FRONTRUNNERS • Summer 2001

Chronic-pain Study Provides Clues for Treatment

School of Medicine investigators have found that the protein called NR2B, which allows nerve cells to communicate, makes mice more aware of minor pain for longer periods of time. "So interfering with NR2B in humans might be a strategy for treating chronic pain," says principal investigator Min Zhuo, associate professor of anesthesiology and of anatomy and neurobiology.

 

Zhou-Feng Chen (left), assistant professor of anesthesiology, and Min Zhuo, associate professor of anesthesiology and of anatomy and neurobiology, use mice to study chronic pain.

The researchers-Feng Wei and Guo-Du Wang, anesthesiology fellows; Geoffrey Kerchner, M.D./Ph.D. student; and Zhou-Feng Chen, assistant professor of anesthesiology—found that mice genetically altered to make extra NR2B in forebrain areas seemed to have stronger or longer periods of behavioral responses to persistent, inflammatory pain.

Many current pain-reducing drugs block persistent-pain receptors, but they also block acute-pain receptors, which could have dangerous results, such as not feeling the pain from touching a hot stove.

"Our study has provided a target for the development of drugs highly selective for persistent pain, while leaving the rest of the pain system intact," Zhuo says.

 

Present and Future Philanthropists

Before her lecture, "Philanthropy in the 21st Century," Susan V. Berresford, president of the Ford Foundation, met with undergraduate students interested in careers in philanthropy. Her presentation on February 8 was at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work. The Ford Foundation, with assets of more than $14 billion, is supporting pioneering research at the School's Center for Social Development on helping the poor break the cycle of poverty by making personal savings possible.
Susan V. Berresford (left), president of the Ford Foundation, greets Idar Hsin, Class of ’01.

"Baby Talk" Helps Babies Learn Language

When babies hear their mothers say things like "Pretty baby," their brains, perhaps equipped with perfect pitch, busily process every sound for patterns and meaning, according to Michael Brent, associate professor of computer science. A team working with Brent and colleague Jeffrey Siskind of the NEC Institute of Princeton, N.J., recorded more than 200 hours of mothers' baby talk to their children when they were between 9 and 15 months old. Their findings showed that the instinctive, short, vibrant words of parental "baby talk" are key to language development.

"Short utterances lay bare the structure of language," Brent says. His findings challenge recent language acquisition theory, which suggests that babies learn words as part of long strings of words.

Brent's research also is important because it may fuel advances in speech-recognition technology in computers, may help scientists in the field of "artificial intelligence" design computers that can analyze the grammar of an unknown language, and may be applied in computational biology to analyze DNA sequencing.

 

Human Genome Map Published by Consortium

On February 12, the International Human Genome Project, a public consortium including the medical school's Genome Sequencing Center, announced that it had assembled and published a nearly completed physical map of the human genome—the genetic blueprint for a human being.

By organizing the genome map and contributing more than 20 percent of the sequence data, the center played a major role in this milestone in the biomedical revolution. Findings of the consortium, which includes scientists from institutions in France, Germany, Japan, China, Great Britain, Canada, and the United States—as well as findings of the commercially funded genome project at Celera, a private firm—offer exhilarating and endless possibilities.

Richard K. Wilson (left), associate professor of genetics, and technicians for the medical school's Genome Sequencing Center celebrate the publication of the public consortium's nearly completed map and sequence of the human genome, to which they contributed greatly.

Robert H. Waterston, the James S. McDonnell Professor of Genetics, professor of anatomy and neurobiology, head of the Department of Genetics, and director of the Genome Sequencing Center, says these initial views of the genome show humans have fewer genes than suspected. He adds that the studies offer, in the long term, hope of new therapies, drugs, or even corrective genes being developed to cure many diseases.

Waterston says, "Genes behind many diseases are already known—for example, genes leading to cystic fibrosis, to colon or breast cancer, and to Alzheimer's. But hunts for new disease genes will no longer be slowed by the search for the altered gene. Further, the studies of sequence variation will allow for the discovery of genes behind complex diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and asthma." (See "Viewpoint.")

Center for Addictions Research Established

The first national addictions research center affiliated with a school of social work will be at Washington University's George Warren Brown School of Social Work, thanks to a five-year, $1.9 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The center, called the Comorbidity and Addictions Center, will support research on addictions interventions for underserved populations with mental-health and HIV risk factors. Director of the center, Arlene Stiffman, professor of social work, says, "Clients with combined mental health and addiction problems are in dire need of new interdisciplinary approaches."

The center, which has chosen five inaugural research projects, will fund pilot projects, sponsor seminars, and publish findings from drug-abuse research.

Chamber Choir Releases CD

The Washington University Chamber Choir is celebrating its first 10 years and the University's longstanding vocal tradition with the release of its first CD, The Chamber Choir of Washington University: The First Ten Years. The CD's 14 tracks, highlights of the group's concerts during the past decade, range from Antonín Dvorák's "In Nature's Realm, op. 63" to "3 Pieces for e.e. cummings," which alumnus David Rentz, A.B. '00, wrote for the choir. Two other pieces—"Lavender Fields" and "Otche Nash"—also were written for the choir.

The 60-plus members of the group are drawn from across the University community, including undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty from both the Hilltop and Medical campuses. The choir director is John Stewart, director of vocal activities in the Department of Music in Arts & Sciences, who founded the choir in 1990. The group has performed in many Midwestern cities. Last fall it was chosen to sing the national anthem before an audience of 60,000 at a St. Louis Rams football game.

The CD, engineered by alumnus Jeremy Gerard, A.B. '91, M.A. '96, at Gurari Studios, New York City, is on sale at the Campus Store. Plans are to offer it also through museum shops and bookstores in St. Louis, with sale proceeds supporting the choir's concert tours.

The CD also serves as a preview for prospective University music students, who receive a complimentary copy, thanks to the University's Office of Undergraduate Admissions.

Fifteen WU Programs Rank in Top 10

Rankings of graduate and professional programs published by U.S. News & World Report show 15 University programs in the top 10 of their respective areas. The magazine ranks several graduate programs, including business, engineering, law, and medicine, yearly. It ranks other graduate programs every few years, republishing those rankings annually until a new survey is done.

In the rankings, the George Warren Brown School of Social Work ranks second nationwide. The School of Medicine, which has placed in the top 10 ever since U.S. News began ranking medical schools in 1987, repeats as fourth overall, tying with the University of Pennsylvania after Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and Duke universities. It ranks first in student selectivity. Of medicine's programs, physical therapy ranks 1, occupational therapy 3, microbiology 4, internal medicine 5, neurosciences 5, pediatrics 7, pharmacology/toxicology 8, genetics 9, drug/alcohol abuse treatment 10, women's health 10, geriatrics 11, AIDS 12, and health services administration 12.

In Arts & Sciences, the audiology program, in cooperation with the Central Institute for the Deaf, ranks 6. Other Arts & Sciences areas also ranked very well, including creative writing 10, geochemistry 10, biological sciences 12, American politics 15, cognitive psychology 16, political science 18, clinical psychology 19, and geology 23.

The School of Law's clinical training program ranks 14. The School of Engineering's biomedical engineering program ranks 17, the School of Architecture 19, and the School of Art's painting/drawing program 19.

The Olin School of Business' undergraduate program ranks 16 overall, with finance at 14 and general management at 24. The University's overall undergraduate program ranks 15 and ranks 17 in terms of best value. The University's rankings can be viewed at news-info.wustl.edu/rankings/gradranking.html.

 

Scientist Tackles "Traveling Salesman Problem"

Weixiong Zhang, associate professor of computer science, has developed an algorithm that attacks an old problem in the computing and business worlds known as the Traveling Salesman Problem (TSP).

TSP is actually an umbrella term for a whole host of planning and scheduling problems, often involving routes, such as a postal carrier's route or that of a pay phone coin collector. The goal is to find the most efficient route, saving time and money by avoiding backtracking, one-way streets, or visiting the same site twice. The tool used to do so is the algorithm, a stepwise mathematical formula.

Zhang and his AT&T Bell Labs collaborator David S. Johnson have applied the algorithm bearing Zhang's name to 10 theoretical TSPs and found it to be the best solution for half. It also has been very successful in solving "no-wait flowshop problems," such as those that occur in an automobile paint shop with multiple stations for painting different portions of a car. The algorithm maps the most efficient route from start to finish.

Algorithms such as Zhang's are memory-efficient and meant to be embedded in hardware of what's called mechanical electronic manufactured systems. Zhang is working on algorithms meant to run on smart devices, with very small memory and limited power. He is particularly interested in applying his skills in computer science and artificial intelligence to computational biology.

Law School Changes Policy on Recruiters

Because of a new Department of Defense regulation, the School of Law has begun allowing military recruiters back into the School. Under the University's nondiscrimination policy, each school was able to decide whether to admit military recruiters. The law school banned them for the past 10 years because of the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy on homosexuals. It was the only school on campus banning military recruiters.

The new regulation threatens to withhold all federal funding to any university if any part of it does not allow military recruiters. For Washington University, millions of dollars in federal research funding were at stake.

Law students, including many from OUTLAW, the School's gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered student alliance, and faculty participated in a peaceful demonstration on February 23 to celebrate diversity and to protest the change in policy.

The change prompted many law schools to change their approach to nondiscrimination recruitment policies.

Big Breakthrough in Nanoparticles

Richard L. Axelbaum, professor of mechanical engineering, has developed a patented technology that makes nanoparticles smaller, faster, cleaner, and cheaper than existing commercial processes.

He uses sodium reduction of metal halides to produce metal and ceramic nanoparticles that are 10 nanometers to 100 nanometers in diameter. One nanometer is one one-thousandth of a micron, which is 50,000 times smaller than a human hair. Calling his technology the sodium/halide flame and encapsulation technology, Axelbaum is the first person to patent a flame technique that makes stable nonoxide materials in the nanoparticle range.

His group has produced six metals and four ceramics with the technique, and he estimates that more than 30 metals, intermetallics, ceramics, and composites can be produced with his technology. There are many applications for nanoparticles and nanocomposites, most notably in the electronics, aerospace, defense, medical, and sports and recreation industries.

Specifically, his technology can produce aluminum powder that will burn more efficiently in launches of space shuttles; make smaller capacitors for cell phones and computers, lowering their cost; and produce titanium nanoparticles for golf clubs and tennis rackets, making them strong and lightweight.

 
Richard L. Axelbaum, professor of mechanical engineering, peers inside a tubular flow reactor at the fiery formation of nanoparticles produced with the aid of a 3-inch flame.

"Our immediate goal is to produce nanoparticles for industry to improve existing technologies," Axelbaum says. "But our plans are to develop new materials like transparent ceramics that we hope will create new markets. We feel that our technology can produce the next generation of nanomaterials."

Scientist Studies Microorganisms on Ocean Floor

William H. Smith, professor of earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences, recently was one of 25 scientists on an expedition to explore aspects of the sea floor associated with the Juan de Fuca Ridge, about 240 miles off the coast of Oregon. He, with a pilot and another biologist, made a long, spiraling descent to the ocean floor to conduct experiments, including testing his sophisticated imager for clues on whether and how microorganisms at the ocean floor might be using available light for photosynthesis.

Traveling in the cramped cockpit of the submersible Alvin, the crew first had to locate deep-sea vents, where the organisms can be found. (The vents, hydrothermal geysers found in areas of tectonic activity, support "vibrant oases of life," Smith says.)

Working for five hours, mainly at a depth of 7,220 feet, Smith used a microscopy hyperspectral image that he invented, with a sensor that records 100 spectral bands, as opposed to the three bands resolved by a typical color camera and the human eye. He spent four hours on others' experiments, many for scientists anxiously waiting on the surface. Smith had about an hour to conduct his own experiments, which included obtaining spectra of the unique biological communities at the vents. Results of his experiments were to be presented at spring meetings of the American Chemical Society.


 

 



Campaign Passes $1 Billion

With three years remaining in the Campaign for Washington University, Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton told trustees on May 4 that the University had received gifts and commitments of more than $1 billion—surpassing the initial goal announced in September 1998.

To date, more than 65,000 persons have given to the Campaign, the goal of which has been raised to $1.3 billion. (More than $1.5 billion in needs and opportunities were identified in Project 21, WU's long-range, strategic planning process.) Of the money raised, about $455 million has gone into endowment for scholarships, professorships, research, and other programs. Nearly $100 million is for new and renovated facilities. The remainder has been designated for other purposes, including the Annual Fund and the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center.

"Reaching this milestone in such a short time is a tribute to the thousands of individuals who are part of the Washington University family," says Wrighton. "It is a tangible symbol of the University's momentum, and we are most grateful."

 

Having Fun and Helping Others

Students enjoy "Raas for Relief" on February 10 at the Recreational Gym in the Athletic Complex. Featuring raas, a traditional Indian dance, the event was held, along with several other fund-raising activities, to help earthquake-relief efforts in India. Co-hosted by Atma, the Hindu Students Association; Ashoka, the Indian Students Association; and the Muslim Students Association, the event raised $1,730 toward a total of more than $5,000 raised from all activities.

 

Historical Documents Appear Online

Historical documents chronicling Dred and Harriett Scott's unsuccessful legal cases to gain freedom from slavery, tried in St. Louis courts between 1846 and 1852, are now online. The Web site (www.library. wustl.edu/vlib/dredscott) is the first project of an ongoing collaboration of the University Libraries, the St. Louis Circuit Court, and Missouri State Archives and contains 170 pages of court documents. The pages were culled from months of work by University students to preserve, scan, archive, and transcribe documents in civil court records.

"The collection is an incredibly rich resource for historical research," says Shirley K. Baker, vice chancellor for information technology and dean of University Libraries. "The site has attracted heavy traffic, including visitors from Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Australia."

The Scott papers are part of a massive collection of civil court records dating from 1798 to the present. Future projects include the digitization of court documents from Lewis and Clark, and from Henry Shaw, founder of the Missouri Botanical Garden.

 

Was Venus a Wet Planet?

University researchers say maybe the hot and dry Venus was once a wet planet. Certainly, indirect evidence of that is found in its high deuterium/hydrogen ratios. The clincher, they say, however, would be if tremolite or some other hydrous mineral could be detected on its surface. That's because they've documented the chemical stability of tremolite, showing it could exist for several billion years at temperatures similar to that of Venus' surface, about 740 degrees Kelvin—roughly equal to 870 degrees Fahrenheit.

Natasha Johnson (above), graduate student in earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences, and Bruce Fegley, Jr., professor of earth and planetary sciences, conducted more than 200 experiments, heating samples of tremolite for as long as 20 months.

Hairbrained

University workers guide whimsical sculpture Thinker on a Rock, a 12-foot bronze rabbit in a pose recalling Rodin's famous Thinker, into its campus home just east of Mallinckrodt Center. The sculpture, by internationally acclaimed Welsh sculptor Barry Flanagan, is on loan from the Gateway Foundation, a private foundation supporting cultural and artistic projects in the St. Louis area. Nicknamed "Nibbles" by students, it is No. 4 of five planned editions of the piece, one of which resides in the Sculptor Garden at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Flanagan, best known for his monumental, yet often lighthearted, depictions of hares, has been featured in hundreds of exhibitions around the world. His work can be found in the Museum of Modern Art, in New York City, and in other major collections.

 

International Festival Showcases Cultures

Suh-Liang Ou, M.S.W. Class of '02, of Taiwan, performs during the George Warren Brown School of Social Work's seventh annual International Festival on March 2. About 700 attended the festival, located in Brown Hall, and about 75 international social work students presented performances representing 12 nations and prepared foods of 35 nations.

 

Students Asist Renowned Artist

When installation artist Franco Mondini-Ruiz (right) visited Island Press, the School of Art's contract print shop, in February, to create the Island Press' first three-dimensional editioned work, students were eager to assist. Erin McKenney (left), second-year M.F.A. student, and others helped the New York city-based artist assemble 18 miniature cityscapes recalling 18th-century vignettes, complete with plastic trees, parks, and references to St. Louis.

 

Athletic Successes

Many WU teams enjoyed excellent seasons this year. The men's basketball team finished 23-4 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Division III tournament. The women's track and field team, for the second straight year, placed first at the University Athletic Association (UAA) indoor and outdoor championships, as senior hurdler Suzi Ramsey earned Women's Most Outstanding Performer and the coaching staff was named Women's Coaching Staff of the Year.The men placed fourth.

In tennis, the men's and women's teams each placed second at the UAA tournament, led by sophomore David Genovese and junior Pat Doyle, and freshman Laura Greenberg and junior Shilpa Reddy.

At the NCAA Division III women's swimming and diving championships, the Bears placed No. 15 of 50 teams, their best finish ever. Senior Elisa Annelin, junior Lindsay Wilkinson, sophomore Rachel Feldman, and freshman Lindsay Wells earned All-America honors, as did junior Matt Greives and freshman Joe McDowell at the men's swimming and diving championships.

 

Students See the Light in Architecture Course

Lighting a hallway with a lantern built from a 30" x 40" sheet of cardboard and a 100-watt bulb is one of several challenging assignments for students in Architecture 209: The Design Process. The course is designed to teach integrative thinking, according to Gay Lorberbaum, affiliate associate professor of architecture, who co-directs the course with two other affiliate associate professors, M. Jana Pereau and William Wischmeyer.

The course, open to all undergraduate students, represents diverse disciplines. The design shown is by William Garcia, Class of '01, in undergraduate engineering, and Tesa Sexton, Class of '01, in philosophy and political science in Arts & Sciences.

 

Justice Ginsburg on Campus

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (left) talks with law students during her visit to the School of Law as jurist-in-residence April 4–5. In a public lecture, Ginsburg focused on the importance of making "access to justice" available to all Americans, regardless of income. In an address to students, which focused on the Supreme Court as a place for women, she said the court has reflected the "sea change in United States society" that has expanded women's roles, and she recounted the court's "still-evolving enlightenment."

 

 
Picking Winners at the Super Advertising Bowl

During the Super Bowl, the Olin School of Business hosted the first Super Advertising Bowl event, held January 28 in Simon Hall. From left, Ambar Rao, the Fossett Distinguished Professor of Marketing; Adam Schrier, M.B.A. Class of ‘02, event chairperson; Anna Maria Sebastian, M.B.A. Class of ‘02; and Ron Crooks, managing director and chief creative officer of the St. Louis office of advertising agency D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, analyze ads.

Crooks led some 100 attendees—M.B.A. students and staff from the Olin School and their guests—in pre-game and halftime discussions of ads. Using scorecards to choose personal favorites and rate ads' effectiveness, attendees chose Anheuser-Busch, Pepsi, and E*Trade as winners. The event, presented by the Olin Marketing Association, featured big-screen TVs, super party fare, and prizes from local merchants.

 

Alums Meet the President

The Yahng family was thrilled to meet President George W. Bush during his visit to St. Louis on February 20, when they took center stage with him as he spoke to a gathering at the Kirkwood Community Center. The president referred to Charles "Chuck," A. B. '89; his wife, Amanda, A.B. '89; their son, Evan, 4; and their daughter, Claudia, 13 months, as a family who would benefit from his tax-cut plan, saying it would cut the Glendale family's income tax dramatically. Describing President Bush's demeanor as genial, calm, and friendly, Chuck and Amanda said they were surprised to be chosen. Amanda's brother suggested them when he heard that the mother of one of the girls on his daughter's basketball team handled special events for the Republican Party and was looking for a family living near Kirkwood and of a certain income level.

Amanda says, "I was surprised that the Secret Service referred to the president as POTUS (President of the United States), just like on The West Wing." The couple also saw the first President Bush at WU in 1989.

People Around Campus

The University's Board of Trustees has elected William F. Patient as a trustee. Patient served as the first chief executive officer of the Geon Company from 1993-99.

Roger N. Beachy, professor of biology and president of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, has been awarded the 2001 Wolf Prize for agriculture, for his research establishing key principles for genetic engineering of plants.

Dennis Choi, the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones Professor and head of neurology in the School of Medicine, has been elected to the Institute of Medicine.

Michael L. Dustin, associate professor of pathology and assistant professor of biomedical engineering in the School of Medicine, was one of 59 recipients of the fifth annual Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

Seven faculty have been honored with named professorships. Sean R. Eddy is the first Goldfarb Professor of Computational Biology in the School of Medicine's Department of Genetics. The donor was Alvin Goldfarb. Scott J. Hultgren is the Helen Lehbrink Stoever Professor in Molecular Biology in the School of Medicine. Ronald S. Indeck is the first Das Family Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering for the School of Engineering & Applied Science. The donors were alumnus Santanu Das; his wife, Kabita; and their two sons, Atanu and Arnab. Stanley L. Paulson is the inaugural William Gardiner Hammond Professor of Law for the School of Law. Steven S. Smith is the first Kate M. Gregg Professor of Social Sciences in Arts & Sciences. William E. Wallace is the first Barbara Murphy Bryant Distinguished Professor of Art History in Arts & Sciences. Donald L. Bryant, Jr., established the professorship in honor of his wife, Barbara Murphy Bryant. V. Leroy Young is the first William G. Hamm Professor of Plastic Surgery in the School of Medicine. A bequest from Hamm established the chair.

Richard H. Gelberman, the Fred C. Reynolds Professor and head of orthopaedic surgery, has become president of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgery, the largest medical organization of its type in the world.

Four researchers from the School of Medicine and another from Arts & Sciences have become fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. New fellows from the School of Medicine are Daniel E. Goldberg, professor of medicine and molecular microbiology and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute; Jeff W. Lichtman, professor of anatomy and neurobiology; Philip D. Stahl, the Edward Mallinckrodt, Jr. Professor and head of the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology; and Thomas A. Woolsey, professor of anatomy and neurobiology, cell biology and physiology, engineering, neurology, and neurological surgery, and director of the James L. O'Leary Division of Experimental Neurology and Neurosurgery. From Arts & Sciences, the newly elected fellow is Robert W. Sussman, professor of anthropology.

Joseph L. Loewenstein, professor of English in Arts & Sciences, received the Governor's Award for Excellence in Teaching

Marcus E. Raichle, professor of radiology in the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology in the School of Medicine, and Steven E. Petersen, professor of neurology (neuropsychology) in the School of Medicine, share the new Grawemeyer Award for Psychology for groundbreaking research in cognitive neuroscience.