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December 2, 2008

Two Stanford seniors win Marshall Scholarships

Two Stanford seniors—Max Kleiman-Weiner, who is majoring in biology with a concentration in neurobiology, and Douglas Stanford, who is majoring in physics—have been awarded Marshall Scholarships.

They are among the 40 Americans selected this year for the scholarships, which are financed by the British government and typically cover two years of tuition, research, living and travel expenses at a British university of the students' choice.

Kleiman-Weiner, 22, of Santa Monica, plans to study neuroscience at Oxford University. He is currently writing an honors thesis on neural network oscillations in the thalamus.

In high school, Kleiman-Weiner spent more than a year working at the UCLA Brain Research Institute, which studies neurodegenerative diseases. He helped to conduct experiments, including one in which the lab studied tissue from a toddler.

"While Chloe lay on the operating table in another part of the hospital, we embarked on an afternoon of meticulous investigation of the dysfunction tissue a neurosurgeon had taken from her brain in hope of alleviating her intractable epilepsy," he wrote in his Marshall application essay.

"At the end of the day, a senior scientist and I decided to do one last recording. We broke the neuron's membrane seal and watched the spontaneous activity that was occurring inside the cell—bursts of action potentials fired in an epileptic rhythm. This unexpected finding raised many more questions than it answered; was this a new twist in the pathology and if so how might it contribute to epileptogenesis, the start of a seizure."

When he arrived at Stanford in 2005, Kleiman-Weiner joined neurology Professor John Huguenard's lab at the School of Medicine to pursue his interest in the neural mechanisms of synchrony, the basis of epilepsy.

Last summer, at Huguenard's suggestion, he joined a research project at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai, a city of both great wealth and extreme poverty.

"Our research in the lab showed that mice which live in an 'enriched' environment learn faster, and have superior neural development even at the molecular level, but how could I apply this scientific knowledge to improve the lives of those around me?" he asked in his essay.

It was a question Kleiman-Weiner answered when he returned to Stanford and became a student researcher at the university's Rural Education Action Project, which is conducting on-site, experiment-based research designed to improve the lives of rural schoolchildren in China.

He is now examining the effectiveness of different nutritional supplement programs to treat anemic students enrolled in rural boarding schools—one of several collaborations between the Rural Education Action Project and Chinese academics and officials.

As a Marshall Scholar, Kleiman-Weiner plans to pursue a doctorate in neuroscience.

Douglas Stanford, 21, of Anacortes, Wash., plans to study mathematics at the University of Cambridge and physics at Oxford.

He is currently working on an honors thesis titled "Holography and Eternal Inflation."

In his scholarship application essay, Stanford wrote that he started learning the beauty of physics by reading The Feynman Lectures on Physics. The three-volume set, written by Richard Feynman, who was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1965 with two other physicists, was a graduation gift from his high school physics teacher.

Stanford has spent three summers as a research fellow and one summer maintaining and expanding an organic farm on campus.

"Nearing the end of my third summer of physics research, I have finally realized why this subject has stayed with me while race cars, airplanes, rocks and birds have all lost their polish," he wrote in his essay. "Physics is active. Each student of the subject gets to own and understand it for themselves."

"For example, with the metric for a Schwarzschild black hole in hand, I can settle for myself the argument I had with my father back in Dominica [when Stanford was 13 and living with his family on a sailboat, four years into a five-year circumnavigation],'' he added. "Where is the matter in a black hole stored? For an outside observer, it collects on the horizon. The singularity is hidden. For an observer falling into the hole, though, the geometrical effect of the matter interchanges time with radial distance. So, for an observer inside the horizon, the 'point' where the million stars' worth of mass exists isn't really a place—it's a time."

As a Marshall Scholar, Stanford plans to spend his first year studying mathematics at the University of Cambridge, taking part in the self-proclaimed "oldest and most famous mathematic examination in the world," Part III of Cambridge University's Mathematical Tripos, also known as the Certificate of Advanced Study in Mathematics.

He hopes to spend the next two years studying conformal field theory—the language of string theory and holography—at Oxford while pursuing a doctorate in physics.



Kathleen J. Sullivan, News Service: (650) 724-5708,


John Pearson, Bechtel International Center: (650) 725-0889,

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