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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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Harvard team helps make most precise measure ever of electron’s charge

October 29, 2018

Electrons are almost unimaginably small, but their tiny size doesn’t mean they can’t be used to poke holes in theories of how the universe works.

Working in a basement lab at Harvard, a group of researchers led by John Doyle, the Henry B. Silsbee Professor of Physics, has been part of a team to make the most precise measurement ever of the shape of the field around an electron, and the results suggest that some theories for what lies beyond the standard model of physics need to return to the drawing board. The study is described in a recently published...

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Study examines how mammal backbones changed during evolution

Study examines how mammal backbones changed during evolution

October 19, 2018

Just about any elementary school student can rattle off the characteristics that make mammals special: They’re warm-blooded, have fur or hair, and nearly all are born alive.

A new study suggests mammals are unique in one more way — the makeup of their spines.

Led by Associate Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and curator of vertebrate paleontology Stephanie Pierce and postdoctoral researcher Katrina Jones, the study challenges the notion that specialization in mammal backbones dates back to the earliest land animals. The research is described in a September...

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Evelynn Hammonds

Evelynn Hammonds Elected to National Academy of Medicine Membership

October 15, 2018
The National Academy of Medicine (NAM) announced the election of Professor Evelynn Hammonds to its regular membership during its annual meeting. Election to the Academy is considered one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine and recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievement and commitment to service. Evelynn was acknowledged... Read more about Evelynn Hammonds Elected to National Academy of Medicine Membership
Soft robotic arm offers dexterity similar to a human hand’s

Soft robotic arm offers dexterity similar to a human hand’s

October 3, 2018

The human arm can perform a wide range of extremely delicate and coordinated movements, from turning a key in a lock to gently stroking a puppy’s fur. The robotic “arms” on underwater research submarines, however, are hard, jerky, and lack the finesse to be able to reach and interact with creatures such as jellyfish or octopuses without damaging them.

Previously, the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and collaborators developed a range of soft robotic...

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Why your online data isn’t safe

October 2, 2018

Until recently, the presumptive targets for massive data theft were considered to be companies that lacked sophisticated cybersecurity or didn’t take the issue seriously enough.

But since late 2016, some of the biggest names in cutting-edge tech have seen their most sensitive customer data — including the content of emails, credit card numbers, and cellphone numbers — fall into the hands of hackers, or in some cases shared such data with third parties without the consumers’ knowledge or consent.

The list is getting long fast. Thieves downloaded information on 25 million U.S. Uber...

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