‘Real-world impact’: Stanford Board of Trustees learns how SLAC can change the future
The Stanford Board of Trustees held its first meeting of the 2022-23 academic year Oct. 17-18. Trustees toured the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and met the new dean of the Doerr School of Sustainability, among other matters.
SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory helps to advance technologies and industries that can shape the world’s future and connects fundamental science to real-world impact through its user facilities, SLAC Director Chi-Chang Kao told the Stanford Board of Trustees during its first meeting of the academic year Oct. 17-18.
SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory is a national science laboratory managed and operated by Stanford for the Department of Energy (DOE). On Oct. 17, trustees visited SLAC, which is celebrating 60 years of science and discovery.
“The Department of Energy and other government agencies are all interested to see Stanford and SLAC together lead the development of all these emerging technologies – from artificial intelligence to synthetic biology – and to bring the brilliant ideas of faculty and students into laboratories, where big teams can make a much bigger impact than we can do by ourselves,” Kao said.
Trustees also heard from Arun Majumdar, the new dean of the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, which launched Sept. 1 with the goal of addressing urgent climate and sustainability challenges.
“The idea of trying new things and experimenting with new things is what academia does, and this is what we need to do for solutions,” Majumdar told trustees. “The only thing you can do is innovate, experiment, and see what works.”
The board also heard a report on a departmental name change within the school – from Geological Sciences to Earth and Planetary Sciences.
President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell shared their enthusiasm for the academic year ahead with the board, providing updates on matters such as advancing civil discourse, research opportunities, and moving the university’s Long-Range Vision forward.
For example, through the Civic, Liberal, and Global Education (COLLEGE) program, all first-year students are encouraged to think about their role in society and responsibility as a citizen. Drell told trustees she is thrilled this fall to be co-teaching one of its courses, Why College, which explores the value and role of a liberal college education.
“This is an important foundational skill not only for their years at Stanford but also for their lives ahead,” Tessier-Lavigne said.
In support of the university’s vision, Drell said priorities under the IDEAL initiative include the departmentalization of African and African American Studies, and the creation of an institute on race, ethnicity, and society.
Stanford also looks forward to helping create the policy and technology solutions needed to confront global climate change through the important work of the Doerr School of Sustainability and its Sustainability Accelerator, which aims to co-develop potentially scalable sustainability technology and policy solutions with external partners worldwide.
“With Stanford’s new model of how research universities meet global changes head on, we are well positioned to be a leader to help advance the public perception of what universities can and should do to address issues of national and global importance,” Tessier-Lavigne said.
‘Accelerating translational science’
As a vibrant multi-program laboratory, SLAC allows Stanford students and faculty to do research and build technologies that help address the world’s most pressing challenges, Kao said during an overview presentation of SLAC.
For example, SLAC is developing an upgrade of its Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS). LCLS-II will provide a major jump in capability – moving from 120 pulses per second to 1 million pulses per second and enabling researchers to perform experiments in a wide range of fields that are currently impossible.
SLAC is also enabling researchers to determine 3D structures of proteins and RNAs of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource and the Stanford-SLAC Cryo-Electron Microscopy Center (S2C2) to guide anti-virus therapeutics development.
SLAC additionally plays a crucial role in a broad set of the nation’s High-Energy Physics strategic projects, including leading the Super Cryogenic Dark Matter Search (sCDMS), measuring the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB Stage 4), and constructing the LSST Camera for the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile, Kao said.
Trustees toured many of these projects on Monday.
“Stanford and SLAC together are accelerating translational science,” said Jennifer Dionne, senior associate vice provost for research platforms/shared facilities and an associate professor of materials science and engineering.
Stanford-SLAC collaborations are driving world-class science and increased funding in quantum information systems and devices, such as single photon sources and modulators, and in photocatalysis for sustainable, high-yield, and product-selective chemical manufacturing, Dionne said.
She also touted how SLAC’s foundational work has led to the Q-Next Center, a Quantum Information Science Research Center created by the DOE and White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and led by Argonne National Laboratory. Q-Next’s mission includes establishing national quantum foundries; delivering quantum interconnects; and demonstrating communication links, networks of sensors, and simulation testbeds. SLAC researchers at the helm of Q-Next include Deputy Director JoAnne Hewett, and Thrust Leader Kent Irwin, who have been instrumental in building the National Superconducting Quantum Foundry.
The work of the nascent Doerr School of Sustainability has truly been a team effort involving the full Stanford community from the beginning, and that effort still continues, Majumdar told trustees.
Majumdar said he has been meeting with every faculty member in the school to learn about the diversity, breadth, and depth of its scholarship.
While scholarship is key, there is also an urgency to address challenges being faced in food, water, and climate issues, Majumdar said, which requires an understanding of how academia could play a critical role in government, business, nonprofits, and society.
“This a tremendous opportunity for academia to enable and educate not only our students, but also our larger stakeholders in society on what are the latest findings in climate science. Major nations and businesses have made climate commitments, but no one really knows how to navigate a complex landscape to meet their climate commitment,” he said. “This is like a marriage, which first and foremost requires a commitment. Organizations have made the commitment but haven’t figured out the details, and hopefully, there are no divorces in this process. I wouldn’t call us a marriage counselor, but we’re all trying to navigate this together.”
The value of education is going to be paramount in this coming world, he continued, and the school represents a culture shift in the way academia can help address real-world climate and sustainability challenges. The Doerr School of Sustainability includes academic departments from multiple areas of scholarship needed to advance long-term sustainability; institutes that bridge disciplines and bring various viewpoints to bear on urgent challenges; and an accelerator to provide proof of scalability for new policy and technology solutions throughout the world.
Climate justice hits home for Majumdar, who shared details of his experience growing up in New Delhi, India, where he often traveled by coal- and steam-powered trains and at times arrived at his destination covered in soot. He also experienced food rationing in the ’60s and said he would not be alive if it were not for the Green Revolution, a significant increase in crop production within South Asia and other developing regions of the world propelled by scholars such as the late Norman Borlaug and Carl Gotsch.
“That’s how to take ideas and solutions to scale,” Majumdar told trustees.
‘Bonds of friendship’
Stanford strives to create a meaningful and memorable student experience that facilitates connection and learning; a healthy and diverse social environment; and a campus infrastructure that makes it easy for students to host events, said Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole in an update on campus social life and neighborhoods for the board’s Committee on Student, Alumni, and External Affairs. The presentation was a follow-up from the board’s meeting in June.
The residential neighborhoods were newly designed last year to provide a consistent community of peers and supportive faculty and staff for undergraduates during their four years at Stanford, and have had a strong start this year, Brubaker-Cole said. This fall, 57% of sophomores are living with more than a dozen classmates who were in their frosh dorm, sharply up from 2019 when just 10% of students reported doing so.
On the first day of move-in, a longtime resident fellow reported seeing sophomores running through the halls and hugging each other, a contrast to prior years during which halls were relatively quiet and students didn’t know each other as well, Brubaker-Cole said.
“These are early observations, but they give me a lot of hope that students are more likely to be surrounded by friends and former neighbors, to make the transition back into the school year easier, and to be able to build on the bonds of friendship that they’ve already established,” Brubaker-Cole said.
Supporting students’ mental health and well-being was among Stanford’s most urgent priorities in the years preceding the pandemic, and it remains a top priority today, Brubaker-Cole said. Early findings on the long-term impact of neighborhoods at Stanford indicate that friendships formed in residences predict student well-being, and these findings suggest that investment in infrastructure that promotes diverse and many friends will support student mental health, as well as their personal and intellectual growth.
Neighborhoods saw early successes like New Student Orientation neighborhood socials and BBQs during the first week of school. These paired well with campus-wide events that are enlivening campus, such as the return of weekly Cardinal Nights; trivia and live performances at the Arbor, a bar behind Tresidder; the return of Farm Day; and the recent launch of the Explore the Bay series with off-campus experiences like a San Jose Sharks game and a Black Panther: Wakanda Forever screening in Redwood City, she explained.
Residential & Dining Enterprises and Residential Education have helped make all these efforts possible, Brubaker-Cole said.
Each neighborhood will design an annual all-campus event that, over time, will become a tradition, plus quarterly festival-type events, and weekly or bi-weekly touchpoint events, Brubaker-Cole added. Row houses have received funding to jumpstart their event planning.
The Office of the Vice Provost for Student Affairs is excited to see what students do with their neighborhood council events and on the broader campus this year, Brubaker-Cole said. Long term, the Social Life Accelerator Task Force – consisting of a group of alumni, students, parents, and staff – will share findings and recommendations that will inform direction.
“Students will be able to make their mark on Stanford this year in very special ways that will last for years to come,” Brubaker-Cole said.