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In Focus

Humankind has always strived for a reach that exceeds its grasp, and since time immemorial we’ve pushed past our limitations with the help of


From either the French word for "lock mechanism" or "tool" we now think of gadgets as tangible ways that scientific research is made manifest in our lives.

Watch the soft robot in action
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Tentacle grabber

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.

Learn more about the jellyfish-like grippers

History at hand

This timeline, sprinkled throughout the page, explores ingenious gadgets and devices from historical collections all across Harvard.

A Planispheric Astrolabe (like a pocketwatch for the stars)

Built around 1550

Planispheric astrolabe

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.

Learn more at the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments

A pocket sundial

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.

Learn more at the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments

Animal-inspired robots

Meet Root, the robot that brings coding to life
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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.

Explore everything this robot can do

History at hand
A case with glass cups and brass nobs

Built in 1837

Cupping set

Cupping sets were used for a form of alternative medicine that involved creating suction on the skin with the application of heated cups.

Learn more at the Warren Anatomical Museum

History at hand
A prosthetic arm with a hook

Built in 1968

Myoelectric elbow

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.

Learn more from the Medical School

See the world differently

Learn about these action-packed microscopes
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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.

Read more from Harvard Medical School

History at hand
A person smiling next to a sample slicer

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.

Learn more about the invaluable slicer

History at hand
A leather strap with a metal box on it

Built in 1890


This instrument would attach to the wrist and record the pulse as waves on recording paper.

Explore the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments

The art and science of restoration

The Harvard Art Museums uses a number of devices to assist them in restoring and displaying their collections.