The state of campus; a future sunscreen; fashion fever

May 14, 2024

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College protests.

In the wake of campus protests across the nation over the Israel-Hamas war, Michael McFaul, ’86, MA ’86, professor of political science and director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, wrote on his Substack that while he’s never seen the Stanford university community in such turmoil, he’s also witnessed respectful disagreement as well as events and conversations on campus that have been “intense but polite.”

“I am in no way suggesting that these anecdotes add up to a general description of life on campus. Nor am I suggesting that they somehow offset or excuse other horrible things that have happened on our campus,” McFaul wrote. “But for those of you not living on our campus, I want you to know that it is not a war zone; and for every person shouting antisemitic or Islamophobic slurs, there are hundreds more students not doing so. In fact, many students are trying to learn more about the Middle East and do so earnestly [and] constructively.”

Last week, university president Richard Saller and provost Jenny Martinez wrote to students to address safety on campus, university policies relating to the latest encampment, and the efforts underway to advance constructive discourse in the Stanford community. “Through the many recent events that have occurred nationally,” they wrote, “we are grateful that our campus has remained relatively peaceful physically. We continue working to support a safe environment for everyone and are monitoring the situation closely so that we can respond promptly to any developments.”

You snooze, you win.

Regardless of your bank balance, you’re probably in debt. Sleep debt, that is. For the first time since 2001, a Gallup poll reported that a majority of respondents (57 percent) said they need more sleep. Additionally, just 36 percent of women report getting enough sleep. “Waking up tired is like leaving a restaurant hungry,” said Rafael Pelayo, a clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences who has worked at the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic for more than 30 years. And while our smartphones play a role, Pelayo told the Atlantic sleep struggles predate the iPhone as well as more recent stressors, including the pandemic. A good night’s rest depends on multiple things. Where to begin? Work toward a positive state of mind about bedtime; if you don’t look forward to it, sleep could be hard to achieve. And wake up at the same time every morning; that’s a lot easier than trying to make yourself fall asleep at the same time each night.

Make it work.

Three models in runway fashions Photo: Hannah Shu, ’27

Last quarter, MemChu bursted at the seams as a sold-out crowd exalted the hems, buttons, and belts of the FashionX runway. The show, dubbed the Marriage of Mischief and Maximalism, starred 100 student models clad in garments made by 50 student designers, featuring everything from a chainmail dress shaped like a bell to a bodysuit and shawl crafted entirely of belts.

The sunscreen that could go viral.

The season of sun is upon us, but the sunscreen that protects your skin from UV rays can harm ocean life and human health. An immunologist and a marine ecologist may have a new option. Paul Bollyky, an associate professor of medicine and of microbiology and immunology, was cleaning his lab surfaces with ultraviolet light when he accidentally exposed some bacteriophages—viruses that consume infection-causing bacteria—to the UV light and noticed that they remained unscathed. It made Bollyky think of the way sunscreen blocks our skin from the sun’s rays. But bacteriophages have some added benefits: they’re biodegradable; they’ve evolved to absorb or deflect UV light; and they’re abundant. Bacteriophages don’t infect human cells (you were worried for a minute, weren’t you?) and are already used in some medical treatments, so why not as sunscreen?

Bollyky joined forces with Giulio De Leo, a professor of oceans and of earth system science, to conduct a pilot experiment exposing sand dollars to lil phages. The scientists found that the bacteriophages posed no threat to the embryonic development of the sand dollars, and they appeared to do a better job of protecting skin than conventional sunscreens. The team is still investigating their safety and efficacy, but slathering on a virus (rendered inert, lest you get the creepy crawlies) before you head to the beach is “really not as crazy as it sounds,” said Bollyky. “We like to think that it’s appropriately adventurous.”

Planes, trains, and visas.

International students at Stanford hail from 129 countries, making up 33 percent of the graduate and 11 percent of undergraduate student population. They’re united in the challenges of obtaining visas and leaving families far behind, but each has a unique story. Majd Nasra, a junior from Syria, can only get a visa for three months at a time, meaning any trip home could result in him getting stuck there. Due to the intense scrutiny on Chinese visa seekers, Xianghao Zhan hasn’t been home since starting his PhD several years ago. Bongeka Zuma came to Stanford to attend medical school after growing up in a small village in eastern South Africa, where her family still lives. Their hope for a better life is on her shoulders. For her and many other international students, education comes at a high cost under high pressure, but it’s helping them reach their goals. “What I’m meant to do in this life is become a physician, and I love it,” Zuma told Stanford magazine. “It’s a privilege and a blessing to be able to do something that I love, no matter how hard it is. These are good life problems.”

But wait, there’s more.

This month, Katie Ledecky, ’20, the most decorated female swimmer in history, and Ellen Ochoa, MS ’81, PhD ’85, the first Hispanic woman in space and the second female director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the nation’s highest civilian honor—by President Biden.

B-movie legend Roger Corman, ’47, died last week. The director and producer made more than 300 low-budget films and is credited with helping launch the careers of numerous actors and directors.

Seeds are sprouting, flowers are blooming, and immune systems are raging. Sharon Chinthrajah, associate professor of medicine and of pediatrics, explains how climate change is affecting allergy season, whether eating local honey can help symptoms (the jury’s still out), and why super blooms super suck for allergy sufferers.

There’s been a lot of athletics action recently. Cameron Brink, ’24, was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2024 WNBA draft. (You’re welcome, Los Angeles Sparks.) And Women’s sailing just won the national championship for the fourth time in program history.

The K–12 school inside Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital turns 100 this year, and its teachers—including Kathy Ho, MA ’94—are running science labs, helping with homework, and even administering the SAT to make sure hospital patients can still be regular students.

How bad is your gas? If your stovetop isn’t electric, it’s pretty bad. Last year, Stanford researchers found that gas stoves can raise indoor levels of the carcinogenic chemical benzene, which lingers in the air for hours. A new study shows that gas stoves are also leaking asthma-causing nitrogen dioxide, which can be found at elevated levels in rooms far from the kitchen long after you’ve finished cooking.

Exotically spotted Bengal cats may look like sleek felines of the jungle, but a genetic study of the breed reveals that the iridescent, leopard-like patterns come from domestic ancestors aggressively bred for their looks, not from the wild Asian leopard cats long thought to be responsible.

The court at Maples Pavilion will henceforth be known as Tara VanDerveer Court. VanDerveer retired May 8. Her women’s basketball teams won 531 games on the home court over 38 seasons.

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