Archive for December, 2012

Giant earplugs ease traffic noises for Red Barn horses

December 6th, 2012
Horse earplugs

Earplugs used for Red Barn horses affected by construction

The truck traffic created by the construction of a new energy facility off Searsville Road has been a challenge for neighbors and Stanford employees alike. But who would have thought some of the biggest sufferers would be the horses at the Red Barn?

The new energy facility, under the auspices of the Stanford Energy Systems Innovation (SESI), combined with nearby PG&E pipeline replacement work, has created increased truck traffic on the west side of campus. Horses are famously known for being easily spooked by loud noises, and Stanford’s horses are no exception.

VANESSA BARTSCH, executive director of the Red Barn and head coach of the Stanford Equestrian Team, described the noise created by the combination of the two projects as “the perfect storm.”

horse with ear plugs

Student Macey Sanchez puts earplugs in Lenny.

“The trucks from SESI drove over the metal plates that PG&E put down along Junipero Serra right behind our arenas. It sounds like a gun shot when a big truck hits them at speed, and it makes things pretty exciting,” she said.

The answer to the noise challenges proved to be gigantic earplugs. Bartsch said equestrian team president and newly named Rhodes Scholar RACHEL KOLB secured 40 pairs of earplugs from the company EquiFit for the horses grazing in the pastures that are located just 50 feet from the site of the construction.

“The girls on the team think they look like dessert,” Bartsch said.

The earplugs have evidently solved the problem for the horses.

“Now we have horses pretty zenned out marching right by these huge monster trucks,” Bartsch said.

The Red Barn is the most obvious reminder of Stanford’s initial incarnation as a farm. It was the site of Leland Stanford’s Palo Alto Stock Farm, where he bred and trained trotting horses. At its height, the farm employed 150 workers and boarded 600 horses. The Red Barn is also the site of photographer Eadweard Muybridge’s famed photographic experiments of horses in motion. Those experiments laid the foundation for the motion picture industry.

Two buildings from the stock farm survive today, including the Victorian-era Red Barn, home to the Stanford Equestrian Team and its Equestrian Center facilities.

$400,000 for a cool device

December 5th, 2012


Professor Shanhui Fan, right, with doctoral candidate Kejie Fang

SHANHUI FAN, professor of electrical engineering, has been chosen to receive $399,901 to develop Photonic Radiative Day-Time Cooling Devices. The devices, better imagined as coatings for the rooftops of buildings and cars that reflect sunlight, allow heat to escape and enable passive cooling, even when the sun is shining. Fan’s device would require no electricity and would reduce the need for air conditioning, leading to energy and cost savings.

Fan’s award was one of 66 such grants announced last week by Secretary of Energy STEVEN CHU as part of the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) program.

Fan’s award was in the category of  “Advanced Vehicle Design and Materials.”

In total, the Department of Energy disbursed $130 million in funding through ARPA-E’s “OPEN 2012″ program, which seeks out transformational, breakthrough technologies that show fundamental technical promise but are too early for private-sector investment.

“We are determined to attract the best and brightest minds at our country’s top universities, labs and businesses to help solve the energy challenges of this generation,” Chu said in a press release. “The projects selected today represent the true mission of ARPA-E: swinging for the fences and trying to hit home runs to support development of the most innovative technologies and change what’s possible for America’s energy future.”

—ANDREW MYERS, School of Engineering

A teachable moment

December 4th, 2012

Last week, as part of an assignment for “Physics 62: Classical Mechanics Laboratory,” freshmen MATTHEW VOLK and MARK NISHIMURA were working together outside in the Science and Engineering Quad on a “rocket” made of a plastic bottle partially filled with water and pressurized with air. As they were conducting their experiment, passers-by stopped to watch as the bottle was prepared, pressurized with a bike pump and launched to an altitude of roughly 30 feet. One observer asked the freshmen a couple of questions about why they had made certain choices.

When the visitor left, another passer-by said, “It’s not every day you get your homework observed by a Nobel Prize-winning physicist.”

The students looked up from their project a bit stunned. “Wow,” said Volk upon learning that he’d just been critiqued by Professor Emeritus DOUGLAS OSHEROFF, co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in physics in 1996. “I tried to make my answers to his questions really simple so he could understand them. I forget where I am sometimes.”


Book explores the ‘Power of Trees’

December 3rd, 2012

Did you know that trees communicate with each other? Did you know that their heartwood can be as strong as steel?

GRETCHEN DAILY, the Bing Professor of Environmental Science, wants you to reconsider how you see trees. In her new book, The Power of Trees, Daily explores the evolution, impact and natural wonder of trees. The compact volume features approachable and fascinating scientific observations by Daily, a Stanford Woods Institute senior fellow and co-director of the Natural Capital Project, with photographs by CHUCK KATZ, who serves on the Woods Institute’s advisory council.

The book, published by Trinity University Press, brings science and art together with 26 black-and-white photographs that illustrate observations of trees: how they evolved, how they live, how they have influenced the history of humanity and how they define our future.

An ecologist by training, Daily’s work spans scientific research, teaching, public education and working with leaders to advance practical approaches to environmental challenges. Daily’s scientific research is on biodiversity change; on the scope for harmonizing biodiversity conservation and agriculture; on quantifying the production and value of ecosystem services and conservation across landscapes; and on new policy and finance mechanisms for integrating the values of natural capital into major decisions. She works with private landowners, economists, lawyers, business leaders and government agencies around the world to incorporate environmental issues into business practice and public policy.

Read more about The Power of Trees at the Trinity University Press website.

—ROB JORDAN, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment