Toy story

first_imgScientists have long studied how atoms and molecules structure themselves into intricate clusters. Unlocking the design secrets of nature offers lessons in engineering artificial systems that could self-assemble into desired forms.In the Jan. 29 edition of Science, a team from Harvard led by Vinothan Manoharan and Michael Brenner presents additional clues to how and why groups of atoms and molecules may favor less symmetrical and more complex, flexible geometric patterns.Click here to view a video of a six-particle cluster transitioning from an octahedral to a polytetrahedral configuration.The answer relates to a familiar concept in physics called entropy, the ways in which particles are able to arrange themselves. The researchers first caught sight of the link by using magnetic  “stick and ball” construction toys that can make varying shapes.Manoharan, associate professor of chemical engineering and physics in Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Department of Physics, and his colleagues used colloidal particles, a suspended chemical mixture seen in semi-solid foods such as mayonnaise, to simulate the clustering behavior of atoms and molecules.“To allow clusters to form, we put a few tiny polystyrene spheres in microscopic cylindrical wells filled with water. The particles act as  ’sticky’ hard spheres and naturally cluster together just like groups of nearby interacting atoms and molecules do,” said Manoharan.The researchers expected that simple, highly symmetric shapes would arise most often. Instead, two surprising, related, and scalable phenomena arose when the number of particles used in their experiments reached six or rose above nine.Six particles can form into a symmetrical octahedron and into a more complex tri-tetrahedron shape. In terms of chemical structure, each shape results in 12 bonds, and hence, has the same amount of potential energy. With the potential energy being equal, Manoharan and colleagues thought that both shapes would occur in equal proportion. They found, however, that the tri-tetrahedron occurs 20 times more often than the octahedron.“The only possible explanation was entropy,” said Manoharan. “Most people are familiar with entropy as a measure of  ‘disorder,’ but the most useful definition of entropy is simply the number of differentways a bunch of particles can arrange themselves.”Natalie Arkus, a former applied mathematics graduate student who worked with Brenner, the Glover Professor of Applied Mathematics and Applied Physics, provided a hint to solving the puzzle, as she discovered a method to calculate all the possible structures that could be formed using geometric magnetic toys made up of magnetic metal rods and silver ball bearings.Since there are more ways for the complicated tri-tetrahedron structure to form (something that can be seen by labeling the toy spheres and counting the ways they can be put together), the shape appears far more frequently than the octahedron. In general, among clusters with the same potential energy, highly symmetric structures are less likely to arise.The researchers also found that when the number of particles reaches nine or higher, entropy plays another important role.Because the number of possible structures with nine or more particles is vast, the team focused on what are called nonrigid, or flexible, structures. Nonrigidity occurs when a cluster is half octahedral and shares at least one vertex, allowing the cluster to twist without  breaking or forming another bond (something also easily seen by using the toys).“Because they can move flexibly, the nonrigid clusters have high vibrational entropy,” explained Manoharan. “In cases with nine or more particles, symmetric clusters do not appear as often due to rotational entropy. The ability to rotate is useful, as it allows clusters to have extra bonds.”As a general rule, the team found that for all clusters up to eight particles and a select number of structures with up to 12, the most symmetric structures occurred the least often due to entropy.“Our findings illustrate, in a tangible way, what the concept of entropy means,” said Manohran.Looking ahead, the researchers are interested in using their results to understand the emergence of bulk crystallization, or how particles come together in the early stages of forming a crystal.Manoharan and Brenner’s co-authors included Guangnan Meng, a research associate in the Department of Physics at Harvard University, and Natalie Arkus, a graduate of SEAS and now a postdoctoral fellow at the Rockefeller University. The authors acknowledge support from theNational Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.last_img read more

Far beyond Harvard’s gates

first_imgFor some Harvard students, summer vacation meant sandy beaches, curbside urban cafes, or jobs just around the corner from home.But not for Annemarie Ryu ’13.The 19-year-old spent eight weeks as a medical field researcher in Nicaragua, living in a $10-a-night hostel, interviewing health care workers in Spanish, and — late at night — poring over records on HIV and congenital syphilis. She called her summer a “transformative experience” that left her feeling shaken, honored, lucky, and ready years in advance for her senior thesis.Ryu was among the thousands of Harvard students whose summers involved meaningful adventure, study, work, and service abroad.Some of the places were far away in reality, like the Ukraine, Uganda, Brazil, and Bangladesh. A handful of Harvard students, for instance, spent the summer on remote Idjwi, an impoverished island in Lake Kivu in central Africa. An Amani Global Works project is trying to improve health care on the large island, where only three doctors now live.“Participating in a significant international experience is becoming the goal for increasing numbers of Harvard undergraduates,” said Catherine Winnie, who directs Harvard’s Office of International Programs.Statistics gathered by her office bear that out. From 2001 through 2009, summer travel by Harvard undergraduates — for study alone — shot up more than 700 percent.Other student travel over the summer crossed cultural divides into tough urban neighborhoods in New York, Chicago, and New Orleans.The Center for Public Interest Careers at Harvard College sent 25 undergraduates to New York City for 10 weeks of full-time work in its CPIC-Heckscher Fund for Service Internship Program. Among other things, students worked on a mural project, combined tutoring with squash instruction, and ran a six-week college-readiness boot camp on the Lower East Side.Students elsewhere in the world fixed a deep-water well in the Dominican Republic, studied hypertension in Paris, and tutored children in Boston’s diverse Mission Hill neighborhood.“It made me realize I want to be a teacher,” said Ann M. Cheng ’12, who spent her second summer working at the Mission Hill Afterschool Program, one of 12 day camps run by the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA).Twenty-four staffers, including seven Harvard undergraduates, held morning academic sessions for 80 campers ages 6 to 13, and in the afternoon took field trips, including a ferry to Georges Island.The experience made her feel grounded, said Cheng, who mentors a Dominican teen during the school year, and makes weekly trips to Mission Hill.Inspiration came from further afield too. Abhishek J. Bose-Kolanu ’11 produced a film in Tokyo. Marion Dierickx ’12 spent the summer assessing ultra-faint dwarf galaxy candidates in the Milky Way at the Max Planck Institute of Astronomy in Germany.Dierickx was one of 50 students in the Weissman International Internship Program this summer. Weissman interns fanned out around the world, educating former child soldiers in Uganda, studying risk management in South Africa, and breeding reef fish in New Zealand.Opportunities for serious study, work, and service abroad abound at Harvard, with programs big and small at virtually every School.At the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), summer work and internships are considered critical to the student experience. Its Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs sponsored student work trips to New Orleans, part of the ongoing Broadmoor Project. And the HKS-affiliated Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston sponsored 13 fellows from six Harvard Schools, including students in medicine, government, and business.The Center for Public Leadership at HKS sponsored summer interns, including one who worked publicizing the newly released film “Countdown to Zero,” which features Harvard experts speaking on the danger of nuclear weapons.Four HKS students took part in the News21 internship program sponsored by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. And Ash Center Fellows in Innovation worked in city offices countrywide.Lindsay Berger, M.P.P ’11, worked with the educational adviser in the San Francisco mayor’s office. Her issue was post-secondary education and what she called “the missing middle,” that large cohort of high school graduates not ready for college.Harvard’s Institute of Politics (IOP) offers its prestigious and competitive Director’s Internship Program, launched with 10 internships in 1995. This summer, 50 undergraduates interned for eight to 10 weeks. Forty worked in U.S. cities; 10 worked in Europe, South America, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere abroad.Jaymin Kim ’12, a social studies concentrator from suburban Toronto, was a Director’s intern in New York City. She worked with Amnesty International, where in eight weeks she learned how to organize a rally, shoot a video, and stage a panel. Living near Penn Station, said the Korea-born Kim, “was an international experience for me.”IOP also has a summer stipend program with 225 students this year, and a summer-in-Washington program that sent 300 undergraduates to Capitol Hill.Caterina Yuan ’11 spent the summer in Brazil on an internship sponsored by the Harvard Institute for Global Health. (The summer before, she studied traditional local medicine in China.)Crystalee Forbes ’11 was in Venice doing coursework at the Harvard Summer School, which this year sponsored more than 25 study-abroad programs. Students visited nearly every continent for school — from Beijing and Bangalore to Oxford and Prague.Christopher Jackson ’12 lived in a South African Zulu township during a new IOP summer study abroad program on globalization, sports, and development. It wasn’t all work for the Ontario, Canada, resident who is a government concentrator: There is an AP photo of a wide-eyed Jackson in the crowd at a World Cup soccer game.Graduate students had their own range of summer opportunities.At HKS, the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations sponsored seven summer internships. Dalia Al Kadi, an M.P.S./I.D. student, studied the access barriers to diarrhea drugs in India. Irene Hu, an M.P.P. student, worked in Malawi and Ethiopia with the group Save the Children.Joseph Livesey, a master’s degree student at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, spent 10 weeks in Kiev, Ukraine, a place he had been visiting for five years, but never as a scholar. By day, he studied archival records on famine during the 1930s, an experience that gave him a thesis topic. (“It was great to be a Harvard student,” said Livesey. “That means something to everyone.”) At night, ranging out from his $500-a-month apartment, he blended into Ukrainian life with old friends — at the park, at dinner, or sitting at makeshift beer cafes.“This is tremendous experience to have had,” said Livesey, 28, who speaks and reads Mandarin, Russian, and Ukrainian, and is working on his Uzbek.The Davis Center gave out 39 study grants this year, most for summer travel, said research programs coordinator Joan Gabel. Graduate students won 25, and undergraduates the rest.  Students traveled to nearly every former Soviet republic, she said, as well as to archives in Vienna and Dublin.“For undergraduates, summer experiences can be major forces,” said Gabel, moments that redirect both academic and personal interests. “And they open doors for people” through language training.For graduate students, she said, interviews and archival work abroad make for “more robust dissertation research” and can even change the direction of research. (Livesey, for one, went to the Ukraine this summer to study the Chinese merchants he remembered in Kiev, but they had largely disappeared.)For undergraduates, the intensity and duration of summer work and study has a special impact, said Gene Corbin, who is Harvard’s guru of public service work. (He is the Class of 1955 Executive Director of the PBHA, whose dozens of programs draw in a quarter of Harvard undergraduates.)Summer-long service work “allows the students to really immerse themselves,” said Corbin. “It’s a transformative experience.”Research done at PBHA last year shows a strong correlation between public service work in the summer and a student’s decision to pursue a public-interest career, he said. “They frequently realize: This is the kind of work I want to devote my life to.”Linda Zhang ’12 spent 10 weeks in Geneva working for the United Nations, first for the the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, and then on the U.N.’s new Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. A native Hawaiian, Zhang even joined the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus in July.“It was an amazing experience,” she said of Geneva. “This summer inspired me to continue working in this field.”She missed nothing and gained everything, said Zhang, who had a week at home in Honolulu before school began. “I can have my beach vacation now.” Geneva convention Linda Zhang ’12 spent 10 weeks in Geneva working for the United Nations, first for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, and then on the U.N.’s new Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Mission thrill Twenty-four staffers, including seven Harvard undergraduates, held morning academic sessions for 80 campers ages 6 to 13 from Mission Hill, and in the afternoon took field trips, including a ferry to Georges Island. Mending boo-boos “It made me realize I want to be a teacher,” said Ann M. Cheng ’12, who spent her second summer working at the Mission Hill Afterschool Program, one of 12 day camps run by the Phillips Brooks House Association. Summer abroad In Geneva, Linda Zhang ’12 also worked on the U.N.’s new Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. center_img Dirty water Students worked with the nonprofit Children of the Border to help fix a deep-water well in the Dominican Republic. Desk job Jaymin Kim ’12, a social studies concentrator from suburban Toronto, was a director’s intern in New York City. She worked with Amnesty International, where in eight weeks she learned how to organize a rally, shoot a video, and stage a panel. The world is their classroomlast_img read more

The story of the girl with pink sneakers

first_imgI did not expect to be overwhelmed in a van’s makeshift waiting room. I was on a reporting assignment for the Harvard Crimson involving the Family Van, a Boston mobile health clinic that provides free health screenings in the city’s rougher neighborhoods.Among the bustle of visitors — who talked with me about everything from insurance to the Kennedys to tattoos — was a young woman about my age, sporting hot-pink sneakers and hair dyed sun colors. She stepped onboard only briefly, hoisting her baby stroller and calling for the HIV-testing counselor “to pick up my letter.” I was overcome as I watched her vivacious smile: The Family Van only calls home for negative test results. How could I capture the challenges that she would face when she stepped off? How could I tell her story?Bridging the divide between medicine and its politics is the voice of the journalist. As a student of molecular biology and the history of science, this divide fascinates me. Half of my time in college is dedicated to biochemical research, and the other half to understanding the communication between scientists and the public. As a researcher, I work to emulate my lab-mates, the scientists who tirelessly question their results and the experimental procedures they use to obtain them. As a history student, I am challenged to take scientific facts that seem flat and give them depth. Indeed, straightforward scientific “facts” begin to look more complicated once historians trace them to their discoverers, who were bound to eras and geographies past.Journalists also trace facts to their sources — but in our era and across our geography. In her book trailer for “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” Rebecca Skloot reflects on her decade-long journey threading the narrative of the Lacks family with long-forgotten Johns Hopkins medical records. On the process, she remarks, “Good science is all about following the data as it shows up, and letting yourself be proven wrong, and letting everything change while you’re working on it — and I think writing is the same way.”I discovered this exhilarating writing process by accident. In my nostalgia for earlier days as a ballet dancer, I decided to write for the Crimson about an art form that I hold dear. After a year of directing arts reporting with my fellow editors on the Crimson Arts Board — a group of vibrant, colorful students who laugh easily, learn in earnest, and always put the story first — I fell in love with the culture of the newsroom. This year, two fellow juniors and I have teamed up to develop the Crimson’s health and science coverage in a biweekly section called “The Cutting Edge.”The Crimson has been my second home since freshman year, but it was not until I worked at the Nieman Foundation last summer that I became hooked on health and science journalism. Charged with writing profiles of the Nieman’s past global health fellows, I heard the stories of 10 journalists reporting from Hanoi to Harare (and quickly realized that interviewing journalists was an interesting exercise). Hopewell Chin’ono and Ran An reflected on the dangers of reporting on health in the totalitarian regimes of Robert Mugabe and the Chinese Communist Party. Kalpana Jain recounted her struggle to report on AIDS in India during a time when the disease was still condemned as Western propaganda. And Harro Albrecht and Christine Gorman, who both investigated health in Malawi, taught me that stories about disease — though universal — are told best in local contexts. In my Boston locale, I found these kinds of stories in the waiting room of a bus.After coming across the writing of Tom Paulson, host of the NPR global health blog “Humanosphere,” I began to understand how I could capture the life of the smiling, pink-sneakered girl who would learn of her HIV diagnosis on the Family Van. In a February post, Paulson writes, “If we aren’t careful in how we ‘frame’ this story, we’re at risk of turning this into a story …  about us — rather than about how best to help those most in need.”Like medicine and science, journalism’s first obligation is to seek truth, and its first loyalty is to its citizens. In this light, I am drawn to health and science journalism for the opportunity to piece together each voice in the pursuit of health, from the laboratory to the street. It is a challenge — but it is also a privilege to chase these stories.Alyssa A. Botelho plans to intern this summer as a health reporter at The Washington Post.If you’re an undergraduate or graduate student and have an essay to share about life at Harvard, please email your ideas to Jim Concannon, the Gazette’s news editor, at Jim_Concannon@harvard.edu.last_img read more

Toward better aid

first_imgBetter training, closer coordination among relief agencies, and a bigger dose of humility while working in unfamiliar cultures would help humanitarian aid workers, and make more of the billions of dollars spent each year on assistance, according to Harvard specialists with experience in the field.Harvard Public Health editor Madeline Drexler spoke with Jennifer Leaning, François-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights, a 30-year veteran in the field and a leading writer and scholar; Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) director Michael VanRooyen, who has launched relief efforts in more than 30 countries struck by war and disaster; and Parveen Parmar, associate director of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital International Emergency Medicine Fellowship and an associate faculty member at HHI, who set out on her first humanitarian mission in 2010.Q: Why doesn’t humanitarian aid money trickle down to the people most in need?VanRooyen: When the NGO machine steps into a large-scale humanitarian emergency, it quickly provides water and sanitation services, food aid, health care, housing, and security. Most organizations don’t effectively prepare for long-term sustainability — they don’t build water delivery systems for the city, they don’t build housing that will last, they don’t build infrastructure for program delivery. In many ways, the NGO community creates an alternate economy, and much of the money is spent on the delivery of emergency services. So it’s a valid complaint from local residents: “Where did all the money go? We don’t have pipes, we don’t have ditches, we don’t have farmland, we don’t have tools.”On the other hand, it is difficult to deliver resources directly to affected individuals and families. And money delivered to a nonfunctional or nonexistent government rarely gets to the people in need. Those who argue that the humanitarian field needs to get more cash to recipients should instead be saying, “We need to spend more money to plan and understand where the next humanitarian catastrophes are going to be, so that we can prevent them.”Q: What was the most difficult environment in which you delivered humanitarian assistance?Leaning: I was in Mogadishu, Somalia, in January ’92, during the height of the terrible internecine war that persists to this day. The fighting in Mogadishu was a combination of direct slaughter and indiscriminate firing of very heavy weapons on a city built of sandy concrete. Essentially, the city crumbled. People were trapped, killed, mutilated, and brought to hospitals that were completely unequipped to handle complex casualties.The humanitarian teams were fraying under the stress. People were very strung out, just trying to put one foot in front of another, not get killed themselves. They were traumatized, overwhelmed, intimidated, and having great difficulty practicing according to the standards in which they had been trained. They were hungry, sleep-deprived, in a chronic state of anxiety. No matter what they did, they knew there would be high mortality. Hardly anyone had the capacity to rise above the melee and say, “We’ve got to do things differently.” It was hell.Q: What was one of the more satisfying humanitarian operations you’ve been involved in?Parmar: In Pakistan during the 2010 floods, I worked closely with relief partners in the region—Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Muslim Aid, and Islamic Relief, among others. We collaborated to avoid duplication of services in an often-chaotic environment, filled with misinformation. MSF, for example, referred us to local staff as they were scaling down in the region, and shared data they’d collected during their operations. This level of coordination is unique in crisis and conflict settings. It reflects new initiatives to improve collaboration among humanitarian actors. The organization I represented also worked closely with the national government and local health departments, which strengthened the sustainability and impact of our efforts. Though our coordination was imperfect, it saved lives and sped aid to those who most needed it.Q: When does humanitarian aid work well — and when does it not?Leaning: This enterprise works well at dealing with refugees and internally displaced peoples who are not close to major cities. Cities can be messy — a lot of people, marketplaces, complex trade, networks of crime and corruption. Humanitarians do well when they have a clearer geographic and cognitive space in which to set up and provide hospitals, feeding stations, shelter, water, sanitation, education, and minimum livelihood options. In this operational context, humanitarian aid workers try to nurture new and existing leadership, bring together people who were stranded and separated, establish community conversations about what to do next, and bring everybody to a place where they have a breather from horrible, life-threatening concerns and can begin to make sense of their next steps in their lives. These actions are much more difficult to accomplish when the people in most acute emergency need are mixed in with the more chronic needs and established systems in large urban areas.The humanitarian community also does not do well when it enters a deeply complicated society that has its own serious fault lines — great numbers of people already in serious need—and then tries to cope with new fault lines and new layers of need. The 2010 Haiti earthquake was slam-dunk the worst-case example of failures in humanitarian effectiveness. On the one hand, it was a massive disaster that created a massive humanitarian crisis. On the other, Haiti was already struggling with severe and entrenched social and economic chronic crises not amenable to an emergency response.Q: Should humanitarianism be a profession?VanRooyen: Yes, it should. Think of it this way: How do you train a business student to lead Lockheed Martin? In the same way, how do you train people to work in humanitarian environments that are fluid and difficult? We need to recognize humanitarian assistance as a unique and specialized discipline. Students must know not only about humanitarian principles and the basic provision of services, but also about finance, personnel, diplomacy, culture, and very practical matters of security. They also need to be creative and to lead. The toughest challenge is teaching leadership.Today, the humanitarian assistance community doesn’t have a university that brings in entry-level people and apprentices them into the field. That’s what our Lavine Family Humanitarian Studies Initiative (HSI) and our new Humanitarian Academy at HSPH are all about.Q: What advice would you give to students who want to become humanitarian professionals?VanRooyen: As a physician, my medical expertise is not the thing that makes me useful in the field. Many of the challenges in providing humanitarian assistance are around organization and logistics: getting resources from one place to another. You need to know how to organize, move materials, build programs, manage logistics.Parmar: You need humility, above all. You need to recognize that you’re a foreigner in somebody else’s world—that they’re the experts and you’re a visitor. Diplomacy is essential. Change isn’t made by being bullheaded or adventurous. It’s made by collaborating with the people who will live with the consequences of the crisis long after you leave.Q: Do humanitarians often encounter a “headline mentality” in regard to disasters?Parmar: When I was waiting for my plane to Pakistan, I watched hours of CNN in airport lounges. Millions of people had been affected by the massive floods in that country — people were literally living on roadsides and in flooded fields under tarps with the few belongings they had, little to no food, no security, no privacy, their kids out in the road. But in the hours of waiting for my plane, the floods weren’t mentioned once. Despite the scale of the disaster, the immediate mortality from the flood was relatively low, when compared to Haiti or other recent disasters. As a result, the Pakistan floods quickly fell out of the international spotlight—though aid was still sorely needed.Q: How can a humanitarian worker stay sane in the midst of turmoil?Leaning: Do not be dismayed by external criticism of the humanitarian enterprise, much of which is moderately well founded, nor by the internal self-reflections and criticism, which are also valid and important. These arise because the work is rapidly evolving. This is a powerful and relevant undertaking that is now moving into a new generation of challenges and is going to require a new generation of people prepared to deal in complex systems.An important common denominator for all students going into the humanitarian field is that they understand the ethical and the human rights issues. That is very necessary, because you’re going to go into highly ambiguous settings. Students need to know how to determine what path they should take in complicated situations where questions of right and wrong are embedded in questions of safety and security and practicality. To do this work, aid workers must learn where they themselves stand in terms of their principles and lines of action.Q: What keeps you going?Leaning: What keeps me going is I know that people in need, who are trapped and suffering, actually care about whether the world cares. We are now sufficiently globalized that even the most remote community that falls into a calamity can discern the difference between being isolated or having the world pay attention. We are reestablishing what it is to be part of the human community. It’s a universal handshake.Parmar: I was talking recently to a resident who said, “I can’t do global health work, because I can’t deal with the reality that if I took care of this person in Boston, they would live, but in a crisis-affected region, they’re going to die because there are no resources. That’s fundamentally wrong.” My response was, “You’re absolutely right. But we have to do something.’’last_img read more

Kagan offers a view of a justice’s working life

first_img Read Full Story On Sept. 5, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Elena Kagan ’86 joined Dean Martha Minow for a conversation on life as a Supreme Court justice. The former and current deans spoke before an overflow audience in the Wasserstein Hall, Caspersen Student Center, Clinical Wing building.During the event, their discussion touched on many topics ranging from Kagan’s current reading group at HLS on the Supreme Court’s 2011 term to courtroom issues—including the role oral argument plays and the use of cameras in the courtroom. Said Kagan when asked about the role of the justices’ clerks: “They’re a fount of ideas, they’re a fount of information. They wander around the building and find out a lot about what other people are thinking. There’s a kind of clerks gossip network, and I encourage them to schmooze.”The event was sponsored by the Harvard Federalist Society, HLS American Constitution Society and the Dean of Students Office. To hear more about the inner workings of the Court and what Kagan does with her summer breaks, watch the full video on the HLS website.Kagan served as dean of the Law School from 2003 to 2009 and as solicitor general of the United States from 2009 to 2010. This fall at Harvard Law School, Kagan led a reading group on the court, as the Archibald Cox Visiting Professor of Law.last_img read more

Sunstein a University Professor

first_imgCass Sunstein, widely regarded as one of the most influential legal scholars of his generation, has been named a University Professor, Harvard’s highest honor for a faculty member.One of the nation’s most-cited legal scholars, and one of the world’s most prolific, Sunstein is the author of hundreds of publications whose impact has extended beyond law into the social sciences and the public sphere in many nations.“Cass Sunstein’s scholarly work has cast fresh light on long-standing questions and opened new paths for legal theorists, drawing creatively from fields outside the law to offer insights that consistently enrich not only legal discourse but the wider world of ideas,” Harvard President Drew Faust said. “He is a scholar, teacher, mentor, colleague, and public servant of uncommon range and distinction.”The University Professorships were established in 1935 to recognize individuals whose work on the frontiers of knowledge crosses the traditional boundaries of academic disciplines.Sunstein’s scholarship spans five major areas: behavioral economics and public policy, constitutional law and democratic theory, legal theory and jurisprudence, administrative law, and the regulation of risk. His appointment as the Robert Walmsley University Professor follows the retirement of legal scholar Frank Michelman, who held the chair from 1992 to 2012.“I feel more honored than I can say,” Sunstein said. “Harvard has such a remarkable and energizing academic community, with the most extraordinary students and faculty in so many diverse fields. To be here is a privilege; I look forward to doing whatever I can to be worthy of this extraordinary honor.”Sunstein is a magna cum laude graduate of both Harvard College (1975) and Harvard Law School (1978). He served as an editor of the Harvard Lampoon and a member of the varsity squash team, which won the national championship during his undergraduate years. As a law student, he served as executive editor of “Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review” and was a member of the winning Ames Moot Court Competition team. He clerked for Judge Benjamin Kaplan of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts and Justice Thurgood Marshall of the Supreme Court of the United States before working as an attorney-adviser in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.In 1981, Sunstein joined the faculty of the University of Chicago as an assistant professor of law. He was concurrently appointed as an assistant professor of political science in 1983 and named a full professor in 1985, eventually becoming the Karl N. Llewllyn Distinguished Service Professor of Jurisprudence. Sunstein twice served as a visiting professor at Harvard Law School (HLS) before joining the Harvard faculty as the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law in 2008.In 2009, he accepted President Obama’s invitation, and was confirmed by the Senate, to serve as administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which reviews draft federal regulations. In that time, he helped to implement the new health care law, promote the use of cost-benefit analysis, and initiate a number of major changes in national regulation, including a large-scale reassessment of existing rules. He was reappointed to the HLS faculty after leaving government in August 2012. He directs the new Program on Behavioral Economics and Public Policy.Beyond his hundreds of academic articles, Sunstein has authored or co-authored more than 30 books, including the bestseller “Nudge” (with Richard Thaler), “Risk and Reason,” and “Republic.com.” His experience in government has influenced his book, forthcoming this April, “Simpler: The Future of Government,” and also the forthcoming “Conspiracy Theories and Other Dangerous Ideas,” both to be published by Simon & Schuster. His recent Storrs Lectures, “Behavioral Economics and Paternalism,” will be published in the Yale Law Journal this spring. His current projects include a book tentatively titled, “On Liberty Reloaded.”Sunstein was elected to the American Law Institute in 1990, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1992, and the American Philosophical Society in 2010. He was awarded the APS’s Henry M. Phillips Prize in recognition of his intellectual leadership in constitutional law and political science, including in particular, “his profound research and writing demonstrating the complex interplay between jurisprudential constructs and the day by day resolution of legal conflicts.”last_img read more

The media, remade

first_imgAfter spending decades in the news business as journalists and executives for companies such as Time Inc., The New York Times, and Akamai Technologies, John Huey, Martin Nisenholtz, and Paul Sagan came to the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy last spring as fellows to piece together a narrative of what they themselves had just lived through.Their objective was to document and explain how journalism has been fundamentally disrupted and transformed by technology since 1980, and to do so by talking to the key people at leading institutions on both sides of the digital front lines.“Our questions were simple: What happened? How did we blow it? What could have we done differently?” Huey, former editor-in-chief of Time Inc., told a packed house Monday evening at the Harvard Kennedy School. The event was a panel discussion involving some of those key players, including Caroline Little, president and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America; Arthur Sulzberger Jr., chairman of The New York Times Co. and publisher of the Times; and Tim Armstrong, chairman and CEO of AOL.The result of the research that began last spring is “Riptide: What Really Happened to the News Business,” a multimedia history project launched this month that sets out to capture how sweeping technological changes changed not only the way news is delivered to consumers, but how it is gathered and presented, and by whom and for whom, and what that means for the future of the industry.Created in collaboration with the Nieman Journalism Lab, the “Riptide” website features a comprehensive 88-page essay, a timeline, dozens of historical documents, and 61 video interviews with an array of top players in journalism, media technology, and business, such as Sulzberger, Armstrong, and Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the MIT Media Lab — all figures, the three fellows write, “who faced the choices, made the decisions, placed the bets, and now have the hindsight as to how it could, or couldn’t, have played out differently.”“Consumers want curated, high-quality content, and I think there’s a very large role for journalism in the future,” said Tim Armstrong (second from left), chairman and CEO of AOL. The panel included moderator Martin Nisenholtz (from left), Armstrong, Caroline Little, president and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America, and Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of The New York Times.The organizers say they hope the project will continue to grow as they add fresh interviews to the repository in the coming months.When asked by Nisenholtz during the panel discussion about the current state of the newspaper business, Armstrong said that while there remains cause for worry given the contraction of jobs and revenues, he sees reason for cautious optimism, too.“I think if you look at the data, you’d be really concerned because you look at the number of journalists has gone down by roughly 30 percent in the last seven or eight years. Newspaper revenue — people think of journalism as newspapers in many cases — is down about 55 percent,” said Armstrong, whose company announced last month that 40 percent of its Patch network of community journalists and staffers would be laid off.“I think if you look forward, though, there’s some very exciting things on the horizon,” he said. “Consumers like to pay for content, consumers want curated, high-quality content, and I think there’s a very large role for journalism in the future.”Sulzberger said the newspaper industry was slow to recognize how computer science would come to drive the future of journalism.“Engineers, that’s what we didn’t focus on fast enough,” he said. “The need to have engineers building the systems that we are now using, building the tools we are now using.”While many critics have praised the ambitious nature and broad scope of the project, others have taken to Twitter and blogged on The Washington Post, Slate, and Poynter to note its lack of gender and racial diversity. Of the 61 people interviewed thus far for the project, only five are women and only two are not white.“We’re not pessimistic about the future of news,” Sagan said, noting that one of their big takeaways from researching the project was: Don’t be nostalgic. “Because the truth is … that journalism wasn’t always great. There were golden ages with many, many flaws, many, many incorrect stories, many communities that just weren’t covered at all before, many voices that weren’t heard from, not enough diversity,” he said.“It’s one of the things that we encountered even as we went to interview people and didn’t find the kind of diversity we’d like to find in every aspect of our lives. It wasn’t in journalism before, and digital disruption has exacerbated it in some ways, and improved it in others.”last_img read more

Forces of isolation

first_imgPlants or animals using color to attract a mate is fairly common in nature, but for Phlox drummondii, a wildflower commonly known as Drummond’s phlox, just the opposite is true.The flowers, which are native to eastern and central Texas, come in two colors — purple-blue when grown alone and red when grown with sister species Phlox cuspidata. The reason for the color change, recent studies have shown, is to prevent hybridization between the two groups.Though critically important to the evolutionary development of new species, the process of increasing reproductive isolation — which scientists call reinforcement — has remained frustratingly difficult to measure.That could soon change, however, thanks to research led by Robin Hopkins, an assistant professor of organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard. In a study published Aug. 21 in Current Biology online, the research team demonstrated a method for measuring the strength of selection in favor of reproductive isolation, and showed that selection in P. drummondii is very high.“The process of evolving new reproductive isolating mechanisms to stop hybridization has been seen in all kinds of organisms, from mammals to fish and frogs and many insects, so we believe it’s a common process in the formation of new species,” Hopkins said. “The challenge has been in measuring the strength of selection in favor of those mechanisms.“What we did was create a model that reflected the biology of the phlox. Using that model, we were able to estimate the strength of the selection acting on flower color, and that gave us an estimate on the strength of this reinforcement selection.”The hope, Hopkins said, is that a better understanding of reinforcement will shed more light on how natural selection and other processes drive the creation of new species.“There are two ways that natural selection plays a role in that process,” she said. “One is that as isolated populations adapt to a particular environment, they drift apart from other species, so if they do come back together, there is too much isolation, and they can’t reproduce.”The second role, Hopkins explained, is reinforcement, in which selection itself — rather than supporting a host of traits that lead to reproductive isolation — favors isolation.While researchers can measure the strength of selection for different traits, the same cannot be said for reinforcement.“The strength of selection acting on a trait is controlled by the amount of hybridization that happens, and the cost of that hybridization,” Hopkins said. “In the lab and the greenhouse, we can estimate the cost of hybridization by performing artificial crosses … but to estimate how much hybridization happens in nature, and how much a particular trait interferes with the process, is very difficult.”The solution was to look for answers elsewhere.Using an extensive sampling that covered the flower’s full range — including both color varieties — Hopkins and colleagues conducted a population genetics analysis that showed the strength of the selection for each.“What we did was sample many populations across this color change from blue to dark red, and we were able to get an excellent look at how these phenotypes in flower color change over space,” Hopkins said. “Using that model, we were able to estimate that the strength of selection on these flower colors is very high, which was very exciting in terms of thinking about reinforcement.“It is exciting to realize that there is at least one way that we can now have an estimate of that selection, and that in other species, if you can sample the phenotypic difference across that transition, you can use this method to estimate that selection.”last_img read more

Ebola epidemic is stoppable

first_imgThe Ebola epidemic is stoppable — if health professionals use procedures that are known to be effective in quelling such outbreaks, and by widening the international response to Ebola in West Africa, according to Atul Gawande.Writing in The New Yorker on October 3, 2014 — two days after the first Ebola patient in the U.S. was diagnosed in a Dallas hospital — Gawande, professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Harvard School of Public Health, called it “disturbing” that the patient had been sent home from that same hospital a week earlier. Although the fact that the patient had traveled from Liberia had been flagged in a screening checklist, that information had not been fully communicated throughout the care team.“The hospital’s initial mistake is hardly unusual in our health system,” Gawande wrote. “Failures to communicate critical information … remain among the most common causes of major medical error everywhere.” Gawande said flagging patients’ medical charts with crucial information isn’t enough; such information has to be confirmed verbally as well.Beyond using screening checklists effectively, isolating Ebola patients, and finding and monitoring those they’ve come into contact with, stopping this Ebola epidemic “is going to require dealing with the reservoir of disease multiplying in West Africa,” Gawande wrote. Read Full Storylast_img read more

Precancerous state found in blood

first_img <a href=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WMI-msIAI84″ rel=”nofollow” target=”_blank”> <img src=”https://img.youtube.com/vi/WMI-msIAI84/0.jpg” alt=”0″ title=”How To Choose The Correct Channel Type For Your Video Content ” /> </a> Researchers from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Harvard Medical School, the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI), and Harvard-affiliated hospitals have uncovered an easily detectable, “premalignant” state in the blood that significantly increases the likelihood that an individual will go on to develop blood cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma, or myelodysplastic syndrome.The discovery, which was made independently by two research teams affiliated with the Broad and partner institutions, opens new avenues for research aimed at early detection and prevention of blood cancer. Findings from both teams appear this week in the New England Journal of Medicine.Most genetic research on cancer to date has focused on studying the genomes of advanced cancers, to identify the genes that are mutated in various cancer types. These two new studies instead looked at somatic mutations — mutations that cells acquire over time as they replicate and regenerate within the body — in DNA samples collected from the blood of individuals not known to have cancer or blood disorders.Taking two very different approaches, the teams found that a surprising percentage of those sampled had acquired a subset — some but not all — of the somatic mutations that are present in blood cancers. These individuals were more than 10 times likelier to go on to develop blood cancer in subsequent years than those in whom such mutations had not been detected.The “premalignant” state identified by the studies becomes more common with age; it is rare in those under the age of 40, but appears with increasing frequency with each decade of life that passes, ultimately appearing in more than 10 percent of those over the age of 70. Carriers of the mutations are at an overall 5 percent risk of developing some form of blood cancer within five years. This “premalignant” stage can be detected simply by sequencing DNA from blood.“People often think about disease in black and white — that there’s ‘healthy’ and there’s ‘disease’ — but in reality most disease develops gradually over months or years. These findings give us a window on these early stages in the development of blood cancer,” said Steven McCarroll, senior author of one of the papers. McCarroll is an assistant professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and director of genetics at the Broad’s Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research.Benjamin Ebert, co-director of the HSCI Cancer Program, associate member of the Broad, and associate professor at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, is the senior author of the other paper.The mutations identified by both studies are thought to originate in blood stem cells, and confer a growth-promoting advantage to the mutated cell and all of its “clones” — cells that derive from that original stem cell during the normal course of cell division. These cells then reproduce at an accelerated rate until they account for a large fraction of the cells in a person’s blood. The researchers believe these early mutations lie in wait for follow-on, “cooperating” mutations that, when they occur in the same cells as the earlier mutations, drive the cells toward cancer. The majority of mutations occurred in just three genes; DNMT3A, TET2, and ASXL1.“Cancer is the end stage of the process,” said Siddhartha Jaiswal, a Broad-associated scientist and clinical fellow from Massachusetts General Hospital who was first author of Ebert’s paper. “By the time a cancer has become clinically detectable it has accumulated several mutations that have evolved over many years. What we are primarily detecting here is an early, premalignant stage in which the cells have acquired just one initiating mutation.”The teams converged on these findings through very different approaches. Ebert’s team had hypothesized that, since blood cancers increase with age, it might be possible to detect early somatic mutations that could be initiating the disease process, and that these mutations also might increase with age. They looked specifically at 160 genes known to be recurrently mutated in blood malignancies, using genetic data derived from approximately 17,000 blood samples originally obtained for studies on the genetics of type 2 diabetes.They found that somatic mutations in these genes did indeed increase the likelihood of developing cancer, and they saw a clear association between age and the frequency of these mutations. They also found that men were slightly more likely to have mutations than women, and Hispanics were slightly less likely to have mutations than other groups.Ebert’s team also found an association between the presence of this “premalignant” state and risk of overall mortality independent of cancer. Individuals with these mutations had a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and ischemic stroke as well. However, additional research will be needed to determine the nature of these associations.In the related paper, McCarroll’s team discovered the phenomenon while studying a different disease. They, too, were looking at somatic mutations, but they were initially interested in determining whether such mutations contributed to risk for schizophrenia. The team studied roughly 12,000 DNA samples drawn from the blood of patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, as well as healthy controls, searching across the whole genome at all of the protein-coding genes for patterns in somatic mutations.They found that the somatic mutations were concentrated in a handful of genes; the scientists quickly realized that they were cancer genes. The team then used electronic medical records to follow the patients’ subsequent medical histories, finding that the subjects with these acquired mutations had a 13-times elevated risk of blood cancer.McCarroll’s team conducted follow-up analyses on tumor samples from two patients who had progressed from this premalignant state to cancer. These genomic analyses revealed that the cancer had indeed developed from the same cells that had harbored the “initiating” mutations years earlier.“The fact that both teams converged on strikingly similar findings, using very different approaches and looking at DNA from very different sets of patients, has given us great confidence in the results,” said Giulio Genovese, a computational biologist at the Broad and first author of McCarroll’s paper. “It has been gratifying to have this corroboration of each other’s findings.Jaiswal will present the findings on Dec. 9 at the American Society of Hematology annual meeting in San Francisco.All of the researchers involved emphasized that there is no clinical benefit today for testing for this premalignant state; there are no treatments currently available that would address this condition in otherwise healthy people. However, they say the results open the door to entirely new directions for blood cancer research, toward early detection and even prevention.“The results demonstrate a way to identify high-risk cohorts — people who are at much higher than average risk of progressing to cancer — which could be a population for clinical trials of future prevention strategies,” McCarroll said. “The abundance of these mutated cells could also serve as a biomarker — like LDL cholesterol is for cardiovascular disease — to test the effects of potential prevention therapies in clinical trials.”Ebert agreed: “A new focus of investigation will now be to develop interventions that might decrease the likelihood that individuals with these mutations will go on to develop overt malignancies, or therapeutic strategies to decrease mortality from other conditions that may be instigated by these mutations,” he said.The researchers also say that the findings show just how important it is to collect and share large data sets of genetic information: Both studies relied on DNA samples collected for studies completely unrelated to cancer.“These two papers are a great example of how unexpected and important discoveries can be made when creative scientists work together and with access to genomic and clinical data,” said Broad Deputy Director David Altshuler, one of Ebert’s co-authors. “For example, Steve’s team found stronger genetic relationships to cancer than they have yet found for the schizophrenia end point that motivated their original study. The pace of discovery can only accelerate if researchers have the ability to apply innovative methods to large data sets.”last_img read more