When Rebecca Senf began doing research for a show about LIGHT, the pioneering photography gallery in New York, she pored over the lists of photographers she might interview. LIGHT ran from 1971 to 1987 — “a pivotal time for photography,” she says — and she wanted to get the story right.

The octopus makes the perfect prototype for a soft robot, capable of tasks ranging from ship inspections to manufacturing assembly. With a $2.1 million grant, researchers are aiming to put the animal’s secrets to work.

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