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The Web

The global information resource spun out of research into fundamental physics

By Michael Moyer

The Vibrator

One of the first electrical appliances made its way into the home as a purported medical device

By Mara Hvistendahl

The Stirrup

Invention of the stirrup may rival that of the longbow and gunpowder

By Gary Stix

The Placenta

An eggshell membrane evolved into the organ that lets fetuses grow in the womb

By Davide Castelvecchi

The Pill

Infertility treatments led to reproductive liberation

By Christine Soares

The Paper Clip

Despite its shortcomings, the iconic design will likely stick around

By Peter Brown

The Mechanical Loom

Programmable textile machinery provided inspiration for the player piano and the early computer

By Jonathon Keats

The Eye

What was half an eye good for? Quite a lot, actually

By Davide Castelvecchi

The Color Blue

The natural pigment was once a "precious" color

By Peter Brown

The Blueprint

A failure for photography, it was long irreplaceable for duplicating house plans

By Jonathon Keats


They long predate the smile

By Christine Soares

Tectonic Plates

The long, strange trip of continental drift

By Graham P. Collins

Scotch Tape

Most new inventions quickly fall into oblivion; some stick

By Davide Castelvecchi

Religious Thought

Belief in the supernatural may have emerged from the most basic components of human cognition

By Michael Moyer

Recorded Music

The first recordings remained silent for 150 years

By Michael Moyer


The simple magic of their shape and colors still puzzles

By George Musser

Paper Money

A substitute for coins turned into a passport for globalization

By Mara Hvistendahl


Large brains may have led to the evolution of amour

By Kate Wong


It emerged not with a quick flip of the switch but with a slow breaking of the dawn

By George Musser


An inquisitive Swiss chemist sent himself on the first acid trip

By Gary Stix


Its probability-based view of misfortunes helped to shape the scientific outlook

By Bruce Grierson

Graphical Perspective

"Realistic" imagery depends on relatively recent cultural assumptions and technical skills

By George Musser

Gamma Rays

To create one typically means you have to destroy something, be it a single particle or an entire star

By George Musser


Barbs became plumes long before birds took wing--in fact, long before birds

By Christine Soares

Facial Expressions

Our unique expressiveness may have a three-million-year-old pedigree

By Kate Wong

External Ears

They guide sound to the sensitive middle ear

By Christine Soares


The answer to the age-old riddle is biologically obvious

By Michael Moyer

Economic Thinking

Even apparently irrational human choices can make sense in terms of our inner logic

By Davide Castelvecchi


Its hardness is natural; its value is not

By Michael Moyer


The yummy baked good is one of America's first and finest contributions to world cuisine

By George Musser

Coriolis Effect

The earth's spin influences hurricanes but not toilets

By Graham P. Collins


Preparing foods with fire may have made us humans what we are

By Melinda Wenner


Their origin is one of the deepest questions in modern physics

By George Musser


Mixing the bitter treat with milk was the popular breakthrough

By Davide Castelvecchi


When a cells controls break down, chaos is unleashed

By Christine Soares


Structure, strength and storage in one package

By Christine Soares


Their inventor may not have known how they actually work

By Davide Castelvecchi

Ball Bearings

Cheap steel was key to allowing the routine design of parts that rolled against one another

By Peter Brown


The small fry of the solar system have troubled pasts

By George Musser

Artificial Heart

Did the wrong man get credit for the world's first permanent pump?

By Michael Moyer


Not needed, but not useless

By Christine Soares


These wonder-drug molecules might have evolvedto help bacteria speak with their neighbors, not kill them

By Jessica Snyder Sachs


Solving the riddle of its lethal contagion modernized the understanding of disease

By Bruce Grierson


The viral infections origin among apes might hold a key for someday taming it

By Christine Soares

The Origin of Computing

The information age began with the realization that machines could emulate the power of minds

By Martin Campbell-Kelly

The Origin of the Mind

The first step in figuring out how the human mind arose is determining what distinguishes our mental processes from those of other creatures

By Marc Hauser

Origins: The Start of Everything

Where do rainbows come from? What about flying cars, love and LSD?

By Davide Castelvecchi, Graham P. Collins, Bruce Grierson, Mara Hvistendahl, Jonathon Keats, Michael Moyer, George Musser, Christie Nicholson, Ricki Rusting, Jessica Snyder Sachs, Christine Soares, Gary Stix, Kate Wong, Melinda Wenner and Philip Yam


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