Brainiac

Covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more.

Brainiac

Toilet paper at the Temple of Heaven

A digest of big ideas in little bites.

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When ‘reclaiming’ actually means ‘ruining’

A digest of big ideas in little bites.

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Sneakers that order pizza: Has science gone too far?

A digest of big ideas in little bites.

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Had a bad week? You weren’t the only one

A digest of big ideas in little bites.

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A collection of successful complaints, and more

Walt Whitman, Big Data, and of course, La La Land, in this week’s Brainiac.

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Hackers in your brain, ‘Trump and Dump,’ and more

Big ideas in little bits, curated by the Ideas team.

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These scientists are trying to erase memories of fear

Scientists wanted to see if they could erase fear memories in adult mice.

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What sizes and shapes say about seashells

Humans may have reversed the way the ocean and the atmosphere naturally interact.

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The secret life of ants

How ants use crowdsourced decision-making to run their colony.

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In bots we distrust

Can simple adjustments overcome an aversion to algorithms?

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Roses are red; violets are — red? How color terms arise

Does our language shape our worldview, or does our worldview shape our language?

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CSI: Chem trail

Scientists tried to identify every chemical to create a lifestyle profile that tells us what the cellphone owner likes to eat, wear, and do.

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What do you call a school of bones?

Scientists separate batches of bone fragments by layers of the archaeological site, then grind them together into a powder and extract the DNA.

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How climate sparks conflict

The connection between climate change and armed violence is clear.

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Teaching parents to talk math with their kids

A new effort is underway to get parents and caregivers to talk to their young kids about math.

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Songs of passion, scandal from medieval Europe

The first ever English-language translation of the bawdy medieval poet Neidhart.

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Recording the secret lives of cells

MIT bioengineers create a recording device that can be implanted in cells to track their exposure to environmental stimuli.

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The ginseng web

A new book explains how trade in the miracle root ginseng shaped the 18th century.

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Teaching computers to understand non-native English

MIT researchers create the first major database of non-native English.

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Humpback whales are a seal’s best friend

A new study finds humpback whales protect seals (and other marine mammals) from attacking killer whales.

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The curious case of and/or

Children tend to interpret the words differently than adults.

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The downside to being prepared for failure

New research suggests that having a Plan B is not necessarily a good idea.

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When computers read the canon

Debates rage in the digital humanities about computers and comprehension.

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One small step: Robots learn to predict sounds from sights

MIT researchers teach a robot how to predict the sound made by one object striking another.

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How to rearrange your home to impress a date

A new consulting services uses scientific research and feng shui to make your home attractive to would-be romantic partners.

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Fingerprinting photographs

How a Brighton art conservator invented a revolutionary way to date old photographs, and caught a counterfeit.

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A children’s game and a mathematical breakthrough

Mathematicians create a proof related to the card game Set.

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Babar back at Harvard

A new exhibit displays preparatory materials for the fourth Babar book, “ABC de Babar.”

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Male spiders want to mate, but don’t want to die

Spiders have to be sneaky if they don’t want to be cannibalized.

To fight superbugs, a Harvard chemist invents a new way of making antibiotics

A Harvard chemist develops a method for making fully synthetic antibiotics

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The dawn (and rewards) of helicopter parenting

Two new books look at the historical roots and current extremes of helicopter parenting.

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Take two robots and call me in the morning

MIT engineers developed an ingestible origami robot that can do medical work in the stomach.

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What people can learn from algorithms — and algorithms can learn from people

A new book explains how thinking algorithmically can help people make better decisions.

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A gecko walks into a museum...and cleans up

Researchers, inspired by the gecko’s sticky feet, find a new way to remove dust from art.

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A surefire way to tell if your food has gone bad

Researchers in South Korea use a simple laser technique to assess the presence of bacteria on food.

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On the hunt for Planet Nine

Astronomers are trying to understand the likely existence of a massive undiscovered planet.

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Defusing hydrogen peroxide

A chemist at the University of Rhode Island looks for ways to prevent common chemicals from being made into bombs.

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Darwinian evolution in the auto industry

A new paper uses evolutionary biology to understand changes in the diversity of car models

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Bound for Mars, a robot arrives in Boston for training

Northeastern and MIT receive copies of NASA’s Valkyrie robot, which will be part of a manned mission to Mars.

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To get a date, take up space

An expansive posture pays dividends in the dating world.

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It takes a southerner to start (and win) a war

A new study finds that due to a culture of honor, U.S. presidents from the south are more likely to start and win wars

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Physicists grapple with the multiverse

The idea may seem fantastical, but it grows directly out of an effort to explain basic facts about space.

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At Christie’s, early Boston propaganda for sale

An upcoming auction includes a book published in 1634 to convince English citizens to become early New England Colonists.

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Bye-bye traffic lights

According to a team at MIT, in the age of self-driving cars, traffic lights will be unnecessary.

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Beyond the 10,000-hour-rule: Experts disagree about the value of practice

Several new publications come to very different conclusions about how much practice matters.

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A new antidote to aging

Researchers remove senescent cells from mice and undo aging.

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Sounds of a feeding frenzy

How marine mammal predators interact in the Gulf of Maine

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What if the suburbs went on forever?

A new exhibition at MIT imagines the “Future of Suburbia.”

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At an explorer’s dinner, the case of prehistoric mystery meat

Curious students get to the bottom of a decade’s old caper.

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The risks and advantages of giving birth at home

A new study quantifies the risks to giving birth at home versus in a hospital.