News

In aerodynamic performance, sharkskin model offers more lift, less drag

February 6, 2018

To build more aerodynamic machines, researchers are drawing inspiration from an unlikely source: the ocean.

A team of evolutionary biologists and engineers at Harvard University, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of South Carolina, has shed light on a decades-old mystery about sharkskin and, in the process, demonstrated a new, bioinspired structure that could improve the aerodynamic performance of planes, wind turbines, drones, and cars.

The research is published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface...

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Harvard’s bionic leaf could help feed the world

Harvard’s bionic leaf could help feed the world

January 31, 2018

As the global population rises toward 10 billion, the planet is headed for a food shortage, with some estimates saying supply will have to double by 2050 to meet demand.

The continued advance of agricultural technology — genetic modification along with new crop varieties and land-management techniques — will cover some of the increased demand. But such technologies will require a dramatic increase in the production of agricultural fertilizers, an energy-intensive process fed by fossil fuels and reliant on a robust manufacturing infrastructure: factories connected to rail and road...

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At Harvard, new grants for climate solutions

January 31, 2018

Climate change poses two fundamental challenges for society: How will cities and regions adapt to the impact we can already see? And, how can society rapidly transform the way it now creates and consumes energy into a fully renewable clean-energy system?

Seven new research projects, awarded funding in the fourth round of grants from Harvard’s Climate Change Solutions Fund, will use the humanities, engineering, science, and design to tackle these twin challenges all over the world, from hospitals in Boston to...

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Mathematicians work to expand pictorial language into other fields

Mathematicians work to expand pictorial language into other fields

January 24, 2018

A picture is worth 1,000 words, the saying goes, but a group of Harvard-based scientists is hoping that it may also be worth the same number of equations.

Pictorial laws appear to unify ideas from disparate, interdisciplinary fields of knowledge, linking them beautifully like elements of a da Vinci painting. The group is working to expand the pictorial mathematical language first outlined last year by Arthur Jaffe, the Landon T. Clay Professor of Mathematics and Theoretical Science, and postdoctoral fellow Zhengwei Liu.

“There is one word you can take away from this: excitement,”...

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Science photos capture world in different light

Science photos capture world in different light

January 19, 2018

Images captured by Harvard researchers often blur the boundary between art and science. From high-powered microscopes to technology that can render biological tissue transparent, new tools are revealing the world in unexpected and compelling ways, expanding our understanding while showcasing unique beauty.

You can see the world in a biofilm, or the universe in a neural network. Jellyfish, seahorses, and turtles fluoresce in the ocean depths, while deadly...

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Harvard research explores impact of coral restoration

Harvard research explores impact of coral restoration

January 11, 2018

Spending hours a day diving around the coral reefs off St. Croix might sound like the stuff of a dream vacation, but for Annie Opel ’17, it was serious business.

Opel spent much of her Virgin Islands adventure on thesis research that shows that efforts to restore coral reefs have a positive impact on fish populations, both short- and long-term. The study was published in the December issue of Marine Biology with Opel as first author, a rare accomplishment for an undergraduate.

“Reefs are not only biologically important — more than 4,000 species of fish rely on these ecosystems —...

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As climate changes, so does wine

As climate changes, so does wine

January 9, 2018

If you want to buy good wine, Elizabeth Wolkovich says, you’re going to want to stop looking at labels and just listen to your taste buds.

An assistant professor of organismic and evolutionary biology, Wolkovich is a co-author of a new study that suggests that, although vineyards may be able to counteract some of the effects of climate change by planting lesser-known grape varieties, scientists and vintners need to better understand the wide diversity of grapes and their adaptions to different climates. The study is described in a Jan. 2 paper in...

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Harvard study illuminates botanical bias

Harvard study illuminates botanical bias

December 22, 2017

When botanists began collecting plant samples for herbaria more than a century ago, their goal was to catalog and understand the diversity of the natural world. These days scientists use the collections to understand the transformative effects of climate change.

The issue, says Barnabas Daru, is that the collections are a flawed fit for that use.

Daru, a postdoctoral fellow in organismic and evolutionary biology working in collaboration with Charles Davis, a professor...

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Harvard researchers gain insights into how tall trees move sugars

Harvard researchers gain insights into how tall trees move sugars

December 18, 2017

Scientists have long assumed that the sugars that nourish trees are pushed by water pressure from the leaves where they are created to the stems and roots where they are needed.

But how do taller trees accomplish that task, given the longer distances the nutrients must travel and the greater force that seems needed to transport them?

A nine-member team of scientists, mostly from Harvard, discovered an answer with a recent study whose findings could also help end a longstanding debate over the dynamics involved in sugar transport in trees....

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Harvard study identifies genetic ‘switches’ that affect height

Harvard study identifies genetic ‘switches’ that affect height

December 7, 2017

The network of factors behind height is becoming clearer, thanks to the work of Harvard scientists.

Led by Associate Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology Terence D. Capellini, a team of researchers discovered hundreds of genetic “switches” that influence height, and then performed functional tests that demonstrated precisely how one switch altered the function of a key gene involved in height differences. The study is described in a Dec. 5 paper in eLife.

“...

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