Stanford University
Dean Stephan Graham

Dean's Desk

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Photo by Steve Castillo

Earth as art to inspire the future

ClockApril 29, 2021

Last month as I was walking through the Stanford Engineering Quad (SEQ) on the way to a rare on-campus meeting, I encountered the magnificent and enormous natural stone spheres that recently descended into the space (‘descended’ being the correct word, according to those who witnessed a huge crane lowering them into place)! The eight spheres comprise an art installation. As with any good art piece, they allow the beholder to imagine their meaning.

For me, arriving as they did just before Earth Day and because of my focus these days on the formation of a new school devoted to sustaining our planet, they are both a figurative and material reminder of our responsibility as scientists to "restore the Earth" (the theme of this year’s Earth Day).

They also remind us of the awe inspiring beauty, history, and power of this planet we live on and the imperative we have to steward it during our lifetimes.

Art can inspire us to restore the Earth

I hope you will watch the video and listen to Stanford Earth geologist Don Lowe talk about the different rocks in each of the spheres and how they were formed. The accompanying story on the artist also includes sidebars from Don on the different types of stone used, which will be of interest to everyone – from those of you studying geology and geophysics to those who have remodeled a home space with quartzite, granite or marble, to anyone who wonders what lies beneath our feet.

This art installation very much helps us look to the future - both to discoveries yet to be made and to research and curriculum around sustaining Earth that will be developed in the new school.

On that note, let me report that a presentation Vice Provost and Dean of Research Kam Moler and I made to the Stanford Board of Trustees on April 13 was extremely well-received. We are in the process of sending to the university president’s office a summary of options for departments, thematic initiatives that draw on all seven schools, new degree programs, and the vision for a sustainability accelerator. All of these have been discussed in more than 50 small groups or Town Halls for faculty, staff and students over the last 10 months. To be as inclusive as possible, we  continue to hold information sessions, including a special polling/feedback event for students May 8. Kam Moler and I did a podcast last week with the Stanford Daily. I also hope you had a chance to look at the April 1 Stanford accelerators story which put the new school’s Sustainability Accelerator into context with accelerators that are part of the university’s long term vision.

In addition to the forthcoming school, we can all also be very proud that Stanford is “walking the talk.” Over the last year Stanford has started tackling a whole new level of sustainability called Scope 3 emissions, which will be crucial for achieving goals that Stanford’s trustees laid out in a resolution last year. The resolution calls for Stanford to achieve at least net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from its operations by 2050. Since then the Faculty Senate has urged the university to speed that timeline to 2040, encouraging all faculty, students and staff to accelerate efforts to reduce emissions in their own lives.

The future is bright. Until we can all visit SEQ in person, hopefully this fall, I hope you will be inspired by the video and story above.

Steve Graham

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