Archive for June, 2012

Engineering team wins $100,000 Qualcomm Innovation Fellowship

June 28th, 2012
Neckar and Folk

Sam Fok (left) and Alexander Neckar

Two electrical engineering doctoral candidates, ALEXANDER NECKAR and SAM FOK, will share a 2012 Qualcomm Innovation Fellowship. The fellowship provides the two with $100,000 to pursue future research interests and pairs them with research mentors at Qualcomm.

Fok, who is also supported by a Finch Family Fellowship through the School of Engineering, and Neckar were recognized for their proposal “Neuromorphics: Programmable Analog Computation Through Reconfigurable Digital Communication.” The work focuses on developing computer architectures that compute in a fashion inspired by how the brain computes—a field known as neuromorphics.

“The brain handles certain real-world tasks extremely well compared to traditional computer architectures,” said Neckar. “Understanding how the brain does this and leveraging this knowledge paves the way for a new class of computational devices.”

Analog silicon neurons that mimic the way biological neurons work are very energy efficient and the two fellowship winners have exploited this efficiency in a device that digitally networks such neurons to perform programmable computations. This device, developed at Stanford, is called Neurogrid.

Read the full story by Andrew Myers on the School of Engineering website.

Kate Maher honored with Cox Medal for fostering undergraduate research

June 27th, 2012

Kate Maher

During the Commencement award ceremonies of the School of Earth Sciences, KATE MAHER, assistant professor of geological and environmental sciences, received the 2012 Allan V. Cox Medal for Faculty Excellence Fostering Undergraduate Research.

PAMELA MATSON, the Chester Naramore Dean of the School of Earth Sciences, presented the Cox Medal to Maher.

The Cox Medal is awarded annually to a faculty member who has established a record of excellence directing undergraduate research over a number of years. It may also go to a faculty member who has done an especially outstanding job with just one or two undergraduates whose work is unusually superior.

The citation commended Maher “for her outstanding mentorship of students with diverse academic interests and levels of preparation” and “for enabling them to grow as scientists in the Environmental Isotope Geochemistry research group.”

Maher, who joined the Stanford faculty in 2007, was honored “for her dedication to training students through the research process, from project design to peer-reviewed publication,” and “for setting the highest standards of excellence in conducting and presenting research.”

She also was commended “for her unstinting support of students pursuing independent projects” and “for expanding the intellectual and professional horizons of students by connecting them with researchers outside of Stanford.”

The medal was established in memory of the late Allan V. Cox, a former professor of geophysics and dean of the School of Earth Sciences, who was a strong supporter of faculty-student research collaboration.


Persis Drell goes to Washington

June 26th, 2012

Persis Drell, director of SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. Photo by L.A. Cicero

On June 21, SLAC Director PERSIS DRELL was in Washington, D.C., to testify before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, for a session devoted to Department of Energy user facilities. It was her first time doing this.

Drell was one of five witnesses. The others were ANTONIO LANZIROTTI, chairman, National User Facility Organization;  STEPHEN WASSERMAN, senior research fellow, Translational Science & Technologies, Eli Lilly and Company; SUZY TICHENOR, director, Industrial Partnerships Program, Computing and Computational Sciences, Oak Ridge National Laboratory; and ERNEST HALL, chief scientist, Chemistry and Chemical Engineering/Materials Characterization, GE Global Research.

Drell prepared written testimony, but, as she put it, “The real show is the oral testimony.”  She used the  five minutes she was given to describe the science being performed at the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) and explain why government should support large user facilities.

“The most encouraging part of the hearing was that, while there were differences of opinion on how one might fund basic research, there was clear bipartisan support for science,” Drell said. “Before I went to D.C. for this hearing, a colleague asked if it was really worth flying across country for the opportunity to speak for five minutes in front of the subcommittee. My response is that this is my job. But even if it wasn’t, yes, I believe it is worth it.”

Read Drell’s full description on the SLAC Today website.

Onscreen scientist Mark Ruffalo visits Stanford to discuss clean-energy strategy

June 25th, 2012

Life imitated art when MARK RUFFALO, the actor who plays scientist Bruce Banner (aka “The Hulk”) in the blockbuster film The Avengers, came to Stanford.

The Oscar-nominated actor/director teamed up with MARK JACOBSON, a real-life scientist and senior fellow with the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and the Precourt Institute for Energy, for an informal discussion June 20 with students about a nascent initiative to convert the world to renewable energy. The talk was part of a series of dialogues Ruffalo and Jacobson had with Stanford students and staff at companies such as Google, Facebook and Tesla Motors. Joining Ruffalo and Jacobson were clean-energy advocates Marco Krapels, executive vice president of Rabobank, and Jon Wank, co-president of Skadaddle Media.

Actor Mark Ruffalo at Stanford

Actor Mark Ruffalo, second from left, visited Stanford to discuss renewable energy with faculty and students

“It’s the right time for this,” Ruffalo told the 30 or so audience members, most of them students in the Atmosphere/Energy Program Jacobson heads in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. People are more aware of and more ready than ever to grapple with climate and energy problems, Ruffalo said, adding, “Now we’re able to talk about it without going through a centralized media.”

Ruffalo explained that his interest in creating a roadmap to repower the energy infrastructure with clean energy began when he moved to upstate New York a few years ago and learned about hydrofracking, a polluting natural gas extraction method used in the region. “It sounded more and more like a nightmare,” he said.

Local involvement around the hydrofracking issue led to a broader engagement in the sustainability movement for Ruffalo, who has been speaking out to his social media followers and the blogosphere about the need for clean energy. Ruffalo connected with Jacobson and Josh Fox, the director of the 2010 fracking documentary Gasland, at an event in San Francisco last year. The three had an in-depth conversation about Jacobson’s work with Mark DeLucchi at the University of California-Davis to develop a global renewable energy plan. The plan – featured on the cover of Scientific American – is a blueprint for building an energy grid based only on clean sources such as solar, wind and hydroelectric. This grid, not subject to price fluctuations, would eliminate energy insecurity, air pollution and global warming.

Following that dinner conversation, Ruffalo, Jacobson, Fox and researchers at Cornell University began reaching out to other scientists, business people and cultural figures to further develop a roadmap for repowering the world. The effort would galvanize support for a clean-energy economy at state, national and, eventually, global levels. Jacobson described it as a “grand vision” involving science, economics, policy, finance, multimedia and activism. Ruffalo and Jacobson wrote about their vision in the Huffington Post earlier this month.

The next step will focus on informing policymakers about viable options for converting to a clean-energy economy, Jacobson told the Stanford audience. Beyond that crucial component, the way forward will not have to depend on good intentions alone, he added. “This will be driven a lot by people who want to make money,” he said of developers interested in building renewable energy infrastructure. Krapels echoed that sentiment, saying that Rabobank, the world’s largest agricultural bank, is interested in how renewable energy can save money for its clients. “We’ve been looking at this very much from a business perspective.”

During a question-and-answer session, students offered suggestions for connecting with college students, ranging from campus advocates to conferences. One student’s suggestions of imitating a Stanford/NASA teacher-training partnership elicited particular interest from the speakers.

Ruffalo – who also tweets about sustainability and politics to his more than 227,000 Twitter followers – brought his renewable energy message to HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher on June 22.


Rob Jordan is the communications writer for the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment

Voting is under way for Stanford Fan Choice Awards

June 21st, 2012

Voting is under way for Stanford Athletics’ FAN CHOICE AWARD COMPETITION. Cardinal fans can vote via Facebook for newcomer of the year, performance of the year and game of the year.

Soccer star Teresa Noyola

For instance, the game of the year nominees, in chronological order of occurrence, are:

  • Oct. 30, 2011 – Football outlasts USC 56-48 in triple overtime
    The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum witnessed one of the wildest games of the Stanford-USC series this night before Halloween. Fans witnessed two prolific teams combine for 948 yards of offense, 13 touchdowns and 104 points in Stanford’s 56-48 triple-overtime victory.
  • Dec. 4, 2011 – Noyola’s goal clinches soccers first national title
    After coming up short its previous two trips to the College Cup, Stanford Women’s Soccer finally claimed that elusive first title with a 1-0 victory over Duke in the NCAA Championship Game. TERESA NOYOLA’s header in the 53rd minute was enough to give Stanford the victory and stamp the Cardinal as one of the greatest teams of all time.
  • Dec. 20, 2011 – Ogwumikes 42 points, 17 rebounds lead to 97-80 rout of Tennessee
    A sold-out Maples Pavilion crowd witnessed one of the best performances in the career of one of the best players to ever wear a Stanford uniform, as NNEMKADI OGWUMIKE decimated the Tennessee defense for a career-high 42 points with 17 rebounds in Stanford’s 97-80 win. The highly charged atmosphere featured legendary Tennessee head coach PAT SUMMITT making her final trip to Maples Pavilion.
  • Jan. 7, 2012 – Mens basketball plays longest game in program history, beats Oregon State 103-101
    Three hours and eight minutes after the opening tip, the Stanford and Oregon State teams finally walked off the court for good with the Cardinal earning the 103-101 victory in four overtimes, a total of 60 minutes of game time. It was CHASSON RANDLE’s layup with 37 seconds remaining in the fourth overtime that provided the eventual game-winning points.
  • May 13, 2012 – Women’s water polo claims second-straight NCAA title with win over USC
    Standing in the way of the Stanford women’s water polo team and its second-straight NCAA title were the USC Trojans. Two years earlier, the Trojans had defeated the Cardinal 10-9 in the very same pool at San Diego State’s Aztec Aquaplex for the 2010 title. In a tight, hard-fought contest, both teams slugged it out, with neither team leading by more than a goal until PALLAVI MENON, with just over a minute left to play and Stanford clinging to a 5-4 lead, bounced a shot into the cage off the far post to make it 6-4 and clinch the title.

For more information on the contests, visit the Cardinal’s webpages.

Stanford team goes to national clean energy competition

June 20th, 2012

A Stanford team with a novel idea finished in the top six of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National University Clean Energy Business Challenge earlier this month.

In May, the Stanford team’s project beat out more than 60 other university teams to win the competition’s western regional segment, earning a $100,000 prize. The award also earned them a trip to Washington to compete in the finals last week.

Stanford PhD student YANIV SCHERSON and one of his advisers, BRIAN CANTWELL, professor of aeronautics and astronautics, traveled to D.C. to showcase a new technology that removes nitrogen from wastewater while generating energy.

Scherson’s other adviser on the project is CRAIG CRIDDLE, a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

Although the project did not win one of the top two national prizes, being in the top six had its privileges. While in D.C., Scherson had a chance to meet Secretary of Energy STEVEN CHU.

“Being selected as a clean-tech finalist by the DOE is a tremendous honor,” Scherson said. “It shows the promise and opportunity in water technologies. We are very grateful for the recognition.”

Scherson and his team  began developing the low-cost technology in 2009 with a grant from the Stanford Woods Institute’s Environmental Venture Projects initiative. The process recovers energy from waste nitrogen by converting it into nitrous oxide. The nitrous oxide can be used to burn biogas, which results from the recovery of methane from organic waste, or to power a small rocket thruster that converts the nitrous into clean, hot air.

The technology is an important part of a larger effort at Stanford to develop economical and energy-efficient ways of recovering clean water and other valuable products from wastewater. Current wastewater treatment in the U.S. is energy intensive and has not focused on resource recovery.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) Engineering Research Center for Re-inventing the Nation’s Urban Water Infrastructure, headed by Stanford Woods Institute Senior Fellow DICK LUTHY, helps support the ongoing wastewater-to-energy project.


— BY ROB JORDAN, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment


With stories and praise, colleagues honor Blacker for leadership

June 19th, 2012

Colleagues gathered at a reception to honor Coit Blacker for his decade of leadership at FSI. From left to right: Blacker, Condoleezza Rice, Stephen Krasner and Ronald Spogli. Photo Credit: Rod Searcey

He’s been a presidential adviser, academic administrator, scholar and mentor. But listening to those who best know COIT BLACKER talk about his professional achievements is to hear people describe a close friend nearly everyone calls “Chip.”

“One of the reasons Chip has been so successful as a leader is that he is simply a good guy,” said CONDOLEEZZA RICE, professor of political science and of business, who first met Blacker at Stanford in the early 1980s – long before she would become the university’s provost and later serve as President GEORGE W. BUSH’s secretary of state.

“Great leaders are first and foremost good people,” Rice said.

After a decade leading Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI), Blacker is stepping down from the position on Aug. 31. He will be succeeded by President Emeritus GERHARD CASPER.

Following a yearlong sabbatical, Blacker plans to return to campus and continue teaching about foreign policy – a topic he mastered through academic research and as President BILL CLINTON’s special assistant for national security affairs and senior director of Russian, Ukrainian and Eurasian affairs at the National Security Council.

Reading letters written by Clinton, former national security adviser SANDY BERGER and MICHAEL McFAUL – the U.S. ambassador to Russia and FSI senior fellow who studied closely with Blacker – Rice capped a lineup of colleagues, students and donors who honored the departing director during a recent farewell reception at the Cantor Arts Center.

“Under your directorship, the institute has enhanced its status as one of the globe’s most prominent and influential centers for the study of international relations,” Clinton wrote. “The institute’s research is helping us move toward a more stable, sustainable and equitable world in this age of interdependence. In addition to your devotion to Stanford, I will always be grateful for your outstanding work at the National Security Council during my presidency.”

Nearly 20 years before joining the Clinton administration in 1995, Blacker arrived at Stanford as a postdoctoral fellow in the university’s Arms Control and Disarmament Program. He lectured and taught through the 1980s, becoming a popular professor known for working closely with his students.

“I saw in him a mentor who not only excelled in his field, but did so with intellectual fortitude, integrity and a deep-seated sense of service to which I only hoped I could aspire,” said THEO MILONOPOULOS, a former student of Blacker’s who is now a Fulbright Scholar at King’s College London.

In 1991, Blacker became a senior fellow at the Institute for International Studies, the precursor to FSI. He was appointed as the institute’s deputy director in 1998 and took over as director five years later.

Under Blacker’s tenure, FSI expanded its number of research centers from four to seven, and grew its faculty from 21 to 32 professors. The institute’s endowment is nearly $200 million, up from $122 million in 2002.

“FSI has really become the jewel in the crown of Stanford’s interdisciplinary institutes under Chip’s leadership,” said ANN ARVIN, Stanford’s dean of research. “I hesitate to say how many times I have advised others to just ask Chip how they do it at FSI – whatever ‘it’ may be.”

Read the full story by ADAM GORLICK, FSI’s communications manager, on the institute’s website.

What does a university president do on a sabbatical?

June 18th, 2012

President John Hennessy speaking at the Stanford Center at Peking University in March. Photo by Adam Gorlick

If you are JOHN HENNESSY, one thing you do is catch up on your reading. During his brief sabbatical in spring quarter, President Hennessy tackled an extensive list of books on current challenges facing higher education.

Topics included the importance of the humanities in the 21st century, the future of liberal arts education, technology as a means for providing more customized learning, the long-term issues of capacity and affordability, and threats to higher education from a variety of sources.

Among the books he read:

  • Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, Martha C. Nussbaum
  • The Good of this Place: Values and Challenges in College Education, Richard H. Brodhead
  • Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, Clayton Christensen, Curtis W. Johnson and Michael B. Horn
  • Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life, Anthony T. Kronman
  • College: What It Was, Is and Should Be, Andrew Delbanco
  • Abelard to Apple: The Fate of American Colleges and Universities, Richard A. DeMillo
  • Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids—and What We Can Do About It, Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus
  • DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, Anya Kamenetz
  • Wannabe U: Inside the Corporate University, Gaye Tuchman
  • Rebooting for the New Talent Economy, Andrew Rosen

In addition to his reading, President Hennessy also participated in several key university events during his sabbatical. In March, he joined a number of faculty, alumni and trustees in Beijing to dedicate the Stanford Center at Peking University, and in early May, he was back on campus to announce the launch of the Campaign for Stanford Medicine. Last month he also stopped by the Bing Overseas Studies Program in Florence and had a chance to meet with students and tour the Renaissance-era palazzo that will be the new home for the program starting in the fall. In late May, he was a featured speaker at the Wall Street Journal’s executive conference D: All Things Digital.

TAs win Centennial Teaching Assistant Awards 2012

June 15th, 2012

Teaching assistants representing a wide range of disciplines will be honored with Centennial Teaching Assistant Awards at a ceremony on June 16. The program recognizes and rewards outstanding teaching by teaching assistants in the Schools of Humanities and Sciences, Earth Sciences and Engineering.

EWART THOMAS, professor of psychology, started the program in 1989, during his years as H&S dean, in order to acknowledge and celebrate the important role that TAs play in teaching at Stanford. Each year half of the departments in H&S are invited to choose usually one to three (depending on the department or program’s size) of their graduate student teachers to be honored by the designation Centennial TA. In Engineering and Earth Sciences, all departments are eligible to nominate TAs each year, and five to nine are chosen winners. PAMELA MATSON, dean of the School of Earth Sciences, and JAMES PLUMMER, dean of the School of Engineering, will join RICHARD SALLER, dean of H&S, in paying tribute to their Centennial TAs during the ceremony. Each recipient is awarded a certificate and a $500 prize.

When selecting their Centennial TAs, departments are encouraged to seek the widest participation of their faculty and graduate students and the use of a broad range of information about teaching assistants’ effectiveness and contributions; student evaluations of TAs are also consulted. This is not meant to be a competition, but rather a process that recognizes TAs with a record of outstanding contributions over time.

Endowment gifts for the Centennial TA Program in Humanities and Sciences were made by Stanford friends and alums BILL (’56) and REVA (’54) TOOLEY of Los Angeles, JOAN and the late MELVIN LANE (’44) of Atherton and MARTA S. WEEKS (’51) of Miami.

The honorees and their departments follow.


Art History: YVETTE DEAS



German Studies: LILLA BALINT


Human Biology: AUTUMN ALBERS






Slavic Languages and Literatures: ANNA LORDAN



Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources: ROBERT HEILMAYR

Earth Systems Program: SAM RAMIREZ and SOPHIE THEIS

Energy Resources Engineering: HAI XUAN VO

Environmental Earth System Science: MICHAEL TSIANG

Geological and Environmental Sciences: DANIEL NAYLOR

Geophysics: YUNYUE LI


Bioengineering: PEIRAN GAO

Civil and Environmental Engineering: ANNE-LAURE CUVILLIEZ and ROBBY ZELLER

Electrical Engineering: DAVID CHEN

Institute for Computational and Mathematical Engineering: SUDARSAN N. S. ACHARYA

Materials Science and Engineering: ZACH BEILEY and SAAHIL MEHRA

Mechanical Engineering: MICHAEL BARAKO and DANIEL JACOBS


Two graduating seniors receive awards honoring late Stanford Report editor James Robinson

June 14th, 2012

Caroline Chen

CAROLINE CHEN, a frequent contributor to the Stanford Daily, has received first prize in this year’s James Robinson Award for Student Journalists. KATE ABBOTT, who has held several positions at the Daily since her freshman year, received the second place award. Chen and Abbott are both graduating seniors.

Chen, of Hong Kong, is an English major with an emphasis on creative writing. She has contributed to the Daily since her sophomore year. Her winning submission was a series titled “The Future of Education at Stanford,” which looked at Stanford’s withdrawal of its bid to create an applied sciences center in New York City. In the three articles Chen submitted, the first attempted to explore the reasons for the withdrawal. The second looked at the lessons university administrators said they learned from the venture. The third story looked to the future.

“While writing the second article, I realized that Stanford is already off in pursuit of a new education frontier. This one has no physical campus: It is online education, also known as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs),” Chen wrote in a letter that accompanied her submission.

Chen’s submission was praised by the selection committee for her engaging writing and for her initiative in digging out information that went beyond official statements.

“I loved working on this series, because I got to talk to so many people both within Stanford (students, professors, administrators) and outside (NYC officials). It was fascinating getting to see how decisions are made for the university’s future, and I appreciated the chance to understand and then explain the complexity of the situation with the NYC bid. I am also excited to be reporting about Stanford’s advances in online education. I enjoy reading the reports about online education that are turning up in major newspapers all across the nation, and learning from the way that other, more seasoned reporters write about the topic. It’s definitely a story that will continue to develop, and I can’t wait to see what’s next,” Chen wrote in an email after learning that she’d won the award.

Chen, who had summer internships at Time Out Hong Kong in 2010 and the San Francisco Weekly in 2011, plans to pursue a master’s degree at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She also will study investigative journalism at Columbia’s Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Kate Abbott

Abbott, of Malibu, Calif., submitted a series of five articles on the debate over whether to bring ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) back to the Stanford campus. Abbott’s submission covered the early activity of the Ad Hoc Committee on ROTC in 2010 through the Faculty Senate’s vote in 2011 to extend an invitation for ROTC to return to campus.

Abbott was praised for her commitment to following the story through over an extended period of time and for her evenhanded coverage.

“I learned that for every story you try to tell, there’s at least five more you’ll run into along the way, if you’re willing to put in the time and energy. As a reporter, you have to work to find and bring those stories to light, so that the community can have a more informed conversation. It was really challenging with such a nuanced topic, but I learned a ton, and I hope my peers did as well,” Abbott said about covering the issue.

Abbott, who hopes to earn a master’s in journalism, has written for the Daily since fall quarter of her freshman year. In addition to reporting, she has held several editorial positions on the paper.  Abbott also has contributed to Time magazine/ and the Peninsula Press, a project of the Stanford Graduate Program in Journalism.

She will intern at Bloomberg Businessweek this summer.

Robinson, a graduate of Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, joined the Stanford News Service in 1998 following a distinguished career at daily newspapers that included reporting jobs at The Republican (Springfield, Mass.), Hartford Courant, Houston Chronicle and Agence France-Presse.

Under Robinson’s editorship, Stanford Report won a Gold Medal for Excellence from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education in 2002. Robinson, a native of Newton, Mass., died in January 2004 of complications from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He and his family established the award prior to his death.

James Robinson

This year’s award committee included Lisa Lapin, assistant vice president for public affairs and director of university communications; Elaine Ray, director of campus communications; James Bettinger, director of the John S. Knight Fellowships for Professional Journalists; and Lisa Trei, associate director of communications in the School of Humanities and Sciences.

Chen will receive a monetary prize of $2,000; Abbott will receive $1,500.

“We are so pleased to be able to recognize the enterprising work of Stanford student journalists, and to do so in the memory of a great university news editor. Both of our winners this year sought to look deeper into important issues facing the university, helping their readers better understand the complexity of the issues,” said Lapin.