Hitting the Ground Running
Study of barefoot runners' footing challenges conventional thinking on natural strides.
A new study finds that not all habitually barefoot people strike the ground with the same part of the foot when running, challenging a notion that has fueled a trend among recreational runners.
The study, published in January in the online journal PLOS ONE, is only the second examination into the mechanics of running style among modern habitually barefoot people, according to the research team led by Kevin Hatala, a doctoral student in GW's hominid paleobiology program, and Brian Richmond, an anthropology professor.
These studies aim to illuminate how running may have shaped the human anatomy and may also point to healthier, more natural strides for recreational runners.
Earlier research on a habitually barefoot group in Kenya found that unshod runners typically hit the ground with their forefoot, avoiding the high impact associated with landing on the heel. Shoe-wearing runners tend to land on their heels, the researchers wrote, and shoes provide cushioning to lessen the blow.
The new study, however, looked at 38 runners of another barefoot group—the Daasanach, of northern Kenya—and found the majority preferred a heel strike when running at endurance speeds, despite the higher impact.
"The Daasanach people grow up without shoes and continue to spend most of their lives barefoot," says Mr. Hatala. "We were surprised to see that the majority of Daasanach people ran by landing on their heels first and few landed on their forefoot. This contradicts the hypothesis that a forefoot strike characterizes the 'typical' running gait of habitually barefoot people."
When running at a faster pace some Daasanach did switch to a forefoot strike, but the researchers found the group consistently landed on the heel or, less often, middle of the foot.
The differences between the two groups may be attributable to variables like speed, distance, running frequency, and the hardness of the ground. For instance, the group in the earlier study typically ran more frequently and greater distances than the Daasanach people, the researchers wrote, and may have adopted the lower impact, forefoot strike to reduce their risk
"The challenge ahead," says Dr. Richmond, "is to identify the most important factors that influence how barefoot people run and the healthiest style for today's runners."
The oldest undisputed evidence of early humans walking upright with a modern gait, akin to that used today, is a set of 1.5-million-year-old footprints found by Dr. Richmond and colleagues in Ileret, Kenya. The archaeological evidence for shoes, the researchers wrote, dates to around 8,300 years ago, arising from the Midwestern United States.
Researchers in geography and international affairs launch projects examining the future of the Arctic.
As climate change and the pursuit of natural resources reshape the Arctic, a trio of GW research projects are seeking to better understand the changes and their potential impacts on life and the landscape at the top of the world.
The studies are funded by more than $2 million in grants, two of them new and one ongoing, from the National Science Foundation.
With warming expected to open access to large sources of oil and natural gas, "there's a huge amount of resource development planned for the Arctic," says Robert Orttung, an associate research professor in the Elliott School of International Affairs.
Dr. Orttung's new grant funds a five-year project to build a Research Coordination Network of scientists and policymakers, which will focus on Arctic urban centers in Russia.
"The project is trying to figure out how you can develop the resources there in the most environmentally friendly way that will be sustainable—sustainable for the Arctic and sustainable for human development," he says.
Other GW faculty members involved include Marlene Laruelle, research professor of international affairs; geography professor Nikolay Shiklomanov, from the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences; and Dmitry Streletskiy, a geography research scientist.
Dr. Shiklomanov and Dr. Streletskiy, who both have extensive experience measuring permafrost in Arctic regions, recently were awarded a three-year NSF grant to study interactions among air temperature, permafrost, and hydrology in the high latitudes of Eurasia.
The project builds on the NSF-funded Circumpolar Active Layer Monitoring (CALM) III program, led by Dr. Shiklomanov. Launched in 2009 with a five-year grant, the project comprises a network of more than 200 sites that are measuring the effect of climate change on the top-most layer of permafrost, called the active layer, which thaws during summer and freezes in the autumn.
"When you talk about the Arctic, climate change is a big elephant in the room that is already influencing, or about to influence, pretty much all human and social-related processes," Dr. Shiklomanov says, including infrastructure like roads, pipelines, and buildings.
Invention Makes Magazine's Top 100
A commercial product based on a GW professor's invention received a 2012 R&D 100 Award from R&D Magazine, ranking it as one of the 100 most technologically significant products introduced in the past year.
The LAESI-DP 1000 Direct Ionization System is based on the work of chemistry professor Akos Vertes and his research group. The technique they developed—laser ablation electrospray ionization, or LAESI—allows researchers to more quickly and effectively learn the chemical composition of a biological sample.
GW owns the patent on the technique and licensed it to Protea Biosciences Inc., which developed the commercial product.
"During the past 50 years, the R&D 100 Awards repeatedly identified technological game changers, including the fax machine and HDTV," Dr. Vertes says. "It is humbling to see our technology listed in the company of these transformative inventions."
The LAESI technology, he says, fills a gap "by reporting on biomolecules produced during the actual functioning of an organism, organ, tissue, or cell."
The technology has the potential to support a wide range of fields, says Dr. Vertes, from pharmaceutical and biological research, to surgical and molecular pathology, clinical diagnostics, chemical and biological defense, forensics, agriculture, and food
LAESI also was hailed as a top-10 innovation of 2011 by British magazine The Scientist. One of the magazine's judges, Steven Wiley, a scientist with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, told Washington, D.C.'s WAMU radio: "It could be useful for all sorts of things—it's one of these things where your imagination is the limit of what you want to do."
Shaken, But Not Stirred?
Researchers to model impact of earthquakes on nuclear reactors
The shimmying of a 5.8-magnitude earthquake in central Virginia, in August 2011, briefly hit the pause button on the work week in the nation's capital. But at the North Anna nuclear power plant, 11 miles from the epicenter, that pause lasted nearly three months while inspections and cosmetic repairs were made.
The shutdown was triggered automatically, and no serious issues were found, but the process cost more than 100,000 hours of labor and $21 million.
"They didn't know how the [nuclear cores] reacted because there were no tools to predict the behavior," says Philippe M. Bardet, a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.
Dr. Bardet and his colleagues—Elias Balaras, in mechanical and aerospace engineering, and Majid Manzari, in civil and environmental engineering—are working to change that. In May the U.S. Department of Energy awarded them more than $860,000 to devise a model for simulating the impact of vibrations inside a nuclear reactor.
It's a tool they hope could be used to help assess damage before a costly cool-down and inspection, and to help engineers design next-generation reactors.
The research, utilizing GW's earthquake simulator and one of the world's fastest supercomputers, is being conducted in collaboration with scientists at Argonne National Laboratory, in Illinois, and the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission.
The core of a nuclear reactor contains tens of thousands of fuel rods, each about the diameter of a pencil and 13 feet long. Inside the rods uranium heats up in a chain reaction. That heat is used to turn water into steam, which drives a turbine and generates electricity.
The researchers will be modeling the most common type of reactor in the United States, called a pressurized water reactor.
"The [water] flow in there, it's chaotic," says Dr. Balaras, one of the researchers. "It's what we call turbulent flow."
The force of the water gives a slight push to the flexible fuel rods in a dance he likened to a flag flapping in the breeze.
The issue is: What would happen if the rods suddenly pushed back? A vibration—from a broken water pipe, an earthquake, or any other shock—could send the rods swinging against the flow of water, changing the dynamics of the core. That could get dangerous if, for example, a fuel rod gets bent.
The interaction of the water and rods "is a very complex problem," says Dr. Balaras. "It involves both fluid mechanics and structural mechanics, and their coupling—and then you have an earthquake on top of it."
The interaction, and at what point it becomes dangerous, is not very well understood, the researchers say. But it also hasn't been an issue. Nuclear power plants are so conservatively designed, says Dr. Bardet, that they're made to withstand vibrations from both an earthquake and a broken pipe simultaneously, which he says has never happened. Still, "it's worth knowing."
To do that the researchers are building a small-scale, non-nuclear core and a parallel computer model, each capable of filling in blanks the other cannot. They plan to translate the resulting complex supercomputer models—which might take decades to run on a standard computer—into less taxing formats for use by engineers designing new power plants.
Grants Fuel Analysis of Nuclear Issues
Two new grants are enabling researchers from GW's Elliott School of International Affairs to delve into national and global issues in nuclear energy and security.
Professors Mike Mochizuki and Deepa Ollapally, with a $400,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, will study nuclear energy and nonproliferation debates in Asia. The goal will be to gain a more nuanced understanding of domestic opinion, which often is reduced to "pro-nuclear" or "anti-nuclear" by official government pronouncements.
On the U.S. front, Research Professor Janne Nolan has been awarded a grant renewal of $300,000 from the Carnegie Corporation of New York to analyze nuclear security policy with a focus on building bipartisan consensus. Events and other outreach efforts will focus on reducing the size and role of the U.S. and Russian nuclear programs, encouraging support for a new pan-European security environment, and promoting consensus on ways to check proliferation challenges, particularly in the case of Iran.
Study: HIV Infection Rate Higher Among Gay Black Men
Gay and bisexual black men are becoming infected with HIV at greatly elevated rates compared to their white counterparts, according to a new study.
Among the men participating in the study, the rate of new HIV infection overall for black men who have sex with men (or MSM) was 2.8 percent per year, nearly 50 percent higher than white MSM. Black MSM ages 18 to 30 had a much higher infection rate—5.9 percent.
The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, was conducted by the HIV Prevention Trials Network. In total, 1,553 men were recruited across six U.S. cities, including Washington, D.C., where the effort was led by researchers in GW's Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics within the School of Public Health and Health Services.
The findings were released in July at the International AIDS Conference in D.C.
"The data from this study underscore the urgency of the HIV epidemic among black MSM, particularly those who are young," said Manya Magnus, an associate professor and co-leader of the GW arm of the study. "We must leverage these findings to inform the development of new, culturally appropriate, and innovative approaches to HIV."
Study co-chair Darrell Wheeler, dean of the School of Social Work at Loyola University, said that scientists "have known that black MSM are affected by HIV at disproportionately higher rates when compared to other MSM in the United States, but the HIV incidence rates [in this study] were extremely high."
Further analysis of data from the study is ongoing to better understand how HIV risk among black MSM might be affected by childhood experiences, social and sexual networks, discrimination, homophobia, incarceration, and barriers to health care.
Also in July, Dr. Magnus and her co-leaders—Irene Kuo, an associate research professor, and Christopher Chauncey Watson, project director for HPTN studies and a research associate—were awarded more than $400,000 by the National Institute of Mental Health to study structural barriers to HIV prevention service utilization among black MSM. At the same time the team also was preparing for two other studies: an examination of the safety and tolerability of several drugs to prevent HIV transmission in at-risk MSM, and an evaluation of integrated interventions to optimize adherence to these preventative drugs among black MSM.
NSF Awards CAREER Grants to Five Professors
Five faculty members each were given one of the National Science Foundation's most prestigious awards last year, which will propel research and education in topics that span ultra-thin liquid films, the physics of visible matter, and the efficiency of computer processors.
The NSF's Faculty Early Career Development, or CAREER, grants are awarded to junior faculty members who excel both at research and teaching. For the GW researchers, the five-year awards—which cover proposals for research as well as education and outreach projects—ranged from around $400,000 to $550,000.
Andrei Alexandru, in the Department of Physics, studies the internal structures of subatomic particles in an effort to understand the properties of visible matter in the universe. The work, he says, "will help answer questions relating to the composition of the early universe, exotic phases of matter inside neutron stars, charge distributions inside hadrons, and the origin of nuclear forces."
Yongsheng Leng, in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, is developing a computational framework to study structural properties in ultra-thin liquid films, typically only a few nanometers thick. These films can be used to lubricate nanotechnology, but their behavior—which depends in part on the properties of the solids in which they come into contact—is a "problem [that] has not yet been well resolved," he says.
Gabriel Parmer, in the Department of Computer Science, is working on making real-time computer systems—like the millions of lines of code that run an aircraft's flight system—essentially self-repairing. The goal is a new operating system structure that prevents a fault from affecting an entire system and allows for the recovery to be localized, rather than disrupting the system as a whole.
Svetlana Roudenko, in the Department of Mathematics, is creating a theory to better explain the functioning of a certain type of equation, called nonlinear evolution equations, whose solutions change over time. These formulas allow researchers to look at prescribed initial conditions and predict outcomes, and are widely applicable. Dr. Roudenko's work may help scientists predict ocean "super waves," control lasers as they pass through media, and help pilots identify dangerous turbulence.
Guru Prasadh Venkataramani, in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is developing a new approach for boosting the efficiency of multi-core processors, which power everyday tech from smartphones to tablet computers. The research aims to overcome bottlenecks in performance that prevent the full scale-up of computing power that ideally would come from adding new processors.
Michael J. Feuer
Jessica McConnell Burt
Several members of the faculty were recognized last year with top honors in their fields. Among them:
Michael J. Feuer, dean of the Graduate School of Education and Human Development, was elected the next president of the National Academy of Education. Dr. Feuer's four-year term begins in October.
Michael Plesniak, chair of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, was selected as a fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the world's largest technical society dedicated to the aerospace field.
School of Public Health and Health Services Dean Lynn Goldman was elected to the governing council of the Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences. And among the new members elected to the institute—one of the highest honors in health and medicine—were Health Policy Department Chair Paula Lantz and Sara Rosenbaum, the Harold and Jane Hirsh Professor of Health Law and Policy. Ms. Rosenbaum also was awarded the American Academy of Pediatrics' Excellence in Public Service Award, the organization's top honor for notable service to the nation's children, adolescents, and young adults.
David Alan Grier, an associate professor of international science and technology policy, was elevated to the status of fellow of the IEEE Computer Society and is serving as the organization's 2013 president.
And Elizabeth Saunders, an assistant professor of political science and international affairs, was awarded the American Political Science Association's Robert Jervis and Paul Schroeder Best Book Award for her book, Leaders at War: How Presidents Shape Military Interventions (Cornell University Press, 2011). The award is for the best book on international history and politics.
Human, Chimp Brain Wiring Develops Differently
A new study led by GW anthropologist Chet Sherwood found key differences in brain development between humans and chimps.
Jessica McConnell Burt
The insulation surrounding nerve fibers in the human brain develops over a much longer period than in chimpanzees, mankind's closest living relatives, according to a new study. The findings may shed light on human cognitive development and, perhaps, mankind's unique vulnerability to certain psychiatric disorders, like schizophrenia.
The study, led by GW anthropologist Chet Sherwood and former graduate student Daniel Miller, was published last fall in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The study examined myelin—the insulation that protects the nerve fibers and speeds the relay of signals—in the brain's neocortex. The researchers found that in humans myelin development is low at birth, then increases quickly during infancy, and slows but continues to develop into a person's 30s. Chimpanzees are born with more myelinated nerve fibers and continue to develop myelin consistently, but for the most part only until puberty.
3D MRI scan of a chimpanzee brain
The longer road to reaching brain maturity that is unique in humans may allow for human development to be more influenced by social and environmental factors, the researchers wrote. But that timeline may also be associated with psychological disorders that appear beginning in adolescence, like schizophrenia, in which abnormal myelination may play a role.
Inspired by Feathers, New Wing Design Takes Flight
More than a century after Wilbur and Orville Wright launched the era of human flight, a GW researcher is going back to the original flyers—birds—for inspiration in designing the next generation of unmanned aircraft.
Military drones and other unmanned aircraft fly much closer to the ground than commercial jets, where the wind has more surfaces to interact with and turbulence is far less predictable, says Adam Wickenheiser, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.
While commercial aircraft try to sense and dodge turbulence, for the low-flying unmanned aircraft, he says, "in many situations you have no choice but to run right into it."
Birds are in a similar bind, with solutions hammered out by evolution. Now Dr. Wickenheiser is hoping to borrow from their biological blueprints to create a feather-inspired wing that could allow aircraft to run more efficiently and with tighter control.
The idea is to attempt to "mimic some of the benefits but not necessarily mimic the exact same form and structure," he says.
Birds splay their wing feathers to let sudden gusts of wind pass through—a trait Dr. Wickenheiser is hoping to recreate in his design.
Courtesy Adam Wickenheiser
Birds' bodies, though primed for flight, don't suit all of mankind's aerial needs. "No bird can lift tens of thousands of pounds and fly it across the country in six hours," he says.
Rather than using a few, large mechanical control elements to steer—such as flaps on the wings and tail—Dr. Wickenheiser plans to use smaller panels in greater numbers.
The result, he thinks, will be a nimble wing that can have its "feathers" flared to brake or splayed to allow a sudden gust to pass through, and be capable of maneuvering through turbulence to give sensitive onboard cameras and other equipment a smoother ride.
In order to do that, some of the aircraft's brains—sensors and controls—will have to be shifted into the wings, allowing the response to be local and faster.
Instead of responding only after turbulence is felt centrally, sensors in the wings could detect a change in air pressure or wind direction and the wings could begin adjusting in anticipation of turbulence, relying on a catalog of pre-programmed, local responses.
Dr. Wickenheiser equates that to the fluidity of thought and movement in animals. "If I step on an uneven piece of ground, I don't really think about it. I just adjust automatically and walk over it."
The smarter wing design, Dr. Wickenheiser says, could be a step toward "self-healing or more modular" robotics that also is inspired by biology. If a bird loses a feather "it's not the end of the world," he says, "whereas if a chunk comes off of an aircraft, it basically spells disaster."
GW, Partners to Launch New Arm of NSF Innovation Corps
The George Washington University, the University of Maryland, and Virginia Tech this year were jointly awarded $3.75 million from the National Science Foundation to help shepherd to the marketplace the discoveries of student and faculty researchers.
The new Maryland-led, Mid-Atlantic node of NSF's Innovation Corps, or I-Corps, will offer the program's seven-week, business-building boot camp to up 300 research teams over three years.
The Mid-Atlantic node, along with new nodes in California and New York, join existing nodes at Georgia Tech and the University of Michigan. The nodes create the foundation of NSF's planned National Innovation Network.
GW-wide research initiatives in computational biology, cybersecurity, and women's issues launch with influential leaders at the helm.
They've served in the lab, in the field, and in the Cabinet of a U.S. president. Now three leaders in their fields will help steer the course of scholarship at GW as they take the reins of a trio of new, university-wide research initiatives.
The three programs launched in recent months—in computational biology, cybersecurity, and the global status of women—are the first among a slate of interdisciplinary research initiatives taking root at the university. Others will include autism and neurodevelopmental disorders, the arts, sustainability, and urban food studies.
Computational Biology Institute
To better sift through the growing mountains of genetic and genomic data, new tools are being developed at the nexus of computer science and biology.
The founding of GW's Computational Biology Institute gives the university and faculty members "an amazing opportunity, in this new genomics era, to be world leaders" in this arena, says institute director Keith Crandall. As the institute—which will be located at GW's Virginia Science and Technology Campus—begins to take shape, Dr. Crandall suggests three existing areas of strength at the university on which to build: biodiversity informatics, systems biology, and translational medicine.
Dr. Crandall, one of the most highly cited scholars in the realm of ecology and the environment, arrived this summer from Brigham Young University. With him came his part of a multi-institutional, $6 million award to investigate the impact of the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and funding from the National Science Foundation to help its Open Tree of Life project organize all 1.8 million named species of fungi, plants, and animals.
If cybersecurity was once considered the concern of a few geeks-in-the-know, now it hangs over just about everyone—anyone with an identity to steal, or who gets power from the grid, or relies on the financial infrastructure.
"[A]ll of us are enlisted, whether we like it or not, in the effort on cybersecurity. It's not something that we can simply expect other people to do," former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said at a December event launching GW's Cybersecurity Initiative.
Mr. Chertoff is serving as chairman of the interdisciplinary initiative, which aims to coordinate and bolster efforts across GW to research, teach, and push at the front lines of cybersecurity. Already under its umbrella are research institutes and centers, graduate degree programs, and scholarship programs.
"There's a real need for this that hasn't been filled," GW Vice President for Research Leo Chalupa has said. "We want to be the go-to place not just in the region, but in the nation. When people want to know about the big questions in cyber finance, policy, and law, they'll come here."
Mr. Chertoff, who led the U.S. Department of Homeland Security from 2005 to 2009, is currently chairman and co-founder of consulting firm The Chertoff Group and senior of counsel at the law firm Covington & Burling LLP.
Jessica McConnell Burt
Global Women's Institute
Seeking to provide "a space for scholars to turn their knowledge and commitment into action," Mary Ellsberg last fall inaugurated GW's Global Women's Institute.
"By coming together as researchers, activists, students, and community members, we forge a powerful force for ending discrimination and empowering women and girls across the globe," she said at a November launch event that featured the White House adviser on violence against women, Lynn Rosenthal.
Dr. Ellsberg came to GW from the International Center for Research on Women, where she was vice president for research and programs. Prior to that she was a senior adviser at the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health and worked for 20 years in Nicaragua as an advocate for public health and women's rights.
Said GW President Steven Knapp at the launch event: "If you're looking for a lever to pull anywhere in the world that will simultaneously improve public health, advance economic development, and reduce violence, it is the education and empowerment of women and girls."
For more on the university-wide research initiatives visit: research.gwu.edu/institutional-initiatives
Stellar Find: X-ray Emissions May Offer Clues About Star's Composition
A study of the densely-packed remains of an exploded star may offer new insights into the makeup and inner-workings of these cosmic remnants.
The findings, published in August in the journal Science, were made by an international team led by GW physicist Oleg Kargaltsev. The team was studying a pulsar—a type of fast-spinning star that emits pulses of radiation and comprises the vast majority of neutron stars.
The pulsar, known as J1740+1000, had been considered "fairly unremarkable" among ordinary pulsars, the researchers wrote. But using space-based cameras aboard NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency's X-ray Multi-Mirror Mission—Newton, the team discovered abnormalities in the radiation emitted by the star.
The abnormalities, called absorption lines, previously had been seen only in "several strange, exotic neutron stars," says Dr. Kargaltsev, suggesting absorption lines actually may be more common.
If the cause of the absorption lines is coming from the surface of the star, says Dr. Kargaltsev, that could tell physicists about the star's ratio of mass to radius and offer clues about the makeup of these stars. Although neutron-rich matter is thought to comprise the outer layers of neutron stars, their inside remains a mystery, he says.
Neutron stars are forged from the collapse of larger stars. The material left behind is compacted into a body perhaps just a dozen miles wide but heavier than the Sun—which is more than 800,000 miles wide.
The study of these stars "offers an opportunity to understand physical processes under the most extreme conditions in the universe," the team wrote in Science.
University's Research Ranking Climbs into Top 100
GW has risen into the nation's top 100 colleges and universities in terms of funding spent on research and development projects, according to data released last spring by the National Science Foundation.
The university's R&D expenditures from all funding sources—which include grants and contracts from federal, state, and local governments, industry, nonprofits, and GW's internal resources—increased by 97 percent, to $196,917,000, in the 2010 fiscal year over the previous year. The boost elevated GW to No. 99, up from No. 133.
GW's R&D expenditures funded from federal sources only—which include agencies and departments—increased by more than a third over the previous year, to $122,357,000. On that list, GW rose to No. 92, up from No. 109.
Expenditures, which represent actual money spent from grants and other resources, are a key measurement of an institution's research activity.
GW Vice President for Research Leo Chalupa said the jump in the NSF ranking offered "another clear indication that GW is well on its way to realizing President Knapp's plan of becoming one of the nation's top research universities."
Dr. Chalupa said he expects research expenditures will continue to increase in the long term, particularly with the anticipated completion in late 2014 of GW's Science and Engineering Hall. The nearly half-million-square-foot teaching and research facility will include state-of-the-art labs, including: a three-story-tall "high bay" that will facilitate research on safer and more earthquake-resistant bridges and buildings, a 3,600-square-foot greenhouse, and a specially built "clean" lab for nano-scale research.
Echoes of "SOUL!"
Fueled by a new Guggenheim Fellowship, Gayle Wald digs into the TV show at the edge of '60s black culture.
For a generation of blacks looking in from the tattered margins of American life, and for a TV network known for buttoned-up fare, the PBS show "SOUL!" shattered the mold and boogied on the broken pieces.
"People found it must-watch TV," says Gayle Wald, a professor of English. The pioneering variety show, launched on New York City's WNET in 1968 and then syndicated nationally, beamed into living rooms a potent dose of black music, dance, literature, and sharp social and political discourse.
Dr. Wald's new book explores the impact of the pioneering and politically volatile public TV show "SOUL!," which aired from 1968 to 1973.
It was a chronicler of culture's cutting-edge and an unabashed salve for turbulent times. "They watched to see what people were wearing, what people sounded like, what things they were saying," says Dr. Wald. "They were learning about what the possibilities were for 'being' in the world."
But the show has largely slipped into the cracks between scholarship on more well-known, black-centered commercial TV shows, like "Sanford and Son" and "The Cosby Show." "SOUL!," which was produced with a mix of public and private funding, is "virtually not talked about," says Dr. Wald.
The show and its impact are the subject of her latest book project, which last spring got a major boost when Dr. Wald was awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship. She was among 181 scholars, artists, and scientists selected from a pool of nearly 3,000 applicants.
The fellowship comes on the heels of a grant by the National Endowment for the Humanities and is allowing Dr. Wald a year away from the classroom to focus on research and writing.
The book, titled "It's Been Beautiful": "SOUL!" and Black Power Television, will be published by Duke University Press.
"I'm trying to understand what work the show was trying to do, what its place should be in the story that we tell about the post-World War II black freedom movement, [and] the story we tell about the use of television to raise consciousness and create community," says Dr. Wald.
But the book will also explore the "public policy scaffolding" that was critical in the show's launch and demise five years later.
Unlike "Soul Train" and other commercially sponsored shows of the era, funding for "SOUL!" came from the government and a grant from the Ford Foundation, allowing it greater leeway in content. The show welcomed established and emerging artists from the worlds of funk, blues, and jazz, from poets and actors to icons of social change.
"This was a show that was much more politically dangerous," says Dr. Wald. It had "a lot more freedom but it was much more vulnerable."
Government pressure mounted on the show to reel in its content and, later, to integrate. When its producer and frequent host Ellis Haizlip refused, the show was cancelled in 1973.
It was Mr. Haizlip's words, written the year before, that had led Dr. Wald to "SOUL!".
While researching the later days of gospel musician Sister Rosetta Tharpe for her well-received 2007 biography, Shout, Sister, Shout!, Dr. Wald found the program for Ms. Tharpe's last big public appearance: a 1972 celebration of black culture and art at New York's Lincoln Center.
In the program Mr. Haizlip wrote: "I do hope that we are able to fill some of these dignified and solemn buildings … with vibrations so strong, so mean, that never will another enter without acknowledging our presence here."
Says Dr. Wald, "I thought: Who is this guy?"
The Cast Behind the Watergate Scandal
It isn't often historical fiction writers meet their subjects.
But in 1968, on the Hempstead Turnpike in Long Island, a 16-year-old Thomas Mallon shook hands with then-presidential candidate Richard Nixon, whose involvement in the nation's most infamous political scandal is the subject of Dr. Mallon's latest novel.
Watergate, released last year by Pantheon, follows seven real figures during the Watergate era—including Fred LaRue, a Nixon presidential aide who was in charge of delivering payment to the burglars, and Alice Longworth, daughter of Theodore Roosevelt and longtime friend of Nixon—providing their perspectives as the scandal unfolds.
This book was four years in the making for Dr. Mallon, director of GW's creative writing program. His Foggy Bottom residence looks out at the Watergate complex, where five men broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters on June 17, 1972.
"I think the subject, even 40 years later, still tantalizes and interests people," says Dr. Mallon. "Nixon has such a combination of the good and the bad, with both his accomplishments and his 'dastardly deeds.'"
The book—lauded by The New York Times as a "stealth bull's-eye of a political novel"—is the eighth novel for Dr. Mallon, who this fall was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
"Nixon was certainly one of the people who shaped the world that we live in," he says. But for the book, Dr. Mallon wanted to focus on some of the cast that surrounded Nixon during Watergate and how the scandal "convulsed the whole city and whole class of political people."
—Julia Parmley/GW Today
The report, in part, measures the economic performance of these areas by calculating the average annual rent per square foot (and generating an equivalent for for-sale housing). Separated into four categories, "Copper" to "Platinum," the D.C. metro area places range from those intending to shift from drivable to walkable, to those that are rife with business and benefit from being near other walkable areas.
Report: Future of Real Estate is in Strides, Not Rides
Change is afoot. That's the conclusion of a new report by GW School of Business Professor Christopher Leinberger, which finds that a "pent-up demand" for walkable urban places is fueling a seismic shift in real estate and emerging as a future driver of the economy.
Interest is moving away from a decades-long build-up of drivable suburban areas in favor of more densely packed walkable ones, whether or not they fall inside city limits, writes Mr. Leinberger, the Charles Bendit Distinguished Scholar and research professor of urban real estate, as well as a developer and advocate of walkable and transit-oriented growth. "To ignore this structural change would be akin to ignoring the impact roads and cars had on the built environment more than a half-century ago."
The report, building on his recent research for the Brookings Institution, homes in on more than 40 "regionally significant" walkable urban places—hot spots for jobs, higher education, medical centers, retail, and culture—in the D.C. metro area, which he says "stands at the vanguard of this trend."