Getting around a black hole.
Stanford astrophysicist Dan Wilkins has become the first person to directly observe light coming from the far side of a black hole. Though we think of a black hole as a phenomenon from which nothing—not even light—can escape, it’s another black hole superpower that enables us to see these X-ray reflections. “The reason we can see that is because that black hole is warping space, bending light and twisting magnetic fields around itself,” Wilkins told the Stanford News Service. His observation confirms a prediction in Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
Cardinal gold (and silver, and bronze).
The Summer Games are over, and some of Stanford’s 57 Olympians came back with nice souvenirs. Cardinal athletes picked up 26 medals in Tokyo, putting us ahead of the national total of Canada (and more important, ahead of USC, the U.S. university that sent the most athletes to the Games). Swimmers, including four-time Tokyo medalist Katie Ledecky, ’20, were responsible for nearly half of Stanford’s medals. And all of Stanford’s medals save one—a bronze by fencer Alex Massialas, ’16—were won by women.
Because everyone poops.
Stanford researchers can see solid evidence of COVID-19 in your solid waste. Recent testing has shown a rise in genetic components of the virus in wastewater plants in Palo Alto, San Jose, Sunnyvale and Gilroy. Samples of stinkies are taken and analyzed daily, giving experts quick access to data and a broad perspective of what’s going on in the community, even if the number of individuals getting tested for COVID-19 declines. Levels of the coronavirus in Bay Area wastewater have tripled or quadrupled since mid-June, which aligns with a rise in positive tests of the more contagious delta strain. But divergent dung data can be helpful as well. Emergency room visits have not increased in step with rising virus levels in waste, which could indicate that a lower percentage of COVID patients are requiring urgent medical attention.
Experts say vaccination is the path out of the pandemic, and Michelle Mello, ’93, professor of law and of medicine, stands by that assertion. Her healthy 45-year-old husband had a stroke two days after getting his vaccine. The shot he received hasn’t been associated with stroke. But as it happened, the day he checked into the hospital was the same day the vaccine became available for the couple’s son’s age group. Mello was unnerved. “I also knew estimates of vaccine risks represent average risks in the population. What if our family wasn’t average?” she wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle. But she’s an expert in risk assessment, and in the end, her analytical side won out: Her son got the shot.
A perfect arrangement.
Paul Phillips, director of orchestral studies and conductor of the Stanford Summer Symphony, bumps elbows with doctoral student Alexander Hwang, principal viola, as the group stands before a live audience on Meyer Green. The symphony, made up of students, alumni and other community members, was able to perform in person July 30 after outdoor campus spaces were reopened to the Stanford community and visitors. The recording of an earlier livestream performance is available to watch.
Find your zen, maybe save the world.
Most studies on contemplative practices focus on the benefits to the individuals who are doing the chilling out—less depression, lowered blood pressure and the like. But Tia Rich, ’82, MA ’85, director of Stanford’s Contemplation by Design program, wanted to, er, contemplate another possible outcome. Rich used pandemic shelter-in-place orders as a chance to find out whether mindful meditation or other contemplative practices might serve a collective well-being. Surveys of about 1,000 people in the spring of 2020 showed that the more often people engaged in contemplative practices, the less likely they were to report distress and depression. They also stuck with stay-at-home orders longer. Rich sees a relationship between contemplation and the capacity to consider what’s best for other people. “These practices can help people be resilient and bear the distress that, for many, was associated with staying home.”
That back-to-school feeling isn’t the only thing in the air.
K–12 schools are opening their doors to students. But the delta variant and wildfire smoke could also breeze right in. In the current state of the pandemic, the CDC and other experts say reopening schools should be a priority and that basic safety measures make a big difference. “When you have masks and even three-foot distancing, you are not going to see major outbreaks in schools,” Yvonne Maldonado, MD ’81, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Stanford Medicine, told the New York Times.
Clinical assistant professor of pediatrics Lisa Patel, ’01, sees the dual health crises—wildfire season and the pandemic—as an opportunity to invest in indoor air quality for kids. “COVID-19 has provided us with a moment in which we can think about several problems synergistically,” Patel told Stanford Medicine. HVAC systems can bring in more outside air so that respiratory droplets don’t hang out in the classroom. But when they’re fitted with top-notch filters, those systems can also rid the air of many pollutants, from wildfires, car exhaust and more. And cleaner air means better learning. “We see improvement in kids’ test scores and fewer days of missed school when we improve indoor air quality,” Patel says.
If you’re a bit more focused right now on successfully peeling your child off of your leg and leaving her at school all day for the first time in what feels like seven years, Neha Chaudhary, co-founder of Brainstorm, the Stanford Lab for Mental Health Innovation, offered tips last spring for adjusting to school reopenings. Topping her list: Before the first day of school, review campus safety precautions together so your child won’t be surprised.
But wait, there’s more.
Albert Bandura, professor of social science in psychology, emeritus, has died at 95. He was internationally recognized as one of the world’s most influential social psychologists for his research on the importance of learning by observing others—including his famous “Bobo doll” experiments.
Sauerkraut for the win! In a 10-week study, healthy adults assigned to a diet that included fermented foods (yogurt, kimchi and miso, for example) showed increased microbial diversity in their guts and a decrease in 19 inflammatory proteins, including interleukin 6, which has been linked to rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes and chronic stress. What’s more, the participants on the fermented foods diet had improved immune responses compared with a second participant group that only ate more fiber.
Lloyd Minor, dean of the Stanford School of Medicine, offers a list of thought-provoking summer reads.
Nat Bowditch, MS ’84, has participated in more than 100 search-and-rescue efforts over 16 years. More often than not, these searches end sadly or, at best, inconclusively. But last Fourth of July, he was paired with Courtney Pal, ’18, and their mission had a happy ending.
“It’s so easy to fall back into a sense that the past is ‘other.’ But it’s really completely wrong,” says associate professor of music Jesse Rodin. Take your eyes and ears back in time to experience Renaissance Florence.
John Steinbeck’s 1930 werewolf murder mystery rests in an archive, never to be published. A Stanford professor wishes you could read it.
Summer Moore Batte, ’99, is the editor of Stanfordmag.org and the Loop. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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