Archive for December, 2012

The ‘Under 30’ set

December 21st, 2012

Adam de la Zerda

In “Energy,” postdoctoral scholar YANIV SCHERSON, a member of the Stanford Nitrogen Group, was honored for inventing a process that uses wastewater treatment byproducts to generate electricity.

In “Law and Policy,” EVGENY MOROZOV, visiting scholar at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford, was honored for his book The Net Delusion, which questioned the value of social media as a force for democracy.

In “Science and Healthcare,” assistant professor of structural biology ADAM DE LA ZERDA was honored for his use of molecular imaging to understand disease.

In “Social Entrepreneurs,” medical student NADIM MAHMUD was honored for co-founding Medic Mobile, a nonprofit that helps coordinate healthcare in the developing world by developing and distributing mobile phone software.

In “Sports,” medical student MUTHU ALAGAPPAN was honored for his award-winning sports data analyses, conducted while working at Ayasdi, a data analysis company spun off of Stanford’s Applied and Computational Algebraic Topology Group.

The list also includes current Knight Journalism Fellow LATOYA PETERSON, editor of, in the category of “Media.”


NSF grant will help researchers improve the human-robot relationship

December 20th, 2012
haptic collaboration

Allison Okamura interacts with a haptic (force feedback) virtual environment with a deformable object in collaboration with doctoral students Kirk Nichols (seated) and Nick Colonnese. Such virtual environment models are important components of robotic systems that work closely with humans.

Harmony in the workplace can be difficult enough in an office full of humans. But how will it be achieved when robots, whose behavior is guided by computers, join the workforce? With an eye toward enhanced safety and greater productivity, ALLISON OKAMURA, associate professor of mechanical engineering, and colleagues at four other universities are working to create new ways for humans and robots to cooperate on tasks. The National Science Foundation recently awarded the group a four-year, $3.5 million grant as part of the U.S. government’s National Robotics Initiative.

“It’s hard to get robots and people to work together, and it’s even harder to get multiple people and multiple robots to work together,” said Okamura, the lead investigator on the project.

Roughly $1.16 million of the total grant will come to Stanford. The remainder is divided among the co-principal investigators at the four other institutions: JACOB ROSEN of the University of California-Santa Cruz; GREGORY HAGER at Johns Hopkins University; BLAKE HANNAFORD at the University of Washington; and PIETER ABBEEL and KEN GOLDBERG at the University of California-Berkeley.

In the team’s grant application, the scientists said their project would address a wide range of manipulation problems that are repetitive, injury-causing or dangerous for humans to perform, yet are currently impossible to reliably achieve with purely autonomous robots.

These problems generally require dexterity, complex perception and complex physical interaction, the researchers wrote, and many such problems may be reliably addressed with human-robot collaborative systems, where one or more humans provide needed perception and adaptability, working with one or more robot systems that provide speed, precision, accuracy and dexterity.

In particular, the researchers will focus on improving human-robot teamwork in two key areas: manufacturing procedures that involve a small number of objects; and medical tasks, including suturing and dissection. In these efforts, university team members plan to work with two companies that are seeking help from robotic technology experts. One is a Kansas company that assembles wiring harnesses for commercial airplanes; the other is in robot-assisted surgery.

In both the manufacturing and medical procedures, the researchers will also seek to enhance verbal and tactile communications between the human and robot partners.

“A main focus of our project is to get robots to try to understand what people are doing and be able to step in when necessary,” Okamura said.

For more information, visit the project website.


Two researchers receive $6 million in state stem cell funds

December 18th, 2012

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) awarded two School of Medicine professors about $3 million each to pursue translational stem cell research for hearing loss and for cognitive dysfunction caused by chemotherapy.

Alan Cheng

ALAN CHENG, assistant professor of otolaryngology, will receive $3.1 million to investigate the biology of hair cells and their progenitors in the inner human ear. These cells do not normally regenerate, and their loss is a major cause of hearing disorders, which affect over 278 million people worldwide.

Michelle Monje

MICHELLE MONJE, assistant professor of neurology and neurological sciences, was awarded $2.8 million to investigate ways to identify and harness molecules involved in the regeneration and repair of neural white matter damaged by chemotherapy. Her goal is to create a drug therapy for chemotherapy-induced cognitive dysfunction, also known as “chemobrain,” which affects more than 1 million cancer survivors in California.

The awards are part of a total of more than $36 million for the New Faculty Physician Scientist Translational Research Awards, which are intended to support physician-scientists aiming to bring stem cell therapies into the clinic.

“These awards help physician-scientists in the critical early stages of their careers, providing them salary and research support for up to five years,” CIRM President ALAN TROUNSON said in a statement. “With this support, we are hoping to create a whole new group of world-class researchers in California.”

Read the full announcement on the Medical School’s news website.


How cool would it be to have Stepfan Taylor at your birthday party?

December 17th, 2012

We all know that STEPFAN TAYLOR is one of the top running backs in college football and one of Stanford’s all-time leading rushers. In fact, this year, he became the first Cardinal back to gain at least 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons.

Ben Levin and Stepfan Taylor

But he is also a very nice man.

When kindergartener BEN LEVIN, son of JON LEVIN, chair and professor of economics, was putting together the guest list for his 6th birthday party, he decided to invite Taylor.

His dad explained in an email to football coach DAVID SHAW, “We have been going to all the football games this year. Last week, when we were watching the first UCLA game, Ben announced that he wanted to invite Stepfan Taylor to his birthday party. Naturally we told him that probably Stepfan Taylor would be too busy to come to a kindergarten birthday party, but that Ben could email an invitation.”

Taylor not only answered Ben’s email, he also came to the party.

Levin says that Taylor “spent an hour with Ben and a dozen of his friends eating cake and throwing around a football in the backyard. It was probably the greatest 6-year-old birthday party ever. Very cool and I was so impressed with Stepfan’s generosity.”

The next opportunity to root for Taylor comes New Year’s Day, when the senior and science, technology and society major leads the Cardinal in the Rose Bowl game against Wisconsin.

Go Cardinal. Go Stepfan.


Carstensen, Rice among AARP’s ‘50 Over 50’ list of ‘Influentials’

December 14th, 2012

Laura Carstensen

In the December 2012 issue of its magazine, the AARP named 50 “Influentials,” all over the age of 50, who have “a huge impact on our daily lives and futures.” Among the honorees were LAURA CARSTENSEN, Stanford psychology professor and director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, and former U.S. Secretary of State CONDOLEEZZA RICE, a professor of political science and business and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Condoleezza Rice

Carstensen’s “more than 100 scholarly articles about lifespan development,” conducted largely with the Center on Longevity, were cited in the announcement. The center is devoted to interdisciplinary research aimed at solving the problems of people over 50.

Rice, whose “insight on world affairs,” the article states, “is frequently sought from both sides of the aisle,” was mentioned as a potential key Republican figure in the 2016 elections.


This is what a bird sees while flying over Hoover Tower

December 13th, 2012

A bird's-eye view of Hoover Tower taken by a camera on a remotely controlled helicopter

Current JD/MBA student ARI SEGAL recently produced this amazing shot of Hoover Tower using a specially designed camera mounted on a mini-helicopter. Segal, working with business partners from Sweden, used such campus locations as Hoover Tower, the Science and Engineering Quadrangle, the Knight Management Center and Stanford Stadium to test a new 3-D imaging technology his startup, 3DAPTIVE, is pioneering.

Darling-Hammond to chair California agency on teacher standards

December 12th, 2012

Linda Darling-Hammond

The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing works to ensure that the state’s principals, assistant principals and teachers are appropriately prepared for their jobs. They have elected School of Education Professor LINDA DARLING-HAMMOND to lead the effort. On Friday, Darling-Hammond was elected chair of the commission, which sets standards for educator preparation for the state’s public schools, oversees their licensing and credentialing, enforces professional practices and takes responsibility for disciplinary actions. She was appointed to the commission last year by GOV. JERRY BROWN and served as vice chair until last week.

“Darling-Hammond has advocated making teacher and administrator training programs more rigorous and holding universities and programs that grant credentials accountable for producing effective teachers,” wrote JOHN FENSTERWALD for the website EdSource. “California’s requirement that all teaching candidates pass a performance assessment, which she helped create at Stanford, is a step toward that goal.” In a recent interview with Fensterwald, Darling-Hammond said that one priority for the commission would be incorporating the new Common Core standards in math and English into the state’s standards for teaching. She also identified rewriting standards for administrators and rethinking the credentials required to teach special education, where there is a critical shortage of teachers, as priority issues.

Among Darling-Hammond’s more than 400 publications are The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future, winner of the 2011 Grawemeyer Award in Education; Powerful Teacher Education: Lessons from Exemplary Programs; and Preparing Teachers for a Changing World: What Teachers Should Learn and Be Able to Do (with JOHN BRANSFORD, 2005), winner of the AACTE Pomeroy Award. From 1994 to 2001, she served as executive director of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, a blue-ribbon panel whose 1996 report, What Matters Most: Teaching for America’s Future, led to sweeping policy changes affecting teaching in the United States. In 2006, this report was named one of the most influential papers affecting U.S. education, and Darling-Hammond was named one of the nation’s 10 most influential people affecting educational policy over the previous decade.

—JONATHAN RABINOVITZ, School of Education

In Stockholm, Nobel laureates acknowledge those who helped them along the way

December 11th, 2012

Brian K. Kobilka received his Nobel Prize at the Stockholm Concert Hall, Dec. 10, 2012. Copyright © Nobel Media AB 2012 Photo: Alexander Mahmoud

Last week, Stanford’s newest Nobel Prize winners, ALVIN ROTH and BRIAN KOBILKA, were in Stockholm for the culmination of the magical two months since their prizes were announced.

The Nobel festivities, which began last Wednesday, included lectures, interviews and symposia, a concert and the Nobel Prize Banquet.

In his lecture on Dec. 8, Kobilka, professor and chair of molecular and cellular physiology at the School of Medicine, explained his research on G-protein-coupled receptors. Kobilka shares his Nobel chemistry prize with ROBERT J. LEFKOWITZ, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the Duke University Medical Center.

At the conclusion of his lecture, Kobilka thanked his wife, TONG SUN KOBILKA, a research associate in molecular and cellular physiology at Stanford, whom he described as a  “colleague, friend, collaborator and great mother.”

“If you have read anything about me, you know that she is key to any success I’ve had,” he said. He also thanked the students and postdoctoral fellows in his lab and many of his colleagues, including BILL WEIS, a professor of structural biology at Stanford.

Alvin E. Roth receives his Prize from His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden at the Stockholm Concert Hall, Dec. 10, 2012. Copyright © Nobel Media AB 2012 Photo: Alexander Mahmoud

Roth, an economist and visiting professor who officially joins Stanford’s economics faculty in January, gave a banquet speech in addition to his Nobel lecture. Roth shares his Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences with LLOYD SHAPLEY, professor emeritus of mathematics at UCLA.

“We all know the wonderful image popularized by Isaac Newton, of how he could see so far only because he stood on the shoulders of giants. That image describes well how my work has built on that of my predecessors, particularly Lloyd Shapley, with whom I share this prize, and the late DAVID GALE,” Roth said in his banquet speech.

“We need a different metaphor to capture how we benefit from our teachers, our contemporaries, our colleagues and coauthors and students. …

“My point is that in the midst of this beautiful celebration of scientific and literary accomplishment, let’s pause over dinner to remember one of the fundamental lessons of economics: that accomplishments are social as well as singular. Let’s revel in the memories not only of discovery and invention, but of all the sometimes illuminating, sometimes stressful, sometimes tedious, and sometimes thrilling human interactions that brought us here tonight, and will inspire and fortify us when we return to work.”

The Nobel website features videos of the lectures, photos and even the banquet menu. Visit





Stanford historian Peter Duus honored with the Order of the Rising Sun

December 10th, 2012

Peter Duus

The Japanese government is honoring the work of PETER DUUS, a Stanford scholar of modern Japanese history, with the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon.

The William H. Bonsall Professor of History, Emeritus, at Stanford, Duus is being recognized for his contributions “to Japan Studies in the United States and the promotion of mutual understanding between Japan and the United States.”

Duus, author of the highly regarded study of Japanese imperialism The Abacus and the Sword, taught at Stanford for more than 30 years. His history texts have become mainstays in American higher education.

During his career, Duus also played a leadership role in the promotion of advanced Japanese education. For 15 years he served as the executive secretary for the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies (IUC), a consortium of schools in Japan founded by Stanford University to meet the language training needs of future scholars and expert professionals.

Eight IUC graduates have received the Order of the Rising Sun, more than any other U.S. educational institution, but Duus is the first IUC director to earn the distinction.

IUC Executive Director Indra Levy, an associate professor of Japanese literature at Stanford, said that in addition to Duus’ lasting contributions as a scholar and teacher, he “served the entire field of Japanese studies and the U.S.-Japan relationship as a whole.”

—CORRIE GOLDMAN, Stanford Humanities Center

Team awarded grant to develop clean drinking water technology

December 7th, 2012

A research team made up largely of Stanford undergraduate students received prestigious federal recognition recently. They are working on low-cost technology to provide safe drinking water to millions.

Photo Credit: Amy Pickering

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded a $15,000 grant and the opportunity to compete for up to $90,000 to a team advised by JENNA DAVIS, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

The team, the Stanford Dhaka Water Project, is developing a device to disinfect drinking water without relying on electricity or moving parts. The in-line chlorinator is designed for low-income urban areas that rely on shared drinking water points and is being tested in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

The EPA awarded the grant as part of the first phase of its annual P3: People, Prosperity and the Planet Student Design Competition for Sustainability focused on developing “sustainable technologies to help protect people’s health and the environment while promoting economic development.”

The team of Stanford undergrads, graduate students and postdocs includes VALERIE BAUZA, KARA BENNETT, KEEGAN COOKE, YOSHIKA CRIDER, CAMIL DIAZ, ISAAC MADAN and AMY PICKERING.


—ROB JORDAN, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment