rather than resource-intensive centralized manufacturing,” says Timothy Lu, an MIT associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science and of biological engineering.

Lu and Tom Ellis, a professor of bioengineering at Imperial College London, are the senior authors of the paper, which appeared in Nature Materials. The paper’s lead authors are MIT graduate student Tzu-Chieh Tang and Cambridge University postdoc Charlie Gilbert.

Silke von Gemmingen’s picture

By: Silke von Gemmingen

Spacecraft are developed on Earth, tested, fully assembled, and transported in one piece by a launch vehicle to their respective places of operation. Each component must be designed to withstand the high loads of the launch phase. In most cases, in addition to complex test procedures, this leads to oversized spacecraft components, even though they experience only a fraction of the stresses in orbit than they do during launch.

The maximum take-off mass required for transport with the launch vehicle and the payload thus cause high space-transport costs. At the same time, space in the rocket is restricted, which limits the design of the spacecraft from the outset. The search is on for processes that expand the possibilities of future space missions, save resources, and reduce costs.

Mark Schmit’s picture

By: Mark Schmit

The Covid-19 pandemic has asked much of manufacturing executives. They’ve had to make decisions about staffing and operations in the face of tremendous health and economic uncertainty—and then adjust or even change decisions based on myriad shifting and evolving factors.

They’ve had to retool to produce new items for a new market to generate needed revenue while helping address an urgent demand for personal protective equipment, or PPE. They’ve had to master new skills and new tools to communicate with workers and customers, and foster community in a period of necessary isolation. Oh, and they’ve had to do all of these at the same time and very quickly.

It’s been a heavy lift, as manufacturing executives who took part part in a Sept. 30, 2020, virtual conversation on the near-term and longer-term impacts of the twin public health and economic crises made clear. The discussion was one in a series of 11 listening sessions hosted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NIST MEP) called the “National Conversation with Manufacturers.”

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