Taking inspiration from nature, Harvard researchers designed a new type of soft, robotic gripper that uses a collection of thin tentacles to entangle and ensnare objects, similar to how jellyfish collect stunned prey. Alone, individual tentacles, or filaments, are weak. But together, the collection of filaments can grasp and securely hold heavy and oddly shaped objects.
History at hand
This timeline, sprinkled throughout the page, explores ingenious gadgets and devices from historical collections all across Harvard.
Built around 1550
The astrolabe was a multi-purpose tool, which served as a sky map, timepiece, astronomical computer, navigational aid, and surveying instrument. It was invented sometime before the fourth century CE, although the mathematics that underlies it was known in Greek circles 400 years earlier.
Built in 1636
Rectangular ivory diptych sundial
The ivory diptych sundial was a time-finding tool of the early modern period, which could be conveniently carried in a pocket. The example shown here was adjustable for use in different latitudes from 42° and 54°. The sundial included a wind vane, magnetic compass, a list of cities and their latitudes, and several different types of vertical and horizontal sundials that not only found the time in three different hour systems but also the lengths of day and night and the Sun’s place in the Zodiac throughout the year.
Educational coding robot
Root Robotics’ educational Root coding robot got its start as a summer research project at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering in 2011 and subsequently developed into a robust learning tool that is being used in over 500 schools to teach children between the ages of 4 and 12 how to code in an engaging, intuitive way.
Built in 1837
Cupping sets were used for a form of alternative medicine that involved creating suction on the skin with the application of heated cups.
Built in 1968
Dubbed the Boston Arm, it activated when the wearer tried to move their missing lower arm. The biceps or triceps muscle in their residual limb generated a faint electrical signal that was amplified by electrodes taped to the skin and sent to a motor inside the prosthesis. The motor, powered by a battery pack worn on a belt, turned a screw that bent or straightened the artificial elbow.
There’s a saying in the Loparo lab: You don’t do experiments on Chuck Norris; Chuck Norris does experiments on you. In this case, Norris refers not to the Hollywood action hero but to a custom-built microscope named after him.
Norris and his brethren—including Robocop, Rambo, the Buffybot, and B.A. Baracus—help Joe Loparo and his team in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School reveal how cells duplicate DNA and tolerate or repair DNA damage.
Built in 1931
Microtome tissue slicer
Manufactured in 1931, Arboretum director William “Ned” Friedman is in no hurry to replace this tissue slicer, which shaves off extremely thin slices of plant or animal material so they can be viewed under a microscope.
Built in 1890
This instrument would attach to the wrist and record the pulse as waves on recording paper.