Provost to step down; printing a human heart; Honor Code change

May 9, 2023

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Stanford’s provost to step down.

University provost Persis Drell, Stanford’s chief academic and budget officer for the past six years, will step down from the role this fall after a successor is found. Drell began her tenure in 2017 after having served as dean of the School of Engineering. As provost, she worked closely with Stanford president Marc Tessier-Lavigne on the creation of Stanford’s Long-Range Vision; spearheaded IDEAL, the university’s initiative to advance Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access in a Learning Environment; and led Stanford’s operational response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Persis has led vigorously with spirit, candor, good humor, deep thoughtfulness, and steadfast dedication to Stanford’s mission of teaching and research,” Tessier-Lavigne told Stanford Report. “She has had a major impact on nearly every aspect of university life. At a personal level, I could not have wished for a better partner than Persis as we have focused together on countless initiatives and issues throughout these last six years.” Drell will return to her role as a professor of physics and of materials science and will teach undergraduates this fall, as she has done throughout her time as provost.

Don’t eat SAD. 

Before Christopher Gardner became a dietary expert and a professor at the Stanford School of Medicine, he was a junk food aficionado, fueled by the high-carb standard American diet (SAD), laden with processed sugar and saturated fat. It wasn’t until a vegetarian girlfriend broke up with him that he changed his habits—in an attempt to win her back. He describes his current diet as “the intersection of unapologetic deliciousness, human health, animal rights and welfare, and social justice.” The key to success? (Dietary, not romantic.) Food that is both enjoyable and practical, like his go-to family dinner, pasta with “Dad’s enhanced pasta sauce.”

The daring bestsellers of Brit Bennett. 

To many of her dormmates at Ujamaa House in 2008, Brit Bennett was a quiet, self-possessed first-year student who was always up early, working on a mystery project. “They were like, ‘Oh, she’s always in her room doing something,’” Bennett, ’12, said. “I was writing. But I didn’t really show it to anyone.”

“It” was the earliest draft of a novel. Eight years later, The Mothers made its debut, becoming a New York Times bestseller. Soon after came her wildly successful 2020 novel, The Vanishing Half. In Stanford, Bennett discusses the interplay of agency and identity in her books and what’s coming next.


Philippe Roberge standing in a cave at a glacierPhoto: Philippe Roberge @philipperoberge

Stanford students, postdocs, faculty, staff, and (for the first time!) alumni submitted 385 photographs to the 2023 Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability Photo Contest, which showcases the experiences of its community. Philippe Roberge, a PhD student in Earth system science, captured himself standing in a cave under the receding Wedgemount Glacier, near Whistler, British Columbia. He took first place in his category: The Challenges We Face.

A big change of heart.

Researchers at Stanford are one beat closer to creating a 3D-printed human heart. Using clusters of cells called organoids, the scientists printed a 2-inch-long structure similar to a human vein. Bioprinting uses living cells, so in theory, you could someday have a new ticker made from, well, you. But the process is generally slow, printing one cell at a time. Even printing 1,000 cells per second, it would take more than 1,000 years to make a single human heart. By printing the cells in clusters, the Stanford team found a way to speed up the process. “We take millions of those and condense them into what is essentially a human stem cell mayonnaise that we can then print through the printer,” said Mark Skylar-Scott, an assistant professor of bioengineering. He and his team say a 3D-printed heart valve, implantable in a human patient, is as little as five years away.

Points of honor.

The Faculty Senate has voted to approve changes to Stanford’s Honor Code, allowing proctoring beginning this fall unless the ASSU Undergraduate Senate (UGS) joins four other university bodies in approving a proposal that includes a multiyear study on proctoring. Said UGS representative Gurmenjit Bahia, ’24, “We believe that faculty should have trust in us and faith in the students, and also we felt like the study didn’t have specific details we wanted.” Mathematics professor Richard Taylor, who introduced the motion, said that while he would have preferred consensus, the Faculty Senate faced a “choice of doing nothing of substance or acting in a limited way on our own authority, at least for an interim period.”

But wait, there’s more.

When a medical cure isn’t enough, you could always try . . . prawns? In the face of a decades-long outbreak of parasitic disease in Senegal, professor of oceans Giulio De Leo tried adding a natural predator to the water where the parasites proliferated, attempting to stop them from replicating. While the results weren’t a straightforward success, it’s just one example of ecologists wading into the trenches of human health—prawns, ducks, and catfish at the ready.

A breakdance for Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5? A ballet solo to Lizzo’s latest? You can now watch AI create choreography for any piece of music with a generative model created by Stanford researchers called Editable Dance GEneration (EDGE). The moves are all physically possible for humans, and the dance styles are consistent with the type of music. Watch it create dance sequences from scratch on the EDGE Playground website.

The white coat ceremony isn’t the only tradition at the Medical School. The first-year MD and MSPA students have once again made a music video substituting medical terminology for your favorite lyrics. They may not win an MTV music award, but they will win your heart, which they will then listen to with a stethoscope.

Failed project? Screwup? According to Bob Sutton, a professor of management science and engineering at the Graduate School of Business, there’s only one word for that special kind of expensive, embarrassing, late-stage business meltdown—and it begins with cluster. But if you avoid the potent affliction of “illusion, impatience, and incompetence,” you may get away with a mere snafu.

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