Archive for the ‘In the Spotlight’ Category

Stanford physicist Renata Kallosh honored as part of University of Groningen’s 400th anniversary celebration

June 25th, 2014

Physics Professor RENATA KALLOSH has been awarded a Doctorate Honoris Causa from the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands, as part of its 400th anniversary celebrations.

The university announced that Kallosh was nominated for the honor by the faculty of mathematics and natural sciences there because of her “great influence on the field of theoretical physics and because she is an inspiration to a whole generation.”

Kallosh is well known for her contributions to theoretical physics, particularly to string theory. A video commissioned by Groningen to highlight her work, however, focused more on one of her accomplishments as a teacher. She explains that she had to teach classical mechanics, and decided to find modern parallels to make the lesson more relevant. In doing so, she learned more about a dynamical system, called the “attractor mechanism,” that explains many phenomena.

“It’s when the system ‘forgets’ the initial condition and goes into the situation that is generic, independent of where it started,” Kallosh says in the video. As she began to study the mechanism further, she realized it held up outside of classical mechanics, in particular in the worlds of economics and medicine. “This is what stabilizes heartbeats. Something happened, and then you have a regular heartbeat.”

She soon realized that the same principles applied to her research in supersymmetry theory, string theory and black holes,. By incorporating this in her work, she made advances and discoveries that have had lasting impact on the field of theoretical physics. In the video, she humbly remarks of her achievement that she was “just trying to improve the intellectual quality of my teaching.”




‘The Commencement Delivery’

June 23rd, 2014

Minutes before taking the stage at Commencement, Bill and Melinda Gates were still waiting for an urgent and top-secret delivery. Stanford Athletics’ Bud Anderson was on the scene to document the drama.

Stanford magazine showcases the summer plans of 10 students

June 19th, 2014
Sharon Wulforich

Sharon Wulfovich, ’17

Ah, summer vacation. Three months for new adventures, internships and geographies; money-making opportunities and chances to simply play it cool. Stanford magazine’s Sam Scott asked around to learn how 10 Stanford students are spending their summers. Their responses could make a working stiff green with envy.

SHARON WULFOVICH, ’17, undeclared: Wulfovich is spending the summer on a pair of trips tied to her culture and religion. First, she’ll visit Israel with members of Hillel at Stanford. Then it’s on to Poland, a trip sponsored by the country’s government, where she’ll learn how country and society moved on from the Holocaust. It will be a study in contrasts, she says, going from the Jewish homeland to a place where much of her family was exterminated. At Auschwitz II, she’ll pay respects at barrack No. 9, where her grandfather endured the horrors of the Nazi death camp. “It’s very important to see what he went through and understand,” she says.

ISABEL ARJMAND, ’16, management science and engineering: Next year, she may take a resume-buffing research position. But after much debate, she decided this was the moment for a road less traveled. In July, Arjmand will embark on a two-day journey to the island nation of Mauritius, 1,200 miles off the coast of Africa, where she will teach English. For someone interested in education, it gives her the chance to lead a classroom. Of course, she could have done that closer to home—or in China, where she also had a teaching opportunity. But she can imagine visiting China later in life, she says. Living with a family on an island in the Indian Ocean? Not so much. “I feel like this was the summer to try something different.”

Read the entire story by Sam Scott on the Stanford magazine website.

Harold Hwang wins prestigious European physics prize

June 18th, 2014

HAROLD Y. HWANG, a professor of applied physics and of photon science, has been awarded the 2014 EPS Condensed Matter Division Europhysics Prize for his role in the discovery and investigation of electron liquids at oxide interfaces. The prize, which Hwang shares with fellow scientists Jochen Mannhart and Jean-Marc Triscone, will be presented at a session of the 25th General Conference of the EPS Condensed Matter Division in Paris this August.

Harold Y. Hwang

Harold Y. Hwang

An outstanding challenge in condensed matter science has been to develop alternatives to conventional semiconductors for the future generations of electronic devices. Of particular interest for such devices are interfaces of transition metal oxides having strongly correlated conduction electrons with highly tunable properties. However, such interfaces have been exceptionally difficult to prepare.

A major step forward in the preparation of oxide interfaces was achieved by Hwang and co-workers employing a pulse laser deposition technique to grow highly controlled metallic interfaces between lanthanum aluminate and strontium titanate. Importantly, quasi-two dimensional conducting channels on strontium titanate interfaces with remarkably high mobilities and carrier densities have been achieved. This has led to a rapid growth in the study of two-dimensional electron liquids in oxide interfaces – the modern counterparts of two-dimensional electron gases in conventional semiconductors. This marks the beginning of a new era in the field of quantum electronic devices.

The EPS CMD Europhysics Prize is one Europe’s most prestigious prizes in the field of condensed matter physics. It is awarded every two years in recognition of recent work by one or more individuals for scientific excellence in the area of condensed matter physics.

— By Bjorn Carey

Two graduating seniors celebrate their commencement on the Arctic Ocean

June 15th, 2014

On a bright, frigid Tuesday afternoon, two Stanford seniors were honored in their own private commencement ceremony aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy, a polar icebreaker located in the Arctic Ocean, some 3,400 miles from Stanford’s main campus.

For the past several weeks, the students, ERIN DILLON and CAROLINE FERGUSON, have been active members on a scientific research project called SUBICE that is searching for large under-ice algae blooms in the Arctic’s Chukchi Sea. The massive blooms, which scientists think have only become possible in recent decades due to thinning ice caused by climate change-driven ocean warming, could have implications for the global carbon cycle.

“We’re here to follow up on a discovery made in 2011 related to blooms of under-ice phytoplankton,” said KEVIN ARRIGO, professor of Earth sciences and the mission’s chief scientist. “That was a very unexpected result and something we didn’t understand very well but turns out is probably very important for the ecosystem. So we decided to come back to study it a little more comprehensively.”

Dillon and Ferguson have been critical members of the SUBICE team, Arrigo said. “They do most of the actual work in terms of processing the seawater samples. It’s a difficult thing to do a research cruise when you’re working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, for six weeks on end. They were two that I certainly thought could handle the stress.”

Being in the Arctic prevented Dillon and Ferguson from graduating with their peers at Stanford on Sunday. So Arrigo hatched a plan to honor them before he left on the polar research expedition.

“It’s a really big deal to miss your graduation, and the students are giving up a lot to be a part of this research,” Arrigo said. “I wondered if there were something we could do to help make up for the fact that they’re missing events at home. So I thought we might be able to hold a ceremony on the Healy.”

From left, Cmdr. Greg Stanclik, Healy executive officer; Kevin Arrigo, professor of Earth sciences and co-director of the Earth Systems Program; graduating seniors Erin Dillon and Caroline Ferguson, and Capt. John Reeves, Healy commanding officer. (Photo credit: Carolina Nobre)

From left, Cmdr. Greg Stanclik, Healy executive officer; Kevin Arrigo, professor of Earth sciences and co-director of the Earth Systems Program; graduating seniors Erin Dillon and Caroline Ferguson, and Capt. John Reeves, Healy commanding officer. (Photo credit: Carolina Nobre)


Healy officers, with the Coast Guard crew standing in formation, as well as scientific researchers and staff. Arrigo and the students walked out of the icebreaker’s hold dressed in full graduation regalia brought all the way from Stanford. Pinned to their gowns was the Coast Guard Arctic Service Medal, a gold medallion they received for serving more than 21 days above the Arctic Circle.

“Caroline and Erin, we honor you here in the Arctic as you wear the traditional cap and gown commemorating your upcoming graduation,” Arrigo said during his remarks. “To our knowledge, you are the first two people to be so honored in Stanford University’s history.”

Healy Commanding Officer Capt. JOHN REEVES also spoke at the ceremony. “As the grandson of a Stanford alum, and an icebreaker sailor myself, it’s my privilege to bring these two worlds together in a ceremony that is befitting of the occasion and the location,” he said.

Dillon and Ferguson, who will receive a BS in biology and a BA in human biology, respectively, said they were surprised and filled with gratitude by the extraordinary efforts undertaken on their behalf.

“We thought maybe it would be us and Kevin,” said Ferguson, who is continuing work toward a co-terminal master’s degree in Earth systems. “But everyone worked tirelessly to make us feel special. The kitchen got involved and baked a cake, and everyone congratulated us. We also received fake flowers – because flowers don’t grow here – so it’s been really, really special.”

Ferguson said she couldn’t imagine a better or more personal way to celebrate the occasion. “When we received our diploma cases, we opened them to discover a touching letter written by Kevin, which was even more meaningful than an actual diploma,” she said. “I’m sad to be missing Stanford traditions like watching the movie The Graduate and attending the senior dinner on the Quad, but I wouldn’t trade this experience for a hundred commencement ceremonies back on campus.”

Dillon called the experience “surreal” and said she thought it was an appropriate way to mark the end of her undergraduate years. “I have spent a significant chunk of my time at Stanford studying abroad and these experiences have been the defining moments of my time as an undergraduate,” she said, “so it only seems fitting that I graduate in my element doing research and traveling.

“In 10 years, when people ask, ‘What did you do for graduation?’ we’re going to have an incredible story to tell.”

Read the original story on the School of Earth Sciences website.

— BY KER THAN, associate director of communications for the School of Earth Sciences.



What a month for Cardinal baseball!

June 11th, 2014
Alex Blandino is among the Cardinal players selected in Major League Baseball's draft.

Alex Blandino was among the Cardinal players selected in Major League Baseball’s draft.

It’s been a big month already for Cardinal baseball players. The team got oh-so-close to the summit of college baseball – and while that dream did not come true, several players will now have the chance to chase their own glory.

The most dramatic moment in Stanford’s 2014 season came June 7 in the Super Regional in Nashville when catcher WAYNE TAYLOR smacked a game-ending homer in the ninth inning against Vanderbilt, lifting the Cardinal to a 5-4 win to force a deciding third game in the series.

“It was a great college baseball game,” Stanford head coach MARK MARQUESS told the San Francisco Chronicle. “A little bit too great for me late.”

But the next day, Stanford’s dream of a berth in the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., was quashed when Vanderbilt beat it 12-5 – if Stanford had won that game, it would have been playing in Omaha. The loss ended Stanford’s season at 35-26; it was the last Pac-12 team standing in the tournament.

For Taylor, his world is changed forever. On the day he hit his walk-off homer, the Seattle Mariners selected him in the 16th round of baseball’s draft. And he was not alone. Eight Stanford players were drafted by Major League Baseball in this year’s first-year player draft held in early June. Only the University of Mississippi, with nine, had more players drafted.

Beyond Taylor, Stanford’s draftees include shortstop ALEX BLANDINO (1st round, Reds); outfielder AUSTIN SLATER (8th round, Giants); third baseman DANNY DIEKROEGER (10th round, Cardinals); pitcher A. J. VANEGAS (11th round Dodgers); outfielder DOMINIC JOSE (24th round, Yankees); catcher MIKEL WHITING (30th round, Dodgers); and pitcher SAM LINDQUIST (37th round, Mariners).

In 2013, Stanford had seven players chosen in the draft. Pitcher MARK APPEL was the first overall pick by the Houston Astros.

In the history of the university, 130 players from the Stanford baseball program have played Major League Baseball – from the first one, CHARLIE SWINDELLS in 1904, a catcher who only played three games for the St. Louis Cardinals (he went 1-for-8), to the most recent, pitcher ERIK DAVIS, who got into 10 games for the Washington Nationals in 2013. The first-ever Stanford player taken in MLB’s draft was ROBERT COX, an outfielder, by the Cardinals, in 1965 – the first year of the draft.

Ever wonder how Stanford’s 130 MLB players have done collectively as hitters and pitchers? Crunching the numbers, we discover a wealth of good pitching and some decent hitting.

Stanford’s 39 pitchers have accounted for 1,025 wins vs. 937 losses and a 4.13 ERA. Its 91 position players have registered a .246 batting average and .374 slugging average – with 1,352 home runs in 56,561 at bats. Stanford product CARLOS QUENTIN, an outfielder with San Diego and 1st round pick in the 2003 draft, is arguably the best Cardinal hitter now in the majors with a lifetime .840 OPS (batting average + slugging average).

MIKE MUSSINA, a first-round draft pick by Baltimore in 1990, ranks as the best Cardinal pitcher ever. Pitching for 18 seasons in a career that began in 1991, he compiled a lifetime record of 270-153 with a 3.68 ERA, with his entire workload coming in the American League East during an era of high offense.

– By Clifton B. Parker

Stanford’s ‘robo-shuttle’ goes to Washington

June 10th, 2014

Engineers have spent the last decade developing and improving autonomous vehicles that use sensors and software systems to replace human drivers.

Now one Stanford professor is working on the next challenge: developing software systems to manage fleets of autonomous taxis, buses or shuttles.

“The work that we do can be viewed essentially as a giant dispatch system, whereby we are dispatching autonomous vehicles throughout an entire transportation network,” said MARCO PAVONE, an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford.

Pavone is part of a government-industry-academic consortium that is collaborating to create a test bed for an autonomous shuttle system. (See and learn more about the Stanford software in the accompanying video.) That effort is called ARIBO, short for Applied Robotics for Installations and Base Operations. Its goal is to study how autonomous vehicles perform in real environments, such as a military base or college campus.

On Wednesday, June 11, Pavone will join his ARIBO teammates in Washington, D.C., to take part in the SmartAmerica Challenge Summit, an event organized by the Presidential Innovation Fellows project. SmartAmerica is highlighting key advances in so-called Cyber-Physical Systems – the Internet of Things – applications where networked technologies are revolutionizing everyday activities such as, in this case, riding in a robo-shuttle controlled entirely by software.

With RICK ZHANG, a graduate student in aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford, Pavone has developed systems to manage fleets of autonomous vehicles and prevent them, for instance, from bunching up at popular drop-off points or the end of the line. At the moment his “fleet” consists of fist-sized models that scurry around the mock streets of a fake town in the basement of his Stanford lab.

“This test bed is a small-scale demonstration of what we hope to achieve on a real scale,” Zhang said.

After the SmartAmerica event, Pavone and Zhang will present their dispatch and control software at the Robotics: Science and Systems Conference in Berkeley, where their research has been nominated for best paper. 

BY TOM ABATE, Stanford Engineering




Motion Picture Academy awards Stanford alums gold and silver for their documentary films

June 9th, 2014

On Saturday, June 7, two alumni of Stanford’s MFA program in Documentary Film and Video won gold and silver medals from the  Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ 2014 Student Academy Awards.

The gold went to HELEN HOOD SCHEER for The Apothecary, about the sole pharmacist in a 4,000-square-mile region in the American Southwest.  J. CHRISTIAN JENSEN received the silver for White Earth, a winter portrait of North Dakota’s oil boom seen through unexpected eyes.

Scheer and Jensen, who were featured in The Dish when they were named finalists last month,  graduated from Stanford in 2013.

Helen Hood Scheer's documentary 'The Apothecary' took gold at the 2014 Student Academy Awards last weekend.

Helen Hood Scheer’s documentary “The Apothecary” took gold at the 2014 Student Academy Awards last weekend.


J. Christian Jensen, winner of the silver medal in the documentary film category for “White Earth,”

J. Christian Jensen, winner of the silver medal in the documentary film category for “White Earth.”



Stanford baseball heads to NCAA Super Regional following comeback

June 3rd, 2014

Stanford freshman TOMMY EDMAN hit a walk-off two-run home run on Tuesday, securing a 5-4 win for the Cardinal baseball team over Indiana University.  The play sends Stanford to the NCAA Super Regional next weekend in Nashville to face Vanderbilt in a best-of-three series.
“It was a fantastic win for us,” said MARK MARQUESS, the Clarke and Elizabeth Nelson Director of Baseball at Stanford. “Very proud of our team the way we battled back, and we beat an outstanding team.”

Edman, a switch-hitter, blasted a home run from the left side of the plate for the first time in his life, he said after the game. The shortstop said he was “just trying to get on base, to be honest. Home run was the last thing I expected.”

Read more on the Stanford Athletics website.


Humanities and Sciences recognizes staff members

June 2nd, 2014

ALYCE BOSTER, financial and administrative manager in the Department of English, was recently named winner of the 2013 Arnice P. Streit Award for Distinguished Service in the School of Humanities and Sciences.

Alice Boster

Alyce Boster

Boster, a 19-year veteran of Stanford, is called the “rock” and the “heart and soul” of the department by colleagues.

One faculty nominator wrote, “She perfectly executes multi-layered tasks in collaborations with faculty.  She never compromises with performance below absolute excellence.  She devotes her entire energy to advancing the goals of the department, while always maintaining a broad view and a humane attitude.”

The school also recently recognized winners of the Dean’s Award of Merit, which recognizes staff members who make outstanding contributions. This year’s winners were DAN KING, student services manager in the Department of Biology; MONICA BRILLANTES, program manager in the Language Center; TINA KASS, associate dean for faculty affairs in the Dean’s Office; and TAMMY LEARNED, administrative associate in the Department of Biology.