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1 Mar
2021

Sustaining the momentum

first_imgFrom a Harvard Medical School (HMS) team that switched to reusable containers for sharp objects, thereby eliminating 11,000 boxes of waste, to a Harvard Business School (HBS) move to make its executive education programs sustainable, teams and individuals from around the University were recognized for their efforts through the Green Carpet Awards on Monday (April 11).Presented by the Office for Sustainability (OFS), the Green Carpet Awards honored 55 individual winners and seven teams, showcasing the creativity and passion that Harvard’s sustainability leaders bring to their efforts. The program, modeled after the Academy Awards, offered some lighthearted takes on sustainability, with an actual green carpet for winners to walk, a tongue-in-cheek music video about turning off lights, and student singers the Harvard Opportunes offering “Greening up Harvard’s Campus,” a takeoff on the Gladys Knight and the Pips tune “Midnight Train to Georgia,” pledging that they’re “working to find — ways to reduce waaaaste and crime.”Award winner Henry Kesner (right) dons a Kermit the Frog glove as he is congratulated by OFS Director Heather Henriksen.The event also featured several video messages to winners and supporters in the audience, with President Drew Faust assuring the audience that Harvard is on its way to achieving its sustainability goals and that its campus is a living laboratory for improvement programs.“We have come a long way, but we have a long way to go. Our success will depend on each one of you,” Faust said.Later in the program, HBS Professor Robert Kaplan, an executive committee member of Harvard’s greenhouse gas reduction program, said that the University has been making progress toward its reduction goals, cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent from 2006 levels by the end of 2010. When the emissions of 3 million square feet of newly opened buildings are eliminated from calculations, the reduction is much larger, 20 percent below 2006 levels, Kaplan said. The University’s goal is to cut overall emissions — including those from new construction — from 2006 levels by 30 percent by 2016.The Office for Sustainability was itself singled out for praise by several recipients for its role encouraging and supporting a variety of individual and group initiatives.Winners and finalists showcased the breadth of the sustainability effort at Harvard. In addition to the HBS green executive education program and the HMS sharps waste reduction program, team winners included the first School-wide Green Office program, at Harvard Divinity School; a green building project at the Harvard School of Public Health at 90 Smith St. in Boston; a solar heat and recovered steam heat system in the Canaday undergraduate dormitory; and a Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) building project to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the LISE building. A comprehensive list of winners can be found on the OFS website.The awards program also honored Harvard Kennedy School’s Harvey Brooks Professor of International Science, Public Policy, and Human Development William Clark and FAS Senior Director of Operations Jay Phillips for leadership, with the Spengler-Vautin Special Achievement Award, named after two who played a pivotal role in fostering sustainability: Yamaguchi Professor of Environmental Health and Human Habitation Jack Spengler, and former acting Vice President for Administration Tom Vautin, who retired last year.Harvard Kennedy School’s Harvey Brooks Professor of International Science, Public Policy, and Human Development William Clark (pictured) and FAS Senior Director of Operations Jay Phillips were honored for leadership with the Spengler-Vautin Special Achievement Award, named after two who played a pivotal role in fostering sustainability.Both Clark and Phillips said any achievements they have made in the area of sustainability were due to the inspiration and passion provided by those with whom they work. Clark praised Harvard’s overall efforts, but said there are two areas where more has to be done: transportation and campus biodiversity.OFS Director Heather Henriksen left the audience with a challenge, saying the stories of winners highlighted at the ceremony should inspire all to continue to innovate and to bring good ideas back to their Schools and departments.“We are counting on your creativity and leadership to help save the planet and help solve the global environmental challenges,” Henriksen said.last_img read more

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1 Mar
2021

Following path of genetic footprint

first_imgAn international team of researchers studying DNA patterns from modern and archaic humans has uncovered new clues about the movement and intermixing of populations more than 40,000 years ago in Asia.Using state-of-the-art genome analysis methods, scientists from Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have found that Denisovans — a recently identified group of archaic humans whose DNA was extracted last year from a finger bone excavated in Siberia — contributed DNA not just to present-day New Guineans, but also to aboriginal Australian and Philippine populations.The study demonstrates that contrary to the findings of the largest previous genetic studies, modern humans settled Asia in more than one migration. According to David Reich, a professor of genetics at HMS, “Denisova DNA is like a medical imaging dye that traces a person’s blood vessels. It is so recognizable that you can detect even a little bit of it in one individual. In a similar way, we were able to trace Denisova DNA in the migrations of people. This shows the power of sequencing ancient DNA as a tool for understanding human history.”The patterns the researchers found can only be explained by at least two waves of human migration: the first giving rise to the aboriginal populations that currently live in Southeast Asia and Oceania, and later migrations giving rise to relatives of East Asians who now are the primary population of Southeast Asia.The study also provides new insights about where the ancient Denisovans lived. According to Mark Stoneking, a professor at the Max Planck Institute who is senior author of the paper, Denisovans must have inhabited an extraordinarily large ecological and geographic range, from Siberia to tropical Southeast Asia. “The fact that Denisovan DNA is present in some aboriginal populations of Southeast Asia but not in others shows that there was a checkerboard of populations with and without Denisova material more than 44,000 years ago,” he said. “The presence of Denisovan genetic material in some but not all the groups there can most easily be explained if Denisovans lived in Southeast Asia itself.”The findings appear on Sept. 22 in The American Journal of Human Genetics.This research builds on previous work by Reich and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute, in which they analyzed an ancient pinky bone uncovered by Russian archaeologists in the Siberian Denisova Cave in 2008. The Max Planck Institute team led by Svante Pääbo sequenced the bone’s nuclear genome, and Reich led the population genetic analysis using algorithms that he and colleagues developed.Reporting December 2010 in Nature, the team identified Denisovans as a distinct group of archaic humans (hominins) who lived more than 30,000 years ago and contributed genes to present-day New Guineans. The researchers concluded that Denisovans were neither Neanderthals nor early modern humans, though they shared a common ancestry.This paper helped fill in some empty pieces in the evolutionary puzzle that began after early humans left Africa and reinforces the view that humans have intermixed throughout history.Genetic footprintsThe new study was initiated by Stoneking, an expert on genetic variation in Southeast Asia and Oceania who has assembled diverse samples from that region. The study takes a closer look at the Denisovans’ genetic footprint. The researchers analyzed DNA from dozens of present-day populations in Southeast Asia and Oceania, including Borneo, Fiji, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, and Polynesia. Some of the data already existed, and some were newly collected for the study.Their analysis shows that, in addition to New Guineans, Denisovans contributed genetic material to Australian aborigines, a Philippine “Negrito” group called Mamanwa, and several other populations in eastern Southeast Asia and Oceania. However, groups in the west or northwest, including other Negrito groups such as the Onge in the Andaman Islands and the Jehai in Malaysia, as well as mainland East Asians, did not interbreed with Denisovans.The researchers concluded that:• Denisovans interbred with modern humans in Southeast Asia at least 44,000 years ago before the time of the separation of the Australians and New Guineans.• Southeast Asia was first colonized by modern humans unrelated to present-day Chinese and Indonesians, and that these and other East Asians arrived in later migrations. This “southern route” hypothesis has previously been supported by archaeological evidence, but has never had strong genetic support.Investigators from the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, Germany, India, Taiwan, Japan, Malaysia, and the Netherlands also contributed. This study was funded by the Max Planck Society and the National Science Foundation HOMINID program.last_img read more

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1 Mar
2021

New hope for imperiled children

first_imgAn estimated 2.4 million children in the world are exploited sexually, and 300,000 are child soldiers. Millions more children toil in virtual slavery in private homes, in agricultural fields, in mines, and on fishing boats.Those dismal statistics are an indication that the global system of child protection isn’t working. But François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights of the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), together with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), is working to fix it.“It really is a broken system,” said Jennifer Leaning, the François Xavier Bagnoud Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights and FXB Center director.To help address the problem, the FXB Center is creating a suite of five classes focused on child protection as part of the curriculum for HSPH’s master’s degree in public health. Led by Leaning and Jacqueline Bhabha, FXB Center research director and professor of the practice of health and human rights, the program will be a sub-concentration in the public health program situated in the Humanitarian Academy, which offers courses in disaster response.The program will be one of the first interdisciplinary graduate programs in child protection and will train a new generation of leaders in the field. It also will begin to build a foundation of research and teaching to strengthen the theory and policy of child protection.Though the courses will be open to students at HSPH, a key element of the program will involve building leadership skills among experienced practitioners in developing nations. To foster their growth, the program will offer scholarships to three mid-career child protection professionals from nations in “the global south.”Two of the courses will launch next spring, and all five will be in place by fall 2014. The program was designed in collaboration with UNICEF, with that agency’s chief of child protection, Susan Bissell, providing important impetus, Bhabha said. Bissell contacted the FXB Center two years ago out of a belief that the field needed a stronger academic and research foundation. Leaning and Bhabha agreed.The courses will cover: management, budgeting, and administration; gender and reproductive rights; juvenile justice; human rights and child protection; and children as émigrés and refugees, fleeing wars and disasters. The program has an international advisory committee, co-chaired by Bissell and HSPH Dean Julio Frenk.The program’s initial development, as well as the three scholarships, have been financed by an anonymous donor, Leaning said. Additional development is planned. Within two years, Leaning hopes to offer the curriculum to other universities, especially those in developing nations. Faculty will develop online versions of the courses, which could be offered through the collaborative online course initiative edX. Students at universities around the world would be able to watch lectures created at Harvard, and then discuss issues raised with their local instructors.The problem the courses aim to address is enormous. It is global and involves populations both in developing and unstable nations, where trafficking is known to occur, and in stable, industrialized countries, where it takes place under the radar. The concern also includes populations that are institutionalized, such as children in group homes or prisons.Some children labor in mining or agriculture. Others are domestic servants, or even prostitutes. The problem among the refugee community alone is enormous, Leaning said. There are 40 million refugees and internally displaced people in the world, 80 percent of them women and children. Many were displaced years or even decades ago, and, unable to go home, have lived in refugee camps in host countries unwilling to accept them as permanent residents.Unable to earn a living, families become mired in poverty and dependent on aid, their children at risk for exploitation.“They’re gravely impoverished and dependent on humanitarian aid,” Bhabha said. “Families become desperate.”last_img read more

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1 Mar
2021

Linking China’s climate policy to its growth

first_imgOver the next three decades China’s growth will be such that if its leaders don’t act on climate change, it might not matter what the rest of the world does, Nobel Prize-winning economist Michael Spence said in a Harvard talk Tuesday.Spence, a New York University professor who served as dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences from 1984 to 1990, pointed to several environmental and energy factors to consider alongside China’s rapid development.Population growth is controlled, and per-capita income is expected to continue to rise, which usually coincides with a decrease in the energy intensity of an economy. Further, there is great opportunity to engage in sustainable construction in China because so much — buildings, electric grids, even cities — is still in the planning stages.The pressing question is whether China will take advantage of opportunities to shift from high-carbon fuels, such as coal, and curb the clouds of pollution billowing from the tailpipes of its burgeoning fleet of cars.“I think the issue comes down to carbon intensity, and there the story is much less clear,” Spence said. “I am not aware of anything that looks like a comprehensive plan that takes carbon intensity down beyond the effect of, let’s call it, a fairly successful and aggressive program of energy efficiency.”Spence spoke at the Science Center before a crowd of several hundred. The lecture, sponsored by the Harvard University Center for the Environment and the Harvard China Project, was first in a series on energy, climate, and development in China over the next 20 years.Spence went deep into the dynamics of economic development in low- and middle-income nations. Most of today’s high-tech, high-wage economies are in Europe or are European offshoots, such as the United States, Canada, and Australia. Just a handful of other nations, such as Japan and South Korea, have been able to develop quickly and avoid what is called the “middle-income trap,” in which rapid initial growth gives way to stagnation at a level below the standards of Western industrialized nations, with per-capita incomes between $3,000 and $10,000 a year.The middle-income trap, or, as Spence calls it, “middle-income transition,” develops when a nation’s rapid growth gradually cools amid rising incomes, eroding its relative advantage for low-cost manufacturing.The common trait among countries that have managed to push through the trap, Spence said, is a high level of economic investment, which allows manufacturing to shift to high-value, high-wage products. An important part of that shift is ramping up domestic demand for goods and services. Early in a country’s development, growth can be fueled largely by exports, but as incomes and manufacturing costs rise, domestic demand has to come along, helping support the economy as its global advantage declines.China will be the next country to see its way through, Spence believes. The government has an enormous balance sheet of assets to cushion the shocks along the way, and seems to have the savvy to employ market-based solutions when they would work best and more traditional command-and-control solutions when not, he said. It also has room to be more decisive than Western democracies, where political will is often the principal factor holding back reforms. High pollution levels, already a major concern, might lead to substantive action. The design of new cities, for example, could incorporate features that reduce the need for automobiles.However, Spence said he hasn’t yet seen a coherent strategy, so it remains to be seen whether China will successfully address pollution and climate change.“My best guess is that they’ll go after it much more aggressively because of the environmental contamination of air quality, water quality, the things that … really matter to people,” he said.last_img read more

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1 Mar
2021

Harvard men’s basketball moves past Cincinnati, 61-57

first_imgSPOKANE, Wash. — Siyani Chambers scored five of his 11 points in the final 1:58 to lift the 12th-seeded Harvard men’s basketball team to a 61-57 win over fifth-seeded Cincinnati in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Thursday.With Thursday’s win, Harvard improves to 27-4 overall, setting a new program record for wins in a season. The Crimson also becomes the first Ivy League team to win an NCAA tournament game in consecutive seasons since Princeton did so in 1983 and 1984. For full coverage of the game, including a video recap.Harvard will now face No. 4 Michigan State on Saturday at 8:40 p.m. EST live on TNT. For coverage of Saturday’s game, visit the Crimson’s Tournament Central website.last_img

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1 Mar
2021

Radhika Nagpal, expert on swarm robotics, celebrated among ‘Nature’s 10’

first_img Read Full Story Radhika Nagpal, the Harvard computer scientist whose self-organizing swarm robotics are today’s state of the art in collective artificial intelligence, has been named among Nature’s 10, the ten scientists and engineers who “made a difference” in 2014.Nagpal is the Fred Kavli Professor of Computer Science at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and a core faculty member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University.In February of this year, her research group announced the creation of a robotic construction crew, inspired by termites, which is capable of assembling blocks into 3-D structures without any human intervention. And in August, Nagpal’s group unveiled its thousand-robot swarm, a massive assembly of small robots that collectively arrange themselves into shapes, interacting much like a school of fish or a flock of birds. Dubbed “the first thousand-robot flash mob,” these Kilobots demonstrate the power of computationally simple programs to collaboratively and autonomously execute complex behaviors.“The beauty of biological systems is that they are elegantly simple — and yet, in large numbers, accomplish the seemingly impossible,” Nagpal said. “At some level you no longer even see the individuals; you just see the collective as an entity to itself.”Nagpal’s research sheds light on the nature of coordination in large groups in order to better understand natural systems like social insect colonies and multicellular self-organization, and to engineer robust and powerful technologies like multi-robot systems for use in search and rescue, construction, or agriculture.last_img read more

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1 Mar
2021

2016 Presidential Public Service Fellows announced

first_imgThe Office of the President has announced the recipients of the 2016 Presidential Public Service Fellows.Launched with the aid of an anonymous gift in 2011, the fellowship program provides funding for undergraduate and graduate students in the middle of their studies to pursue summer work experiences in government and community service, nongovernmental organization and nonprofit work, and innovative projects that serve the common good.This year’s recipients are:Chelsea Banks, Harvard Business School, M.B.A. candidateMark Bode, Harvard College Class of 2017Natalie Chew, Harvard College Class of 2017Andrew Donnelly, Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Ph.D. candidateMichael Huggins, Harvard Kennedy School of Government, M.P.P. candidateJyoti Jasrasaria, Harvard Law School, J.D. candidateOmar Khoshafa, Harvard College Class of 2017Sean Lo, Harvard Law School, J.D. candidateLavinia Mitroi, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, DrPH candidateKevin Mott, Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Harvard Business School, joint M.P.P./M.B.A. candidateKareli Osorio, Harvard College Class of 2018To learn more about their work, visit the Harvard Presidential Public Service Fellows website.last_img read more

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1 Mar
2021

A prize of a weekend

first_img Related Rehearsing “Cuchifrito” by Carlos Henriquez for @niemanfdn #Pulitzer100 celebration at @Harvard pic.twitter.com/KZQYgm3IbV— Wynton Marsalis (@wyntonmarsalis) September 8, 2016 Luminaries from the worlds of journalism, photography, history, and music gathered over the weekend at Harvard to mark the 100th anniversary of the Pulitzer Prize, in festivities hosted by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard.Jazz musician and composer Wynton Marsalis, who won the 1997 Pulitzer for his work “Blood on the Fields,” opened the celebration Saturday evening at Sanders Theatre with a performance by his quintet, following an introduction by Harvard President Drew Faust. (Watch a clip from his rehearsal below) Ahead of this weekend’s gathering, journalist Bob Woodward muses on the press, and sees plenty of hope Celebrating the Pulitzers at 100 On Sunday, in readings, conversations, and performances, past prize winners touched on the event’s theme of accountability and abuse of power.Among the speakers was investigative journalism titan Robert Caro, who wrote the masterwork “The Power Broker” about the extraordinary life of Robert Moses, an unelected city planner in New York who wielded more clout than any governor or mayor for more than 40 years. Caro also wrote the definitive multivolume biography about Lyndon B. Johnson, an ongoing project.Caro, a two-time Pulitzer winner, said the initial idea for “The Power Broker” came to him during an urban planning and land use class that he took while at Harvard as a Nieman Fellow in 1965–66. The course covered where and why highways get built, a seemingly mundane and tangential question for a political reporter.But the class led to Caro’s inquiry into Moses’ plan in the 1920s for a parkway across northern Long Island, a project that turned out to be a thread that would unravel a grim, hidden account of the “human cost” of Moses’ reign. The experience taught Caro a fundamental lesson about influence: “Regard for power implies disregard for those without power,” he said.“The story of the Northern State Parkway was not only the story of how Robert Moses dealt with the powerful; it was also the story of how Robert Moses dealt with those who had no power. In order to write about power truthfully, I decided, it was necessary to write not only about the man who wielded power, but the effect of power on those on whom it was wielded.”The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward, perhaps the most powerful and influential reporter of the last 50 years; Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, who aided publication of information about the National Security Agency surveillance program leaked by Edward Snowden; and Dean Baquet, executive editor of The New York Times, engaged in lively debate about the quality of mainstream media coverage and the many missed questions in the run-up to the Iraq War that exposed both the “mundane” and “larger failures” of the press. They also disagreed about what history will say about the job the press has done identifying and explaining the transformation of power inside the U.S. government that has taken place since the 9/11 terror attacks.Citing stories that he said reporters need to hunt down vigorously, Woodward pointed to the “holes in our understanding” about presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, such as Trump’s still-unreleased tax returns and a cache of nearly 15,000 emails from Clinton’s time in the State Department that haven’t been made public.Baquet said he would argue in favor of publishing Trump’s tax returns if the press obtained them. Woodward said The Post would most certainly publish the returns if it gets them, even though it’s a federal crime, publishable by five years in prison, to do so. He joked that he agrees with Post colleague Kevin Sullivan that the tax returns are so essential to the public’s understanding of Trump that Post reporters should each “take a day” in jail.“Some things you have to do,” he said.In a videotaped interview with Nieman Curator Ann Marie Lipinski, “Hamilton” creator and performer Lin-Manuel Miranda discussed how the themes of both giving up and losing power are interwoven into his musical’s rich narrative. He also addressed the challenges he faces in his creative process, and in finding his artistic voice.In “One Last Time,” a song about how Alexander Hamilton wrote George Washington’s farewell address as he stepped down from office, Miranda sees contemporary parallels in the pursuit of power.“One of the trappings of power is that you become convinced that the problems of your country are uniquely yours to solve. That’s the rationalization,” he said. “And that’s how you get to dictatorship, and that’s how you get to despotism. That’s how you get to tyranny, and that’s how you get to a mayor’s third term.“You convince yourself that ‘I alone can solve these problems,’ when the faith needs to be in the institution itself.”last_img read more

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1 Mar
2021

My 21 years in Cambridge

first_img Related A student who calls two coasts home learns to bridge the gulf I am now in my eighth year of walking through Harvard Yard every morning on my way to class. And in many ways, this walk has remained the same. I will always be overdressed or underdressed for the changeable Cambridge weather, whose whims I still cannot predict. And I will always be rushing, my sense of time forever thrown off by the five minutes tacked onto the 8 a.m. start time of high school or the seven-minute grace period I now get in college. I pass the same brick buildings and dodge the same groups of tourists while clutching the same coffee from the Starbucks by the Red Line.When I first moved into Hollis Hall for dorm crew, carrying hastily packed belongings from my parent’s house in West Cambridge — 10 minutes away by car and 30 on foot — this impending sense of sameness had weighed me down. College had always been pitched to me as a transformative experience, where everything would be new and surprising and challenging. I had imagined that I would move at least a state away from home, to navigate the roads into New York City on move-in day, or the particularities of muggy weather in Washington, D.C., or the greener and quieter landscapes of Vermont.This move to a new place, far enough away from my parents and high school friends and familiar sights to trigger something new in me too, was supposed to mark my first big step toward adulthood. It was in the process of moving and the experience of living somewhere else that I believed growth could happen. By comparison, staying in Cambridge seemed like a sentence to stagnation. Finding comfort at home and here The image of college as a place defined by its students’ experience of newness — surprise roommates in unknown dorm housing in an unfamiliar college town — is ingrained not just in my own imagination, but in the culture as well. This cultural imagination is predominantly an American one laced through with geography. My cousin in the Czech Republic, who grew up in Prague, did not expect a big move when he entered university two years before me. The best school for his interest in translation was Charles University, also located in Prague, and the best housing option for his student budget was his own childhood bedroom. For him, the prospect of spending his university years in the same city where he had spent his high school years did not entail existential angst. But the vastness and variety of the United States had been imprinted in my imagination, not his, and the need to explore new corners of this place was one I couldn’t shake no matter how happy he seemed to be at home.I entered the Yard that first day through Johnston Gate with a single heavy backpack in tow and a friend along to say goodbye. In those first few familiar steps, there was no trace of the trepidation I had wanted to feel on my first day at college. My parents hadn’t come to see me off, being at work and having no doubt they would see me again within a few days — or whenever they wanted, for the next four years. But after my friend turned to walk back through the gate and I turned toward the enthusiastic upperclassmen beaming at me from behind a makeshift “Welcome to Dorm Crew!” sign, this sense of comfort suddenly disappeared. I was lost, in the same Yard where I had spent so many late afternoons lounging with friends from high school. The dorm crew captains who handed me my keys began to steer me toward Hollis with gentle smiles reserved for round-eyed, new freshmen from far away, and I didn’t stop them. I had no idea where Hollis was.My sense of displacement in a physical space I thought I knew so well would continue for the first few months I lived at Harvard. Mostly, I felt as though someone had blindfolded me and spun me in endless circles before releasing me in the middle of Harvard Square, which now wobbled out of focus, presenting new topsy-turvy dimensions wherever I looked. Every morning that I looked out from my window in Pennypacker Hall to see the back of the Old Cambridge Baptist Church was an exercise in balancing two different worlds inside my head. This was the same church I used to pass on trips to BerryLine or walks to Central Square, part of the backdrop of high school years spent exploring Cambridge on foot with friends. Now it was on the outside, while I sat inside a dorm whose tiny triangle shower and bunked beds I had never imagined in countless strolls past this building.Over the past four years, I have regained some sense of balance between these dimensions. The isolated, often inward-looking Harvard worlds I discovered during my freshman year feel like they have opened up to become part of the broad landscape of Cambridge as I know it. I meet friends to study in Kirkland Dining Hall or Café Gato Rojo as often as I go to the 1369 in Inman Square or Darwin’s on Mount Auburn Street.While the brick-walled barriers between Harvard and the larger Cambridge community remain mostly intact, I appreciate the luxury of being able to move between them now. I also appreciate the insight this has afforded me — that one physical location can represent multiple different worlds offering endless new experiences. I did not get to move outward, to explore the greener pastures and larger cities outside Cambridge. But in staying here I have been able to move inward, to explore instead the corners and complexities of this place.last_img read more

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1 Mar
2021

Lessons in observation

first_img Related Education is pivotal, Faust tells Miami students In visit to turnaround high school, Harvard president, recent alumna tout what’s possible through learning What do the gold-plated skeleton of a wooly mammoth, an immersive art history class, and a pack of monogamous mice have in common?Plenty, it turns out, and those similarities can teach us about our past, our present, and our future, according to two Harvard experts who discussed the overlapping approaches to their cutting-edge work in the fine arts and genetics at a Feb. 16 Miami event organized by the Harvard Alumni Association.In the hourlong conversation, held at the Faena Forum before a crowd of more than 400 Harvard alumni and friends from Miami and beyond, Hopi Hoekstra and Jennifer Roberts said the humanities and the sciences share key goals and processes, including a steadfast commitment to the kind of close observation that can inform how we see, appreciate, and interpret the world around us.The faculty exchange, moderated by Susan Fales-Hill ’84, formed the centerpiece of the latest gathering in the Your Harvard series, discussions sponsored by the Harvard Alumni Association throughout The Harvard Campaign that take place around the world and bring members of the global Harvard community together to connect with one another and with Harvard scholars and experts across a wide range of topics and research.Roberts’ mantra, “just because you’ve looked at it doesn’t mean you’ve seen it,” is the central tenet behind her class “The Art of Looking” a humanities frameworks course in which she asks undergraduates to spend hours in front of a painting of their choice at the Harvard Art Museums absorbing as much information and detail about the work as they can. “At first the students are alarmed by this assignment,” said Roberts, Elizabeth Cary Agassiz Professor of the Humanities. “They think they can’t possibly see three hours worth of information on a flat surface. But it’s an inspiration for them to go through the process because they quickly realize how much they hadn’t seen in their habitual glance or scan of the work.”Pulled in all directions by access to endless flows of information, contemporary students aren’t accustomed to paying such close attention to things, said Roberts. In looking at one work for hours at a time, they learn to see “what they didn’t see the moment before, and the moment before, and the moment before. And so it becomes a kind of iterative exercise for them and it’s a skill that has to be at the core of all of the humanities, I believe.”For Hoekstra, an evolutionary geneticist, Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology, and a professor of molecular and cellular biology at Harvard, “science starts with an observation.” Hoekstra, who studies the molecular basis of adaptation in wild mice, said one of the first things she does when someone new comes to work in her lab is ask them to simply watch the mice.“It allows you to deconstruct that behavior, which gives us insights into its component parts, allows us to think about the genetic changes that make it rise to those behaviors.”Observing mice in the wild, said Hoekstra, offers up “that connection between the organism and the environment that you just can’t read in a textbook, you have to be out there, in the field.”Among the mice she studies, Hoekstra has found that certain groups behave in two very different ways. She and her colleagues have noticed that some mice like to have as many partners as they can with little familial responsibility, while others are monogamous homebodies who prefer to stay put and to be actively involved in raising their offspring.“In recent work we’ve been able to identify a gene that contributes to these differences in male parental care. … The first question is: Does it have anything to do with human behavior? And if it does, what do you do with that information?”“What is the rapport between mice and humans,” asked Fales-Hill, an author, writer, and television producer.Humans share a surprising number of genes with mice and even fruit flies, said Hoekstra. What differentiates us “is the way those genes are expressed and where and when they are expressed.”“So at the genetic level we are incredibly similar to mice and I think there are certainly several behaviors that you can make analogies about,” she continued, “but I think [once] we really understand the neurobiological underpinnings of how those behaviors work, then we are going be able to say at a different level how similar those are.”Leveraging the unique setting, Roberts encouraged attendees to engage in a close inspection of the nearly 10-foot-tall gilded mammoth skeleton across the street in the garden of the Faena Hotel, a provocative product of artist Damien Hirst, who encased the sculpture in a giant glass and gold-painted steel box.“When I look at that piece … I see this as a question that has been posed to everyone who sees it about the meaning of extinction and the passage of time.”“What art can do,” Roberts added, “is take something from the past, detour it into our current habitat and create a defamiliarizing set of new questions that make us think more deeply about the present.”Attendees at Your Harvard: Miami listen to remarks from President Drew Faust. Photo by Manny HernandezThe wooly mammoth suggested aspects of Hoekstra’s work. A close examination of DNA from the bones of a wooly mammoth preserved for thousand of years in Siberian permafrost has revealed the long extinct creature shares the exact gene mutation as the mice studied by Hoekstra, which leads to a change in the pigmentation of their fur.The discovery, she said, “raised the possibility that mammoths also came in multiple shades of color.”Following the faculty discussion, President Drew Faust outlined her vision for Harvard’s future. Promoting inclusion, community, belonging, and diversity at Harvard has been central to her presidency, as has the ongoing support of critical scientific research that tackles pressing challenges such as cancer and climate change, and her steadfast commitment to the arts.Faust outlined Harvard’s continued relevance to and impact in society today, as well as the many ways the University — through its students, faculty and alumni — will continue to make important contributions in coming decades. She began by listing the 12 Oscar nominations that had gone to films with which Harvard alumni had been directly involved.“Matt Damon, a member of the class of 1992, was nominated for ‘Manchester by the Sea,’ which he co-produced with Chris Moore, class of 1989,” Faust said. “Clark Spencer, who graduated from the College in 1985 — with a concentration in history — and from Harvard Business School in 1990, was nominated in the Animated Feature Film category for ‘Zootopia.’ Natalie Portman, class of 2003, was nominated for her portrayal of Jackie Kennedy in the film ‘Jackie.’”“La La Land, written and directed by Damien Chazelle, Harvard 2007, was nominated for a whopping 14 Academy Awards, including two songs in the best song category written by Justin Hurwitz, class of 2008, who met Chazelle when they were classmates,” she continued. “Hurwitz was also nominated for best original score, as was Nicholas Britell, who graduated phi beta kappa in the class of 2003, for the score for ‘Moonlight,’ the achingly beautiful film set here in Miami.”(An important footnote: On Feb. 26, “Zootopia” won the Oscar for best Animated Feature Film, and “La La Land” took home six trophies, including Best Director for Chazelle, and Best Original Score and Best Original Song wins for Hurwitz. “Moonlight” won Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay awards.)Beyond what the nominations said about the talents and successes of these particular Harvard-trained artists or the qualities of their films, Faust argued that the tally of honors also showcases the continued importance at Harvard of the arts and humanities, which foster, among other things, picking up on the theme of the earlier discussion, what she called “the art of noticing.”“Noticing: that is what I want to talk about for a few minutes tonight because it is at the core of what universities are about,” Faust said. “At their best, universities cultivate the art of noticing, in teaching our students to notice — to see differently— or in pursuing research, which is the art of noticing. Socrates’ ‘examined life’ — his ultimate goal for education— is in its essence about noticing.”Faust told the alumni gathered in Faena Forum, a spiraling amphitheater designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, a former Harvard Graduate School of Design professor, that their Harvard time had developed their ability to notice things large and small, and to see the world in fresh new ways.Harvard, said Faust, has “woven its way into us, become a part of us. It shaped who we are, what we see, what we notice.”Together, she continued, “we can enable Harvard to set an example, and signal the world about why universities not only matter, they are essential as centers of discovery, of progress, of possibility. These are the purposes of global research universities. Together we must continue to explain them, to defend them, and to achieve them so well that we continue to survive and to prosper, and to notice.”Fort Lauderdale resident and Harvard Kennedy School alumnus Kris Meyer M.P.A. ’15 called the event a great opportunity for the local Harvard community to connect and a chance “to take some of the ideas that we heard from President Faust and our speakers back out into the community and continue to be Harvard in the world.”Your Harvard: Miami was co-hosted by the Harvard Club of Miami and the Harvard Black Alumni Society of South Florida. The next Your Harvard events are scheduled for Singapore later this month, and for Minneapolis-St. Paul in June.last_img read more

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