Embracing the unscripted life

first_imgIn a time of global change and uncertainty, Harvard continues to support, encourage, challenge, and prepare its students to face times of calm and crisis and help them to understand that “life never follows a script,” Harvard President Drew Faust told the College’s Class of 2010 on Tuesday (May 25).Faust’s remarks in the Memorial Church were part of the annual Baccalaureate Address, a Commencement week ritual dating to 1642 that gathers seniors for an informal farewell from the University’s president and the clergy.In her speech, Faust recalled the words of Robert F. Kennedy, who addressed South African students in 1966 who were fighting to end apartheid. Kennedy, said Faust, told those students that they lived in times of danger and uncertainty, but also in times of great possibility.“Now you have your own uncertainties and dangers and your own scripts to write,” Faust told the seniors. “The world has never needed you more. And we send you into that world with our confidence — our confidence in your commitment and our confidence in your abilities to create a script from the unexpected for which you are so well prepared.”On the hottest day of the year, the young men and women poured into the sweltering Memorial Church, dressed in their traditional black caps and gowns for their Harvard farewell.The time-honored ceremony included readings from Hindu scripture, the Holy Quran, the New Testament, the Hebrew Bible, and the Analects of Confucius. In addition, there were comments from the Rev. Peter J. Gomes, the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church.As is customary, Gomes was stationed at the church’s front steps and welcomed the seniors, who processed in a long line that snaked through the Old Yard. He greeted them with a solemn nod or friendly word.Faust said that changes at Harvard, ranging from the reforms in its financial aid programs to the successful introduction of a new undergraduate General Education curriculum, combined with a changing global landscape, provided lessons for the seniors that were “too important to forget.”Her first lesson concerned humility.“If Harvard graduates were writing the book on it, someone once said, the title would have to be ‘Humility and How I Achieved It,’ ” Faust joked. But, she added, “humility, in fact, is what makes learning possible — the sense of ignorance fueling the desire to overcome it.”Reiterating her “parking space theory of life,” Faust encouraged the seniors, in her second lesson, to be risk takers and aim for goals where they can do what they love.“Don’t park 10 blocks away from your destination because you think you’ll never find a closer space. Go to where you want to be. You can always circle back to where you have to be.”The students were well aware of her third important lesson, she said, that “the world really needs you,” acknowledging that they had already developed “a deep sense of obligation” through extensive humanitarian work and volunteer efforts.“You need to be the authors, the entrepreneurs, of your own lives,” offered Faust as her final lesson. “And this part I don’t have to tell you either. You are already doing it,” she said, referring to student projects such as a nonprofit group that built a girls school in Afghanistan. She also mentioned a soccer ball, born out of an engineering class assignment, that “can store energy and convert a playground ballgame into a power source for people in developing nations.”“Keep asking the big, irrelevant questions; keep thinking beyond the present,” Faust told the students. “Then live what you have learned.”Senior and Adams House resident Crystal Chang, a molecular and cellular biology concentrator who has plans to attend dental school, said Faust’s theme of embracing a life that doesn’t go according to a script is a message that everyone can appreciate.“It was very encouraging and very inspiring at the same time,” she said.last_img read more

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Race in America, made personal

first_imgIssues of history and race played an important part in Annette Gordon-Reed’s young life.In the early 1960s at age 6, she enrolled in an all-white elementary school as the only black student in her first-grade class. Later, after reading biographies of Thomas Jefferson, she found herself drawn to the nation’s third president, in part because of his fascination with books, much like her own, his insatiable curiosity, and his claim to support equality even though he owned slaves.Those early experiences may have helped to inspire Gordon-Reed, now a Harvard Law School professor, to write two seminal books that have been credited with redefining the nature of scholarship on Jefferson.In 1997’s “Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy,” she explored the relationship between the Revolutionary leader and his slave, the half sister of his wife, presenting a convincing case that Jefferson fathered several children with Hemings after his wife’s death. The assertions in her work were ultimately validated by DNA evidence showing that Hemings’ descendants came from Jefferson’s male line.Building on that work, Gordon-Reed authored “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family” in 2008. The book won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize in history, the National Book Award, and a genius grant from the MacArthur Foundation. The Pulitzer board called her book “a painstaking exploration of a sprawling multi-generation slave family that casts provocative new light on the relationship between Sally Hemings and her master, Thomas Jefferson.”During an informal talk at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study on March 10, Gordon-Reed discussed the plans for another volume of her award-winning work that will follow Sally Hemings and her descendants from 1830 through the early 20th century. Her research has taken her to Charlottesville, Va., where Sally Hemings and her extended family lived after Jefferson’s death.Exploring the history as well as the social and cultural dynamics of the Southern city, Gordon-Reed, who is also Carol Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute as well as a professor of history in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, said she was trying to “re-create the world of Charlottesville and the Hemingses, and to go deeper than people had done up until this point.”Much of her work has involved examining records in which census workers from the community determined a person’s race.Gordon-Reed noted that members of the Hemings family were described differently by the census, some designated as white, others as mulattos, still others as Negroes. Sally Hemings herself was listed as a free white woman in 1830, but she wasn’t legally free, said Gordon-Reed.“This family is skirting the boundaries here of race and of even freedom … Sally was never formally freed; she was informally freed by Jefferson.”With an old letter, Gordon-Reed explored the complicated dynamics between the Hemingses and the Jeffersons.Madison Hemings, one of Jefferson’s sons with Sally, did carpentry work for Jefferson’s grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph. Angry at not being paid, he wrote a testy note to Jefferson demanding the money owed for a job he had completed. The document, said Gordon-Reed, offers insight into the “tangled relationships” that continued between the Hemingses and the Jeffersons “after everything has fallen apart and is destroyed at Monticello.”“This is not simply black history, African-American history — it’s very much American history,” noted author and historian Nell Painter of Gordon-Reed’s work.last_img read more

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Alleviating radiation sickness

first_imgA combination of two drugs may alleviate radiation sickness in people who have been exposed to high levels of radiation, even when the therapy is given a day after the exposure occurred, according to a study led by scientists from Harvard-affiliated Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI) and Children’s Hospital Boston.Mouse studies of other potential therapies suggest they would be effective in humans only if administered within a few minutes or hours of radiation exposure, making them impractical for use in response to events involving mass casualties.  In contrast, the larger time window for administering the two-drug regimen raises the prospect that it could become a mainstay of the response to public health threats such as a nuclear power plant accident or nuclear terror attack.In a paper published online by the journal Science Translational Medicine, the scientists report the beneficial effects, in mice, of a combination of a fluoroquinolone antibiotic (similar to the commonly used human antibiotic ciprofloxacin, or “Cipro”) and a synthetic version of the natural human infection-fighting protein BPI. Mice that received the combination a day after being exposed to high doses of radiation fared far better than mice that received neither or only one of the agents. Whereas radiation exposures of that magnitude almost always prove fatal within a month, 80 percent of the mice that received the two agents were alive and apparently healthy a month into the study.The study’s lead author is Eva Guinan of Dana-Farber, and the senior author is Ofer Levy of Children’s Hospital Boston. Guinan is an associate professor of radiation oncology and Levy is an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.The investigators also found that the ability to generate new blood cells — which can shut down in the aftermath of radiation exposure — rebounded much more quickly and vigorously in the mice treated with fluoroquinolone and rBPI21 (the synthetic version of BPI), potentially contributing to their return to health.“Both fluoroquinolone antibiotics and rBPI21 have been shown to be quite safe in humans,” said Levy. “Their combined effectiveness in our study involving mice is an indication that they may be equally beneficial in people.”The research potentially represents a major step in the United States government’s efforts to build a stockpile of therapies to counter radiological dangers.“There is great interest in creating systems for dealing with the short- and long-term health risks of a significant release of radiation, whether from an accident at a nuclear power plant, an act of terrorism, or even a small-scale incident in which a CT machine malfunctions,” said Guinan. “Developing useful agents has proven difficult.  Most existing drugs aren’t effective enough and must be given within a very short time frame to provide any benefit.  The recent disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan illustrates the need for agents that can be deployed rapidly to treat large populations.”Radiation sickness, also known as acute radiation syndrome, varies with the amount of radiation an individual receives.  The first signs of the disease usually are nausea and vomiting, which can be followed by fever, dizziness, weakness, bloody vomit and stools, difficulty breathing, and infection. The body’s blood-making tissue, nervous system, digestive tract, lungs, and cardiovascular system all can be affected.  At very high doses, radiation is usually fatal.Within the body, the effects of heavy radiation may include leakage of bacteria and the toxins they produce into the bloodstream from the digestive tract or through broken skin.  Radiation effects play havoc with the function of the heart and lungs, disrupt the process of blood coagulation, and inflame tissue throughout the body.When bacteria or certain toxins enter the blood under normal conditions, the body’s immune system responds by dispatching neutrophils — white blood cells — to destroy the intruders.  The neutrophils release a payload of BPI (bactericidal/permeability-increasing protein), which sticks tightly to molecules called endotoxins on the surface of the bacteria.  The binding not only helps BPI kill the bacteria but also blocks inflammation caused by live or dead bacteria — something that conventional antibiotics do not do.When a person is exposed to high levels of radiation, however, the ability to generate neutrophils is almost obliterated.  “It’s a perfect storm of disease-causing events,” Guinan said. “Radiation results in bacteria and endotoxins entering the bloodstream at the same time that the body’s defenses are lowered.”The treatment approach developed by Guinan, Levy, and their colleagues takes direct aim at two potential contributors to radiation sickness: bacteria and the endotoxins on their surfaceIn the study, researchers exposed mice to radiation levels of 7 gray (by comparison, the amount emitted by a standard X-ray machine is 0.01 grays.)  At those levels, radiation is 95 percent lethal to mice within 30 days.Twenty-four hours after the radiation exposure, researchers began treating some of the mice with daily doses of fluoroquinolone antibiotic, some with twice-daily doses of rBPI21, and some with both.  The mice that received both agents not only had much higher survival rates than the others, but their ability to generate new blood cells also recovered much more quickly.The promise of this approach is underscored by the nature of the two agents, the study authors said.  Both have a proven safety record in humans and can be stored for long periods of time, making them suitable for stockpiling.The current study is the product of five years of work and collaboration between Levy, Guinan, and their associates.  “My experience in the field of stem cell transplantation, including the use of total-body irradiation, and caring for patients with diseases of the bone marrow has been a perfect complement to Ofer’s expertise in neutrophil function and innate immunity [the arm of the immune system that is the first line of defense against infection],” Guinan said. “This result is a promising new strategy for response to a nuclear event.”Funding for the study was provided by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Dana Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the G. Green Foundation, and the Shea Family Fund.Co-authors of the study include Christine Barbon, Kalindi Parmar, Janice Russell, Annie Voskertchian, Geoffrey Cole, Kaya Zhu, Alan D’Andrea, and Robert Soiffer all of Dana-Farber; Leslie Kalish, Christy Mancuso, Liat Stoler-Barak, Eugenie Suter, Christine Palmer, Leighanne Gallington, and Jo-Anne Vergilio all of Children’s Hospital Boston; Jeff Kutok of Brigham and Women’s Hospital; and Jerrold Weiss of the University of Iowa.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=/RuQeluaXQIA]last_img read more

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Making commitment count

first_imgHarvard students have commitment issues. I write not of commitments within the juicy domain of romantic relationships, but of co-curriculars — engagements beyond the classroom that support our personal and professional development. It is hard to remain committed to something at the epicenter of the world’s most prestigious university, where alluring carrots dangle before students in every which way.The dizzying abundance of resources at Harvard can lead to carrot overdose. Fellowship opportunities are scattered across campus, fluorescent flyers from laboratories ask for undergraduate researchers, finance firms scream “apply!” in inboxes, former White House officials offer positions for student leadership in their study groups, and more than 400 tantalizing student organizations look to lasso members. The Pokémon tagline “Gotta catch ’em all” resounds while FOMO, fear of missing out, abounds. The more commitments you collect, the better. The busier, the better.Students spar with their peers, competing in the game of sleeplessness; the person who sacrifices the most slumber reigns supreme in the coliseum of achievement. Students are constantly reminded of the opportunities, the opportunities. What a shame to miss out on all the opportunities! So we ascribe to overscheduled lives governed by Technicolor boxes in Google calendars. In the struggle to keep up with the Joneses, or the Crimsons, our commitments multiply.I have felt the crushing pressure of the opportunities, the opportunities. I have experienced the hollow absence of commitment in scurrying from one meeting to the next, missing the broader picture of my purpose and my contributions in college. I have struggled as that overscheduled, frazzled student. As a student past the halfway point of my time here who was recently reminded at Junior Parents Weekend by President Drew Faust that 454 days remained in my undergraduate career, I was compelled to reflect on my time spent on campus. I asked myself, “What have I committed myself to?” The age-old question “Is it better to hold many commitments well, or just a few extremely well?” buzzed in my brain. Letting those inquiries marinate, my attention floated to my proudest achievement at Harvard, the one that I had poured my heart, soul, and hours upon hours into: the Athena Program.Since I was a first-year, I committed myself to Athena, a gender empowerment and mentoring program run out of the Phillips Brooks House Association (Harvard’s student-led, community-based nonprofit) that leads a biannual conference. I have devoted more than 500 hours to this program, which embodies the spirit of my Harvard education. It has taught me the importance of commitment. It has, more than any course, prepared me for life beyond the ivy gates.Athena embraced me for the first time at a retreat is in the Harvard College Women’s Center (a spectacular space that has supported and housed our programming and served, more or less, as an extension of my room). My peers plunged into a reflective identity activity within minutes of meeting each other. We were asked to list 13 aspects of our identity and winnow our list down to three, and share which aspects of ourselves we eliminated, if we felt comfortable. This agonizing activity revealed that we are inherently intersectional beings, a compilation of interwoven identities. After plowing past the initial discomfort of revealing axes of myself to new people, I felt the presence of an extraordinary community that would challenge me to be more thoughtful in my life. I was hooked.This intimate family feeling permeated our meetings, which began with each member sharing a peak (highlight of the week), valley (lowlight of the week), and a gender river (any thought related to gender that gave pause). We discussed the impact of our programming. I began as a member of the outreach team that built contacts with guidance counselors, high school students, and community leaders to bring young people to the conference.I’ve led workshops on goal setting, built personal and professional relationships with my supportive co-directors, helped to manage a budget, built up a stipend program to compensate mentees for their contributions, and learned about life and leadership from the program directors who preceded me. The guidance of these directors built confidence in me to direct the program, which I have now for almost two years.My long-term commitment to Athena has helped me to see its evolution, and has helped me learn from my mistakes. The scope and size of our  program has swelled. We opened our program to members of all genders to promote open dialogue and gender equality. During my involvement, I have developed curriculum, built my public speaking skills, and learned about Boston communities. I discovered that it is wise to check citywide events before selecting a conference date. (We mistakenly scheduled a conference during the Walk for Hunger.) I acted rashly in heated decision-making moments, and I apologized. I learned to respond more promptly to emails, and to encourage reserved mentees to speak up through engaging techniques. I learned to actively appreciate others. I’ve built a social, emotional, and professional skill set I’ll keep with me for the rest of my life. For me, commitment created community.My collection of the colored pins that we distribute on Conference Day reminds me of my commitment, and how my dedication to Athena has supported my growth. I’ve participated in the creation of four conferences: “Define Your Own Beauty,” “The Power of You(th),” “Blasting Through Stereotypes,” and “Born This Way?,” and our most recent conference, “Growing Up Gendered.” From leading close readings of Lady Gaga’s lyrics to boldly shouting “No!” in the Harvard University Police Department’s Rape Aggression Defense workshop to hearing mentees speak truth to power at the coffeehouse for self-expression, each conference inspires a new sense of possibility and passion in me that I experience in no other realm of my life. Each conference also brings new students, glimmering insights, and ideas for improvement.Alas, Harvard students (myself included) have commitment issues. I am not concerned by the willingness of my peers to plunge into new experiences like some do into the Charles River off Weeks Bridge. What does concern me, though, is the excessive number of commitments students are motivated to plunge into. Ironically, the more commitments one has, the less committed one is; yet they are labeled commitments all the same. I have found that I can only slice myself into so many parts; I’ve distributed myself at times in a way that is unsustainable, unhealthy. I’m still working through managing my commitments, but I have taken the first step in identifying what matters most to me and throwing myself into it, while still keeping space to explore new frontiers.As I transition out of Athena leadership, I reflect on the competencies the program has built in me. I do not aim to answer whether having one main commitment is superior to having several. I do, however, hope to encourage my peers to consider giving more than a little of themselves to something, and to stick with it for a stretch of time. We need to strike a balance between the opportunities, the opportunities, and the most meaningful commitments in our lives. My experience has shown that great growth comes from the latter. Stay with something long enough to feel its pulse, to be uncomfortable, to fail, to see change, and to celebrate successes, mistakes too.I’ve committed, even though I’ve failed extravagantly, struggled with complex topics of gender and identity, led a fundraiser that flopped, and facilitated poor trainings. But I’ve also helped mentees with college essays, helped a mentee who will be the first in her family to attend college, involved mentee parents, organized a strong conference programming team, and cultivated an empowering community where youth can express themselves. Because of all that, I am a more loving person, a more thoughtful person, and a more confident person. I committed.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 [email protected]last_img read more

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Noncancerous cells carry weight

first_imgIn recent years investigators have discovered that breast tumors are influenced by more than just the cancer cells within them. A variety of noncancerous cells, which in many cases constitute the majority of the tumor mass, form what is known as the “tumor microenvironment.” This sea of noncancerous cells and the products they deposit appear to play key roles in tumor pathogenesis.Among the key accomplices in the tumor microenvironment are mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), a group of adult progenitor cells, which have been shown to help breast cancers maneuver and spread to other parts of the body.Now, new research sheds further light on how this spreading is happening. Led by investigators at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), the research demonstrates that the lysyl oxidase (LOX) gene is spurred to production in cancer cells as a result of their contact with MSCs, and once produced, can help ensure the spread of otherwise weakly metastatic cancer cells from primary tumors to the lung and bones. Described online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), this discovery not only provides key insights into the basic biology of tumor formation, but also offers a potential new direction in the pursuit of therapies for the treatment of bone metastasis.“We don’t have a lot of therapies that can target breast cancer once it has metastasized, particularly once cancer cells have lodged in the bone,” says senior author Antoine Karnoub, an investigator in the Department of Pathology at BIDMC and assistant professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School. “When breast cancer cells reach the skeleton, one way in which they cause damage is by breaking down bone tissue, which results in the bone’s rich matrix releasing numerous factors. These factors, in turn, feed the cancer cells, setting in motion a vicious cycle that leaves patients susceptible to fractures, pain, and further metastasis.”MSCs are nonhematopoietic progenitor cells predominantly produced in the bone marrow that generate bone, cartilage, fat, and fibrous connective tissue. They additionally support immune cell development and are recruited to inflammatory sites throughout the body to help shut down immune responses and regenerate damaged tissues, as might occur during wound healing. Several years ago, as a postdoctoral researcher at the Whitehead Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Karnoub began exploring the idea that MSCs were migrating to tumors after mistaking the cancer sites for inflammatory lesions in need of healing.“We discovered that once MSCs had reached the tumor sites, they were actually helping in cancer metastasis, causing primary cancer cells to spread to other sites in the body,” he explains. In this new research, Karnoub wanted to find out — in greater molecular detail — how breast cancer cells respond to the influences of MSCs in order to better understand how cancer cells cross talk with recruited cells in the microenvironment.His scientific team first embarked on a straightforward experiment. “We took two dishes of cells, cancer cells and MSCs, and mixed them together,” Karnoub explains. After three days, the researchers removed the cancer cells and studied them to see how they had changed.“We found that the lysyl oxidase gene was highly upregulated in the cancer cells,” Karnoub says. “It turns out that when a cancer cell comes in contact with an MSC, it flips on this LOX gene, turning it up by a factor of about 100. So our next question was: What happens to the cancer cells when they encounter this boost of LOX that they themselves have produced?”The answer, as revealed in subsequent experiments, was that LOX was setting in motion a cell program called epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT). During EMT, cancer cells that usually clump together undergo a transformation into cells that exhibit decreased adhesion to their neighbors and go their own way. As a result, these cancerous cells are able to migrate, significantly enhancing their ability to metastasize.“When we put these cells back into mice, they not only formed tumors that metastasized to the lung, but also to the bone,” says Karnoub. “This makes you wonder whether the cancer cells in primary tumors have become so acclimated to interacting with bone-derived MSCs that they can now grow more easily in the bone once they leave the tumor.”The investigators also wanted to find out if, by going through the EMT process, cancer cells were also acquiring the phenotypes of another highly aggressive feature of malignant cancer cells, those of cancer stem cells within the cores of most tumors.“Cancer stem cells are believed to be responsible for the resurgence of tumors following chemotherapy treatment, and an increasing body of science is focused on understanding how CSCs function and how they originate,” says Karnoub. “The processes of EMT and CSC formation have been described as being closely coupled, and we asked whether LOX might be regulating CSC phenotypes, just as it was regulating EMT. To our surprise, this was not the case. This tells us that pathways that were once thought to be intimately intertwined and commonly tweaked may, in fact, be separate, and now we can start to tease out the respective circuitries with a bit more clarity.”Lastly, the investigators identified the mechanism that was enabling LOX to be turned on from outside the cell, a set of molecules called hyaluronic acid (HA) and CD44. “It turns out that the MSCs provide the HA while the cancer cells provide the CD44, and they work in tandem like a lock and key to upregulate LOX expression,” explains Karnoub, adding that antagonists to HA and CD44, already in extensive investigations and clinical exploration, might be of increased use from a clinical standpoint, perhaps in managing bone metastasis.To read the full story.last_img read more

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From Tonga to Tercentenary

first_imgThis is one in a series of profiles showcasing some of Harvard’s stellar graduates.Many students come from great distances to learn at Harvard, but few have traversed such disparate worlds as Moana ′Ulu′ave. You might even say her journeys would make a fantastic story.Born to parents and grandparents from the South Pacific island nation of Tonga, ′Ulu′ave, 26, grew up among the frosty peaks of Salt Lake City, Utah, where her family settled in 1986 to find better economic and educational opportunities and to be close to the spiritual heart of their Mormon faith.Her grandfather once farmed taro and manioc (cassava) roots; her mother, Losaline, works at a book bindery; her father, Alama, was until recently a maintenance worker at the University of Utah. All set high expectations for ′Ulu′ave and her five sisters.“He used to drive us around and point out the law school and the medical school and say, ‘One day you’re going to come here,’” said ′Ulu′ave, a spoken-word storyteller and writer in the Arts in Education program at Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), who is receiving her master’s degree. “I always thought it was strange that he didn’t have that dream for himself.”Despite living half a world away, Tonga’s rich cultural history and oral traditions were always close at hand. ′Ulu′ave’s grandmother is known as “a keeper of stories,” while her father often makes videos of storytelling to preserve them for future generations. “I grew up with them telling me stories,” she said. “I didn’t know I was learning those things, but the stories were everywhere. I just had to pick them up and tell them as well.”Beyond class, ′Ulu′ave helped lead a weekly writing course at a women’s prison in Framingham, Mass., as part of a program run by Boston University.“For me, prison means something different. I come from a working-class background. I have friends who are in prison. I look around and I think: These women could be any of my relatives in a lot of ways,” she said. “For a lot of women there, education is redemptive. You’ve been punished, that’s why you’re in prison, and the only thing of your own that you have is your mind. And here you are, exerting that power that you have to obtain a piece of paper that says ‘Hey, you’re still valuable in society.’”A Gates Millennium Scholarship winner, ′Ulu′ave graduated from Brigham Young University in 2012, leaving the familiar, communal comforts behind to live in Cambridge, “a place that has no context for me,” she said. “I was so surprised at how much the relationships here meant to me. I didn’t know I’d find community.”“Moana has got this incredible joy and humor, but she is a deeply and profoundly serious person,” said Steven Seidel, the Patricia Bauman and John Landrum Bryant Lecturer on Arts in Education and director of HGSE’s Arts in Education Program. “She’s enormously intellectually curious and hungry,” with a very clear sense of the importance and power of community, he said.′Ulu′ave received the Intellectual Contribution award, an honor given annually to one student in each HGSE master’s program.“So many of her peers nominated her for that award and spoke about being inspired by her as … one of the few Tongan students to ever come to Harvard,” said Seidel, “but also just as someone who is both growing and curious and evolving and also so deeply rooted in her values and the values of her culture. It’s been inspiring to all of us — certainly inspiring to me.”As the first in her family to earn an advanced degree, ′Ulu′ave said dozens of far-flung relatives will join her here to celebrate.“In terms of my community and my family, this is making real a lot of dreams that they’ve had for generations. And when I say, ‘I am graduating,’ the indigenous ‘I’ is always the ‘We.’ So, ‘We are graduating.’ I appreciate all the sacrifices that were made even before I stepped on this campus.”last_img read more

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Black hole blasts may transform ‘mini-Neptunes’ into rocky worlds

first_img Growth illuminated by Harvard, Utah researchers Related Just-so black holes New research backs direct-collapse behemoths — ‘a cosmic miracle’ Dying stars source of life? “We wondered what these outbursts from Sagittarius A* would do to any planets in its vicinity,” said John Forbes, a co-author from the CfA. “Our work shows the black hole could dramatically change a planet’s life.”The authors considered the effects of this high-energy radiation on planets within 70 light-years of the black hole that have masses in between Earth and Neptune’s.They found that the X-ray and ultraviolet radiation would blast away a large amount of the thick gas atmosphere of such planets near the black hole. In some cases this would leave behind a bare, rocky core. Such rocky planets would be heavier than the Earth and are what astronomers call super-Earths.“These super-Earths are one of the most common types of planet that astronomers have discovered outside our solar system,” said co-author Avi Loeb, also of CfA, “Our work shows that in the right environment they might form in exotic ways.”The researchers think that this black hole impact may be one of the most common ways for rocky super-Earths to form close to the center of our galaxy.While some of these planets will be located in the habitable zone of stars like the sun, the environment in which they exist would make it challenging for life to arise. The super-Earths would be buffeted by supernova explosions and gamma ray bursts, which might damage the chemistry of any atmosphere remaining on the planets. Additional outbursts from the supermassive black hole could provide a knockout punch and completely erode a planet’s atmosphere.These planets would also be subjected to the gravitational disruptions of a passing star that could fling the planet away from its life-sustaining host. Such encounters might occur frequently near the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole since the region is so packed with stars. How crowded is it in the Galactic Center? Within about 70 light-years of the center of the galaxy, astronomers think the average separation between rocky worlds is between about 75 and 750 billion kilometers. By comparison, the nearest star to the solar system is 40,000 billion kilometers away.“It is generally accepted that the innermost regions of the Milky Way are not favorable for life. Indeed, even though the deck seems stacked against life in this region, the likelihood of panspermia, where life is transmitted via interplanetary or interstellar contact, would be much more common in such a dense environment.” said Loeb. “This process might give life a fighting chance to arise and survive.”There are formidable challenges required to directly detect such planets. The distance to the Galactic Center (26,000 light years from Earth), the crowded region, and the blocking of light by intervening dust and gas all make it hard to observe such planets.However, these challenges may be met by the next generation of extraordinarily large ground-based telescopes. For example, searches for transits with future observatories like the European Extremely Large Telescope might detect evidence for these planets. Another possibility is searching for stars with unusual patterns of elements in their atmosphere that have migrated away from the center of the galaxy. A team of astrophysicists and planetary scientists has predicted that Neptune-like planets located near the center of the Milky Way were transformed into rocky planets by outbursts generated by the nearby supermassive black hole.These findings combine computer simulations with data from recent exoplanet findings, as well as X-ray and ultraviolet observations of stars and black holes.“It’s pretty wild to think of black holes shaping the evolutionary destiny of a planet, but that very well may be the case in the center of our galaxy,” said Howard Chen of Northwestern University in Illinois, who led the study.Chen and collaborators from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) examined the environment around the closest supermassive black hole to Earth: the 4 million solar mass black hole known as Sagittarius A*.It is well known that material falling into the black hole in occasional feeding frenzies will generate bright flares of X-ray and ultraviolet radiation. Indeed, X-ray telescopes such as NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and ESA’s XMM-Newton have seen evidence for bright outbursts generated in the past, ranging from about 6 million years to just over a century ago. Black holes feed on stars Future evidence for extraterrestrial life might come from dying stars last_img read more

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New VP for alumni affairs and development

first_imgBrian K. Lee has been appointed Harvard University’s vice president for alumni affairs and development, President Larry Bacow announced today.An accomplished leader with a long history in educational and nonprofit advancement, Lee will join Harvard from the California Institute of Technology, where he is vice president for development and institute relations, overseeing alumni affairs and helping to orchestrate and implement Caltech’s $2 billion Breakthrough Campaign, currently underway.“Brian has demonstrated an extraordinary ability to bring together people in support of higher education, and he brings to his new role an especially strong record of supporting and advancing institutional goals with a combination of creativity, insight, and thoughtfulness. I look forward to working closely with him again,” said Bacow. “I would like to thank the search committee, chaired by Senior Vice President and general counsel Bob Iuliano, whose rigorous work led to a great outcome.”“I am thrilled at the prospect of working with Harvard’s remarkable community of alumni, donors, and volunteers,” said Lee. “This is an exciting time to build on the strong engagement and momentum of a campaign with far-reaching impact. I look forward to working with President Bacow and to serving the University, its alumni, and this community’s outstanding commitment to education, progress, and innovation.”Prior to joining Caltech in 2012, Lee worked at Tufts University for 26 years in various positions, rising to become senior vice president for university advancement. While at Tufts, Lee led a robust, university-wide program in alumni relations and engagement, working closely with the alumni association. He was involved in three major institutional campaigns, including Beyond Boundaries, which launched in 2003 and raised a record $1.2 billion for Tufts by its conclusion in 2011.Lee has been a leader and collaborator in the field of alumni affairs and institutional advancement. He has been chairman of the board of the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and a board member of CASE Europe.At Harvard, Lee will step into an organization that recently announced the successful completion of The Harvard Campaign, which included contributions from 153,000 households worldwide, totaling more than 633,000 gifts. He will be responsible for the three major reporting units of the Alumni Affairs and Development Office: the University Development Office, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Development, and the Harvard Alumni Association.His appointment marks the culmination of a national search for a successor to Tamara Elliott Rogers, who became vice president for alumni affairs and development in 2007 and announced in January that she would step down this year. Lee will take office on Nov. 19.Lee graduated from Assumption College with a bachelor of arts in English and completed the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Institute for Educational Management program. He and wife, Christa, have two children, Kathryn McLaughlin, Ed.M. ’14, and Gregory Lee.last_img read more

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An Indian dance performance at Ed Portal

first_img“A Hundred Moons,” an Indian classical dance performance by Neha Bansal, was presented to a sold-out audience at the Harvard Ed Portal on Oct. 30.Bansal, a graduate student at the Harvard Kennedy School, shared her love of dance with the Ed Portal community. At the start of the program, the audience was encouraged to find their inner sound and rhythm within an active and noisy world.The performance was held close to the night of Diwali, a Hindu festival of lights, and focused on the love story of deities Krishna and Radha. Bansal’s delicate hand gestures and movements helped paint a picture of their relationship. The accompanying music was also composed by Bansal.“A Hundred Moons”  is just one among a variety of events that Harvard offers at the Ed Portal — as well as across Harvard’s campus and throughout the community. For more information about the Ed Portal, or to learn about upcoming events and programs, please visit its website.last_img read more

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