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GW Arts & Sciences


INSIDE Snake Family Tree Nuclear Physicist Joins Columbian Media’s Use of Twitter Is Limited Eisenhower and the Cold War

Smithsonian Collaboration

The Power of Art Therapy

Sparks New Research

Informing Theory Behind Stuttering Kudos! New Research Grants


Origins of a Spider’s Web


ow are cell phones changing linguistics? How does primate breast milk effect adult disease? Teams of investigators from Columbian College, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the Smithsonian are working together to answer these questions and others using the resources of the recently created GW-Smithsonian Opportunity Fund. These projects, examples of which are described below, represent an expansion of GW’s collaboration with the Smithsonian, bringing together prominent scholars to further advance learning and discovery.

PRIMATE BREAST MILK: IMPACT ON INFANT GROWTH, DEVELOPMENT, AND ADULT DISEASE Assistant Professor of Anthropology Robin Bernstein and Michael Power, animal scientist at the Smithsonian’s Conservation Biology Institute, are partnering on a comparative study of regulatory molecules in breast milk of nonhuman primates. Currently, there is no study like this in existence due to the difficulty associated with obtaining samples of primate breast milk. Power, as acting curator of the National Zoo’s milk repository, has access to the repository’s collection of 15,000 milk samples from nearly 140 species of mammals, including 30 primate species. Bernstein is an expert in the physiology of growth and development in nonhuman primates and has recently initiated an international collaboration to measure proteins in human breast milk. Their joint effort will produce new information about maternal-infant physiology from evolutionary and human disease perspectives.

Dean’s Message


he scope of our work as a research community is based on a focused mission: to create and

impart new knowledge that will impact and inspire future generations. Columbian College scholars are involved in a breathtaking array of new discoveries and new ways of thinking in science, policy, social science, the arts, and the humanities. Our research is as much a process as it is a product, and we embed that process in the


curriculum we offer. Undergraduates and graduate

Associate Professor of Anthropology Stephen Lubkemann and Paul Gardullo, museum curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, are leading an international research team to locate, document, and secure unique—and increasingly threatened—archaeological remains related to the maritime aspects of the slave trade. The primary goal of the collaborative effort is to track and document the history of two ship-wrecked vessels that played pivotal roles in the transAtlantic slave trade: the Sao Jose, which wrecked near Cape Town, South Africa in 1794 while carrying more than 500 Africans from Mozambique to Brazil; and the L’Aurore, which foundered near Mozambique Island with 600 Africans destined for the Americas. 

those on our faculty as well as at nearby institutions—

students work alongside prominent investigators— in a wide range of fields and receive an education that is greater than the sum of its parts. This new publication offers a sampling of how we tackle the big questions through multidisciplinary approaches that bring to bear the talents of our faculty and students, our partnerships with Washington, D.C.’s government, scientific, and cultural bodies, and philanthropy from people and organizations that seek to make a difference.

ANALYSIS OF POLITICAL AND CULTURAL ECOLOGIES OF CELL PHONES Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs Joel Kuipers and Joshua Bell, curator in anthropology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, are examining the development of new cultural patterns associated with the cell phone as a communications instrument and as a commodity. Graduate students are assisting in the effort, researching the diversity of cell phone cultures in four Washington, D.C., communities and the linguistic, social, graphic, and material features associated with each. Concurrently, workshops will explore cell phone commodity chains and networks; the impact of mobile technologies on patterns of communication; and trends in the design and aesthetics of cell phones.

To receive monthly updates on what we are accomplishing in the areas of learning and discovery, I invite you to contact me by email and join our Facebook and Twitter communities. As always, I look forward to hearing from you! Peg Barratt Dean, Columbian College of Arts and Sciences

Study Finds

GW Arts & Sciences Research


hile news outlets make frequent use of Twitter, they do so primarily to disseminate their own content,

according to a new study by Columbian College’s School of Media and Public Affairs and the Pew Research Center. The study examined 3,600 tweets over the course of a week from 13 major news outlets, including the Washington Post, New York Times, CNN, and ABC News. The findings indicate that news outlets and individual reporters rarely use Twitter as a


A New Perspective

Alex Pyron



scientific model that could change the way researchers study the biodiversity of living creatures has been developed by Alex Pyron, snake scholar and Robert Griggs Assistant Professor of Biology. The model suggests that large-scale extinction, not just speciation (species growth) as previously believed, can be the dominating process driving diversity patterns among snakes and other organisms. “This is one of the first models to suggest that extinction over long periods of time accounts for ebbs and flows of species richness in a diverse group,” said Pyron. “Anyone who studies biodiversity now has another model to explain diversity within their group. The majority of previous research only looked at speciation as the main cause of diversity and large-scale “we find two very extinction was rarely considered.” interesting and

contrasting patterns in snakes”

In collaboration with Frank T. Burbrink of the City University of New York, Pyron created the first snake phylogeny (family tree) to include all known families and subfamilies of the 3,500 snake species. From this comprehensive reptilian blood line, they were able to determine the rate and time of speciation and extinction within various groups of snakes; the evolution of various traits, like venom development, within those groups; and how the major groups of snakes are related. “We find two very interesting and contrasting patterns in snakes,” said Pyron. “First, key evolutionary events such as the development of venom, and the colonization of new areas such as the New World tropics, apparently resulted in the massive diversification of some young groups. However, large-scale extinction has acted to reduce diversity in many old groups, yielding the unusual distribution of species richness in snakes. This research may help our understanding of similar patterns in other organisms.” Pyron’s research was published in the January issue of the journal Evolution, one of the foremost publications in the field of evolutionary biology.

Renowned Nuclear Physicist Joins Columbian


enowned theoretical nuclear physicist Andrei

used in nuclear weapons. In addition to several

Afanasev joined the Columbian College faculty

national laboratories, universities, and industries,

this year as the inaugural holder of the Gus Weiss

the Indian and Belgian governments are promising

Chair of Theoretical Physics and Energy Studies. Hailed

financial support for projects developing ADRs.

for his nuclear research by such notables in the field as Physics Nobel Laureate Abdus Salam, Afanasev comes

“Andrei Afanasev is an exciting addition to our

to GW from Hampton University and the Thomas

research efforts at GW,” said Allena Opper, chair of the

Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (Jefferson Lab)

Department of Physics and professor of physics. “He is

in Newport News, Virginia.

already collaborating with our faculty on research that could impact how we extract and store nuclear energy.”

Afanasev’s interest in the physics of particle accelerators

Andrei Afanasev

led to his research in the field of energy, with a focus

The Dr. Gus Weiss Professorship in Theoretical Physics

on the development of sub-critical accelerator driven

was endowed in 2003 through a generous bequest.

reactors (ADRs), a concept that was promoted recently

Dr. Weiss, who was a member of the Columbian

by Physics Nobel Laureate Carlo Rubbia. These reactors

College advisory board, had served as director of

are unique in that they use thorium—a radioactive

International Economics for the National Security

element found in plentiful quantities within the Earth’s

Council, director of the White House Council on

crust—as their fuel. The reactors can only undergo the

International Economic Policy, professor of economics

fission and fusion processes as long as they are fed a

at New York University and assistant to the secretary

source of neutrons supplied by an accelerator. The

of defense for space policy. He also served as an

end products of the reaction are short-lived isotopes

adviser to the CIA from 1972-1980.

that do not require long-term storage and cannot be


illiam H. Becker, chair of the Department of History, recently sat down to discuss the relevancy of his new book Eisenhower and the Cold War Economy, which he wrote with his former student, William McClenahan, Jr., PhD ’93.

In what ways does this book add to our historical perspective of Eisenhower?    Although he was known as a president heavily involved in military and foreign policy, Eisenhower was also deeply involved in economic policy. Throughout his two-term presidency, he faced the challenge of managing a period of peacetime prosperity after more than two decades of depression, war, and postwar inflation. The essential economic issue he addressed was how the country would pay for the deepening Cold War and the extent to which such unprecedented peacetime commitments would affect the United States economy and its institutions. I believe the book’s examination of the Eisenhower administration’s economic policy enriches our understanding of the history of the modern American economy, the presidency, and conservatism in the United States.

How do the policies employed by Eisenhower relate to today’s global economy? Eisenhower was president in a world very different from ours today, but he brought to the White House qualities that successful presidents continue to need—a long-term perspective, a keen sense of realism, a strong commitment to principle, and, when necessary, a pragmatic approach to problems. These are qualities that still resonate in the current political and economic climate. While some of the decisions Eisenhower made did not follow conservative doctrine as closely as many in the Republican Party wanted, his approach to and distrust of partisan politics led to success on many if not all fronts, and maintained and buttressed the country’s domestic and international economic health.

Eisenhower famously warned about the “military industrial complex.” How do you think he’d react to our current state of affairs? Eisenhower had more experience working in a large bureaucracy than did other presidents. He thought that the leaders at the top of major organizations, both in the private and public sectors, could be insular and much too focused on short-term goals. Eisenhower worried about the close relationship between Congress and special interests in areas other than the arms industry, such as in agriculture. He feared that these networks would undermine the public interest. . . . I think he’d be horrified at how well-organized private interests have compromised Congress and the regulatory agencies, especially in banking and finance.

Media’s Use of Twitter is Limited

Spring 2012

reporting tool or to publicize information that originated

“This study gave students the opportunity to work on a

elsewhere. Ninety-three percent of tweets examined

significant research project about an evolving medium,”

included links to an organization’s own site, while only two

said Kimberly Gross, associate professor of media and

percent of the tweets were information gathering, and

public affairs and of political science, and one of the

one percent were “retweets” from outside the organization.

co-authors of the study. “As most of our understanding

“[A] child can talk about a metaphor in the image rather

of Twitter is based on anecdotal evidence, collecting The study involved 30 undergraduate students who analyzed

and analyzing empirical data is very valuable to our

and coded the tweets as part of their senior seminars. Two


than speaking about deep pain.”

graduate students helped lead the research effort.

— Heidi Bardot, Director, Graduate Art Therapy Program

The Power of Art Therapy T

he outbreak of World War II marked the beginning of a profession first practiced in hospitals to treat soldiers dealing with “shell shock,” now clinically termed post-traumatic stress disorder. Since then, practitioners have espoused the benefits of art therapy as an outlet for expression of feeling. Simultaneously, evidence-based art therapy research focusing on the neurological implications of art-making to address trauma and loss, depression, and anxiety—as well as the efficacy of psychosocial interventions for cancer survivors—has become the trend and means to validate the profession. “When patients transform their thoughts and feelings into tangible images, they can explore them from a different perspective and in a non-threatening manner, which they may not find through traditional talk therapy,” noted Heidi Bardot, assistant professor of art therapy and director of Columbian College’s Art Therapy Graduate Program. “For example, when I work with a child, the art provides a method to communicate feelings that he or she may not have the words to express. The child can talk about the metaphor in the image rather than speaking about deep pain. The creation of art can be healing in and of itself, and can create a therapeutic alliance and connection between client, therapist, and artwork.”

With its creation in 1971, Columbian College’s Art Therapy Graduate Program became the first of its kind in the U.S. and one of the first to be accredited by the American Art Therapy Association. At its core, the program is based on the research and teachings of the profession’s pioneers, who found that the expressive use of drawing, painting, and sculpture— when combined with psychological concepts—can help heal the mind and body. And, research has demonstrated that art therapy can be beneficial at any age and with most diagnoses and populations.

Kudos! B

reakthrough technology developed by Professor of Chemistry, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Akos Vertes was lauded by The Scientist magazine as one of the “top ten innovations of 2011”. The technology, called Laser Ablation Electrospray Ionization (LAESI), allows researchers to more quickly and effectively learn the chemical composition of a very small biological sample. LAESI technology has the potential to support a range of applications in the fields of pharmaceutical and

In the past decade, art therapy was named one of the top 10 “hot” jobs by, bearing out the need for this form of counseling during times of war and economic uncertainty. To learn more about art therapy and the work of Columbian College’s faculty and graduate students in this field, visit

biological research, surgical and molecular pathology, clinical diagnostics, chemical and biological defense, forensics, agriculture, and food process monitoring.


n fall 2011, GW hosted its first Jiangsu Cup Chinese Speech Contest, a rigorous competition for non-native

students. Spearheaded by Columbian in partnership with China’s Jiangsu International Cultural Exchange Center and the Institute for International Students at Nanjing University, the contest attracted college

Undergraduate Research Fellow Informs Theory Behind Stuttering


n an effort to understand anticipatory anxiety theory—thought to be one possible cause of stuttering—senior speech and hearing sciences major Olivia Cali conducted a controlled experiment in which participants were tasked with public speaking scenarios via two virtual reality environments: one where they gave a five-minute speech to an empty room; the other where they gave the same speech to an audience. Cali, with the supervision of Associate Professor of Speech and Hearing Science Shelley Brundage, measured the objective factors of anxiety— heart rate and perspiration level—five seconds before, during, and after the participants stuttered, as well as the subjective view point of the person’s anxiety via the Subjective Units of Distress (SUDS) scale. “We found that the biophysical measures weren’t significantly different within those intervals before, during, and after the stutters, so we’re challenging some of the theories about anticipatory anxiety,” said Cali, one of 15 Luther Rice Undergraduate Research Fellows selected by Columbian College this

students from American, Georgetown, University of Maryland, University of Virginia, and Washington & Lee. Tim Quinn, a GW senior minoring in Chinese, received a full scholarship for graduate study at Nanjing University as a Gold Award winner.

Olivia Cali

year to engage in independent, faculty-mentored research projects.


anked in the Top Ten of U.S. Journalism Schools by readers of and NewsPro magazine was

Columbian College’s School of Media and Public Affairs.

Though she found no significant differences in the objective measures between the speaking tasks (empty room vs. audience), Cali found that the participants subjectively reported feeling more anxious during the audience task, meaning that the virtual reality scenarios did produce anticipatory anxiety, even though participants did not demonstrate physical symptoms. Cali’s findings indicate that virtual reality scenarios may prove to be effective in helping patients work through their anxiety issues in a safe, simulated situation.

It was the only Washington, D.C.-based school to receive top billing. Respondents of the survey also listed “writing” as the top skill to learn for those seeking a career in journalism, with news “reporting” ranking second.


eaching and conducting research in Europe, Africa, and Asia as recipients of the prestigious Fulbright

Scholarship are Sarah Conner, BA ‘11; Carolyn Kerchof, BA ‘10; Caitlin Loehr, BA ‘10; Victoria Roman, BA ‘11;

“Anticipatory anxiety theory gets a lot of traction in therapy because adult patients say that they know they will stutter when faced with certain situations or with certain words,” explained Brundage. “In therapy, we try to reduce the initial fear of that stutter so that we can reduce the occurrence of the stutter. We can recreate exposure to the anxiety within virtual reality and teach the patients to confront their fears and implement strategies to manage their stuttering response.”

and Virginia (Kristin) Van Nest, BA ‘10. Topics being explored include the role of fast food in Egypt’s diet and rising obesity rates, and the ways community radio is impacting sustainable development in Senegal.


GW Arts & Sciences Research



obert Entman, J.B. and M.C. Shapiro Professor


of Media and Public Affairs and professor of

international affairs, won the prestigious international Alexander von Humboldt Research Award for his field-changing contributions to political communication.


He is the world’s first political communication scholar and the first from GW to receive this award. Entman is

• Tyler Anbinder (history): $290,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to research the savings habits of 19th century Irish immigrants

• Charlene Bickford (First Federal Congress Project): $223,000 from NEH to produce the final two volumes of the 17-volume set, Documentary History of the First Federal Congress, 1789-1791

Jeffrey Blomster (anthropology): $267,000 from National Science Foundation (NSF) to explore the emergence and dynamics of the people of the Nochixtlán Valley between 1150 and 850 BC at Etlatongo, Oaxaca, Mexico

currently at the Free University of Berlin conducting

Gustavo Hormiga (biology): $424,000 from NSF to examine the taxonomy and systematics of selected Neotropic species of spiders

comparative research to better understand how inequality has grown faster in the United States than in Western Europe.

• Carson Murray (anthropology): $745,000 from NIH to study the influence of maternal stress on offspring growth and development in wild chimpanzees


W hosted its first event this year as a member of the Edward A. Bouchet Graduate Honor Society,

which recognizes outstanding scholarly achievement

• John Philbeck (psychology): $944,000 from the National Eye Institute to investigate our ability to localize objects when viewing times are limited, such as when driving or falling

and promotes diversity and excellence in doctoral education and the professoriate. five Columbian College students—Anna Holster, Laurie Lahey, Elizabeth Pittman, Amber Wiley, and Erin Marie Williams—have been inducted into the society since

• William Briscoe (physics) and the GW Institute

• Brian Richmond (anthropology): $332,000 from

for Nuclear Studies Data Analysis Center: $1.9 million from the Department of Energy to support research in nucleon resonance phenomena

NSF to conduct fieldwork relating to footprints and fossil bones of human ancestors and relatives from 1.5 million years ago in Koobi Fora, Kenya

GW became an institutional member in 2008.


ight student filmmakers from Columbian

• Christopher Cahill (chemistry), Bill Briscoe

(physics), Gerald Feldman (physics): $300,000 from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to develop a modular, laboratory-based curriculum to explore properties of nuclear materials

Columbian College by the Numbers • 42 departments/programs • 28 research centers/institutes • 7,700+ undergraduate/graduate students • 52 majors; 58 minors • 71 graduate/doctoral programs • 455+ full-time faculty


www.columbian.gwu/give •

Phillips Hall, Suite 212 • 801 22nd Street, NW Washington, D.C. 20052

Columbian College of Arts and Sciences

the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the impact of gene/environment interplay on childhood obesity

College’s Institute for Documentary Filmmaking

were honored with the inaugural “Washington’s Best Film” award by independent film distributor SnagFilms and the D.C. Office of Motion Picture and Television Development. The competition was created to celebrate

Sarah Shomstein (psychology): $243,000 from NIH to investigate hemispatial neglect, a neurological deficit common after a stroke, and the impact of neuro-rehabilitative tools to aid recovery

talented local filmmakers and to share dynamic stories that focus on improving the world. The students’ winning documentary short, Released to Life, follows the journey of several D.C.-area ex-offenders as they emerge from prison and struggle to re-enter society.


• Jody Ganiban (psychology): $2.9 million from

Svetlana Roudenko (mathematics): $450,000 from the NSF (career award) to support her research, teaching and outreach activities as a junior scholar-teacher


piders that spin the engineering marvels known as orb webs evolved from a single ancestor, according to a new study that seeks to resolve one of the biggest questions in web evolution. An international research team, led by Ruth Weintraub Professor of Biology Gustavo Hormiga, also found enough genetic evidence to create the first timeline for the emergence and diversification of this vast group of spiders. Orb weavers make up nearly one-third of the 42,000 described spider species, and their complex, silken snares are regarded as “pinnacles of animal design” for their strength and flexibility, according to Hormiga. But debate has surrounded the emergence of two types of the familiar wheel-and-spoke shaped webs associated with orb weavers: one using a sticky but dry silk, and the other using silk with a wet adhesive. Since the mid-1980s, spider researchers have favored the notion of a single common ancestor for these spiders and their web architectures. But the evidence—based on web design and building behavior, spider anatomy, and narrow or inconclusive genetic data—left room for doubt. To delve further, Hormiga and his team analyzed a trove of genetic data from 291 species that represented 50 spider families, amounting to the largest genetic study to-date of spider evolution. The results suggest orb weavers did evolve from a single common ancestor, and brings a new level of corroboration for the hypothesis because of the extensive genetic sample used in the study. “This is like getting a new set of witnesses in the trial and all of them confirming what the previous witnesses had suspected,” said Hormiga.

The team, which included GW research associate Dimitar Dimitrov, also put together a hypothetical timeline for the evolution of orb weavers using changes in DNA to fill in the blanks between milestones from fossil evidence. Beginning with that common ancestor 230 million years ago, they found there was a boom of splinter species created around 200 million years ago. And, approximately 15 million years later, most of today’s orb weaving families and their web structures were in existence. A deeper understanding of spiders, even on such an ancient level, has applications in modern times, noted Hormiga. For example, spider venom is being investigated for biomedical applications, and spiders play a critical role in agriculture as major regulators of insect pests. In addition, attempts to mimic the physical properties of spider silk are fueling advances in products from parachutes to surgical sutures to bulletproof vests. “Part of [our] effort,” noted Hormiga, “is to try to actually understand spider evolution so we can put their spectacular diversity into a larger context.”

GW Arts & Sciences Spring Update 2012