Archive for 2013

‘Nature’ picks Professor Chris Field as one of ‘Five to Watch’ in 2014

December 20th, 2013

Chris Field. (Photo Credit: Linda A. Cicero/Stanford News)

The journal Nature has named CHRIS FIELD, a professor of biology and of environmental Earth system science and the director of the Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution, one of its “Five to Watch” in 2014. The journal’s editors cite Field’s work as co-chair of the upcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on the impacts of climate change.

Field’s research at Stanford has helped detail the effects of climate change at both the molecular and global levels. For the past two decades, he has conducted experiments at the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve to gauge the responses of California grassland to multi-factor global change, both present and future.

As co-chair of the IPCC Working Group II, Field is leading efforts to distill hundreds of scientific findings into a report that will detail the current impacts and consequences of climate change. It will also detail how humans can best adapt to – and possibly mitigate – those changes in the future.

The report will publish this March, which Field said is fortuitous timing, as it will give governments a year to consider the assessments before they meet in 2015 to agree on new international climate change initiatives and policies. It also comes in time to influence the U.S. government’s new national assessment on climate change. In both cases, Field said he hopes the report encourages measurable action, and he thinks that in the wake of major climate-related disasters such as Hurricane Sandy, governments will be ready to act.

“I think the awareness, the issues, the experience with response options, is all beginning to accumulate to the level where I’m really optimistic about people taking meaningful actions,” Field said. “One of the things that we’re getting more and more information on is the potential for making smart decisions that don’t necessarily cost a lot, and in many cases actually save money and represent an ambitious, positive way of looking at the future.

“The climate challenge needs to be taken seriously, but it doesn’t need to be viewed as a net downer,” he said. “Really what we’re trying to do is find a way to a future that’s more sustainable, richer, happier, where we’re really trying to create net benefits, rather than to manage a net cost. There are really some huge opportunities to do things better.”




Feeling stressed? Check out Open Office Hours with Kelly McGonigal

December 18th, 2013

For all the joy they bring, the holidays can be stressful. In this session of Stanford Open Office Hours, health psychologist Kelly McGonigal provides advice on navigating the upcoming season with compassion, poise and willpower.

Stanford’s documentary film program to get a forum in France

December 17th, 2013
 "Detroit Party Marching Band," a film co-directed by Stanford documentary film MFA students Katherine Gorringe and Lauren DeFilippo, will be screened in France in January.

“Detroit Party Marching Band,” a film co-directed by Stanford documentary film MFA students Katherine Gorringe and Lauren DeFilippo, will be screened in France in January.

JAN KRAWITZ, professor and director of the MFA program in documentary film and video, will be jetting off to Biarritz, France, in January with two second-year graduate students to participate in the 2014 Festival International de Programmes Audiovisuels (FIPA) film festival. Stanford’s graduate program is one of only five film schools around the globe to be selected for the New Talents section at the festival, and this is the first-ever American program to be included since the inception of the section, which includes documentaries, fiction, animation and experimental films directed by students.

KATHERINE GORRINGE and LAUREN DEFILIPPO, both MFA ’14, are the students who will be packing their bags for that flight to France. Said DeFilippo, “We’re so thrilled by the opportunity to screen our work at such an exciting and carefully programmed festival, and to be able to represent Stanford.”

Gorringe and DeFilippo will join their professor for a presentation after a screening of six Stanford student films, including their short documentary Detroit Party Marching Band, described by the co-directors as a portrait of “a radical marching band, its members, and the city that shapes them.” The film debuted at the quarterly screening last winter quarter and was shown again at “Party on the Edge” at the Cantor Arts Center in October.

“The festival is a great opportunity for us to showcase our program to an international audience of professionals in the field,” Krawitz said. In particular, she noted that FIPA showcases work that highlights the authors’ point of view and concern for form. “It dovetails perfectly with our priorities for student work.”

Documentary film and video students complete four major projects over the course of the two-year MFA program – one each quarter in the first year, and a thesis project in their second year. Many of these projects are recognized as award-winning films before the students even graduate.

“It’s a tremendous honor to be included in the New Talents section,” Gorringe said. “I am most looking forward to meeting the other up-and-coming filmmakers from all over the world, and of course showcasing our work about the people of Detroit.”

The other five Stanford student films being screened at FIPA are: Installation, directed and produced by LAURA GREEN, MFA ’12, which explores the process of constructing Richard Serra’s steel sculpture Sequence at the Cantor Arts Center; White Earth, directed by J. CHRISTIAN JENSEN, MFA ’13, a winter portrait of North Dakota’s oil boom seen through unexpected eyes; Bug People, directed by PAUL MEYERS, MFA ’12, an investigation of our culture’s discomfort with all things many-legged; Bhiwani Junction, directed by ABHI SINGH, MFA ’13, about a 12-year-old boy who aspires to win an Olympic Boxing medal and trains at India’s leading boxing gym; and Grave Goods, directed by LESLIE TAI, ’13, a personal film about the objects the director’s grandmother left behind after death.


Stanford’s 2013 Nobel laureates feted in Stockholm

December 16th, 2013


Alexander Mahmoud / © Nobel Media AB

Stanford’s Thomas Südhof, professor of molecular and cellular physiology, won a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.


Michael Levitt, professor of structural biology in the Stanford School of Medicine, won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Michael Levitt, professor of structural biology in the Stanford School of Medicine, won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

MICHAEL LEVITT, professor of structural biology at the School of Medicine, and THOMAS SÜDHOF, professor of molecular and cellular physiology, were presented with 2013 Nobel Prizes at the Dec. 10 ceremony at the Stockholm Concert Hall.

Levitt, who earned the prize in chemistry, and Südhof, who earned it in physiology or medicine, had arrived in Sweden several days earlier to give their Nobel lectures at the Karolinska Institute and prepare for the ceremony, which was followed by a banquet at Stockholm City Hall.

During his banquet speech, Levitt, with characteristic levity, said he loves “the Swedish people for their detective novels, their archipelago, their sense of humor, their carbonated vodka and most especially for their wonderful hospitality.”

Levitt shared his prize, which was announced Oct. 9, with MARTIN KARPLUS, of the University of Strasbourg in France and Harvard University, and ARIEH WARSHEL, of the University of Southern California, “for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems.”

Südhof shared his prize, which was announced Oct. 7, with JAMES ROTHMAN, of Yale University, and RANDY SCHEKMAN, of UC-Berkeley, “for their discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells.”

This item was originally posted on the School of Medicine’s news website.

Photos: Alexander Mahmoud / © Nobel Media AB


Stanford Professor Elizabeth Bernhardt to receive Distinguished Service Award for foreign language teaching

December 13th, 2013


German Studies Professor Elizabeth Bernhardt

German Studies Professor Elizabeth Bernhardt

ELIZABETH BERNHARDT, a professor of German studies at Stanford and director of the Stanford Language Center, is the recipient of the 2014 Distinguished Service to the Profession Award from the Association of Departments of Foreign Languages (ADFL).

The award honors eminent scholar-teachers who serve the foreign language teaching profession in the larger community. It is the highest honor a language professor can earn in the United States.

A preeminent researcher in second-language reading, Bernhardt is the author of research-based protocols for assessing reading comprehension.

Since 1995, Bernhardt has directed the Stanford Language Center, which the ADFL cited as “nationally emulated” program devoted to second-language teaching and learning.

Bernhardt, who leads national discussions on language-program governance, joins a select group of linguists who have previously won the award, including GUADALUPE VALDÉS, professor in the Stanford Graduate School of Education.

“I was extremely touched to receive this award,” said Bernhardt. “ADFL is a great organization with members who care a lot about language learning. It was wonderful to receive this recognition, which is, in reality, a recognition of the wonderful work that all language teachers at Stanford do for their students.”

Bernhardt has been fascinated with language learning since she was young. “As a heritage speaker of German, I was struck at how different the German I was learning in school was from the German my grandparents spoke. Continuing German in high school and starting Spanish made me recognize other differences.” Bernhardt added that she learned “the most about teaching German from my Spanish professor, who was singularly focused on the proficiency of individual students.”

Bernhardt plans to continue to build and refine programs for Stanford language students so that they can enhance their proficiency.

“In partnership with the University Libraries, the Language Center is working on insuring that it can deliver online writing assessments, parallel to what is already done in speaking, conveniently for all students in the language programs,” Bernhardt said.

“We are also exploring digital solutions to advanced-level foreign language reading assessments. This latter project is in its developmental phase and is focused on learners of French and Spanish reading literary texts.”

The award will be presented at the Modern Language Association Convention this January in Chicago. In addition, a special session at the MLA Convention has been organized to honor Bernhardt and her work: “Second-Language Learning and Literacy: A Session in Honor of Elizabeth Bernhardt.”


—TANU WAKEFIELD, The Humanities at Stanford


Stanford political science professor helps deliver justice long overdue

December 12th, 2013
Stanford political science Professor Terry Karl speaks to reporters outside a Boston courthouse. (Photo courtesy Terry Karl)

Stanford political science Professor Terry Karl speaks to reporters outside a Boston courthouse. (Photo courtesy Terry Karl)

Political science Professor TERRY KARL is playing a key role in delivering justice in the 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests and two others. On Nov. 16 of that year, armed men in uniforms burst into their shared residence and killed everyone inside, including a housekeeper and her daughter.

The murders signified a turning point in the Salvadoran civil war and ratcheting up international pressures on the government, and the U.S. Congress quickly cut off aid to the Salvadoran military. This led to the signing of a peace agreement, in which Karl helped to advise U.N. negotiators.

A federal court in Boston earlier this year sentenced INOCENTE ORLANDO MONTANO to 21 months in prison for violating U.S. immigration laws. In an expert report prepared for Montano’s prosecution, Karl argued that at least 1,169 human rights abuses – including 65 extra-judicial killings of named individuals, 51 reported disappearances and torture of 520 victims – were carried out by units under Montano’s command.

“The Jesuit massacre was not an aberration,” Karl wrote in her 48-page report. “Throughout Montano’s 30-year military career, he ordered, abetted and assisted, and/or commanded troops that participated in a strategy of disappearance and arbitrary detention, rural massacres of civilian non-combatants, the forced disappearance of children, and the toleration of military-led death squads operating inside units under his command.”

Karl was especially moved by her memories and experiences working in that country. “I saw a lot of bodies,” she said in a phone interview. “I saw a lot of people who had suffered torture. I constantly saw families who were looking for ‘disappeared’ loved ones.”

As a political science professor during that period, she was outspoken against U.S. aid to the military and government of El Salvador: “I knew the military was corrupt,” said Karl, who earned her doctorate from Stanford in 1982 and became director of the university’s Center for Latin American Studies in 1990.

After trying for years to seek accountability in El Salvador for the murders of their family members, some of the victims’ families asked for Karl’s help. She began her research into those crimes in 1989 and has since provided expert testimony on a series of trials against El Salvador’s military high command.

“We’re fortunate to have won them all. This has been a long process,” she said.

Col. Montano’s sentence could set the stage for his extradition to Spain – five of the six priests were born there – where he is charged with conspiracy to murder along with the rest of the high command and the soldiers who carried out the killings. The U.S. government would have to grant the request, which could happen soon, said Karl, who is assisting in the extradition effort.

The U.S. trials have had an important effect inside El Salvador. Today, an amnesty law that has long allowed suspects in war crimes to remain free is being challenged in that country’s supreme court with a decision expected soon. The U.S. rulings may help to overturn the amnesty law.

Karl, who holds the Gilded Professorship in Latin American Studies, noted that three of the priests – IGNACIO ELLACURÍA, IGNACIO MARTÍN-BARÓ and SEGUNDO MONTES – were offered visiting professorships at Stanford several days before their murders.

“The priests would be grateful,” Karl said, “to know that their murders helped turn the world against the El Salvadoran military.”



Stanford students lend their faces, voices to Maya Angelou’s Mandela poem

December 11th, 2013

After the U.S. State Department released “His Day is Done,” a tribute poem for the late South African President NELSON MANDELA by MAYA ANGELOU,  a group of Stanford students were inspired to offer their own interpretation of the poet’s words.

“Mandela’s work transcends race and ethnicity, and we wanted to display that in the video through the diversity of the speakers and harmony of the poem and lighting,” TAMER SHABANI, ’14, wrote in an email. Shabani, co-president of the Stanford African Students Association (SASA), and co-creators CHAD MCCLYMONDS, ’12,  and HANA KAJIMURA, ’14, videotaped the Stanford tribute on Monday night, edited it Tuesday morning and played it at a tribute to Mandela held at the Black Community Services Center Tuesday afternoon. That event, sponsored by SASA and the Center for African Studies, also featured student and faculty speakers and performances. 


Stanford Students Pay Tribute to Nelson Mandela from chad mcclymonds on Vimeo.


Stanford English Professor Sianne Ngai wins James Russell Lowell Prize

December 11th, 2013

Zany 2The Modern Language Association awarded its 42nd annual James Russell Lowell Prize to SIANNE NGAI, professor of English, for her book Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting.

The prize recognizes an outstanding book—a literary or linguistic study, a critical edition of an important work, or a critical biography—written by a member of the association.

In awarding Ngai the prize, the MLA recognizes her deft ability to draw from philosophical investigation, intellectual history, literary and artistic analysis, and cultural criticism to create her own theory of aesthetics.

In the book, published by Harvard University Press in 2012, Ngai examined postmodern concepts of zany, cute and interesting because “these are the aesthetic styles and judgments which seemed most pervasive in contemporary United States culture (and not just in mass culture but also in the works of the avant garde), and I became curious as to why.”

Sianne Ngai

Stanford English Professor Sianne Ngai

Ngai, who specializes in literary and cultural theory and feminist studies at Stanford, applies her innovative theory to a wide variety of texts – from HENRY JAMES’s Portrait of a Lady to ED RUSCHA’s photography, to a comedies like “The Cable Guy.”

According to the MLA committee, “Ngai lets us see how the seemingly weak and trivialized categories zany, cute and interesting signal fundamental changes in the status of the work of art in late capitalism.”

Ngai is currently working on a new book called Theory of the Gimmick, in which she examines how the aesthetic aversion we have to gimmicks might tap into larger philosophical and economic issues, including the visibility of production in a capitalist society overall.

Gimmick, Ngai says, is a device or contraption for producing an effect, that “implicitly contains a negative judgment on that effect, which we think of as ‘cheapened’ or somehow lessened in its aesthetic power because the means of its production are too immediately visible.”

The James Russell Lowell Prize will be presented on Jan. 11, 2014, during the MLA’s annual convention in Chicago.

— BY TANU WAKEFIELD, The Humanities at Stanford


Tanya Luhrmann wins Grawemeyer religion prize

December 9th, 2013
Luhrmann photograph

Tanya Luhrmann has won the Grawemeyer Award in religion from the University of Louisvile.

TANYA LUHRMANN, the Howard H. and Jesse T. Watkins University Professor, has been awarded the Grawemeyer Award in Religion from the University of Louisville for the ideas set forth in her 2012 book, “When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God.” In the book, Luhrmann argues that American evangelical practices of prayer can train the mind to experience God.

The University of Louisville presents four Grawemeyer Awards each year for outstanding works in music composition, world order, psychology and education. The university and Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary jointly give a fifth award in religion. This year’s awards are $100,000 each.

According to the Grawemeyer Awards website, Luhrmann wrote the book after four years of fieldwork in Chicago and Northern California with Vineyard Christian Fellowship, a church whose members speak in tongues and pray for healing. She observed and interviewed church members and took part in prayer groups, Bible study and weekly worship.

After extensive research, she concluded that the evangelical experience of God involves a sophisticated use of mind cultivated through both individual practice and communal support.

Besides tracing the development of modern evangelical Christianity and showing how questions of belief have changed in contemporary times, Luhrmann applies important theories from psychology and anthropology to explain what happens when evangelicals pray, said award director Shannon Craigo-Snell, a theology professor at the seminary.

“Instead of asking ‘Is God real?’ she asks ‘How does God become real for people?’” Craigo-Snell said. “She offers a compelling exploration of religious experience in evangelical communities and a captivating account of prayer as a way of training the mind to experience God.”

Read more about the Grawemeyer prize.

Simon Brendle wins American Mathematical Society prize

December 7th, 2013
Simon Brendle

Simon Brendle

SIMON BRENDLE, professor of mathematics, will receive the 2014 American Mathematical Society (AMS) Maxime Bôcher Memorial Prize in January at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in Baltimore.

The Bôcher Memorial Prize is presented every three years by the AMS in recognition of an outstanding research paper in the field of mathematical analysis.

Brendle, who joined the Stanford faculty from Princeton in 2005, is being honored for “his outstanding solutions of long-standing programs in geometric analysis,” the prize citation says. The work being recognized includes Brendle’s proof on the differentiable sphere theorem and the solution of the Lawson conjecture. Also recognized by this prize are Brendle’s contributions to the study of the Yamabe equation.

The AMS was founded in 1888 to further mathematical research and scholarship and today has more than 30,000 members.

For more information on the prize, visit the AMS website.