Archive for 2009

Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ and Stanford: Beyond Sigourney Weaver’s tank top

December 22nd, 2009

Alum Sigourney Weaver as Grace and her Navi avatar. Photo: 20th Century Fox

James Cameron knew his blockbuster Avatar, about a fight for resources between humans and the blue Navi race on planet Pandora, was entertaining and technologically groundbreaking. But did he know when he put scientist Grace’s Navi avatar, played by SIGOURNEY WEAVER, ’72, in a Stanford tank top, how much his movie’s plotline synched with Stanford’s research of virtual worlds and human behavior?
The movie tracks how Jake Sully, a paraplegic Marine, loses sight of his physical self as he spends more time in his Navi avatar. “Everything’s backward now. Like out there is the true world and in here is the dream,’’ the human Sully comments midway through the film.
At Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, researchers have demonstrated that the more time a person spends in an avatar in a virtual world like an online game, the more a person takes on the characteristics of his avatar. The “Proteus Effect,” a concept coined by NICK YEE, a researcher at the Virtual Human Interaction Lab, shows when you have an avatar that’s different from your physical self – like a 12-foot blue, Navi body – you come to behave more like your avatar. Similarly, an engaging stretch of the film where Sully learns how to operate his Navi avatar – his tail and catlike balance – recalls research the lab has done of a concept called “homuncular flexibility.”
Cameron, through unprecedented 3-D, stereoscopic technology and the benefit of limitless imaginative storytelling afforded by film, takes the Proteus Effect to a conclusion that we can’t yet experience. But given how fast technology is developing, how immersive virtual worlds are becoming and how much time people are spending in them, the line between one’s avatar and one’s real self can only get blurrier.

- JEREMY BAILENSON, director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, and JANINE ZACHARIA, a 2008-09 Knight Fellow.

Give a gift, donate blood

December 22nd, 2009

The Stanford Blood Center has a slate of holiday promotions to encourage donors to give during a time of year when there’s often a shortfall in blood supplies. Currently, the blood center is below its minimum inventory in five out of eight blood types, particularly types O-negative and B-negative.

During the center’s “It’s a fare deal” promotion, every person who donates  on the dates listed below can enter a drawing for a gift certificate at a local restaurant. There will be a prize drawing for a $100 gift certificate at each of the center’s three locations in Palo Alto and Mountain View, according to the following schedule:

•    Dec. 26 and 28, Trader Vic’s, Palo Alto
•    Dec. 29, Mantra, Palo Alto
•    Dec. 30, Kan Zeman, Palo Alto
•    Dec. 31, Sundance, Palo Alto; The Cantankerous Fish, Mountain View; and First Crush, San Francisco

The winners will be drawn the first week of January and the certificates will be mailed to the recipients. Other giveaways to help the center get through the holiday slump include:

•    Discount coupons for the Sports Basement that expire Dec. 31
•    Greeting cards featuring children’s artwork
•    AMC movie tickets

More information about the specific dates, locations and details for each promotion are available online at
The blood center is also offering a health and wellness event Jan. 7 from noon to 7:30 p.m. called “Get in the Habit” at the Palo Alto location at 3373 Hillview Ave. Team In Training, a charity sports-training program, will be on hand to showcase the organization’s opportunities to help people get in shape and raise funds to defeat blood cancers at the same time. Attendees also will enjoy health and fitness demonstrations and free healthy cuisine. The event will also include prize drawings for an annual membership to the YMCA and a two-hour consultation with Lift Your Spirits Home Transformations. Donors and non-donors are welcome to attend.

An officer and a funnyman

December 18th, 2009

The Kresge Demolition

Allen James, performing at the Multicultural Springest in 2002, is a man of many talents.

Allen James, performing at the Multicultural Springfest in 2002, is a man of many talents. Photo by L.A. Cicero

NANCI HOWE, associate dean and director of student activities, was on her way to the office earlier this week and noticed two police cars parked in front of Dinkelspiel Auditorium. She saw Deputy ALLEN JAMES of the Stanford Department of Public Safety heading back to one of the cars and questioned why they needed to provide such heavy security for Dinkelspiel, especially during winter break.

“With a twinkle in his eye, he replied, ‘Well, we didn’t do this for Kresge Auditorium, and look what happened to it,’” Howe recalls.

Asked for comment, James said, “It’s one of my better ‘AJisms.’”

Zhi-Xun Shen wins 2009 E.O. Lawrence Award

December 17th, 2009
Zhi-Xun Shen

Zhi-Xun Shen

ZHI-XUN SHEN, a pioneer in the field of materials science, has won the U.S. Department of Energy’s most prestigious science prize, the E.O. Lawrence Award. Shen is the director of the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Science, or SIMES, a joint institute of SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the main Stanford campus. He is the Paul Pigott Professor of Physical Sciences in the departments of Physics and Applied Physics at Stanford, and a professor of photon science at SLAC. His work includes superconducting materials, among other areas, with experiments that may produce improved electronics. Shen, who is among six other distinguished awardees, will receive the award from the secretary of energy, Stanford physics Professor Emeritus STEVEN CHU. The complete announcement is available on the SLAC website.

The Marguerite driver’s got jokes

December 16th, 2009

dish_margueriteA Marguerite Palm Drive Express driver cheered up his busload of passengers early Monday morning when he turned to them as he opened the doors and said, “Just remember, this is the last opportunity you’ll have this year to go to work on a Monday.” The riders cracked up as they disembarked.

Have you heard anything funny or particularly “Stanford” lately? Do tell!

- Linda Cicero

So many books, so little coverage . . .

December 15th, 2009

bookhavenHow do we get the word out about the exciting literary and cultural life at Stanford? CYNTHIA HAVEN, the arts and humanities writer at the News Service, has one answer:  She’s launched a Stanford book blog titled  “The Book Haven.” “Given the reduced coverage on books and book news nationwide, it’s only logical that book lovers change the way we cover Stanford’s book world,” Haven said. The blog will not only cover books per se, but will include readings, lectures, book events, publishing news, library events, literacy studies – “anything to do with the written word.” Consider the current offerings: a new writers’ residence, sponsored by the Djerassi Resident Writers Program, to honor the late English Professor DIANE MIDDLEBROOK; a recent reading by award-winning Iranian writer Shahryar Mandanipour; HERANT KATCHADOURIAN, professor of human biology, emeritus, talk about guilt, and his book of the same name; a lecture by the visionary behind the revived Library of Alexandria, Ismail Serageldin. The target audience for the new year, Haven said, is the world at large – but meanwhile, she considers it a holiday present to the Stanford community. Haven also welcomes comments on the various posts, so please join the conversation. And she invites members of the campus community to send book news to her at Her only proviso is that the news should not have such a narrow or specialized focus that it would elude a general audience. A subscriber button will be added soon; meanwhile, go to the bottom of the main page, click on (Entries) RSS, then at the top of the page choose an option (for example, Google) to “Subscribe to this feed.”

No Heisman, but maybe a Hermann

December 14th, 2009

Kelley O'Hara

While most eyes were on the Heisman Trophy sweepstakes this weekend – more specifically on whether Cardinal running back TOBY GERHART would receive the ultimate college football honor – rumors were rampant that JIM HARBAUGH was being wooed by other football programs. But he insisted Saturday that he planned to remain head coach at Stanford. “I trust this puts an end to these rumors and reports, allowing the focus of fans and the media to shine a bright spotlight on Toby Gerhart today,” Harbaugh said in a statement to the Associated Press.    Harbaugh’s news, which was further confirmed Sunday, was at least some consolation after Gerhart came in second to Alabama’s Mark Ingram for the Heisman in the closest vote in the trophy’s 75-year history . . . Meanwhile, a big prize is still possible for Cardinal soccer forward KELLEY O’HARA, who on Friday became the first Stanford player since JULIE FOUDY in 1992 to be named a finalist for the Hermann Trophy, college soccer’s highest honor. O’Hara, a senior, and the other finalists – UCLA’s Lauren Cheney and North Carolina’s Tobin Heath – are scheduled to be in St. Louis for the award ceremony Jan. 8 . . .  Also on Friday, O’Hara’s coach, PAUL RATCLIFFE, was named as the CaptainU Division I Women’s College Soccer Coach of the Year.

Sharing news of Stanford alumni

December 11th, 2009

Undergraduate Admission recently updated its website to share news of alumni in Boston, Philadelphia and New York with prospective students.

Whom did they highlight?

RUBEN AMARO JR., general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, who was named among the Power Fifty by Philadelphia Magazine; JOHN CUARON, who was named among the 2009 Top Docs by Boston Magazine; and RUTH PORAT, who was named Morgan Stanley’s chief financial officer in New York.

Visit the site to learn what else Undergraduate Admission shares with Stanford’s prospective undergraduate students.

“I’ll be speechless.”

December 10th, 2009

Senior TOBY GERHART learned Monday that he is among five finalists for the Heisman Trophy, the nation’s most prestigious and well-known award in college football.

Toby Gerhart

Toby Gerhart

Today, Thursday, Gerhart will be in Orlando, Fla., as one of three finalists for the Doak Walker Award for college football’s top running back. On Saturday, he’ll be in New York for the Heisman presentation. The Heisman winner will be announced during a live televised special on ESPN beginning at 5 p.m. Pacific Time.

Stanford coach JIM HARBAUGH, the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football and a former National Football League quarterback, says Gerhart is the “best I’ve ever been around.” Pretty high praise from a fellow who played in the Pro Bowl.

This season, Gerhart shattered his own school season rushing record with 1,736 yards and scored 26 touchdowns – both national-leading marks. He also has led the Stanford football program to a winning season and its first bowl appearance since 2001.

And if he does hear his name called Saturday? In a heartwarming story about the humble star on the athletic website, Gerhart said, “I’ll be speechless.”

Good luck, Toby.

Sagan called ‘rock star’ of nonproliferation education

December 9th, 2009

SCOTT SAGAN, the Caroline S.G. Munro Professor of Political Science and co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation, has officially been labeled a “rock star.”

Terrorism_Sagan_180Sagan was recently recognized by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey with an award for outstanding contributions to nonproliferation education.

In presenting the award, Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova said this: “With almost 25 years of teaching experience, having taught 16 different courses and chaired eight PhD dissertation committees (that’s not to mention his head-spinning list of publications), he is truly one of the rock stars of our field. And you can tell that he is a teacher when at a busy conference full of big shots, you’ll find him talking to younger people, discussing their papers, their research interests and their plans.”

Read more.