Brainiac

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

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Get a grip: The neuroscience of how we pick things up

Harvard researchers uncover a surprise in the way the brain calculates how hard to grip an object.

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Taking digital photography to a new dimension

A new exhibition at the ICA shows photography and sculptures aren’t as unrelated as they might seem.

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When nature goes silent

A new book shows how “soundscapes” can be used to track changes in the natural world.

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At long last, we know how the firefly glows

A biochemist figured out the last piece in the insect’s chemical reaction.

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In a remote corner of the Internet, art sprouts

A collection of mainframe computer login pages shows the beauty of alphanumeric design.

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For 40 years, computer scientists looked for a solution that doesn’t exist

MIT researchers demonstrate that it’s impossible to find a faster way of computing “edit distance.”

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What the Iran deal can teach us about buying a car

A new book on negotiation highlights tactics that allowed the nuclear agreement to be completed.

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The enduring appeal behind an iconic Boston painting

A new book looks at why Childe Hassam’s “At Dusk” is so popular.

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To build a better drone, study lovebirds

High-speed video footage reveals how lovebirds turn quickly without getting dizzy.

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When two brains really are better than one

Brainpower from several animals can be pooled together to create a superbrain capable of taking on basic motor activities.

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The Canadians are coming!

The relationship between the US and Canada wasn’t always so friendly, a new book shows.

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Capturing the short, furious lives of dragonflies

Dragonflies get their close-up in a new book by a Yale astronomer.

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Thirsty marijuana plants cause concern in California

An ecohydrologist argues that legalization would bring growers into areas of the state where water supplies aren’t as vulnerable.

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How to find cafes and restaurants with the right ambience

A new algorithm analyzes profile pictures from Foursquare to categorize a place.

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A throwable camera that helps officials see dangerous situations

A Cambridge company has created a throwable camera that can help in search-and-rescue efforts.

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This is how sleep deprivation begins

A new study looks at what happens to their sleep when traditional hunter-gatherers move into town.

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Transplanting circadian rhythms from one organism to another

Biologists at Harvard Medical School have E. coli cells on the clock.

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Photography, the art form where luck matters most

A new book looks at how great photographers deal the role that chance plays in their art form.

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‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ turns 150

Celebrations for the anniversary of the beloved tale include an exhibition at Harvard’s Houghton Library.

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Harnessing urban noise to map Earth’s interior

A new technique out of Stanford uses sound waves from ambient noise to see below the surface.

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Success and falls at the robot Olympics

At the recent DARPA Robotics Challenge, 23 teams competed to see whose robot would be most useful in a disaster zone.

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The crucial job interview skill you should be teaching your kids, now

Recruiters at the most prestigious companies look for applicants to “take the reins,” according to a sociologist.

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Capturing the essence of the cuckoo clock

An exhibition at Northeastern University’s Gallery 360 showcases 24 designs that reimagine the iconic clock.

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As ships approach, blue whales don’t know what to do

A new study documents just how bad blue whales are at avoiding collisions with large ships.

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How ‘light’ cigarettes became a lie

A Boston University professor explains how the marketing process affects the meaning of certain product categories.

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Humblebragging: You want to, but you shouldn’t

We’re born self-promoters and also chronically bad at recognizing how others perceive us.

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Homophobia as a weapon in submarine warfare

An activist group’s protest sign tweaks Russian submariners over gay rights.

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The atlas the ocean has been waiting for

“Discovering the Deep” provides the most comprehensive look at the deep ocean floor seen yet.

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Tree roots get their moment in the sun

A Harvard exhibit elevates the profile of the root system.

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Calculating the perfect distance for a Usain Bolt-Mo Farah race

Researchers have devised a new way for predicting a runner’s performance.

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How can a software update make a car faster?

Tesla owners woke up one day to find that their cars had undergone a remarkable transformation overnight.

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Saying goodbye to GDP

A new book argues that economic growth should not go on forever.

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One simple solution for online passwords

However, the proposed system would come with price.

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In South Korea, international adoption as a solution to social problems

The process began in response to mixed-race children after the Korean War and continued for other social stigmas.

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Common cause: African-American objections to nuclear bombs

Activism around racial segregation and nuclear proliferation has a long entanglement that’s the subject of a new book.

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Improving bicycle crash-scene reports improves safety

A Harvard public health researcher argues that better reports are key.

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Pigeons need to know just two things to avoid collisions

A Harvard study looks at flight strategies the birds use to dodge obstacles.

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When a cow is an architect’s best friend

A new book shows how architects are harnessing nature to create innovative buildings.

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Computer users demand the right to ‘undo’

An Internet theorist leads an effort to create basic rights for technology users.

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The softer side of mosasaurus

A new discovery sheds light on how the gigantic sea lizards, which star in the latest Jurassic Park movie, gave birth.

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In World War II, the Allies’ secret weapon

As remarkable as its deceptive actions were, it’s even more surprising how long after the war the Ghost Army remained a secret.

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The secret lives of cells

A digital sculpture provides a big look at a small cellular process.

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Predicting when small fires turn into big ones

At Harvard, a close study of flames begins to answer a longstanding question.

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Teaching scientists how to visualize their data

A new program at Northeastern trains researchers in design methods for sharing what they’ve discovered.

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How to automatically detect the most important people in a photograph

A new program might improve photo-sharing by determining who the most important people are in an image.

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Making a living as a street performer in Boston

What does it take to survive as a busker?

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Explaining the bedbug’s modern comeback

They’ve plagued human beings for as long as we’ve been laying our heads down to sleep.

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An artist walks into the Harvard physics department

Through a series of elegant installations, Kim Bernard makes plain the simple order expressed by physical laws.

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Boston is on track to become the most walkable city in America

Greater Boston is currently the third most walkable metro region in the country, behind Washington and New York.

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Mammal March Madness: Imaginary death matches in the animal kingdom

Just as in the real world’s March Madness, many of the most entertaining matches feature upsets.