Brian Anthony

Principal Research Scientist

Fostering collaboration at the nexus of innovation

Fostering collaboration at the nexus of innovation

Brian Anthony is Associate Director of MIT.nano and faculty lead for industry collaborations for the MechE Alliance.

By: Daniel de Wolff

In 2005, Brian Anthony sold his interest in a successful video instrumentation company and re-joined MIT. At the time, most high-speed cameras that acquired imagery up to 300,000 frames per second used software or electronics created by his company. It was one of two successful entrepreneurial endeavors he founded while still a PhD student at the Institute, where he also earned his MS in Engineering. Today, Anthony is Associate Director of MIT.nano, the new MIT facility dedicated to all aspects of the nanoscale, and faculty lead for industry collaborations within the newly established Mechanical Engineering (MechE) Alliance. His academic appointments are in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES).

It’s the opportunity to collaborate with the students at MIT that attracts industry, that makes this place special not only for me, but for everybody.

Anthony’s decision to return to MIT was rooted in a desire to work in a space that encourages innovation and attracts the best and the brightest—students intent on meeting society’s changing needs while leveraging state-of-the-art technologies—who in turn attract companies seeking access to creative problem solving for industry challenges. “I view the students I work with as collaborators,” says Anthony. “The only difference between the students at MIT and me, or any of the investigators at MIT, is that we’ve been doing our work for a little bit longer. It’s the opportunity to collaborate with the students at MIT that attracts industry, that makes this place special not only for me, but for everybody.”

Anthony’s role as faculty lead for industry collaborations for the MechE Alliance serves to illustrate his passion for connecting students to industry for the benefit of all involved. The Alliance is designed to foster meaningful relationships between MechE graduate students, alumni, and industry partners by connecting members of the MechE community through a variety of programs and on-campus events.

Brian Anthony
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The flagship program of the Alliance is the Industry Immersion Project (I2P) Program, which provides graduate students an opportunity to work on short to medium-term collaboratively designed projects with participating industry partners. The idea, in part, is to provide a more focused version of the typical internship that students might find during summer breaks. “MIT is in an implicit contract with industry," says Anthony. “By further connecting student experiences with industry, there is an opportunity to improve our collaboration, to make sure that we have a constantly strong connection with companies that are eventually going to become the employers of our students.”

For MechE students, these co-designed projects help inform their research while providing valuable real-world experience with potential employers. Companies involved gain access to a flexible resource to solve a problem that might be outside the realm of what their employees typically work on, while maintaining ownership of any IP developed during the project. MIT plays an active role in every aspect of the project lifecycle, assisting students and further strengthening the bonds between the Institute and industry, developing meaningful relationships that lay the groundwork for future collaboration. The first set of I2P projects, which will be piloted in June of 2019, includes several companies that have collaborated with MIT in the past, or have expressed a strong desire to partner with the Institute; companies like Amazon, Shell, Intel, and 3M.

Anthony’s passion for fostering collaborative relationships extends beyond his MechE department. As Associate Director of MIT.nano, he works to provide the entire MIT community the opportunity to innovate on the nanoscale. MIT.nano is a 215,000 ft2 building devoted to harnessing the power of nanotechnology to address the great challenges of our time. It sits on a 5-million-pound slab of concrete to ensure that it never moves, and nanoscale experiments aren’t disturbed. In fact, the entire structure is low vibration, low noise, low dirt, and temperature controlled—it’s a cutting-edge facility, optimized for nanoscale exploration.

The bottom floor is devoted to imaging, and houses new cryo-electron microscopes with atomic resolution. Above these imaging bays, on the second and third levels (each of which is two floors), are fabrication spaces, clean rooms, where nanoscale materials can be grown, modified, and manipulated in a particle free environment. The uppermost floor of MIT.nano is a joint space that sees new chemistry teaching labs co-exist with tools designed to translate the ideas developed in MIT.nano into prototypes and handheld demos that will make their way into the world.

“The fundamental theme of MIT.nano, if I were to oversimplify it, is that we’re innovating in materials, we’re innovating in processes, and we’re innovating in devices,” says Anthony. “We want to push the boundaries of engineering and science, and we want to provide the opportunity for the entire MIT community to collaboratively practice their field at the nanoscale.”

When Anthony says “the MIT community,” he’s including students, faculty, alumni, even companies that collaborate with the Institute. “The model of membership we enable for MIT.nano is to have a company that is truly part of the MIT community. Member companies may place a visiting scientist at MIT in the lab of an investigator working on a project that is of interest to that company, gaining collaborative access to talent and physical resources that are unique in the world.”

Part of Anthony’s work with MIT.nano sees him devising opportunities for convening communities of experts to define and pursue the research and educational challenges related to nanotechnologies. SENSE.nano is one such community. It is the first center of excellence powered by MIT.nano to address the fact that due to the prevalence of interconnected devices, and the massive data infrastructure we’ve developed and continue to develop, sensors and sensing systems have become an integral aspect of the current and future digital age.

SENSE.nano unites visionary technical and business leaders from MIT, industry, and society to address key sensing-related topics.

SENSE.nano unites visionary technical and business leaders from MIT, industry, and society to address key sensing-related topics. The inaugural SENSE.nano symposium in 2017 took a broad approach, and included outreach across many topical areas, covering everything sensing-related, from person and machine to environment and ecosystem. Last year’s SENSE.nano symposium showcased new sensing technologies (sensors, new instrumentation, remote sensing, and other measurement solutions) and their impact in water, environment, and agriculture systems. 2019 will see SENSE.nano focus on sensors in the manufacturing environment, and sensing technologies as enablers of augmented and virtual environments.

While defining the path towards innovation on an institutional level keeps Anthony busy, he has not forsaken the hands-on work that is an essential aspect of innovation. His research combines mechanical design, electrical design, computer science, and machine learning to solve systems challenges. This covers everything from the creation of novel wearable sensors, and using ultrasound to measure blood pressure, to using light to generate ultrasound at a distance, and the nondestructive testing of tissues and materials.

The overarching theme is the combination of several fields of inquiry to address systems integration problems. “I try to convey to my students that if you want to have an impact in today’s world, you can’t just be an expert in one area. Real innovation happens when you bring together topics from different fields, and then translate that intersection into new knowledge, new products. Combining those seemingly disparate fields is the nexus of innovation.”