News & Events

Study uses rings in teeth to understand the environment Neanderthals faced

December 3, 2018

Scientists are painting the clearest picture yet of what life may have been like for Neanderthals living in Southern France some 250,000 years ago, and to do it, they’re using an unlikely day-to-day record of what their environment was like — their teeth.

A team of researchers showed that examining the teeth of Neanderthal infants could yield insight into nursing and weaning behavior as well as winter and summer cycles. The study even found evidence that the Neanderthals had been exposed to lead — the earliest such exposure ever recorded in any human ancestor.

The study from...

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Harvard study models forelimbs of echidnas to shed light on evolution

Harvard study models forelimbs of echidnas to shed light on evolution

November 30, 2018

Mammals can use their forelimbs to swim, fly, jump, climb, dig, and nearly everything in between, yet the question of how all that diversity evolved has remained a vexing one for scientists.

To help answer that, Harvard researchers are turning to one of the most unusual mammals around: echidnas. These sprawling, egg-laying mammals have many anatomical features in common with mammal ancestors, and so can help bridge the gap between extinct and modern-day species.

Using a detailed, musculoskeletal model of an echidna forelimb, Sophie Regnault, a postdoctoral fellow, and Stephanie...

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Student engineers an interaction between two qubits using photons

Student engineers an interaction between two qubits using photons

November 30, 2018

In the world of quantum computing, interaction is everything.

For computers to work at all, bits — the ones and zeros that make up digital information — must be able to interact and hand off data for processing. The same goes for the quantum bits, or qubits, that make up quantum computers.

But that interaction creates a problem — in any system in which qubits interact with each other, they also tend to want to interact with their environment, resulting in qubits that quickly lose their quantum nature.

To get around the problem, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Ph.D....

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Arboretum expedition cultivates wider role for female scientists

Arboretum expedition cultivates wider role for female scientists

November 28, 2018

A tiny seed could change the way we experience the natural world. It’s already changed the careers of Tiffany Enzenbacher and Kea Woodruff, who work tending seed in their greenhouses. And it may one day bear fruit in an example of flora rescued from extinction — and a growing space for women in science.

In October, Enzenbacher, manager of plant production, and Woodruff, plant growth facilities manager, left the...

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A special journal explains the critical importance of biological collections

A special journal explains the critical importance of biological collections

November 19, 2018

More than a century ago, when botanists and naturalists were in the field collecting plant and animal specimens, they couldn’t have imagined that scientists would one day be able to extract DNA from samples to understand how plants and animals are related to one another.

They couldn’t have imagined that their collections could one day shed light on the effects of global climate change, or the emergence and spread of pathogens, the spread of fungal-driven amphibian extinction, or the effectiveness of policies aimed at reducing pollution in the U.S.

And the fact that they couldn’t...

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Pesticide exposure can dramatically impact bees’ social behavior

Pesticide exposure can dramatically impact bees’ social behavior

November 16, 2018

For bees, being social is everything.

Whether it’s foraging for food, caring for the young, using their bodies to generate heat or to fan the nest, or building and repairing nests, a bee colony does just about everything as a single unit.

While recent studies have suggested exposure to pesticides could have impacts on foraging behavior, a new study, led by James Crall, has shown that those effects may be just the tip of the iceberg.

A postdoctoral fellow working in the lab of Benjamin de Bivort, the Thomas D....

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New filtration system improves industrial wastewater purification, saves energy

November 9, 2018

Filtering and treating water, both for human consumption and to clean industrial and municipal wastewater, accounts for about 13 percent of all electricity consumed in the U.S. and releases about 290 million metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year — roughly equivalent to the combined weight of every human on earth.

One of the most common methods of processing water is passing it through a membrane with pores that are sized to filter out particles that are larger than water molecules. However, these membranes are susceptible to “fouling” — clogging by the very...

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Changing temperatures are helping corn production in U.S. — for now

November 6, 2018

The past 70 years have been good for corn production in the Midwestern U.S., with yields increasing fivefold since the 1940s. Much of this improvement has been credited to advances in farming technology, but researchers at Harvard University are asking if changes in climate and local temperature may be playing a bigger role than previously thought.

In a new paper, researchers found that a prolonged growing season due to warmer temperatures, combined with the natural cooling effects of large fields of plants, have had a major contribution to improved corn production in the U.S.

“Our...

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Radcliffe hears from astronomer Jill Tarter on search for intelligent life

Radcliffe hears from astronomer Jill Tarter on search for intelligent life

November 1, 2018

The question of whether we’re alone in the universe has haunted humankind for thousands of years, and it’s one astronomer Jill Tarter has tried to answer for much of her life. Tarter, chair emeritus of the Center for SETI Research, worked as a project scientist for NASA’s SETI program, which aimed to detect transmissions from alien intelligence. She currently serves on the board for the Allen Telescope Array, a group of more than 350 telescopes north of San Francisco.

“We are looking for signals at some frequency, some wavelength that don’t look like...

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