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Dava Newman, SM ’82, PhD ’92

An MIT professor has designed a sleek new space suit, and other news from the MIT Enterprise Forum.

Forget today’s 300-pound bubble space suit. Imagine a sleek biosuit that will protect space travelers, enable them to exercise during the six-month journey to Mars, then power walk across the planet’s surface. That’s the 30-year goal described by aeronautics and astronautics associate professor Dava Newman, SM ‘89, PhD ‘92, at the fall MIT Enterprise Forum global broadcast on practical applications of bold research.

Newman said the suit’s core technologies, which include a compression skin and electromechanical devices, can be realized in the next few years in active orthopedic devices that enable stroke victims to regain mobility. “We have designed an active orthotic device that propels a person walking,” she said.

This connection between big ideas and entrepreneurial action was the theme of the panel on “The Power of Revolutionary Thinking: What Today’s Scientists Can Teach You about Driving Innovation in Your Organization,” broadcast to 42 sites worldwide and via NASA-TV from the Georgia Public Broadcasting studios in Atlanta. The audience included viewers at the Stata Center, hosted by the Enterprise

Forum of Cambridge, and thousands more watching the panel either live or through rebroadcasts on NASA-TV.

Each panelist described a research idea funded by the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC). These projects develop revolutionary ideas that are elegant and imaginative and can lead to an expansion of knowledge.

Penelope Boston, professor of earth and environmental sciences at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, described her work on

microbial life in extreme environments, astrobiology, and human life support in space.

“The microorganisms underground make their living essentially chewing their way through rock. They are master chemists, transforming materials,” Boston noted. She also said the biodiversity on earth is greater

below the planet’s surface than above it and has applications in the development of novel compounds that could be used in pharmaceuticals.

The concept of a “space elevator” was presented by Bradley Carl Edwards, president and founder of Carbon Designs, a developer of high-strength materials. “The space elevator idea first came up in 1894 as a Russian idea about how to climb up into space, but there were no appropriate materials,” he said. Edwards’s company produces carbon nanotubes, a material 70 times stronger than steel, that could enable a space elevator to be built within 15 years at a cost of $10 billion.

Edwards envisions the space elevator as a ribbon three feet wide and 62,000 miles long that could haul materials from an ocean-based platform into space. The laser-powered device could ultimately allow colonization of the moon and more effective harvesting of solar power, he said. Today, carbon nanotubes are reaching the marketplace in golf clubs and cars.

MIT Enterprise Forum Links Entrepreneurs

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Networking with entrepreneurs. Startup clinics. International webcasts on advancing technologies. Connections to MIT innovation. Both alumni and nonalumni can tap these resources through the MIT Enterprise Forum, headquartered at MIT and active worldwide through 24 chapters.

The Enterprise Forum supports the missions of the MIT Alumni Association and MIT by building connections among technology entrepreneurs. More than 30,000 entrepreneurs learn from forum events, e-newsletters, and website resources, including access to business plans, investor groups, research tools, and startup advice.

Visit the website to sign up for the Global Community e-mail list or to secure a seat at the next global broadcast on June 7 on the subject of angel investors. Link: http://enterpriseforum.mit.edu/.

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