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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

  • 2010s

    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 a century ago

Selected accomplishments from this decade

  • Developing a new steelmaking process that produces no emissions other than pure oxygen
  • 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
  • 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.
  • Capturing the first direct image of a black hole as part of an international team of over 200 scientists
  • Ramping up a high-temperature superconducting electromagnet to a field strength of 20 tesla, the most powerful magnetic field of its kind ever created on Earth
  • Reliably producing oxygen on the surface of Mars using an instrument the size of a lunchbox that can do the work of a small tree
  • Observing for the first time a star swallowing a planet—a preview of what is expected to happen to the Earth in five billion years. Astronomers from MIT, Caltech, Harvard, and elsewhere identified a likely Jupiter-sized planet vanishing in a 10-day hot flash, followed by a lingering cold signal.

Technology licensing

  • 23 companies formed using MIT intellectual property
  • 593 invention disclosures (including 80 from Lincoln Laboratory)
  • 592 new US patents filed
  • 362 US patents issued

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

During fall 2023, approximately 5,810 researchers (including 1,536 postdoctoral scholars and 525 visiting faculty and scientists) worked with MIT faculty and students.

As an institution, MIT encourages interdisciplinary research across department and school boundaries while focusing on tackling 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.


Research Expenditures, by Primary Sponsor, Fiscal Year 2023

Primary sponsor Expenditures
(in millions)
Industry $162.87 19%
Department of Health and Human Services $160.05 19%
Department of Defense $126.41 15%
Foundations and other nonprofits $103.35 12%
National Science Foundation $95.51 11%
Department of Energy $89.29 11%
NASA $35.70 4%
State, local, and foreign governments $22.91 3%
MIT internal $21.82 3%
All other federal agencies $19.47 2%
Total $837.39 100%

Note: Figures are rounded.