Faculty News

Richard Lewontin 1976

In Memoriam: Richard Lewontin 1929-2021

July 9, 2021

It is with profound sadness that we share the news that OEB Professor Richard (Dick) Lewontin died on Sunday, July 4th, he was 92. Professor Lewontin is considered one of the most brilliant population geneticists and pioneered the study of genetic variation among humans and other animals. He was a much loved and respected member of the department as well as more broadly at Harvard and, indeed, worldwide.

Professor Lewontin retired in 2003, but remained active until recent years. He...

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The carbonate chimneys at the Point Dume methane seep off southern California are covered with colorful microbial mats and permeated by methane-eating microbes. Courtesy of the Schmidt Ocean Institute

Microbes in Ocean Play Important Role in Moderating Earth’s Temperature

June 14, 2021

Methane is a strong greenhouse gas that plays a key role in Earth’s climate. Anytime we use natural gas, whether we light up our kitchen stove or barbeque, we are using methane.

Only three sources on Earth produce methane naturally: volcanoes, subsurface water-rock interactions, and microbes. Between these three sources, most is generated by microbes, which have deposited hundreds of gigatons of methane into the deep seafloor. At seafloor methane seeps, it percolates upwards toward the open ocean, and microbial communities consume the majority of this...

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Tree Canopy

New Study Finds Leaf Surface Water Contributes to Total Canopy Water Content

June 7, 2021

Water availability is essential to terrestrial plants, especially tall canopy trees. Satellite observations at microwave frequencies make it possible to assess total canopy water content and plant stress. However, leaf surface water -- water coming from dew, fog and rainfall -- is often overlooked when interpreting changes in canopy water content. An increasing body of evidence, though, indicates that plants might rely more than originally thought on these nonconventional water sources.

In a recent study in ...

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Resting Buds courtesy of Kristel Schoonderwoerd

More Species of Trees with Naked Resting Buds than Previously Believed

May 24, 2021

The bud scales of resting buds (buds that form at the end of a growth season which lie dormant until the next growth season) of temperate trees are thought to provide essential winter protection. However naked buds (buds without bud scales) are often considered rare occurrences in temperate climates.

In a study in New Phytologist PhD candidate Kristel Schoonderwoerd (Friedman Lab) and Ned...

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Mahadevan_MIT Robot Wig

Harvard and MIT Develop Hair-Brushing Robot

May 5, 2021

L. Mahadevan teamed with MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory to develop a hair-brushing robot. The robotic arm has a sensorized soft brush, camera with force feedback, and closed-loop control.

The robot, which can identify different hair types and groom accordingly, could be an assest in assistive-care settings.  MIT News shares a video of the robot in action. 

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Naomi Pierce and Benton Taylor 2021 Climate Fund

Naomi Pierce and Benton Taylor awarded Harvard Climate Change Solutions Fund

April 22, 2021

Professors Naomi Pierce and Benton Taylor along with seven other Harvard research teams will share $1 million in the seventh round of the Climate Change Solutions Fund (CCSF). The award was established by President Emerita Drew Gilpin Faust in 2014 to support research and policy initiatives intended to reduce the risks of climate change.

Naomi Pierce won for her proposal, "Prospecting for Functional Materials in the Entomology...

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DANNCE in Motion

3D deep neural network precisely reconstructs freely-behaving animal's movements

April 19, 2021

Animals are constantly moving and behaving in response to instructions from the brain. But while there are advanced techniques for measuring these instructions in terms of neural activity, there is a paucity of techniques for quantifying the behavior itself in freely moving animals. This inability to measure the key output of the brain limits our understanding of the nervous system and how it changes in disease.

A new study by researchers at Duke University and Harvard University introduces an automated tool that can readily capture behavior of freely behaving animals and...

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Roe Deer courtesy of Nathan Ranc

Memory Drives the Foraging Behavior of Large Wild Mammals

April 13, 2021

A recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that the foraging decisions of roe deer are guided primarily by memory, and not sensory perception alone.

The cognitive processes underlying the foraging decisions of large mammals in nature are not well understood, in part because it has been difficult to disentangle the effects of sensory perception and memory on the animals’ movements. Nathan Ranc (Ph'D '...

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