2008 Research Highlights

Biological Sciences

Researchers led by Steven Block, the Stanford W. Ascherman, M.D., Professor and professor of applied physics and biology, report in Science that they have determined for the first time how a three-dimensional molecular structure folds, step by step.

The highest-resolution map of human genetic diversity, which provides insight into how groups of people are related and traces human origins to Africa, is described by Marcus Feldman, professor of biology, and his collaborators in Science.

The areas of protein engineering and production may be advanced thanks to Judith Frydman, associate professor of biology, who is a senior author of a paper in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology that deduces the inner workings of the chaperonin molecules.

Specific genetic instructions drive aging in worms, according to Stuart Kim, professor of developmental biology and genetics and senior author of a study in Cell that counters prevailing theories and, thus, implies science might be able to reverse the aging process.

Mark Schnitzer, assistant professor of biology and applied physics, leads a group reporting in Nature that they can view tiny fibers of working muscles with minimum discomfort to patients through a microendoscopy technique that has advantages over muscle biopsies.


For the first time, mathematics has been used to model cell movement in work done by researchers headed by Julie Theriot, associate professor of biochemistry and microbiology and immunology, reported in Nature.


The price tag of a bottle of wine can affect the way people experience the wine (a $5 wine tastes better with a $45 price tag), according to researchers led by Baba Shiv, professor of marketing, writing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

People tend to grossly underestimate how likely others are to agree to requests for help, according to Frank Flynn, associate professor of organizational behavior, writing in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.


Students who learn the basic concepts of photosynthesis in everyday English before learning the scientific terms fare better on tests than students taught in the traditional way, according to a study in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching by Bryan Brown, assistant professor of education, and his student.


A study by Education Professor Sam Wineburg of 2,000 high school students nationwide reveals that their top heroes--excluding presidents and their wives--are Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman.


A laptop that now runs on battery for two hours could operate for 20 hours, thanks to a new technology developed through research led by Yi Cui, assistant professor in materials science and engineering, that produces 10 times the electricity of existing lithium-ion batteries.

Genomics software developed by a team led by Serafim Batzoglou, assistant professor of computer science, and described in Genome Research, can go back 20 generations to identify the continent of origin of an individual’s ancestors.

Researchers led by Abbas El Gamal, professor of electrical engineering, have developed a camera with thousands of lenses designed to produce a precise depth map of every point in a photo.

Mark Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering, writes in Geophysical Research Letters that he has linked levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and increases in human mortality using a computer model of the atmosphere that incorporates physical and chemical environmental processes.

Researchers led by Andrew Ng, assistant professor of computer science, develop an artificial intelligence system that enables robotic helicopters to teach themselves to fly stunts by watching other helicopters perform the same maneuvers.

Humanities and Social Sciences

Americans subconsciously associate blacks with apes, according to a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology co-authored by Jennifer Eberhardt, associate professor of psychology.

Population researchers Paul and Anne Ehrlich write “The Dominant Animal,” a book explaining where human beings came from and where we are headed.

Shelley Fisher Fishkin, professor of English, found in the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley—and then helped produce on Broadway—the long-forgotten Mark Twain play, “Is He Dead?”

A book co-edited by historian Gordon Chang, “Asian American Art: A History, 1850-1970,” is the first comprehensive study of artists of Asian ancestry active in the United States before 1970.

The first brain imaging study that contrasts two techniques for emotion regulation is described in Biological Psychiatry by senior author James Gross, associate professor of psychology.

With his book, “Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition,” Robert Pogue Harrison, the Rosina Pierotti Professor in Italian Literature, examines how gardens evoke the human condition.

Emotional stimuli can influence financial risk-taking, according to a study in NeuroReport by lead author Brian Knutson, assistant professor of psychology.

Jon Krosnick, the Frederic O. Glover Professor in Humanities and Social Sciences, heads a Woods Institute/ABC News/Planet Green poll of Americans that shows that 71 percent are trying to reduce their carbon footprint and that most think global warming can be reduced if people change, while 64 percent believe it is more important to find new energy sources.

The Stanford Center for the Study of Poverty and Inequality, headed by sociologist David Grusky, begins developing an alternative to the official poverty index that measures how much poverty there is in the United States.

John Shoven, the Charles Schwab Professor of Economics and Wallace R. Hawley Director of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, and George Shultz, the Thomas W. and Susan B. Ford Distinguished Fellow at Hoover, collaborate on the book “Putting Our House In Order—A Guide to Social Security and Health Care Reform,” which looks at non-partisan measures to solve this national crisis.


“Inside Rebellion: The Politics of Insurgent Violence,” by Jeremy Weinstein, assistant professor of political science, wins the 2008 William Riker Award for the best book on political economy.


Lawrence Lessig, the C. Wendell and Edith M. Carlsmith Professor of Law, writes the book “Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy,” about the conflict between restrictive copyright laws and creativity in the Internet age.

“The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse,” a book by Richard Thompson Ford, the George E. Osborne Professor of Law, examines the claims of bias that pervade modern American discourse.

Robert Daines, the Pritzker Professor of Law and Business and co-director of the Arthur and Toni Rembe Rock Center for Corporate Governance, co-authors “Rating the Ratings: How Good Are Commercial Governance Ratings?”—an article that analyzes the merits of corporate governance ratings.


A method that could keep malaria parasites sequestered in blood cells of infected people long enough that the parasites die before they can create havoc is described by a team led by Matthew Bogyo, assistant professor of pathology, in Nature Chemical Biology.

Researchers led by Howard Chang, assistant professor of dermatology, write in Cell Stem Cell that they have turned normal skin cells into cancer stem cells, making these rare cells easier to study.

Michael Cleary, the Linhard Family Professor in Pediatric Cancer Biology, and postdoctoral scholar Francesca Ficara write in Cell Stem Cell that a protein crucial to healthy cell growth appears to maintain stockpiles of bone marrow stem cells by preventing the cells from dividing too often and exhausting themselves.

Regular running slows the effects of aging, according to James Fries, professor of medicine emeritus and senior author of a study in Archives of Internal Medicine.

Sanjiv Sam Gambhir, professor of radiology, is senior author of a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that describes a new type of imaging system that can illuminate tumors in living subjects, getting pictures with a precision of nearly one-trillionth of a meter.

Medical and engineering researchers led by Jeffrey Glenn, associate professor of gastroenterology and hepatology, report in Nature Biotechnology about a vulnerability in hepatitis-C reproduction that, in a lab, could be targeted.

Orthopedic surgeon Stuart Goodman, the Robert L. and Mary Ellenburg Professor of Surgery, describes in Journal of Arthroplasty a new surgical technique—cellular grafting—involving transplanting cellular material from the pelvic area to the knee to help people suffering from knee disorders.

Ronald Levy, the Robert K. and Helen K. Summy Professor of Medicine, leads a team reporting in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on results of the first human tests of an injectable vaccine grown in genetically engineered tobacco plants.

Marcia Stefanick, professor of medicine and a leader of the Women’s Health Initiative, is senior author of an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association that shows postmenopausal women who took the combination of estrogen and progestin for more than five years as part of the initiative continued to face an increased risk for breast cancer nearly three years after they stopped.


Neural cells derived from human embryonic stem cells help repair stroke-related damage in the brains of rats and lead to improvements in physical abilities after a stroke, according to a study by Gary Steinberg, the Bernard and Ronni Lacroute-William Randolph Hearst Professor of Neurosurgery and Neurosciences, in Public Library of Science-ONE.

Researchers in the lab of Amato Giaccia, professor and director of radiation oncology and radiation biology, locate a molecule that kills kidney cancer cells, raising the possibility of new treatments for the deadly disease, according to an article in Cancer Cell.

A new test developed by a team led by Stephen Quake, professor of bioengineering, reduces the risks in testing for chromosomal disorders such as Down syndrome, according to a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Physical Sciences

Chemists led by Hongjie Dai, the J.G. Jackson and C.J. Wood Professor of Chemistry, develop a new way to make transistors out of carbon nanoribbons, described in an article in Physical Review Letters.

Researchers at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, led by astrophysicist Peter Michelson, principal investigator for the Large Area Telescope carried aboard NASA ’s orbiting observatory, are the first to see data from such celestial wonders as a pulsar that “blinks” in gamma rays.

New agents can be tailored to flush HIV into the open where the immune system and antiretroviral therapies can destroy it, according to a paper in Science by Paul Wender, the Francis W. Bergstrom Professor of Chemistry.