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Going for Broecker

click for larger imageCiting his “innovative and pioneering research on the operation of the global carbon cycle,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which also awards the Nobel Prize, has selected Wallace Broecker ’53CC, ’58GSAS to receive the Craaford Prize in Geosciences for 2006. In a career spanning more than half a century, Broecker, who is Newberry Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, has helped forge an understanding of the link between carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and the chemistry of the oceans, and how much carbon dioxide oceans can store. This research figures significantly in the race to curb global warming, a subject for which Broecker has served as a prescient voice: In 1975, 22 years before the negotiation of the Kyoto Protocol, he published a paper entitled: “Climate Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?”

“What we have to do is decarbonize our energy system,” says Broecker. “One way to do this is to go to other sources of energy, but almost everybody thinks that unless there’s a humongous breakthrough in, let’s say, solar power, that that’s not going to be enough. We can certainly economize on energy use and we can substitute other sources, but that’s not going to do it. So most everyone now agrees that we’re going to have to capture and put away carbon dioxide, and I happen to think a lot of that capture, if we do it, will be directly from the atmosphere. Some will be from coal-fired power plants, but I think the big thing will be pulling it directly out of the atmosphere.” According to Broecker, the captured carbon can be buried in the plentiful saline aquifers beneath the continents, and also in the deep sea, “which is where carbon dioxide ends up anyway.”

The Craaford award is the latest in a long line of citations conferred upon Broecker. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1979, and, in 1996, was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Bill Clinton. He is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. A self-described optimist, Broecker is encouraged by the increasing attention to global warming.

“You read the newspaper, and you see that there’s been a very rapid shift in the last three or four years,” says Broecker. “People realize now that it’s a serious problem.”

Merger in the archives

The Columbia University Archives comprises nearly 8000 linear feet of boxes that include turn-of-the-century crew shirts, alumni memorabilia, publications, photographs, records of student organizations, and written correspondence between Nicholas Murray Butler and Joseph Pulitzer, in which they discuss establishing a journalism school. Formerly known as the University Archives & Columbiana Library, the collection is now part of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Previously it operated as part of the Office of the Secretary of the University.

The integration of the archival collection into the main library system began on July 1, 2006. The materials are being catalogued in Columbia Libraries Information Online (CLIO) and transferred to an off-site, environmentally controlled storage facility in New Jersey, known as the Research Collections and Preservation Consortium (ReCAP).

About three-fourths of the University Archives collection is now at ReCAP. Frequently used materials, such as University Central files, popular historical collections, and images, remain in their customary location in the reading room in 210 Low Library.

“The merger provides the ability to standardize policies and procedures,” says University Librarian James Neal. “We have a robust Special Collections that requires the same oversight, treatment, and support as our regular collection.”

Shapiro to step down as Barnard president

Judith R. Shapiro, who has led Barnard College since 1994, announced April 9 that she’ll step down as president of the women’s liberal arts college at the end of the 2007–08 academic year. A search committee for Barnard’s next president will be formed in the next few weeks and will include trustees and faculty.

“The Shapiro years have been a golden age for Barnard College, in terms of both growth and stability,” said Anna Quindlen ’74BC, chair of the Barnard Trustees, in a press release. “And we will move forward from a position of great strength because of Judith’s 14 years here.”

During Shapiro’s tenure, applications for admission to Barnard, which is an affiliate of Columbia University, increased from 2734 to an all-time high of 4599 applicants for the current first-year class. Barnard admitted 25 percent of applicants last year, down from 55 percent in Shapiro’s first year as president. Shapiro is also credited with strengthening Barnard financially: It raised funds for several major facilities projects under her leadership, and annual unrestricted gifts more than doubled.

Shapiro, an anthropologist who was raised in Queens and attended public schools there, described her position as “quite possibly the best job in the world,” in a recent letter to the Barnard community. But “14 years is a long run on Broadway, or, for that matter, in any college or university. The timing is right for this transition. . . . We have arrived at a place where Barnard is among the strongest colleges in the country, and the most sought-after women’s college.”

Sabre-toothed Lion

click for larger imageWhen it comes to making decisions in the heat of competition, Daria Schneider is no fencesitter. Using a lightning attack and careful, intelligent planning, Schneider ’09CC won the women’s sabre championship at the NCAA Fencing Championship on March 25. Her performance helped the Columbia fencing team to a third place finish, its best showing since 1993.

Entering the nationals, Schneider’s focus was on winning as many bouts as she could for the Lions. “I wasn’t even thinking of individuals,” she says. Of her 23 bouts, Schneider prevailed in all but four. Her 19 tournament victories were second only to Caitlin Thompson of Penn State. Schneider defeated Thompson, 15-11, for the individual national title.

While it was a great victory for Schneider and the Lions, perhaps no one savored the performance more than Schneider’s parents, Eric Schneider ’86GS and Ellen Meltzer, who attended Barnard College.

“It’s my birthday today,” the elder Schneider said to head coach George Kolombatovich, as Daria was hoisted into the air by her jubilant teammates. “That’s the best birthday present I ever got.”

School of Pop

click for larger imageHow do you tame the Blackboard Jungle without seeming too “old school?” Just call on Ice-T. The influential rapper and actor was a participant in a two-day conference called “Pop Culture in the Classroom: Teach, Think, Play,” at Teachers College in March. In addressing ways to incorporate pop culture into the classroom, Ice-T drew on his own experience as a teacher. “You need to be a little cooler,” he told the audience. “Get to know what the kids know. Get into their zone, communicate with them.” At the program’s close, he shared the stage with a few of his students from York Preparatory on the Upper West Side, where he recently taught a course in hip hop for the VH-1 reality show Ice-T’s Rap School. The conference was cosponsored by the Film and Education Research Academy,, Progressive Arts Alliance, and Students for a Cultural Studies Initiative.

Marshall Plan

click for larger imagePaul Sonne ’07CC took Russian on a whim as a high school student in Albany, NY, and had no idea it would lead to his professional calling. Yet he majored in Russian, studied abroad in Moscow, and is now headed to England to pursue a master’s of philosophy in Eastern European studies. Sonne is the University’s newest recipient of the Marshall Scholarship — an award given to American students that provides funding for two years of graduate work at any British university. Sonne was one of 44 recipients out of a pool of 958.

“It’s going to be a great experience,” says Sonne, who has worked at the New York Times’ Moscow bureau, the United Nations, and the office of President Mikheil Saakashvili ’94LAW in Tbilisi, Georgia. He believes that studying Russian history, politics, and literature from a British perspective will be useful in his future work. He hopes to return to Russia to write a book that is a combination of scholarship and political reporting — much like what fellow Marshall scholar and journalist Thomas L. Friedman had done in his book From Beirut to Jerusalem.

Sonne started exploring Russian studies from a multidisciplinary angle in 2004 when he founded The Birch, the first nationwide undergraduate journal of Eastern European and Eurasian culture, which publishes both creative work and critical commentary.

Before The Birch, there really wasn’t a place for undergraduates to publish work regarding Eastern Europe,” says Sonne, who had served as editor-in-chief. “I was shocked by how many people were interested in it.”

Michael Pippenger, associate dean of fellowship programs, believes that Sonne’s work for The Birch is one of the things that set him apart as a candidate for a Marshall scholarship. “The Birch filled a void not just at Columbia but on an undergraduate level across the country,” says Pippenger. “I think that sort of vision, innovation, and execution was really impressive to the Marshall committee.”

Sonne’s award also confirms the success of the newly formed Office of Fellowship Programs, which focuses its attention on coaching candidates through every stage of the application process — from reviewing submission essays to conducting mock interviews. Sonne is the first Columbia student to win the scholarship since 2001. This fall there were 15 Columbia applicants and three finalists for the Rhodes and Marshall competitions. “These scholarships give students a chance to pursue their intellectual goals, to research and network, and to make a difference in the world,” says Pippenger. “Whether or not you win, the application process makes you ask questions about what you want for your future.”

Cold war protest

click for larger imageMore than 300 Columbia students, faculty, and local union leaders withstood frigid weather to attend the anti–Iraq War strike and rally held by the Columbia Coalition Against the War on February 15. Speakers such as Barnard political science professor Dennis Dalton advocated for a pullout of U.S. troops “not next week, not next month, but yesterday.” Coordinated with several other university groups across the nation, the walkout marked the fourth anniversary of the series of worldwide protests preceding the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, which were estimated as some of the largest protests in history.

Healing and dealing

Cozy relationships between drug company representatives and physicians have existed as long as there has been a pharmaceutical industry. But while some people find no harm in doctors accepting an occasional free lunch, others, like David J. Rothman ’58CC, see a prescription for trouble.

Rothman, the Bernard Schoenberg Professor of Social Medicine and History at Columbia, heads the Prescription Project, which grew out of an article coauthored by Rothman in the January 2006 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association. The article challenged academic medical centers to take the lead in banning activity that might influence the sorts of drugs that doctors prescribe to their patients.

“Gifts always bring with them, consciously or not, the felt need to reciprocate,” says Rothman, who notes that the pharmaceutical industry spends $12 billion a year in drug samples and lunches for doctors. “The question we must ask ourselves is, ‘Why are the drug companies investing in this kind of expenditure?’ And the answer is, ‘Because it pays.’”

The Prescription Project is a joint effort between Columbia’s Institute on Medicine as a Profession, of which Rothman is president, and the Boston-based health-care consumer advocacy group Community Catalyst. With a $6 million grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Prescription Project will embark on a national campaign to limit potentially unethical relationships between doctors and drug companies, at a time when the increased availability of generic drugs has led to more aggressive sales tactics. The Project will also study whether medical centers that have already imposed such restrictions — including those at Yale University, Stanford University, and the University of Pennsylvania — have suffered any negative effects, such as decreased funding for medical research.


First-rank scholar

click for larger imageOn July 1 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak will officially be named University Professor, Columbia’s highest faculty rank. She is the Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities and director of the Center for Comparative Literature and Society. She specializes in 19th- and 20th- century literature, Marxism, globalization, feminism, and deconstructionism. Her studies in postcolonial theory stress the concept that education in the humanities is the most effective weapon to combat what she calls the legacy of imperialism.

Spivak first gained prominence in 1976 with her translation of deconstructionist Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology. More recently she has published works on post-colonialism including Other Asias (2007).

A native of Calcutta, Spivak received her bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Calcutta in 1959 and her PhD in comparative literature from Cornell University in 1967. Spivak’s interests include the international women’s movement, ecological justice, and literacy programs in rural India. She is also a visiting faculty member at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences in Calcutta.

Spivak will be one of 12 University Professors, a title that recognizes exceptional scholarly merit and distinguished service to Columbia. University Professors serve Columbia as a whole rather than a specific faculty or department. “Her lifelong search for fresh insights and understanding has transcended the traditional boundaries of discipline, while retaining the fire for new knowledge that is the hallmark of a great intellect,” said Lee C. Bollinger when he announced her appointment. Spivak delivered a University Lecture on March 21 entitled “Thinking about the Humanities.”

Grant will give access to Emery Roth collection

The Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library has received a $141,453 grant from the E.H.A. Foundation, Inc., to process the postwar archive of the New York architectural firm of Emery Roth & Sons. The archive, which was acquired last fall, consists of over 400 boxes of drawings and records, including material on the Pan Am, Citicorp, Sperry, and Look buildings.

“We now have an astonishing record of one of New York’s most prolific architectural practices, extending from 1901 into the final decade of the 20th century,” says Gerald Beasley, director of the library. “The E.H.A. Foundation grant will allow us to make the postwar section of the Roth archive fully available to scholars for the first time.”

The E.H.A. Foundation is a private charitable foundation that previously supported Avery Library in its project to catalogue the papers of the real estate firm led by Harold D. and Percy Uris.

Understanding ALS

When Jenifer Estess was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease) in 1998, she and her sisters, Valerie ’81BC and Meredith, sought research on the fatal disease. They founded Project ALS, a nonprofit organization aimed at bringing the best basic science and effective treatments to people living with ALS, the incurable motor neuron disease that took Jenifer Estess’s life in 2003, at the age of 40.

They approached Thomas Jessell, professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics at Columbia University Medical Center, who guided them in organizing a stem-cell consortium that brought together scientists from Columbia, Johns Hopkins University, Harvard, the Salk Institute, and other research institutions.

Last year Project ALS and Columbia opened a joint venture, the Project ALS/Jenifer Estess Laboratory for Stem Cell Research, a laboratory situated near the Columbia campus that uses research methods developed since Project ALS’s inception. “This lab is a necessary extension of the work we’ve done hand in hand with Columbia scientists since 1999,” says Valerie Estess, director of research with Project ALS. Now Columbia scientists along with researchers at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute are poised to begin their first major project on “patient-specific” stem cells this spring.

Researchers will take skin biopsies of patients with ALS, extract the DNA, and inject it into unfertilized eggs. This method, known as somatic-cell nuclear transfer, or cloning, will enable scientists to develop stem-cell lines that have the same DNA as patients who have the hereditary or the far more common, nonhereditary form of ALS. In patients with ALS, motor neurons that transmit messages from the brain down the spinal cord die, cutting off the vital signs that tell muscles to contract. ALS afflicts people between the ages of 40 and 70, while a similar disease, spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), is more common in children. Both are neurodegenerative diseases for which stem-cell research offers tremendous promise.

Project ALS has raised over $32 million. The lab does not accept federal funding. Hynek Wichterle, Columbia assistant professor of pathology, made one of Project ALS’s major breakthroughs in 2002 when he showed that mouse stem cells could be manipulated to become motor neurons. “[Project ALS’s] farsighted and proactive research agenda is setting the standard for modern approaches to investigating neurodegenerative diseases,” said Jessell.

Jessell is the director and research adviser for the Project ALS/Jenifer Estess Laboratory for Stem Cell Research. Wichterle and newly recruited neurobiologist Christopher Henderson, professor of pathology and cell biology in neurology and a codirector of Columbia’s Motor Neuron Center, are senior scientific advisers for the Project ALS lab. Together, these scientists and their trainees will continue to use innovative embryonic stem-cell technologies to study motor neuron development and function with the ultimate goal of increasing their understanding of ALS.

Emergency session

click for larger imageOn February 20, Al Gore, former vice president of the United States, and Jeffrey Sachs, director of The Earth Institute, spoke to some 500 people in Low Library during an event called “Climate Change: A Global Challenge.” Hosted by The Earth Institute and Scientific American, the talk drew scientists, students, and members of the media.

“We are facing a climate crisis that has become a true planetary emergency,” Gore began. “It is still hard to fully absorb the reality of our new situation here on this planet.” But he was also guardedly optimistic, saying that there was still “time to act.”

Sachs concurred, adding that business and industry are ready to embrace new standards, but are “waiting for government to lay out the policy.”

John Rennie, editor-in-chief of Scientific American, moderated the event, and presented Gore with the magazine’s 2006 “Scientific American 50: Policy Leader of the Year” award.

The science of publishing

click for larger imageThis spring, the Columbia Undergraduate Science Journal (CUSJ) will publish its third annual issue online, showcasing federally funded undergraduate research at Columbia.

The journal is one of the first of its kind in the country to conduct a double-blind peer-review process.

“To publish a peer-reviewed professional article is a long and rigorous process. It takes one semester to a year of work to conduct research, and then three to eight people to review the article,” says Gabriel Morris ’08CC, founding editor of CUSJ. The journal, staffed by graduate and undergraduate students, accepts less than one-third of submissions. Contributors conduct research under the mentorship of a faculty member in their field of study. In last year’s issue, students Heather O’Neil and Patricia Wilson collaborated with research assistant Tamar Kornblum and psychology professor Herbert Terrace on an article investigating monkeys’ recall memory. Morris says that through this interaction, students receive an important education in how to publish in academic journals, a key part to advancing in the science world.

“Just because you’re an undergraduate student doesn’t mean that you can’t conduct groundbreaking research,” says Chris Wiggins, associate professor of applied physics and mathematics, who sits on the journal’s advisory board.

Wiggins is also on the advisory committee for Columbia Science Review (CSR), which publishes articles to promote student awareness of science and technology at Columbia. The biannual print magazine debuted in spring 2004, and its Fall 2006 issue featured articles ranging from the application of optoelectronics to research on the Burmese star tortoise.

“A lot of students don’t know about all the scientific research that goes on at Columbia unless they are in the sciences themselves,” says Donghun Lee ’07CC, president of the magazine. “We wanted CSR to present scientific topics that are accessible and broad enough to reach Columbia students in any field, in and out of science, similar to what the Scientific American does.”

CSR is also beginning to print abstracts of student research articles, which are published in full in its online journal.

Both publications are reaching out to expand readership. Last spring, CUSJ held an undergraduate research symposium with 14 presenters from Columbia, Fordham University, and NYU. This spring, CSR plans to hold a series of panel discussions on “Science in the News.”

“Scientists have to publish their results and share their methods so that those results can become common parlance,” says Wiggins. “Results are useless if they just sit in your drawer.”

Check out the Columbia Undergraduate Science Journal at and the Columbia Science Review at

Dispatches from the front

click for larger imageFirst Lieutenant Joshua Arthur ’04CC posts occasional observations from Baghdad on the Columbia University MilVets blog. His latest dispatch in March described the changes following the “troop surge” after President Bush’s January State of the Union address. Arthur’s platoon was moved from the outskirts of Baghdad to the middle of the city in order to create a more permanent presence of coalition forces in Baghdad’s neighborhoods. “I think it’s safe to say that the effectiveness of the overall program has yet to be determined, but whether you may like it or not, I think it’s an encouraging thing that we now have a more defined path and more measurable goals,” wrote Arthur. The move also required his platoon to work closely with Iraqi soldiers as part of a joint security station. Arthur’s dispatches can be found at

Neighborly fellows

click for larger imageColumbia recently established a fellowship program in partnership with Mexico’s National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT) to provide Mexican doctoral candidates in any subject full funding to cover tuition and living expenses for five to seven years.

“This program has the ability to help the best and the brightest in Mexico,” says Thomas J. Trebat, executive director of Columbia’s Institute of Latin American Studies and Columbia’s liaison to CONACYT. “These students might not have gone to graduate school otherwise.”

A goal of the program is for participating scholars to return to Mexico upon completion of their studies. Esther Quintero, a doctoral candidate in ecology, evolution, and environmental biology, hopes eventually to continue her research on the biogeography of neotropical birds. “By returning, I’ll pass along what I’ve learned here to that institution,” she says, “and advance Mexico’s knowledge of biodiversity and conservation.”

Last fall, eight Mexican doctoral fellows arrived at Columbia, boosting to 13 the total number of Mexican PhD candidates at the University. The new fellowship program plans ultimately to bring 25 to 30 students at a time. In addition, Columbia will soon begin hosting Mexican scholars in residencies lasting several weeks, as part of the new Edmundo O’Gorman Program of Visiting Scholars funded by CONACYT.

To learn more, visit or

Gates and Gumbel do it better

On May 3 the Graduate School of Journalism will honor Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and REALsports program host Bryant Gumbel with the ninth annual Let’s Do It Better! awards. The awards are part of the Let’s Do It Better! competition and workshop that was established in 1999 through a Ford Foundation grant and aims to foster “coherent, complete, and courageous coverage of race and ethnicity in America.”

In announcing Gates’s Special Lifetime Achievement Award, Arlene Morgan, program director and associate dean at the J-school, cited Gates’s 2007 PBS documentary Oprah’s Roots: An African American Lives Special in which he traced Oprah Winfrey’s genealogical history. His book Finding Oprah’s Roots: Finding Your Own was published after the show aired, and includes information on tools such as DNA testing that can be used to trace family lines. “Gates has created a compelling body of research and storytelling that has probably influenced more people than any one newspaper or television story,” says Morgan.

Gumbel will receive the Broadcast Lifetime Achievement Award. The judging committee lauded him for using his former anchor spot on The Today Show to launch discussions on racially significant stories. The award cites several significant REALsports stories including “Native Son,” a March 2006 segment on Colorado Rockies’ relief pitcher Danny Graves, who at the time was with the Cleveland Indians, and is the only Vietnamese-born player in Major League Baseball. “Each of the REALsports stories took the audience beyond the predictable, offering a fresh and imaginative view not only of the sports world, but the society in general,” says Morgan.

Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, associate professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and coeditor of A Legacy Greater Than Words: Stories of U.S. Latinos & Latinas of the World War II Generation will receive a Special Recognition Award. In addition, nine citations of excellence will be presented to print and broadcast outlets, including J-school alumni Erin Texeira ’95JRN for an Associated Press article called “Men Surviving Blackness,” and Andrea Elliott ’99JRN for a New York Times series entitled “An Iman in America: Old Values in a New Land.”

The awards luncheon will kick off the Let’s Do It Better! workshop in which winners will present their work to journalists selected to attend the program. “The awards become teaching tools for the industry and the classroom,” says Morgan.

Their day in the sun

click for larger imageFilmmaker Magazine recently called Columbia University a “Sundance short-film factory” with good reason. An unprecedented 20 films written, directed, or produced by Columbia students or alumni were screened at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, this January.

The sheer number of Columbia-affiliated filmmakers at the intensely competitive festival generated industry buzz — Hollywood Reporter magazine noted that almost 10 percent of all short films at Sundance came out of Columbia — and the influence of the University’s Graduate Film Division was fully evident when the awards were announced.

The Sundance grand jury prize for best dramatic film, the top award for full-length features, went to Padre Nuestro, written and directed by Christopher Zalla ’04SOA and produced by Ben Odell ’04SOA. Zalla’s first feature film, Padre Nuestro is about a Mexican boy who smuggles himself to Brooklyn to track down his long-lost father, a wealthy restaurateur, and has his identity stolen by another youth to whom he confided his story. Zalla and Odell both studied in Columbia’s School of the Arts Film Division.

Grace Is Gone, a feature starring John Cusack and written and directed by James C. Strouse ’06SOA, won the audience award for favorite dramatic film. Strouse, who currently is a master’s degree student in fiction writing, also won the Waldo Salt Award for best screenplay; Grace Is Gone was coproduced by Jessica Levin ’02SOA. In the film, Cusack plays a father struggling to come to terms with the death of his wife, Grace, a soldier killed in the Iraq War.

The audience award for favorite documentary at Sundance went to Hear and Now, directed by former Columbia journalism student Irene Taylor Brodsky ’97JRN. The film tells the story of Brodsky’s parents, Paul and Sally Taylor, who have been deaf since birth and decided together, at age 65, to undergo surgeries that restore their hearing.

What characterizes a Columbia film? “The idea that we’re telling stories is in the air in every class, even if it’s a pure cinematography class or a directing class,” says Daniel Kleinman, School of the Arts acting dean and former chair of the Film Division. “We don’t separate screenwriting and storytelling from craft, so our students are never simply learning technique. They’re always thinking about narrative.

“This program has been in an ascendancy over the last ten years,” Kleinman continues. “The reputation of the program has grown considerably, and the quality of our student work is really extraordinary. In my opinion, and in the opinion of people who look at short films, we are the best source of short films in the country right now.”

Graphic: In Padre Nuestro, Jesús Ochoa plays Diego, a New York restaurateur whose abandoned son leaves Mexico to find him.

Columbians in focus

click for larger imageThe great Swiss-born photographer Robert Frank joined the considerable crowd at the Leica Gallery for the January opening of The Columbia Connection, an exhibition by two important Columbia photographers, Jack Eisenberg ’62CC and Edward Keating. Both men work in the tradition of street photography, and their contrasting approaches gave the show a particular interest. Columbia magazine, the Columbia Alumni Association, and the Leica Gallery sponsored the show.

Robert Frank’s 1958 book The Americans — with an introduction by Columbian Jack Kerouac — was a strong influence on a generation of photographers, including Keating, with whom he is shown at left. Frank also codirected the 1959 film Pull My Daisy, about the largely Columbian Beat crowd.