Tag Archives: Harvard

‘Silent Sky’ sheds light on forgotten female astronomers

Most people would recognize the name Hubble, as in the Hubble Space Telescope and its namesake, American astronomer Edwin Hubble. Fewer know of the debt he owes to Henrietta Leavitt, one of many female astronomers operating in relative obscurity at the Harvard College Observatory in the early 20th century.

Madison’s Forward Theater Company aims to shift that focus with its first show of the 2015–16 season. Playwright Lauren Gunderson’s Silent Sky, running Nov. 5 – 22, sheds new light on the early days of astronomy and how Leavitt’s star-mapping contributions led Hubble to realize that there were galaxies extending beyond the Milky Way.

“Henrietta Leavitt was a brilliant scientist and astronomer who made some fundamentally important discoveries,” says Forward artistic director Jennifer Uphoff Grey, directing the production. ”Not surprisingly, there is very little known about her personal life, so the playwright took the facts we do have and then imagined the rich life from there.”

Leavitt (Clare Haden), the Massachusetts-born daughter of a Congregational Church minister who relocated his family to preach in Beloit, graduated from Radcliffe College before joining a group of women employed by Harvard professor Edward Pickering to measure and catalogue the brightness of the stars. 

The women, who were not allowed to touch the telescope, were computers in the original sense of the word — working from glass photographic plates to compute the distances and characteristics of the heavenly bodies.

Pickering hired the women because he found the work of male astronomers less accurate and unsatisfactory, Gray says. As a woman of some means, Leavitt was initially not paid for her efforts, but eventually worked her way up to a wage of 30 cents per hour.

Silent Sky is one of a growing number of efforts to tell the story of women’s contributions to scientific development, Gray says. She adds that the play is a story well told, with dimensions that reach well beyond the play’s scientific content.

“It is a phenomenal play about a phenomenal group of women and a gorgeous blend of science, history and art,” Gray says. “One of the things I love about it is that, while it is a fantastic girl-power story, there is nothing man-bashing about the play.”

Gray says the play also offers high production values, an original piano score performed live onstage and a cast that, in addition to Haden, boats Colleen Madden, Carrie Hitchcock, Michael Huftile and Liz Cassarino.

Playwright Lauren Gunderson also will make an appearance in Madison. The Atlanta-area native will give a presentation, “Survival of the Storied: Why Science Needs Art and Art Needs Science” on Oct. 24 at the Wisconsin Institutes of Discovery, 330 N. Orchard St. on the UW-Madison campus. The 50-minute presentation will explore the ways that science and story share a structure that begs for heroism, action, surprise, mystery and wonder.

It’s a concept that could well describe Silent Sky, Gray says, with its emphasis on how analytical and creative perspectives benefit each other.

“There is a real desire to tell the unknown stories of women in science who have been overlooked,” says Gray. “History, science and art intersect at the same time and I love that. It’s a fantastic, beautiful story.”


Forward Theater Co.’s production of Lauren Gunderson’s Silent Sky runs Nov. 5 – 22 in The Playhouse in Overture Center for the Arts, 201 State St., Madison. For tickets, call 608-258-4141 or visit forwardtheater.com.

Forward Theater’s New Season

Lauren Gunderson’s Silent Sky kicks off a strong season for Madison’s only equity theater troupe, all performed at the Overture Center, 201 State St., Madison.

Annie Baker’s The Flick, a funny and touching play about three underpaid movie theater workers in Massachusetts that won the 2014 Pulitzer Play for Drama, is the company’s first show of 2016. The story about race, class, family and sex, all seen through the eyes of ordinary people, runs Jan. 28 – Feb. 14.

The season closes with Anne Washburn’s Mr. Burns (A Post-Electric Play), a 2014 Drama Desk nominee for best play. Washburn’s imaginative dark comedy, a post-apocalyptic thrill ride that depicts retellings of the same episode of The Simpsons in the days, years and decades after a catastrophic event, runs April 7 – 24.

2 stem cell patients stop HIV drugs, no virus found

Two HIV-positive patients in the United States who underwent bone marrow transplants for cancer have stopped anti-retroviral therapy and still show no detectable sign of the HIV virus, researchers said this week.

The Harvard University researchers stressed it was too early to say the men have been cured, but said it was an encouraging sign that the virus hasn’t rebounded in their blood months after drug treatment ended.

The first person reported to be cured of HIV, American Timothy Ray Brown, underwent a stem cell transplant in 2007 to treat his leukemia. He was reported by his German doctors to have been cured of HIV two years later.

Brown’s doctors used a donor who had a rare genetic mutation that provides resistance against HIV. So far, no one has observed similar results using ordinary donor cells such as those given to the two patients by the Harvard University researchers.

The researchers, Timothy Henrich and Daniel Kuritzkes of the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, announced last year that blood samples taken from the men – who both had blood cancers – showed no traces of the HIV virus eight months after they received bone marrow transplants to replace cancerous blood cells with healthy donor cells. The men were still on anti-HIV drugs at the time.

The men have both since stopped anti-retroviral therapy – one 15 weeks ago and the other seven weeks ago – and show no signs of the virus, Henrich told an international AIDS conference in Malaysia.

“They are doing very well,” Henrich said. “While these results are exciting, they do not yet indicate that the men have been cured. Only time will tell.”

The HIV virus may be hiding in other organs such as the liver, spleen or brain and could return months later, he warned.

Further testing of the men’s cells, plasma and tissue for at least a year will help give a clearer picture on the full impact of the transplant on HIV persistence, he said.

Kuritzkes said the patients will be put back on the drugs if there is a viral rebound.

A rebound will show that other sites are important reservoirs of infectious virus and new approaches to measuring these reservoirs will be needed in developing a cure, Henrich said.

“These findings clearly provide important new information that might well alter the current thinking about HIV and gene therapy,” Kevin Robert Frost, chief executive of The Foundation of AIDS Research, said in a statement. “While stem cell transplantation is not a viable option for people with HIV on a broad scale because of its costs and complexity, these new cases could lead us to new approaches to treating, and ultimately even eradicating, HIV.”

Barney Frank donates papers to UMass-Dartmouth

Retired U.S. Rep. Barney Frank has donated his personal papers to the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, a gift that one school official called a “massive treasure trove.”

“I have come to very much appreciate the people, the life, the culture of southeastern Massachusetts and it’s an enthusiasm I want to continue to share,” Frank said during a ceremony earlier this week, explaining why he gave the more than 500 boxes of papers, artifacts and recordings to UMass rather than his alma mater, Harvard University.

Smaller public universities are critical to the future of the nation, he added.

“If universities like this do not prosper, then America will not be near what it should be,” Frank said.

The region remained one of his powerbases, along with his home town of Newton, throughout his tenure in Congress, he said.

Frank, who retired in January after a 40-year political career, including 32 in Congress, also agreed to give a lecture every semester at UMass Dartmouth.

The papers document the highlights of Frank’s career , including his leadership in legislation that allowed sweeping reforms in the country’s financial industry, gay rights, housing, immigration and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“He is truly a man of the people,” university Chancellor Divina Grossman said.

Terrance Burton, the dean of the UMass Dartmouth library, called the material a “massive treasure trove.”

History professor Mark Santow called the donation of Frank’s papers to the university a “major coup” that will draw scholars and researchers to the region to study Frank’s legacy, as well as history, economics, political science, business and policy studies.

The university plans to hire a full-time archivist to catalog the collection, a project expected to take three years.

Lady Gaga launches Born This Way Foundation

Pop star Lady Gaga descended on Harvard University with some powerful friends on Feb. 29 to launch her new foundation aimed at empowering young people.

Oprah Winfrey, spiritual leader Deepak Chopra and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius joined the singer to kick off the Born This Way Foundation that Gaga’s mother will help steer.

Gaga spoke to more than 1,100 students from several states, faculty and invited guests at Harvard, urging the young audience to “challenge meanness and cruelty.”

“I believe that if you have revolutionary potential, you must make the world a better place and use it,” she said.

She reminded her audience – which expanded to a world-wide one on the Web –  that there is no law to make people be kind to one another and added, “I wish there was because, you know, I’d be chained naked to a fence somewhere trying to pass it.”

The singer has made a $1.2 million personal contribution to the foundation, named after her 2011 album and hit song, which has become an anthem for gay pride.

Winfrey said she supports the foundation because its message aligns with many of her core beliefs, including kindness, compassion, empowerment and acceptance. The famous talk-show host interviewed the singer on stage about the foundation.

Gaga, who has said she was the victim of bullying as a teenager, said the idea for the foundation grew out of the dialogue created after “Born This Way” was released. She said she received an onslaught of letters and emails from people who said such things as, “I want there to be more tolerance in the universe. I want there to be more acceptance.”

Gaga, 25, known for her attention-getting fashion, wore a sleek, black backless dress, platform shoes and a tall black hat.

Watch the event at http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/events/2012/02/BTWwebcast.

Live webcast of Gaga’s Born This Way launch

The Born This Way Foundation – a nonprofit charitable organization launched by Grammy award-winning artist Lady Gaga and her mother Cynthia Germanotta in partnership with Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the California Endowment – will host an official launch event today.

The event will take place at Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, Mass.

Special guests will include Oprah Winfrey, author and speaker Deepak Chopra, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen G. Sebelius, and Harvard Law School professor Charles J. Ogletree.

BTWF will support programs and initiatives aimed at empowering youth by “addressing issues like self-confidence, well-being, anti-bullying, mentoring and career development through research, education and advocacy,” organizers said in a press release. “With a focus on digital mobilization to create positive change, BTWF will lead youth into a braver new society where each individual is accepted and loved as the person they were born to be.”

A live streaming webcast of the launch event will begin at 4 p.m., and will be viewable on the Berkman Center’s website, on the HGSE website, on the Harvard University Live Stream website, and by RSVP on the BTWF website.

Campaign seeks to claim honorary Harvard degrees for gay students expelled in 1920

In 1920, Harvard president Abbott Lawrence Lowell formed a secret court to hunt down gays. Nine students – Donald Clark, Eugene Cummings, Kenneth Day, Stanley Gilkey, Joseph Lumbard, Ernest Weeks Roberts, Edward Say, Keith Smerage and Nathaniel Wollf – were expelled.

Today, a campaign is under way to grant posthumous degrees to the students, who were ousted not only from Harvard, but also from Cambridge, Mass.

A demonstration on the university campus is planned for Feb. 29.

Two of the students eventually were allowed to return – Gilkey and Lumbard – but the others were permanently barred. And one, Cummings, 23 and three weeks from graduation, committed suicide.

The reinstatement campaign is called “Their Day in the Yard” and is about two years old.

The Their Day in the Yard petition, posted on Change.org, asks the university to issue the honorary degrees, clear the expelled students’ records, reverse the ruling of the secret court and officially abolish the court.

More than 2,000 people have signed the petition, which will be delivered on Feb. 29 to the office of Harvard president Drew Faust.

Kaia Stern, a visiting faculty member at Harvard and a supporter of Their Day in the Yard, said, “We’re challenging the Harvard community to live up to its mission to ‘liberate students to explore, to create, to challenge, and to lead… to advance knowledge, to promote understanding, and to serve society.’”

“It’s time to ensure these seven students receive justice, and are honored officially by the University with posthumous degrees,” she added.

Petition signer Nyani Martin said, “I’m a Harvard alumna, and my degree is tainted by the injustice of having denied it to these students.”

The letter to Faust states:

“The Harvard Secret Court Victims of 1920 deserve ‘Their Day in the Yard.’ This petition seeks to end the disgrace.

I write to ask that you officially abolish the Harvard Secret Court of 1920.
Furthermore, I urge you to grant the seven expelled students posthumous honorary degrees. These students have no justice until their records have been expunged and the Court’s decision is reversed. Until this is done, the Court and its work is still very much alive.”

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