Ernest R. May

first_imgAt a Meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences on February 1, 2011, the following Minute was placed upon the records.Ernest R. May was born on November 19, 1928, in Fort Worth, Texas, the child of an American father and a Mexican-American mother who was descended from one of the great Hispanic families of Texas.  Spanish was the second among the many languages Ernest would learn.  His childhood was not always easy, and his path to scholarly excellence was very much self-made.  He studied at the University of California at Los Angeles, where he received both his bachelor’s degree (1948) and a doctorate (1951). He then served in the Navy briefly before coming to Harvard University as an assistant professor of history in 1954.  He was tenured five years later, when he was not quite thirty years old. For more than fifty years, he taught courses on the history of U.S. foreign relations as well as on more specialized topics such as the history of the Vietnam War and of civil-military relations.  He also offered graduate seminars and participated in the core curriculum, where he jointly taught with his colleagues a survey of modern international history.He was an enormously popular lecturer, and his students to this day retain a memory of him as he would walk into the classroom, throw his overcoat and his hat on a chair, and start a rapid narrative and analysis even before he got to the podium.  He spoke without notes and was an eloquent lecturer, citing official data and occasional anecdotes from all countries.  He was also a tireless, conscientious teacher of graduate students, of whom he demanded nothing but the best—which often meant asking them to read documents in languages that they had not yet learned. When students sought him out for advice, he listened patiently and tried to help.  From the 1970s, May divided his time between the History Department and the newly established Institute of Politics, which later became part of the Kennedy School of Government. He led the faculty study group there for many years and taught several courses, the most popular of which was on the use and misuse of history by policymakers.  Toward the end of his life, he was supervising a number of doctoral dissertations at the Kennedy School as well as in the History Department.How policymakers arrived at their decisions was an abiding scholarly concern of May’s, who published six books and countless articles on the subject.  His first book, published in 1959, dealt with President Woodrow Wilson’s decision to intervene in the Great War.  His second and third focused on the Spanish-American War and the acquisition of the Philippines, both heralding the United States’ arrival as a world (and, briefly, colonial) power.  His fourth was on the making of the Monroe Doctrine, and his fifth was on the use and misuse of history—“lessons of the past”—by policymakers.  May’s last single-authored book, Strange Victory, published in 2000, examined how Hitler came to choose the successful attack through the Ardennes rather than repeating the strategy of 1914 as he prepared for the invasion of France in 1940, and conversely how the French disastrously failed to process the intelligence warnings they received. In addition to these single-authored monographs, May co-authored a number of books and articles.  One of the earliest was The Ultimate Decision: The President as Commander in Chief (1960), in which he wrote four of the nine chapters.  Several other books were written with his colleagues at the Kennedy School, including Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision-Makers, which he produced jointly with Richard Neustadt on the basis of a course they ran together, and The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis, which May edited with Philip Zelikow.No historian of his generation matched May in the multi-linguistic, multi-layered study of decision-making.  None so successfully bridged the chasm between serious historical study and policy-making.  In working with colleagues and students at the Kennedy School and in the government, he was fascinated by the fact that the form of analysis most frequently used by policymakers was historical reasoning.  Dismayed by the frequency with which sloppy reasoning produced misleading lessons, he was determined to demonstrate how this form of analysis could illuminate and inform policy choices.  Moreover, from the early 1960s onward, the Vietnam War became a focal point in May’s scholarship and teaching.  He was particularly sensitive to domestic politics as well as inter-agency rivalry and the role of diplomatic and military intelligence.  Over the course of his long career, we believe, he became a reflective and far-ranging observer both of government and life in general.May served as dean of the College during 1969-1971, at one the University’s particularly turbulent moments (he was in the Dean’s office when undergraduates occupied University Hall), and as chair of the History Department during 1976-1979.  Outside the University, May led an extremely active life. He helped organize, or was a participant in, numerous international scholarly conferences that took him to Europe, Mexico, and Japan, as well as to all parts of the United States.  He served on many professional committees—often chairing them—such as the American Historical Association’s committee on American-East Asian relations that produced important publications long before scholarly exchange with the People’s Republic of China started.  He was honored by his professional colleagues when he was chosen as president of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and received a distinguished scholar’s award from the AHA.  He likewise willingly devoted himself to public service.  At the height of the Cold War, he helped prepare a still-classified historical study of the U.S.-Soviet strategic arms competition, and, after the Cold War was over, he served as a senior advisor to the 9/11 Commission as it tried to understand contemporary terrorism.May’s students, colleagues in and out of the University, and all those who have worked with him remember him as a quiet, gentle, kind human being who always maintained his serenity.  He is survived by his wife, Susan, and by three children, Rachel, John, and Donna.Respectfully submitted,Graham AllisonCharles MaierPhilip ZelikowAkira Iriye, Chairlast_img read more

10 finalists in President’s Challenge

first_imgHarvard University announced today the selection of 10 teams of finalists in the President’s Challenge for social entrepreneurship.  President Drew Faust created the challenge to encourage student teams from across the University to develop entrepreneurial solutions to five of the world’s most important social issues.“The world’s most pressing challenges are borderless, and so solutions must transcend boundaries as well,” said Faust. “It is gratifying to see how fully these finalists have embraced the spirit of collaboration, of innovation, and of curiosity that is the hallmark of the i-lab.  I am impressed with both their engagement with new ideas and their novel ways of enabling those ideas to reach the wider world.”The finalists, selected from a pool of more than 170 teams, will each receive a $5,000 grant, dedicated space in the i-lab, which is more formally known as the Harvard Innovation Lab (i-lab), and mentoring from experts to further develop their solutions.  The winning proposals range from creating interactive math and science electronic textbooks to bringing the car-sharing business model to Indian cities.Next month, Faust will announce a grand-prize winner and up to three runners-up, who will share a $100,000 purse.Entrants were asked to tackle one of five issues highlighted by a panel of Harvard faculty in February.  The issues of clean water, personal health, empowered education, global health, and clean air were chosen for their widespread prevalence in societies globally.  Two ideas for each issue category were selected for the finalist round.“A large number of teams applied to the President’s Challenge, and the quality of their submissions was truly impressive.  We’re off to a great start,” said Provost Alan Garber, who organized the judging panel along with Harvard Business School Professor Bill Sahlman.  “The proposals are ambitious and have the potential to make a real difference in the world.  It’s gratifying to see how the students develop their ideas at the i-lab.  We expect that they will inspire others to bring their own curiosity, resourcefulness, commitment, and creativity to the i-lab as well.”Sahlman, the Dimitri V. D’Arbeloff — MBA Class of 1955 Professor of Business Administration, who was a nonvoting member of the judging committee for the challenge, said of the process, “We asked a number of distinguished faculty members and alumni to identify those student teams that had the greatest potential to move the needle in each domain.  The plans were outstanding, and the selection process correspondingly difficult.”The 10 finalist teams, made up of three to six members include:In the clean water categoryTeam SPOUTS of Water’s proposal is to create a self-sustaining ceramic water filter factory in Uganda.Team Slum Sanitation Solutions proposes placing toilet systems in slums and monetizing the systems by using biodigesters to create fuel and fertilizer from waste.In the personal health categoryTeam Balanced Kitchen proposes a casual-restaurant concept that offers great-tasting and nutritionally balanced food at competitive prices through interactive menus based on the latest health research.Team ScentShare plans to harness and capitalize on the power of scent by using odorants on small chips as a virtual placebo to improve personal well-being and to reduce appetite and increase satiety in users.In the empowered-education categoryTeam School Yourself proposes bringing books alive for a new generation of students accustomed to interactive games by creating immersive and interactive electronic textbooks in math and science for high school and college students.Team will enable better peer collaboration on schoolwork, using a nonmonetary incentive scheme and the development of a suite of learning and teaching applications.In the global health categoryTeam Revolving Fund Pharmacy proposes tackling issues involving delivery of life-saving medications by creating a supply chain model for government health facilities in Kenya.Team Vaxess proposes using silk to stabilize vaccines, eliminating the use for cold-chain transport, which lowers distribution costs and puts more vaccines in the hands of people in remote areas and developing countries, where they are needed most.In the clean air categoryTeam Zoom hopes to bring the car-sharing business model to Indian cities, providing vehicle availability to millions while removing vehicles from the road and reducing miles driven.Team Essmart proposes bridging the gap between producers of essential technology and global consumers through proposed distribution plans.Gordon Jones, director of the i-lab, said, “At the i-lab, we help students bring all kinds of projects forward to the world, but are especially excited by students in the President’s Challenge creating measurable impact on some of the biggest social problems around them.”The i-lab will help finalist teams advance their ideas during the phase, culminating in the selection of one grand-prize winner and up to three runners-up.  The grand-prize winner also will be awarded dedicated work space in the i-lab, mentoring, and access to expert resources through August.last_img read more

Exploring edX 1.0

first_imgWhen Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced their intention last month to provide free, online education, the world listened. The unveiling of edX, the universities’ joint open-source platform for web-based learning, garnered buzz around the globe.The next question was obvious. What will edX — and the future of online higher ed — actually look like?On Thursday, Anant Agarwal, edX’s first president, offered some early answers at Harvard’s second annual IT Summit. Agarwal’s keynote address at the daylong conference, which also included a discussion of the University’s strategic information technology plan by the CIO Council and 30 afternoon panels and presentations, introduced an ambitious project that will require just as much effort and innovation from Harvard’s IT professionals as it will from traditional educators.“This really is an exciting time for all of us to be in IT and education, and it’s a particularly exciting time to be at Harvard in IT,” said Anne Margulies, Harvard’s chief information officer, who kicked off the summit at Sanders Theatre. “Together, MIT and Harvard are tackling the educational issue of our time: exploring how technology can really improve learning, and at the same time expand access to education around the world.”Anne Margulies, Harvard’s chief information officer, kicked off the summit at Sanders Theatre. “Together, MIT and Harvard are tackling the educational issue of our time: exploring how technology can really improve learning, and at the same time expand access to education around the world,” she said.Agarwal, professor of electrical engineering and computer science and director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT, led development of MIT’s earlier platform, MITx. As such, he was an obvious candidate for “the leader chosen to bring us all into this brave new world,” Margulies said.Agarwal shared some lessons gleaned from MITx’s first pilot course, “MITx 6.002x: Circuits and Electronics.” As he would be the first to admit, the model for edX is hardly set in stone.“Think of it as a not-for-profit online education startup,” he told his audience of several hundred.When the course launched in February, it signed up 120,000 students — more than the number of undergrads MIT has graduated in its 150-year history. “The numbers are truly planet scale,” Agarwal said.Of those enrolled, 20,000 took the first set of tests for the course, and 10,000 took the midterm exam. The low retention rate came in part because many casual students didn’t feel the need to take the tests, though many dropped out. Given the course’s suggested requirements — an AP-level physics course in electricity and magnetism, knowledge of basic calculus and linear algebra, and some background in differential equations — the five-digit enrollment numbers are still impressive, Agarwal said.“The courses we offer on edX are going to be Harvard hard, MIT hard,” he said. “They’re going to mean something.”Agarwal and his MITx team quickly learned to modify their best-laid plans according to student feedback. For lessons, students clearly preferred slightly messy, hand-drawn diagrams narrated by Agarwal — an intimate, digital facsimile of a professor’s chalkboard scrawl — to organized PowerPoint slides.“Students like informal stuff; students like stuff that is personal,” he said.To solve the problem of depersonalized instant grading and assessment, Agarwal and his colleagues discovered that “gamification is key.”When a student answers a question correctly on the site, a green checkmark appears next to the answer. Students, they found, will keep trying to answer a practice question correctly until they succeed in finding the answer, seeking the instant gratification of the green checkmark. Compared with students in a traditional, offline trial version of the course, MITx students were actually spending more time on assignments, thanks in part to instant results for their efforts, Agarwal said.“Immediate feedback is huge,” he said. “I think the green checkmark is going to become the symbol of online learning.”Students engaged with the course in other ways. Though Agarwal has a co-instructor and four teaching assistants, managing tens of thousands of students’ questions would be impossible with the limited staff. The course’s discussion section has thus far managed the problem by allowing students to post their questions, which other students can then up-vote to the top of the queue. Students get “karma points” for asking popular questions or for providing answers.“If you get enough karma points, you get to be an instructor,” Agarwal said, though he joked that he’s received “some complaints that they’re wielding authority heavy-handedly.”There have been some heartening successes beyond student engagement, as well. At first, Agarwal said, he struggled to persuade science and health publisher Elsevier to post parts of “Foundations of Analog and Digital Electronic Circuits” online for free for the course’s students. The company balked, reasoning that giving away course materials would devalue the textbook.Elsevier ended up selling “every copy of the book in the world,” Agarwal said, due to high demand from the thousands of students enrolled in “6.002x.” Now the publisher is eager to partner with edX for future courses. It’s an instructive reminder, he said, that in the world of online, mass-scale education, the old rules — in publishing, in higher education, in teaching and learning — no longer apply.“There’s a lot we still need to learn,” Agarwal said. But “all the things they said can never be done, they can be done.”last_img read more

Alan Turing at 100

first_imgIt is hard to overstate the importance of Alan Turing, the British mathematician who died in 1954. He was a hero in science, for one. Turing invented the concepts that underlie modern computers and artificial intelligence. And he was a hero in war: He was a vital part of the British cryptographic team at Bletchley Park that cracked the German Enigma code during World War II.Harvard is celebrating Turing’s centenary year with “Go Ask A.L.I.C.E.,” an exhibit of “Turing Tests, Parlor Games, and ChatterBots,” which opened Tuesday and will run through Dec. 20 in the Science Center, Room 252.Gerald Holton, professor of the history of science emeritus and Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics, was among the first visitors to the exhibit, minutes after it opened. He stood in front of one of the interactive machines and asked no one in particular, “Can we break the Enigma code?”The exhibit is visually appealing, full of information, and even fun, said Holton, who is 90, and who said Turing’s work in computational science was “a turning point in modern civilization.” Then he looked down for a moment. “But I can’t help feeling some sadness at his demise.” Turing was only 41 when he died, an apparent suicide. Not long before, Turing had been convicted of “gross indecency” for being a homosexual. He lost his security clearance and in lieu of prison was forced to undergo hormonal therapy.“He was turned against by a country to which he devoted his every force,” said Joseph Pellegrino University Professor Peter Galison. “It still seems medieval to me.”But the exhibit takes a lighter touch. “We wanted some gestures to that part of the story without making it central,” said co-curator Stephanie Dick, a Ph.D. student in the history of science program at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.“Go Ask A.L.I.C.E.” is sponsored by the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, where Galison is director, and was funded by the David P. Wheatland Charitable Trust. Also co-curating the show are history of science assistant professor Sophia Roosth and department Ph.D. student James Bergman.A.L.I.C.E. is an acronym with at least 15 scientific and military meanings. But in Turing’s world, it stands for Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity. “ChatterBot” is related slang, describing a program intended to allow computers to engage in small talk.The possibility of human-machine interaction was one of Turing’s most durable fascinations. (The exhibit calls it “the dream of a common language,” a Turing-inspired idea. It defied the notion that computers are intended only to process numerical data.)The exhibit traces Turing from his boyhood in colonial India and at two British boarding schools, through his landmark theories of the 1930s, and into his wartime science, when the Bletchley research helped to shape computers as we know them.  The show moves into the 1950s, when he conceived what most people associate with him: the Turing Test. It’s designed to gauge the likelihood of a machine having what could be described as intelligence. Turing introduced the test in a 1950 paper that began, “Can machines think?”All that Turing did was governed by “exchanges between people,” said Galison, and then he went in search of a way for machines to “respond indistinguishably” from humans. “The Turing Test was a way to take thinking out of the domain of the metaphysical and make it into a communication act.”But can communication happen without affect? The exhibit is designed to inspire questions like that, and to make people think about communication generally, said student and co-curator Bergman. For one thing, “We interact so often with machines now, and we often ascribe to them human qualities. We were able to drill down on a lot of history of this.”Turing’s question about thinking machines arose, in part, because of an earlier fascination: harnessing human computational power en masse in something he hypothesized in 1936 as the Universal Turing Machine. (The word “computer” did not apply yet.) The exhibit includes a well-worn bound copy of the original 1936 paper in the Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society, as well as something Turing never saw in his own lifetime: a model by artist Mike Davey of what his machine might look like, with its 1s and 0s and its spool of tape “of indefinite length.”But if machines can calculate automatically and speedily, Turing thought, perhaps they could also communicate: to have textual exchanges with humans that simulate, in the words of the exhibit, “intuition, emotion, and consciousness.”“Go Ask A.L.I.C.E.,” with its several interactive stations, is designed to test that idea and to demonstrate its iterations through time. Viewers can sit down and take the Turing Test. Type a greeting, and you will get an answer. Is it from a real person at a computer terminal, or from a machine? You decide.Viewers can also take a close look at two on-loan Enigma machines, the stout steel-and-wood devices the size of hatboxes that almost defeated the Allies in WWII. “It seemed like a key object for us,” said Roosth, the professor and co-curator.Detail from a 1930s teletype machine.Viewers can handle punch cards, the heart of computation machines through the 1960s. (The categories “hole” and “no hole” were the equivalent of the binary “1” and “0”.) Visitors can read about natural language processing schemes that ease communication with computers, including LISP from 1962.And viewers can browse some of the ways that artificial intelligence was seen in the mainstream press, and in what the exhibit curators call the “fantasy, desire, and paranoia” of science fiction. In those realms, communicating machines can be helpful servants, like C3PO from the “Star Wars” trilogy. Or they can be enemies masquerading as people, like the bioengineered faux humans in “Blade Runner.”Servant, enemy — or fake? In one corner of the exhibit, Ben Kuhn ’15 wanted to find out. He turned on a Depression-era teletype machine of the type Turing had used. The C3PO-size machine warmed up with a deep hum, and Kuhn typed out a greeting on the clacking old keys. “Hi Alice.”An answer chattered back, typed in ink on a roll of paper: “The explanation is rather complicated.” Kuhn, who wrote the teletype machine chatterbot software, was gentle with his computer interlocutor. “Writing something to simulate a human is really hard,” he said.Alice did better with another question, “Why does the sun rise?” Logically, and from a firm dataset, Alice replied: “The Earth rotates.”Still, Turing had launched an idea: Develop human-machine interactions that sound real. The exhibit points to one such advance, the ELIZA computer program developed during the 1960s at what was then the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory by Joseph Weizenbaum (1923-2008). The concept was to simulate the responses a therapist might have in an intimate conversation. But Weizenbaum was dismayed when his secretary asked to be left alone with ELIZA so she could have a real conversation. “No one understands,” said a frustrated Weizenbaum later. “No one is there.” By the 1970s, he was a critic of the limitations of artificial intelligence.In his own day, Turing asked an even bigger question about communication, in part inspired by the death of a friend in childhood, and the longing for his company: Could there be human interaction without the human body — by the spirit alone? But he concluded there would be “nothing to do.” Turing’s rumination included a list of all the things missed in spirit-to-spirit communication, said Roosth. “Food and sex were foremost.”“Go Ask A.L.I.C.E.” is accompanied by two identical performances on Sept. 19 and 20, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Science Center 251. First, there will be live demonstrations of an Enigma machine and the Turing Machine. At 7 p.m., there will be an original theater piece using transcripts of human-computer dialogue. For more information.last_img read more

Lifting the ‘family curse’

first_imgAndrea Farkas Patenaude flicked an image onto the screen at the front of the room. There, larger than life, was actress, humanitarian, director, and iconic beauty Angelina Jolie, arms crossed, in the dramatic black-and-white photo from Time Magazine’s cover in May.“If anyone told me a year ago that the two words likely to pop into your mind when you see this picture are ‘prophylactic mastectomy,’ ” Patenaude said, “I would have fallen off my chair.”Early this year, Jolie underwent the procedure during which healthy breasts are removed to reduce future cancer risk. Jolie later explained that she did so because of her family history and her positive test for the breast cancer gene BRCA1. Her mother died of ovarian cancer at age 56.Though physicians have performed prophylactic mastectomies for years, there has been very little public discourse on the subject, Patenaude said. That has left high-risk women who are considering the procedure feeling alone, with few resources to help them make a difficult, but potentially life-saving, decision.“I think Angelina Jolie did a very noble thing, and something actually very helpful to the community of women who would consider prophylactic mastectomy,” Patenaude said.Patenaude, an associate professor of psychology in Harvard Medical School’s Psychiatry Department and director of psycho-oncology research at the Harvard-affiliated Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, discussed prophylactic mastectomy during a talk at Harvard Medical School’s Countway Library on Tuesday.Patenaude reviewed the procedure, the disease it is meant to prevent, and the findings from a study of women who’d undergone the surgery, outlined in her 2012 book “Prophylactic Mastectomy: Insights from Women Who Chose to Reduce Their Risk.”Women who carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations have a 56 percent to 85 percent chance of developing breast cancer and a 20 percent to 40 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer in their lifetimes. Not only are their risks higher, the cancers appear earlier in life than usual and often are passed on to the next generation by either parent.Breast and ovarian cancer can be so common in some families that they are considered “the family curse,” Patenaude said. She shared stories of study subjects whose mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and other family members have died of the disease.The advent of genetic screening has given women in those families a tool to understand their own risk, Patenaude said, allowing those who carry the gene mutation to consider their options. One is intensive screening procedures to catch the disease early.For women who don’t want such screening or the uncertainty of never knowing when a positive test might come back, prophylactic mastectomy is an option. One study showed that it reduces the chance of developing breast cancer by between 90 and 95 percent. A related operation called a prophylactic oophorectomy — removal of the ovaries — reduces the chance of ovarian cancer.A 1999 study of 214 high-risk women who underwent prophylactic mastectomy and 403 of their sisters who did not showed that just 1 percent of those who underwent the procedure developed cancer, versus 39 percent of their sisters. Only two with prophylactic mastectomy died, while 90 sisters died.Patenaude’s study involved 21 women who underwent prophylactic mastectomy, 90 percent of whose mothers had had breast cancer, and 76 percent of whose mothers died from it. The women said they thought less about if they were going to get cancer and more about when it will strike. One main motivation in deciding to undergo the surgery was to be alive for their children and grandchildren.After the operation, some study participants said they felt as if a dark cloud had been lifted, and that they finally felt safe in their own bodies. One said she wasn’t really fond of her breasts, since she’d always had a feeling “they were going to really kill me some day.”Study subjects also spoke, however, of the shock of the physical transformation and the psychological impact of losing their breasts. Some said they felt “like half a woman,” and others talked about fears their husbands would lose interest in them. Reconstructive surgery after the mastectomy helps, but Patenaude said women can develop “nipple envy,” which can be addressed by procedures that save the original nipple for reconstruction purposes.“For many of these women, they were trading physical normalcy for emotional normalcy,” Patenaude said.last_img read more

The building blocks of planets

first_imgThis is the fifth in a series of stories about Harvard’s engagement in Latin America.“We don’t send anyone through here without a personal guide,” joked Matt Holman as he led a visitor through a maze of corridors and crossways at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge.But a personal guide of sorts is exactly what a group of astronomers, with help from Holman, a lecturer on astrophysics at Harvard, and his collaborators at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Colorado will be happy to have in two years while piggybacking on a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) spaceship that is racing to the farthest edges of the solar system.Scientists tend not to joke when it comes to navigating their celestial territory, and that includes Holman and Alex Parker, a former postdoctoral fellow at the CfA’s Institute for Theory and Computation, who are part of a mission to find an object in the far-flung Kuiper Belt. They’ll work on that with the help of SwRI’s Marc Buie and a number of massive telescopes, including two large Magellan telescopes at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile.“The Kuiper Belt objects are the building blocks of planets,” explained Holman, senior astrophysicist with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and associate director of the CfA’s Theoretical Astrophysics Division, who specializes in the study of extrasolar planetary systems. “They are relatively primordial, and this may be our only opportunity for us to see one of these objects up close.”To do that, Holman’s team is hitching a ride on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which will blaze past Pluto on its exploratory mission of the dwarf planet sometime in 2015 at more than 30,000 miles per hour. After completion of the Pluto mission, Holman’s SwRI partners, including New Horizon’s principal investigator, Alan Stern, will give NASA the green light to fire the ship’s rockets. They will redirect the craft by roughly one degree, and blast into unexplored territory past an object in the distant Kuiper Belt, a vast region composed of icy fragments, leftovers from the solar system’s creation 4.5 billion years ago.Mounted on the back of the Clay telescope is Megacam, a giant digital camera whose construction was led by CfA astrophysicist Brian McLeod. Megacam will be used to help identify a Kuiper Belt object that scientists will then explore with the help of NASA’s spacecraft New Horizons. Courtesy of Brian McLeodThese fragments could reveal much about the makeup of the universe, but finding one is no easy task. Before the NASA craft makes its pass by Pluto, the research team has to pinpoint where to direct the vehicle.“Magellan comes into play because it has superb image quality,” said Holman, referring to the twin 6.5-meter telescopes located 200 feet apart on a remote mountaintop in Chile’s southern Atacama Desert. The telescopes, christened Baade and Clay after astronomers Walter Baade and Landon Clay, a Harvard graduate and philanthropist, are part of the Magellan Project, a collaboration among Harvard University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, the University of Arizona, the University of Michigan, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Magellan’s sophisticated design includes main mirrors consisting of 21,000 pounds of borosilicate glass supported by a lightweight honeycomb structure.One of the massive telescopes is equipped with what sounds like a superhero gadget: Megacam, a giant digital camera whose construction was led by CfA astrophysicist Brian McLeod. Mounted on the back of the Clay telescope, it’s armed with a 24-foot-by-24-foot field of view and offers researchers 36 times as many pixels as a high-end consumer digital camera.In short, it snaps really, really good pictures.“It doesn’t matter that you can take a picture that’s extremely sharp if you don’t have a camera that has enough pixels to record that image quality,” said Holman. “Megacam really makes that possible.”Parker has developed a means of subtracting stellar light from the pictures captured by Megacam, which in turn allows researchers to home in on the faint moving objects and track their exact locations. Over the past couple of years, he has been busy trying to identify Kuiper Belt objects.“Once you’ve measured an object’s location over a period of time, you can measure its orbit around the sun. And that’s what we need,” said Parker, who this month became a planetary scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, but will continue to work on the Kuiper Belt project. “We need to know its orbit around the sun so we can predict where it will be in the future and whether or not our spacecraft will fly to it.”Like Magellan’s finely tuned instruments, the telescopes’ location will also factor in the team’s success. The site’s mountaintop setting, perched on the edge of the ocean, far removed from a major metropolis, sets up an astronomer’s dream: “good seeing.”Researchers are limited to searching only a fraction of the sky that will be close to the craft’s altered trajectory. In addition, the objects they are looking for are fainter and “necessarily smaller because there aren’t that many big ones” in the Kuiper Belt, said Holman. Complicating their efforts is the fact that Pluto is currently emerging from its proximity to the Milky Way, whose billions of glowing stars make tiny, faint moving objects in the nearby Kuiper Belt even harder to see.Any amateur stargazer knows that light pollution dramatically hinders observations in the night sky. Las Campanas’ remote locale means it’s unencumbered by excess light. The region’s drier climate also means less water vapor in the air, and the breeze off the ocean, undisturbed by preceding mountain ridges, flows smoothly. Such weather conditions greatly reduce the chance of atmospheric interference, an astronomer’s worst fear.While beautiful to most, twinkling stars are “bad news” for the researchers, said Holman. “It means [the light] is dancing around in the atmosphere. That twinkling means how much light you are getting is changing and its position is changing, and that means that if you take a picture, it’s going to be more blurred. At Las Campanas … image quality can be fantastic, the seeing can be wonderful, and that’s really helpful when you want to look for fainter objects.”Thus far, Holman and his colleagues have identified a handful of faint objects in the Kuiper Belt that might be in the right patch of sky when New Horizons passes by Pluto in 2015. In the coming months, they will analyze their data “to refine our understanding of their orbits to be sure that they are good candidates,” said Holman.“We are hoping the data we collect in the next month or so,” he added, “will really turn up what we are looking for.”last_img read more

New treatment for depression shows immediate results

first_imgIndividuals with major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder who receive low-field magnetic stimulation (LFMS) show immediate and substantial mood improvement, McLean Hospital researchers report in the Aug. 1 issue of Biological Psychiatry.“LFMS is unlike any current treatment. It uses magnetic fields that are a fraction of the strength but at a higher frequency than the electromagnetic fields used in TMS [transcranial magnetic stimulation] and ECT [electroconvulsive therapy],” explained first author Michael Rohan, a physicist at McLean Hospital’s Brain Imaging Center and a lecturer at Harvard Medical School.According to Rohan, although other brain stimulation treatments like ECT and TMS are often effective for the treatment of depression, they typically take longer to impact mood, and ECT is associated with side effects such as memory loss.Similarly, while antidepressant medications can be highly effective for treating depression, it can take between four to six weeks before mood changes are detected.“Importantly, LFMS appears to have an immediate effect on mood and thus has the potential to provide relief in emergency situations,” explained Rohan, who first reported the potential use of LFMS to treat depression in a groundbreaking study in 2004. “In addition to providing quick relief from symptoms, the other exciting piece about LFMS is that no side effects have been observed.”Using a portable tabletop LFMS device that Rohan designed, the researchers studied 63 volunteers between the ages of 18 and 65. All participants had been diagnosed with either major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder and had been on a regimen of antidepressants or mood-stabilizing medications for at least six weeks. Of the study participants, 34 actively received LFMS, while the other 29 went through the process but did not actually receive any brain stimulation. Since neither the patients nor the researchers knew which participants had actually received the treatment, the true effect of the LFMS could be measured.Each participant rated his or her mood before and after the single 20-minute treatment using two common self-assessment tools: a visual analog scale and the positive and negative affect schedule. Participants who received the LFMS treatment indicated a marked improvement in their mood, while those whose brains were not stimulated reported no change in mood.“We observed immediate improvement in mood following relatively brief exposure to LFMS,” noted Rohan. “Although larger research studies are needed, we think LFMS could be a powerful tool as a rapidly acting treatment for depression, either alone or in combination with medication.”Biological Psychiatry also published commentary from experts on brain stimulation who said Rohan’s work on LFMS is exciting and shows great promise.“If the results described in this study are replicated in larger studies and the effects are shown to be durable, LFMS would be a welcome addition to the clinical armamentarium in the treatment of depression, may find application in other psychiatric and neurologic diseases, and may help to inform and guide us toward future directions in neuromodulation,” wrote Mouhsin Shafi, Philip Stern, and Alvaro Pascual-Leone.According to Rohan, additional research is already underway to find the best parameters for LFMS use in the clinical treatment of depression. He has also started a research study to evaluate the effects of multiple rather than to single treatments, and measure how long the antidepressant effects last following treatment.McLean Hospital is an affiliate of Harvard Medical School.last_img read more

A new stem cell advance

first_imgCollaborating with scientists from New York, Toronto, and Tokyo, Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) researchers have devised two methods for using stem cells to generate the type of neurons that help regulate behavioral and basic physiological functions in the human body, such as obesity and hypertension, as well as sleep, mood, and some social disorders.The work by Florian Merkle, Kevin Eggan, Alex Schier, and colleagues provides researchers, for the first time, with live hypothalamic neurons to use as targets for drug discovery and therapeutic cell-transplantation efforts for conditions related to stress, reproduction, puberty, and immune function, as hypothalamic neurons are often involved in those diseases as well.“Not only is this exciting because of the science involved,” said Merkle, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of HSCI principal faculty member Kevin Eggan, who pioneered disease in a dish technology, “but by being able to produce this one type of neuron we bring possible treatments for a wide range of conditions closer to the clinic.“The hypothalamus is an ancient structure of the brain,” said Merkle. “It’s very conserved, and that’s because it plays such a basic function.” Though it makes up only about 0.3 percent of the adult human brain, the hypothalamus serves as a regulator for numerous basic physiological functions.Thus far, research exploring the origin or process of hypothalamic dysfunction has been limited because researchers haven’t been able to observe live hypothalamic cells.Merkle and a team of scientists from HSCI, New York’s Sloan Kettering Institute for Cancer Research, Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, and Japan’s RIKEN developed the two neuron-generating methods, “self-patterning” and “directed” differentiation, concurrently.The new work has been published in the journal Development.In his self-patterning approach, Merkle put 5,000 stem cells in a dish amid an environment conducive to survival and left them alone. Within a day, the cells would aggregate and “communicate with each other” to plan which stem cells would differentiate into which neural progenitors. The aggregate eventually differentiated into cells that, together, made a tissue-like structure similar to the hypothalamus.When asked how the two processes differed, Merkle said that during directed differentiation the researchers “are pushing [stem] cells very strongly, guiding them toward a particular fate, and not relying on them to do it themselves.” Merkle used small molecules to steer stem cell differentiation down a specific pathway.“I think that there is definitely more opportunity to explore and refine directed differentiation to make different regions within the hypothalamus,” said Merkle.While working on their approach, Merkle and his team consulted with Rudolph Leibel and Dieter Egli of Columbia University, who were at the same time developing a directed-differentiation technique that used different chemical cues and pathways. Within the last month, they published their work in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.“It really has not been possible to study these neurons before, and now we have an opportunity to do that,” said Merkle. “A lot has been done in mouse cells, but we don’t know how similar [to human cells] they really are. There could be important differences that are relevant to human disease.”The ability to create lab-grown hypothalamic neurons also creates opportunities for drug development and cell-replacement therapies.Researchers could use these new tools to grow hypothalamic neurons from patients with a specific disease. Studying the development and death from those neurons could provide researchers with the information necessarily to understand a disease’s origins.“There is a universe of diseases out there,” said Merkle. “And our ability to study them using these stem cells is fundamentally limited by our ability to make those cell types in a dish.”last_img read more

Faculty Council meeting held Sept. 14

first_imgOn September 14 the Faculty Council nominated a Parliamentarian for the 2016–2017 academic year and heard a presentation of a resolution by Professors Harry Lewis, Margo Seltzer, and Richard Thomas.The Council next meets on September 28. The preliminary deadline for the October 4 meeting of the Faculty is September 20 at 12:00 p.m.last_img