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Study for Study’s Sake
Underscoring the “research” in research university, an annual USC symposium plumbs a well of undergraduate scholarship.

Brian Olsen, Jonathan Vidar and Trevor Muirhead, from left, won first prize in humanities
Photo by Irene Fertik

You wouldn’t expect Sajid Siddiqi, a triple major in computer science, math and economics, to have spare time for independent field research. But with USC undergraduates, one learns to expect the unexpected.

Siddiqi, who graduated in May and enters a Ph.D. program in artificial intelligence at Carnegie Mellon University this fall, took top honors at this spring’s fifth annual Undergraduate Symposium for Scholarly and Creative Work. He won first prize in the physical sciences, math and engineering category for his robotics project, titled “Experiments in Monte-Carlo Localization Using WiFi Signal Strength,” in which he tested the feasibility of using wireless sensors to assist wheeled robots in identifying their location.

Siddiqi and 150 others like him shared the fruits of their rather formidable intellectual labors at the symposium, the culmination of a contest recognizing untold hours of original undergraduate research, scholarship and creativity that spanned many disciplines.

“It was a great opportunity for undergraduates to show everyone what they’ve been doing,” says marine biology/theater double major Heather Feaman, who had homed in on long-term crossings of two genetically distinct populations of copepods (tiny shrimp-like crustaceans).

English major Steven Hood ’03, an ancient languages specialist who reads classical Latin and Greek as well as Egyptian hieroglyphs, examined political power in the Iron Age kingdoms of Anatolia.

An interdisciplinary triumvirate of Jonathan Vidar (history), Brian Olsen ’03 (psychology and religion) and Trevor Muirhead (biology and history)used archaeological and other evidence to evaluate how much, if any, of Trojan War lore is based on fact; they created an interactive Web site charting the debate, including a 3-D computer model of the city of Troy.

Biology student Linda Hou had documented a growing movement among the Roma people (commonly known as gypsies) to build their own national identity, perhaps even a nation, in Eastern Europe.

Composer Jennifer Jolley ’03 took the top prize in the arts for her two-act chamber opera, Fish, a surreal comedy about four college roommates encountering a biological curiosity: a naked man-fish.

At an award ceremony following the symposium, USC administrators recognized the most outstanding work. Top winners in each category received cash prizes of $500.

“These students are active participants in creating new knowledge,” said vice provost for academic programs Joseph Hellige in presenting the awards.

“Each year the student research gets better and better,” adds neurobiologist William McClure, a faculty sponsor. “This is not your typical high school science fair. This is real research.”

Many of the students had already published or planned to publish their work in professional journals and to present their findings at professional meetings.

Julie Moffitt ’03, a psychology and music major, interviewed 300 sets of twins – both fraternal and identical – for her symposium paper on genetic factors (as opposed to environmental ones) influencing bully and victim behaviors among school-aged children. It garnered first prize in one of the symposium’s social science categories. Moffitt has since presented her peer-harassment study at scholarly seminars at Stanford and UCLA.

– Eva Emerson

Syndicated Music

KUSC on-air hosts Alan Chapman and Jim Svejda
Photo by Philip Channing

National Public Radio has announced a new alliance with Classical Public Radio Network – a creation of KUSC and Colorado Public Radio – to market and distribute the 24-hour classical music service to public radio stations nationally.

The NPR-CPRN partnership makes around-the-clock classical music available to the 732 NPR member stations, 472 of which are classical format. Created five years ago by Colorado Public Radio and KUSC, CPRN received $850,000 in 1999 from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to develop the service.

Seven experienced announcers host CPRN’s music service, presenting both classical blockbusters and lesser-known works from medieval to modern times. To help stations during local membership campaigns, CPRN also produces 40 hours of fund-raising specials three times a year for a total of 120 hours annually. CPRN currently airs on five public radio stations or networks: KUSC; Colorado Public Radio in Denver; Boise State Radio in Boise, Idaho; Northwest Public Radio in Pullman, Wash.; and WBHM in Birmingham, Ala.

The partnership between NPR and CPRN “combines top talent, musical knowledge and fund-raising expertise with the superior marketing and expertise of NPR that stations truly value,” says Brenda Barnes, president of USC Radio and co-founder of CPRN with Max Wycisk, president of Colorado Public Radio.

Trojans of Albion

Illustration by A.J. Garces

As the price of an English education escalates, American universities are looking better and better to Brits. Enrollment from the U.K. is now at its highest level in a decade, with more than 8,400 British students at American universities – a 3.4 percent bump over last year. And Anglo-Saxons’ favorite Yankee institution? You guessed it. “The University of Southern California in Los Angeles was the most popular campus of choice for British students last year,” according to an article in the London Times – “followed by New York University and Columbia University.”

Toppling Extremists

A how-to guide: Behind every successful extremist stands a kowtowing clique of selfish, short-sighted moderates.

Fundamentalism happens, and not only in the least-developed corners of the world. It can and does happen in the West when a particular group refuses to settle for less than the lion’s share of the social spoils.

Stir in status or influence among said greedy group, add a dash of short-sightedness on the part of moderates, and you have a recipe for extreme regimes.

Social scientists Todd Sandler (of USC) and Daniel Arce (of Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn.) began their theory-building exercise shortly after the collapse of Afghanistan’s Taliban government.

Why, they wondered, had it fallen so fast? And how had the Taliban come to power at all when the majority didn’t share its fundamentalist views? For that matter, how had Hitler managed to hold sway in Germany? Or Saddam Hussein in Iraq?

Building mathematical models of the world, the scholars set out to pinpoint what causes nations to embrace extreme views. They ran an evolutionary game analysis and came to a startling conclusion: Fundamentalists are empowered by the selfish strategies of moderates.

Sandler and Arce don’t identify fundamentalists by virtue of religious beliefs or political creeds. They view them in terms of group cohesiveness and an inability to compromise. “Basically, fundamentalists
are people who want their views to be supreme,” Sandler says. “They demand social control.” This definition encompasses not just the Taliban and Hussein’s Baathists, but any corporate unit, government entity or academic department ruled by a close-knit cadre of the like-minded.

Sandler and Arce tested whether intolerance was a help or hindrance to the fundamentalist’s cause. It turns out “intolerance works against fundamentalists taking over a population – except when non-fundamentalists mimic the traits of fundamentalists to fit in,” Sandler says.

This mimicry, or “preference falsification,” is the linchpin in situations where there are fewer zealots than followers, more pretenders than true believers. It is what makes a regime like the Taliban’s inherently unstable and, paradoxically, able to take power in the first place.

The same holds true for Hitler’s Germany. “Nazis were in the minority until others started to behave like Nazis,” says Sandler, who has joint appointments in international relations and economics.

It is the unwitting collusion of non-fundamentalists that makes fundamentalist governments possible. Extremists won’t usually make fair demands in interactions unless the other party is a bird of a feather, either true or perceived. As fundamentalists gain a foothold in society, non-fundamentalists encounter them more frequently and are more tempted to pretend ideological kinship in order to secure a better deal for themselves.

“They mimic the signals – think burka or beard – to get ahead,” Sandler says. “But where it is advantageous to falsify preferences in the short run, it may not be so in the long. If, one by one, people falsify, in the aggregate it can unleash a monster.”

– Inga Kiderra

True or Falsifiers?

Todd Sandler
photo by Michele A.H. Smith

While descriptive, Todd Sandler’s and Daniel Arce’s work on fundamentalism and conflict can also be used as a predictive tool. “Our model would allow us to predict that in cases like Afghanistan or Iraq, if you tinker a little, the whole regime collapses,” Sandler says.

It all depends on people’s sincerity. If reliable intelligence indicates a movement is largely backed by falsifiers, the researchers say, it will be as easy to bring down as the house of cards it is. But when contending with true believers, toppling a regime is considerably more difficult.

Knowing one from the other is not always clear-cut. Take the enigma that is North Korea.

Still, the Arce/Sandler model has important implications for conducting war. “If a population, like that of Imperial Japan, is a believing one, one has to do something really dramatic to win,” Sandler says. “Whereas in Germany [during World War II], we only had to have a military victory. Because there was tremendous preference falsification at work, we didn’t have to take the kind of revenge that we did in the fire-bombings of Dresden, for instance.”

Follow-up research, says Sandler, will demonstrate that “the keys to keeping fundamentalism at bay are, in principle, simple: an open society and individual members being true to themselves.”

Great Snowballs of Fire!

Illustration by Michael Klein

Roughly 700 million years ago, the Earth was entombed in ice. Or was it? A USC researcher throws the snowball theory up in the air.

Frank Corsetti went to the hottest spot in North America to investigate one of the coldest times in history. To his surprise, the data he collected there casts into doubt a widely held scientific theory.

“I went in expecting to bolster one side [of the argument] and came out of it saying, ‘Well, I’ve got to look at the other side now.’” the USC earth scientist says.

According to the so-called “snowball Earth” theory, the planet was entombed in ice roughly 700 million years ago. Thick glaciers are thought to have covered most of the world’s surface, devastating living things with extreme cold.

The living things in question would have been microbial. “Life was abundant, but it was microscopic,” says Corsetti. “We were dealing with simple prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells.” Hardy prokaryotes (lacking defined nuclei and organelles) were the first organisms on the planet and survived the snowball Earth. They remain one of the most pervasive of all living things. But more complex eukaryotes (possessing defined nuclei and organelles) are thought to have been more susceptible to extreme temperatures, and they suffered near extinction. Or so the snowball Earth theory went.

Without microbial fossils from the period, there was no way to prove or disprove the theory. Then 20 years ago researchers discovered microbial fossils in Death Valley. Their estimated age: 1.3 billion years.

The fossils – measuring just 5 to 10 microns (one-tenth the width of a human hair) – contained both prokaryotes and eukaryotes; since they were believed to hail from well before the ice age, the discovery was not considered particularly spectacular.

Corsetti had combed the Death Valley site as a graduate student in 1991, but it was only after a visit in 2000 that he realized he was on to something big. These fossils and the ones found in the 1980s came from the same time period, he determined. Trapped in a glacial deposit – a pile of sedimentary rocks left behind by an ancient glacier – were fossils of prokaryotes and eukaryotes dating from before and during the ice age.

That meant that the age previously assigned them – 1.3 billion years – had been at least 600 million years off the mark.

The fossil evidence also suggested that both kinds of organisms had survived the ice age. Perhaps Earth had been more a slushball than a snowball, Corsetti hypothesizes, with oceans either ice-free or partially covered.

“There are two ways to think of it,” he says. “Either life is more robust than we thought, or conditions were not as bad as we previously thought.”

Either way, the discovery gives natural historians pause. “This finding makes it difficult to accept the hard version of the snowball Earth theory,” Corsetti says. “If there was a hard snowball, there should have been a major effect on life.”

– Usha Sutliff

Son of Supply Side

Illustration by A.J. Garces

Love it or hate it, you gotta admire supply-side economics’ staying power. “One of the most enduring political images of the last generation is the one of Arthur Laffer, an obscure economist from the University of Southern California, scribbling a parabola on a cocktail napkin one night in the late 1970s to illustrate how tax cuts would lead to more government revenue, not less,” wrote New York Times business reporter David E. Rosenbaum in a recent article. “The Laffer Curve became the basis of a whole political movement – Ronald Reagan adopted it, and it became the justification for the main plank of his 1980 campaign for president (in the face of the elder George Bush’s ridicule that it was ‘voodoo economics’).” A generation later, Bush fils demonstrates that supply-side still sizzles.

Shelf Life

Prime Time

Edward L. Schneider
Photo by Michele A.H. Smith

Youth is a state of mind. That is, it can be if you follow a USC gerontologist’s six-step plan for optimal aging.

AgeLess: Take Control of Your Age and Stay Youthful for Life
by Edward L. Schneider
St. Martin’s Press, $24.95

In the quest to beat the clock, consumers spent $7.6 billion on “anti-aging” cosmetic treatments last year. But looking and feeling young doesn’t have to cost so much, Edward L. Schneider points out in his new book, AgeLess.

“You can determine and control your own rate of aging by some very simple health habits,” says Schneider, dean of USC’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. “While genetics plays an important role in the early part of life, it’s really health habits that determine your quality of life as you get older.”

Schneider lays out a six-step formula for successful aging that covers nutrition, exercise, weight, sleep, engagement and hormone replacement. His book provides self-tests and quizzes, checklists, helpful hints and what Schneider calls the “longevity quotient,” a tool for measuring one’s well-being, vigor and resilience.

“It’s the longevity quotient, not chronological age, that determines how many years a person will live and how healthy those years will be,” says Schneider. “And the good news is that, in contrast to your IQ, which is not very changeable, your longevity quotient can change.”

In terms of nutrition, Schneider prescribes olive and canola oils and plenty of fruits, vegetables, legumes, fish, nuts and dark chocolate. “Chocolate contains healthy substances called polyphenols,” he explains, “and it comes from a bean, so it could be very healthy.”

His advice on exercise: “Just get off the couch.” You can reduce the risk of heart attack by 30 percent just with moderate daily walking. Physical activity also works as a mood elevator, promotes better sleep and reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

AgeLess also has good news in the eternal battle of the bulge. Contrary to popular belief, thin people don’t necessarily live the longest or have the best health as they age. Those in the middle of the weight range enjoy the greatest longevity, Schneider says. “An extra five or 10 pounds – but not an extra 50 – may be healthy as one ages.”

Schneider also recommends that middle-aged men and women eliminate all hormone treatments unless medically required; get between seven and nine hours of sleep a night; and stay “engaged” in life (keeping up social networks and activities and maintaining self-esteem and optimism).

Of the thousands of books on staying young, AgeLess is unique in that its findings are backed by peer-reviewed, published scientific research.

“I called upon the world’s best experts in these areas to read my chapters, critique them and add their comments,” says Schneider. For example, Harvard nutritionist Walter Willet and Stanford sleep expert William Dement reviewed the chapters in those specialties.

– Gia Scafidi

Renaissance Mystery Woman

Who was Zora Neale Hurston? A USC literature professor turns sleuth as she collects the enigmatic author’s letters.

Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters
Edited by Carla Kaplan
Doubleday, $28

At a certain point, Carla Kaplan realized she was in over her head. With 600 of Zora Neale Hurston’s letters (many of them undated) fanned out before her, it hit home: “To put them in order I was going to have to trade in my English professor hat for my investigative historian hat.”

For the past seven years, Kaplan has been reconstructing the life of the enigmatic Hurston, the most published African-American woman writer of her age. The result is Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters, the first edited collection of letters from a female black author. Kaplan’s 800-page tome has been called a “portable archive” by the New York Times book section. It has earned rave reviews from the Los Angeles Times and O, The Oprah Magazine. It has made the must-read lists of book clubs across America.

The folklorist, anthropologist, essayist and playwright has long puzzled scholars. The author of the well-known 1937 book, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston was the first to write about a black woman’s experience from the inside out.

“Hurston is extremely complex and simply remarkable,” says Kaplan, who is an English professor in the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

The feminist movement had reclaimed dozens of lost women writers, Hurston among them. But there was no chronological order to the many events of her life. She died penniless and a mystery even to those who thought they knew her.

Her intellectual property was split eight ways, so Kaplan spent two years chasing down the scattered heirs. Next she contacted Hurston’s acquaintances and Harlem Renaissance historians. What had started as 150 letters ballooned into more than 600.

Every day revealed something new, says Kaplan: “I would realize, ‘Hey, she not only ran with Langston Hughes, she also knew Winston Churchill!’”

Hurston’s flair for fabrication added a degree of difficulty. The chameleon-like author had lied about her age and birthplace even to her three husbands; had concealed a decade of her life; and had spoken differently when addressing Southern black farmers or white elites.

“The whole project was like a puzzle,” Kaplan says. “In many ways, my work on Hurston is the least complete of my life because there is still so much more out there. But it is definitely the work I am most satisfied with. I feel like I have done honor to an extremely complicated life without sentimentalizing it.”

– Nicole St.Pierre

Words and Music

Brain Architecture:
Understanding the Basic Plan
by Larry W. Swanson
Oxford University Press, $29.95

Taking into account advances in neuroscience, philosophy, computer science and molecular biology, USC’s Larry Swanson surveys 2,500 years of scientific thinking about the brain’s architecture in this highly readable, profusely illustrated book. Incorporating data emerging since the microanatomy revolution of the 1970s, Swanson proposes a new model for the basic plan of neural systems organization.

CD by Norman Krieger
Artisie 4, $15

USC pianist Norman Krieger joins the Prague Radio Orchestra in an all-Liszt program featuring concerti Nos. 1 and 2, and the splendidly morbid “Totentanz.” Writes a Los Angeles Times reviewer: “He owns a world of technique – take that for granted. He always knows exactly where he is going and what he is doing. He never for an instant miscalculates. He communicates urgently but with strict control.”

Works by Veronika Krausas
CD by Veronica Krausas
Motion Ensemble, $20.98

USC Thornton School theorist Veronika Krausas DMA ‘01 composed this music for soprano, violin, contrabass, clarinet and percussion as part of a multimedia project with writer André Alexis and photographer Thaddeau Holownia. Several works contain sung, spoken or whispered text and the sound of paper – being caressed, written on, crumpled and torn. “Mnemosyne is the goddess of memory and mother of the muses,” says Krausas. “Paper is the receptacle of our memories, recording words, music and images.”

Health News

Not Your Ordinary Snake Oil

Illustration by A.J. Garces

The bite of the southern copperhead packs a poisonous punch. It also may provide a powerful anti-cancer agent.

Little did Francis Markland know that medical research had so much in common with snake handling. Recently, Markland has been getting up close and personal with Agkistrodon contortrix contortrix, better known as the southern copperhead snake. It turns out the venom of this common North Carolina native may contain a potent anti-cancer agent.

Any day now, Markland, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, will get word that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has issued its latest patent for his lab’s work on contortrostatin, a protein found in the copperhead’s venom.

Markland’s line of research isn’t as bizarre as it sounds. Many scientists hunting for new drugs start with compounds from organisms more likely to be seen on “Animal Planet” than under a microscope.

Markland first explored a snake-venom compound called fibrolase, which breaks up blood clots. Today, the drug – called alfimeprase – is in phase II clinical trials, including one at USC University Hospital.

Now Markland and Keck School lab partners Stephen Swenson, Steffi Schmitmeier and Vlad Golubkov have turned their attention to cancer and contortrostatin.

They had hypothesized that contortrostatin would block integrins (proteins found on the surface of normal cancerous cells), thereby stunting the cells’ ability to move into blood vessels and tissues. If so, cancer cells couldn’t spread beyond the tumor. That theory proved true in the lab. But contortrostatin also seems to interfere with angiogenesis, the process by which new blood vessels are born and develop. Stop angiogenesis, and you stop the supply of nutrients to cancerous tumors.

In vitro studies have shown action against a number of cancer cell types, including breast, ovarian, prostate and glioma. Contortrostatin also affects newly growing endothelial cells.

Once the researchers get over two hurdles – developing a targeted delivery system and engineering the protein so they can stop handling the copperheads – they’ll put it to the ultimate test: clinical trials.

– Alicia Di Rado

Tangled Up in Tau

Kelvin Davies
Photo by Michele A.H. Smith

A gene that protects cells against aging may also spur the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

USC gerontologists have found that a gene able to protect against oxidative stress – an important cell process involved in aging, inflammation and disease – may also play a role in the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. The findings offer substantial leads in the quest to understand many diseases.

The DSCR1(Adapt78) gene protects cells from oxidative stress when expressed naturally. However, “we also observed that this same gene can be harmful when expressed for longer periods of time,” says principal investigator Kelvin Davies of USC’s Ethel Percy Andrus Gerontology Center.

Davies and his colleagues found that over-expression of the gene might result in the formation of “neurofibrillary tangles” – an accumulation of a protein called tau – in the brain.

Associated with Alzheimer’s disease, tau proteins are regulated by an enzyme known as calcineurin – a seeming good guy in the bodily battle between harmful and beneficial proteins. A protein produced by the DSCR1(Adapt78) gene, however, inhibits calcineurin from doing its regulatory job.

Over time, tau proteins build up and form tangles. In contrast, short-term expression of DSCR1(Adapt78) blocks calcineurin from deactivating helpful enzymes used by cells to survive oxidative stress.

“More and more we are discovering the importance of genetic and cellular balance,” says Gennady Ermak, a senior researcher in Davies’ lab. “In nature, many genes have multiple functions and work precisely at a specific level of expression. However, when these same genes are over- or under-expressed, problems arise.”

Interestingly, over-expression of DSCR1 (Adapt78) is also associated with Down syndrome. The gene is found on chromosome 21, of which Down syndrome patients have an extra copy.

“The connection is probably explained by the fact that many of those born with Down syndrome will develop an early-onset form of Alzheimer’s disease,” says Davies, who is also professor of molecular and computational biology in the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

Davies and his colleagues are now looking into the long-term effects of DSCR1 (Adapt78) expression. Thus far, the team has discovered that the gene contains seven exons (protein-coding regions), which can be transcribed in many ways to make a series (up to 13) of slightly different proteins. “At least one of these proteins may be involved in regulating key aspects of the immune system, including the rejection of transplanted organs,” says Davies. “The more we study the DSCR1(Adapt78) gene, the more interesting it gets.”

– Gia Scafidi

Choking on Vog

Sulfur clouds atop Mt. Kilauea
Photo courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey

For tourism, the ongoing eruptions of Mt. Kilauea that have drawn volcano buffs to Hawaii’s Big Island since 1983 have been a boon. But for children growing up on the island, they may be a bane.

The threat comes not from Kilauea’s superheated lava, but its sulfur-charged vapors. As gaseous plumes rise into the gentle trade winds circling the island, children breathe the volcano’s pollutants, which may harm their sensitive, developing lungs.

Concerned about asthma and other respiratory problems, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences – one of the National Institutes of Health – called on the Keck School of Medicine of USC to study the risk. “A whole generation of children have grown up with Kilauea. They’re breathing particles and gases,” says Keck School environmental health expert Edward Avol. Kilauea has become the single largest source of sulfur dioxide in the world, emitting up to 1,800 tons of the gas a day. Deep inside the volcano, where pressure is high, sulfur dioxide dissolves within molten rock. When that magma rises toward the surface, the gas bubbles out.

Scientists know that sulfur dioxide irritates the lungs enough to immediately cause an asthmatic episode. Since 1986, levels of sulfur dioxide in Hawaii’s air have exceeded federal standards by 85 fold.

The volcano also pumps out sulfuric acid. When the scalding lava flows south and meets the sea, the resulting plumes of steam are laden with hydrochloric acid. Gray pollutants, comprising a mixture of gas and aerosol of sulfuric acid and sulfates, have shrouded parts of the island for more than a decade. The mixture is commonly known as volcanic smog, or vog.

No one knows whether vog can cause asthma, how it may affect children’s developing lungs or who is most at risk. But the pollutants released by the volcano are among the same airborne chemicals produced by coal-burning power plants, paper mills and cargo ships that consume fuel oil. Sulfuric acid particles commonly form part of urban air pollution too, so Kilauea’s contaminants, studied in the otherwise pristine air of Hawaii, could also shed light on the effects of pollutants found in big cities.

Avol and colleagues at the Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center at USC have experience assessing links between air pollution and children’s respiratory health. (An ongoing USC study looks at the effects of ozone, particles and other air pollutants in Southern California schoolchildren.) So why not share that know-how with Hawaii health experts?

USC investigators are supporting two efforts in Hawaii: one funded by the NIEHS to investigate vog’s long-term effects on asthma and lung health, and another funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to examine children’s acute, day-to-day problems with asthma.

The NIEHS-funded, long-term project includes the Keck School, the Harvard School of Public Health and several Hawaiian agencies. Both studies also involved scientists from University of Hawaii. In the five-year effort, researchers hope both to understand vog’s respiratory effects on Hawaiian children and to educate Hawaiians about asthma. About 2,500 children are expected to take part.

For more details on Hawaiian volcanoes and vog, visit the United States Geological Survey’s Web site and click on the Hawaii link.

– Alicia Di Rado

People Watch

USC’s Iron Chef!

Illustration by Tim Bower

Executive chef Mark Baida’s Japanese-style tenderloin tenderizes the competition at a culinary challenge.

“Kyoo no tema wa kore desu” (Today’s theme is) … tenderloin! Though the flamboyant master of ceremonies Kaga wasn’t present to say the immortal words of the Food Channel’s Iron Chef, the spirit of competitive cookery was alive in Portland, Ore., last February as USC executive chef Mark Baida faced off against a dozen honorable rivals at the 2003 National Association of College and University Food Services Culinary Challenge.

Each contestant had one hour to turn out a tantalizing tenderloin creation. Appropriately, Baida tackled the challenge with a Japanese accent, preparing succulent slices of Suchire Beefu fanned across edamame and black sesame seed-studded sticky rice and wasabi-lime marinated carrots with yakiniku sauce. When the steam had settled, a silver medallion decorated Baida’s noble, chef-coated breast. (He moves up to the nationals held later this summer in Kansas City, where he’ll reprise his prize-winning tenderloin creation.)

The NACUFS is the trade association for food-service professionals at more than 650 institutions of higher education in the United States, Canada and abroad. Three certified executive chefs, independent of NACUFS institutions, served as judges at each of nine regional challenges.

“It was really like a sporting event,” said Baida in a post-game interview. “You have to be able to work under intense pressure and scrutiny. The judges move in very close, and you have to be able to give them reasons for everything you do – all while you’re working.”

But, he added, “It was an honor to compete on behalf of USC.”

As Kaga would say, “Yomigaeru aiyan sheffu!” (Be resurrected, Iron Chef!)

– Christine E. Shade

Professor Firewalker

Eugene Bickers
Photo by Michele A.H. Smith

He’s been nicknamed “Professor Firewalker” for treading across hot coals to demonstrate heat transfer. He’s been known to lie upon a bed of nails to demonstrate properties of gravitational force. Small wonder, then, that physicist Eugene Bickers has become USC’s Teaching Has No Boundaries poster-boy for 2003. The award, which recognizes teaching and learning that takes place outside the classroom, was presented to 11 USC faculty members last spring, with the grand prize (a $1,000 gift certificate to the USC Bookstore) going to Bickers. Circus sideshow antics aside, Bickers is considered a serious scholar in the physics community. A set of computational techniques he developed to investigate high-temperature superconductors are now used by theoretical groups around the world. “Professor Bickers is fabulous in and out of the classroom,” says aerospace engineering and astronautics major Zeeshan Ahmed, one of Bickers’ students. “We’ve learned so much from him – from physics, to classics, to philosophy.”

– Gia Scafidi

Capture the Flag

Guadalupe Lopez and Juan Lopez
Photo by Michele A.H. Smith

Growing up a few blocks from USC, Juan Lopez would often go to the campus where his dad worked as a bus driver. “It was beautiful, like a little paradise,” Lopez remembers. His mother, Guadalupe Lopez, would tell him: “This is where you’re going to go [to college].” In May, Lopez not only graduated (double-majoring in sociology and Spanish); he played an important ceremonial role as one of eight commencement flag-bearers. “I was overwhelmed; I was honored to be selected,” he says. Flag-and banner-bearer doesn’t quite equal “unsung hero,” but it comes close, according to Jonathan Burdick, associate dean of recruitment and retention for USC’s College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. With a 3.67 GPA, Lopez graduated with honors. He is a member of the Golden Key Honor Society and the National Collegiate Scholar Society. Lopez hopes to enter law school in fall 2004. His first choice, naturally, is USC. Because his father, Jaime Ruben Lopez, works for USC, Juan Lopez attended tuition-free. His four siblings are similarly eligible, even if their father (with 27 years of service already under his belt) retires by the time 8-year-old Jimmy is of Trojan age.

The younger Lopezes will certainly have their big brother’s encouragement. “Education is an investment,” he says. “And tuition remission is one of those opportunities that you can’t let slip through your fingers.”

– Elaine Lapriore

Helping Hogs

Illustration by Tim Bower

USC’s latest Truman Scholar revs her Harley for public service.

Question: What do motorcycling and neurosurgery have in common? Answer: Molly Claflin ’03, USC’s latest Truman Scholar.

“I lost a friend to brain cancer four years ago,” says the newly minted alumna of the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “When my family heard there were two other children in our community with brain tumors who needed money for surgery, we decided to help.”

The Claflins own a Harley-Davidson shop in southern Oregon. So last year Molly Claflin paired bikes and brain tumors in a life-saving public-service stunt. The project, Bikers Have Heart, featured a 50-mile bike-a-thon, a silent auction and free motorcycle gear for anyone donating $100 to the cause. The fund-raiser collected enough to cover both kids’ successful operations.

A political-science major (and gender studies and news media and society minor) with a 3.84 GPA, Claflin is the fourth Trojan in a row (and the 16th since 1982) to win the coveted Truman, recognizing public service and academics. Active in USC’s College Democrats and Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, Claflin also co-founded an American Civil Liberties Union chapter here. She will use the $30,000 scholarship to study law.

– Nicole St. Pierre


Sample Swanson Golomb

A trio of USC scientists has been elected fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. They are: USC President Steven B. Sample, an inventor and electrical engineer whose patents have been licensed to practically every major manufacturer of appliance controls and microwave ovens in the world; biological scientist Larry W. Swanson, a pioneer in the mapping of rat brains, essential to the study of human neuroanatomy; and mathematician and electrical engineer Solomon Golomb, whose theoretical work is the foundation for communications technologies ranging from radar to cell phones to cryptography. In April, Golomb was also elected to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences; he has been a member of the National Academy of Engineering since 1976.


The Belgium National Foundation for Scientific Research has given neurosurgeon Michael Apuzzo its coveted Gagna A. and Charles Van Heck Prize, honoring his scientific strides in deep brain navigation and the development of stereotactic radiosurgery, in which focused beams of radiation are trained precisely on a target hidden deep in the brain.


Mathematician and computer scientist Leonard Adleman has received the Association for Computing Machinery’s 2002 A.M. Turing Award, considered the most prestigious in computer science. Adleman is one of the developers of the RSA code, the foundation of a generation of technology security products.

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