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UB Today

A publication of the University at Buffalo Alumni Association

Fall 2010





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Stephen McKinley Henderson and Denzel Washington Stephen McKinley Henderson and Denzel Washington in August Wilson’s “Fences.” Photo by: Joan Marcus

UB People

Tony nomination for UB professor

Actor, director and UB faculty member Stephen McKinley Henderson was nominated for a Tony Award for his performance in the Broadway revival of August Wilson’s 1987 Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Fences.”

The production, which ran through the summer at the Court Theatre in New York, received 10 Tony nominations and won for Best Revival of a Play, in addition to awards for lead players Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. The winners were announced at the Tony Awards ceremony on June 13 at Radio City Music Hall.

Henderson’s performance as Jim Bono in “Fences” also earned him the Actor’s Equity Foundation’s 2010 Richard Seff Award for the best performance in a supporting role in a Broadway or off-Broadway production.

“I am very, very grateful that I can perform in such brilliant plays, then return to UB to teach—to share the excitement of our students as they become involved in the work of great playwrights,” he says, “and I hope my chair, the dean, my colleagues, my students, know how much I have appreciated their help all these years.”

Henderson, a professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance, and former department chair, has worked in many productions throughout the United States, on and off Broadway, and in television and film, but has earned special distinction for nearly two decades as a performer of Wilson’s oeuvre.

UB People

Student wins Goldwater award

UB junior Jasmine May, whose fierce ambition to find better treatments for brain cancer patients is inspired by the recent death of her father, has won the prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education award.

The elite honor was given to 278 sophomores and juniors from across the country pursuing degrees in mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. May, 19, of Sanborn, N.Y., was chosen from more than 1,100 top mathematics, science and engineering students nominated by colleges and universities nationwide. She is the fifth UB student in six years to receive a Goldwater scholarship.

Residence hall echoes campus master plan Jasmine May

May is the daughter of Verneice Turner and Douglas May, who died from brain cancer during Jasmine’s first semester at UB. She hopes the Goldwater scholarship helps her achieve her goal of becoming a professor at a top research university affiliated with a cancer research institute, an ambition that fits well with UB because of the university’s association with Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

As an undergraduate researcher in UB’s Institute for Lasers, Photonics and Biophotonics (ILPB), May says her main goal is to develop new, noninvasive, bio-imaging and drug-delivery tools that will allow better prevention, earlier diagnosis and more effective treatment of cancer. This involves investigating the properties of different nanostructures—such as light-emitting silicon nanocrystals—and tailoring them to particular cancer applications.

She’s working with SUNY Distinguished Professor Paras Prasad, executive director of ILPB and one of the nation’s most renowned scientists in the use of nanotechnology to devise treatments for cancer.

University News

Collection reflects donor’s travels

Annette Cravens, MSW ’68, has donated her multimillion-dollar collection of archaeological and ethnographic objects—dating as far back as 4,500 B.C.—to the College of Arts and Sciences.

The collection has been organized as a world-class permanent installation in the UB Anderson Gallery that will serve as a resource for the entire university community.

African Figures These 20th century ceremonial dolls from Cameroon are featured in the Cravens World Collection.

The 1,100-piece collection—which has nearly doubled the university’s collection—was amassed by Cravens during her more than 40 years of engagement around the globe, often with her late husband, DuVal. She also provided funding so that the collection will be accessible to UB students, Buffalo Public Schools students, scholars and the community.

Two rooms were reconstructed for the collection. The largest and most impressive room is “Cravens World,” where objects from around the world are displayed in transparent, acrylic cubes shaped into a life-size globe that seemingly reaches to the sky. In this display, 126 objects can be experienced from 360-degree views organized into six thematic groups. Wall cabinets and drawers house another 451 objects organized by geographic location.

“Students have the benefit of access to a collection that can be used to teach them to study, draw, research and curate objects,” says Peter Biehl, associate professor of anthropology and director of the project. “The experience they will have in regard to the Cravens’ collection is invaluable.”

Academic Insight

Center to address bullying

The Graduate School of Education will become the site of a national center for the prevention of bullying, abuse and school violence, thanks to the largest gift in the school’s history.

The gift from Jean M. Alberti, PhD ’70 & EdM ’62, a clinical and educational psychologist based in Chicago and former local elementary teacher, will establish UB as a proactive national resource on the prevention of bullying and other antisocial behaviors among school children.

The Jean M. Alberti Center for the Prevention of Bullying Abuse and School Violence will research, identify and disseminate a variety of interventions that share the common goal of preventing this type of abuse.

Jean Alberti Jean Alberti

“We need to change the way people look at this problem to reflect the message that bullying is child abuse by children,” Alberti says. “My hope is that this new center will change people’s thinking by changing the term to ‘bullying abuse,’ thereby generating new conversations, initiatives and research about the prevention of bullying.”

Activity in the Alberti center will address problems faced by victims, bullies and bystanders. It also is intended to help schools create a social climate that promotes tolerance of diversity and individual differences to break the cycle of negative behaviors between victims and bullies.

UB People


Amma Photo by: Nancy J. Parisi

Mata Amritanandamayi Devi—affectionately known as Amma—stressed the attainment of spiritual values and the power of discriminatory thinking in accepting a SUNY Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters, May 25 in a North Campus ceremony. UB President John B. Simpson praised Amma’s leadership of Amrita University, one of India’s fastest growing private institutions of higher learning and a UB exchange partner, as well as Amma’s humanitarian work. “Spiritual education is a training that helps us to truly understand ourselves,” Amma said. “It gives us strength and helps us comprehend the deeper realms of knowledge.”

Breaking Research

Agent Orange exposure linked to Graves’ disease in Vietnam veterans

Vietnam War-era veterans exposed to Agent Orange appear to be more likely to develop Graves’ disease, a thyroid disorder, than veterans with no exposure, a new study by UB endocrinologists has shown.

“Our findings show that Vietnam veterans who came in contact with Agent Orange are more likely to develop Graves’ disease than those who avoided exposure,” says Ajay Varanasi, an endocrinology fellow in the Department of Medicine and first author on the study.

“The autoimmune disorder was three times more prevalent among veterans who encountered the dioxin-containing chemical.”

Agent Orange is a defoliant that was used in Vietnam to destroy crops and reduce jungle foliage that could shelter enemy combatants. The herbicide contains dioxin, which has chemical properties similar to the thyroid hormones. Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disease associated with overactivity of the thyroid gland.

Academic Insight

Seismic design in Haiti

During a May weekend at a university campus in Port-au-Prince, more than 200 Haitian engineers, architects and other professionals gathered in tents to begin learning the principles of earthquake–resistant design.

Reaching out to Haiti More than 200 people participated in an earthquake engineering seminar in Port-au-Prince led by André Filiatrault, MCEER director and professor of civil, structural and environmental engineering (front).

The occasion was the first earthquake engineering educational seminar jointly sponsored by UB’s MCEER and Université Quisqueya (UniQ).

During the seminar, all attendees participated in field assessments of earthquake-damaged buildings in Port-au-Prince to see firsthand the impacts of earthquakes on structures lacking the necessary earthquake-engineering detailing and learn how to conduct damage assessments on uninspected structures throughout Port-au-Prince.

“We gave participants a firm grounding in the concepts of earthquake engineering and some really practical information on how to build better buildings even without making detailed calculations,” says André Filiatrault, MCEER director and UB professor of civil, structural and environmental engineering. “We showed them the differences between what makes a building safe or unsafe. When they begin to apply even just those principles to their engineering and architectural practices, it will make a tremendous difference.”

The MCEER and UniQ partnership will extend for at least three years and is designed to help Haiti establish its own community of earthquake engineers to mitigate earthquake–induced damage to its buildings. Each seminar will provide credit toward a master’s degree in earthquake engineering that UniQ is developing with MCEER’s support.

University News

Biochemist wins award to facilitate stem cell research

A UB biochemist in UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences and his colleagues have received $3.5 million from the Empire State Stem Cell Board to establish a Western New York Stem Cell Culture and Analysis Center. Richard Gronostajski, professor in the Department of Biochemistry, School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, is principal investigator on the grant.

Gronostajski Richard Gronostajski is principal investigator for a $3.5 million grant to establish a regional stem cell analysis center.

The funds will be used to promote and facilitate research in the use of mouse and human embryonic, adult, induced pluripotent and cancer stem cells. Pluripotent cells have the ability to become nearly any type of cell in the body.

“All these types of stem cells have tremendous potential for our understanding and treatment of human diseases, including diabetes, cancers, spinal-cord injury, Parkinson’s disease, cardiomyopathies, neurodegenerative diseases and the damage or degeneration of various organs due to aging or injury,” says Gronostajski.

The center will provide highly specialized and easy-to-use resources to obtain, culture, expand and store stem cells, and to generate new stem cells by genetic reprogramming of somatic cells—cells that form the body of an organism.

By the numbers

Campus environmental initiatives

[Rank as top purchaser in New York State of windgenerated electricity]
[Campus Dining & Shops’ annual expenditures on local food products in millions]
[Daily personal vehicle trips avoided as result of taking UB buses and shuttles]
[Pounds of soil amendment created from UB campus food scraps and used for campus landscaping]

Speaking of

Margaret Atwood Author Margaret Atwood, Distinguished Speakers Series, Center for the Arts, March 3, 2010

Margaret Atwood

“Hope is part of the human tool kit that we come with. … If you don’t have hope, there’s automatically a lot less of it in the world because you’re not going to make an effort. And if you do have hope, it’s a multiplier factor because you will make the effort. And by hope, I don’t mean just wishing. I mean acting in a hopeful way. And we need that particularly right now [when we’re in] a crisis moment in our history.”

For 2010–2011 Distinguished Speakers Series line–up and ticket information, go to

Flashback 1974

Bubble opens on North Campus

Bubble opens on North Campus The Bubble was on UB's North Campus 1975–1984. Photo: UB Archives

It was “green, white and ugly,” and located between O’Brian Hall and the Ellicott Complex. It was described as “a plump glowing caterpillar” or “something that had lost a race with the Goodyear Blimp.” For a brief period, The Spectrum linked it to UB’s president, Robert L. Ketter, by calling it the “Ketterpillar.” It was the Bubble, the highly visible, temporary, recreational facility on the North Campus between 1975 and 1984.

Plans to build a temporary recreational facility were announced in January 1974, four months after the first dormitories had opened and the first classes were held on the new campus. A year later, Birdair, a local company and the builder of the U.S. Pavilion at Expo 70, had erected an air-supported structure inflated by continuously running blowers, heated by gas furnaces and insulated by an air pocket situated between a double–skin surface.

At 250 feet long, 120 feet wide and 50 feet high, the Bubble was hard to miss. Its 31,000 square feet held four basketball courts, four tennis courts and facilities for volleyball, badminton, Frisbee and track. When 22 pairs of 1500-watt lamps made the interior brighter than daylight, the wattage had to be reduced. Two trailers adjacent to the structure provided space for locker rooms.

At the end of the Bubble’s first year, the facility was considered a success. Complaints about the lack of a wooden floor—it had been erected on top of an asphalt parking lot—did not keep the 2,500 daily users away.

The weather on the North Campus did cause havoc for the structure. The Bubble had to be re-inflated after the blizzard of 1977 when it fell on basketball hoops and lights, ripping the canvas. Then, a severe storm in late February 1984 caused the Bubble to collapse, which destroyed the ductwork used for blowing air through the two layers of canvas.

The plan had been to retain the Bubble until all phases of Alumni Arena had been completed, but the combination of weather and the high cost of repairing the structure prevented that.

The extensive papers of Walter Bird, founder of Birdair and a pioneer of lightweight structural design, were presented to Special Collections, UB Libraries, in 2007. To learn more, go to search for “Walter Bird Collection” under “Finding Aids.”

John Edens, University Libraries

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