Thursday, January 12, 2012
The Stanford Daily
Earth Sciences opensgeobiology program
By BRAD HUANG
The School of Earth Scienceswill begin interviewing candidatesthis quarter to become faculty fora new program in Geobiology atStanford, according to Geologicaland Environmental Sciences pro-fessor Jonathan Payne.Earth Sciences will make a se-ries of hires over the next few yearswith the help of a newly formedsearch committee, comprised of faculty from three departments:Geological and EnvironmentalSciences, Environmental EarthSystems Science and Biology.“We expect to make three newhires over the next three years(i.e., one per year),” wrote Payne,who is an associate professor inthe new program, in an email toThe Daily.According to the 2011-12budget proposal from the Schoolof Earth Sciences, geobiology is anemerging multidisciplinary fieldthat will be “game changing forthe study of the Earth.”“Geobiology is the study of theco-evolution of Earth and life. Itinvolves a wide range of ap-proaches, from studies of microbe-mineral interactions to the influ-ence of biological activity on thesolid Earth, oceans and atmos-phere,” Payne said.The primary challenge for thecommittee is the scientific breadthof the applicant pool.“Given such diverse areas of expertise among the applicants, itis challenging [and exciting] toread and evaluate the applicationmaterials in order to identify thefinalists,” Payne said.Geobiology will not be a full-fledged department. ProfessorPamela Matson, Dean of theSchool of Earth Sciences, clarifiedin an email: “We are
starting anew department, but instead hir-ing several faculty that will formthe nucleus of a new, interdiscipli-nary research and educational ini-tiative in geobiology.”Because the search committeeis still searching for new faculty, itis hard to tell how many newcourses would appear with thenew program — the courses aredependent on the new faculties’decisions.However, according to Payne,it is likely that new introductoryclasses will be developed primari-ly on the graduate level, with someundergraduate courses as an op-tion.Several other peer institutions— MIT, Caltech and USC — havealready formed geobiology pro-grams.But according to Payne, “Fewof our competitors have major hir-ing initiatives in this area at themoment.”Payne noted that the field of geobiology is just coming to thefore as its own discipline. Paleon-tology was the precursor to geobi-ology, he said.Geobiology differs from pale-ontology through the emergenceof new biological and geologicalresearch tools, including ge-nomics, isotope geochemistry andnanoscale characterization of bio-logical and geological materialsand processes.Through such tools, first avail-able in the late 1990s, geobiolo-gists can now investigate phenom-ena in the biosphere andgeosphere.
Contact Brad at brad0309@stan- ford.edu.
in handling flu epidemics.”She acknowledges an inherentcatch-22 of sorts, however, be-cause the research has not beenpublished, making the benefitsand risks are both unclear.H5N1 is an extremely danger-ous virus, much more dangerousthan the average flu virus.“The 1918 flu pandemic had amortality of 2 percent, and killedtens to hundreds of millions,” saidDouglas Owens, director of theCenter for Health Policy in theFreeman Spogli Institute at Stan-ford. “This virus kills 50 percent [of the time]. It’s 25 times more fatalthan the 1918 flu.”Relman echoed these com-ments, saying, “[H5N1] is a particu-larly lethal disease. There aren’tvery many infectious agents in theworld that have higher fatalityrates than this virus does.”Because of H5N1’s dangerouscapabilities, preventing peoplefrom inflicting harm by using thevirus is a major concern.“Bioterrorism now is a very im-portant national security threat, soyou have to think about this dual-use biology quite differently,”Owens said. He said he agrees withthe NSABB’s actions, and that incases like the H5N1 case, scientistsshould act prudently.The research used ferrets as asurrogate for transmitting the dis-ease. Some say that because of thisdisparity, there is not sufficientground to withhold publication of the methodology of the study, as itis not certain that the virus will actin humans as it does with ferrets.But as Relman warns, “You would-n’t want to take your chances thatit’s wrong.”The actions of the NSABBhave also raised concern that thereis no proper mechanism for the sci-entific community and the publicto evaluate biosecurity threats be-fore they become published. Rel-man stated that the NSABB hasrecommended to the United Statesgovernment the formation of localcommittees to help scientists asthey formulate research proposalsto determine the possible dangerof certain experiments.“We need to find a really soundsystem for dealing with all thesekinds of cases, and putting it inplace soon, because we can’t havethese one-time solutions,” Relmansaid.“There is a lot of work that goeson now in biology that could beused for great good or that peoplewith ill intentions could use to doharm,” Owens said. “This is anissue that will have to be consid-ered as people move forward.”As of now, the government hasnot reformed or changed the sys-tem. Tobin said she envisions a con-ference in which scientists, the pub-lic and the press can come togetherto discuss the various merits andrisks of publication.“I think that a community isprobably going to be more produc-tive than this small group makingthe recommendation,” Tobin said.According to Relman, theNSABB is moving toward votingin favor of recommending a volun-tary moratorium on publication of the latest controversial research toallow for a “global discussion.”
Contact Shelley Xu at sxu8@stan- ford.edu.
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In the updateemail, SLAC ob- jected to a BusinessAffairs audit of Row finances and said that StudentOperating Services (SOS), previ-ously the only provider of Rowhouse kitchen labor, may havebeen forced to make cuts afterbeing forced to compete with out-side bidders.Citing differing calculationsfrom bothsides of the debate, SLACsaid that ResEd administrators haveagreed to share a budget to clarifythe debate, which is part of a largercontroversy over increasing central-ization of Row house finances.
— Margaret Rawson
Law Schoollaunches new China project
By THE DAILY NEWS STAFF
Stanford Law School haslaunched the China Guiding CasesProject (CGCP), a project thatseeks to inform scholars in andoutside of China about legal casesdecided by China’s Supreme Peo-ple’s Court.In Nov. 2010 China’s SupremePeople’s Court decided to insti-tute“guiding cases”that lowercourts would be compelled to fol-low, amajor change tothe Chi-nese legal system. In addition,higher Chinese courts impliedharsh consequences if lowercourts refusedto follow the deci-sions in these cases.The CGCPhopes to indexthese decisionsin an online,searchable formatand translatethemto English. The site will allowlegalexperts to post commentaryabout the cases, discussing any im-plications or nuances, andwill alsoallow fordialogue between com-menters and experts. All cases andcommentarywill be posted in bothChinese and English.The program is led by MeiGechlik, a visiting fellow at theHoover Institution and a re-searcher at StanfordLaw School.Gechlik has experience working inAsia and the UnitedStates. Shehas testified before Congress andadvised the U.N. about China-re-lated issues.
— Brendan O’Byrne
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By JUSTINE ZHANG
boatful of paddles dipped intothe water simultaneously, push-ing the water back and the boatforward. With every determinedstroke, the boat accelerated, glid-ing onwards despite its heaviness. The powerof the paddlers was surprising for anotherreason: this was a practice held the chillySunday morning before finals week. But theStanford Dragonboat Team, undaunted,took up the challenge.“There’s a dragon head on the boat,” onepaddler said, when asked about his rationalefor joining the team.The décor is striking: a standard boatconsists of 10 or 20 paddlers, a steerspersonand a drummer. On race days, with its paint-ed scales, dragon head and dragon tail, theboat appears to be a mythical beast.The artistry of dragonboating suggests itscultural roots. The story goes that a Chinesepoet, Qu Yuan, drowned himself to protestan impending invasion by another state. Tokeep fish and evil spirits away from his body,the common folk beat drums and splashedthe water with paddles. Dragonboating, so itis said, then arose as an activity to commem-orate him.Dragonboating has since transformedinto an international sport. While it is stillrelatively obscure in the United States, it isslowly becoming more popular at the na-tional and collegiate levels. The CaliforniaDragon Boat Association (CDBA) holdsraces for colleges like Stanford and Cal.Coaches Tek Li ’12 and Mike Liu ’00 saidthat they are promoting dragonboating atStanford more as a sport than as a religiousevent. Liu rowed in the CDBA before join-ing the Stanford team. Li started drag-onboating in high school. Structuring prac-tices around their experience in drag-onboating and Li’s experience on a collegewrestling team, the coaches try to maintain ahigh degree of involvement. This year, theytripled the practices held per week, one on-water and two off-water sessions. Along withimproving the team’s form, these extra prac-tices “have been really successful in keepingpeople involved with the team,” Li said.While picking up the basic paddle strokein dragonboating isn’t difficult, gettingpower out of the stroketakes a lot longer to mas-ter. The force of thestroke should ideallycome as a result of rotat-ing one’s core, while min-imizing extraneous mo-tions. This principle washeavily drilled in theSunday morning practicesession, where paddlerswere constantly focusingon “developing their ro-tation,” Li said. Li occa-sionally instructed histeam to perform “powerstrokes” — fast-paced,extremely forcefulstrokes that rapidly pro-pel the boat through thewater. Even seasonedrowers like Liu were outof breath after such exer-cises.Another challengefor dragonboaters ismastering the timing of the stroke. Both coachesare pushing for a fasterstroke rate, but achievingthat requires that teammembers paddle in uni-son. Synchrony is key todragonboating, but is oneof the more difficult skillsfor a team to achieve.While the Stanford rowers mostly paddledin unison, moments of discord between theoars caused the boats to flounder.“Strokes should be timed to not go anyfaster than anyone can keep up with,” Lisaid. While managing the pace poses achallenge, many team members agreed thatthe idea of doing something in sync with 19other people is also a big draw of the sport.But for most team members, the most ex-citing part of dragonboating is the races.“It’s a chance to really hang out with theteam,” one paddler said.A standard race is 500 meters, and theteam is trying to pare down their currenttime of three to four minutes to two minutes.During practice, Li frequently called for“mock races.” This drill was probably themost tiring exercise for the team, but despitethis, the challenge was appealing: one pad-dler said he enjoyed races because “every-one paddles as hard as they can.”In the coming quarters, the dragonboatteam hopes to expand their presence oncampus and recruit more members. Li saidthe team’s distribution of flyers and emails,along with word-of-mouth, are instrumentalfactors in “putting a face to the name ‘drag-onboat’” and drawing more people to thesport. Li hopes to ultimately quadruple thecurrent number of paddlers. As a result, noexperience or athletic background is a pre-requisite for participation.“I want to expose a sport; so if someone isinterested, I’ll do my best to let them in,” Lisaid.The one requirement, Liu added, is “awillingness to do something new.”“It matches up very well with a typicalStanford student, who’s adept at more thanone dimension,” he said.
Contact Justine Zhang at justinez@ stanford.edu.
Courtesy of Lucy YipCourtesy of Lucy Yip
Stanford dragonboat rowers at the 2011 California Dragon Boat Association College Cup at Lake Merced.
I’m on adragonboat