Lyndall Gordon, biographer and senior research fellow at St Hilda’s College, Oxford University, and author of Lives like loaded guns: Emily Dickinson and her family’s feuds (2010), will give a talk on Tuesday, Oct. 12 titled “Abyss has no biographer’ (Emily Dickinson): Can we risk the Abyss?” in the Edison and Newman Room of Houghton Library. The event is sponsored by Houghton Library, Harvard College Library; the Woodberry Poetry Room; and the English Department, Harvard University. For more information, see the Houghton Library Blog.
The American Philosophical Society, the oldest learned society in the United States, recently elected four new members from Harvard into this year’s class of scholars.The society, founded in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin for the purpose of “promoting useful knowledge,” honors and engages distinguished scientists, humanists, social scientists, and leaders in civic and cultural affairs through elected membership and opportunities for interdisciplinary intellectual fellowship, particularly in the semiannual meetings in Philadelphia. Since 1900, more than 240 members have received the Nobel Prize.This year’s elected members from Harvard follow:Ben Heineman, senior fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs; distinguished senior fellow, Harvard Law SchoolSarah Blaffer Hrdy, associate of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and EthnologyRobert Sampson, Henry Ford II Professor of the Social SciencesPatrick Thaddeus, Robert Wheeler Willson Professor of Applied Astronomy
Earlier this year, Harvard literary scholar Homi K. Bhabha — director of the Mahindra Humanities Center — was taking his mother for an evening drive around their native Bombay. His cellphone rang: a call from a cousin famous in the family for his pranks. “Homi,” he said, “you’ve won a Padma Bhushan” — a prestigious civilian medal awarded by the Republic of India. Bhabha replied, “Go ahead. Pull the other one.”But it was no prank. Bhabha received the medal today during a ceremony in New Delhi. He was cited for his global work in education and literature. Another awardee has connections to the University — film director (and Dudley House alumna) Mira Nair ’79. (Her films include “Monsoon Wedding,” “Vanity Fair,” and “Amelia.”)Just over a thousand of the medals have been awarded since 1954, when the honor was instituted. “It’s such a big deal that I absolutely never — in my wildest imaginings — thought that this would come my way,” said Bhabha before making the trip, “partly since I have not even been an Indian citizen for 20 years.”Awarding the medal to members of the Indian diaspora, “a global Indian constellation,” he said, “shows the cosmopolitan mentality of the Indian state.”In the rank just above the Padma Bhushan in civilian medals is the Padma Vibhushan. There have been fewer than 300 recipients in the past 58 years.The highest civilian award in India is the Bharat Ratna, with fewer than 50 awarded in nearly six decades. Recipients include Mother Teresa (1980), Nelson Mandela (1990), and Harvard’s own Amartya Sen (1999). He is Thomas W. Lamont University Professor, professor of economics and philosophy, and winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in economics.For Bhabha — Harvard’s Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of the Humanities — the Padma Bhushan was quite enough. “It was literally as if the ground had opened up,” he said of the surprise honor. “I didn’t have any such clue, aspiration, hope — nothing. Of course, I am deeply honored and very grateful.”The work that earned Bhabha the medal, in part, is his passionate public defense of the humanities and liberal arts — mainstays of education that he said are increasingly under fire and underfunded all over the world. Emerging models for education relate principally to economic and technical issues, and push the humanities aside, Bhabha said. “This is very shortsighted.”In 2010 he addressed Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research on the issue. Since December, he has delivered three keynote addresses on the imperiled humanities — two in Berlin and a third in London, to the British Council, the United Kingdom’s cultural arm. And last month Bhabha spoke about the same issue at a United Nations panel in New York.Bhabha recapped his argument: Neglecting the humanities means losing the “humanistic sensibility” required for close reading. It means neglecting the means of judging knowledge on the basis of human values. And in an age of technologies that proliferate information, the humanities alone teach the art of interpreting that knowledge, said Bhabha — and interpretation is “the heart of humanistic thinking.”Then comes most important point, he said: The humanities create communities — “communities of interpretation, communities of opinion, communities of thought. They are integrative. They pull things together.”Bhabha offered an example of the integrating force of the humanities by pointing to programs at the Mahindra Center. It is “by any standard, a very modest Harvard institution,” he said, but has programs that integrate the humanities with law, medicine, ecology, and the creative arts. “The pressure of the humanities is always to move and to look outward,” said Bhabha. “They provide a matrix for thinking about civil society.”Take that matrix away, or weaken it, and the potential of a new information age is suddenly without a means of interpreting all that information. Yes, you can call up the Encyclopaedia Britannica on your cellphone these days, said Bhabha. “But access to information is different from the intellectual labor of learning how to interpret it.”Meanwhile, education cuts in Great Britain — where Bhabha did his graduate studies — are biting into humanities funding. And in his native India, he said, “the humanities are in real peril.” The government wants to build more than a dozen new technical universities, he said, “but technical universities are like one-crop cultivation in the colonial period. When the sugar trade fails, the entire trade goes down.”Young students brought up with great technical skills may also end up being unemployable, he said. “They can’t even write a letter.”In a world of speedy information retrieval, something more than data “must serve the past and the present,” said Bhabha. “It’s our obligation to the world.”
For years, Diane Moore and her students have debated the implications of landmark Supreme Court decisions in her “Religion, Democracy, and Education” course at Harvard Divinity School (HDS). But they rarely get to dig past the scholarship to the actual names attached to those decisions — people like Ellery Schempp, a freethinking 16-year-old who, more than 50 years ago, decided to protest his suburban Pennsylvania high school’s mandatory daily Bible readings.As it turns out, Schempp, now 72, has been happily residing just a few miles away, in Medford, for the past 20 years. On Wednesday, he made the quick trip to the Center for the Study of World Religions to talk about his experiences as one of the last living symbols of a series of Supreme Court cases that banned state-sponsored displays of faith in public schools.“There are very few people who have won a Supreme Court case about First Amendment topics who come to Harvard Divinity School, and most of us are dead,” Schempp told his audience with characteristic bluntness.Schempp’s case, Abington School District v. Schempp (1963), effectively overturned laws in more than 30 states that endorsed or required Bible readings in public schools. Most of those laws were relics of late-19th-century anti-Catholic sentiment (Bible reading by lay people, such as teachers, was at the time a Protestant practice) and had gone largely unchallenged. But at the dawn of the 1960s, as the McCarthy era was ending and the Civil Rights Movement was beginning, cases like Schempp’s found their historical moment, said Moore, a senior lecturer in religious studies and education at HDS.“There was the sense of recognition that diversity in our country was a really important thing,” Moore said. And nowhere was the debate over religious expression more contentious than in America’s public schools. “Schools are representative of the values of a given society,” she said. “They’re symbolically, but also pragmatically, creators of and responders to our cultural values.”“There are very few people who have won a Supreme Court case about First Amendment topics who come to Harvard Divinity School, and most of us are dead,” Schempp told his audience with characteristic bluntness.One day in 1956, Schempp, who was raised a Unitarian Universalist, brought a Quran into the classroom and read it quietly during his class’s mandatory reading of 10 biblical verses.“I wanted to show that the Bible is not the only source of truth and not the only holy book,” he said. “But the Quran was really by accident. One of my friend’s fathers had a copy of it in his library.”After being sent to the principal’s office and then to a guidance counselor (who wondered if he had problems with paternal authority), Schempp wrote a letter to the American Civil Liberties Union, which eventually took up his case. Driving him, he said, was a teenage sense of injustice: It didn’t seem fair that his Jewish and Catholic friends would be deemed problematic students or less patriotic citizens for failing to adhere to the Protestant faith that his school endorsed.“The court’s decisions reaffirmed that our founders were confident that you do not have to belong to a church or participate in public prayers in order to be a good citizen and a good person,” he said.For an outspoken skeptic of theistic beliefs, Schempp is surprisingly amenable to organized religion. A retired physicist, he is an active member in a Unitarian Universalist congregation in nearby Bedford.“I think there’s a place for celebration and ceremonies,” he said after his talk. “And I wouldn’t call it worship — we don’t worship — but it’s nice to get together with friends to share ideas. I even like singing hymns.”Other First Amendment advocates from Schempp’s era weren’t as lucky. He told the audience of Madalyn Murray O’Hair, an outspoken atheist and controversial public figure whose case, Murray v. Curtlett, was consolidated with Schempp’s when it went before the Supreme Court.While Schempp’s family only endured minor harassment from their community — Schempp’s principal went out of his way to write “letters of dis-recommendation” to every college to which he applied, he recalled — Murray O’Hair’s family “suffered horribly.”“She was an atheist, but she was also a woman atheist,” Schempp said. “Women have so often been regarded as the repositories of faith that for her to be an atheist was a double whammy.”In 1964, Time magazine dubbed Murray O’Hair “the most hated woman in America.” Her children were beaten up; her house was firebombed. In response, the fire department responders took a “particularly circuitous route” that took them 40 minutes to get to the scene, according to Schempp.“The whole community of Baltimore rose up, pretty much in one voice, against her,” Schempp said. In 1995, Murray O’Hair, one of her sons, and her granddaughter were murdered. (In a curious quirk of American religious history, Murray O’Hair’s other son, William — on whose behalf she had brought her original lawsuit arguing against enforced Bible reading in Baltimore public schools — went on to become an evangelical Baptist preacher.)For Moore’s class, the talk provided a lesson in the burden of public scrutiny that is sometimes borne by individuals who are swept up in high-profile cases. That is important to remember, because the “global trend to regulate belief” continues, said Nate Walker, a student in Moore’s class and a Unitarian minister, who had invited Schempp to speak. Earlier this year, the Kuwaiti parliament passed a law allowing the death penalty for the crime of insulting God, the prophet Muhammad, his wives, or the Quran. In Indonesia, a man faces 11 years in prison for posting “God doesn’t exist” on Facebook.“Throughout the world, governments are struggling to define when and where to grant religious freedom, to whom, and based on what rationale,” Walker said.Indeed, even in the United States, believers and nonbelievers continue to battle over where to draw the line between acceptable expressions of faith and unacceptable religious coercion in public schools, Schempp said.“One of the things that’s so disappointing to me is that 50 years after the Supreme Court decision, we’re still fighting some of the same battles,” Schempp said. “You’d have thought they would’ve abated by now.”
Harvard University will invest new resources immediately to expand and strengthen its Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, President Drew Faust announced today. The increase in resources was among a series of immediate actions recommended by the Sexual Assault Task Force, which is led by former Harvard Provost Steven E. Hyman.In addition to the investment in that office, recommendations include creation of a website that aggregates and clearly highlights the broad array of current prevention and response resources in one location; resources on which the Schools can draw as they devise training and orientation programs for the fall; and a campus survey to assess the incidence, circumstances, and perceptions of sexual assault and other forms of sexual harassment at Harvard.Faust accepted the recommendations and said that the University “will move at once to implement your four recommendations for immediate action.”The recommendations were developed after the first two task force meetings and were included in a May 13 letter from Hyman to Faust, who commissioned the group earlier this spring.“Reflecting the urgency of the issue, we chose to begin our work immediately,” wrote Hyman, former director of the National Institute for Mental Health. “During the summer, we will gather data on effective practices developed by other universities and by the military, and will also review relevant academic literature. In addition, we plan to develop survey instruments attuned to the Harvard community. A critical activity that will begin as soon as students and faculty return in the fall will be a process of broad outreach to members of the Harvard community to gather input.“While we have much work in front of us in the next months, we have determined that there are several steps that can be taken now,” he wrote, strongly recommending immediate new support for office, the website, the fall programming, and the proposed campus survey.Hyman emphasized that the new resources are being made necessary by the increased national focus on sexual misconduct on college campuses.“With renewed attention to sexual assaults, the call for services has increased and will likely continue to do so,” he wrote.In accepting the recommendations, Faust thanked the task force for its focus on near-term improvements and said the University must “do better” on issues related to sexual assault.“As I noted when the task force was constituted, Harvard will meet our legal obligations, but they alone should not bound our response to this behavior,” wrote Faust. “We can, and indeed we must, do better.“We have the responsibility to think in new ways about the best means of preventing sexual assault and ensuring that we are effectively responding to those who have experienced it.”Hyman was instrumental in creating the office in 2003, a reform that significantly bolstered Harvard’s ability to respond to incidents of misconduct and to support those who had experienced sexual harassment, including assault. The new director of the office, Alicia Oeser, is a task force participant.For more than a year, the University has worked to respond to the rapidly evolving legal landscape and to the needs of students, faculty, and staff. Last spring, the first University Title IX officer, Mia Karvonides, was hired. She convened a working group last May to review existing, School-based Title IX policies and procedures. That group produced the first University-wide Title IX policy, which has been submitted for review to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.
Though a few Ebola-infected Americans have begun returning home from the epidemic in West Africa, U.S. medical experts believe that there is still little risk that the epidemic will gain hold here. Key questions, however, include how much help U.S. organizations will give to overwhelmed medical facilities in affected nations, and how quickly personnel there can get the disease under control.To better understand the disease and the threat it presents, the Gazette spoke with Michael VanRooyen, director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI), which works to improve humanitarian response to disasters around the world through training, research, and by developing tools that put information at responders’ fingertips.VanRooyen, a professor at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health and vice chairman of Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Department of Emergency Medicine, has extensive experience responding to humanitarian crises, from the Rwandan genocide to the turmoil in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo to the 2010 Haiti earthquake, when HHI and physicians from Harvard-affiliated hospitals erected a field hospital to handle the injured. Here are his thoughts.GAZETTE: What’s the most important thing for the American public to understand about this outbreak?VANROOYEN: I think most important is that there’s no cause for panic. We have experts who understand the spread of this virus and how to protect the public from it. When the [nonprofit] Samaritan’s Purse, for example, evacuates somebody and has them sent to Atlanta for treatment and surveillance, it does not pose an epidemic risk in the United States. That’s probably first and most important.Second, the countries that we work in, like Sierra Leone and Liberia and Guinea, depend on us to lead the response. This epidemic has rapidly exceeded the capacity of local hospitals and health institutions, and we should mobilize resources to help. We have well-trained experts and significant resources to provide a robust response by the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], as well as NGOs [nongovernmental organizations], and even the private sector. We need to quickly mobilize people to help control the epidemic and undertake a public health campaign.GAZETTE: What are the biggest medical needs?VANROOYEN: We have close colleagues working in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and they have indicated two major areas of need.First is greater technical support of the health care delivery program for better hospital treatment, case management, and quarantine. Some of the hospitals in Liberia are closing down or severely reducing their capacity because they don’t have gowns, gloves, respirators, or other protective gear. One critical essential need is the personal protective gear that will allow front-line health care workers to safely treat infected patients. Linked with that is medical expertise: It is essential to send physicians, nurses, and public-health experts who have significant expertise and some prior experience with acute onset epidemics. The right people and supplies can go a long way in stemming the spread of the disease.The second area that we really need to enhance is community education. The virus spreads from person to person through intimate contact, such as feces and blood and preparing bodies for burial. This puts health care workers, close family members, and those preparing the dead for burial at risk. Although there has been an aggressive campaign in recent years, in some places, like Sierra Leone and Liberia, it’s [backfired and] actually caused people to be suspicious of health care workers.GAZETTE: We’re hearing that the disease is hard to spread and not a big danger to the U.S., and yet it does seem to be spreading in Africa. Why it isn’t considered a danger here?VANROOYEN: The disease spreads — and the CDC has confirmed this — through very close personal contact, blood and feces. As long as people are under proper care and appropriate precautions are taken, there’s no reason to think we can’t control the transmission of the virus. So in that sense, it’s not like SARS [severe acute respiratory syndrome] or MERS [Middle East respiratory syndrome], for example, where we would worry about an epidemic spreading in the United States.We have experts who understand the spread of the Ebola virus (pictured) and how to protect the public from it, said VanRooyen. Image courtesy of the CDCGAZETTE: Because SARS is respiratory?VANROOYEN: Exactly. With SARS or influenza, the disease can spread through casual contact, such as on a bus, train, or plane. But fortunately, Ebola is only spread by patients who have become symptomatic, and then only spread through close contact with blood, feces, and other bodily fluids. If you have no symptoms, you don’t spread the illness. If we are carefully screening patients who have been exposed to Ebola and become ill, the transmission can be controlled. I would agree with the CDC that the risk of an epidemic spreading in the United States is very low.GAZETTE: What has your involvement been so far?VANROOYEN: HHI is hosting a symposium of ambassadors of five African nations, including Sierra Leone and Liberia, to discuss some of the challenges and unmet needs regarding the epidemic, and ways to better prepare their health and public health systems. The meeting will bring together several experts in health systems and public health communications. The meeting will be the first of several, and we hope to get the participation of CDC and several organizations with experience in managing the epidemic.I am also working closely with my colleagues from Samaritan’s Purse, who have been leading medical management efforts in Liberia. My colleague and long-time friend Ken Isaacs, the vice president of Samaritan’s Purse, has been deeply concerned with the lack of medical capacity in these West African countries and the complexities of managing those returning to the U.S.Recently, we’ve been approached by several organizations, including the American Red Cross and the International Rescue Committee, to send health personnel — to Sierra Leone in particular — to run the health programs there for the Ebola epidemic. Harvard has suspended all nonessential travel to those areas and I haven’t sent anybody yet. That being said, we’re exploring it. They [would be working with] strong NGOs, with solid leadership, but we have not yet committed personnel to the area.GAZETTE: So it would be a Harvard person associated with HHI working for one of these NGOs?VANROOYEN: All clinical relief work we do is through our partner hospitals. Although these physicians are academically affiliated with HHI, they are performing clinical work as a hospital physician from the Brigham or other Harvard-affiliated hospital.GAZETTE: Is there a particular specialty they’re looking for?VANROOYEN: They’re primarily looking for emergency-medicine physicians with relief experience, although in this case infectious disease specialists and those with experience managing an epidemic would be most helpful. Although we have a group of emergency physicians that have had specialty training in humanitarian medicine, few have experience in managing an epidemic.GAZETTE: They have experience overseas and in crisis situations?VANROOYEN: Yes. Most have specific training in humanitarian assistance as well as significant experience with multiple deployments in refugee health settings in conflict and disasters. Obviously, the Ebola epidemic is unique and requires a specific training.GAZETTE: What’s the role of an academic institution like Harvard and our affiliated hospitals, and what should it be in this sort of a situation?VANROOYEN: In general, the role of an academic institution is not to provide clinical services on the ground in an epidemic, but to provide other types of support for NGOs, through research and information management. Although we may send hospital medical staff to work in medical facilities, the role of Harvard is to investigate and address the broader implications of the epidemic, such as the social and political implications of this epidemic in Sierra Leone, which already has an unstable government. There are significant collateral issues that can lead to political instability and public mistrust of the government.We also provide better data collection tools for organizations to gather and share data real-time. Organizations responding to these crises may not place a priority on data collection, management, analysis, and sharing, and we have worked in both Sierra Leone and Liberia in mapping population needs and disease patterns. As with other humanitarian crises around the world, HHI and Harvard can play an important role in educating responders, understanding social, political, and human rights dimensions, and helping to optimize future responses.
Vice President Joseph Biden swept into Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) Thursday afternoon, showcasing two of the great strengths of his 40-plus years in politics: foreign policy and affability.“All foreign policy is the logical extension of human nature, with a lot less information to act on,” Biden said during a formal address to students at the Institute of Politics (IOP) at HKS. “And the same principles that relate to human interaction, they are critical in foreign policy, as well. People can tell whether or not you respect them or not.”Biden was at Harvard to deliver a broad survey of American strategic interests and foreign policy around the world, including China, the Middle East, Ukraine, and Central and South America, and to provide what he called “an honest accounting” of what it will take for the United States to thrive in the decades ahead.For more than a decade, Biden, 71, served as the chair or ranking member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and as vice president he has played an unusually active role in a number of international issues, including nuclear arms reduction, international trade, and ending the Iraq War.Underscoring points first made by President Obama during his United Nations speech last week, Biden said the United States must update a post-World War II international order that “is literally fraying at the seams,” and successfully confront “immediate threats” like ISIS, Ebola, and Russia’s incursion into Ukraine, while still maintaining America’s values by “strengthening our core alliances, building relationships with emerging powers, defending and extending the international rules of the road, confronting the causes of violent extremism, and building a strong economy in the U.S. to underpin our ability to do anything abroad.”Biden said the country must take the lead on global challenges, but should not go it alone.“We can’t solve them ourselves, and we can’t ultimately solve them with force — nor should we try — but we can work to resolve these conflicts; we can seek to empower the forces of moderation and pluralism and economic growth; we can seek to delegitimize ISIL (or ISIS) in the Islamic World and their perverse ideology; we can cut off the flow of terrorist finance and foreign fighters,” he said.“Our response must be deadly serious, but we should keep this in perspective: The United States today faces threats that require attention, but we face no existential threat to our way of life or our security.”Following his prepared remarks, the affable Biden cut loose, grabbing a handheld microphone and eagerly taking questions from students as he crisscrossed the room, town hall-style.After Sietse K. Goffard ’15 introduced himself as the vice president of the undergraduate council as he prepared to ask a question, Biden’s “regular Joe” persona brought the house down. “Isn’t it a bitch, this vice president thing?” he quipped. “I’m joking, I’m joking, I’m joking: the best decision I ever made. I love the guy I work with.”In his comments, Biden flat-out rejected the notion that the United States could have identified and acted on the threat posed by ISIS a year ago, with the help of moderate allies in the region such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, or the United Arab Emirates. “It’s fiction. It did not exist,” he said, noting that these nations were too focused on opposing Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to see the potential trouble being created by arming and financing radical extremists.“So now we have a coalition, but it’s still going to be a hell of a long fight. But it cannot be, even if we wanted to, it cannot be our fight alone. This cannot be turned into a U.S. ground war against another Arab nation in the Middle East,” Biden said.Biden, who visited the IOP study group of his sister Valerie Biden Owens, a fall 2014 fellow, to chat informally before his address, told the broader student audience that they were lucky to be getting into politics at a rare, critical juncture in world history.“We are at an inflection point. The world is changing whether we like it or not,” Biden said. “The only time you get a chance to bend history a little bit is at these moments of great change. If we’re wise, if we have courage and resolve, and a little bit of luck, we can all make the world a better place, for real.”
Eric Nelson, the Robert M. Beren Professor of Government at Harvard, has been named a finalist for the 2015 George Washington Book Prize. One of the nation’s largest and most prestigious literary awards, the prize recognizes the best new books on early American history. Now in its 11th year, the award recognizes works that not only shed new light on the nation’s founding era, but also have the potential to advance broad public understanding of American history.This year’s honorees spark new thinking on the American Revolution: its causes and principles, the meaning of liberty and freedom in the young democracy, and the impact of the revolution that reverberated throughout the 18th-century Atlantic world. Nelson’s “The Royalist Revolution: Monarchy and the American Founding” (Harvard University Press) turns upside-down the conventional image of the war as a rebellion against a tyrannical king.Nelson is also the author of “The Hebrew Republic: Jewish Sources and the Transformation of European Political Thought” (2010) and “The Greek Tradition in Republican Thought” (2004).The award is sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and Washington College. The winner of the $50,000 prize will be announced at a black-tie gala on May 20 at Mount Vernon.
CfA researchers ask: Is life on Earth premature from a cosmic perspective? A “magma ocean” would interact with the atmosphere, absorbing some of the oxygen, but how much? Only about 10 percent, according to the model created by Schaefer and her colleagues. Most of the remaining 90 percent of leftover oxygen would stream off into space, though some might linger.“This planet might be the first time we detect oxygen on a rocky planet outside the solar system,” said co-author Robin Wordsworth of the Harvard Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.If any oxygen does still cling to GJ 1132b, next-generation telescopes like the Giant Magellan Telescope and James Webb Space Telescope may be able to detect and analyze it.The magma ocean-atmosphere model could help scientists solve the puzzle of how Venus evolved. The planet probably began with Earth-like amounts of water, which would have been broken apart by sunlight. Yet Venus shows few signs of lingering oxygen. The missing oxygen problem continues to baffle astronomers.Schaefer predicts that their model also will provide insights into other, similar exoplanets. For example, the system TRAPPIST-1 contains three planets that may lie in the habitable zone. Since they are cooler than GJ 1132b, they have a better chance of retaining an atmosphere.Other authors on the paper, “Predictions of the Atmospheric Composition of GJ 1132b,” are Zachory Berta-Thompson of the University of Colorado, Boulder, and Dimitar Sasselov of the CfA. The work is available online. The distant planet GJ 1132b intrigued astronomers when it was discovered last year. Located just 39 light-years from Earth, it might have an atmosphere despite being baked to a temperature of around 450 degrees Fahrenheit. But would that atmosphere be thick and soupy or thin and wispy? New research suggests the latter is much more likely.In a new paper accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal, astronomer Laura Schaefer of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) and her colleagues examined the question of what would happen to GJ 1132b over time if it began with a steamy, water-rich atmosphere.Orbiting so close to its star, at a distance of just 1.4 million miles, the planet is flooded with ultraviolet (UV) light. UV light breaks apart water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, both of which then can be lost into space. However, since hydrogen is lighter it escapes more readily, while oxygen lingers behind.“On cooler planets, oxygen could be a sign of alien life and habitability. But on a hot planet like GJ 1132b, it’s a sign of the exact opposite — a planet that’s being baked and sterilized,” said Schaefer.Since water vapor is a greenhouse gas, the planet would have a strong greenhouse effect, amplifying the star’s already intense heat. As a result, its surface could stay molten for millions of years. Calculating the odds of life between the Big Bang and the final fade Related
Three filmmaking luminaries will give the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures this year, with legendary documentarian Frederick Wiseman delivering the first of a two-part talk on Monday. Agnès Varda, whose most recent film, “Faces Places,” earned her an Oscar nomination this month, and Wim Wenders (“Paris, Texas,” “Wings of Desire”) will follow in late February and early April, respectively. Hosted by the Mahindra Humanities Center, the “Wide Angle” lectures celebrate the trio’s contributions as artists and activists.Wiseman will arrive on campus having just signed an agreement with Kanopy, a free streaming platform for libraries and universities, to add his 41 films to the catalog this spring. The deal was hailed by Haden Guest, director of the Harvard Film Archive, which will screen work by Wiseman, Varda, and Wenders over the next three weeks.“Wiseman’s films need to be seen, especially by those who need to learn about the most basic institutions that change our world,” said Guest. “Anyone studying medicine should see ‘Near Death.’ Anyone teaching at a university should see ‘At Berkeley’ — not just film students — and see how necessary and urgent they are.”Wiseman, who splits his time between Cambridge and Paris, has long trained his lens on the workings of institutions, from hospitals to community centers to the military. Freedom from corporate or commercial interests has allowed him to create documentaries that run as long as six hours. His latest film is ‘Ex Libris — The New York Public Library.’“On one level, he is an extraordinary artist,” said Guest. “On another he’s a sociologist, an advocate for transparency, for the truth. He refuses voice-over or added music — all the things that are shorthand to make difficult topics palatable for audiences. Wiseman refuses all of that. He shows us how to look and watch and act and be more engaged.”Q&AFrederick WisemanGAZETTE: Happy belated 88th birthday. You seem as busy as ever. What are you working on?WISEMAN: I am trying to direct a play in Paris next year. And I am working on another documentary. The play, called “The Realistic Joneses,” is by Will Eno, an American playwright. His work has never been performed in France. I have directed several plays in Paris: “Happy Days” by Samuel Beckett, “The Last Letter,” based on a chapter of Vasily Grossman’s “Life and Fate,” and “The Belle of Amherst” by William Luce. I’ve always been interested in the theater so why not give it a whirl? I try to make my own good times.GAZETTE: You made news recently with the announcement of a deal with the streaming service Kanopy, which will make your films free to library card holders. A writer at Slate described the deal as the “cinephile equivalent of the Beatles arriving on iTunes.” What prompted this decision?WISEMAN: (Laughs) I’m flattered by the comparison, as an admirer of the Beatles. Kanopy approached me and it sounded like a good arrangement. It’s a good way to reach the university and library market. Response has been positive, and I’m glad the films will be available to people who haven’t yet seen them. It’s in my interest to have the market as large as possible, not only because I want people to see the films, but this method of distribution is a source of income.GAZETTE: “Ex Libris,” which came out last year, is the 41st film in a canon largely focused on institutions. What drew you to the New York Public Library?WISEMAN: I really didn’t know much about what libraries in general were doing until I spent 12 weeks at the New York Public Library. I was amazed at the depth and levels of services offered. Some sequences in the film deal with their efforts to digitalize their collections of books, paintings, photographs, and various other archival collections. What moved me most was the library’s effort to reach the different communities they serve. The diversity, range, and variety of programs and services offered — after-school tutorial programs, computer training, language instruction for recent immigrants, to name a few — was extremely impressive. The library is the great democratic institution, and every aspect of their work illustrated that. Someone says in the film: “Our job is to help people.” They do, and in so many different ways. All races, ethnicities, and genders are welcome.GAZETTE: What will you discuss in your Norton Lectures?WISEMAN: I’ll be talking about how I work during the shooting, editing, and post-production phases.,GAZETTE: What is your editing process?WISEMAN: In the filming, I just accumulate sequences. I find the structure and perspective in the editing. “Ex Libris” is three hours and 17 minutes in length. It took a year to edit. I have complete control over the content. Nobody sees the film until it’s finished.GAZETTE: You have been making films for more than 50 years, and speaking on college campuses for nearly as long. What do you make of today’s generation of aspiring filmmakers?WISEMAN: Sometimes I’m quite amazed at how little people have read or, when they show me their film proposals, how poorly they write. One way I make a living is giving talks at universities. It’s not uncommon that students haven’t read very much, and I don’t really understand that. I don’t know why they want to make movies if they are not familiar with the range of experiences and thoughts reading great writing can bring. How much can they have to say if they don’t have the experience of knowing how other people have written about our time or past times? The best training to become a filmmaker is to read the great poems, plays, and novels — not just study, but read and think deeply about them.This interview was edited for clarity and length. Tickets are available starting at noon the day of each lecture. For more information on dates and times in this year’s program, click here.