Tag Archives: Harvard

Body of Knowledge: A History of Anatomy

March 10th, 2014 | Brain

Giant Skull

A new exhibition on the history of anatomy, Body of Knowledge, opened recently at Harvard and will be on display until December, 2014.

From the Harvard Museum of Science & Culture:

Body of Knowledge” will explore the act of anatomizing not as a process of mapping a finite arrangement of bodily structures, but as a complex social and cultural activity. By means of a diachronic perspective, the exhibit narrative cuts through the multiplicity of anatomical practices, presenting three important moments in the history of anatomy: sixteenth century dissections and anatomical drawings, nineteenth century anatomical practices, and contemporary use of both cadavers and digital technology for anatomic education. “Body of Knowledge” hopes to capture the complexity of the many people, places, and meanings involved in human dissection.

Seen above is Harris P. Mosher lecturing at Harvard Medical School in 1929. The giant skull was made in the 1890s and is a piece in the new exhibit. I’d love to have that on display in my living room!


Robotic Insects Make Flight

May 5th, 2013 | Robot

Robotic Insects

Robotic Insects 2

Robotic Insects

For the first time in history, a controlled robotic insect has taken flight.  A team led by researchers at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard have created RoboBees which can achieve vertical takeoff, hovering, and steering.  The robotic insects are half the size of a paperclip and weigh less than 1/10th of a gram.

This achievement is the culmination of over 10 years of work across many laboratories at Harvard.  A major challenge has been manufacturing parts at a such a small scale.  “We had to develop solutions from scratch, for everything,” explains Robert J. Wood, principal investigator of the RoboBee Project. “We would get one component working, but when we moved onto the next, five new problems would arise. It was a moving target.”

Technical Design

The flight dynamics were inspired by the movement of a fly, with submillimeter-scale anatomy and two wafer-thin wings that flap 120 times/sec.

“The tiny robot flaps its wings with piezoelectric actuators—strips of ceramic that expand and contract when an electric
Robotic Insects 3
field is applied. Thin hinges of plastic embedded within the carbon fiber body frame serve as joints, and a delicately balanced control system commands the  rotational motions in the flapping-wing robot, with each wing controlled independently in real-time.”

The control system had to be extremely robust due to the small scales in which the robot operates, and it all has to be mounted on board the flying insect. The team went through approximately 20 prototypes in the last 6 months, but thanks to a revolutionary Pop-Up Manufacturing Process, they were able to build reliable prototypes and test them aggressively.

Next Steps

“Now that we’ve got this unique platform, there are dozens of tests that we’re starting to do, including more aggressive control maneuvers and landing,” says Wood.

After that, the team will work to make the robotic insects fly autonomously and wirelessly.  This is involve upgrades to the flight algorithms, power source, and several communication components.

“This project provides a common motivation for scientists and engineers across the university to build smaller batteries, to design more efficient control systems, and to create stronger, more lightweight materials,” says Wood. “You might not expect all of these people to work together: vision experts, biologists, materials scientists, electrical engineers. What do they have in common? Well, they all enjoy solving really hard problems.”

“I want to create something the world has never seen before,” adds co-lead author Kevin Y. Ma. “It’s about the excitement of pushing the limits of what we think we can do, the limits of human ingenuity.”

It will be exciting to see where this technology goes.

For a link to the paper published recently in Science, go here.


Photos courtesy of Kevin Ma and Pakpong Chirarattananon

[via Harvard Gazette]

Radiologists Can’t Find a Gorilla – Selective Attention

February 11th, 2013 | Brain

Before reading this post, watch the 2 videos below:

If you’re like 50% of the people who watch the first video, you did not notice a gorilla pounding his chest in the middle of the scene.  And if you are already familiar with that one, the second video can trick you in a new way.  The basic idea of selective attention is that individuals have a tendency to process information from only one part of the environment with the exclusion of other parts.  This can be extremely important in every day life.  Consider for instance, you are driving through an intersection, and you are only looking for other cars that might hit you. While focusing on the cars, you may miss seeing a kid crossing on his bicycle.

And even more striking evidence for the importance of selective attention has recently come out of the Wolfe Lab at Harvard, it was demonstrated that radiologists may also suffer from this phenomenon at some level. The radiologists were given the image below…

Selective Attention

and were asked to search for cancerous nodules in the image. Surprisingly, 83% of the professionally trained doctors didn’t notice a size-able gorilla shaking its arm at them.

This effect worked because cancerous nodules will show up as white circles on the image, so they are “inattentionally blind” to the black gorilla — the same reason you may have missed the gorilla in the video.

Here’s how one commenter broke it down:

“I’m a radiologist. Air on xray/CT is black. The gorilla in this CT image is black. Black things in the lungs usually have no clinical significance. Cancer is white. Pneumonia is white. Acute disease (other than a collapsed lung) is white. A collapsed lung is not in this location. While the “fact” that all the radiologists missed the gorilla may be shocking to lay people, the reality is that, given appearance/location/etc in this “experiment”, it just doesn’t matter.”

Gaining a better understanding of how our brain processes information can hopefully lead to safety nets that prevent mistakes.


The Most Astonishing Fact

March 9th, 2012 | Space

The Most Astounding Fact - Neil deGrasse Tyson

Neil Degrasse Tyson is a bit of a hero of mine. He is an American Astrophysicist who earned his undergraduate degree from Harvard, Masters from The University of Texas at Austin, and his doctorate from Columbia University. He has devoted much of his life to science education and communication.

The video above is an edit of a TIME interview with Dr. Tyson by Max Schlickenmeyer.  Time asked him “What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the Universe?” and this was his answer. Did he rehearse this?  Amazing!

It reminds me of the Sagan series videos I posted when I first started this site, found here.  Definitely try to watch those if you enjoyed this one.


[via Neatorama]