1. Tech

    Unsettling, Inflatable “Soft” Robot Undulates Its Way Into Our Hearts

    Just a few days after writing about the Ant-Roach, another example of robots that shirk rigid construction has emerged in the form of this delightful little fellow. This soft robot, built by a George M. Whitesides and his research team at Harvard, is capable of walking using only the inflation of specialized compartments for locomotion. The result is a floppy, undulating quadruped that could point the way for the future of robotics.

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  2. Tech

    “Dirt Batteries” to Power Cellphones in Africa

    Harvard researcher Aviva Presser Aiden and her team have snagged a $100,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop and deploy Microbial Fuel Cells (MFCs) to Africa. These devices can be quickly and cheaply assembled, and can generate electricity from ordinary dirt to recharge cellphones. Powering cellphones with dirt batteries may sounds like a trivial development, but it becomes quite pressing when you look at the numbers. 22% of Africans use cellphones, but over 500 million do not have access to electrical power. For these people, recharging a cellphone means walking perhaps for hours to a recharging station and paying for the power. Recharging a phone typically costs between $.50 and $1, which can add up to a significant amount when the average annual income is measured in "several hundred dollars." The dirt batteries work by taking advantage of the natural metabolic processes of certain microbes. These tiny critters occasionally spit out a free electron while going about their normal business. The MFC batteries capture these electrons and put them to use. Aiden has already used similar technology to power lights in areas separated from municipal power, and has kept an LED burning in her lab for 14 months. In addition to being easy to power, the devices can be built from scratch at a very low cost. So low, that researchers believes that users could recoup the cost of materials after a single charge. For the Aiden, the next step will be taking prototypes into the field and introducing them to communities. Her hope is that by familiarizing people with the batteries, they can create their own without any additional help. If successful, these humble microbes may start lighting up communities across the globe. (Harvard via Gamma Squad)

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  3. Science

    This Harvard Entrance Exam from 1899 Will Probably Make You Feel Dumb

    Unless you had a very solid classics education in high school, know the sources of the Danube, the Volga, the Ganges, and the Amazon off the top of your head, and are comfortable tackling some hoary arithmetic and plane geometry without the help of a calculator or Wikipedia, you're likely to find this Harvard entrance exam from 1899 more than a little challenging. (Thanks to the NYT for digging it up.) Granted, Latin and Greek were de rigueur for the well-heeled youths of the day -- they probably would have been stumped at the Spanish and Chinese that today's high school students are learning -- but there are plenty of college graduates today who would flee in terror at that first polynomial equation. Full entrance exam below. How would you do?

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  4. Science

    Worm Mind Control Through Lasers

    A team at Harvard University has recently announced that they have developed a methodology to control the very minds of worms by firing lasers at individual neurons. According to Scientific American, by engineering the worms to be light sensitive, scientists were able to stimulate specific parts of the worms' nervous system through their transparent bodies with observable results. For instance, they can make the worm stop, change direction, and even lay eggs.

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  5. Tech

    Origami You Can Program [Video]

    Researchers at MIT and Harvard have inched a bit closer towards the engineering holy grail that is programmable matter in the form of so-called "programmable origami," a flat surface capable of folding itself into almost any shape. Electric currents driven through tiny motors govern the folding of the object, and shapes are locked into place by small magnets at the edge of each joint.

    Watch it in action after the jump:

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  6. Science

    Pug in a Teen Wolf Costume Baffles Science

    A new study by Harvard psychology researchers claims to have found the real reason why people like to dress pets like people. According to the study, it's not just a matter of anthropomorphizing our pets because we think they're like us (we are using the word "our" in a very general sense here): people also do it to exert control over our environments. That may be true in a general sense, but how, then, do you explain the unique appeal of pug blogger Winnie Wong's pet pug, Shelby, in a Teen Wolf Halloween costume?

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