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University of Cambridge

  1. How Well Does Your Computer Know You? Machines May Understand Us Better Than Our Friends or Family

    Time to embrace our robot overlords.

    According to Wu Youyou, lead author on a study published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, "the human-computer interactions depicted in science fiction films such as Her seem to be within our reach." Yay?

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  2. Tea Kettles: How do They Work? Science Finally Has an Answer

    Tip us over and explain yourselves, science!

    We know that tea kettles whistle, but we didn't know how they whistled until this morning when we read the newly discovered explanation in the journal Physics of Fluids. Heck, we didn't even know that we didn't know how it worked. Why not put the kettle on and read this while making yourself a nice cup of tea?

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  3. Today in Geek History: Watson and Crick Discover DNA

    60 years ago today, one of the most important discoveries in the history of modern science was announced, as is right and proper, at a bar. On February 28, 1953 in the Eagle Pub, James Watson and Francis Crick first spoke publicly about their discovery of the structure of the most fundamental building block of life, deoxyribonucleic acid -- or DNA if that's too much of a mouthful.

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  4. Quadruple Helix DNA Discovered In Human Cells, Is The Double Rainbow Of Molecular Information Storage

    A team of researchers at Cambridge University have spotted the first instances of DNA with four helices present inside human cells. The Cambridge team hopes their findings could have implications for treating cancer, but the discovery more broadly suggests that we still may have a lot to learn about the basic structure of DNA and the shapes it can potentially take.

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  5. Early Land-Dwelling Animals Moved About Like Seals, Probably Didn’t Balance Balls on Their Noses

    One of the greatest nemeses of any paleontologist, aside from scarce government grants and scant paychecks, is the very rock they chip away at to reach the fossils within. Most of the time it shatters with the well-placed strike of a hammer and chisel, but there are frustrating occasions when rock decides to be an impenetrable jerk for the day and hold fossils hostage. That's an especially frustrating result when the fossils in question that could potentially reshape an entire field of study. New applications of technology are making it possible to get around -- or at least inside -- stubborn rocks that refuse to yield their fossilized secrets. One team of researchers did just that when they used powerful X-rays to scan and analyze the fossil remains of early tetrapods, revealing that their unique bone structure meant they walked about like modern day seals. Which is really kind of adorable the more you think about it.

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  6. Super Fun Happy Slide? Carnivorous Plant Leaves Act as Water Slides for Insect Prey

    Wondering what the most fun way to be gruesomely devoured alive is? Wonder no more. Microscopic hairs coat the surface of carnivorous pitcher plants, and when those hairs get wet, watch out --  just a little rain can turn the plant walls into water slides for the insects the plant preys upon, sending them careening helplessly down into the stomach of the plant. You can see the slippery slide in action in the video below, as ants crawl adeptly over the dry plant, but drop helplessly into the wet one like characters in a Benny Hill sketch.

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  7. Pygmy Mole Crickets Can Jump From Water’s Surface, Can’t Turn It Into Wine

    While they certainly aren't capable of curing lepers of their grievous affliction, restoring the sight of the blind, or other supernatural deeds -- insects just don't make ideal religious messiahs -- pygmy mole crickets might as well be some creature of the divine since the little buggers can actually jump from the surface of the water just as adeptly as if they were on dry land. While pond skaters are hoarding all the recognition due to their being more universally recognizable, pygmy mole crickets may soon change all that once they take aquatic insect locomotion to the extreme!

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  8. Researchers Study Owls For Clues to Reducing Aircraft Noise, Making Planes More Interesting to Hipsters

    Remember when Harry Potter fans all wanted pet owls, but then realized that they are vicious winged harbingers of death? Turns out they're also silent harbingers of death, and new research is examining how owls stay so quiet in flight. The goal of the study is to make modern aircraft more silent and owl-like. We suggest building an aircraft made from feathers and that runs on mice.

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  9. In Space, Someone Might Actually Hear You Scream From This Satellite

    A group of student satellite engineers at Cambridge University has taken issue with the famed tagline of Ridley Scott's 1979 horror masterpiece Alien, and is making a valiant effort to make your screams heard from space. The project is part of a collaboration between the group Cambridge University Space Flight and British space company Surrey Satellite Technology that will test how well a satellite in orbit can be controlled from a smartphone-based guidance system, while also handily frightening off any extraterrestrial invaders who happen be hovering around the planet.

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  10. Cambridge Offering Free Online Course on DIY OS Building for Raspberry Pi

    Want to build your own computer using the super cheap guts provided by Raspberry Pi but don't know where to start? Ever wanted to work in a customized operating system you know like the back of your hand? You're in luck. Cambridge University in the UK is offering a series of free courses online that will teach you how to build your own OS for Raspberry Pi from scratch in just 12 (relatively speaking) easy steps. Finally, all of us computer illiterates who were convinced that even we could design a better OS than Vista will have a chance to prove it.

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  11. Watch a Mouse Embryo Grow Before Your Very Eyes

    How many of us have lain awake at night, wondering what a mouse embryo looks like during the early stages of its three week gestation? Well, you can find all your answers here thanks to an ongoing series from Cambridge University called "Under the Microscope." The most recent video shows seven days of mouse embryo growth, taking it from something that resembles a newt to something that almost resembles a mouse. More than just being interesting, researcher Erica Watson explains that because mice us similar genes during fetal development, there's a lot humans can learn from their rodent companions. Piqued your interest? See the video after the break.

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  12. Study: Circadian Rhythm Exists at the Red Blood Cell Level

    It's no coincidence that you pop wide awake just moments before your daily alarm buzzes to life: Humans, and possibly all other living creatures, have an internal circadian clock that ticks along 24 hours a day. This clock controls everything from sleep cycles to migration patterns, and has even been found in life as basic as algae. Scientists previously assumed that these rhythms were connected to DNA and genes, but a new study from the Institute of Metabolic Science at the University of Cambridge has pinpointed the origin of the circadian clock to red blood cells (which don't contain DNA). The study was conducted by isolating red blood cells and observing their peroxiredoxin protein levels, which were then discovered to be responsible for the 24 hour clock. Much like we need an internal clock to chaperone our bodies throughout the day, individual cells need a clock to plan out their own routine.

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  13. Cambridge Defends Student’s Thesis When Banks Ask to Have It Censored

    Chip and PIN is a credit security system which consists of an embedded microchip in a credit or debit card for payment authentication; while it's had a hard time catching on in the United States, where magnetic stripes on cards remain the norm, chip and PIN is a major presence in the UK and Europe, and it recently gained a major toehold in Canada with Visa's adoption of the system. While chip and PIN is meant to correct security weaknesses inherent in the magnetic stripe system, it has flaws. A Cambridge computer science graduate student named Omar Choudary documented several of these flaws in an MPhil thesis and suggested improvements to the system. The response of the UK Cards Association, which describes itself as "the leading trade association for the cards industry in the UK": Asking Cambridge to censor Choudary's work on the grounds that it "breaches the boundary of responsible disclosure." In the words of the Cards Association, "Our key concern … is that this type of research was ever considered suitable for publication by the University. It gives us cause to worry that future research, which may potentially be more damaging, may also be published in this level of detail." Cambridge professor and security theorist Ross Anderson didn't see it that way: In a withering letter back to the trade group, he defended the publication of the thesis, saying that "Cambridge is the University of Erasmus, of Newton, and of Darwin; censoring writings that offend the powerful is offensive to our deepest values."

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  14. Twilight To Be Taught in Cambridge Literature Class

    Soon, students at Cambridge University will be getting a new supplement to their educations: books from Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series. According to BBC News, a newly-opened Cambridge center for the study of children's literature (they call it a "centre," naturally) will cover, among other things, Twilight, the Harry Potter series, and video games as works of literature. In an interview, the soon-to-be director of the center/centre dismissed suggestions that Twilight and other contemporary series are "trash," and even said that academics had something to learn about ethics from the series:

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