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Forever Altered
Here and Abroad
Up and Comer
Vital Signs


Working out of the Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Center for a Livable Future (CLF) strives to increase knowledge of the interconnections among diet, food production, public health, and the environment, and to promote a future that can sustain a healthy planet. One of its newest initiatives is a blog, launched because the center, in the words of communications director Chris Stevens, wants 2009 to be "the year the world shifts its focus and sees that we are in dire need of a turnaround in the way we farm, eat, live, and even in the way we discuss these issues."

The Livable Future Blog says it is the product of "four PhDs, a former newspaper editor, a professor, and an enthusiastic storyteller." That's not quite as snappy as the description of television's old Mod Squad — "one white, one black, one blond" — but it'll do. The CLF Seven, including director Robert S. Lawrence, promise the blog will be an outlet for their science, ideas, and insight, and spark a conversation that brings together issues of climate change, food production, diet, and public health. Demonstrating that they know their way around all this new social networking technology, the bloggers include links to the CLF's Facebook page, YouTube video blog, and Twitter page.—Dale Keiger


Magma found in situ for first time
Scientists have never been able to study magma in its natural underground state because no one had ever found any that had not come to the surface as lava. At the December 2008 meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), Bruce Marsh, a professor in the Krieger School's
Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, announced that a pocket of molten magma has been found under a geothermal energy field in Hawaii. Workers conducting routine drilling at the Puna Geothermal Plant accidentally hit the molten rock in 2005. Last February, William Teplow, a consulting geologist at Ormat Technologies, the energy company that operates Puna, sent crystallized samples of the magma to Marsh, who realized the magnitude of the find. "This is a truly monumental discovery," says Marsh. "This is 'Jurassic Park' for magma." At an AGU press event, Marsh said the discovery opened the possibility of a magma observatory on the site.

Sleeping brain like waking brain
A study of rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep has found strong evidence that the sleeping brain functions much as the waking brain. Charles Hong, assistant professor in the School of Medicine's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, led the study, which used MRI imaging to find, during the REM sleep of 11 research subjects, activity in areas of the brain associated with sight, hearing, smell, touch, balance, and body movement. Such activity, typical in a waking brain, had never been detected in a sleeping brain. One implication is that studying brain activity in patients with disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, depression, and Parkinson's disease, which can be difficult when the patients are awake, may now be possible during sleep. The study appeared in October in the online edition of the journal Human Brain Mapping. — DK

Forever Altered

"The important thing to know about Aaron Shearer [founder of the Peabody Conservatory Guitar Department, who passed away last April] is that he was a pioneer. When he was first developing his pedagogical method in the late 1950s and early '60s, he brought a new level of rigor to the discussion of technique and the development of performance skills. In previous decades, the advice might have been 'play like a rainbow' or 'you need to experience more of life to have a more beautiful tone.' Anyone in the arts knows how important imagery and life experience is, but by itself, it's not enough. What you also need is specific guidance about how to fix the things that might be impeding your ability to give voice to your ideas. Aaron was a master of that.

"He never ceased experimenting. He was well known for having a very organized methodology, but that didn't come out of being dogmatic but rather from constant searching and testing. Because he trained so many great performers and teachers, he had a fertile environment in which to explore the power and efficacy of his ideas.

"I think what was important for him was not just to train concert virtuosi but to guide all of his students to a greater love and understanding of music and their own talents. At the very beginning of his latest method [Learning the Classical Guitar, Part One], he says that for him the most important thing about playing the guitar is sharing it with others. He felt every aspect of his teaching was equally important. He was a man with a mission."

Julian Gray, Peab '79, '82 (MM), is chairman of the Peabody Conservatory Guitar Department.


Course: Dancing about Architecture: Jewish Humor and the Construction of Cultural Discourse

Instructor: Marc Caplan, a Krieger School professor of Yiddish Language, Literature, and Culture

Course description: This course offers an advanced-undergraduate examination of literary, theatrical, cinematic, and televised representations of Jewish culture. The course considers the joke as a mode of narration and cultural coding with specific resonances for the Jewish encounter with modernity. Topics addressed include the origins of modern Jewish humor; the problems of anxiety and otherness articulated through humor; and the significance of Jews in creating popular culture through the mass media. Note: This will be a course about humor, and as such we will not be able, or willing, to censor the material we will be considering — much of which will be profane, offensive, sexually explicit, and trading heavily in a variety of ethnic, religious, racial, and gender stereotypes, sometimes figured ironically and other times literally.

Reading list:

Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, by Sigmund Freud

Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic, by Henri Bergson

Landmark Yiddish Plays: A Critical Anthology, by Joel Berkowitz and Jeremy Dauber (eds.)

Adventures of Mottel: The Cantor's Son, by Sholem Aleichem

Metamorphosis and Other Stories, by Franz Kafka

Portnoy's Complaint, by Phillip Roth

The Insanity Defense: The Complete Prose, by Woody Allen

Here and Abroad

The British government has selected two Krieger School of Arts and Sciences students (one an alumnus) as Marshall Scholars. Kurt R. Herzer is a senior working toward his bachelor's in public health studies. Rishi Mediratta, A&S '08, graduated in May with a degree in public health studies and anthropology; he is currently doing post-graduate work in Ethiopia. The two will head to England in the fall to further their individual research projects — Herzer to the University of Oxford, and Mediratta to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Marshall scholarships fund American students' study at any British university for two to three years, including university fees, living expenses, and travel expenses to and from the United States.

... When the 18th International Conference of Labour Statisticians convened last fall in Geneva, the group agreed for the first time to adopt guidelines for measuring the work of volunteers. That gave the go-ahead to the International Labour Organization to issue the Manual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work, developed with assistance from the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies (CCSS). The manual will offer a definition of volunteer work and guidelines for measuring that work. According to data generated in 37 countries by the CCSS, 12 percent of adults in those countries volunteer, equivalent to about 20.8 million full-time workers and a $400 billion contribution to the economy.

... For the second year in a row, a team of students from the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies took first place in the Thunderbird Sustainable Innovation Summit Challenge. The team of five women — the only all-female team and the only one from a non-MBA school in the final round — won $20,000, beating out 137 other teams from 11 countries. To do so, they had to propose sustainable business solutions to real-world challenges posed by the sponsors, Johnson & Johnson and EcoVerdance. — Catherine Pierre

Up & Comer

Name: Adam Seth Litwin
Age: 33

Position: Assistant professor of management in the Carey Business School

Stats: BA '98 in history from Penn; BS '98 in economics from Penn's Wharton School; MSc '99 in industrial relations from London School of Economics; PhD '08 in management from the Sloan School at MIT

Scouting report: Says Phillip H. Phan, professor and vice dean for faculty and research at the Carey School, "His training from one of the world's top universities represents a new generation of academics in business who are not simply contented to publish in the best journals but to have immediate impact on business practice and managerial thinking."

Research: Litwin studies the ways in which human capital and technological capital coalesce in the employment relationship. For example, his doctoral thesis examined two IT programs implemented at Kaiser Permanente. One was top down, while the other included workers in all aspects of the implementation. "When they invested in the human side, they were more successful in generating performance improvements," Litwin says.

He has a special interest in the slow adoption of electronic health records. "Why is it that my car can e-mail me when it needs an oil change, but my health care professional can't pull up the results from my blood work?"

Mentors: Among others, Litwin names his doctoral adviser, Thomas A. Kochan, who "strongly believes that to understand the employment relationship you have to understand its context, one element of which is technological," and Eric Brynjolfsson, another member of his thesis committee, who "has a real respect for the role people play in bringing IT to life."

Bang a rock 'n' roll drum: Now living in a Mt. Vernon high-rise, Litwin has had to go electronic so as not to disturb his neighbors. "The great thing about playing the drums is that if you play hard enough, it almost doubles as exercise. And playing always reduces stress." —CP


On Levering courtyard, a Willow has taken root. The outdoor sculpture, a bronzed tree stump with tentacle-like roots, stretches out nearly eight feet in length. The sculpture weeps with wax, dripped over its blue patina finish.

Noted artist Martin Kline created Willow, a remnant of a tree felled on his property during a storm. The piece caught the eye of Nancy Rosen, an independent curator and an art adviser for Johns Hopkins.

Rosen recommended the sculpture to mutual friend Stephen Mazoh, A&S '62, a prominent art dealer. In the spring, Mazoh purchased the piece and donated it to Johns Hopkins in honor of his late brother-in-law, Ronald P. Fish, an adjunct professor at the Allan L. Berman Real Estate Institute.

Willow joins more than 30 other outdoor sculptures scattered throughout Homewood, a number sure to grow. Its addition prompted the university to examine its procedures on accepting and placing public art. As a result, the board of trustees' Committee on Buildings and Grounds created an Arts Review Panel, an eight-member group that will assess gifts and purchases of public art. The board committee also created "sculpture installation zones," seven tracts of campus designated for sculpture installation.

Jacqueline O'Regan, curator of cultural properties at Hopkins and a member of the Arts Review Panel, says that the new policies will allow the university to seek donations of outdoor sculptures to enhance Homewood's pedestrian-friendly grounds.

"Ideally, the university will attract some major artists over the next few years," O'Regan says. "Not only will these works enhance the campus, but I think they can invite a meaningful dialogue with students and faculty about the role of art in society." — Greg Rienzi

Vital Signs

More warning of heart trouble
A new blood test could provide early warning of imminent heart damage in some patients. Jennifer Van Eyk, professor of
cardiology in the School of Medicine, led a team that identified five proteins that, when present in the blood, could alert physicians and paramedics to impending damage to the heart from ischemia, or severely reduced blood flow. Sufficient warning could lead to early intervention — with blood thinners, for example — that could prevent a heart attack. Van Eyk's study was presented last November at the annual American Heart Association Scientific Sessions in New Orleans.

Mentoring reduces youth violence
Emergency room physicians should refer children who have been victims of peer violence to one-on-one mentoring, according to a new study out of the Johns Hopkins Children's Center. Led by Tina Cheng, head of general pediatrics and adolescent medicine at the center, researchers studied youths 10 to 15 years old who had been treated after assaults by other youths. Those immediately referred to counselors for individual mentoring on conflict avoidance reported less aggression and fewer misdemeanors six months later. The study appeared in the November issue of Pediatrics.

Ovarian tumors and immune systems
Researchers in the School of Medicine, led by Johns Hopkins immunology research fellow Tonya Webb, have discovered how ovarian tumors defend themselves against the body's immune system. The two-year study, reported in the December 1 edition of Clinical Cancer Research, found that malignant tumors secrete fluids, called ascites, that surround cancerous ovaries. These ascites contain lipids that can block activation of the immune system's natural killer T cells. An aggressive disease, ovarian cancer kills 70 percent of diagnosed women within five years. —DK

Return to February 2009 Table of Contents

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