Crossing the river of myths

first_imgA few minutes before a recent lecture at Paine Hall, global health statistician Hans Rosling stood onstage, head down, and ran through his PowerPoint images. One showed the bespectacled Swede chest-deep in water. The caption read: “Help us across the river of myths.”To Rosling, a physician and co-founder of the Gapminder Foundation, busting myths is a full-time job. It often keeps him on the road despite his professorship in international health at the Karolinska Institutet near Stockholm. One myth he often takes aim at is the misperception that the world is divided in two, with struggling, developing nations in one camp and wealthy industrial nations in another. The truth is, Rosling said, that the world is a complicated quilt of nations. We may miss how some of them achieve little-seen advances in income, infant mortality, literacy, and other measures of success.To help uncover — and illustrate — the complexities, and surprises, that can be hidden within global statistics, Gapminder developed Trendalyzer, a statistics visualization software. It depicts the countries as a series of colored bubbles that can be “brushed” through the years to illustrate trends and changes.In one demonstration, Rosling lined up a dozen countries on one side of the graphic and had them race across time, from 1800 forward, to show changing per-capita incomes. The balloons lengthened into wormlike tubes that wiggled across the decades. After World War II, Japan whizzed through the ranks faster than almost any other country. Today, little Tanzania and Ethiopia — among Africa’s developing leaders — are moving up fast.“Our main innovation is to display time as movement,” said Rosling, who credited his son and daughter-in-law for the technical work. “It liberates the horizontal axis.” Besides, he said of entertaining visualizations, “When you make people relax like that, they are more open to information.”Statistics that dispel myths among the community of nations also can dispel geopolitical ignorance, said Rosling. Or, as Harvard neurologist S. Allen Counter said of his longtime friend, “His main job is teaching us how to live together.” Counter added, “He brings us to the world.”Rosling was at Harvard Oct. 25 for the second annual David K. Pickard Memorial Lecture, co-sponsored by the Harvard Statistics Department, the Harvard Foundation (directed by Counter), and the Harvard School of Public Health. It celebrates the late Pickard’s verve and brilliance as a teacher of statistics at Harvard from 1980 to 1985. “He was electrifying,” remembered fellow junior faculty member Victor Solo, who now teaches at the University of New South Wales, in Australia.Pickard — dashing, handsome, with the energy of the schoolboy athlete he had been — had what notable teachers always possess, said acting Statistics Department Chair David P. Harrington: “the ability to speak clearly and listen carefully … and generosity of spirit.”Pickard — dashing, handsome, with the energy of the schoolboy athlete he had been — had what notable teachers always possess, said acting Statistics Department Chair David P. Harrington (pictured): “the ability to speak clearly and listen carefully … and generosity of spirit.”Rosling is a sort of traveling salesman for the importance of teaching statistics tellingly, and so was a natural choice for the Pickard event. During the lecture, he demonstrated his showman’s chops by crouching behind the lectern, then rising up dramatically to demonstrate the unseen progress of some nations. He rolled up his pant legs to make a point about the importance of font sizes in graphics. (Fonts too small make you look like a fool, he said.) And he wielded a comically long pointer. (Laser pointers, he said, are stupid.)But Rosling did not go as far as he did at a TED talk in March 2007, when he swallowed a sword. A lithe man in his 60s, Rosling is a member of the Sword Swallowers Association International. (“We are not so many,” he said of practitioners, though “if you know how to do sword swallowing, you know how to communicate.”) An image of him swallowing a bayonet is the lead art on the Wikipedia “sword swallowing” entry.The Gapminder team in Sweden occupies the theory department of the statistics business, Rosling offered mildly. “I run the road-show department.”Part of Rosling’s persona — and his passion for conveying information in understandable ways — relates to his family background. He comes from generations of farmers and blue-collar workers, from a family in which no one had ever finished more than six years of school. He called himself, proudly, “a red-necked Swede” — an enthusiast for the practical arts and for the humble people who keep the gears of the world turning.Right after medical school, more than 30 years ago, Rosling was a district medical officer in northern Mozambique. He uncovered an outbreak of konzo, a paralytic disease linked to using cyanide-rich cassava as a famine food. That work led to a Ph.D. and to a lifelong interest in the connections among a given country’s economy, agricultural practices, and public health. Statistics had piqued his interest further back, in his freshman year of university in Uppsala, Sweden. This science of gathering and analyzing data became the groundwork of Rosling’s passion: to acquire and disseminate what he called “a fact-based worldview.”A myth about Africa Rosling touched on one myth: that Africa is universally behind by every measure of progress. But “it’s country by country,” he said. Rural Tanzania might conform to that view, for instance, but urban Tanzania resembles much of Asia.When facts override myths, said Rosling, they show surprises. For instance, he said, in 1948, the year of his birth, there were fewer than 1 billion children on Earth. By the year 2000, there were 2 billion. Rosling asked the Harvard audience: How many will there be by 2100? He offered three figures, asked for a show of hands on each, and then revealed a surprising  answer: 2 billion.“No single question,” he said, “is more important” than the number of the world’s young by the end of the century. That low number negates a popular myth in global health circles: That “if you save the [lives] of poor children, you destroy the planet” because of overpopulation, said Rosling. “That’s not true.”He flashed a picture on the screen showing families from Vietnam, Mexico, India, and Bangladesh, where two-child families are the norm. About 80 percent of families in the world have an average of two children each, said Rosling, a fact that hardly portends a future overwhelmed by offspring.The world’s children by 2100 will only number 2 billion for another reason, he said: Prosperous Asia, where fewer than two children per woman is the norm: Taiwan and Hong Kong (1.1), for instance, and South Korea (1.3), Japan (1.4), and gigantic mainland China (1.6). Rosling wondered out loud why there are so few children in the most successful parts of Asia. He told a story that might offer an explanation, based on a chance meeting with a successful Asian woman in her 30s. “Yes, I think every day about children,” she told Rosling. “It’s the idea of a husband I can’t stand.”Understanding statistics in an accurate way can dispel ignorance of the real facts of the world — an ignorance Rosling said characterized even his own highly literate Sweden. When asked to choose among a range of literacy rates among 20-year-olds in Tanzania, only 4 percent of Swedes chose the right answer (80 percent). Asked about the number of children per woman in Bangladesh (2.5), only 5 percent the same group knew the answer.Onstage, Rosling crouched down and held one hand low. “My job,” he said, rising up straight, “is to raise the knowledge of the world.” That means not just having facts, but being able to analyze and visualize them. “Information,” Rosling added during a question-and-answer session, “is very far from understanding.”He said that most people still view the world in terms that are too simple, and he illustrated that point with a story. “My neighbor knows 200 kinds of wine. I know two, red and white,” he said. “But my neighbor knows only two ‘countries,’ developed and not. I know 200.”Honoring young teachersThe Pickard Lecture is always more than a talk. It’s also an occasion for the Statistics Department to recognize its best young teachers. Among the junior faculty, Associate Professor Tirthankar Dasgupta was singled out. “Some of the best teachers are quiet,” said Harrington. “These are still waters that run very, very deep.” Dasgupta appeared onstage and said, “This University … many people dream of. I’ve had this dream come true.”Four Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences teaching fellows were honored: fourth-year Ph.D. student Viviana Garcia Horton, statistics concentrator Jessica Hwang ’13, and fifth-year Ph.D. students Bo Jiang and Nathan Stein.After the lecture, during a reception at Maxwell-Dworkin, Rosling stood among knots of people conversing intensely and at one point posed for a photo with two admirers, fashionable young women from Brazil. They put their arms around him. “Why didn’t this happen,” Rosling quipped, “when I was young?”The teaching fellows stood nearby, pondering the lessons of Rosling’s kinetic lecture. “I like the idea of being physical,” said Stein.“The way that he presented information really appeals to very diverse audiences,” said Horton. “That should be a goal for everyone.”last_img read more

Coffee drinking tied to lower risk of suicide

first_imgDrinking several cups of coffee daily appears to reduce the risk of suicide in men and women by about 50 percent, according to a new study by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). The study was published online July 2 in The World Journal of Biological Psychiatry.“Unlike previous investigations, we were able to assess association of consumption of caffeinated and non-caffeinated beverages, and we identify caffeine as the most likely candidate of any putative protective effect of coffee,” said lead researcher Michel Lucas, research fellow in the Department of Nutrition at HSPH.The authors reviewed data from three large U.S. studies and found that the risk of suicide for adults who drank two to four cups of caffeinated coffee per day was about half that of those who drank decaffeinated coffee or very little or no coffee.Caffeine not only stimulates the central nervous system but may act as a mild antidepressant by boosting production of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline. This could explain the lower risk of depression among coffee drinkers that had been found in past epidemiological studies, the researchers reported.In the new study, researchers examined data on 43,599 men enrolled in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (HPFS) (1988–2008), 73,820 women in the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) (1992–2008), and 91,005 women in the Nurses’ Health Study II (NHSII) (1993–2007). Caffeine, coffee, and decaffeinated coffee intake was assessed every four years by questionnaires. Caffeine consumption was calculated from coffee and other sources, including tea, caffeinated soft drinks, and chocolate. However, coffee was the major caffeine source — 80 percent for NHS, 71 percent for NHS II, and 79 percent for HPFS. Among the participants in the three studies, there were 277 deaths from suicide.In spite of the findings, the authors do not recommend that depressed adults increase caffeine consumption, because most individuals adjust their caffeine intake to an optimal level for them and an increase could result in unpleasant side effects. “Overall, our results suggest that there is little further benefit for consumption above two to three cups/day or 400 mg of caffeine/day,” the authors wrote.The researchers did not observe any major difference in risk between those who drank two to three cups of coffee per day and those who had four or more cups a day, most likely due to the small number of suicide cases in these categories. However, in a previous HSPH coffee-depression study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, the investigators observed a maximal effect among those who drank four or more cups per day. One large Finnish study showed a higher risk of suicide among people drinking eight or nine cups per day. Few participants in the two HSPH studies drank such large amounts of coffee, so the studies did not address the impact of six or more cups of coffee per day.Other HSPH researchers participating in the study included senior author Alberto Ascherio, professor of epidemiology and nutrition; Walter Willett, chair, Department of Nutrition and Fredrick John Stare Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition; and research associates Eilis O’Reilly and An Pan. Pan now works at the National University of Singapore.last_img read more

‘All the Way’ to A.R.T.

first_imgFor award-winning director Bill Rauch ’84, returning to Harvard this summer was “emotional and wonderful.” Rauch, the co-founder and longtime artistic director of the Cornerstone Theater Company in Los Angeles and artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF), directs “All the Way” — a powerful examination of President Lyndon B. Johnson, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., and the critical events leading up to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1964 — which opens the American Repertory Theater’s (A.R.T.) 2013-14 season. The show premiered at the OSF last year.Rauch talked to the Gazette about his years at Harvard, the new production, and why the politics of a half-century ago still matter:GAZETTE: You’re back on your old stomping grounds. Tell me about your time at Harvard. Did you direct while you were here, and what did you expect to do when you left?RAUCH: I wanted to be a director, you bet. I directed 26 shows when I was an undergrad, so it was very much my calling at the time. I directed my first play in the Loeb X in the spring semester of my freshman year, Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s “The Visit,” and that was it. It was life changing, directing that play. We found a way to tell the story very theatrically, and it just felt — sometimes as an artist you feel like you really nail it and sometimes you don’t, and that was one where we really nailed it.Joanne Green, now Breuer, was on staff here at the A.R.T., and she was the faculty adviser for students working at the X. She was my mentor. It was just a thrilling time, to discover that I loved directing, to be seeing productions here at the A.R.T. It was the A.R.T.’s first season when I arrived, in the fall of 1980, so it was a new era here on campus.Rauch staged plays all over campus as an undergraduate, parading one from the Kennedy School to the steps of Widener Library to the Science Center.RAUCH: Even in the theater in the basement of my dorm, Adams House. The corner of the basement that we used is still called the Kronauer Space, after the master who was there when we did it. I was just back there and I couldn’t believe that the corner still had the same name we’d given it 30 years before.Dean Norris ’85, who co-stars in the TV series “Breaking Bad” with Bryan Cranston, was a friend of Rauch’s at Harvard, and played in that first basement production in Adams House.RAUCH: It was something I’ve worked on four times in my life, including last year: “Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella” — Euripides, Shakespeare, and Rodgers and Hammerstein, all done at the same time on the same stage. I keep going back to it.GAZETTE: The performing arts aren’t usually the first thing people think of when they hear “Harvard,” but there seems to be a thriving theater scene here.RAUCH: Absolutely, an incredibly vibrant community. I’ve taught a lot in programs that are much more structured than Harvard’s [at the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of Southern California; California State University, Los Angeles; and the University of California, Irvine], and I’ve come to appreciate that a lot of what I learned here, I learned from being able to do it. When I was there, there was no theater major, so we learned by doing. I’ve come to appreciate that more and more. …I think you have a high number of creative, ambitious, self-motivated people [at Harvard], and you have the inspiration of a leading professional theater company with the A.R.T., and by not having a theater major, all the theatrical activity is extracurricular, so the people who do it really love the art form. There’s a lot happening. … Today there’s a more formal celebration of the arts at Harvard, but certainly when I was here in the ’80s it was a very vibrant scene.After graduating, a few years out, I founded a theater company, Cornerstone Theater, and nine of the 11 founding members were Harvard grads. And I met my husband, Christopher Liam Moore [’86, who plays Walter Jenkins in “All the Way”], at Harvard; we started going out when we were students. … Harvard completely shaped my life: my husband, my first theater company, many of my closest friends.GAZETTE: Is that the typical Harvard experience, or are you just lucky?RAUCH: Some of both. I talk to people who have no connection to their alma mater, and I think my goodness, my life was so shaped by my Harvard experiences, and continues to be. I think I was lucky and it was this school; it was a combination of the two.GAZETTE: For “All the Way,” you have a Pulitzer-winning playwright in Robert Schenkkan, and Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad,” who’s everywhere right now. This production seems gilded.RAUCH: At the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Alison Carey [’86] runs American Revolutions [a 10-year program commissioning new plays], which was inspired by Shakespeare’s history plays. We wanted to look at American plays that illustrate significant moments in the United States’ past. She reached out to Robert, and he was very clear from the beginning that he wanted to write about LBJ. He did, and I got to direct it at the OSF. It was insane. It opened right before the national conventions and it closed two days before the elections.There were many theaters that were interested in producing the play next, and Robert and I settled on the A.R.T. for a lot of reasons, one of which was my connection here and one of which was my respect for Diane Paulus, who was a freshman at Harvard when I was a senior. Once it was clear it was coming to the A.R.T. and it fell in the middle of OSF season, we knew we’d need a new cast. We wanted a great actor to play LBJ, [and] we reached high with Cranston. We met with him at his home, and he knew the series would be ending and he wanted to do a play. … We’re just so unbelievably grateful that he said yes.The entire cast is amazing. Starting with Bryan, but every single cast member is an unbelievably strong actor, transformational, deep. … Sixteen of the 17 cast members are different in this production, so they’re going to bring all of their insights, their impulses. Also we’re building on the platform, the foundation of that first production, so as a director I feel like I’m able to go a little deeper into the work because we’ve already solved the logistical things to tell the story. Now we can focus on nuances.“[Paulus and Rauch] wanted a great actor to play LBJ, [and] we reached high with Cranston. We met with him at his home, and he knew the series would be ending and he wanted to do a play. … We’re just so unbelievably grateful that he said yes,” said Rauch (right) with American Repertory Theater artistic director Diane Paulus and actor Bryan Cranston. Courtesy of the A.R.T.GAZETTE: “All the Way” fits a huge amount of history into the confines of a three-hour play.RAUCH: Robert is a brilliant playwright. He took all the history and dramatized it and condensed it and conflated certain events, and made a very strong dramatic arc. But it was also very collaborative. Working on the production last year he continued to improve the script and I’m sure he will make, not a lot, but some changes for the production here at the A.R.T. …Right now we’re completely focused on this being the best production for the Cambridge and Boston audiences. I believe in this play very strongly, and I want it to have a long life. I want to do everything I can with this production to make it lead to lots of other productions. What I care about is that this story continue, because I think it’s an urgent, timely story.[With the Supreme Court’s recent decision to gut the Voting Rights Act of 1964,] we’re in a commemorative year to look at these events that changed our country. The events of “All the Way” depict how the modern political landscape was created in 1963–64, what that did in terms of the South shifting from Democratic to Republican power. In many ways the polarized political landscape we have today has all its seeds in those events, so it feels timely and even urgent to look at how the government functioned 50 years ago, and what happened that created the environment that we are now in. GAZETTE: I think Roy Blount Jr. called Johnson “a man of boom and bathos.”RAUCH: He’s a hugely Shakespearean character, and Robert’s play is a Shakespearean canvas. Enormous ambition and appetites, huge contradictions in actions, hero and villain rolled into one. And then every other character, no matter how small the linage, is compelling and vivid. Language is really central to the event. Whether it’s Johnson’s inspiring rhetoric or salt-of-the-earth profanity, language is really central to the play.You don’t see casts this size any more except in musicals. It’s an epic canvas. I think it’s important to contribute to the canon of new American plays, plays that are epic in scale. So many new plays are so tiny: two actors, three actors, four actors, and that’s it. Some stories are well told with four actors, but some need 17 actors playing 60-something parts, and this is one of them.Rauch and Moore’s sons, Liam, 13, and Xavier, 8, came east with their fathers and stayed with their grandmother in Peabody, Mass., while Rauch and Moore worked on the play. Rauch said he would return to Oregon right after opening, while Moore would stay in Cambridge through the play’s close, but the boys would head home earlier.RAUCH: They go back to start the school year without their dads, which is scary, and then after we open I’ll race right back to be with them while Chris finishes the run on Oct. 12. There’s poetic justice in that hard close. I’m a professional director, and I have to close so that the students here can have the same opportunity that I had when I was an undergrad to work in that space.“All the Way” runs Sept. 13-Oct. 12 at the A.R.T., 64 Brattle St., Cambridge, starring Bryan Cranston as Lyndon Baines Johnson, Brandon J. Dirden as Martin Luther King Jr., Michael McKean as J. Edgar Hoover, and Reed Birney as Hubert Humphrey. Tickets start at $25; call the Loeb Drama Center, 617.547.8300.last_img read more

Tuning into the whistleblower

first_imgAddressing his model jury, Stephen C. Reyes, LL.M. ’14, a commander in the Navy JAG Corps, made the argument for jurors to condemn Edward Snowden, calling his actions “unadulterated, unbridled arrogance.”Who was Snowden, the former CIA employee and former National Security Agency contractor who disclosed up to 200,000 classified documents to the press, to “decide which intelligence operations were legitimate, which intelligence operations should protect us, and which were illegitimate?” argued Reyes. “[Is] he the individual who should decide what information should be kept secret, and which information should be released to our enemies?”The rapt audience listened carefully to Reyes’ remarks. The 60 Allston, Brighton, Cambridge, and other area residents in attendance were tasked with determining whether the former infrastructure analyst with Booz Allen Hamilton, who is now a fugitive in Russia, should be condemned or acquitted.In contrast, mock defense counsel Robert Goldstein, LL.M. ’14, compared Snowden’s actions to those of Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and members of the American Revolution.More than 230 years ago, Goldstein said, “members of this very community made a grave and difficult decision that would shape our very existence. Convinced they wanted a better life, a life free from an invasive and intrusive government, they defied British law and sought independence … we do not believe our founding fathers worthy of moral condemnation simply because they defied British law, because they believed we deserved a better way of life or a better government.”Charles Nesson, Harvard Law School (HLS) professor and founder and director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, brought Reyes and Goldstein to the Harvard Allston Education Portal to facilitate a discussion on the themes of whistleblowing, secrecy, and justice. Unlike other juries, however, Nesson instructed these jurors to focus on whether Snowden’s actions were immoral, rather than illegal.The illegality of Snowden’s actions, Nesson said, was undeniable. But, he argued, “a deep question as to how we feel about what he has done” remained, and it was this question that the juries faced.With summations closed, the audience broke into eight small groups moderated by fellows from the Berkman Center and delved into the task of determining Snowden’s moral stance — with a condemnation, acquittal, or no consensus being the options.In introducing Nesson, Robert A. Lue, faculty director of the Harvard Allston Education Portal and HarvardX, and professor of molecular and cellular biology, said that the Nov. 20 discussion was one more way of bringing diverse communities together, allowing Harvard faculty members to share their work and research directly with members of the neighboring Allston community.“Tonight’s event represents a novel experiment in small-group interaction, a sharing of ideas among Harvard faculty and community members,” Lue said. “Throughout his time at Harvard, Charles has pushed us, and the institution of Harvard, to go beyond our limits — to really think more creatively about the social and technological changes happening all around us. Tonight is a facilitation of a communal event, and it shows what the future holds for new Ed Portal programs, and might serve as a compelling model for other communities around the world.”After 20 minutes of discussion, the eight juries returned with a split decision: four voted to acquit Snowden, while four could not come to a unanimous decision, resulting in four hung juries.Echo Liu, a Brighton resident and member of the Ed Portal, said the event inspired a dynamic and thought-provoking debate.“I didn’t expect it to be so interactive,” she said, “but we all got to participate. The discussion really enriched my point of view. It was interesting to hear the other side of the argument. I’m looking forward to [the next faculty program].”In closing, Nesson invited attendees to return for a future mock-jury program to be hosted by the Ed Portal and the Berkman Center to consider another question: Should Boston submit its name for the 2024 Summer Olympics?The next presentation in the Ed Portal Faculty Series, “The Hemingses: Writing the Life of an Enslaved Family,” takes place on Monday, when Professor Annette Gordon-Reed will speak about Thomas Jefferson and the Hemingses.last_img read more

Love, it’s a battlefield

first_img Be my valentine? For couples therapist Shiri Cohen, Valentine’s Day is a big commercial scam: “I have this strong feeling that on Valentine’s Day people should rebel against it — go out with good friends or do something really self-indulgent,” she said. Photo by Melanie Rieders Their friends at the Graduate School of Design call fellow students Marissa Angell and Ian Brennick “disgustingly in love.” Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer Cohen helps couples sort through the lows of their relationships: sex/romance or lack thereof, commitment issues, and imbalances between life and love.“Relationships are always a balance between your individual self and your relationship self and everyone defines that differently, and oftentimes partners aren’t on the same page,” said Cohen. “But by far the most common complaint walking in the door is poor communication, which is a catchall for a lot of things. But in my experience that’s code for ‘we’re just not connecting,’ or an underlying desire for more emotional intimacy.”For Marissa Angell and Ian Brennick, students at the Graduate School of Design (GSD), connecting has never been a problem.The two met last Valentine’s Day while dancing at Ryles Jazz Club.“There was a pole-dancing demonstration,” Angell started to say before Brennick chimed in with, “We bonded over our immature sense of humor.”Their GSD friends describe them as “disgustingly in love.”The two insist they never get sick of each other and never even fight. “He’s the least annoying person I know,” said Angell. Her parents have been married for almost 30 years, so she believes that sustained, romantic love is totally possible.“My dad still does cute things for my mom, like practical jokes, buy her flowers, or go to costume parties where she dresses like Lady Godiva and he dresses like a strawberry,” she said.The bar is high, but Brennick is excited to treat Angell for Valentine’s Day. What, exactly, she’s in for is anyone’s guess. “I’ve always tried to do something a little bit different,” said Brennick. “I’ve been planning. I took some time over Christmas break. I have some things in the works.”Not everyone is as lucky as Brennick and Angell, and if you’re lonesome this Valentine’s Day, Cohen can empathize.“I have this strong feeling that on Valentine’s Day people should rebel against it — go out with good friends or do something really self-indulgent,” she said. “I think the concept of Valentine’s Day is very commercialized and a set-up for people who both are and aren’t in relationships. It’s this built-up thing that sets these crazy expectations that oftentimes creates conflict when they’re not met. And if you’re not in a relationship, you can’t even find a restaurant to go to!”If you’re looking for love, Cohen advocates online dating, though be warned: “People are not always honest about how they present themselves,” she said. “How they describe themselves or what they’re looking for is usually the version of themselves they want to be, or the partner they think they want. You’re only as good as how well you know yourself.”After establishing a connection, it’s always good to meet in person, she suggests, though something low-pressure is best — just drinks, or a simple activity, like going for a walk.Or, you could be more laissez-faire, as Colakoglu is. “I don’t think love is something you look for,” she said. “I always find it when I don’t look.”center_img In the words of Canadian songster Bryan Adams, love “cuts like a knife, but it feels so right.”And whether it’s the pursuit of it, the loss of it, or the yearning for it, there’s never a more polarizing and pressurized day to celebrate — and scrutinize — your love life than Feb. 14.Cansu Colakoglu ’16 isn’t part of a couple, but she’s not sweating it. She’s been busy prepping for Valentine’s Day with her Singles Awareness party to be held the same night. “Boys are boys — kind of immature,” she said of the local dating scene. “They’re more interested in the other parts of dating, but not really dating itself.”Her friend Aleja Jimenez-Jaramillo ’16 will probably be in attendance. But Jimenez-Jaramillo sees coupledom as a bit of a hindrance. “There’s a social element to being single that’s not there when you’re dating,” he said. “At mixers and stuff, if you’re not eligible, you’re almost of a lesser value.”Being of a lesser social value is just one of love’s many tricks. And it’s no secret that love can make us think and act irrationally, bring out our neuroses, give us depression, or, conversely, sweep us away with giddiness.According to Edison Miyawaki, an assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School (HMS), “A lot of brain function in love and lust seems to pause.”“Large areas of the brain — parts involved, for example, in planning or problem-solving — aren’t uniquely engaged; in fact, they’re deactivated,” he explained. “I don’t want to give the impression that love or lust is like a coma, but it’s interesting that you learn a lot about brains by what turns off.”That can be oddly comforting, especially for anyone who’s ever asked him- or herself “What was I thinking?” after some awkward or embarrassing behavior in front of their beloved. So, excuse yourself, because you probably weren’t thinking.Falling in love often means throwing caution to the wind, but the odd flip side is that developing relationships requires thought and effort, said Shiri Cohen, a couples therapist and an instructor in psychology at HMS. “Who’s paying for stuff can be a big issue,” Cohen said, “as well as who’s pulling their weight with tending to the relationship.” Aleja Jimenez-Jaramillo (left) will likely attend fellow sophomore Cansu Colakoglu’s Singles Awareness party on Valentine’s Day. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographerlast_img read more

32 Greek plays, no waiting

first_imgA 12-hour adaptation tapping all 32 surviving Greek tragedies might sound like a tough sell for audiences. But playwright and director Sean Graney doesn’t think so.The immersive event recaptures the spirit of the ancient daylong festivals where the works were originally presented and used to generate discussions about important topics of the day, said Graney during an interview in his airy office at Radcliffe’s Institute for Advanced Study.“I wanted to create a community,” Graney said of his work “All Our Tragic,” which he has fine-tuned while he has been the 2013-14 Perrin Moorhead and Bruns Grayson Fellow at Radcliffe. “That’s what modern productions [of the Greek tragedies] are missing. … These plays are meant to be in dialogue with one another” and amid the audience, he said.The new production represents something of a shift for the young director, who gravitated toward playwriting and directing when a college professor told him flatly, — and, Graney admits, truthfully — that he was “a bad actor.”Over the past couple of years, the Saugus, Mass., native and founding director of the Chicago theater company The Hypocrites, has turned from wanting to create “high art productions,” like the work he once staged in a type of human terrarium that engulfed the actors on the stage, to works that help create a community of audience members.“My desire to make art that reaches people is stronger than my desire to make art that expresses a deep-rooted meaning that sits within me,” he said.But reaching people through the medium of the Greek classics can prove difficult. For Graney, the plays don’t carry the lyricism of the lines penned by William Shakespeare, and when companies try to approach the roles too realistically, he said, “it doesn’t work well.”“When we look at these classic texts through our contemporary eyes, there’s a disconnect, and I think there needs to be a bridge.”He built that sort of bridge five years ago with his staging of “Ajax” by Sophocles, using just three actors to play all the parts, and substituting the Greek chorus’s heady odes with rock songs he wrote himself. The production was well-received, and he went on to adapt all seven of Sophocles’ plays together. Producers were nervous at the thought, but audiences loved the result.Graney next set his sights on adapting the seven surviving plays of Aeschylus. After adapting two of the works, he decided that doing the entire 32 surviving Greek tragedies wouldn’t be that much more work. “I was already a third of the way there, and thought, ‘How hard could it be?’ ”Working with actors from Harvard’s American Repertory Theater’s (A.R.T.) A.R.T. Institute, Graney has continued to tinker with the production. He ran a theater seminar during the January arts intensives at the space Arts @ 29 Garden, where he worked on staging and directing with Harvard College students using one of his adapted plays. He staged an earlier reading of the full production late last year, after which he trimmed the cast almost in half.“I love tweaking,” said Graney. “I will be changing it up until opening night at some unforeseen production.”He also loves creating a community with his works.“My desire is to re-create the best aspects of the Athenian society … like the importance of talking to each other. When was the last time you were in a room with the same people for 12 hours? I just want people to be together and be inspired to share ideas.”And if people are willing to stick it out for the 12 hours, said the playwright, “I think an actual magic will happen.” <a href=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0WfvKzyDMIk” rel=”nofollow” target=”_blank”> <img src=”https://img.youtube.com/vi/0WfvKzyDMIk/0.jpg” alt=”0″ title=”How To Choose The Correct Channel Type For Your Video Content ” /> </a>last_img read more

Cutting the cord on soft robots

first_imgWhen it comes to soft robots, researchers have finally managed to cut the cord.Developers from Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have produced the first untethered soft robot — a quadruped that can stand up and walk away from its designers.Working in the lab of Robert Wood, the Charles River Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences, a team of researchers that included Kevin Galloway, Michael Karpelson, Bobak Mosadegh, Robert Shepherd, Michael Tolley, and Michael Wehner was able to scale up earlier soft-robot designs, enabling a single robot to carry on its back all the equipment it needs to operate — micro-compressors, control systems, and batteries. The design is described in a paper in Soft Robotics that appeared online Sept. 1.“Earlier versions of soft robots were all tethered, which works fine in some applications, but what we wanted to do was challenge people’s concept of what a robot has to look like,” said Tolley, a research associate in materials science and mechanical engineering at the Wyss Institute and the study’s first author. “We think the reason people have settled on using metal and rigid materials for robots is because they’re easier to model and control. This work is very inspired by nature, and we wanted to demonstrate that soft materials can also be the basis for robots.”Compared with earlier soft robots, which were typically no larger than a steno pad, the system designed by Tolley and colleagues is huge, measuring more than a half-meter in length and capable of carrying as much as 7½ pounds on its back.Michael Tolley shows off the soft-robot design. (Animation by Joe Sherman)The design process, however, was about more than scaling up the smaller robots.“As soon as you start thinking about putting the basic components you need to make this work — micro-compressors, controllers, and batteries — on an untethered robot, you need a design that can carry those parts,” Tolley said. “You need to think about something that can handle much higher pressures, so there are materials challenges and there are design challenges and there are control challenges.”Giving the untethered robot the strength needed to carry mechanical components meant air pressures as high as 16 pounds per square inch, more than double the seven psi used by many earlier robot designs. To deal with the increased pressure, the robot had to be made of tougher stuff.The material Tolley and colleagues settled on was a “composite” silicone rubber made from stiff rubber impregnated with hollow glass microspheres to reduce the robot’s weight. The robot’s bottom was made from Kevlar fabric to ensure it was tough and lightweight.The result, Tolley said, was a robot that can stand up to a host of extreme conditions.Researchers tested the robot in snow, submerged it in water, walked it through flames, and even ran it over with a car. After each experiment, it emerged unscathed.Though additional hurdles remain — such as increasing the speed of the robots and outfitting them with sensors — the development of an untethered soft robot is a major advance, Tolley said, one that has the potential to radically transform not only what robots look like, but also how they might be used.“One of the things that limit our imagination is that factory robots are very large and scary and dangerous to be around,” he said. “As a lay person, you can’t just walk into a factory where industrial robots are working. But a soft system is inherently less dangerous, so you can start to interact with it more, and I think that opens up many more opportunities.”last_img read more

Eric Greitens wins Gleitsman Citizen Activist Award

first_imgThe Center for Public Leadership (CPL) at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) has named humanitarian Eric Greitens, founder and former CEO of The Mission Continues, as this year’s recipient of the Gleitsman Citizen Activist Award, which he will receive during a ceremony in Cambridge on Wednesday. The biennial award, which includes a $125,000 prize, is given to a change agent who has used unique and powerful insights about solving society’s toughest problems to shape strong, successful programs that are truly transformative.A Rhodes and Truman Scholar, Greitens served as a U.S. Navy SEAL officer and was deployed four times during the global war on terrorism. His military awards include the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. After his deployment to Iraq in 2007, Greitens donated his combat pay to found The Mission Continues, a national nonprofit organization that partners veterans with nonprofits to use their skills to serve communities across America. Through The Mission Continues, veterans begin to transform their own lives while building stronger communities at home.“I’m honored to receive the Gleitsman Citizen Activist Award. It’s humbling to be recognized among so many strong leaders who have taken on tough issues and created real results,” said Greitens.Greitens has been resolute in his commitment to create a solution to a deeply rooted social problem: finding a way to help veterans continue their strong tradition of service upon returning home, while helping them recover their sense of purpose and employing their expertise toward community development. Opportunities to get involved with the organization are made available to veterans of all eras, and include Fellowships allowing selected veterans to volunteer part-time for six months at the community organization of their choice; community service opportunities aimed at solving specific challenges in their communities; and community-wide “day of service” activities open to both veterans and non-veterans.“I am delighted that the Gleitsman judges, acting independently, have selected Eric Greitens for this prestigious award. Eric has a dazzling record of achievement: a philosophy major at Duke, a Ph.D. in economic development earned on a Rhodes Scholarship, amateur boxing champion, international humanitarian, Navy SEAL, founder of a great veterans nonprofit, and best-selling author [‘The Heart and the Fist’],” said CPL co-director David Gergen. “The consistent thread through Eric’s life is a moral and practical commitment to the advancement of humankind. Eric epitomizes the type of leader that Alan Gleitsman originally sought to honor with this award, because his initiative continues to inspire others to act. I am sure that Alan would have loved this choice!”Greitens has worked as a humanitarian volunteer, documentary photographer, and researcher in places such as Rwanda, Cambodia, and Bolivia, and was recognized as one of the most innovative leaders in America. In 2013, Time magazine named Greitens to its list of the 100 most influential people in the world, and most recently, Fortune magazine recognized him as one of 50 greatest leaders in the world.last_img read more

A home fit for a king

first_imgBrian Farrell has been obsessed with peregrine falcons since he was a boy. In 1978, as a University of Vermont undergrad, he spent a summer on Owl’s Head in New Hampshire, raising and releasing five peregrine chicks hatched by Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology.On Tuesday, 37 years later, he was on hand as Massachusetts wildlife biologists took a similarly important step in their reintroduction — this time on Harvard’s campus.“They’re the fastest creatures that ever lived, and range all over the world,” said Farrell, a professor of organismic and evolutionary biology, curator in the Museum of Comparative Zoology, and director of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies. “They’re masters. You can see they own the air. Other birds fly, but they seem to know they’re kings.”Farrell, accompanied by Jeremiah Trimble, a curatorial associate in ornithology at the museum and building manager Raymond Traietti, was at Memorial Hall on Tuesday when Thomas French, assistant director of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, and state wildlife biologist David Paulson installed a nest box high on the building’s tower in hopes that a nesting pair will one day make it their home.The falcons, which can dive at speeds greater than 200 mph, are on the rebound after their numbers plummeted decades ago due to widespread use of the pesticide DDT. The state still lists them as threatened.The last time peregrine falcons nested successfully at Harvard was in 1955, Farrell said. A clutch of falcon eggs discovered by Traietti last year at Memorial Hall failed, probably due to weather. The addition of a nest box with gravel should help to attract the birds next spring — this year’s nesting season is too advanced — and also increase the chances of healthy fledglings, French said.“This is an investment for next year or the year after that.”Tom French (top) and David Paulson are pictured on the Memorial Hall tower hoisting tools to help place the nesting box in place for future falcons. Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff PhotographerNest boxes are important, Farrell said, because in nature falcon nests are built on cliffs, where the birds scratch out a hollow in dirt or gravel. Buildings are sufficiently cliff-like in their vantage point, but eggs laid on bare concrete or other roofing material tend to roll around and are hard for the parents to keep warm.Though Harvard Square is already home to red-tailed hawks, a conflict with peregrines is unlikely, Farrell said. The hawks feed mainly on squirrels, while the falcons ambush other birds in flight, stunning them at high speed before grabbing them as they fall through the air.French said the Boston region is the densest nesting area for the falcons north of New York City. Statewide, there are close to 30 nests, and the population is increasing rapidly.Welcoming the falcons to campus would be cause for celebration, said Farrell, and not just for biology students who wouldn’t have to leave home to study one of the world’s most fascinating predators.“It shows that a symbol of the wildest America — the peregrine falcon — which was extinct in the East, is able to nest here on campus, an urban site. I think it’s inevitable. They’ll be back.”last_img read more

A digital portrait of Colonial life

first_img A watercolor of Christ Church (ca. 1781) by Joshua Green is among the 150,000 items in Harvard’s collection. Courtesy of Harvard University Archives “Dear Sister,” wrote John Hancock on May 1, 1754, as a 17-year-old Harvard student, “I wish you would spend one hour in writing to me.”Before leaving what years later would become his famous signature, he wrote, “Your ever loving brother, till death shall separate us.”The letter to his sister Mary, shedding light on Hancock’s raw emotions as he studied in Cambridge in the years before the Revolution, is a sample of the riches in manuscripts and archival material available online at The Colonial North American Project at Harvard University.Harvard Library’s Colonial North American exhibition and ongoing digitization initiative is displayed in Pusey Library. Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff PhotographerLaunched Monday, the website of the Colonial North American Project so far includes 150,000 images of diaries, journals, notebooks, and other rare documents from the 17th and 18th centuries.Part of the University’s endeavor to digitize all its collections and make them available free of charge, the Colonial North American Project is unique because of its scale. According to a 2011 survey, the material is scattered through 12 repositories — from Houghton Library to the Harvard University Archives to Loeb Music Library.In elegant script, the documents provide a glimpse into the life of North American colonies through the eyes of real people who wrote about family affairs and daily life but also about slavery, Native Americans, education, science, and revolution.“We’re bringing history alive,” said Franziska Frey, the Malloy-Rabinowitz Preservation Librarian and head of Preservation and Digital Imaging Services.Interns from Harvard’s Weissman Preservation Center handled notebooks with care as they prepared them for the cases in Pusey Library. Photos by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer“It’s a treasure of cultural heritage,” added Frey, who is overseeing the digitization process and the overall project. “If photography would have existed at the time, we would have found photographs in our collections.”In many of the diaries and journals, fanciful yet vivid illustrations accompany meticulous details of life and death, painting a dramatic picture of the Colonial era.For example, Harvard mathematics Professor John Winthrop kept account of all the deaths, in a “bill of mortality,” in Cambridge between 1759 and 1768. He wrote there were “235 deaths in 10 years.” Among the most common causes, he noted, were accidents, fever, consumption, and dysentery.Winthrop, who taught at Harvard from 1738 to 1779, was matched in avid note-taking by his wife, Hannah. Both kept diaries, journals, and personal almanacs. Their son James, a justice of the peace, followed the family tradition. In one journal entry, he wrote: “On the fourth day of December in the year of our Lord 1791, I joined in marriage Cato Bancroft & Nancy Cutter, both of Cambridge, negroes.”“We’re bringing history alive,” said Franziska Frey, who is overseeing the digitization process and the overall project.The Winthrop family documents are among those showcased in the “Opening New Worlds” exhibit in Pusey Library, to run through March. The exhibit includes a notebook with lecture summaries for a physics course given by Winthrop. It also features handwritten sermons by the Rev. Samuel Willard, who led Harvard in the early 18th century, as well as the teenage Hancock’s letter.Student notebooks from the era, many distinguished by their illustrations, are also part of the exhibit. In his math notebook from 1782, Joshua Green included a watercolor rendering of a quaint village crossed by a river to explain how to survey a river. A page from Samuel Griffin’s “Mathematical manuscript.” Courtesy of Harvard University Archives An inscription on this illustration reads: “To the Governors of Harvard College this Perspective View of Hollis Hall is humbly presented by their dutiful pupil Jonathan Fisher, September 27th, 1791.” Courtesy of Harvard University Archives William Boyd’s watercolor, “A North East view of the house of Samuel Webber, A.A.S., and of the Court House in Cambridge, by an actual Survey,” is remarkable in its detail. Courtesy of Harvard University Archivescenter_img On a recent morning, Saira Haqqi and Abigail Merritt, interns with the Weissman Preservation Center, handled some of those notebooks and relished the experience.“It’s part of the joy,” said Haqqi, “being close to these objects.”Merritt agreed: “It’s amazing to see how the individuality comes out in the handwriting and the drawings.”With 150,000 images, the Colonial North American Project, supported by the Arcadia Fund and the Sidney Verba Fund, is one-third complete, said Megan Sniffin-Marinoff, University archivist. Work is ongoing at several libraries to digitize the remaining 300,000 images of Colonial North American manuscripts in 1,654 collections.“We discovered material that hadn’t been well cataloged, that may have been hidden or forgotten,” said Sniffin-Marinoff. “We want to bring it all out.”A panel with presentations on the history and scope of the Colonial North American Project will be held at 3:30 p.m. Thursday at Lamont Library. A pen-and-ink drawing of an “end view of Massachusetts Hall” by Samuel Welles. Courtesy of Harvard University Archives A glimpse insidelast_img read more