Tracking insects for work and play

first_imgGary Alpert spends a lot of time bringing ants to Harvard. He travels the world to exotic locations, collecting specimens in efforts that draw praise from eminent ant biologist Edward O. Wilson.On the other hand, Alpert also was the guy who got rid of ants at the University in the early 1980s, eliminating pest ants through the use of a new hormone strategy.In the years since, Alpert has lived two lives. By day, he is an environmental biologist, specializing in both pest control and compliance with government wastewater standards for Harvard’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety. He handles pest outbreaks, tackling everything from ants to bedbugs to rabid animals, and ensures that Harvard’s wastewater is within allowable limits for certain compounds.Alpert notes that he has minimized the use of chemical spraying at Harvard to just those cases where health and safety are threatened. He is a proponent of integrated pest management, which entails understanding pests and eliminating the things that attract them.“We bait for ants, we bait for cockroaches, we eliminate food sources. We’re not in the killing business. We’re in the excluding business,” Alpert said.When he’s not working his day job, Alpert is working on ants. Wilson called him “an extraordinary scientist” and an “authentic explorer-naturalist” who has journeyed far in search of specimens to enrich Harvard’s already notable ant collection. Wilson and Alpert traveled together a couple of years ago to the mountains of the Dominican Republic to collect ants, getting their car stuck in the mud and having to get it pushed out by a nearby garrison of soldiers.Alpert has traveled to Nepal, Madagascar, the Philippines, and Cambodia, among other countries, and he plans a floating trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in the spring with the National Park Service and area Indian tribes to collect ants. A Navajo medicine man has blessed him in advance of the trip.He has cataloged ants as well, and has developed an imaging system that is being used to show clearly the University’s collection of key ant specimens. He also occasionally is a private entomology consultant, and has worked at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and at U.S. Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground.“I love travel,” Alpert said.Alpert received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Washington State University in 1969 but had a change of heart during graduate study and laboratory work afterward. He received a master’s degree in entomology from Washington State in 1972 and a doctorate in biology from Harvard in 1981.“I discovered this whole new world of the outdoors where I could stop worrying about theories of personalities and deal with hard facts instead,” Alpert said. “Once I switched, I never looked back.”Curatorial Assistant Stefan Cover, who works in the Museum of Comparative Zoology’s Entomology Department and who has known Alpert for years, jokingly compared Alpert’s two lives to those of the famous literary character Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.“There’s Dr. Alpert and Mr. Gary,” Cover said, describing “Mr. Gary” as “this [wild] field biologist who would like nothing better than to be plunked down in the middle of nowhere and collect ants.”last_img read more

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Regimes won’t halt climate change

first_imgThe director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute delivered a pessimistic assessment Tuesday (April 5) of the chances for significant U.S. climate change legislation, calling on the world’s academics to help find a workable path to a low-carbon global economy.“Stop pretending that government will play a role, because it won’t,” said Jeffrey Sachs, a former Harvard professor and now a professor at Columbia who is a special adviser to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. “We need a massive intellectual effort led by the expert community worldwide.”In an hour-long Science Center talk, part of the Harvard University Center for the Environment’s Future of Energy lecture series, Sachs delivered a scathing review of U.S. actions to counteract human-induced climate change, saying the government has basically done nothing since agreeing to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.The framework, Sachs said, was a good international agreement, because it acknowledged the danger of climate change and committed nations to doing something to fight it. Those actions were to be spelled out in subsequent protocols. But the only agreement adopted was the Kyoto Protocol, which the United States refused to ratify and which is set to expire next year.Sachs blamed the U.S. refusal to act on the power and influence of the oil and coal industries. Opponents have effectively stalled action by using lobbyists, political contributions, and an effective public relations campaign that questions climate change science.Because the United States is one of the largest global emitters of greenhouse gases, and another large emitter, China, is waiting for the United States to act first, American dithering has effectively delayed meaningful action across the globe, Sachs said.“No president since George H.W. Bush has honestly taken on this issue — not Clinton, not Bush Junior, not Obama, because they’re scared of the interests,” Sachs said.Though Sachs credited Europe and Japan with taking some meaningful steps, he said the problem globally has worsened since 1992. The conversations he has had with scientists indicate the problem is worse than is widely known and is accelerating faster than expected. Recent investigations have focused on thresholds that trigger natural feedback loops that, once greenhouse gas concentrations are high enough, will make it extremely difficult to turn conditions around.“It’s worse than we think,” Sachs said. “Climate change has started. It’s serious. It is impacting the world’s food supply, and it’s going to accelerate.”Though Sachs said the solutions must come from the academic and expert community worldwide, he didn’t let climate scientists off the hook. The scientific community has been too sensitive to criticism by climate-change deniers, Sachs said, giving them credibility and wasting valuable time responding to attacks like those levied in “Climategate,” when leaked emails prompted charges of scientific fraud, since refuted.“They know we will engage our time and energy for a year for every accusation they make while they watch us run around in circles,” Sachs said.To be fair, Sachs said, the problem is an extremely difficult one. Because it deals with the energy supply, remedying it requires painful changes at the heart of the economy of every country. It is also complex, centered on a global climate system not yet fully understood, including multiple interactions with other natural and manmade systems. The problem also requires international cooperation to solve it, something that has never been a strength of humankind.Sachs called for a worldwide effort by scientists, mainly at universities but some from companies as well. Their task, he said, will be to plot a path toward de-carbonizing the global economy, answering questions about climate change science, determining which technologies are viable, and ultimately coming up with a plan that takes the world toward an energy supply much less dependent on fossil fuels within 40 or 50 years.“We have to get started, and we have to do things at an accelerated pace,” Sachs said.last_img read more

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Capturing the stars

first_imgIt started with an offhand remark, an unusual characterization for astronomers talking about stars: “They’re going off like popcorn.”The comment referred to the fact that stars are exploding all around us. Although exploding stars, or supernovae, are rare among any particular group of stars, the vastness of space ensures that at almost any given instant, a new supernova has detonated somewhere in the observable universe.“They’re going off all the time, the universe is so enormous,” said Alex Parker, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics’ Institute for Theory and Computation.To Parker, a specialist in astronomical imaging, the idea of stars going off like popcorn planted the seed for a video incorporating not only images but also sound.The result, “Supernova Sonata,” was released on the Web about a year ago, and has been watched about 125,000 times. In it, Parker assigned sounds to supernovae and allowed viewers to see — and hear — the 241 detected over three-plus years by the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope.“Supernova Sonata” was the first of several astronomical videos Parker has created on his own time and posted on the Internet. The most recent, “Worlds: The Kepler Planet Candidates,” provides a striking affirmation of the extrasolar planet-finding mission’s success. It has generated at least one request for adaptation from a planetarium in the United Kingdom, and has 100,000 views.Although the videos aren’t intended to help astronomers make discoveries, they can be helpful to the public. Parker received several emails after posting “Supernova Sonata,” one from a teacher of visually disabled students, who said it was a useful tool to help them understand astronomy. The “Worlds” video illuminates the singular way Kepler has transformed our understanding of the universe from a place where planets circling other stars are rarities to one where they’re common.“I just wanted to impart the sheer scale of the Kepler dataset,” said Parker. “Just two decades ago we didn’t know of a single planet outside our solar system, yet in the last couple of years we have turned up hundreds of confirmed planets and thousands of planet candidates.”The three-minute “Worlds” video — one of two Kepler-themed videos Parker has made — shows the 2,299 planet candidates Kepler has found since it began searching for planets around stars in 2009. To highlight just how many there are, Parker animated them as if they were all circling the same star, using current data on their relative sizes and orbits and creating a visual exclamation point for the mission’s findings.[vimeo 47408739 w=500 h=331]When he’s not creating videos, Parker is applying his imaging skills to the search for a new target for one of NASA’s space probes. The New Horizons spacecraft, due to fly past Pluto in 2015, has enough fuel to visit one additional object in the outer solar system’s Kuiper Belt, a region where astronomers have detected some 1,600 objects so far. The challenge is to find a target close enough to the craft’s trajectory that New Horizons can reach it with the limited amount of fuel it has for course corrections.Finding Kuiper Belt objects presents an imaging challenge. The objects are small and dark, and have to be detected against a backdrop of stellar light. Parker has devised ways to subtract stellar light and then combine multiple images to magnify any light reflected by an object. The images have to be corrected for blurring by the atmosphere and for projected movement by any predicted object between frames.“We know of 1,600 Kuiper Belt objects that we have good orbits for. We don’t know of any [that] New Horizons can reach,” Parker said. “As you go smaller and smaller, you get more and more objects. We’re confident there is a target, we just have to get the data.”last_img read more

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Robert Dorfman

first_imgRobert Dorfman, the late David A. Wells Professor of Political Economy, Emeritus, was a leader in the introduction of mathematical methods to economics in the twentieth century. He died on June 24, 2002, at his home in Belmont, Massachusetts.Dorfman made important contributions, particularly as a pioneer in the use of linear programming, characterizing production relationships in terms of individual activities with fixed coefficients. He collaborated in 1958 with MIT Professors (and later Nobel laureates) Robert M. Solow and Paul A. Samuelson on the classic Linear Programming and Economic Analysis.He believed that mathematical methods were key – both as analytical tools and as means of exposition. In this regard, Jerry Green, John Leverett Professor in the University and David A. Wells Professor of Political Economy, said at Dorfman’s memorial service in 2002, “He was an ambassador for the future of our field.”Dorfman wrote in 1954: “Is mathematics necessary in social science? I suppose not. It is quite conceivable that all problems could be solved by verbal means, just as it is possible to find that the square root of CXCVI is XIV. Such methods, though, would be not only painful but fearfully inefficient.”Dorfman also made significant contributions to environmental economics. Beginning in 1972, he edited with his wife, Nancy S. Dorfman, three editions of Economics of the Environment. Testimony to the lasting value of this work is the fact that it is now in its sixth edition (edited since 2000 by Robert Stavins, Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government at the Kennedy School).In this realm, Dorfman understood the importance of the underlying natural science. His analysis of water resources in Pakistan, for example, drew on collaborations with engineers and hydrologists. He was for many years an affiliate of Harvard’s Center for Population Studies, where he helped introduce optimization methodologies for resource management to developing countries.Dorfman’s career at Harvard spanned 32 years. He was Professor of Economics from 1955 to 1972, and then David A. Wells Professor of Political Economy until his retirement in 1987. He was known by junior colleagues as a marvelous mentor. Henry Rosovsky once said that the kindest five words that can be said to a young scholar are, “I have read your thesis.” Jerry Green has observed, “That was exactly what Bob said to me the first time we met. I am sure he said the same to many others.” From 1976 to 1984, Dorfman served as editor of the Quarterly Journal of Economics. Green, an associate editor, observed his style: “I saw how he worked with articles and authors of all kinds. Diamonds in the rough had to be polished.”Dorfman enjoyed a reputation as a masterful teacher, especially at the graduate level. He taught mathematical economics, microeconomic theory, macroeconomic theory, and econometrics, and thereby – in the words of Dale Jorgenson, Samuel W. Morris University Professor – “almost single- handedly brought the Harvard graduate program to the level of competing institutions.” Jorgenson recalls the course he took from Dorfman, and counts himself among “the fortunate students who were brought to the frontier of research in economic theory.”In the 1970s, Dorfman launched a seminar series on the economics of information and organizations with Professor Kenneth Arrow and Richard Zeckhauser, Frank Plumpton Ramsey Professor of Political Economy at the Kennedy School. Generations of young scholars benefitted from this colloquium, including Green, who later became a co-chair. Zeckhauser recalls that “the most faithful presenter was Eric Maskin (now Professor of Economics), who was then starting to develop his pioneering work in mechanism design that would ultimately win him the Nobel Prize.”Born on October 27, 1916, in New York City, Dorfman received his B.A. in mathematical statistics from Columbia College in 1936 and an M.A. in economics from Columbia University in 1937. Dorfman was a wartime pioneer in operations research. From 1939 to 1943, he worked as a statistician for the federal government, and then served during World War II as an operations analyst for the U.S. Army Air Force, based in the Southwest Pacific theater and in Washington, D.C.After the war, Dorfman enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, earning his Ph.D. degree in economics in 1950. He joined the faculty at Berkeley, where he was an associate professor of economics when he moved to Harvard in 1955.Among his scholarly contributions were four classic articles in the American Economic Review: “Mathematical or ‘Linear’ Programming” (1953), “Operations Research” (1960), “An Economic Interpretation of Optimal Control Theory” (1969), and “Incidence of the Benefits and Costs of Environmental Programs” (1977).Dorfman was a Distinguished Fellow of the American Economic Association and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as vice president of the American Economic Association, and vice president of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists. In 1972, when Dorfman was inducted as a Distinguished Fellow of the American Economic Association, his citation included this summary: “Robert Dorfman’s characteristic intellectual style is based on a deep and painstaking mastery of the theoretical fundamentals, leading to a clear intuitive grasp of intellectual questions and thence to masterly exposition.”Thirty years later, his co-author Robert Solow characterized him as “always polite, even self- deprecating, never assertive, he nevertheless stood his ground. If Bob Dorfman mildly and quizzically expressed some hesitation about your pet idea, it was always a good move to look up, just in case a boulder was about to crash down on you—politely, of course.” According to his wife, Nancy, Dorfman turned to mathematics in college as a substitute for poetry, after concluding that he did not have a future as a poet. But his love of literature was reflected in the clarity and grace with which he explained complex economics in simple terms.Robert Dorfman is survived by his wife, Nancy, of Lexington; his son, Peter, of Belmont; his daughter, Ann, of Newton; granddaughter, Joni Waldron, of Washington, D.C.; and grandson, Loren Waldron, of Newton.Respectfully submitted,Jerry GreenDale W. Jorgenson Peter P. RogersRobert N. Stavins, Chairlast_img read more

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Carolling at Memorial Church

first_imgEach year in December, Harvard’s Memorial Church presents members of the University community and beyond with the gift of song.For more than a century, the church’s Harvard University Choir has performed two Christmas carol services that include readings by the clergy, and a mix of traditional and contemporary carols and hymns sung by both the choir and congregation.last_img

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HSPH experts help U.S. News rank top diets

first_imgThe nation’s best overall diets for 2013, according to U.S. News & World Report, are the DASH diet, the TLC diet, and the Mayo Clinic diet. The magazine enlisted the help of 22 experts to make their choices, including two from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH)—Teresa Fung, adjunct professor of nutrition; and JoAnn Manson, professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Michael and Lee Bell Professor of Women’s Health at Harvard Medical School, and chief of the division of preventive medicine and co-director of the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.DASH—which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension—aims to prevent and lower high blood pressure, and has won the top spot in the U.S. News rankings for the two past years. TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes Diet) is endorsed by the American Heart Association as a hearty-healthy regimen. Both DASH and TLC were developed by the National Institutes of Health. The Mayo Clinic Diet focuses on making healthy eating a lifelong habit.U.S. News also ranked diets in other categories, including best weight-loss diet (Weight Watchers), best heart-healthy diet (Ornish), best plant-based diet (Mediterranean), and more.Read the U.S. News & World Report rankings Read Full Storylast_img read more

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Carotenoids may delay or prevent onset of Lou Gehrig’s disease

first_img Read Full Story Carotenoids—the substances that give many vegetables and fruits their vivid red, orange, and yellow colors and are also found in many dark green vegetables—may play a key role in preventing or delaying amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, according to new Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) research. The study was published online January 29, 2013 in the Annals of Neurology.Previous research suggests that oxidative stress may play a role in the onset of ALS, a progressive neurological disease that causes muscle degeneration and paralysis and afflicts roughly 20,000 to 30,000 Americans. Since carotenoids function as antioxidants, the HSPH researchers examined whether there might be links between these substances and risk of ALS.The study was led by Kathryn Fitzgerald, SM ’11, a doctoral student in epidemiology and nutrition at HSPH; senior author was Alberto Ascherio, HSPH professor of epidemiology and nutrition. The researchers analyzed data from five long-running studies that collectively included more than 1 million participants. They found that people with the highest dietary carotenoid intake had a 25% reduced risk of ALS, and that two particular types of carotenoids—beta-carotene, found in foods like sweet potatoes, squash, and carrots; and lutein, found in dark green vegetables like broccoli, spinach, and kale—were associated with a 15% and 21% reduced risk of ALS, respectively.last_img read more

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Ministering to health

first_imgMore than a dozen serving health ministers from Africa, Southeast Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean gathered at the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) this week for a three-day gathering that is a key part of a broader program to enhance the effectiveness of such officials in developing and middle-income countries.The aim of the Ministerial Health Leaders’ Forum, jointly convened with the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), is not to improve the ministers’ technical knowledge of health topics, but to help them become more effective leaders. The sessions, which ran through Wednesday, were participatory, allowing attendees to share their experiences and learn from each other as well as from faculty.“The principal purpose is to enhance leadership effectiveness of serving ministers of health with the goal of enabling them to carry out health reform in their countries in order to strengthen national health systems,” said Michael Sinclair, executive director of the HSPH’s Ministerial Leadership in Health Program and director of global programs for HSPH’s Division of Policy Translation and Leadership Development.Sinclair said that a health minister’s role is complex. To be successful, the official must be an astute political operator, has to understand health systems, and needs to be an effective administrator. Most such ministers are highly educated but come from health care backgrounds; they may not be well-versed in how to be effective in a national political environment.The forum was part of a larger focus on health leadership at HSPH. Dean Julio Frenk, a former minister of health of Mexico and the host of the event, said Monday that one of the School’s goals is to ensure that knowledge is translated into practice. One way to do that, he said, is to engage with nations’ top health leaders and ensure they have the tools to enact necessary health reforms.“Part of our core mission is to ensure that knowledge is translated into policy,” Frenk said. “Effective leadership is a crucial link in that chain.”Frenk said when he was Mexico’s health minister from 2000 to 2006, he lacked a support network of people in the same position. One goal of the workshop is to create such a network that participants can tap into after they leave Cambridge.The sessions were immersive, Sinclair said, starting with working breakfasts at 7:30 a.m. and running through working dinners. The topics included transformational leadership, policy analysis, priority setting and political strategy, allocating resources, working with finance ministers, and prioritizing maternal and child health. The sessions, which were held in the Taubman Building at HKS, were co-sponsored by HKS and HSPH, in association with the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation.In addition to the ministers and Harvard faculty members, the forum drew on an “expert resource group,” made up of former health or finance ministers from around the world who could offer advice drawn from their own experiences.The participants were asked to focus on one key health reform needed in their systems and to think about ways to change it as they proceeded through the workshop. When the ministers return to their home countries, organizers will offer technical support in carrying out the reform.Hussein Ali Mwinyi, the Tanzanian minister of health and social welfare, said Monday that he hoped not just to get knowledge from Harvard faculty members, but to acquire best practices from his colleagues.“It’s an opportunity to learn,” Mwinyi said.Tanzania, he said, needs to transition from programs focused on one disease or condition to an overall strengthening of the health system. The nation is seeing a rise in non-communicable diseases, he said, even as it continues to fight infectious diseases and to work on basic health indicators such as maternal and child health.Florence Guillaume, Haiti’s minister of public health and population, said her biggest challenge is reaching the 40 percent of Haitians not covered by basic health care even as the nation gets its health system back on its feet after the devastation of the 2010 earthquake that destroyed, among other things, Haiti’s largest hospital. She also wants to better coordinate the many different nonprofit aid programs that have been operating in the Caribbean nation since 2010.The leadership challenge, she said, is coordinating the work of the many private actors so that collectively, together with the government’s efforts, progress is made toward national health goals.“It has been frank, candid, and objective,” Guillaume said of the early sessions. “It’s amazing. This is a really good initiative.”last_img read more

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Lovejoy new HAA executive director

first_imgPhilip W. Lovejoy travels frequently for his job; in fact, it’s one of the reasons he came to Harvard 16 years ago to head the travel program for the Museum of Natural History. Six years later, he assumed control of the travel program for the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA), a proverbial journey that culminated in this evening’s announcement naming him the new executive director of the HAA.“Harvard is a singular place,” Lovejoy said, “filled with brilliant and engaging alumni who are making a huge impact in the world. The HAA empowers our alumni to connect with one another and build the foundation of a lifelong relationship with the University. That is exciting to me, and to be selected to lead this organization is a great honor.”Lovejoy, the HAA’s longtime deputy executive director, will succeed Jack Reardon ’60 as executive director effective July 1. The news follows today’s vote of the Association’s Board of Directors.“This is a wonderful appointment,” Reardon said. “Philip has done a spectacular job as deputy executive director. He has initiated a number of new programs during his tenure, and he has built excellent relationships with our staff and with our alumni. He brings great personal strengths to this role.”In his new post, Lovejoy will oversee the HAA’s robust programming and engagement initiatives, aimed at the University’s 300,000-plus alumni around the globe. Those initiatives span College reunions and Commencement activities in Cambridge and Harvard Club events in more than 70 countries worldwide.Lovejoy’s appointment also punctuates a personal relationship with Harvard nurtured over a lifetime. “My father, Class of 1951, has been a committed friend, volunteer, and supporter of Harvard for over 60 years,” Lovejoy explained. “His love for and belief in Harvard left an indelible mark on me. Like my father, my mentor and predecessor Jack Reardon, and all our volunteers, I have an unending appreciation for Harvard, and I am energized and honored to have this thrilling opportunity to engage our alumni ever more deeply with Harvard.”Drew Faust, president of Harvard University and Lincoln Professor of History, described the HAA’s pivotal role in strengthening the University’s alumni community, and by extension the University itself. “For well over a century, the Harvard Alumni Association has been a vital bridge linking alumni to Harvard and Harvard to alumni,” she said. “Philip will unquestionably build on Jack’s extraordinary stewardship that enables the HAA to convene thousands of alumni to engage and connect.”Reardon, whose service to Harvard dates back nearly half a century, announced in December that he would transition from his full-time HAA duties to focus on other areas of his work, including expanding his fundraising efforts, serving on the Ivy League Policy Committee, and advising Faust and other Harvard leaders.According to a survey of several thousand Harvard alumni respondents, overwhelmingly, the alumni community thinks positively about Harvard but wants to feel even more connected to the institution. Lovejoy sees it as his mission to deepen their ties to Harvard. A key community to help him and the HAA staff accomplish that is the impressive cadre of 14,000 alumni volunteers.“Working with our HAA volunteers is among the most rewarding aspects of my role,” he said. “We all care deeply about Harvard — what it has meant to us; what it is doing for our students; and what the institution, through research, scholarship, and the work of our alumni, is doing for the world. That sentiment ripples through the vast network of HAA communities — Harvard clubs, shared-interest groups, ad hoc groups of alumni, the classes — and what our alumni do to keep it all going. It inspires me and our staff to do the best that we can to support their extraordinary work. During The Harvard Campaign, that work is more important to Harvard than ever.”Tamara Elliott Rogers’74, Harvard’s vice president for alumni affairs and development, said, “At the HAA, Philip has been committed to engaging our worldwide community of alumni through a range of programs, from lifelong learning to public-service opportunities, digital communities, and more. In partnership with Jack, Philip has been a creative driving force behind many of these initiatives. The HAA is in great hands.”HAA President Catherine A. Gellert ’93 agreed. “Philip has worked with our alumni volunteers around the globe in finding ways for them to stay connected with Harvard in their local communities. This is at the heart of the HAA’s mission.”Lovejoy’s passion for the volunteer community extends beyond Harvard, whether he’s on the road or at home in Boston, where he chairs the board of the Boston Center for the Arts.last_img read more

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Life under the lights and in the lab

first_imgThis is one in a series of profiles showcasing some of Harvard’s stellar graduates. Read our full Commencement coverage.There’s a good chance that Elizabeth Leimkuhler ’15 is the only college student who has appeared on reality television and performed cutting-edge research on octopuses.The talented actress, who after graduating from Harvard College will head to Broadway, said her love for the stage and her interest in science complemented each other perfectly during her undergraduate years.“I realized biology is the study of life, literally,” she said, “and theater and acting is the study of what it means to be alive.”Leimkuhler has been breathing life into many roles since she arrived on campus. Her strong singing voice landed her parts in Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club musicals, student-led operas at Dunster House, and in the a capella group KeyChange. She also starred as the tyrannical teacher in the one-woman show “Miss Margarida’s Way,” where she saw that acting “wasn’t just a byproduct of having to sing.”An obsessed animal fan (a life-size stuffed panda sits on her bed), her organismic and evolutionary biology concentration let her revel in the beauty of living things. Recent summers have been devoted to science. She studied Darwin at Oxford and octopuses in Italy. The latter project unfolded along the edge of the Mediterranean Sea, where she worked with the “incredibly intelligent creatures.” But studying animals in captivity, she realized, “wasn’t something I wanted to pursue.”Her two passions carried her through Harvard, though last fall she began to worry about her post-graduation plans. Then her parents encouraged her to do what she loved. “I realized at that moment that I had to commit,” she said. “I couldn’t see myself being truly happy other than performing. Nothing else can bring me that same joy.”She found nourishment in Harvard’s student-driven extracurricular theater scene. This year, in addition to performing in several productions, Leimkuhler was vice president of Harvard College Opera, where she worked behind the scenes. The hands-on approach will serve her well in one of the most competitive cities anywhere.“I am going to move to New York, find some friends, and just make theater wherever you can make it,” she said. “I’ll follow the Harvard model: making theater from the ground up.”Leimkuhler already knows that the casting process is competitive. As a freshman she auditioned for the short-lived reality show “Duets,” and a chance to sing with John Legend. She missed the final cut, but she didn’t mind. “I just wanted to go back to school, to all my friends,” she told a Connecticut newspaper. “I was missing a lot of fun.”For Leimkuhler, enjoying what she does is paramount. When her parents asked if she had a backup plan, she considered telling them she would set aside her acting dreams if she hadn’t made it by age 30. “But then I realized that’s giving up, and I don’t want to do that,” she said. “I don’t want to, at age 30, give up on what really makes me happy.”last_img read more

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