Archive for February, 2013

Free screening and discussion of ‘Chasing Ice’

February 27th, 2013

Chasing Ice, the acclaimed documentary that received an Oscar nomination for best original song, will be screened for free on campus March 4 at 7 p.m. in CEMEX Auditorium. Following the screening there will be a panel discussion with the film’s producer and director, Stanford alum JEFF ORLOWSKI, as well as Stanford Woods Institute fellows TERRY ROOT,  NOAH DIFFENBAUGH and MICHAEL WARA.

Chasing Ice chronicles the story of photographer JAMES BALOG and his mission to gather evidence of our changing planet. With a team of young adventurers, Balog deployed time-lapse cameras across the Arctic to capture the world’s glaciers as they melted over the course of several years. The result is a haunting visual record that compresses years into seconds and documents ancient mountains of ice disappearing. Chasing Ice is ”full of stunning images in addition to being timely … as watchable as it is important,” according to the New York Times. It has won nearly 20 awards at film festivals around the world, including the Sundance Film Festival’s Excellence in Cinematography Award for a U.S. documentary.

Orlowski, who graduated from Stanford in 2007, is the founder of Exposure, a film company dedicated to socially relevant films. Root, who is featured in the film, works on large-scale ecological questions with a focus on the impacts of global warming. Diffenbaugh is an assistant professor of environmental Earth system science. His research is centered on the dynamics and impacts of climate variability and change. He recently released the results of a snowpack study that predicts this source of fresh water could shrink drastically. Wara, associate professor of law and an expert on environmental law and policy, addresses the performance of the emerging global markets for greenhouse gases and mechanisms for reducing emissions, especially in developing countries.

The Yost House student residence is hosting the event in collaboration with the Stanford Woods Institute.

—ROB JORDAN, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment

Richard Zare awarded China’s top foreign prize

February 26th, 2013
Richard Zare

Richard Zare

China has presented RICHARD ZARE with the highest honor the country awards to foreign scientists.

Zare, the Marguerite Blake Wilbur Professor in Natural Science, recently traveled to Beijing to accept the International Scientific and Technological Cooperation Award of the People’s Republic of China, a national science and technology award established by the State Council. The award is granted to foreign scientists, engineers, managers or organizations that have made important contributions to China’s bilateral or multilateral scientific and technological cooperation. See video of the ceremony.

Zare is renowned for his work in both physical and analytical chemistry. In particular, his contributions to the field of laser chemistry have resulted in a greater understanding of chemical reactions at the molecular level.

The award also recognizes Zare’s efforts in cooperating with Chinese scientists. During his tenure as chairman of the National Science Board of the United States, he encouraged communication between China’s and America’s science foundations. Zare also serves as a foreign member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and has co-authored 169 articles with Chinese researchers.

Carla Shatz receives prestigious psychobiology prize

February 25th, 2013

Carla Shatz

CARLA SHATZ, the Sapp Family Provostial Professor in Neurobiology, has been awarded the Mortimer D. Sackler, M.D. Prize for Distinguished Achievement in Developmental Psychobiology.

The $100,000 prize, presented by the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and Weill Cornell Medical College, recognizes Shatz’s discovery that neuronal activity prior to birth is essential for later formation and refinement of connections in the visual system. The work advanced the understanding of fundamental principles of the early brain and has important implications for understanding how the visual system refines its connections.

“I am thrilled and honored to receive this wonderful recognition from the Sackler Institutes in the name of this distinguished family,” Shatz said. “Understanding fundamental mechanisms of brain development and the dynamic interplay between nature and nurture are essential for treating, and someday curing, neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.”

One of the most unexpected insights from her own work, she said, involved discovering that nerve cells in the baby’s brain spontaneously send signals from the eye to the brain’s visual centers long before vision. “It is as if the brain is running test patterns and rehearsing for vision long before birth, and we know that this rehearsal is a key part of brain-circuit tuning during development,” she said.

Shatz is the third recipient of the prize, which recognizes not only her scientific achievements but also her leadership in the field of neuroscience and her track record of mentorship. She is director of Bio-X, Stanford’s interdisciplinary biosciences program that brings together faculty from across the university – clinicians, biologists, engineers, physicists and computer scientists – to unlock the secrets of the human body in health and disease.

Cavallaro to head Law School’s new Human Rights Center

February 22nd, 2013

James Cavallaro

JAMES CAVALLARO, professor of law and director of the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic of the Mills Legal Clinic at the Stanford Law School, will head the new Stanford Human Rights Center.

The center is designed to promote student engagement, research, public understanding and practical engagement in the area of international human rights and global social justice.

Cavallaro, who joined the Stanford Law School faculty in 2011, has extensive expertise in international human rights law, human rights issues in Latin America and the developing world, and international human rights litigation.

Early in his career, Cavallaro spent several years working with Central American refugees on the U.S.-Mexico border and with rights groups in Chile challenging abuses by the Pinochet government. In 1994, he opened a joint office for Human Rights Watch and the Center for Justice and International Law in Rio de Janeiro, and served as director of the office, overseeing research, reporting and litigation against Brazil before the Inter-American system’s human rights bodies.

For more, see the Law School press release.

Steve Weitzman reflects on what matters to him and why

February 21st, 2013

Steve Weitzman

There’s a certain irony to STEVE WEITZMAN‘s life and work. The religious studies professor is Jewish, specializes in Jewish literature, religion and culture, directs the Taube Center for Jewish Studies, is married to a rabbi and is raising his children in the Jewish tradition.

But he wouldn’t actually call himself religious.

Weitzman, who came to Stanford from Indiana University in 2009, was the first speaker in the recently reinvigorated “What Matters to Me and Why?” noontime speaker series. The popular series, which has been on temporary hiatus, asks campus speakers to reflect on what matters to them in their lives and work.

“I don’t have a sense of the divine,” Weitzman told an audience recently assembled in the Center for Inter-Religious Community, Learning and Experiences in Old Union. “Religion for me is something that other people seem to have, but I don’t.”

Nevertheless, Weitzman said he’s pretty clear about what matters to him: other people. Better understanding the complexity of people in all their depth and mystery is what drives him. Questions about life’s purpose particularly obsessed Weitzman as a teenager. But that has occupied little of his time since – at least until he was asked to speak on the subject.

“It’s an unbelievably disruptive question!” he said to appreciative laughter.

During his talk, Weitzman described his struggles to understand both himself and others and to avoid viewing individuals only as “instruments” in his life. People are infinitely more interesting than what they reveal on the surface, he said. So, the struggle to understand others led him to a life of scholarship, then to humanities scholarship in particular, then to religious studies and finally to ancient history. He traced the progression for the audience.

Weitzman described his youth in a Los Angeles suburb as “very, very boring,” with life seemingly revolving around a shopping mall. It was a comfortable life, he remembered, but one without choices or the freedom to pursue an unexpected life, including that of a scholar.

Reading Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the works of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius helped Weitzman realize that scholarship, especially in the humanities, could lead to a better understanding of others.

“Scholarship is a form of liberation, allowing you to transcend your circumstances,” he said.

His interest in ancient history was spurred by the 1980s excavation of a Native American archaeological site – called the Lost Village of Encino – in his community. The discovery prompted him to look for the possibility of history hidden beneath the surface of everyday life.

“I had an epiphany that something must have happened before this suburb was born,” he said. “A lot of what I try to do today is at the intersection of the study of the ancient world and our current experience.”

That epiphany turned Weitzman to the humanities with its emphasis on the pursuit of meaning because he saw in such scholarship “a way to reach beyond the surface into the depths.” Religious studies, given its universality among all cultures, he said, became a way to “embrace the complexity of human life, allowing the study of both the rational and irrational sides of people.” And studying the ancient world, he humorously added, “was as far back as I could get into the human experience.”

It was this search to know that led Weitzman to study King Solomon, a man who supposedly knew everything. Solomon: The Lure of Wisdom was published by Yale University Press in 2011. In that book, Weitzman reviewed how little we actually know about Solomon, but how much his wisdom has influenced Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Weitzman’s next project is a history of biblical miracles. He seeks to better understand how miraculous religious experiences reflected the world in which they occurred and affected the lives of witnesses.

But for all the joys of a scholarly life, Weitzman, who is also resident fellow of Roble Hall, said scholarship also presents challenges and frustrations.

“I find that students come with questions such as ‘Is there a God?’ or ‘What is the meaning of life?’ I have to say that I don’t know,” he acknowledged.

He also worries that the pursuit of wisdom as an end in itself – along the lines of Plato or Aristotle – has been lost to the modern world.

“Where is the Socrates in our culture? Some would argue,” he said, “that, in the modern world, wisdom has lost its luster.”

Learn more about “What Matters to Me and Why.”


Susanna Loeb elected to National Academy of Education

February 20th, 2013
Susanna Loeb

Susanna Loeb

SUSANNA LOEB, the Barnett Family Professor of Education, was elected earlier this month to membership in the National Academy of Education on the basis of her outstanding scholarship in the economics of education and the relationship between schools and federal, state and local policies.

Founded in 1965, the National Academy of Education seeks to advance education research and its use in policy formation and practice. The group has undertaken research studies that address pressing issues in education and that typically include both academy members and other scholars with an expertise in a particular area of inquiry. In addition, members are involved in the academy’s professional development fellowship programs that focus on the preparation of the next generation of scholars.

Loeb is one of 12 scholars elected to the National Academy of Education this year. Before her election, Stanford had 19 of the 162 members in the group — the most of any university.

Read more on the Graduate School of Education website.

Usua Amanam: High energy on and off the field

February 19th, 2013

USUA AMANAM is one of only a dozen or so undergraduates majoring in Energy Resources Engineering, a department in the School of Earth Sciences that examines energy production and conservation.

The Stanford senior whose interception with two minutes left in the 2013 Rose Bowl Game sealed Stanford’s 20-14 victory over Wisconsin earned hardware as the Defensive Player of the game. But he not only knows how to read a quarterback’s eyes, he knows how to infer the makeup of the subsurface by drilling an exploration well.

Amanam, whose first name is pronounced OOS wah, has a passion for football, and he dreams of playing in the NFL. “I’d love to make millions of dollars running around with a football in my hands,” he laughed.

But he’s been one of the smallest players on every one of his teams since the fourth grade, and at 5’10′ and 176 pounds, he’s a realist.

“There’s a low probability that an NFL career is going to happen for most college football players,” he said. “That’s the reason I chose Stanford. If the football route doesn’t work out, I’ll have a Stanford degree to fall back on.”

Amanam’s sheepskin from ERE will leave him well positioned for a job in the oil and gas industry, which doesn’t typically draw much interest from undergraduates, particularly ones with their eyes on a career in professional football. How is it that it calls to Amanam?

“My family is originally from Nigeria,” explained Amanam, who said his interest in oil was piqued by a 2007 article in National Geographic called “Curse of the Black Gold.”

“Oil was found in Nigeria in the late 1950s and the 1960s,” Amanam said, “and it was a way for a developing country like Nigeria to become truly relevant in the world today. The National Geographic writer basically detailed what Nigeria has gone through in terms of the oil industry and how it has caused more trouble and more strife than the good it was supposed to. Reading that article and understanding how much a properly working petroleum industry could really jump-start a country economically and socially is what attracted me to ERE.”

RICHARD NEVLE, director of undergraduate programs for the School of Earth Sciences, has known Amanam since both were at Bellarmine Prep in San Jose – Nevle as a science teacher and Amanam as an honors student.

“Usua was a rock star as a high school football player, a superstar,” Nevle said. “He has legs that are steel springs and he’s a very gifted sprinter.”

Stanford’s head football coach, David Shaw, was the team’s offensive coordinator when the Cardinal recruited Amanam.

“We get lots of mail and email about high school players, but we got a lot about Usua in particular,” Shaw said. “That he was bright and engaging as a student and that he was a dynamic football player as well. Everyone said he was the kind of kid who should go to Stanford.”

ROLAND HORNE, professor of energy resources engineering, says that after a sharp drop in oil prices in the mid-1980s and the massive Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound in 1989, undergraduate interest in petroleum engineering evaporated. Over one 10-year stretch, Stanford did not award a single bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering.

In 2006, the School of Earth Sciences changed the name of its Department of Petroleum Engineering to Energy Resources Engineering, reflecting its expansion into research and embracing additional forms of energy, such as geothermal and renewables; a changing energy landscape; and society’s changing energy needs and environmental concerns.

“It sounds cliché,” Amanam said, “but what really interested me about ERE is I’ve always wanted to do something that carried a lot of weight and meant something, to do something that could change the world. My sophomore year, I took a class called Energy 101 from my current adviser, energy resources engineering Professor TONY KOVSCEK. It sparked my interest in understanding how the oil and gas industry affects everything we do in our life, socially, economically and culturally. It’s the linchpin to the world we live in today.”

Amanam’s passion for his academic calling is not lost on others. “I go to a lot of events to which I bring students as emissaries,” Nevle said. “Usua is very effective at communicating what the ERE major has to offer students in a personal and compelling way. He has a charisma about him, a stage presence. When he speaks, people want to listen.”

You can hear Amanam in his own words in a video produced in a partnership between the School of Earth Sciences and Athletics.

Read BRUCE ANDERSON‘s full profile of Amanam on the School of Earth Sciences website.


Federal judges hold court at Stanford Law School

February 15th, 2013

Photo of U.S. Appeals Court Building for the 9th Circuit: Photo credit: Eric Broder Van Dyke/

Stanford law students set aside their books for some real-world case studies this week when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments on campus.

In a packed courtroom in the basement of Stanford Law School, Judges SIDNEY THOMAS, JEROME FARRIS and RANDY SMITH peppered lawyers with questions for just over an hour.

The proceedings began with a warning from the U.S. marshal, who reminded the crowd that despite being on campus, this was not a mock courtroom and federal rules of court conduct applied: Be silent, don’t leave until there’s a break in the cases, no standing, no texting.

The judges then entered and heard three cases: Anwar v. Johnson, a bankruptcy case in Arizona; United States v. Harmon, a money-laundering case in California; and Bush v. Integrity Staffing Solutions, a labor case out of Nevada.

The judges were engaging, and even funny, as they dug into the details of each case.

“If this was so important, why didn’t her attorney bring it up at trial?” Thomas asked the lawyer for JAMIE HARMON, a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor who wants a new trial.

Students and others watched intently as the lawyers worked to defend their positions, referencing federal rules and past cases.

The appeals court for the 9th Circuit deals with cases from nine western states and two Pacific Island jurisdictions. Three-judge panels routinely travel to different locations to hear arguments. Stanford has generally been on the court’s schedule once or twice a year.

More details about the cases and the court’s schedule can be found on the 9th Circuit’s website.



Michel Serres, professor of French, wins Dan David Prize

February 14th, 2013

Michel Serres, professor of French (photo by Linda A. Cicero)

MICHEL SERRES, professor of French, has been named one of five winners of the Dan David Prize from Tel Aviv University. Each year, three $1 million awards are made in three dimensions: past, present and future. Serres was recognized in the present dimension under “Ideas, Public Intellectuals and Contemporary Philosophers,” along with Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of the New Republic. The award ceremony will be held at Tel Aviv University on June 9.

Serres, who is currently in Paris, is one of France’s best-known public intellectuals and is one of the 40 “immortels” of the Académie Française. He has been teaching at Stanford since 1984. He also teaches at the Université de Paris.

Serres was recognized as “one of the most important modern French philosophers” and “for his intimate knowledge of the Western tradition in philosophy and science and for his discussion of a vast range of current questions.”

According to a press release, the prize was founded in 2002 to recognize and encourage “innovative and interdisciplinary research that cuts across traditional boundaries and paradigms. It aims to foster universal values of excellence, creativity, justice, democracy and progress and to promote the scientific, technological and humanistic achievements that advance and improve our world.”

See the 2009 video of Serres and ROBERT HARRISON, the Rosina Pierotti Professor of Italian Literature, discussing his work.

Stanford undergrad to make debut on ‘Survivor’ tonight

February 13th, 2013

Julia Landauer (photo by Emily Dehn Knight)

It’s no wonder JULIA LANDAUER‘s biggest pet peeve is slow drivers in the left lane. After all, according to Stanford magazine, Landauer won her first go-cart race at 12 and her first car racing championship at 14.

At 15, her competitive spirit rubbed at least one parent the wrong way.

“I was bumping the guy in front of me. It’s what you do in the go-carting world,” the Stanford junior, who also is a professional race car driver, recalled in a 2011 interview. “And I had a dad come up to me and say, ‘You know, you’re not going to make any friends by doing this’ in a pretty condescending way. So I came back with, ‘I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to win races,’ and that kind of silenced him.”

Viewers will find out whether Landauer makes any friends or gets voted off the island when she appears as a contestant on the 26th season of Survivor tonight.

“Watch as me and my fellow castaways travel out to the beautiful, yet treacherous, Philippine islands for the 39-day epic challenge to try and claim the title of Sole Survivor,” she wrote on her HuffPost blog.

The show airs tonight at 8 p.m. on CBS.