In “The Last Known Good State,” engineers mingle with a female robot; they blow up stars; they fall in love.The film, the brainchild of writer and director Alexander Berman ’10, is now in post-production, being edited in Berman’s scattered, near-apocalyptic basement office where working all night seems ordinary, an affect of the setting. Berman prefers it this way. He’ll edit — “binge” — until sunrise, before “purging for days.” Metaphors are, after all, the lifeblood of a filmmaker.The film is Berman’s thesis for the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies (VES). It is not his first film, but is the final one he’ll create at Harvard. And he wants to go out with a bang.“I wanted to do something you’ve never seen before,” he said, “and something that I may never get a chance to do again when I graduate.” In one of the film’s sequences, his star-struck engineer caresses his lovely blonde mate of artificial intelligence. She’s more Brigitte Bardot than R2-D2, and wearing pasties.“It’s sci-fi, so scantily clad is normal,” said Berman.Shooting over 10 days in the Carpenter Center, Berman secured two grants from VES and the Harvard College Research Program that afforded him a budget for an elaborate production. Though only 15-20 minutes long, the film is enriched by a litany of special effects and a set that could modestly be described as mind-blowing.For instance, imagine tents — used as futuristic office cubicles — that are projected with astral visualizations to create a sensory 3D experience.“In a 20-minute film, if you want people to experience something intellectually and emotionally,” he said, “you have to strike them with an image, because otherwise it feels like minimalism.”For Berman’s involved and visually arresting projections, he contacted the Alliances Center for Astrophysical Thermonuclear Flashes at the University of Chicago, which maps 3-D images of supernovae. He solicited the help of production designer Amy Davis, A.L.B. ’10, and Tomasz Mloduchowski, a special effects engineer, from Blattaria Design and Effects Ltd., whom Berman put in charge of special effects. Berman’s brother, Benjamin ’12, an animator also in VES, and director of photography Andrew Wesman ’10 are lending their skills to add more layers of artistry to this uniquely cool senior film.Berman, who has long been interested in technology, said, “The idea for this film went through a lot of iterations.” But he dubbed it, above all else, a love story. “Looking at all these boy-meets-girl, twenty-something films, the farthest thing from those is a sci-fi.”But doing the farthest thing is what Berman does best. He intended to go to law school but during his first semester at Harvard knew he wanted to pursue film. “I’m interested in politics and social issues but wanted to explore those issues instead through art.”After his change of heart, Berman embarked to, of all places, Siberia. His parents are Russian, and although Berman was born in the United States he knew he wanted to make a documentary there. The film was supposed to be about Siberian ecology and volcanoes. As Berman traveled from Alaska to Siberia, he found himself ironically “hopping on a plane chartered by Wall Street execs going trout fishing there.”When Berman finally arrived, the Russians he met wanted bribes for information, and Berman quickly realized he would go broke trying to make the movie he’d set out to film. So he chartered a cab to a remote part of Siberia, accompanied by his crew of brother and mother, who served as his translator. “I knew one name in this ethnic group of reindeer herders,” he recalled. “The guy’s name was Nikolai.”Against the odds, they found him. “He showed me around this village of aboriginal Siberians, closely related to Canadian Inuits,” Berman said. “After the collapse of the Soviet Union, these people went through a gut-wrenching time. Cultural subsidies created everything for them, and when that went away there was no economy.”Berman wanted a hopeful note, though, and centered his new film on the village’s makeshift shipping industry. “They take decommissioned Soviet tanks, all-terrain tanks, and run them up and down the Kamchatka peninsula to feed the villages that are most remote.”The result was “Songs from the Tundra,” which Berman screened internationally and which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Provincetown International Film Festival.He hopes to show “The Last Known Good State” in similar fashion, starting with the VES’s annual screening each April. But now, while he edits, he’s planning for his departure from Harvard and “trying to get some money together to go back to Siberia. I have a really great story to tell there, and that’s my most developed project.”He’s also writing a feature-length script based on “The Last Known Good State,” a project special to Berman for another reason. At the end of the film, artificial intelligence takes the engineer back to his college dormitory to before, Berman said, “he got on this very corporate career path.”“It was a script that became personal because I’m leaving Harvard and people from Harvard go on to do very high-profile, very well-paid, very successful jobs. But it’s so hard to live up to the variety and the intensity that you have here, and I wanted the character to experience that as well.”Berman is entertaining thoughts of where he might go next. He could stay in Boston, or possibly head for Los Angeles, even New York. Anywhere, just as long as he has film.“All my films are about frontiers,” he said. “In ‘The Last Known Good State,’ it’s a romantic frontier — how does one love a machine? — and a scientific frontier, which is blowing up these stars. Film’s ability to interrogate that frontier and bring that to people, I think it’s the most exciting thing.”
Harvard students can buy discount tickets to scores of Boston-area events and attractions starting today (Feb. 10), thanks to a new program piloted by Outings & Innings, the University’s longtime purveyor of fun and recreation.“Our customers can get discounts of up to 50 percent by purchasing in advance,” said Devorah Sperling, manager of Outings & Innings. “It’s a great opportunity for students to save money on leisure entertainment activities.”Outings & Innings, part of Harvard Human Resources, has provided faculty and staff with deals on events, activities, local goods, and the like for more than 30 years. The new program allows undergraduates and graduate students to share in the savings.Students may purchase passes to movies, museums, and seasonal attractions Tuesdays through Fridays at Outing & Innings’ 9 Holyoke St. office, or at the Harvard School of Public Health’s Kresge Cafeteria on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month. (Visit the new student website for office hours and a complete list of what’s on sale.) The first 100 students to visit Outings & Innings, mention the website, and make a purchase of at least $10 will receive a free pass to AMC Loews movie theaters. (A valid student ID is required for all purchases. Outings & Innings accepts only cash for student transactions.)Harvard College Dean Evelynn M. Hammonds, Barbara Gutmann Rosenkrantz Professor of the History of Science and of African and African American Studies, said the new program furthers the University’s goal of providing opportunities to students regardless of income.“We are always looking for ways to encourage our students to take part in the incredible opportunities available at Harvard and within the Boston and Cambridge communities,” she said. “This new program through Outings & Innings provides students with yet another resource and incentive to explore the cultural, intellectual, and recreational opportunities around them.”David Friedrich, assistant dean of Harvard College for student life, said such services pair nicely with those offered by the University’s Student Events Fund (SEF).“SEF anonymously provides complimentary tickets to students who want to attend on-campus events,” he said. Outings & Innings will now give students access to off-campus activities as well at a discounted rate, whether they want to visit a museum or just go to a movie.”With two months of winter weather still ahead, one perk that skiers may want to jump on is discount lift tickets to Wachusett Mountain. Students can ride the MBTA “ski train” that leaves from Porter Square on Saturday and Sunday mornings and be on the slopes less than two hours later.In May, Sperling and her colleagues at Harvard Human Resources will evaluate the pilot program’s success. Sperling said she hopes to be able to permanently extend Outings & Innings services to students, perhaps with expanded offerings and online ordering.“We’re excited to offer these deals to students,” she said. “Our long-term objective is to extend our services to the whole Harvard community.”
Over the last four decades the average height of women has declined in Africa, stalled in several South American countries, and varied considerably in other low- to middle-income countries, according to a new Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) study. The declines or stagnation are most noticeable among disadvantaged women and are thought to reflect poor nutrition, exposure to infections, and other environmental factors that may stunt or hamper children’s growth.The height of adult women provides a means to measure health and well-being of populations and provides insight into the nutritional environment and living conditions that children are exposed to in a nation, according to lead author S V Subramanian, associate professor of society, human development, and health at HSPH. Women’s height is known to be a key predictor of an offspring’s chances of survival and also their growth patterns in infancy and childhood. Further, distribution of height within a population provides useful insights into the past and future patterns of inequalities in health and well-being.The study, “Height of Nations: A Socioeconomic Analysis of Cohort Differences and Patterns Among Women in Developing Countries,” was published online April 20, 2011 in PLoS ONE.
On Friday evening, October 14th 2011, in Tercentenary Theatre, Harvard’s extended family of faculty, students, staff, alumni and invited guests gathered together for a festive evening featuring fabulous desserts and a memorable musical performance.The Harvard Radcliffe Orchestra performed, accompanied by a chorus of over a hundred student voices followed by a solo performance by our own international celebrity cellist, Yo-Yo Ma ‘76.
Active duty Navy Commander and 2011 Harvard Extension School Master of Liberal Arts (A.L.M.) grad Ted Johnson has been selected to participate in the prestigious White House Fellows program. Of the 15 chosen to participate, more than half hold degrees from Harvard, with Johnson being the first Harvard Extension School graduate selected for the program.Johnson applied for the fellowship while completing his A.L.M. thesis in international relations. He was selected as part of the class which began the fellowship in August 2011 with a placement in the Department of Energy. Prior to his placement, he served on the faculty at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, RI, where he was a cyberspace and information operations military professor.Says Johnson upon receiving this opportunity, “I hope to serve as further proof of the invaluable experience the Extension School affords.”Founded in 1964, the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships is one of America’s most prestigious programs for leadership and public service. White House Fellowships offer exceptional young men and women first-hand experience working at the highest levels of the Federal government.
Laurence Golborne was working in relative obscurity as Chile’s mining minister in August 2010 when a mineshaft collapse thousands of feet below ground in a remote corner of that country catapulted him into the international spotlight.The subsequent 69-day operation that Golborne led to rescue 33 trapped miners made him famous around the world.It also provided “a leadership lesson for the ages,” Harvard University President Drew Faust said Monday in welcoming Golborne, now minister of public works, as he spoke on public policy, leadership, and crisis management at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum at Harvard Kennedy School.Faust met Golborne during an official visit to Chile with Harvard Kennedy School Dean David T. Ellwood last spring. She said she knew then that Golborne had to come to Harvard to share his story.But, as Golborne reminded the audience, it was a story that could have well ended differently.“Essentially, a crisis happens when all the rules fail,” Golborne told the audience. Accompanied by a slideshow, with vivid images of the rescue operation, Golborne reminded the audience that crisis and government are a potential mismatch.The usual procedures of government, which requires slow, deliberate action, can be incompatible with a situation that is unexpected, is unique, requires urgent response, and has no textbook answers.“This is the scenario in which leadership takes on a complementary role,” Golborne said.Golborne said the ability to manage a lot of pressure was key over the first 17 days, during which the rescuers faced disappointment and frustration. The teams Golborne assembled had to deal with family members, the media, and the vast technical difficulties of the rescue itself. Then came the famous note, attached to a drill that had been used to reach the trapped miners, announcing that they were alive and well.“Many, many things had to go right for those 33 miners to be rescued, and those things did go right,” said Herman “Dutch” Leonard, Baker Professor of Public Management at the Kennedy School and an authority on crisis management, who introduced Golborne. “It’s a huge credit to the people involved, who in completely novel circumstances managed to learn their way forward into a whole new paradigm for mine rescue.”Why did the rescue mission succeed? There were three key elements, Golborne said: team building, hard work, and motivation; the need to risk failure in order to succeed; and an understanding that complex problems have no simple solutions.Asked by an audience member why he had entered, and stayed, in the public sector, Golborne remembered that he was hesitant when he was first asked to join President Sebastian Pinera’s government. He said his wife persuaded him.“You always say that someone has to do something, you always say that our country needs a lot of things,” his wife told him. “Well, who is going to do it? Why don’t you go to help?”“I have to confess that every day I feel like I made the best decision of my life,” he said.The event marked the beginning of Harvard Kennedy School’s annual Public Service Week. That will serve as the kickoff for Harvard’s Global Month of Service, which begins April 1.Harvard President Drew Faust welcomed Golborne, who she had met during an official visit to Chile with Harvard Kennedy School Dean David T. Ellwood last spring.
Read Full Story It’s Wednesday night in Cambridge and Thursday morning in Beijing, and their seminar rooms are some 6,700 miles apart, but for 30 students from Harvard Law School and the Renmin University of China School of Law, common interests and videoconferencing equipment easily bridge these distances.During this spring semester, students in a reading group taught by HLS Professor William P. Alford and an advanced negotiation skills class taught by Renmin Assistant Professor Alonzo Emery ’10 have come together electronically to consider the roles of China and the U.S. in a world order in flux. “The U.S.-China relationship is often touted as the most important relationship to manage ‘properly’ if we are to have the type of peaceful world envisioned by all of us in the course,” explains Emery. They were also joined for several class sessions by Han Dayuan, dean of Renmin Law School, and Ding Xiangshun, a Renmin professor currently at HLS as a Fulbright Scholar.Alford, HLS’s vice dean for the Graduate Program and International Legal Studies, worked for more than a year to plan this foray into the electronic classroom—an idea that is beginning to take root at HLS through faculty initiatives, the Law School’s first EdX course (Copyright, taught this spring by HLS Professor and Berkman Center for Internet & Society Faculty Director William Fisher III), student interest, and strong advocacy by alumni, including Gus Hauser ’53.Read the full story on the Harvard Law School website.
China survives, mostly.For those of you on the edge of your seat wanting to know how the global climate crisis turns out, that’s the short answer.But to skip to the end would be missing the point of Professor Naomi Oreskes’ latest book, a novella called “The Collapse of Western Civilization.” Because, though the book is fictional, it is fact-based, and the lessons it holds lie not in the fanciful outcome but in how the world gets there.And that part of the story, unfortunately, is quite serious.In crafting their cautionary tale, Oreskes and co-author Erik Conway of the California Institute of Technology relied heavily on scientific predictions of what is likely to happen by the turn of the century should the world not pick up the pace in responding to climate change.Rising seas, killer heat waves, and lengthy droughts all take their toll in the book, published in July by the Columbia University Press. Both the Greenland and the West Antarctic ice sheets collapse, with the heat and the rising water leading to mass migrations, food shortages, riots, disease outbreaks, and wide-scale extinction. By 2093, Western Civilization as we know it is kaput.Oreskes, a science historian whose last book, 2010’s “Merchants of Doubt,” tackled the links between the tobacco wars and climate change denial, said she and Conway wanted to translate the reams of material predicting what could happen if climate change is ignored from scientific jargon into something easily understood. Further, they decided on a fictionalized account by a future historian as a way to tell the story in an engaging way.“We took all the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] model projections and asked, what does that look like?” Oreskes said. “Erik and I took that best guess and put it in a story that is easy to read.”Though the research took a while, much of the book’s narrative was penned over several weeks of downtime in Australia, Oreskes said.The fictional approach gave Oreskes and Conway free hand to talk about 2023’s Year of Perpetual Summer, the Great Collapse of the ice sheets after 2073, and the coming fossil-fuel frenzy sparked by shale gas and melting Arctic ice, which makes matters worse by by opening vast areas to oil exploration.Perhaps most frightening are the portions that reflect modern history — the failed Copenhagen climate talks of 2009 are remembered our “last best chance” to avert disaster, and 2012’s “year without a winter” is seen as another ominous warning that the West ignored.Perhaps most importantly, Oreskes and Conway go to great lengths to show how it all went wrong. They begin by pointing out that there was nothing sudden about climate change. Not only was it slow, we knew it is happening. Not only did we know that it was happening, we knew why it was happening. And, perhaps most damning, not only did we know why it was happening, we knew how to stop it and yet failed to act accordingly.In Oreskes and Conway’s telling, there is plenty of blame to go around. Though the “carbon-combustion complex” — pro-fossil fuel forces — gets central billing, the story also implicates scientists for failing to get their message across and adhering to overly strict definitions of scientific certainty, and politicians for not acting on that message, however inexpertly delivered.China survives for two reasons, Oreskes said during an interview. First, though the nation is building coal-fired plants rapidly and has recently become the world’s largest annual greenhouse gas emitter — though it still lags the U.S. on a per-capita basis — it is also furiously building renewable-energy plants: hydro, solar, and wind. Once the scale of climate change becomes apparent and its leaders decide to take action, the country has significant infrastructure in place to kick-start the process.The second reason is China’s authoritarian form of government, which allows it to respond more rapidly as a nation to global-scale calamities.Oreskes said the choice of China was also the outgrowth of an ongoing discussion between her and Conway — “the irony conversation.” The pair’s research indicates that one motivation for those who oppose climate action is fear that climate change might be used as an excuse for excessive regulation, harming democratic government and economic freedom. The novella, she said, highlights the irony of that position: Deniers are raising the risk of a disaster big enough to favor the survival of more authoritarian forms of government.Though the book has enough villains to go around, it is short on heroes. Oreskes makes no apology for that.“This is a historian of the future looking back,” Oreskes said. “This is a story about failure.”
Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) scientists have found a way to both make more energy-burning human brown fat cells and make the cells themselves more active, a discovery that could have therapeutic potential for diabetes, obesity, and other metabolic diseases.Unlike energy-storing white, or “bad,” fat cells, “good” brown fat cells make a protein called UCP1 that converts energy stored in glucose and fatty acids into heat to keep the body warm. When active, brown fat cells can also use energy stored by white fat cells, and as a result reduce the size of nearby white fat cells.The research team, made up of scientists at Harvard University and at Harvard-affiliated Joslin Diabetes Center and led by HSCI principal faculty member Yu-Hua Tseng, determined that the amount of energy burned varies from person to person and from cell to cell. As it turns out, said Tseng, “Not all fat cells are created equal.”The researchers determined that a whole suite of genes help determine how much UCP1 a brown fat cell will produce once it has matured, and those genes control UCP1 production in different ways. Some, Tseng said, act like on/off switches: When the gene is on, a brown fat cell can make the energy-burning protein, and when it is turned off, it doesn’t. Other genes acted more like a light dimmer that adjusts or fine tunes the amount of UPC1 created.The research was published online today in the journal Nature Medicine. Tseng collaborated with HSCI’s Lee Rubin and researchers at the National Institutes of Health, the Joslin, Boston University, Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, and Fudan University in China.Knowing which genes control UCP1 should help scientists develop therapies. “We could take fat samples from patients undergoing liposuction and we could purify this specific population of progenitor cells,” keeping only those that would eventually make highly active brown fat cells, “and let them differentiate into brown cells, and then get them back into the individual,” Tseng said. Once reintroduced to the patient’s body, the additional brown fat cells would burn energy from the existing white fat cells.Tseng hopes this technique could eventually replace invasive procedures such as liposuction and gastric bypass surgery. While liposuction removes white fat cells, it does not make the brown fat cells more efficient. And gastric bypass, though life-saving, can be risky. Tseng believes cell therapy would be “much safer and much less invasive.”Controlling the genes might allow scientists to make mediocre brown fat cells work better. This could potentially allow the brown fat cells to remove the high numbers of circulating glucose associated with type 2 diabetes and circulating fatty acids and triglycerides that are the hallmark of metabolic syndrome.“By further understanding how adipose cells become thermogenically active, meaning they use energy to produce heat and thus burn calories, we may discover novel therapeutics for the treatment of obesity and metabolic disease,” said Chad Cowan, an HSCI principal faculty member who, among other things, also studies the therapeutic potential of brown fat cells.In 2014, Cowan identified two drugs with the potential to convert stem cells that make white fat into those that would make brown. “This latest study gives us new tools and targets to use in the battle against obesity,” Cowan said.
Michael Puett, the Walter C. Klein Professor of Chinese History, has taught thousands of undergraduates in his course “Classical Chinese Ethical and Political Theory,” inspiring many who have later confided to him that the experience prompted significant life changes.“They come back constantly, saying, ‘I thought these four years were about finding myself and discovering what I’m good at,’” he said. “They realized it’s a different question. It’s about exploring all the things that can help them grow, and they start leading a very different life.”With his new book, “The Path,” written with local author Christine Gross-Loh, Puett wanted to bring the beliefs of philosophers such as Confucius, Mencius, and Laozi to a wider audience. The result — a best-seller — confirms he was onto something.“There’s such a hunger out there,” said Gross-Loh. “There’s an idea our current ideas have let us down. People are looking for something new, and, ironically, are finding that the ideas that resonate with them are actually very old. Part of why it’s been published so widely [in 25 countries] is that there is no book out there that explains Chinese philosophy in an accessible way.”While Puett’s course, which has the third highest enrollment among undergraduate classes at Harvard College, covers a range of theories, “The Path” is focused on a small group of philosophers whose ideas stand in sharp contrast to accepted notions in contemporary society. While many of us think that knowing ourselves is key to a liberated life, Confucius would say that, in fact, we “risk building our future on a very narrow sense of who we are — what we see as our strengths and weaknesses, our likes and dislikes,” the authors write.In a recent interview over coffee at Crema Café, Puett expounded on Confucius in terms his undergraduates can understand, explaining that “many students just grew up thinking to live a good life, they should look within, find their true self, be sincere to that true self, and live life according to that self, making decisions based on who they think they are.“All that sounds great, but Confucius confronts them with ideas that this way of looking at our lives is not just wrong, but constraining. When we look within that way, we’re actually just looking at a snapshot in time. What if, on the contrary, we are just messy people who have fallen into patterned responses from a very young age? If so, then who ‘I’ am is really nothing more than a set of passive responses and patterned ruts. Confucius encouraged a different way of approaching our lives, by using rituals to break these patterns, in order to become a better person.”Puett cited himself as case in point, recalling his study of classics in high school. He noticed that the classical canon was exclusively from the West, so he began searching for materials from other parts of the world, including China.“But, actually, I use myself as a negative example,” he said. “I could have shifted gears beginning in 10th grade when I was reading these Chinese thinkers who fascinated me, but I had this clear vision of who I was and who I should be. I kept learning European languages and philosophy, and thinking about China only on the side. In college, I even went so far as to apply to graduate school to study Western history. On the evening before I had to reply to these schools, it dawned on me: I didn’t want to do this; I wanted to study Chinese.”He added: “It’s by working against the idea that you’re a defined person that you open yourself up to possibilities that transform you.”The very idea of changing relationships and life plans can be daunting, but Gross-Loh, who received her Ph.D. in East Asian history from Harvard in 2001, said that Chinese philosophy encourages readers to think of change as incremental.“We think of life changes as grand gestures, but they aren’t really,” she said.She said she often encourages her four children to do things outside their comfort zones, regardless of whether the new activity yields immediate or obvious success.“There’s so much pressure on kids now to plan ahead, and not make any missteps,” she said. “I want them to keep stretching and growing, and to cut against what our society tells them they should do.”She pointed to the quintessential Daoist text of Laozi, and its belief that being soft and weak are virtues that paradoxically lead to strength.“We usually think that if we’re dominating or controlling a situation, we’re being strong,” Gross-Loh said. “But the Laozi says the entire world is based on endless connections. If everything is based on connections, in the long run bombastic domination will defeat what you’re trying to do.“Think of water rather than a stone. What you want to be is supple and ever-shifting. It’s very counterintuitive and yet really profoundly right.”It’s also incredibly practical, said Puett, who tells the young minds sitting in the packed benches in Sanders Theatre every fall to take classes that make them uncomfortable.“You do not yet know where your life is going to go. You don’t know who you are.“Do things that don’t feel like you, because the act of living that way will open up possibilities you couldn’t imagine,” he said.