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Science + Technology

In a basement office at Purdue University in Indiana, associate professor of engineering practice Brad Duerstock has designed a special space.

The message from Google's developers' conference is clear: The company is prepared to take on competitors as well as regulators.

CEO Sundar Pichai and his team were flexing. Big time.

Through a litany of product announcements at the so-called I/O annual conference in Mountain View, Calif. — messaging apps, a personal virtual assistant and a voice-controlled speaker that connects you with it -- the company basically said:

Before there was Star Wars' C-3PO and the robot who famously warned of "Danger, Will Robinson!" on TV's Lost in Space, there was Eric — one of the world's first real robots. He was built in 1928, less than a decade after the word "robot" was first used.

As researchers work to understand the human genome, many questions remain, including, perhaps, the most fundamental: Just how much of the human experience is determined before we are already born, by our genes, and how much is dependent upon external environmental factors?

Oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross the answer to that question is complicated. "Biology is not destiny," Mukherjee explains. "But some aspects of biology — and in fact some aspects of destiny — are commanded very strongly by genes."

The massive bleaching hitting the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia is likely that country's "biggest ever environmental disaster," says Dr. Justin Marshall, who has studied the reef for three decades.

Only 7 percent of the reef has escaped bleaching, according to researchers at the ARC Center of Excellence. Marshall, a professor at the University of Queensland, says the destructive phenomenon is happening in an area the size of Scotland.

A few weeks ago, Dr. James Bale saw a series of MRI images in a medical journal of MRI scans of babies infected with Zika in the womb.

They scans showed something Bale had seen only a few times in his 30-year career: a phenomenon called fetal brain disruption sequence.

As the fetus's brain starts to grow, it creates pressure, which pushes on the skull and causes it to grow. But if something stops brain growth — such as a virus — pressure on the skull drops. And the skull can collapse down onto the brain.

Updated at 3 p.m. ET.

Out in the Nevada desert today, the world got a good look at the first public test of the Hyperloop — a concept that could someday become a new mode of transportation.

Don't call it a Wright Brothers' "Kitty Hawk" moment just yet, though. The demo focused on only one piece of a very complicated system.

If you can dream it, you can do it, right? Right? Well ... not so fast. While fantasizing feels good and believing in yourself is surely better than not, research shows that keeping your head in the clouds can keep you, er, from reaching the stars. This week Shankar talks with psychologist Gabriele Oettingen, author of Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside The New Science Of Motivation.

How does a country bring its people into the 21st century without pumping huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere? This challenge is more acute in India than anywhere else. Though India already has the third-largest carbon footprint in the world, around 400 million people still don't have access to reliable electricity.

When you're settling in to watch a movie, and the music starts playing, it's hard to ignore the names that flash first in the opening credits: The Director. The Big Stars.

Name placement matters in academia, too. A recent study reveals there's a gender gap in who gets top billing on medical studies published in several of the most prestigious research journals.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect Strava's latest figures for the number of GPS-tracked activities uploaded to its database.

Cyclists often find themselves pedaling between huge trucks and speeding cars or stranded when protected bike lanes abruptly end at busy intersections.

Chris Cassidy moved to San Francisco in 2005. He used to cycle through Market Street, a busy downtown thoroughfare.

Deep in the ocean, a mission is underway to explore the "unknown and poorly known areas" around the Mariana Trench.

SpaceX has done it again. Launching from Cape Canaveral, Fla., early Friday morning, the company successfully landed part of its Falcon 9 rocket on a floating barge. A second part or "stage" continued into space, carrying a communications satellite.

Scientists have had a literal breakthrough off the coast of Mexico.

After weeks of drilling from an offshore platform in the Gulf of Mexico, they have reached rocks left over from the day the Earth was hit by a killer asteroid.

For several decades now, Georgia Tech professor Tom Conte has been studying how to improve computers: "How do we make them faster and more efficient next time around versus what we just made?"

Last week, there was a big development in the long-running, bitter, complicated battle over a 9,000-year-old set of bones known variously as "Kennewick Man" or "The Ancient One," depending on whom you ask.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirmed that the ancient bearer of the bones is genetically linked to modern-day Native Americans. Now, under federal law, a group of tribes that has been fighting to rebury him will almost certainly get to do so.

Bioethicist Jessica Pierce includes pets — or "animal companions" — among her family members: a cat, two dogs and fish.

So, it's startling to read this passage near the beginning of her new book released this week, Run, Spot, Run: The Ethics of Keeping Pets:

Authorities have issued a mandatory evacuation order for the 80,000 residents of Fort McMurray in Alberta, where a wildfire has taken hold in the oil sands region. According to officials, it's the largest evacuation order caused by fire in the province's history.

The Solar Impulse 2 landed in the Phoenix area Monday night, welcomed by spectators at Goodyear Airport as the plane's pilots continue their quest to be the world's first solar powered airplane to fly around the Earth.

The 745-mile trip took nearly 16 hours — less time than expected, largely due to powerful tailwinds. The plane reached a maximum altitude of 22,000 feet.

From member station KJZZ in Phoenix, Andrew Bernier tells our Newscast unit:

This week on Hidden Brain: Traffic. You hate it, we hate it, the rest of the world hates it, and it only seems to be getting worse. But is there a way to make roads safer and faster? Of course! (We just normally do the opposite).

A trio of newly discovered Earth-sized planets looks ideally suited to search for signs that these alien worlds might be able to support life.

The planets orbit close to an unusually small, reddish star that's about one-eighth the size of our sun and is far cooler, researchers report in the journal Nature.

Though it's the world's top infectious killer, tuberculosis is surprisingly tricky to diagnose. Scientists think that video gamers can help them create a better diagnostic test.

An online puzzle released Monday will see whether the researchers are right. Players of a Web-based game called EteRNA will try to design a sensor molecule that could potentially make diagnosing TB as easy as taking a home pregnancy test. The TB puzzle marks the launch of "EteRNA Medicine."

My 5-year-old doesn't know much about astrophysics, but she'll cheerfully tell you that a shooting star is not a star, but a meteor — a bit of science trivia that she picked up from an album of children's songs about science by the band They Might be Giants.

#NPRreads is a weekly feature on Twitter and on The Two-Way. The premise is simple: Correspondents, editors and producers from our newsroom share the pieces that have kept them reading, using the #NPRreads hashtag. Each weekend, we highlight some of the best stories.

You know that feeling when your body is really craving a nice salad, but the only thing in your fridge is day-old pepperoni pizza? And you don't want to go through all the trouble of heading to the grocery store to gather all the ingredients for salad, so you settle for the pizza?

Well, Neanderthals feel you — kind of.

See, researchers are finding that Neanderthals and early humans weren't all that different — they even got together and made babies every now and then.

Its name will be "Red Dragon." And if the latest partnership between SpaceX and NASA works out, the privately funded craft will land on Mars to collect scientific data — possibly within the next two years. The plan is to use the Dragon capsule, but without a human crew.

"SpaceX is planning to send Dragons to Mars as early as 2018," the company said via Facebook Wednesday. "These missions will help demonstrate the technologies needed to land large payloads propulsively on Mars."

People who sustain a concussion or a more severe traumatic brain injury are likely to have sleep problems that continue for at least a year and a half.

I love viral animal videos as much as anyone. Sometimes I share them here, because the good ones can be a way to raise awareness about animal welfare, tune in to animals' intelligence or just enjoy a laugh.

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