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CONTACT: Mark Shwartz, News Service: (650) 723-9296,

COMMENT: Martha Coleman, Foundation Relations: (650) 725-5998,

Sarah Billington, Civil and Environmental Engineering: (650) 723-4125,

Alexandria Boehm, Civil and Environmental Engineering: (650) 724-9128,


EDITORS: This release was written by science writing intern Jessica Ruvinsky.


Sarah Billington and Alexandria Boehm named Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professors

Two new faculty members have been selected as Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professors in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Sarah L. Billington and Alexandria B. Boehm, who joined the Stanford faculty during the current academic year, will share a $498,559, multi-year grant from the Clare Boothe Luce Program of the Henry Luce Foundation.

Based in New York City, the program is named for Clare Boothe Luce playwright, journalist, U.S. ambassador to Italy, the first woman elected to Congress from Connecticut and generally a trailblazer, who was married to publisher Henry Luce. The program encourages young women to achieve distinction in the fields of science, engineering and mathematics where traditionally there have been obstacles to their advancement.


Sarah Billington

Billington, the Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Structural Engineering, came to Stanford from Cornell University, where she had been an assistant professor for five years. The recipient of several engineering awards, she focuses her research on the use of advanced materials for making buildings and bridges more earthquake resistant.

"Concrete is brittle, like chalk when you break it. Adding certain fibers to the concrete in the right way makes it hold together better," Billington said. "The fibers bridge the cracks that form, so you get many tiny cracks instead of one large one." This fiber-reinforced concrete is several hundred times more ductile than traditional concrete and may prove useful in keeping earthquake-damaged buildings standing and functional so that their elevators, sprinklers and electrical systems continue to work.

Billington hopes to begin collaborating with other Stanford colleagues to develop wireless sensors that will indicate whether a building is safe to enter after an earthquake and pinpoint where damage has occurred. She also is interested in engineering sustainable infrastructure that has minimal environmental impact including using recycled materials and energy-efficient construction practices.


Alexandria Boehm

Boehm is the Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Environmental Engineering. She arrived at Stanford from the University of California-Irvine, where she had been a faculty fellow for two years and received an award for outstanding undergraduate teaching.

Boehm's research brings her to the beach, where she studies coastal water quality and the processes that affect it. "What happens to viruses and bacteria when they are released into the environment?" she asked. "For how long can they harm humans?"

At Stanford, Boehm is continuing research she started at UC-Irvine to understand how people come into contact with pollution at the beach. She is particularly interested in analyzing how urban runoff and sewage move through the ocean, and how viral and bacterial contamination change throughout the day and month. She also researches the economics and politics of coastal water quality, and recently coauthored a study on controversial beach closings in Southern California.


Jessica Ruvinsky is a science writing intern at Stanford News Service.



By Jessica Ruvinsky

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