Brainiac

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

BRAINIAC

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.

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A test for creating a family tree for aliens

A Harvard astronomer devises a test to determine if life on distant planets came from a common source.

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Using proof to create a perfect computer system

Researchers set out to create a proof that shows a computer system has no bugs.

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Surviving a breakup? It’s all about you

A new study finds that people who believe breakups say something about who they are have a harder time moving on.

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An app for the blind that describes the world

A Boston software developer created the app, which speaks the names of objects it sees.

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A Woods Hole scientist attempts to drill through the earth’s crust

The biggest scientific question the crew hopes to answer is the composition of the crust itself.

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Exercise: Do a little, get a lot

Better health is only a few more trips up and down the staircase away.

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The price of fairness

A new study finds kids are willing to make sacrifices to correct unfair situations.

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300-year-old voices in a stash of unopened letters

“Signed, Sealed, and Undelivered” catalogs 2,600 letters that never got where they were going.

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Mapping the flow of flavor particles

A Yale study charts how flavor particles get from the mouth into the nasal cavity.

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Standardized testing works, depending on where you go to school

A new study provides the first evidence of the long-term effects of standardized testing.

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Mapping the flow of flavor particles

A Yale study charts how flavor particles get from the mouth into the nasal cavity.

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Light-weight elevated trains as the future of Boston

A Cambridge designer has proposed a retro idea to replace all MBTA routes.

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The worst band to play a James Bond song would be . . .

A new book looks at what makes a 007 song killer.

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Old New England churches come into focus

A new exhibition at BSA Space presents photographs of churches in the region.

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Bringing big data to bear on organ failure

A BU physicist pioneers the field of network physiology.

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Why a single win in college football is worth millions of dollars

A Harvard Business School professor quantifies the value of a win in college football.

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Decades later, a stellar mystery is solved

A Harvard astronomer figures out where the dust around white dwarf stars comes from.

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A photographer and a physicist team up

At MIT, an unusual collaboration is working to produce better underwater photographs.

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How the tiniest light could supercharge computers

A Harvard physicist creates a zero-index metamaterial for use in optical computing.

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Mapping the Internet’s secret cables

A computer scientist has created the first public map of the Internet in the United States.

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The placebo effect grows (but only in the US)

Whatever the explanation, changes in the placebo effect have implications for the kinds of drugs that patients receive.

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The tree of life for birds comes into view

Evolutionary biologists are rapidly figuring out who’s related to whom in the bird world.