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Stanford Report, April 21, 1999

Three win Guggenheims for past achievement, future promise


Three Stanford scholars -- Gordon H. Chang, associate professor of history; Michael Riordan, assistant to the director, Stanford Linear Accelerator Center; and, Brian White, professor of mathematics -- are among the 179 artists, scholars and scientists who have been chosen to receive 1999 Guggenheim Fellowship Awards.

Chang, Riordan and White were chosen on the basis "of unusually distinguished achievement in the past and exceptional promise for future accomplishment," according to the foundation. The 1999 grants averaged $33,866.

Since 1974, 144 Stanford scholars have received Guggenheim Fellowships.

Gordon Chang, associate professor of history, is a specialist and pioneer in the fields of diplomatic history and Asian American history. His first book, Friends and Enemies: The United States, China and the Soviet Union, 1948-1972, for which he won the Bernath Book Prize Award from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, is an examination of United States--China relations in the 1950s and '60s. His second book, Morning Glory, Evening Shadow: Yamato Ichihashi and His Writings During World War II, presents the wartime writings of Ichihashi, a Japanese American professor at Stanford who was interned in California.

The son of a fourth-generation Chinese American mother from a pioneering California family and a Chinese father who was a prominent artist, Chang grew up in Piedmont. He served as valedictorian of his high school and went on to study at Princeton, where he majored in history and East Asian studies. Chang earned his master's and doctoral degrees from Stanford, and also was awarded a MacArthur Foundation dissertation fellowship administered by the university's Center for International Security and Arms Control.

Michael Riordan, assistant to the director of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) and lecturer in the Stanford Program in History and Philosophy of Science, was trained as an elementary particle physicist but has become an author and historian concentrating on physics in the 20th century. He obtained his doctorate in physics in 1971 and then did postdoctoral work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he contributed to a series of experiments performed at SLAC that discovered evidence for quarks within the proton and neutron. The importance of these experiments was recognized by the award of the 1990 Nobel Prize in physics to the leaders in this experiment.

Based on this experience, Riordan wrote a book about this pivotal moment in the history of modern physics. The Hunting of the Quark was awarded the 1988 Science Writing Award of the American Institute of Physics. In addition, he has co-authored or edited four other books on topics in science and technology. He will use the fellowship to complete a major, multi-institutional project to research and write a comprehensive history of the Superconducting Super Collider, the high-energy physics project that was terminated by Congress after 10 years and almost $2 billion had been spent. His contribution to the history, Tunnel Visions: The Rise and Fall of the Superconducting Super Collider, is researching and co-authoring a chapter titled, "The Politics of Big Science: Washington and the World, 1989-93."

Brian White, professor of mathematics, studies shapes that are optimally efficient. There are many examples in nature. A rope hanging between two posts assumes a shape that makes its gravitational energy as small as possible. A soap bubble assumes the shape that uses the least possible surface area to surround the air that it encloses. White studies the mathematical theory that underlies this type of geometric optimization. He is interested not only in the shapes themselves, but also in the dynamic processes that produce them. Although optimal shapes tend to be smooth and continuous, they are often created by processes that involve abrupt changes. For example, when you blow a soap bubble, how does the soap film manage to detach itself from the wand without popping? He is developing mathematical tools for answering such questions.

White, who was the highest ranking Yale senior in sciences when he got his bachelor's degree in 1977, went on to Princeton, where he received master's and doctoral degrees. After serving as a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Courant Institute for two years, he joined the Stanford mathematics department as an assistant professor in 1983. He has received an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship, a Presidential Young Investigator Award and a Bing Teaching Award.  

For a complete listing of the 1999 Guggenheim Fellows, consult the Guggenheim Foundation website at SR