2014 Research Highlights

Stanford scholars are engaged in ongoing basic and applied research — much of it interdisciplinary — that creates new knowledge and benefits society. Following are examples from 2014:

Biological Sciences

  • Bio-X scientists restore the ability of adult mice to form new connections in the brain, which could – if the finding works in people – have implications for strokes, forms of blindness and Alzheimer's disease.
  • A team led by biologist Barbara Block discovers that crude oil interrupts a cellular pathway in fish heart cells, which raises the possibility that environmental oil exposure could impair human hearts.
  • A team led by bioengineer Kwabena Boahen develops a circuit board modeled on the human brain, opening new frontiers in robotics and computing.
  • Biologist Deborah Gordon sends ants to the International Space Station to study their behavior in near-zero gravity, which may improve algorithms used by autonomous robots during disasters.
Kwabena Boahen video

Kwabena Boahen

Neurogrid

Business

  • A study in Southern India by Sharique Hasan, assistant professor of organizational behavior, suggests that high-performing college roommates may have more influence on success than friends or study partners.
  • Neil Malhotra, professor of political economy, and his colleagues show that academic studies with null or statistically insignificant results are rarely published, which means researchers could waste time doing studies already proven fruitless.
  • Kathryn Shaw, professor of economics in the Graduate School of Business, studied retail entrepreneurs over a 22-year period and discovered that successful entrepreneurship takes practice, including failure.
  • Marketing Professor Itamar Simonson co-wrote Absolute Value, which explains how a shift in consumer decision-making is changing marketing and market research by forcing a focus on tracking and responding to consumers' decisions as they occur.
unpublished research infographic

Neil Mahotra

Tracking unpublished research

Education

  • Doctoral graduate Marily Oppezzo and education Professor Daniel Schwartz prove that people are more creative while walking – whether indoors or outside – versus sitting.
  • Education scholar Denise Pope finds that students in high-achieving communities who spend too much time on homework experience more stress, physical health problems, a lack of balance and alienation from society.
  • Education doctoral student Benjamin York and education Professor Susanna Loeb find that text messages prompting parents to engage in literacy activities with their kids have a positive impact on learning.
Linda Pope

Denise Pope

Photo: L.A. Cicero

Energy

  • America's natural gas system is leaky and needs a fix, according to a study by Adam Brandt, assistant professor of energy resources engineering, who reviewed more than 200 earlier studies.
  • Hongjie Dai, professor of chemistry, and his colleagues have developed a cheap, emissions-free device that uses a 1.5-volt battery to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, and the hydrogen gas could be used to power fuel cells in zero-emissions vehicles.
  • Yi Cui, associate professor of materials science and engineering, and his colleagues have developed a "smart" lithium-ion battery that gives ample warning before it overheats and bursts into flames.
Adam Brandt video

Adam Brandt

Methane leakage

Engineering

  • Engineers led by Gregory Deierlein and Eduardo Miranda build an earthquake-resistant house that stayed upright even as it shook at three times the intensity of the 1989 Loma Prieta temblor.
  • A team led by electrical engineer Shanhui Fan invents a revolutionary coating material that can help cool buildings by radiating heat away and sending it into space.
  • Electrical engineer Ada Poon invents a way to wirelessly transfer power to medical chips inside the body, providing a path toward new medical devices.
  • Krishna Shenoy, professor of electrical engineering, and postdoctoral scholar Matthew Kaufman discover how the two parts of the brain cooperate when joint action is required to perform a task.
Ada Poon video

Ada Poon

Transferring power wirelessly

Environment

  • Noah Diffenbaugh, associate professor of environmental Earth system science, and graduate student Daniel Swain study the link between climate change and California's drought, finding that drought is more likely to occur with today's global warming conditions than with the climate that existed before humans.
  • Removing large mammals from an ecosystem makes humans vulnerable to pathogens carried by proliferating rodents, according to research by environmental biologist Rodolfo Dirzo.
  • Earth scientist Rosemary Knight and geophysics postdoctoral scholar Jessica Reeves prove that satellite-collected data can accurately measure aquifer levels, which has implications for water management.
  • An increase of more than 2 degrees Celsius in average global temperature is likely to cause yields in wheat, rice and maize to fall throughout the 21st century, according to a team led by David Lobell, associate professor of environmental Earth system science.
Noah Diffenbaugh video

Noah Diffenbaugh, Daniel Swain

Drought

Humanities

  • Research by linguist Dan Jurafsky reveals that positive reviews of expensive restaurants are rife with sensual and sexy metaphors, while good food at cheap restaurants prompts references to drugs.
  • Anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann finds that voice-hearing experiences of people with psychotic disorders are shaped by culture – in the United States, the voices are harsh and threatening and in Africa and India they are more benign and playful – which may have implications for treating schizophrenia.
  • In his book War! What Is It Good For?, classicist Ian Morris argues that war drives progress.
  • By bringing to light the shady story of groundwater pumping in 20th-century Mexico in his new book, historian Mikael Wolfe suggests that the country's water crisis might have been preventable.
War! What Is It Good For?

Ian Morris

Law

  • In The Atlantic, law Professor Barbara van Schewick explains why we need network neutrality rules and what kind of rules the FCC should adopt to ensure that Internet users can access the applications and content of their choice online.
  • In "The New Minimal Cities," published in the Yale Law Journal, law Professor Michelle Wilde Anderson examines the municipal insolvencies of the Great Recession and cities' obligations for minimum services to their residents, addressing such questions as what share of public revenues must be reserved for residents in order to keep high-poverty areas safe and habitable, even in the face of unpaid obligations to creditors.
  • In a California Law Review article, Lisa Larrimore Ouellette, assistant professor of law, argues that search results from Google and other search engines can provide better evidence of distinctiveness as it applies to trademark law by showing how strongly consumers associate a word or phrase with particular products.
  • In The Evolving Sphere of Food Security, Barton H. "Buzz" Thompson, Jr., the Robert E. Paradise Professor of Natural Resources Law and the Perry L. McCarty Director at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, examines the development of irrigation and water institutions worldwide, revealing their importance to agriculture, especially to developing nations around the world seeking to alleviate food insecurity, and how water institutions evolve over time in response to major challenges.
Michelle Wilde Anderson

Michelle Wilde Anderson

Photo: Jennifer Paschal

Medicine

  • Pediatric endocrinologist Brian Feldman is one of the inventors of a microchip-based test that can rapidly and inexpensively diagnose type-1 diabetes.
  • Carrying a copy of a gene variant called ApoE4 confers a greater risk for Alzheimer's disease in women than it does in men, according to research led by Michael Greicius, assistant professor of neurology and neurological sciences.
  • Breast cancer patients who have both breasts removed don't have better survival rates than women who undergo a lumpectomy and radiation therapy, according to a study led by Allison Kurian, assistant professor of medicine and of health research and policy, and research scientist Scarlett Gomez.
  • Research led by immunologist Kari Nadeau shows that treating a peanut allergy by having a patient eat increasing amounts of peanut powder changes the DNA of the patient's immune cells.
  • Michael Zeineh, assistant professor of radiology, and his colleagues discover that the brains of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome have diminished white matter and white matter abnormalities in the right hemisphere, which could aid in diagnosing the syndrome.
Allison Kurian and Scarlett Gomez

Allison Kurian, Scarlett Gomez

Photo: Norbert von der Groeben

Physical Sciences

  • Scientists at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory use the Linac Coherent Light Source to make the first structural observations of liquid water at temperatures down to minus 51 degrees Fahrenheit, within an elusive "no man's land" where water's strange properties are super-amplified.
  • Geologist Donald Lowe and geophysicist Norman Sleep reveal the power and scale of a cataclysmic asteroid strike on Earth that happened 3.26 billion years ago.
  • Chemistry Professor W.E. Moerner and graduate student Quan Wang develop a new technique that allows scientists to observe single molecules of protein or DNA as they bind with other molecules, which could lead to better drug designs.
  • Using data from the Cassini satellite, Howard Zebker, professor of electrical engineering and of geophysics, shows that Saturn's largest moon, Titan, experiences some of the same global processes important on Earth.
an area of Saturn's moon Titan known as Sotra Facula

Howard Zebker

An area of Saturn’s moon Titan, known as Sotra Patera (formerly known as Sotra Facula).

Social Sciences

  • Research by Jeremy Bailenson, associate professor of communication, reveals that subtle changes in torso and head movements can predict creative output or learning ability.
  • Nine times as many people worldwide are killed in disputes between individuals, including domestic violence, than are killed in civil wars, according to research by political scientist James Fearon.
  • Changing ideals about American democracy in the 1940s and '50s planted the seeds of rebellion that flowered in the counterculture of the 1960s, according to Fred Turner, associate professor of communication and author of The Democratic Surround: Multimedia and American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties.
Fred Turner video

Fred Turner

Roots of the psychedelic ’60s