James R. Rice to receive ASCE Theodore von Karman Medal

first_img Read Full Story James R. Rice, Mallinckrodt Professor of Engineering Sciences and Geophysics at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, has been selected to receive the Theodore von Karman Medal of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).The Engineering Mechanics Institute, part of ASCE, presents the von Karman Medal annually to one person “in recognition of distinguished achievements in engineering mechanics.”A 33-year member of the Harvard faculty, Rice has devoted recent decades of his career to studying the mechanics and physics of Earth and environmental processes. His research has elucidated fundamental processes in geophysics—such as stressing, deformation, fracture, and flow—to address problems in seismology and tectonophysics, glaciology, and surface geologic processes, as well as in geomechanical and hydrological aspects of civil and environmental engineering. He has studied and modeled phenomena along fault systems, during landslides, and within the great ice sheets.His research has made important theoretical contributions to the study of deformation and failure in earth materials and, in earlier decades, in metallic engineering materials, at times launching entirely new fields of study. His most recent work delves further into the causes of earthquakes and tsunamis, the melting and calving of glaciers, transitions from landslides to debris flows, and new computational modeling techniques with broad applications.last_img read more

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Eight new planets found in Goldilocks Zone

first_imgAstronomers announced today that they have found eight new planets in the Goldilocks Zone of their stars, orbiting at a distance where liquid water can exist on the planet’s surface. The discoveries double the number of small planets (defined as those having a diameter less than twice the size of the diameter of Earth) believed to be in the habitable zone of their parent stars. Among these eight, the team identified two that are the most similar to Earth of any known exoplanets to date. (An exoplanet is a planet that orbits outside of our solar system.)“Most of these planets have a good chance of being rocky, like Earth,” says lead author Guillermo Torres of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) and an associate of the Harvard College Observatory.The findings were announced in a press conference at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.The two most Earth-like planets of the group are Kepler-438b and Kepler-442b. Both orbit red dwarf stars that are smaller and cooler than our sun. Kepler-438b circles its star every 35 days, while Kepler-442b completes one orbit every 112 days.With a diameter just 12 percent larger than that of Earth, Kepler-438b has a 70 percent chance of being rocky, according to the team’s calculations. Kepler-442b is about one-third larger than Earth, but still has a 60 percent chance of being rocky.To be in the habitable zone, an exoplanet must receive about as much sunlight as Earth. Too much, and any water would boil away as steam. Too little, and water will freeze solid.“For our calculations we chose to adopt the broadest possible limits that can plausibly lead to suitable conditions for life,” says Torres.Kepler-438b receives about 40 percent more light than Earth. (In comparison, Venus gets twice as much solar radiation as Earth.) As a result, the team calculates it has a 70 percent likelihood of being in the habitable zone of its star.Kepler-442b gets about two-thirds as much light as Earth. The scientists give it a 97 percent chance of being in the habitable zone.“We don’t know for sure whether any of the planets in our sample are truly habitable,” explains second author David Kipping of the CfA. “All we can say is that they’re promising candidates.”Prior to this, the two most Earth-like planets known were Kepler-186f, which is 1.1 times the size of Earth and receives 32 percent as much light, and Kepler-62f, which is 1.4 times the size of Earth and gets 41 percent as much light.The team studied planetary candidates first identified by NASA’s Kepler mission. All of the planets were too small to confirm by measuring their masses. Instead, the team validated them by using a computer program called Blender to determine that they are statistically likely to be planets. Blender was developed by Torres and colleague Francois Fressin, and runs on the Pleaides supercomputer at NASA Ames. (The Blender program combines all the known information about a particular exoplanet candidate. Using these data, Blender outputs a probability that a Kepler candidate is, in fact, an actual planet.) This is the same method that has been used previously to validate some of Kepler’s most iconic finds, including the first two Earth-size planets around a sunlike star and the first exoplanet smaller than Mercury.After the Blender analysis, the team spent another year gathering follow-up observations in the form of high-resolution spectroscopy, adaptive optics imaging, and speckle interferometry to thoroughly characterize the systems.Those follow-up observations also revealed that four of the newly validated planets are in multiple-star systems. However, the companion stars are distant and don’t significantly influence the planets.As with many Kepler discoveries, the newly found planets are distant enough to make additional observations challenging. Kepler-438b is located 470 light-years from Earth while the more distant Kepler-442b is 1,100 light-years away.The paper reporting these results has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal and is available online.last_img read more

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Beyond poetry

first_imgAsk about rhythm and words, and most people think of poetry. Not Thomas Wisniewski, a Ph.D. candidate in comparative literature and a 2016 Harvard Horizons Scholar. For Wisniewski, rhythm plays an equally important role in prose — in how sentences are constructed and how they are read. He believes that artful prose, in its rhythmic beauty, can equal poetry. His research aims to raise our level of understanding of rhythm in the modernist novel and to reintegrate the neglected field of prose metrics into literary studies.Finding ways to share the work of Graduate School of Arts and Sciences students in the humanities, the social sciences, and the sciences, within Harvard and with the general public, is a key aim of the Harvard Horizons initiative. Each year, eight Ph.D. students are chosen to participate in an intensive mentoring program designed to help them communicate the substance of important academic work to a broad audience. The training culminates in the Harvard Horizons Symposium, where the Horizons Scholars deliver five-minute talks about their work from the stage of Sanders Theatre. The symposium, which is free and open to the public, takes place on Tuesday at 6 p.m.Wisniewski discussed his work in advance of the symposium.GSAS: How did you develop an interest in the humanities?WISNIEWSKI: It’s a lifelong pursuit. I’ve never believed in hobbies, only obsessions — even as a boy. Since childhood I’ve had a fascination for three art forms: literature, music, and dance.I grew up in a small town in southeastern Michigan in a house with many books, brought home by my mother, a librarian. I studied the saxophone for many years and, to this day, continue to perform as a chamber musician and soloist with a number of ensembles and orchestras in Boston and Buenos Aires. I also teach and perform Argentine tango — both the music and the dance. This spring semester at Harvard I’m teaching a new course, “Argentine Tango: Culture, Music & the Dance,” which is the first of its kind, offered in the College’s newest concentration, Theater, Dance & Media.My work as a humanist is informed by being both a scholar and practitioner. My longstanding interest in the performing and verbal arts abides through my teaching and scholarship. Scholars of literature work against a dangerous belief that the humanities are of little importance to society. I believe otherwise.GSAS: What question drives your research?WISNIEWSKI: How may deepening our understanding of the rhythm of prose change the way that we read literature?GSAS: What is the purpose of your doctoral research?WISNIEWSKI: To reintegrate the neglected and interdisciplinary field of prose metrics into literary criticism and to raise the study of rhythm, orality, and language to a new level of understanding. If what is missing in studies of literary style is, as I contend, an analytical emphasis on prose rhythm, then innovations in musical prosody offer new ways of theorizing rhythm in language and music.GSAS: What sparked your interest in rhythm?WISNIEWSKI: I’ve internalized it. From years and years of practicing with a metronome!Everything that I love doing in the world with any kind of regularity involves rhythm: repetition and alternation, pattern and flow. Reading aloud. Writing. Dancing. Skiing. Swimming. Walking. Playing tennis. Making music.Rhythm is intrinsic to all the arts and fundamental to our understanding of them. What unites all that I do as a scholar of the comparative arts and as a practitioner — a professional musician and dancer — is the study of rhythm.GSAS: How did modernism change our understanding of prose rhythm?WISNIEWSKI: Although philosophers and writers from antiquity to the present day have remarked on the significance of rhythm in prose, the study of this subject, often considered a handmaiden to prosody, is a category of analysis and thinking that has all but disappeared from literary studies; except for a brief period in the early 20th century, when the field received considerable attention in Europe and North America, research about prose rhythm has been largely ignored by the academy and often glossed over in literary studies — a neglect due, in part, to the field’s obscure terminology.That the most productive period of scholarly research on rhythm in prose corresponds with the rise of High Modernism is neither coincidental nor circumstantial. In no other period do writers explore the limits and extremes of rhythm as do the modernists — those master stylists of the early 20th century who perfected the art of prose rhythm in narrative. The measured use of rhythm by writers including Nabokov, Joyce, Hemingway, Conrad, Woolf, Beckett, Proust, Pirandello, and Borges demands special attention. Not the prosaic, but the prose poetical: Theirs is a prose that avails itself of the rhetorical effects of poetry; prose that aims to escape from voicelessness; prose that strives to recover a lost, and even create a secondary, orality; prose that aspires, as in the modernist novel, toward music.GSAS: How can studying the rhythm of prose help us to be better writers and to understand what makes a work of literature great?WISNIEWSKI: Studying prose rhythm teaches us that style is not secondary to meaning; that mastery of grammar is not mastery of style; that good prose is always aware of its internal rhythms; and that a recovery of the terms of classical rhetoric is useful for analyzing rhythm in prose.Great works of literature are written by brilliant stylists with remarkable ears for the expressive range and power of language. Tuning our own ears to understand and appreciate their achievements teaches us to be better listeners, readers, writers, scholars, and teachers. Heightening our sensitivity to rhythm in literature enhances our understanding of rhythm in the world.An attention to rhythm is an attention to beauty.last_img read more

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Rose petals for the lost

first_img <a href=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9SwaOCREkE” rel=”nofollow” target=”_blank”> <img src=”https://img.youtube.com/vi/a9SwaOCREkE/0.jpg” alt=”0″ title=”How To Choose The Correct Channel Type For Your Video Content ” /> </a> Mary Schneider Enriquez, the Houghton Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Harvard Art Museums, discusses the upcoming special exhibition Doris Salcedo: The Materiality of Mourning (November 4, 2016–April 9, 2017). Narayan Khandekar, Harvard’s head art conservation scientist, thought he had seen, analyzed, and repaired just about everything, from ancient broken pottery to faded Impressionist masterpieces to indigenous Australian bark paintings to human hair woven into modernist works. Then came a fresh challenge.The Harvard Art Museums acquired the evocative “A Flor de Piel,” a room-size tapestry by contemporary Colombian artist Doris Salcedo, consisting of thousands of dyed rose petals stitched together to form a burial shroud.“I’ve never worked with anything like this,” said Khandekar, director of Harvard’s Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, as he donned gray rubber gloves to gently examine a sample swatch of the work that will go on display Nov. 4 as part of the museums’ special exhibit “Doris Salcedo: The Materiality of Mourning.” “It’s entirely outside the realms of what I’ve experienced before.”Khandekar’s frank admission doesn’t mean he and the museums’ staff aren’t ready to care for and conserve the delicate creation. In fact, Harvard’s well-respected conservation lab and staff of experts is a main reason the work’s new home is in Cambridge, said Mary Schneider Enriquez, the Houghton Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art and the driving force behind the acquisition of the 11-by-17-foot work.“If Narayan had been opposed to it and said ‘Mary, this is so chancy. I don’t know how we are going to handle it,’ I would not have pushed as hard in my commitment that we should own it,” Enriquez said. “We’re an institution in which that kind of cutting-edge research should occur because we have some extraordinary minds and people focused on preserving art, thinking about the future and the longevity of works.”Harvard’s rich conservation history dates back almost a century to one man’s fascination with using science to understand and study great artworks. Hailed as the father of art conservation in the United States, Edward Forbes, who was director of the Fogg Art Museum, founded the Department of Technical Research (later named the Straus Center) in 1928. Today, the center staff uses knowledge from the past along with the latest technology to restore, repair, and safeguard works for future generations.To ensure that her piece would stand the test of time, Salcedo also relied on modern science to stabilize “A Flor de Piel,” and she provided Khandekar and his Harvard team with explicit storage and upkeep instructions.Anyone who has tried to dry flowers knows that petals harden and crumble. Determined to preserve her petals in a suspended, supple state, Salcedo sought the help of scientists in Bogotá, where she and her team treated the flowers in her studio with a suite of chemicals, including turpentine, glycerin, and collagen, and flattened them between sheets of foam. When sewing the petals together they used waxed thread that allowed the fiber to pass through the petals without ripping them. Finally, they stitched the petals onto a thin sheet of biofilm, a flexible polymer that lends the work an extra layer of stability.Rose petals in Doris Salcedo’s “A Flor de Piel” were sewn onto a thin sheet of biofilm to give the piece an extra layer of stability. Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff PhotographerThe piece is stored on a roller that features adjustable tension. It is protected on either side by several polymer sheets, and conservators carefully wind the work onto the device when preparing it for storage to avoid creating wrinkles that could expose its fragile surface to oxygen. “We are trying to be forward-thinking. Prevention is really the best thing,” said Khandekar.The museums’ storage facilities have state-of-the art temperature and humidity controls that will further protect the work. But if some petals ever do need to be replaced, Khandekar and his staff are ready, thanks to a fine art first-aid kit provided by Salcedo, complete with spare thread, the chemicals required to treat the petals, and specific sewing instructions. (Each stitch must pass through three petals, and no stems can ever touch.)“She’s given us an entire playbook,” said Khandekar, “and so we can keep it going for a very, very long time — I am sure well beyond my lifetime.”The concept of time is pivotal to Salcedo, who is considered one of the world’s most influential living contemporary artists. Making viewers pause to reflect on and honor life’s fragility and what has been lost by those who have been devastated by political and civil violence is the animating impulse behind her sculptures and installations.Recently, distraught by the Colombian government’s failure to reach a peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, Salcedo filled a public square in the capital with 7,000 meters of white fabric that had been covered with the names of those who were killed and went missing during the nation’s 52-year civil war.Like much of her work, “A Flor de Piel” is a subtle study in both beauty and horror. Instead of choosing graphic images or incorporating vivid words such as sadness, death, or murder, Salcedo uses her artistry, her painstaking attention to detail, and her choice of medium to draw viewers into the piece’s deeper meaning, said Enriquez.“It doesn’t say anything with an image that’s realistic and a narrative that’s specific. It is very much about using materials … and the skill of being able to put together an object that speaks to these important issues.”“A Flor de Piel” was inspired by the story of a Colombian nurse who was kidnapped and tortured to death after aiding those injured on both sides in the civil war. In that vein, the work represents a floral offering to the deceased. The evocative materials carry the emotional weight of the piece, said Enriquez. The white rose petals, dyed red, are redolent of dried blood, and the supporting armature enables the textile to fall in folds resembling a giant ruffled bedsheet.“She presents a trace of the absent body,” said Enriquez, “and with it a suggestion of what has occurred.”“Doris Salcedo: The Materiality of Mourning” will be on view from Nov. 4 through April 9, 2017, and will feature four installations, including a number of Salcedo’s works created between 2001 and now. An opening celebration on Nov. 2 at 6 p.m. will feature a discussion with Salcedo, Elaine Scarry, the Walter M. Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and General Theory of Value at Harvard, and Mary Schneider Enriquez, the exhibition’s curator and the museums’ Houghton Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.Curator Mary Schneider Enriquez discusses the works of Doris Salcedolast_img read more

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More money, same results

first_imgHospitalized patients treated by physicians who order more or more expensive tests and procedures are just as likely to be readmitted or to die as patients treated by doctors who order fewer or less expensive tests, according to research led by Harvard Medical School and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine on Monday, is believed to be the first to examine the impact of individual physicians’ spending patterns on patient outcomes.“If you spend more money on a car or a TV, you tend to get a nicer car or a better TV,” said senior author Anupam B. Jena, the Ruth L. Newhouse Associate Professor of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School. “Our findings show that’s not the case when it comes to medical care. Spending more doesn’t always mean you get better health.”Research on variations in spending and outcomes among geographic regions and hospitals has produced mixed results, but most evidence suggests that greater spending does not reliably translate into better outcomes.What has been missing from the picture, the authors said, is how individual physician spending within the same hospital translates into patient health. That insight, the researchers added, is a key piece of the puzzle because individual doctors make most of the clinical decisions that drive spending and affect outcomes.“Before now, most of the research and efforts aimed at cutting spending and improving the value of care have been aimed at hospitals, health systems, and groups of doctors,” said lead author Yusuke Tsugawa, a research associate at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “The differences between hospitals and regions are important, but they’re only part of the puzzle. Our findings show how important it is to consider the differences between individual doctors in any effort to improve health care.”The researchers analyzed outcomes among Medicare fee-for-service patients aged 65 and older who were hospitalized for a nonelective medical condition and treated by an internist between 2011 and 2014.Health care spending varied more across individual physicians within a single hospital than across hospitals, even after accounting for differences between hospitals and patient populations, the data showed.Overall, 8.4 percent of the total variation in health care spending could be explained by differences among individual physicians, compared to 7 percent explained by differences among hospitals. Next, researchers examined the link between physician spending and patient outcomes. When they compared lower- and higher-spending physicians, the researchers found no difference in 30-day patient mortality, nor did they see a difference in readmissions, two factors regarded as key measures of quality of care.Jena, who is also a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, cautioned that it’s too soon to say whether the results mean that higher-spending physicians could simply spend less with no ill effects for patients.“Say you have two painters,” Jena said. “One usually takes two hours to paint a room, and one takes six hours. You can ask the slow painter to hurry up, but you might end up with a room that’s sloppily painted, or with one of the walls the wrong color. That’s obviously a situation we want to avoid in health care.”It could be that some doctors don’t fully consider the costs associated with the tests and procedures they order, Jena said, and so policymakers or insurers could create incentives to curb some of the more wasteful spending. On the other hand, Jena said, some doctors might just be less efficient than others and may need additional resources to arrive at a proper diagnosis or an effective treatment. Whatever the causes of the variation, Jena added, the study underscores the impact of decisions made by individual doctors on health care spending.last_img read more

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DNA testing could save young lives through early intervention

first_img Wyss Institute researchers are inventing new ways to fight the deadly disease The algorithm will see you now A few months ago, Lisa Diller saw a family for a consultation in her cancer clinic. Their story is one of tragedy, and of hope.The mother had an eye removed out of medical necessity at the age of 2, but knew little about the details of her condition. Years later, her 2-year-old son developed a rare and aggressive form of cancer — retinoblastoma — that involves the uncontrolled growth of immature cells in the retina. By the age of 5 he was blind. The devastating disease in mother and son was caused by a genetic mutation in the RB1 tumor suppressor gene that, when unaffected, maintains normal cell division. The information proved invaluable for the family’s second child, whose blood DNA test revealed she too was a carrier of the malformed gene. Armed with that knowledge, doctors examined her eyes more regularly and treated her with laser therapy when small tumors appeared. Today she is 4 and has perfect vision.“The test saved her sight because the doctors knew her DNA put her at risk and they were able to intervene,” said Diller, a pediatric oncologist, professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, and the Lillian Gollay Knafel Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. “That’s the power of genetics. If we had known that their son carried that mutation, he might be able to see.”Genetic tests that could help save a child’s eyesight or even life are the focus of Diller’s Radcliffe work. During her fellowship she is studying the implications of genetic testing in newborns, and planning research that focuses on testing babies for gene changes associated with cancers known to strike the very young, including retinoblastoma. “If we are going to use the genetic revolution to do something good,” said Diller, “it seems this is truly worth doing.”Testing newborns’ blood for signs of disease is not new. For years doctors have screened babies for certain conditions that, if detected early, can be reversed or managed to avoid severe consequences. Newborns are typically tested for more than two dozen rare diseases, using biochemical tests that look for missing proteins or a buildup of byproducts when a certain pathway is malfunctioning, said Diller. But “they are not, generally speaking, direct DNA tests,” she added. “Genetic testing is relatively new and we are still learning how to use this testing to improve health. For cancer, it’s a predictor. It doesn’t tell you that you have cancer, it tells you that you might develop cancer.” “If we are going to use the genetic revolution to do something good, it seems this is truly worth doing.” — Lisa Diller “Your genes aren’t genies that can predict the future,” said Diller. “They can only tell you what your risk is in comparison to others who don’t have genetic mutation.”To help participants better understand that risk, Diller and her collaborators plan to include detailed questionnaires that will ask parents why they do or don’t agree to participate in the study, if they understand what the research is trying to probe, and how they would feel about knowing about certain risks related to their child’s well-being. “We want to do this in a way that’s respectful to the participants,” she said, “and that eventually benefits the public health.”Respecting her patients is paramount to Diller, who chose to become a pediatric cancer doctor because the children “keep you optimistic,” and the parents who “rise to the occasion when it comes to their sick children are inspiring.” Above all she said she likes developing a “highly trusting relationship” with mothers and fathers coping with critically ill children.“I like communicating with them what the choices are,” said Diller, “and being reassuring and honest all at the same time.” But for many, knowing about that risk can be unsettling. As anyone with a family history of cancer knows, facing and understanding one’s own frank numerical likelihood of the disease can be daunting. Adults regularly struggle when deciding whether to find out if they carry changes to certain chromosomes or genes that could increase their cancer risk, in part because of the anxiety the knowledge can trigger.And when it comes to their children, many parents simply aren’t interested in the research.BabySeq, a National Institutes of Health-funded project launched in 2015 and led by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital, asked parents to take part in a study that would sequence more than 900 genes in healthy newborns. The goal was to arm parents with useful information that could help them consider future early medical interventions for their children if needed. But of the 3,860 eligible families identified, only 268 opted in. The report concluded that “low interest in research and study logistics were major initial barriers to postpartum enrollment and are likely generic to many postpartum research efforts.”Diller suspects some parents were skeptical of “testing for everything because there might be something,” she said. She hopes her planned study will allay some of those concerns by focusing on a small number of cancer-risk genes. It will also try to address the complicated relationship many people have with risk.center_img Related Symposium examines promise, hype of artificial intelligence in health care Harnessing nature to beat cancerlast_img read more

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Twitter and the birth of the 1619 Project

first_img A renewed focus on slavery How slavery still shadows health care Scholar hopes project will inspire similar efforts: ‘There were thousands of people like Jane Clark’ Related New York Times investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones spearheaded the 1619 Project, a landmark initiative unveiled this summer that marked the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in Britain’s mainland North American colonies.During a visit to Harvard this week, she made a surprising disclosure: While she had considering the project for years beforehand, its development was partly prompted by an exchange on Twitter.“I got into an argument where someone said, ‘Slavery was a long time ago. Why don’t you get over it?’” she said Wednesday evening in a discussion with Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard. The talk drew a capacity crowd to the Smith Campus Center. “I realized we couldn’t get over it because America hasn’t gotten over it, and nobody wants to get over it more than black folks.”This interaction, she said, led her to think about how slavery and its legacy have often been erased from the nation’s history. “Everyone in high school knows about the Mayflower, but nobody has been taught about the other ship, the White Lion,” she said, referring to the first English ship that brought enslaved Africans to the colonies in 1619. “I thought that an anniversary was approaching that most Americans would never hear of. Like most of black history, it would pass without most of us knowing.”Originally published as a special issue of The New York Times Magazine on Aug. 14, the 1619 Project was later expanded in the paper and its website, and Hannah-Jones said that she is now working on a book version. Her talk with Gates focused on the evolution of the initiative. As she recalled, the magazine’s editor in chief, Jake Silverstein, proved receptive when she proposed that an entire issue of the magazine be devoted to the issue of slavery.“I had been thinking about this and reading obsessively for 25 years about all the inequalities in American life that can be traced back to slavery. So I came in with an idea that they hadn’t heard before, and by then I had gathered enough trust that they knew I could deliver on what I promised.”The idea also got a lift because of the timing, she said. It might not have had the same impact had it come during the Obama administration. “It was The Times, the paper of record, making the argument that the system of racial slavery was at the bedrock of our founding. And it appeared at a moment in time when people were thinking, ‘How the hell did we get here?’”,Gates brought up the backlash that emerged from conservative commentators, particularly Newt Gingrich, who asked why she hadn’t given more credit to the whites who fought slavery in the Civil War. “That is a valid argument, and when I think about areas where I wish we had provided more nuance, I think that is one,” she said. But on the other hand, “We can only give so much credit for fighting an institution that you created. We’ve heard plenty of stories of white heroism, about Abraham Lincoln as the Great Emancipator. Meanwhile there are [black] people who never get credit in any of this.”The history of Boston and even Harvard also came in for some criticism. “[The narrative is] that the North was the true heart of America, and that allows us to have a sense of clean hands about our identity as Americans. But Boston was a slave market. And where did so much of this capital to build this institution and the Ivy League come from? It came because rich people were holding the collateral in enslaved bodies,” she said.In response to an audience question, both panelists turned to the pitfalls of social media. “Anyone who engages knows how well it is designed for hostile interaction,” Hannah-Jones said. “When you’re a black woman you are at the intersection of two hatreds in this country, race and gender.” Gates recalled his own moment of viral celebrity, after he was arrested in 2009 for breaking into his own home. “I learned the hard way that there are a lot of organized hate groups out there,” he said. “You’d have to be a super person to [merit] all the vitriol that you see on Twitter exchanges. It’s put on you to defend yourself from the racists and the lunatics.” John Lewis urges: Back ‘the beloved community’center_img Second life for slave narrative Event examines ‘400 Years of Inequality’ New University-wide initiative will deepen the exploration of Harvard’s historical ties to enslavement Civil Rights icon says more can be done to improve rights for alllast_img read more

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Economists cheered by relief package but see long, tough slog ahead

first_imgThis is part of our Coronavirus Update series in which Harvard specialists in epidemiology, infectious disease, economics, politics, and other disciplines offer insights into what the latest developments in the COVID-19 outbreak may bring.The Senate late Wednesday passed a wide-ranging, record $2 trillion relief package targeting individuals, businesses, and city and state governments left reeling by the coronavirus pandemic. Harvard Kennedy School Professor Karen Dynan, Ph.D. ’92, served as chief economist and assistant secretary for economic policy at the U.S. Department of the Treasury from 2014 to 2017. She’s currently teaching an economics course called “The Financial Crisis and the Great Recession.” Kenneth S. Rogoff, Thomas D. Cabot Professor of Public Policy and professor of economics in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, is a former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund and an author of an influential history of global financial crises, “This Time Is Different” (2009), with Kennedy School economist Carmen M. Reinhart. Dynan and Rogoff spoke about recent moves by the Fed to calm jitters on Wall Street, the relief package, how deep the damage may go, and how soon the economy might bounce back.Q&AKaren Dynan and Kenneth S. RogoffGAZETTE: What do you think about the stimulus package? Given the scope of the pandemic’s impact, what does it accomplish and where does it fall short?DYNAN: I think the stimulus deal that the Senate has agreed on has a lot of positive features. It has money to send to individuals to help them get through what’s likely to be a very tough period for many of them. Many hard-hit families will also get some relief from the additional unemployment insurance benefits provided by the bill — an extra $600 a week could be a big deal for them. The package also has substantial funding for loans to small businesses to help them stay afloat. Importantly, these loans can be forgiven if they are used to retain and keep paying their workers. It has money that will help the Fed do more lending, some funds for direct loans to larger businesses, money for the health care system, and funds to help states and localities deal with the crisis. The latter is really important, as state and local finances are going to be hit really hard, and it’s especially critical that they don’t pare back social programs and essential services right now.Depending on how the crisis unfolds, we may need to spend more in all these areas but, all in all, I think the package is a really good start. We now need to turn our focus toward how to get these measures implemented well. We have never tried to do some of these things before — like lending to small businesses on this scale — and it’s super important that the money goes out quickly and effectively.ROGOFF: I think it’s a tremendous first step. I don’t think this is anywhere near the end. We’ve pushed the pause button on the U.S. economy. Estimates of how much it’s actually going to go down in the second quarter are all over the map because, really, how do you estimate it? Even people who form GDP statistics aren’t able to get a great estimate because it’s so far off the norm. We’re in a war, and I think this has to be viewed in this perspective, where you pull out all the stops.There are so many people in our economy who don’t fit into regular jobs. Some countries, like Denmark, which have a much smaller informal economy and a smaller gig economy, have concentrated on paying lost wages directly. The U.K. has said that it’s going to do the same thing. We have so many people [for whom] that’s not going to work so easily, and so this idea of capturing everyone in the economy, making [direct] transfers, is definitely a good path, as is focusing on small businesses, which have been extraordinarily hard-hit. So this was a very, very good first step.The loans to the corporations: If they don’t do it, they have to force the Federal Reserve into doing it, and the U.S. Treasury owns the Federal Reserve. They’re just doing it in a more transparent way. You can’t let all our airlines go bankrupt. There may be some progressives who would feel good about that. But it’s pretty destructive. Carbon tax, yes. Letting all our airlines go bankrupt, no. I don’t think that’s something that we want to do. Large corporations employ a lot of people, and many of them are being hit just like the small businesses are for problems they didn’t create. And if they’re not being directly hit, maybe they’re still functioning. But the ones that are directly impinged, in the travel industry in particular, they’re all going to go bankrupt, and it’s going to be a mess, and we want to try to forestall that.[Assigning an inspector general to oversee the fund disbursement:] That was a fine idea to give more structure, especially given the lack of trust in the administration. That was a constructive change that both sides should have wanted. I think the Democrats made a lot of constructive suggestions. I’m not in the politics of this, but this is a real war, not a political war. A lot of the debt battles in recent years have really been political. They’re called wars, but they’re not. This is a war, and it’s good to see some consensus.GAZETTE: Given its size and scope, is this likely all the relief we’ll see from Congress?DYNAN: If this does not appear to be offering enough support to the economy, I think Congress will step in and take additional steps.ROGOFF: Unless we get lucky on having an extremely effective antiviral drug or something very quickly, it’s not going to be the end. The health sector is the front of this war. We’re supporting the economy, but if you think about what needs to be done in the first instance, it’s in the health sector at the national level. First and foremost, there should be absolute, widespread free testing not just for people who are acutely ill, but also for people who might have been infected and recovered. That would be so beneficial, if we spent tens of billions of dollars and accomplished that. It’s a fantastic investment. So yes, we need respirators; we need masks; we need personnel to deal with the acutely ill. But in order to know how to deal with this and how to manage the economy, you need to know who’s infected, who’s recovered, and who’s not infected. I would frankly like to see more of a wartime-type mobilization on that front than we’ve seen so far. But in terms of the rest, there will be other costs before lost tax revenues. I’m sure there will be many areas missed that they’ll have to fill in. But if we come out of this just having lost an extra $5 trillion and the economy recovers, that’s going to be a great outcome. The whole point of saving for a rainy day is precisely to be able to borrow with abandon in a situation like this — the worst thing to hit us in 100 years or more.,GAZETTE: The Federal Reserve has taken a host of extraordinary steps in the last 10 days to stabilize the markets and prevent the economy from sliding into a depression. What’s your assessment of these measures?DYNAN: Financial markets have been in tumult, in part because of a desperate need for cash, as businesses anticipate lower revenues but also have bills they need to keep paying. So businesses, and also the banks that might lend to businesses, are dumping large amounts of stocks and bonds into the market, and that’s causing a lot of volatility. What the Fed is doing is saying, “Hey folks, we’re here to buy those securities, or lend you money using those securities as collateral. So you don’t need to scramble like this.” This is basically the same playbook that the Fed and other central banks used during the 2008 financial crisis, and it did eventually calm markets. I think we’ll still continue to see some big market swings as unsettling news about the virus continues to come in, and also the Fed may need to eventually broaden its efforts. I also think the Fed’s efforts will ultimately work in stabilizing the financial system because all the various steps are setting the Fed up to act as what’s called “the lender of last resort,” providing liquidity when no one else will. And, the various pieces they’ve put in place have been about broadening the group that will be able to take advantage of those programs.ROGOFF: The Fed made a huge difference. The financial sector was melting down and going into wholesale financial panic. Everyone was selling everything to go into Treasury bills. An example of something Fed officials did that was creative and a little bit daring was they backed money market funds after swearing on a Bible that they wouldn’t back them in the Dodd-Frank bill. And of course, there was a massive run on money funds, crushing the debt market and leading to a chain reaction. I think Fed [officials] did a number of things pushing to the limits what they thought they could legally do, and they’re probably going to need to be given authority to do more. There may be debate about it in Congress when the system’s melting down again. The only reason it’s not at the moment is that everyone believes the Fed will be able to do more. But we were in full-scale, global panic, and the Fed’s actions and the other central banks’ actions, have at least for the moment stopped that. There’s much more to come. The biggest question here is: How long will this last? Because if it lasts until we get a vaccine, the amount of wealth destruction is going to be staggering and unavoidable, and it’s going to take a lot more than we’ve seen so far by the government.GAZETTE: What else is left to be done if these measures do not have their intended effect?DYNAN: They can expand access to these kinds of programs. For example, they’ve announced, but not put in place, a program that will lend to small businesses. We know that small businesses will need a lot of support given what’s happening to their revenues. That’s an additional measure that should help.ROGOFF: The central bank, primarily, is in charge of monetary policy — that’s setting the interest rate, the liquidity in the economy. Another task is to be a lender of last resort when a bank is failing. Here, and also in 2008, the Fed has performed a third task as a market maker of last resort, which is that if no one wanted to buy or trade in some assets, they’ve been able to step in. I do think at this point it would be helpful to expand the Fed’s authority to be able to buy corporate debt if the worst comes — Fed leaders are asking for that. But the main role is fiscal policy. There are limits to the Fed’s fiscal policy: If the Fed were to take a $500 billion loss on its portfolio by extending into extremely risky debt, essentially the Treasury has to absorb this. And these bigger decisions, even though in heat of battle the Fed’s independence helps it get out in front, at the end of the day, the Treasury, the Senate and the House, and the president have to sign off on things. So, as much as we fear the discord in our political system, we have to rely on it to resolve these problems.This crisis once again proves how absolutely essential central bank independence is. President Trump has certainly made comments undermining it, and the progressives have argued for reabsorbing the Fed back into the government and having the government running the Fed much more directly than it does. Had that happened, the Fed would have been paralyzed, and it would not have been able to act like this. It would not have been able to move in. It’s fortunate that that hasn’t happened, and I hope this proves as a reminder to people that in crisis situations, we need technocrats. We need to have an independent central bank.,GAZETTE: How bad could things get?ROGOFF: It depends on how we’re able to restart the economy. I’ve worked with colleagues in the Harvard Chan School of Public Health and at Harvard Medical School over the years … If there can be widespread testing, all of a sudden a lot of options are on the table to restart the economy. The people who are immune, who may prove to be a great many, can immediately re-enter the workforce; the people who are tested [but] currently have an active infection can be isolated. Instead, we’re just blind, shutting down the entire economy because we failed to prepare for having testing, and we’re having to use this very crude instrument. It’s very possible that the situation will improve dramatically, and it will be possible to restart the economy and start to resume much more normally sometime later this year. We have no idea what’s going on. We don’t 100 percent know that we’ll get a vaccine in 12 to 18 months. That’s hopeful, but it’s not certain. So trying to guess where the real economy is going to go is very tough. We’ve gotten hit by a very bad, real shock.My colleague Carmen Reinhart and I looked at 800 years of financial crises, and there are many where there was a real shock, a catastrophe, a lost war, a commodity price shock. There were many times when something real hit the economy and was a major cause of why the financial crisis was so bad. There are others where the financial crisis was an accident waiting to happen, and it just took something to catalyze it. This is clearly a case where we’ve been hit by an extraordinarily tough shock that hit the whole world. But it’s going to turn into at least some form of financial crisis, at least in emerging markets, at least in some of the more vulnerable countries like the periphery countries of Europe.So in places in the world it’s going to last a while, enough so that it reverberates on us. This is what our book says: Once it morphs into a financial crisis or even widespread pockets of financial crisis, it’s much harder to get a very fast recovery. And on top of that, here the real shock is such that we’re shutting down businesses that may struggle to reopen. Some of them may close their doors and reopen quickly. But if it lasts a while you lose employees; you lose suppliers, etc. It may not be so easy. The big question is: How fast can we restart the economy? Even with the government quickly subsidizing a lot of the losses, which is great, it could take quite a while. Having everything roaring back again by the end quarter of this year, like might happen after a normal, natural catastrophe, would be an extraordinarily good outcome. Not impossible, but a long shot at this moment.GAZETTE: In January, the economic outlook for 2020 was quite positive, although some thought a recession may be on the horizon. Once we’re beyond the crisis point and public health restrictions are lifted, what will be the decisive factors in how quickly we rebound?DYNAN: One scenario people are talking about now is a sharp rebound of the economy that occurs in the months after life begins to return to normal. But a second scenario is that the economy struggles to get back on its feet, such that the recovery extends into next year or beyond that. So we don’t know which scenario is going to be the one we realize. But a key determinant of what occurs is whether we can avoid permanent or semipermanent damage to the economy in this current period of weakness. So that’s precisely why we don’t want massive job losses or widespread business failures. It’s really hard to get back on your feet after that kind of thing. So we really don’t want to see that. It depends partly on how the spread of the virus evolves. But it also depends, really importantly, on the policies we’re putting in place and whether they’re well targeted, whether they offer enough support in terms of dollars, and whether we can get the support out there quickly to the economy. With the right policies, we could see a really strong rebound.ROGOFF: It seems, [doctors I talk to] say, awfully likely although not certain that if you’ve had it you’ll be immune, and even if it morphs a bit, you’ll be resistant. So you could have this immune army come back into the workforce who’ve had it at some point. And not just in this country, but people around the world. There will be some developing economies where everyone gets it because they don’t have the wealth to stop everything and feed everyone. If you can identify everyone who’s actively sick and monitor that, and who’s vulnerable, there’s certainly the possibility of [the economy] coming back to something more normal a lot faster. That’s the more optimistic spin. And of course, once there’s a vaccine, that’s better. When you have information, there are a lot of options. When you’re blind, you’re very limited. The biggest tragedy in our response that’s just absolutely unforgiveable is that we were so ill-prepared with the testing and we didn’t anticipate that. You can talk about the respirators; you can talk about the other things; but the countries that have been successful in battling this have been able to monitor; and we haven’t. And this is costing us dearly. I don’t know what’s coming next. But I certainly agree with Carmen that it’s hard to see a V-shaped recovery here, and the depth of the recession could be really quite epic.Interviews have been edited for clarity and condensed for brevity.last_img read more

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Far-out findings from the cosmos

first_img My three suns Exoplanet might have oxygen atmosphere, but not life Discovery of a planet without an atmosphere bolsters concerns about bodies orbiting stars smaller than the sun Related Research may help solve puzzle of how Venus evolved Discovery of object with multiple stars offers insight into our planet Prospects clouded for finding life on the largest class of planets It was a busy summer for scientists at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian. Researchers put forth a theory that indirectly nods to a famous “Star Wars” scene, resolved one mystery about the solar system’s first known interstellar visitor, and showed that a star can sort of “sneeze.” We caught up with them and asked about these far-out findings.A long time ago but not so far, far awayIt was an unforgettable scene in the first “Star Wars” movie: Young Luke, eager for adventure, storms out his house after fighting with his uncle about having to spend another year stuck at home. Outside he gazes up at the fiery twin suns of the planet Tatooine as they slide toward the horizon, John Williams’ “The Force Theme” rising in the background.While a new study from a pair of Harvard astronomers may not have the same visual power, it does reveal that a similar view of binary suns may have existed in our very own solar system roughly 4 billion years ago.In The Astrophysical Journal Letters, Avi Loeb, Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science at Harvard, and Amir Siraj ’21, an astrophysics concentrator, theorize that the solar system originally had two suns instead of one, and if true that could have far-reaching implications for the origins of a dense cloud that surrounds the system and a possible ninth planet.First, a little info on the sun’s long-lost twin: Loeb and Siraj think it had the same mass as its companion and was formed alongside it when the solar system began, but was situated 1,000 times farther from the Earth than our own sun. As to its fate, the two researchers believe it drifted away well before the Earth formed.“The binary companion was [most likely] freed by the gravitational influence of a passing star in the sun’s dense birth environment,” Siraj said. “It could now be anywhere in the Milky Way galaxy.”Siraj and Loeb aren’t the first to theorize a two-star start to the solar system. In fact, most stars are born with companions. But Siraj and Loeb’s theory could help explain the formation of the Oort cloud — the sprawling sphere of debris that sits at the edge of the system and surrounds it.Many astronomers believe the Oort cloud formed with leftover chunks of rock and ice from our solar system and neighboring ones. Siraj and Loeb say their two-sun theory could account for why the cloud is as dense as it is, since binary systems are far better at pulling in and capturing these types of objects than single-star systems.Such a system could also help explain the existence of a potential ninth planet that astronomers believe is out there — an undisputed one this time (no offense, Pluto). Their model supports the theory that this ninth planet was captured into the system, meaning it didn’t form here.An artist’s rendering of ‘Oumuamua, a visitor from outside the solar system. Credit: The international Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA artwork by J. PollardThe ‘Oumuamua debate continuesThe mystery surrounding our solar system’s first known interstellar visitor deepened after astronomers ruled out a major explanation in a new paper in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.The study rebuts a theory published earlier this year that suggests the object, dubbed ‘Oumuamua from the Hawaiian for scout, was a cosmic iceberg made of frozen hydrogen. Co-authored by Loeb, the paper concluded this is likely not the case because, if it was, the object wouldn’t have been able to make the journey intact. The scientists argue it would quickly melt or break apart when it passed close to a star. ‘Oumuamua didn’t even flinch when it passed the sun.The astronomers also looked at what it would take to form a hydrogen iceberg the size of ‘Oumuamua, and where it could have originated. They focused on one of the closest giant molecular clouds to Earth (only 17,000 light-years away). They found the environment there too inhospitable for iceberg formation — and so far away that it would be highly unlikely that it could have survived the journey, even if it somehow managed to form.The debate around ‘Oumuamua started in 2017, when it was first discovered by observers at the Haleakalā Observatory on the island of Maui in Hawaii. Among other theories, it has been hypothesized to be an interstellar asteroid, a comet, and even an alien artifact — Loeb himself suggested this in 2018 and has put out a body of work on the topic. He has a book on ‘Oumuamua, “Extraterrestrial,” due out early next year.All of this is to say that the truth on ‘Oumuamua is still out there, but perhaps it won’t be a mystery for long.“If ‘Oumuamua is a member of a population of similar objects on random trajectories, then the [new] Vera Rubin Observatory, which is scheduled to [be operational] next year, should detect roughly one ‘Oumuamua-like object per month,” Loeb said. “We will all wait with anticipation to see what it will find.”Gesundheit … to a star?Betelgeuse, the 10th-brightest star in the night sky and the second-brightest in the Orion constellation, mysteriously dimmed toward the end of 2019. By February 2020, the star had lost more than two-thirds of its brilliance. It was a change so noticeable that observers on Earth could see it with the naked eye. Many thought the old star was finally dying and would go supernova. Then it suddenly started regaining its brightness. By April, in fact, it was restored. So what happened?Put simply, Betelgeuse kind of sneezed.,This is the explanation a team of international astronomers led by Andrea Dupree, the CfA’s associate director, published in a paper in Astrophysical Journal.Looking at recent observation data, researchers believe the dimming periods were most likely caused by the ejection and cooling of dense, hot gases. Between October and November 2019, data and images gathered by the Hubble Space Telescope showed intense, heated material moving out of the star’s extended atmosphere at 200,000 miles per hour. They believe this mass formed a soot-like dust cloud when it cooled that blocked the southern part of the star, accounting for its dimming in January and February. While researchers think they can account partially for the anomaly, they have other questions. They can’t, for example, determine how the outburst started or why, nor do they know why the star is losing mass at an exceedingly high rate.What they do know is that Betelgeuse dims every 420 days. But new observations between late June and early August of this year show it’s off schedule. The star is dimming roughly 300 days earlier than expected. Yet another new mystery.Researchers also believe Betelgeuse is nearing the end of its life and eventually will go supernova. In fact, it might have happened already, and we just haven’t seen it yet.“Betelgeuse is so far away, it takes about 750 years for the light to reach us on Earth,” Dupree said. “So, the light from Betelgeuse [we saw] left the star at about 1270 A.D. here on Earth.”last_img read more

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How Much Gold is in Smartphones and Computers?

first_imgUPDATE: In January 2018, Dell announced an industry-first pilot to reuse gold from e-waste in millions of new motherboards including Latitude 5285 2-in-1.This post originally appeared in 2013 on the PowerMore site – a publication by Dell for news and analysis on technology, business and gadget-geek culture. You can learn about Dell’s approach to responsible mineral sourcing as part of our sustainable supply chain here on Direct2Dell.By Jim NashThere’s gold in them thar consumer electronics.Most people picture copper when they think about how electricity is conducted, probably because it’s the most common conductor. Silver is actually the best conductor, followed closely by gold. Copper is cheaper than precious metals, but it’s also much slower in transporting electrons than its glamorous siblings. In the world of computing and communications, speed is more important than cost, so copper remains relegated to construction and pennies.And as fast a conductor as silver is, it corrodes or tarnishes easily whenever it comes in contact with water — even with humid air. Corrosion is to electrons what fresh road tar would be to Olympic runners.Gold, on the other hand, is highly corrosion-resistant. So, while it’s not as fast as silver, it doesn’t fall apart like silver and is many times faster than copper.There is intrigue brewing in the electronics industry, though. Some manufacturers are looking at how quickly people upgrade their electronic devices to learn whether using gold is necessary.If consumers replace their devices faster than silver can break down, electronics companies may decide to depose gold as the ruler of conductors to fatten their margins. Why pay to install high-quality materials when so many buyers crave novelty more?Were this trend to take hold, devices would have shorter life spans, which would stifle resale markets and, not coincidentally, increase the flow of unwanted goods to recyclers.To learn more about gold and how it is removed from discarded devices, I spoke to Sean Magann, vice president of sales and marketing for Sims Recycling Solutions—North America, a division of the global re-use and recycling firm Sims Metal Management.How much gold is in a smartphone?Magann: In very rough numbers, there are 10 troy ounces of gold (or about three-fifths of a pound) per ton of smartphones. Ten thousand phones weigh one ton. [With gold selling for about $1,580 per ounce, that would yield $15,800.]How about a laptop?Magann: Two hundred laptops would yield five troy ounces of gold.How much is in an average desktop?Magann: A PC circuit board, where the gold is, weighs about a pound. If you had a ton of those boards, you should have 5 troy ounces of gold.Are there manufacturers that use more gold than others?Magann: Computer makers don’t make their circuit boards because they are commodity items. They buy them from third parties. The trend in using gold among all of those companies is definitely down. It’s a costly material, so they are looking for more efficient ways to make the boards, trying to use as little gold as possible.How long does it take to get all the gold out?Magann: Individuals can take apart a smartphone easily by hand, but the volume of gold is going to be small.It’s not uncommon for a developing nation to accept all kinds of trash from developed nations, including electronics, in return for cash. Local entrepreneurs typically burn circuit boards and use cyanide on the ash to separate the gold. That’s not what anyone would call a green process, but it is a cottage industry because it gets the job done reasonably inexpensively.We use a mechanical process, shredding computer components to quarter-inch bits to liberate the plastic, aluminum, steel, gold and other materials to create commodity streams. Magnets grab the steel. Eddy currents are used to propel non-ferrous metals (including precious metals) from plastics.Is shredding computers the best way to get at the gold?Magann: There are lots of interesting ideas for technologies that could possibly be better, but it’s hard to compete against developing nations that are manually breaking things down, often in environmentally unfriendly ways. Doing it almost any other way to protect the environment is going to be more expensive.Jim Nash is an award-winning business, tech and science journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Economist Group and Scientific American.last_img read more

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