News

Robots with sticky feet can go where humans can’t fit

December 19, 2018

Jet engines can have up to 25,000 individual parts, making regular maintenance a tedious task that can take over a month per engine. Many components are located deep inside the engine and cannot be inspected without taking the machine apart, adding time and costs to maintenance. This problem is not confined to jet engines, either; many complicated, expensive machines like construction equipment, generators, and scientific instruments require large investments of time and money to inspect and maintain.

To make this upkeep easier, faster, and cheaper, researchers at Harvard University’s...

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Inosine could be a potential route to the first RNA, Harvard study says

December 10, 2018

Prehistoric Earth, bombarded with asteroids, rife with bubbling geothermal pools, would seem an inhospitable place. But somewhere, the right chemicals combined in the precise sequence needed to form the building blocks of life. How? For decades, scientists have attempted to create miniature replicas of infant Earth in the lab. There, they hunt for the chemical pathways that led to life on Earth.

It’s attractive to chase our origin story. But this pursuit can bring more than just excitement. Knowledge of how Earth built its first cells could inform the search for extraterrestrial life. If...

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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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