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  1. Inflatable Plastic Tentacle Could Be Robot Hand of the Future

    The robot hands of the future have generally been envisioned as cold, steely mimics of our own appendages, exceedingly well equipped for squeezing the life out of their flesh and blood creators with four fingers and a thumb, as God intended. The hand evolution made best for us may not be the one that's most fitting for our coming android overlords. More and more roboticists and engineers are looking into inflatable limbs that can grip a variety of objects as the wave of the future. This week, Harvard got in on the act, with researchers introducing a soft, plastic, tentacle-inspired gripper hand that inflates in individually controlled segments for maximum grip customization. The tentacle can gently hold a flower, readily coil around a piece of plastic, and may one day be the thing that crushes your windpipe like a drinking straw.

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  2. iPhone App Instantly Identifies Super PACs Behind Political Ads

    It's that time of year again. The time when the airwaves are so saturated with political advertisements that you find yourself wishing democracy would go away and leave us clawing one another's eyes out for the world's last remaining loaf of bread in peace. This year promises to be even worse, with money flooding into political action committees and newly unleashed Super PACs swollen with cash money to buy up the commercial space that should be reminding us about fast food items we might like to purchase. With a new mobile app, Super PAC App, you can at least find out who is responsible for the onslaught of presidential campaign ads you're about to be subjected to -- especially if you're one of the poor lost souls in a swing state whose vote might actually count.

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  3. Harvard Researchers Smash DNA Storage Record By Encoding Book, JavaScript and More

    In the interest of technology getting more intimidating the older you get, your future computer is going to be weird. Its processor will switch electrons between quantum states at blazing speeds, and the hard drive might well be biological, storing your family photos, music collection, and Diablo III saves on strands of DNA. A team at Harvard has come one step closer to making DNA storage a practical reality, encoding 11 JPEG images, a Javascript program, and a full book by team leader George Church on a segment of DNA.

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  4. Newly Discovered CYCLOPS Gene Points To Vulnerability in Cancer Cells

    A long-theorized but only recently discovered class of genes may point to an inherent weakness in tumor cells. Even better news? The soft spot in cancer's defenses is present in cells from a wide variety of cancers, meaning that treatments derived from it could be a tool in fighting cancers across the board, not just targeting one or two types. Researchers from MIT, Harvard and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute report on these so-called CYCLOPS genes (the acronym officially stands for Copy number alterations Yielding Cancer Liabilities Owing to Partial losS, but we suspect the name stuck mostly because it just sounds cool) this week in the journal Cell.

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  5. This is What Ramen Looks Like Inside Your Body

    I know that most of you have thought about your health and digestive system while slurping down a bowl of Maruchan instant ramen. However, if you haven't, I'm about to force the issue thanks to a new art-science crossover projected called Mouth to Anus (M2A, not kidding). The brain child of artist Stefani Bardin, working with gastroenterologist Dr. Braden Kuo of Harvard University, the project centers around data from a pill cam that shows you what processed food looks like during digestion. In case you're wondering, the answer is "distressing."

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  6. Today in Vague Headlines: DARPA Has Some Kind of High Tech Fire-Killing Wand

    The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, known to its friends as DARPA, has announced their latest innovation: Instant fire suppression. The goal of the research project, which was part of a joint venture with Harvard University, was to find a better way to put out fires. Instead of conventional tactics, DARPA wanted a high-tech tool that would attack the very physical make up of fire using acoustics and electromagnetism.

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  7. 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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  8. “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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  9. 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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  10. 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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  11. 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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  12. 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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